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Updated: 1 hour 55 min ago

Scriptnotes, Ep 259: The Exit Interview — Transcript

13 hours 40 min ago

The original post for this episode can be found here.

Previously on Scriptnotes.

John August: Subject: Podcasts. Wondering if you’d have any interest in doing a joint podcast on screenwriting?

Craig Mazin: A podcast would solve my “I want to talk about screenwriting, but I’m tired of writing about screenwriting” problem. So, yes, count me in.

John: Bonjour. Et Bienvenue. Je m’appelle John August.

Craig: Je m’appelle Craig Mazin.

John: There’s NaNoWriMo, which is National Novel Writing Month. I’m strongly considering actually just doing it this year.

Craig: Wow.

John: And there’s an idea I have that is not a movie idea, or at least it’s not an idea that wants to exist first as a movie. And so I’m thinking about actually doing it this year and writing a book.

Bin Lee asks, “When can we hear Stuart’s voice on the podcast?”

Craig: I don’t know. I mean, we could just keep him like Maris, Niles’s wife on Frasier. Sort of a presence.

John: Indeed. Like in Fight Club the whole time through. I’ve always – I’ve actually been Stuart the whole time through.

Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 259 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the season finale of Scriptnotes, we have major announcements about the future of the show that listeners may find exciting and/or troubling. So, if you’re driving a car, please don’t swerve and hit a Pokémon Go player.

You might want until you get to a safe space. We will also be discussing that computer algorithm that says that there are only six plots, which is pretty much a layup. And, Craig, welcome. You are here in person. This was a big show, so we couldn’t do this by Skype. You had to be here live.

Craig: No, I had to be here live. I wanted to be here live. I did, unfortunately, mow down 14 Pokémon Go players.

John: Were they in a parking lot?

Craig: And nothing of value was lost.

John: [laughs]

Craig: I mean, what? What?

John: So, here’s what we were talking about before you came. It’s like if a Pokémon player dies while collecting Pokémon, do they all spray out like the rings like from Sonic the Hedgehog?

Craig: That would be amazing, because then the amount of murders – Pokémon Go related murders. Because then we would be living in Grand Theft Auto 5.

John: Yeah. It kind of feels like we already are. So, it’s a nice time.

Craig: Actually, that reminds me of my One Cool Thing. Because, as you know, I do believe in the fact that we are. But there’s maybe a way out. So, my One Cool Thing is going to be about the way out of that. But, no, I’m happy to be here. It’s very exciting. I don’t know what season finale of Scriptnotes means, since I believe our new season starts next week.

John: Our new season starts next week. But this is the end of five seasons. So, this is our fifth anniversary we’re coming up on.

Craig: Aw.

John: Which is crazy.

Craig: What you get me?

John: Uh, nothing. I got you some changes. I got you some changes to the show, which is sort of exciting, too.

Craig: I hope they’re good ones.

John: And the reason I was thinking about the season finale concept is that when a television series comes to its series finale, there are certain things that are sort of tropes that are going to happen. And so there tends to be the defeat of a big, bad villain. I don’t know if we have any villains on our show. Do we have any villains?

Craig: Stuart.

John: Well, yeah. We have the death of a major character. The removal of a major character. Someone leaves the show. We have a change of venue.

Craig: Stuart.

John: He’s not a venue. He’s sort of a world onto himself.

Craig: Right. Good point. Good point.

John: We have meta conversations about the series and sort of how far we’ve come. There’s always that thing. There’s always that thing where you’re reflecting back on sort of all the stuff you did. Or like, hey, do you remember when.

Craig: Right.

John: So like at the end of a season of Survivor they used to do that thing where they had like all the torches, the torches of the fallen, and they got through all that. Jeff Probst listens to the show, so–

Craig: I know! I know. I think you and I are one of the 12 people that he follows on Twitter, which I think is fantastic. I was for a long time a longstanding Survivor watcher. It is a huge commitment of your life to be a first season to current season Survivor watcher.

John: I’ve watched every season.

Craig: That’s amazing. Admittedly, I – my wife continues, but I fell off somewhere in there. But that show is brilliant.

John: It’s really, really good. And so on that show they would always pass the torches of the fallen. And basically it felt like a huge filler, but it was excuse for showing footage of all the people who used to be on the show who are no longer on the show.

Craig: Well, it’s like in the Hunger Games when somebody dies, and then they show their face in the clouds. And they play sad music.

John: Yeah. But the last thing you always do on a season finale is really set up the next season. So that the wheels are in motion for next season. And like True Blood used to do a really good job of like they’d wrap up all their business like halfway through the final episode of the season, and then like introduce the whole new thing that was going to happen. Sort of tease that next thing.

Craig: Right.

John: Or in books sometimes they’ll have the first chapter of the next book at the end of the book. The kids’ series will have that.

Craig: Yeah, like when the season – I think two seasons ago on Game of Thrones, the last shot was Arya Stark heading off to Bravos. So, you knew, okay, exciting things would be happening with her in Bravos, which curiously just was kind of a zero in terms of it’s actual – like the one thing I can criticize about what those guys have done character-wise, and I don’t even think it’s their fault, because I think they had to… – It’s like, look, that’s a huge chunk of the books. But, narratively, if she had missed that boat and then hit her head and slept for two years, she’d be right back where she is now.

Well, with little changes.

John: With little changes.

Craig: Yeah. Little changes. She’s got some new skills.

John: So, we are to some degree sailing off to Bravos. Hopefully there will be some growth and some change, but that’s this episode.

And so we’re going to dig into it after we do some follow up. And we’ll start with some boat follow up, though. So, in an earlier episode we talked about magical dad transformation comedies, and someone brought up the Goldie Hawn/Kurt Russell comedy, Overboard. And we both, I think, commented that like that movie is really dark when you think about it.

Craig: Yeah. The actual circumstances of Overboard require a man to take massive advantage of a brain-injured woman, gaslight her, total gas-lighting her into believing that. And then kind of employ her as a domestic slave. And then also have sex with her.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And then in the end convince her to stay of her own volition.

John: So a troubling premise, really. And so we said on the show, someone could easily recut that trailer as a dark kind of thriller. And one of our listeners – because we have the best listeners in the entire world–

Craig: We do.

John: Did this. So, Fredrik Limi, we’ll provide a link in the show notes, he did what’s sort of a David Fincher version of it called Girl Gone Overboard. And it’s nicely done. I found it a little bit long, but I thought he found the really good shots that sort of told that very dark story from her point of view. Questioning like, wait, am I really the woman you say I am?

Craig: Right. Exactly. I wanted creepier music.

John: Yeah. Creepy music is very important.

Craig: We can’t help but criticize everything, right? We’re the worst.

John: We are the worst.

Craig: We’re the worst.

John: We’re the worst.

Craig: This guy did us a favor.

John: Yes.

Craig: And we’re like, eh, it’s too long. Change the music.

John: I thought he did a brilliant job selecting out those moments.

Craig: He did. Actually, there were moments that I had forgotten happened, like when he’s pushing her head in the water. And you’re like, “Oh, god.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s a terrible, terrible premise for a movie.

John: Terrible premise for a movie. Today’s episode is unique in the history of our podcast, because in this episode Stuart Friedel, who has always been a man behind the curtain, a person we refer to but don’t actually invite onto the show itself–

Craig: For good reason.

John: Yes, Stuart Friedel is here because this is his going away. This is his exit interview.

Craig: Wow.

John: Stuart Friedel, the producer of Scriptnotes for five years, is finally leaving the nest. So we thought it’s about time to have him on the show to actually talk about what he’s done, what he’s doing, what he’s going to do. Stuart Friedel, welcome to Scriptnotes.

Stuart Friedel: Thanks for having me.

Craig: Wow. He did that so well. It’s like he’s learned. This is bizarre, because as you know, I still – even though I’m looking at you, Stuart – right now I’m not quite sure you’re real.

Stuart: I’m not either, frankly.

Craig: Good. So we’re on the same page.

Stuart: Yeah.

Craig: So, I guess we should probably start by finding out why you’re leaving, right?

Stuart: Yeah. That’s a good question. I would say that I’ve hit the critical mass of other projects, so it’s just time for me to pack my bags and hit the road.

Craig: And your other projects are of what nature?

Stuart: TV writing, kids’ TV primarily, which is my – I’d say my life’s work. My passion.

John: So, I think it’s good for us to fill in the backstory and really chart the entire person who is Stuart Friedel, because so far he’s always been this name, or the person who answers the emails, or like sends out the tee-shirts, or gets yelled at when the phone rings while we’re trying to record.

Craig: Yeah. That’s my favorite part.

Stuart: [laughs] Those are all things that I do. This is true.

John: So, Stuart has been my assistant for five years. And I hired you from Disney Channel.

Stuart: You did. Yeah. I was working as the Assistant in original programming development at Disney Channel.

Craig: And how did you even come to find him there and pull him out like a bird stealing another bird’s egg?

John: That’s what it was. Stuart went through the Stark Program, the same graduate school program that I went through at USC. And so when Matt Byrne, when my previous assistant, was time for him to go, he got staffed on the TV show Scandal and is still a big writer on Scandal.

Craig: Great.

John: We put out the call to Starkies saying, “Hey, this job is open.” Whenever that job becomes open, people scramble for it. So, we don’t sort of put out the call too wide. How did you find out about the job?

Stuart: I was at the time teaching – is a very loose word – but I was instructing a third of a Stark class at nights, The Negotiation Game, which is awesome. And one of co-“adjunct professors” was on a Stark email list that I didn’t know existed. And they were like gossiping about it after class.

And I kind of kept my ear to the ground. We had Chad and Dara come speak to us, and I guess Dana come speak to our class, while I was at Stark.

Craig: All former John August assistants.

Stuart: Yeah. They all gave the advice, like if you have any interest in writing, you know, keep your ear to the ground. And my time at Disney, for this job specifically, my time at Disney was fine. I was definitely at a point where it was like a crossroads. And I was either going to be there for a long time, or not. And for a few reasons I kind of wanted to be in the “not” camp. And so this was like fate. It was the exact right moment. I was at Disney for 365 days on the nose. And I had always said I don’t want to do it for less than a year.

Craig: This means something.

Stuart: Yeah. So it was, you know, kismet.

Craig: Nice. And so then John plucks you away.

Stuart: Yeah. The application process was long.

Craig: Long and arduous.

John: Yeah. So I think during your session I met with like five different candidates, and I had you edit together a bit of the blog – because at this point there was no podcast, so it was mostly about the blog. It was mostly about And I had you read a script? What else?

Stuart: Yeah. So I remember the job description was like don’t write a typical cover letter. So I remember writing this two-page cover letter and like going over it. I remember I had line that was like “In the grand Disney tradition, I’m ready to be rescued,” and like all that stuff. I was really proud of it.

Craig: That’s adorable, Stuart.

Stuart: That was true. And then came in for an interview. And first round interview was just meeting. You sent me home with a script and said do notes on this. And it was like this whole prompt. And the last line was, “And proofread it.” Come in with like casting, all this.

And I got here an hour early and I was sitting in the car, and I was like all ready with my notes and my casting. And then it was like, “And proofread it,” and I had totally forgotten to do that. And I remember coming in during my interview and saying like you asked that at the end, and I was like I thought I had gotten through the whole, and forgot that you wanted us to proofread it. And I was like, “I got to be honest,” and I told that story. And I was like, “And while I was reading it, I found one mistake, which was you wrote four-poster bed, but it’s supposed to be four-post bed.” But then I looked up on my iPhone and it actually is four-poster bed.

So, not only do I have no mistakes, but the one mistake that I found wasn’t actually a mistake.

John: Yeah.

Stuart: And then, for some reason, you didn’t count me out. You sent us home again–

Craig: Yeah, I would have – just that ridiculous story, I would have, absolutely, I would have removed you from my premises.

John: So not only did you not follow instructions, then you were wrong when you attempted to follow the instructions, but at the last minute you scrambled.

Stuart: I owned it. And I admitted it. Hopefully I–

Craig: That’s the worst part. That’s the absolute worst part, is now you’re making me have to care about your problem. I would have had you removed from the premises.

Stuart: Yeah. I mean, that’s what I figured. If I make him internalize it. If I–

Craig: Well, that worked on him.

Stuart: [laughs] Yeah. And then you sent us home and it was like the next prompt was – or the hypothetical. I want to write a book that is the blog as a book, that’s very much like Chapter Three of Tina Fey’s Bossy Pants. And went to Barnes & Noble that day and I read cover to cover at work the entire book. And then you were like, “So what’s the table of contents of my book.” And we went, I think, three notes sessions back and forth.

And then I remember the day that you called me, and I went to the Disney Channel parking garage to take the call.

John: Aw.

Craig: Aw.

Stuart: And I got the job.

Craig: That’s spectacular. Now, for people that are thinking about breaking into our business, I don’t know – because I actually never did the typical assistant job. My first job was through a temp agency really. So there wasn’t much of an interview process. It was just, “How fast can you type? Yeah, you seem to wear clothes. You’re fine.”

Is this normal or abnormal?

John: I think it’s abnormal in the sense that most times when you’re hiring an assistant, you’re basically like can you keep track of my calendar and schedule and–

Craig: Phones.

John: Phones, yeah. And that kind of stuff. And I recognized that over the years, my assistants, there wasn’t a lot of that calendar and phone stuff. But there was a lot of like the ability to talk about the script I’m working on, the ability to read stuff and proofread it. The ability to sort of recognize what was important and what was not important.

So, some backstory on my side. Like I’ve been lucky to have this string of remarkable assistants. My first assistant was Rawson Thurber, who has been a guest on the show. Then I had Dana Fox. I had Chad Creasey. And the Creaseys went on to do great stuff. I had Matt Byrne. And now Stuart Friedel.

And so I got to recognize over time that it wasn’t just about the person sitting there being barely level competent. You wanted somebody who could actually do something really good. And somebody who I wouldn’t be annoyed with sitting downstairs and doing their own stuff the whole day.

Craig: That’s the huge part. Because that eliminates almost everyone for me.

John: Yeah. Exactly. You don’t want anyone else in your space.

Craig: No. No, to look at somebody – I do have someone who works with me, and she’s been with me for years. And I can’t do – like if she came to me and said, “I’m thinking of moving on for a reason,” I would just say, “Well, then I’m retiring.” Because I can’t do this again. I can’t meet anyone new. I can’t look at a new person. It’s going to be terrible.

Stuart: Yeah.

John: The other difference is that I’ve hired a lot of other people sort of in addition to assistants, so I’ve had designers, and I’ve had Nima who does our coding. So there’s been other people who have sort of come through the world. And so you get a sense of who is going to fit in and who is going to be additive in a great way.

Stuart: I remember in the final interview you said like, “I’m not always the best roommate, but in this situation we’re not roommates. I’m the boss. So you just have to be aware of that.” And I think that’s a very–

Craig: Perfectly. I mean, that is accurate. I wouldn’t have said that either. Because, to me, what do you not know that I’m your boss?

Stuart: Right. Right.

Craig: I’m already – you could see the problem with me, right?

John: So I’ll tell you that when I hired you, I really didn’t think you would last five years.

Craig: Yes!

John: I thought you would last one year. And here’s why. I remember telling Mike my husband this. Is I thought like, well, he’s really good. I bet in a year he’s going to go back to kids’ TV, because he’s the only person I’ve ever met who actually genuinely loves kids’ TV. Like you’re not faking it. You really do love kids’ television. And when we come back from a trip, on the DVR we’ll see all the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon shows that you’ve recorded that you’ve actually watched because you keep track of that stuff. You actually know the names of the actors. You can recognize sort of trends and things.

Craig: Well, Stuart, you should be on children’s TV. I mean, people don’t necessarily know what you look like. But you look exactly like the sort of guy I would be thrilled to have my young child watching a la Blue’s Clues.

Stuart: Oh wow. I thought you meant as a child.

Craig: No, no. Steve from Blue’s Clues.

John: He very much has a Steve from Blue’s Clues quality.

Craig: Right. I mean, you look like fun. And you look safe.

Stuart: All right. Cool.

Craig: And you look nice and kind. And you would be – you should make a show for yourself.

Stuart: All right. I’ll take that one to the bank.

Craig: Only if you do it. If you don’t do it, now it’s just tragically upset guy.

Stuart: If I were a kid that lived in LA, there’s no doubt I would have pressured my parents to getting me on at least in the room for those things.

John: Stuart, who is the one kid I see on everything now who has the red hair, who is in the recent version of Wet Hot American Summer, but he was also the pseudo bully kid, but he’s also in Another Period recently? He’s in everything.

Stuart: Yeah. And he was on those commercials as the fairy that flies through that room. I don’t know his name, but you’re right that he is on everything now. He’s not really on many kids’ things though.

John: No. he’s always the kid in an adults’ thing.

Craig: Right.

John: But that’s sort of – he grows up to be you.

Stuart: Yeah. I had a kid when I was a camp counselor who I really liked, but he was like the punk red-headed kid that was in my cabin. He’s that kid, but this generation’s “that kid.”

Craig: That kid. Yeah.

John: And so I thought that you were going to be leaving about two years ago, also, because when my assistants are working for me they’re always writing stuff, and I never read their stuff until they ask me to read it. And so finally you asked me to read something. And I read it and it was really good.

And it may not have been the very first thing I read that said like, “Oh well, he can really do it,” but like the second thing I was like, oh, that’s really good. I can totally see–

Craig: Stuart can do this.

John: He can do this. And like you are going to get staffed, and then all this stuff was going to happen. And I remember actually talking with a showrunner who called in sort of doing a background check on you. And I was like, well, he’s totally—

Stuart: Oh really? I didn’t know that.

John: The MTV show.

Stuart: Yeah. I know what you’re talking about. I didn’t know that they called.

John: Oh, no, they called.

Stuart: I didn’t get the job.

John: No, you did not get the job.

Craig: What did you say, John?

John: I said lovely things about how talented he is.

Craig: Stuart should be a character on a child’s show. He appears to be an animated Muppet. Yes. Oh, what is your channel? MTV? Oh, no, no, no, no.

Stuart: Glad to hear that that staffing meeting went well, because I thought it went well, and then I was sort of disappointed that I didn’t get the job. But at least if they were calling about me it means I wasn’t crazy.

John: I’m sorry that for the last two years I haven’t told you that the meeting went well.

Craig: What else have you not told him?

John: That’s sort of the bulk of it. So, as Stuart is preparing to leave, I can tell you that there’s a pattern that happens where people’s scripts get passed around without them knowing they get passed around. And so when I started hearing from Stuart that like, oh, someone else read this thing and I didn’t even know they were reading it. When I started hearing those kind of conversations I was like, oh, his clock is ticking. This is all happening here.

And then people come to a point where the number of meetings they have to have and the number of phone calls they have to have is just tremendous. And I was able to sit down with Stuart and say like the most important thing for you to do is to take all these meetings and do all these things. And I need somebody who is here to answer the phones and do stuff. And so we’re at this threshold now. And I’m happy that we’re at this threshold.

And also, you’re–

Stuart: A lot of good stuff is happening.

John: And you’re getting married.

Stuart: Getting married in three weeks.

Craig: I’m so excited. I’m going to be there.

Stuart: Me too. Yeah. I’m pretty stoked.

Craig: Are you going to be there?

John: I’m going to be there.

Craig: Awesome.

Stuart: The all-stars Scriptnotes team.

Craig: Absolutely. Is your dad going to be there?

Stuart: My dad will be there.

Craig: I love Stuart’s dad so much.

Stuart: Me too.

Craig: Your mom is great.

Stuart: Yeah. I love my mom also. It’s her birthday today actually.

Craig: But there’s something about your dad. Oh, it is? Happy Birthday, Mrs. Friedel.

Stuart: I’ll pass it along.

John: Congratulations. Indeed. Stuart’s parents and even grandparents would come to live shows, which I just found remarkable.

Craig: Amazing.

John: Because live shows can be really filthy. Like, this is a clean episode, but sometimes they’re not clean.

Stuart: Yeah. I have a brother who lives out here. And he in the course of my working here has had two babies. And so I’ve been lucky enough to have four grandparents that will come for those things. And those things also seem to coincide with live episodes.

Craig: And all of your grandparents are alive?

Stuart: Yeah.

Craig: Wow. Good genes.

Stuart: Yeah, right, it’s kind of crazy.

Craig: Is everyone red-headed?

Stuart: No one. I’m the only one.

Craig: Oh, really?

Stuart: Back to post – like before my grandparents. I’m the only one.

Craig: Then, if the pattern holds, you will also be the only one who dies young.

Stuart: There we go.

Craig: Congratulations.

Stuart: As a statistician, you understand how these patterns and things work.

Craig: Absolutely. What I just said was mathematically valid.

John: We have questions from listeners and you’re here, so let’s have you answer some of these. Kevin writes, “I wonder, does Stuart – hi Stuart – keep a mental track of the best entries in his opinion in the Three Page Challenge? If so, that could be a great post on your blog, or yearend podcast material.” Stuart, do you keep track of the best entries in Three Page Challenge?

Stuart: Well, first of all, hi back Kevin. No I do not. If you’re saying best as in like most professional, I wouldn’t feel comfortable judging these scripts in three pages for that in and of itself. We were talking earlier about the Stuart Special–

Craig: Oh, the Stuart Special.

Stuart: It’s sort of something that happens–

John: Describe the Stuart Special.

Stuart: So, what has been deemed the Stuart Special is–

Craig: No, it’s the Stuart Special. [laughs]

Stuart: Is something happens exciting and then it’s like “two months earlier, six hours earlier,” you know, the flashback. The tease and then the flashback. And I do not go out of my way to purposely pick those. I think what happens is, so we say you can turn in any three pages of your script. Most people – and by most I mean over 99% of people – turn in their first three pages. And in your first three pages, you should hopefully be writing something eye-catching in some sense.

If it were me, I wouldn’t be turning in my first three necessarily. I would be turning in–

Craig: Right. I’ve always been surprised by that. I’ve always thought that more people would–

Stuart: I think people think it’s a precedent. I think people think like, oh, it’s supposed to always be your first three because they usually pick the first three.

Craig: We’ve only done the first three I think, right?

Stuart: I think we had one. I think we had one that wasn’t.

Craig: One that was in the middle? Okay.

Stuart: But, not only have we never said that, but it clearly says it I believe on the submissions page.

Craig: For sure.

Stuart: At least it has. So I think that people turn in their first three and then a lot of times there’s not something eye-catching there, or just not something to talk about or something exciting.

Craig: You mean, so they’re kind of forcing – they rewrite it to create a Stuart Special?

Stuart: Or, it’s just that those are the ones that wind up getting picked because those are the ones that have something in it that are not first three page moments. And so even though they are “the first three pages” but there’s something happening that’s actually a third-act or a second-act moment.

John: Because they’re actually starting in the middle of some action, so therefore there’s things to discuss that isn’t just like clearly like let’s open up the story.

Craig: Right. That makes sense. But you don’t necessarily pick the ones that you think are “the best.” You’re looking for the ones that you think will give us the most to discuss.

Stuart: Right. And I should be clear that if you are chosen, you are in like at least the 85th or 90th percentile. I am not picking the ones that are not competent. I am picking ones that are – I don’t think these people should be embarrassed to have their pages exposed. I would never purposely embarrass somebody.

And don’t think – like sometimes I would go on like Reddit Screenwriting or something in the early does of Three Page Challenges and see the way that people were talking about ones that got ripped apart. And I felt really bad because I was like I wanted to reach out to those people and say, “Oh, you were so much better than 75 others that I read at the same time that I read yours that I flagged yours for a reason.”

So, I’m not picking the best ones. The best ones – there’s nothing to talk about. Oh, you want to read good writing, I will tell you what professional screenplays you can read that’s good writing. You know, like it’s the one that if – my goal is we’re teaching a class and we’re going to take out that little slide projector thing that puts some pages on the wall and we are as a class going to go through this together and dissect it.

And what three pages of this pile of 1,500 submissions has something in it that the whole class will benefit from?

Craig: That’s the current amount that we have?

Stuart: It’s over 1,500. And by the way, since we switched to entering through the web page – it used to be an email submission, and we had however many more even before that.

Craig: Oh wow.

John: It’s a lot. So, you’re going to miss Three Page Challenges tremendously. You’re going to wake up in the middle of the night going how could I possibly – people will just start sending your Three Page Challenges just so you can enjoy them.

Stuart: Yeah. Yeah. I have no doubt. I mean, I’ve gotten that before. Like, I’ve met people at parties and they hear who I am and they’re like, “Oh, I’m going to send you three pages.” Or, “Oh, I sent my three pages. Can you go read them?” And I’m like, “Well, I probably read them.” My answer is, I never say like, “Yeah, I’m going to go home and read it today.” It’s either like I’ve read it, or I will read it, or, you know, and you don’t get special treatment. And–

Craig: I’m just, you know, I get very frightened when the reality of the podcast enters my vision, you know, because I like to just think that we’re talking and no one is listening to this. So that story makes me nervous. [laughs] I don’t like it. It’s scary.

Stuart: And you guys, and now I’m an old man, I’m settling down and getting married, but in the day when I was going out on Saturday nights and meeting random people–

Craig: Oh, really?

Stuart: Well, you know, at parties. It’s Los Angeles. Go to Los Angeles parties. Then I’d fairly regularly come across people that were listeners and had entered.

Craig: You know what I’m going to ask you now?

Stuart: What’s that?

Craig: Did it ever?

John: Did it help?

Craig: Did the whole, “I’m the producer of Scriptnotes,” did that – did it Stuart?

Stuart: Uh, it most certainly did not.

Craig: I had a feeling. [laughs] It probably does the opposite.

Stuart: It’s a conversation starter for certain people, for sure. And, great, I’m happy to talk about it. If you ever see me, I mean, there’s a gentleman who I’ve seen at Village Bakery in Atwater a few times who is really nice and said hi to me. And I was like, cool, I’ve officially been recognized now.

Craig: Oh nice.

Stuart: First time in my life. And probably only. He’s probably listening to this now.

Craig: Until you get your show.

John: Till now. Next question is from Andrew in DC who writes, “After a few years of development hell, the $200 million movie is finally being made. Who plays John and who plays Craig in the Scriptnotes movie?” So, Andrew proposes Thomas Middleditch for me. Tony Shalhoub for Craig.

Craig: It’s the worst.

John: And Douglas Rain for Stuart. And Douglas Rain being the voice of HAL in 2001.

Stuart: Great.

Craig: This is terrible.

John: Terrible question. So who plays you though?

Craig: Who plays me?

John: Yeah.

Craig: I don’t know. That’s a tough one.

John: I could see like Paul Giamatti, but you’re much younger than Paul Giamatti.

Craig: That’s the thing. I definitely have the hang-doggy, grumpy, and then vaguely ethnic–

John: Steve Zissis could play you.

Craig: That’s who I want. I want Steve Zissis to play me. You are not played by–

John: I’m not Thomas Middleditch. He hasn’t seen me.

Craig: You’re older and you should be, ooh, there’s those actors that look like you.

John: So, I’m blanking on his name right now. He’s always the villain in things. He’s always a secondary character.

Stuart: Danny Trejo?

John: Danny Trejo is really who I should be.

Craig: That’s who should play John.

John: I’ll think of his name in like five minutes. But he was the villain in Ant-Man.

Craig: You know what? When I was a kid, I don’t know if you guys had them where you lived, but we had the commercials for Hebrew National hot dogs. And the mascot for Hebrew National hot dogs was Uncle Sam. And he said we answer to a higher authority. It was like, okay, god is telling us what the…

And that guy is probably dead by now, but in his prime, that’s who you were.

John: Sounds very good.

Stuart: He may have been, I don’t want to say a One Cool Thing, but I think that – I mean, I’ll find the link again for this episode, but I think we’ve actually linked to that in a previous episode of Scriptnotes.

Craig: To the Hebrew National guy?

Stuart: Yeah.

Craig: Sweet.

John: Corey Stoll is who I was thinking of. Corey Stoll as the Ant-Man villain.

Stuart: He’s great.

Craig: That works.

John: I’ll be Corey Stoll. But who should be Stuart now? Because obviously this person has no idea what you look like.

Stuart: Is it just a voice?

John: Yeah, I guess you’re just a voice.

Craig: No, I mean–

Stuart: If it’s just a voice, it’s Billy West, who is my favorite voice actor.

John: Is he on Futurama?

Stuart: He is on Futurama. And he is on Doug. And he’s on Honey Nut Cheerios commercials. But, if it’s just a voice, I mean, I might as well shoot for the stars.

Craig: Yeah. No, it shouldn’t be a voice. Obviously we get that kid that we were just talking about.

Stuart: That child? That 13?

John: Because in the movie version, he is a child.

Craig: That child? By the way, the best thing is that Stuart is played by an 11-year-old, but we give him all the dialogue of an adult. And we never comment on the fact that this child is producing our show.

Stuart: Louis C.K.’s agent in Louis.

Craig: Right.

Stuart: I wrote a pilot that I’ve done nothing with called Recessive Genius, about a redhead that wants to be a rapper, and all of his red-headed family members. And so I have a cast list somewhere of all the redheads in Hollywood. We can pull that.

Craig: There’s a good amount.

Stuart: Yeah, there is. I mean, it’s cast-able. Homeland.

Craig: What’s her name?

Stuart: Faye Dunaway?

Craig: Ron Howard’s daughter.

Stuart: Paige. Oh, Bryce Dallas. Sorry.

Craig: Bryce Dallas. Bryce Dallas Howard.

John: Good stuff. Our final question comes in from Mark in LA. He says, “Have you seen the writing credits for the new film Ghostbusters? I almost fell out of my chair when I saw that Ivan Reitman’s name is listed in the writing credits as Based on the 1984 film Ghostbusters, directed by.” So, let’s talk through sort of what the writing credits are, the writing credits block on the new Ghostbusters, because it is a little bit strange.

So, it says written by Katie Dippold and Paul Feig, based on the 1984 film Ghostbusters directed by Ivan Reitman, written by Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd.

Craig, you are the credits master. Talk us through what’s going on here.

Craig: Well, it is very odd. Typically you will have a “Based on” when there is source material. And that’s the company can sort of say, okay, we’ve assigned you a certain amount of material. So, in this case, certainly when Katie and Paul sat down and made their deals to write Ghostbusters, they were assigned everything. So, I guarantee you they were assigned every prior Ghostbusters, the scripts that have been written, like Lee and Gene had done one, and a whole bunch of people, right?

So, all of that was assigned to them. And also Ghostbusters 1 and Ghostbusters 2, the original movies were assigned to them as source material. So, yes, normally what you’d see is it would say “Based on Ghostbusters,” but it doesn’t have to say that, by the way.

I mean, on remakes typically they don’t bother with that. So, in this one they did. And then they added the credits in. So, Mark is not correct. Ivan Reitman’s name is not listed in the writing credits. The credits are actually accurate. He’s the director. And then Dan and Harold are listed as the writers, which is correct.

So when I saw this, I assumed that what happened was Paul Feig and Katie Dippold went to the Guild and said this is something we want to do. Would you grant us a waiver? It would require a waiver. So, the Guild can – because our credits are governed by our contract, right? So any time we want to do a different kind of credit, and the studio wants to do a different kind of credit, the Board of Directors has to vote to grant a waiver. And so I suspect they went, because they wanted to do this, and the Guild said sure.

John: To clarify, the based on, that whole section is considered the underlying materials credit. So that’s not the actual writing credit on this movie. That is the source material credit. And does the Guild have like final authority on determining what is the source material for the project?

Craig: Yes. So, typically what happens if there’s any dispute about it, then that’s a pre-arbitration and that has to do with the company. But usually it’s pretty well-governed because the contract that we all get is a – we call it a Guild-covered contract. That means the contract is conforming to our collective bargaining agreement. And one of the ways you conform to it is you say I’m assigning you the following material. That now becomes underlying material. So the Guild doesn’t actually have to do after-the-fact choices. It’s just sort of baked in.

But like I said, on remakes – one thing that does happen on a remake is the writers of the original movie actually go in to the arbitration as Writer A, which is an interesting thing. Now, it’s rare that that writer does get credit, because usually on a remake quite a bit changes.

But there have been cases of it. 3:10 to Yuma. And most notably the new – the remake of The Omen. Only the writer of the first movie got credit because essentially they felt that nothing had changed substantially in such a way that another writer should have credit. That’s remarkable. And I don’t know of any other movie like that.

But, so for instance, when Gus Van Sant remakes Psycho word-for-word, the first writer gets credit alone.

John: So in the case of the new Ghostbusters, Harold Ramis’ estate and Dan Aykroyd, they are not getting residuals for this new thing because they are not the credited writers on this new movie.

Craig: Right. So all of the residuals for this movie will go to Katie and Paul. They will be split in half exactly.

John: Because they are ampersand, we should clarify. They are ampersand as a writing team.

Craig: Whether they were ampersand or not.

John: They’re a single writing credit, yeah.

Craig: Exactly. So, if one team, they would share it. If two separates, they would share it. And they are the only ones. It’s possible that Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis had a separate producing kind of thing, but that’s aside from what the Guild does. That’s extra money on top of things.

So, the writing credits are – in terms of who actually wrote the screenplay of the Ghostbusters that’s in theaters now – Katie Dippold and Paul Feig, and that’s it.

John: Very good. All right, many people on Twitter this week wrote in talking to us about these six plots. So, essentially what happened is a bunch of researchers at the University of Vermont in Burlington, they used sentiment analysis, which is where you look at strings of words to determine their emotional content. You set algorithms in computers to do all of this.

And they mapped the plot of 1,700 works of fiction. Most of these are novels, but some of them are plays. And so they track the changes of sentiment from moment to moment. And they build these charts of the overall arc of these different works. And from there, they determined there are basically six categories of works.

There are works that have fall, rise, and fall, like Oedipus Rex. There’s rise then a fall. There’s fall then a rise, like a lot of super heroes. There’s the steady fall. There’s the steady rise. There’s a rise, and a fall, and a rise, like Cinderella. So, we’re basically out of business because the computers have figured out that there’s only six plots.

Craig: Yeah, I mean, look. Everyone knows that Romeo and Juliet is a timeless classic and still works to this very day because it has a steady fall.

John: Yeah, that’s really–

Craig: WTF to the maximum level of WTFs.

John: Because there’s no moments of happiness or joy in Romeo and Juliet. There’s no rise, there’s no love, there’s no flash of love.

Craig: There’s nothing frankly at all except a steady fall? This is the dumbest of all these things. And many of them are dumb. I love the graph. A stupid graph. And then the fact that these… – This is what happens, unfortunately. I love science. You know, I’m a scientist. But, see, I don’t go into labs and start pressing buttons. And I really wish that scientists would not go into novels and start pressing buttons, because what they’re doing is they’re just engaging in a kind of reductive analysis, which anyone could do.

You could also say that there’s really only one plot: beginning, middle, end.

Stuart: Right. There’s arrows. There’s up and down. And in a macro view – we’re not even going to look at the way there’s up-down-up-up-down-down – just in a macro view, look at where the up is, and look at where the down is. There’s only six plots.

Craig: And also, why are the ups and downs now how they define plot? That’s not how I define plot at all.

John: Nope.

Craig: No.

John: So, Nima who works for us, he was pointing out that essentially there were theoretically eight different plots you could find. But they compressed them down because you could theoretically have rise-rise-fall, or rise-fall-fall, but they compress those down to just rise-fall.

So, even in potential plots, they’re just compressing them down.

Craig: It’s like trigonometry. Side-angle-side. Side-side-angle. Angle-angle-side. It’s the dumbest. Of all of these, this one truly is the dumbest because it is useless. It’s bad science that provides click-baiters something to say. It teaches you nothing. It informs nothing. It doesn’t inform you as a reader. It doesn’t inform you as a writer. It doesn’t help you think about the world in any way. It is the emptiest of noise.

I hate it.

John: [laughs] I knew this would be a simple layup here.

Craig: I do always rise to the occasion. I mean, never once will I ever resist umbrage. When you wave a red flag in front of me, I’m going to do what I do. I’m a simple man. Rise-fall-fall.

John: All right, so it’s time for our second big announcement on the show, about a huge change that’s happening. Which is something that, Craig, you’ve known about for quite a long time, but I’ve deliberately sort of not said anything about it because it’s one of those things where you tell people that it’s going to happen and then everyone is like, “Ahhhh….” And it makes people sort of nervous.

And so now it’s 30 days away, so it’s time for us to say. I am leaving Los Angeles. I am moving to Paris. And so I’m going to be living in the City of Light. I’m going to be a writer there in Paris.

Craig: But not permanently.

John: Just for a year. So, for one year, I will be in Paris. And I’ll be living there. So, it’s always been the plan. This is not in reaction to something. I don’t have like insight about what’s–

Craig: You’re not fleeing.

John: I’m not fleeing. There’s no investigation. I’m not nervous about sort of the – well, I am nervous about the election. It always has been the plan that I’d be gone for the last part of the election.

Craig: Well, Europe seems to have managed to screw themselves up even worse than we are.

John: Absolutely. And there’s a French election coming, too.

Craig: That’ll be brilliant.

John: Really genius. And so the plan has been for quite a long time that my family and I are going to be moving to Paris starting in August and going through next August for my daughter’s 6th grade year of school. So, she’s been at a K-5 school. The schools we want to go to start in 7th grade after that. And so for 6th grade we had to do something.

And so a bunch of years ago Film France took a bunch of screenwriters over to Paris and showed us a bunch of locations that they wanted us to film in. So, I was on a trip with Derek Haas, [Unintelligible], and John Lee Hancock. And John Lee Hancock – and Justin Marks – but John Lee said, “You know what? I’m loving this. I’m going to pull my kids out of school and we’re going to live in Paris for a year.”

And I said that’s a great idea. I’m going to steal it right now. And so that’s been the plan for–

Craig: But he didn’t do that.

John: He never did it.

Craig: No. Because I could have told you that John Lee Hancock does not run his household. Holly Hancock, on the other hand–

John: Yeah. Holly Hancock is fantastic.

Craig: Amazing. And surely said to him, “No.” And that was the end of that discussion.

John: But you’ll notice that now they are single parents because their kids are off in boarding school.

Craig: Not far from here. So they’re visiting them plenty.

John: They’re visiting them plenty. So, anyway, I stole John Lee Hancock’s idea. It’s been the plan for the last five years that we’re going to be moving to Paris. And now it’s finally suddenly here.

And so I want to talk about why you don’t expose that ahead of time, because I didn’t want sort of everybody in Hollywood to know that I was moving because then it’s that weird thing like, well, are you going to hire somebody for a job knowing that they’re not going to be around to deliver the second trip.

Craig: Absolutely. This comes up. I remember actually – not to bring everybody down – but I remember having a long talk with my friend Don Rhymer, who was a working screenwriter for many, many years.

John: He did the Rio movies.

Craig: He did the Rio movies. Exactly. And Surf’s Up. And then he had worked in television for many, many years, like on Evening Shade and other shows like that.

And he got sick. He got cancer. And he was really worried about who do I tell, because I don’t want people to not hire me, because right now I’m happy to work. And he did, by the way, he worked – it was remarkable. His whole cancer odyssey was about four years long and unfortunately did not end successfully. But, the entire time he worked.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And at some point he was unable to keep it from people. But, it’s a real thing. You don’t want people to suddenly put you in the box of, “Oh, you’re moving to Paris. Well that’s like you’re dead.”

John: Yeah. Women writers often face this with pregnancy. And so our friend, Dana Fox, who was on the show – I’m not sure quite where it was in her development process – but she had a pregnancy that required her to be on bed rest, and yet she also had a tremendous amount of work to do. And she had writers to meet with.

And so she had to sort of keep the pregnancy a secret from the people she was working with so they wouldn’t freak out about her TV show.

Craig: She just pretended to be incredibly lazy?

John: I think she’s fine with me telling you. She faked a back injury to sort of explain why she was having to take meetings at her house rather than at the office.

Craig: In her bed.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I feel like I want to that now, just so I don’t have to get out of bed.

John: It’s a really good plan.

Craig: It’s amazing.

John: It’s an amazing plan. So, obviously we live in 2016 in a time where I can remotely on anything, and so most of what I do is emails anyway. It’s not going to be significantly impacting my ability to do my work. But it is a real change. And even when I was in Chicago doing Big Fish, or New York doing Big Fish, I was always sort of in the country and in the same time zone.

And so a challenge for our show is that we do the show by Skype, and so that’ll be the same. But we’re also on really different clocks.

Craig: That’s the problem. So, Paris is 10—

John: Depends on what time of year. But, yeah, 10 hours.

Craig: Does it go down to nine when we–?

John: I think there’s some times where we’re at nine, and sometimes where it can go more.

Craig: Based on Daylight Savings. So, that’s a terrible time split.

John: It is.

Craig: It’s nearly flipping AM/PM. So, it’s always going to be one of us either too early or too late. But I’m happy to take the late shift by the way. That’s my jam. I don’t like getting up.

And then the nice thing is, you’re right, we could be on different planets the way we do the podcast normally. But, you know, we have some plans to – that I don’t think will disrupt your… – I mean, I’d like to think because – not because we care about our listeners but because we’re just the way we are—

John: We are the way we are.

Craig: We deliver a consistent product.

John: Agreed. And so you’ve done episodes without me. Like the Alec Berg episode you did, which was terrific. And so there’s already a plan for a solo one that you’re going to be doing very soon. There are writers in the UK and in France who I may be talking with in doing some solo things, too.

We’ll find ways to make it work. You don’t listen to any other podcasts, but if you did, you would know that some of them actually go to like a season format where they’re off a few weeks, and then they’re on for a bunch of weeks. So, Serial does that. And other shows do that. I don’t think we’re going to go quite that far, but there may be some weeks where we’re doing a best-of, or we’re just off. And we’ll let you know if that happens. But I think we’ll be able to keep up sort of like a normal schedule.

Craig: Yeah. I think so. Certainly we’ll have plenty to discuss. I’m not freaked out about it completely. I’m freaked out like 78%. You know, because I’m your child. Daddy is leaving.

John: And Stuart is leaving. So it’s a lot of change.

Craig: But I never believed Stuart was really real. So, that’s not a problem for me at all.

John: Matthew though is staying put. Matthew is still editing our show.

Craig: Thank god.

John: Matthew, you’re listening to this right now. Please – please stay.

Craig: Good. Okay.

John: The other sort of big change and sort of big bit of news is this next year I’ll be doing a lot less screenwriting because I sold a book. I sold a series of three books, which is very exciting.

Craig: Woo!

John: So, this next week, sometime they’re going to announce it. By the time you’re hearing this podcast, it may already be announced. But we’re recording this on Thursday, so I couldn’t be sure that the news is going to be out there. But back when we were at Austin Film Festival and you remember this last year there were those horrible storms and everything. And Melissa was there and my husband Mike was there.

I was talking on the phone with this novelist who had written this middle-grade fiction book that was really good. And we were talking about whether I would adapt his book. We had a great conversation and I asked him a lot about sort of the history of the book and sort of the history of writing and sort of stuff, and over the course of this hour-long conversation I realized like I really don’t want to adapt this book, but I think I kind of want to write a book like this.

I don’t want to be the guy who gets sent all these adaptations, but actually the guy who like writes the original book. And so that was October 30. And then November 1, start of NaNoWriMo, I just sat down and I started writing the book.

Craig: So this is the one that came out of NaNo – I’m not going to say that word, because I hate it. Hate it. It’s a nonsense word. It’s nonsense. This is the one that came out of the National Book-writing Month?

John: Indeed.

Craig: Fantastic. You may be the only person that has ever made a dollar. I’m a terrible person. I’m a bad guy.

John: That’s fine. You’re not bad at all.

Craig: No, I’m bad.

John: So for people that don’t know NaNoWriMo at all, we actually mentioned it on the air that I was thinking about doing it, and then I did it. It’s this idea where you write every day in November and you can build up to a full book by the end of November. And I didn’t write the entire book then, but I wrote enough of it that like, oh, this feels like the outline of this book.

And so it’s middle-grade fiction. It’s the same genre in general as a Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. It’s very much sort of my childhood and sort of pushed into a fantasy realm. And it was just a delight to write. It was a delight to write fiction. You’ve written some fiction over the years.

Craig: Yeah, not much. I mean, honestly, I’m still deeply on the hamster wheel of screenwriting.

Stuart: Popcorn Fiction.

Craig: Well, yeah, no, I’ve done it. And I have a little secret novel that I work on every now and again that, you know, is mostly for me. But, yeah, no, I can’t tell if I’m envious of you or not. I think I am. Because I’m currently on a – it’s a hamster wheel.

John: So, what’s interesting is we obviously know a lot about how screenwriting works. We know how the screenwriting industry works. We know about Hollywood.

And when I went off and did the Broadway show, I got to learn how all that works. And you recognize: these are things that are the same, these are the things that are very different. These are the gatekeepers. This is the process. And with the book, I got to learn all that again. And I’m still learning it now. So I’m just taking a lot of notes as I sort of see it. But, I’d written this first third of this book, I’d written the proposal for the rest of it. You show it to your agent. Your agent shows it to another agent. You find a really good book agent. You’re very lucky that she says yes.

And then you go out with it, and it’s very much like going out with a spec script. But rather than going to studios, you’re going to the big publishing houses. And there’s this whole conversation about which editor at which house is the right one. And all these discussions and debates.

And then you make your top choices. You go out. And I was very lucky that the place we wanted to do it said yes.

Craig: Fantastic.

John: And bought it up and bought it for three books.

Craig: And that’s Hustler? Hustler Press?

John: Hustler Press, yes. That’s what it is.

Craig: Got it. Good. Good label.

John: Raunchy middle-grade fiction – it’s really – that’s the future there.

Craig: Well, they put a lot into marketing.

John: They do. So, anyway, I’ll have more to say in the coming weeks about it, and I’ll have stuff on the blog, and there will probably be a second site that’s geared more towards the people who would ultimately be reading this book.

It’s weird writing something that is not sort of for my age to read. It’s a strange thing, too. But I’m really looking forward to all of it.

Craig: Well, that sounds fantastic. And since I have, you know, our daughters are essentially the same age, so I’m sure that my daughter will be reading. In fact, she can be one of your beta readers.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Or even gamma reader. Is that–?

John: Alpha.

Craig: Oh that’s right. It goes–

Stuart: There’s an alpha bed.

Craig: Right, so gamma would be like, oh my god, we’re almost about to–

John: Yeah, absolutely. So there’s a whole thing called Advanced Reader Copies Arcs that you send out ahead of time. And our mutual colleague, Geoff Rodkey, is a writer and he’s been incredibly helpful sort of in those initial conversations about like what do I even do. What is the process here?

And so I’ll be trying to sort of keep track of the process. And I may end up doing a second podcast that is just like a six-episode leading up to the book to sort of show this is how you actually do it.

Craig: I don’t have to do anything for that?

John: Nothing.

Craig: Fantastic.

John: No.

Craig: Because then I can just – now I can stop paying attention to that.

John: You can not even listen to it.

Craig: I’m sorry. What were you saying? [laughs]

John: That would be the most Craig thing you could do.

Craig: Got to be me.

John: The last and most crucial thing we need to do today–

Craig: This is the big one.

John: This is the big one.

Craig: You thought that all that stuff was big.

John: That’s all–

Craig: Jettisoning Stuart. Moving to France. Writing a book. None of that matters.

John: Yeah. So some of you listening to the show may go like, well, without Stuart, like what’s going to be here. Or should I polish up my resume because Stuart’s job is now open?

And so we need to hire somebody. Maybe there’s going to be a giant competition, where we’re going to ask our listeners to send in stuff.

Craig: That sounds great, John. Let’s do that.

Stuart: The best Three Page Challenge gets picked.

John: Becomes my new assistant and becomes the producer of Scriptnotes.

Craig: What a great idea.

John: It’s a great idea.

Craig: Or, no.

John: No. Or actually no. But I think we are going to do something very different. And we sort of hid Stuart away for five years, our new producer is not going to be hidden away anymore. It is time for us to actually introduce our new producer of Scriptnotes. We’d like to welcome Godwin Jabangwe.

Godwin Jabangwe: Hi.

John: That’s Godwin Jabangwe!

Craig: That’s perfect.

John: That’s fantastic. Godwin, you are my new assistant. You are the new producer of Scriptnotes. Have you listened to the show ever?

Godwin: Yes. I have. And I love it, obviously.

Craig: Thank you.

Godwin: And I’m really, really excited to be here and to be playing a part in this.

Craig: Well, I already like him better than Stuart.

Stuart: Great, thank you.

Craig: But that’s not saying much.

Stuart: The bar is low.

John: Godwin, some backstory, you are currently at UCLA. You are studying screenwriting?

Godwin: Yes, I am. I just finished my first year. I am going into my second and final year at UCLA. Go Bruins. And I just have to throw that in.

Craig: Of course.

Godwin: And, yeah, I love it. I am excited. I’m from Zimbabwe, so this is like a big deal for me.

John: So you were born and raised in Zimbabwe, and from Zimbabwe you went to–?

Godwin: I went to a small college in Michigan where I got my undergrad in film production. And then I applied to UCLA and somehow they said yes. So, yeah.

Craig: Well, I mean, they obviously saw what – I feel like whatever we saw in him, and really it’s John. I mean, that’s the truth. John, no big surprise, did all the work here. Obviously.

Stuart: Hiring his own assistant.

Craig: I would have also picked you. I would have done it quicker. I would have done it with much less drama. But, no, of course, they saw in you whatever John saw in you. It’s exciting. And I believe that we know your instructors at least are the Wibberleys.

Godwin: The Wibberleys. I took a class with them last quarter. And they are fantastic. If they’re listening, hey.

John: So, the Wibberleys are married screenwriters. They worked on – they did the National Treasure movies. They also worked on the second Charlie’s Angels movie. I met them because they rewrote me on the second Charlie’s Angels movie. And the very first time we had a phone call, the very first time I actually met them in person, was at the Charlie’s Angels premiere. They were seated behind me. And so we just talked.

And they were so cool. And they’ve been great. So, when it became clear that Stuart was leaving, I did put out some small feelers, both to Stark Program which is where I’ve always gotten my assistants, but also to other folks. And the Wibberleys raved about Godwin and they were correct.

Craig: So, not a Stark guy.

John: Not a Starky. First non-Starky.

Craig: Good. Let’s break that tradition.

John: Let’s break that mold, yeah. So, I was able to meet with five fantastic candidates. And there are just remarkably talented people out there. And gave them different assignments than what Stuart had, but a chance to sort of talk through their work, to sort of see how their brains worked. And it’s been a pleasure to have Godwin be part of this.

Craig: So how does this work with Godwin being a student and also doing this job? Tell us how that’s going to- or one of you can tell us.

Godwin: Well, it will be a lot of work. But it’ll be fun work, because what I am hoping to learn and pick up is what I’ll be applying to my schooling. You know, the writing program at UCLA is intense and it’s a lot of work, but I’ve been doing this for a while and I know that I am not – I’m not here to play, either in school or at work. So, it’ll be a fun challenge.

John: Stuart, any advice for?

Stuart: Your classes are at night, right?

Godwin: Yes. I mostly take my classes at night.

Stuart: I mean, honestly, I think you will find, especially with John away, that this is like – sometimes you get detention in high school and it’s a blessing because you get all your homework done. I think you’re going to find that your life is actually kind of a little easier. You’re getting up. You’re going into an office. And you’re just going to do the work that you are going to be doing.

Craig: That’s another good point. So, you’re going to be John’s assistant, but John is going to be in France.

John: Yeah. So one of the things I had to warn him about, all the applicants before they even applied, saying like we’re going to be starting work at 7am LA time, so that we have some overlap of hours.

Godwin: Yeah. So, but–

Craig: Oh man.

Godwin: I wake up early anyway. So I’ll be fine. I can handle it.

Craig: All right. I wouldn’t have taken this job.

John: No, clearly.

Craig: I mean, 7am.

John: It’s early. You’ve seen 7am, but usually on the other side of 7am.

Craig: No. I’ll tell you, this is why – I love production, but the worst part of production is waking up.

Stuart: Oh god.

Craig: I hate it. I hate it so much.

John: For me, the worst part of production is when you’ve done a night shoot, and you’ve done all night, and then you’re racing to finish night shots before the sun comes up. And when you’re cursing the sun for rising, that’s a bad sign.

And then you’re driving home against rush hour traffic. That was Go. And I will never write a movie that’s mostly shot at night again.

Craig: I love shooting nights. Oh my god.

John: I love how quiet it is. But then I hate the end of it.

Craig: So great. I love it. I just love being – because now, yeah, the world has gotten out of your way. There’s just something, I don’t know, calmer at night. But I got a lot of mental problems.

Godwin, I’m very excited. And now as the producer of Scriptnotes, maybe you could finally explain to me what the producer of Scriptnotes does. Because I don’t know.

Stuart: I would love to hear this.

Godwin: I’m looking at Stuart like help me out here. I think creating the transcripts of the show. Making sure that everything is right with each episode. Making sure that it’s uploaded to the website. That it is shared on Facebook. You know, just bringing it to the people.

John: I always forget that Stuart actually has to manually share it on Facebook.

Stuart: Yeah. I think, honestly, I think that the credit I’ve been given is a little generous at times. At the same time, I think that there’s probably a lot of little things that you guys don’t even realize I’m doing to help the machine stay well-oiled.

Craig: I didn’t realize you were doing anything. So, it all goes under the folder of “What does Stuart do?”

Stuart: Yeah. And sometimes I – when I talk to my dad about it I say like, it wasn’t something specific, but we’ll have a conversation at lunch, and then next week that conversation is the fodder for what becomes the episode. As simple as that.

Craig: Well, you know, Stuart, I like to tease you, because you’re adorable.

Stuart: Well, thanks.

Craig: But you’ve done a spectacular job. And I know it’s a lot of work, because I know I’m not doing it. So, we’re going to miss you.

John: We will both miss you very much. You’ve done a fantastic job.

Stuart: Thanks guys.

Craig: You have big ginger shoes for Godwin to step into.

Godwin: Yes.

Stuart: Get ready.

Godwin: I’m looking forward to it.

Craig: But you will be available, I assume, as a resource if he calls you?

Stuart: Well, let’s put it this way, if you ever need me, feel free to email me. I will reply to you as quickly as I can. I hope to be too busy to be [unintelligible] very quickly.

John: Yeah, we’re being cagey about sort of what he’s heading off to do. But I think it’s going to be a big, noteworthy announcement.

Craig: It’s not war?

John: It’s not war.

Stuart: It’s as much war as waking up at 7am for production is war. Hopefully. We’ll see. Knock on wood things continue to go well.

Craig: I like this. This is exciting. Perhaps one day Stuart will be our guest.

John: Oh, that would be very exciting, to announce the launch of a certain project.

Craig: Oh!

John: That could be good.

Stuart: I’m coming back.

Craig: That’s right. It’s like coming back to host Saturday Night Live.

Stuart: Yeah. Like graduating, you come back to your old college.

John: See all the people who are still there, yeah.

Craig: I love it.

Godwin: So, one thing, you guys were talking about who should play Stuart. Justin Timberlake.

Craig: Kinda, yeah. Actually, I kind of get it.

Stuart: One of my first days here, John’s daughter told me I looked like Phillip Phillips, who I had never heard of at the time. And I looked him up and I look nothing like this person. And I’m the worst singer in the history of the world. And now I’m apparently being compared to another very good singer, who is significantly better looking than I could ever dream to be.

Craig: I would love to hear you sing.

Stuart: Oh, well, you know, if you guys stick around for 150 episodes, I’ll take out my guitar, and then we’ll delete it before we put it in.

Craig: Nice.

John: It’s time for our One Cool Things. Mine is actually a recommendation from Aline Brosh McKenna, who is our favorite sort of go-to guest. She recommended this podcast called My Dad Wrote a Porno. And what it is is these three guys, three British people, one of whose father was trying to be Fifty Shades of Grey, but he’s like a 60-year-old man trying to write erotic fiction.

Craig: Oh no.

John: So they read aloud the chapters and it is sort of half commentary while they’re reading it. It’s just delightful.

Stuart: That’s fabulous.

John: It’s fantastic. So, the book that they’re reading is called Belinda Blinked.

Craig: Belinda Blinked?

John: It’s just remarkable. So there will be a link in the show notes to My Dad Wrote a Porno.

Craig: Wow. Awesome. My One Cool Thing is a little bizarre, but you know I talked before about how I think that this is not real and that in fact what we think of as reality is a computer simulation. And there are a lot of very fancy physicists who have put this theory forward.

And one of the arguments for it goes like this: if we can create – eventually we’ll be able to create a simulation in which the people in the simulation don’t know that they’re in a simulation and they are fully intelligent. And if that’s the case, what are the odds that some other civilization like us hasn’t existed and made us that?

Okay, so an interesting argument has emerged against this. And the argument basically boils down to pi, the irrational number. Because pi never ends. And the argument is if we’re in a simulation, the simulation must be finite because it is created. If it is finite, you can’t have a number that never ends.

And I think we now have a computer that has calculate pi to the three-trillionth digit, with no repetition of pattern, and no suddenly a trailing bunch of twos. Basically, think of pi as like Truman in the Truman Show sailing on that water. But he never gets to the wall.

So, it’s possible that this might – I’m now saying this is a chance this is real. It’s a slim, slim chance.

John: But the counter-argument would be that there’s some programming that’s happening that’s making us believe that pi is incalculable. Essentially, Nima, our coder, says that’s absolutely true.

Craig: That we are essentially being manipulated in this. But what a bizarre and pointless manipulation. Or is the point of the manipulation to make us think that it’s real? This is the great trick.

John: Exactly. That’s the great trick. The greatest trick the devil ever played.

Craig: Okay, so then whoever is listening now above us, and watching our simulation, must be concerned that we’re onto them.

John: What if this is actually the last episode of Scriptnotes?

Craig: Or the last episode of existence.

John: That, too. Both are tragedies.

Craig: Wow, man. One Cool Thing.

John: We’re going to give Stuart the last word, so Godwin, why don’t you give us your One Cool Thing.

Godwin: My One Cool Thing is something that is happening in Zimbabwe. We have this incredibly brave one man who has stood up and started what can be called the Zimbabwean Spring. And so you should check out the hashtag called #ThisFlag and see how people are finally speaking up in Zimbabwe and it’s about time.

So, I’m really thrilled about that.

Craig: What is the man’s name?

Godwin: His name is Pastor Evan Mawarire. And so—

John: Say that back three times.

Craig: Well, I knew about Morgan Tsvangirai.

Godwin: Tsvangirai. He was an opposition leader. This guy is not a politician. He is not starting a party.

Craig: He’s a religious man?

Godwin: He is just getting the people to get up and—

Craig: Robert Mugabe cannot leave soon enough from this earth as far as I’m concerned. Well, we will definitely check that out. That’s excellent.

Godwin: You should.

John: So, the hashtag is #ThisFlag?

Godwin: #ThisFlag.

John: Great. Stuart Friedel?

Stuart: Thanks for making me look petty.

Craig: So, his was that entire nation. Mine was about the nature of reality. And tell us, Stuart, what’s your One Cool Thing?

Stuart: Right before we started recording, John said like do you have a One Cool Thing? And my response was it’s 260 episodes. I’ve had over 260 One Cool Things. I just haven’t been able to say any of them. And in the time that I’ve worked here I think I’ve introduced John to some things that I’m proud to have introduced him to, like Nathan for You, and the iced tea that we drink in this office.

But there is one thing that I’m perhaps most proud to have introduced him to. And it is my One Cool Thing. And I’m going to pitch it to you, to all of our – I think it’s going to be helpful to our listeners as well. And that thing is specifically the chicken kabobs at Fiddler’s Bistro on Third Street, right near the Grove. And here’s my pitch.

Craig: That’s right up there with #ThisFlag.

Stuart: Right. Exactly. So, you’ve probably all seen Fiddler’s Bistro. Like you drive down Third Street. It’s just sort of there. It’s unremarkable. It’s just a sign. It’s just there. It’s near the Grove. It’s next to 7-11.

John: It’s part of a motel complex, right?

Stuart: Part of a motel. It’s the bistro in a motel. Exactly. And I remember once a few months ago, or I guess a few years ago, you and Mike made a joke that I had heard before that’s like, “Whoever goes to Fiddler’s Bistro?” And I was like, ah-ha, I have. And it’s awesome.

It is right near the Grove. I hate the Grove. I absolutely hate the Grove. And my least favorite part about the Grove is parking there.

Craig: Yeah. It’s terrible.

Stuart: So, if you go to Fiddler’s Bistro, there is parking on the street. There’s also a little lot and there’s parking right around the corner, so you can park there if you’re going right before the Grove and then walk to the Grove. Leave your car there. Easy.

But the best part are these chicken kabobs. So you get there, you walk in, it is unpretentious. There are a lot of restaurants in Los Angeles that look really fancy and pretentious and their food is not very good. Fiddler’s Bistro is the exact opposite of that.

It caters this motel, so they have everything on the menu – breakfast all day. But, there’s one section that is differentiated, that sticks out, and that’s the kabobs section. And there’s a reason for it. Their chicken kabobs are out of this world.

So, you sit down. First thing they give you is warm bread with this roasted red pepper dip that is fantastic. And then the chicken kabobs. Simple marinated chicken that is so succulent and delicious. You have no idea.

Craig: This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever heard.

Stuart: Some of the best hummus you have ever had. Really good pickled beets. Great rice. Peppers. Onions. Pita bread. Absolutely delicious. If you live at Park La Brea, you’ve probably seen it 500 times. You never thought to walk in. It fabulous. And if you read the reviews online, you’ll see that it’s either five-star or like two-star. The five-star reviews are all from people that either got the kabobs or this chicken couscous soup that I’ve never tried, but now I have to try.

And the two/three-star reviews are all from people that were staying at the motel that just got regular food and were not terribly impressed. But the chicken kabobs at Fiddler’s Bistro. My One Cool Thing.

Craig: My mind is blown right now by the – I love – I’ve never seen you this enthusiastic about anything.

Stuart: Find something I love, and I—

Craig: Turns out the answer was chicken.

John: Chicken kabobs at one place. So, Stuart brought in the kabobs from there this week. And the hummus was wrong. And there was no red pepper sauce.

Stuart: And the credit card machine wasn’t working. But first time in seven years that I’ve been there that there has been any sort of blip.

John: Everything is falling apart.

Stuart: Now that I’m leaving. Such a forgivable blip, though.

Craig: But how were the chicken kabobs, John?

John: They were fine. But without the red pepper sauce, it’s just not the same. The red pepper sauce is what sort of pushes them over the edge to me.

Stuart: Well, John had this idea that in all my years of going there, I first was introduced to this place by a friend of mine from Stark. Matty C. Matt Conrad, if you’re out there, hi Matt. And Matt lived near me.

Craig: He’s doing shout-outs now. This is unbelievable.

John: I just love that. He’ll be like turn down the radio while I’m talking on the phone.

Craig: When did we become the Morning Zoo?

Stuart: Five years. Five years! Five years!

So, Matt was like, oh, we got to try Fiddler’s Bistro. And I was like, “That place I’ve walked by a thousand times? Why would I go there?” It’s a perfect place to like sit back, relax, and write.

This red pepper sauce is what like – the second they brought that out, I knew I was somewhere special. And when I brought it here the first time for work, John saved some. And the next day I came in and was like, “I use that on my eggs.” And that is a game-changer.

Craig: Oh, the red pepper sauce on the eggs?

John: That’s how you do it.

Stuart: Get it to go. Save some of the extra. Use it on eggs the next day.

Craig: I’m just—

John: You’ve learned so much.

Craig: I’m happy. But, that was pretty great, actually. I got to say.

Stuart: Oh great, good.

Craig: You delivered.

Stuart: Thank you.

John: Well done. That is our season finale, but we’ll be back next week with the start of the new season.

Craig: Which is the most ridiculous thing. I’m going to miss Stuart.

John: I’ll miss Stuart, too.

Stuart: Thank you guys for five fabulous years. I mean, all I’m doing is pushing buttons. You guys are the—

Craig: Yeah, but we love you.

John: You’re the only one here getting paid, so.

Craig: Exactly. That’s not true. I know you are. I know you are, John. I know it. I know it.

John: At some point there will be forensic accounting and you’ll see all the millions that we’re raking in.

Stuart: We’ll show you the numbers. You’ll have a good laugh.

John: The other person getting paid is Matthew Chilelli who edits our show. Thank you, Matthew. And our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth. If you have an outro for us, you can write in to and send us a link.

Scriptnotes is produced by Stuart Friedel and Godwin Jabangwe. And, yes, we did pick him because he had a good NPR-sounding name. It’s just a fantastic—

Craig: That was the only reason?

John: It’s a reason. Not the only reason.

Godwin: It’s funny you say that, because I have been writing like tweets to NPR for years saying I have the perfect name for NPR. It’s paying off.

Craig: It’s finally paying off.

John: It’s finally paying off.

Craig: Godwin Jabangwe reports.

Stuart: Close enough. It is so phonaesthetically pleasing. It’s like Cellar Door. Godwin Jabangwe just flows so – it’s like Best Ever Death Metal Band out of Texas. You know that song by Mountain Goats?

John: No.

Stuart: It just flows. Like your tongue is in exactly the right place for the next syllable.

Craig: Godwin Jabangwe. You’re right. It’s like typing the word point.

John: I’ve been looking forward to it all week to be able to say it.

Craig: All right.

John: Guys, thank you very much, and thank you to our listeners for five years. That’s just crazy and remarkable this has been going on for five years. And we look forward to what happens in the next couple years. See you.

Craig: Bye.


You can download the episode here.

Adam Davis, year 10

Thu, 07/21/2016 - 09:43

I first met Adam Davis in 2006, back when he was finishing up at Drake University, my alma mater. He loved movies, and was wondering whether he should bite the bullet and move to Los Angeles. I said yes, definitely — but he should prepare to work his ass off when he got here.

Adam took my advice to heart, and got to work. Along the way, he wrote up recaps of his first year in Hollywood, his second year, and his fifth year.

Unbelievably, it’s now his tenth year in Los Angeles, so I asked him to recap what he’s accomplished, what he’s learned, and what he would have done differently.

Exactly 10 years ago I arrived in Los Angeles for a summer internship at Marvel Studios and quickly realized this town and industry was for me. I was turning twenty-two and was driven by the surefire fact that I was going to make my debut feature film and have my manager or agent by twenty-three, just like Robert Rodriguez. Because I was one of those young genius savants, not one of those poor shlubs that actually had to work years at honing their craft, right?

Let’s just say twenty-three was a mighty depressing birthday. Ah, but twenty-seven, that’s when I would strike it big like my other idol, Quentin Tarantino! As you might guess, birthday number twenty-eight was even more depressing. Nothing big was happening. Nothing I could tell people about. But what I was doing in all those years was the work. I was writing, trying to get better with each script. I was directing one short a year, when I could afford it. I wasn’t out doing drinks, I wasn’t networking like crazy, I was just doing the work. Because I needed to get better.

I got sidetracked of course, captivated by those stories of a self-published novel that was becoming a movie. A bidding war over an indie comic. The funding contests. The screenplay competitions. Maybe, just maybe, if I tried another door, I’d finally win the prize. So I adapted one of my features into a novel and self-published it to a whopping five mediocre reviews and zero dollars. I adapted script ideas into comic pitches and submitted to rejection. I submitted projects to funding contests that set you back a couple hundred bucks. Rejection. I submitted to the Blacklist. More rejection. I tried making videos for YouTube. No one cared. Was it me? Was it everyone else? Was there just too much competition and content? I felt like I was trying everything and failing, but the one thing I always came back to was the work.

No one was going to hand success to me, that much I had learned. But people could help or provide advice if I asked. So I took a chance and reached out to a successful writer that I had a few pleasant interactions with and asked him to lunch. I just wanted to know what his path was. The conversation was informative and fun and out of that came a request to read a script my writing partner and I had written. Turns out a stuntwoman he knew, Heidi Moneymaker, was looking to have an action script written for her to star in. He liked our script enough to pass it along, Heidi read it, liked it, we had a great lunch and walked away with a pro bono writing gig and a production company tentatively attached to produce. That project stalled and eventually died, but we had another solid script under our belts and a new relationship. We still wanted to do something with Heidi, so we came up with an action/horror short film idea called NO TOUCHING starring her and her friend, Zoë Bell. We pitched them our idea over sushi and they agreed to star in it and produce with us.

To fund it, we ran a Kickstarter campaign and miraculously raised the $30,000 we needed in 15 days. Family and friends really stepped up to help us reach our goal, but things were rocky the night before the campaign ended the next day. We were down $2,500. Everyone we knew had pledged, so it was up to fate. I went to bed not knowing what we’d do if we failed. That would be the end of it. All that hard work and nothing to show for it. My mind raced. Could I pledge the rest myself? Put it on a credit card? I had no answers so I went to sleep, preparing myself to jump into action in the morning. And then something amazing happened in the middle of the night. Unbeknownst to us, a Xena: The Warrior Princess fan page on Facebook had found the campaign and posted about it, since Zoë was the Xena stunt double. And by this random occurrence, one fan graciously put us over the edge. In the morning I woke up to numerous texts and voicemails saying that we had done it. It still remains one of the most surreal events that’s ever happened to me. I’ve never considered myself lucky, but this seemed like a textbook example of it that I’m forever grateful for.

So we were well on our way to shoot it in fall of 2014 when Tarantino’s Hateful Eight intervened. Zoë got whisked away earlier than expected to begin training and we had to make the hard decision to push a full year due to her and Heidi’s schedules. I was devastated. One year! This was supposed to be the project that got my foot in the door and I had to postpone for one year! What was I going to do with one year? 2014 was ending. In a half year I would turn thirty-one. I had set milestones for myself, all of which I had failed to meet. Thirty-one was approaching 10 years of true, constant effort. Thirty-one was my breaking point.

So I had a tough conversation with myself. I had to wait a year. There was nothing I could do about that. So what could I do? I had not accomplished my goal of directing a feature film by the time I was thirty so I promised myself that I would finally do it before I turned thirty-one in July. That gave me 6 months to write and direct it. Which I had no idea how I was going to pull off, but I knew I had to. There was no other choice.

In January I began writing the script for an idea I had, a single location drama called CONFERENCE CALL and wrote a first draft by the end of February. As I rewrote I began the pre-production process, looking for crew, reaching out to actors, asking people for help and things started falling into place. The project was a quickly moving train and anyone wanting to be a part of it had to be willing to jump on and run with it. And the best people did. There were temptations, offers from actors of connecting me to this or that producer who might be able to get funding if I cast them, but I stuck to my guns. I couldn’t wait for anyone. I was self-financing it which meant we only had the budget to shoot it in 4 days and we had to make that happen.

As I kept up with the momentum and ran headfirst into production, I was able to lock down the perfect cast, the right crew and an amazing location. I didn’t, couldn’t, stop and things somehow kept falling into place. The cast and I rehearsed the script like a play for 2 weeks because we had to shoot quickly, only allowing them a few takes per scene. And the script was ninety-five percent dialogue, being a group of people stuck in a room together. But the cast was up to it and they performed better than I could have ever imagined. At the end of June, after 4 grueling days spread out over 2 weekends, we had everything in the can. Apologies in advance for getting way too honest here, but on the last day of shooting I came home and all I could do was sit in my car and cry for a solid 5 minutes. They were happy tears, grateful tears, because somehow I had done it. I had finally accomplished my biggest goal.

By December, the film was finished and submitted to festivals. CONFERENCE CALL premiered at the Pasadena International Film Festival in March of this year and was nominated for Best Feature. The festival run since then has been pretty limited, as a micro budget movie about the film industry with no stars in it is a tough sell, but I know there’s an audience out there for it. It may take me a while to find the best way to reach them, but I’ll keep trying. And if nothing comes out of it, it will still have served its purpose. I learned more than I’ve ever learned through that process, I worked with some amazing actors that I’ll be casting for years to come, and I now had an answer to that question I knew I would be asked when trying to get a directing gig, “Well, have you ever directed a feature?” Yep. I have.

In the fall of 2015 we finally shot NO TOUCHING. Through Zoë and Heidi’s connections, we were able to add Jake Busey, Tracie Thoms, Kevin Daniels and Doug Jones to the cast. Shooting action and horror on this scale was another great learning experience and because of the feature I had the confidence to work with a much larger cast and crew.

It’s interesting to have two very different movies going through the film festival circuit at the same time. NO TOUCHING has gotten into more festivals than CONFERENCE CALL because it’s a short, which means higher acceptance rates, a genre for a wider audience, and has notable faces in the cast. It’s played a couple fests so far this year and coming up we’re playing in the San Diego Comic Con Film Fest as well as Fantasia and some others we can’t announce just yet.

For NO TOUCHING, running the festival circuit is all about getting the word out about the film before we eventually release it wide online and meeting people and making connections. And it was about trying to attract a manager or agent. Until it suddenly wasn’t.

It didn’t happen because of our social media efforts. It wasn’t because an agent saw it at a festival. It came down to something very old-fashioned. A friend who saw the short and believed in it enough sent it along to an agent he knows. She liked the short and one of our other scripts and set a meeting with us. And at the end of a great meeting she did the unthinkable and said she wanted to sign us in the room. We said yes. Much jumping and high-fiving happened in the elevator down to the parking garage.

My path was never going to be through a novelization, a graphic novel, a tweet or a competition, although that works for others. As much as I fought it, it was always going to be the old-fashioned way, through someone’s belief in the work and kindness in passing it along.

So after 10 years, I’m finally getting that beginning I’ve always wanted. Soon will come the general meetings, the water bottle tour. But I’m ready for it now. I know that I would have crashed and burned had I been given this opportunity back at twenty-two, when I thought I was ready. Honestly, I sucked back then. I had a lot of heart, but I sucked. All I know for certain is that I suck a little less now.

I wrote a book.

Wed, 07/20/2016 - 12:54

I’m not sure how many screenplays I’ve written. At least 30. Maybe 50.

I have ten produced credits, so that means a lot of unmade movies. As much as I love screenwriting, it’s like being the architect for a bunch of buildings that may never get built. Screenplays are transitional documents, plans for making the “real” thing.

Novels, however, are the real things. Even if they’re later adapated into movies or TV shows, the books themselves are finished works. They’re permanent in a way screenplays could never be.

So in between other projects, I decided to write one. And now it’s getting published.

Here’s the key bit from the press release:

Roaring Brook Press, an imprint of the Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, has signed a 3-book deal for a new middle grade series by award-winning screenwriter John August, who counts Big Fish, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Go among his credits.

In the first book in the series, Arlo Finch in the Valley of Fire, set to be published in early 2018, readers are introduced to Arlo Finch, a young boy who joins a mountain scouting troop and discovers that his fellow campers are not just training in outdoor survival—they are also learning to harness the wild magic that lies deep within the forest. Through treacherous adventures and close calls, Arlo is awakened to his unique destiny and the foundations of the Rangers’ Vow: loyalty, bravery, kindness, and truth.

As a screenwriter who frequently gets sent these kinds of books to adapt, it’s been fascinating to see the other side of the business. I’m asking a ton of questions. I’ll be sharing what I learn here and elsewhere.

Since middle grade fiction readers are not the core demo of this site, I’ve also set up a Tumblr at that’s just about the book — and is more kid-and-parent friendly.

If you’re curious about the behind-the-scenes of writing and producing the series, I’ll be starting a sporadic newsletter with updates and sneak peeks along the way. More details soon.

Huge thanks to Jodi Reamer, my agent at Writers House, and my editor Connie Hsu for making this happen. It’s going to be a busy couple of years, but I’m looking forward to the journey ahead.

Duly Noted: Let’s Talk about Episode 259

Tue, 07/19/2016 - 14:03

Matt Selman (EP of The Simpsons) sits down with Scriptnotes favorites Aline Brosh McKenna and Rawson Marshall Thurber to discuss what went down in the season finale.


You can download the episode here.

The Exit Interview

Tue, 07/19/2016 - 08:03

In the season finale of Scriptnotes, John and Craig reveal big changes to the podcast.

After five years, a much-loved supporting character is leaving the show. We look back at his time with us, what he learned and what he’ll take with him to his new screenwriting adventures.

Meanwhile, one of the hosts is leaving Los Angeles entirely. We discuss what’s taking him to a different time zone and the impact it will have on the show.

Finally, a fresh voice joins the podcast, bringing an international flavor and a name worthy of NPR.

If all these changes sound scary, please be assured we’ll be back next week with the start of a new season.


You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 258: Generic Trigger Warning — Transcript

Mon, 07/18/2016 - 13:58

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 258 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the podcast, we will be looking at three new entries in the Three Page Challenge. We’ll also be answering listener questions about disabilities on screen and which WGA you should join.

Craig: Hmm. This is going to be a good episode already.

John: It’s going to be a great one. I think it’s also going to be short, because we are trying to wedge this in between my going to pick up my daughter at summer camp and you have a thousand things on your plate, some of which I know about, and some of which I don’t. So, it’s a busy time. Summer is supposed to be easy for us, but summer got really busy for both of us.

Craig: It’s the worst. Summer is the worst.

John: It’s just the worst. Here’s the thing: it’s the worst because it’s super busy and everyone is also gone. And so we’re recording this the week after July 4, but half of Hollywood seemed to say like, “Oh, we’ll take the whole week off.”

Craig: I know. People are like, “Hey, so are you going anywhere this summer?” And the question shocks me. Like what? No. I have too much to do. I’m not going anywhere.

John: But then there are some people who are like, “Oh yeah, we’re going to go to the East Coast for four weeks.”

Craig: Right.

John: In summer. Like landed gentry.

Craig: Right. I don’t have that. Apparently I’m forever bougie.

John: Yeah. That’s fine.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Last week, we had a discussion with Gabe from Southampton who was shocked we had not heard of Anagnorisis because his tutors had talked about it often.

Craig: Yeah. So I was very confused, and I think John you were as well, by the use of the word tutor. Apparently in the United Kingdom, tutor is the word they use for college professor, hence our confusion.

John: Our confusion. So, that was yet another word we did not know. We also got some feedback from other British folk. Tony Lee wrote in to say, “I’m a British screenwriter like Gabe. I don’t know any British screenwriters, professional ones at least, for a second think that Americans do the story and Brits do the characters. It’s an idiotic belief and one that any screenwriting teacher worth his salt would try to shy away from.”

And I think that is our message as well is that screenwriting professors around the world hopefully recognize that story and character are not two different things that are done best on two different continents.

Craig: Yeah. Quite a few of our British friends wrote on Twitter. They seemed completely stumped by Gabe’s professor’s point of view. It doesn’t seem like a shared opinion. And I was happy to see that.

John: Yeah. All around the world there are good writers listening to our program, so thank you very much for writing in.

Let’s get to some questions from this week. So, Brian in Chicago wrote in to ask, “Do you guys think there’s a ‘moment,’ for lack of a better term, going on with disabilities in film and television? I am myself physically disabled, and while far from an activist or a person terribly interested in ‘disability issues,’ it’s hard to miss the current visibility of physically disabled characters in film and television.

“Game of Thrones does such a good job with Tyrion because of how his malady occupies both the foreground and background of Tyrion’s character, but isn’t his total character. He’s many things. A dwarf is just one of them. It’s relevant when it needs to be, or makes sense to be, such as his relationship with his sister, the Battle of Blackwater, but it’s not so singular as often happens with other disabled characters.”

Craig, what do you think? Do you think there’s a moment happening?

Craig: I do. I think there’s a moment happening for physically disabled characters. I think there’s a moment happening for characters of color. There’s a moment happening for characters who are LGBTQ. And the reason why — and it’s the strangest thing — while on the one hand we have a very strong academic tendency towards identity studies, the interesting symptom of our concentration on identity is an ability to look past these identities as all-consuming things for our characters. Whereas a while ago you would say, “Well, describe this character.”

Oh, he’s a blind guy. That’s his character, right? Blind guy. No one does that anymore. Well, I’m sure people do, but most of us now our whole thing is, great, that’s an interesting aspect of a human being, and their experience, and we should now be curious and we should be authentic to that experience as best we can. But it does seem like there’s a moment in general where we are all as filmmakers growing up very rapidly about all of these things and underlying all of it is a general movement toward presenting full human beings whose “labels” are merely an aspect.

John: Agreed. I think there’s two facets I’d like to look at. First off is that it’s the recognition that the world is complex and beautiful and filled with many different kinds of people and many different kinds of situations and that it’s great if the stories that we’re telling reflect the diversity of persons and diversity of experiences that are out there in the world.

And so that means looking beyond the initial sort of stock presentations of a character or a character with a disability, to look at sort of what is the full range of that, and how would having a person with a given set of physical circumstances impact both how he or she is perceived in the world, but also how he or she perceives the world. Let that be a jumping off point, but don’t let it be the entire character.

I think Tyrion is a really interesting way of looking at that. At first I said like, well, that’s not actually a disability. He’s just a very small person. And yet it actually does track the way we think of characters with different abilities in stories. There are things he cannot do because of his small size, but there’s things he does differently and smarter because of his small size.

And not having read the books, my belief is that in the books don’t they make more of his small size? Like he’s like nimble and spry in ways that are important?

Craig: I think in the book, and I could be wrong about this, but I think he’s more — he’s more of a small person, whereas on the show they’ve cast Peter Dinklage who has dwarfism, which is a physical condition. It’s a congenital condition. It’s genetic.

And when we say physical disability, there is obviously an implied pejorative there. There are certain physical downside beyond size to having dwarfism. There are difficulties. And so it’s not merely about being small, but it’s about how joints work, and hips, and knees, and elbows, things. But in general, I think we’ve all gotten a bit braver, too, about not running away or shying away from these things. Nobody on Game of Thrones is afraid, either — either in front of the character, or in the writing room, behind the scenes. Nobody is afraid to talk about the “elephant in the room” to the extent that it’s not an elephant in the room.

Everyone is very blunt about everything. And so you begin to demystify and de-taboo-ify a lot of these things that we previously thought of as somehow dividing us.

John: So, a few weeks ago I was in on a meeting about remaking an older film. And there’s a character in it who can present as being very problematic in terms of a — I guess you’d call it a disability, but there’s sort of a supernatural reason for why the disability exists.

And I thought it was actually a really interesting moment to look at that story now in the current light about, well, what is the reality of living with that condition. And this is very much like a condition that a large percentage of the world population actually encounters. And so let’s not run away from it. Let’s actually sort of embrace that and sort of not let it be a curse that a character is under, but actually an opportunity to explore a world that had otherwise been shut off from that person.

And so I do think there is a moment happening here. If we are using the wrong terms for any of this stuff, if Craig and I on this podcast, or people out in Hollywood are using the wrong terms for things, apologies, but also know that we are — I think it’s more important to be discussing the opportunities here than to be running away from them. Or to not engage with them as characters who were sort of missing from film and TV.

Craig: I completely agree. I’m very — I’m actually very excited by the way things are going, and also how fast it’s gone. So, an excellent question from Brian. Thank you, Brian.

I guess we should get in this question from James.

John: Go for it.

Craig: And he’s from Brooklyn, so I have to read it, right? I won’t do the accent. Because also no one in Brooklyn has this accent anymore. It’s just all hipsters now.

James in Brooklyn writes, “I know you guys have occasionally mentioned differences between the WGA East and West. The West has more members and more lawyers, for example. But could you break down more of these differences, or at least go into a little more detail why an East Coast writer might be better off joining the West. I mean, why shouldn’t I join the WGAw, despite being based in New York City?”

John: Craig, I’m so glad you’re on this podcast, because I do not have a good answer here. So, an important thing to understand, which does not really make sense, but is just how things really are, is that there’s a Writers Guild West, which is mostly what Craig and I mean when we talk about the Writers Guild. That represents Hollywood. It represents most of the things you see and are familiar with.

There’s also a Writers Guild East, which is based in New York City. It represents the writers in New York City. The Mississippi River classically divides the East and the West of the United States, but I don’t have a good sense of why right now in 2016 a writer joins one versus the other. So, tell us, Professor Craig.

Craig: Well, I won’t go into the history of why it is the way it is, other than to say that when the guilds were founded New York was a much more important media center. It was the center of television, for instance. Whereas now essentially television — at least entertainment television- is centered in Los Angeles, just like screen.

It is the Mississippi River, that’s the dividing line. And the way it works is if you gain your first employment and your first qualifying employment to become a member of the union, if you are working east of the Mississippi you are funneled into the East. And if you’re working west, you’re funneled into the West.

Now, that actually does not prevent you from changing. You can change. There is a mechanism by which you are allowed to elect a change. The instructions of which are buried somewhere online. It’s not a common thing, but if you call up the Writers Guild East and ask how you should change to the West, after they attempt to stop you from doing it, I think they would — I have to tell you, it basically involves writing a letter to the executive directors of each union and then they have to process it.

Why would it be valuable to join the West, first of all, it’s not unless you are a screenwriter or you are working in entertainment television, or the kind of television that the West is the main operator on for contract. So, there are members in the East who work in news media. And they are almost certainly better off in the East, because that’s where the majority of news writers are. But, you know —

John: But, also, there are a lot of live — the late shows that are often writer WGA shows that are based in the East Coast. And so if you have a bunch of people who are making that same kind of thing on your side of the country, I guess it would make sense to stick around.

Craig: Mm….

John: No?

Craig: Kind of. Here’s the big advantage to being in the Writers Guild West, whether you work on late night television, or you work on a sitcom, or you work in movies. And it comes down to how we negotiate our big contract. The contract that does cover late night TV, and sitcoms, and movies, and all the stuff we think of as entertainment television. Without getting into too much of the boring details, the Writers Guild West takes point on that.

Essentially, the way it works is that there is a negotiating committee. The membership is proportional, which means the vast majority of members of the negotiating committee are from the West, so we have a larger voice in that committee. And then we take the lead. So, once the committee comes back with a proposal for a contract, the board in the West votes on it. If we vote to approve it, the East then — their council, which is their equivalent of the board, they vote, but they can only undo it if they vote against it by two-thirds.

So, they have this — there’s a barrier there for them. And even then, if they should vote by two-thirds to negate what the majority did in the West, it’s not over yet. Then, they add all the totals together of all the votes, and if there’s still a majority for approval, then it goes to the membership. So, if the WGAe votes unanimously to approve a contact, and there’s nothing the East Council can do to stop it from going to the membership.

So, basically the big benefit to being in the West is you have a vote for the people that are going to be probably making the determinative decision about what we get to vote on. The board members in the West, the members of the negotiating committee in the West.

Is it a huge benefit? No. It’s small, but it’s something.

John: So, another possible benefit, and you will tell me why I’m wrong to think this is the WGA West handles many, many, many more arbitrations than the East does. And so there are situations in which an arbitration is handled in the East because the writers were in the East, and they may not have the proficiency with the arbitrations. Is that fair? Is that accurate?

Craig: It is fair. If there’s a theatrical arbitration, and the writers are all members of the East, the East does handle the arbitration. It’s not that they are incompetent — I would never say such a thing. But to be fair, our credits department I think is larger than their entire staff in the East. And our credits department is jammed packed with attorneys whose legal specialty is credits. That’s it.

So, I tend to think that they are much more thorough and there’s just a larger wealth and breadth of experience there. If you end up with one of these difficult arbitrations, and boy, do we get them? So, I do think that that’s a benefit to being in the West.

John: Yeah. So it’s a situation where if you’re going in for heart surgery, you’d like to go to the place that does heart surgery all the time versus the place that does heart surgery a couple times a year.

And it’s not to say that you’re going to have a bad outcome at the smaller place, but if things go poorly, you want to be at the place that has done it a lot of times before and has seen all of the stuff that can happen.

Craig: Great analogy. Perfect.

John: Great. All right, let’s get to our Three Page Challenges. These things are so far away from being finished movies, but who knows, they could end up in arbitration themselves.

Craig: Segue Man.

John: Segue Man. Now, what I sometimes forget to do is to tell people where they can read along with us. So, if you are in your car, do not try to read these on your phone as you’re doing this, because it would be dangerous. But if you’re someplace safe, or if you can pull to the side, you’ll find links in the show notes to the three PDFs we’re talking about. So, just go to and you’ll see this episode and you’ll see the PDFs that we’re discussing.

So, these people were incredibly brave to write in and let us see the first three pages of their screenplays. Sometimes they are pilots, but in this case they all feel like features to us. And they have agreed to let us show these on the air and discuss them.

And Stuart goes through every single entry and he picks three that he thinks are interesting. And something Stuart would like me to remind you is that he doesn’t pick the best entries. He picks the ones he thinks are going to be most interesting to talk about on the air. And so these are ones that have interesting strengths or weaknesses or possibilities so that we can really dig into them.

So, it’s not meant to be a competition that you win. And Stuart sometimes gets frustrated when people think like, oh my god, I was featured on Three Page Challenge and now my career is going to be set. It’s not. It’s not going to be.

Craig: No, no.

John: Hopefully we will give you some good advice and other people can learn from the things we tell you. So, let’s get started.

Craig: All right.

John: Which one should go first, Craig?

Craig: Well, the first one in my hand is The Real Pearl. Shall I summarize?

John: Go for it.

Craig: Okay. The Real Pearl, written by Philip Lemon. What a great name. Philip Lemon.

John: I like it.

Craig: Okay, so we begin in a warehouse. We’re looking at Pearl who is a 25-year-old woman. She is in distress. And in fact a plastic bag is yanked over her head. We watch from her perspective as this large man beats her and then tosses her into the trunk of a car.

She wakes up, she comes back into conscious, in the trunk of the car, and she gets out of the plastic bag. She’s breathing. And she sees another woman in the trunk with her. This is a dead woman. She kisses the woman’s lips lovingly, closes her eyes, and then begins to look for a way to escape.

We cut to inside the car. And we see that it’s being driven by Ivan, a Russian. And he is driving at gun point. In the passenger seat, holding the gun, is the man who presumably was the one who was beating Pearl. Ivan realizes as they’re driving to some distant location that the trunk lid is rising. Pearl manages to escape. She leaps out of the trunk. The people in the car keep going. They don’t notice. She lands on the road and then she is just about to get run over by another car coming toward her when we smash cut to Pearl. And now she’s actually in a city street, bracing for impact, but there is no impact. In fact, now she’s dressed completely differently. She’s got makeup on. She looks terrific. She’s standing in the middle of a city street. And a cab driver just yells at her.

John: Yep. So, I feel like maybe I should have put a trigger warning at the start of this thing, because if you have any experience being taken or being kidnapped or being sort of restrained, this would make you feel very uncomfortable. I could see this provoking some bad feelings.

It provoked some bad feelings in me, too. I don’t know how to even dig into this, because a lot of the writing was fine. And yet I didn’t want to sort of keep in the world of this movie. Do you see what I’m seeing?

Craig: Well, I do. And I think that it’s important sometimes to discriminate between the writing and our taste. You know, so this may not be your kind of movie. And generally it’s not my kind of movie either, although I was fascinated by these pages.

Philip I thought did — putting the — let’s put the content aside for a second. I saw everything. I heard everything. I understood perspective perfectly. I always knew when I was with Pearl, which I thought was fascinating. There was a mystery without confusion, which I thought was great, particularly the mystery of the corpse in the trunk with her.

And I was very surprised by the way the pages ended where it seemed suddenly this might not have happened at all. This may have been in her head. That was fascinating to me. So, I thought these are actually wonderfully written. There are some spelling issues, and Philip included his phone number on the cover page, which obviously we don’t share with you guys. But I can tell you that he’s from Australia. So there’s no excuse for not being able to spell dilapidated or gorgeous.

But I thought that regardless of whether or not this is your genre that Philip did everything you’re supposed to do in three pages of a screenplay.

John: I’m mostly there with you in terms of his ability to visually create the world and to strongly ground us in a perspective. And we’re largely in the perspective of the woman who is being kidnapped and sort of her journey. So, having made a movie with a character locked in a car, trunk of a car, I sort of know what that feels like and I thought he did a good job feeling us through that with her.

I didn’t believe or buy the corpse or the woman in the back of the trunk with her. Sort of the intimacy and the kissing and the touching, it really pulled me out. I loved that her reaction to the corpse was not just an “oh my god, there’s a corpse in the back of the car,” that there clearly is a reaction. This is somebody she knows. At the same time, I didn’t believe the actions that were there.

I loved the introduction of the Russian who is driving the car and the man holding the gun on him. I thought it was very smart to sort of set an expectation like this is clearly going to be the bad guy driving the car, and then realize like, oh no, he’s actually also a captive in this situation. That was terrific.

Craig: Yeah.

John: As we got to the end there, I was reading this as a Stuart Special. I believe that we’re actually jumping back in time to a time before her makeup was messed up. And so I think there was going to be on that next page a “Six Weeks Earlier” or “Four Hours Earlier” that just sort of show us how it had gotten to that situation.

But, I don’t know. I think the alternate explanation that like this is all in her head, or that there is some other movement in time between the two is also possible.

Craig: Well, I would be disappointed if it were a Stuart Special, as I’m about to be disappointed by our other two Stuart Specials. But, again, for people that don’t know, a Stuart Special is when you open a movie with a scene and it’s, “Oh my god,” in media res, and then you go, okay, but six months earlier, and then you start the movie.

You’re right. That may actually be what’s going on. Philip, very quickly, you’ve got a typo in addition to some spelling errors. On page two, olive-skinned, you have olive-sinned.

John: I love olive-sinned people.

Craig: But, overall, I was interested. I thought, also, I’m going to — I mean, again, you know, if this makes you uncomfortable, just turn it down, but this is how it opens, and we talk a lot about how you describe characters, right. And you know my whole thing — hair and makeup. And maybe people are taking this to heart.

“INT. WAREHOUSE — DAY. A WOMAN’S TERRIFIED FACE,” that’s all in caps, “fills our vision. This is Pearl, 25, blonde, sweat smeared makeup, lips curled back, eyes bulging as she — “

Next line. “SCREAMS,” capital, “her lungs out, struggles desperately.”

This is very — I mean, I’m gripped. And what I thought was really interesting was there was no commentary about how she’s pretty, or how she is this sort of — there’s no unfilmmables, as we say. I’m in the moment and I can see it. So, I thought Philip did a really good job and, you know, on some material that isn’t always for everyone.

John: Agreed. So, let’s take a look at a few specifics that I wanted to single out here. About halfway through the first page, “We frantically snap bicycle KICKS up at him; he bats them aside.” I tripped on bicycle kicks. I had to read it a couple of times where I was like, oh, he means the kind of kicks where you’re doing that, like where you’re pedaling a bicycle. Bicycle didn’t help us there, so I’d just get rid of the word bicycle. It helps us out there.

Craig: I like bicycle kicks.

John: Fine to keep then. I would say capitalize bicycle, too.

Craig: Mm-hmm. I like that. Yep.

John: So it all stays together as one idea, because when you capitalize part of it, and you don’t capitalize the other part, they read as different ideas.

Craig: Right.

John: Let’s look at the first transition here. ” BRUTE cocks a meaty fist, SMASHES US INTO: INT. CAR TRUNK — DAY.” That was just a weird transition. We’re missing a word. So, brute cocks a meaty fist and smashed us into INT. CAR TRUNK. Just like the and would just help — let it read as continuous thought.

A general goal is if you’re going to do that kind of the dot-dot-dot transition even without the dot-dot-dot. Make it read like a complete thought, so they’re not just weird fragments out there. Let it read as one continuous line.

Same page. “PIN PRICKS OF LIGHT stab into the BLACKNESS transforming it to GLOOM.” I don’t know what gloom is. I don’t know how you transform into gloom.

Craig: Yeah. I think he means like low light or something like that. But, yes, gloom is not the right word.

John: No. “The plastic is RIPPED open and Pearl GASPS, collapses back.” The plastic rips open. Again, it’s a situation where keep it as present active tense as you possibly can. Passive voice can be lovely, but this was not a passive voice moment in any way.

We go to “crazed pit bull” twice. You know, it’s fine to describe somebody as a crazed pit bull, but don’t use that as the thing you’re going to hang that character description on later on. Same way he uses olive-skinned twice. Don’t repeat “crazed pit bull.” It’s a one-time description. Don’t ever use it again to — don’t use it as the noun. Use it as the archetypal phrase to describe who this person is this first time we see him. Don’t keep coming back to it.

Craig: I agree with that. I for sure agree with that. Anything else? I mean, I would also say one thing for readability on that first page, Philip, is after “Brute cocks a meaty fist, smashes us into,” and then you have “INT. CAR TRUNK — Day. Blackness.” That’s always tough. And it’s accurate, because it is day, and it is black. You might want to move blackness above. So, “Brute cocks a meaty fist and smashes us into — and then on the left side, “Blackness.” Then say “INT. CAR TRUNK — DAY — footsteps and muffled.” So we’ll know, okay, we’re in black. And then “Pin pricks of light stab into the blackness,” you know, or “Still black to just make sure people know.”

But blackness, if it’s ahead of that thing it might help you a little bit there.

John: It’s also a weird thing where “into” above an “INT,” you sort of read both things the same way. So, the simplest thing might be “Smashes us to — INT. CAR TRUNK — DAY.” It feels like it’s less of a repeat there. Just some way to make that feel like one continuous thought would help.

My last little bit is on page three, “Pearl, staring in disbelief, spots the BOX CUTTER.” Disbelief doesn’t feel like quite the right word for a woman who has just like rolled out of a moving car onto a highway. There’s something — disbelief feels like, “I can’t believe she said that.” Versus the shock that you’d actually feel, or the bewilderment, the overall kind of daze that she would be in.

Craig: I think that’s absolutely right. You don’t have time to be disbelieving there. You should be, you know, you get the feeling that she’s gone into animal mode there. Animals never disbelieve anything.

John: Yep. For sure.

Craig: All right.

John: Let’s get on to our next one. This is How I Unleashed Mayhem and Saved the Free World, by Lynn Esta Goldman.

Craig: Great title.

John: It’s a fun title.

Our story opens over black, a voice over from Max. “I didn’t mean to cause trouble. Or to kill anyone. And I don’t think that I did. At least, not intentionally.” We meet Max as he is running for his life. He is 24 years old. Max Klovis is wiry and thin. He is a sort of parkour expert. He’s running from four thugs who chase him through alleys, through a Chinese restaurant. Ultimately, they corner him. He’s holding a phone. And that’s apparently what they’re going after. Then, Stuart Special —

Craig: Hey!

John: Eight Days Earlier. We are in an office where we see Max being interviewed for a job by Howard Cobb, who is pale, wire-rims, generic as the furniture. And they’re talking about this coding job he’s interviewing for.

Max explains he had top grades from Stanford, but he had to leave to take care of his father who had cancer. Trying to defend that Steve Jobs dropped out of college. But the interviewer, Cobb, is not having it. He says that, “We have other candidates who are much cheaper, much better, who didn’t hack into the Fox News website and put obscene comments up there.”

And so we leave the end of the three pages with Cobb saying, “We’ll keep your resume on file.”

Craig: Yeah. Well…

John: Well…

Craig: These are certainly competently written pages. There’s not so much an issue with the structure of them. I mean, there are a few little tweaky things that I’m going to point out. I think the larger issue is that I believe I’ve seen this foot chase a billion times.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: This precise foot chase, in this precise way, including the run through a restaurant that should be called Foot Chase Restaurant, where you go through the Foot Chase Kitchen, and the Foot Chase Chefs go, “What?” And you go into a Foot Chase Alley.

John: I think they have whole sound libraries which is just for the “Whaaaa?” of like someone running through your kitchen.

Craig: The clattering pots. And somebody yelling at you in Chinese, or something. There you go, it’s a Chinese seafood restaurant. Of course it is.

So, these are very cliché. There’s nothing wrong with the concept of starting with somebody running for their life, but you have the burden of a thousand movies behind you. And you have to at least take a moment to say what can I do to surprise somebody here and not give them a foot chase that we’ve seen in Steven Seagal movies. Right?

So, that’s a primary objection. After we do the Stuart Special and we’re in the job interview, Lynn, first of all, you tee yourself up here. And this is a dangerous thing to do with a character. Max in his voice over leading into the Stuart Special says, “It all started with an iPhone, in a bar. Actually. It started with the job interview from hell.” Now, first of all, we can’t do that anymore. We can’t say anything from hell anymore. That is at least 15 years of corniness on it. But the bigger problem is you’ve told me now this is going to be one hell of a scene. This is going to be one hell of an interview. It’s the interview from hell. It is not.

It is not remotely the interview from hell. It’s mildly uncomfortable. That’s what I would call it. And the information that’s coming out — so this is not an inappropriate and inelegant way to do an info dump, and that’s what we’re doing here. We’re getting Max’s backstory. And what we learn about Max through the info dump job interview is that he’s a dropout because his dad had cancer, so he must be a good guy. He is a hacker who obviously was doing sort of, oh, kind of puckish little pranks that we can all get on board with like, you know, screwing with Fox News and so forth.

He’s got martial arts expertise. And he really, really, really wants a job. But no one is going to hire him because, you know, he doesn’t fit their — again —

John: Everything felt very shoe-horned into this interview. So my dad had cancer. I was at Stanford. I’m really into martial arts. It was — you could feel everything being crammed in there in ways that weren’t particularly rewarding. And if you’re going to show us the job interview scene, just like the foot chase scene, you are fighting a hundred scenes that were just like that we’ve seen in other movies. You’ve got to recognize that it can’t be just a version of that scene we’ve seen a hundred times before.

Craig: Yeah.

John: What I thought was interesting is like you I thought it was actually well done on the page versions of sort of these very stock familiar scenes. And like I could imagine if you were to watch that foot chase scene, and your assignment had been like, okay now having watched this, now write the script that goes with it. I thought she did a good job of actually charting what that could feel like on a page and actually making it feel good. A good representation of that thing that we’d already seen on the screen.

It just wasn’t exciting because it didn’t seem to acknowledge that this is the stock version of that scene, and therefore I’m going to spin it in a different way. I’m going to present something brand new that you haven’t seen before.

Craig: A hundred percent. It’s got craft. And that’s a great sign, Lynn, because you know a lot of people just can’t work in this format. And it’s not uncommon for writers, particularly if you’re starting out, to ape. And you may not even realize you’re aping. You may think you’re writing something original, but what you’re really doing is you’re aiming towards the familiar, because you’re trying to emulate something, instead of working in our own voice and being dangerous a little bit. You know, and especially when you’re talking about the kind of movie that I think this is setting up — a little bit of danger is terrific.

You know, the thing about Max in this job interview is the job interview is a terrific instrument to give us facts. But it is a terrible instrument to reveal character, because you’re not yourself in a job interview. In fact, it is one of the few times when you weirdly and formally force out information about yourself when people are usually a little less forthcoming about these things. You don’t just randomly tell somebody on the street that you took care of your dad because he had cancer. But in a job interview, suddenly you’re forcing it out there.

So, I actually learn nothing about Max’s character. I just learn about his circumstances. And those are two very different things. So, if you’re going to keep the job interview scene, one suggestion is to reimagine it from the point of view of what is the essence of this guy’s attitude and feeling about the world. The way he holds himself and how he communicates with other people. And how can I get that across in a job interview? Vastly more interesting than facts.

John: Absolutely. Look for what is the conflict in this scene as well. What is it that Max is trying not to reveal or trying to get the other person to see? Right now there is not conflict in the scene. It’s basically just a ping pong match back and forth. But there’s no real stakes there. And I don’t know what Max even wants.

And you’re teeing this up that it’s the job interview from hell, so I don’t understand why Max wants this job. So, you’re fighting a lot of things there.

The other thing I’ll say about job interviews, and I like your point about people are not themselves in job interviews. They’re this idealized version. That’s I think why job interviews are so good for comedies. Because you have a character who is trying not to reveal who they are really are. And the natural tension and sort of the little lies that they get caught up in over the course of their job interview can make for such great comedy moments.

But this doesn’t feel like this movie wants comedy here, at least not from what we see in these three pages.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, I could see a version of this where Max is describing himself, and it sounds fantastic, and exactly what this guy wants. And this guy is like, “Boy, you really are everything we could ever want. Do I have any other questions? Oh yeah, here’s one: why did you get arrested for hacking?” You know, and like how did you find out about that is now the question.

So that Max was attempting to hide something, and now it’s a game of how much do you know? So should I keep lying or not? And of course you keep lying. And he keeps busting them on the lies until finally it all unravels.

Something like my dad had cancer is very private. And it’s very serious. And so that’s another thing that you may want to think about how or if it should be revealed.

So, good craft.

John: Yeah. A few little small things I want to point out on the page. Page one, we see his face. “Boyishly handsome. A bad-boy glint in the eyes.” You get one boy. Not two boys. You can’t be a boyishly handsome bad boy.

Craig: Yeah, also it’s very hard to — frankly I think, you know, we had talked about there was that run of really bad introductions to female characters. This kind of falls into the opposite version of that. This is your hero and you’re describing him as “boyishly handsome, bad-boy glint.” That’s a little bit like hot but doesn’t know it. It just feels very cliché and very vanilla pudding.

And, also, difficult to show realistically when in fact when we’re looking at his face he’s running in fear from thugs. So —

John: Exactly. So, you get that glint if you are hitting on a girl at the bar, but you don’t get that glint when you’re running for your life.

Craig: Nor do you look particularly boyishly handsome in that moment.

John: You don’t.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Bottom of page one. “The three Thugs advance toward him… his back’s against the brick wall, it’s the worst place to be.” It’s the worst place to be — it’s not interesting, good information for us. I would scratch that kind of stuff out. Keep it simple. Keep it short. Like, “Back against the wall.” We know what back against the wall means.

Craig: We know how brick walls work.

John: We have seen that.

Last little thing. Page two, Max has two blocks of dialogue in a row. So he says, “I left to take care of my father. He had cancer.” Action line is, “Cobb continues to glare at the resume.” “Steve Jobs dropped out of college. Bill Gates. Mark Zuckerberg — “If a character is going to keep talking with an intermediary line of action in between, it’s a good idea to put the CONT’D, the continued after his name. It just reminds people this is a continuous block of dialogue.

It’s not a must. The world won’t come crashing to an end. But it’s useful. And you will often see in a table reading if you don’t have those things, characters get confused because they’re like, “I said my line. Someone else needs to talk now.”

Craig: Yeah. I’ve stopped doing those. But what I will do is if I’m going to do a split like this, I include something about Max as well. I don’t want to — because the problem is, for shooting purposes here, Max is continuing and he doesn’t seem to be reacting to what Cobb is doing. So, I would be okay with Max stopping if I understood that he was stopping.

“Cobb continues to glare at the resume. Max sweats. You know, juggles.” Whatever, you know, scrambles. Just something so that I know this is happening for Max and not just you’re just stopping him talking so that I can see this guy stare at something.

John: Yeah. So what I’ve done is I’ve turned off the automatic character CONT’Ds, but for when it’s just one line in between, I’ll usually use the CONT’Ds. The reason why I turned off the CONT’Ds overall is sometimes you’ll have like three paragraphs worth of action that takes place in the middle point. And then it’s ridiculous to actually Max Continued, like it’s not the same thought. A bunch of other stuff has happened in between.

But for these cases where it’s just a single line, I usually will use it. The world doesn’t end one way or the other.

Craig: Agreed.

John: Agreed. Our final entry, do you want to take care of this?

Craig: Yeah, because I really want to say this title. Baby Alligators.

John: I love Baby Alligators.

Craig: Couple of good titles here. Actually, all of the titles were good.

John: Well done, title makers.

Craig: Good job, guys. Baby Alligators by J.E. Alexander. So, we don’t know gender there. We’ll just go with J.E.

And here’s what we have for Baby Alligators. We being over black. A woman’s voice, low and ragged, saying something that’s not quite in English. Then we cut to a skyline and we see a vast industrial district with factories and blast furnaces. Heavy industry. The sounds of industry. We move in closer and closer and closer until suddenly it’s not that industrial district at all, but rather a model of it. And a big female hand coming into view. She’s building the model. This is Laura Hayes.

She is a perfectionist. We cut to she’s in a studio, I assume meaning like an art studio. We then go into the toilets, the bathroom, and she’s washing her hands. She hears a rattling coming from one of the cubicles.

J.E. must be from England because I think cubicles is like our stalls. Laura is curious about this — it’s a little eerie. What is that gurgling noise? And then she sees that it’s a water pipe that’s hanging from the ceiling. She leaves. She exits the studio, which is the Sparks Model Makers Ltd, lights a cigarette, puts on her headphones, and heads across a wasteland. And we see a canal and some train tracks. There’s a sense of decay. A car speeds by with a drunken man yelling at her. She gets to a residential, evening, gets off of a bus, and goes to her apartments.

She notices a disheveled hooded figure shuffling on the lawn of her apartment building. She waits until that person leaves and then she runs inside to her apartment building. Tries to lock it, but it doesn’t work, so she uses a fire extinguisher to barricade the door.

Heads to her flat, her apartment, asks for Kate. And we see that Kate is another woman who is sleeping in one of the rooms. She watches — Laura watches Kate sleep and then heads into the bathroom, turns on a bath, and begins combing her hair.

John: And that’s our three pages. I really like the tone of these three pages. I don’t know what’s happening in the story, and I’m not yet frustrated by my lack of understanding what’s happening in the story. But I like the world that J.E. has sort of framed for this.

I like the sense of like the industrial skyline and then pulling out that that’s a model. But then the actual real world outside is also kind of bleak and dark. I was intrigued by all that.

I don’t know much about our lead character at the end of these three pages other than she is nervous. And I can appreciate why she’s nervous because the world seems a little bit scary.

I was not concerned, but a little confused, like why is she the last person in this model building space. Has everyone already left? Is she the only person who works there? I think there were some opportunities to give me a little sign of why she’s leaving now, or why she’s staying late. Sort of what’s going on here, because I didn’t know if she was the only person, or if this was a larger space. So, I didn’t know if she was the boss or an employee. And that does kind of matter.

And I think we could have very easily gotten that information in these first few — even if we didn’t want to have any characters speaking, which I think is great, but just the sense that everyone else is packing up, or you see those other people leave and she has to be the last person to lock up could be great.

It felt like a horror movie set up kind of, in that you have this sense of dread. You have these noises. You have the ominous guy in front of the doorway. It was all well-handled. I didn’t know where it was taking me, but I would have read the next ten pages.

Craig: Yeah. I’m similar to you. I think I could have used a lot more funneling of me as I went through it, because it careens around in so many different ways between — you keep expecting, and it doesn’t do what you’re expecting, but nor does it particularly surprise you. So, you start to feel a distance. And I think it’s very — I think that J.E. has done a good job. This is a great of example of three pages that with some careful adjustment could be terrific.

First off, we begin with over black, “A woman’s voice. Low and ragged.” And the voice says, “Ajutati-ma…” Okay, that is some foreign language. That voice is not referenced again in the next three pages, which is challenging. It’s particularly challenging because as the reader, the first person I’m going to meet is someone named Laura Hayes. Well, she speaks English. And the second person I’m going to meet is Kate. Also speaks English.

So, the problem with starting with something that off the beaten path is that you need to at least acknowledge that it happened. Nothing acknowledges that that happened here. That’s tricky.

The transition from the skyline that appears to be real, and then we transition into the model, on the page is problematic. Because we’re seeing it for real, we believe it’s real. That means we’re shooting it for real, right? Then, we go INT. STUDIO — EVENING. “Suddenly, the very same scene becomes still and silent.” That’s not going to work. That’s not how the world works. It could dissolve into a model version of it, right?

John: Yeah. I was taking this that J.E. meant that literally you see this thing and you sort of assume, we hear the sounds of all this stuff, and then a hand comes in. And then we’re pulling out to see this. But that’s not how it’s described on the page. And I like my version better.

Craig: Well, yeah, I mean, look the problematic word then, if you’re correct, is churns, which I actually loved. I love that word, right, so I was so happy when I saw it. “A VAST INDUSTRIAL DISTRICT churns darkly against the sky.” So already in my mind I see smoke belching out and fires and something turning. And, you know, conveyor belts. That’s what churning is. There’s motion. But this model is — and it says, “We are no longer looking at the real skyline, but a MODEL version of it.” So, I do think I’m right, I just think that the transition isn’t correct.

So, you got to help us with that transition, because you can’t film it the way you’ve described it.

The bathroom scene, so I think, okay, this is science fiction. That’s what I feel like after a half a page. I’ve got fake language, and I’ve got a dystopian industrial district turning into a strange model with this woman building it. It seems science fiction-y.

Then she goes to the bathroom and has a Japanese horror movie scene. Which is a creepy noise in a bathroom and it turns out to be a misdirect. But, absolutely. At that point I’m like, oh no, no, no, this is a horror movie.

John: But I will say what I liked about the bathroom scene at the start, why I wanted more specificity and detail is that she shows her sort of like getting all the glue and paint off of her finger nails. I’m like, oh yeah, I can believe that, because that’s a thing that would happen. So it matches her to the job we just saw her doing. It feels connective.

But I agree with you that it doesn’t feel — the sounds that she’s hearing isn’t going to connect to the stuff we’re feeling later on in the story.

Craig: Precisely. And so here’s where a very simple thing like connecting a little piece from the prior scene to the bathroom scene will help me feel like it’s all one story, and not like we’ve begun a new movie, which is a horror movie. If the gurgling sound — she hears a gurgling sound for a moment while she’s making the model, and then it goes away. Huh. And then she’s in the bathroom. She’s washing her hands. And then the gurgling sound again.

Then I would think, okay, this is all part of the same movement. I also need to know, is this expected? Is it meaningful to her? Because right now she is staring at this gurgling sound intently. Now, either that means she’s scared by it, because it’s unfamiliar, or she’s concerned by it because it may be familiar. We don’t know. And she doesn’t tell us. Nor do you, J.E. And I kind of need to know. I kind of need to know.

When she heads outside, she now no longer seems concerned at all. She seems quite carefree. That’s what people are when they light cigarettes and put headphones on. And yet she is now walking through a wasteland. And then I thought, wasteland, do you mean actual wasteland? Or is that a figurative wasteland?

John: Yeah. And so, again, it’s one of those situations, like we don’t know whether we’re talking Mad Max, or we’re just talking like a bleak part of town.

Craig: Exactly. And so there’s an area where I need you to funnel me a little bit. Help me out. If it is, in fact, Mad Max, give me a little hint of Mad Max when she walks outside before she puts her headphones on. If it’s not, let me know that this is almost like a wasteland.

John: Yeah. I have a hunch that it’s not Mad Max, because Mad Max does not need model makers. There’s just not a job. Like what do you do? I build models in a Mad Max post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Craig: I agree.

John: So, wasteland is the bad word there. And so look for ways to describe bleak, but without sort of making it feel like there’s going to be crazed mad men running past.

Craig: Now, she’s heading home. She’s walking home now. Right? And she’s walking obviously where cars go, because a car speeds by and a drunken young man sticks his head out of the passenger window and snarls like an animal. Which makes me think, oh, maybe it is a little Mad Max-ish. She frowns. Hmm. Now, again, I’m not sure what is this world and what does she think of it?

Then we’re in a residential area and she’s getting off a bus. When did the bus happen? I thought she was walking home. See, this is all just — I’m getting discombobulated. She sees this disheveled hooded figure and she waits anxiously, clearly reluctant to engage with this person. Is that a monster? Is it a zombie? Is it a post-apocalyptic guy? Is it her boyfriend? Is it her dad?

John: It’s probably a creeper. Let’s go back to the road. So, you know, she’s walking along the road and then your concern is like now suddenly we’re on a bus. But if she walked to the bus stop. If we saw her at the bus stop and the guy goes past and does the face, and then she’s getting off a bus, then we’ve connected those two things.

Craig: Right.

John: Oh, I get it. She was walking to the bus stop. And now we’re here.

Craig: Exactly. All is forgiven. Yeah.

John: So, the general sort of macro note I want to give here, which goes all the way back to the very first “Ajutati-ma…” over black is you have this opportunity to build trust with your reader and with your audience. And that trust contract is basically if you give me your attention, I will make it worthwhile for you to have given me your attention. But you can only ask the audience to hold on to a certain number of things that aren’t being paid off until the audience goes like, “Okay, I give up. I don’t see how all of this is connecting. I’m backing away.”

And so being very mindful of the things you’re asking the audience to hold on to and not forget. And at the end of three pages, I’ve already forgotten about “Ajutati-ma…”

Craig: Right.

John: You have to make sure that you acknowledge that you’re asking the audience to hold onto that and you’re going to make it worthwhile for them. So, it means repeating it again, or finding some other way of rhyming back to that idea so that the audience knows like, oh that’s right, that’s a thing that I need to hold on to because it’s going to pay off.

Craig: Yeah. I guess my overriding note for J.E. is that the mysteries that you’ve built in here and the subtleties and the originalities are all potentially wonderful. And my advice is simply to recognize that we will identify very closely with Laura. And so we are — our comfort level will entirely be through her responses and reactions. Her responses and reactions don’t seem to calculate. They don’t feel consistent to me, or they’re not present. So, I don’t know how to feel, because I don’t know how she feels. So, it’s the circumstances and the weirdness of the world are less discombobulating to me than her lack of or inconsistent responses to it.

John: One hundred percent.

So, again, thank you to all three of these writers who were so brave to share their pages. If you have your own three pages you would like us to take a look at, the way to send them to us is go to, all spelled out. And there is a form there that you sign a little thing and you click to attach a PDF. And it magically shows up in Stuart’s inbox so he can look at them and find your three pages for a future Three Page Challenge.

So, again, thank you to everybody who has sent them in, and especially to these three writers for letting us talk about them on the air.

Craig: Yeah. Thanks guys.

John: It is time for One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a simple infographic by David McCandless. It is on Information is Beautiful. And this is Common Mythconceptions. Like Myth — I’m not mispronouncing that. But they’re basically myths that are widely believed to be true and often spread by the Internet. Things like that dropped pennies will kill people.

Craig: I love that one. [laughs] This is great.

John: Salty water boils more quickly. Sugar is hyperactivity. Goldfish have a three-second memory. There are things that sometimes there’s a kernel of truth in there, but the general accepted truth to them is not actually true at all. And so you have to be mindful of these things. And some of them are completely unimportant, and some of them are actually sort of more important.

So, there is a list of about 40 of these and I thought it was a good thing worth sharing.

Craig: This is great. I’m really enjoying this. I’m just reading through these.

John: So, one example being we have five senses. And we think of the five senses, but of course we actually have a lot more. And we all know about proprioception which is the sense of where your limbs are in space. But you also have your balance. You have pain. You have hunger. You have thirst. And just because they’re not the same kinds of senses as sight or sound, they’re still incredibly important to us. So, getting past your preconceptions of what senses are is very important.

Craig: My One Cool Thing is Patrick Patterson. Who is Patrick Patterson, you ask — Patrick Patterson is a gentleman who let us know on Twitter, “Yesterday I donated my bone marrow and saved a life all because I heard about Be the Match from John August and Craig Mazin on Scriptnotes.”

John: Patrick Patterson, you are my favorite listener of the day.

Craig: I mean, of the day? Of my life.

John: That’s just remarkable.

Craig: We saved a life, theoretically. This podcast actually did something that I respect. [laughs]

John: I think it is remarkable. So, we’ve talked about Be the Match on several occasions. We have friends who have benefitted from its remarkable work. Bone marrow is one of those things that is so crucial to saving people’s lives and it’s not at all difficult to be tested for. Craig and I have both done it. We strongly encourage you to, also. So, we’ll have a link in the show notes for how you can sign up to Be the Match.

Craig: How great is that? Patrick, you’re awesome. And I don’t know if the person whose life you saved is aware that you are the one who saved it, but it would be great to hear from them, too. Just so that I could hear from the person whose life I saved. [laughs]

John: All the evil Craig has done in the world is wiped away by that one thing.

Craig: Sweet redemption!

John: By One Cool Thing.

Craig: Yep.

John: Very nice. As always, our show is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Sam Comer. If you have an outro for us that you would like us to try, send it into Links are great. Or SoundCloud links. However you want to send it is fine.

That’s also a place where you can send questions like the ones we answered on the air today. On Twitter, I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.

You can find us on iTunes at Scriptnotes. Just search for Scriptnotes. And while you’re there, leave us a comment. We meant to sort of read aloud some comments today, but we forgot. So, on a future episode we’ll read aloud some of your great reviews and comments. Thank you for doing that.

If you would like to send in three pages to the Three Page Challenge, there’s a link in the show notes for that. And we’ll be back next week.

Craig: See you later, guys.

John: Thanks much.

Craig: Thanks.

John: Bye.


Generic Trigger Warning

Tue, 07/12/2016 - 08:03

John and Craig take a look at three new entries in the Three Page Challenge, with scripts tackling kidnapping, dystopia and parkour hackers. We look at both how the writing works on the page, and what the writers seem to be trying to say.

We also answer listener questions about the increased visibility of characters with disabilities on screen, and the differences between the two WGAs.


You can download the episode here.

Running the length of Malawi

Mon, 07/11/2016 - 13:52

In 2007, Ryan Reynolds and I visited Malawi, a land-locked country in southern Africa, where we helped out with a group that runs day centers for thousands of orphans.

Since then, I’ve kept up with the organization, helping to build a secondary school and medical clinic.

Marathoner Brendan Rendall is currently running the length of the country to raise money to build a new wing for the secondary school, which is bursting at the seams. The block will include two science labs, an art room and a general classroom.

Brendan is running 650 miles. That’s 25 marathons back-to-back.

You can follow his progress on this map1 and see photos from the run on Facebook with the hashtag #runmalawi.

The school and related programs are run by Friends of Mulanje Orphans, which is one of the best charities I’ve ever enountered. Over the years, it has supported a generation of kids who are now helping run the program.

I’d urge you check out their great work and donate to Brendan’s campaign.

  1. If you zoom in on the map, you can find Mulanje south-east of Blantyre.

Scriptnotes, Ep 257: Flaws are features — Transcript

Fri, 07/08/2016 - 16:28

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 257 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the podcast, we’ll be looking at unforgettable villains, screenwriter billions, and something else that rhymes with illians/illions. Maybe we’ll find a good rhyme for illions.

Craig: Oh, it’s the Nathan Fillions. All the Fillions.

John: All the Nathan Fillions. Done.

Craig: Great.

John: Craig Mazin for the rescue. We’re also going to be answering a bunch of listener questions, so it’s going to be a packed episode, but sort of a hodgepodge. There’s no central unifying theme.

Craig: Good. Because as we know, that’s a terrible thing for drama.

John: It’s absolutely the worst. I think you should have a bunch of disparate elements that don’t really add up to anything. That’s the sign of a quality piece of entertainment that’s working at its very best.

Craig: Wouldn’t it be great if that were in fact the opening salvo of Aaron Sorkin’s thing online? Where he just suddenly goes for everything. His master plan is to ruin all screenwriting forever. [laughs] Because everybody will listen.

John: That would be fantastic. You have to throw in as many things as possible and don’t pay anything off.

Craig: Ever.

John: Ever. That’s the kind of advice I was giving this last week up at the Sundance Screenwriters Lab. I was up on a mountain in Utah, talking with a bunch of writers, directors, and writer-directors about their projects. And it was really good. This was the 12th, or 13th, or 14th time I’ve done this. But there were really good projects this year, and a bunch of movies I’m excited to see get made.

So, the process for people who’ve never heard about the Sundance Labs, is a bunch of people apply to be part of it, or they’ve been sort of recruited by Sundance to come up there. And we spend a good week looking at their projects. We have individual meetings. Andrea Berloff from Scriptnotes fame was there with me.

And so you’re sitting down with them, talking about their projects, and sort of what they are trying to do and trying to help them get their scripts into the best possible shape. And it was so great because the kinds of projects that go through Sundance Labs are not big Hollywood studio features. They’re generally very specific, unique things that you couldn’t imagine existing anywhere else. So, it was a very good, fun time.

Craig: That sounds great. One of these days. One of these — I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but I was supposed to go one year, but I ended up having to cancel because we were shooting. One of the Hangover movies. And then nobody ever called me again. [laughs]

It was like you don’t cancel on Sundance, Buck-O.

John: Yeah. So I actually spoke to Michele Satter, who runs the program, about you and about that. And so I think I’ve gotten you back on the list.

Craig: Was she like, “Yeah that’s right. He canceled on us. And you don’t cancel on — “

John: Dead to me.

Craig: Yeah, exactly. And I did before I was invited to go up, I did have lunch with her. She’s delightful.

John: She’s the best. So I think part of the pact of getting you back into the Sundance fold is that I did maybe promise that at some point we would do a live show benefit for the Sundance Institute. And so at some point in the years to come we will be held to do some sort of live show for them. Which could be great, because I feel like we don’t talk a lot about indie film. We’ve had some indie filmmakers on here, but I think a live show focusing on that could be fantastic.

Craig: Let’s do it tomorrow.

John: Done.

Craig: All right.

John: Everyone just write in, or just show up. Just show up wherever you want to show up. Just show up at Sundance and we’ll be there.

Craig: Exactly. We could do a very good show, even if we limited our guests to graduates of that program. Like Mari Heller came out of that program.

John: Oh my god, of course. Yeah. There are really fantastic writers, directors. Quentin Tarantino, to name somebody.

Craig: Yep.

John: Lena Dunham was up there with a project. That’s where I first got to really know her.

Craig: We should get Lena Dunham on the show.

John: She’s fantastic.

Craig: I say that like we never even thought about it. Obviously she would do it if we — like, hey, come on.

John: Come on. So, Lena Dunham will every once and a while email me back when I email her, but she’s kind of busy running a TV show, and writing a book, and a blog, and a newsletter. So, there’s a lot that he’s doing.

Craig: In my mind, that turned into you emailing her every day.

John: I do. [laughs] Lena, Lena, please email me back.

Craig: No, you don’t even acknowledge. Just every day you’re like, “Hi Lena, so here’s what’s going on. Here’s something funny that happened.” And then like, I don’t know, twice a year she writes back and she’s like, “Ha-ha.”

John: Yep. Totally delightful.

Craig: Or, “Funny!”

John: The reason why I know that is so specifically true for your experience, is because there’s going to be people in your life who are just that same way. And you can be frustrated by that, but you can also just acknowledge that like, hey, that’s an incredibly busy famous person. And that’s fine.

Craig: I’m trying to not email famous people.

John: I text famous people more than I email them.

Craig: You know, by the way, if you ever do want to get in touch with Melissa McCarthy, text her. I have tried calling. I have tried emailing. She will not — I mean, forget it.

John: She won’t email me back. But Ben Falcone will. And so like I will tweet to Ben Falcone, or email, or I’ll CC Ben on an email, and he’ll answer back sometimes.

Craig: Ben sometimes just is at my house when I wake up.

John: That’s really — that’s the best thing about him. Because it’s sort of like a jarring presence, when you first open your eyes.

Craig: Very.

John: But then, no, it’s fine. Because he has that improv background, so he can sense what you’re feeling, and he’ll just go with it.

Craig: He’s perched on me like that famous gothic painting, of the little demon. And when I wake up, and Ben Falcone is perched on me, and looking down at me with his mustache.

John: Well, Falcone/Falcon. It all makes sense. It all adds up. It’s an Edgar Allan Poe-y kind of thing. Let’s get to our follow-up.

Craig: All right.

John: Aaron Sorkin’s masterclass, you brought it up, but John from Quebec wrote in to say, “This is the best bang for your buck around, at least for writing — forget tennis and singing. I did the James Patterson masterclass and I can tell you it’s really polished and professional. And includes the A-Z of writing a novel in video segments, a course book, an outline of Patterson’s novels, a class forum, permanent access to the masterclass, and various feedback classes from the author where you can submit log lines, etc. And is all ongoing. Really complete and interactive.”

So, that’s John’s experience with James Patterson’s class. Or, is it James Patterson writing in to tell you how good his class is?

Craig: [laughs] It’s possible that James Patterson uses a sock puppet, John from Quebec. But I tend to think that this is true. How could it not be the best bang for your buck considering that they’re charging $90, and everything else anyone charges money for stinks?

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, talked about damned by faint praise. But I do think that this is going to be a valuable — it seems like it’s going to work. It’s Aaron Sorkin, for god’s sakes.

John: So, John is the only person who wrote in about his experience with this program overall. And I guess not with Sorkin’s thing in specifics. If you are a listener who bites the bullet and tries the $90 once it’s available, let us know what you thought. Because, Craig is never going to do it.

Craig: No.

John: No.

Craig: No.

John: Craig doesn’t do anything.

Craig: No. [laughs]

John: Also on last week’s show, we talked about Anagnorisis. And Gabe in Southampton, England wrote in. Craig, what did he say?

Craig: He said, “Listening to your talk on Anagnorisis in Episode 256, I was quietly amazed that you hadn’t heard of it. My tutor,” hmm, “made a big deal of it. And used a great example in Greg Kinnear’s father character in Little Miss Sunshine when he dances alongside his daughter. Every film teacher I’ve had has made a bit of a deal about how American’s are great at story, and Brits are great at character. Which they also attributed to why US films sell across the world, whilst British films are more intricate.”

I am so getting so angry here.

“Do you think this is why you hadn’t really heard of Anagnorisis before? Is scriptwriting taught differently around the world?”

John, please, tell me your honest reaction to Gabe’s inquiry?

John: All right, I was a little bit offended at the end, but mostly I want to reassure him and our other listeners that no one is talking about Anagnorisis on a general basis. So, I was up at Sundance this last week and after a screening of — I think Tiger Williams showed a clip from Se7en. And at the end of Se7en as we all know there is a head in the box. And when Brad Pitt realizes what must be in the box, that is a moment of Anagnorisis. We realize that Kevin Spacey’s character has done this thing and that everything is different than you thought.

And so I said that like, oh, we actually just talked about that on the podcast and it’s called Anagnorisis. And no one there knew what that word meant. So, it’s great that Gabe’s tutor –

Craig: Tutor.

John: Uses that term.

Craig: [laughs]

John: But I would say that you should not feel that your screenwriting career was uninformed or that every screenwriter talks about Anagnorisis or that all the British screenwriters talk about Anagnorisis. I just think it’s a think that this one person brought up that other people don’t bring up.

Craig: Yeah. Maybe this is what happens when you have a tutor?

John: Yeah.

Craig: I don’t know. Or maybe this is being lost in translation. In America, a tutor is a privately hired one-on-one instructor that provides supplemental education on top of your normal education, typically because you’re falling behind in something. Gabe, I don’t know. I imagine now Gabe as being a Lord, and he has a tutor who obviously — here’s the thing to understand, Gabe. We all talk about Anagnorisis here, we just don’t call it Anagnorisis. We call it other things. We call it “that moment,” “that revelation.” Sometimes we’ll say, you know, the “eureka moment.”

But it’s the word that is unknown, not the concept of it. As far as the discussion about all of the film teachers you’ve had, and I can only presume now it’s quite a number, their theory is Americans are great at story and Brits are great at character. Those film teachers apparently haven’t been watching many movies.

I can tell you some wonderful films written by British screenwriters that are very much about a terrific story and the characters aren’t particularly what you would say intricate. And likewise, I could point to many films written by American screenwriters that are absolutely gorgeous. I mean, I don’t know, Paul Thomas Anderson, does he strike you as somebody that’s really great at story, but not so good at character?

It’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. So, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that every film teacher you’ve had is a dope. And that, in fact, what of the things I love about British screenwriters is that they are really good at telling stories. They do like to entertain. Tess Morris.

John: Tess Morris. We love Tess Morris.

Craig: What a great storyteller.

John: Kelly Marcel I’m a fan of as well.

Craig: Great storyteller.

John: Great storyteller. I would argue that it’s very hard to differentiate story from character, at least in successful films. Is that I can think of very few things as like, oh, that’s a terrific story. Too bad about the characters. That’s not really a successful film, in my estimation.

Craig: Yeah. I completely agree. I mean, there are films where you look at — you’ll say, oh, it’s a character study. But inside that character study there is a story that’s occurring. It’s just that your film teachers, Gabe, weren’t smart enough to realize that both things were going on at the same time. And I’m trying not to be an offended proud American. Really what I’m saying is this is just dumb. Americans and British are really good at making movies, I think.

John: Yeah. And so are Iranians and so are Chinese.

Craig: Oh my god, by the way, I’m glad you actually singled out Iranians. Iranians are fantastic filmmakers.

John: There’s a tradition of just phenomenal filmmaking that combines really amazing character work with just fantastic storytelling.

Craig: Storytelling. Koreans, oh my god. Dude, Snowpiercer? Wow.

John: Wow.

Craig: So many across the world. I don’t think any one particular — I don’t know if writing or story are taught differently across the world. I do know this: that across the world, people are looking at big, famous, important movies, and they’re not always the same. But big, and important, and famous as touch stones for what they want to do. And that is the movies themselves that are the most important and powerful instructors of up and coming filmmakers, not film teachers.

John: Gabe may have had a moment of Anagnorisis right there with that education we provided him.

Craig: [laughs]

John: Aaron in Shanghai wrote in to say, “You briefly touched on the magical dad transformation story and said that there’s not a direct female equivalent. You’re right, but there is a close equivalent if you look at romantic comedies, which include a lot of magical ingénue transformations. In this trope, you see successful hardworking but romantically inept female lead discover that she’s worthy or capable of romantic love.”

And that’s absolutely true. So it’s the magical thing that is the problem. Is that by some supernatural means, the person is changed. In the romantically challenged equivalent, or the ingénue who doesn’t sort of see what’s important, it’s very rarely magic. It’s usually like a handsome man teaches her a lesson.

Craig: Or she just finally takes off her glasses.

John: Yeah. I love that trope. That’s a good one.

Craig: That’s amazing. I mean, clearly you have a magical story in Cinderella that is very much about someone waving a wand and turning her from this dirty whore wretch into this beautiful princess. Yeah, usually it seems like movies where females are transforming in clunky, silly, tropey ways, there isn’t magic involved.

I wonder if the implication is that, again, we instinctively understand that female characters have the psychological capability to change if they are confronted by certain things. Whereas men literally require supernatural intervention.

John: I think the other thing she’s bringing up is that someone intervenes and is like, “Oh no, you’re better than you think you are.” And in these magical dad transformation things, someone intervenes to say like, “No, no, you’re being terrible. You need to learn how to be better.” It’s basically like it’s like in the ingénue ones, it’s like they’re stripping off a coat a paint and revealing the beauty inside. Versus the dad ones are like, “No, no, no, you’re terrible. Let me fix your soul.”

Craig: Absolutely, yeah. And I understand that. I mean, there is something believable about the notion that for many women that there is an issue of self-image, or lack of confidence for all sorts of reasons, not the least of which is the patriarchy. And so, so yes, the idea is hey sister, you’re stronger than you think, and go get ‘em.

And we inherently kind of buy into that narrative, as tropey as it is. And again, for men, we presume that they’re just dumb. They’re literally stupid. And, in fact, they’re so stupid, they need to be punished by god. Like in Liar Liar, he is so ridiculously dumb and impervious to good behavior that he needs to be punished by god until he finally breaks down and realizes what he must become.

John: So several listeners tweeted in to say like, oh, you were talking about Nine Lives. And that really was the genesis point for this. You’ve seen the trailer for this, Craig, right? This is Kevin Spacey is a dad who is transformed into a cat.

Craig: I’ve seen it and I — I mean, I never say bad things about movies. What’s going on there?

John: It looks like a parody of a movie that it is. And I think for that reason alone, it might just be fantastic.

Craig: I could be. I was just –

John: It may be leaning in so far to what it is that it’s just like brilliant.

Craig: And I believe in this movie he’s a dad who works too much, and so he must be punished by god and turned into a cat?

John: Yes, that is correct.

Craig: Huh.

John: And so he still has Kevin Spacey’s voice, so that makes it fantastic.

Craig: By the way, that actually kind of does make it fantastic. [laughs]

John: Zander in Portland wrote in to point out that the closest comparison for women is probably enforced motherhood, with the examples being Baby Boom and Overboard. And a few other people brought up those two movies. He says, “In both the enforced motherhood and the magical dad transformation comedies, the protagonists realize that she or he has been missing things in life, and thus becoming a better parent, a happier person, and a more moral creature.

“The key difference is the female had never been exposed to parenthood before, while the male was already a father. The male thus requires a magical awakening to see the true unrealized riches in his life. In this way, the male archetype is arguably more stunted than his female counterpart, because he requires supernatural intervention.

“On the other hand, mothers often take on a greater child-rearing burden than fathers do. One could argue that the male can call in his role more easily, so intervention is required.”

Craig: Yeah. This is great. I love this. Enforced motherhood. That’s exactly right. Baby Boom is a perfect example. Yeah, and Overboard, too. Actually, they’re both great examples. And actually, yes, there is something that speaks to this belief that all women are really supposed to be mothers, and they’ve just been avoiding being a mom because they’re afraid.

Now, that’s not true as it turns out. That a lot of women are not mothers because they don’t want to be. I know, it’s crazy, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: But it’s seductive, because plots that circle around people overcoming a basic fear are catnip for screenwriters, because a lot of the work is suddenly done.

John: Yep.

Craig: And so for a while there, you could do those movies because I think, still, there was this underlying presumption that, you know, if you just hit your head and woke up on a boat with a bunch of kids and you were told that these are your kids, you would by behaving like a mom suddenly realize, oh my god, this is what I wanted my whole life. That’s baloney.

John: Yeah.

Craig: That’s baloney. And that movie is basically about wrongful imprisonment. And –

John: It’s really troubling when you sort of add up all the things that happen in it. And it’s not troubling in the way it’s like a dark comedy about it. It’s actually a pretty light and bright comedy that just trades on some very dark themes.

Craig: Yeah. I know. There’s — someone should do one of those recuts. You know, when they take a movie and they recut the trailer to be different genre?

John: Absolutely. Where The Shining is a father comedy?

Craig: Right. Or Mary Poppins as a horror. And somebody should do this as like one of these serial killer/thriller movies.

John: Yeah. It’s like Saw with children.

Craig: Right. It would be so cool. Somebody do it.

John: We’ll do it. I won’t do it, but one of our listeners will do it, and it will be fantastic. That idea is out there in the world, so please someone do that.

Craig: Love it.

John: The other thing that happened last week was Brexit. So, Tim from England wrote in. Craig, take it.

Craig: Tim from England writes, “Rather than some backward look at an old England past, the leave campaign made clear this was a vote for the future. Unshackling the UK from a Soviet style European Union and freeing us to make bilateral trade deals with America, India, China, etc.

“What leavers did want to get back to was a pure European free trade agreement, which is what we were originally sold back in the ’70s, not propping up a bloated EU super state. To use a Star Wars analogy, you should be applauding the rebels and not the Empire.”

Oh, boy, he doesn’t know me at all, does he?

John: I included this because I knew it would anger you, but also I think it is really important that last line, which is like Star Wars and these kind of things are one of the situations where both sides can kind of claim the meme high ground. And I just thought it was a fascinating way to frame it. As like any terrorist group can say like, “Oh no, we’re the rebels of Star Wars.”

Craig: Right. Exactly. Prisoners starting a riot. “We’re the Rebels.” I always root for the Empire. I believe that only through the Dark Side can you bring order to the Galaxy. And from order shall follow peace.

Look, a lot of what Tim writes is dismissible simply as opinion. And there’s a lot of opinion to counter it. I mean, we could go into a long discussion of how his belief that this is going to lead to better trade deals for the United Kingdom is insane.

But, I’m going to pick on one thing that actually bothers me. And it’s when he says, “Soviet style European Union.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: I don’t care how bad the European Union is. I’ve been spending, because of this project I’ve been working, I’ve been spending a lot of time living with Soviet research and watching Soviet television recordings. And going through books and books and books that are centering around Soviet decisions. The European Union isn’t in the same universe as the Soviet Union. It is not Soviet Style. Soviet Style was a terror that literally led to the deaths of nearly 100 million people either through starvation, bad policies, or bungled military moves. And those are the people who died.

Forget about the people that were imprisoned or just lived in misery. So, let’s not say Soviet Style European Union.

John: So I think Soviet Style is one of those things which you have to be so careful when you bring it up, because it’s almost like a Godwin’s Law thing where like you mention Hitler and then you’re just done. Or saying like a Holocaust, or something. Like, when you bring that up, you’re actually dismissing the huge realities of what that thing is. And making it just impossible to have a discussion. So, you can say like the bureaucracy, all these things.

And we talked about last week, like kind of no one likes the European Union. It’s really messed up in a lot of ways. But it’s not the Soviet Union. And it’s not that situation whatsoever.

Craig: Every now and then somebody in the United States will compare something to slavery, and you can just hear — you can hear their credibility crashing to the floor.

The problem is we all know why people do these things. They compare stuff to the Soviet Union or the Holocaust, or Hitler, or slavery because they’re really trying to make their point. Eh, you know what, if you need that crutch to make your point, your point may not be so hot.

John: Yep. This email came in early in the week, and so I do feel like over the course of the week his arguments may have changed even from there, because it’s clear that they will not be able to make these amazingly better trade deals. Because they can’t. Because a smaller thing can rarely make better deals than a bigger thing.

Craig: They might not even leave the European Union. I mean, that’s the beauty of the whole thing is that there’s no one to actually do it. So, remarkable.

John: Well, one union we will never leave is the Writers Guild. See, that was the segue I was waiting for.

Craig: Because they won’t let us. [laughs]

John: They will never let us. Actually, the Writers Guild will let you leave kind of. You can always go FiCore, which means you are no longer a voting member and are not bound to certain things, but you’re still contributing your dues to the WGA.

Craig: Yeah. Yeah.

John: And just today as we were recording, the WGA sent out their financial report. So, this is a place where I can remind you that in the podcast we provide chapters. So, if WGA financials bores you silly, you can skip through to the next chapter where we talk about villains.

Craig: No one will skip this.

John: No one will skip this, because it will be fascinating. So, we will try to provide a link to this. When we got this this afternoon, it was only on paper, but there should be a link for this pretty soon. So, this one looks through basically what happened in 2015 and gives you the breakdown by people writing for screens, or writing for the movies, and people writing for TV. The bulk of the income for the WGA comes from TV. But I thought overall the picture was not so bad.

Craig, what was your first instinct on this?

Craig: Yeah. Basically seems like more of the same. You look at number of writers reporting earnings total, it’s essentially hovering in the same zone it’s been hovering in since 2013, which is around 5,000 or so. A little bit down from last year. A little bit up from ’13.

Total earnings, kind of down a touch, but not much.

John: Here’s the important thing to say. Whenever they report earnings for the previous year, they’re always a little bit depressed because they don’t have all the numbers coming in yet. So, they actually warn you in the stats that these numbers always creep up.

And so when you look at it year-to-year, the numbers are basically flat. So there’s about 5,200 writers, so feature and TV writers. Altogether, they’re earning about $1.2 billion, which is a lot of money.

Craig: It is.

John: That’s a serious amount. Except that if you think about the AMPTP, the people we’re working for, they made about $49 billion in profits over that same year. So, there’s a lot of money out there in the system.

Craig: Well, and that’s profit. So that already discounts –

John: Profit-profit, yes.

Craig: Yeah, the money they pay us.

John: So our money already came out of there. So like even after they paid us, they had $49 billion left over.

Craig: Yeah, they’re good. They’re going to be just fine. In terms of television employment, it does seem like actually even with the creep up it’s going to be down a bit from last year, but that was inevitable because last year you saw perhaps what was kind of a peak given the explosion of Netflix and Amazon. So, it was only inevitable it would come down a little bit, but it’s still up quite a bit. I mean, it’s up massively from five years ago. How about that?

I mean, you look at total earnings in 2010 for television writers – $570 million. Last year, and this was the non-creep up number, $800 million. With a nearly 900 more writers working in television.

So, television continues to be fairly healthy. In screen, some good news.

John: Yeah, some goodish news.

Craig: Ish.

John: So these numbers will still creep up a little bit more, but we had more writers employed last year in 2015 than the year before, so we are up 3.6%. Earnings were up to $362 million, versus $355 million. So, still an increase. And I would say that on the ground, it feels that the feature world is shrinking, and shrank last year. But in terms of actual dollars, it didn’t appear to.

Craig: Well, kind of.

John: All right.

Craig: Part of the problem is that every year from 2011, almost every year, from 2011 to 2015 you’ve had more screenwriters reporting earnings. So, for instance, in 2011 it was 1684. Last year, almost 1,800. However, we’re making about $13 million less overall as a group than we were in 2011.

So, we’re making less, and there’s more of us making it. So, the amount per –

John: The per-writer, per-capita.

Craig: It’s the amount individual screenwriters get on a — yes, on an average basis has gone down. And it gets really frightening when you look, going back to 2010, where our total earnings were $408 million. So, we are way — we’re still way, way — we’ve come up from the low point in 2013, but we’re still way off where we were in 2010. So, again, to compare to TV, TV is up essentially $230 million and we are down about $45 million. No Bueno.

So, that’s still — it’s good news only in that it didn’t get worse I guess is how I’d put it.

John: So, the how writers earn their money we talked about on the show many times. And so TV and film writers, they’re paid money for writing their screenplays, or for writing their scripts. That is the bulk of what a writer earns in a year. The other important caveat we should put on this is that TV writers, they do make money as writers, but they also make money as producers. And sometimes that producer money is vastly bigger than the writer money. That producer money does not show up in these figures at all. So, that is not covered by the WGA. That is a whole separate thing that they are paid.

So, it can be a little bit confusing because a TV writer might be bringing home a lot more, but they’re not being paid as writers for that extra income.

Craig: Correct. We also then have some numbers on residuals. And residuals overall continue to go up for television. And they are driven — that increase is driven essentially by the explosion of new media.

John: Yeah. So, again, sort of the quickest recap is whenever a TV show or a film is reused in different mediums, or not how it was originally broadcast or put on the big screen, writers get a tiny little fraction of that money that comes in. And the rates are different based on DVD, or VHS, or new media which includes things like streaming. It includes iTunes purchases. And there are different rates. And most of our WGA negotiations are about those rates, it turns out.

And the new media rates, which were a contentious thing a while back, are now a very significant portion of the residuals that both TV and feature writers receive.

Craig: Yeah. No question. There’s also a fairly large increase, a dramatic increase actually, in foreign free TV and basic cable residuals. So, our programs are now airing over across the world much more frequently than they used to. In 2010, we were looking at $29 million in residuals for that. And last year, $56 million.

John: Yeah. That mirrors sort of our experience in both first run in TV overseas as well. We talk about how increasingly TV shows are profitable from the moment they first air because they’ve made all those foreign deals. That also holds true for the explosion of foreign free TV for residuals. And so there are more places around the world showing our programs, and we get a little bit of money every time they do that.

Craig: Sadly, the theme of poor screenwriters continues. Not technically poor, but theatrical residuals down. And they will probably continue to tread water for a while. What’s nice to see, of course, is new media reuse which, let’s say from 2015 over 2010 it’s an increase of 1,043%. But, of course, in 2010, only $1.2 million came in from new media, which is amazing. But then you have to remember the iPhone didn’t even exist until 2007. 2015, closer to $14 million, which still seems low to me considering that I feel like everyone is — but maybe it’s the Netflix thing.

Paid TV, still the biggest driver: $54 million of our $138 million. Overall residuals, down. Forget about from last. Down from 2010. We are — we have not recovered. And I don’t think we’re going to recover from the double whammy of the loss of the DVD market and the strike. I think what happened in the days following 2008 –

John: The DVD money was never coming back. So, DVDs were the perfect way to watch movies for a while. And that was a huge source of income both for studios, and therefore for screenwriters in residuals. That sort of went away.

If there’s a positive trend here I can see is that you look at the new media reuse residuals, they are going up by $3 or $4 million most years. There’s a very steady increase. And so, that is going to surpass DVDs. And it’s going to surpass other things down the road. And that — luckily we actually have a better rate on those than we ever did on those other things.

Craig: Yeah, kind of. We do for rentals. For sales, we have a slightly better deal on sales than we do on DVDs, but that covers all the stuff that’s been produced and put in theaters since the strike. Everything before the strike, this is one of the big disputed items, and this is one of the areas where the Writers Guild dropped the ball in a way that, frankly, everyone should have fired, but that’s just me. The Writers Guild thought that they had also gotten that slightly better rate to extend to the library, which we consider back to ’71 or something like that.

And the companies said no you didn’t. And it turned out the companies were right. We didn’t.

Now, the companies’ positions, oh that, DVD rate, no matter if you buy anything from before 2008, DVD rate, whether you buy it on iTunes or not. We, I think, ultimately have to accept that.

John: Yeah. And there’s other factors, because like the purchase through iTunes tends to be a lower price point than a DVD. But maybe at that lower price point more people are buying that stuff. Streaming seems to be dominating everything anyway. And so certainly in music streaming has become so incredibly important. I have to believe it’s going to continue to be incredibly important for videos. So, we’ll see.

I’m a little optimistic that some of this down slope in feature residuals will perk back up.

Craig: Yeah, me too. I mean, one nice thing about new media is that the margin is so much better. They don’t have to print a thing on a disk, stick in a box, stick it in box, ship it in a box. You know, but then Apple takes a pretty decent cut, I’m sure.

John: Yeah. They do.

Craig: All right.

John: So, I think the summary for the numbers is that if you have to say bullet points for a friend who kind of cares is that the numbers were not terrible. And so these numbers are for writer earnings for 2015. It doesn’t get into our pension health. It doesn’t get into some of the other really crucial things that screenwriters and the WGA is looking at.

But it’s talking about sort of like how overall writers are doing this past year. It wasn’t terrible. And so there was no steep drop offs or declines or anything that would set off huge alarm bells for me.

Craig: Agreed.

John: Cool. Let’s get to a craft topic. So, way back, we’ll find the number of the episode, but we did an episode about villains. And it was actually one of my very favorite episodes we’ve done on the podcast. And so I wanted to write up a longer piece for it. And so I got this guy, Chris Csont, who is a screenwriter himself, to write up a long piece about villains and focusing on what I came up, sort of seven fundamental tips for unforgettable villains.

So, a lot of times in features, you’ll see — and TV as well — you’ll see sort of functional villains, like, well, that villain got the job done. Basically served as a good obstacle for your hero. Kept the plot moving. But a week later, I couldn’t tell you anything about who that villain was.

Craig: Right.

John: And so I wanted to look at sort of in the movies that I love and the movies that had villains that I loved, what were some of those characteristics of those villains that I loved. And so I boiled it down to seven things and then Chris wrote up a nice long blog post that sort of talked through in more detail and gave more examples of what those kind of villains were and how they functioned.

So I thought we’d take a few minutes to look at this list of unforgettable villains and sort of how you can implement them.

Craig: Great.

John: Cool. So, my first tip for unforgettable villains is something I’ve said a lot on the show, is that the best villains think that they’re the hero. They are the protagonist in their own stories. They have their own inner life. They have hopes, they have joys. They might seek revenge or power, but they believe they have a reason why they deserve. They can reframe all of the events of the story where they are the good guy in the story.

Craig: Yeah. Nobody does bad things just cause. Even when we have nihilistic villains, they’re trying to make a point. Like the Joker is trying to make a point, you know. There’s always a purpose. And so, yes, of course, they think they’re the hero. They have — you know that thing where you look at somebody on TV, maybe in the middle of a political season, and you think how is that guy so happy about all of these terrible things he’s saying?

Well, because he believes in part that he’s the right one, and that his purity is in fact why he’s the hero. Just as a character says I won’t kill is being pure. You know, Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi is being pure. “I’m not going to kill you. I’m not going to kill you because I’m a good guy.” Right? That’s my purity.

Well, on the other side, the villains are heroes with the same purity towards their goal. And other people are these wish-washy, mush-mouthy heroes in name only. They’re HINOs.

John: Yeah. So I think it’s absolutely crucial is that they are seeing all of the events of the story from their own point of view and they can defend the actions that they’re taking because they are heroes. Our favorite show, Game of Thrones, does that so well, where you see characters who are one hand despicable, but on the other hand are heroic because you see why they’re doing what they’re supposed to be doing. So, Daenerys can completely be the villain of that story. It’s very easy to frame her as the villain in that story, and yet we don’t because of how we’ve been introduced to her.

Craig: Yeah. And then look back to the very first episode. It’s maybe the last line of the first episode, I think. Jamie Lannister pushes Bran out the window, sends him theoretically to his death, although it turns out to just paralyze him. And then he turns back to his sister and he says, “The things we do for love.” And he’s doing it because he’s protecting her because they’re in love. Now I go, okay, I don’t like you, and I don’t like what you did, but I recognize a human motivation in you.

Now, some movies are really bad at shoving this in. You ever get to the end of a movie where you’re like, “Why the hell was this guy doing all this bananas stuff?” And then as he’s being arrested he goes, “Don’t you understand? Blah, blah, blah.”

John: Yeah. It’s like it’s already done. It’s already over. Or, that bit of explanation comes right before they’re about to, you know, “Before I kill you, let me tell you why I’m doing what I’m doing.”

Craig: And it’s like a weird position paper. It’s not felt. Whereas at the end of — speaking of Sorkin — A Few Good Men, when Jack Nicholson says, “You’ve weakened a country,” I believe he believes that.

John: A hundred percent.

Craig: I believe that he instructed people to hurt other people because he’s doing the right thing. He’s pure, and they’re not.

John: So, let me get to my next point which is unforgettable villains, they take things way too far. So, whereas hopefully all villains see themselves as the hero, the ones who stick with you are the ones who just go just too far. Simple villains who have sort of simple aims, like I’m going to rob this bank, well you’re not going to remember that one. The one who is like, “I’m going to blow up the city block in order to get into this bank,” that’s the villain you remember.

And so you have to look for ways in which you can take your villain and push them just too far so that they cross, they transgress something that no one is ever supposed to transgress. And the ones that really stick, you know, the Hannibal Lecters, the Buffalo Bills, the Alan Rickman in Die Hard, they are just willing to go just as far as they need to go in order to get the job down. And actually too far to get the job done.

Craig: Correct. And in their demonstration of their willingness to go to any length to achieve their goal, you realize that if they get away with it, this will not be the last time they do it. This person actually needs to die, because they are a virus that has been released into the world. And if we don’t stop them, they’re going to keep doing it forever, until the world is consumed in their insanity.

And then you have this desire in the audience for your hero to stop the villain. We rarely root for a hero to stop the villain because we want the hero to feel good. We root for it because that person has to go, you know.

John: Absolutely. We don’t root for the hero as much if it’s like a mild villain. It has to be the villain who is absolutely hell bent on destruction. And doesn’t have to be destroying the world, but like destruction of what is important to us as the audience.

Craig: Yeah. It could be somebody who just wants to take your kid from you.

John: Yep. That’s a good one.

Craig: And then you’re like, argh, and you just realize — you won’t stop — you’ll ruin the rest of my kid’s life. And you might do this to somebody else’s kid. You just feel like you should be stopped in order to return the world to its proper state of being a just world, which as we know, realistically it’s not.

John: Never going to happen.

Craig: No.

John: Third point about unforgettable villains is that they live at the edges of society. So sometimes they are literally out in the forest, or the creepy old monster in the cave. But sometimes they’re at the edges of sort of moral society. So they place themselves outside the normal rules of law, or the normal rules of acceptable behavior.

And so even if they are the insiders, even if they are the mayor of the town, they don’t function within the prescribed boundaries of like what the mayor of the town can do.

So, you always have to look at them — they perceive themselves as outsiders, even if they are already in positions of power.

Craig: They certainly perceive themselves to be special.

John: Yes.

Craig: There were a lot of people, speaking of the Soviet Union, in the ’30s and ’40s, a lot of people who were Soviet officials who did terrible things. But, frequently they were tools, or sometimes Stalin would go so far as to call them “useful idiots.” Stalin was special. He considered himself special. And special people are different than people who do bad things.

So, when you’re thinking about your villain, you know, it may not be one of those movies where the villain actually has henchmen, per se. But, special people do have their own versions of henchmen. People who believe them at all costs. You know, the poor — the albino guy in The Da Vinci Code. You know, he’s a villain, kind of, but he’s not the villain. He’s a tool.

John: Yeah. So even if the villain has prophets or a society around him, he perceives himself as being outside that society as well.

Craig: He can go ahead and bend the rules, because he knows, once again, he knows what’s better. He is different and above everybody else. That’s we’re fascinated by a good one.

John: Also because they hold up a mirror to the reader. That’s my fourth point. Is that a good hero sort of represents what the audience aspires to be, what we hope we could be. The unforgettable villain is the one who you sort of fear you might be. It’s like sort of all your darkest impulses. It’s like what if I actually did that terrible thing. That’s that villain. It’s that person you worry deep down you really are.

Craig: Which goes to motivations. Universally recognizable motivations. And this is something that comes up constantly when you’re talking about villains. The first thing people will ask is, “What do they want?” Right? Just like a hero, because they are the hero of their story, what do they want? What are they motivated by? What’s driving them to do these crazy, crazy things?

And it’s never, oh, it’s just random, because again, that’s not — so for instance, you can look at Buffalo Bill, the character in Silence of the Lambs, as really more of like an animal. We can talk about his motivations, and they do, but those motivations are foreign to all of us. It’s a rare, rare person who is sociopathic and also violent and also attempting to convince himself that he will be better if he’s transgender, which he’s really not. That’s not any of us.

But, Hannibal Lecter is. Hannibal Lecter has these things in him that we recognize in ourselves. And in fact, it’s very easy to fantasize that you are Hannibal Lecter. It’s kind of sexy. It’s fascinating. A good villain is somebody that you kind of guiltily imagine being.

Who hasn’t imagined being Darth Vader? He’s the coolest.

John: Yeah. Imagine having that kind of power. The power to manipulate. The power to literally control things with your mind. That’s a seductive thing. And I think the best villains can tap into that part of the reader or the audience.

Also, I would say that the great villains, they let us know what they want. And we sort of hit on that earlier. Sometimes you’ll get to the end of the story and then the villain will reveal what the plan was all along. That’s never satisfying.

The really great villains that stick with you, you’re clear on what they’re going after from the start. And even if it’s Jaws. I mean, you understand what is driving them. And you understand at every moment what their next aim is. And they’re not just there to be an obstacle to the hero. They have their own agenda.

Craig: Yeah. A good movie villain will sometimes hide what they’re after, and you have to kind of figure it out, or tease it out. For instance, you mentioned Se7en. You don’t quite get what Kevin Spacey is up to. In fact, it seems just random. Like so a bad villain. Random acts of senseless violence. You know, kind of connected together by this interesting motif. Until the end when you realize, oh, there’s some sort of larger purpose here.

They often tell us what they want because they have clarity. Good heroes don’t have clarity. The protagonist shouldn’t have too much clarity, otherwise they’re boring as hell, right? They should be conflicted inside about what’s right and what’s wrong. They make choices.

Villains are not conflicted at all. So, of course, they’re going to be able to say, “What do I want?” I want this because of this. That’s it. I figured it out already. I don’t have any of your handwringing or sweating. I know what I’m going to do, and I know why, and I believe it’s correct. That’s it.

John: And they tell us what that is. And so they may not tell the hero what that is. Often they will. But we as the audience know what they’re actually going for, and that’s really crucial.

And ultimately whatever the villain is after, the hero is a crucial part of that plan. The great villains make it personal. And so we talked about Se7en. Like you can’t get much more personal than sort of what Kevin Spacey does to poor Brad Pitt’s wife in Se7en. It starts as a story that could be about some random killings, but it dials down to something very, very personal. And that’s why we are so drawn into how things end.

Craig: Well, what’s interesting is that in the real world, this is another area where narrative drifts so far apart from the real world. In the real world, most villains are defined by people that do bad things. And they’re repugnant. We like our movie villains to be charismatic. We love it. We like our movie villains to be seductive, and interesting, and charming. And part of that is watching them have a relationship with the hero.

We want the villain to have a relationship with the hero. It can be a brutal relationship, but a fascinating relationship. And the only way you can have a relationship is if the villain is interested in the hero. And inevitably they are.

Sometimes it’s the villain’s interest in the hero that becomes their undoing. Again, you go to the archetype of Darth Vader and Luke.

John: Yeah.

Craig: He wants to know his son. And so ultimately that’s what undoes him.

John: Yeah, you look at the Joker and Batman in Christopher Nolan’s version of it is that the Joker could not exist without Batman, fundamentally. They are both looking at the same city, the same situation, and without each other they both wouldn’t function really.

It’s like the Joker could create his chaos, he could sort of try to bring about these acts of chaos to make everyone look at sort of how they are and how the city functions. But, without Batman — if he can’t corrupt Batman, it’s not worth it for him.

Craig: Right. Batman is the thing he pushes against. And The Killing Joke, which is maybe the greatest graphic novel of all time, is entirely about that relationship. And there is something at the heart of the Joker/Batman dynamic that’s probably at the heart of most hero/ villain dynamics in movies, and that is that there is a lot of shared quality. There’s a similarity. It’s why you hear this terrible, terrible line so many times, “You and I, we are not different.”

Because it’s true.

John: Because it’s true. It doesn’t mean you should say it.

Craig: That’s right. Don’t say it.

John: But it is true. You can maybe find a way to visualize that or sort of let your story say that for you, but just don’t say that.

Craig: Just don’t say it. Or have them make fun of it.

John: Yeah. My final point was that flaws are features. And that in general the villains that you remember, there is something very, very distinctive about them. Either physically, or a vocal trait. There’s something that you can sort of hang them on so you can remember what they’re like because of that one specific tick, or look, or thing that they do.

And so, obviously, Craig is a big fan of hair and makeup and costuming. And I think all of those things are crucial. But you have to look at sort of what is it about your villain that a person is going to remember a month from now, a year from now, that they can remember — that they can picture them. They can hear their voice.

Hannibal Lecter is so effective because you can hear his voice. Buffalo Bill, we know what he looks like when he’s putting on that suit. Find those ways that you can distinguish your villain so that we can remember him a year from now.

Craig: It would be nice, I think, for screenwriters to always think about how their villain will first be perceived by the audience. Because you’re exactly right.

This is part of what goes to the notion that the villain is the hero of their story. That the villain is a special person. What you’re signifying to the audience is this is a person who is more important than everybody else in the movie, except our hero. Right? And just as I made a big deal about the hero, I have to make a big deal about this person, because they are special.

And if you look at the first time you see Hannibal Lecter, his hair — let’s first start with the hair — is perfect. It’s not great hair. He’s a balding man. But it’s perfectly combed back. And he’s wearing his, I guess, his asylum outfit, crisp, clean. And he’s standing with the most incredible posture. And his hands, the way his hands and his arms are, it’s as if he’s assembled himself into this perfected mannequin of a person. And he does not blink.

And that’s great. Just from the start. You know, we all get that little hair-raising feeling when somebody creepy comes by. Sometimes it’s the littlest thing like that.

John: And sometimes it’s a very big thing. So like Dolores Umbridge from the Harry Potter movies is one of my favorite arrivals of a villain in a story, because she’s wearing this pink dress that she’s in for the whole movie. And from the moment you see her, you know in a general sense what she is. But you just don’t know how far she’s going to push it. So she seems like this busybody, but then you realize she’s actually a monster. She’s a monster in a pink housecoat. And she is phenomenal.

And that’s a very distinctive choice of sort of the schoolmarm taken way too far. And you see it from the very start. And so I can’t — I could never see that kind of costuming again without thinking of her. That’s a sign of a really good design.

Craig: That’s a great reference. And it goes right back to J.K. Rowling’s book. That’s an example of taking something that’s amusingly innocuous and not villainous, like oh, a sweet old lady who loves cats and collects plates. And loves pink, and green, and pastel colors. And saying, that lady, now she’s a sadist. Ooh, blech. Great, you know, just great.

And then you get it. You walk into her office and you can smell that bad rose perfume, you know. Terrific.

John: Terrific. So, I have these seven tips, but also a very long, very detailed article by Chris Csont you can find, so that’s at There will be a link in the show notes, too.

But, Chris, thank you for writing up a great post. And we’re going to try to do a few more of these things, we’re we can sort of do a deep dive. I don’t have time to write these big long things, but Chris does. And he does a great job at them. So we’re going to try to have a few more of these up over the course of the year.

Craig: Great.

John: Cool. Let’s answer a question or two. Tom wrote in with a very simple question. “What are your thoughts on opening a script with a quote?”

Craig: Oh, I don’t mind it so much. I mean, it’s a little cliché. I always feel like when you open your script with a quote you’re basically borrowing somebody else’s genius and importance to create a mood that you have not earned yourself. So, I say if you can avoid it, probably try it without it.

John: Stuart got really frustrated by this question. We were talking about it at lunch. And he said, I think a very good point, is like, “The script is supposed to represent what the movie is going to feel like. And if the movie is going to feel like it’s going to open with a quote, use it. If it’s not, then don’t.” And I think that’s actually very good advice is that always remember the screenplay is meant to duplicate the experience of seeing the movie. And if that’s important for your movie, it’s important to set the expectation of what your movie is, use it. Otherwise, don’t. And I agree with that.

So, I think the only one of my scripts that started with — not even a quote but sort of a dedication page — was Big Fish. It was very important for Big Fish, because it had to set the tall tales expectation. So, I wanted you to stop on that page and understand what kind of movie you were about to get into.

One of the great scripts at Sundance this year had a similar kind of thing where it was very much setting up the tone, and I loved that. But I think it’s only the scripts that need it should use it.

Craig: Yeah. Just don’t throw it on there, you know. I mean, let’s put it this way, if you could conceive of your movie actually opening with this quote on the screen, then sure. You know, it’s got to feel like something that’s appropriate.

I’m not a purist about this. But I would say if you cannot, don’t. Right? Because it’ll just be, I don’t know, you’ll just impress people with your writing immediately, you know? As opposed to something wry from George Bernard Shaw.

John: Yeah. And I would say don’t use a quote that we’ve heard before.

Craig: Oh, yeah, don’t.

John: That doesn’t help. It’s just like, oh, this is a cliché.

Craig: Yeah. And you’re not an original person. You just went on

John: Craig, do you want to do this last question? It’s Jay in Los Angeles.

Craig: Sure. Jay in Los Angeles writes, “I’m a screenwriter who is finishing the deal to sell my spec script to a known production company. The deal should be announced in the next week or two.” Congrats.

“I have an agent from a top-four agency, as well as a lawyer handling the deal. A well-known actor is attached to the project. I was able to attract interest from a producer on my own and then hustled to find my reps after the fact.

“The agent on the deal, and I, never had a conversation on my becoming a client.” Is this my son writing this? Because he does that thing where “on my becoming,” and I’m like you got to stop writing that. Anyway.

“The agent on the deal, and I, had never had a conversation about me becoming a client. He never even asked to read the script. Am I already a de facto client? I want to be able to while the iron is hot, get a manager, and try to get in as many rooms as possible. I also have a pitch prepped for a new project. The question is: how does one approach that conversation with the agent? What can I do to prepare for the news of the deal to get out, aside from prepping a new pitched script?”

John: This is actually not an uncommon situation where you sort of got stuff started, you got stuff to a producer. This agent helps you make this deal. And then it’s sort of this vague situation like “am I client of this agency or not?”

The way to find out is to ask the person who you should ask. And ask, especially if you like this person. If you don’t like this person, you haven’t really signed with this agency, and maybe you can take some other meetings. This producer may help you meet some other folks. But you are right to be thinking about what your next steps are and to capitalize on the news of this getting out.

Craig: Yeah. I completely agree. It’s as simple as asking him the question, or asking her the question. I wouldn’t worry so much about the agent — oh, it’s a he — the fact that the agent didn’t ask to read the script. I don’t need my agents to read my scripts. I just need them to get me as much money as they can.

So, I’m not freaking out by that. Yeah. Ask them. Also ask yourself: what do you think about this person? I mean, so far so good, I guess, right?

John: I guess. I would say, you know, be honest with yourself about what you want to write next, what things you’re interested in doing. What else you have ready to kind of have pitched. And then have the conversation about sort of like what is the deal with this agency. Do you guys want to represent me on an ongoing basis? Is this a one-off thing?

They will say like, “Oh, no, we want to represent you on an ongoing basis,” but then they should probably bring you in for a meeting where they meet with you and with other agents there and they talk about the things you want to do. Before you have that meeting, you should actually be able to answer that question about the things you want to do.

So, I think you’re in a good place, but you’re also right to be asking these questions.

Craig: Yeah. You can try and prepare things like a new pitch or script, but don’t rush anything in there. Don’t feel like you need to have this shoebox full of stuff. Frankly, your concentration should be on writing the next draft of your spec script.

John: For sure.

Craig: That’s where you are now. But unless you haven’t sold it under a WGA deal, and I can’t imagine that’s the case, you are guaranteed the right to be the first rewriter of your script. So, you need to start now transitioning from being a spec guy to a professional writer.

John: A hundred percent agree. Cool. It’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing, Craig, did you already click on this link? Because it’s really good. You’re going to like it a lot.

Craig: I did. And I thought it was spectacular.

John: So, this is called The Mill Blackbird, so the Mill is a place that shoots a lot of film type stuff and special effects things. The Blackbird is this very cool car they’ve built. Essentially if you’re shooting a car commercial or anything on film that involves a car, it is a hassle because the client wants the car to look beautiful, you are trying to do things under different conditions. And sometimes cars change, or you want to change the color of the car afterwards. So what this thing does is basically it’s this skeleton of a car. The wheel base is adjustable. You can change out the actual wheels on it.

But essentially you are driving this thing around and then you are putting the car skin on top of it in post. And it sounds like, well, why would you do that? That’s ridiculous. But you would totally do this in a lot of situations because it lets you switch things out in really remarkable ways. The car itself, this Blackbird, also has cameras on it that are capturing everything around it, and so you can use that for VR applications, but also to get all of the data that you need so that you can have proper reflections on the car when you are putting the skin of the car on in CG.

It seems like just a very smart idea. I can imagine it’s going to be used a lot. Chris Morgan, doing the Fast & Furious movies, probably already has three of them on order.

Craig: Seriously.

John: It seemed very, very cool.

Craig: It is cool. You know, cars are something that they’re so good at making digitally. Like the car racing games are always the best looking games. Those are the ones that are the most close to, wait, is this real? There’s something about just the metal and the paint and the whole thing. It works so great.

And I had no idea, by the way. I’ve been fooled this whole time. I thought those were cars out there. Ah, what do I know?

John: What do you know? I would say like a lot of times you’ve seen so many fake cars in movies, and when people complain about like, oh, bad CG, people don’t realize that half the cars you’ve seen in movies are not actually there. So, when you see car racing and stuff in films, a lot of times that’s all done digitally.

Craig: Yeah. People complain about CG because they’re like, “I saw a thing.” Yeah, you didn’t see a thousand other things, did you? So, maybe you shouldn’t complain.

John: Maybe not.

Craig: Yeah. Maybe you should shut it. I’ll tell you what is my One Cool Thing. Strangely enough, helium. Did you know that we were running a little short on helium? [laughs]

John: I remember this being a thing from before. But they found more of it.

Craig: They found a whole lot more. So, helium is not only used for the party balloons, although if you had asked me, I would have said, “Balloons, right?” It’s kind of important. We actually, for instance, use it in every MRI scanner. There are over a million MRIs in the world, and we need helium for each one of them. We need helium for energy production. We need helium for all sorts of things.

And we were kind of starting to run low, because the deal is helium is an element. You don’t make it. Right? It’s just what we have is what we’ve got.

John: I presume once we get fusion really going, you can make helium. Is that correct? People will tell me if that’s not correct. I assume that we can actually make helium off of fusing hydrogen atoms, but I could be wrong.

Craig: I’m not going to say yes or no to that.

John: All right. We’ll let Wikipedia determine.

Craig: Smells a little wrong, but I don’t know. Sometimes the most right things smell a little wrong. But, and we, by the way, this is another thing I didn’t know. We have something called the Federal Helium Reserve. It’s in Texas. And it’s this massive thing. It’s got 242 billion cubic feet of helium, which is about 30% of all the helium in the world. Until they just found this whole big thing in Tanzania.

A massive helium gas field. Apparently, we’re going to be fine. And some Tanzanians hopefully will get rich off of the helium. How do you mine helium?

John: Carefully? I don’t know. I just worry it would all leak out.

Craig: Balloons. Just endless balloons.

John: Endless balloons. Poppers. It’s going to be good.

Craig: Poppers.

John: Swelling up so high. A lot of squeaky voice. I bet that’s how they found it. I bet like, “There’s something wrong here,” and –

Craig: Somebody goes into a mine looking for something, comes out like –

John: “Something’s really weird.”

Craig: “I didn’t find anything”

John: Craig, your helium voice was much better than mine.

Craig: All you have to do is like really shrink your voice.

John: Well done. I got to say. I would prefer that to almost any of your other characters. [laughs]

Craig: Helium Craig is official now. Helium Craig.

John: It really is. I looked it up as you were talking, and so yes, you can make helium off of a hydrogen fusion process. It’s probably a terrible, dangerous version of helium. It probably would kill everyone. But I bet it could make some balloons float up.

Craig: I don’t care. Listen, man, you were right about it. I think they should do it.

John: They should absolutely do it. Scriptnotes, as always, is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is a class Matthew Chilelli outro. But if you have a new one for us, you can always write in to That’s also the place where you send questions like the ones we answered on the program today.

You will find links to most of the things we talked about on the show notes, which are attached to this podcast, or you can find them at

If you want to read that whole villains piece, that’s

If you would like to tweet to Craig, he is @clmazin on Twitter. I am @johnaugust. If you are on iTunes for any reason, please leave us a review. We love those. We haven’t read those reviews aloud for a while. Maybe we’ll do that next week.

Craig: Okay.

John: And that’s all I got. Craig, thank you so much for a fun podcast.

Craig: Thanks John.

John: See ya.


Flaws are features

Tue, 07/05/2016 - 08:03

Craig and John look at unforgettable villains, screenwriter billions, and a parallel world with two Nathan Fillions. (The last part is not true.)

We also dig into more about magical dad transformation comedies and why there isn’t a female equivalent.


You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 256: Aaron Sorkin vs. Aristotle — Transcript

Fri, 07/01/2016 - 15:47

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 256 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast, Aaron Sorkin wants your money, Aristotle has a few thoughts about character development, and we’ll talk about what makes a movie original.

But most importantly, Craig is back. Welcome back, Craig.

Craig: I’m back. I’m back. You thought that you could Craig-xit from me.

John: We could never Craig-xit you.

Craig: You can’t Craig-xit.

John: So, last week you had an ear infection. Is that correct?

Craig: Yeah. So I was intending to show up at your place and interview Billy Ray with you, who is a buddy, and my ear was hurting for a day, and then you know when it suddenly crosses the line — it crossed the line from annoying to ow, ow, my ear.

John: To like Chekhov in Wrath of Khan?

Craig: Yeah. Like the bug coming out of the ear thing. I didn’t have a bug in my ear, but I did have an infection. And for those people at home who are wondering what my relationship with you is really like, I sent you a picture of the diagnosis like a doctor’s note so that you would believe me.

John: [laughs] I did get that while we were recording, and I noted it that, okay, it’s for real. I’m not sure Billy Ray believes that you had it, but it’s fine. We had a fun time talking with Billy Ray, who is very smart, who talks even more quickly than I did. It was the first time in my history of listening to this podcast where I actually had to bump the speed down to like a normal person speed, just so I could understand what he was saying.

Craig: Yeah. He’s a very fast talker. Fast thinker. Fast talker. I’m sorry that I wasn’t there for it, mostly because I would have given him a lot of crap. Because that’s what I do.

John: I especially love when guests come on the show and clearly have never listened to the show once in their life. I find that extra charming. I was trying to do my best Craig for when he got — he sort of like laid into us about the WGA stuff and about our basically convincing people not to vote for one of the proposals.

Craig: Right.

John: And I was trying to stick up for your point of view there, which is largely my point of view, but you just felt it more strongly. So, I tried to feel it strongly for you.

Craig: You know what? That’s the saddest thing of all. Because I don’t like missing time with friends. I don’t like missing interviews. I get a little FOMO from that. But I really don’t like missing a good fight. That bothers me. And you know I would have taken it right to — because you know, when I argue with Billy, it’s fantastic. It’s so much fun.

John: One of the things Billy Ray would never had heard before on the podcast is the How Would This be a Movie. And one of our favorite episodes of How Would This be a Movie we talked about the Hatton Garden job, which is basically the robbery, all the old British people robbing this vault, and it was terrific.

And we predicted that there would be several movies going into development and they are going into development. In fact, one has started shooting.

Craig: Wow.

John: So, director Ronnie Thompson, who co-wrote the script with Dean Lines and Ray Bogdanovich, it’s already in production. Matthew Goode is starring. Julie Richardson is in it. I presume those are not playing the actual robbers, because those are older people. Unless it’s Matthew Goode with a lot of prosthetics makeup, which sounds terrible.

But there are two other versions in development. One of them is based on a Vanity Fair article. One is based on a New York Times article.

Craig: Amazing.

John: So, we’re going to have a bunch of old people robbing banks.

Craig: No we’re not. We’re going to have one. [laughs]

John: Yeah, we’ll probably have one.

Craig: We’re going to have one. It’s funny how sometimes you read these things and you’re like — it’s not rocket science to see which ones… — The only thing that surprises me I guess a little bit is that enough people were not only able to see that it was deserving of being a movie, but also felt that they could make money with a movie like this. Because increasingly, you know, getting those kinds of movies made is a tricky proposition. It’s essentially a small movie about a small thing. It’s going to ultimately be a character piece.

It’s not like these guys were involved in a hostage crisis or anything like that. They were robbing a bank. So it’s like a very small Ocean’s 11.

John: What’s also interesting is we talk about the situations where there are two movies in parallel development and they both happened and it was a nightmare because they were sort of butting heads against each other. But more often what happens is one of them gets out of the gate first and that becomes the movie. And the other movie just doesn’t exist. And so it’s interesting that we even know that these other two things are in development and it’s entirely possible that down the road those other things will get made.

It’s entirely possible this first one could be great, but it could be terrible. It could be one of those things like you’ve never even heard of, where it gets sold off at AFM and never really got released. So, we’ll see.

Craig: Yeah, it’s normal, I think, for large competing movies to coexist, because there’s just so much momentum behind them and people think, well, you have your movie about a meteor with your movie star, and I have my movie about a meteor with my movie star. So, let’s go ahead. Let’s slug it out. Same thing with our volcano movies. Same thing with our animated ants movies.

But for a little thing like this, I think getting to the marketplace first is crucial, which by the way I think you’re seeing — think about this, right — we did our episode on that, what, a few months ago?

John: It was back in Episode 234 we talked about that, The Script Graveyard.

Craig: Okay, so, we talked about this back in Episode 234.

John: So January 26.

Craig: Right. That’s essentially a half a year ago. Six months ago we talk about this. That’s when everybody else is reading it at the same time. They go and they buy the rights to this thing. That takes a few weeks. And then they say, okay, we have to be first to the market. For them to be shooting six months from that day — I’m saying they went and got the rights that day. Prep takes, you know, two months minimum. Three would be good, right?

John: You also have to write a script –

Craig: Ah-ha. So this is what concerns me sometimes when people are racing to market. And I’ve been involved in these situations. The screenplay process becomes terribly compressed, very, very stressed. So the normal things that happen to screenplays that are stressful, like the creation of it, the revision of it, and then the collision that occurs when a director and a cast collides with the screenplay and there needs to be some kind of reconciliation between all these new elements, those things now get compressed really tightly and it’s very difficult to do well, nearly impossible.

So, I always get nervous when I see this race to the market. I root for all movies, so hopefully it works out with this one.

John: I root for them as well. I would say that the logistics of this movie are probably not especially difficult. We sort of like know what the basic sets are we’re going to need, so it doesn’t require that much sort of prep work in that sense. You feel like if this were a pilot you could just go off and prep it and shoot it.

There’s a bonus episode in the premium feed where I talk to Simon Kinberg about the most recent X-Men movie. And he talks about how they had the four writers who were working on story that came up with a treatment. And they actually had to prep off of that treatment. It was before Simon had written the script. Because they knew they were going to be such giant set pieces that they had to start the pre-vis and everything else on those basically just off of the treatment.

And that’s the way it works on some of these big movies. And in some cases it’s working on these tiny movies I bet, too. I bet they had some document that said this is what we’re going to try to do, but then they had to start getting cast and everything else probably before they had a finished script.

Craig: Well, right. And on a big movie, the nice thing is you know you have a little bit of a cushion because while you have the long tail of post-production because of all the visual effects, you will theoretically have the ability to go and pick up a scene where if you need a few people talking in a room, or maybe even something slightly larger. There may be a week or two to do. The money will be there because there’s an enormous investment worth protecting.

On a little movie, sometimes you don’t have any of those things at all. And especially if the whole point is to race to the marketplace, everything — even post-production — gets compressed down. So, tricky, tricky, tricky business to be in.

Let’s see how it goes with them.

John: Let’s see how it goes. Your last bit there reminded me of we never talked about reshoots and sort of the Star Wars — we were never sort of on the air when all that news came up that they were doing some reshoots for the Star Wars movie. I find it so maddening when the film press starts talking about reshoots as if it’s a sign of trouble. Reshoots are incredibly natural in the film industry. They are usually a sign that you have something that you are very excited about, but you see opportunities and you want to improve those opportunities. It just makes me crazy when reshoots are perceived as being a sign that everything has gone wrong.

Craig: I couldn’t agree more. Generally speaking, whenever I see the film press writing anything, I get frustrated because their ignorance is vast and seemingly without a bottom.

John: And you’re also Craig Mazin. You were born to be angry at the film press.

Craig: Correct. I was born to be angry anyway, and particularly them anyway. I’m their natural enemy. I am their — what’s the — Honey Badger? I’m their Honey Badger.

But it’s a bit like saying, “I saw somebody walk into CVS. Clearly they’re fatally ill.”

John: Yup.

Craig: What? Maybe they just had a little bit of a scratch that they needed a Band-Aid for and they’re going to be so much better now.

John: Maybe they wanted a Vitamin Water.

Craig: Maybe they wanted a Vitamin Water. A useless, overpriced Vitamin Water. It’s just stupid. Reshoots happen for any number of reasons. By the way, to be fair, sometimes it’s because the movie is a mess, right??

John: Oh yeah. Oh yeah.

Craig: Here’s the incredible thing: so what? So the movie is a mess, and then they did reshoots, which many times fix the mess. You and I both know of movies, which we’re not going to say –

John: You and I both know of a certain TV series, the biggest TV series in the world –

Craig: Okay, there’s one.

John: Which was a mess.

Craig: A total mess, right? And those guys, Dan and Dave, have been really forthcoming about it. Their pilot for Game of Thrones was a disaster. And then they reshot not some, but almost all of it. The point of it is reshoots don’t mean that something is all wrong.

The problem is they’re always looking for this — they’re looking for gossip. And really what’s underneath all of the “ooh, reshoots” is a general sense of Schadenfreude. Oh good, people are failing. He-he-he.

Ugh. Gross. Gross.

John: Well, you can hear more about our discussion on reshoots and Game of Thrones and everything else on the brand new black USB drives we have now. So, we have the 250-episode Scriptnotes USB drives. They are in stock. I mentioned it last week, but they are now actually up in the store, so you can get them. And Craig and I recorded a special little introduction that’s only on the USB drives. And so if you are a person who is a completist, then this is a completist thing you could get.

Craig: And do the USB drives cost $90 each?

John: They cost $25 each.

Craig: Huh? That’s interesting, because I thought $90 was — all right. $25 seems incredibly reasonable.

John: I think it’s incredibly reasonable. So it’s $0.10 an episode. Not even $0.10 when you think about it because of all those bonus episodes on there, plus all the transcripts.

Craig: I mean, good lord.

John: Good lord. So they’re there. So, you could find them in the links to the show notes to the podcast you’re listening to, or just go to, or There’s places to find them.

All right, let’s get to today’s business, and it is business because just like I was trying to sell you on a USB drive, Aaron Sorkin is trying to sell you on a series of screenwriting lectures. It’s a masterclass. Actually the site is called Masterclass. And this service, which I’d never heard about before, they have sort of like the biggest names in different fields teaching these classes. So, Christina Aguilera will teach you singing. Kevin Spacey will teach you acting. Usher will teach you the art of performance.

Craig: [laughs]

John: Annie Leibovitz will teach you photography. So, they are –

Craig: You’re missing one here. Serena Williams teaches you how to play tennis. [laughs]

John: Yeah. She’s probably really good at it.

Craig: Well, I’ve noticed that she’s very good at playing tennis.

John: I’ve watched her play, and I’ve got to admit it, she’s pretty good. Aaron Sorkin will teach you screenwriting. And so everyone on Twitter sent me the link to this and said, “What do you think?”

Craig: Yeah.

John: So I’ll ask you, Craig, what you think.

Craig: Well, first of all, I think it’s nice that he’s only charging $25 like the price of our USB drives.

John: No, no, no, it’s $90, Craig.

Craig: Oh what? Oh my goodness.

John: So let me tell you exactly what you’re getting. Over the course of 25 video lessons, spanning five hours, Sorkin shares his rules of storytelling, dialogue, and character development. He critiques student submissions. He works with real world examples from the decades he spent writing movies and TV, and TV shows, and plays. So, that was from the press release.

Craig: Well, I happen to be a big fan of Aaron Sorkin’s. I think that he is a terrific screenwriter. And I suspect that if you are somebody who is talented and on your way to becoming a screenwriter, and you’re serious about your craft, that this $90 may actually be money well worth spent.

Of course, on the other side you do have to be aware that one of the things that makes Aaron Sorkin a terrific screenwriter is how specific he is. He is one of the few screenwriters I know whose style is self-defined.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: You know, Tarantino and Sorkin are very, you know, oh, that’s Sorkin dialogue. We know it when we hear it.

John: Absolutely. So, it makes it very strange when anyone else tries to do it. It feels like you’re ripping him off.

I sort of come out where you come out, too, where it’s just like I got little heebie-jeebies at the start, and then I watched it and it’s like, oh, they look really well-produced. I mean, I’ve hosted panels with him. He’s very, very smart. And generous. And odd. So, if you’re looking to spend $90 on learning more about screenwriting, it seems like kind of a reasonable way to go.

I’ll really be curious, because I bet a bunch of our listeners will end up signing up for it and will sit through it. And they can tell us whether they thought it was worth it or not.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, of all the things that we talk about all the time, you know my whole thing — don’t pay for screenwriting. And this is actually I think worth a shot because, first of all, it’s capped at $90. There’s no come on to keep spending. And I also think there’s a nice side effect. And that is that all of these jackanapes and charlatans who are peddling their so-called guru genius for $500 or $1,000, or $100 an hour are all now going to have to face this question: why should I pay you that when Aaron Sorkin charged $90 for 25 lessons spanning — how many hours?

John: Five hours.

Craig: Five hours. $18 an hour for Aaron Sorkin. Why am I paying you a $100 an hour, because you wrote an episode of Cagney & Lacey once? Yeah. So I like that part of it.

I’m puzzled by this whole thing.

John: I’m puzzled by it, too. So, clearly they think that there’s a good business model here, because they have giant names doing it. So, I don’t know what his cut is. I kind of don’t know why he said yes, but I’m not telling people to say no, because I think it’s actually — I’m kind of curious.

Craig: Well, it’s one of the things where of all the things they’ve listed where I think, oh, people actually might get something out of this. He’s going to have some, I think, I’m just predicting, he’s going to have some really useful universal insights.

You know, you and I are trying to do that all the time on this show. I would imagine that he’ll have some of those for sure. It’s not simply going to be five hours of him describing how he wrote A Few Good Men.

Now, some of these other people — Christina Aguilera can’t teach you how to sing. That’s ridiculous. [laughs] And neither can Serena Williams teach you how to play tennis well.

They can teach you how somebody at their incredibly high level does things, but I actually think screenwriting is a little more teachable than some of those other things.

John: Well, let’s see how he does it. So, let’s listen to a clip. Here’s a little short clip from the promo video for it.

Aaron Sorkin: Dialogue is pretty much where the art comes in. Taking some words that someone has just said, holding them in your hand, and then punching them in the face with it. I left The West Wing after season four. I have not seen an episode from seasons five, six, and seven. Together we are going to break the teaser and first act of Episode 501 of The West Wing.

You don’t have an idea until you can use the words “but, except, and then.” I just want to hear your bad ideas. Very bad. Love it. Very bad. By the way, it wasn’t that bad.

Female Voice: It’s a White House conspiracy.

John: So, you see at the end there he’s sitting around a table with these students who are all made up and everyone looks just as good and glamorous in it. So, it’s not quite reality. They’re going to break a new season of The West Wing, so some fan service there.

I guess.

Craig: Yeah, I mean, I guess is right. And so, look, the thing is you and I — we have an interesting perspective on this, because we do this every week for an hour. We’ve done now 256 hours, plus some, and we’ve charged — well, technically we do charge $2 a month, right?

John: Yeah, for the premium feed.

Craig: For the premium feed, which isn’t — and so, you know, it’s not quite as expensive. But, you know, of course, he’s Aaron Sorkin. And so that’s really impressive and great. I hope that he gives money to the — if he’s getting money from this personally, I hope he donates it to the Writers Guild Foundation. Wouldn’t that be nice?

John: That would be nice if he did that.

Craig: We do that.

John: We do that.

Craig: Aaron Sorkin, I call upon you to donate your proceeds to the Writers Guild Foundation.

John: But I think it’s also fine if you don’t. So, Aaron Sorkin has been generous and he does participate in WGF events. He was there at the last giant panel I did with all of the nominees. So, I like him for that. I don’t begrudge him any money he’s making off of this.

I just kind of wonder whether there could be enough money to be made off of this to make it worth his while. If it’s worth Serena Williams’ while, then I’m guessing there must be money there.

Craig: I feel like — this is a big Silicon Valley thing, right? Like maybe these are people’s friends. Like highfalutin Silicon Valley people who are like, hey come on, you know. I’m a billionaire. You’re cool. Let’s do something together.

John: Or maybe their seed money, so part of the VC money was to pay these people a lot of money up front with a percentage. Maybe that’s what it is?

Craig: Oh, interesting. Okay. Well, listen, I don’t begrudge anyone making a buck. Well, I do, obviously, all the time. I don’t begrudge Aaron Sorkin making a dollar. And I do think you could do way worse. $90 seems very reasonable. I hope that people do find value from it. If I were to bet on anybody, I’d bet on him.

John: Yeah. I’d bet on him, too. You know who else was a very smart thinker about drama was this guy Aristotle. So he’s super old. I mean, kind of old school, but actually very clever. And one of the funny things is you can kind of rediscover these clever people in random places. And so this last week I was reading this blog post about coyotes and cliffs, and this word was used, and I didn’t really know the word. So, I had to look up how to even say it, and then you actually looked up the YouTube video on how to pronounce it so we wouldn’t be like idiots as we try to pronounce it.

So, it’s this Aristotelian term called Anagnorisis. It comes from Aristotle’s Poetics. And it’s that moment when a hero realizes the true nature of things. It’s that moment where like the blinders come off and the hero sees that the world that he or see perceived is not actually the world as it truly is.

And, we think about — he was describing it mostly in terms of tragedies, but I think in movie usage it’s more often used in thrillers. So you think about The Sixth Sense, the twist in The Sixth Sense. Or Gone Girl, which has the mid-act, sort of midway reversal. But it’s also a thing that becomes incredibly useful in comedies. So, I said the coyote going over the cliff, it’s that moment where the coyote has run off the cliff, and he’s floating in mid-air, and he turns to the camera and realizes, “Oh, I’m going to fall.”

It’s that moment. And it’s such a weirdly wonderful moment. So I thought we’d spend a few minutes talking about how that exists both internally, but how it exists in fiction, and sort of how we can use it.

Craig: Well, you’re right, that it comes in big moments, and it comes in little moments. The obvious ones are the ones where there’s an on-rush of information about the world, specific facts about the world around them.

So every whodunit has a moment of Anagnorisis where the detective hero has all of these facts, none of them seem to add up, and then somebody does some little dinkety thing and they go, “Ah…,” the big gasp, “Oh my god, I know who did it now.” And we all have to wait, right? We’ve watched them.

So, that’s a clear example. But then there are these little moments like at the end of The Graduate, when you have these two people sitting on this bus and they believe they have culminated this wonderful romance. And then you can see, suddenly they realize, ooh, wait. That’s a very small kind, but it is crucial for the audience to see in characters.

It’s crucial that we see them suddenly realizing these big truths that they did not have before. In reality, where a narrative does not rule, here’s how a typical — for instance, let’s go back to the whodunit. Here’s how a typical whodunit goes: a detective arrives at a scene, here are some facts, here are some suspects. They start to put together a reasonable presumption about who did it, but there are a couple of other possibilities. And then they begin to slowly grind their way towards what is growing increasingly obvious to be the right answer. They just have to support it. And so they do, like a mathematical proof, and then that’s that.

That cannot be how it goes in drama.

John: No, it can’t. So, what you’re describing is a lot of times TV procedurals will essentially do that, where like they’re stacking the blocks together. There’s some revelation or something, but it’s not a character revelation. It’s nothing that’s personal to the character. And I think that’s what we’re trying to go for here, is a fundamental sort of gasp in the character. Oh no, the thing I presumed.

So, this thing I just turned into the studio this afternoon has Anagnorisis in it, where the hero at about the second act break has trusted this one other character throughout, and then realizes, oh crap, you’re the villain. And what the villain does in sort of like the moment of the villain unveiling himself for who he truly is has to really land. It has to land not just on a plot level, like oh, all these make so much more sense now. But you have to see the betrayal. You have to see what it feels like to be in the shoes of the hero as this revelation is coming to pass.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: So often when I hear pitches form new screenwriters, they’ll go, “Blah, blah, blah,” they pitch the first act, second act, and then they’re like, “And then the hero comes to realize that something, something, something.” And whenever I hear “come to realize” I’m like, oh no, no, no, that’s not good.

Craig: I agree.

John: It’s amazing and wonderful if a character has a realization, but that realization can’t just be like I’ve been living my life for the wrong things. Realizations have to be like this is a thing that fundamentally changes how I’m going to relate to this world that I’m in. Fundamentally changes how I relate to the other characters that have been set up in this story.

It can’t just be like, “I need to be a better dad.” No, that’s not real.

Craig: I completely agree. And this is one of the keys to writing layered work, right, work that doesn’t feel like it’s all operating on one level. So, Anagnorisis occurs after a character does something. It shouldn’t really occur before they do something, because if they’re just sitting alone in their room and they go, “Ooh,” and then they do something it’s like, “I’m doing it because of that thing I figured out.” This all now feels like it’s inevitable. Like I’m just following along. And what anybody would do having realized what I realized.

But there’s something wonderful about a character doing something. Very typically, for instance, we’ll see a character finally achieving this goal. Vengeance is a classic one, right? I have finally achieved my revenge. And then Anagnorisis. Oh no. Right?

Or perhaps I did not understand what I was doing or this other person was doing until now when it is too late.

John: Yep. You see that — classically the tragedy aspect of like I spent my entire life seeking revenge on this person, and it turns out this person was my only true friend. Or it turns out the person I’ve been seeking for revenge is myself. There’s that sense of like I have wasted all this time, or I’ve killed the only one true thing that I love. Or that in my pursuit of vengeance, I have destroyed my life around me.

Craig: Yeah. You’ll also see this when characters are witnessing other characters performing an act of sacrifice. So much more, well, let’s talk about the bad version. Here is the version that is ana- Anagnorisis. Or Norisis. I don’t know what would work right. But not Anagnorisis.

Someone says, “You’re never going to make it unless I stand here and sacrifice my life so you can escape.”

“What? I don’t want you to do that?”

“Well, I’m going to.”

“All right. Well, thank you.”

Ugh. Right? But when someone says, “Okay, yes, I’m going to go with you. It’s going to be okay.”

“You sure?”


And you run and you jump and then you realize the other person hasn’t jumped, they’re staying back to fight for you and die for you. And then you have Anagnorisis not only about what that person is doing for you, but in a deeper way, how they feel about you, how you feel about them, the depth of their connection, why they’re doing this. All that stuff comes wooshing over this character. And that’s when we have these human connections.

Ultimately, these are the things that make us want to keep watching anything, or keep reading a book for that matter. It’s not the details of the richly textured world. It’s, in fact, these universal things that we experience all the time in our own lives.

John: Yeah, it’s not the plot. It’s the reaction to the plot. It’s what we see in the characters. Let’s talk about the audience’s relationship to that moment of realization of the character’s relationship to it. Because one of the things you find is that sometimes you want the audience to be a little bit ahead of your character so that they can anticipate it. It’s sort of the classically when you show the audience there’s a bomb under the table and the two characters are sitting at the table that it’s incredibly suspenseful, because you know there’s a bomb and the character’s don’t know there’s a bomb. So, sometimes you want to let the audience be just a little bit ahead of your characters.

But if the audience is too far ahead of your characters, if the audience has already like made this journey, they start to kind of hate your heroes. They kind of start to think your heroes are idiots because like how can you not see that that’s the bad guy? How can you not see what’s going on here?

So, as a writer, your challenge is to hopefully land both the audience and your hero at this moment of realization at the right time, which is often simultaneously, or at least closely coupled.

Craig: It’s about putting in and taking out bits of information, like a little test. Because you’re right, there’s this balance. The audience needs to have enough clues so that after the fact, like any good detective, they could say, “I could have figured that out.” Or, maybe sometimes it’s not so much of a strain. It’s simply there are enough clues where clearly I knew what was going to happen, but it wasn’t rubbed in my face, and it certainly wasn’t rubbed in the character’s face who is about to experience that Anagnorisis. So, that’s okay.

For instance, we all know, here is a Game of Thrones example.

John: Great.

Craig: We all know that Tyrion is going to be using wildfire to destroy this fleet of ships coming in from Stannis Baratheon. And then Stannis Baratheon’s fleet shows up and Sir Davos is there on board the ship and he’s coming around. And they realize that there’s only ship waiting for them. Well, that’s strange. And we’re all thinking — yeah, it’s got to be full of wildfire. And it is.

We don’t know quite how. That’s the interesting part. We’re like, well, they’ve got all this wildfire. I don’t see any wildfire on the top of the ship, so where is it? And then as he comes around they reveal that the stuff is pouring out of holes in the bottom of the ship and actually spreading out on the water, floating on the water. And then Sir Davos has that moment that we live for when we’re watching these things, which is Anagnorisis, the oh my god, get back! And then, boom.

Right? So, it’s about taking pieces in and out. And if you put one extra piece in, it’s suddenly boring. And if you take too many out, it’s suddenly confusing. And you don’t have the richness of that moment of “oh no.”

John: Yeah. I find the moments where this lands most is there’s kind of a melting dread that happens where like you can sort of see like it’s as if you’re kind of poisoned and you realize, like oh god, how I’m going to — and you can see the wheels turning in the characters’ heads like, “How do we even react to this?” They’re trying to basically recognize the situation that they’re in and plan accordingly.

It’s very fun to sort of put characters back on their heels and not be able to take the natural actions that they should be taking.

Craig: Correct. And this is something where I think sometimes some directors underestimate the value of this. Because it is often — not always — but often concentrated on a face. There is not much of a spectacle to Anagnorisis. It’s very small. And usually it doesn’t have much in the way of speech-making. It’s someone’s face. And it’s pure acting. And it’s pure reaction. And it requires a little bit of time. Some directors I think really appreciate it and understand what it means to sit and dwell with it. And too also when directing scene, direct toward it.

But some do not. And when your movie short changes those moments of Anagnorisis, the strange thing is even if the circumstances are the same, just as shocking, just as surprising, just as twisty, we won’t feel it. Because we only experience it through the eyes of the hero on screen. We wouldn’t care so much that Bruce Willis’s character has been dead the whole time in The Sixth Sense if you didn’t have that long drawn out moment of Anagnorisis.

Same thing with watching Chazz Palminteri realize, oh my god, that Verbal Kint is Keyser Soze. Long, drawn-out face. Eyes. Gasping. Over and over. We need it.

John: Yeah. You absolutely need it. And it’s so easy to lose it. But I would also say, even before you have a director on board, one of the things I’ve noticed over a bunch of different scripts is when you’re in a protected development on something, people are reading that same draft again, and again, and again. And they sort of forget, the same way they forget like why jokes are funny. They forget like what those moments feel like when they land.

And so I find they keep asking you add back information earlier on to like set that thing up.

Craig: I know.

John: And so you have to just be so hard about like parceling that information carefully so that some things can actually be a surprise, just so, you know, there’s this desire to have everything make so much sense the minute it hits. And like, no, I need the character to be doing the work to be putting it together at that time. And the audience should be doing that work, too. So like if I set that up so clearly, then it wouldn’t be a surprise whatsoever.

Craig: Yeah. I find, for whatever reason, that a lot of studio executives prize clarity over drama and revelation. And they have no problem actually un-dramatizing something. Sucking the drama out of it so that ten people at a screening won’t go, “I was confused.” That seems to petrify them more than anything else. Maybe because people can articulate, “I was confused.” But it’s very hard to articulate, “I identify with somebody as they experience Anagnorisis.” Right?

So, it is an ongoing battle. And it is one of those things at times that makes screenwriters feel very lonely. It is a lonely feeling when you know something because it is part and parcel of who you are and what you do, and everybody around you is saying, “Well who cares about that?” Everybody in the theater. Don’t you know why we’re there?

But it’s a struggle. By the way, I wanted to mention there’s this other kind of Anagnorisis that’s fairly rare. But when it happens I love it. And it’s the Anagnorisis of the audience. So this is where the characters in the movie know everything. We don’t. They’re not surprised by information. We are.

John: Absolutely. No Way Out.

Craig: Yeah. No Way Out. Exactly. No Way Out, we’re shocked because — but they’re not shocked. They know. They know who is Yuri is, right? And I always remember this moment in The Ring where we realize — we in the audience realize — wait, that’s that kid’s dad. The kid knew that that was his dad. The dad knew that was his kid. The mom knows that that was her ex. Everybody knows everything. We just didn’t know. And I love that.

John: Good stuff.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Before we get off this completely, I’m going to try to find a link to Mike Pesca talks about sort of magical dad transformation comedies. And it’s such a weirdly specific sub-genre that I’d never considered.

Craig: The Santa Claus.

John: The Santa Claus. Liar Liar. A Thousand Words. Like a bunch of Eddie Murphy movies. Which is basically like I’m a terrible father who works too much, but because of a magical thing that happens, now I’m going to learn the true value of family. I’m going to try to find — if I can’t find another link to it, I’ll link to the actual podcast. But he talks about how it’s such a weirdly specific genre of movies that is designed probably so that dads can take their kids to go see that movie and then feel better about themselves. It’s a bizarre thing that we’ve made. And I don’t know we keep making them. I guess they make money.

Craig: Well, it’s a way to feature — let’s say you have funny men, who are in their 30s or 40s. It’s a way for them to be funny, but then maybe also appeal to like a kid audience. And then the question is, well, what do we do with that character? And as poorly as we treat female characters, we treat dads, I think, perhaps the worst of all because they’re so stupid. They’re the dumbest people in the world.

This is the dad character. This is it. I work too hard. I’m ignoring my wife and my family. Period. The end. And actually, no, there’s one other thing about this dad. I just needed somebody to point it out to me. And now I’m going to change my life forever. Oh, please. I always like to say all those movies about overworked, working too hard dads are made by dads that are working too hard, not seeing their children. It’s such a — god, I hate those. I hate them. Hate ‘em.

John: And so the other thing I’ll bring up, and I’m sure our listeners can find a counter example. So, write in with a counter example of the female equivalent of that. Because I can’t think of one where the woman works too hard and through magical means she gets to learn the value of family. It’s just presumed that of course a woman knows the value of family.

Craig: Right. Exactly. That’s a thing. Nobody — you just couldn’t get away with it, like putting a woman on screen being that profoundly stupid and emotionally stunted. Nobody would believe it. For good reason by the way. [laughs] Because I get it. Men are dumber and more emotionally stunted than women. We know this. But, god, to be that profoundly dopey.

And, of course, this is why — so then the question is how do you — you can see how these things happen, right? All right, so hey, screenwriter, here’s a problem for you: we need to illustrate in a simple way that this father is neglectful of his kid. How would you do that? I just need one scene that proves that he’s putting work ahead of family. What should we do?

John: So maybe he could like not show up at his son’s violin rehearsal?

Craig: Sold! Sold! So it’s a school play, it’s a rehearsal. It’s a this, it’s a that. And here’s the thing — this is why I was — argh, umbrage now. Here’s why it’s so lame: because it would be cool — I would actually like a movie where a dad is like, “Oh, I got to get home to see my kid’s play.” And then someone is like, “Okay. But if you want to stay and keep working on this, you might get a raise.”

“Huh, all right. I’m going to stay.”

That’s never how it is. Because I’d be like that guy is awesome. What a bastard. No, it’s always like this: “I have to get to my — I love my kid so much. I have to get there. Oh no, there’s a crisis. I’m stuck. I can’t do anything about it. I forgot.”

Ugh, god. Blech.

John: Blech. Here’s the thing is like they have to be terrible by their own choices for them to be able to learn something at the end. Because otherwise, if it’s just like their mean boss is making them work, then it’s just Scrooge, and it’s not his story at all.

Craig: Well, that’s what it is. They’re basically cowards who can’t stand up to a mean boss. And inevitably they finally do.

By the way, let’s also be realistic. If you don’t show up to your kid’s play in fourth grade, that’s not what’s going to end up putting them in therapy. You know, it’s recoverable. Don’t beat them. How about that?

John: Yeah. And so then we set these incredibly unrealistic expectations about what fathers are supposed to be able to do and the kids talk smack about their parents. Oh, it just drives me crazy. Maybe it’s because I have a tween now who has started talking like the characters on Disney Channel shows. And so she talks this way that she kind of thinks that kids are supposed to talk, but she’s really talking the way a 45-year-old man wrote for these tweens to talk on a Disney Channel show. And it’s just so maddening. And so, ah.

Craig: Well, you know, it’s going to get worse and worse.

John: Oh, of course.

Craig: I don’t know what to tell you about that.

John: Yeah. It’s going to be good. Let’s go on to our final topic which is originality and the sense of why some movies feel original and some movies don’t. Craig, take us there.

Craig: Well, this is something that I was talking about with Lindsay Doran and we were talking about a moment in the script that we’re working on together. And she was very happy with it. And she said, “You know what I like about this? Only our movie could do this.” And I thought what a great test. Because we talk about being original all of the time, but what does that really mean exactly? Because while we talk about being original, we also say things like, “Well, there’s only seven stories. And every story has been told. And it’s just versions.” And that’s all kind of true.

And everyone who is learning how to be a screenwriter, what do they learn? There are certain archetypes. There are this many kinds of heroes. And the heroes journey. And it’s all based on mythology. All kind of true.

So then the question is what do we mean when we say something is original. And in a strange way I think she’s kind of hit on it. It’s not that it has to be original compared to everything else around there. It’s that it has to original within itself. That the movie is providing a combination of character and circumstance that allows that movie to do something no other movie could do. Not for lack of trying, but because it wouldn’t make sense in that movie. It only makes sense in this one. I thought that was a good idea.

John: I think it’s a very good idea. And it’s going to invoke one of our other favorite words which is specificity. It’s like it’s ideas that are so specific to this movie that they could not be plugged into any other movie. And so it’s the joke that only could exist with these characters in this situation and couldn’t be dialed into another movie.

It’s the characters and situations that can only happen here. One of these we have marked here is people being unplugged in The Matrix and then falling down dead. Exactly. That’s a very specifically kind of Matrix-y idea. And while other science fiction films could do things that are kind of like it, the specific way that feels is only The Matrix. And that’s great.

Craig: Yeah. Precisely. And sometimes it’s as simple as a line that only your characters can do. You know, so the movie that I’m working on with her is about sheep. And these sheep are detectives trying to solve a crime. And they repeatedly do things that only our movie could do, because we’re the only movie that has sheep detectives.

It’s not like we’ve — detective stories are not original. Talking animal movies aren’t original. There have been movies with sheep. But this combination is original. And therefore you have to ask yourself, “What can only we do?” If we can only do that, we should do that. That’s a good light guiding us to where we’re going to go.

You and I see when we get Three Page Challenges, sometimes we’ll say things like, “I’ve seen this a million times before.” And I think underneath that really is — any movie could do this. So, why do I need this one, right? I’ve seen many movies where people are caught on vaguely haunted spaceships. But what can only your movie do?

And it’s a good way to think about your work. For those of you playing the home game, as you go through and ask yourself, there must be a combination of things that is unique to your screenplay. I believe that, otherwise why would you have bothered to write it. If that combination is not unique, you’re already in a lot of trouble. But if it is unique, ask yourself have I exploited that which is unique to this? Because if I have not, I should.

John: Yep. And when we’re saying like you have to find this moment that is unique and original, it should ideally be the kind of moment that you would actually hopefully would put in the trailer. It doesn’t have to go in the trailer, but it has to be the kind of moment that so shows the DNA of your movie and why this movie, which will obviously fall into some genre, can both reflect the genre but also stand apart from the genre. That it’s doing its own thing.

And, you know, you say like no other movie could do it. Well, no other movie would even sort of try to do this specific weird thing that you are trying to do. And when you see bad trailers, it’s often because you can feel like well that’s just another retread of the same idea again and again.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, we know that we’ve seen pirate movies. And we’ve seen zombie movies. And we’ve seen movies with ghosts, right? And I remember when I saw the trailer for the first Pirates of the Caribbean, how impressed I was when these pirates moved into moonlight and suddenly were revealed to be skeletons. And that’s something only that movie could do, because that was their interesting rule which they made sense of, and then exploited the hell out of.

And talk about Anagnorisis, when Barbossa says, “You don’t believe in ghost stories, you better start. You’re in one,” and he steps into the moonlight, into a beam of moonlight and his face is revealed. And her shock at seeing what the world is. That’s — see only that movie could do that.

John: Exactly.

Craig: Wonderful, right? And they’re sometimes the littlest things. The strangest. Look, one of our little lambs in our movie is just obsessed with tomatoes. It’s a sheep. This lamb loves tomatoes. And she’s been sent to kind of listen in to a conversation between two people. And first of all, here’s something only our movie could do. Only our movie can have somebody sneakily eavesdropping on a conversation, except the other two people couldn’t care less that they were there because they’re a lamb, right?

So the people don’t understand that lambs are eavesdropping. So that’s pointless eavesdropping, but they’re eavesdropping anyway. And she’s watching them and they’re eating lunch. And one of them is eating tomato salad. And our lamb just focuses in on the tomatoes, and everything else is gone. And it’s just tomatoes. Only our movie could do that. What other movie could do that? None.

And that’s why we’re here is to do stuff — and then people go, “Well how did you think of that?” Because that’s why we’re doing the story is to do things that only this intersection of elements could create.

John: Yep. The success of Zootopia is largely based on those kind of moments where it’s just like, oh, it’s because you have these specific characters in this situation and these crazy rules for your world that these kinds of situations can happen. And that’s delightful.

Craig: Yeah. Animated movies in particular, this is their stock and trade. They are obsessed with the idea of what can only our movie do. What can you do if everybody in the movie is a talking car? What can you do if everybody in the movie is a fish? What can you do if everybody in the movie is a video game character? And then they ask themselves — you can see them saying, “Well…”

John: Starting with this premise, what are the best outcomes from it? And if the outcomes aren’t great outcomes, then maybe ditch that idea and start a different idea.

Craig: Because it can be applied to any other movie. So, how is it great that we’re applying it to ours? The Lego Movie, so first of all, what’s the worst thing that can happen to Lego people? Being stuck in place and not being able to be interchangeable because that’s the nature of Legos. Okay, great. So then what should the ultimate nuclear bomb in the Lego world be? Crazy Glue.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Great. Right? Only the Lego Movie could have Crazy Glue as the ultimate weapon of doom. Ergo, it’s a good idea.

John: It’s a very good idea. God, I love the Lego Movie. I need to see it again. I haven’t seen it since it came out.

Craig: Well, it’s just chock full of things that only that movie could do.

John: Cool. Let’s answer one question. Stuart from York, England writes — oh Stuart, I’m so sorry for you.

Craig: Yeah. Let’s just take a moment here.

John: We’re recording this on Friday. So it’s just all come down. And I’ve been kind of really depressed all day.

Craig: Well, for good reason. Will everyone survive? Yes. Will the world be okay? Yes. However, what’s disturbing about Brexit is that it is irrational. It’s profoundly irrational. And by the way, I think it’s not like the EU doesn’t deserve a ton of criticism. They do. It’s not a great organization actually. In fact, one could argue that it’s terribly flawed from its inception.

But, the problem is the alternative is worse. Sometimes you have to make the best of a bad situation, which is I think what the EU was. But leaving it is profoundly irrational and it was kind of surprising to see that much irrationality. And in a weird way, John, in November, the United States will suddenly have to be the grown-ups and like the good ones. What a weird role reversal, right?

John: It is a very strange role reversal. You know, this morning I retweeted a couple of I thought smart observations about it. And then I got some weird Twitter blowback about. You’re no stranger to weird Twitter blowback, Craig Mazin.

Craig: It’s all I get.

John: It’s all you get. And so I’ve been judiciously using my mute function. So, I have a perception of who really wanted Brexit to happen. And there’s the extreme types, but I think there’s also the people who genuinely perceive that England was better off when it was a separate country, or Great Britain was better off as a separate country. And that they were longing for a golden time. They were longing for a time where things were better.

And when I see movements like this happen, there always tends to be sort of this myth of like a golden age when everything was better, and if we could just get back to that place. The realization that — the Anagnorisis that you have — is that you never get to that better place. You can never get back to that old better place. You can only try to get to a new better place. And every attempt to go backwards is fraught with peril.

And so as I retweeted a few of these things, including this one young woman interviewing saying like, “Yeah, I voted to leave, but now that I wake up this morning, I really regret that.”

Craig: [laughs] Yeah. I saw her.

John: I’m like, oh, that’s Anagnorisis there.

Craig: By the way, that’s so British, because an American would never say that. Ever.

John: Exactly.

Craig: Americans will never, ever admit — not only did she admit that regretted it, but she admitted it so freely. Like, “Oh, you know, if I could do it again, I think I would vote to remain.” Just so casual. So like, la-da-da, oh well.

John: La-di-da. You know, people also describe it as being like I wish I could revert to a save. It’s like go back to that last draft. That made a lot more sense.

Craig: I know.

John: Or like save progress in a game. Like, I’m going to try to something really foolish, so I’m going to save first and then see — go back to a state there.

Craig: Right. Exactly. Oh my god, that’s so the video game analogy of like, “Oh, I’ll just do a save point here. It’s my fallback. Yeah, because I’m about to go Russian somewhere that I probably shouldn’t. But maybe it’ll work.”

You know, you’re right. This dream of what once was, part of the problem also is it wasn’t that. You know, in the United States people sometimes — a lot of people — fetishize the 1950s.

John: Yeah. Exactly. Oh, let’s go back to that. Because they were awesome, Craig. Everything was perfect in the ’50s. If you were a white person, who was straight, and a male, it was fantastic.

Craig: Well, here’s the crazy part. Even if you were a white, straight male, it still wasn’t that great, because there’s like — here’s a list of things that kind of sucked about being anyone in the 1950s.

John: Polio.

Craig: Yeah, thank you. Much less being black, or gay, or a woman, or any of the things. We just imagine these times because we look at Norman Rockwell paintings and it’s just easy to imagine that that was the way it was. It was not at all that way. And, of course, there were a lot of men who were dying in Korea in the 1950s and early ’60s, I believe.

A lot of things going wrong. But John Oliver, I think, had the best — he had the best and most well-rounded and understandable view on it as a British man.

John: Yeah. And of course it didn’t air in the UK because Sky pulled it for political content.

Craig: Amazing. So, it basically came down to him saying we have to stay. I hate the EU. All British people hate the EU. We hate all the other countries in the EU. We should hate them. They’re ridiculous. We have to stay. And that is a very difficult selling point.

John: It is. I think the lesson I’m trying to take with me going forward, just because obviously we’re going to hit our own situation in the very near future, is to always be mindful that there is going to be a sizable portion of any society that wants to return, that wants to get back to a place. And you have to be able to tell them the story that makes them feel good about the place we’re headed to, and not just tells them that they’re stupid for wanting to get back to that place.

Craig: Yeah. And again, you know, we have — our situation is a little better. We have the Electoral College.

John: Thank god.

Craig: Which definitely is a buffer against large waves of people located in one area. And also, of course, our situation is not permanent. Theirs unfortunately is irreversible.

John: We’re recording this on Friday. What is interesting is the damage that’s been done can’t be undone. There’s no reverting to a previous state. But, how they actually implement it and sort of what happens next is still very fluid.

And so I would hope that in its fluidity it gets to a place that is less terrible for everyone.

Craig: Well, on the darker side of things, I suspect it’s going to be a brutal, vicious slog over the next two years. Political careers are going to be dashed to pieces. And Scotland will probably vote to leave the United Kingdom.

John: I also hope that more politicians aren’t going down in the streets.

Craig: And my god, I mean, good lord, right? So, a real mess over there, but Stuart — Stuart is from York, and he deserves an answer, whether he voted to leave or remain. Shall I read his question?

John: Read his question.

Craig: Stuart asks, “Would putting the main character’s names in bold be something that would help the reader focus on the central characters or the characters that the writers deem important enough to bold, or is it something that could risk marginalizing the other characters?” Interesting.

John: I have a simple answer to this which is don’t boldface your character’s names. So, I would say there’s nothing horribly wrong with boldfacing your character’s names, except that part of the reason why we uppercase character’s names is so that people can find them, and so that people sort of know the first time they appear. I just don’t think you’re going to find a lot of utility in boldfacing those names.

Craig: I agree, particularly considering that their names are going to be repeated constantly, every time they say a word their name will be there in the middle of the page. This is not a problem worth solving.

John: I agree. What I will say is at the point you go to table reads and stuff like that, people will highlight their dialogue. That’s awesome, but that’s really a very different thing. So for that first read, it’s going to be too much. Imagine if you were reading through a book and Harry Potter’s name was boldfaced every time it showed up. That would get old really fast. And that’s kind of what you’re doing in a screenplay.

Craig: Yeah. Particularly because we’re trained, or at least, Stuart, the people that are reading your scripts are trained one way or another to view bold as emphasis, not a general textual emphasis, but dramatic emphasis.

John: What I would also say about character names is you are right to be focusing on like who are the most important characters in your story. And what you’ll find is as you’re writing sentences, you will craft sentences so that they are highlighted in the sentence. And so if multiple characters need to be in that sentence, you will put your hero first in that sentence. You will find ways to make sure that we are keeping it very clear who they need to follow, who they don’t need to follow. You are probably refraining from giving character names to unimportant people so that they are not elevated importance beyond their natural stature.

So, don’t say that the security guard’s name is Anderson if he’s really just a security guard.

Craig: Correct.

John: All right, it’s time for One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a post by Steve Yedlin that Rian Johnson had put a link to this last week. It is on color science for filmmakers. And so what Yedlin does, he is a cinematographer. And he is talking about sort of a lot of our assumptions on image capture formats on film versus video, on Arri versus other ways of ingesting light and forming an image.

And the whole thing is worth reading. It gets really into the weeds on some stuff, but through that you can find his sort of key points which is that so much of our assumptions about like what’s the best thing for shooting movies on, what’s the best camera to use for shooting movies on, is so often based on what the default settings of things are versus what is this thing capable of doing.

And the choices about what formats you’re going to use, what cameras, what equipment, what looks you’re going for, those things should be figured out before you start shooting your first frame. You need to do your work to figure out what you want your film to look like, and then pick the appropriate technology. And also pick the appropriate colorist. And actually set some of those looks ahead of time so you know what you’re aiming for.

It’s the movies that are trying to do it all on the set, or do everything in post, that are less ideal than they should be.

Craig: It must be very, very frustrating, I think, just as we were talking about how it’s frustrating for writers to be the only person in the room who is defending Anagnorisis. It must be very frustrating to be somebody like Steve Yedlin, who is an incredibly talented cinematographer, and also just a clearly well-educated person, to have discussions with people saying things that are just flat out stupid and wrong.

John: Yeah. Camera X is too something, or like this thing, the blues are too bright in this. It’s like that’s probably not true and you’re really ignoring the purpose of what a colorist does.

Craig: Yeah. Sometimes when musicians get into these little twerpy fights over, “Well, you know, if your drums are made of maple, they’re going to sound warmer than birch. Birch is too…” And somebody inevitably will come in and just destroy the whole argument by saying, “I’m pretty sure that if you put a great drummer down, if you put John Bonham on that kit it would be just fine.”

You know, he would know what to do. It’s like people get so twerpy about stuff, and I like that underneath all of Steve’s facts and science is this general argument understand your tools and then use the tool for your purpose. You’ll be fine.

John: Exactly. He’s really arguing do the work. Like do the work of actually figuring out what it is you want rather than just like looking at a bunch of checklists, or reading a bunch of articles about things and saying, “Oh, well this is going to be the ideal camera for us.” Do the work.

Craig: Precisely. And you mentioned that he’s shooting Rian’s Star Wars movie, right?

John: So I think he has some good credits to his name.

Craig: Yeah. So my One Cool Thing is a game that I played the other night with a group that Megan Amram has now coined the term Illuminerdy, or we are the Illuminerdy, among others, myself and Megan, and David Kwong the magician, and Chris Miller of aforementioned Lego Movie, and Aline Brosh McKenna, and Shannon Woodward, and blah, blah, blah. Doesn’t matter who is in the Illuminerdy. In fact, I shouldn’t tell you all the people in the Illuminerdy, because we got to keep some secrets here.

John: Yeah, but if we see throwing little signals and signs in your Instagram photos, that’s how we can tell.

Craig: Then you’ll know, and we are controlling the world. So, anyway, David Kwong brings a card game, sort of a logic word card game. Similar to the kinds that you’ve been kind of fiddling with over there at Quote-Unquote. And it’s called Codenames. And we’ll throw a link up in the show notes to a description of it. Wonderful little game. Incredibly simple. So simple I could describe it to you right now.

There is a bunch of words that are laid out in a five by five grid. So, five words by five words, all spread out. And there are two people giving clues to their teams. And the two people that are giving clues are looking at a little tiny map on their side that shows that some of those words are the words I want my team to guess. They’re the red words. Or the person to the right of me who is giving the clues to their team, they’re trying to do the blue words.

There is one word that is an instant loser word. And your job is to get your team to guess the words on the grid before the other team guesses those words. And the way you do it is you give them a word that’s a prompt and you tell them how many words you think that word should lead to. So, for instance, in this game that I played on my grid I saw that I had the word bank and I saw I had the word dwarf.

And so I said Gringotts.

John: Perfect.

Craig: Two words. Now, granted, they’re goblins, not dwarves. But, still, that’s the idea. Now, the trick of it is whatever word you come up with, it can’t lead them to one of the other team’s words, because if it does then obviously that helps them. So, the idea is to try and come up with these linking words, a single linking word that might hit even three things at once.

Very fun. Very easy to play. It takes four seconds to learn. Good for families, too, I would imagine. Good game.

John: Good game. So I nearly played that game about two weeks ago. I was over at Elan Lee’s house. Elan Lee created Exploding Kittens, along with The Oatmeal. And so he occasionally gets people together to play games. We nearly played that, but instead we played a Fake Artist Goes to New York, which Will Smith had brought. And not that Will Smith, the other Will Smith. And it was also terrific. So, I’m going to link to A Fake Artist Goes to New York as well which is a great, fun party game that we should play next time.

Craig: Awesome.

John: You will find links in the show notes to these things, and a lot of the other articles we talked about today at Just search for this episode of the podcast. Our premium feed is at You can also get the Scriptnotes app which is on iTunes or the Android store. You can find it at multiple places.

If you are on iTunes for any reason, please leave us a review. That helps other people find Scriptnotes, which is great.

As always, we are produced by Stuart Friedel. We are edited by Matthew Chilelli.

Craig: Yep.

John: And our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth. If you have an outro for us you can write into and send us a link. If you have questions, that’s also the address to use.

On Twitter, I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. And we will see you next week.

Craig: See ya.


Aaron Sorkin vs. Aristotle

Tue, 06/28/2016 - 08:03

John and Craig consider a new master class in screenwriting taught by Aaron Sorkin, and a very old Greek word (anagnorisis) championed by Aristotle. Both are useful!

Then it’s a look at what we mean by “originality,” including a very useful litmus test provided by Lindsay Doran.

Reminder that the 250-epsiode Scriptnotes USB drives are now available. Find the link below.


You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 255: New and Old Hollywood — Transcript

Sat, 06/25/2016 - 13:53

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August. And this is Episode 255 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Craig is out sick today. But lucky for us we already had a guest lined up. This is a screenwriter who knows much more about the industry than me or than Craig. His name is Billy Ray. He is the screenwriter of movies ranging from Hunger Games to Flightplan to Captain Philips and the writer-director of Shattered Glass, Breach, and last year’s Secret in Their Eyes. He was the head of the most recent WGA negotiating committee. And while I was in the room with him for that he was writing the pilot for The Last Tycoon, a new Amazon series you can watch right now.

Billy Ray: That’s right.

John: Billy Ray, welcome to the show.

Billy: I’m really happy to be here. I think it is important that you guys are doing this.

John: Well, thank you.

Billy: Sure.

John: So talk to me first about why you would do this show? Let’s just start with this because I read a very limited list of your credits. You have a zillion credits. [laughs] They go all way back to like Color of Night was your first credit.

Billy: I can’t talk about Color of Night.

John: Oh, you’re not allowed to? Actually. Well, like, well –

Billy: [laughs] Well, let’s start with Color of Night. Okay.

John: That was 1994. I was still in film school back then.

Billy: Color of Night was a great devirginizing experience for me. And when I say great I do not mean happy. [laughs] I mean, profound.

John: Yeah.

Billy: It was a spec that I sold that was then sort of taken out from under me and rewritten so that by the time that it got made there was not a line of mine in it. And I went to my agent and I said, “I got to take my name off this. This is not my script anymore.” And he said, “You’d never had a produced credit. So, you know, leave your name on and you’re going to be on the side of every bus that drives passed you when this movie comes out,” which was true. As that movie was coming out, it was heavily promoted. And then the movie came out. And I was crushed in those reviews like first page above the fold, the calendar section, I was called out and it was not my script. When that happens you can’t understand the feeling of that until it’s happened to you. But you kind of want to move to Finland, you know, for about two weeks. It’s just crippling. I’ve still never seen the movie and will never see the movie.

John: I have one of those movies. Yeah.

Billy: What I can tell you is there must be a Color of Night channel out there somewhere because the green envelopes do show up now and then. And on that level I’m grateful that it happened but on every other level it was a complete disaster.

John: So Color of Night comes out, that’s 1994. And credits thereafter –

Billy: So the interview is now going to be about Color of Night.

John: No, no, no. So you have a zillion credits and mostly as a screenwriter and then more recently as a bunch of features. And every time I would see you I said — you should direct more things and I was really trying to remind you that you are really are a good director.

Billy: Thank you.

John: The first thing I saw was Shattered Glass which was I was trying to do a rival version of that movie at the same time you –

Billy: Is that right?

John: Yeah. So I loved that story. And so I was trying to get The Fabulist which is his account of that whole situation.

Billy: Right.

John: But I loved that. I loved Breach.

Billy: Do you want to hear something amazing?

John: Tell me.

Billy: I got an email, I do not know, six or seven months ago from a judge, retired judge who lives in Pasadena and once a month he does these screenings in a library somewhere out in Pasadena. And he invites people and he has Q&A’s afterwards. And turns out he was a big Shattered Glass fan and he asked me if I would do a Q&A with Shattered Glass and I said, “Look, I’m in the middle of shooting this pilot, The Last Tycoon. Can we do it after?” So he said, “Fine.” So we scheduled it for some moment in July. So last week he wrote to me saying, “Are we are still on for July 6th for the screening of Shattered Glasses?” I said yes. He said, “Happily, I have reached out to Stephen Glass to see if he wants to do the Q&A with you and he said yes.”

John: Oh my lord.

Billy: Yes. So on July 6th I’ll be doing a Q&A with Stephen Glass about the movie Shattered Glass.

John: Fantastic. For people who do not know what this actually is. My quick summary of it is Stephen Glass is a journalist who was basically faking a lot of his sources and got caught for it and your movie very brilliant just follows it all unraveling and just sort of the melting dread that sort of happens upon him.

Billy: Well, brilliant is a very big word for that movie, but it was a really good story and we definitely got out of its way.

John: All right. So you have done that movie and you are basically a person who can write almost any feature that sort of comes up around.

Billy: I’m sure that is not true.

John: Well, you are a very busy feature screenwriter so why would you do this TV show? And I was correct, right, that I was in the room with you for the negotiating committee –

Billy: Yes.

John: Like we are in there for all these hours, I would see you type-type-typing away and that was on this pilot.

Billy: That’s right.

John: So how did this come to be?

Billy: Well, actually it happened all because of my wife. There were these two women who knew each other, one was my mother-in-law and the other was her dear friend Lynn. And Lynn had a friend named Josh Maurer who is a producer who said I have the rights to The Last Tycoon by Fitzgerald. And my wife heard about this through her mother and put me together with Josh. At that point I really had no interest in doing TV. It was Fitzgerald. And embarrassingly enough, I had never read the book.

John: I never read the book. So I saw your pilot last night and I had a framework for sort of where it fit, but I didn’t really know. So for people who don’t know, it is a Fitzgerald — is it a completed novel or was it — ?

Billy: Fitzgerald died while he was writing the book.

John: So the story takes place in Hollywood.

Billy: Hollywood in 1936 and it’s the story of Monroe Stahr who was Fitzgerald’s take on Irving Thalberg, who was an employer of Fitzgerald when Fitzgerald was at MGM. Stahr is the boy wonder who runs the studio that is owned by a man named Pat Brady who is played by Kelsey Grammer. And Pat Brady, for me, although I think he was based loosely on Mayer when Fitzgerald was writing, I based him more on Harry Cohn who is more a little bit of a gruff vulgarian kind of guy.

But Brady has this daughter named Cecilia who is 19, who is in love with Monroe Stahr. That power triangle is sort of the dynamic that Fitzgerald was writing about. I fell in love with it. I just thought it was the greatest thing ever. Although it feels presumptuous to say you’re going to finish something that F. Scott Fitzgerald started, I didn’t really ever feel that way about it. I thought we were going to be telling pieces of the Hollywood 1936 story that Fitzgerald actually could not have told. For example the influence of Nazi Germany on what movies were made in Hollywood 1936. And we were going to talk about what it was like to have all of this happening in the middle of the Depression which Fitzgerald really didn’t want to touch on.

So, the juxtaposition of the glamour of Hollywood, the fantasy of Hollywood versus the reality of the influence of Hitler creeping across the Atlantic Ocean and the Depression. That was just irresistible to me. So I went in to meet on it. The rights were owned by Sony TV and I thought I’m very much an unknown commodity in television. So if we’re going to pitch this, I should really know what the hell I’m talking about. So I went on spec and wrote the bible for the show, which laid out five seasons of the show. And I was just doing it so that I’d be prepared when we went in to that first pitch, you know, there’s a line in the pilot where Monroe Stahr says, “I’m not talented enough to be unprepared.” You know, Monroe got that line from me. That’s how I feel.

But what I noticed was when I went into my office to work on the bible, I’d go in there at 8:00 in the morning and I would look up, it would be 6:00 in the afternoon, I wouldn’t know where the day had done. I mean, it was just bliss. Because I love screenwriting and screenwriting has been very, very good to me, but there is something about the forced economy of a hundred and ten pages versus “oh, I have five years” to arc this character. Let’s see where this guy can go. Let see what would happen with this relationship. It was just so much fun to be in there throwing all that around. By the time I was done, the bible was, I don’t know, 120 pages.

John: Lord.

Billy: And when it came time to go pitch, I was ready. And we pitched it at six places. And although I would not –

John: So let me talk through, so this is a Sony property, so Sony TV would be the studio behind it.

Billy: They are the studio.

John: So we’ve had previous guests who sort of described how things fit together. Jonathan Groff was talking about how Sony TV is in a sort of unique place because they sell to everybody else but they don’t have their own network, so you need to find some place to be the network to air this.

Billy: That’s right, which gets tricky when it comes time for the studio and the network to make a deal if they don’t have a template deal in place which I found out to my chagrin. But anyway we pitched it at six places and although I would not recommend this, the pitch was an hour. It was literally me talking for an hour. That was after I was set up by my partner who’s going to run the show, Chris Keyser, who did a brilliant job in those rooms.

John: Chris Keyser, former President of WGA.

Billy: Former President of the Guild and very dear friend and brilliant writer and probably the best note-giver in the history of writing. He sort of set the table for me in all those meetings and interjected in exactly the right kind of way, but it was basically me talking. And we actually got yesses in five out of those six rooms, which was pretty thrilling. And we started to develop it with HBO but then we found out that HBO and Sony had a very hard time making a deal which took, I don’t know, four or five months to resolve.

And while that was happening, I just wrote the pilot because I just didn’t have time to wait. The development at HBO was really tricky because they were always intending to make Vinyl and I don’t think they were ever serious about making another show set in a period that was about show business. So we were always kind of fighting an uphill fight and the people we were fighting against Martin Scorsese and Mick Jagger, so we were going to lose that one. By the time the script was done, it was very clear HBO wasn’t going to make it and we got very lucky Amazon wanted to.

It was the favorite book of Roy Price when he was in college. He was very hands-on in the development, pushed the script in I think a very, very smart direction because he kept wanting the romance of the novel, which I think I had resisted when I was writing at HBO, I was trying to write darker version of the story. So I don’t know how many drafts I’ve done but it’s upwards of 40 by the time we actually went to go shoot.

John: So you went off and directed the pilot. Was that shot here in town?

Billy: All LA.

John: All LA.

Billy: At Paramount.

John: That’s great. I felt like I recognized some familiar backlot which is actually completely appropriate in this case because it’s a backlot sort of drama.

Billy: It’s our set.

John: It’s our set. It is strange to be making a show about Hollywood for Amazon which is sort of the new force in Hollywood. There’s a delicious sort of irony in the fact that you’re trying to talk about this old studio system and meanwhile you’re at this sort of tipping point where it’s not really quite clear what’s going to happen next with both features and with television as these new models come in.

Billy: Well, it’s getting clearer.

John: Yeah.

Billy: And not in a good way.

John: Right, yeah. [Laughs]

Billy: At least to me.

John: We’ve talked about this on the show before, like the good things about it is there are more buyers and when there are more buyers –

Billy: Yes.

John: There’s more stuff getting made. And that’s fantastic –

Billy: That’s fantastic.

John: For everyone.

Billy: That’s fantastic.

John: It’s really challenging to get certain kinds of features made, the kinds of features that your characters are trying to make in your show –

Billy: That’s right.

John: Would never get made.

Billy: No way.

John: No way.

Billy: You know, go try to sell Kramer vs. Kramer today, which was a big hit.

John: Yeah.

Billy: You just can’t do it. I think that television has provided such incredible opportunities, particularly for writers, because the storytelling there is so interesting. For me, as I was writing this pilot, I had a very clear target in my head. I revere Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Wire, Mad Men, and as a matter of fact as I was writing the pilot I had a rule for myself which was if I had written a line that I didn’t think was good enough to be in a Mad Men episode I had to come up with another line.

And I was trying to apply that kind of rigor to every single choice we were making in the script. Trying to tell the story as visually as possible, trying to do all those things that Mad Men and those other shows do just so automatically. That’s the great news is that television now has those kinds of “tent poles” out there, I use that word semi-ironically. The bad news is that partially because of that features have completely surrendered that ground to television, and I think that’s really a dangerous thing.

I don’t know if there are executives that listen to this, but I believe that 15 years from now, 20 years from now I think there’s going to be some sort of semi-Nuremberg kind of trial where all the executives of today are going to be standing on a docket and someone like you is going to be saying, “Where were you when the art of movies just went down the sewer? When this uniquely American art form was completely sacrificed? What were you doing about that?” And I don’t think any of them will have an answer. And that’s a sad thing.

John: Well, they were trying to make the movie that needed to fit into that slot at this time. Like, it’s very easy to see sort of like a bunch of very rational decisions made step by step by step by step can take you to a place where you’re not making the kinds of movies you should have been making this whole time through. And so, most of these executives who I think are listening, they do have a sense of like once per year we get to make something that is the Oscary kind of movie and you had an opportunity to make that kind of movie.

Billy: Right.

John: Captain Phillips is exactly the kind of movie that each studio makes one of those per year.

Billy: Right.

John: And hopes it is good enough and gets the Oscars and gets the acclaim it needs to get. But not more than one. I mean –

Billy: Right.

John: Yeah.

Billy: I know, except here is the problem. You’ve got a generation of film watchers out there who still think Hollywood can come up with that kind of stuff. They’re eventually going to stop going to the movies and they’re going to be replaced by new generation of filmgoers who have no expectations of that kind for Hollywood. They’re just there to see superhero movies. They’re just there to see IP turned into movies.

And that generation has now seen the planet threatened in every movie they go to and they’ve seen every CGI image that could possibly be generated. And the problem with movies that are generated inside a computer is that when any image is possible, no image is that impressive anymore. And I think we are raising the bar for what it’s going to take to dazzle people to such a degree that eventually you’re just going to have a movie that’s just an hour and 20 minutes of explosions, because I don’t know what else you can do if it’s not going to be about character, story, and theme.

John: Yeah.

Billy: Which as I said, I think we’re surrendering to television.

John: So this last fall I went and saw an early cut of your movie Secret in Their Eyes, which you made for STX. And I remember seeing the initial credit as it showed up like what the hell is STX? I was like, oh, it’s a new studio, it’s like a new place that’s doing a movie. And I loved seeing your cut and I was so happy that your movie got made and it got out there in the world and it didn’t sort of set the world on fire.

Billy: Nope.

John: So what was it like sort of going, I mean, it’s so much time and so much energy to get a movie made and to get a movie cut. You put everything you have into it and what did it feel like for it not to land?

Billy: I’m glad we’re talking about this, because I know that there are a lot of writers listening and I wanted to make sure that when we sat down today that we spent at least a little bit of time talking about failure, because you have to learn from it and you have to survive it. You have to grow from it.

That experience for me was a total humiliation. I remember about three or four days before that movie came out when I started to see what those reviews were going to be and the tracking, what that was looking like.

John: So the tracking being, it’s the advance look at sort of where they think your movie is going to open in terms of Box Office.

Billy: Right.

John: They basically do surveys to figure out within a range what they think you’re going to open at.

Billy: And our tracking numbers had always been okay. Then if you remember Paris happened a week before we opened and all of a sudden our tracking numbers just went off the cliff.

John: Yeah.

Billy: Which has nothing to do with the reviews by the way but it didn’t help. I sat my kids down and I said, “Okay, your dad is about to get punched in the face in public and I’m not happy about it. But if I am going to enjoy the ride that is Captain Phillips or The Hunger Games, I have to expose myself to this. You cannot have one without the risk of the other. So we’re going to survive it and we’re going to learn from it and we’re going to move on.”

I stopped reading reviews. I stopped reading the Calendar and have not read the Calendar since because I just didn’t want to see some mention in there that was kind of snarky or mean. I didn’t watch any screeners for the entire Christmas season. I just couldn’t watch anyone else’s movie because I thought I want everything else to suck right now.

John: Yeah. I know what that feels like.

Billy: I’m in such a bad place. I’m rooting for everything else to be terrible and that’s not a fun way to watch a movie.

John: No.

Billy: And nobody wants to be around a person who’s watching a movie that way. It changed me in a lot of, I think, profound ways which is not to say that I’m profound, but I’m saying the experience was. I used to really enjoy the bad reviews that other people got. Secret in Their Eyes knocked the fun out of that experience out of me forever.

I now know what that feels like. It was hubris on my part. I thought coming off of Shattered Glass and Breach and Captain Phillips, I was sort of the critics’ boy and I just didn’t think they would do that to me and that’s ridiculous, that’s hubris, which I then became aware of really quickly and paid a penance for. It’s not an experience that I would wish on anybody. I was enormously lucky. That movie came out on November 20th. I was already in prep on Tycoon. So, I had a bad weekend. But that Monday, November 23rd, I was back at work. I was prepping Tycoon which was this incredibly joyous piece of material, I mean, it was Hollywood 1936 and it was F. Scott Fitzgerald and everybody was so happy to be there.

Everyone on the crew who loves movies and loves what movie can be, they were so excited by every single prop, every single costume, every single hairstyle. And I just went back to work. There’s nothing else you can do.

John: It is a different thing with my movie The Nines, you know, it came and it went but it came and it went in very much a Sundance kind of way. Like most of those movies, there’s not an expectation it’s going to set the world on fire, so like I had all the buildup and then it’s like — and then it’s done. And it’s like, you know, it never expands. It never goes beyond the place. It’s like, all right, that happens. That’s the kind of way it is.

And then I’ve had movies that I was the writer that tanked. In some cases like I knew a long time ago that it was going to tank and it wasn’t sort of — they weren’t my babies. But it is very different when it’s all of your energy is on that thing. It’s like being a TV showrunner and having your show get yanked off the air, you know, in its first week.

Billy: Yeah. Part of it is when you’re a director, you’re a leader and you are there to inspire people and get them to follow you over that hill and if you do it well everybody buys in and they follow you over the hill. And on Secret, it’s very tough for me to assess it creatively. When I say it was a humiliation, I don’t mean that I’m embarrassed by the movie. I mean, I’m embarrassed by the reviews. And I’m embarrassed by the box office, and right now I’m sorry I made it, right now I certainly wish I had not made it. But, making a movie is a little bit like raising a kid, you know, it takes you 20 years to find out if you did a good job or not.

I can look back on Shattered Glass which was a movie that got released in 2003 and I’ve had enough time away from that movie now. I can assess it. I know how I feel about that movie. I know how I feel about Breach. I won’t know how I really feel about Secret in Their Eyes until 2036. So we’ll have to redo this then and it’s possible that in 2036 I’ll say, “Critics were right. I shouldn’t have made that movie. It was dumb to remake such a beloved Argentine movie or the choices that I made in remaking it were stupid.” But it’s very possible that I’ll say, “I think they were wrong. I think they were unfair.” Again, I just won’t know until enough time has passed.

John: So what is the lesson you can take from this? Does it make it harder for you to get another movie to direct done? Or did it change the kind of movie that you would try to do next to direct? Has it impacted your screenwriting life at all? My hunch is that people will perceive that as this movie directed by Billy Ray didn’t work but we know Billy Ray can write all these other movies because he’s always written all these other movies. So I wonder if it impacts both sides of your career.

Billy: I don’t think it had any impact at all on my screenwriting career, none. And I didn’t test whether not it had an impact on my directing career because I didn’t try to direct another feature right after that. Again, I fell right into Tycoon. I can’t tell you how lucky I was to have that to dive into. I just didn’t have time to sit around and think about it, you know. The thing about athletes is if they fail, they have another game the next day.

John: Absolutely.

Billy: And they get a chance to sort of rewrite themselves and there are stories about, you know, relief pitchers who were supposed to be closers who give up a gigantic homerun that ends a season in the playoffs or the World Series and they don’t have a game to play the next day and sometimes they wind up shooting themselves because it’s just too long to think about the period of failure. It happened very famously to a guy named Donnie Moore who pitched for the California Angels in ’86. But anyway, I had Last Tycoon to dive into which was a chance to direct again and it was a chance to do something very, very different. So, we’ll see.

John: We’ll see. And so with Last Tycoon as an Amazon pilot, it is now up there for people to look at, so there will be a link in the show notes so people can click through and watch it?

Billy: Yes.

John: And after watching it they can tell Amazon how great it was and that they should order it series. That’s essentially the stage you’re at right now, right?

Billy: Let’s hope they feel that way. The other thing about Secret is I do not look at reviews anymore.

John: Yeah.

Billy: So, I’m told we’re doing great.

John: [laughs]

Billy: We launched this morning at 6:00. I’m told everything is going great and lots of five-star reviews are happening but I will not look.

John august: Yeah, don’t look.

Billy: I will not look, because I’m the wrong personality type for this. I’ve learned that about myself. Chris Keyser who is going to run the show with me happens to be in Europe right now and he called me this morning to say that we had just launched. And he called me to say that on Amazon UK, we’ve gotten 17 customer reviews and sixteen of them are five stars.

John: Well, that’s great.

Billy: And I said, “Who was that seventeenth review?”

John: Yeah.

Billy: That is where my head goes.

John: Yeah, of course.

Billy: So, I’m the wrong guy to be looking at reviews.

John: Cool. Let’s go back to feature land –

Billy: Yeah.

John: And I want to look at a video that Vanity Fair put out that says, “How much does everyone working on a $200 million movie earn?” So we’ll have a link in the show notes to it, it is about a four-minute video, but really we’re only curious about above the line basically.

Billy: [laughs]

John: Because we’re writers [laughs]

Billy: It does not mean bellow the line is not important, it just means it’s not what we’re talking about today.

John: Indeed. And we don’t necessarily know — have a great insight into like sort of how much those below the line people make, but we do know how much the above the line people make. So –

Billy: Yeah.

John: The video which you’ll see a link to in the show notes, it takes a theoretical $200 million movie and the guy that put it together basically went through a bunch of different budgets and sort of averaged out what he saw between these budgets. What did you think?

Billy: See, it looks about right.

John: Great. So, this is what they are listing for these different amounts. So, the director of this $200 million movie, $4 million paid. That seem right?

Billy: Yeah, that seems right, but obviously plus some back-end participation.

John: And so if it was a newer director it might not be that high –

Billy: Right.

John: And a super-experienced director might be higher than that.

Billy: Absolutely.

John: But $4million felt right. The thing that gave me a little bit of pause is that this video listed executive producers before producers which to me suggested that this person wasn’t as familiar with the order of credits. Executive producers would have been listed after producer.

Billy: Okay.

John: Yeah.

Billy: Fair enough.

John: These executive producers, a million basically each. Feel about right?

Billy: Yeah, sounds right on a $200 million movie.

John: So, let’s think about who those people would be on $200 million dollar movie. So they are — they could be someone at the director’s company, the person who runs the company with the director.

Billy: Yeah. Although I would bet that person is probably a producer, not an executive producer.

John: Yeah, that’s probably true. Could be the author of the book?

Billy: Could be the author of the book, could be someone who controlled the rights to the book.

John: For sure. Then there were three producers listed, each at a million dollars. So, producers’ slot, that could have been the director’s producing partner –

Billy: Easily.

John: It could have been the former studio executive who –

Billy: [Laughs]

John: Who got booted out of the studio.

Billy: Absolutely.

John: And then the writers. Let us talk about the writers.

Billy: By the way, one of those producers could actually be the person who really produced the movie. In other words, like a line producer –

Billy: Absolutely.

Billy: Who was of such value, that they actually got a producer credit.

John: Yeah, and that’s a wonderful thing.

Billy: Although sometimes line producers wind up getting executive producer credit.

John: Yeah, while we’re at the producer level, we would see, after some of them, a PGA which means Producers Guild of America.

Billy: Right.

John: And so, it’s not the guild in the same way that the Writers Guild is a guild –

Billy: No.

John: But it is a group of producers who look at each movie and say, like, “Who really did the job of producing?”

Billy: That is right.

John: And they determine who gets that actual thing.

Billy: That’s right.

John: Writers, so there are three writers listed in this $200 million movie. The first one at $3.2 million, the second at $900,000. The third one at $250,000.

Billy: Right.

John: So this one doesn’t list those writers with any ands or ampersands. We don’t know if there’s any teams.

Billy: Okay.

John: If there were three writers listed, there would have likely have been a team. They could have all been ands I guess together.

Billy: Okay, I could give you a scenario for that one.

John: All right.

Billy: The scenario for that one is that the second writer, the one who is making $900,000.

John: Yeah.

Billy: Okay. The second writer, let’s just say that that second writer was the first writer aboard and did a ton of work on it and got paid well. And then they decided that writer just had no more in the tank.

John: Yeah.

Billy: Then the third writer, the one who made $250,000, was some hot shot like straight out of Sundance or NYU and everyone said, “Oh my god, this guy has got the greatest take. Or this girl has got the greatest take on how to fix this particular script.”

John: Yeah.

Billy: So they came in, one draft, and then everyone said, “Okay, this is a total disaster.” So, 250, but some of it stayed in.

John: Yeah.

Billy: Then they brought in –

John: The closer.

Billy: A big hit –

John: They brought in Billy Ray.

Billy: Let’s not say anyone in particular, but they brought in somebody because there are a number of people out there who could do this kind of work and that person and the director completely fell in love.

And so it started off as a weekly, which is how the number got high fast, and then it became an all services contract because the director said, “I am not going off and making this movie without this person next to me.” And so all of a sudden it became that gigantic number.

John: The other scenario, I mean, 3.2 felt really high but the other scenario I was thinking of, if this was a big-name sort of first writer who got like a million — a million against a million and then there was also some backend stuff that it would be very hard for those other two writers to exist in that situation.

Billy: That is why I think it goes the other way.

John: I think you are probably right. So, coming in as a weekly is one of those situations where the movie had a whole bunch of troubles. It just kept going on forever and they just basically kept paying that writer’s weekly.

Billy: Here is a thing about that. It has happened to me a couple of times. There is one moment in the history of any movie where the writer has any juice, I mean any, and it’s that moment. They’ve done ten drafts with three or four writers. They are millions into the development of the script. They know they want to make the movie and they don’t have a daft they can shoot.

John: Yeah.

Billy: And they are all panicking. Everyone is afraid they’re going to get fired. Everyone is kind of losing their marbles for a second there and for one moment the writer walks in and is the grown up in the room and very calmly says, “Okay, I’ve looked at the material. Here is what’s not working. Here is what I think we need to fix. Here is how I plan to address it.” And in that moment you have the power.

John: Yeah, totally.

Billy: Everyone is saying, “Oh my god, somebody is going to save us.” Now, by the way, the next day you’re still just the writer, but at least in that meeting you have some juice and it’s a great feeling.

John: It is a great feeling. A couple of a times in my career I have been that person who came in and have done that. John Lee Hancock famously does that. And it is a great moment when you sort of can see like, “I know how to do this, I know how to keep everybody calm.”

Billy Rey: Right

John: And honestly if the director believes in you but also like one of the actors believes in you, if like Will Smith believes in you –

Billy: You’re gold.

John: And does not want you to leave, you’re there.

Billy Rey: You are gold. Now, the thing about doing a weekly and I haven’t done that many of them, by the end of a weekly, and I do not mean to compare writing to digging coal, it’s not. It’s not as hard as working in a coal mine, but in relative terms, you are so fried by the end of that process you begin to feel like a really well-paid typist.

John: Completely.

Billy: Because at the very end you’re sitting in a room with eight people, they all have 12 drafts in front of them, and I go back to the days when these were on paper, right, not just on computers. And by the end they know they have you for one more day and they’re saying, “Can you give us this scene from this draft and this scene from that draft and this scene from this draft.” And you are sort of taking dictation.

And you come away from, at least I do, you come away from a weekly convinced you have no talent. And I never need a rest. I never ever, ever need to stop working. After a weekly I need about two days where I am just kind of a zombie. I don’t think it is a bad fit for what it is I’m capable of doing. I just do not like doing it.

John: Yeah, especially because sometimes you’re a weekly, but you go to wherever the production is, and so therefore you are like trying to do this in a hotel room while all of this other stuff is crazy and you’re on strange hours and –

Billy: That I would not do because I don’t like to be away from my family. There are certain people who are great away from their family. I’m not one of them. There is no weekly that could pull me away from Los Angeles. I just wouldn’t do it.

John: The other thing I want to talk about with this list of credits is the writers, like, they’re listing these three writers here but maybe not necessary those were the people who got credited. So, if this person is looking at the budget, there’s honestly a lot of writing that may not be reflected on the credits. And so like –

Billy: Absolutely.

John: A bunch of money is spent in development.

Billy: Of course.

John: So, it is kind of impossible that, like, this total aggregate number might be accurate but, like, the actual writers who were credited didn’t get paid as much as that.

Billy: Oh, no question.

John: Lead actor $12 million, second actor 4.5, third actor 1.5.

Billy: There aren’t that many lead actors who can get that number.

John: Twelve million went away, sort of, it’s –

Billy: What that number was, it’s something that Peter Chernin once said to me, when I was about to — the first time that I was co-chairing the negotiating committee for the Writers Guild. To get ready to go into those negotiations, I felt like I didn’t know enough and so I wanted to go do the work that a journalist would do to sort of learn how these negotiations work.

So, aside from talking to everyone at the Writers Guild to prepare myself, I started talking to people who were in the AMPTP and one of them was Chernin who, you know, was a very major force in the strike in 2007 to 2008 but now it was 2011.

John: Yeah. And now he’s a producer.

Billy: He’s a producer. He’s no longer in a studio head, so I wrote to him and I said, “Can I come interview you?”

So we sat down and I wanted to hear what that negotiation was like, with that strike was like from the other side of the table. I thought that would be valuable information for me. And he was forthcoming and great. But one of the things that he said to me was what a seismic change the business had undergone since the DVD market have flat-lined. He said the margins for the movie business were so good when DVDs were selling like they were selling before that market matured and he said, “However, we didn’t handle that profit well. What we did with that profit was we gave it in $20 million chunks to actors.”

John: Yeah.

Billy: And once that market dried up, those $20-million paydays just went away.

John: Yeah. All right. The last credit here that seemed high for me that maybe you would know this better. Second unit director is listed at $1 million. That felt high, but maybe I guess some of these movies that a second unit director really is making that much money.

Billy: I’ve never seen it.

John: Yeah.

Billy: What I can tell you is if you have a director who insists on a specific second unit director, it’s possible.

John: Okay. That’s fair. So a $200 million movie that came out this last week is Warcraft which was an incredibly expensive adaptation of the very successful video game. It did not perform well in the US whatsoever but it performed incredibly well in China. So a bunch of stories this last week about how this movie wasn’t even sort of made for America in a certain sense. It didn’t need to do well in America because it was going to do so well in China. We sort of weren’t even paying attention to like how much it was essentially a Chinese movie with American actors in it.

Billy: This is kind of a stunning statistic.

John: Yeah.

Billy: So I may have to say it twice. Every single day 15 new movie screens go up in China.

John: Yeah.

Billy: Every day. Think about that.

John: Yeah, so, I mean –

Billy: That is what you call an exploding marketplace. Capitalism is a voracious animal and it doesn’t stop and reflect. It just keeps moving forward and devouring things and it goes where the profit is. And the profit right now is in China.

John: Yeah.

Billy: So, of course, a capitalist animal is going to start moving in that direction and all the studios have. You know, there’s a storyline in Last Tycoon and I don’t mean to bring this back in a promotional way. But in The Last Tycoon there is a storyline about how Monroe Stahr and Pat Brady run the studio and they can’t make a movie that might offend Germany.

John: Yes.

Billy: Because Germany is such an important –

John: It was the number two market in the world.

Billy: Number two foreign market in the world. And that happens to be true by the way. Hitler had passed this thing called the Article 15 which forbade the exhibition of any American by a studio that had offended Germany with some other movie.

Anyway, if you take out the word Germany and put in the word China, it’s the exact same conversation that’s happening today. And I know a number of writers who have written movies that may have a line or two that seemed like a poke at China. And those lines come out of the movies.

John: Yeah.

Billy: I was for just a brief period of time working on something on Warner Brothers where they said to me, “Your bad guy is Chinese. You just got to make them Russian.” I said, “Why?” They said, “We don’t want to offend China?”

John: Yeah.

Billy: And I guess they do not care about offending Russia. That’s not good for storytelling, but it is where storytelling is going right now. And what you’ll see as a result of that is more action, right, because action doesn’t really need to be translated. And I think with a lot less nuance. And it will become tougher. It will require much more courage to make movies that are something other than that.

John: Absolutely. People often say like, “Oh, well, it’s common for movies to make more overseas than they do in the US.”

Billy: It didn’t used to be.

John: Yeah. But, I mean, over the last ten years that needle has crossed over and so like Star Wars: Force Awakens, huge in the US, but it made 54% of its money overseas. What is unique is this is the first time where 90% of this, of Warcraft’s money, is coming from overseas and so much of it is coming from China. It is also a case where Legendary, the studio behind it, is now owned by a Chinese company. It is owned by the Chinese company that owns the movie theaters.

Billy: Right.

John: And so, uniquely you have a closed market. There are only certain movies that can get released in China theatrically. But if you own the movie theaters, there is a very good chance you are going to be able to release that movie theatrically. So, in some ways, it goes back to the really old sort of studio system –

Billy: That’s right.

John: Where they used to own their own theaters and where a Paramount Theater that was owned by Paramount. And they could make the money the whole way through. They were vertically integrated in ways that are not allowed to be integrated theatrically anymore.

Billy: That is right. And they all did it except Colombia. Harry Cohn decided he didn’t want to own theaters.

John: Again Sony, they never own both parts.

Billy: [laughs] It’s in their DNA.

John: Yeah.

Billy: But there was a reason that the United States government stepped in and said, “No. You can’t own the theaters and own the product,” just like it used to be in television that you couldn’t own the network and produce for the network if you were the same entity. It is not good for the product. It’s not good for competition. I have surprisingly little say over what people do in China.

John: [laughs]

Billy: They just never call and ask if I think it’s a good idea for the same company that owns the theaters to be the company that’s producing the movies. So I imagine that’ll keep going.

John: So let’s talk about TV again because this sense that you cannot be the studio and be the network has basically all gone away.

Billy: Gone away. That was Fin-syn.

John: Yeah, it’s Fin-syn. It’s done. So your show is made for Sony but it’s being distributed through Amazon. Classically, the story they always told us about TV is that you have to make a hundred episodes of TV a shows or else it’s lost.

Billy: That’s over.

John: Yeah, yeah. It was deficit financing up until you made a hundred. So that was the magic number at which syndication kicked in and then shows became profitable.

Billy: Right.

John: So you just be very thankful that we’re putting your show on the air at all because we’re losing money until we get to that magic hundred number.

Billy: That is right. Now because all of these AMPTP companies, remember we’re talking about six companies that essentially control 95% of the media that’s produced and distributed in the United States, or the world. Because those are all publicly-held companies, the people who run those companies have to stand in front of stockholders. And they have to explain how much money they’re making. It’s a matter of law. So when the owner of a network stands up and says that a show like Under the Dome was in profit before it shot a frame a film, that’s on the record.

John: Yeah.

Billy: That’s not something that people can walk away from. The model has changed now based on foreign sales, based on all sorts of revenue streams that exist that need to bundle a hundred episodes and then go into distribution heaven. There’s just no such thing anymore, it’s not required. There are so many more ways to squeeze money out of a show now. That’s another reason why TV is a great business.

You know, you look at the impact of DVRs and you think, “Okay. I don’t know anyone who watches commercials anymore unless it’s a football game. How are networks still making money? How are they still in business? Why are they still at the upfronts dropping billions of dollars?” And yet they do. It works great. And the reason is because, again, capitalism being this constantly moving animal, the networks and the studios have found a way to exploit foreign markets and exploit by the way all the different platforms on which things can be screened. And so it’s just a great business, a greater business than ever. I mean, those six companies are going to generate $49 billion in profit this year.

John: Yeah.

Billy: Which is extraordinary and which we will be reminding them off when we sit down to negotiate with them very shortly.

John: Yeah. It does strike me as strange that whenever we sort of go into a negotiation stance with the studios, it’s always like, “Oh, there’s so much turmoil, it’s like it’s so difficult for us to make money.”

Billy: Right.

John: And then, you know, years where we’re not doing that, they’re happy to report all their profits to –

Billy: Right. No, it’s the same story, look.

John: But what has changed is that it has become much more clear. We had Aline on recently and I was trying to tell her that like she gets all nervous about Crazy Ex-girlfriend which is a fantastic show and one some level like feeling bad that it’s not a bigger hit. And I keep trying to remind her like they’re still making money. Like don’t –

Billy: Oh, they’re doing great.

John: Yeah, they’re absolutely fine.

Billy: Look it is such a shell game. It’s extraordinary. When people are running a show, they have so much pressure put on them because a studio will say, “Okay, you have X amount to make this show,” and of that X amount here is your portion that goes to the writer’s room. And so the showrunner looks at that number and says, “Oh, my God, like this is just not enough to put enough people around this table.” So, I have to do something really stupid like paper teaming. I have to take these two people and tell them, “I know you’ve never met but you’re now going to be a team and you’re going to get paid as one person.” There’s a lot of that going on.

John: Yeah, it forces writers into this situation of making like questionable choices that hurt other writers.

Billy: That’s right. And within the context of that given show, that showrunner is actually doing the best job they can with the resources that have provided to them. However, what they’re not getting, the shell game part they’re not getting is that the studio for which they’re doing this is making billions of dollars and it’s a portfolio business. You have to sort of step back and look at the whole canvass. And if it’s Fox or if it’s any of those other studios, they have plenty of money and, of course, they could put more money into the writer’s budget of that given show and still be doing great.

But what they have decided is that the reason that they’re making $49 billion is because they have found all these revenue streams but they have kept constant downward pressure on cost. And for them, why would they change that formula if they don’t have to change that formula. It’s part of our job as a negotiating committee to acquaint them with the facts of what that actually means and to make them re-examine and then change that formula because it’s just fair that they do and I think necessary.

John: You raised that idea earlier about putting up a big sign on the WGA that’s like a big moving billboard.

Billy: Oh, the scrolling thing. Where did you hear that idea?

John: I think you told me at some dinner we had.

Billy: This is my fantasy.

John: All right, so tell me about the fantasy.

Billy: Okay, what the American Cancer Society did on this one building in West LA, they just have this rolling tote board that tells you the number of smoking deaths as it grows over the course of the year. I’d like to that with AMPTP profits. I think outside of the Writers Guild there should be an electronic rolling tote board that’s just keeps churning millions into billions of dollars so that is –

John: Not just revenues but actual profits. That’s the thing.

Billy: Yeah, profits, as the year progresses we’d be getting closer to that $49 billion number. And then no one would have to ask why it is we have to renegotiate our deal. We never talked about the Writers Guild vote.

John: Well, let’s talk about the Writers Guild vote.

Billy: Oh, my god. Okay. All right. So, this vote that came up and I know that you and Craig and Michael Oates Palmer were allied on this one.

John: So, this is the decision about the amendments to –

Billy: Right.

John: Whether the term should go up to, was it four years or three years?

Billy: Three.

John: So, from two years to three years. The WGA board had all agreed to do that but it went to a vote of the –

Billy: Right. What was critical was not that we were extending it or attempting to extend it from two years to three years. What was critical is that we were trying to tie it to negotiations so that there would never be a year where the board was coming up for elections and we were negotiating a contract at the same time. That was the idea.

John: Yeah.

Billy: And as someone who has now co-chaired that committee twice, I can tell you, it’s not a good thing that we’re in the middle of negotiations and trying to put together a negotiating committee and people are busy grandstanding which is what you have to do when you run for office. That’s why the board voted 15 to 1 to support this.

And I went out of my way not to do a lot of campaigning about it. I just thought I’ll let the chips fall where they may. And I kept hearing about the rabble rousing going on between you and Mazin and Michael Oates Palmer, who was the one on the board who voted against it. And I decided, no, I’m just going to keep my powder dry and not fire on this one. And as it turns out, I think 64% of the guild voted yes, we needed two-thirds. I forget the exact number but I think we were eight votes shy. I have a very hard time forgiving myself because I know I could have convinced eight people. I know it.

John: Yeah.

Billy: Or I could have come on this show and we could have a very healthy back and forth about it and I should have. I should have. That was laziness on my part and I think as a guild, I think we’ll pay a price for it. I don’t think it’ll be horrible. There’s not going to be blood.

John: Billy, I mean, Craig could do a better job defending this than me, but I do agree with him. We’ve never had, it’s always been two years and it hasn’t killed us to this point.

Billy: Right.

John: And I think the danger, and the danger which we have raised on the podcast, was extending to three years, it feels really great when you have really wonderful people like you and we kept singling you out as like the person we want.

Billy: Oh, thank you.

John: And so, I mean, you should listen to the episode. We single you out as the person we want to have to make sure is always there and is there for three years. There are certain people who get on that board –

Billy: Did you name them?

John: Craig named a few.

Billy: Did he really? Oh my god. [laughs]

John: I’m not sure if it made it to the edit, but he really did name a few.

Billy: Oh, my god, I got to talk to him off-camera.

John: So, there are people who you don’t want to be there for three years and you want to make sure you can, when you see things going wrong, you can get those idiots off the board. And so the only reason, I will tell you, that I understand that trying to not link stuff up, but the only reason we did that was because of the stupid people on the board for three years versus two years and we’ve all been through situations where people have taken control of the board and it’s not been a good happy outcome, so those were our reasons.

Billy: Well, I hear you. Here is how I would challenge that.

John: Yeah.

Billy: I’ve now served on the Writers Guild board for, I guess I’m in my 7th year. I’ll be termed out a year and a half from now.

John: Yeah.

Billy: I also serve on the Board of Governors of the Academy. And I just want to paint a picture for you about how different those two experiences are, okay? Everybody who’s on the Writers Guild board is there because they care about writers, they care about writing, and they know how hard it is to make living as a writer. In no way are they there for self-aggrandizement. It really is altruism. They really do want to dig in and do a great job for writers. And I’ve never met anyone on the board who had any agenda other than that.

It’s very different on the Academy Board of Governors where there are a number of people on that board who don’t feel relevant but they’re relevance is completely tied to their being a governor. And they maybe haven’t worked in 20 years but they’re still a governor. That’s a very different board. It functions in a very different way and not as well. So, a long winded way of saying, there is no one on that board that you really need to get rid of inside of three years. And even if there were, nobody outside that board would know because I can tell you having served with a bunch of different people on that board, the handful of people on that board that might annoy me personally, I would never say so publicly. There would never be any indication publicly that anyone out in the membership would know about and therefore have to or want to act upon and no one on that board has ever done any damage, ever. It’s just not the kind of board that would allow for that, it’s too democratic in nature.

John: No, no, no, there have been situations where slates of people have come on board and those slates can be incredibly dangerous and having those –

Billy: Totally agree.

John: And having those dangerous slates on there for three years versus two years is a real concern of mine. And my concern isn’t about the actual people who are there right now, it is envisioning scenarios in which a bunch of idiots do get on there and it becomes very hard to get them off. And that’s really the scenario that I’m envisioning for this.

I would say I don’t think the Academy being quite as applicable because the worst that happens when you have a bunch bad people on the Academy board is that like they make some stupid choices about sort of like hosting the Oscars or sort of the new museum, but they’re not like shutting down the film industry for an ill-conceived labor action. And it’s peoples’ livelihood and so I think peoples’ livelihood is a very different situation than the important but not as, you know, day-to-day crucial like what is films’ legacy in America.

Billy: I hear you. I would say that what you guys were worried about was a bit of a nuclear scenario; having a bad slate that is entrenched in power for three years that you can’t get rid of. And I can understand why that would sound pretty daunting. I’d say the likelihood of that is very, very low when compared with the 100% likelihood that you’re going to have elections that happen during a negotiation period which hurts our negotiations.

John: Yeah, but I honestly, I understand your perspective on that but I will say, as the person watching you lead the negotiating committee, I feel like the job of the negotiating committee and the reason why you have all these other big-main people who are on the negotiating committee who are not part of the board is that it insulates the change of the leadership within the board. Because the negotiating committee is the people who are actually sitting across the table from the AMPTP and those are the big-name writers who they want to make sure are actually delivering their TV episodes next week. So, I think the negotiating committee is what insulates the difference between, you know, this board versus the next board that gets elected.

Billy: Somewhere out there are eight writers who agree with you.

John: All right. Apparently so. So, we use this platform for this.

It has come time for us to do what we do every week which is a One Cool Thing in which we recommend something. My One Cool Thing is actually something Aline Brosh McKenna brought up on an earlier episode, she described the character being too much of a Mary Sue and I didn’t know what a Mary Sue was. So what do you think a Mary Sue is? Do you have a prototype in your head of what that is?

Billy: I do.

John: Okay. Tell me what you think is a Mary Sue?

Billy: But it’s a very ’50s prototype.

John: Okay. Tell me what you think it is.

Billy: I would think that if it’s a pejorative, if a character is too much of a Mary Sue then they’re not adventurous, they’re probably very predictable in their behavior and they think small.

John: That’s not what she was meaning. It’s not sort of the trope, and so, on TV tropes I fell down a deep hole in TV tropes and I read up about Mary Sue, and so Mary Sue actually comes from Star Trek fan-fiction and so the prototype is the character who, I’ll read one of the definitions, she’s amazingly intelligent, outrageously beautiful, adored by all around her, and absolutely detested by most reading her adventures. She’s Mary Sue, the most reviled character type in media fan-fiction. And what’s fascinating is like so it’s the kind of character who seems to represent the author’s intent, basically like the author injecting him or herself into the narrative and is a character who should sort of be secondary but is sort of taking over all of the focus. It is a pejorative but it’s also sort of sexist and it’s a weirdly –

Billy: It checks a lot of boxes.

John: It checks a lot of wonderful boxes but it’s a trope in the same way that Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a trope like you have to watch for like are you doing, you know Manic Pixie Dream Girl, right? Oh, wow, and so Manic Pixie Dream Girl is Zooey Deschanel in 500 Days of Summer. She’s like quirky and fantastic but like just impossible to exist in real life.

Billy: Yes, I have a problem with that.

John: Yes, and so the Mary Sue is an equivalent kind of case of like the unknowingly two perfect character that could not exist in natural real life.

Billy: Yeah. In the ’80s, the equivalent of that would be the Sylvester Stallone character in Cliffhanger.

John: Absolutely, one hundred percent.

Billy: Okay. Who wants to feel guilty about something that he did so that he can brood during the movie but the movie doesn’t really have the balls to have him do anything wrong. So even though someone dies in that opening sequence in such a way that Sylvester Stallone could kind of say I feel bad about it, the movie actually made it very clear it wasn’t his fault at all.

John: One hundred percent.

Billy: That’s an ’80s trope. That’s the equivalent of that.

John: That sounds really good.

Billy: Yes.

John: What’s your One Cool Thing?

Billy: Oh, my god. Well, this week, I would have to say my One Cool Thing is the fantasy that I might be able to spend the next five years of my life telling the story of The Last Tycoon.

John: Ah-ha!

Billy: I know that sounds like a shameless plug. I don’t mean it that way, I really do feel that way. You know, it’s a story that means something to me, it’s not just about the contrast between the fantasy of Hollywood and the reality of Hollywood. It’s about why we need that fantasy. Why does it have that hold on us that it does? You know, every character in that show, they are chasing a dream of one kind or another and it has an absolute vice-like hold on them. What is that thing and why is it so powerful? And why is it by the way powerful out there in the public as well. That’s a story I feel I’ve had a career that has prepared me to tell.

John: That’s fantastic.

Billy: And the idea of getting the privilege of doing that, that would be something very special.

John: That would be very cool. You must listen to You Must Remember This, the Karina Longworth podcast.

Billy: Everyone tells me I have to listen to it.

John: So, you would love this podcast because it is exactly in your alley. In some ways, you know, it is so much your thing that it might become like weirdly overwhelmingly sort of too much. It’s like, you know, I’m sure like professional football players like don’t like want to go, you know, play football on Xbox but it is remarkably sort of what your show is and Craig Mazin actually plays Louis B. Mayer in the podcast.

Billy: You’re kidding me.

John: Karina has him do the voice of Louis B. Mayer.

Billy: Oh, my god.

John: Yeah. I have two tiny bits of follow up before we wrap up.

Billy: Yeah.

John: First off, the Scriptnotes 250-episode USB drives which is all 250 first episodes of the show plus all the bonus episodes, those are finally now available, so you can find those at

Billy: Oh great.

John: We’ll give you one of those.

Billy: Thank you.

John: Yeah, you can catch up all the back episodes you missed.

Billy: Thank you.

John: And also last week Craig’s One Cool Thing was about Sunspring which was this short film written by a computer. Basically it was this computing-learning program that like took a bunch sci-films and boiled them down and sort of like generated original plot and dialogue based on that. It was very cool, you should check it out, but I’d also say that –

Billy: It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever heard in my life, but okay.

John: Yeah, we’ll send you a link to that so you can see what that turned out to be. I will say that, if you are a person who’s researching sort of language processing or sort computer learning and you would like a big codex of people talking, we actually have all the transcripts for Scriptnotes very conveniently, we’ve had to sort of put them all together in one archive. So you have me and Craig talking and it’s all in text. So, if you are a researcher, a legit researcher who actually does this not just like, “I’d like all the text,” email us and we can send you a link to that because it could be very interesting that you can build a Craig-bot and John-bot and they can have a conversation.

Billy: But I would say in particular to miss the actual inflection of Mazin’s voice, I think you’d be losing half of the richness.

John: Oh, I agree.

Billy: Of his words.

John: Absolutely, like you don’t even listen to the show so you don’t know his sexy Craig character which is so horrifying. No computer will ever duplicate that.

Billy: [laughs] One thing about Craig Mazin that I want to share with you. When I really got to know him, it was because I went on the WGA screen credits committee which he was co-chairing with Robert King.

John: Yes, those are two strong personalities.

Billy: Okay, so I go into my first meeting of this committee and, you know, I don’t know how many committees I’m on in the Guild, it’s too many. But this is one. And it had to be something I cared a lot about because we’ve all been through arbitrations and I thought we could help make the process better. And in fact, we did. But in that first meeting, Robert King resigned from the committee, which it turns out he does every meeting. I didn’t know that. But there was so much fighting and screaming and craziness going back and forth and some of it was happening via Skype because there were people on the committee who were in New York at that time.

So the meeting ended and I went up to Mazin and I said, “How the hell do I get off this committee?” And he said in a pine box.

John: [laughs]

Billy: [laughs] That’s Craig.

John: Very good. As always, our show is produced Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. This is where Craig would usually do his “hey, eh” about these things two guys.

Billy: [laughs]

John: If you have a question for me or for Craig, I am on Twitter @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Billy Ray, are you on Twitter?

Billy: I am now.

John: What’s your Twitter handle?

Billy: Sony made me get a Twitter handle.

John: Fantastic.

Billy: So I have to tweet.

John: Right.

Billy: It’s @wmr_ray.

John: All right. There’ll be a link to all of these Twitter handles including Billy’s, but you should tweet him after you watch his show on Amazon and tell him how much you enjoyed it.

Billy: Please do.

John: Our outro this week is by Fantastic Negrito. It’s from his new album Last Days of Oakland. It’s a song called The Worst, because it’s about money and power which is fantastic. Malcolm Spellman, a frequent guest on our show, is one of the people who is helping to push Fantastic Negrito out into the world. He is doing a heroes’ job. It is our job to help you know about the music of Fantastic Negrito. And we’ll be back next week and Craig will be healthy and here. Billy Ray, thank you so much for being on the show.

Billy: Oh, my god, this was really a pleasure. Can I do it again?

John: Sure.

Billy: Great.

John: Bye.


New and Old Hollywood

Tue, 06/21/2016 - 08:03

With credits ranging from Captain Phillips to The Hunger Games, plus several stints in WGA contract negotiations, Billy Ray knows as much as any screenwriter about the realities of working writers and the turmoil in the industry. He joins us to talk about his new Amazon pilot, The Last Tycoon, which charts the behind-the-scenes drama at a 1930s Hollywood studio.

From there, we look at how much people get paid for a $200 million movie, the wild success of Warcraft in China, and how great television is doing financially.

The 250-episode Scriptnotes USB drives are back in the store, so be sure to grab one before they sell out.


You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 254: The One with the Kates — Transcript

Mon, 06/20/2016 - 17:11

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hey, this is John. So, today’s episode has a little bit of swearing, not a lot. But if you’re driving in the car with your kids, this is your warning. Thanks.

Kate: Previously on Scriptnotes:

John: My One Cool Thing is The Katering Show, with a K. It’s this Australian team, these two women, Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan. They are ostensibly doing a sort of YouTube cooking show where they’re talking about cooking gluten-free, or cooking with ethical ingredients, but it’s really sort of about their lives and everything falling apart around them.

Craig Mazin: They are awesome.

John: So, Craig, I’m watching this, and I’m really questioning why no one has figured a way to use them here. Because you see Rebel Wilson, you see other great Australian people who would be able to cross over. I just feel like there’s a thing you could do with these guys that could bring them to a bigger audience.

Craig: Well, all right. So, why don’t we see how powerful we are? Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan, you don’t know us, and we don’t know you. We don’t know if you listen to the show. We don’t know if anybody you know listens to the show. But, if some magic should happen, give us an email, drop us a line, and then let’s — who knows — see what happens?

John: We will see what happens.

[Intro bloops]

Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 254 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the program, our dream has come true. We are so excited to welcome Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan, the Kates, to Los Angeles and specifically to our little program. Kates, welcome.

Kate: Thank you.

Kate: Oh, no, thank you for having us.

Craig: God, I feel like I know you guys. I really do. It’s almost like we’ve spent time together already.

John: We’ve been chatting for a while, and I actually forgot to hit record. So we are rerecording this little bit, I will confess. But, I think it’s also important because now we know how to introduce you guys properly and to help — hopefully how to paint a word picture for people who are listening at home. Because you’re both named Kate. You’re both Australian. And it could be confusing. But we’re going to get through this. And so let’s start with Kate McLennan. You are blonde. You are the first person who is going to speak. Tell us something about yourself.

Kate McLennan: Yeah. Look, I also have very big teeth. I have fluid retentive ankles apparently, according to McCartney on the show. Although, now I do reference my ankles quite a lot.

Kate McCartney: Yeah.

McLennan: I’m just the bubbly, cheery — I’m the brains of the operation.

John: So you’re the John of the two of you. You’re the one who organizes things?

McLennan: Yeah. That’s it. That’s it. I’m the one that — people ask me like what’s really good about McCartney, like why do you work well together. And I’m like, well, McCartney is really talented, she’s a great writer, and I’m good at responding to emails.

John: [laughs] It’s a very key skill.

McLennan: Yeah.

John: Now, McCartney, tell us about yourself.

McCartney: Oh, well I’m Kate McCartney, and I’m sort of the teenager of the group. I don’t like going out. I don’t like people. I just like my cat.

Craig: You know, it is kind of like they are the female Australian us.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because I also — I don’t like people. I definitely try and shirk as much responsibility as I can in this partnership.

McCartney: Yeah. No kidding.

Craig: You’re like, it works out great.

McCartney: It sure does.

Craig: We don’t have to do anything. People love us.

McCartney: We’re lazy.

Craig: Because we feel like — they’re free. They’re not constrained by anything. And they have to keep things going.

John: Yeah.

McCartney: Yeah.

John: So, while our program is a podcast, you guys have an actual program-program. It is a series called The Katering Show that I feel in love with. Craig also knew it.

Craig: Oh, it’s the best.

John: And we’re so excited to have you guys talking to us about that. Let’s start with a clip from the show, so people who don’t know what The Katering program is, what kind of setup would you give about what The Katering Show is?

McLennan: It’s an online cooking show, hosted by us. And so we play these heightened versions of ourselves where I am an intolerable foodie.

McCartney: And I am intolerant to all food.

John: Great. Let’s listen to a clip.

[Clip begins]

McLennan: These days, food isn’t about how it tastes. It’s about impressing people on social media with how it looks. Fuck how it tastes.

McCartney: Fuck how it tastes.

McLennan: Seriously. Fuck how it tastes. It’s about decanting some soft drink into a mustard jar wrapped in weeds and shoelaces.

McCartney: It’s about set dressing your food so it looks like you work for Gourmet Traveler. But you don’t, do you? You just have an iPhone and a Nashville filter like every other asshole in the world. And so you take your photo of your dukkah eggs. And then you just sit there, tracking your ASOS order and waiting for eleven likes that never fucking come.

[Clip ends]

John: So, how did the show come to be? What is the genesis story of The Katering Show?

McCartney: So we were working on a — this is Kate McCartney again. We were working on a — it’s just good.

McLennan: We’re not doing an interview like that. A taped interview.

McCartney: That’s right. It’s important to qualify. I don’t want things kind of credited to you that I’ve said.

McLennan: Yeah. Fair enough.

Craig: Good point. Good point.

McCartney: So, we were working on this other web series. And we shot a video in order to crowd fund the web series. Basically just pleading with people to give us money for our idea. Subsequently, I think just friends and family gave us money and strangers did not.

But, the video itself was just us talking to camera as ourselves.

McLennan: And this other project was — you were directing. We were both writing. And I was acting in it. So we weren’t on camera together.

McCartney: No. And then weirdly we ended up getting more positive response from this video that we shot, the crowd-funding video, than we ever did for the web series.

Craig: Isn’t that amazing?

McCartney: So, we thought, well, there’s probably something here. We should explore this. And at the same time, I was being diagnosed with a ton of food intolerances. And you were getting annoyed at me pretty much.

McLennan: Yeah. I was becoming like more and more of a foodie asshole essentially.

Craig: Right. Whereas she was becoming a fake disease asshole.

McLennan: Yeah.

Craig: So it was like a real problem.

McLennan: There was a natural point of tension between the two of us. So, we thought that could be fun to explore. And, you know, food culture was just bursting right out of the gate at that point in Australia, which I’m sure, you know, the same here. And kind of worldwide, like everywhere. So, we kind of just hit a nerve with it and we made the show.

It was funded in part by Screen Australia, which is like a government funding body back home. And we thought maybe, you know, we’d get maybe 10,000 views when we released it on YouTube.

McCartney: Yeah. I remember us sitting in the car and going how many views did we get.

John: So there was no network behind it. There was no push behind it?

McCartney: No sir.

John: So you actually just produced it. Because it has really high production values. And so it looks fantastic, but how many days of shooting was it to make those six episodes?

McLennan: It was probably about 12 days, I think.

McCartney: Was it? Yeah. Maybe shorter. I don’t think it was 12 days. It was more like, I don’t know –

Craig: It seemed shorter to you because you did less.

McCartney: That’s right. I was barely there, guys.

McLennan: Yeah.

John: And what was the process? So, you wrote out all the episodes. You cross-boarded, or did you shoot episode by episode? Or how did it all work?

McLennan: We did pretty much episode by episode.

McCartney: Unless it was location, and then we’d pinch those days in.

McLennan: And that’s the same kind of with the second series as well, which was a little bit longer. We rented a house off Airbnb with a lovely big kitchen.

Craig: Oh, really?

McLennan: We didn’t tell the people from Airbnb what we were doing. Because we just never thought that she’d ever see it. And then –

McCartney: She saw it.

Craig: She saw it. Was she cool?

McLennan: Yeah, she saw it. Well, she –

McCartney: I don’t know if she was ever cool.

McLennan: Put it this way: I don’t think we’re allowed to go back.

Craig: I see.

McLennan: You know when people, they kind of think that — we did film there for the second season and –

Craig: Yeah. I was going to say, it’s the same kitchen. But she’s at this point lost –

John: She knows.

McLennan: Yeah. I think she came home one day and saw what it looks like to have a film crew in your house. And that can be quite confronting.

McCartney: Yeah. So people expect it to be glamorous, but actually it’s a ton of equipment very respectfully laid down over the top of someone’s life. But it’s still a lot of equipment.

Craig: Exactly. And men who aren’t glamorous, lugging cables around with their pants sort of on, kind of half-off in the back.

McCartney: Yeah. And if that’s not your thing, then, you know, you’ve got an issue.

Craig: Yeah, I’m good with it. One thing that’s wonderful about your show is that it does actually fit in that mold of parodies that are so close to real at times, because there are a ton of — I mean, there’s too many cooking shows. My daughter is 11 now and she’s obsessed with cooking shows. So she watches all of them, and I’ve grown disgusted with all of them, in part because there’s this crazy fetishization of weird things.

And also because they fake everything. It’s infuriating. And cooking shows have always done that. They always like, I’m going to assemble it — anyway, here’s what it will look like in the end. And you guys get that perfectly, but then there’s this thing where you’re constantly dropping out and the relationship and the timing between the two of you is amazing.

The things in between. In season two, there’s just these little interstitials where there’s like a hand that comes in and caresses a piece of — like a plastic container. And then slides one and then keeps sliding it. It’s bizarre and it’s perfect. And then little facts, like for instance, parsnips are the ghosts of carrots. That’s amazing. You guys are amazing.

And, by the way, you’ve answered a question that I had. I’m sorry, this is what my questions sound like: endless, ridiculous monologues.

John: Yeah. He’s so critical of people that ask questions by their statements –

Craig: But it’s half my show, so I get to. I wasn’t sure if either of the things that you say you are on the show are things you actually are. But they are. You really are an intolerable foodie. And you really are food intolerant. And that list that you run, is that — like on the first episode?

McCartney: That’s legitimate. That’s legitimate. I can’t eat anything.

Craig: Oh my god. And you’re like — and how many of those things do you believe she actually can’t eat?

McLennan: Well, I think a lot of it is attention-seeking.

McCartney: Whereas I don’t have that made within me, to have a lot of attention on me. That’s actually you projecting onto me.

McLennan: But I also think that maybe, you know, you should just eat something and just suck it up.

McCartney: Okay. She did offer me some — what were they — a couple of biscuits the other day. It was like, they’re made of gluten, but they’ve very flat. [laughs] I’m like that’s not how food intolerances work much.

Craig: Right. She doesn’t have shape intolerance.

John: Well, let’s talk about the characters you play though. Because you say they’re heightened versions of who you really are. So how do you, as you’re writing these things and as you’re sort of coming up with the characters, how do you recognize those things that are annoying about you and bring them up? And are there any moments as you’re playing them that it’s like, no, no, no, you’re not going to say that about me?

I remember hearing Sharon Horgan talking about writing Catastrophe and she asked like, “I need to describe something terrible about you. You tell me what it is that it’s okay for me to say.” What is your process?

McLennan: We tend to come up with things about ourselves and then put that in there.

McCartney: Put in that there. Firstly, I don’t think anyone is more critical of us than we are ourselves, so I think that kind of helps.

McLennan: Although we will pick up on stuff in our personal just day to day outside of the writing process lives. And then inevitably that will start to filter in. So there will be a quality about McCartney or something about me that will invariably work its way into the script. Nothing seems to be sacred.

McCartney: No.

McLennan: From our private lives. Like all of the stuff that’s to do with medical conditions is usually pretty spot on.

McCartney: You think so?

Craig: But it wasn’t your actual placenta?

McLennan: Yes it was.

Craig: That was your actual placenta?

McLennan: Yes.

Craig: Okay. So, there’s an episode, was it one?

McLennan: Number two.

Craig: Season two, episode two, you both had children by this point.

McLennan: Yeah.

Craig: And you’re both lactating, which you’re very excited about.

McLennan: Yeah. Thank you.

Craig: And you’ve decided to make a lasagna out of your placenta. [laughs] A Plasagna. And then out comes — and I know what placenta is. That’s placenta. But I couldn’t imagine it was actually yours. Did you like freeze it? And you were like — as you were having gravy you’re like, episode, freeze it.

McLennan: Yeah. We wrote the episode before I had the baby.

McCartney: When she was like dangerously close to popping. It was kind of making me feel a little unsafe. Because she was in my front room, just sort of hovering over a football, in a perfect pose, to literally give birth on my carpet. And I was like you need to just — we just need to get these scripts out, mate. And then you’re welcome to become two people. For the moment, stay as one. Stay as one –

Craig: And you were pregnant at that time?

McCartney: No, I wasn’t. I had had my kids. And my kid was like five or six months at that time.

McLennan: And I had said all along that I was going to keep my placenta. And you were like, mate, I don’t — when the time comes I think you’ll have other things on your mind.

McCartney: Like the birth of your first born.

Craig: Right. No, she didn’t.

McCartney: No.

McLennan: Well, I actually remember it really, really clearly. Because I had gone through this really intense labor. And then eventually, you know, I just was like I’m taking the drugs.

Craig: Well done, by the way. Smart move.

McLennan: And I was lying there. And I started thinking about the show.

McCartney: What?

McLennan: I did. Because we were –

Craig: Because you were high.

McLennan: Yeah. And at that stage you had had your baby, but you’d had a Cesarean. And I was preparing for — I was going to be having a Cesarean and I was talking about having a Cesarean. And we had written a bit into the show that I had had a natural birth.

McCartney: We had very optimistically written that.

McLennan: And so, okay, we’re going to need to change that. And so the show was like in my mind as I’m lying there.

McCartney: Yeah. Because you’d only stopped writing it like two days beforehand.

McLennan: Yeah. It was very, very weird. And then I had the baby and the midwife came in and said did you want to keep your placenta, because I had written that I didn’t want to in my birth plan. And I was like, yes. And then she gave it to me in a little bucket. And I gave it to my partner. He took it home, put it in the freezer. And then when it came to shooting –

McCartney: Just sat in there with a little label on it.

McLennan: Yeah. I gave it to Jo, who is the head of our art department.

Craig: Oh, lucky Jo.

McLennan: And she had to plate it up. And it didn’t occur to me until we’d finished shooting and we’d wrapped and I was like, oh, I made another human being who is not related to me or my child handle — and who is not a medical professional — handle this placenta. And we shot in the middle of summer and –

Craig: Oh boy.

McCartney: That placenta was out for the whole day.

Craig: Oh man. You’re like let me remove the membrane.

McCartney: That thing reeked.

Craig: And it’s so funny — well, because, all right, this does remind me very much of you and me. That McLennan’s heightened version of herself is this need to — she wants to be Martha Stewart. She wants to be perfect. She just can’t. And then she breaks. So we get to watch you basically have a nervous breakdown about 12 times an episode, which is about nine minutes long. And McCartney is just seconds away from saying, “Fuck it,” always. Always.

And then like the levels of her Fuck-it-ness become so — I mean, the booze reviews are getting super fuck-it now.

McCartney: Yeah. Yeah. No, I’ve really checked out.

Craig: [laughs] Absolutely checked out. It’s amazing. It’s such a great combo. And when I was a kid, I don’t know about you guys, but I was obsessed with Laverne & Shirley. I just loved watching Laverne & Shirley. And I just — like I want to see the two of you living together. I want to see the two of you in an apartment. I want to see the two of you doing — it’s weird. Like I want more “what else do they do together?” How much fun would that be? But maybe I’ll never get it.

McCartney: We do everything together. I don’t think we see anyone else.

McLennan: No.

McCartney: So, you know, there is material there.

McLennan: Yeah. But, you know, I think our characters that we write that are in that show kind of do seem to pop up in some way in everything else we do.

McCartney: Yeah.

McLennan: And when we’re thinking about ideas for other projects, we keep — I’d really love to do a film when we are 13 — and we didn’t know each other when we were that age — but I’d love to write something if we did know each other and how that would work out.

Craig: Oh, you mean like a young you guys?

McCartney: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Yeah.

John: Let’s talk about this. Let’s finish up with Katering Show. So Katering Show, everyone can see season one on your site, The Katering Show.

Craig: On YouTube as well.

McCartney: And on YouTube, yeah.

John: But this new season, where should they find your new show, if they’re listening in the US?

McLennan: It’s actually on an SVOD service at the moment called Fullscreen. Which you can download the app. I think it’s free for the first month. So, you know, you can download it and watch our show. And then what you do beyond that is up to you.

McCartney: Do what you will. We’re not your mum.

Craig: Just what the Fullscreen people were hoping you would say.

John: We’ll have links in the show notes for that. But the reason why we’re excited to have you here, and the reason why we sort of said, you know, does somebody know the Kates so that we can talk with them is because we kind of think you guys should be doing a lot of other stuff.

Craig: We want to make you famous.

John: So we’d like to talk to you about –

Craig: Famouser.

McCartney: We want to let you do that.

Craig: Great.

John: Well, famouser is really an interesting question, because how famous do you want to be? And what is like coming from Australia to here? Is that even a goal? Is it patronizing to sort of assume that anybody who is doing great work in Australia wants to come to LA?

McCartney: Well, firstly, we want a god-like kind of level of fame. So, you know.

Craig: Got it.

John: Check.

Craig: All right. At least we know the rough –

McLennan: Because that really suits our –

McCartney: It certainly suits my introverted personality. But, no, of course. Yeah, the industry is small in Australia. If you’re a comedy writer and — well, you started off as a standup. I started off in the animation industry, but then I moved into comedy writing. There aren’t that may narrative things that you can do within Australia. There’s a lot of stuff that’s kind of light entertainment. You can write comedy for talk shows. You can write comedy for game shows. You can write comedy for sort of like late night shows sort of.

McLennan: But there’s no guarantee you’d even get a year’s worth of work out of that. It’s very hard to have a fulltime career.

McCartney: No, you’d be very lucky to sort to get sort of two jobs a year. And they’d be contract. And they’d be sort of –

Craig: So like Summer Heights High, there’s not a lot of those?

McCartney: No, there’s Summer Heights High.

Craig: That’s it.

John: What’s interesting is here we only see the ones that really broke out. So we see Priscilla and Summer Heights High, like Josh Thomas’s show plays here and that’s great. Please Like Me.

Craig: My daughter watches the dancing academy soap opera.

McCartney: Oh yes. Yeah.

Craig: What’s that called?

McLennan: Dance Academy.

McCartney: Dance Academy.

Craig: I thought it was called Australian Kids are Dancing, or something.

McLennan: Oh, maybe they’ve changed the name over here.

Craig: Yeah. Maybe over here it’s called –

McLennan: That’s a catchy title: Australia Kids are Dancing.

McCartney: Are dancing.

Craig: Are dancing.

McLennan: It sounds like we’re a bit special, doesn’t it? [laughs]

Craig: Yeah. I think it’s called Look at the Australian Kids; They’re Dancing Again.

McCartney: Yes. Full Stop. They’re Dancing Again. Full Stop.

John: But you guys are here in Los Angeles. And part of your trip to here in Los Angeles is not just to be on Scriptnotes, but also to take meetings and set up other things. So what happens on one of these trips? What have you done so far and what could we help you do?

McCartney: Yeah, well we did get an agent last year. So we –

John: You’re at one of the big agencies? Where are you at?

McLennan: We’re WMA.

Craig: That’s one of the big ones.

McLennan: Yeah, which we had no idea about. So, like I had to ring my friend who is an actor and say who are these guys.

McCartney: Are they any good. And silence on the other end.

John: So what was it like when they came to you?

McCartney: It was just after the first season. So I was six weeks off having a kid. So the countdown had begun. But I don’t even know if we properly connected till after I had the baby. But I think actually what happened — no, I think what happened is that a few people contacted them saying we need to speak to these people. Do you know who these people are? That kind of thing.

Craig: They came looking for you?

McLennan: Yeah.

Craig: Well, yeah, I mean, and I get it. I understand why. And now I assume part of what they do is they say what do you want.

McCartney: Yeah.

Craig: So what do you guys want?

John: Yeah, pretend we’re agents.

Craig: Because by the way, we will be more effective than your agents. I guarantee you. Right now we’re being more effective than your agents.

McLennan: Well, we — yeah, we knew that we were coming over for this trip. And we’ve been building this trip up in our heads for months and months. And we only just sort of really finished The Katering Show in February/March, around that time.

McCartney: Yeah.

McLennan: And since then we’ve been working on a new idea, because we feel like there’s momentum behind The Katering Show, so we’re looking at this like a fully sort of fleshed out half-hour like lifestyle kind of version of The Katering Show.

McCartney: Yeah. An expanded world pretty much.

John: Great.

Craig: Got it.

McLennan: So that’s kind of what we’re talking to a lot of people over here. But then we’ve got our little other projects that don’t so much feature us in front of camera. So, we haven’t been pushing those as much.

John: Well, it’s really interesting, because you’re both actors and great performers, but you’re also really good writers. And so it’s a question of do you step behind the camera and write something for somebody else, or should you be out in front being the star of something. You know, Rachel Bloom who has been on our show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, she was a writer for a long time. She was a writer on Adult Swim shows. And she’s a really writer, but she’s also a performer. And she had to make the decision at some point like, you know, she created the show with Aline and she’s the star of that show now.

But she could have also been a really great writer behind the scenes. Megan is another example of a — she’s really a great writer, but she performs.

Craig: I think these guys kind of have it figured out, actually. I mean, you guys write it, you direct it, you star in it. You produce it. Right? And it shows. It’s great. I mean, the one thing that I’m sure people have mentioned to you is if you come here it’s harder to do — well, not even anymore. I was going to say it’s harder to do just like eight or nine episodes for a season, but now it actually isn’t that hard.

McLennan: It’s getting shorter, which is, yeah.

Craig: We’re kind of transitioning here over to the European model, which is to go shorter. So you can actually do it yourselves. Stay in front of the camera, by the way. You get more money.

McLennan: Okay. Okay.

John: You get more money and you also get more control, because they can’t replace you because you’re the person on –

McCartney: On camera.

Craig: Right.

McLennan: That’s very true. Someone mentioned to us a couple of days ago if a studio bought an idea, you know, do they buy an idea? Is that how it works? Or they option an idea. And then, you know, someone said, yeah, and then if it doesn’t work out they can fire you. And the thought of coming up with an idea that you put all of your heart and soul into and that someone could then turn around and say, “No, no — “

McCartney: No, no.

McLennan: “You guys can’t work on this anymore.” Like that would be devastating.

Craig: Wouldn’t that be devastating John? Can you imagine that happening?

McCartney: That would crush us.

John: [laughs] I can’t imagine that it didn’t happen like three times last week. Yes, it does happen a lot.

Craig: They can stab me in the same hole. They’ve stabbed me so many times in the heart, they can just put it right in that same hole again. It’s very easy.

John: So, in television we have a thing called upfronts, which is where they announce all the new shows. And so sometimes they will announce at upfronts like, “We’re so excited to be picking up this show. We love it so much.” And at the same time they’ll be saying, “Oh, by the way, we’re firing you. And you’re going away. And we’re bringing in a whole new showrunner.” And it’s like that’s accepted. That’s a thing that happens.

McLennan: That’s just the way it works.

Craig: It’s not going to happen to you guys.

John: It’s not going to happen to you, because you guys are going to be on camera, which is fantastic.

Craig: But don’t let them take any of your hair, because then they can clone you. Very, very important.

McCartney: Ah, thanks. Very good point.

Craig: Maintain all hair.

John: And no facial scans.

Craig: No facial scans, guys.

John: So they can replace you with CG characters. That would be awesome though. Wouldn’t that be amazing? So, they’re probably talking to you both about TV and about features. And so what do they want you to write? When you talk to your agents, what are they pushing you towards? Come up with a pitch for this, come up with a script for this?

McLennan: Yeah, I guess it is that. Something that can sit alongside The Katering Show.

McCartney: Yeah, at the moment, just because there is so much momentum around that. The trip has been by and large focused on that. And we’ve kind of had the opportunity to sort of have more general meetings with people and just say this is us. Look how funny we are. Don’t touch my hair.

Craig: Right. Don’t touch my hair. Exactly. We get that all the time as well.

So, you do these, you go and you sort of say look at me. And are people — have they been watching? Because sometimes I know people go on these meetings and they’re like, “We didn’t know who we were.”

McCartney: Yeah, yeah. And I think mostly people have seen — if not both series, then certainly the first series they’ve seen. So that’s good. Because it’s not a cold room.

McLennan: There’s usually someone somewhere within the organization who has championed us in some way. And it’s usually quite an indirect sort of little filtration system that has landed us on someone’s desk. But it’s very strange for us to be in a situation where people are saying, you know, we love the show. And then for us to take that compliment and not immediately say something self-deprecating.

McCartney: Yeah. It’s just not the Australian way.

Craig: Tall poppy syndrome.

McCartney: Yeah. It’s really hard. We’re learning how to go, “Thank you. And we love your shoes.”

McLennan: Yeah, because normally I’d be like, “Yeah, we’ve really lucked out.”

McCartney: A couple of failures.

Craig: Maybe the first episode of the second season, when you were describing something as over-hyped and not really all that good. And you’re like, “We can relate.” I mean, I actually think that’s great. I mean, I do think that people like that sort of thing. Don’t change that. That’s actually terrific.

McCartney: We’re unlikely to change it. It’s just that we’re trying to couch it in more positive terms like, “We are really good at being self-deprecating.”

Craig: Right. As opposed to, “No, please do not give us money.”

McCartney: Never hire us.

Craig: You don’t want to do that.

McCartney: Although that being said, every job I’ve ever had, people have gone, “Do you want to do this job?” And I’ve gone, no. And they’ve gone, “You’re hired.” So.

John: Yeah, always very useful.

Craig: And she’s like that never worked for me. I had to beg and beg and beg.

McCartney: Yeah, it’s so true.

John: Here’s a question for you. So, if you’re meeting with these American companies, is there any implicit sense that you will be writing for American characters? You will be writing yourselves as American characters. Has that come up at all, about sort of — can you take the Australian off of it?

McLennan: Yeah, people — it came up yesterday. Someone asked us would be interested on writing on other shows. And we would.

McCartney: Straight up. Yeah.

McLennan: The idea of just sitting in our rooms — we don’t have offices. We’d just be in your front room.

McCartney: My front room. The dead fish.

McLennan: Knocking out a script for a half-hour, for a show over here. That sounds like heaven.

McCartney: That does sound like heaven. Doesn’t it?

McLennan: Like we’d totally be into that.

Craig: You’d get more than that room. There’d be probably a live fish if you request it.

John: Absolutely.

McCartney: Which I would then kill, because I’m not good at it.

Craig: But here’s the deal. You would kill it, and then you’d come in the next day and it would be alive again, because somebody’s job is just too –

McLennan: Alive again.

McCartney: Assistants. We’ll get an intern on that. It will be great.

Craig: There’s like a room with a thousand of those fish and they’re just like –

John: Next one. [laughs]

Craig: Next one. Okay. And the other fish are like –

McCartney: I think she’s a serial killer. Right.

Craig: Exactly. I don’t know what happened.

John: Does having young kids change any of the equation for you guys about sort of what you want to do next, and moving here, or doing stuff different places?

McCartney: Well, in terms of what we want to do next, I think it just means that we’re more discerning about what we want to do. Like we don’t want to unnecessarily take time away from our kids with something that we don’t truly enjoy or love. But they’re not in school yet, obviously, because they’re not crazy geniuses. Little Man Tate style geniuses.

John: They’re 15 months old.

Craig: They’re aggressively normal?

McCartney: Yeah, they are. [laughs] Yeah. They’re properly normal. And so we could always come over here for sort of short stints or what have you.

McLennan: Yeah.

McCartney: So, I hope my partner is listening to this.

McLennan: Yeah, see, I hope my partner is not listening.

McCartney: Okay, great.

McLennan: I’m just going to come home day and just go, “So, we’ve got a deal. And it’s paying this amount of money.” And then he might go, “Oh yeah, cool.” Because at the moment it’s kind of hard to say to someone, “So what you do, you have to give up your career and come over here and just wheel the kid around the Grove all day. How do you feel about that?”

Craig: I think he might be okay with it, actually. Because I’m thinking about applying for that job if he doesn’t take it, because that sounds pretty awesome.

McCartney: Pretty nice.

Craig: I can’t guarantee. I’m sort of with kids –

John: Craig, you’re married.

Craig: Well, okay, there is that. Okay. Hear me out though. I’m married and I do have two kids. And I kept both of them alive.

John: True.

McCartney: Oh, well congratulations.

Craig: Or, maybe one of them was like the fish and then they just put another baby in.

McCartney: Just an intern.

Craig: Or multiple babies. I don’t know. I got what I got.

John: Yeah. His children are very tall. So, that’s useful. You have that.

Craig: They are. Yeah, they’re very, very tall.

McCartney: Well, that’s the mark of a successful parent.

Craig: Thank you. [laughs]

McLennan: How old are they?

Craig: My son is almost 15. And my daughter is almost 11.

McCartney: Well, you’re due for looking after another baby.

McLennan: They could maybe come over to my house.

Craig: Great idea.

John: Babysitter.

Craig: You don’t want the boy doing it. The girl would be better.

McCartney: Okay.

McLennan: Okay.

John: The girl would be good at that. She would love that. I’m also thinking that there may be a scenario in which you think about Catastrophe which is, you know, very much feels like a British show, but is a big hit here on Amazon. So, there may be some version where you get to shoot a show that is Australian but is really designed for a worldwide audiences. Because so much of what we see here is just like those rare Australian shows that sort of break out. But maybe you could write something that is designed for, you know, set in Australia but is designed for a bigger worldwide audience.

McLennan: That’s what we’re hoping for. And I feel like with The Katering Show, because we have watched so much stuff online anyway, it was always in our minds that we wanted to write something that wasn’t necessarily Australian.

McCartney: You said that in a really Australian way.

McLennan: So, you know, I think that –

Craig: So Australian.

McCartney: Yeah.

McLennan: I think that whatever we write would naturally be informed by the world around us anyway.

McCartney: Certainly in this next incarnation of The Katering Show, and then also beyond that as well.

Craig: I think you guys are inexorably Australian. I think you’re both incredibly Australian and I think that that’s awesome. And no matter what you do, I actually feel like it’s cool. There’s something fun about it. It’s not like being Australian is fun. It’s just it’s not the same old thing. I think like the weird way some words just don’t match up, you know, from there and here, I’m all for it.

Like I’d go and look it up. Like what was that word? Duqqa?

McCartney: Oh, Duqqa.

John: I asked what this word meant, because even as I watch the show, I get like 90% of it, 95%, but like that 5% I don’t get is sort of fascinating. It’s like I’m hearing — it’s like science fiction. Like I’m watching Star Trek and they’re talking about some invented thing. Like what is that? And it draws you in.

And we always talk about specificity on the show. And it does very much feel like a specific Australian subculture that is great to see from the outside.

McLennan: Yeah.

Craig: Plus, too, your Australian-ness makes you great observers I think of what I think of as like mainstream American culture. For instance, if you expand your show and it’s like you said a lifestyle show and you’re looking at gadgets and whatever it is. That it’s like you’re visiting from, you know, the opposite of the world. And you’re like, “We’re going to tell the truth about this.” And you’re trying to be like the perfect person there. And you’re like, “Fuck it.”

McCartney: Yeah.

Craig: Or what do I do with this? And when can I drink? Wonderful. It’s just great. Don’t change. That’s what I’m saying. Don’t change.

McCartney: No problem.

Craig: Don’t change. [laughs] You’re like, wasn’t going to anyway.

John: So it’s like Laverne & Shirley meets Crocodile Dundee. That’s the pitch they want to set you up.

Craig: No, they’re just great on their own. You guys are the best. Honestly. I can’t wait to see what you do. I really can’t. You’re so smart. The two of you are so smart.

McLennan: We know.

Craig: Thank you.

John: See, that’s good. You’re taking the compliment.

McLennan: I did it. I did it guys. That was very unnatural for me.

Craig: It was actually terrible. I might take everything back. And also, god, the timing. Timing. You know, there’s something that you just cannot teach. I mean, guys, their timing is impeccable.

McLennan: We do a lot of takes. And there is a lot of editing.

McCartney: Yeah. Honestly, we really do only speak to each other by and large. I mean, I speak to my cat, but she’s not much of a conversationalist.

McLennan: No.

McCartney: So, yeah, the back and forth is really just as we are.

Craig: But even if you edit it, or you do multiple takes, you can’t get it unless you know what it is. You have to know that you didn’t have it, you know. Like I never see anything mistimed. Ever.

There’s a shot where one of the interstitials is just a shot of somebody, one of you, turning the hood on the vent hood. And then it just holds there. And it holds for exactly the right amount of time. It’s exactly too long, but exactly not too, too long.

McLennan: And we agonize over that.

McCartney: We do agonize over frames.

McLennan: Frame by frame.

Craig: Like where will this be the most uncomfortable and wrong? There. That you can’t teach anybody. That’s music. I love that.

McCartney: It is music. I was about to say it’s like music. Yeah.

Craig: It really is. You guys have a great ear. I love your work. Big fan.

John: Cool. We should have warned you about this before you came on the show, but we have a tradition where we do One Cool Thing, which is we recommend one thing that listeners should check out. Sometimes it’s a song, sometimes it’s a videogame — it’s often a videogame — or something you’ve seen in Los Angeles that might be interesting for people who are visiting Los Angeles for the first time. So be thinking of that while we give our One Cool Things.

McLennan: Okay.

McCartney: In Los Angeles?

John: Or Los Angeles. Or anything. Anything you want to recommend.

Craig: It could be an Australian thing, too.

John: Totally.

McCartney: I know what I’m going to recommend.

John: So I have two One Cool Things. They’re both little games. First is this game called Mini Metro, where you are building essentially these subway stations. You’re building these subway lines to connect these little dots on your screen. And it manages to be both incredibly tranquil and incredibly stressful at the same time. Because they keep adding new subways stations and you have to connect lines to them. And you’re trying to get these passengers — it appeals to your need for order, and yet the realization that you cannot possibly make everyone happy.

And so it feels like a very true expression of the perils of modern life. The second one is a thing that Craig will make fun of me for. It’s called Human Resources Machine. It’s an iPad game.

Craig: Oh, we get to make fun of you again for it? Fantastic.

John: So, this is a game where you are this little mail worker and you have to carry packages from one side to the other side and set up these rules for doing it. You’re essentially sort of programming yourself to do these things, so you are basically a little robot.

McLennan: Like a robot mailman?

John: You’re a little robot mailman. And you have to figure out little systems for doing it.

Craig: This is so great, because he is a robot. And he’s a robot playing on a robot machine, pretending to be a robot.

John: And this is the nature of our characters. Because I really am not a robot, and Craig is not really quite the character he plays on the show.

Craig: I am exactly this. This is who I am. And I’m telling you, if you cut him open, it’s gears.

John: It’s gears.

Craig: Gears and blinkies. Well, that’s a great segue into my One Cool Thing. This — a lot of people tweeted this to me, and it’s actually kind of incredible. It’s a short film called Sunspring and it is directed by, well, I can’t see — it doesn’t matter who directed it because — Oscar Sharp. What matters is who wrote it.

It was written by Benjamin. Benjamin is a program. Benjamin is an artificial intelligence writing program. And so Benjamin was given the task of writing a movie, and then they actually did it. They shot Benjamin’s script with real actors, Thomas Middleditch from Silicon Valley, and Elizabeth Gray, and Humphrey Ker. And you can watch this movie. And it’s awesome, because it is the most nonsensical thing imaginable, and the actors do an incredible job of attempting to imbue proper emotions to these words.

But it’s things like someone is sitting there and he goes, “I don’t even understand.” And the other person goes, “What are you?” And then a third person walks in and says, “Huh, I’m sorry, I had to go to the skull.” And then he picks up a thing and looks at it and goes, “Yep.”

And then another person says, “What are you talking about?” And then the person answers them, “What are you talking about?”

And you can see the software occasionally going, “I’m bored. Let’s try something new that makes absolutely no sense at all.”

McLennan: It sounds like The Room.

John: I was going to say, it sounds really great.

Craig: It’s awesome.

McCartney: Wow.

Craig: Have you ever heard of The Shaggs?

John: Yeah.

McLennan: I feel like I have.

Craig: There’s a trio of girls from the ’60s and their dad made them, he wanted them to be a band. And so he made them learn instruments. And then he had them record an album. And they are perfectly incompetent. All three of them. And they wrote their own songs. And Frank Zappa said, “If you did that on purpose you would be the greatest musical genius of all time.” Like you could never write this. It’s amazing.

John: They had no sense of how music actually worked.

Craig: None.

John: They didn’t know how to play their instruments.

Craig: None.

McLennan: And they’re called The Shaggs?

Craig: Well, over here, we didn’t –

McLennan: Different.

Craig: Shag over here was like a kind of carpet. And over there. It’s like our whole thing with fanny pack, which drives people crazy in other countries.

McCartney: It’s also a bird.

Craig: And we’re like, but you guys taught me a new word I didn’t know. Cunt stump.

McCartney: Thank you. We did. You’re welcome.

Craig: Appreciate it.

McCartney: That’s actually a word — we didn’t make it up. One of my friends made it up. And I thought, well, this deserves to be in it.

Craig: Who is the director anyway? I don’t know, some cunt stump.

McCartney: Yeah.

Craig: Brilliant.

McCartney: It’s so good.

McLennan: We replaced ourselves with our director.

McCartney: Who had been our onset director. We decided not to try and direct it as well this time around. Although we were very in control. But still, you know.

Craig: Some cunt stump.

John: McCartney, do you have a One Cool Thing to share with us?

McCartney: I do. Well, recently we went and saw a film, a New Zealand film, called Hunt for the Wilderpeople. And it’s directed by Taika Waititi. Written and directed by Taika Waititi, who wrote Boy, and directed Boy. Directed Boy as well? Yes. And starred in Boy as well. And I think he’s about to direct the new Thor.

And it’s about a little kid, a foster kid, who gets taken into the New Zealand wilderness. And one of his new foster parents is Sam Neill, who plays this kind of quiet, I don’t know, how do you describe him?

McLennan: He’s an ex-criminal.

McCartney: He’s an ex-criminal. That’s right. And they get lost in the wilderness together.

McLennan: An illiterate ex-criminal, which is always fun.

McCartney: I mean, I’m not selling it terribly well, because obviously I’m not very good at pitching, which is great for our careers. But it’s honestly one of the best family films I’ve ever seen. And one of the best films I’ve ever seen. I absolutely loved it.

Craig: Say the title again.

McCartney: Hunt for the Wilderpeople. Like Wilder beast.

Craig: Hunt for the Wilderpeople.

McCartney: Yeah. Go and see it. I don’t know if it’s here. Good luck.

McLennan: It will come here.

Craig: Maybe we can get it on Spin Stream or whatever that –

John: Fullscreen.

McCartney: It’s so good.

McLennan: Yeah, I have a One Cool Thing. It’s a video that I keep sharing in Australia.

McCartney: Oh my god. It’s so good. I know what you’re talking about.

McLennan: It’s by these guys called Cope St. So Cope and then Street. And these indigenous comedians who work out of Sydney. And they do a beautiful makeup tutorial. And it’s this guy called Bjorn does this tutorial on how to do blackface.

Craig: Oh my god. That’s awesome.

McCartney: It’s so good.

McLennan: It has a delightful ending, which I will not reveal. And unfortunately we’ve had the need to share it a couple of times because –

McCartney: Because people in Australia keep doing blackface.

McLennan: People in Australia just don’t –

Craig: You mean not ironically?

McLennan: No, they just don’t understand.

Craig: They don’t get that it’s probably not a good idea.

McCartney: No. No.

McLennan: It’s like we’re in 1963 in Australia sometimes.

McCartney: Yeah, so every time that happens, and it has been happening with alarming regularity, McLennan just goes, Post.

McLennan: Yeah, share this post. And it’s very funny.

Craig: Here you go. Watch this video.

McLennan: But even, you know, aside from the message in the video, it’s just quite delightful.

McCartney: Oh, it’s so funny.

McLennan: It’s a piece of Internet silliness.

McCartney: Yeah.

John: Well, it’s fascinating because Australia does exist — your decades were different than our decades. We had certainly things that overlapped, but we had situations come up in the US that you just didn’t have the equivalent thing there. And so issues are going to come up at different times. I wonder if that’s going to go away now that we’re all so connected by sort of a shared culture of TV, of Internet, of everything happening so quickly.

McCartney: Possibly. But, I mean, every country has its different history, and that sort of informs everything. So, I think, there will be pigs in troughs at different times according to what hits home with everyone’s kind of particular set of issues.

McLennan: Yeah, I don’t think we’re as far ahead as you guys are. So people don’t have as much of a voice I think.

Craig: I don’t think you quite get how –

McLennan: I know what I’m saying.

McCartney: Yeah. Yeah. We know what you say. Yeah, we get a lot of your news. We know.

Craig: No, actually, I think this is a great opportunity — we never talk about politics on the show, but I do think we have international guests. That our country has a rare opportunity to look pretty good to the rest of the world. Just give us a few months.

John: Give us a few months.

Craig: But I think you’ll be happy. Just give us a few months.

McLennan: Okay, good. We’re a little worried at the moment. I must admit.

McCartney: I’m not going to lie. We’re a little concerned for you guys. Are you guys okay?

Craig: In a few months, we’ll either be happy or we’ll all be dead.

John: You’ll be holding back our hair as we’re going over the toilet bowl, you know.

McLennan: We’ll have a podcast in Australia. And you guys can come over. Like what can we do for you?

John: [laughs] Absolutely. Now that your country is a wasteland.

McLennan: We can get you four weeks a year writing on a morning show. What do you say?

Craig: Yes. We’ll take that.

John: Guys, thank you so much for joining us.

McCartney: Oh my gosh. Thanks for having us.

Craig: Kate and Kate, woo.

John: Our show, as always, is produced by Stuart Friedel. Our editing is done by the brilliant Matthew Chilelli. Thank you, Matthew. Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth. Thank you, Rajesh. If you have an outro for us that you’d like us to play at the end of our show, you can write into That’s also the email for questions and such things.

On Twitter, I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. What are you guys at on Twitter?

McCartney: I’m @tigervsshark.

McLennan: Ah, see now I just sound boring. I’m @kateMcLennan1.

John: That’s amazing. How does @kateMcLennan not 1 feel about your existence?

McLennan: I think she’s a Mormon ukulele singer somewhere in the Midwest. And she’s doing fine.

Craig: She’s doing great. I kind of like the idea that there was no other one. You just like really like the idea of sticking a 1 on there.

McLennan: I’m number 1. Number 1. It could potentially have been. I could have just presumed that my name was gone and just, “I’ll go for 1.” I got it.

Craig: [laughs] That’s the ultimate tall poppy syndrome.

John: Oh, absolutely. You’re typing it in like, “I’m only going to try to type one thing into the little box. Oh, I got it.”

Craig: I got it. Yay. @Tigervsshark and @KateMcLennan1.

John: It’s such a pleasure. Thank you guys so much for coming in.

McCartney: Oh, thank you.

Craig: Thanks guys.


The One with the Kates

Tue, 06/14/2016 - 08:03

John and Craig welcome Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney, the Australian creator/stars of The Katering Show (a previous One Cool Thing).

We discuss the process and economics of making a web series, signing with a US agency, and trying to figure out what comes next.

Thanks to our Scriptnotes fans on both sides of the world for making this meet-up happen.


You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 253: Television Economics for Dummies — Transcript

Fri, 06/10/2016 - 12:31

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hey, this John. So today’s episode has a little bit of swearing. Not a lot, but if you’re driving in the car with your kids, this is your warning. Thanks.

[Episode begins]

Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 253 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the podcast, we’ll be doing another round of How Would This Be a Movie, where we take stories in the news and discuss how and if and whether they should become movies. But first, we’ve just come through upfronts where the networks announced their new TV shows. And as I read the coverage, I was perplexed and did not know what they were talking about, so we invited someone on to explain what’s actually happening.

Craig: Thank God.

John: Yes. Jonathan Groff is our guest, and he is a writer and producer whose credits include Late Night with Conan O’Brien, Andy Barker, P.I., How I Met Your Mother and the late great, Happy Endings. He’s currently one of the executive producers of Black-ish.

Welcome, Jonathan Groff.

Jonathan Groff: Thank you so much, John. Thank you, Craig. It’s nice to be here.

Craig: And taking time off from Hamilton?

Jonathan: That’s what I was just going to say. I’m so glad you went to it.

Craig: Yes. Yeah.

Jonathan: The disambiguation that is necessary now with my name.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You are in fact both the television writer/producer and portrayer of King George.

Jonathan: Thank you for the disambiguation, Craig. Exactly.

Craig: I do something called re-ambiguation.

Jonathan: You re-ambiguated, that’s fantastic.

Craig: Yeah.

Jonathan: Well, the best thing was — do we keep this clean on this podcast?

Craig: No.

John: We don’t have to.

Jonathan: Okay, good. The first –

Craig: Fuck it.

Jonathan: There you go. The first time I heard of him, my manager had my name on a Google alert which is, I think, how he knows how to manage me. [laughs] He finds out what I’m doing and that’s — I’m kidding. Tim Sarquis, lovely guy.

Craig: He’s been arrested.

Jonathan: Again. Better make a call.

Craig: Oh, boy.

Jonathan: So he had my name on a Google alert and also this name popped up and he was like, “Are you doing Gypsy at the South Shore Music Circus in Hyannis or in Cohasset, Massachusetts or whatever?”

Craig: [laughs] That’s so great.

Jonathan: And I was like, “No.” This guy was just out of like drama school. Really young.

John: Yeah, he started young. He’s still young.

Jonathan: He’s still young. He’s still really young. So I had no — so that was the first time I noticed him. Then he — you know, every once in a while, I’d hear something, and then he blows up in a show called Spring Awakening.

Craig: Oh, Spring Awakening prior to him being on Glee.

Jonathan: Prior to Glee, yeah, exactly.

Craig: Right, Spring Awakening.

Jonathan: And he really blows up on Broadway and he’s a big deal. And, you know, I would have incidents where I would be — like I was casting a pilot and I’d been on the Sony lot every day for three weeks going to a certain casting office and all of a sudden, they’re like, “Oh,” — one day like, “You’re not supposed to be here until 4 o’clock and you’re not supposed to be even coming into this gate.” [laughs] And I was like, “Ohhhhh.”

And then he had the same problem. He — I got an inkling that he was a good dude because he left his email address and said, “This is funny. We should connect.” I don’t think — I think I misplaced it. Or I was like this isn’t — the time isn’t right yet.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Oh, you didn’t feel like it was — you weren’t ready.

Jonathan: I didn’t feel like the time was right. I want to chase this a little bit further –

John: Right.

Jonathan: And see where this went. And then Glee happened and he really blew up on people and he’s, you know. And so that’s sort of the high, whatever.

Finally, a couple of months ago I went to see Hamilton and he was King George III in it, and he — I got backstage because somebody from Black-ish knew Leslie Odom who plays Aaron Burr and he’s fantastic. And I just said, “You know what, this is going to happen.”

Craig: It’s time.

Jonathan: So we met, and he’s fantastic. He was wearing a bike helmet.

Craig: Of course.

John: Because he’s a big biker.

Jonathan: A big biker. Gave me a huge hug. We had a great conversation. And we actually have emailed back and forth now. So it’s a nice story.

Craig: Ah, that is a nice story.

Jonathan: He said that he would occasionally get stuff that was meant for me like — not, you know, lots of them. But I think it was more –

John: He rewrites a few scripts just on the side.

Jonathan: Exactly.

Craig: Or he’s just like, “Yeah, I would occasionally get calls but nothing exciting like you would get that was meant for me.”

Jonathan: Exactly. [laughs]

John: He put out an inflammatory quote about Black-ish, about sort of like an upcoming plotline of Black-ish. That’s always a good thing.

Jonathan: Exactly. That’s the best you get.

So on the other night, I was in New York and I did a panel with some other comedy writers and there was a woman, an alum of my college who had seen the bio listed on the flier to come. And she was very sweet. And she like sheepishly –

Craig: Oh, God.

Jonathan: When she was introduced to me, like, put her Hamilton playbill that had been signed by every other cast member, tucked it into her purse like, “I’m sorry. I just maybe thought it was the same guy.” [laughs] Yeah, it’s still happening.

Craig: Oh no, I have no interest in hearing anything you have to say at all. Well, anyway.

John: You’re both very nice guys. And so Jonathan Groff was the — played Will in one of the readings of Big Fish along the way, with the Big Fish Musical.

Jonathan: Oh, wow.

John: So O known him from that. And so I know that he’s a bicyclist from that.

Jonathan: Absolutely.

John: So it was him and Michael C. Hall where we asked — that’s sort of how all the iterations you go through when you are trying to put a show together.

Jonathan: You know what’s frustrating is I’ve always been like the nice Jonathan Groff and now there’s a guy who’s nicer than me.

Craig: Right.

Jonathan: And he’s younger, he’s better looking, and he’s nicer.

Craig: Better looking, nicer –

Jonathan: More successful.

Craig: More successful.

Jonathan: Yeah.

John: I will say you know more about TV, and so therefore –

Jonathan: Okay. There you go. Good segue.

John: You are more useful for –

Craig: We actually don’t know that.

Jonathan: I’m not sure that’s true.

Craig: Yeah, but we will –

John: He has been a star of a TV show.

Craig: Exactly.

John: Two TV shows.

Craig: Right.

John: Yeah, so –

Jonathan: Exactly.

John: All right.

Craig: Well, we’re going to find out. He’s going to educate us.

John: So this is the education I need. So the point of entry for me was this Deadline article about network ownership. It’s all about upfronts and so they’re talking through all the new shows. And Les Moonves talking about sort of this new season and how ownership is important. And like there were all these terms I just didn’t fundamentally understand.

Jonathan: Right.

John: So I hope you can explain some of this. And just — can you talk us through what the deal is with ownership because unlike features where it’s all sort of one company, there’s a studio producing a TV show, there’s a network airing a TV show.

Jonathan: Right.

John: And those used to be different things and they don’t seem to be different things. What’s going on with ownership?

Jonathan: They still can be different things. It’s really complicated. I mean, basically, the very basic — and I’ll do my best, and I’m sure there’s some things I’m going to get wrong and you probably — you guys are both so smart –

John: No, explain like we’re five.

Jonathan: Okay.

John: Because we really don’t know.

Craig: Well, explain like he’s five. I’m an adult.

Jonathan: Craig, no. Exactly. Craig’s been in the business.

Craig: Yeah, I know what’s going on.

Jonathan: So basically, the studios are the entities that make the television shows. And they are the ones who take on the cost of producing them, the deficit. And most television shows, they get — and then they get paid a license fee by the networks which is a lot less than the deficit. So, you know, roughly, maybe for a single camera television comedy, it might cost $2.1 million to make an episode and they probably get a $1.1 million license fee from the network. So the studios are eating that million dollar deficit for shows until they can eventually sell those shows into syndication.

John: So –

Jonathan: In which case they then get all of that money back and a lot more.

John: So let’s say the 2.1 number that you are getting for that half-hour show –

Jonathan: Should we say $2 million? Let’s say $2 million. It’s going to be a lot easier.

John: $2 million and $1 million, yeah.

Craig: Thank God. The show just got shorter.

John: Explain it like I’m five. Indeed. We lost a commercial break.

All right. So let’s say it’s a $2 million show. For the $2 million show, that’s all in, like all the expenses/costs to make that show and an amortization of sort of the overall costs of the sets and things like that, because it’s a weird thing to make a TV show because sometimes, you know, you have things you write a check for once and those –

Jonathan: Right.

John: Could be things that are going to be used for the rest of the series.

Jonathan: Right. Amortization is a big part of it which is why, you know, they like to make as many episodes. And one of the big things that they’ll — the networks really want these six episode orders now and eight episode orders of things to fill in because they want to be doing more and more original programing, and they want to be in fewer reruns which is something I think you want to ask me about as well, probably, because that’s another part of what’s going on in the business. But today like a lot of times, these short orders and the studios don’t like them because it’s much harder to amortize the shows. Because, yeah, especially, you know — and by the way, the $2 million figure does not count the cost of a pilot, like even a half-hour comedy pilot, probably a single camera which is mostly what I’ve done are — maybe I did one that was over $5 million, I think. That got really expensive, but they’re often three, four, four or five, something like that. So you’re figuring that factor in.

And yeah, the cost of building a standing set, you know, the cost of your actor contracts, your buyouts. You’re hiring a staff and writing staff, guaranteeing them a certain number of episodes. You know, that is all of kind of built in. So the more episodes you can do, the faster you get to that magical — used to be a hundred, now they talk about 88 or — when I did Happy Endings, we almost got another 20. We had done 57 and we almost got another 20 episodes when we were going to be able to sell it to USA. And that supposedly would have been enough to maybe –

Craig: Right.

Jonathan: Make a real syndication sale.

John: So $2 million is what it costs to shoot that half-hour.

Jonathan: Yeah.

John: The network is paying you $1 million. So let’s say — that $1 million is the right to air it on US broadcast television?

Jonathan: Yeah, and a limited number of reruns, I think –

John: Okay.

Jonathan: They get like three or four or something like that.

John: So for the studio to make its money back, it has to be able to sell that show either in reruns, syndication, or overseas.

Jonathan: Yes.

John: And so a lot of the money is coming from overseas now –

Jonathan: Yes.

John: Because that first run could be worthwhile overseas. So they could be airing that in China or Australia or someplace else right now.

Jonathan: Well, apparently. And I’m told that that is a bigger and bigger part of the equation for the studios and that they are making their money back in foreign sales a lot sooner than they used to.

Craig: Right.

Jonathan: Because the market has expanded and there is such a demand for product. As many platforms as there are here, there’re platforms internationally and they want product. So the whole idea of what used to constitute, you know, the back end and what really you would, you know, recoup or when the thing was out of deficit and now in profit, supposedly it happens sooner than it used to.

The Writers Guild feels this way strongly that these studios sometimes are making that money back sooner with foreign sales than they used to.

Craig: That’s really interesting because, you know, the independent feature film model is essentially based entirely on foreign pre-sales so we have a budget, the budget is $10 million, we’re going to go sell the rights in various countries until we have at least $10 million.

Jonathan: Right.

Craig: Then we’ll make the movie.

Jonathan: Right.

Craig: So we actually have no risk when we make the independent movie like that. You know, the interesting case with television is the idea that they could also create a situation of foreign pre-sale where before they’re even getting to the fifth episode, they’re essentially saying if we have — now, there’s a danger involved, obviously, where foreign pre-sales is the infection that incurs is an infection of talent. They all say, well, certain actors –

Jonathan: Yeah.

Craig: Sell shows overseas and certain do not. And now that starts to infect the kinds of shows that we get here because the studios need to sell them overseas. I can see trouble on the horizon.

Jonathan: Well, there was — speaking of that and related, there was a really kind of a rough article in Hollywood Reporter about, you know, Empire, not selling as well overseas. And that plays into like race and all that kind of stuff. Black-ish supposedly has done very well. I think maybe a family comedy aspect of it helps it. But Empire, you would think — you know, since so much of like black culture and hip hop and so on is one of our national — international exports.

Craig: Right.

Jonathan: You would think it would sell but apparently it has been somewhat challenged so that gets into like –

Craig: I wonder if primetime –

Jonathan: The backlash against — is there’s going to be some kind of backlash against all the fantastic diversity, which is helping, I think, the networks get a little bit of a second wind. Especially ABC has done really well with it. FOX as well, obviously. And all of them realizing like, “Oh my God, the country is changing. This is who is watching television. We’re not reflecting America. Let’s be more diverse.” But that could factor in if it isn’t helping us.

Craig: It could be a problem. I mean — and the Hollywood Reporter is fairly reliable in getting things wrong. I do –

Jonathan: That’s true.

Craig: At least they are consistent. I mean, I remember reading that article and just thinking, there’s a thousand other possible explanations.

Jonathan: True.

Craig: For instance, I don’t know how primetime soap operas do overseas.

Jonathan: Yep, that’s a good point.

Craig: I don’t know if that’s something that people like.

Jonathan: Right.

Craig: And the fact that a show Black-ish is doing well is sort of — I refute thus.

Jonathan: Yeah, right.

Craig: I mean, kind of argument over.

Jonathan: Right.

John: I think it’s basically Malcolm Spellman’s fault. As a previous guest on the show.

Craig: Everything is –

John: He’s one of the Empire producers. It’s probably on his shoulders.

Jonathan: It should be.

Craig: He screwed it up. He really screwed it up.

John: So here is a question. This is again back to that same article.

Jonathan: Okay.

John: They’re talking about — Les Moonves talking about like, “Oh, in the shows we are picking up, we own a stake in all of them.”

Jonathan: Yes.

John: And so I’m taking this to mean that even if it is a Sony show or a Warner Bros show or some other studio is behind it, a network gets to say, “Okay, we are an investor in this show up to a certain percentage.” Is that — am I reading that right? Is that what they’re — ?

Jonathan: That’s exactly what they’re saying. And it happens all the time. I mean, it feels rare unless — it feels like the exception now is for — it’s the exception for an outside studio that’s not owned by the network that they’re selling to, to be able to maintain a 100% ownership of it. I think some of the studios are a little bit stronger than others and hold the line better, but a lot of times it comes out of deal-making.

In that same article that we both read, it said that, you know, NBC was less aggressively pursuing ownership of a couple of single camera comedies that were coming on because they felt that the backend wasn’t as significant so they didn’t want to assume the cost. Because when you co-produce, co-own, you’re also putting up the money to buy in essentially.

But, you know, they all talk about like, you know, they’re all I think so nervous. And again, I’m a writer, so I don’t understand all this stuff, but I think they all are worried about the business of being in the distributors. They all want to be in the content business.

John: Yeah, they want to be the hype. They want to be the, yeah.

Jonathan: Exactly. And that’s where the future is. There’s always going to be room for content even if the pipe changes and the distribution platform has changed that content is king. You see Netflix go from obviously migrate from pipe, a brilliant pipe, to how many boxes of screeners did you get –

Craig: Yeah.

Jonathan: From Netflix this year.

Craig: Right.

Jonathan: They’re making so much stuff.

Craig: Well, you know, you’ve been around for awhile, so you remember the days where it was actually illegal –

Jonathan: Yeah.

Craig: For a network to own any part of a show that aired.

Jonathan: I wasn’t in the business then but –

Craig: Okay.

Jonathan: I remember that was the facts back in the day.

John: Was that called fin-syn?

Craig: The financial syndication laws abbreviated as fin-syn. And the purpose of those laws was essentially to prevent monopoly.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Craig: And they did make sense when they were three networks and, you know, and so there was essentially a forced kind of competition where, essentially, the networks would pay a license fee and then make their money through the sale of ads. But they could not own. Similarly theaters, studios couldn’t own theaters.

Jonathan: Right.

Craig: And I don’t know if it’s changed or not. I think that’s still maybe a thing. But it’s not a thing anymore for television.

Jonathan: Exactly.

John: Well, they certainly don’t have monopoly power but it does feel like a network has a tremendous amount of leverage over the studio where it says like, “That’s a really lovely show. It could be a challenge if you couldn’t put that on the air.” Or they say like, “You have to let us buy in.”

Jonathan: It’s absolutely what’s happening.

The only thing that’s hilarious is that all these networks pretty much own studios that want to sell outside. Every studio is able to attract better talent, writers and actors, producers, you know, a producer on overall deals, pods, people, if they can say we can sell everywhere. Like I will sign up with Twentieth in a deal or with ABC Studios — I like ABC Network, I like Fox Network, but, oh boy, I would like to be able to take my project to the right place.

And so, they’re all doing it to each other a little bit. Like Sony is really fascinating to me because they don’t have that partnership and they’ve actually — in some ways, I like that studio a lot because they’ve really kept their independence. But they were the ones also more forced I think a lot of times to always co-produce.

Craig: Right. So –

Jonathan: Happy Endings was a Sony and that was partly because I was in an ABC Studios deal and I got involved in that show. They needed a showrunner. Happy Endings –

Craig: But they’ll find some way in or another.

Jonathan: I think they would have.

John: But it is interesting. When we think about the old Hollywood system where you had writers’ rooms and you had like, you know, MGM writers’ room and like you were bound to MGM and that all went away. But to some degree, that still happens in television where you make a deal with a studio. And so you are writing shows for that studio and you are prohibited from working for anybody else unless certain conditions come up. In order for them to get you on Happy Endings, didn’t they have to do something with the studio who you originally had your deal with? There was a negotiation involved.

Jonathan: Yes. Sony, to bring me in, had to –

John: Buy you out of –

Jonathan: Had to basically, yeah. I think that became a co-production partly because I became involved. But then again, Craig is probably right. Certainly now it feels like it would just become a co-production, whether they were –

Craig: Right, right.

Jonathan: Needing a piece of talent or a writer to make the show made.

Craig: Well, getting rid of that law essentially cleared the way for the most obvious request of all. We are interested in airing this. The fact that we’re interested in airing it means we think it’s good. The fact that we think it’s good means we would like to own some of it. Now, it may be a case where multiple networks want to air something, which probably doesn’t happen that frequently.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Craig: So there’s a lot of leverage there on their part.

John: But some of these negotiations though would happen at the point where you’re selling the pitch. But some of these negotiations I’ve heard from other showrunners, they’re happening like at the last minute. Like you’re into upfronts and they’re still trying to hammer out this deal.

Jonathan: Absolutely. It happens really late and it’s the last piece of leverage that the networks have in negotiating with the studios. And the studios then have to decide whether they want to do it or not and whether it’s worth it to them to take on a co-producer. But, you know, all the studios are interacting with each other so well.

I’ve been in two Sony/ABC Studios co-productions, one on Happy Endings and one on a pilot I produced. And, you know, they’re smart people at both studios. Sony was kind of the lead studio on both of those, ABC Studios. I mean that’s why Black-ish is such a — you know, if you can get the owned show that works for you, that is the homerun. Like –

John: Right.

Jonathan: Like ABC loves Modern Family but Twentieth –

John: Yeah.

Jonathan: Twentieth owns all of that. They’ve never gotten into that one and that would be, you know, great.

I will give you a little bit of interesting context though, that there has always been a tendency, and I think it’s partly about executive dynamics and like how to reward them, to migrate the purview, the sort of responsibility from network president and give him or her also the title of studio president. And every time they do that, it doesn’t work for you if you work at the studio.

Craig: You mean when they leave the network presidency or you’re saying –

John: No, no, they basically –

Jonathan: Perfect example is like Paul Lee was the president of both — under his, whatever, job description was the head of the studio at ABC Studios and also the –

Craig: The network president.

Jonathan: President of ABC.

Craig: That doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

Jonathan: I hated it. I always hated it. And it happened at NBC when I was there. Yeah, I think it’s the way it is at Twentieth Century Fox right now with Dana and Gary are also the head. They came from the studio and the studio was such a profit center and they did such a, you know, huge job in keeping that, I think, probably the strongest of the independent studios for a long time, that they wanted to keep that job. And it was part of the –

Craig: Yeah.

Jonathan: But the problem is that what I found happening is, and I remember talking to my agent about this, it never really worked for me as a producer because I would be like, “Well, why can’t so and so put on his studio head hat right now and keep my show on the network?” Happy Endings is a perfect example. Like, let’s keep that show on the network. Paul Lee could have kept that show on the network and probably gotten all of ABC Studios’ money out of it if he had programmed it better.

Craig: Right.

Jonathan: But, you know, at the end of the day it’s like the big job still at that point, and this may be changing, was the network president. And they’re always going to choose the network president, “What’s better for me as the network president? Better for me to cancel Happy Endings. It’s not doing that great.”

Craig: Yeah.

Jonathan: You know what I mean? And I want to try something else. And so, it’s gone. So which is why I like the configuration they have now at ABC Studios. It kind of vacillates back and forth. It swings back and forth. And now, it seems like Patrick Moran is really growing ABC Studios and has a lot of independence, and makes deals with other places, and doesn’t just do it with ABC. But it’s so tricky when the networks own studios because they have that leverage and it’s an internal kind of thing, so.

John: Great. The next term I don’t understand, stacking.

Jonathan: Yes.

John: What is stacking?

Jonathan: I had never heard of that before a month ago.

John: Okay, all right.

Jonathan: But I get it.

John: Then tell me.

Jonathan: What it is, is the networks and the studios really realize that they are getting a lot of views of their shows, and the way people are watching television now is to binge watch. So, there’s obviously the DVR usage and that’s now counted for advertisers and it’s counted live plus three and live plus seven and live plus something else. And same-day viewing and it’s all, you know, added up and then sold to the advertisers. The other way that they can kind of binge, “Oh, I didn’t see The Last Man on Earth yet this season.”

John: Yeah.

Jonathan: “And hopefully it’s up on,” or whatever their thing is. And the networks want to have those stay on longer and go past what they call I think the rolling five, which is usually what it has been. So even though they have to pay a little bit more to the writers for a residual, and I actually investigated this because I was curious about it and I talked to somebody at the Writers Guild today, they’re willing to pay that little bit of extra residual to maybe directors and certainly to the writers to have the shows hang around longer on the .com websites, the ad-supported video-on-demand segment.

John: So the theory being that it’s good for discovery, it’s good for helping people catch up on a show.

Jonathan: Yeah.

John: And so especially a show in its first season, you want to make sure people who’ve missed it the first round can actually –

Jonathan: Yes. And it’s something the networks I think want more than the studios because I think the networks keep the lion’s share of that .com advertising. And it’s a way of building audience. The studios are nervous about it because it affects, potentially, their back end.

Craig: Correct.

John: So the stacking rights are a negotiation between the network and the studio.

Jonathan: Yes.

John: Which in many cases are the same company. But aren’t always the same company.

Craig: Well, yeah, and then, you know, you’re dealing with one pocket versus the other pocket. But it’s true. I mean the studio, theoretically, their interest is in making you pay to see this even if it’s a week after it was on air, right?

Jonathan: Exactly.

Craig: And the network, their interest is in, no, see it forever.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Craig: See it a billion times. They want to expand the breadth of the license, right?

Jonathan: Yeah.

Craig: That they’re paying for. And it’s interesting because we tend to look at it as writers as how are we going to get screwed on the residuals, because — and this will get us into our rerun thing. There was a time in the world when it was really simple and network paid a license fee, they were allowed to air a show once or twice. That was primary exhibition. But then there was something called the network rerun where they would rerun it again on the network, during primetime. And the writers would get paid a lot of money.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Craig: And they don’t really do that anymore.

John: Very rare shows do. And a friend just got staffed on a show that actually does that. And so he’s like, “Score. I get a second run.”

Craig: Yeah.

John: But let’s talk about how writers get paid.

Jonathan: Well, the networks will do it on certain shows and like it’s another way of building audience. Essentially, it’s part of the license or the agreement that they have, so it’s not a great additional cost to them and the studios pay out the residual. And it’s fine. But yeah, like the comedies tend to do it more. I think ABC runs — we’re getting rerun a lot this summer on Black-ish. They’ll rerun their Wednesday night comedy block.

What I’m told is that the procedural dramas will do it. The place where it really is hurting is any kind of hour-long that is serialized –

John: Yeah.

Jonathan: They don’t tend to rerun as much. And that’s where you’re seeing, you know, short order things to fill in. You’re seeing reality shows, game shows, all the stuff that NBC does every summer. And they seem to be the most kind of throwing anything out there.

John: It’s a whole different network in the summer.

Jonathan: Kind of.

John: So let’s say I’m a brand new staff writer on Black-ish. How would I get paid? So what would my deal be like for working there and would I be paid a certain amount per week? If I got an episode to write, would that count against what I had already been paid? How would it work from there?

Jonathan: My understanding of it is I have weirdly never been a staff writer on TV show. I had this weird way in because I was a Conan writer and then I started creating shows and so I always had this kind of creator-producer role kind of early on. But the way I think it is, the staff writers do get paid weekly. Their scripts actually they don’t get paid for, which is why the residual is very important if a staff writer writes a script and the episodes gets rerun. They do get a residual.

Craig: They have to be paid for it in terms of Guild minimum. But my guess is that it comes out of their — in other words, their salary is this much plus this much for the script and we’re going to pay you that on a weekly basis.

Jonathan: I think the deal is that maybe that money gets thrown back into their weekly pay or something –

Craig: It has to be. Yeah.

Jonathan: But they’re really not getting additional — like if you assign a staff writer a script, it’s not a big like –

Craig: It’s baked into their salary. But –

Jonathan: Exactly.

Craig: But that baked in price still has to cover pension and health and stuff, yeah.

Jonathan: Sure, absolutely, yeah. And so they’re on a weekly thing. And I think they’re only ones who are, maybe story editors are, too, I don’t really know exactly. But then after a certain point and, you know, a number of episodes, you bump up in the job description and, well, the job title really, and you then get an episodic fee. Which is paid out weekly, I think. But it’s an episodic fee.

John: But that episodic fee is not as a writer. That episodic fee is as a producer, correct?

Jonathan: Technically. But everybody’s a writer-producer, essentially.

John: Yeah. The frustration, the challenge that always happens in Writers Guild is that like a lot of the money that TV writers get is actually producer money and therefore it’s not Guild money. And so that becomes a strange –

Craig: And like we get so screwed because we pay 1.5% guild dues on every dollar we make.

Jonathan: Right.

Craig: You guys do not at all.

Jonathan: Right.

Craig: Not even close.

Jonathan: Right.

John: But this is not an East Side/West Side –

Craig: No, but in return –

John: We recognize.

Craig: In return for the larger share of money we kick in, can we get much less attention? [laughs]. So it’s a great system.

John: It’s really an awesome system.

Jonathan: Your name is much bigger though in screens and stuff.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah. When a movie gets made –

Craig: Really cool.

John: It’s really nice.

Craig: That’s right. It’s awesome.

John: But it is fascinating how, like, the writers who didn’t actually write that episode, their names do show up on the show as like those other credits.

Jonathan: Producer, yeah.

John: That’s nice, too. I think it’s a good thing.

Jonathan: Yeah, we don’t mind that.

John: No.

Craig: No.

Jonathan: Well, television, I don’t know about hour-longs. The only hour-long show I ever did was Ed. I was on that for a season. But I do know that every half-hour is super collaborative and super room-written to some degree, like you’re breaking the story as a group and then one writer goes off and does an outline and then gets feedback from the showrunners. Maybe another writer or two could get involved in looking at the outline and then the script comes in and the room works on it. So there’s a lot of people kind of throwing and it’s different.

John: So I’d forgotten to rave about your show but Black-ish is one of the few shows that we watch every night sort of when it airs. It doesn’t sit on the DVR long.

Jonathan: Fantastic.

John: And one of the episodes that you are credited with this last season is the flu episode where the whole Johnson family gets sick. So in an episode like that, how much more is that your episode than other episodes that ran in the season? Like percentage-wise, how much more invested are you in that episode than other episodes?

Jonathan: Well, I went off and wrote the draft by myself but I had a lot of help on that story. The story came together in the room and there might have been hours even when I wasn’t in the room when they were working on the story. And I came back in and people were like, “We think this is the direction for this.” There was lots of like group effort on the story. And then I went off and wrote the draft and lots of language and jokes are mine and sort of the structure of the scenes sort of. But then you come back in and it goes through another rewrite and you get jokes beaten and all scenes rewritten and you do a table read and it gets rewritten again.

So, you know, I would say the person with the highest percentage of stuff that he wrote in a draft being shot is Kenya Barris who created the show. It’s his show, it’s his voice. He’s a hilarious writer and he also takes on the toughest episodes that we do where we’re really talking about something. I had the advantage of — it was kind of a light episode. There was a sweetness to it, in which Dre was learning to take care of his sort of — like realizing he had missed out by avoiding taking care of his kids and had some regret. And then we learn at the end that Bow is pregnant. So he will have opportunities in the future to step up and be more involved in that way.

So it had an emotional wallop, I think. But it was in general not –

John: But it wasn’t the –

Craig: Police brutality episode.

John: Police brutality episode, yes.

Jonathan: Exactly.

Craig: Oh, why didn’t they give you that one? [laughs] That’s weird.

Jonathan: It’s so funny though. But even now, and like Kenya, we really broke that story as a group. I mean Kenya had so much of the way in because it was really his story of how do you tell your kids about something really hard, like he’d been watching the Ferguson riots with his little boys and they were like, “Why is everybody so mad?” Well, how do you explain this?

Craig: Right.

Jonathan: So the way in was totally his. But then a lot of the structure of that and a lot of the comedy stuff or ideas for that were, you know, kicked around in the room. But then he went off and wrote a script over Christmas and kind of came back and it just had that feel to it of like this, we don’t need to — we cut a couple of things and changed a couple of folks –

Craig: Shoot it.

Jonathan: And then it was pretty much shoot it, yeah.

Craig: Yeah. Just shoot it, yeah. Yeah.

John: It was a one set sort of, you know, a little play.

Jonathan: Yeah, that was his vision. And that’s in a lot of ways his vision for that show is he likes the sort of, like, let scenes play out. Let it be almost a multi-cam in some ways, believe in the characters and their abilities to be interesting. You know, I tend to be a little bit more single camera and it’s probably a good blend because I’m a little bit like, “Just keep it moving in the scene because the scene is three pages. It could be two — “

John: That living room is almost proscenium. It’s almost –

Jonathan: It is.

John: You know, a three-camera setup and you’re in that space probably more than any other space.

Jonathan: Yeah.

John: So the discussion of the police brutality episode, this is actually a pretty good segue into our other thing we want to do this time which is to talk about these ideas, these stories that are in the news and how they could be movies, which in the case of you, I’d also like to know like how could this be either a series or an episode, because some of these ideas feel like, okay, I can see a series about this but some of them feel like, okay, well that is the premise for an episode.

Jonathan: Right.

John: So we’ll dig into these and see what we have. So first one up on the boards, this is Peter Thiel v. Gawker. So I’ll link to it –

Craig: Who do you root for here?

John: Yes.

Jonathan: That’s a tough one, right?

Craig: Yeah.

John: I’ll link to an article from –

Jonathan: This one kept me up a little bit, thinking about it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. [laughs]

John: I’ll link to an article from Nicholas Lemann for The New Yorker sort of going into the back story behind it. But the short version for people who are like following this years after the fact, Peter Thiel is a billionaire. He’s made his money off of PayPal and other places. He’s a big investor in Facebook. He has a vendetta against Gawker. There was a lawsuit that Hulk Hogan filed against Gawker for discussing or releasing images from a sex tape and Hulk Hogan actually won this huge lawsuit against Gawker. But it turned out that Peter Thiel was actually funding the lawsuit against Gawker. And the whole notion of this billionaire versus this company, here’s a man who can spend his entire fortune to bring down a company if he chose to.

Craig: There are some free speech issues. The one fact you didn’t mention is the source of his vendetta.

John: Yes.

Craig: Which is I think relevant. Gawker outed him.

John: Yes.

Craig: So –

John: As gay. You can be outed as anything now, so.

Craig: Yeah. They even outed him as Jewish.

John: Yes. [laughs]

Craig: That never happens. So I honestly don’t know who to root for here. I understand all the problems, you know, inherent to a very wealthy person possibly stifling a media outlet. On the other hand, ugh, Gawker.

John: Let’s talk about this as a movie because like the most simple, obvious thing is basically what if Bruce Wayne sued The Daily Planet out of existence. I mean –

Craig: Worst movie ever.

John: Yes. [laughs] But I mean there’s that quality of like, you know, what are the limits that you can put on an incredibly wealthy person who can just use the system to their advantage.

Craig: It feels like an episode of a TV show, doesn’t it? Like just an episode?

Jonathan: Well, first of all, it will be. Somebody will do that.

Craig: Right.

Jonathan: They’ll find a way to sort of boil that down for Law & Order or something.

Craig: Yeah, so like torn from the headlines kind of thing.

Jonathan: Yeah. If Good Wife was still on or somebody would find a way to tear that from the headlines, I think. But it also does feel like it could be a really great movie because it could leave you with like just as kind of conflicted coming out as you are going in because it’s easy to see both sides of it in a way. Like Gawker is disgusting.

I had lunch with my friend Todd Barry who’s a very funny comedian and we were talking about like some of the stuff they’ve just done and some of the shots they take of people in New York, friends of his. And he’s like, it’s gross. And I’m like, “Yeah. Screw them. They’re the worst.” And then like it’s chilling because what we’re not talking about yet is the context a little bit of Thiel’s thing is what Donald Trump is talking about.

John: Yeah.

Jonathan: You know, and the way he went on the attack and played, I think, to a lot of receptive ears when he went on attack the other day against the press and what they were trying to do in just asking basic questions about where that money went through, his veterans things, where there were people going like, “The press is dishonest. The press is disgusting. The press needs to be shut down. There have to be better laws.” And that’s the legitimate press they’re talking about. So that’s the context of like it’s very much of a slippery slope kind of a thing.

John: In my head, I hear a lot of the Aaron Sorkin kind of dialogue about the arguments. And sort of like the way that both sides can make really impassioned cases for what they believe and sort of why what they’re doing is the noble thing. So the journalistic quality of like, you know, you may hate Gawker for what they do but recognize that any media publication could just as easily be in Gawker’s position where someone could go after them for anything they’ve ever written. And in this case, like the lawsuit for Hulk Hogan has nothing to do with Thiel other than the fact that he hates Gawker –

Jonathan: Exactly. The way to take them out. I would say this. I think that you’ve got to come down on the side of Gawker, ultimately, as much as I hate to say it because I — and I’ll say why.

John: For the movie version. Let’s just say like what it is the best movie.

Jonathan: But I think the aspirational thing that I would build into the movie, the ending, I don’t know how you get to this, is I thought about this as I watched the sketch that somebody posted today of Amy Schumer doing AMZ, a takedown of TMZ.

Craig: Yeah.

Jonathan: And it was devastatingly great, on point. And it’s like the aspirational, maybe Sorkinesque, maybe somebody else would write it better. But like the idea that like — do you remember QB VII, the ending of QB VII where the libel case where the author of the book about Adam Kelso who was the doctor who was accused of Nazi crimes that Anthony Hopkins played. It was a TV movie, Leon Uris novel. That he wins this libel suit but he wins a British ha’penny, the lowest coin in the English crown.

Craig: Right.

Jonathan: The ending would be that Gawker wins but that they close for other reasons. So the market, the people would go, they’re discussing, we’re no longer going to read them, we’re no longer the market. It’s almost like a weird belief in the power of the common sense of people in the market to go like, you know, TMZ is disgusting and corrodes your soul so don’t watch it anymore.

Craig: Yeah. I don’t know if I would believe that ending.

Jonathan: Of course not!

Craig: Yeah, yeah.

Jonathan: But that’s the ending I would want to write, you know.

Craig: There is possibly another angle where you are on the side of this guy and he is taking on a group that, look, the one thing that gets left out of the discussion is you can’t successfully financially back someone’s winning lawsuit if they can’t win the lawsuit, right? That he did win the lawsuit –

John: Oh, no, no, no. But here’s the thing. It’s like he –

Jonathan: He drained them.

John: He drives them down. So basically like he can bankrupt them just through legal fees, essentially because he’s filing like –

Craig: But they got a judgment. I mean the point is they did –

John: Yeah, I think they got a judgment but here’s the thing. It’s like he could file 150 judgments and he doesn’t care if he ever makes any money back.

Craig: Absolutely. Right. But in this case, what muddies the water is — see, because Peter Thiel is not actually acting like a super villain. He’s acting like a guy that specifically hates one group of people and he has reason to hate them. And a lot of people hate them. And so he’s going after them. And they did do something wrong. They’ve done a lot of wrong things. But there is an interesting ending where in the movie version he wins, gets rid of Gawker, feels good, and then turns on the TV the next day and somebody that is bad is doing it to somebody that doesn’t deserve it and he’s essentially released a virus, you know, of behavior.

Jonathan: How about this?

Craig: Yeah.

Jonathan: Another version, probably not as interesting as your version but I’ll pitch it anyway, is that I do think like he takes down Gawker, he wins, Gawker goes out of business, but when he tries to take down something has journalistic standards, people say no. And that’s the rally. Maybe that’s the sort of like, so all of a sudden let’s just say he tries to take down the New York Times. We could debate whether the New York Times –

Craig: Right. He goes too far.

Jonathan: Is of quality or not, I’m not going to get into that argument. But like he goes too far –

Craig: They’re not Gawker.

Jonathan: They’re not Gawker. And people go, no, and they go we still want a free press.

John: Yeah. So essentially like he’s taking down Spotlight essentially. Like, you know, he’s taking down the noble journalistic crusaders.

Craig: Right.

John: And like that’s the thing. What I do kind of find fascinating are the characters involved. And so I think Thiel is a great character because whether you portray him as a villain or a hero, he definitely perceives himself as a hero. He sees himself as that person like all great villains should. Nick Denton is a fascinating character who’s like — I think he is actually clearly very smart but also to some degree self-delusional about sort of what his function is. And he’s willing to sort of say like, “Well, to make an omelet, we’re going to break, you know, people’s lives.”

Jonathan: Nick Denton is the head of Gawker.

John: Yeah, the head of Gawker, yeah. You have the Hulk Hogan or whoever the plaintiff is you sort of put in that place is really fascinating because that person kind of knows they’re being used as a tool and it’s not really about them. Like Thiel doesn’t honestly care about Hulk Hogan whatsoever.

Jonathan: That’s so great.

Jonathan: He’s just only a vessel.

Craig: We don’t know that. [laughs] He might love Hulk Hogan.

John: Oh, he might love –

Craig: He might have Hulkamania.

John: Yes.

Craig: Probably not.

John: Probably not. I mean, to me the fascinating –

Jonathan: The realization by that guy that he’s been used –

John: Oh, yeah –

Jonathan: The conversations between him and the Thiel character where he’s –

Craig: Because I can see he’s like, “This is amazing. Somebody…”

Jonathan: Believes in me.

Craig: “…that cares that much about me, I still got it.”

Jonathan: That’s a heartbreaking scene.

Craig: That is a heartbreaking –

John: And so there’s a possibility for like, you know, you think that character thinks that they’re an Erin Brockovich, that they’re like little town Erin Brockovich. And like no, no, no, you were just a pawn being used by these plutocrats moving stuff around a board. That I think is a fascinating –

Craig: I still feel like to me, everything we discussed would be a great hour of television. I don’t know –

John: I think it’s a great HBO movie maybe.

Jonathan: I think it’s an HBO movie. I think two hours –

Craig: That counts as television.

Jonathan: Two hours of it. Yeah, television. It’s not going to put butts in the seats in –

Craig: No, because these kinds of movies ultimately, the issue involved needs to be like — The Insider was a wonderful movie and that’s about tobacco companies killing people and lying. This is in the end, I get that it is relevant to our lives but doesn’t quite feel like it deserves to be that — I always ask myself, “Am I going to drive somewhere and park to see this?” Probably not.

John: That was Amy Pascal’s thing which always, like, you know, if she’s going to green light a movie is, like, would I actually get a babysitter and go to the theater on a Friday night –

Craig: Right.

John: When I’m already tired and had a long day’s work? And like, that’s a high bar to put for yourself.

Craig: It actually is a very high bar.

John: All right, let’s go to a much simpler –

Jonathan: HBO movie — it’s an HBO movie.

John: Yeah. Let’s go to a much simpler one here. This is about stoned sheep. So this is a Daily Mail article by Keiligh Baker for MailOnline. So essentially what happened is a bunch of cannabis was dumped at the side of the road. A bunch of sheep ate the cannabis. They went crazy and ballistic and destructive.

Craig: Well, okay, but they didn’t so first of all –

John: Yeah, it’s a sort of false headline and I –

Craig: Yeah.

Jonathan: Of course.

Craig: It’s a classic Daily Mail.

Jonathan: Yeah.

Craig: The Daily Mail headline is a Sheep Go on Psychotic Pot Rampage and then you read the article and what happened was they were wandering. They seemed confused. One of them got into a house and pooped. [laughs]

Jonathan: And one got hit by a car.

Craig: And one got hit by a car which is the most sheep thing of all time.

Jonathan: Yeah, exactly. With all the — pot is only going to have them act more sheep.

Craig: More sheep.

John: Yeah, like –

Craig: Like enhance their natural –

Jonathan: Like we used to say when we were getting high.

Craig: — harmlessness.

Jonathan: Like let’s get sheep.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Like sheep are –

Jonathan: Sheep-faced.

John: Let’s use this is a springboard.

Craig: Sheep-faced. [laughs]

John: What is this? If someone came into the writer’s room with this idea, what might that spin into? Like what does that sort of get to?

Jonathan: You know, we would have to put it in a context of, you know, like a personal family story.

John: Yeah.

Jonathan: I mean, a Black-ish, it’s much more of a — it’s not a Black-ish story maybe, you would try to — we have, you know, a –

Craig: Not really access to sheep.

Jonathan: No real access to sheep. Tracee Ellis Ross’s character, Bow, is a doctor so maybe there’s some way in which we could find an analog where a bunch of her patients got high or something off of an anesthesia — she’s an anesthesiologist or maybe something like –

John: You have grandparents — I also feel like they’re always potentially –

Jonathan: True.

John: You know, getting into things that they shouldn’t get into.

Jonathan: I can think it could be an interesting comedy movie, again, maybe, I don’t know.

John: Craig, can kids get high on pop syrup?

Craig: No, I mean, as somebody that has written a sheep movie –

John: Yeah, he has a sheep movie in development.

Craig: It’s a sheep movie about sheep that solve — they’re detective sheep, and they solve the murder of their own shepherd. This is not how we want to see sheep. [laughs]

Jonathan: Can I throw this in? What about — and I say this because I actually — every once in a while, I would perform on Late Night with Conan O’Brien and one of the things I did was we used to do the Clutch Cargo, which is the moving lips thing, where Conan would interview Bill Clinton or Bob Dole whatever.

Craig: Yes, yes, of course.

Jonathan: And I was Dolly the cloned sheep.

Craig: Oh, yeah.

Jonathan: So what if there’s like a — because this happened over in Britain, right?

John: Yeah.

Jonathan: Swansea or something?

Craig: Yes.

Jonathan: That was in Scotland. She was a Scotland sheep.

John: Yeah, yeah.

Jonathan: And I remember trying to do a Scottish accent. “Baa, I don’t know. I recognize myself.” I was trying to like — she was basically freaking out because there were two of her.

Craig: Yeah.

Jonathan: So maybe there’s a cloning — maybe there’s some kind of high concept? I don’t know.

Craig: No. No.

Jonathan: Animated?

Craig: No. It’s just — here’s the problem.

Jonathan: Animated for adults?

Craig: Here’s the problem, sheep getting high is as funny as people getting high. People getting high is occasionally funny like back — but it used to be way funnier. Like Cheech and Chong were hysterical because getting high was transgressive.

John: I think sheep getting high is funny for a scene in another movie so like –

Craig: Right.

John: So like, oh, the sheep got high and then they like they ruin the house. That’s a moment, but it’s not a –

Craig: It’s a moment, yeah.

Jonathan: High sheep in like a DreamWorks movie, they would be like the penguins of Madagascar.

Craig: Right. But then you can’t put drugs in kid’s movies so you can’t do that, so.

John: Yeah, but they could eat like spoiled something or they eat the grass, yeah.

Craig: Or do like the fake high stuff? Like –

John: Yeah.

Craig: Oh, my God. He ate those weird flowers.

Jonathan: We did a show called Father of the Pride for DreamWorks.

Craig: I remember that one, yeah.

Jonathan: That made it for NBC. Was kind of a debacle. Like it the show about Siegfried and Roy and the white lions that worked for them.

Craig: And the Union debacle.

Jonathan: Oh, Union debacle, exactly. That was crazy and then it was physical debacle because Roy got eaten by a tiger which was terrible.

Craig: Correct.

Jonathan: It was a huge amount of money that was wasted all round. But there were some funny things and one of the things, it’s sort of a thing you would do but is that the daughter who’s a white lion — teenage daughter gets caught with catnip. So you can do catnip as a –

Craig: The fake drug, yeah.

Jonathan: The fake drug, yeah.

John: Cats on catnip. All right. Our next story is The Great Swiss Bank Heist. This is a New Yorker article by Patrick Radden Keefe. It tracks Hervé Falciani who is a worker for the Swiss Bank HSBC. He stole a bunch of data from HSBC and in the revelation of what was in the data revealed that there is a tremendous number of people hiding a tremendous amount of money. And it becomes much more complicated from that. Craig, you were the one who loved this more than anything.

Craig: Oh, yeah. So, first of all, this will absolutely be optioned by somebody if it hasn’t been optioned already.

John: Yeah. So usually whenever we do this section, one of these things absolutely becomes a movie. This is Craig’s prediction.

Craig: Somebody will — I don’t know if it will eventually become a movie. Somebody is going to buy the rights to this and here’s why. Here’s what’s boring. A guy steals a bunch of data and it’s got a bunch of information about tax dodging, whoop-dee-doo, right? They couldn’t make an interesting movie out of Julian Assange, so how are they going to make an interesting movie of this guy?

Here’s why it’s interesting. This guy is nuts, okay? This guy is amazing. He is a total psychopath, you can tell, right? Even from him talking. He invents these crazy scenarios and nobody knows if it’s true or not. So he invents a scenario where he was kidnapped by the Mossad. He invents a scenario where he wanted to get arrested because people were trying to kill him. He tells the French that he is bringing them this information out of a sense of some kind of patriotism to let them know that French people are hiding their money.

But he may only have gone to them because he couldn’t find anybody to sell this to, right? Because he was trying to sell through a woman he seduced, right? Even though he was married. This guy is a nightmare. And the character that’s unmentioned in this but the one that I would love to write because this is one of my favorite kinds of characters is — like we’ll call it the Diogenes character. Somebody who sees everything for exactly what it is and no one else does.

John: Yeah.

Craig: How frustrating that there’s this one guy who’s like, “No, this is not a hero. This is bad man who’s doing bad things.” And, you know, in a weird way, the one person that comes through like that in this article is the former mistress who’s — she’s the one saying, “Why are you all being suckered by the guy the suckered me?” [laughs]

“I’m telling you, you’re crazy.” Anyway, I love that character. I think there’s a really interesting story to tell here. It’s like I could see the trailer starting like, okay, we’re doing, it’s like we’re doing a movie about finances. It’s like we’re doing a Wall Street movie. But then, WAA-BAA. [laughs]

John: Yeah.

Craig: Crazy guy.

John: So it’s that sense of like, is he a hero? Is he a villain? It’s one charismatic guy you’re sticking at the very center of this thing and from the audience’s perspective, are we supposed to be deciding ourselves or do you think the movie has a clear take from the beginning of good guy/bad guy?

Craig: I think, ideally, we are left to decide.

John: So, it reminds me a bit of — I can’t remember the name of the movie but it’s Matt Damon and Steven Soderbergh directed it where he claimed to be like this much more important CIA figure than he actually really was and he –

Craig: Is it the Good Shepherd?

Jonathan: The Good Shepherd?

John: No, not the black and white one. This was –

Jonathan: That wasn’t black and white.

Craig: It wasn’t black and white.

John: Oh.

Craig: The Good Shepherd was about the founding of the CIA so that can’t be it.

Jonathan: Yeah, those Yale guys in the –

Craig: Oh, The Informant?

John: The Informant.

Jonathan: Oh, yeah.

John: So The Informant had like a really interesting tone where, you know, you thought Matt Damon was the character he initially portrays himself to be and then you realize like, “No, no, no. You are actually a self-deluding fraud at the heart of this.”

Craig: Right.

John: And that makes it really fascinating when you get into it. What I do like about what you’re describing, though, is it’s a way — sort of like The Big Short where you can tackle some real issues about sort of the way the wealthy hide money and sort of like how that cripples countries but actually have a story to it.

Craig: Right, exactly. Yeah.

John: A thread to follow on.

Craig: Yeah, because taxes are boring and Swiss bank accounts vaguely are boring. I mean, they’re — I mean, we’re all familiar with the phrase because of spy movies and so forth. But you’re right. I mean, this man’s insanity and his crimes, they’re not globally important. It turns out actually the boring stuff is globally important. This is a way to tell that story but at the same time show a scene where he is pulled off the street and a pillowcase put over his head, and he’s thrown into a room, and there’s two guys from the Mossad and they’re telling him that he needs to pretend to be arrested, and he needs to pretend this and triple lies and — oh, and he claims that there is a — what does he call it? The organization or the –

John: The Network.

Craig: The Network. He claims that his act of data theft was aided by a shadowy –

John: Yeah, a loose confederation of anti-tax evasion crusaders, consisting of law enforcement officers, lawyers, and spies.

Craig: Oh, bullshit, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, such bullshit and of course his former mistress says, “Yeah, that’s total bullshit. You knew the network was me and him. That was it. And, you know, why he’s doing it? Money, no big shock there.” But you see the things as like I would love to see the story that he’s telling be real and then from another perspective think, “Wait, did that happen or not?” That’s just you telling it. “Are you Keyser Soze or are you Verbal Kint? Which one are you? I can’t tell.” So I love this and somebody should be making this.

John: So Jonathan, is there any — if this comes into the room –

Jonathan: Yeah.

John: Is there any pieces of this that you say, like, “Okay, well, that’s an interesting thing we can use for our show.” Like the idea of hiding money or where people hide money or the idea of what information you reveal like, you know, Dre finds stuff out at work and has to decide — has to make a moral choice as sort of whether to reveal it, like, there’s little bits and pieces you can you use in this probably.

Jonathan: Absolutely. I mean, I think that in general, I mean, these things are — I wouldn’t call it high concept but they’re the kind of idea that can support the weight of a two-hour movie where I think the thing about a half-hour television show is it’s smaller stories that you spend a little bit more time. And, you know, characters don’t really change that much so you can’t –

Craig: Right.

Jonathan: You don’t quite have the giant crusade, like, the thing I always say about a half-hour show in a pilot, you do take your characters maybe from A to C or D in terms –

John: Yeah.

Jonathan: Of a growth but then you spend the rest of the series shuttling back and forth between A or B.

Craig: Yeah, exactly.

Jonathan: You know, and maybe at a special episode at the end of the season two, they get to C again and then they return –

Craig: But right back again.

Jonathan: Back a little bit. That’s kind of what people like in a way. So I think that it’s hard to find exactly what the father — but I will tell you a story like this will get us into — here’s what I think could absolutely happen with that story. If Kenya happened to read that and I happened to read that and a couple of other writers happened to read that. Or I said, “I want you all to read this.” It would get us into an interesting discussion that would potentially be — that I think we could do on our show which is the tendency to believe something like the Network exists or the conspiracy. Like, I was in San Diego last weekend and walked past the 9/11 truth squad –

Craig: Oh, yeah.

Jonathan: Display on Embarcadero. I walked past a Trump merchandise table which was very happily unpopulated by customers. Flags make America great again. Right near it, though, was a pretty well-attended, lots of curiosity seekers — including I saw this young black family that was listening to this guy give this crazy conspiracy that ultimately was kind of anti-Semitic about, like, Larry Silverstein, the [crosstalk] of 9/11.

Craig: And there’s a shock. And there’s the shock.

Jonathan: Yeah, exactly. And this family kind of listening and going –

Craig: Was it a black guy giving the speech?

Jonathan: No.

Craig: Because I learned this term called hotep. Have you ever heard of hotep?

Jonathan: Yes.

John: What is hotep?

Craig: Hotep is — I’m sidetracking here. Hotep is –

Jonathan: I just learned this this year.

Craig: Yeah, I literally just learned — yeah, exactly. Hotep is basically like the subculture of black men who over — they basically lecture all black people on black superiority and they’re kind of –

Jonathan: We did a hotep pop in an episode earlier this year when it was in, I forget. But it was a pop to Dre in college and he was a — he had a hotep face.

John: I didn’t know that you call those pop, so the quick cutaways where you’re in a different time period and it’s just for that one joke that’s a pop –

Craig: Hotep face.

Jonathan: Where he was talking about the, you know, the — the yeah. All this stuff.

Craig: Anyway, I learned and loved it but these people are spewing paranoid conspiracy cloning.

Jonathan: Yes, that gets me back to like where I would think we could do an episode where why a black family — a super educated black family could buy into some conspiracy stuff and I think a lot of the reason is because there has been a conspiracy against them a little bit.

Craig: Right.

John: Yeah.

Jonathan: You know, in some ways and even if it isn’t necessarily as organized a conspiracy as what these 9/11 truthers would say happened on 9/11, you know, the belief in the black community maybe that there was — that AIDS was started as, you know, that there was –

Craig: Right.

Jonathan: Cooked up in a lab and, like, why would they think that? Because the Tuskegee experiments happened, you know what I mean? There have been conspiracies and so like — and we did sort of tap this when Dre had his fear of going to the doctor and then that was amplified and completely multiplied by Dre’s dad, Laurence Fishburne’s character, absolutely wouldn’t go to a doctor. Well, we talked a little bit about why there is a little bit of sometimes mistrust of doctors in the black community or certain members of the black community. And I hesitate always to say the black community because it’s not monolithic, another thing that I’ve kind of really learned a lot by being on the show. So I think that that kind of what would make people draw to something. So I don’t know whether that’s really what that — to be honest I did not do my homework.

Craig: No.

Jonathon: I did not read the long the New Yorker piece about the Swiss Bank Heist.

Craig: Clearly. But you see how important it is –

John: Yeah.

Craig: For those of you listening at home –

John: Yeah.

Craig: To be able to think and talk on your feet when you’re completely unprepared.

Jonathan: Exactly. [laughs] That’s what I do.

Craig: That’s how you get a career in this business.

John: Yeah.

Craig: No, but –

Jonathan: You have to love to hear yourself talk about nothing.

Craig: About nothing.

Jonathan: Yes.

Craig: But you are — you are demonstrating something else other than the fact that you’re not prepared, which is that for television, for episodic, I think a lot of times the real value is some kind of underlying psychological issue that you can carry through to any character, right? So how would we deal with this interesting thing?

Whereas in film, a lot of times what you’re looking for are characters like that man to me is a movie character. And you want to try and take it — it’s like the way I would pitch that movie to studios. I want to do The Insider, but what if you cannot trust? Like what if instead or Russell Crowe’s character, it was the Joker because basically that’s what’s going on. Like who do — how do you feel about this? How do you feel — and in a weird way, it is kind of similar to the Peter Thiel thing. It’s just that it’s a much cooler story.

Because it’s not about Gawker or whatever. It’s about the Swiss Banks and billions and trillions of dollars and countries fighting. It’s like in there — if you had read the article, you would’ve seen that they sent Greece a list of — so Greece, you know, few financial problems over there. Meanwhile, they get the data and they send Greece a list of all the very, very wealthy Greek people that have hidden their money in Swiss Banks and are not paying taxes on it. And the amount of taxes that these people were not paying was the equivalent of like 10% of all the taxes that should’ve been collected there. And you know what the Greece did about it? Nothing.

They couldn’t even — then like the new guy came in and found it in a drawer and the old guy had tampered with it to remove three family member’s names from it. It was a disaster — I mean that stuff you can’t make up.

John: Good stuff.

Craig: Yeah.

John: All right, a final story. I think it’s going to fit more into the world of an episodic show. This is about the wrong grandson. So this is a story that comes from South Carolina. There will be a link in the show notes. It’s basically a 65-year-old Orangeburg County grandfather picked up the wrong son — the wrong kid at daycare. Actually the elementary school. And so, essentially, it wasn’t until he got the kid home and that someone looked at him and said like, “Wait you’re not our kid.”

And so basically the school released the wrong kid.

Craig: [laughs]

John: The granddad –

Jonathan: Absolutely an episode of television.

John: Yeah.

Jonathan: Absolutely an episode I’m doing this fall.

Craig: And a broad comedy movie.

Jonathan: Absolutely.

John: I don’t think it’s enough of a movie premise. Unless the –

Craig: I know how to do it.

John: Unless it’s Home Alone — okay, tell me.

Craig: I know how to do it. You’ve got a kid. It has to be like, you know, think of like a Dennis the Menace age kid.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And his family sucks. And they don’t understand him or at least he thinks they don’t understand him and he doesn’t like them. And his grandfather, in particular, is the worst. [laughs]

And he wants to run away. So he’s made a plan — in fact, he doesn’t even have a grandfather, right? Just his parents. They’re the worst. So he’s made a plan, “After school today, I’m running away.” And he’s about to do it when this car pulls up and this guy goes, “Get in!” [laughs]

But it’s a nice car and he’s got like McDonald’s with him. And the kid’s like, “Oh my god, that’s Stewart’s grandfather but he thinks I’m Stewart. I’m getting in. And he goes and basically lives the high life for a weekend with this guy making this guy feel like he’s the grandfather except that he isn’t. And then, you could see all sorts of interesting –

Jonathan: I could see that.

Craig: Yeah. And then, like, you know, family blah-blah-blah.

John: It writes itself. That was such a development executive pitch. Basically it’s like, yeah, do this thing and you can figure out the rest.

Craig: Family blah-blah-blah.

Jonathan: Have you seen the Mitchell and Webb thing about not that but that?

Craig: Yeah. A pebble, a penguin, a policeman –

Jonathan: No. It’s not that. It’s a guy talking about his novel.

Craig: Yeah. That’s what he’s saying. But he says, “It could be a pebble, a penguin, a policeman. All of the above, none of the above, and they are in love or they’re not in love.” That, write that. Or, don’t.

Jonathan: Or don’t. It’s hilarious. But, yes, so that could totally be a development executive’s thing — something like that. You’ll figure it out.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Jonathan: But I do think that could be an episode of television. I think you could have — I love the story. I do this story over and over, I think most shows with a strong lead are this most episodes where you have a problem, you try to solve the problem, make the problem worse. And then you solve the problem but in the way you thought you were going to solve it.

John: Yeah.

Jonathan: And it ends up kind of being a little bit of a moment of growth. So that would be the grandpa, we would have Dre or Laurence Fishburne, Anthony Anderson or Laurence Fishburne pick up the wrong kid. Try to fix it, make it worse, and then actually solve something else. Maybe not solve the real problem but solve something else getting not what he thought he wanted but what he actually needed.

John: Yeah.

Jonathan: And you can do that in a half-hour television show.

John: For sure.

Jonathan: A lot, all the time.

John: And I bet what some of the challenges as you’re breaking the story in the room is figuring out like what it’s actually really about.

Jonathan: Absolutely.

John: The premise of it is like he does this thing. But like what is that actually really about? Is it about the fear of kidnapping? Is it about the –

Jonathan: I think it could be the fear of not having enough of a connection with your grandson that you notice the difference. You notice the difference until too late.

John: Yeah.

Jonathan: So then Pops would try to fix that.

John: Yeah.

Jonathan: Or Dre would try to fix that. I was so in my own head and distracted by work that I let this kid get in my car and drove him. And all of a sudden, the police think — people are thinking I’m kidnapping the kid. And I’m not and I try to fix that. And then you overcompensate and spend too much time with your kids. And realize that the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Craig: This guy — look at this guy. [laughs]

John: This guy looks great.

Craig: He looks so confused.

Jonathan: It’s such a bummer.

John: Yeah. So what Bart Simpson would always say is like, “The only thing worse than your crappy under-parenting is your scary over-parenting.”

Jonathan: Exactly.

John: And that would be sort of the thing –

Jonathan: That would be a story I could see us doing. And that might not exactly be it but that would be what caused this problem in the first place. And you go back at the end of the third act to kind of actually address the problem in a rational way as opposed to the irrational way that you –

Craig: Right.

Jonathan: Addressed it for all of act two.

John: Cool. It’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is this graphic novel series, a series of comic books from Image Comics but they’re gathered up together in nice little books you can go buy, called Sex Criminals. I’m the last person who’s read these things. Everyone has read them. But they’re really good.

Craig: You’re not the last person.

John: So in case you have not heard about it, it’s a series by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky from 2013. They are terrific. So the basic premise to this series is that you have this young woman who when she achieves orgasm, time stops. And so she can live in this sort of glowing moment for a period of time. A sort of refractory period in which she can wander around and everything else is frozen except for her. She meets a guy who has the same ability and together they rob banks. And it is brilliantly done. It is about sort of taking control of your sexuality. They’re funny, they’re weird, they’re naughty, so you shouldn’t live them sitting out on –

Craig: I have that thing by the way.

John: Yeah. It’s amazing.

Craig: I have that.

John: [laughs] That’s why everything seems a little bit misplaced every once in a while.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah. You snuck in and done things.

Craig: I have two weird things.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I have the ability to stop time when I have an orgasm and I have the ability to just spontaneously have orgasms. So, yeah, my days are strange.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But that’s how, you know, sometimes people remark on the podcast, “Oh, Craig tends to speak in complete sentences.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: I just simply go back and stop time. I think, I write it out, I memorize it, I put it in my pocket. But, first, I have to jizz my pants. Yeah. So if it smells bleachy in here.

John: That’s what it’s for.

Jonathan: Oh.

Craig: What?

Jonathan: Oh.

Craig: It’s just — it’s biology.

John: It’s biology.

Craig: Yeah. We have dirty shows so we can do whatever we want.

John: Yeah. We can do whatever we want.

Jonathan: I took it to that. I got into it earlier on with the cream my jeans in the third row of the theater.

John: Nice.

Craig: Boom. I was also made –

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

Craig: I do.

John: That’s not your orgasm?

Craig: Well, I don’t know how to get cooler than that but I’ll try. Fallout 4, I believe, was one of my Cool Things when it came out. It’s very fun game. I don’t know if you’re a video game guy.

Jonathan: Not at all.

Craig: So big video game guy. Fallout 4 is a wonderful, huge, sandbox, open world exploration, quest-based game. And they have a new DLC for it, downloadable content, called Far Harbor. And so in Far Harbor, instead of wandering around Boston, irradiated post-apocalyptic Boston, you get to take a boat up to their version of Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park and go kill different stuff up there but always, of course, with these interesting moral dilemma storylines. They’re very good at that. Excellent. And I think it’s like 15 bucks or something and it’s another, god knows, 20-hours of game play or something, so Far Harbor –

John: Cool. What’s your One Cool Thing for us, Jonathan?

Jonathan: My One Cool Thing, this is going to sound lame, but is foreign travel now. You have to do it. We were just in Mexico. My wife and I had our 20th wedding anniversary and we took a fantastic trip to the Yucatan where I’d never been. We stayed at a great resort and it was really fun. And we took this day trip and in talking to our guides — our driver and our guide — the sort of tentativeness with which they asked about how we felt about Donald Trump made me say it’s really important right now to go and let them know that we’re not all crazy. Especially in Mexico, but I think anywhere and honestly the sort of overjoyedness with which when we said, “Oh, god, no please understand that that is something that is — not everybody is that way,” was actually kind of heartbreaking and heartwarming. So I’d say like it’s an old standby, but if you have a chance to reassure anybody –

John: Before November?

Jonathan: Before November and even after November that even if something — if he wins that he’s going to have a rough road because that’s not who we are.

Craig: I don’t think he’s going to win. I think we — I don’t think so.

Jonathan: I know, but he’s the nominee of a major party –

John. Yeah.

Craig: Kind of.

Jonathan: That has seemed to have left its senses.

Craig: Kind of. [laughs]

John: Yeah.

Jonathan: Well, I lost $500 on that with Kenya Barris, who’s a very good –

Craig: That’s the biggest problem with what happened. [laughs]

Jonathan: I lost the money.

Craig: You lost 500 bucks.

Jonathan: He took out in a thousand dollars from two writers who were both — Courtney Lily, who’s another writer on the show. We were both like, “Come on! He represents 30% of the Republican Party. Well –

Craig: Yeah, you failed to account for whom he was running against.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I could’ve been of assistance to you.

Jonathan: Yeah. I know. You should have stopped me.

Craig: I should’ve stopped –

Jonathan: Is that an okay One Cool Thing?

John: It’s a wonderful One Cool Thing.

Jonathan: It’s not a thing but it’s a thing that I think people — I’ve had a little hiatus and I’ve been — I took the opportunity to travel a little bit and it reminds me of a — it’s incumbent upon us now.

John: I’ve had the library as a One Cool Thing. So we go general sometimes.

Jonathan: Okay good.

John: Yeah, totally. That’s lovely.

Craig: Totally.

John: And that’s our show. Jonathan Groff, thank you so much for being on our show.

Craig: Thanks, Jonathan.

Jonathan: It was fantastic. Craig, John, thank you.

Craig: Our pleasure.

John: As always our show is produced by Stuart Friedel and is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week is from Adam Lastname, who does such great outros for us. We don’t know what your last name is but it’s Adam Lastname.

Craig: I’m so curious.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Doesn’t he –

John: Weirdly, that’s a thing in podcast music where people use other bizarre names. You wouldn’t think there would be a podcast music thing but there is –

Craig: There is a thing for everything.

John: There’s a is another sort of podcast band.


John: Yeah.

Craig: Is the greatest title ever. That’s amazing. [laughs]

John: If you have questions for me or for Craig on Twitter, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Jonathan Groff, are you on Twitter?

Jonathan: I’m @notthatgroff.

John: What a great handle for you.

Jonathan: Notthatgroff.

Craig: I’m going to consistent every day. I’m going to be like, “By the way, love you in Hamilton.”

Jonathan: Thank you. [laughs]

Craig: Love you so much.

John: Yeah. We haven’t even gotten into all the stuff you do on your gay HBO show, Looking. So that was really brave.

Craig: Very brave.

Jonathan: You know, it just, to me it was just a job.

John: Very good. It’s just a body. It’s the instrument that you’re given.

Craig: It’s just bodies.

Jonathan: Exactly.

John: If you have a longer question, you can write in to That’s also where you’ll find the transcript for this show in a couple of days. The 250 episode USB drives just arrived as we were recording this episode. So they should be in the store if not this week, but the next week. And if you’re on iTunes for whatever reason, please leave us a review because it helps people find our show. Thank you all much.

Thank you, Jonathan.

Jonathan: Thanks.

John: Bye.


A Writer’s Guide to Allies

Thu, 06/09/2016 - 12:56

On Scriptnotes, we often talk about heroes and villains. In episode 252, we discussed allies, and the different types of relationships between two characters.

What is the point of an ally in narrative?

  1. Characters advance their interests through allies.
  2. Characters learn about themselves through allies.
  3. Characters suffer pain for the wrong rewards.
  4. Allies define the incorrectness of a character’s starting point, and the correctness of their arrival point.
  5. Allies are more subtle and universal than enemies.

In real life, few people have villains that must be vanquished to save the day. But everyone has friends — and friends can be tricky, tricky things.

Allies should theoretically be capable of being heroes — except in feature films, they can’t. Rather –

  1. They need to illuminate the hero without pulling focus.
  2. They need to challenge the hero without becoming the villain.
  3. They serve as a proxy for the audience, asking our questions, sharing our fears.

There’s not much to learn from “we have to stop the evil genius before he blows up the world.” But drama, both in the real world and in fiction, comes from interaction with characters who are theoretically on our side.

Craig had a bunch of examples from Game of Thrones, some of which we didn’t have time to explore on the show. So here’s his complete list.

Marriage of convenience
We don’t like each other, but we need each other

Jon Snow and Tormund

Unrequited love
Jorah Mormont and his Khaleesi

Misplaced faith
Cersei and the High Sparrow
Sansa and Joffrey

The Three-Eyed Raven and Bran
Tywin and Tyrion

Jamie and Cersei Lannister

Disciple and prophet
The Faceless Man and Arya Stark

Manipulator and Manipulated
Littlefinger and Lysa Aryn

Sparring Partner
Tyrion and Varys

Animal loyalty
Hodor and Bran

Bad for each other
Jon Snow and Ygritte

Alpha and Beta
Jon Snow and Sam
Yara and Theon

Robb and Catelyn Stark

Master and slave
Ramsay Bolton and Reek

Bound by honor
Brienne and Sansa

You could argue with any of these categorizations. The point is that characters can be related in many ways other than the simple hero/villain paradigm.

Television Economics for Dummies

Tue, 06/07/2016 - 08:03

Jonathan Groff — the Black-ish writer/producer, not the actor — joins John and Craig to explain the new vocabulary of television and why companies are all about ownership.

Then it’s another round of How Would This Be a Movie (or an episode of network comedy). We tackle Peter Thiel, Swiss banks, psychotic sheep, and absent-minded grampas.

Our track record of predicting which of these ideas will go into development has been quite good. Let us know what you think on our Facebook page or Twitter.


You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 252: An Alliance with House Mazin — Transcript

Thu, 06/02/2016 - 15:01

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 252 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast, it’s another craft episode. In the past we’ve looked at heroes, we’ve looked at villains. This time we’re looking at allies and the discussion will be led by Sir Craig of House Mazin.

Craig: So excited. So excited to the return of House Mazin on Game of Thrones.

John: So this was the Hodor episode. And some people were very excited about Hodor’s backstory and Hodor’s disappearance from the show, but we were, of course, most excited by the return of House Mazin.

Craig: Yeah. I actually call it the House Mazin show, in which also something happened with Hodor. Crucial moment. Crucial moment where Sir Davos, he’s looking at the map and figuring out how many people they can rally to Jon Snow’s side. And obviously House Mazin, the most important house in the north. Why there’s a Jewish house in North Westeros? I don’t know.

John: It’s a fantasy world.

Craig: You know, that’s the thing about my name. It actually is a weird… — You know, Rob McElhenney, who is the creator and star of Always Sunny in Philadelphia, he wanted to name the villain — he’s working on a Minecraft movie.

John: All right.

Craig: And he wanted to name the villain Mazin after me, because it’s a good villain name, too.

John: It is a good villain name, sure.

Craig: But they were like, uh, I guess the problem was that there are other Mazin’s out there. Apparently they couldn’t clear it. Yes.

John: Disappointing.

Craig: But like if my last name were Greenberg, there would be no House Greenberg.

John: I was watching the scene, this is midway through the episode, and I haven’t gone back to look at the episode to see whether they actually said the name on camera, of it it’s like a looping line that got slipped in there.

Craig: I think it was, well, I don’t know if it was a looped line, but they definitely played it over I think an insert of the map. But someone took a screen cap from the closed captioned version and there’s House Mazin spelled correctly.

John: Fantastic. I’m so excited. So, that was probably what prompted you to think of this episode about allies and alliances, because that’s what they’re discussing when your name was brought up.

Craig: Correct. And when we get into it, you’ll see that Game of Thrones is incredibly useful because there are so many relationships.

John: There are.

Craig: And every relationship is defined as either an allegiance or as some kind of hero/villain situation, or conflict. So, we have so many different kinds, so we can illustrate so many different kinds with Game of Thrones. But, I suppose first we have follow-up.

John: We do. So Emily from Sydney, Australia wrote in to say, “I just wanted to write in to say that the transcript of high quality audio with only two voices, no background noise, is fairly easy and very cheaply done by computers, so it probably isn’t done by child labor or exploitation.” Which is something that we brought up last time. I didn’t know how our transcripts were done. Emily seems to think that it’s probably done by computer transcription.

She continues with, “My mother is a lecturer at a university and likes to read transcripts of her lectures from previous sessions, so she can easily revise. So I’ve gone very deep into computer transcription world.” She says, “I’d also like to thank you for providing the transcripts and just all your other efforts to be inclusive as possible on the podcast.”

Craig: Well, thank you very much, Emily. But you have raised a matter of concern. [laughs]

John: All right.

Craig: Because, again, I feel like, all right, you know, John, he’s collecting money from tee-shirts, USB drives. “Oh, well, you know, we have to pay for the transcripts.” Oh, apparently, according to Emily from Sydney — from Sydney.

John: Sydney.

Craig: It’s cheap.

John: Maybe Stuart needs to reevaluate how much we’re paying our transcript person. The transcript person who is typing up the words that I’m talking right now. See, that’s the whole thing. You know, if it’s a computer, who knows, maybe the computer is the person who is typing up these words.

Craig: Right. The computer wouldn’t find any irony in just repeating TRANSCRIPT, TRANSCRIPT, TRANSCRIPT.

John: So, I do know how much I pay Stuart, and I can tell you with absolute certainty that this podcast does not make enough money to pay for Stuart’s salary. So, there’s that.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Bit of brightness.

Craig: Well, I suppose we’ll just have to eliminate some salary from Stuart. I mean, listen, [laughs]…

John: Craig is volunteering to do the hard work of transcripts.

Craig: Oh, no. No, no. No, no, no. I’m the talent.

John: Oh, that’s right. Talent doesn’t do that.

Craig: No.

John: No. I should say that some people don’t know we have transcripts. So, basically when an episode goes up on Tuesday, on you’ll see the blog post that has the episode and has the audio for the episode. But usually by Wednesday, Thursday, definitely by Friday, that same post will have a new link added that says “This is the transcript.” And click through to that, and you’ll get the full transcript of everything we are saying.

Craig: Fantastic. Shall I read some more follow-up?

John: Please.

Craig: Bretton Zinger. That’s an — oh, god, I wish my name were Bretton Zinger.

John: Yeah.

Craig: House Zinger.

John: House of Zinger. House Zinger. Come on.

Craig: House Zinger.

John: What would their little sigil be? Like what would their symbol be on their shields?

Craig: It would be a guy making like a pointing like Zing! Bretton Zinger, oh, so good, Bretton Zinger writes, “In Episode 250, The One with the Austin Winner, the script you read contained the following: INT. DC METRO STATION. NIGHT. The cavernous dome thoroughfare stands eerily still. It’s beyond late. The midnight train long emptied.”

Bretton continues, “The script is set in 1950. The DC Metro system did not open until 1976. Based on the description here and later, I believe that the writer, Amanda Morad, is actually referring to DC’s Union Station where Amtrak is located rather than a Metro station, which is the subway station, though both have domed thoroughfares.

“When describing real cities, landmarks, et cetera, how much fudging do you think is acceptable? I know writers can do whatever they want, and that good writing always trumps everything else. But how much do you worry about the audience or readers calling BS on something you include?”

John: Well, I think it’s a good point about Amanda’s script, and also a good question overall. So, in terms of Amanda’s script, I think that was actually probably a mistake. I think it would be better to actually make that correctly Union Station, if that’s what would actually be there in the 1950s. But it doesn’t really mess me up as a read. I don’t think of it as a different thing because of a Metro station versus Union Station.

So, for Amanda I would say it would be great if she swapped that out for Union Station, just for accuracy and authenticity. But in terms of overall, I think readers have to understand that we’re writing for the ability to create a picture in your head of what things are. And that’s why we’re not so necessarily accurate about geographic locations, about sort of how things fit. You’ll find in movies people can get across the city much more quickly than they really could. And that’s just the nature of moviemaking.

Craig: Yeah. You’re always allowed to do anything in your screenplay that a director can do when they’re shooting the movie, right? You can elide time and elide distance. Chop up the shoe leather. I do agree though, I’m a stickler for getting things right if I’m putting them in. So, yeah, she wants to change this for sure. The one thing you definitely can’t do is put something in where there is not a substitute for it. So, for instance, if Amanda had — here she simply makes a mistake, and so she can switch the stations and she’s fine. But, let’s say there were no stations like that in 1950. That’s a problem.

And so you do want to get things as right as you can. I get a little crazy about it. I actually, I was writing a scene yesterday that takes place in the ’80s and on a certain day in the ’80s. And I wanted to know what the face of the moon was that night. And I was kind of hoping it would be full. And it was almost full.

Because, of course, you can go on the Internet and type in any day and they’ll tell you what the moon was doing that day. And in what time zone.

John: That’s lovely. I will say that what tends to be more important than being completely accurate is feeling accurate, feeling true. And sometimes one of the things you bump into as a writer is what is actually true doesn’t feel true. And, you know, if you’re basing something on historic event, things could happen a certain way and you won’t actually believe they can happen that way in the course of a narrative film. And so sometimes you have to find ways to either really hang a lantern on like this is how it actually happened, or you have to move things around in a way that makes the simplest believable version of what it is that you want to convey.

Craig: Yeah. I actually think it’s a gift sometimes when true life seems unbelievable, because it gives you as an opportunity for somebody to say, in the movie, “I don’t believe that.”

John: Yeah. One of the things I really liked about The Big Short is there’s moments where characters will turn to camera and say like, “Okay, this didn’t actually happen this way,” and sort of really explain it. But in their explanation you see like it’s actually even kind of crazier than what we’re doing right here. And that was a good shorthand they were able to do. Most people will not be able to do that in their movies.

Craig: Yeah. I moderated a discussion at the Guild with Adam McKay and his cowriter on Big Short and we talked about that a bit. And he said the one where Ryan Gosling turns to the camera and says, “I would never be caught dead in a club like this. This isn’t where we were when this happened,” happened because the person that that guy was who read the script and had to approve that his name be used and all that, he said, “I would never…”

His exact words. And so they were like, well, can we do what you just said in the movie? And he’s like, “Um, okay.”

John: Nice. Let’s skip ahead from some questions and get right to the meat of this, because I’m desperate to see what you want to say about allegiances and alliances.

Craig: Allegiances. Well, enemies are easy to do, I think, because, you know, we understand what’s going on there. Things are well defined. We have instant conflict. Friends are hard. And a lot of times I will read a screenplay where friends or alliances, partners, are bland. Because they are lacking conflict, and I think is something that people make a mistake about — the idea that an ally is an absence of conflict. Or an ally means a resolved relationship.

Quite the opposite is true.

John: Yeah. So often I will read these scripts where it feels like that character is just there to sort of set the balls so the other character can spike it. And they have no life independent of that main character. And there’s no friction between them and the main character at all, or they just have good-natured barbs to each other that doesn’t help us at all.

Craig: Exactly. And that, unfortunately, counters the whole point of what an allegiance is. So, let’s go to the fundamentals. Why do we even need allies in movies? And these seem like crazy questions to ask because, you know, why do we need allies in life and we like movies where people are doing stuff together. But it’s good to ask why, because it helps, I think, lead you to the path of writing good versions of these things.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So, the point of allegiance in narrative. Some general notions of it. Individual characters are trying to advance their own selfish interests through relationships that help them do so. Similarly, characters will learn about themselves through their relationships that are not defined by conflict relationships, but allegiances.

One thing that allies help characters do is suffer pain for the wrong rewards, because friends will get you to do things sometimes and then you find out, oh, I shouldn’t have gone along with that. There are things friends can do in this regard that help characters see themselves much, much better. And, of course, an allegiance helps the screenwriter define what’s wrong about where a character is in the beginning of a movie. And then also helps them define what’s right at the end.

John: Great. So, let me try to go back through these four points you just made and see if I can restate them in ways that might anchor them in sort of experience of what you sort of see in a movie? So, characters advance their interests. So, it gives a character the ability to express what they’re after, and it gives another person that the hero can express what they’re actually going after, but more interestingly, the character who is the other part of the alliance, they have their own wants and needs. And so those conflicting wants and needs are the source of tension and also provide propulsion within a scene.

If you have one character who wants something, and another character is just there to listen to it, that’s not a good scene. But if we can see that two characters have different wants within a scene, there is some tension there and there is some — there’s a reason for that scene to be there.

Craig: Yeah. It also helps your character as they’re going for something that is maybe just for them, they have to do it through the prism of a relationship with another person, which is vastly more interesting to us. Even in movies where people are really alone on purpose, they’re not alone. This is why you had to have Wilson, you know. You need a relationship. We lose sight of what a person is going through if it’s not understood through that interpersonal connection.

John: Let’s get to your point about suffering pain for the wrong reasons, or for the wrong rewards. So, this is the case where it lets you put your hero, your protagonist, in a situation where they’re trying to do something which isn’t necessarily even something they believe, but they are doing it because of a relationship. They’re doing it because they promised their wife they would do this. Because they want to look better in the eyes of this other person.

There’s a reason why they’re doing it which is not a purely selfish reason. It is a bigger reason. And sometimes they’re willing to do things they wouldn’t do for themselves for other people. And that can be great for both comedy and for drama.

Craig: Exactly. That there’s something about your friend, your partner, your ally that gets you into trouble. We all have that experience. Every single one of us has had that friend that got us into trouble. And that’s the best kind of trouble. It’s so much more interesting when your friends get you into trouble, I think.

John: Absolutely. And so also your friends who can point out where you are starting. They’re the people who can put words to what your starting situation is, but hopefully if you’re trapped with this other character through the whole story, they’re the ones who can tell you, oh, you know what, you actually got there. And you sort of function as a proxy throughout it and say like, “Oh, I see what’s wrong with you here and you actually did this thing that is very good for you to do.”

Without that character there to clock that, you don’t have the sense of accomplishment, the sense of reward at the end of the movie.

Craig: That’s right. And sometimes the disruption or disillusion of one allegiance and the creation of another, in and of itself, is a signifier that you’ve done it. You know? So, the bad one leaves you and the good one returns.

John: Let’s talk about the experience of allegiances, because very few of us in our life have enemies, but we all have allegiances. So, do you want to dig into sort of what the realities of having allegiances in real life are?

Craig: Well, if you have an enemy, there’s a clear state. And there’s not a lot of ambiguity. I don’t like you. Here’s why.

So, Ted Cruz, very clean relationship for me. I do not like him, right? There’s no confusion. There’s no ambiguity. And I’m also not challenged internally in any way by that. It’s nice and easy.

Friends, much harder. Friendship cuts to the heart of all, I think, of our innate human flaws. Because friendship is asking us to do things that go against the selfish gene sometimes. Being friends, having an allegiance, implies honesty, loyalty, self-sacrifice, even love. And these are the things that people find hard to do. Even when they’re trying to make an allegiance with themselves.

John: What I also find in the real world is I am a different person to some different people. And my relationships from my high school friends, to my work friends, to my people in other parts of my life, I’m a different person with them. I’m not a completely different person, but what’s important to me about the relationship is so very different. So, my relationship with my housekeeper is very different than my relationship with you.

And so, you know, I’m talking about different things, but I’m also presenting myself in a very different way. And so in narratives, the allegiances you show onscreen let you see different sides of a person that you would not otherwise be able to see.

Craig: That’s right. They also let you see people struggle to be good. And we don’t really believe in characters that are just good. We have them, but when we have them, they are rarely the protagonist. They’re usually some kind of rainmaker that comes in to enlighten us all, you know, like K-PAX, or Starman, or Jesus Christ.

Or, Elwood Dowd in Harvey, right? But it’s the people that are struggling to the right thing that are interesting. And so they’re struggling to maintain these allegiance. The boyfriend is leaving and the girlfriend doesn’t want to lose him, but doesn’t know how to keep him. That’s an interesting allegiance that’s falling apart, and she’s trying. We like that sort of thing.

I mean, when you look at a movie like The Avengers, what’s more interesting, the relationships between the heroes and the villains, or the relationships between the heroes and the heroes?

John: Absolutely. If you look at the most recent Avengers: Captain America movie, that is based around entirely those relationships. Those people who are neither your friends, nor your enemies, because of the complicated situation you find yourself in. And so when you have Iron Man facing off against Captain America, you are fascinated because you can see from both sides. You know the depth of the relationship between those two, and yet they’re also kicking the crap out of each other. That is fascinating. And that’s a thing I think that they were able to do brilliantly in this most recent incarnation is really dig into what it’s like to be fighting someone who you have a relationship with who’s not purely a villain.

Craig: Exactly. Because, we actually spend most of our time fighting with our friends. Very rarely do we fight with enemies, and the reason why is they’re not near us. We avoid them. But we don’t avoid our friends. We don’t avoid our spouses. We don’t avoid our children. We don’t avoid our business partners. We are constantly with our allies. And so naturally that’s where the most interesting fights happen.

John: Yeah. Because you would not choose to be around those enemy figures. And you’re getting as far away as possible from them. So, all those tensions that come out, which should be there, can erupt. And that can be the source of drama.

Craig: You know that super hacky line, “After all, you and I, we are not so different.”

John: Ugh.

Craig: Right? The worst villain line ever that just shows up over and over. That is just a very clunky overdone way of trying to say, “Look, even though I’m your enemy, we could be friends in some other world. There’s some connection between us that is almost like an allegiance.”

Where it happens best is when you have enemies and heroes that you believe actually, if not for a slight flick of fate, could be allies. Batman and the Joker are a fascinating partnership. They do feel more in a weird way like allies, even while they’re fighting, because of that strange notion of similarity.

John: Absolutely. Without the other person, they would sort of cease to exist. And Batman without Gotham City and without the crime of Gotham City, what would Batman be? And if Joker succeeded in killing Batman, would he be happy? Hard to say.

Craig: Exactly. And so in a weird way there, and that’s why maybe the finest of these Batman stories, The Killing Joke, which they are animating, and it looks wonderful, and Joker voiced by Mark Hamill, the greatest Joker of all time, I will say. That’s what that is about. It’s entirely about we love each other, in the strangest way. We do. We love each other.

So, we can talk a little bit about different kinds of allegiances that exist.

John: Let’s go through it. I see you have a whole sort of hierarchy built around Game of Thrones, and the kinds of patterns that characters find themselves in. So, I think it’s important to note with Game of Thrones is that because it’s a big giant soap opera, you can’t say like this character is the hero and this character is a villain. Everybody has their own motivations. And so each character in this relationship is sort of equal parts.

And so let’s go through Game of Thrones. Let’s also save some time and talk about movies which tend to have a central character and a character who is not a central character and sort of what’s different.

Craig: Sure. So, these are all allegiances. Sometimes they will sound like they’re not, but they are. They function essentially as two people — I guess I would define as an alliance or an allegiance is when two characters are operating toward the same goal.

So, the most common kind of shaky allegiance you’ll see in anything, movies or television, is the marriage of convenience. Essentially, we don’t like each other, but we need each other. That is essentially every buddy film you’ve ever seen.

John: Every film in which two characters are handcuffed together for some strange reason.

Craig: Correct. Or, in the case of Game of Thrones, Jon Snow and Tormund. Tormund is the best. So, there you have Jon Snow. He’s a member of the Night’s Watch. And you have Tormund, who is a leader of the –

John: Wildlings.

Craig: Yeah. The Wildlings. And they are historical enemies. They hate each other. But the two of them need to work together because they’re facing a larger common enemy, which are the White Walkers. So, marriage of convenience.

John: I’m recognizing as we’re about to go through this whole Game of Thrones thing is that most people’s experience with Game of Thrones is probably my experience with Game of Thrones, where I kind of know some character’s names, but I mostly like point and say, “That guy.”

Craig: Oh, well Tormund is the big redheaded Wildling dude.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And he’s the one who has the Brienne fetish with chicken.

Craig: Yeah. He’s totally into Brienne.

John: Nice. Next up. What kind of pattern next?

Craig: Well, here’s a great one. Unrequited love. And this is a tragic one. Now, you may think, well, if someone is pining for somebody else, how is that an allegiance? Well, it is because the person who’s pining typically will do whatever they need to do to get the person to return the love. Which means they’ll help them.

And in the case of Game of Thrones, we have Jorah Mormont and his lovely Khaleesi.

John: Yeah. Daenerys Targaryen.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So, in the case of — we can clearly see what he’s in it for. On her side, she can use him to do anything, but she also has a responsibility to him, and that’s a thing we saw in the House of Mazin episode, where she felt the responsibility of having this person who was so drawn to her. It strikes me that actually all of these relationships we’re talking about, it’s sort of like gravity. Like you have two items that have their own gravity and they’re sort of circling each other. And that’s really what you see in allegiances.

It’s two characters caught in each other’s gravity. And having to decide what they’re going to do with each other and for each other as they’re sort of doing this dance around each other.

Craig: That’s a great analogy. And to dig even deeper into it, the gravity has to kind of be in a weird stasis, right? Like the way the moon is around the earth. Too close, boom. Too far, wee. Right? So, and that can happen. But, when it happens, that’s how you end relationships. That’s how you end alliances, by people disappearing from your life, walking away from you. Or, from a collision that’s so emotional or the circumstances are so significant that you hate each other.

John: Yeah. Those high school romances that burn far too hot, and then they just completely flare out.

Craig: God.

John: Oh, I remember those.

Craig: Ugh, me too.

Here’s one: misplaced faith.

John: Sure.

Craig: So this shows up a lot. People are devoted to somebody out of some sense of follow the leader. In this case in Game of Thrones, we have Cersei and the High Sparrow. She kind of puts her faith into him, although really she was hoping for something else. But maybe a better look of it is Sansa and Joffrey. She believes, she has faith, that Joffrey is going to be a good king who will love her and be a great guy and he’ll make her the queen. There’s faith involved in this. There’s an aspirational element to it. If I just stick with this person, and give them all of my belief, I know that blankety-blank-blank-blank.

John: Well, it’s also a sunk cost fallacy. And so you have Sansa, oh, actually I’m thinking Cersei. But there is that sense of like I’ve invested this much time in the relationship. And so therefore I’m going to see this relationship through or else.

Craig: Yeah. Exactly. I mean, you’re in for a penny, in for a pound. By the way, you see this in life all the time. It is very hard for people to say that they’re wrong. It’s incredibly hard for them to say that they’re wrong after they insisted they were right a lot. When other people were saying they were wrong. That’s the toughest one. Because there’s a certain humiliation to it.

And, of course, then that is an example of a kind of allegiance that almost always ends with some sort of Ka-boom, Wee, because it is not stable. It’s not stable.

What is a very stable one, though, is the parent-child allegiance. So, in Game of Thrones, you have the Three-Eyed Raven and Bran. You have Tywin Lannister and Tyrion, which is a bad version of it. And even though that one ends poorly, you can see that at least it lasted for a good chunk of Tyrion’s life.

Parent-child is sometimes a biological parent and child. Sometimes it’s Yoda and Luke. But it is a pretty strong allegiance. It’s an allegiance of either blood or a sense that you are going to replace me.

John: Yeah. Now, there are some — what’s fascinating about Game of Thrones, and I think a lot of good dramas, is sometimes it’s kind of unclear what type of relationship these characters are supposed to be in. So, you look at Arya and sort of her assassin training. What is her relationship with that dude? Like the faceless guys? Is it a parent-child relationship? Is it sort of a mentor relationship? It’s not really clear whether he cares for her at all. And it’s not clear whether she cares for him at all.

The same thing when she was traveling with the Mountain. [sic] You don’t know sort of what the boundaries of this relationship are. And this is partly what forms the conflict and the tension and the friction and all the delight within the scenes. These characters are trying to figure out who they are to each other.

Craig: Exactly. You can change the nature of the allegiance depending on the circumstances involved. For instance, take Arya Stark and the faceless man. When she meets him initially, he’s a guy trapped in a thing and she saves him. Then, he offers her something in exchange. He’ll kill three people for him.

Their friendship became almost like a buddy comedy there. And he was in her debt. And it was cute. It was actually kind of cute. And then it became something else. Now, you know, I would describe it more like disciple and prophet. There is somebody who can do things that are supernatural, and she now is training with him to do those supernatural things, to get the power that he has.

John: And certainly like Luke’s experience with Ben Kenobi in the first Star Wars tracks sort of that experience. Where like this is a person who is teaching you in these mystical ways, and yet is a very hard mentor. Then becomes a much more difficult mentor with Yoda in the second movie. There’s a track for that. What’s so unnerving and unsettling about Arya’s situation is we’re not sure he’s a good guy. And that’s a large part of the tension there.

Craig: Well, yeah. This is something that Game of Thrones generally does well. And I always tip my hat to Dan and Dave, but I also — after this last episode really just reminded myself to tip my hat to George Martin, because he is the one who thinks ahead on this Hodor thing. And he comes up with these remarkable characters that oftentimes you do both hate and love at the same time.

It’s pretty amazing, like the faceless man is a good guy, and definitely a bad guy. He’s a murderer. For money. So, bad guy.

And these allegiances don’t have to be fun. There’s codependency.

John: Yes.

Craig: Codependency is an incredibly powerful kind of allegiance. Do you know — have you ever met couples, usually married, where it seems like they’re in their own cult?

John: Oh, for sure.

Craig: Yeah? And no one can get in. And it’s just like they whisper to each other a lot. And they’re just like only into each other. And it’s not like they just met. And if one doesn’t like somebody, the other one is not allowed to like that one either. Codependency.

John: It’s really crazy. And sometimes they are literally kind of in that cult where like they only listen to the same talk radio programs. They have one brain. And I’ve met some of those couples that have then later divorced, and both of those sides were just crazy afterwards.

Craig: Right. And in part because what you’re looking at there are two people that are missing something and the other person is giving it to them. And that’s a very powerful bond, but it’s also very disruptive to any kind of sense of being a better person.

So, in Game of Thrones, is there anything more codependent than Jamie and Cersei Lannister, the incestuous twins, who are just bad for each other.

John: Yeah. They are. And they’re bad for each other in a way that actually kick-starts the entire saga of Game of Thrones. Their lovemaking is what sends Bran flying off the tower. And so if they hadn’t been so messed up for each other, there wouldn’t be most of the drama we see.

Craig: That’s actually kind of an interesting idea of just what Game of Thrones would be like, how boring of a show it would be, if that were just — then it’s just mostly like meetings of the small council.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. [laughs] I would watch it.

John: Bureaucracy of Thrones.

Craig: Exactly. Anyway, we have a bunch more of these. I have a bunch more. But rather than belabor them all, I’m just going to pick out a couple of my favorites. Animal loyalty. I like it in movies and shows when there’s a character who is — and they’re always a side character, they’re always fairly minor — but they are defined by their dog-like loyalty to another person. It is completely irrational and it is totally unquestionable. There is comfort in knowing that of all the twists and turns that narrative can throw at you, that one thing will never twist or turn.

So, in The Godfather, Luca Brasi, he’s — that’s pure loyalty. He will never turn on you. And he will do whatever you ask him to do. And similarly in Game of Thrones, Hodor.

John: Hodor. You separated out Hodor’s sort of dedication to Bran from Brienne’s dedication to Sansa, which I think is actually smart. Because Hodor, he’s that dog that will just keep following you around, and nothing will ever dissuade that dog from following you. Brienne, she’s really sort of bound to herself in a way. She’s bound to own oath. And that is what is making her stick with Sansa.

And while she would do anything for Sansa, she’s really kind of doing it for herself. It’s a strange thing that happens there.

Craig: There’s a sense — some characters have a strong sense of honor or a strong code. And when they find somebody that allows them to indulge their code, and allows them to fulfill their purpose, that is a very strong allegiance.

But, if the person they are serving fails to meet the ideals of their code, then they are no longer serving the purpose, and then the allegiance breaks.

John: Yeah. So, you single out a couple other ones. Let’s just highlight them here. You certainly have the Oedipal pull between Robb and Catelyn Stark, which was just strange. I loved seeing it, but I was never quite clear what was going on. You have the master and his slaves. You have Ramsey Bolton and Reek, which is just so messed up.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And you want to say it’s codependent, but it’s not even that. It’s the desire to destroy another person and sort of reforge them in a different light. And it’s just taken to such an extreme in the example of Ramsey.

Craig: And then you can also get into the mindset of the abused. So, when his sister comes to rescue him, we understand why he acts in accordance with his allegiance with his master, Ramsey. Because in his mind we have now come to understand — it’s the strangest thing, to identify with a slave, because of the suffering and torment they have endured.

John: You know, what’s fascinating about the Ramsey character is there’s no one — I guess there is the girl he kind of liked who got thrown off the wall. But like you don’t see him with anyone else who is sort of on his side. Everyone else is just a puppet that he’s using.

And you feel like if you could stick him in a room by himself for a week, he would go insane, and would not be able to function anymore.

Craig: Yeah. There’s a reason why he — I mean, if you think about what he does to the character of Theon, it required an enormous amount of thought, planning, personnel, creativity. You know, like he actually had to sit and think like, “What would be the most screwed up thing I could do now?” And that implies a need.

There’s no reason for him to do all of that, unless there’s some need, which means he gets something from it. And I find that fascinating.

John: Yeah. So, this is Game of Thrones. So, Game of Thrones is a huge universe with a lot of characters, and each character theoretically can take the narrative off in their own direction. And so every character in Game of Thrones basically has storytelling power. There can be scenes just with them.

But when we’re going back to feature films, you tend to have — well, you have a hero, you have a protagonist. You have a central character. You have some sort of opposing force — an antagonist, a villain. And then you have allies. You have people who are there who function in ways like we’re describing here, but they don’t have their own storytelling power. They generally can’t drive scenes by themselves.

And it’s this weird thing in movies I find where you sort of want those characters to feel like, oh, they could take control of the movie by themselves, except they can’t. And so you’re deliberately sort of building the system in a way so the audience never feels like I want to see that character run off and take control of the narrative, because that’s not how it’s going to work. You still want your hero to be the person in charge.

So, what’d different about these allies in movies is they need to be able to illuminate aspects of the hero, the protagonist, without pulling focus. They can’t be so mesmerizing, attractive, fascinating that we stop focusing on our hero.

And that’s a thing you’ll often find where it feels like the minor characters run away with it. That’s what happens. A lot of times you’ll see in the animated films where they’ll go through the scratch reels and say like, “Oh, we’ve got a big problem. The sidekick is stealing the movie. Maybe we should make the movie about the sidekick?”

And that’s a thing you have to worry about in movies is making sure that your actual hero/protagonist is really at the center of the story. And is the reason why you’re wanting to watch this story.

Craig: Right. The people around your protagonist should express their allegiance to the protagonist in ways that hopefully add into the hero’s character by the end. You know, so you’ve got this woman and she’s a bit of a broken mirror. And she meets people along the way that are pieces of it, she just doesn’t realize. And each one of them, each one of their stories and their relationships with her should start to put her back together in a way that allows her finally at the end to say, “Oh, I know what I am. I am remade. And now let me do a thing.”

John: Yeah. I’m looking back at sort of the in-depth things we’ve done on movies in the past. So we’ve looked at Ghost, we looked at Raiders, we looked at Little Mermaid. In each of those cases, sometimes like Ghost is sort of a two-hander, like Demi Moore’s character almost has sort of full storytelling power there. But in each of those cases, those supporting characters have to be great, they have to be funny, they have to be wonderful, and they can’t pull us away from what we are actually focusing on which is what is the quest of our main character, and what is he or she trying to do.

Craig: Yeah. The function, it’s so true, the function of allegiances in movies is vastly different from television. Because, they aren’t designed to go on and on forever. They’re actually designed to resolve. So, it’s the difference between a very slow burning fuse and kind of a bomb, you know. So, movie relationships are more like grenades. They go off and then there’s a lot of noise and confusion, and then things settle down quickly and are resolved.

And so you have to think about your friendships in movies in a much different way than you do… — It’s one of the, you know, writing this miniseries, it’s been fun to extend the nature of some of these relationships, even though they too must end. They’re not designed to spool out forever. But it’s been fun.

John: Yeah. The last thing I’ll say is in movies these alliances, these supporting characters, they’re there often to serve as a proxy for the audience. They’re asking the questions that the audience would want to ask. They are helping you feel about the hero the way that these characters feel about the hero. They are the person who lets you into the world of the movie, so you could look at the hero the same way they are looking at the hero.

And it’s one of the reasons why some of the movies I have done have been incredibly difficult because they don’t have that single hero. So, I’m thinking about the Charlie’s Angels movies, which are actually weirdly the most difficult movies to write, because you have three heroes that have their own relationships with each other, and have their own relationships with Bosley, who have their own relationships with the villain. And all of the other supporting characters. It’s just a tremendous amount to try to manage and a tremendous amount to try to manage within scenes that actually have to have plot.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Big Fish –

Craig: Yeah, I mean, those team movies kind of feature the allegiance as the hero.

John: Yep.

Craig: Right? So there’s no one Charlie’s Angel that is the hero hero. It’s the team. Right? And the idea that they come together and fight together. I mean, there’s always going to be one that’s got slightly more, you know, but yeah, that is tricky. Because that relationship — it’s hard to tell those stories without falling into a very well-worn rut in the road. We break up. We’re jealous of each other and blah, blah, blah, we get back together. You know.

John: Yeah. Big Fish was the other example of a very difficult sort of relationship movie, because the relationship between the father and the son is the center of the movie, and yet the father and the son are not onscreen together a lot. I mean, we’re seeing the younger version of the father. We’re seeing the Ewan McGregor version of the father and his life. But we’re also trying to see the story from the point of view of Will, the grown son.

And trying to set up that story in a way that you understand both character’s relationship, that you invest in both of the character’s relationship, and understand the conflict is really challenging. And that’s because they both have very legitimate points. They both have very legitimate needs. And they have this gravity that is sort of destructive to both of them.

Craig: Yeah, that kind of destructive gravity to me is fun. That’s where things get interesting. To me, the most fun of writing on the Hangover movies was writing bad allegiances. I mean, they were just — it was just bad friendships from start to finish. These guys were bad for each other. One of them seemed to know it. You know, like that was — Ed Helms’ character Stu, he understood that this was — particularly Alan, Zach’s character, was just a bad friendship that would lead to no good things.

And, yet, without that he doesn’t necessarily win the respect of the father of the woman he loves. And then in the last movie, it really was about the end of that. It was basically how do we take this character, who is obsessed with his friendship, his allegiance with these guys. How do we take him on a journey where they basically say to him at the beginning there’s something wrong with you, and he denies it. And then get to the end where he says, “I’m okay to leave you now.”

And so, again, it was all about managing allegiances. I think they’re the most interesting relationships that you can have. Weirdly more interesting to me than standard romances, where you’re just waiting for the people to kiss. And they’re more interesting to me than hero/enemy, where it’s like I hate you, I hate you, blah, blah, blah.

Friendships are tricky, in our lives, and in television shows and in movies. That’s where I think the fun is.

John: Very nice. Cool. All right. Let’s answer a few questions from our listeners and see how much time we have left here. Josh in New York writes, “This year a film by Asghar Farhadi played at Cannes named The Salesman. The film takes its title from Miller’s Death of a Salesman, published in 1949. The film directly references the play, showing the two lead characters, both actors, exchanging dialogue as Willy and Linda Loman. How much published material of that kind can you reference in a screenplay? I’m working on a story that involves the cast and production of Tennessee Williams’ Streetcar Named Desire. And only attempting to reference material in a couple of scenes. Is this doable?

“I’m assuming there’s copyright laws at play.” So, Craig, what advice would you have for Josh?

Craig: You know, I wish that I could tell you that there was a clear line on these things. Partly it involves how much you use. If you’re going to use a very small amount, sometimes you can just kind of say it falls roughly into fair use.

If you’re doing any kind of parody of it, then there’s much more leeway. But the truth is, if they want to go after you, they go after you. And if they don’t, they don’t.

For you, Josh, I would say write whatever you want. And then the best problem in the world is that a studio loves your script, wants to give a lot of money. The only problem is that they’re having trouble clearing some of the dialogue that you put into that one scene.

John: Yep.

Craig: You’ll figure it out.

John: For a while, I was going to adapt this book Wonder, which is a great novel, great middle grade fiction novel. And one of my concerns about was in the course of the novel one of the characters is in a production of Our Town. And so the book talks through this production of Our Town.

And in a book form, that was fine, because it’s a book form. But I was nervous about, well, when it comes time to actually make this into a movie, we’re going to have to sort of show scenes from Our Town, and there’s a blurry line at which point like, well, you’re actually just doing Our Town. And that’s a real concern that people do have in the real world. Like, do you change out that play? Do you do something different? Do you deliberately not show it? Do you cut that whole section of the story?

That was something that another writer had to figure out. So, that movie I think is going to get made now. So, we’ll see what they end up doing with that.

Craig: That definitely is something that you have to… — It’s a red flag when there’s any sense that someone might be confused and think, wait, am I watching a Streetcar Named Desire, or am I watching something that involves a reference to Streetcar? So, if there’s confusion, that’s generally bad.

John: A bad thing. There’s an addendum for Josh. He says, “Last episode you got a question from someone in Launceston, Tasmania, Australia. As a fellow Aussie, I want to clear this up. John, you nailed the pronunciation. And then you, Craig, totally steamrolled him with something that sounded stiff upper lip British.”

Craig: Oh, well, here’s the thing, Josh. You’ve released the Kraken.

John: Uh-oh.

Craig: I’m going to dedicate my life to making sure that the people of Launceston pronounce it the way I think it should be pronounced.

John: [laughs] Nice.

Craig: I will spare no expense.

John: Yeah. Launceston.

Craig: Launceston.

John: Yeah.

Craig: In Tasmania.

John: Tasmania.

Craig: Mania. Amanda writes, “I sent a query letter with a short description of my script to a production company. The emailed back to say, ‘Feel free to send along your material as well as a signed copy of the attached submission release form.’ Is this a normal thing? And is this safe to sign? I don’t want to naively sign over the rights to my script, or find myself in a sketchy situation. My script is copyrighted, but not registered with the WGA.”

And you and I have taken a look at this attached submission release form.

John: Indeed. And, in fact, we’ll actually include this PDF with the show notes, so people can take a look at this, too. Craig, what did you think of this?

Craig: I thought it was perfectly reasonable.

John: I thought it was reasonable, too. I’ve seen things like this a lot. So, basically, this company is called Cartel, but a lot of these forms are very similar. They’re basically just trying to cover their ass, so you won’t turn around and sue them six weeks later for an idea that’s the same kind of idea.

Some places, the only way they’ll read your stuff is to sign this. You got to kind of sign this.

Definitely read through it. And if there’s things that make it sound like they’re taking ownership of your property, well, that’s not good. But here it was very clear that they were trying to protect themselves because some ideas are just similar. And things will get out there.

Craig: Yeah. To me this is sort of a good model actually of what these things should look like. So, running it down, they’re saying here’s what you’re agreeing to when you sign this. You’re agreeing that you actually are the owner of what you’re submitting. You haven’t ripped somebody else off or copied it. You’re agreeing that just by giving it to them doesn’t mean that only that person can read it. They can share it with anybody else within their company.

This is the big one: you are agreeing that they might already be exploring similar ideas. They might already have something else like it, or somebody else talking to them about it. So, you can’t sue them, essentially for misappropriating your work.

That doesn’t mean, by the way, copying your work. It doesn’t mean you’re signing the rights away. It doesn’t mean they can take your script, change the cover page, and say you waived your rights. No. This is what it says. “Accordingly you hereby waive any claim that whatever the company is misappropriated any ideas or portions of your submission.” And really that comes down to, look, if you — it’s a little bit like the Gravity case.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So, there’s a couple of things that are similar, like the title, and it’s a woman in space, and she briefly gets burned at some point, right, and then one movie is about getting home, and it’s a survival story. And the other one is like a scary aliens on a spaceship story. You can’t sue over that. And nor should you be able to. And the rest of it is nothing.

John: Basically saying we’re not going to send back your script. We’re not paying you. That this is a blanket release form. So, this seemed pretty reasonable to me. If people who are doing this for a living want to take a look at this form and give us any guidance about things you think are sort of unusual about this, let us know.

In my experience, I haven’t had to sign one of these for a very, very long time, so I don’t know what the current state of these is. But this seemed very reasonable to me.

Craig: Do we have people sign something like this when they send their stuff to us?

John: That’s a very good point. So, we do have them — if you’re sending in your script for the Three Page Challenge, you go out through a form, and you’re basically saying like we’re cool, you’re not going to sue us, I’m doing this just for funsies. That’s basically what you’re signing as you submit for us.

Craig: Okay. Well, hopefully that covers us. [laughs] You know, because somebody sends something in and it’s like, I feel like once I think I said I’m working on, or have worked on, something similar to this. Yeah, I just don’t want to get sued by somebody.

That’s why these people are doing it. Because unfortunately people do sue, because they’re stupid.

John: Yep. So, my One Cool Thing this week is a video by Estelle Caswell for Vox. And she’s looking at the rhyming scheme of great rappers, all the way back from the ’80s with Kurtis Blow, through the present day with MF Doom, and there’s Eminem along the way. There’s really great little snippets of these songs and that they chart out sort of like how the rhyme schemes work.

And it’s really just fantastic. It’s about 13 minutes long, so it’s an investment, but it’s a good thing for the end of the day when you’re just burned out.

And what was weird is I was helping my daughter with a poetry project this weekend when I was watching this video, so she was doing her haikus and her clerihews and these other sort of poetry forms. But I was watching this video and thinking like, you know what, actually rhyming still does matter because it is so fundamental to hip-hop. It’s so fundamental to sort of how modern music works. And to see these great writers working and sort of how they are finding their rhymes, and finding rhymes that not only work sort of mathematically, but also have such great content behind them. I was really inspired watching this video.

Craig: I will check that out. You know what it reminds me? This is not my One Cool Thing, but did you ever see that video that this guy did on YouTube of the Amen break?

John: No.

Craig: Basically it was a little snippet of a song from a B-side of another song. And the song wasn’t popular at all. It was called Amen Brother. And the only thing interesting about the song was that in the middle of it all the instruments dropped out and there was just a little drum break. And the drum beat was basically [hums]. And that little bit got sampled and used for everything.

It literally became like the weird urtext of hip-hop, jungle, trap, everything. It’s a great video if you watch it. Anyway, it’s on YouTube. You can just look up Amen break. But my One Cool Thing is Star Wars: A New Hope in infographic form, which everyone has been talking about. This is on a website created by Martin Panchaud, who is a Swiss illustrator and graphic novelist.

And what he has essentially done is a vertical scrolling, two-dimensional graphically designed explication of Star Wars: A New Hope, the movie, in a timeline, with all the dialogue, and representing everybody and all action graphically. And it’s beautiful. And really ingenious.

John: I’m scrolling through as we speak. It really is quite clever. So I would definitely recommend people check this out.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’s nice. Well done. Cool. That is our show for this week. So, as always, our show is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Timothy Vajda. If you have an outro for us that you’d like us to play, you can send that through to That’s also the place where you send questions like the ones we answered today.

We are both on Twitter. I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.

You probably are listening to this on a podcast player. It’s great that you subscribed, but it would be also really wonderful if you would leave us a review in iTunes, because that helps people find us.

Next week will be — oh, we have a special guest next week. I’m so excited. But I don’t want to spoil it.

Craig: Ooh, who is it? [laughs]

John: Next week we’re going to be talking television. And we’ll hopefully be talking television with Jonathan Groff, who is one of the executive producers of Blackish.

Craig: He plays King George in Hamilton.

John: A different Jonathan Groff.

Craig: Oh…

John: Yeah, he gets that all the time.

Craig: Oh…

John: Don’t bring it up with him.

Craig: Oh…

John: And then we have special guests the week after that, too. It’s going to be so exciting. We actually recorded this episode on Wednesday because, Craig, you are headed to Princeton for your college reunion. Is that correct?

Craig: Yes. I am heading back to Princeton for my 24th reunion, which isn’t exactly a popular one, but I’m going really because it’s Melissa’s 25th.

John: Oh nice.

Craig: Which is a big one. Yeah. So, I’m joining her. Princeton reunions are insane. I don’t know if you’ve ever read about them or heard about them. I think they are the second or third largest beer-consuming event in the calendar. I’m not joking. Like behind the Indianapolis 500 or something.

It’s crazy. I mean, it’s insane. Like these old people can drink.

So, yeah, and it’s fun. It’s crazy.

John: Oh, it’ll be good. So Ted Cruz won’t be there, because it’s not his reunion. It’s really Melissa’s reunion.

Craig: I mean, listen, I hope he is there.

John: Yeah. That would be great.

Craig: Somebody sent me a picture. There’s a breakfast place in Princeton that has been there forever, PJ’s, and somebody had carved into the wooden table, “We didn’t like Ted Cruz here either.” I mean, now he’s part of the lore of it all.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

John: You have your own weird sort of alliance with Ted Cruz. You’re caught in each other’s gravity.

Craig: No, he’s caught in my gravity. [laughs]

John: [laughs] All right. Have fun, Craig. See you.

Craig: Thanks. Bye.

John: Bye.