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Updated: 1 hour 25 min ago

They Won’t Even Read You

Tue, 05/24/2016 - 08:03

John and Craig look at how the push to increase diversity in TV writing rooms impacts writers looking to staff for the first time.

Fan outrage over the death of a gay character — and the trope it perpetuates — has prompted an online pledge for writers. But is it a good idea? (Not really.)

We also take a look at three new entries in the Three Page Challenge, with visits to Koreatown, Silicon Valley and exploding Greek diners.

Lastly, a request: this podcast is named Scriptnotes, not ScriptNotes. The “n” isn’t supposed to be capitalized. Thanks!

Links:

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 250: The One with the Austin Winner — Transcript

Fri, 05/20/2016 - 14:15

The original post for this episode can be found here.

Previously on Scriptnotes

Craig Mazin: Zero.

Amanda Morad: Oh, that’s me.

John August: So, what this card says is John and Craig will read your script. If you would like to–

Amanda: Um, yes.

John: Great.

Craig: And we’ll talk about it on the show and you will come on the show.

Amanda: Yes!

Craig: Great. Or, you could have a tee-shirt.

Amanda: I’m going to pick C.

John: All right. Well done.

Craig: C.

[Intro bloops]

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

Craig: My name is Craig Mazin?

John: And this is Episode 250 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the program we will be talking with the winner from our live show in Austin. And looking at the script she sent in. We’ll also be answering a bunch of listener questions from the overflowing virtual mailbag.

But first we have some follow up. Craig, start us off.

Craig: Right. So I did another Escape Room LA. This was my last one of that company’s rooms. They have four rooms. The Alchemist. The Detective. The Cavern. And The Theater. And so I went and I did The Theater and we did escape. Felt good about that. And there were only six of us, so that was a big deal.

But, while I was with Melissa in the little waiting room area there was this big group of people all going to do The Alchemist. And they were just, you know, talking. And then one of them said, “Oh, you know what? There’s going to be something that involves smelling different scents in this one because I heard Craig talking about it on Scriptnotes.”

And then someone is like, “Oh yeah, I heard that.” And they start talking about me. But I’m just sitting right there. And Melissa turns to me and goes, “You have to say something.” And I said, “Nah, I don’t want to.” [laughs] She said, “No, you have to. It’s crazy.”

And then somebody said my name again and finally I just said, “That’s me.” And then they turned and looked and they’re like, “It is you.” And so we had a very nice conversation. It was very strange because, you know, that is fairly rare to happen, but exciting in the moment. And I did promise them that I would mention them on the show.

And they did in fact escape The Alchemist. So, good for them.

John: Congratulations to everybody who survived.

Craig: Yep.

John: So back in Episode 248, we talked about the controversy over white actors being cast in Asian roles. And Kirk Shimano wrote in to say — Craig, would you read what Kirk wrote for us?

Craig: Sure. He said, “Thanks so much for your thoughtful discussion about the casting of Asian American actors. I also agree that star-washing should totally be thing and will use it in social media as frequently as possible.”

John: That’s Craig’s term. Craig made up that term.

Craig: I made up that term. And I want money. Kirk continues, “I wanted to add one other thought about the character of the Ancient One in Doctor Strange. I think another complicating factor in this is that original character fits into a common racist trope. That of a wise Asian master. I know for my part, whenever I see an actor of Asian descent in this kind of role, my first reaction is always, really, this kind of role? Again? So, from my part, I’m actually pleased to see this character go a different way.

“That all being said, I find the lack of Asian American actors in the Marvel universe hugely disappointing. I just wish the conversation was more about the lead characters rather than having yet another wise Asian master who helps the white people achieve their full potential.”

John: Yep. So thank you, Kirk, for writing in about that. And that was an aspect we didn’t really get into when we discussed it is that if you’re just casting a person of a certain race in a very stereotypical role, that’s not a great mark of progress.”

Craig: It’s true. I mean, I’m not sure you can claim it’s a great mark of progress to keep the racist trope role and also then deny employment to a poor Asian actor who now can’t even get the part of the racist trope.

I mean, I suppose you could say that we’ve come a long way. Because it used to be that we cast white men like Joel Grey to play the wise Asian master. No, I guess we’re still doing it. We’re still — although she’s not meant to be — at least she’s not meant to be Asian. So, that’s a minor improvement. But I think Kirk is absolutely right that that character is beyond shopworn and needs to be retired.

And the Marvel universe I think has done a very good job of being true to things that deeply meaningful and being a little more flexible with stuff that isn’t. I don’t think, for instance, Nick Fury was originally African American. So, they had no problem with that. So, I’m not really sure why this needed to be that way. But it’s a tough one.

It’s interesting. Marvel makes movies in 2016, but so many of the characters that they’re pulling up were created in the ’60s and ’70s.

John: Yeah. And so the way you reinvent those or sort of re-explore those can be challenging. And finding a good way through it.

It reminds me of our conversation with Alan Yang at the Christmas live show where he’s talking about Master of None, and the issues came up of like you have an actor who is going in for roles, and he’s refusing to go in for those very stereotypically South Asian roles. And like he doesn’t want to be the cab driver or the call center worker. He doesn’t want to put on the fake voice anymore. And that’s a real issue and that’s a decision every actor has to make about what kinds of things you’re willing to go in for, or not go in for.

Craig: Yeah. Whereas on the writing side of things, we get to do anything. I mean, acting is really hard. It’s always you out there. I feel for actors. Because I can sense how frightened they are of being embarrassed.

John: Yeah. It’s tough. All right, same episode we also talked about pitching open writing assignments. And Philip from Durham, North Carolina wrote in to ask, “What are your thoughts on using visuals of any kind to help convey the story you want to pitch during this open writing assignment process? Is it a good idea or bad idea to bring in visuals?”

Craig: I don’t think it’s either a good or bad idea. It really depends on what you’re doing. If you’re pitching something where one picture would be worth a thousand words, bring that picture. For sure. Generally speaking, I’m not pitching movies like that by the nature of the movies I do pitch. Although, on the sheep movie, I did make — I mean, this was after we already had set it up, but when I turned the script in I also included a book. I made a photo book.

So, I went on the Internet and found as many high res images of sheep that I could find that were evocative, I think, and would have made them feel something. And then I made a little Apple book out of it, and I sent it in.

John: Nice. Yeah, for the thing I’m writing right now, I did come in with some visuals. I had little small artboards. And it was really to sort of show what the world would look like, because it was hard to describe my specific take on what this world would be without some artboards. But, the thing that people were pitching to me, I had three different sets of writers who were pitching this project, and none of them brought in visuals and it was fine. We just focused on what they were saying. So, it can be useful. I think what can be especially useful about the visual boards is it gives you something to point at later on in the process.

So, like as you’re having the discussion, you can sort of like go back to the boards, or the producer can look through the boards and say like, “Oh, so back in this moment…” It helps anchor the thing you said to a visual, which can be useful post pitch.

Craig: Yeah, you know, Ted Elliott used to say that he and Terry were so bad at talking, and so uncomfortable in those rooms, that they would bring visual stuff along just to distract people from them. Because they didn’t want their awkwardness to somehow make their odds worse.

Sometimes the visuals that they brought were literally just index cards, like here, look at our story points as we talk so you’re not concentrating on our stammering faces, which I thought was great.

John: But if you’re a highly charismatic writer, sort of performer. Like if you’re Mike Birbiglia, you probably would not bring in visuals like that because you want them focusing on your face, because that’s where the performance is.

Craig: You got it.

John: Yep. All right, last bit of housekeeping here. A few months ago we asked you to do a quick survey about the show and what we should do with back episodes and the bonus shows. And we decided that we’re going to make more 250 drive episodes. And this is episode 250, so in about two weeks we’ll have all 250 episodes of Scriptnotes, along with the bonus episodes, on a little USB drive that you can purchase in the store. So, if that’s something you would like, they will be available soon.

Craig, I think these USB drives are going to be black.

Craig: Oh. Sleek.

John: Sleek and black. Shiny.

Craig: Like little dolphins? Little black dolphins?

John: Maybe like little black dolphins.

Craig: Or, no, orcas.

John: Yeah. I was worried you were going to go to a Sexy Craig, like Scriptnotes After Dark thing. But I think orcas is maybe a better, safer thing. Because everyone likes whales.

Craig: You know, John, Sexy Craig doesn’t care about that computer stuff.

John: Yeah, it’s going to be good. The other thing we are experimenting with is people had asked — so all of the premium episodes and all the back episodes are available through the premium feed at Scriptnotes.net. You can also use it through the Scriptnotes app.

Some people had problems with the app, or if you’re overseas it can be a challenge with your bank accounts. It didn’t PayPal. There were some real frustrations that some people had. And people asked can you buy individual tracks for like those bonus episodes. So, we’re experimenting with just two of those tracks. And so the Justin Marks Jungle Book episode and the Q&A from the session with Aline and Rachel Bloom where we talk about introducing a character in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Those two tracks are available for $0.99 each in the John August store. So, just store.johnaugust.com. And we’ll see if people like to download those individual tracks.

Craig: I feel like I’m like a year away from having to hire somebody to audit you.

John: Yeah. You would not believe the dollars and cents coming into this operation.

Craig: I mean, if you buy a couple of houses and a few cars, just know I’m coming for you.

John: Okay. I want to point out that Craig Mazin drives a Tesla, which he talks about nonstop. I drive a seven-year-old Prius and a Nissan Leaf. I don’t even get to drive the Leaf, because my husband drives the Leaf. So I get a really beat up Prius.

Craig: You know, you could get a new car with the massive amounts of cash coming in on this show.

John: I probably could.

Craig: Yeah.

John: A sensible car.

Craig: A sensible car. [laughs]

John: The tiny last bit of follow up here is I asked Matthew to record his screen while he edited episode 248, so it’s about 2.5 hours’ worth of video that I’ve shrunk down to nine minutes. So you can see sort of his process of what he goes through as he edits our show down.

Because we record basically in real time. So, one of our recordings of our show will take about an hour, but it takes about 2.5 hours for Matthew to go through and sort of get rid of all the uhs and ums and get everything synchronized right and get the music in.

So, if you’re curious what that process is like, it’s posted on YouTube and there will be a link in the show notes for that.

Craig: I might even watch that.

John: You might watch that. And my perception is that I mess up on the show a lot more than you do. And so that he has to do more work. But as you actually look through it, it’s about 50-50. You have a few ums and stuff there that go away through the magical process of editing.

Craig: I wouldn’t call that messing up, John. I think what you’ve done is you’ve tried to equate complete failure with innocuous pauses.

John: Perhaps I have. Perhaps I have.

Craig: This is already shaping up to be a great episode. I feel like this is an episode that we’re not drinking, but I feel a little bit like I might have had a glass of wine.

John: That sounds great. And our guest has been so patient, because she’s been like literally right across the table from me this entire time.

Craig: Fantastic.

John: So I think we should probably introduce the winner of our sort of special Golden Tickets. We’ll set up this whole detail.

At the live show in Austin, we had put up these raffle tickets and Craig called out the number and she had the right number. She came up and we told her she could give us her script and we would read her script and talk about it on the air. She is here. We want to welcome Amanda Morad. Welcome to our show.

Amanda: Thank you. I’m glad to be here.

Craig: Welcome.

John: So, Amanda, you were at the live show in Austin, but you’re actually a Los Angeles person. Is that correct?

Amanda: Yes, that was my first time at Austin Film Festival. And it turned out pretty well for me.

John: Cool. So, what made you want to go to Austin?

Amanda: It’s a great event. And it’s a great competition. Matt D. and everybody there is just amazing. And I learned so much and got to meet a ton of people. In fact, I made friends that I will likely have for the rest of my life. And it’s definitely an event that I would do again.

John: Cool. So, you show up in Austin and did you know people before you go there, or was it all strangers?

Amanda: I had one connection from my alma mater. He was a former professor, now technically colleague, who met me there. Shawn Gaffney. And he introduced me to some people and from there things just went great.

John: Great. So tell us about yourself. What is your background? Did you study writing? What are you goals? Do you do anything else other than write?

Amanda: Uh, yes. [laughs] I’m originally from the East Coast and moved out to LA in 2014 to pursue television writing. I would love to get into scripted drama. And right now I am working in digital development with you know Murray Productions. And on the desk of two development executives there. And working on original short form content in that capacity.

I am also a big board gamer. So, I followed along with several of the episodes that you guys mentioned. Ticket to Ride and Pandemic and everything. So, that would be like the secondary hobby outside of the writing, because the writing is certainly central and the reason I came out here. So, that’s the main focus.

John: Let me ask. Have you applied to fellowships? Have you gone after other things?

Amanda: Yeah, I’ve definitely applied to a lot of contests and all the network fellowships in the past. In 2014, I got to the semifinal round with CBS, so I got to go in and meet with their diversity, Carole Kirschner and Jeanne Mayo and all of them there. And it was a wonderful meeting and they said they really enjoyed the material but I was just really green at the time. I think I’d been in LA three weeks. And so their advice to me was go get some industry experience and try again.

So, now that I’ve been working in the industry for a little while I applied again, and so we’ll see where it goes.

John: Cool. And when you say diversity hiring, so you’re Latina and was that your focus?

Amanda: Yes. Yes. For that one.

John: What were they reading when they brought you in that first time?

Amanda: The first time was an early draft of Betty Bureau, many, many drafts ago. And a spec of Homeland. Because they require both a pilot and a spec script.

John: Cool.

Craig: I got to tell you that I feel like we won the raffle. Because the odds of randomly picking somebody that was a good writer were very low. And I apologize to all of the people that come to Austin. I assure you I’m not talking about you, dear listener, you are great. But, of course, how many great people can there be? But I thought your script was terrific. And I’m going to I think bum your current employers out by saying that you should absolutely — you’re ready to be on a staff right now as far as I’m concerned.

Amanda: Craig, you’re making my day. And you’re making me blush. [laughs] Thank you.

Craig: Well, you’ve earned it. I mean, we read a lot here. I mean, I can’t speak for John, but I thought it was really well done. It was professional. And it showed an ability to craft a scene, to pull a story through, to surprise me. Characters were distinct. I can imagine that this is already better than the work that’s being churned out by quite a few veterans of TV staffs. And I think somebody should put you on their staff right away. I really do.

Amanda: Thank you, Craig. That might be the best compliment of my life.

Craig: You’re welcome. I mean, and you know, 250 episodes of legitimacy behind that, because nobody can question the fact that I have no problem saying to somebody’s face, “I don’t like that.” So, you can take this to the bank. I thought it was terrific.

Amanda: Thank you.

John: So I have staffed TV shows, and I’ve staffed one-hours, and so I have a little bit more experience being on the other side of the table, and I agree with Craig. I think why I’m so, so happy that it was you who got that number and showed up is that you delivered a script that is professional in the sense of like there’s no — there’s no mistakes. Nothing about it feels amateur whatsoever. You have a really good sense of being able to draw small details out. I like some of your descriptions of characters. I singled out like there’s a minor police officer who is like a well-fed husband.

Craig: Yeah. I like that. And then the little boy in his father’s suit.

John: Daddy’s suit. Yeah. Those are great sort of like small little signifiers that show like, oh, she really does kind of know what she’s doing here. I thought you made a good choice about picking a distinctive subject for this script.

So, before we even get into some of the praise here, you wrote this script — this is a one-hour drama pilot. It’s a writing sample fundamentally. It’s written in a five-act structure. Was it teaser plus five, or just true five?

Amanda: Teaser plus five.

John: Teaser plus five, which is common in sort of like ABC land for this. Which I thought was very smart, because you could have easily done this as a cable pilot or something else that didn’t have breaks, but good to sort of show that you understand that there do have to be act breaks. All really good.

Also smart choice to make this be a period show. A friend is just staffing from one show to another show, and he had to write a new pilot, and his agency told him do the period one because it won’t get outdated so quickly.

Amanda: It’s true.

John: And so you could send it out season after season and it won’t become outdated, so these are all smart reasons. And I always like the — I’m a big fan of some of the period shows. You look at like Homefront. I don’t know if you ever saw that which was a great WWII drama.

Amanda: Yes.

John: Mad Men, of course. So, there’s a lot of stuff there that’s great. They’re not reading a ton of period things and they’ll remember yours, where they won’t remember like five other sort of Sopranos shows. So, those are great things.

I was less enthusiastic about sort of the overall experience of the script. I got a little bit bored, and so some of my notes for you are going to be about places where I kind of fell off the ride. But I want my underlying message is that I’m so happy it’s you, because everyone can download your script, read along with us, and see like, oh, she does know what she’s doing, and it’s so refreshing to see somebody who is not making just dumb mistakes, so we can focus on making it better, rather than bringing it up to a baseline quality.

Craig: Isn’t that nice for once? I mean…

Amanda: That’s nice.

Craig: Yeah, anyone reading anything will always have some places to say, “Well what about this, or what about this?”

Amanda: Of course.

Craig: And I have some of those for you that I hope are instructive and constructive. But we’re in a different kind of note-giving here. This is sort of the note-giving that I would give to a colleague of mine. You know, I’d say, okay, what were you going for there? Didn’t quite work.

So, I will talk to you like you’re already working on a TV show and I don’t know about you, John. I don’t feel quite qualified to ever say whether or not something like this is something they would actually produce and air. All I can really talk about is the writing itself, I guess.

John: And I would also say that I’m not sure that should even be your goal here.

Amanda: Right.

John: Talk to us — we’re talking too much. Talk to us about why you wrote this specific script? And actually tell us the name, tell us the premise, because people listening to this in the car won’t know what we’re even talking about. Tell us your script.

Amanda: The script is called Betty Bureau. And it is an FBI procedural drama that takes place in 1950 when the first Top Ten Most Wanted List is first published by J. Edgar Hoover. And it follows Caty Pelayo, a new secretary to the bureau, as she is covertly helping the agents solve crimes. Of course, this is not at all sanctioned by Hoover or anyone. There were no female agents in 1950. And so this is her kind of journey to independence, but also to helping catch all the crooks.

And this story actually originated at my grandmother’s funeral. My great aunt used to be a secretary for the FBI and she was regaling the family with all kinds of stories from that time period. And she told us the story about accidentally helping catch somebody on the Top Ten Most Wanted list at a department store one day. And from there, I thought, you know, this is an idea that I can run with and I can write passionately about because it is based on two very strong independent Mexican women in my life that I have loved and respected forever.

And so that’s where the script kind of originated. And it’s been through many, many, many drafts since then. And, yeah, I do hope that it is a good, solid writing sample. Hopefully for representation. Maybe for just getting my name and myself out there as a writer, because I am fairly new to town, and with the experience that I am getting at a production company now, I’m hoping that that will kind of start segueing into actual writing–

Craig: I mean, look, I think your days of not having an agent are over. Because I’ll send this to my agent. [laughs]

Amanda: Wow. Thank you.

Craig: Yeah, I mean, it’s stupid. Of course you should have an agent. This is a strong sample. And you should have an agent. It won’t be my agent, but it will be somebody. And I’m sure John has people that he knows as well, because that’s just crazy. Of course you should have an agent. This is good enough for that, in my opinion.

John: All right, and in my opinion I don’t know that you will get an agent right off the bat. And this is just me sort of talking reality is that having read a ton of these, I think it’s good and shows competence. I don’t think it was breathtaking to me. And I got kind of bored.

And I remember back to when we had Riki Lindhome on the show and she was like reading through for staffing. And if she stopped reading after page three, she stopped reading. And I worry that people are going to stop reading. And so what you described and what you pitched was more intriguing than the first sort of ten pages were for me. And as I was reading it, I felt like I was getting ahead of you at times. And some of that is the nature of what you’re trying to do. You’re doing a procedural, but it’s also a premise procedural. And those can be kind of like the two most boring kinds scripts to read.

Because in a premise show, you’re having to set up this whole world, and you’re having to introduce your character to this whole world, so the plot always ends up taking sort of a back burner. And in a procedure, well, people are just going through and doing their jobs. And so it was a lot of people walking through FBI kinds of stuff doing this.

I think you do a nice job setting up the world of things, but I — there were very few scenes where I’m like, oh holy cow, that’s amazing, like that’s going to be a really great moment. And I think as you look at doing more writing on this, and look at doing the next thing you want to write, focusing on the how do I keep it incredibly suspenseful, how do I make sure people are desperate to turn that page will be your challenge.

Amanda: That’s a good note.

Craig: I never got bored, but perhaps because the script was teaching me something different, you know. So it was teaching you one thing — and this can happen all the time. This is the great difference of opinion of the world, you know. People, they start reading something and they think, “I know what I want this to be.” And if it doesn’t become that, that’s disappointing.

Now, to be fair, John and I read scripts that are just objectively boring all the time. In this case, what this was telling me it wanted to be, and what I wanted it to be, was kind of more Mad Men-ish in a way than high capery, which is why actually in a weird way my biggest issue was the ending, which I thought was not congruent. It was sort of like the show suddenly remembered that it was supposed to have cops and robbers and Ka-boom-ies. And I didn’t want that in a way. I wanted an ending that was more about the character.

I was so much more into the soap opera of the characters than I was into the crime. I really was enjoying that. I loved the reveal that the newspaper man was this agent’s brother. And I liked their flirtation, and the fact that now she’s got two brothers kind of going after her. And I also liked the woman in a man’s world aspect which felt very Mad Men to me and really interesting.

So, that’s kind of where I — that’s where my eye was. So, I was never bored actually weirdly until the end, when it was just like, oh, now they’re just shooting. Shooting. Shooting. Shooting. Shooting. So, that was a different — it’s so funny how we have these different responses to things.

John: Yeah. I think, Craig, you read this as being like this is like a Mad Men. I read it like, oh, this is like an FBI procedural. And it’s trying to do both things at the same time. The issue is I would love the Mad Men show, but Mad Men is not fundamentally a procedure. It’s a character-driven show where characters are going through journeys and sort of coming at each other in strange moments.

And I didn’t feel the friction, the tension, the spark in those moments in this. And I don’t feel like there quite were the scenes there that could have had those sparks. And so as we look at — as we go through pages, we may find some moments that can actually break out a little bit more.

The last thing I want to say is sort of urgency. And in any of these things, you want a sense that there’s an urgency for like why this scene is happening right now. And there were a couple moments where I felt like that was just a random other scene to go to. And there wasn’t a pressing need for like that had to be the next scene. It could have sort of arbitrary. So, that’s sort of the one the page urgency.

There’s also sort of a “why am I reading this script right now, why is this script relevant in 2016?” So, when I previously said it’s great because you could write a period thing because it doesn’t have to have a timeliness, but there’s still an underlying quality of like what is this show saying about today. And has that resonated for you at all? Is there a reason why you think this is a show about today?

Amanda: Yeah. Absolutely. With Caty’s position as a secretary in a man’s world, and coming into — as a writer coming into Hollywood as a woman with very little Hollywood connection, I’ve encountered it on a few occasions where my strength and independence and ability has been mitigated by what people expect of me as a woman. And I know we don’t really like to talk about the overtness of it still happening, but I think it is still relevant. And I think a lot of what Caty feels about being relegated to certain tasks and relegated to certain roles, I’ve certainly felt that through the various jobs I’ve had.

Yes, I’m still early in my career, and it’s possible it will continue to happen. But I think her emotion and her response to it and the resistance that she’s feeling toward this relegation to memos and lunch orders is something that I identify with. And I think a lot of female professionals, particularly in this city that I know, definitely feel that.

John: Okay. But I mean, is that a new thing that’s happened in — is that a 2016 thing? Or would the same thing happen in 2006? I’m just wondering if there’s a special thing about why this is happening now, or why this conversation is happening now.

I think her Latina heritage might be an interesting thing to bring up a little bit more, because I missed it until her mother is speaking Spanish, sort of midway through. And that might be a thing that is extra interesting. Or the degree to which Hoover and sort of like that whole movement reflects sort of modern times could be a way in. I just — I want to be intrigued about what you’re trying to say about today in this period show.

Amanda: Right. Yeah, absolutely. I think her heritage and the politics of that era are certainly reflected in a lot of things going on in our world today. There’s lots of talk about — even what you guys were talking about in the follow up, with whitewashing of actors in roles that belong to ethnically diverse actors. And I think that that carries over into plenty of industries. And in 1950 at that time, it was very rare to have a Latina secretary in the nation’s capital in a professional job.

You know, at the time a lot of it was southern labor for Latinas. And so I think showing that Latina heritage, I think things like Jane the Virgin have exceptionally well because Latinas are seeing themselves on TV in ways that they haven’t before. And even though this takes place 65 years ago, I think that this would serve the same way.

Craig: I’m with you on that one. We never ask the period pieces with a majority white casts who sort of carry the burden of the difference between then and now, or if we do, it’s because that’s that what it’s about. I think that if this were a movie, I would be much more concerned, because a movie begins, middles, and ends. And it must have some immediate relevance for you when you walk out of the theater. That is beyond just whatever you saw.

For a show, I always feels like sooner or later, no matter how hard the show is trying to be relevant, the show becomes about the show. It ultimately becomes about its own soap opera. And in this case, I think you have an interesting opportunity to combine soap opera with procedural, which has been done before. And doing it in just a different background. I love the setting. I love the setting. I think the ’50s is terrific.

And certainly the imposition on her as a woman is — I think it’s always interesting. There were spots here and there where I thought either — she almost seemed like she had arrived in a time machine. This is an interesting thing. When you’re talking about characters who live in a world that is oppressive, sometimes when they arrive on the show they seem as aware as we that this is all off. But that’s the world in which they are. It’s a very tricky thing — do you know what I — I don’t know if I’m explaining myself quite right.

Amanda: No, that makes sense.

Craig: Yeah. So occasionally she seemed almost sardonic about it, like oh well, in 50 years you’ll realize how stupid that sounds. You know what I mean? Which is a little different than being in the moment I guess.

Amanda: I see.

John: Cool. Let’s get to your actual script. And so if people want to read along with us, there will be a link in the show notes for this PDF, so you can download it and take a read through it with us. Let’s start with the teaser. It’s a two-page teaser. It’s a teaser without dialogue. It felt a little strange and forced that it had no dialogue. I felt like I was missing some little bits of dialogue, or something to help ground me in a place. I felt like some of these characters talking, basically people are not reading this. It feels kind of like a tracking shot where we’re following this young hostess/server through this club. And she’s ultimately going to end up dead at the end of this teaser.

It felt like I wanted some snippets of dialogue, or something to help anchor us in a place and a time. Because as it is, they are two well-written pages of action, but you’re making a very big ask of the reader to like, okay, read through these two pages of action and I’m not going to give you any sort of break there.

Amanda: Got it.

Craig: I have a suggestion for that, because I agree with John. Sometimes in things like this, what could work in lieu of dialogue, because I like the mystery of not knowing what people are saying, and whispers in ears and all that. Sometimes a good song does miracles. And especially when you’re in DC in 1950, you’re period, and you’re in a — you have a band right there. A really great period song. And then just pull the lyrics out. And let the lyrics — find some great lyrics that kind of feel ironic and creepy and cool. And just pepper them in. Just layer them in. And then, you know, back engineer it, reverse engineer it, so your last lyric lines are really evocative over the image of this dead woman.

Amanda: Yeah, that’s a great fix, because I think one of my concerns with adding dialogue was that you do lose some of that mystery of the conversation in the booth and what this guy is giving her the note for, and all of that. So, yeah, I think I’d prefer something like that over kind of, you know, peeling back and letting the audience in on some of those conversations that are happening.

John: That sounds great. So, our out is on the dead body. And so by starting on a dead body, you’ve announced yourself this is a procedural.

Amanda: Right.

John: [Makes Law & Order sound] We’re in a procedural land. And so that’s fine, but we’re in a procedural land now. And so if at any point you say like, you know what, maybe this really wants to be more of a character study/character-driven thing, then you’re going to have to start with her. And that’s sort of your balancing act. It can’t be sort of — you sort of can’t have both in a way.

Amanda: Right. Okay.

John: I’m going to focus on little things I noticed in the writing along the way. There’s some moments you choose not to uppercase that I think could be sort of useful uppercase and can help sort of break up some of the action lines. We follow the girl’s “skirt” — like that follow feels like it’s a movement and that helps draw our eye across that.

Another place where I felt like I wanted some capitalization, page four. You do: SUPER: MARCH, 1950 Agents, analysts and secretaries buzz. Capitalize those people so we know that they are groups of folks.

Amanda: Got it.

John: Caty’s first line of dialogue is in reference to a guy, “Why are you following me?” “Slack sent me.” “ID?” “Left pocket.” It announces her as a badass in a way that is — made me feel like I was watching Agent Carter in a way. And I know if that’s actually applicable to the character we’re about to meet down the road. It made me feel like — I kept waiting for a reveal that she actually was a — she was actually special forces, or she was already well ahead of where she actually was.

And so it put me sort of on my heels about who she really was, or sort of maybe not trust my own instincts about the world she was entering into. I thought she was like a double agent going into it. It put me in a really weird place. Craig, did you feel that?

Craig: I did. Mostly because it didn’t quite payoff the way I was hoping. The character I probably have the biggest issue with is Slack, so we’ll talk about him later. But, yes, it did put me in a position where I was a little confused, particularly confused when she showed up and she was a secretary. This may have been sort of the time machine theorem that, you know, a woman comes in from 2016, lands in 1950. Some guy is following here. I could see her totally Krav Maga-ing the dude, right.

But this is 1950. Men follow women and catcall them. That’s the world that this woman lives in. one suggestion, something to consider perhaps, is that she’s aware that this guy is following her, and she stops, and he comes up to her maybe and lights her cigarette, and starts asking her some questions. And she’s sort of flirtatious and kind of innocent and feminine in the way he expects, you know, a little dizzy.

And then when no one is looking, then she grabs him and she says, “Why are you following me?” Like, I can see that she knows how to play a game, because there’s a little bit of a logic problem. When you’re in a busy train station and you physically assault someone, you’re probably going to get arrested, you know. So, there’s — you just have to figure out the logic of that, and figure out maybe if there’s a slightly twistier way of telling me more about her in this. Because I love the fact that she did it to this guy. I thought that was really cool and shocking. I think that he would be shocked, right, because that just doesn’t happen, so I’m shocked, too.

And I guess I wanted a little bit more of a misdirect before the shock happened.

John: I would also like to ask aloud the question of what if we lost this beat here and started with her doing her training at the job as a secretary. Basically like your first day as a secretary. And that way we can sort of assume that she is this person that she’s presenting herself, and then save this beat where she’s going after the guy who is following her. That can be a surprise later on.

Because it’s a challenge when you show her starting so strong, and then you have to show her being weak. We’re not quite sure what to believe. And so it’s intriguing if we see her really act out. And I think we’re more scared for her, because we’ve seen her being a milder character before this moment, and then suddenly, boom.

Amanda: I see.

John: Worth thinking about flipping those.

Amanda: I think my concern with having her first line, having her come in and say, “Hi, I’m Caty Pelayo,” was that it was a very weak introduction. That there was no POW to her first entrance and our first introduction to her.

Craig: I can see that. I mean, you do want something exciting and something very revealing about her. The issue is the way that you have it now, the POW is diminished by the fact that it’s nothing but POW.

Amanda: Got it. Okay.

Craig: It’s just an immediate Kaboosh, and you’re like, oh, okay, I guess — you know, again, we’re teaching people how to read this, right? So John is right. The teaser teaches you it’s a procedural. And this teaches you that it’s kind of action. And turns out that it’s–

John: It’s really not.

Craig: It’s more than that.

John: On her side, it’s not an action story. And so it sets an expectation that she’s going to be kicking ass a lot in the show, and that’s not the focus, and so–

Craig: Yeah. I mean, so much of the show is about how smart she is. The big POW for me is smart. I want to see her smart, and then physical. That’s fine. I like that she’s both. But I need the smart.

John: If we could see a moment where you can watch her reading a room and figuring out something that another person would not be able to figure out, even if like she’s waiting for someone to actually come over and talk with her, and she actually is able to figure out a lot of stuff before anyone has actually come to her and then she can introduce herself in a really smart way, that could be a great moment. Another thing I think overall through the script, I was missing the other women. And so the degree to which secretaries aren’t supposed to do this, I didn’t feel the threat or sort of the group of other secretaries who were doing what they’re supposed to be doing, and the degree to which she is a threat to them for stepping outside of these lines.

And I think they’re going to be an important force. And even if they didn’t have a big role in this pilot, I think establishing them here would make it clear like in the series they’re going to be a major–

Amanda: Obstacle.

John: Obstacle here, too.

Amanda: I see. Okay.

John: Craig, let’s do a few more minutes here and look through some other things that stood out to you.

Craig: Sure. Well, one thing is I liked George’s move on her, where he poses as Slack and she kind of goes along. I think it pays off really nice when Slack comes in and she’s looking at this guy. And there’s some really clever writing there. Some good back and forth.

You have to help us a little bit when he first walks up to her, because I got super confused. I thought you had actually made a mistake with last names. Because you did too good of a job. You faked me out, too. It’s like in football, sometimes the play action, the camera is following a guy who is running with the ball and he doesn’t have it.

So, something just to make clear that, you know, when he walks over to her, she volunteers “I didn’t mean to interrupt Agent Slack,” a coy smile and a glimmer in George’s eyes says he’s happy to play along. It wasn’t quite enough.

And I also was a little confused why she just presumed this was Agent Slack.

Amanda: Okay. My thought in that was that he was the first authority figure to come up to her and give her some kind of order, some kind of task.

Craig: But does he want — when he does that, what’s his plan?

Amanda: His plan is to get her to take notes for him and pretty much — I don’t think he’s taking the bet that his coworker put out to get her number. I think he really is utilizing her and trying to get an in with her to figure out who she is, and what role she’s going to play here. I think it’s more of a curiosity thing than a game-playing thing. But, when she presented the opportunity by saying Agent Slack, he took it.

Craig: Got it. It’s a little bit hard for me, and I think for any reader, to read all of that into what he’s doing, because she’s a secretary. She showed up. He’s seen secretaries before. I can’t imagine why he would have a natural instinct to get to know her better already if it’s not about physical attraction.

Amanda: Okay.

Craig: And I think, frankly, that physical attraction is a great thing to be undermined almost immediately. And if he went over there and was trying to win the bet, and he was doing it by presenting himself as her new boss, because he knows that’s who it is, then he’s, you know, a charming cad. And she’s going to give it to him, you know. And I think that’s just clearer to me. I got a little confused in that zone.

Amanda: Okay.

John: Cool. Last thing I want to talk about is act outs. So, you chose to have this be a sort of broadcast spec that has act outs. Basically before you go to commercial breaks, there’s the moment of rising tension. Then we stop, and then we start again with a new act.

And when I first started writing television, I hated act outs because they were just torture and they felt really forced and artificial. And then once you sort of accept them, they actually can be kind of freeing, because you can sort of hang your story on those act outs.

And so generally in a writer’s room, as they’re breaking an episode they’ll sort of lean towards those act outs as sort of structural points which they’re going to hang the episode. I didn’t love your act outs. And I think a showrunner reading through this would probably send this back to you with notes about like, hey, we need better, stronger act outs.

And so an example would be at the top of page 18, the end of Act One, it’s an insert on a phonebook entry. There’s a lot to read. Caty find the block on the map and circles it. Three circles overlap. Off her disbelief. End of Act One.

One character alone looking at something doesn’t tend to be a great act out, unless it’s a huge revelation that’s really going to make sense for us. And at this point, I felt like I was ahead of her. The minute I see her start making circles I’m like the circles are going to overlap, and then we’re out.

And if this were episode 17, great. But this is your pilot, and so this has to be the one that is sort of like a showstopper. And so finding that moment where I can’t wait to see what happens next, and there’s nothing about three circles on a map that’s going to make me feel like I can’t wait to see what happens next.

Craig: I agree. The one that I loved was the one on page 40 when George reveals about Jack, “He’s my brother.” She stops walking, he keeps going. That felt good. I liked that.

Amanda: Yes.

John: Which is great. And that kind of moment is about a character and is about a change for a character and you’ve changed the dynamic of the story and the plot. That’s why that works for Craig as an act out. This just plot circling isn’t going to be sort of as fulfilling of an act out.

So, my question for you, Amanda, is if we send this to some folks who do TV staffing, would it be okay for us to do a follow up episode where we actually talk with them about sort of what they thought. Because we’re just two guys. I’d be really curious to see what other people think about this script and whether — where you would fall on the piles with this script. Is that okay?

Amanda: Absolutely. I think that would be incredibly helpful and way more generous than I was expecting. Thank you.

John: We have time for a couple questions. So why don’t you stick around, because you may answer some of these questions better than we can. Our first one is Steve from London who writes, “If you write a spec ‘inspired by’ a play or film from the ’60s that isn’t a blatant rip-off, but has echoes of the original ‘inspired by’ then what do you put on the front page?”

Craig: You wouldn’t put anything on the front page. I mean, if it’s an homage to other movies, it’s an homage to other movies. But unless you are, in fact, taking some of their intellectual property, you know, copyrighted material, then no. I mean, Austin Powers was referring heavily to Our Man Flynn and he didn’t have to put that on the front page at all.

Okay, so second question from RJ. He writes, “I found a true story for which I want to write a screenplay. The events took place in 1888. The subject of the story has many living descendants. Question: Is the story of his life in the public domain, or do his descendants own the rights? He died in 1963 and the last time I can find any record of his family preserving and maintaining his name was a museum that went defunct in 2003 when his grandson died.”

John, do you have any thoughts about this one?

John: So RJ wants to know if he needs to get anybody’s rights. No, the people are dead. And so dead people don’t have rights generally. You can use people’s lives or dead people, you’re kind of in the clear. With Amanda here, she used stories from her grandmother and she didn’t have to — I’m sorry, is your grandmother still alive?

Amanda: No, that was my grandmother’s funeral that we were sharing these stories.

John: And so you’re pretty clear. Here’s where RJ might run into a problem is that if he’s basing this story off of one specific account that he read, that is sort of only in that account, then he needs the rights to that account. There could be a book written about that thing that he’s really basing this around. That, he’s going to need the rights to that thing.

But if it’s a well-known event or just something he’s researched himself, he’s fine.

Craig: Indeed. I agree.

John: All right. Mauro writes, “I’m planning on shooting a feature this year, uber low budget, and I want to show two main characters playing Monopoly. Do I have to clear this with Hasbro? Or is a board game so utilitarian/mundane that showing it onscreen doesn’t need a clearance?”

Amanda, question for you. Do you think he needs the clearance for them playing this board game? You love board games.

Amanda: I do love board games. And I’m going to go with yes.

John: You are absolutely correct.

Craig: Tell her what she wins, John. [laughs]

John: She wins another script… — I used to work in clearances at Universal. I spent a summer doing clearances. And so clearances are anything you see onscreen in a movie that someone owns copyright to, you have to get that legally cleared. Which basically means I was calling up a bunch of people, getting them to sign these forms, saying it’s okay to put this up in the movie.

Monopoly is the kind of thing you have to clear every time, because the people who own Monopoly, they own Monopoly. And if you want to portray it onscreen, you have to get their permission to do so.

Craig: Yeah. The only exceptions to this are if you’re parodying something. So, if characters are playing a Monopoly-like game and the point is that it’s a parody of Monopoly, you are somewhat broadly protected there. But otherwise, yeah, you’re clearing it.

John: I had an interesting experience this last week. I was flying back from London and on the flight I was watching The 5th Wave, which was a movie that came out this last year. And about halfway through the movie I look and there’s a Big Fish poster on the wall behind one of the main characters.

And so I paused it, I took a screenshot, and then I put it on Twitter saying like does anyone know why there’s a Big Fish poster in The 5th Wave? And through the wonder of Twitter I found out that the director was on Twitter. He tweeted back to say there were three reasons why Big Fish was in that shot.

First reason is they were shooting in Georgia, and a lot of the crew had actually worked on Big Fish, and so it was kind of a nice thing for them. Second and probably the biggest reason is Big Fish and 5th Wave are both Sony movies, and it’s really easy to get clearance for a movie at the same studio.

Craig: Right.

John: But the final reason is the director is a big fan of Scriptnotes. And so he wanted to do a shout-out. So that’s why we are in, the Big Fish poster is in The 5th Wave.

Craig: Fantastic. Well, thank you very much for that inclusion.

John: All right, it’s time for our One Cool Things. So, I think both of our One Cool Things are actually Hollywood related, just like that last story. My One Cool Thing is a GIF. And it is a GIF of superheroes jumping. And it came out this last week. And it’s basically a bunch of the Marvel superheroes doing their jumping, where they’re jumping off of apple boxes that are later going to be visual effects things. And it’s just so absurd. And I love it because it just points out how ridiculous it is, this whole process is for making movies.

And so you see Chris Evans like just jumping down off a box. The best by far is Benedict Cumberbatch, as Doctor Strange, who has to like stand up and then jump like he’s about to fly. But it’s just like sort of this skip. And I love our actors, but just imagining being on the set where like all you have to do is jump up a foot a lot. And try to maintain your cool.

Craig: That is this running discussion on every set now a director saying to the visual effects supervisor, “How much do you need here exactly?” And he’ll say, “I just need the first second of his coming up off the box. Everything after that falls away. It falls apart after that. I just need that bit.”

And so you’re like, okay, don’t worry if you look stupid. It’s just for the first little thing. And there’s a whole negotiation of tell me how long this lasts so I know. And then, of course, what happens? The whole damn thing ends up on the Internet. Classic.

Amanda: Of course.

Craig: Classic.

John: The best.

Craig: The best. Well, my One Cool Thing, this one doesn’t reflect well on actors. This is a real theme here. It’s called The Empty Cup awards. And I just love this.

So, this is a compilation video that was put together on Slate. The piece is done by Myles McNutt and Daniel Hubbard. And the idea here is all too frequently on television or less the case in movies, but on television characters are walking around with coffee cups. And there’s clearly nothing in the cup. And there’s all sorts of reasons for that. The least of which is water in the cup, it might spill, it might fall, whatever. But the problem is the actors simply don’t convey any weight whatsoever in the cup. So, you end up with actors effortlessly hoisting full tall lattes around or carrying two of them in one hand at one time.

In one case, one character has some kind of hot chocolate that’s got the whip cream on it. And the whip cream is definitely not whip cream either. And she’s just like wiggling that thing around. And it’s really funny actually. I think that a lot of actors are going to think twice the next time they’re handed a coffee cup.

John: It’s, again, a great compilation of absurd moments of acting. And I was frustrated and delighted about how many of those moments I actually had remembered seeing and they had annoyed me. And Supergirl for whatever reason, when I watched the first couple of episodes of that with my daughter, there’s a lot of coffee cups in that and I had never believed them.

Greg Berlanti, if you’re listening to this show, please spend some of the money to fix the coffee cup situation.

Craig: I mean, it does seem like it wouldn’t be that hard. You don’t have to put hot coffee in the cup. It’s got a lid on it. Just put water in it.

John: Not even water. Just put clear polymer. Just make it as heavy as the actual liquid would be.

Craig: Well, water is as heavy as actual coffee.

Amanda: But that spills.

John: But water could spill. Water could spill.

Craig: Okay, sure. I guess. Well, you know, yeah, put a weight in it.

John: So, while we’re ruining things for people watching stuff, I will tell you that if you ever see a paper bag in a TV show or a movie, it’s not actually a paper bag. So, because those make noise, because paper bags make noise, they use this brown cloth that they starch the hell out of it, so it looks like paper. But it doesn’t actually crinkle that way.

And they look really good, but they don’t look perfect. So now that I’ve told you that paper bags aren’t actually paper bags, you will see like, oh, that’s right, that’s not a paper bag.

Craig: Oh god. You know what? This is like the time the first person told me about reel change marks. And then there was the time somebody said, “By the way, you know that when people are driving in a car and you’re looking through the windshield at them, the rear view mirror isn’t there.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: I’m like, wait, what? Oh god. Yeah, ruined. Life ruined.

John: Amanda, do you have a One Cool Thing for us?

Amanda: I do have a One Cool Thing. I know the show has been mentioned on a couple episodes before, but I just got my copy of Hamilton: The Revolution, the book.

Craig: Yep.

Amanda: And I am devouring it. I’m only like in the second chapter but I poured over every picture, every annotation, and it’s amazing.

John: Wow. So she came prepared with board games and Hamilton. She definitely knows her audience here.

Amanda: [laughs] But the great thing is this is not put on at all. Like I skipped board game night last night just to read my script again. And I got up this morning to read another chapter of Hamilton: The Revolution. Because I’m obsessed. So, it just works out. I love you guys.

John: Oh, fantastic.

Craig: We love you, too.

John: Thank you, again, for being so brave and for coming in and for showing up in Austin. We all lucked out having you be the person who got that ticket. So thank you very much.

Amanda: Thank you.

John: And that’s our show this week. So, our outro this week comes from Paul B. If you have an outro for the show, you can write into ask@johnaugust.com and send us a link to that. That’s also where you can write questions like the ones we answered on the show today.

Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. If you would like to talk to us on Twitter, I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Amanda, are you on Twitter?

Amanda: I am. @amandamorad.

John: That’s fantastic. You will find links to a lot of the things we talked about on the show today, including Amanda’s script, and these wonderful One Cool Things, and other stuff we find that is useful. We will append those to the podcast that you’re listening to right now. So, thank you so much. Thank you, Amanda.

Amanda: Thank you.

John: And, Craig, I’ll talk to you next week.

Craig: Got it. Bye-bye.

John: Bye.

Links:

The One with the Austin Winner

Tue, 05/17/2016 - 08:03

Remember the live show in Austin, when we promised we’d read one lucky listener’s script and talk about it on the air? This is that episode.

John and Craig talk with Amanda Morad about her pilot script Betty Bureau, offering praise, suggestions and a few next steps. You can read Amanda’s script in the links below.

We also answer a few short and simple questions about rights and clearances.

Links:

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 249: How to Introduce Characters — Transcript

Fri, 05/13/2016 - 15:01

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hey, this is John. So, on April 16, 2016, I had the great pleasure of sitting down with Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom to talk about their amazing show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. This was all part of the Writers Guild Foundation Craft Day 2016. It was a full day session. So, I did this panel in the morning with Aline and Rachel. Later in the afternoon I did the panel with Lawrence Kasdan and me and Craig. They were both great.

This one was wonderful for reasons I didn’t expect, partly because it was filthy. And so this is also my parental advisory warning. If you are in the car with your kids, it’s not appropriate probably, because specific things are discussed which are probably not things you want your kids to be hearing. But, it’s just great, and so we had a fun time talking about the show and really focusing on character introductions, which is how do you first let your audience know who these characters are, what they should be looking for. And I thought the pilot for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was incredibly useful on that front.

So, enjoy. And we’ll be back next week with a normal episode. Thanks.

[Start of live show]

Hello and welcome. I’m required to say hello and welcome whenever I greet a crowd here. So, in addition to being a screenwriter, I’m also host of a podcast called Scriptnotes. Thank you. Some people are listening to Scriptnotes. And Craig Mazin and I each week talk about the craft and business of screenwriting. And I think our very first guest ever on the show was Aline Brosh McKenna who is going to be joining us up here in a second.

Aline is fantastic. And Aline tells you exactly how things are supposed to be and what to do and what not to do. She gives us fashion tips, which I don’t ever take. Not this last Christmas, but the Christmas before she came to our holiday special and she brought a special guest. And that guest was the star of the TV show that they’ve created together. Her name was Rachel Bloom and she sang a song to the Scriptnotes thing called When Will I Be Famous. And the answer to that question was 2015 when her TV show debuted and was phenomenal and everyone loved it. And then she won the Golden Globe.

So, we are so excited to welcome as our first guests today Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom, creators of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Aline Brosh McKenna: Hi everybody. Good morning.

Rachel Bloom: Good morning.

John: Good morning. So, I’m obsessed with your show. And I think anyone who listens to the podcast knows that I’m obsessed with your show. I have seen every episode. I’ve seen some episodes multiple times. I saw the version back when it was a Showtime show and then I saw the CW show. So we can talk about all that stuff.

But because this is Craft Day, I thought we might really focus in on just really craft topics, especially I’d like to talk with you guys about how you introduce a character. Because we can look through how you guys introduced characters in the pilot, how you introduce characters later along the way. If people want to read along at home, if you go to johnaugust.com/crazy, the scene pack that we’re going to talk through is in there. It’s a PDF. So you can look through that. Also, in Weekend Read, you can see the whole script, which you guys were so generous to provide for us. The whole pilot script for what you shot. And we can talk through stuff. But, characters?

Aline: Well, I can give you an example. We were trying to figure out the character of Greg’s dad. And we kind of didn’t really know what to do with him and how to make him special and interesting. And it was kind of close in to when we needed him to work. It was actually we were in production already, because it was for episode six. And we just couldn’t kind of get a beat on him.

And then Rachel and I met at Starbucks and we were like, “How do we do this?” We knew we wanted him to be sort of a macho guy, and then I said maybe he was a chef. And then we went on this thing of maybe he had had a restaurant that closed. And then Rachel said — so this is I think typical of our collaboration — so I said, you know, maybe he’s a chef and the restaurant closed and we can talk about West Covina, how like all the good restaurants have been replaced by chains. But it didn’t really give us any behavior.

And then was like, well, what’s funny about him? And Rachel said, “Maybe he’s got macaws.”

John: So a specific bird reference there.

Aline: Maybe he has two macaws. And it was like we started talking about, and that gave us a lot of stuff about him being like very stubborn and collecting birds, even though it’s like not great for his son. And then that led to him like — we had always had him being somebody who is kind of sickly. And that led to him being somebody who still smokes and drinks, despite having emphysema and heart problems. So, it was like — it was a combination of really trying to find the purpose and the narrative, and then finding things that were quirky and special.

And Rachel in particular, in part I think because her background is in sketch, always approaches a character with putting some topspin on them so that there’s always something else going on that makes them kind of interesting and different and special.

Rachel: But, Aline, you do the same thing. We’re right in the middle of writing season two right now and I feel like we have this great pattern where one of us will ask kind of a general question, and then the other will answer with a really unexpected specific.

I remember in the original Showtime pilot, and this ended up being in the CW, we were talking about what happens when Greg and Rebecca go on this date. And then out of nowhere you were like, “What if she just like gave him a hand job?” And I was like, what, no. And then — but then it was like, okay, well what if she did that? And that ended up being really like the thing that sets up their relationship. This idea of this hand job/make out interrogation scene where this idea of from the beginning it was always about this messed up sexual power.

Aline: And that she’s not afraid to use her sexual — she doesn’t even understand that that might not be okay. That she’s just like — and in her mind, if you asked her, she’s just giving a guy a hand job. She doesn’t realize she’s doing an interrogation. Which is something they should do by the way. I think it would be much more effective than waterboarding.

Rachel: I totally agree.

Aline: Because you could get anything out of a man.

Rachel: Oh yeah. Yeah. If you just threaten like, you won’t get to cum, like, “Okay, fine! The bomb is here.” Yeah.

John: I saw the Showtime pilot.

Rachel: Saturday morning. You like my cum sounds.

Aline: This is what we do all day.

Rachel: All day.

Aline: This show is very much built in conversation. You know, Rachel and I spend, somebody said what are you doing to prepare for season two. I said, well what we always do, which is talking for hours, and hours, and hours. And we talk about stuff that’s not relevant to the show at all, like stuff with the characters and stories. We know things about these characters that isn’t relevant and will never be relevant.

I always say it’s like when they go into a hoarder’s apartment and he’s built like an entire universe out of like creatures he made from soda cans and, what do you call that fuzzy wire, pipe cleaners? That’s sort of what we do is we build this world and then we populate it. And it is sort of like kids playing with a dollhouse.

Rachel: Yeah. I mean, that’s why writing with Aline always feels like — we were just talking about this — it feels like the most effortless part. The time just flies so quickly. Because it’s building a world made up of a bunch of really fun specifics. And I learned so much, because I come from more sketch, and animation, I kind of worked in more broad strokes. Okay, so what are the ideas we want to service, and then kind of like not working in stock characters, but like how do the characters service this premise.

And when we started creating the show, I mean, I’ve learned so much about character specificity from Aline, but I remember like the first day it was like, okay, so it’s going to be a show about how love takes you over, so how is this girl a symbol. And you were like, “What’s her favorite color? What’s her favorite meal? What was her childhood like?”

And it was like going into it with an emotional specificity that I hadn’t done before, and that’s how now we approach every character. And I learned that from you. You’re so smart.

Aline: That’s what we do.

Rachel: I love you so much.

John: So, Aline, I know you from things like Devil Wears Prada. You’re known for long features, where you’re setting up a character and taking them through this journey, a journey that happens exactly once, versus a TV show which is we’re seeing this character again and again, and all of these characters again and again.

Rachel, I first knew you from Robot Chicken. And so Robot Chicken, those are incredibly fast sketches where the first frame we have to understand what that character is supposed to be, and then getting to the joke as quickly as possible. So, what was this first conversation between you guys about who was this character? Did it start with who is the Rebecca character, or did it start with the situation? What were those initial conversations like?

Aline: They were kind of both, but I will say, you know, we’ve always felt like we were writing a 45-hour movie. That’s always how we’ve approached it. I think the series that I love the most are the ones where you feel like the creators are in control of the whole story. Like when you’re watching Breaking Bad there’s no question in your mind that he knows where he’s going. Mad Men.

I get tense when I watch TV shows where I feel like you know that every week they’re like [makes noise of car screeching]. And so we divided it into four chapters, and every chapter has an ending, and it’s building to an ultimate ending. And that’s the only way I could approach it.

John: Are these chapters seasons?

Aline: Seasons.

John: So, when you guys were having this conversation, were you talking about how you were first going to meet her. What were the initial conversations about how we first meet Rebecca?

Rachel: Do you remember the construction site?

Aline: Yeah, I do.

Rachel: So, I think originally — because when we first met it was going to be a network show. And we weren’t even sure if I would get to play it, because like who’s going to hire this over someone famous. And so we were like, okay, so we weren’t thinking as much of like me playing the character as much as the character. And originally the pilot started with this scene of there was a construction site. It was a going to be a helicopter shot of New York City.

Aline: Right. We were not really up to speed on budget.

Rachel: No. [laughs] A construction site and she walks onto the construction site in giant stiletto heels and says–

Aline: Well, it was going to be a thing where there’s like a bunch of dudes on a construction site, and then this girl comes out with these heels and she kind of goes through. And then the very next thing that happened is she Instagrams a selfie of herself on this construction site, trying desperately to get everyone. So you sort of immediately contrast like she’s very capable at work, but she’s a loser, has no friends, so she Instagrams a picture of herself with a helmet. And the guys behind her–

Rachel: Yes. And she chews out the guys. She basically — she calls them all mentally handicapped. And she makes one of them cry. And then she’s like, “Having fun on the job.” And like hashtag Work Times. And like no one — and she keeps refreshing it and seeing if anyone likes it, and no one likes it.

Aline: Right. And then we very early on had this idea that she runs into this ex-boyfriend, and we spent just an inordinate amount of time figuring out if it was a high school boyfriend, or a college boyfriend. There was a whole long thing that led us to summer camp boyfriend, but there were a lot of considerations.

But, ultimately she runs into the boyfriend and then we had her having a panic attack in the script, in the outline for a long time, in the script for a while she was cutting herself in the — right now in the pilot she’s taking those pills. She used to be cutting herself.

Rachel: You had the really crazy idea that she would — and I kind of loved this — she would take out a pack of cigarettes, and you think she was going to smoke, and then she’d take out a needle or a razor blade and be cutting herself like below her nailbed. And this is when we were with Showtime. And they were like, “Wow.” [laughs] They were like, “That’s dark.”

John: They’re like, “We had Dexter on the air. Like that’s dark.”

Aline: But you know what, that became our litmus test when we were pitching the show. We’d pitch that, and that became our litmus test for should we do the show here, because people who blanched at that so much, it’s like cutting is super prevalent, guys. Lots and lots and lots and lots of women do this, particularly — well, men do it, too. But it’s very prevalent behavior that you almost never see, especially not in a high-functioning person. And when we pitched it that became our litmus test to like people who blanched too much at that.

And then ultimately Showtime was excited about that kind of stuff. But we ended up peeling away from that just because in that moment we had gone to this thing of trying to explore her medication and how she was medicated, so that’s how it ended up being that way.

Rachel: And then I just want to say one more thing, that the show then, once we settled upon the idea that I was going to play the character and we were going to pitch it to smaller cable places, who wouldn’t care as much that I wasn’t a name, that’s — we basically wrote the pilot by improvising aloud to each other. And as I started to play Rebecca more in the improvisation with Aline, the character changed.

Aline: It changed.

Rachel: Because it was like, oh, here’s how I portray her. So I think she was much more of a hard-ass, and then when I started to portray her there was this weird musical theater ingénue bubbliness, where it was like she was never necessarily going to be the person to be like, “Fuck you, you fucking ass — ” Like, that just wasn’t my portrayal of her. So it changed with that improvisation.

Aline: That’s right.

John: But from the initial instinct, it was always that she was the highly functional dysfunctional hero of this story.

Aline: Yes.

John: And the idea that we would get access to her inner mind by songs, was that in the very initial conception?

Aline: Always.

Rachel: Yes.

Aline: Always. And Rachel comes from a background of doing musicals, traditional musicals, and then also her music comedy videos. And so she knows way more than I do about when to have a song and how the song accesses emotions. And that’s all completely second nature to her.

And one thing that was interesting about working with someone who is a lot younger than me, and in certain areas was not as experienced, Rachel has like rock solid experience and convictions about the music, and the songs, and how they’re put together, and where they belong in the narrative. And it’s just — it’s that thing we’ve talked about a lot on Scriptnotes, about expertise. Rachel is — no matter where we were, how intimidating the situation was — when we’re talking about the music and the songs, Rachel has such a firm point of view. She knows every musical. And knows the background of American musicals inside and out.

So, that’s where our background. And I’m a newbie and a learner about that stuff.

John: Let’s take a look in the packet here. I’m going to hand these out to you guys.

Rachel: I haven’t seen this in a while.

John: Yeah. I know.

Rachel: It’s really cool.

John: It’s so weird with a TV show, like when do you ever go back to the script.

Aline: Yeah. Yeah.

John: You shoot a script and it’s dead to you.

Rachel: Last revision September 15, 2015.

John: And this was Golden Rod pages. This is–

Aline: This is what we shot–

John: This is what you shot for the CW when you–

Aline: This was our CW version, yeah.

John: I’d love to start with this first scene here. So this is a first time you’re going to the new offices. So, essentially for people who aren’t familiar with the show, Rebecca has bumped into her camp boyfriend in–

Aline: Oh, these are selected scenes. Yeah, okay.

John: These are selected scenes. She’s bumped into her camp boyfriend, Josh, who is now moving to West Covina. She’s like, “You know what, I hate my job here. I’m going to move to West Covina.” She’s gotten herself a job at this law firm and this is her showing up at this law firm for the first time.

So, this is our first time meeting really important characters who are going to be series regulars, so Darryl, her best friend who is going to be following her around. So, let’s read aloud.

Aline: Oh, okay read aloud. Great.

John: Do you want to be Darryl and I’ll do scene descriptions?

Rachel: Great. And I’ll play Rebecca.

John: That’s a bold choice.

Rachel: Did it a couple months, so.

John: So we start off-screen. So there’s a pre-lap voice over of Darryl here.

Aline: I hope you don’t mind, but I handed out copies of your resume. We’re just — oh you’re going to read scene description.

John: So, then we’re inside Whitefeather Law Offices, morning. The offices of Whitefeather and Associates. Everyone stands up to watch Rebecca and her new boss DARRYL WHITEFEATHER (50’S) walk through.

Aline: We’re just so honored… and confused, frankly… to have an attorney of your caliber here.

Rachel: So, Darryl WhiteFeather…That’s an interesting name.

Aline: Yeah, I’m what they call a full one- eighth. One-eighth Chippewa. That’s why everyone here calls me Chief.

Rachel: Interesting…

Aline: Yeah, they don’t, but I wish they–

John: She checks her phone. Still nothing.

Rachel: Hey, is there a problem with cell phone service in West Covina? Like some kind of mountains or…magnetic clouds?

John: No.

Aline: No, I have Sprint. It’s the bomb. I’m sorry, I have kids.

Rachel: Oh.

Aline: But I am getting divorced.

Rachel: Oh, I’m sorry.

Aline: I’m not! Hey-o! Let me show you around.

John: They walk through the office.

Aline: So you’re from New York? Spent some time there myself.

Rachel: Oh, yeah?

Aline: Yeah, a week after college with my buddies. We went to ALL the best places. They still have that greaaaat pizza place downtown? De– something? You know that one? The one with the pizza, that has pizza?

Rachel: Oh, yeah, that one…it’s great.

Aline: Cheese and–

Rachel: Yeah. That’s pizza. Yeah.

Aline: Yeah. That’s it. We actually have some great places here in the ‘Cov. There’s a wine bar on Foothill, has a killer Riesling. And the restaurant in the Hilton, the chef there trained in…was it Tustan? Or was it…no, it was Tuscany.

Rachel: That’s in Italy. Cool.

Aline: Yeah. It was Tuscany. Have you ever heard of Branzino?

Rachel: Yeah.

Aline: It’s a fish.

Rachel: I know.

Aline: Oh, because I thought it was a sandwich.

Rachel: Oh.

John: Yeah.

Rachel: Well, I really look forward to everything this town has to offer. That’s why I moved here, to chillax. Live the SoCal sunny lifestyle.

Aline: We are only two hours away from the beach. Four in traffic, but it’s not a big deal.

Rachel: Exactly.

Aline: Feel like you and I are gonna have a lot in common. And not just the pizza and the fish.

John: He smiles. She reaches over to a desk, grabs a few brochures for the firm.

Rachel: …until my business cards come in, think I’ll just take a few of these to show I definitely work here, in case anyone asks or is curious.

John: ANGLE ON: Paula, who is at her desk, looking at Rebecca’s resume. Paula’s cubicle is decorated with a mix of angry cubicle art, puppy and kitten photos, sexy vampires and office-themed cartoons.

Aline: I don’t get it. You see this resume? Harvard, Yale, special skills: Mandarin? She get this out of a resume book? What the hell is she doing here?

John: Mrs. Hernandez shakes her head, shrugs.

Aline: Exactly. Makes no sense.

John: Rebecca and Darryl pass Paula’s desk. They stop.

Aline: Rebecca, this is Paula.

Rachel: Oh, great, hi. Are you my assistant? I’m gonna need a ton of help getting my computer set up, I’m a total grandma with that stuff.

John: She notices Paula is glaring. And Darryl is afraid.

Aline: Actually, Paula is our head paralegal.

Rachel: Oh, I’m so sorry.

Aline: Two years of training, six months of night school, fifteen years of experience, but never mind. Those are some good knockoff Louboutins. I know how to say it. Yep.

Rachel: Oh, thanks! Actually, they’re real, but I got them on sale.

Aline: Lindsey Lohan wears those. She’s been to jail six times and has fake hair. Did you know that? Everyone knows that. Right, Mrs. Hernandez?

John: Mrs. Hernandez nods. “For sure.”

Aline: Oh, sorry, this is Mrs. Hernandez. She is our communications director.

Rachel: Pleased to meet you.

John: She shakes hands with Mrs. Hernandez, who crushes her hand.

Aline: Careful there. She went to a “Women in Business” seminar a couple of years ago, came back with that death grip. So, what brings you to our lovely West Covina?

Rachel: Just looking for a change.

Aline: Oh. Know anyone in town or have any relatives? Anything?

Rachel: Um… nope.

Aline: Huh.

Rachel: No.

Aline: Huh, I see. Yeah. Mm-hmm. Well welcome aboard.

John: They walk away. Paula turns to Mrs. Hernandez.

Aline: “They’re real, got them on sale.” Who is that person?

John: She eyes Rebecca who walks into Darryl’s office.

We can stop there. So, let’s talk about–

Rachel: That was weird, because I was doing an — we shot that scene in the original pilot, and then we reshot because we recast the role of Darryl. And when I reshot it, I was kind of doing an impression of myself in the original pilot, because I had watched it so much. And right now I was doing an impression of myself doing an impression of myself.

John: You’re a copy of a copy of a copy.

Rachel: Yeah. [laughs]

John: So good. So let’s talk about introducing Darryl and Paula.

Aline: Well this is interesting, I think, for people who are crafty folks and making things. So, Darryl went through a lot of evolutions. We wrote Darryl, he was kind of a stock character, I would say, like the dumbo boss. And we auditioned a million people, including Pete Gardner, but he didn’t get the part. Michael McDonald got the part. And the reason we hired Michael was that he brought this weird intensity to Darryl that we really loved. Darryl seemed like some really strange things had happened in his life. And we really liked that.

So, Michael is in the pilot. You saw Michael. And Michael brings a completely different thing than Pete does. Michael really brings this thing of like he hits on her a bit, and you can’t get a beat on him, and you would sort of believe that he was secretly blackmailing everyone in the office. There’s something a little nefarious about him.

So, then when Michael — so some of this dialogue is improvised by Michael McDonald in his audition and on set, right?

Rachel: Yes.

Aline: And we incorporated. So these poor actors — so then Pete came back with a bunch of other people to audition and had to read stuff that had been improvised by Michael.

Rachel: And Michael couldn’t do it because he had other — by the time we got ordered to series on CW, which was more episodes than Showtime, he has a ton of directing commitments. So it wasn’t like a bad–

Aline: He was the in-house director for Mike & Molly. And he was really sad, but it was more of a time commitment. So, we cast this wide net. We got a bunch of different people. And we found Pete. And Pete is a veteran — most of our cast are veteran Broadway people. And Pete is a veteran-veteran improviser. I mean, anyone in Los Angeles who does improv knows Pete.

So, when he was improvising with Rachel, I remember during his audition they improvised a lot. And I remember Rachel said to me after the audition, “I feel so safe with him,” because you could anywhere, take the scene anywhere. And then Pete has then kind of lovable goofiness. He’s so sweet. And so he has brought a lot of his Pete-ness to the role.

So, that role I would say of all the roles evolved the most to kind of suit the actor. And I think one of the things that’s interesting when you’re writing something is particularly sometimes if you have a character who is maybe not as strongly conceived as some of the other ones, an actor can really bring something very special to it. And we have really — our characters have flowed to the actors that we cast very frequently.

John: That’s the luxury of television is that you get to see who those people are and what their strengths are and play to their strengths.

So, let’s talk about how we first meet Darryl. So, from the very start, “I hope you don’t mind, but I handed out copies of your resume. We’re just so honored and confused, frankly, to have an attorney of your caliber here.” So right at the very start he’s laying out exactly sort of like — he’s like the dog who is rolling over on its back and exposing his belly, saying, “Ooh, we’re so happy that you’re here.” And it puts him in a strange place. It also gives Rebecca a lot of power in the situation, which is an unusual dynamic for somebody to be coming into an office as–

Aline: A beta boss.

John: Yeah. A beta boss is sort of a new thing. Then we’re getting into his Native American heritage, which we’ll get into a little bit later on. He leads with the fact that he’s divorced and that he’s sort of flummoxed, that he’s easily sort of overwhelmed. So it’s an interesting, exciting character. I noticed that there’s actually very little scene description here. It’s mostly just a big run of dialogue.

Aline: Yeah. There’s probably more — this is a production draft, so if you went back to our pilot draft, I’m sure it’s filled with lovely crafted sentences. And then when you’re in production it’s like, “Who needs all that?”

John: But you’re still trying to keep up Rebecca’s story. So, Rebecca has moved here and she’s trying to find — doesn’t want to make it seem strange that she’s moved here. So she’s grabbing the brochures in place of business cards in case Josh sees her. It’s like, “Oh, well this is going to be my excuse for why I moved here. And I really do have a job here. I’m not just stalking you.” Even though she’s really just stalking him.

Rachel: Yeah, because there was a risk of this scene just being like kind of a typical sitcom, like meet the new boss at the new firm, and throughout it she’s checking her phone, checking her phone. We never wanted to drop the plot of the pilot.

Aline: And this is the big lie that’s revealed in — spoiler alert — but it’s revealed in a later episode, in episode nine, that this is a bunch of — she then tells people that Darryl recruited her. And like a lot of liars, Rebecca doesn’t bother to clean up her lies. Because the clean-up of the lie is often the thing that undoes the lie. So, she just lies and just thinks–

John: She lies and walks away from it.

Aline: Hopes for the best, right. And this one comes back to bite her on the ass. She never tells Darryl that it’s a secret, because it would undermine her. But she basically just said, you know, once he got that resume. But, part of Darryl thinks, “Oh, I deserve this. I’m wonderful. And this is one of the wonderful things I deserve. And I finally am getting something good.”

John: Yeah. Like he did The Secret, and he visualized this moment and now it’s come true.

Aline: Exactly.

John: You are his embodiment of a secret.

Aline: Darryl has multiple copies of The Secret, for sure.

Rachel: There was always this idea of Darryl putting on an identity because he didn’t know who he was. And so hence the one-eighth Chippewa thing. He’s searching for who he is. And we’ve dropped this a little with Pete’s particular portrayal, but this idea he thinks he’s — he’s kind of falsely sophisticated. And so the idea that he would deserve a Harvard lawyer.

Originally I think Darryl had a little bit more hubris. And now Pete has brought this sweet, sad, humbleness to it, but we always knew, even though he was kind of stock, that there was a deep sadness to Darryl. We just didn’t always know what it was or what it was rooted in.

John: And so how early on — this is a little spoiler for people who aren’t caught up on the show — the idea that he is bisexual, or discovers he’s bisexual. Did you know that when you were writing the scene, or was that just–

Rachel: Yes.

John: Okay, you knew that. Wow.

Aline: We knew very early on. And it was partly because Darryl’s sort of like search for identity and the amount of upset that he had about his divorce, but he doesn’t dislike his wife, he just feels really upset about the divorce and he really misses his daughter.

And we just started talking about like who would Darryl go out with and what would Darryl’s dating life be like and would he be interested in Rebecca. And that never really made sense to us. And also the thing about being bi is like it’s the only thing that I can think of that you work up an enormous amount of courage and you say to someone, “I’m bisexual,” and they go, “No you’re not. You’re not. No.”

You know, I mean, if you tell someone you’re gay, a negative reaction might be they were upset or they’re judgmental, but bisexual people confront someone going, “No, you’re not. No.” And that seemed like a good predicament for Darryl, because Darryl is always trying to find an identity, and people are always saying, “I don’t believe you. You’re not really that.”

And so what I love about where we went with that ultimately is that when he discovers he’s bisexual, that’s the first thing in his life that has really rung true for him. It’s really like, “That’s it.” And so that’s why he embraces it so fully. But we did know that here. But there were a lot of things in the show that because of the really detailed pipe cleaner art, that Rachel and I knew that we waited to reveal until — I mean, we still have stuff that we haven’t revealed, but we just waited a long time with Darryl for the right moment. We didn’t make it part of his shtick in other words.

John: Let’s talk about Paula, because she’s the second most important character in the show overall, because she ends up being the confidant, the buddy, the cheerleader. Like you’re on the road to destruction and she’s the one who says, “No, go faster. Go faster.”

Aline: Totally.

John: Let’s talk about Paula here. Because when we first meet her, it seems like she’s going to be a stock villain. She’s going to be the stock person who is taking you down. If this is 9 to 5, she’d be the Roz character who is going to stop you. And what I love about how you set her up is from the start we see her cubicle decoration, even though we’re not going to really catch that in the pilot, it’s important for it to be there so we sort of inform the choices about her.

But she’s telling us about herself, which is really telling us more stuff about Rebecca. “You see this resume? Harvard. Yale. Special skills: Mandarin.” Again, it’s reminding us, oh don’t forget, she’s actually really competent, which was crucial. You’re setting up Mrs. Hernandez, a character who never speaks, and who’s sort of like–

Rachel: And we know why that is by the way. And we’ll–

Aline: We’ll get there.

Rachel: We’ll get there.

John: You’ll get there eventually.

Rachel: I just want to say we know why that is. It’s not just a gag.

John: Not just a gag. All right.

Rachel: Put that out for all the haters. Because this audience is clearly full of haters.

John: But in her dialogue choices, you’re describing she’s getting a chance to say things that she actually knows about. And she’s obsessed with popular culture. Louboutins. She wants to be — she aspires to be the person who gets to talk about these things, and yet she doesn’t. So, when you were writing this character for the first time, did you have a sense of who that person was going to be cast down the road? It wasn’t written for a person, but it was just a type?

Aline: She was always an antagonist — she’s the antagonist of the pilot. She doesn’t get on board until the very end. Well, we cast — the widest net we probably cast was for Paula. We saw every kind of — I mean, we weren’t restricted. We were color blind in almost all our casting except for — no, we were pretty color blind in most of our casting.

Rachel: Except for Josh, who was specifically Asian.

Aline: Except for Josh was always supposed to be Asian. So, here’s my tip for you. If you are looking for the deepest pool of talent in the world, it’s women between the ages of like 38 and 58. I’m telling you.

Rachel: They’re unbelievable and they can all sing.

Aline: Literally people you don’t know can sing, so here’s the thing. When we cast Greg, there’s a lot of dudes, especially white dudes, who think they’re amazing. And have been told they’re amazing. And we saw more bad auditions. Like guys were like kind of handsome and someone said you should be an actor. We saw millions of those.

Rachel: Okay, wait. I just want to clarify. I think the thing, and this is actually really good to know for any actors out there, the problem with a lot of the people we saw for Greg was because they had in their heads, okay, I’m the like hot romantic lead, everything was really small. And everything — the wine bar is over on — and they’re basically falling asleep because someone had told them this is what naturalistic acting is. This is your role. You’re the romantic heartthrob lead. And that’s why–

Aline: But it’s also a supply and demand thing. I mean, if you’re a handsome Caucasian gentleman, you know, 30, plus or minus five, you’re on a TV show. You have your own TV show. They’re so in demand. Middle aged ladies, who are so talented — I mean, literally, women would come in and crush the scene, and then you could click on their singing thing and it would be like, wow, that was a really good sing. And then they would sing and it would be like — it was like that commercial, your hair would be blown back, by how good they sang.

We could have cast that part — I mean, Donna is amazing, amazing, amazing, and stood out even in that group, but I’m telling you, we saw women from all different backgrounds, in a 20 age range, and they were incredible.

John: Let’s talk about that age range, because it’s an interesting gap between the two of you. Because she’s not quite a mother figure, I mean, she’s old for being a friend, but she’s not quite a mother figure. It’s a really fascinating gap that I don’t see a lot in television.

Aline: Well, it’s not that different from our age gap.

John: All right. Is there a degree to which the nature of that relationship was your relationship, or that gap?

Rachel: Yes. I mean, I actually remember when I first pitched the character of Paula to you. Do you remember this? And my thinking was — I remember I was filming a web series in Westwood and I was eating lunch. And I was like Rebecca needs a best friend.

And I was like, well what’s like a best friend character we hadn’t seen. And I’ve been watching a lot of Frasier, which I always do. I love Frasier. And I was thinking about Niles is a more Frasiery Frasier than Frasier is. And I was like, oh, what’s Rebecca’s Niles? And then instantly I was like, oh, it would be someone who buys into all the shit that we’re trying to deconstruct with the show. Buying into romantic comedies and buying into like love, destiny, destiny.

And when I think of that, I think of like — I mean, the people now who are glued to their phones and Twitter and Snapchat, arguably more than 13 year old, are like 50-year-old women.

Aline: So it was like Minivan Moms. It was right around that time of 50 Shades and it was like Minivan Moms who have 50 Shades, Twilight, and some good vibrator. A good vibrator stashed somewhere. That was kind of the genesis of it.

And I think there’s a — the season finale is on Monday and Paula has–

John: Which you directed.

Aline: Which I directed.

Rachel: Ah yeah.

Aline: Paula has a huge number in it. And I have been talking to Donna about like I think there’s this vesuvial rage in middle age ladies, because I always feel like there’s three genders. There’s men, women, and women over 40. And it’s sort of like — and luckily we have Jennifer Lopez working on it. But I feel like — I just feel like there’s this age where women sort of disappear and people start to look through you. And Paula is the smartest person in our office. And she’s just as sexy and sexual as Rebecca is, but the world is telling her to sit down and shut up. And she doesn’t want to.

And so she doesn’t know how to do — what she decides to do ultimately is to live vicariously through her friend.

John: So, ultimately we’re going to find sort of Paula’s backstory life. In the pilot she’s just sort of the foil for Rebecca, but we’re going to find out her unhappy family life and why she’s so determined to act out. How much of that did you know going into this pilot about what her home life was going to be like and what her–?

Rachel: We knew a lot of it. I mean, I think that Paula is very much like a symbol of what happens to a dream deferred, right? And, again, there’s still stuff we know — I don’t know, the stuff, once we started talking about Paula it really came–

Aline: Yeah, I mean, one of the things, their dialectic, like Rebecca is sort of a person who makes terrible decisions and does things that are not great. But worries a tremendous amount about being a good person and seeming like a good person. And Paula could give a rat’s ass about that. Paula does not care about whether people think she’s a good person. She knows what she believes in and what she thinks are the things to do, and she’s very — she’s the Henry Kissinger of sexual politics. She is realpolitik above all.

And she thinks everybody in the world is out to get some, and get theirs, and that Rebecca should be doing that, too.

John: Well, also, Paula is a character who didn’t do all that stuff in her time. And so she made the safe choice every time and she’s regretted making those safe choices all those times. So she sees this character who will make wildly dumb choices all the time and is like, yes, you should do more of that. And it’s a very interesting choice.

Let’s jump ahead to page 14, which is the final scene with Paula and Rebecca. This is happening at a house party. Rebecca has gone there to try to find Josh Chan, because there’s legend that Josh Chan is going to be coming to this party. So, in the Showtime pilot she’s just started to give Greg a hand job and that didn’t go well. In the CW pilot–

Rachel: No, no, in the Showtime pilot, she’s actively blowing him.

John: Oh, that’s right.

Rachel: And crying on his dick. By the way, and then when I did ADR for it, I had to — honest to god — I got an unpeeled banana and I put in my mouth doing ADR.

Aline: The sound guys were so happy.

John: They didn’t have Foley they could go through for that? Or have some sort of like sound effects library for that?

Aline: Everyone was like we don’t want to ask her. I’m like, don’t worry about it.

Rachel: [laughs] Oh, there’s this great — oh, the teamsters story.

Aline: Oh my god.

Rachel: Oh, there’s this great story about — real quick. This has nothing to do with anything. So the original Showtime pilot, the whole, just picture the CW pilot, but the whole scene, instead of like about to give him a hand job, I’m actively jerking him off. Like the whole conversation is like, “So what, this is a great party, this is a great party.”

And so we’re in the car on a location, we’re in the van on a location scout in West Covina.

Aline: We’re in the van with a bunch of — I mean, we’re with the line producer, and the department heads, and the teamsters driving.

Rachel: Yeah. And with our director, Marc. And I said to Marc, we were talking about the hand job scene. Very earnest question. I was like, hey, so should I spit into my hand? And he was like–

Aline: No!

Rachel: He was like, “What are you talking about? What do you mean spit into your hand?” I was like, that’s how you give a hand job. And he was like, “No it isn’t.” And we had a whole argument in the car–

Aline: A whole argument.

Rachel: Of how to give a hand job. And we came to the conclusion that the way penises are, some people are like shaft tuggers, and other people — no, no, no, some people are, what is it?

Aline: Strokers and tuggers.

Rachel: Strokers and tuggers. Strokers and tuggers. Some people have excess skin where you don’t need…anyway.

Aline: So Rachel was about to turn to the teamster–

Rachel: This is for the scene. It’s really important.

John: Art.

Rachel: I need to know what Greg Serrano’s dick looks like. Like that’s really important.

Aline: They’re having a heated conversation. Rachel is about to turn to the teamster, who is the only other man in the van–

Rachel: And be like, “How do you like be jerked off?”

Aline: And she gets a text from our line producer saying, “You’re approaching actionable.”

Rachel: People have been sued for this. And we are saying it would have been the first time that an actress was sued by a teamster. [laughs] Anyways, so if you notice, I do not spit into my hand. Oh, no, you don’t know that. I don’t spit into my hand.

Aline: We’re going to try and put it up one day, because it’s a funny–

Rachel: It’s a great scene.

Aline: Quite funny scene with the actual hand job.

Rachel: And the sound effect of slapping. I don’t know where they got it. They wouldn’t tell us.

John: All right.

Aline: The CW scene is–

John: It’s a wet Shammy.

Aline: –amorous smooching. It’s amorous smooching.

Rachel: And at one point I’m like grabbing his nipples and stuff. I think I had my hand up his shirt.

Aline: Well, there was another thing, which was they finally start making out, and to do this scene, and our actor is so kind and respectful to Rachel that he’s not touching her boobs. And I turned to Marc, the director, I’m like there’s no way that anybody would be on a date with someone who looks like Rachel and the first thing they would do is get to the boobs. Like, you got to go tell him to touch her boobs.

Rachel: And I think you went up to Santino — this is obviously the show.

Aline: No, no, I didn’t. I told Marc. I said you got to go tell Santino that he needs to–

Rachel: Yeah, I think Marc was like, “Um, can you…can you touch her…touch her boobs?”

Aline: For the realism of the scene. Anyway.

John: Page 14. We are outside Beans’ house. Here’s a question for you, because I don’t honestly remember the pilot very well. So, Josh’s friends and Greg’s friends, are they all at this house? Did we meet them there?

Rachel: No. They are theoretically there. We just don’t–

John: We just don’t see them there. All right, so we’re at Beans’ house, front lawn, night. Rebecca and Paula walk out onto the front lawn. I’m sorry, we should say that Paula has tracked Rebecca down to this party.

Aline: By breaking into her computer.

John: Yes. And so that’s where we first learn that she is a hacker extraordinaire.

Aline: Yes.

John: Rebecca and Paula walk out onto the front lawn.

Aline: Is this far enough from the house?

Rachel: What are you doing here?

Aline: You think you are so much better than me. Harvard, Yale… I’m just as smart as you, Miss SnootyShoes…

Rachel: What are you TALKING about?

Aline: I’m talking about Josh. Chan? Joooooosh Chaaaaaaan?

Rachel: What? What do you know about Josh?

Aline: Let’s see, well, I know he lives in town, which is weird because you told me you didn’t know anyone here. And clearly you know him, you checked his Facebook 63 TIMES today. And his Instagram, 18 times.

Rachel: Have you been going through my computer?

Aline: Yes. Yes, I have.

Rachel: I could have you fired.

Aline: You lied to me–

Rachel: Lied to you? I didn’t lie to you! No one shoved a bible under my hand when I met you in the office.

Aline: –and you lied because whoever this Josh Chan is, you’re OBSESSED with him–

Rachel: WHAT?

Aline: You’re in love with him. Look at you. Look at those love eyeballs.

Rachel: Oh, “love eyeballs”, yeah.

Aline: You love him. You moved here for him. And you won’t admit it! Why?

Rachel: In love with him? That’s ridiculous. I barely know him. I dated him for a summer when I was 16. Okay, what are you saying? Let’s unpack it. You’re saying I uprooted my entire life, left behind a job that paid me…oh, there’s a typo. Paid me thousand dollars? I think $500,000 was it. Left behind a job that paid me $500,000. That’s right. For some random boy I haven’t seen in ten years who likes to skateboard and thinks “whatever” is two separate words? That makes no sense. Look, it’s simple.

Aline: Ten years?

Rachel: What happened was, I was in New York and I saw him and he made me feel all warm, like glitter was exploding inside me, and now I’m here. But I didn’t move here FOR him because that would be crazy. And I’m not crazy. Am I… crazy? Ohmygod. OhmyGod. Is that what I am?

Aline: Okay, stop. Stop it. Right now. You’re not crazy, you hear me? You’re in love. That’s different.

Rachel: I can’t be in love with him. That would mean I’m stupid.

Aline: You’re not stupid. You’re following your heart. That’s not stupid. You just shoulda told me, that’s all–

Rachel: No, no, I am, I’m stupid and emotional and irrational, I’m every rotten thing my mother says I am…

Aline: STOP IT. STOP IT RIGHT NOW. Don’t you ever talk like that about my friend again, you hear me?

Rachel: We’re… friends?

Aline: I’d be proud to be your friend. Now that I know the truth? What you did for love? The sacrifices? You’re brave. Wish I’d been that brave at your age. Look, I get it, it’s a secret. I won’t tell a soul. But I’m here now. You’re not alone anymore. We are going to win this, you hear me? We won’t let what happened to Justin and Selena happen to you, I promise.

Rachel: You don’t understand. It doesn’t matter anymore. Josh has a girlfriend. Yeah, A GIRLFRIEND. Also, I texted him 46 hours ago and haven’t heard ANYTHING. So clearly all he cares about is his girlfriend. And not about me.

Aline: His Facebook status is SINGLE. If he was into her, would it say that?

Rachel: That’s what I said!

Aline: So maybe he doesn’t realize his true feelings right now, but if we play this right, one day he will. One day it’s gonna hit him like a ton of bricks and when that happens, HE WILL TEXT.

John: At that exact moment, a miracle. A CHIME FROM REBECCA’S PHONE. A TEXT MESSAGE.

Rachel: Are you a witch?

John: AND NOW TIME SLOWS DOWN. Slowly, Rebecca picks up the phone. Reads. Flips it around to show Paula.

Aline: Wanna grab dinner? Smiley face.

Rachel: IS THERE REALLY A SMILEY FACE???

Aline: THERE’S A SMILEY FACE.

John: HOLY FUCKING SHIT. Rebecca and Paula are blown away. Rebecca begins to sing. A reprise. The West Covina song.

Aline: Oh, no, no, you don’t want to hear me sing.

John: So, and then we get to the song, my favorite of the song of the whole series. West Covina. California.

Rachel: Do you want to do Paula’s part? Do you know it?

John: Yes, I do. But no. I don’t have all the words here. So, this is the turning point.

Aline: Yeah.

John: And honestly, if it were not for this scene, she would probably go back to New York City, don’t you think? What’s your hunch about what would happen next to Rebecca Bunch if Paula had not shown up here?

Aline: I think she would lock herself in her apartment for a week and go on a very deep dark dive. And then, yeah, and then just leave all her shit in the apartment, close the door, and take a flight back.

Rachel: Yeah. Wow.

Aline: We haven’t talked about that. But I think you’re right.

Rachel: We never talked about that.

Aline: Yeah. I think you’re right. But Paula is the fuel. She’s the person who tells her that this is okay. And what we love about it is it’s the mothering that Rebecca wants and needs, but it’s so wrong. It’s not right.

John: It’s the wrong mother.

Aline: It’s the wrong advice.

Rachel: It’s interesting reading the scene because, so this is the September — so this is hybrid. This script right now, it’s a hybrid of the original scene we had and then improvs that we did when we actually filmed it, because this was the shooting script for when we redid some stuff for the CW pilot. But the Paula and Rebecca scene, we didn’t reshoot that. So, it’s interesting, like on page 15, where it’s like “that would be crazy and I’m not crazy. Am I crazy? Ohmygod. Ohmygod.”

Aline: Those were improvs that we then put back into the script so that the script reflects the shooting of what we shot.

Rachel: And originally we were going to — it was — I mean, obviously in the scene it’s even longer, because the way that we wrote, I realized that emotionally to get to Rebecca panicking, it actually has to be a longer–

Aline: Ramp up.

Rachel: –build up. Yeah. And so we use a lot of improv on set, but especially in really heartfelt emotional scenes, because it — I don’t know, sometimes when you’re on set you feel the trajectory of a scene in a way that you can’t when it’s just on the page.

John: So, you’re a writer who is on set, and you are on set as well. So, when those moments happen, is it while you’re running through that you feel it first? I’m not going to be able to actually get to this moment and we need to stop and pause. And we need to ramp up?

Aline: No, Rachel just does — I mean, Rachel is the team leader, obviously, for the comportment of the actors, because she’s the EP and it’s her show. And so Rachel doesn’t do the scenes the same way ever. She always does something a little bit different and she always adjusts the lines and she often adds improv. And it’s super effortless. I’ve never seen her say I’m doing this or think about it. It’s just like what comes out of her. Like one of the lines here, where she says, “I like to you? Nobody shoved a bible under my hand.” That was an improv.

And what’s great about it is it’s very much on script, but it’s also improv, if that makes any sense. It’s always the intention of the scene, but it’s the sort of wonderful filigrees. And it really has freed up the other actors to do that. And we’ve just gotten wonderful, wonderful moments.

But it also keeps it very live. If you watch our dailies, they’re very live. There’s always, if we don’t have something, I mean, I have the vantage point of looking at all of Rachel’s performances in the editing room, and what’s amazing is there are some actors where like they’re so consistent, and that’s great, because you have what you have. But Rachel does so much variety and gives us so much variety that we can often make big adjustments in the performance because what she does is so flexible.

Rachel: And the thing, I just want to add one thing, I think that’s the biggest thing I learned as an actor watching people audition for my show, it didn’t matter if they were loyal to the commas. It didn’t matter if they got all the beats and like these reversals. The only thing that mattered was do I buy it. Do I buy them saying these words? And do I buy that these words are coming from their mouth? And so that taught me a lot going into the role. Like that’s the most important thing is to feel like these words are coming out.

And it’s actually taught me a lot about being an actor because I co-wrote this pilot, I had an ownership over the words where it was like I — it was an ownership over the words where like they were my words. And I’ve realized that that is the way that I and all actors should approach every script, as if you wrote it, so that you have a real ownership of the material, and the emotions, and you’re not doing an impression of what you think the writers want, or what you think the directors want.

Aline: So you’re interpreting, yeah.

Rachel: Yeah. You’re interpreting and you’re changing.

John: You’re channeling.

Rachel: You’re channeling in a way that feels authentic to you. And that every actor on our show does that.

John: So, to wrap up the discussion of character introductions, people we haven’t talked about here, Greg. We first meet him at the bar where he works, which becomes a standing set that you’re going to go back to a lot. What were the initial conversations about Greg and sort of what we need to know about him? Did you know what his plot function was going to be, or was he just this friend of Josh’s?

Aline: I mean, he is the guy who really knows what’s up very quickly. That’s basically his role in the pilot, was like he’s on to her very quickly. And he doesn’t care. And that’s the thing about dudes, like, some of them really like actively like women who are crazy. And men will say, “I like them crazy.” And Greg sees through her bullshit immediately, but is wildly attracted to it. And the crazier she is, the more into it he is. And because it allows her to reject him, and that’s what he wants ultimately.

He’s very comfortable in a space where he’s being rejected. Because the first thing he says to her is, “You’re beautiful, and you’re smart, and you’re not listening to me. So you’re obviously my type.” He knows right away that she doesn’t really — she’s so attracted to someone else 99% of the time, and so that was kind of the germ of his. But, again, because we saw so many people who read that scene so straight, that was the scene we were the most sick of in the auditions.

Rachel: Yeah. And I remember watching, because we cast a lot of our main cast out of New York. And so we were watching tapes. And I remember Santino’s audition came up. And before even watching it I was like, oh great, another white guy. Wonderful. I was just tired of white guys.

Aline: And she called me and said, yeah, I mean, he really took — he didn’t think he was going to get the part. He thought that we were going to cast some super uber beefcakey guy to play the part. So he kind of didn’t give a shit, and he came in and he did one audition on scene, and then he did one super riffy thing. And the riffy thing is what we used.

And then we had a funny thing. We sat down with Marc Webb when we were kind of down towards the end. And I hate to sell out Marc when I tell this story, but let’s just say Marc has insight into this character. And he gave us a couple of really great lines. I think the thing of like “you’re beautiful, and you’re smart, and you’re not paying attention to me” came from Marc.

Rachel: Well, that’s what happened. So we cast Santino, and part of the reason we cast him was he made these big choices with these lines. And he was actively like, “You from around here?” He really made these big, bold choices that felt fresh and unique and brought another depth, brought another dimension to Greg’s character.

And so I remember we’d already cast Santino. We were doing a final pass before the table read, and Marc happened to come by your house to hang out. And I was like, “Marc, I feel like we need to add — we need to add some sauce to this scene.” And Marc and I improvised together for like a couple minutes. And that’s where we got “You’re pretty, smart, and ignoring me. You’re obviously my type. Are you looking for an eight-year-old or an alcoholic? Because that’s what we got here.”

Marc really brought this doting bitterness.

Aline: Doting bitterness.

Rachel: Doting bitterness. In just improvising with him. So, yeah.

John: So the quality of Greg, that he’s like a grumpy old man who’s only 30, that’s–

Aline: That’s a combination of what the part was intended to be, what Santino brought to it, and that little germ of Marc that we got. But really no one is better at — if you guys don’t know, Santino who plays Greg is Hans from Frozen. And he’s really good at conveying sort of an arched eyebrow. Always.

Rachel: He plays high status. That’s his thing is to play high status, which was interesting because ultimately his character for most of the show is low status in that he’s on a leash by his dick when it comes to Rebecca, but doesn’t like that he’s on a leash by his dick.

Aline: So every line he’s ever said to Rebecca in the entire series, the parenthetical under it would be “you’re an idiot.” But he loves her, but he’s constantly telling her, “You’re an idiot,” which is how he shows love.

John: With future episodes, you talked a little bit about Rebecca’s dad, but can you give me an example of another character who had to be introduced over the course of the series who we first meet over the course of an episode, how do you get a beat on a character and then how do you communicate what that is supposed to be to casting so you get a sense of who that person is coming in?

I’m trying to think, over the course of the series, people you have introduced–

Aline: So like we have Trent, we have a character of Trent. And Trent is this guy that Rebecca doesn’t remember from college, but he remembers her really well, and he’s very in love with her. And the germ of that came about because we were bringing in this person who was like he’s Rebecca to Rebecca, and she thinks he’s horrible and creepy. And she doesn’t recognize her behavior in him.

And so he was very much — one of the things is most of the characters were conceived by Rachel and I in the pilot process. And then a lot of the other characters were conceived as the writer’s room developed. And Trent, being super weird and awkward, and wearing turtlenecks that he tucks into his pants, like anybody who’s been in a writer’s room knows he is room bait. So writing Trent was something that everybody in the room got very excited about and pitched in a lot of stuff about.

And then so we had this very weird guy, and we actually didn’t have the scene ready for casting, so we wrote a scene before we even had it in the script, and we sent it out. And then this — we saw a bunch of a people who were funny, and then we saw this guy Paul Welsh. It’s the hardest I think the writer’s room saw me laugh the entire — I wish we could put up his audition. I literally fell out of a chair.

Rachel: We can.

Aline: We should put it up. I laughed so hard. And he improvised things, like there was a line of like, “Do you want to watch a movie?” And then he said, “Do you like Tarantino? I don’t.” And I will tell you that we have enough Trent material from like the two days that he works to cut that episode 15 different ways, all of them hilarious.

John: It struck me as a crucial character, becomes he comes in in such a weird off angle. So, it’s a character who she’s found him on Facebook and claimed that he’s the boyfriend, never having met him. And then suddenly he shows up.

Aline: Right. And he knows her and he’s love in with her. And then there were other characters, like we always knew we had to do her mother. Her mother speaks in the pilot, but doesn’t have a role. So we always knew that was coming down the pike. And then Tovah is a more traditional, she’s a Broadway actor, and she’s a singer, and so we wrote this really specific thing. And she had to be Jewish. And so we looked for an actress who really was Jewish and who brought that to the part. And she looks a shocking amount like Rachel.

So Trent is sort of a room funny, but the part of the mother is a big deal. We spent a ton of time on that. That was a very important episode, because you see her incoming from the pilot, and if you’re a fan of the show and watching the show, you understand that Rebecca’s mother is the Bundt cake in which she was formed. And so–

John: There’s an Aline Brosh McKenna metaphor there.

Aline: There you go.

John: I was waiting for one.

Aline: There you go. So, it was really, that was a very important role. That was extremely important.

Rachel: But I just remembered, I mean I feel like, you’re talking about introducing a character, finding like what are the most important things of a character, it just — it’s like getting more and more specific. And so it’s like, well, what’s that one line in the first draft, it’s like what’s that one line that says everything that you need to know about them. And then we’ll get the actor in. And then we’ll get even more specific ideas.

And so then the dialogue will get even more specific. And with Tovah, there’s this final scene where she and Rebecca are yelling at each other in a mall, and Naomi Bunch says, “I want you to survive. Survival. Survival.” And that’s based on Tovah. Like that’s — we had these scenes written, and then I had an hour long conversation with Tovah on the phone where she talks a lot about the history of the Jewish people, and the state sponsored Pogroms, you know, of the Russian government. And her whole thing is like that’s why Jewish mothers are the way they are. It’s survival, survival, survival.

And we just wrote that in. Like what a great, she just kind of gave that to us.

Female Audience Member: Hi, so I’m a really big fan of the show, and you mentioned that Josh was initially supposed to be Asian, but you didn’t know what Asian specifically. And I’m Filipino and a lot of the jokes are insanely accurate. So I just wanted to know like–

Aline: So he was written to be Josh Chan.

Rachel: No, Josh Chang.

Aline: Josh Chang. And we saw Asian dudes of every description. And we always knew that whatever nationality he actually turned out to be, we would adjust it for that. And so Vinnie is Filipino and we liked the contrast of the name, so instead of doing the more Spanish sounding name, we were looking for a — so Chang doesn’t exist in the Philippines, but Chan is a name that some Chinese descent Filipinos have. So we changed it to Chan.

And then we just wrote to Vinnie and we have an amazing writer on staff named Rene Gube who plays Father Brah.

Rachel: Who plays Father Brah.

Aline: And he’s one of our staff writers. And he’s Filipino. And so we got so much of our specifics from Rene. I mean, about, you know, just Dinuguan, but also calling your aunt, Aunt [Ah-Tay] and we got so many specifics from him. It was a real, I have to say, real lesson for us in terms of like as we said a lot, we tend to write really specifically, so we were really specific about the bisexual thing. And we were really specific about the Filipino thing. And we really wanted it to be accurate.

And that’s something that I’ve done in my career with workplace stuff, where I’ve always done a ton of research because I want the people in that workplace to be like, “Oh my god, totally.” And with the Filipino thing we just did the same thing where we like drilled down. And now we have a whole company of the Chan Fan Bam. We have a whole company of Filipino actors. And Amy Hill, who is Filipino, but plays the mom.

Rachel: But it just, I mean, I think that situation especially with Rene giving us these specifics we otherwise never would have had just proves why diversity kind of starts — one of the places it starts is in the writer’s room because you don’t want to create like a false character and then just work it out in casting it.

Aline: Yeah, I mean, we had Vinnie. And Vinnie gave us also some things. And when the writers started, they all came in and had lunch with the writer’s room. And he and Rene right away had all these things. But the fact that his sisters are named Jayma and Jastenity, we wouldn’t have known that that’s a thing, where like they name the–

Female Audience Member: All the random Jay names. I was like, yes, dude, yeah.

Rachel: Like the made up names.

Aline: No matter in depth we would have done our research, we never would have gotten things that — so, one of the things I would say, I don’t know if you’re a writer, but being diverse is not a — you’re not asking people to hire you or consider you because they’re nice and they want to change the world. That’s a qualification. You know, that’s an experience of the world that most people don’t have. That’s something that’s great to have in the writer’s room people who are older and younger and female and male and gay and straight and bi and trans and, you know, from the Midwest. You’re looking for a wide variety of people.

That’s the best writing is going to come from — no, I’m not kidding. The best writing is going to come from a room where not everybody is from the same background. And so, I mean, we even like have a writer from Ohio. We have a writer who–

Rachel: The Midwest being the most diverse.

Aline: Who spent part of her life in South Africa. I mean, you’re drawing on life experiences, so for us it’s like it’s a benefit and a qualification to find people who have had diverse life experiences, because you’re trying to write about a world that has a diversity of experiences in it. And there’s even little things, like sometimes we’ll stipulate the character should be overweight, because otherwise they won’t bring you someone who is, you know. So, we kind of try and stipulate that.

But, you know, I would say I think it’s a huge qualification and asset to have an unusual background.

Female Audience Member: Oh, thank you.

John: Thanks.

Aline: You know, the thing I will say, it’s funny, because sometimes people say, you know, you discovered Rachel or whatever. Rachel was doing amazing work. It was just a matter of time. I mean, what she was doing so brilliant, and so funny, and so amazing. I just maybe sped up the process by a little bit, because what she was doing was such standout work.

And I have to say every day that we work on this show, it’s like such a privilege to work with somebody who is so smart, wise beyond her years, the kindest person. She’s so beloved on the show. But so sensible. I mean, we’ve been in stressful — when we started, Rachel was 26 years old. And as you guys have heard, I’m the old lady on the hill. I’ve seen it all.

And we’ve been in some situations which were very weird and stressful, where people said really weird things and acted in a strange way. And she’s just like so mature and so sensible, in addition to being so incredibly talented in sort of like a visionary way. You know, I feel like in a lot of ways she discovered me. I feel like I got a chance to do this and play in this sandbox that I never would have gotten to play in otherwise.

John: Aw. That’s a nice way to leave it tonight. So, Aline, Rachel, thank you so much for being on this.

Aline: Thank you, John.

Rachel: Thank you, John August.

John: And thank you guys. Thank you.

Links:

Less IMDb needs a new home

Fri, 05/13/2016 - 14:19

Less IMDb, our browser extension for making IMDb less cluttered and more useful, was the very first app we made.1

Here’s what I wrote back in 2010:

They’ve made it more difficult to do the one thing I come to IMDb to do: look at credits. New sections for photos, videos and trivia (star signs!) push credit lists below the fold, forcing you to scroll.

Rather than complain about it, Ryan and I decided to fix it.

And it worked!

In the early days of browser extensions, Less IMDb became very popular because it did exactly one thing well: rearrange layouts to get rid of the cruft, letting you focus on the stuff you’re more likely to actually want.

Six years later, the little yellow tab remains in the upper-right corner of my IMDb windows, silently re-jiggering things. Remarkably, despite all the changes of technology, the extension still works.

Mostly.

Except on Firefox and Chrome.

And even on Safari, layouts will occasionally break spectacularly. IMDb pages aren’t static; you never quite know what you’re going to get. When IMDb reskins entire sections to promote a big summer movie, our little extension gets confused.

Getting Less IMDb back into fighting shape across multiple browsers will take a savvy web person 10 to 30 hours, and it’s just not a priority for us. We’ll be launching Highland 2 soon enough, and that occupies every brain cell of design and coding talent.

But reworking Less IMDb might be a great project for someone else, which is why today we’re releasing all of the source code for it with an MIT license. You can download it here:

Less IMDb source code

Everyone is welcome to use this code to make their own version of the extension. And if one of those versions is great, we’ll even give you the name if you’d like it. (You can find us on Twitter: @qapps.)

I’m really happy we made Less IMDb. It set a great tone and mission for our company: making useful things we wished existed.

I hope someone takes up the charge and can give Less IMDb the love and attention it needs to go another six years.

  1. Is a browser extension an app? Debatable. There’s code and logic, and it has to be installed in an app-like way. But compared to Highland or Weekend Read, it’s not nearly as sophisticated. It falls into the murky area between web and app design, which is part of why it was a great first project for us.

How to Introduce Characters

Tue, 05/10/2016 - 08:03

John talks with Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna, co-creators of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, about how they pitched and wrote their critically-acclaimed show.

We focus on the ways they introduced recurring characters in the pilot, and how casting influenced the series. Given recent controversy over casting of Asian roles, our discussion of the Josh Chan character feels particularly relevant.

This episode was recorded live as part of WGFestival 2016 Craft Day. Our thanks to the Writers Guild Foundation and The Academy for hosting us.

John deeply regrets passing up the opportunity to sing the West Covina reprise.

(The script for the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend pilot is available in Weekend Read.)

Links:

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 248: Pitching an Open Writing Assignment — Transcript

Fri, 05/06/2016 - 16:35

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 Sexy Craig.

John: And this is Episode 248 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the show we’ll be talking about how you pitch on an open writing assignment, plus we’ll try to tackle the question of whitewashing Asian roles in feature films.

Craig: Mm, yeah, that does sound kind of sexy.

John: Oh no.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Sexy Craig can’t be here for the whole episode.

Craig: No, Sexy Craig doesn’t last that long.

John: No. Let’s do some follow-up. So, last week’s episode was the Lawrence Kasdan show which was great. Thank you everyone who wrote those nice tweets about how much they enjoyed the show. We really enjoyed recording it. Thank you to the Writers Guild Foundation and The Academy for having us host that little Q&A session.

Craig: It was great. And Larry was in fine form.

John: He was. I would say if I had anything I would improve about that episode is Lawrence Kasdan is an incredibly talented screenwriter. He is not a good holder of microphones. And so even as we were recording the show, I wanted to grab the microphone — I wanted to have Stuart just come up and hold the microphone in front of him so he wouldn’t wrestle it around so much. If there’s you noise you hear on the track, that’s entirely Lawrence Kasdan.

Craig: Yeah, but it adds to his charm.

John: It does absolutely add to his charm. Also I thought we did a good job visually. If like this was a TV interview, we finally figured out like, oh you know what, we shouldn’t straddle the guest. We should actually both be on the same side looking at them. Because so often as we do live shows, the guest will be in the middle and we’ll get sort of like ping-ponged back and forth between us. And this time, we did the Kelly and Michael way of sitting together and talking to our guest.

Craig: Yeah. I don’t mind straddling my guest.

John: Oh no. I walked right into that.

Craig: I don’t know why you did that.

John: It’s going to become the “that’s what she said” of the podcast.

Craig: [laughs] Sexy Craig is always there. You know, the thing about Sexy Craig is he doesn’t show up a lot, but when he shows up, he really is irrepressible.

John: Yes, that’s true.

Craig: And you have no idea what to do with him. You are at a loss.

John: I am at a loss. I’m flummoxed when Sexy Craig shows up.

Craig: Yep.

John: Last week was also special because it was a two episode week. We put out that little special Gold episode, the Gold Standard episode, which was really fun and random.

Craig: It was fun. Yeah.

John: So the reason we did that was because we changed something with the feed. Basically we changed the URL for the feed and things had to redirect. And it seemed to work. No one has written in with complaints saying that they lost the episodes, so hooray.

I don’t know that we’ll do more little special things, but it was kind of fun talking about like non-screenwriting things, and doing something short. So if people have suggestions of things you would like me and Craig to talk about, maybe we would do one again.

Craig: Yeah, it was fun. It’s fun also because I feel like you and I are both eternal students. So we like learning new things, so that’s fun. I’m really glad that the redirect worked because, you know, we had a big episode coming up. I didn’t want anyone to miss the Larry episode, so that’s great.

John: That was our real worry. Also, this last week I talked to Justin Marks, the screenwriter behind Jungle Book. I did a Q&A at the Writers Guild screening for the film. And so we did a half-hour conversation. It was really fantastic. So, Craig, I don’t think you’ve listened to that episode yet, but it’s just a half an hour that we put up in the premium feed. And I had sort of known this when I was talking to Justin while the whole process was going on, but they ended up writing it and sort of making it much more like an animated film.

So, he talks through about how — basically he was sequestered in an office at Disney for a very long time, and he would have to write and pitch, and write and pitch, and put up big art boards on the wall, and pitch Sean Bailey and Alan Horn through the whole movie for a long time before they actually said, “Okay, write a script,” or they got a director on board. And that whole process ended up being very much an animation process.

So, even though the movie is kind of live action, it’s very much how you would make an animated movie, rather than how you’d make a live action movie. It was a great conversation.

Craig: That is fascinating. And very interesting to me, just the creation of it, because I have a movie — the script that I’ve written for Lindsay Doran, and it’s a bit like Babe, you know, murder mystery involving sheep. And one of the questions was can you make animals now properly perform, you know, CGI animals. And whereas in Babe they used real animals and just did the old mouth movement thing which was fine, but people sort of are expecting a little bit more than that now. And it also limits your performance from the characters themselves, the animals. If they’re just real, it’s not like they can raise an eyebrow or anything, you know.

And this, I think, Jungle Book was the first movie — I think it’s historic — I think it’s the first movie where you now have what appear to be photorealistic animals that are acting. And apparently Weta handled the apes, but MPC is the company that did most of the work on the other animals. And remarkable stuff. Really amazing.

John: Yeah. So in our conversation, Justin talks about how it wasn’t until they really got their first test footage back from the animals that they knew what degree the animals could act. And before that point they were still debating how much of the emotion are we going to have to play on the boy’s face versus playing on the animal’s face. And once they got these tests back they’re like, oh, we can actually see reactions in the animal’s faces in ways that were just not possible before this.

Craig: Pretty amazing stuff.

John: Progress.

Craig: Yeah. It is real progress.

John: So I’ll also put a link in the show notes to this YouTube video that has Jon Favreau, the director, talking about the process of how they shot — basically in this big warehouse downtown they shot everything with motion capture. And they went back months later and shot the boy again, sort of in full costume, and sort of inserted him into scenes. So that whole process was really strange and groundbreaking, but just terrific.

So I’ll put a link in the show notes to that video as well.

Craig: Great.

John: Well, let’s transition to our big topic today, which is how you pitch on an open writing assignment. This is something that came up this week for me because you and I have both gone in, we’ve had these meetings where they’re looking to hire someone to adapt a certain property. And in general, an open writing assignment, just so we have sort of terms defined, an open writing assignment is something that a studio or producer, but generally a studio, is looking to hire a writer to do. So, this could be an adaptation of a book. It could be an adaptation of an existing piece of property like a TV series or a remake of a film. Or it could be a rewrite. It could be a script that they’ve already purchased and they’ve done work on, and they’re looking for someone else to come in and do more work.

We define open writing assignment differently than you going in to pitch an original idea, which is a completely different beast. So, an open writing assignment basically means there is a job out there, and we are going to hire someone to do this movie, to write this movie for us. And sometimes you’re meeting with multiple writers and figuring out which writer is the correct writer to hire.

Craig: Right.

John: Usually, Craig and I are the people go in and pitch on those jobs, but this last week I got to be in the room for a couple people pitching movies to me. So, I’m a producer on this film and I got to hear the pitches of these different people coming in to pitch on the same property. And that was actually fascinating, because I got to see what it looks like from the other side of the table. And they were all great.

And so I really liked sort of all the people who came in, but they were just so different. And I thought this would be great to have a conversation about what kinds of things you need to be sure you’re doing if you’re going in to pitch on an open writing assignment.

Craig: What a great topic. OWAs as they’re called, they land at the agencies, right. So a studio — let’s take a step back and talk about the birth of an open writing assignment. Sometimes it begins because a studio executive has a general idea or a piece of property. And it is agreed at the studio that somebody should write a screenplay, but if they can come up with an impressive take. But they don’t necessarily want to go to some big shot writer.

So, that becomes an open writing assignment. It is sent to all the agencies. At each agency, there are agents that cover a studio. So they have their own clients, of course, but they’re also responsible for fielding those general incoming calls from the studio. Sometimes an open writing assignment occurs when a writer has been let go because the project isn’t working, and they want to restart or come up with a new thing. And so the open writing assignment call goes out.

John: Indeed. And so also to differentiate, a lot of times the stuff that Craig and I are seeing, they are coming specifically to us, maybe exclusively to us, and that’s because we’ve made a lot of movies. Typically earlier in your career, you get out sent out for these open writing assignment to try to land these jobs. And so the writers I was meeting with are people who’ve actually gotten movies made, but they’re not sort of big, giant established writers yet. And so that’s why they’re going into these meetings.

Craig: Yeah. And that’s important to know, too, when you go out for open writing assignments, because I don’t really do that, John doesn’t do that. So, on the one hand, here’s good news, your competition is not A-list screenwriters, because they’re generally not coming in for OWAs. But also then you need to know that the net will be cast fairly widely and so you may not have star competition, but you’re going to have a great quantity of competition.

John: Absolutely. So, let’s talk about what things you need to do before that meeting ever happens. And so this is what I want to define as understanding the property, or like what is it that they’re trying to actually make. So, the questions you need to ask is why would the studio want to make this movie. What is it that they see in this property that they feel is a movie? What do you think they see as the movie they could actually release in theaters? Because if you don’t understand what they’re looking for, you’re very unlikely to be able to deliver it to them.

Ask yourself what are the required elements. And so, if you’re coming in to pitch on Ghostbusters, or some sort of adaptation of Ghostbusters, or an expansion of Ghostbusters, well Ghostbusters are going to have to some Ghostbusters in them. They’re going to have to have ghosts. They’re going to have to have certain minimum requirements for what is a Ghostbusters.

Same thing with Charlie’s Angles. It has to somehow involve the talent agency. It’s going to have to involve Charlie’s Angels, and probably three angels. What would you have to have in there in order for it to be Charlie’s Angels?

Or, if you pitching on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, there’s going to have to be a Mr. Toad and there’s going to have to be a ride quality. And if you have a great idea for a movie, and you think like, oh, I could maybe bend this to become Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, make sure you really are pitching something that fits the title or fits the name of — fits the idea behind what the property is.

Craig: All good advice. And it goes again to how the open writing assignment was created. Somebody in the studio needs you, the pitcher, to come and give them this wonderful ammunition that they can then walk down the hall and say I think we found the person who has cracked this.

In order to do that, you need to be cognizant of what it is that they want, because that’s the filter through which cracking it is going to be viewed. So, in addition to the notion of what is it that they need, the other thing that I would think about a lot when I went out for these things is what is my unique perspective on this.

Because if I don’t have one, I’m not going to get the job. Everybody can come in and give the generic version, right? So, better that I come in with a point of view. That point of view, if it’s incompatible with what they want, I’m not getting the job. But if I don’t have one, I’m also not getting the job.

John: I think it’s always worth asking what is sort of the minimum viable product version of this idea, or what is the bad version of this idea? And just think through what that is, because that’s what everybody else is going to probably be pitching. If you’re going to pitch the down the road middle version of that idea, and if that’s as far as you get, and that’s all you have for an idea of what to do with this property, you should probably just back out. Because it’s unlikely to get you through to the next level, and you’re going to burn a lot of time pitching this sort of like “eh” version of the movie.

You should only go after it if you have an exciting, interesting take. Something that you are excited to have the opportunity to write. And so the pros and cons. Going after one of these jobs — it gets you in the room. It gets you talking with these people. It gets them thinking about you as a person they could hire. Even if they don’t hire you for this job, they might hire you for something else. They might think you’re really interesting.

But if you’re pitching them something that is just sort of blandly generically a version of that idea, they’re unlikely to be so excited about you for the next thing.

Craig: You know, this is where I think — this podcast actually transcends screenwriting, and now we can just talk about life and life strategies. I don’t care what it is that you do in the world. If you do not manage to make yourself distinctive, you will be ignored. And the key to making yourself be distinctive is to actually have a point of view. To have a perspective. To have something about which you’re passionate in your field and whatever you’re going for.

That is what gets noticed. What they’re looking for — they’ll tell you what they’re looking for, but they don’t know what they’re looking for. What they’re looking for is a sense of excitement, comfort, this person has got it, they’re going to get it, they’re going to deliver something interesting or special. Understand every time you stick your neck out with your point of view, there’s a chance it will get lopped off because someone will say, “Why would I ever do that specific thing?”

But, there is no success without being specific. I do believe that. So, you roll the dice on these open writing assignments. You go in there thinking, well, if they don’t like my specific angle on this, I don’t get the job. But there’s no point in playing it safe on these things. None.

Precisely for the reason you just mentioned. Maybe you don’t get this job because they don’t like your specific take here, but they just might like you and the fact that you have specific takes.

John: Yeah. This is essentially a job interview. So whether you’re a feature writer going in for an open writing assignment, or you are a television writer going out for staffing, you need to be able to approach that meeting with an understanding of what they’re expecting — so it’s sort of what that minimum threshold is — and you probably already crossed that minimum threshold because you’re in that room in the first place.

So, then, look for what is unique about your take and you as a writer, something like, you know what, this is the person I should take the chance on writing this script. Because unlike sort of hiring somebody to work at Starbucks, they’re only going to hire one person. Or they’re only going to hire one person at a time, unless we’re doing some sort of crazy writer’s room. So, they want to know can I trust this person to deliver. And so they’re going to trust the person who seems prepared, who seems to have an interesting idea for how to do this thing. Who seems like a good person to work with.

Those are the qualities you’re trying to convey while you’re in this meeting while still pitching a three-act movie to them that hopefully makes sense and is engaging. So there’s a lot you’re trying to do simultaneously here.

Craig: Mm-hmm. When I talk to studio executives or producers about certain projects, sometimes I’ll just say, “Oh, what are you guys doing?” And they’ll say, “Well, we’re doing this thing, and we have a writer who came in and just really impressed us.” And when they describe what impressed them, almost always what they talk about is that person’s love for it. And their passion for it. And their enthusiasm for it. That’s what they respond to.

And you may say, “Well, if you’re going to make a movie about the Rubik’s Cube, you know, who really loves the Rubik’s Cube that much?” Well, if you don’t love it that much, don’t do the movie. Just don’t. Because, look, they’re the ones who are supposed to be cynical and money-grubbing, right? So, okay, I’ll give you an example. I’m not going to say what the title is, but there’s a children’s book that we all know that we’ve read to our very small children. Everyone.

And a studio decided — they owned it and they wanted to make it. And they wanted to make it very much because they did calculations. That’s why. They didn’t care that much about the character and the book, or the book itself, but they did their calculations, they ran their numbers, and they saw that it could be very profitable. And so one of the people they talked to about it was me. And I just have no passion whatsoever for that.

John: Yep.

Craig: They’re okay with that. They respect that. They move on. You can’t be matching their cynicism. That’s their job. And they are not looking for somebody to be like them. They’re looking for somebody to be actually emotionally invested.

John: Exactly. There was a big project years ago that it was between me and one other writer for it. And it was a big high profile thing. And we both pitched our hearts out on it and he ended up getting it. And the word I got back was that like, oh well see, ultimately they felt like he was a super fan. He was a super fan of that property. And ultimately they just felt like, you know, they kind of liked some things in your pitch better, but they thought this is the guy who will kill himself for this, and they went with him.

And I get that. I understand that. There’s definitely been things where like my being a super fan made me the right person to do that job. Charlie’s Angels was a great example. I knew every little bit of Charlie’s Angels. And I knew what that movie wanted to feel like. And I was enthusiastic about it in a way that no other writer was going to be.

Craig: See, that’s exactly it. The whole, I don’t know, art of matching writers to projects so often comes down to that. You know, Max Landis, just sold a big — he sold like four big screenplays or something in a week.

John: Yeah, we had that conversation about like, oh, is the script market dead. And then Max Landis sells four things.

Craig: I think the spec market is dead unless you’re Max Landis. But, it’s so evident to me when I look at him — every now and then I’ll see a video or something of him. And it’s so evident to me that the reason that he’s successful, and forget, you know, I think whatever his success is on the other side of it has to do with an ability to write well. But on the front side of it, which is convincing people to buy something, or to hire him for something, his passion for whatever he’s talking about is just so evident.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And so of course they hired you to write Charlie’s Angels because you loved it. And it wasn’t like a fake love. It’s like when Dan and Dave who do Game of Thrones, when they met with George Martin to basically say, “Hey, would you let us — would you give the rights over and let us do this?” They said he had one question for them and it was, “Who do you think Jon Snow’s mother is?”

John: Hmm.

Craig: And they answered and they answered well, apparently. You know, he needed to know like do you love this because the worst thing you can do I think — if I were an executive, the thing that I would be the most terrified of is hiring somebody who just was looking for a check. You know?

John: Yeah.

Craig: You do that later when, okay, we have a movie. We need somebody to come in and kill for us on the third act, or this character, or production work. That’s, sure. But that’s far along, right? The basis of it needs to be somebody who loves it.

John: Yeah. And you and I have both done that work where we come in and we do that sort of craftsman work of fixing small problems, but I’ve definitely been that craftsman in movies that I never should have or would have been the first writer on because I don’t have the passion for it. I don’t have the — I’m not going to kill myself every morning waking up to try to write another draft of that movie.

Craig: Exactly. Exactly right.

And maybe that’s hard for non-writers to understand. Because the thing is it’s not like you and I don’t care about those jobs and doing the best we can when we do those jobs. That’s why we take them. But, there is — and it sort of ties back to the Huntsman. There’s an emotional difference, right? When you’re saying, “No, no, no, don’t let anyone do this. I have to do this.” Right? “I love this, I need this.” That’s a different deal.

And so that’s what they’re looking for on these things.

John: So let’s talk about when you actually get in the room and sort of how you are starting your pitch and sort of what the most crucial elements of that pitch process are.

I think you have to start — again, this is me watching on the other side of the table — you have to talk about what you’re going for quite early on. So like what the movie feels like for you. And this is where it’s okay to use references. I try to avoid the “it’s this meets that,” but it’s great to say, you know, “What I loved about this movie was the way they did XYZ.” Or talk about — we had the conversation with Lorene about movie touchstones, like the things you always bring up in the room.

So like The Burbs if you’re Lorene Scafaria. It’s absolutely fine to do that as sort of the early getting people comfortable with what you’re about to say, because as long as what you’re saying is going to match your pitch, it just gets them sort of seated in a comfy chair so they can actually hear what you’re about to say.

I think talking about in a general sense of like what the tone and the goal of your pitch is at the very start is really crucial, because in some of the pitches that have not gone so well I didn’t quite know what kind of movie I was signing up for. And in the case of this property, there’s a lot of different ways you could go, and if I didn’t know which way they were going like two minutes into it, I was nervous. And worried for them.

Craig: Yeah. No question. The way you’re talking about starting here, the big picture, also helps them key into where your passion is. Because generally speaking, your passion isn’t going to be in story structure. Your passion is going to be in the theme and the characters and the feeling of the movie. And these things are the big things that they will then convey.

You’re probably not going to sit in a room with the head of the studio and spit out your scene by scene structure. They’re going to call it a few moments that made sense and they’re going to tie them back into this part here, the big picture of why you want to write this.

John: Absolutely. And so to me every pitch that I’ve heard that’s worked, they started with a clear sense of who the characters are, and sort of who we’re going to be following. And so that’s obviously you’re protagonist. This is the person who most of the movie is going to be on their shoulders. But also the surrounding world, just so they’re specific.

And you don’t have to sort of necessarily cite actors, but you should describe them in a way that I can picture somebody playing that part. It’s worth spending a little time on who those people are and sort of what they’re like. And give us a moment very early on in the pitch that shows their personality and shows their unique thing, so that essentially if the plot of the movie never started, I would still find that character interesting. I would still want to be in a story with that character.

And so often pitches will start with just like plot, plot, plot, plot, plot, and I don’t know who I’m supposed to be following. I don’t know where my entry place is to this individual story.

Craig: Yeah. You can certainly start with a kind of cold open “wah” right, but once you get the “blah” out of the way, stop, and give me the characters. And then, as you’re going through and you’re talking about how you would approach this open writing assignment, focus all of the plot and all of the set pieces and the things you want to do through the lens of character. All of it.

People relate to character. The story parts, they’ll want. Believe me, they’ll be happy to say, “Oh good, you have a set piece. Oh good, you have this. Oh good, you have that.” But focus it through the character. It will make them appreciate it so much more.

John: Yeah. And as you’re crafting your pitch and you’re trying to make sure that all these points are focused through your character, you’ll start to recognize like, oh, is that really a character, or is that just a trope I’m putting in there. And so if you feel like it’s sort of a stock character who is, god forbid it’s your hero who feels like that stock character, but if it’s really that secondary person who you’ve just sort of shorthanded and you sort of used a trope for them, it’s going to feel really obvious as you’re working through your pitch. Like, oh, I don’t really have anything for that. I’m just sort of like pasting another character from some other movie into that spot.

You have to really make sure that it feels specific to the story you’re about to pitch. And that the choices that the characters are making match the overall description, overall sense of tone and what the movie feels like from the start. The worst thing that can happen in a pitch is where a bunch of stuff just happens to your protagonist, and you feel like they are just witnessing the movie happening in front of you.

Craig: And that would be an indication that the person pitching has not really thought this through. And behind that even, I hate to say it, but maybe doesn’t have the passion that they’re advertising they have. Because I’m not sure how to love the idea of writing something if I don’t know the beginning and the end.

And I don’t know the beginning and the end in any other way other than through the lens of character. So, I need to understand these things. And therefore I will never end up pitching something episodic because my passion won’t let me. My passion is telling me do this instead. These are the reasons why these characters must be doing this.

John: Yeah. And if you do find yourself pitching television, when you pitch television, you pitch a pilot, you really are pitching the characters. You’re pitching the characters and their situation. You end up pitching the episode, like sort of what happens in the pilot, but it’s mostly what you’re pitching is these are the characters, this is the world.

In the case of a feature, here you’re pitching this is the situation these great characters find them in which happens to be the perfect way to explore this property or this idea that you’re bringing me in for.

So, I think it’s also really crucial that whatever the property fundamentally is, get to that quickly. Don’t wait 15 minutes to get to the thing that is the thing. So, if you’re pitching an adaptation of that great game Star Raiders for the Atari 800, you have to attack the base pretty soon in the story, or else it’s not Star Raiders. It’s not the thing we went into.

If you’re pitching the Towering Inferno and you spend the first third of your pitch out in the desert, well, that’s not the towering inferno. That’s not — we’re basically going to be kind of discounting everything you said because that’s not the thing that you are supposed to be pitching.

Craig: Well, also, you’ll start boring people. You can’t be boring, right? So, obviously the primary component of boredom is a poorly thought out story that is episodic and the characters feel like they’re watching the story and it’s a lot of “and then, and then, and then, and then.”

The other component of being boring is you talking too much. It’s too long, right? I’m kind of curious, what were the lengths of pitches that you saw?

John: These pitches were all about 20 minutes, I would say. And some of them were writing teams and they would just sort of hand off the talking points in — actually all of the pitches I heard, they were fully written beforehand. And so they were referring back to a document and sort of going through stuff. And they were rehearsed. These pitches didn’t invite a lot of “let’s come in and stop you for a question.”

Actually, when I pitch things, I love to be able to — I plan for places where it’s very natural for them to ask a question. I can sort of anticipate what the question is going to be, so they feel engaged, so they’re actually asking questions about what’s going to happen next that the characters would want to ask. These were much more off of paper, but they were pretty good versions of off the paper.

How about you? When you’re pitching something, what’s your structure?

Craig: Very much like yours. I never go off of paper, in part because I never want to seem like I’m pitching. My goal when I’m pitching something is you didn’t know that you just got pitched something. We just had a conversation. And through the conversation, I demonstrated the possibility of a movie.

And the reason for that is, well, a bunch of reasons. One, if you’ve rehearsed something, it feels a little sweaty, even if the context is “come and pitch me something,” it feels a little sweaty to me. And, two, because it should be a conversation. I don’t like sitting and listening to somebody describe a movie to me. I like walking through it with somebody and having us connect on why we both want to do this, right? I’m trying to figure out also why they want to do it. And I’m trying to show them where my passion is.

The last thing I want to do is walk through a whole bunch of story if I think like, oh, they don’t really like this. So, it’s not necessarily what everyone can do, but the less rehearsed you are frankly the better. Because there’s a certain artifice to it. And subconsciously I think people are looking for writers who feel confident and the rehearsed quality can cut into that a bit.

John: The best thing about the conversational aspect of a pitch is that the things that you said were very important when you set out your pitch, like these are the things I really wanted to focus on, it invites circling back to what those things are that are very important. And so this project I pitched recently, I could sort of have three bullet points for like these are the things I really want to hit. These are things that really spoke to me about the property. And we get to a place and it’s like, “Oh, I see what you’re doing there. It’s because of this.” It’s like, yes, exactly. I think this is a really great way to sort of get into this thing. And it gets them involved in the process.

Now, that said, next week’s episode we’re going to have Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom talking about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And they ended up having to pitch to like seven studios and it was a very rehearsed pitch. And Aline tells a story of how they were pitching one place and she just like flubbed one of the jokes. Like it was a practice joke, but she just flubbed it. And one of the guys who was in the room with her who had heard the pitch a bunch of times just goes, “Ugh.” She’s like “Audible sigh, oh, you whiffed that joke.”

And so there are situations in which really rehearsing it may make sense. The key is not to make it feel like you’re giving a performance. Make sure it feels like it really is a conversation.

Craig: Yeah. The nice thing is that when you allow, conversationally allow questions to be asked, the answer that you give in response to a question is so much more powerful than if it is just given. Because it implies that you’ve thought this through.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And you’re sharing something with them. And you’re also picking up on some things that they’re interested in. I’m very much about that. And you can just start the conversation by asking them a question, you know.

John: And then it’s possible to sort of circle that back in as you’re giving your pitch, then it’s clear that you are thinking about the same things that they are thinking about.

Craig: You’re also not just there to recite to something. You’re actually listening to what they have to say.

John: The last thing I’ll say is in terms of the pitch itself, when you’re actually describing the story, make sure you stick the landing. And this is sort of from my own bad history. There have been times where I’ve come in with a really strong opening, and the first act is great, and I’m sort of getting through those middle sections, and then I just don’t — I hadn’t thought through how I was going to close up the conversation of the story. Basically what the last things of the movie are going to be or sort of how we’re leaving it. And if that last bit is bad, they sort of remember the last bit.

So, if you’re going to practice anything, practice how you think you’re going to get out of it, or at least a couple ways to get out of your story, so that you can actually put some closure on it so it just doesn’t fizzle out here. So it doesn’t just sort of fade into nothingness.

Make sure it’s clear when you’ve reached the end of your story.

Craig: If you finish a pitch and then there’s silence and then someone says, “Oh, was that the end,” you’re not getting the job. The easiest way I think to approach this is to look at your story like a circle and when you get to that end, close the circle. And just say, “So, the person who wants blah, blah, blah now dah, dah, dah.”

John: Yep.

Craig: And there’s the circle, right? Just a way for them to see like, okay, yeah, this is of a piece. It’s not an “and then, and then, and then.”

John: Yeah. So, you’re done pitching the story, and this is where I think the actual most crucial part of the process is, which is where you’re listening to what they’re saying and what they’re asking you. And if they’re asking you very specific questions about things that are in your pitch, that’s a really good sign, because that means there’s something that they are fascinated about or curious about in your pitch and they wanted more details. That’s amazing and that’s awesome.

If they are asking a question that speaks to your general idea of your pitch, that’s not a good sign. That means they fundamentally wonder if you’ve pitched them the wrong thing or the wrong approach, the wrong take. So be very mindful of the kinds of questions they’re asking, but then also try to answer them and try to make it clear that you can think on your feet, that you are flexible, that you actually have interesting ideas. That you are willing to defend — not defend — to explain your intention while still being open to other possibilities.

Craig: Well, I think it’s okay to defend certain things. I mean, remember that this is a job that it’s you don’t have. That means you also don’t — you could say no, too. Right? I mean, nobody is tied up yet. So, if there is something about your pitch that is that kind of beating heart, it’s okay to just say, “Well, if that’s not working for you, that’s probably — I may not be the right person.”

You don’t have to say that. You don’t have to give up the job in the room. You could just say, “Well, you know, that to me is where my passion comes from is that concept. But I can see what you’re saying about blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.” And you can be flexible about other things.

When they ask questions, welcome everything. Even if you disagree, disagree in a welcoming way, because this is after all kind of pie in the sky time. Everyone can sort of chip in here and be heard.

John: I would say in general if the discussion after your pitch is longer than the pitch itself, that’s a really good sign. Unless your pitch was just like so amazing that they start talking about next steps immediately, which is sort of the fantasy scenario. It’s like, “Well that was fantastic. I need you to come in here and pitch that to the boss. Or we need to set up a meeting for tomorrow to go into the studio.” That’s your fantasy scenario. But if they’re asking questions that show that they’re engaged in it, you’ve done really well with whatever you’ve pitched so far.

Craig: Yeah, no question. [laughs] I will say that there are people who are not readable. When I went in to pitch this miniseries, my producer said, “This gentleman that we’re pitching to, you’re not going to know when you walk out of there.” And I was like, “Eh, I’ve been doing this a long time. I think I’ll know.”

I had no clue. None. None. Just didn’t know.

And some people are — it’s not like they’re doing it on purpose. They’re just sort of inherently inscrutable and you won’t know. There have been times I’ve walked out of a room and thought, well, that was a disaster. And then an hour later, got the job.

John: Yep.

Craig: And vice versa.

John: That absolutely happens. And so what I take comfort in is that like I pitch just as hard on the ones I didn’t get as the ones I did get. And while I can’t properly predict which ones are going to work and which ones aren’t going to work, I can only sort of control what I’m doing. And I just try to make sure that I was as ready for each one of them as possible.

Craig: Indeed.

John: Cool. Our next topic, probably the best jumping off place for it is this Chin Lu article for Vice entitled Being An Asian Actor Is Hard Enough Without Scarlett Johansson Taking Your Roles.

Craig: Great title for an article.

John: There will be a link to this in the show notes. And it basically talks about Asian American actors frustrated that certain roles are going to white actors and actresses when they could have been going to Asian actors and actresses. Specifically in this case the flash point was Scarlett Johansson’s casting in Ghost in the Shell, and to some degree Tilda Swinton’s casting in Doctor Strange.

But there’s a long history of sort of casting white actors in roles that are either explicitly Asian or could be Asian. And a frustration about that. And I think it’s an interesting topic to sort of get into because some of those decisions are made at the writing level, but a lot of them aren’t made at the writing level. And it might be useful to discuss the degree to which a writer can be involved in that process and not be involved.

Craig: Yeah, my guess is almost none of them are made at the writing level. Well, first of all, let’s say you’re right, that there is a long tradition of basically let’s call it “yellow face” in Hollywood, whether it was Joel Grey and Remo Williams, or John Wayne. I mean, John Wayne, you know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And in our culture, we have come to understand that blackface is just incredibly socially taboo. In no small part because it’s also linked to slavery.

John: Yeah.

Craig: We haven’t had the same taboo about yellow face.

John: Yeah. But I think it’s a growing taboo.

Craig: It is.

John: And so I think it might be helpful to differentiate between two different kinds of things that are happening. And there’s some overlap, but I think there’s also some useful distinctions. So, there’s the very classic case of like this is a role that is clearly Asian. This person has an Asian name, and we are casting a white actor in that role. So that’s Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Fisher Stevens in Short Circuit.

Craig: Right. Right.

John: And the controversy over Emma Stone who is playing biracial in Aloha. And that’s one of those things where it feels like, well, that feels like a really bad choice you made. And this is a role that was clearly meant to be an Asian person and you are choosing not to cast an Asian person in that role, but instead cast a white actor. And that is a certain kind of frustration that feels like it’s sort of in column A.

The column B is the situation where a role is considered Asian because of its source material, or because of something else around that character, but it’s not so clear that it has to be an Asian actor in that role. So this was Rooney Mara in Pan. And so there’s a lot of controversy over that role and sort of this fictional creation. I guess Tiger Lily is perceived to be Asian, but it’s also in a fantasy universe, so what does that mean?

I think you could say the same thing about a lot of the roles in Game of Thrones. To what degree are you casting a person who is Asian in a specific part considering it’s a fantasy universe that doesn’t necessarily match our cultural geography?

Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell might be a similar situation where the source material, that character is Asian, but she’s not identified as being Asian in this movie specifically. It’s a remake. Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange. That role was a man I think in the original comics, I believe.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And is in Tibet, so he’s Tibetan, but it’s also a drawn character.

Craig: Well, you’ve hit upon some factors here that need to be teased out. So, first of all, I think that the days of yellow face are happily over. I don’t see that continuing. But then you have this other issue of whitewashing. And you’ve described the two kinds.

Now, sometimes it’s hard to differentiate even between like which category it goes into. For instance, Scarlett Johansson is playing a character that in the source material is named Major Motoko Kusanagi. And the character is now named Major. [laughs] So, you know, okay, but you called out two instances where the question is, “What are the intentions?”

So, is the intention to be racist because studios don’t like Asian actors? I don’t think so, although I would argue that the result is a racist result. I think what’s really going on here is star-washing and China-appeasing.

John: Oh, how fascinating that is. I really like the term “star-washing.” Did you make that up?

Craig: I did. I just made it up.

John: Craig, it’s going down in the pantheon. We’re going to put that in the Scriptnotes Wikipedia immediately. I think star-washing is actually a fascinating thing, and I think it’s also a false excuse for reasons we’ll get into later on.

But so I do think that’s really interesting, that idea of you’re being very flexible on the casting of a role because you want to cast the biggest star in there and you can’t find an Asian star.

Craig: Right. And so obviously anyone who thinks about this for a half a second can realize the vicious cycle, right? So, it’s true, if you look at the biggest, most bankable stars, I don’t know, maybe there’s one or two Asian Americans, and my guess is they’re on the male side, and probably action. And so what they do is they go, “Well, we’re spending all this money on Ghost in the Shell. We need to make our money, so we need a star.”

Oh, there isn’t an Asian star, right. Her name is now Major. Okay.

But, of course, how do you grow Asian American or Asian stars if that’s how you approach things? You’ll never get there.

John: Well, the other great argument against this idea of star-washing is that in cases where we’ve just chosen to find the person of the appropriate race or background to play that role, it tends to go kind of well. So, take a look at Jungle Book. We could have cast a white actor in the part of Mowgli, but they didn’t. They found the kid, this Neel Sethi guy, and he’s really good. And he’s appropriate for it.

You look at Vincent Rodriguez in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. That was a role that was specifically written to be Asian. They went out, they found a bunch of great Asian actors. When they found a guy who was Filipino, they changed his name from Chang to Chan, and they built out his whole family as being Filipino very specifically so that race could be a part of that.

And so it was never sort of backing away from the tough choices because, oh, we won’t be able to find a star for that part.

Craig: Right. I think that this is an area where the studios are probably — no, I’m going to say clearly — they’re being way too conservative. Way too conservative. Because, look, I understand that a big star is a big deal for a big movie. But I have to — I don’t know — I’m not familiar with Ghost in the Shell, but I have to believe that there are opportunities for star-washing in some other characters, but then, you know, there are wonderful Asian actors out there.

I mean, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, how much money did that movie make?

John: A zillion dollars.

Craig: Okay, there weren’t any people in it that we even knew the names of, because it was a good movie. The audience does not care — I really believe that. I think that the fetishism of star power is overrated when it comes to some of these bigger movies in a weird way. Especially movies that are based on properties that people really like.

John: I agree.

Craig: Look at Doctor Strange. Okay, Doctor Strange is a Marvel film. So, right off the bat it’s going to be a huge hit because literally every single one they make is a huge hit. They have Benedict Cumberbatch as Doctor Strange. Great. There’s your big star.

Now, we have this other character to cast. Now, in this case, the character I believe in the source material was Tibetan and here we have a Chinese problem. The Chinese government is locked in a dispute with Tibet, if you want to call it a dispute. I’d like to think of it more as the Chinese government is repressing Tibet. And the Chinese market is enormously important to movie studios. And they don’t think that the Chinese censors will let a movie with a Tibetan hero go through. That’s what I think is going on. I probably just cost myself every Marvel job possible. [laughs]

John: [laughs]

Craig: But, you know, I don’t care.

John: So in this case they’ve taken a character who was described as Tibetan in the source material and made now her non-Tibetan to take that controversy away.

Craig: Although we can then go a step further and say, “Eh, all right, maybe that’s why that character is no longer Tibetan,” but that character could be Asian. Right? That character could be Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Thai, Vietnamese.

John: But also that brings up the question of even if the character wasn’t that in the source material, any character in any movie could be Thai, Chinese, or any other thing. So, I guess I understand the frustration is that like this is a character who there was a pattern and a precedent for why this character should be a certain Asian background, and now it’s not. So I understand the frustration there.

Craig: I completely understand it. And I also think that if you look at comic books where the hero is African American, there’s no way that Marvel would cast a white guy in that part, at least not in 2016. No way. So, why is it okay to just go, “Well, let’s just ignore the fact that that character is Asian American and cast a white actor.” I’m a little surprised, I got to be honest with you, by some of the stuff.

I mean, look, the Emma Stone thing was crazy. And the Scarlett Johansson thing is star-washing. This one I just don’t get. I don’t get the Doctor Strange one at all. I mean, Tilda Swinton is amazing –

John: I think Tilda Swinton is amazing. I think ultimately it comes down to Tilda Swinton is amazing, and so having Tilda Swinton in your movie is kind of awesome and amazing and — not only is she great, but she’s just so wonderfully strange. That I kind of get it. And I can both understand why you make the choice to cast her in it, and I can also understand why people are frustrated and to some degree outraged over it.

I want to talk about the outrage, because I think the outrage is an interesting double-edged sword. It’s like the pros of being outraged or expressing outrage over it, or sort of letting there be a Twitter storm about it is that it gets people talking about it, it gets people noticing it, it encourages people to make their lists more diverse and inclusive, and really think about if a character is described as being Asian sort of keeping them Asian.

I think the cons of the outrage is that I know people in Hollywood and they’re so skittish. And so what they’re going to do is they’re going to back away from the controversy by just like backing away from the chance for there to be a controversy. So, a character who was described as being Asian, they’ll just get rid of that description before it ever makes it out there so that the character is no longer Asian.

Craig: I don’t think that will happen.

John: You don’t think so?

Craig: No. I think that that was all too often the response in the past, but you know, I encounter more and more an insistence on the studio side that the movie not end up being all white people.

John: Sure.

Craig: And I also think that there is somewhere some people must understand inherently that they’re not going to lose money by casting an Asian or an Asian American actor to play an Asian part. I mean, it’s hard enough for Asian American actors to get parts because of the default white syndrome, and now they can’t even get parts where the characters are Asian.

You know, I think this discussion is very, very long overdue. And I think it’s going to have a very significant impact on how things go forward. I do. I believe that.

John: Let’s look at what screenwriters can do and what they can’t do. So, what screenwriters can do is you can — you ultimately get the choice of what you’re going to name these characters, and so if you name a character Woo, you’re sort of describing that person who is probably Chinese, and that is an affirmative thing you can do.

You can suggest actors, you can suggest to people involved in casting the movie that let’s try to keep this role Asian. You don’t get the final decision on that, but you can always make that suggestion. But I think the most important and sort of interesting thing that writers can do is actually write about.

So there’s a great episode in this batch of Kimmy Schmidts where Titus Andromedon is putting on his one-man show about his past life as a geisha. And so he’s in sort of geisha white face for the role, and so there’s a huge outcry of Asian American actors about this sort of terrible thing, this affront he’s doing. And that show was able to really dig into it because they had the ability to have characters on both sides and really explore it.

And so one of the rare luxuries as a writer is you can actually write about these situations and these frustrations and explore it. And so one of the few gifts you actually have as a writer is the ability to create fictional scenarios in which characters are grappling with these issues.

Craig: Yeah. And, of course, we have enormous latitude here to describe our characters as we wish and to do so and then leave their race behind. You know, I mean, you introduce people, this one is Chinese American, this one is African American, this one is white, this one is whatever. And then that’s it, because most people, typical waiter in a restaurant works with people of every different race, and it’s not part of the daily discussion.

So, we can do that, but as you mentioned kind of at the top of this discussion, when it comes to casting we just don’t have the ability to determine these things. And we get blamed sometimes which is crazy.

John: And we get blamed for it and at the same time we are not particularly well positioned to defend ourselves. And so I would say if you are the screenwriter who is facing this situation, Twitter is not going to be a great place for you to sort of go out and try to defend yourself, and defend these decisions. You’re not going to win. No one wins on Twitter. It’s impossible to win on Twitter.

Craig: I’m currently winning on Twitter, but only because, you know, look who I’m fighting against.

John: Unfair advantage.

I think we’re living in a really exciting time, a really fascinating time for dealing with issues of race. And it’s because race is both an internal identity, it’s also a perceived identity. It’s something you hold inside yourself, but it’s also what someone sees you as. And that is rally challenging. It’s really interesting both on a fictional level and dealing with it on a daily basis.

A friend of mine is an actor who often gets cast as a terrorist because he looks sort of Middle Eastern, which is offensive. And also, he’s Italian, so he just happens to look like what we think a Middle Eastern person looks like, but he’s not. He’s Italian. And his wife is mixed race and gets cast as sort of like anything ambiguous she gets cast as. And that’s because no one is checking — I don’t think they actually even are allowed to check what is your actual ethnicity. They just say it’s what you came in the room looking like. Oh, well, he’s that guy, or she’s this thing. And race is a really interesting, frustrating, challenging thing we’re still trying to put our heads around.

Craig: Yeah. You can see people sweating as they attempt to do the right thing. You know, we are as an industry we are being asked to be more inclusive, and I think most people in our industry believe that that’s exactly what we should be.

But then, of course, to be more inclusive you have to be race aware. When you are race aware, suddenly you are beginning to traipse through a minefield, whether you know it or not. So, on the one hand you’re trying to do the right thing. On the other hand, you may end up blowing it. It’s difficult.

Regardless of the fact that it’s difficult, it is less difficult than actually being an actor of color, or a writer of color. That is harder to do. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the business to suck it up and deal with the uncomfortableness and the awkwardness and the occasional flub and make things better for these people who are honestly being treated unfairly. And there’s really no way to deny it.

John: Yeah. I agree. Craig, I have one last thought experiment. So, you’ve heard of this musical Hamilton?

Craig: Yeah.

John: So, my question for you is what do you think happens when the first time they cast a white actor as George Washington in that show?

Craig: I think it will be fine.

John: Yeah. It’s a really interesting situation, because there you have the precedent for the show is that the cast is not color blind, I’d say it’s actually race aware. You can argue both sides, sort of where it’s falling on that. But musically it feels like that actor, there’s a tradition where that actor should be African American, or at least non-white. And yet, of course, he’s playing a character who was in fact white.

So, I find it an interesting thing to look at in terms of is the role based on sort of our perception of what that role is like in the show, or based on the real person.

Craig: Yeah, I think that Hamilton, which will be performed 14 billion times by 14 billion casts until the end of time, will detach itself from any sense of needing to adhere to a format of casting. You’re going to see women playing Hamilton. I mean, everyone is going to play Hamilton. You know what I mean? So, over time, everyone will play it.

You already have, I mean, you can’t really point to that cast and say, “Well, it’s about being African American.” It’s not because Lin-Manuel Miranda is Puerto Rican American. And Phillipa Soo is Korean American, I think. So, it’s not about being black, and it’s not about being Latino, and it’s not about being Asian. What it’s really about is not being white.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And that is an interesting commentary because the founding fathers in that world was so white. So, it’s like, okay, we’re not white. But over time, white people will play those parts, too. Because, A, white privilege, what? But, B, because in the end I think the music and the story of Hamilton start to transcend some of the racial contrasts that the original cast has presented.

John: Yeah. I’ll read those articles when it happens and see what the discussion is.

Craig: Yeah. I think Washington is the right place to start, by the way, if you were going to do it. If I were going to do it –

John: Rather than Jefferson Lafayette?

Craig: Yeah, Jefferson has got to — I mean, right now, there’s something about the fact that he has got his slaves moving his staircase around as he returns from France. It’s just more delicious the fact that he’s African American. I don’t know. I think so. But –

John: We’ll see. I’m not going to get my shot.

Craig: Not going to get my shot.

John: Craig, it is time for our One Cool Things.

Craig: Yay. My One Cool Thing is so, so cool. This was sent in by a Twitter follower and they are gloves that translate ASL, American Sign Language, into verbal speech.

John: That sounds great.

Craig: How cool is this? So, it’s a couple of kids, and they’re adorable. These two boys. I can say that now, because I’m old. These two boys who work at University of Washington. I mean, they’re undergrads. Undergrads. They really are boys. At the University of Washington. Their names are Navid Azodi and Thomas Pryor. And they just won a $10,000 Lemelson-MIT Student Prize, which is a national prize for the most inventive undergraduate and graduate students. And so they’ve invented these things called Sign Aloud Gloves, which translate American Sign Language into speech or text.

So, I assume that they figured out how to put little sensors into all the fingers, and the palms, and everything, and then all that stuff goes into a computer. The computer translates the movements into speech. And it’s awesome. And if they can get this refined and everything, wow.

John: That’s great.

Craig: How great would that be?

John: Very, very cool. I like our love inventors.

Craig: I know.

John: And when they make the Young Inventors movie, I really hope they don’t cast two white guys in that movie.

Craig: Well, I don’t know if Navid Azodi is — I don’t know. I don’t know what –

John: I would guess, Navid sounds South Asian.

Craig: No…I’m going to go with Israeli or maybe Persian. I’m going to go Persian.

John: So, can you cast a white person as a Persian? I ask because Nima Yousefi who works in our office, whenever he sees something he doesn’t like, he’s like, “Oh, white people.”

Craig: [laughs] Well, he’s whiter than I am. I think Persians consider themselves Aryans in the old sense of the word Aryan.

John: It’s complicated the idea of racial identity.

Craig: It is, yeah.

John: You don’t have to write into me or Craig about that.

Craig: Yeah, yeah. Don’t yell at us. We’re just trying to figure it out. We’re stumbling through, guys.

John: Stumbling through life. My One Cool Thing is called Hands in Wheat. It is a Twitter feed by Andy Baker. And it’s basically a bunch of stock photos of like people running their hands through wheat. And it’s one of those great absurd Twitter feeds where it’s like, oh wow, you know what, it really is such an incredibly overused visual cliché. Because no one in real life ever does that. And you see it all the time in movies and ads and other things. Like connection with your food and with nature and all this stuff. It’s just so funny.

And I love it and he’s incredibly angry in the feed about like it’s hands in wheat, it’s not elbows and wheat. The wheat has to be at just the right height. So, I’m a fan of a lot of absurd Twitter feeds, but this is a new one that I liked a lot.

Craig: Have you seen Women Laughing While Eating Salad?

John: Yes, that is a fantastic one.

Craig: It’s amazing.

John: I also love Women Who Can’t Even Drink Water. Like Water Fails. Women pouring water on themselves as if they can’t do it.

Another good Twitter feed I’ll throw in for bonus is Baby CMO. And so he’s a Chief Marketing Officer for an Internet startup, but he’s also a baby, and so he’s talking about his sort of two conflicting needs at times. And so he uses the jargon of both, which is great.

He’s very much like Stewie Griffin.

Craig: Excellent.

John: Excellent. That is our show this week. A reminder that next week’s episode will be Aline and Rachel Bloom talking about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. This was a live show I recorded with the Writers Guild Foundation. So it’s basically the same day we recorded the Larry Kasdan interview. That morning I spoke with Aline and Rachel and it was fantastic. It’s actually maybe our dirtiest episode ever. It may have crossed over the Rebel Wilson thing.

Craig: Whoa.

John: So, don’t listen to it with your kids, mostly because Rachel has to, or chooses to go into a lot of detail about how she did the ADR for a scene in the original Showtime pilot where rather than just making out with Greg, she is performing oral sex on him. And so she goes into quite graphic detail about the ADR session she did for that.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah. Our outro this week comes from Jonathan Mann. It is fantastic. And Jonathan Mann is sort of a legend in the podcasting world for doing music, so he did one for us, and that was awesome. So, thank you to Jonathan Mann.

If you have an outro for us, you can write into ask@johnaugust.com with a link to it. It’s also a place to send in questions or feedback on the show. On Twitter, I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.

Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. You can find us on iTunes. Thank you for all those people who have left new reviews on iTunes. That’s always lovely and much appreciated.

You can find bonus episodes, including the Justin Marks interview, over at Scriptnotes.net. That’s also where the Scriptnotes App finds its great content. It’s a $2 a month fee for all the back episodes, including those bonus things. And there will be bonus Q&A I think for Rachel and Aline’s episode next week as well. So, if you sign up for that, you’ll get that as well. And that’s our show.

Craig: Great show.

John: Great.

Craig: All right.

John: Thanks.

Craig: See you.

John: Bye.

Links:

Pitching an Open Writing Assignment

Tue, 05/03/2016 - 08:03

John and Craig discuss open writing assignments, and how to best pitch to producers and studios looking to hire a writer for a specific property. Most of the work happens before you set foot in the room, so proper planning is essential.

Then we take a look at the controversy over white actors playing roles that could have gone to Asian actors, and how screenwriters can (and can’t) improve the situation.

Links:

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 247: The One with Lawrence Kasdan — Transcript

Fri, 04/29/2016 - 10:56

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hey, this is John. So, today’s episode was recorded live on April 16, 2016. This was an all-day event for the Writers Guild Foundation, and The Academy, Craft Day 2016. Craig and I got to sit down with screenwriting legend Lawrence Kasdan and talk to him about Star Wars, Han Solo, Light and Dark, all sorts of wonderful things. It was a fantastic day and we’re happy to share this interview with you today on the show.

A warning that there’s a few bad words in here. It’s not especially bad, but we didn’t want to cut around any of the great four-letter words that Lawrence Kasdan does drop in at times. So, enjoy the episode. We will back next week with a normal one. Thanks.

[live show starts]

Hello and welcome.

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: My name is John August. And we host a podcast called Scriptnotes. It’s a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

So, the backstory, so this is the slow crawl over the star field. Two years ago we had a discussion about Raiders of the Lost Ark. And it was a full sort of script breakdown of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Craig: And I’m lucky enough to have known Larry for some years. So I was very excited, but also a little nervous because, well, you’ll see. He’s incredibly grouchy. I said, “Would you listen to this?” That was already — that was an argument. But then he did. And he loved it. He said it was the best.

So, then I said, well, we should have you on to talk about Raiders. And he said, “No.”

John: Yes. But then, we said we were going to do a live show. And it was like, you know what, maybe we could get Kasdan to come for a live show. And we could talk about other things. He had this movie Star Wars come out, and we could talk about that. And so we scheduled him to come to our live show, which was going to be in Downtown Los Angeles, and we were so, so excited. And then on Saturday night I was over at Rawson Thurber’s house. This is –

Craig: Name drop!

John: Name drop. And I get this text from Craig. Or, actually, it was on my Apple Watch.

Craig: Tech drop!

John: And, Craig, what did you text me?

Craig: That Larry unfortunately was not feeling well. And so he wasn’t going to be able to make it. So, we freaked out. Because, you know, the way nerds are. And we are nerds, but if they want Larry Kasdan, you can’t give them like a guy, right? They’ll kill you.

So we got David Benioff and Dan Weiss from Game of Thrones. That was — thank god.

John: Thank god. Thank god.

Craig: Otherwise, we would have been dead. But, at last, today, we have the man.

John: So let’s introduce Lawrence Kasdan, everyone. Come on up.

Craig: While Larry gets himself situated, I’m just going to read this very brief thing here because you all know it, but I like saying it out loud because it’s kind of impossible. These are the movies that Larry has written.

The Empire Strikes Back.

[Audience cheers]

Don’t do that — because it’s going to take forever. The Empire Strikes Back. Raiders of the Lost Ark. Body Heat. Return of the Jedi. The Big Chill. Silverado. The Accidental Tourist. I Love You to Death. Grand Canyon. The Bodyguard. Wyatt Earp. French Kiss. Oh, and then he just did this other one called The Force Awakens. That’s not possible.

Lawrence Kasdan: Thank you. French Kiss was written by Adam Brooks.

Craig: Okay, whatever.

Lawrence: I Love You to Death was written by John Kostmayer.

Craig: Doesn’t really matter.

Lawrence: And they’re both great writers. And they were on the set every day and it was wonderful.

Craig: But you — all right. Never mind.

John: All right. This is why Craig doesn’t usually do the research for episodes. Just so we’re clear on this.

Craig: Wikipedia, you guys.

John: Anyone can edit Wikipedia.

Craig: Anyone.

John: Anyone.

Craig: Literally anyone can do it.

John: Anyone can do your job right now. So sorry.

Craig: I know.

John: But, Craig is going to step it up, because Craig has good questions.

Craig: I do.

John: Thank you so much for being here. So this morning I was on a panel where we talked about character introductions. I was wondering if you could talk about story and putting together a story. Because all these are such different universes of narrative, and yet each of them we think of them for their plot, for their story, for sort of how well they piece together.

Can you talk to us about when do you know you have enough information about this story to start writing? Probably most of us have seen the Raiders story conference, where you guys are all talking through the plot of Raiders, but what has that process been like for some of the other movies? When do you know that you have enough to start writing a movie?

Lawrence: First of all, I want to say I listened to that Benioff and Weiss thing, and as you know I have only admiration for those guys. But you said when Larry hears this, he’s going to cry. That they were so good that I would never recover from being replaced. I did hear that.

Craig: Did you cry? A little bit?

Lawrence: I got a tear. I don’t know that I ever feel I have enough, John. You know, in Raiders, there’s a moment when Indy has to go after the Ark. You know, it’s been put in a truck. And Sallah says to him, “What are you going to do?” And he says, “I don’t know. I’m making this up as I go.”

And that was my favorite line I ever got to write. Because it described my life’s work. It described my life, because it’s exactly the same with my life as it is with my life’s work, which is you’re improvising all the time. You don’t know what you’re going to do next. You’re hoping it fits into some grand scheme you’ve got in the back of your head. And it usually doesn’t fit the way you thought it did. Hopefully it’s as good or better than your previous idea.

You know, I usually start with characters that I’m interested in and hope that they develop a field of force. It starts to be a story. And you bring in another character, and that character causes a spark and friction and conflict with the one you started with. And you’re on your way.

But, of course, you’re not really on your way. You’re on your way to the first dead end and roadblock and despair.

John: I mean, we’re so familiar with the Star Wars movies, which are so complicated, and there’s all this going back and forth. But let’s take a simpler story like The Bodyguard. You have these two characters in conflict. Was that just the central idea? You had these two characters and the situation and the story flows through that? Or was — ?

Lawrence: Yeah, that was. And I had been screenplays for a long time with no success. And I’d give them to my brother, who was also trying to get into the movies at that time, and he’d say, “Oh, they’re great.” He was so supportive that I always had the illusion that something was going to happen with these scripts, but nothing ever happened.

But I did get this idea — I’m a huge Steve McQueen freak. He was a great, great movie star. I worshipped him. And I wanted to write something that he could be in. You know, it was a Steve McQueen part. I didn’t imagine in my wildest dreams that he would be in it. But I wanted something that — so I wanted to write that part because I was so drawn to that kind of character. And I find that I still am drawn to that kind of character, even though I haven’t written it for a while.

It’s very interesting to me. I was very interested in bodyguards and their willingness to sacrifice their life for someone they might not even like. For a salary, you’re supposed to throw yourself in front of the bullet. And it’s not just you may not like them. You may hate them. But that’s the commitment you make. For this salary, I will do that.

And I thought, well, what kind of person does that? And what’s that like? And then what would happen if he took a job like that. He didn’t like the woman he was protecting. And then, of course, they fell in love. And I thought, that’s really a good story.

Craig: It is a good story.

Lawrence: Yeah.

Craig: And I saw it. It was great.

Lawrence: I haven’t come up with many where you feel that way. And I don’t know about you guys. Maybe you have them all the time. I always feel, you know, people like our friend Scott Frank is always making you miserable because he’s like, “Oh, I’m doing ten things and I turned down four others. And it’s so great, and I’m doing this, and doing that.” And you’re like, fuck you.

Craig: Yeah. Yeah. We all feel that way about Scott. That’s about right.

Lawrence: They don’t come often. But that was clearly a good story.

Craig: Well, there’s something about that story that I think is common to a lot of the stories you tell, and that’s a certain kind of character. Whether you’re looking at Han Solo, and you’re currently writing a Han Solo movie with your son. Or Indiana Jones. Or if you’re looking at The Bodyguard. A number of these, there’s this lovable jerk quality. And that is an interesting tight rope to walk. And you do it better than anyone, I think, because your lovable jerks are definitely jerks. But they are really lovable. Usually they’re lovable and almost jerky, but not really. Or they’re just jerks and we don’t love them. How do you — first of all, is this something that you realize that you do?

Lawrence: No, I’ve never thought about that. But it explains why I’ve kept up my relationship with you. Why I like to — you have to go back to the well.

Craig: Yes. Yes, of course. [laughs]

Lawrence: Here’s an example. The character that William Hurt plays in Body Heat, I wouldn’t call him a jerk. See, I’d never use that word. He’s not smart. He has things he’s hoping for in his life, and they haven’t really come true. But up to that point, even though he’s not smart, or canny, or anything, he has gotten by very well sort of on charm. He’s a bit of a screw up as a lawyer. He’s a small town guy.

But he has great hopes for himself. And he doesn’t know it, but someone has spotted him as a talent that will be usable. So he thinks he’s meeting a woman, but she’s actually pre-scoped him. And she knows that these very things that are his weaknesses and his greatest desires can be put to her use. And we don’t find out that she know all about it before for quite a while in the story.

But I don’t think of him as a jerk. I think of him as a guy. A guy. He’s not so different from me, because he wants things, he doesn’t want to work that hard to get them. He’s hoping for the best. And not surprised by the worst.

Craig: The lovable part is the explanation and the humanity behind the failures. I mean, you do that really well, I think. That when you create flawed characters, the flaws don’t feel like they’re floating on top of somebody. They feel like they’re on the other side of the things we like. They are sort of integral to why we like those characters.

Lawrence: Well, that’s high praise, isn’t it? I do think all things are like that. There’s a great line that I will screw up now, but where he says, “You know, every pleasure — with every pleasure is a hint of pain.” Pay for your ticket and don’t complain. Everything is a duality.

There’s us here, sitting here. You guys are loved. Your podcast is loved.

Craig: Oh geez, here we go. Here we go.

Lawrence: I am thrilled to be the subject of your podcast and this gathering. There is behind us –

Craig: This is what it’s like all the time, by the way.

Lawrence: There’s a secret life going on with everybody all the time. And it’s the one that feels like, oh, I’m a fake. I’m a sham. How am I going to get through this? Can I get through it with people thinking I know what I’m talking about? Will you guys ask questions — you’re wondering, can you ask a question he hasn’t been asked a hundred times?

Craig: I know. We’ve really tried hard. How are we doing so far?

Lawrence: So far so good.

Craig: Okay.

Lawrence: The thing that got me about that Raiders episode, which I do recommend. These guys know Raiders much better than I do. Last night I was listening to a little bit of it, and I thought, “Really?” That’s great. And they keep saying during the podcast, “This is masterful. And that’s masterful.” And I’m thinking like, masterful, me? Is that? Wow, great. Because you don’t feel masterful. You don’t.

And you don’t feel it when you’re doing it. And you hope for it to be considered that way later on. When it holds up, when you guys can deconstruct it for an hour and a half, and it not just fall apart in your hands like dust –

Craig: It holds up.

Lawrence: It’s very nice.

John: Well, what you’ve described is like we say it’s masterful and you had no idea that it was masterful at the time. We’ve talked about imposter syndrome where you feel like, you know, people are going to figure out that I really don’t know what I’m doing.

Lawrence: Yes.

John: And these lovable jerk characters, Indiana Jones, the Han Solo, I think there’s a quality of that where like they’re acting with sort of a bravado so that no one will pay attention to the fact that they really don’t know what they’re doing. And there’s an inner doubt there that’s coming off through some of their dialogue, some of their lines.

It strikes me that like you can’t have those characters unless there’s someone to play opposite that character. So, if you don’t have a Marion, if you don’t have a Leia, if you don’t have a Luke, someone who is not that person. If you try to stick two of those characters together, it’s going to be chaos.

Lawrence: Well, the whole thing that interests me about writing movies, aside from the images and the power of the images and the way you can do that has nothing to do with dialogue, but I’m always interested in you have a character but he doesn’t have any shape. There’s no molding. There’s no contrast until there’s the light of another character shown on him.

And what’s wonderful is a movie where you say, “Oh my god, that character is so right about the other one. And I hadn’t thought of that.” And the protagonist, who you started with, is thinking, “Damn, she’s right about me,” but he can’t let that out. If it’s in his eyes. And then maybe later in the story he proves himself not to be exactly what she thought. What a great surprise that is. That’s the delight of a good movie.

Craig: We talk about this a lot, but I think we see it in your work throughout, that your characters really are defined by the relationships that they’re having. It’s very difficult to — I think sometimes new writers think that they have to write a character. You know, you’re going to write Indiana Jones. But Indiana Jones is defined from the start, even from the very start, by the fact that he’s not the guy that he’s with. You know? I just think that you do that really well. That you understand that — you know, Lindsay Doran, I don’t know if any of you have seen the talk that she does.

There you go. I don’t know when — she does it fairly frequently at the Guild, but she’s wonderful and you should see it when you can. And what she talks about ultimately is she talks about the last scene of movies. And that we think in our minds, we remember, like what’s the last scene of the movie? It’s when the thing blows up. It’s when the plot is resolved. But that’s never the last scene. The last scene is always Luke, and Leia, and Han standing on a ridiculous platform with stupid medals, but they’re smiling at each other. It’s the relationships.

Lawrence: Yes. Well, all of film, and the way this thing works, whether it’s film or digital, is there’s nothing until there’s a contrast between one pixel and another, between one grain of film and another. So, right at the essence of film, it only starts to become defined when there’s light and dark.

And that same thing follows right through the story, through all the characters, and everything is illuminated by the contrast.

John: So, you had a unique opportunity to go back and take a look at Han Solo, a character that you worked with before, in The Force Awakens. And a number of years have passed between them. What were those conversations like as you started looking at that character and where he’d be at now, what his relationships were like, what his relationship was like with his son, with Leia? What were those discussions and how did you figure out who he was then?

Lawrence: You know, Harrison is a little older than me, but our careers have been oddly entwined. We’ve never been close, but he’s a lovely guy. And he’s turned into a great, great man. And something happened where, you know, he’s relaxed into –

Craig: I think it’s pot, from what I’ve heard. He’s high all the time. I don’t know. I’ve never seen it, but that’s what I’ve heard.

Lawrence: He is a prince. A god. A king. And I could see that as soon as we came into the process and J.J. and I started talking to Harrison in some way early on. And after we had a draft, we had a really funny, wonderful meeting with him. And we did a lot of the writing in various cities, because J.J. — he had to be in London. He had to be out of London for tax reasons. And we were in Paris. And London.

Craig: That dodge has been canceled.

John: High class problems?

Craig: Yeah.

Lawrence: But we did most of it walking around Santa Monica and Manhattan, a freezing day. It was total fun. Most fun ever, really. But when we got to this stage where Harrison came, we had done a lot of work at the various Soho Houses. Now, I got to tell you, I’m sure there are wonderful people that go to the Soho House. In London, there are like five or six of them. And J.J. is a member. I’m not a member. I think I heard you guys talking about it.

John: Yeah, Dana Fox talks about it. And Aline goes to the Soho House. I’m not a member. I tried.

Craig: I’m not a member.

Lawrence: You’re not a member. But you’ve been taken there by wonderful patrons.

Craig: Douchebags usually.

Lawrence: But Harrison came, and so did Carrie. We had these meetings, a series of meetings at one of the Soho Houses. And it was great to — Harrison first of all was totally, he was so positive about the whole thing. And he didn’t ask for much. And you really wanted to do anything that — any problem he had, you either wanted to fix it, or you wanted to bring him over to your side.

You know, very early on in the shooting he got hurt. The door to the Falcon came down. It was a big — could have been a disastrous mistake. It was an understandable mistake, but a bad one on the part of the guy in charge of the door.

Craig: Where is that guy now, by the way?

Lawrence: Yeah. Well.

John: He had to leave for tax reasons.

Craig: Yeah.

Lawrence: [laughs] He is in Paris, I’m sure.

Craig: Won’t see that guy no more.

Lawrence: Meg was visiting that day and she and I went out to get something to eat. And we came back and everything had locked down. So, it happened like — I probably should never have left the set.

John: Lessons learned. So, in going back to revisit Han Solo, you were presenting him with a whole set of challenges which the old Han Solo would never have to face. So, what is it like to — ?

Lawrence: What do you mean?

Craig: Reduced urine flow.

John: No, no, no.

Craig: Stuff like that.

John: You’re giving him responsibilities that are sort of un-Han Solo like. So, like having a relationship with –

Lawrence: Well, this is what I started out to say. Even though Harrison is a little older than me, but we knew each other 40 years ago practically now when I did Empire is when I met Harrison. And then we did — Actually I wrote Raiders. I didn’t meet Harrison. He didn’t know who was going to play it. That could have been Tom Selleck. Could have been anyone.

Then I did Empire. And then we got back to Raiders and that’s when I got to know Harrison. He is now — so that was around 1980. And what’s this, 1956, 1987, where are we now?

Craig: Right now?

Lawrence: Yeah.

Craig: This is 2016.

Lawrence: Oh damn.

Craig: I’ve told you that. I said that before. Do you not remember?

Lawrence: So 36 years ago.

Craig: Right. That’s a long time.

Lawrence: It’s a long time. And he’s had a lot of life in between. I’ve had a lot of life in between. It’s very easy to relate to this character who has been out there doing stuff for 36 years. And that’s how we treated. And J.J. and I never had the slightest doubt that that’s what it was about. You know, it’s about what have you learned, what haven’t you learned, what mistakes will you make forever until you drop, you know, and what mistakes can you learn from. And that’s very easy to write.

Craig: And that span of time for you as a filmmaker gives you a certain perspective that I think is interesting to all of us. And the list of questions you’re asked a million times, how have the movies changed I’m sure is one of them.

But there’s a flip to that question that I’m really interested in, because you’ve always written movies for audiences. And that sounds like a strange thing — aren’t they all for audiences? But I feel like sometimes there are filmmakers who are writing it for, I don’t know — you’re writing them for audiences.

How have the audiences changed in the time since you started?

Lawrence: I’m glad you think I’m writing for audiences, because very often the audience has not shown up.

Craig: This occasionally happens.

Lawrence: Yeah. They haven’t done their part. I did my part. You know, I honestly believe that I’m not writing for audiences. I’m writing for myself. And when J.J. and I sat down to do this one, we sort of came into it under a lot of time pressure and everything, and we were sort of clearing the decks. There had been some false starts. And I said to him, “We have only one job. The job is to delight. This movie doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things. It’s only entertainment.” And that’s not usual for me, because usually I want to make it as hard as possible for people to sit there.

But this clearly was going to be satisfying a lot of long-suffering fans. And I said we just want to delight. You know, Akira Kurosawa, who is my greatest hero, and is I think the greatest director that ever lived, and one of the greatest writers that ever lived, his greatest film is Seven Samurai, if you haven’t seen it, go home and see it. It’s everything.

He is the Shakespeare of movies. He does everything. He does comedy. He does drama. Historical drama. Intimate, tiny personal dramas. And swashbuckling action. He’s the greatest director that ever lived. At one point, he decided to make Yojimbo, which you can watch as an appetizer for Seven Samurai. And it is, I think, maybe the most entertaining movie ever made. Just frame-by-frame, most entertaining.

But what he said to his writers, his co-writers, as he sat down was he said, “I want to make a movie that’s so delicious you want to eat it.” That’s Akira Kurosawa. And Yojimbo is that movie. And incident to incident you say, oh my god, that’s so great. What would be the best thing that could happen next?

Well, I said that to J.J. I told him that story. And I said let’s just write what we want to see, that would delight us, and then the next thing is what’s the next great thing that could happen. And that’s not I approach everything. It’s not how I approached The Big Chill, or Accidental Tourist.

But this was clearly meant to delight. So that’s a great sort of flag to be operating in.

Craig: And you did. I mean, that’s the thing. What’s so fascinating is that 36 years go by, or 35 years, and whatever happened with the audience over that amount of time, the one thing that didn’t change was you wrote the Empire Strikes Back, and they were delighted. You wrote The Force Awakens, and they were delighted again. It’s a remarkable thing.

Lawrence: How rarely everything happens the way you want it to. In fact, that release — it was an amazingly fun time. It was really three years of my life, because I was on it before I officially came on writing it. And then the last two years were just intensely with J.J. and then on the set and production. And when you have a really great experience like that, you’re thinking — if you’re Jewish — you know, you’re thinking, okay, where’s the kick in the ass?

Craig: That is what I think. Yeah.

John: So, at our live show, we had — at the very back of the house we had paper where people could write down their questions, because they came there, they showed up that night thinking you were going to be there. And so we only had the Game of Thrones guys, so I said write your question down and we’ll ask some of your questions to Lawrence Kasdan when we see him next.

And so some of these are questions that these people wrote. So, Greg Macklin wrote, “What’s your advice to learning to enjoy writing for the sake of writing when things get demoralizing, such as your new movie gets terrible reviews, your pilot gets canceled, life goes south?”

Craig: Oh, I want to know the answer to this one.

John: Yeah. And also I think Greg is presupposing that you enjoy writing. So, do you enjoy writing?

Lawrence: You know, the great quote about that, and it’s been true for me my whole life, is do you enjoy writing? No. What do you like? I like having written. Well, everybody likes having written. And you say, oh, well, here — I’ll give you another copy. Want another copy?

But, writing it is rarely fun. And for me it’s a struggle every single day to start. Now, in the best cases, you get caught up in it and it’s suddenly six hours later and you say, “Shit, we didn’t get anything done, but this is kind of good.” And very often you think the next day, I do, I put it away and then I come back the next day and I’m expecting to think it’s terrible. And it often isn’t, or at least I’ve convinced myself. And that’s fun.

Craig: Right.

Lawrence: But then even if I do that, even if I read yesterday’s stuff and I say, “That’s pretty good,” then I have to turn to this day’s stuff and it’s a drag.

Craig: And now you’re thinking how am I going to do as good of a job as yesterday guy did. Yeah. No, it never ends.

Lawrence: So it’s never easy.

Craig: Never ends.

Lawrence: Never ends.

Craig: Here’s a question from Cody in Pasadena. “Is there any movie you’ve written that has not been produced that you would still love to make someday?”

Lawrence: Oh, yes, not a lot, because when you go through the whole process and it doesn’t work out and you have the whole experience of defeat, very often you get alienated from that.

Craig: Stank on that one, yes.

Lawrence: But I adapted a Richard Russo book called The Risk Pool. And there was no reason in the world we shouldn’t have made it. Tom Hanks was going to do it, and then he changed his mind. And Richard Russo is a great writer. And someone had sent the book to Meg just to read it, and she said, “You’ve got to read this. I think there’s a movie here.” And I don’t even that excuse.

But what got me was it was about a character who was so much like my father. And he’s got a lot of problems and he’s scuffling through life, but there are things about him that were enormously attractive, which is how I felt about my father who I lost when I was 14. And I thought, this is amazing. Richard must have had a similar kind of experience. And if you read Richard Russo’s stuff, this father figure recurs again and again in Empire Falls and all his work.

And because that’s such an important fact of our lives, and if you lose them suddenly and abruptly, that becomes another thing to deal with for the rest of your life. I really wanted to make that movie. And when Tom decided he didn’t want to do it, it just cut all the steam out of it. And it was very hard to get it back.

And I would still like to make that movie. And I was working with a wonderful independent producer, Anthony Bregman, on something else, and I said, well you know what I really want — he asked me the same question. And I said — and I gave it to him. And he said, “Eh…who? What?” He just didn’t get it. It didn’t excite him.

You know, he thought, well how are you going to get people — and he knows, because he’s so prolific. He’s knowing that he’s going to be in a meeting with Weinstein or Sony Classics or something, and they’re going to say, “How do we sell this?”

Craig: Right.

Lawrence: And it’s not obvious from The Risk Pool.

John: Great. Derek T. writes, “What was the favorite script you’ve ever written?” Do you have a favorite script you’ve written?

Lawrence: No, absolutely, honestly no. It’s corny. It’s true. No movie is your favorite, for me. You know, I have two sons, three grandchildren. Can’t pick favorites. Don’t want to pick favorites.

Craig: I do have a question here. It is from John Kasdan.

Lawrence: Really?

Craig: “Ask him which of his sons he prefers. I have my suspicions.” You’re still sticking with…

Lawrence: Talk to John. He’s moved to New York. And I don’t think it’s related. But we talked to him this morning, and he was feeling good about me. So I thought he was a wonderful son.

Craig: So the answer is you prefer him today.

Lawrence: But he and I went through the crucible. It’s never easy to — I’ve collaborated with a lot of different people. My brother, my wife, friends, people who I’ve just gotten to know, like J.J., and became friends. When you start to collaborate with your son, everyone says, “Whoa.”

Craig: And was it whoa? Did you have those moments?

Lawrence: It was a challenge. And we had great moments. And we had difficult moments. And it’s not over. We’re going to go back and do a little work probably. Chris Miller and Phil Lord are directing the movie. We’re very excited about that. And they’ve been great. They’re hilarious.

Craig: They’re the best.

Lawrence: They came to my place in Colorado and worked with us for a week. And they’re just fun to hang out with out. And they’re brilliant. You know, imaginative guys.

The whole reason that I tried to get them onto it, because it was a difficult process. Not because everybody didn’t want them, but money always, and Disney is difficult. But we did get it. But I said to Kathy Kennedy when it was just about to fall apart, I said, “Look, John and I are going to run out of ideas, probably very soon. And these guys are great writers. So, you’re getting the directors, but you’re also getting these amazing writers. And you should do everything in the world to make it happen.”

Craig: Yeah, but on the other side, these movies don’t make a lot of money, so they have to really be careful about what they spend on the writers.

Lawrence: There’s that.

John: Larry, could you tell us about the process of collaborating? Because most of your credits, you are the sole screenwriter. But some of these other ones, you’ve had to work with other folks. What is the process when you are coming in on a project that’s already moving? How are you getting up to speed? How are you finding common ground?

Lawrence: That hasn’t happened much. When I got involved with The Force Awakens, I was not going to write it, but I was going to do the Han movie. But they said to me, “We’ll make a separate deal for you where you will consult. We’re going to have a story group to talk about The Force,” we didn’t know what it was called, but the next Star Wars.

And I said, okay. But that involvement I thought would be very casual and intermittent, became very intense as it just didn’t come together. And it was only after nine months of that that they decided to change directions. And I was hesitant. Michael Arndt, an incredibly talented writer, and a great guy –

Craig: Yeah, great guy.

Lawrence: Loved working with him. And he said, you know, “I can’t do this in the amount of time.” They were under an enormous time pressure. He said, “I can’t do this.” And he stepped away. And J.J. and I took it over. And that was the first time there’s ever been anything really there, you know. I’ve had books, two books, but basically I’ve been there at the inception.

John: And we think of you as doing features. Are there any TV things that I’m not aware of that you’ve done? Is television interesting to you at all?

Lawrence: It’s very interesting to me. And I have a great agent over here and he would like me to be successful in television. Don’t know if it’s possible. It’s so different.

But, it is where all the quality stuff is happening. You know, the chances of making a really good, intelligent, adult movie — you can still do it — but the odds are a million to one. You don’t even blame them, because there’s no one going to those movies. You know, you can’t get your money back.

But there is now, Eden has opened up, which is there’s all this money to do very adult, very complicated stuff, and since The Sopranos there’s been a revolution. And it just continues. In fact, now, people are competing like crazy. Say, Craig Mazin, can we get Craig Mazin? John? What if they do it together? We’ll give them the entire network.

John: Never. Never.

Craig: Oh. So –

John: [laughs]

Craig: Well, one thing that’s interesting about television, you I think are exceptionally good at what I call closed ended narrative, and that’s what movies are. They begin, they proceed, they end.

Lawrence: Yes.

Craig: And your endings are always great. In television, at least historically, the whole point of television was never end. But now there is this middle ground.

Lawrence: There is.

Craig: It’s interesting. People are making either short term miniseries or movies for television. I could certainly see like — I would imagine once this goes out that people are going to be calling about the movie that you were just talking about. There’s a demand for content, and specifically the kind of content that, yeah, they don’t put in theaters right now.

Lawrence: Yeah, which is amazing. And it’s great news for everybody here. Because five years ago you would have said, “Oh, it’s the end of the world.” Because studios are not interested in anything that isn’t slam-dunk branded. And that doesn’t mean it’s going to work, but it’s branded. And so they’re making a tiny number with big movie stars that will do some other kind of things. And then there’s independent film, which is very much alive and thriving, but you’re headed toward Netflix and Amazon and Apple anyway. I mean, that’s really where people are going to see it. They’re not going to see it in a theater.

So, the fantasy of the kind of movies that I made for 30 years, that’s sort of over. You know.

Craig: Even a movie like The Bodyguard.

Lawrence: Very hard.

Craig: Like The Big Chill, I could see, you know, well, that was a specific movie of its time, but you could look at it now and go, “Oh, they don’t make adult dramas like that.” But even Bodyguard –

John: Body Heat, they would never make as a feature now.

Craig: Never. Never.

John: Body Heat is a Netflix series, a 13-episode series.

Craig: Right. But it would have been a good one on Netflix.

John: So good. Slow burn.

Lawrence: But I’ve been intimidated by the length of time. And I have a couple projects that I’m working on now that would be eight hours. And that seems possible to me. I haven’t quite worked them out. But as long as someone else is writing those eight hours. I don’t want to.

Craig: You don’t want to write them. Of course not.

John: So, are both your sons involved in the film industry?

Lawrence: Yes. They both write and direct movies.

Craig: Yeah. Jake is a big comedy movie director.

Lawrence: Yes he is. And in TV, he’s got all these TV series.

Craig: You were giving me a look behind me earlier.

Lawrence: I didn’t know what you said.

Craig: Okay. It’s paranoia.

Lawrence: Craig didn’t used to have a beard, but part of his comic stylings is to murmur or something that you can’t quite hear. He can score on you without you ever hearing it. So everybody — is that right?

John: It’s absolutely true.

Craig: Kind of a weird defense for hearing loss, but okay.

John: [laughs]

Lawrence: Somehow I think the beard has made that even more effective. Maybe — you can’t really see your lips moving.

Craig: He’s the dad I always wanted.

John: I can tell, yeah. So, both of your sons are writing and directing. What advice do you give them? Is it things have changed obviously since when you started. What do you talk to them about if they come to you for career advice?

Lawrence: Well, they used to, but they don’t anymore. When they were younger, and they did care what I thought. And there was a period when I became very discouraged about movies, you know, because they just stopped making the kind of movies that I had thrived on. And I said to them, “You know, movies have gone to hell. The end of the world has arrived. It’s all crap.”

And they both said sort of, “Dad, you know, you’ve been saying the same thing for 25 years.” And I was thinking we had reached some –

Craig: But apparently your whole life is that?

Lawrence: Yes, my life is down in the valley. And the truth is it has always been hard — always. When we were moving recently and I came across the panel or discussion that I did with Marty Ritt, you know, who made Hud. A great director. And George Miller. A young George Miller. And Peter Bogdanovich. And we’re all saying — this is 30 years ago.

Craig: Same thing?

Lawrence: We’re all saying, “Oh, they just want to make comic books now. It’s all branding and super heroes. There won’t be another good movie made.” This is 30 years ago. So, somehow the movies get made. But it is a struggle. Always.

Craig: Should we?

John: Open it up for questions.

Craig: Yeah. And we’ll start with you, sir.

Male Audience Member: Okay, for Mr. Kasdan, how did you learn your craft? And I want to preface that by saying it sounds like you just started writing screenplays. But did you study acting? It seems from your work that you did. Or Shakespeare? Or write plays? Or any of that?

Lawrence: I did all those things. And I did want to be an actor. And people kept saying, “You’re terrible. You’re terrible.” And I actually think that’s very important, because no one — these are all good jobs if you’re working in the movies or television or everything. And people will discourage you. And if you can be discouraged, you should be discouraged. And I was discouraged about acting and I gave it up.

But when they said, when I wanted to be a writer-director, they said, “What are you thinking? You’re crazy.” And that didn’t mean anything to me. And I think that’s the natural selection process that happens.

How did I learn it? I watched movies and movies. I was studying literature in college and was knocked out by the writing that I was exposed to. I came out of West Virginia, but we had a pretty decent English program at my high school in West Virginia. But in 1961, I saw Lawrence of Arabia. And it changed my life. I knew that’s all I wanted to do. And this is before high school or anything. I thought, “I want to direct movies.”

And my brother had gone to Harvard and he came back from Boston and he said, “You know, people make movies. They don’t just happen. The actors don’t just make it up.” We didn’t know that in West Virginia. In West Virginia it was like you’d call the theater and you’d say, “What time is the showing?” And they’d say, “Well, when can you get here?”

We had no real connection. But my brother said there’s a whole job you can have doing this. And that was terribly important to me. And from the time I was 14 on, all I wanted to do was direct movies.

John: Larry, when did you first read a screenplay? When did you first start working on a screenplay versus writing other stuff?

Lawrence: Well, what year was Butch Cassidy? Butch Cassidy changed the world, because there had never been a screenplay –

Craig: ’73? ’69.

Lawrence: ’69. I had been watching movies, but I don’t know that I had seen a screenplay and what it looked like. But when Butch Cassidy came out, it changed the whole world for people who wanted to write movies. And it was published in book form as a screenplay, which almost no one out in the world had seen before.

I mean, by ’69 I had seen a lot of screenplays because I had gone to Michigan to try to become this thing. But that was a big moment where you read it and you said, “Well, why was this the highest priced screenplay of all time? And why do I love it moment to moment? And what freedom Bill has,” William Goldman. I didn’t know him as Bill then. “He seems to have such freedom about how to do this.”

And that was very liberating. I had read Lawrence by then. And it’s a very different style. And it’s I think the greatest screenplay ever written. And you should get a hold of it. Robert Bolt. And it’s just one amazing thing after another. And lucky for him, David Lean was there mentoring him and telling him what he wanted, and then going off and doing — you know, making the greatest movies of all time.

But if you just study — if you stop wasting your time on Raiders of the Lost Ark and just talk Lawrence of Arabia and look at it page by page, and then read it, and then read it again. That’s an education in screenwriting.

Craig: And you showed up one movie after Alec Guinness on Star Wars. He was right there. You had him –

Lawrence: Oh, how I wish I’d met him.

Male Audience Member: Hi. A quick three-part question.

Craig: No, no, no. A one-part question.

Lawrence: One-part question.

Male Audience Member: Okay then.

Lawrence: What’s your favorite part?

Male Audience Member: About being pigeon-holed as a writer. You talked about genres as vessels and then usually you’re telling the same stories essentially, just finding a different vessel to put it in.

Lawrence: Yes.

Male Audience Member: How do you experience with being pigeon-holed, or being forced to pigeon-holed. And how as new writers, you know, you’re constantly being pushed into that fear.

Lawrence: That’s the kind of problem you want to have, where anyone’s even thinking about you. And they say, “Oh, you know, he’s written only this kind of movie.” I’m not putting that down at all. But it is really a high class problem you have.

What you want is you want how can you be considered a writer that they will give money to. That’s the first step. That you’re doing work that they want to pay you for. And pigeon-holing comes with great success and it’s not to worry. Don’t worry about it.

Female Audience Member: Or one thing I’ve always heard about in development is the point of view of the story. When it comes to film, is this different from having a narrator?

John: Oh, talk to us about point of view. What does point of view mean to you?

Lawrence: Point of view. Yes. You know, the point of view can change 50 times during the movie. Development is a word that generally is accompanied with locusts and drought. Development is a horrible thing. Once I hear the word development, I’m already gone. You have to bring me back.

Things that people say in development. These are very smart people, because those jobs are hard to get, too, you know. So, there’s a lot of competition and you practically have to go to Harvard. You meet an unbelievable number of Harvard people out here. You say, why? There’s no connection.

Craig: They’re dicks.

Lawrence: No connection. But, some went to Princeton. But, development is not a place to be edified or to have your life get good. So, the thing is what you really want is that when you’re doing your work alone you say, “Well, what is the point of view of this story? Who is experiencing the things I want the audience to experience? How am I going to convey that as a writer so that they know?” And as I said, it can change from one moment to the next.

But, I’m working on a project and the woman who is the protagonist is thrown into a situation that she’s excited about being in, but has never been in before, and everything is coming at her. And she’s trying to figure it out on the fly. And that’s perfect for movies. You know, it’s her point of view. And then when that scene is over, we get the point of view of someone who was watching her and evaluating her and comes up to give her his praise or comments, you know.

So, I think it’s very fluid. Fluid is actually not a bad word to keep in mind all the time.

John: So talk about point of view. Some movies, like Body Heat, are going to have a clearly limited point of view because we don’t want the audience to have more information than our protagonist does. But you look at The Force Awakens, it seems like, oh, this is from Rey’s point of view, but then you realize there’s many characters who have sort of storytelling power. And as long as we’re with one of those characters, you can have a seen driven by one of those characters.

Lawrence: Because if it were just Rey, you would be very limited. You know, you would not know all of these things that are going on with Kylo Ren and you wouldn’t — but it happens that Han comes to Rey and Chewie comes to Rey. And Boyega comes to Rey. The secret sauce of that movie is Daisy Ridley. She’s wonderful.

You know, we got lucky. What was good was we all agreed right from the start this was going to be a young woman who was going to be the protagonist. But we got really lucky when we got Daisy, because she’s more than that. And every frame she’s in glows. And her presence in the movie, you know, ripples out from every scene. So even if she’s not in, you’re sort of feeling Rey.

John: And point of view also can be affected by when you’re introducing characters to an audience. And so I think in an earlier version didn’t we meet Leia earlier on in the story and then you ended up sliding that back –

Lawrence: Yes, but how do you know that? Have you been in my house?

John: Sorry. But it’s a lovely house. I know you were doing construction. It was fine. Good choices you made. I like the paint colors.

Craig: This is what — I have this all the time.

John: All the time. But that was an example of you probably made one choice originally, and then you saw how the audience is experiencing the movie.

Lawrence: J.J. shot it that way. And Leia came into the movie much earlier. And we discussed it at the time. When is the right time for her to come in? And I always think put off everybody — you know, anything you can put off, you should put off. And then maybe it will fall out of the end of the movie and never have in the movie. Because the fewer things that are in the movie, the better, almost always.

So, you’re trying to cut, cut, cut, cut, cut, cut. But, no, we didn’t know exactly the right place. And we weren’t set when J.J. shot it that way, and he started cutting it that way. And then one day he called me and he said, “We’ve taken her out. And she comes in at the scene that you’ve always said is a great scene for her to see Han for the first time. That’s her entrance in the movie. Isn’t that when you want to see her come into the movie, when she and Han lay eyes on each other for the first time?”

And I said, “I’m so happy.”

Craig: Fantastic.

Female Audience Member: Thank you.

Female Audience Member: This question is for my 15-year-old son and his buddies that are haunting my house today. Did you play, Mr. Kasdan, did you play Dungeons & Dragons or chess when you were a kid. If not, how did you learn to move the characters around so cool?

Craig: That is a good question.

Lawrence: Great question.

John: Great question.

Lawrence: Great question.

John: Also a very good mom there. So thank you for that.

Craig: And a good mom.

Lawrence: You know, I didn’t play Dungeons & Dragons and I wasn’t smart enough to play chess. But you don’t have to tell them that. But what you should do is show them the great movies that have stirred you and stirred your parents. And live without any explanation. You know, you don’t have to explain these great movies. You can sit any –

A few years ago we were at a vacation home and there were a bunch of kids, like from 10 to 18. And I said, “Oh, let’s watch Casablanca.” And everybody is like, “What?” And it was a Blu-ray. A B&W Blu-ray, because it’s a B&W movie, which is gorgeous. I recommend getting it. And they didn’t fuss that much to start.

And then it started and they didn’t say anything. They were silent for the entire length of the movie. They were riveted. Because once the lights go down and that title is — the title of one of Pauline Kael’s books that my brother actually gave her, When the Lights Go Down — but it’s the key moment in all of this kind of entertainment. Which is the lights go down and everybody focuses on that frame. And all bets are off. All the prejudices are off. If the movie works, they’re in. They can be five years old. They can be 85 years old. If it works, they’re in.

And that’s a beautiful thing to know. That if you’re doing your job, and you haven’t let them go, which we sometimes drive them out. We tell them shit they don’t need to know. We make it longer than — I’ve done this — make it way longer than it has to be. And you’re driving out. But the instinct is to stay in. And it doesn’t matter how old they are. Show them the best movie you think, and they will learn all these things about, “Gee, that character did that. And that character did that.” It’s almost as good as Dungeons & Dragons.

Craig: But not quite. Ma’am?

Female Audience Member: My question is about writing credible characters of the opposite gender. So when I think about Marion in Raiders of if I’m thinking about Rachel, I see strong, beautiful women who are in peril and need to be saved. And yet even though they’re being commoditized, they know that they still have dignity and they move through that story with a sense of themselves. And sometimes even save the man that came to save them. Was that a natural tendency of yours? Did you have to work harder at writing credibly authentic women? And can you tell other men writers how to do the same thing, please? Thank you.

Lawrence: I think I — what saved me is I didn’t make that distinction much in mind. I thought every character had to be interesting. Every character had to be as complicated as the people I knew. And the women I knew were even more mysterious to me, so they were very complicated.

And if you are making a person, you know, they’ll probably be interesting. If it’s true.

The great safety net under everything you ever do is ask yourself as things are bouncing around down there, is it true? Does this feel true? And it doesn’t mean that it had to happen. And it doesn’t mean that it ever will happen. It means that in the world we’ve created, does this seem real? Does it honor the reality you’ve created up till then? If it’s true, you’re half the way there. So, that would be man, woman, child, whatever.

John: Larry, that seems to go back to your acting. You said you weren’t a good actor, but that’s very much an acting kind of question. Does this moment ring true? Could I play this? Could I actually believe that I’m in this moment as it’s happening.

Lawrence: Yes. And you know, I like to think of myself as a director. I’ve spent years of my life directing actors. I love actors. And when they have a problem, it’s sometimes about the script. But sometimes it’s about the wardrobe. Sometimes it’s about the other actor is doing something that’s driving them crazy. And you have to suss out without making villains anywhere and not alienating anybody else, you have to say how can I make them more comfortable. How can we get through this?

And I sometimes use the example that if they say, “These lines. I just can’t say these lines.” I say, okay, well, it’s possible they’re no good. First of all, would you like to write some new ones? That usually slows the process down. But, I say, what if you pick up the glass in the middle of the scene and then don’t drink from it. You put it down. And that says something about where your state of mind is. And they go, “Mm.” And you have a conversation started.

And maybe the thing is there are lines that shouldn’t be in there. That’s usually what it is. There’s too many lines. And you say, “Well what if you don’t say it at all, and you never have to say it, you’ll never say it in this movie, and you’ll never have to say it in your life.” And they say, “Okay, I like that.” That’s very possible.

So, you’re looking for a strategy that gets people who are stuck over the part they’re stuck about. That’s true of cameramen, and production designers, and costume designers. If they have a problem, you’ve got to say, “What is the real problem,” and not let your own sense of pressure or being a fake overcome your ability to open up that conversation.

John: Do you think it’s easier being the writer-director to tell them like, “Oh, just do whatever you want,” because you’re the writer and you know how it’s all going to fit together? Have you directed things that you’ve not written?

Lawrence: Just a couple.

John: And so is it a different experience to tell an actor to go off and do their own thing when you’re not the writer there as well?

Lawrence: Being a writer-director is a place of enormous power. Everybody wants to please the director, but the security — if you’ve written it, too, there’s enormous credibility you have. And you can sometimes get things that a director could not get.

And they’ll ask you, “Well, why is this like this?” And you say, well, you know, it’s not about this. It’s about 40 pages later this has to happen. And sometimes they have not made that connection. And no matter how committed they are, no matter how great they are as actors, they just don’t think the way you do. And sometimes if you say, “Well, you know, 40 pages later when he does this, that’s because he said that earlier.” And they go, “Oh my god, that’s great.”

And it helps everything for the next 40 pages.

Craig: That’s our frustration sometimes as writers. We go into meetings. The studio executives or the producers have missed things that we don’t understand they’ve missed. Actors miss things we don’t understand they miss. But the truth is, their minds don’t work like ours, and thank god.

Lawrence: Yes.

Craig: Because, A, that means we have something worthy and not replicable. And also I don’t want my actors to be screenwriters. I’ve seen screenwriters act. I want actors to be actors. And it’s a different way of approaching material. I completely understand that point of view.

Sir?

Male Audience Member: Craig and John, thanks for doing this. You’re doing a great job. Do you need a water or anything? Mr. Kasdan, my name is Nathan Scoggins, and I’ve been fortunate to get a few things made. And I remember when I was 11 and my parents asked me what I wanted to do, and I talked about movies, and they went out and rented two movies on VHS back in those days. One was The Accidental Tourist and the other was Grand Canyon.

Lawrence: Great parents.

Male Audience Member: They had good taste. They had good taste. And Grand Canyon is one of those movies that –

Craig: There’s a question coming, right?

Male Audience Member: There is.

Craig: Good.

Male Audience Member: And it feels like one of those movies that is kind of a forgotten film of the early ’90s, and yet it feels as current now in terms of the themes that it deals with as it did then. And I’m curious, because it feels kind of like a movie out of time, could you talk a little bit about what went into crafting that film?

Lawrence: Absolutely. I wrote Grand Canyon with my wife, Meg, who is here. And we had raised two jobs in Los Angeles. And things were happening in the city and I found we were both trying to figure it out. You know, we weren’t in despair, but we wanted to figure out why is there all this energy that’s so negative, so dangerous, and there’s also all this thriving, throbbing life in the city.

And we were just trying to figure out if we could make some sense of it. And public discourse has become so politically charged, and Grand Canyon may have difficulties in this time because it dares to talk about some things that you’re not supposed to talk about anymore. You’re not allowed to.

And I liked the movie a lot and in the privacy of my home I can look at it and say I know why I did — that was a great experience by the way. It was total, total great experience. And I wish that there were more freedom now to talk about these kind of things, but they’re really hot button issues. Every single one of them.

Craig: Well, there’s a certain expectation now that if you do talk about things, you have to talk about them perfectly. Because there are a million ways to go wrong. I would argue that it’s literally impossible for a film to not fall down some — because it isn’t real life. It’s some simulation of life.

Lawrence: Yes.

Male Audience Member: Thank you.

Male Audience Member: Mr. Kasdan, you’re such an integral part to two of the biggest and most popular franchises of like movie history. I was wondering since franchise and universe building is such like key words in the industry today, what are some of the touchstones that keep rooted to a really good story even within a franchise? And what are some of the pitfalls that you can see writers falling into when they’re trying to create the perfect franchise movie?

Lawrence: Yeah. I don’t think you can create the perfect franchise movie. These guys did an interesting analysis of the top 100 movies, and there were 14 standalone movies of the top 100. The other 86 were all related to franchises. That was so discouraging.

Craig: Well, and you provided most of them, by the way. I’m not sure what the discouragement is about.

John: How’s that next Han Solo movie going? Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. As you remodel your 12th house. We could do this forever.

John: We could do this forever. And actually, that’s the thing, we may be making Star Wars movies forever. Star Wars may outlast us.

Craig: We’re going to. Yeah.

John: So it’s a different thing that’s happening.

Lawrence: That’s not the issue. That’s the outside looking in. What we’re talking about, what your challenge is — your challenge is to find — I don’t know, maybe you want to write the perfect franchise movie. That means you need a franchise to work on and you need to say, “I want to do a really good job on this.” Okay, this will be a nice entry in that.

But if you’re interested in other things, that is entirely on you. And you have the freedom of your computer. When we’re done here today, go home, sit at your computer, and say, “What is the story I most want to tell? And I know that it’s going to be really hard to get it made. And everyone is going to tell me I’m crazy because it’s not a franchise and it’s not a brand. But I really want to tell this story.”

And then work as hard as you can to tell that story. That’s actually how you do good work. And it’s also how if you are charged with creating a franchise movie, it’s the same process. What’s the best way we can do this? Without cynicism. Without presumption that people already like it when they don’t. How can I make this particular movie honorable? How can I make it true? How can I make it worth people’s time and money?

John: Going back to Raiders of the Lost Ark and the story conference, which people have seen the transcript of that, that was the first movie. That was the original template for this thing that’s going to keep going on. Looking at that discussion you had, everyone is referencing the things that are so important to that, and the things they love. The serials are important to them. What if this character did this? I want a character who can do these kind of things.

That was you guys forming the template in real time for what this whole thing was going to be. And it started with what do I love. What do I wish existed as a movie? And that’s, I think, what we are urging him to write is that thing that he wishes existed.

Lawrence: That’s exactly right. And George and Steven are very strong that way. And you can see it all through their work. And Steven continues to make movies at an unbelievable rate. And it’s always for that reason, because he always wanted to make a movie like this, or he always wanted to make a movie like that.

And just forward movement. And it’s from a love. A love of saying I want to do a scene like that. I want to direct a scene like that.

Craig: And that’s also how you end up getting to work on a franchise. You worked on that because of your work on Continental Divide, which is as far from a franchise film as it gets.

Lawrence: Yes.

John: The second half of his question I thought was really fascinating, too. Let’s speculate. If one of these franchises goes south, what will have happened that caused it to go south? What will be the film or the series of choices — ?

Craig: Rian Johnson basically.

John: Well, Rian Johnson, obviously. Death and disaster.

Craig: Yeah. He blows it.

John: So, hiring the wrong director like Rian Johnson. [laughs] We love Rian.

Craig: We love Rian Johnson. He’s our guy.

John: He’s a good friend. He’s our guy.

Lawrence: He’s part of the inner circle.

John: But I would speculate that if these franchises go south, it’s because either we go back to the well too many times. We sort of keep making the same movie too many times, or we sort of make desperate choices to sort of — we sort of kowtow to sort of desperate choices for things.

Craig: Well, you see, sometimes as things start to fall apart, I remember watching the evolution of ’80s/’90s era Batman movies. It started with this fascinating Tim Burton take that was so wildly different than what we knew from the campy show on TV, although I love that show.

And what happened was each successive seemed to look backwards and say, “What was the stuff people liked about that? More of that.”

John: That’s Charlie’s Angels 2, by the way. I can tell you what a franchise looks like as it is falling apart.

Craig: I may be involved in one right now as we’re speaking. But they lose sight, I think, of what you were talking about. The essential nature of contrast. That the big and the loud needs the quiet and the soft. The thoughtful must be there for the explosions to be interesting. So by the time you get to Batman with a Nipple, it’s just noise. There’s no contrast at all. Sometimes I feel like that’s where — and I suspect that this iteration of Star Wars, that lesson seems to have been learned thoroughly, until you blow it with Han Solo.

Lawrence: What’s mystifying is that the people who are getting these jobs are really talented people. You’re knocked out by how sharp they are. And it’s not just technically. They love the form. They love the genre. And the weak link is — and you know, effects, you just can’t get any better. Effects are just getting better, and better, and better. But the weak link is always in the writing. And it’s always in what they leave in the movie. Which is the movies are always 20 minutes too long and they always have explosions you don’t have any emotional connection to.

And it’s mystifying, because these are not dumb people. But there’s some culture of making these movies that they just feel they have to be bigger and louder than the last one. And that’s never the answer to anything.

Craig: Agreed. Ma’am?

Female Audience Member: In the nature of contrast, across the span of your very impressive career, what do you think has been your greatest evolution as a writer and what has remained a core truth for you as a writer?

Lawrence: That’s a great question. I don’t think I’ve evolved at all. As you get older, and you can’t believe how old you are, you say, “Why am I not wise?” I’m not wise. I honestly believe. But it turns out that you don’t get wise. You get experienced. And you have more experiences to reference. And, of course, you start forgetting them, so –

But, it’s only experience. So that when a new problem arises, you say, “Wait, this is very familiar to me.” And I remember panicking and acting like an idiot back then. Is there another approach? And you know that you’re going to get through it. And the movie will come out and maybe forgotten. That’s what’s really incredible.

But, you know, about ten years ago there was an ad, it was for a telephone company or something. And a guy, maybe you remember this. A guy walks into a desert motel and there’s like a stoned young woman behind — punk woman behind the thing. And she says, you know, “$25.” And he says, “What movies do you have?” It’s in the Mohave.

And she says, “We have every movie ever made.” This was ten years ago. And he says, “What?” And that is the situation now. You can go home right now if you’ve paid your bill, and you can access almost any movie that’s ever been made.

Craig: I don’t think you even need to pay a bill anymore, frankly. There’s ways to just watch.

Lawrence: Oh, well I don’t encourage that.

John: You get a young person with the Internet, yeah.

Craig: Of course not, no.

Lawrence: But everything is available to you. It’s all there. And so you can access the great art. You can also get the great books, but that’s so much harder work. But that is only of so much use, because you don’t get that much brighter or anything. So you know — I was pretty sharp when I was younger. And so I dealt with problems the best way I could think at that moment.

If I had that same problem now, it will be maybe 5% better because I’ve had these experiences. You know, it’s a big surprise of age that you get there very quickly and the benefits aren’t that great. But you are very thankful every morning when you wake up. You say, “Oh, I get to have another day.”

Female Audience Member: Thank you.

Craig: Awesome.

Male Audience Member: First of all, of course, thank you very much. This has been very illuminating. A little left field question, Larry. What are your favorite TV shows and why?

Lawrence: Well, there’s so much great TV now that you can’t — actually, it’s become kind of a burden.

Male Audience Member: That’s why I asked. There’s so much.

Lawrence: Everybody says, “Have you seen this? Have you seen that?” And you’re 10, 12, 30 episodes behind. And you have to think am I going back to the beginning? But they’re just endless. It’s The Wire, and Sopranos, and Breaking Bad. And now it’s Better Call Saul, which is one of the weirdest wonderful shows ever made. And Silicon Valley. I mean, there’s just so many great things. You can’t watch them all. And you can’t say that about movies.

I mean, it used to be that in a year there would be five, or six, or seven movies that you’ve got to see that movie. That doesn’t happen anymore.

Craig: What are we down to?

Lawrence: I’d rather not say.

Craig: Sir?

Male Audience Member: Well, first off, I wanted to thank you for ending the Star Wars drought. It had been a while since I’d been that entertained. But I wanted to ask, when I watched it it felt like I was reliving being ten again, right down to seeing a Death Star blow up again. Was there a conscious –

Lawrence: Everything in it you mean.

Craig: I think he’s getting to the question, isn’t he?

Lawrence: What you say?

Male Audience Member: Was that the plan when you — ?

Lawrence: No, in fact, I said to J.J. when we started, you know, let’s not have anything blow up at the end, you know.

Craig: Cut to.

Lawrence: But that’s a perfect example. My collaboration with J.J. which was pure — it was heavenly. He’s so funny. And so smart and good. And he’s a good writer. It was a manifestation of something that I have resisted for years accepting, which is sometimes your collaborator is better than you. Sometimes the thing you’re fighting with them about, they’re right. And sometimes you’re right. And if you have a good collaborator, they sometimes see that, too.

But you’re really lucky when you get to work with someone like that. So, now you say, “Did it need to end with something blowing up?” Well, no. But it seems to work for a lot of people. But that doesn’t mean that was the only ending. There was another way to go, and we discussed other ways to go. And there was a point at which we talked about it having a much quieter ending. And I think that would have been interesting, too.

You know, these things are not one way or the other. You know, what happens is, if a movie is successful and it’s good, the waters seal. And you never think about them any other way. That’s why if you ever get a DVD and it says “the deleted scenes, the director’s cut,” those scenes are always crap. Even Lawrence of Arabia, the second greatest movie ever made, when David Lean added back the scenes that had bothered him for 40 years, they’re not as good as the others.

Now, I don’t know if that’s truly the fact, or that when the waters closed, I fell in love with that movie. And when there was something added to it, it never seemed necessary or right or helpful.

Male Audience Member: Thank you.

Craig: Sir?

Male Audience Member: Hi. Thank you. I can you pacing around the room before writing a big scene. And I was wondering, because I’m a fan, how was it on the day that you wrote Han Solo’s death?

Lawrence: He dies?

Craig: Spoiler! You haven’t seen it, yeah.

Lawrence: My five-year-old grandson learned Spoiler Alert last week.

Male Audience Member: Oh, I’m sorry.

Lawrence: And now he says it about everything. Dinner, Spoiler Alert! That was a very emotionally charged — we’re talking about Han Solo’s death. I didn’t get to finish because these guys interpreted me.

Craig: Here we go.

Lawrence: After Harrison was hurt, luckily not too bad, he went away and eventually they ran out of things to shoot and they closed down for a while. And during that time, there was some rewriting done. But none of that explains what happened which is that Harrison came back and there was a kind of golden glow about him. He was totally comfortable. It was the most positive thing I’ve ever seen in an actor. And he made every moment — we reshot most of what little had been done before that, and he made everything perfect. He was so great to the young actors. And he was so great to everyone on the crew.

It was magnificent. And so when we got to him dying, and this was true when we had written it, it was very emotional for everybody. Everybody. And it’s a big decision. And we talked about it a long time in the writing stages, you know.

I had wanted to kill somebody in Empire. And George didn’t want to do that. But I thought that would raise the stakes, and that we would know that you can’t get away with everything in this universe. But that didn’t happen.

And at the time of Jedi, Harrison was ready to get out. He had an incredible career going and he had had enough Star Wars. And he said, “Kill me.” But George didn’t want to do that. And I didn’t even want to do it then. I thought the time was in Empire.

And when we told Harrison about this, he was 100% cool. Now, after this charmed experience, I think he had some feeling of like this was kind of great.

Craig: Unkill me.

Lawrence: Yeah. [laughs] But he never protested and he did it with great grace. And it was emotional. I’m talking about for the prop guys, and for the grips, it was emotional. Because Harrison is a unique personality.

Craig: We have time for one more question. One more person. Perfect.

Male Audience Member: It’s a question for each of you. When you look back, especially at the early parts of your careers, and if we take your writing ability out of the equation, we ignore that.

Craig: Thank god.

Male Audience Member: What is it that you think set you apart from other writers that made you the types of people that studio execs wanted to work with, that directors wanted to work with, that actors wanted to work with?

John: I would say it was probably the therapist quality. The ability to really listen to what a person was saying, be able to echo back what they’re saying in different words that were constructive, and not seem like a — not seem like a difficult person. I can actually be a kind of difficult person as a writer, but I can seem really convivial in the room. And so to be able to make people feel confident, like okay, hiring you is a good choice because I think you can actually deliver. So, independent of my ability to actually put those words on the paper, I think that helped me get the jobs and helped me also be comfortable in rooms that would otherwise be very difficult.

So, a lot of my sort of my sort of early work was being thrust in rooms with really challenging people, or really fraught situations, and being able to diffuse those and get people moving forward in terms of making a movie.

Craig: Yeah. It’s not far off from — I guess I would say I’ve always been a puzzle solver. I like solving puzzles. I won’t leave a puzzle until it’s solved. When I started, I think a lot of what I was doing was being handed distressed properties that were puzzles and that other people couldn’t quite put together, and perhaps maybe shouldn’t have been put together. But I did.

You know, and I wouldn’t stop. And I was sort of relentless about it. There is something to that narrative puzzle-making that’s valuable, but you know, it’s interesting, over time the thing that I think — whatever my value was at the time, I think it has changed over time because I’m more and more trying to do and write things that I think should be written as opposed to writing something so that it is written. Those are very different things. But slowly but surely.

And now the real answer.

Lawrence: Can I give a two-part answer?

Craig: No. Yes.

Lawrence: The rules are tough here. I think that it’s a combination of what these guys have said. First of all, what John said to me, you can say it about all of life. That if you want to be appealing, if you want to be the person that people want to go to, it helps if you actually see people and hear people. That’s so rare in the world. You know, where a person feels seen and heard and understood. It’s kind of magical when it happens and people are drawn back to that all the time. And so I’m sure John did that for people and they thought not only do we have a problem, but this is the guy that’s going to solve it for us.

And Craig talks about relentlessness. Well, that happens to be the key to all careers in Hollywood which is you will not stop. You will not stop.

I never had any alternative plan. I had to become a movie director. And that crazy obsession, whether it’s to solve a problem in a script, or to run your career, it’s the only thing you’ve got really, because no one else has an interest in you succeeding. Only you do.

And so if you both are a person that people get in the room and they say, “My god, he sees, he hears, he understands. And he won’t stop until there’s an answer of some kind.” It’s pretty irresistible.

Craig: With that, Larry Kasdan.

John: Larry Kasdan everyone. Thank you very much.

Links:

Three Days to One Hit Kill

Tue, 04/26/2016 - 17:59

Next week we’re consolidating our One Hit Kill inventory, which means counting, boxing and shipping games from four different warehouses.

We’d much rather these copies of One Hit Kill be in players’ collections than Amazon’s shelves. So through Friday, we’re selling One Hit Kill at 50% off on Amazon.

It’s a great chance to nab a copy, or one for a friend.

One Hit Kill is only available on Amazon’s US store. (International buyers can find it at the OHK site.)

The One with Lawrence Kasdan

Tue, 04/26/2016 - 08:03

John and Craig sit down with screenwriting legend Lawrence Kasdan to discuss Star Wars, Raiders, The Bodyguard and how he’s shaped some of the most iconic big-screen stories and characters of our lifetime.

This 90-minute interview comes as part of WGFestival 2016 Craft Day, and features audience questions as well. Our thanks to the Writers Guild Foundation and the Academy for hosting us.

Links:

You can download the episode here.

Scriptnotes, Ep 246: The One with the Idiot Teamster — Transcript

Fri, 04/22/2016 - 11:28

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

Today, we welcome writer-director Lorene Scafaria, whose new movie The Meddler comes out in the US this coming week. We are going to be talking about movie touchstones, gender in film, and a new round of How Would This Be a Movie. But before we introduce Lorene, we have some follow-up.

Craig, start us off.

Craig: Well, right now for all of you who are WGA West members, which is I believe something like 7,000 of you out there, right now in your mailbox or in your email box you have an invitation to vote on some amendments to our union constitution. And you and I have discussed these amendments, and there are three of them. Both you and I are in agreement on these on 2 and 3, which are basically minor adjustments to how we nominate people who can run for office and the board. They seem fine.

But you and I both have a problem with Amendment number 1, which basically says that they’re changing the terms so that people are no longer elected for two-year terms. Now they’re going to be elected for three-year terms.

And you have a nice piece on your website, johnaugust.com, and it quotes something that I’ve written and sent out to some other people. But we — both of us — think fairly strongly that people should be voting no on Amendment 1. It doesn’t seem to make member’s lives easier. If anything, I think it’s designed to make the staff’s life easier.

John: My big objection with Amendment 1 is that by increasing the term from two years to three years, if you have stupid people put in positions of power, it becomes much harder to get them out. And that’s not a good system. So, while voting every two years means we have to vote more often, I think it’s a useful cost for a better system in the WGA.

Craig: I agree. And just to point out to people, these have been cavalierly tossed out there, and the arguments for seem to be, “Well, most of the board voted for it.” Well, yeah, generally speaking I can see why incumbents would like to expand the amount of time they spend there. But, we have been doing it this way, two-year terms, since the inception of the union. It’s not something that you just throw away casually, 70 years of a stable election mechanic. So, I really don’t know why they’ve even proposed it. And I think we should say no.

John: Okay. My bit of follow-up. I asked on Twitter saying, hey, would someone like to make a Wikipedia page for Scriptnotes, because it felt like there should be a Wikipedia page for Scriptnotes. And our listeners are the best, and they made a great page for Scriptnotes. So, if you look that up in Wikipedia, we are there. It’s a pretty good article so far, but it could always be better. So, if you feel like editing the Scriptnotes’ Wikipedia page, just go for it. That’s what Wikipedia is for. If there are things you want to add, things you want to focus on, I would just say make sure it reads like a Wikipedia page. Try to keep it professional and neutral. Don’t make it sound like a bunch of Scriptnotes fans wrote it.

And on the whole, people have done a really good job. So just thank you to everyone who contributed to it, because it’s a really good page, and in three days people did a great job.

Craig: Do you feel like Wikipedia defies your understanding of human nature to some extent? It’s remarkable to me that so many people voluntarily do this, and they don’t — there is no reward for them.

John: I got an email from somebody who said like, “You know, I tried to do a Wikipedia page a long time ago, and it got rejected for not being relevant.” Or like not being important enough. And he was frustrated and down on the system. But, I guess maybe enough people working together, it got through the approval process. So, I’m up on Wikipedia pages.

Craig: Yeah. It’s pretty amazing. I don’t understand how it exists. I still think like I should just have my Multi-Volume World Book.

John: Yeah. I remember those. Little gold leaf on the edges.

Craig: Yeah. And they smelled like dust.

John: Oh yeah. Pages were a little too thin, and they cut your fingers.

Craig: That’s right. Yep.

John: Yep. Next up, Craig, talk to us about our fifth anniversary.

Craig: Well, you were the one that alerted me. Actually, Mike alerted you, and you alerted me. So, you know, I’m not necessarily the guy whose always running out there saying let’s have live shows, but fifth year. Five anniversary. I mean, that’s a big deal. So, I think that we should have some sort of big fifth anniversary celebration of some kind.

John: So, we don’t know where that should be, or quite when it should be. Our fifth anniversary will be at the end of August. And so sometime in August, if we were to do a live show, that would be our fifth anniversary. If people have suggestions for where we should do it, probably in Los Angeles, but like what venue, and who we should have as guests, we would love to hear those. So you can reach us on Twitter, or go to the Facebook page and just tell us where and who should be part of our fifth anniversary celebration.

Craig: You know, I also wonder, maybe we should — maybe that one should be on the road.

John: Ooh, that could be a good road show. It could also be a good live-streaming thing. There’s a lot of stuff happening in live-streaming now. There’s the Facebook Live stuff. So maybe there’s a way we could do like a worldwide event.

Craig: Ooh, worldwide.

John: Worldwide.

Now, on the topic of worldwide, this episode that you’re listening to right now will cross us over six million downloads of Scriptnotes in its history, which is kind of nuts.

Craig: Six million, huh?

John: Six million.

Craig: Never forget. Six million. Sorry, it’s my Hebrew school. I hear that number and I immediately just –

John: Absolutely. That’s a tragic thing. But it’s a very happy thing that we have crossed six million. So thank you to everyone who has listened. I should tell you that we are changing some stuff on the server, and hopefully everything will go completely smoothly. But if next week’s episode doesn’t show up in your feed the way it should show up, just go to iTunes and re-add it, because there could be something that got glitched.

And so we will have a normal episode next week. If it does not show up for you, just go to iTunes and re-subscribe. We will do everything we possibly can, so no one gets dropped, but in case that happens, just add us again. That’s why we’re free.

Craig: So freaking free. We’re the freest.

John: We are the freest. Now, it’s time for our special guest, Lorene Scafaria. She is the writer and director whose credits include Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, and the 2012 film, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World. Her new movie is The Meddler, starring Susan Sarandon as a New York widow who moves to Los Angeles to be closer to her screenwriter daughter, played by Rose Byrne. Let’s listen to a clip where Susan Sarandon is going to see her daughter’s therapist.

[Clip plays]

Lorene Scafaria, welcome to the show.

Lorene Scafaria: Thanks so much for having me.

John: So, I’ve seen the movie. Craig has not seen it yet. I went to the premiere at the Grove last night, and I was so confused originally like why it was at the Grove, until I saw the movie, and the move is set in Los Angeles, and actually a large part of it takes place at the Grove.

Lorene: Yes. It’s a bit of a love letter to the Grove, actually. It’s my mother’s favorite place on earth. [laughs] She likens it to Disneyworld. So, she moved to the Palazzo right –

Craig: Oh my god, that’s great.

Lorene: Behind the Grove. Yeah.

Craig: It’s like the Grove apartments.

Lorene: Of course. Yeah. And a lot of other moms moved there after my mother did. She was starting a sort of trend. They had like a dorm life at the Palazzo for a little while. Right when she moved there, and she was certainly alone at that point, she, gosh, went across the street to the Grove, went to the Apple Store, got a cell phone, and then many texts and voicemails later, I started to write the script, which actually was right away.

I mean, I started writing the script basically a month after she started to fall in love with the Grove.

John: So, all of these events that you’re describing are basically fictionalized in the film. So, we see Susan Sarandon going to the Apple Store, making friends with an Apple tech, and sort of just becoming over-involved in both her daughter’s life and in everyone around hers life.

So, this film, and obviously the Rose Byrne character is a screenwriter, you’re a writer, so obviously there’s autobiographical quality to it. And it’s very specific. I mean, that’s the thing that Craig and I always love to focus on when we look at sort of great writing and great filmmaking is it feels like one person’s experience lived in this — there’s nothing kind of generic about the thing. It was very specific to these characters in this situation.

So, after you started writing this thing, when did it become clear like, okay, this is the next movie I’m going to make?

Lorene: Well, I started writing that before I made Seeking a Friend, so at that point I hadn’t really realized if it would amount to anything, or if I was just working through something therapeutic or what it was going to be.

But, once I had enough of it, a little while after Seeking a Friend came out, and didn’t do well, and I was sort of trying to — and that felt very personal to me, even though it was high concept. I was wondering how personal I should get with the next one. So, even though I had the story, I had the setup of my mom, and I had this character, and our situation, our lives together, I didn’t know what it was going to be.

I didn’t know if I was going to write a noir film. I didn’t know if she was going to solve crimes. I really wasn’t sure what I wanted her to do. I just always had that intro. That intro was always the same of her walking around the Grove and leaving a voicemail for her daughter and what it is that she says. And all the references.

And then sort of — I think as a bit of a rebellion against what I kind of felt Seeking a Friend — you know, like how people reacted to it where it felt like, “Oh, god, I should never tell anything personal ever again,” I then just decided, you know what, I’m going to tell the most personal thing I can. And see where that gets me.

Craig: I like that you went further, you know?

Lorene: Yeah. [laughs]

Craig: Don’t pull back. Don’t let anyone let you pull back. First of all, I have to say, you’re from Homedale, is that correct? Homedale, New Jersey?

Lorene: Yes, New Jersey, yes.

Craig: Marlborough, Freehold.

Lorene: Hey, are you kidding?

John: And my dad worked at AT&T at Homedale.

Lorene: Are you kidding? Then you should have gone to high school there, right? Because everybody –

John: But we moved out to Colorado before then.

Lorene: Oh, okay. Okay. Oh my god. But you were in the system then? You were in the Homedale system?

John: Oh, very much.

Lorene: You’re on grid.

Craig: [laughs] I — sadly no one took me to Colorado. I was there.

Lorene: You were there? You suffered through. When did you get out of Jersey?

Craig: Well, I went to college in New Jersey, so I didn’t leave until 1992. So, but yeah, I know that area well. And actually good people from that area. And I can see how a nice Jersey mom wandering around the Grove would be like, “This is great.”

Lorene: Oh yeah.

Craig: I have a list of people that I would love to write a movie about, but I have to wait until they die.

Lorene: Right.

Craig: Because I don’t want to deal with it. How do you deal with that with your own mother? I mean, I assume that she’s had things to say about this?

Lorene: You know, I mean, yeah. It’s been a — there have been a series of realizations on her part, because I read her the script over the phone, I think the first time that I was sharing it with her. I certainly was telling her, you know, you’re inspiring to me. I’m writing about this.

I think a couple of things. One, you know, I really was impressed with what she did. It was just really very brave that she sold a house in Jersey that she lived in her whole life and moved 3,000 miles to this big scary city. And it’s lonely. And her friends aren’t around. And I’m the only person who is the source of entertainment. And I was going through my own grieving process, which was very different from hers. And she just sort of met her grief with such optimism and I like to think of it as part denial and part acceptance at the same time. And I was kind of just angry and depressed, of course.

But, you know, it came from — my intent came from a good place, the same as sort of everything that she does comes from a good place. We mean well. You know, she means well, and I mean well when I wanted to tell her story.

So, I think she appreciated that I was as honest as I could be about myself as I was about her. That, of course, she could be annoying, but of course I could be mean. Of course I could take her for granted. And, you know, you are your worst self around the person who has to love you unconditionally, hopefully. [laughs]

Craig: I hope that’s true. Because, you know, when my kids behave a certain way I think, oh god, I hope that I’m seeing the worst of you. Please tell me this is the worst.

Lorene: I think so. I think so. [laughs] And, yeah, I think certainly in grief I was my worst self. And then, of course, in front of my mother. And the movie doesn’t really allow you to get rest from her. You stay with her. That was a big thing that I fought when people weren’t making it very easy for me to get this made.

John: So, looking at the trailer, it makes it seem like it’s a two-hander between Rose Byrne and Susan Sarandon, but when you actually watch the movie it’s almost a monologue of Susan Sarandon. It’s only from her point of view. And so I think part of the success of it is she is so great and so compelling. And where she’s annoying to everyone else around her, and yet she’s so sympathetic. You can completely see it from her perspective. And breaking it into a two-hander, I think she might seem like a monster.

Lorene: Exactly.

John: You would lose your sympathy for her.

Lorene: If you leave her and you go see Lori and you’re on the other side of the phone ringing constantly and — I didn’t want that. I didn’t really want sympathy for my own character at all. I really thought I wanted to change what the word meddler meant. So, even though it’s a pretty negative title in a way, and a negative thing to call somebody, and usually we reserve it for moms and some dads, too, but I kind of wanted to change what it meant.

And part of that was sitting with her and seeing how lonely it is. And seeing what it’s like when your kid isn’t calling you back and you don’t really have those touchstones anymore. And you have a lot of love to give, and you’re not sure what to do with it. And that was the reason I never wanted to make it a two-hander, even though — I mean, my gosh, that was the biggest complaint from people that read it and people who represented me at the time. They wanted me to change it into a traditional mother/daughter story. And I just really wasn’t interested in that.

I feel like we’ve kind of seen that. But also for this exact reason. I wanted you to peel back and see someone pretty annoying up front and then realize where it all comes from. And never leave her side really.

Craig: So that’s where you run into this frustration where you’ve made a movie that thematically is about a sense of isolation –

Lorene: Right. Right.

Craig: And people will casually say, “Yeah, yeah. Great. Now, can it be a road trip with another person?”

Lorene: [laughs] Right. Exactly.

Craig: No.

Lorene: It’s missing the point. Exactly.

Craig: I feel like they get the point. They just don’t care.

Lorene: Yeah. No, they certainly didn’t care. Not when they were like, “We want to help you get this made, of course, but no one is going to finance a movie about a woman of a certain age.” I mean, really, and I mean now it seems like there’s a trend of it, and I’m wondering what took place that changed all of this. Movies like Grandma and I’ll See You in my Dreams and Hello, My Name is Doris, I mean, are finally getting attention. And, of course, those are all great actresses.

But, it was so strange at the time that absolutely no one was interested in doing it until — unless, of course, the Lori character, someone who get more money, you know, mean more as they say. And I just wasn’t interested in doing that.

John: You’re a really good director.

Lorene: Ooh.

John: You’re really good like director of actors, but you’re also a really good visualist. And so watching the movie last night, I was — I got to see it on the big screen — and I got to see like, oh wow, you’re really thinking about your frames. And you’re thinking about sort of how to portray isolation for a character in ways I’ve never — I don’t commonly see.

And so when she’s occupying the screen by herself, she’s compelling, and yet there’s always a sense of she’s boxed in. She’s stuck in her car. She’s occupying a section of the frame, and her life is really empty.

When you were writing it, is that visual aspect already informing it? Because you knew that you had to direct this. Like, no one else is going to go off and direct this movie. Or, was there a thought that somebody else could direct this movie?

Lorene: No, no, no. At no point was I going to hand my mom’s story off to someone else. Maybe her. She could handle it. But, yeah, I mean, I like to think that I write as a director, meaning not necessarily all the shots are written down or anything, but just I’m seeing pictures in my head, so I’m trying to create those pictures on the page for other people.

But, my DP and I talked about how the edge of frame, since the whole movie is about boundaries and crossing boundaries, we liked to play with boundaries the whole time. And whether that was this woman in a picture frame and in a tiny car, or you have to find her in a crowd of people, that was something that we discussed.

But I also — I shot the first five minutes of the movie with my mom, who is not an actress at all, at the Grove without permission. I think I can say it now that I’ve had the premiere there and everything. But a DP friend of mine and I, we were tucked away.

It was basically for me to show them, you know, I don’t think we need to shut down the Grove to even film there. I was trying to just prove that I think we can do this crazy ambitious Los Angeles sprawling story with less money than you think. And that was because I had the idea that I wanted to find her in the crowd. I wanted to sort of land on a person on in a story that wouldn’t normally be the lead of their own movie. You know, wouldn’t be so compelling.

And, yet, actually is. And so the first few minutes of the movie with Susan is almost shot for shot what I did with my mother, because we liked the sort of voyeuristic long lens idea of just finding this woman and following her through the sort of mundane life. And, yet, hopefully interestingly. But I’m so glad you saw that, because you make a low budget film and a lot of it just feels like medium shots and away and away, and yet we were — I was certainly going for that.

John: And there’s a very filmic quality to — especially in the middle section where you actually get to visit — not big spoilers here — but when you get to visit the thing that the daughter is filming, which is this pilot, and the meta quality comes through. Susan Sarandon is watching another actress playing her. Laura San Giacomo potentially playing her, which is, of course, the meta thing of you’re making this film about your mother. And your mother is part of the process of seeing you make this film.

Did your come to visit set while you were shooting?

Lorene: No, we wouldn’t let her. And she thinks it was her idea, which I think is really sweet. She’s like, “You know, I just didn’t want to make Susan feel uncomfortable.” I’m like, yeah, that was very gracious of you to come to that decision.

Craig: After it was delivered to you in a legal letter.

Lorene: [laughs] Yes. Exactly. No, she was on set of Seeking a Friend every single day. She brought two chairs in case anybody else needed one.

Craig: Aw.

Lorene: And she sat at Video Village the whole time, which I find to be a wonderful tactic for first time filmmakers. I highly recommend that your mom sit in Video Village, because the producers have to walk away to talk crap about you.

John: Oh great.

Lorene: So that was exciting. That was a fun little thing I learned. But, no, we kept her away as much as we could. I’d call her every day to let her know about it. You know, how the day went and everything. But the reason that I was excited to write about that was because, you know, I was always trying to figure this out. It was very meaningful to me to try to figure out what to do with this pain and loss of my father and having my mother around and all of that.

I mean, I sort of felt like I had to tell their story. So, I liked the idea that Lori had this pressure on her to give her father this afterlife or the idea that maybe she was writing this version of her life where her father still lived and her parents were now in her guest house or something.

And so the true story was that my dad had retired in March of 2009. And then went downhill in June. So, there were only a few months of them retired and they were out here — and oh my god, they would come like over and bring breakfast and just be so crazy together and so adorable. And it was a fantasy for me, because my father worked for his whole life, so to even just see him in the daytime was weird. So that was really what the TV show was about that Lori was putting together.

And there’s the moment earlier in the film when Marnie check’s Lori’s search history on her computer and you could see the script for the pilot in the background, actually the same stuff is there. But, yeah, I just liked the idea that if her father had lived, this is sort of this alternate universe for even her. And so then, of course, Marnie visits the set and it’s like her husband is embodied by someone who has come back to life in this way. And Harry Hamlin, of course, nailed it.

But I also liked the idea of — you see so many stories about writers. Everybody is writing about being a writer. And I guess I wasn’t interested in that at all. But I was so interested in my mom’s perspective of it. Because, I don’t know about you guys, but my mom thinks everything is cool. You know, like she thinks like, “Oh my god, you got a meeting at Warner Bros? Can I keep your ticket stub?” I’m like, it’s not what it’s called. But –

John: That’s awesome. That’s great.

Craig: That’s so great.

Lorene: So I just thought like, oh, I should just see her excited to visit a set.

John: The other reference, and I haven’t read a lot of the press about your movie, so I don’t know if other people are catching this, but the Pedro Almodovar movies, which are always about sort of these giant mothers, and they’re always set against the backdrop of the film industry or TV producers. Like, it felt like the American version of sort of what an Almodovar movie is.

Lorene: That’s a high compliment. Thank you.

John: And not as sexed up as the Almodovar movies are.

Lorene: Yeah. Of course.

John: But it’s that relationship between challenging characters at times, but characters you ultimately want to embrace. And you sort of see why they’re doing the crazy things they’re doing.

Lorene: Yeah. Exactly. And we didn’t want to sexualize it too much. I mean, certainly I wasn’t — it’s funny, because that was at some point something that Susan and I had even talked about. Is it missing a scene between her and Zipper? And for me it was like, oh my god, no, it’s not really about — it’s not about a woman who has been repressed her whole life or fresh out of a divorce of someone she hated and needs a sexual awakening. It was so much more about just this woman is so open-hearted with absolutely everybody, except when it comes to the idea of romantic love.

And so, you know, it’s like a reluctant love story in a way for her.

John: Very nice. When will people get to see it?

Lorene: It opens in New York and LA April 22nd. And then expands after that. We’re going to DC and Chicago. We’re going to San Francisco, doing press. So, I assume bigger cities first, and then hopefully wider and wider if people like it and tell people about it.

John: I think people will like it. We had the folks from The Invitation on recently, and so they were bragging about their Rotten Tomatoes scores, but you’re in the 90s as well as we’re recording this. So, people seem to be enjoying it.

Lorene: Yeah. So far so good. You know how you get those reactions from critics? And so far all of those have been very positive. But I remember them being pretty positive for my last film, and then you see the reviews and it’s just different people doing the reviews.

John: Yeah. Isn’t that funny?

Lorene: I’m like, oh, that’s cool. So you had the person who hated it write it up, not the person who liked it. That’s fine.

John: A platform release is a strange one, because at least when you go wide it’s like the Band-Aid gets ripped off all at once. But when the platform is week after week after week, it’s a challenge.

Lorene: Yeah. I’ve been nervous for the last few weeks. And now I’m like, oh, it’s not going to change. I’m going to be nervous for five, six more weeks. It’s not that fun. But, I mean, I’m happy to do a platform release on this instead of — I mean, going wide would have been a mistake. But last time going wide was a mistake, too.

You know, what’s nice is that the people I work with see these movies as commercial, and to me they’re so weird and little and about sad things, too. So, it’s a mixed bag when they see it as commercial and have dollar signs in their eyes, because then they’re like, “Ooh, you know, we can put this out in the summer.” And I’m like, oh please don’t. Please don’t.

Craig: Yeah. No. I think the platform release strategy is correct. And these movies, they live in different ways now anyway. I mean, it used to be that they would platform out into theaters and people would either see them in theaters or they wouldn’t, and that was it. Movie is dead, forever, you know.

But now I feel like with day-and-date and all the rest of it — so when is it available on iTunes and all the rest of that?

Lorene: I don’t know. I’m kind of happy it’s not VoD at the same time, just because I think for the crowd that, you know, older women saying being the demographic at least they think this is for, those people go to the movies, which is nice. And they don’t tweet I’ve heard.

Craig: They don’t tweet.

Lorene: From absolutely single screening.

Craig: They don’t know how to use iTunes. So this is great. Yeah.

Lorene: They haven’t mastered that stuff yet. But, no, it’s — you know, even Netflix. Seeking a Friend had this very nice afterlife on Netflix, where people discover it for years later without watching the trailer right before hand. And that was certainly nice.

But, yeah, I don’t know when this will start. I mean, I think they’re hoping that it’s the kind of thing that’s a slow burn and stays around for a while. But, oh my god, let’s see. We’ll see.

I mean, my mom is going to see it a lot. That will be a lot of ticket sales.

Craig: Right. And she will keep those ticket stubs.

John: She buys three tickets.

Lorene: She buys three tickets. Craig, you haven’t seen the film, but it’s –

Craig: Well, I saw that in the clip.

Lorene: Oh, that was in the clip. Okay, yeah.

Craig: She will continue to buy three tickets at a time.

Lorene: She absolutely will. Though she prefers action films usually.

Craig: Wouldn’t it be great if she goes to see this and she’s like, “Eh…I don’t know.”

Lorene: [laughs] I’ve been telling people it’s my mom’s favorite movie. It’s her favorite movie.

Craig: Well, let me see. It’s a movie about her and Susan Sarandon plays her. So, yeah.

Lorene: Oh my god. When she found out Susan was playing her, she was like, “Oh my god. Daddy would have been so excited to have been married to Susan Sarandon.” [laughs] She got the biggest kick out of it. She was like we all should be so lucky.

Craig: That’s great.

John: All right. Well, let’s distract you from your upcoming release with talking about other movies that are not even movies. They’re just ideas. So it’s a segment we call How Would this be a Movie. And so we take a couple things that are in the news, that our listeners send to us, and we discuss like, well, if that got thrown to you, how would you make that into a movie.

Lorene: Oh god. Okay.

John: All right. So the first one is called The Hum. And so we’re going to link to an article by Colin Dickey, who is writing for The New Republic. But it’s talking about this low frequency hum that people are hearing around the world, mostly at night, mostly in rural areas. And they’ve been studying trying to figure out what it actually is, if it even is a thing, or if it’s just in people’s heads. If it’s just tinnitus. So, this article goes through and talks about this guy named Glen MacPherson who has developed a special box that he wants to test to see whether it will actually stop people from hearing the hum.

Lorene: Oh, amazing. Wait, this sounds too good.

John: It sounds great. So, I thought of you for this, because you’re also an actress. And so I saw you –

Lorene: Barely. Barely, but.

John: I’ve seen you as an actress in two things. First off, you’re in The Nines.

Lorene: I am.

John: Talking about meta movies. You play essentially yourself in The Nines. You play celebrity here at my house where we are recording this podcast right now.

Lorene: That was so fun, by the way.

John: That was a very fun night.

Lorene: Oh my god.

John: But you’re also in the movie Coherence, which is a big sci-fi paranoid thing, and this felt like this wanted to be a sci-fi paranoid thing, The Hum.

Lorene: It does. It feels like — I also just saw The Witch, which scared the — the bejesus are out of me now. They’re gone. That was the scariest thing I’ve seen in a while. And the Babadook it kind of reminds me of.

John: Oh my gosh, The Babadook.

Lorene: Which I thought was brilliant, and much more watchable. You know, it wasn’t as terrifying, but it scared me, too. I like this idea. I like the idea — there’s also a great feeling of when your main character, you’re not sure if they’re going mad or if they’re sane or not. I mean, I don’t know if it’s going to be the guy. I feel like this might just be an ordinary person who hears this hum and is trying to figure out if they’re going crazy or not.

Maybe they start to build the machine for it. Yeah, that feels great. Like Close Encounters. But the hum should be real, right? I mean, that should be…hmm.

John: Craig, talk us through this.

Lorene: Alien? I mean.

Craig: They don’t know. There’s interesting — there’s historic evidence, so even back in the 1800s people were describing the hum, which kind of discounts, frankly, a lot of the more paranoid theories. I mean, naturally people go to conspiracy and paranoia. The government is putting signals out there. There’s some reason to think that maybe it’s related to military equipment, because military equipment does use very low frequency sounds and maybe people — some people just have the ability to pick that up and it disturbs them.

But, the fact that this has been going on for so long probably speaks to something else. Either it is early onset tinnitus or it’s a mental problem. And a mental problem doesn’t mean crazy. It just means that your brain may be processing auditory information differently. And so this may be not exogenous. It’s coming from inside your head. It doesn’t mean you’re nuts. It just means there’s something off with your hearing.

So, this guy has built this box, and the whole point of the box is it should theoretically physically block out all sound of all wave lengths. So, the idea is he wants to put people who hear the hum in the box and say, “Do you still hear it? Because if you do, it ain’t from outside.”

But so far apparently he hasn’t put anybody in it. I’m fascinated by the –

Lorene: What’s he waiting for? [laughs]

Craig: I don’t know.

John: The article we’ll link to, it’s like it’s really unclear quite what he’s waiting for. But I think it essentially becomes one of those philosophical problems, like if he’d actually test it, then all of the other possibilities go away. So I read this, and tell me what you took out of this, I think he’s been in the box and he still heard it. And he doesn’t want to admit that he actually still heard it.

Lorene: Oh, I like that.

John: Craig, what did you think?

Craig: Yeah. I think that there’s a strong possibility there. And this is where — I mean, my instincts go, yes, for sure, you absolutely could do a very good genre science-fiction paranoia thriller about this. What fascinates me also, though, is this community, this bananas community, and now, uh-huh, we’ll get some calls, but they are rabid in their defense of the hum and the range of their conspiracy beliefs. And I kind of think that there’s part of the thriller, because this doesn’t feel like a comedy or anything like that. But part of the thriller is getting involved in this community and starting to realize something is wrong with this community itself. I don’t want to call them hummers, but I do. [laughs]

Lorene: [laughs] Or is it like the dress. Like the people who saw it as –

Craig: Right.

John: The Dress is a great example of it, too, because it’s true both ways. You can see either way, and it is absolutely true. And the hum may be one of those situations as well, where it’s like it’s equally valid to hear or not to hear it, but just because other people can hear it or don’t hear it doesn’t mean they are the crazy ones. It’s just how your brain is processing information that’s out there.

Lorene: And it’s not necessarily, I mean, not to just be so basic. It’s not necessarily these people have incredible hearing and they’re hearing something that no one else, I mean, like X-Men style hearing for these people.

John: Well, it’s interesting because people tend to hear it only in rural places. And so the theory might be that you don’t hear it in cities because cities are noisy enough that it drowns it out. So, it’s sort of the absence of sound sort of creates this situation. People are hearing it at night because it’s quieter at night and therefore they hear it.

I remember I was driving to Drake University, so from Boulder to Drake in Des Moines, Iowa, and I stopped midway through at a friend’s house in Nebraska and stayed overnight. And it was so quiet there that I couldn’t sleep. And like Boulder is not a noisy place, but it was just dead quiet. And it was scary like how still and silent it was. And so to some degree, the hum could be the absence of sound is what’s creating that.

Lorene: I’ve heard this clock ticking since I turned 35. What do you think that is?

John: [laughs]

Craig: We do cover female reproductive health on a number of our episodes.

Lorene: Oh, you have?

John: I’ve had several discussions about freezing eggs in just the last week.

Craig: That is the thing right now, man.

Lorene: Oh, no, we don’t have to go there.

Craig: I feel like I don’t know any woman right now who isn’t — and forget married or not married — any woman right now who doesn’t have kids, right now, I feel like they’re all freezing their eggs. We’re at the age now where egg freezing is like there’s parties for egg freezing.

Lorene: I feel like I’ve been trying to approach it really casually, and I’m going to be punished for it. [laughs] Because I’ve been trying to — you know, I always thought like, oh, the people who grip, those are the people who have problems.

Craig: Right.

Lorene: So I’m just like, oh, if I’m real laid back about it, then everything is going to — then I’m going to defeat age.

Craig: Laying back is definitely part of it. But, you’re going to have to put a little effort. There’s a little effort required.

Lorene: Okay.

Craig: Just the tiniest bit.

Lorene: All right. All right.

Craig: Sorry.

John: Tiniest bit. I want to jump back to your movie for one second, because you have the absolute best joke about the guy you’re dating on the set. And so — again, not a big spoiler, but Billy Magnussen plays a second camera operator and he has the single best line for sort of like his status as a second camera operator. So, anybody who works in the film industry will love his claim to fame as being like he’s the second camera operator, the guy you go to when the first one is not available.

Lorene: Like Don McAlpine will use him to be a camera operator. Yeah. Yeah, that was — oh my god, Billy is so funny. I wanted him so bad for the part, too. It was one of those things where I flew him out myself, because he lives in New York, and we couldn’t afford any more outside hires than Rose and Susan. But I was like this guy is going to crush it. I just know it. And, oh my god, you know, for one scene, it’s just such a great cameo.

John: So, back to The Hum. So, I think all of us are perceiving this as being some kind of thriller probably?

Lorene: Yeah. Unless you make a comedy out of it. I remember, like, I mean, one of those disaster movies for — like Sharknado or something.

John: Yeah, sure.

Lorene: I remember, was it Dana Fox who was talking about The Hole, you know, which is just like a horror movie about just a hole that people keep falling into. [laughs]

Craig: I would so see that.

Lorene: So, it could be that.

Craig: The Hole. I just love that. It’s like a movie predicated on the notion that people just keep not seeing it.

Lorene: They just fall into it.

Craig: They just keep falling into it. That’s great. Like you’re running, you think it’s ahead of you, so you start running away and you realize, oh, the hole has fooled me again. It was behind me. I’ve run into the hole.

Lorene: But I don’t think we’re off about The Hum being a little, you know, it has to be a bit of a metaphor, right, sort of like the Babadook is about motherhood.

Craig: Yeah. There’s something like, there’s something maybe at the center of it that is essentially stating that there is something about this — I don’t know what the percentage was, what do they say, like 1% or something? That 1% of us maybe aren’t like us. You know? Or maybe they’re not from here. And that’s one hell of a way to find out you’re not from here.

Lorene: I like that. I like that idea.

Craig: Creepy.

John: Our second How Would this be a Movie is about the Denver Airport. So, I fly into the Denver Airport all the time, and ever since it opened, there have been conspiracy theories about the Denver Airport. That there’s actually whole sinister motivations behind what the Denver Airport actually is, or sort of why it was built, or the special things there.

So, I will link to an article by Kate Erbland who is writing for Mental Floss. There’s also another post on Rational Wiki that sort of goes through all the conspiracy theories about the Denver Airport. But very quickly, the runways are laid out in a shape that looks exactly like a Swastika.

Lorene: I saw that from above.

Craig: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. [laughs]

John: There are these weird markings on the floor. There’s this strange plaque placed by the New World Airport Commission. It has like a freemason symbol on it. There are the tunnels underneath it, which are partially related to the weird baggage handling, but also something else. There are these buried buildings. And this last one is actually true. The big blue Mustang which is out in front of the airport, this sort of bizarre sculpture, it’s this giant horse, has these red eyes. It actually killed the sculptor. Like it fell on the sculptor and it killed him before it was installed.

Lorene: Stop it.

John: It did.

Lorene: No it didn’t.

John: Its leg broke off and the sculptor who built it died.

Craig: And also, you got to mention, this mural. So there are these two murals. One is called Children of the World Dream of Peace. And the other one is called In Peace and Harmony with Nature. And so in one of them, [laughs] death-masked soldiers stalk children with guns. Animals are dead and kept under glass. And the entire world looks to have been destroyed. That’s in the airport. And he’s not like, this death-masked soldier is dressed sort of like in Nazi fetish gear. He’s holding what appears to be an AK-47. And a massive scimitar. It’s insane.

Lorene: Wow. I mean, they are like the main hub of America, right? I mean, that airport is like — ?

John: Yeah. United hubs through there.

Craig: It’s a big one. And it just makes no — I mean, I understand why people have — you know, this is a classic thing. So you get a lot of information that just seems off. It’s just wrong. And you want to make it right. So you try and figure out the puzzle. What puzzle explains the following totally insane things? I don’t think there is one.

Which is a challenge for us as the writer, right?

Lorene: But there’s like a National Treasure movie in there, somewhere, right? Is that the tone?

John: The easy thing is a National Treasure. Which is basically like, you know, oh, there’s a mystery behind this, and you have to assemble these things in time. I don’t know what the ticking clock is for it though.

Lorene: My ticking clock.

Craig: I got to get this treasure before –

John: Impending motherhood.

Craig: Before I can have babies.

Lorene: I mean, Nic Cage is definitely in it, though, so that’s obvious.

John: Yeah. He can be a paranoid, conspiracy theorist. Yeah. He’s in it somehow.

Lorene: It’s like Con-Air meets…

John: He was also in the Left Behind movie, right? And so he was a pilot in that. So maybe he lands his plane from the Left Behind movie and that’s where it all sort of comes together. It can a spinoff of that.

Lorene: I love a whole film in an airport, though. I do like that idea.

John: I do. The Die Hard 2 aspect of it. Airplane, of course. Or Airport ’77. I think there’s something really interesting about, I mean, I don’t know that it’s a movie necessarily, but stuff that’s based around a space I think is really fascinating. And so it might be better for like a VR kind of experience or for something like Sleep No More. The big sort of performance thing in New York City where the space itself becomes very important to the story.

Because when you just see characters wandering around in a space, it’s not as interesting as kind of being there yourself.

Lorene: Right. Right. I mean, the Denver Airport — definitely a cast of characters are coming through there. Could be an ensemble story.

Craig: Doesn’t it feel like maybe this is just a stop off on a larger movie where — like a family movie where kids are following a treasure map or clues or something. Okay, this is explains that. You know? But then we’re out of here.

Lorene: Yeah. Illuminati. Obviously.

Craig: We’re only in the Denver Airport for like two scenes, and then we got to get the hell out.

Lorene: [laughs] Yeah, no, I love — you know, how you sell it obviously is that the airport is a character in itself. People love to hear things like that, you know. New York City is the character.

Craig: [laughs] They do. They love to say that. Like, I really feel like the city should be more of a character.

John: Well, the Grove is a character in your movie.

Lorene: The Grove is a character. I feel like her phone is a character almost. But, yeah, no, but the Denver Airport feels like a solid character. A racist character at that. An anti-Semite.

Craig: Yeah. A racist, crazy character. Who has got like a horse fetish.

Lorene: Yeah.

Craig: I mean this thing, like this death soldier, he’s about to stab a dove, but the craziest thing in this thing with the death soldier, and his gun, and his scimitar, and the dove, and the scared children, and the dying people is this rainbow shooting out of his gun, but backwards, like flying backwards out of his gun. So, it’s like a crazy gay flag AK-47 Nazi soldier scimitar bird killer. It’s actually — I want it. I want it in my house, because I feel like this mural is me. It’s who I am. [laughs]

Lorene: It’s reminding me of Foxcatcher, which is one of my favorite films of — what year was that? What year is it? But that year. It was one of my favorite films. But, you know, the details and just like — maybe there’s a guy, like Joe Denver.

Craig: [laughs] Joe Denver.

Lorene: Who is like really wrestling which his own, you know, where he comes from.

John: Well, like Childrens Hospital. Like named after Mr. Childrens rather than –

Lorene: Right. Rather than being a Children’s Hospital.

John: And you actually wrote an episode of Childrens Hospital if I remember correctly.

Lorene: I co-wrote it with the rest of the Fempire.

John: It was the Fempire, yeah.

Lorene: My stuff was probably the most offensive stuff in it.

Craig: Well done.

John: Good stuff was yours.

Lorene: Yeah. My stuff was like the best funniest stuff. No, I mean, I’m saying my part of it, because we all kind of divided and conquered, and my part had to do with the child going through it. There was a child going through a sex change operation and his parents were fighting over whether he was going to be a boy or a girl.

So, yeah, like real cool stuff like that. [laughs]

John: It was handled with all the subtlety and nuance that you would expect out of a Childrens Hospital episode?

Lorene: Yes. Exactly. We love Rob Corddry, so we will do anything. We will be terrible people for him any time.

John: That’s good. Craig, talk us through the last of our How Would this be a Movie.

Craig: Oh boy, how could this not be a movie? So, the craziest story. This is out of Canada. And 80-year-old woman, Melissa Ann Shepard, was arrested again Monday after allegedly breaching the conditions of her peace bond, which I assume in Canada means — their peace bond means parole. So what did she do?

Well, she was using a computer. She was a using a computer in the library. That breaks the rules of her parole. She’s not allowed to use a computer because she is known as the Internet Black Widow.

Now, again, 80-year-old woman. Apparently the deal was that she was — she kept meeting guys through the Internet and then killing them. Now, here’s the crazy part. This is the part where I’m like, either I’m misunderstanding this article, or Canada is out of their minds. So, okay, first of all, she gained notoriety for killing and poisoning men who were her intimate partners. And has a history of offenses dating back to the early ’90s. Again, that’s her notoriety. Killing and poisoning not man, men. Okay? A number of them.

She was released recently though, having served a full sentence just under three years for spiking newlywed husband Fred Weeks’s coffee with tranquilizers in 2002. I’m sorry, 2012. He survived. That’s nice. But here’s who didn’t: her former husband, Robert Friedrich, and her second husband, Gordon Stewart. Stewart died after he was drugged and run over twice with a car.

She was convicted of manslaughter in 1992. She was also handed a five-year prison sentence on seven counts of theft from a man in Florida who she met online. But, you know, go ahead. You’ve only killed three people so far. So just — we’ll give you three years. Just stay off the computer.

Now, I love this. I just love this lady. And the picture of her, honestly, is the most grandma like happy, sweet grandma face in history. What do you do with this lady, guy?

Lorene: Their big punishment was you can’t use the Internet anymore, right? It was like you can –

Craig: They gave her three years for almost killing someone, after she killed two other people, including running them over with a car twice. No, they gave her a full three years, and she served it. [laughs] Stay off the Internet, Melissa Ann Shepard. Well, she doesn’t. And this is how she got re-arrested. An officer happened to be wandering through the Halifax Central Library and noticed her. And was like, oh, Melissa, how many times?

Lorene: Wow. Wow. Halifax is great, by the way. Of course it should stay there.

John: So let’s talk about this character. I’m thinking about your movie in contest with this. So, unlike Susan Sarandon’s character, who is so helpful, this woman is a sociopath. And she’s probably a fairly charming sociopath, who seems like a kind grandmother, but is just not. And so whereas Susan Sarandon goes into the Apple Store and learns how to show up to a baby shower she wasn’t invited to, this older woman finds a way to meet these guys and then kill them.

Lorene: Right, so if The Meddler is any kind of success, we pitch it as the Anti-Meddler, obviously.

John: Absolutely.

Lorene: And right when you were talking about it that way, then suddenly I was like, oh, is there like a Gone Girl element where, you know, the neighbors and everyone, all the suspicions. You kind of have like the gossip of the town being involved in that. And then you sort of see that we’re all kind of like her, you know what I mean? How we all sort of abuse the Internet and maybe meet people through it in dark mysterious ways, right? We can like peel back our own — that’s always what I’m interested in. Like how are we all like Melissa, you know?

John: Yeah.

Craig: I feel like she’s clearly a sociopath. I mean, it says here prior to her recent release, a parole board report said Shepard tended — tended, mind you — tended to fabricate and deny events and is unable to link consequences to actions. Yeah.

So, yeah, don’t you know. All right, but let her out. [laughs]

Lorene: Wow.

Craig: So, there is one aspect of this is you tell the story from the point of view of the one sane law enforcement person in Halifax who is like, “What are we doing?” And everyone is like, “Well, you know, she’s all right. She’s just — look at her, she’s so sweet. She’s kind.” And then this one person is like, “What is going on? Why — how have we broken down as a society now that we’re allowing the sociopath to just walk around?”

John: I think it would also be fascinating like let’s say she moves to a new community, and like that person tracks her down. Or the person who is suspicious of her. That’s even sort of more — she seems like that kind old lady who moved in the apartment across the way.

Craig: Right.

John: Well, she seemed so kind. And the one person who is suspicious of her, like, well, you’re an asshole if you think you’re suspicious of that nice woman.

Lorene: Like The Burbs. That was always a great film. We like to reference that in rooms, right? It was like is Tom Hanks crazy for thinking that these people are, right, and then you sort of slowly discover what’s going on in the basement.

Craig: Right. Exactly.

John: So that’s actually a great segue for us to talk about touchstones and sort of references you make as you’re talking about the things you want to work on and existing movies. So you’re referencing The Burbs. What other kinds of movies are mentioned all the time –

Craig: Hold on a second. No one has ever, ever mentioned The Burbs.

Lorene: Really? Ever?

Craig: I don’t think so. I think that was it. I think we just had the first reference of The Burbs.

Lorene: I love it. That’s like not a touchstone for anyone. But I’ve probably said it three times –

Craig: I mean, I honestly believe.

John: So tell us the context of when you would use The Burbs. What were you talking about when you used it?

Lorene: I’m trying to think. I think it was like, oh god, I’m so embarrassed, because it’s a really old script that I was working on when I had a writing partner, so this would have been forever ago. And it was called — I’m a Teenage Alien. And it was about a kid, it was like Teen Wolf, but the kid is an alien. And it was sort of about the town kind of figuring him out a little bit, or a certain neighbor who thinks he’s a certain way.

I might have used it as that. I’m trying to think. My god, I’m embarrassed, because who uses The Burbs?

Craig: No one. I mean, I honestly think that if you came in and you were pitching a sequel to The Burbs, you still wouldn’t use The Burbs.

Lorene: [laughs] It’s like the least known Tom Hanks movie of all time.

Craig: It’s the least touched touchstone.

Lorene: I could quote it. I could quote it right now.

Craig: I actually love that movie. And I know what you mean. It’s the kind of — it’s Stepford Wives is really, I think, it’s that.

Lorene: There you go. Stepford Wives was a good call.

Craig: That’s a touchstone. I hear that. I hear The Burbs less.

Lorene: This is why I don’t sell pitches very often.

John: [laughs] It’s all The Burbs references bring it down.

Craig: This is the concept –

Lorene: I remember doing that in TV. I was always like it’s Twin Peaks meets Northern Exposure. And they were like, “Um, say something else.”

John: [laughs]

Craig: Give us another one. I like the idea that you were in there, you were pitching, and everyone is like, “Oh my god, this is going so well. Just finish your pitch so we can say yes.” And the last thing you say is, “And obviously, this is all really just The Burbs.” And then, no.

John: So this topic comes to us courtesy of Rawson Thurber who wanted to bring up sort of the movies that he’s constantly sort of referencing or using as touchstones when he’s talking about things. And so I thought we’d sort of build a list, but also talk about sort of why use them.

So, he says, Raiders, Star Wars, When Harry Met Sally, Bourne, Beverly Hills Cop, Midnight Run. He says increasingly things like Guardians of the Galaxy or Deadpool, like the Deadpool version of. Or the something-something Deadpool.

So, it’s referencing probably I guess the iconic example of a genre, or something that was a huge success within that space. And people can understand it because you’re referencing something that everyone has seen, unlike The Burbs.

Lorene: Unlike The Burbs. I mean, Rawson makes bigger films than I do, so he’s in rooms talking about giant, giant blockbusters. Yeah, I mean, Devil Wears Prada kind of became one.

John: For sure.

Lorene: Bridesmaids.

Craig: Yep. Bridesmaids for sure.

Lorene: I get sent a lot of female-driven movies. Apparently female empowerment is a new genre as of the last six months, but everyone loves talking about Mean Girls, Bridesmaids, just to bring it to like female centric stuff. Those are kind of the touchstones of the last –

And, I mean, John Hughes movies, you can almost name any of them, and they become a sort of touchstone for people.

Craig: Well, there’s this thing where — we tend to use them to imply some kind of tone, or spirit of the story we want to tell. On the other side of the table, they tend to use them like, “So that just made money, you know. So is your thing like the thing that made money?”

Lorene: Yeah. You know, even for The Meddler, as much as it feels like, oh, there’s been so many movies like this, you actually go, wait, what are they? You actually stop and go, like, what? So, I would say About Schmidt. And they would go like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Don’t say that.” And so you’d be like, okay, uh, I don’t know.

John: I saw the movie last night with Tess Morris. And she said like, “Oh, like About Schmidt.” But that’s not a reference that’s useful for anybody.

Lorene: It’s not, but for me it was like the reason that I thought we should be making this movie. Because About Schmidt was a movie. What are we talking about? Like ten years later, you’re not allowed to use certain references, too.

So, of course, there are things like Star Wars, which you can say forever. By the way, my first job in town, I sold this children’s adventure, and I remember being in the room with the people who were trying to get us to rewrite the hell out of it. And the guy said, and we wrote down this quote just because, and he was like, “I’ll deny I ever said it, but rip off Star Wars.” And we were like, yeah, you don’t have to deny you ever said it. Like everybody is trying to rip off Star Wars. So don’t worry.

Craig: What a shocking thing for you to say. So we should rip off the biggest movie ever? Okay. I mean, if you want to put your head on the chopping block like that, then go for it.

Lorene: Feel free.

Craig: It’s funny, I actually don’t use these that much, because — and I’m frustrated when people ask because I thought the whole point was that this movie is kind of supposed to be its own thing. You know, when they Guardians of the Galaxy or Deadpool, I kind of want to say, or The Hangover. I want to be able to point to all those and go, what was the movie like that one before that one?

Right?

Lorene: City Slickers.

Craig: What’s that? [laughs] The Burbs. It was obviously The Burbs. So, you’re like, where — you know, show me how your template systems gets you to the new templates. It doesn’t. So, the only one, sometimes I will reference Jerry Maguire because there’s this thing about Jerry Maguire that I love so, so much, and it’s applicable to any movie. It’s not incorporated into story of Jerry Maguire, but the notion that a character articulates who they are supposed to be in their best sense. But they’re not that person. And then they spend the movie trying to become that person.

I really like that. Sometimes I’ll talk about that. But, I don’t know, I mean, do you guys do this? I mostly don’t.

John: I recently had to do it for a project, the thing I’m writing right now. And it was incredibly helpful because I could reference one specific movie and say, “We’re doing the blank version of this idea.” And that centered people’s expectation about what I was about to pitch them. And I could pitch them — we’re specifically doing this thing, and these are the kinds of ways we’re handling this. And it was a very specific way of approaching this material.

So, it was IP that already existed, but this was a way we were going to handle this IP. It was like this other movie that had made a bold choice that was the right choice. And it really helped people feel centered into why I was describing the story this way.

And so that was incredibly helpful. But I find myself doing much less “it’s this meets that” as time goes on, because you have to ultimately be able to talk about what is specific to this one trip, this one journey.

Where I do find myself using the touchstone shorthand is when I’m talking about other people’s movies. And so I will say, “You know, it’s kind of Bourne Identity-ish.” Or, to help distinguish is it more Bourne Identity or is it more Die Hard? Is it more an ordinary everyman who is up against these incredible odds, or is he a specially trained assassin guy? Because they’re both kind of solo man things, but they’re very different feels to them.

So, it’s useful for that.

Lorene: That makes sense. I definitely find that I use it when I’m trying to get a job. So, when someone has a sentence of an idea, and you’re trying to at least let them know that I know what you’re going for here. This is like Big. Or, something that lets them know that you’re on the right track tonally. That you see it the same way.

And sometimes it just helps to let them know you’ve seen some movies in your life. That you have some references. So, it’s a little bit of showing your taste and knowledge a little bit.

Craig: It’s so true.

Lorene: When I’m like trying to pitch, I mean, I don’t want to really want to pitch my own ideas any more. I’ve sort of learned that, I feel like, the hard way with Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, because I sold that as a pitch with myself attached to direct. And, I mean, it’s so funny that you bring up Jerry Maguire, because I remember giving them the first draft of it and then getting it back and they were like, “We thought this was going to be like Jerry Maguire.” And I was like, why? Why did you think it was going to be like Jerry Maguire? So, I thought, god, did I say that because it was about a man and his job and losing his job and what it all is? Or how did they get there?

And so I sometimes find that, I mean, I certainly find that pitching, but sometimes even just summarizing what your idea is just by “it’s this meets this” just sets people’s expectations up in such a weird way that you’re kind of already digging yourself out of their expectations with your first draft.

Craig: Right.

Lorene: And so if it’s something I care about, I try not to pitch it anymore. I don’t know.

Craig: I’m with you.

John: Let’s talk about what you’re doing next. So now you have this movie coming out. It’s really good. People are going to like it. So, are you in a stage now where people send you scripts saying like, “Hey, direct this script. Hey, direct this pilot?” Are you turning stuff away or are you chasing stuff? Or you trying to make your own things?

Lorene: Both. Both. I mean, I’m getting offered probably a lot of — not offered. Not offered, you know, but I’m getting sent things that I’m not as excited about. And then, you know, chasing other things that I’m more excited about. I feel like, I don’t know yet. I mean, I really don’t. I’ve been trying to write my own things to get ahead of it so that I’m not too influenced by whatever happens.

You know, again, like last time, I’m trying not to just rebel against whatever people thought of The Meddler. I don’t know how to get more personal, so I imagine I’ll be swinging the pendulum the other way. Again, like I said, it’s all female empowerment stuff in one way or another, which for me is a mixed bag.

I like those movies, but you know what I mean. I mean, after like the tenth email about a type of story that is sort of the only thing I’m being offered –

Craig: Well, Lorene, you know that you are the solution to the problem. So, you –

Lorene: I’m a female, right?

Craig: That’s it. Right. So you’re a female director, therefore you have to direct all of these female movies until forever because that’s what it means to be a woman. Just keep directing woman movies. That’s it.

Lorene: That’s it. Yes. Exactly.

Craig: That’s the most important thing. And then, on the other side, the guys will just keep directing men and woman movies.

Lorene: Right. They get to have it all. [laughs]

Craig: Yeah. They can choose, but that’s okay, because they’re men. You really have a responsibility.

Lorene: No, they understand the human experience. I only understand the female experience. So, how could I possibly know?

Craig: Right. That’s right. And that’s only for the next year while it’s still hot. Obviously, it’s going to stop.

Lorene: Well, you know, we’ve had a year of women every other year. I just did a panel down in Miami, brought the film down there. And screened it for a sea of my mother. It was so wonderful.

Craig: A sea of your mother.

Lorene: It was my mom, just a thousand of my mom. Chico’s tops. It was wonderful. But I did this panel with Rebecca Miller, who is really cool, and really intense. The opposite of me. My exact opposite. But, oh my god, and my mother was with her going, “Oh, you’re husband’s Irish? Oh, that’s fun.” I was like telling her later, it’s Daniel Day-Lewis. He’s Irish. She’s like, “Oh, I could kill myself.”

But, yeah, no, Rebecca Miller — it was going on like fine, we were all talking about what it’s like to be a woman in the business and everything. And at some point she was just like, “Ugh, I’m just so tired of this. These panels don’t mean anything. I’ve been doing this for 20 years. I’ve been doing these panels for 20 years.”

And so, of course, it’s really, really nice that people are paying attention to the problem. The larger problem to me is women’s stories, movies about women, characters that are given full lives. Yeah, those are to me the larger, larger problems with how women are represented in movies.

Of course, I think the numbers are really scary of how many female directors there are. But, you know, it was really scary. They asked me like why wouldn’t you do a superhero movie. And I was like, “It’s just not my thing.” And the place went crazy as if I had this larger responsibility to all of us who, you know, if you’re given the shot you have to take it. And I’m like, I know, but I like to write, too. So the idea that I can’t make anything else until 2019 is really scary for me.

Craig: This is the weirdest thing. I understand there is, on the one hand, you can say, “Well, it is not fair for female directors to not be considered for certain kinds of movies, like superhero movies.” On the other hand, it’s also not fair to demand that all women therefore make themselves available for superhero movies. I don’t want to write superhero movies. Nobody is giving me crap, you know?

Lorene: No. I know. And I’m just like, well, I mean, I’d love more money to make the movie I’d like to make. I mean, I certainly wouldn’t mind a higher budget. Or there are comedies out there that I would probably feel like, oh, I could tackle that, or I’d be interested in that. But, yeah, it’s a mixed bag. It’s also like it’s not how I how to get a job.

I know that’s strange because, of course, I like being offered jobs. And I certainly like that people are paying more attention to, you know, we need to make writer’s rooms more diverse and hire more women and hire more people of color and all that. But then on an individual level, when I get the phone call, like, hey, they were asking about you. And I was like, oh yeah? And they’re like, yeah, they need a female director. And I was like, well, yeah. Then, all right.

So, it’s me, and Lake Bell, and who else are they calling up? I feel really lucky to be doing this because I’m from Jersey and you just feel like a piece of garbage if you’re from Jersey. [laughs] You get it, Craig. You know, like you have to fight against.

Craig: You’re not just from Jersey. You’re from Monmouth County.

Lorene: From Monmouth County. It’s like you have a great deal of pride, which I have in spades, and I also think I’m a piece of garbage.

Craig: That’s me. [laughs]

Lorene: But as a woman, you’re also not allowed to think of yourself as a piece of garbage. And I’m like, okay –

John: Which takes priority? The New Jersey part of you or the female part of you?

Lorene: I mean, when it comes to feeling like garbage, probably Jersey.

Craig: Yeah, Jersey. Yeah.

Lorene: But you know, all the same reasons that it’s like all the questions about being a female director are all sort of funny. It’s like, well, it’s a mixed bag the same way life is a mixed bag. That walking around being a woman sucks. Being cat-called sucks. And then as my mom calls it, “The day the whistling stops,” also kind of sucks.

Craig: [laughs] The Day — that’s a good title for a movie.

Lorene: I know. We said that was going to be her other movie.

Craig: The Day the Whistling Stopped.

Lorene: I don’t know. It’s hard. Of course, I want people to be more open to the idea of it, but we should just be making all of our lives easier. We should be setting people up to succeed more than anything else. And I do think there’s just systemic misogyny and sexism. It’s just everywhere.

So, I just want a conversation. I want like feminism to be a great conversation that we’re all having. And obviously we all need to start from a place where we feel like men and women are equal and deserve things like equal pay and all that, but I think past that, we should really discuss what’s really going on here.

Because I think something larger is at work than just, you know, oh Hollywood, oh studio heads, oh this and that.

Craig: No question. No question. It’s one of the reasons that John and I like having people like you on the show, because we always look — every year we look at the numbers that come out of the WGA and the DGA numbers are even worse. And every year they’re the same. And every year they spend money on the study again to make themselves feel “good,” while sharing the same bad news.

And we like having success stories on, because I always feel like it’s the positive that is going to inspire more than the negative.

Lorene: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Craig: Like we can say, look, here’s Lorene. This is what she does. This is what she did. Obviously is it doable and can be done. The things she’s thinking about are the things you’re thinking about. You know, I just worry sometimes that it becomes, like you said, the conversation becomes so jammed up that it almost seems like unresolvable, you know?

Lorene: Right. Yeah, because it’s either people making speeches, and then people applauding. Or, it’s people clamming up because it’s a scary time to be quoted or misquoted or paraphrased. And it feels like it’s not that much of a conversation.

I mean, there have been so many articles about these hundred female filmmakers and people I know were interviewed for some of those things and quoted as saying certain things. And their quotes were left out because they didn’t line up with the story that people are going for. And that I think is more disgusting than anything, and kind of just the sin of journalism altogether is like you’re not actually going for the truth. You’re going for like the story that you want to tell.

And you’re going to interview people and quote people that sell that story. And so for me, like of course I’ve faced sexual harassment, like from 13 on. I mean, of course, it’s absolutely disgusting. And, yeah, I’m sure things have worked in my favor sometimes because someone thought I was cute, the same way that it wouldn’t have worked in my favor because someone thought I was cute.

I mean, truly, I think it kind of has all been a mixed bag. And I’m just so proud of female friends. I mean, they’re all just super impressive and none of us I like to think are walking around with a certain chip on our shoulder. I mean, we’re really all lucky that we all have had some amount of success to hang our hats on.

But, you know, I don’t like walk around like a woman all day. You know what I’m saying? I’m not like constantly identifying as that. So, I just feel like myself and, you know, some people say like, oh, you laugh too much on set, or you’re too — you’re too nice or something like that, as if that means that I’m not playing the part and everything.

And, I mean, I just don’t think leadership skills have to come with a certain –

Craig: They don’t have to fit a narrative of what you’re supposed to be like. I mean, this is the danger of kind of the crafting of the identity. That this is what they see us as. Therefore, don’t be that. Except, you know, sometimes the things that people see me as, I am.

Lorene: Yeah, right.

Craig: I mean, my identify is me. And, again, this is an area where men don’t have to worry about this. It’s like, if I don’t fit your mold of what it is to be a man, for a while, by the way, it’s terrible. I always like to say, I don’t know what percentage of women have been physically assaulted by men, but 100% of men have been physically assaulted by men.

So, for a while, it’s not fun to not fit into whatever the role model is. For whatever reason, either you’re gay, or you’re a nerd, or you’re just, I don’t know, you’re bad at sports.

Lorene: Yeah. I mean, I’ve said just being short for me is a problem in a way. You know, I’m 5’3″ and I’m not wearing heels on set. And just, you know, I’m saying like sometimes I almost think being short holds me back as much as anything else.

Craig: But it’s not something that — maybe Martin Scorsese worries about being short on some level, you know. But, as men, we do eventually get to just go, eh, screw it. I’m me. So my identity is me.

Lorene: Right.

Craig: And I don’t have to worry about also then how my identity fits into the narrative of what a man should be in Hollywood. Whereas women are now soaking in this stuff. And –

Lorene: And we’re yelling at each other about you should be like that, you shouldn’t be like that. You know, I mean, that’s when I get scared, because I’m like we’re all trying to be on the same side here, too. And I mean, I certainly don’t want to be on — I’m not confrontational in general. So, for me, I’m just like, I will just tend to clam up and let everybody fight each other in a way. But, no, it’s like you said, you just walk around like yourself. And, yes, I’ve had teamsters taking pictures of me, and that’s weird.

Craig: That can’t be any good.

John: That’s weird.

Lorene: That’s weird.

John: And so here’s what’s weird about that. You’re the person in charge. And so to feel that they are kind of — for them not to understand that you are actually the person that –

Craig: Wait, the teamsters on your movie were doing this?

Lorene: Yeah, on Seeking a Friend. Yeah. [laughs] Yeah.

John: It’s crazy for any woman to have that situation happen, but for the person in charge –

Lorene: Well, of course, yeah.

John: It’s just an extra level of crazy. And just a disrespect of not just a person, but also roles and –

Lorene: Yeah, the hierarchy I guess on the set.

John: Exactly.

Lorene: And the truth is, I in general felt so respected by everybody on Seeking a Friend, and The Meddler. I’ve gone off to Toronto to shoot a pilot and you feel like you have to win everyone over every single time. I don’t know if everybody faces that or not. But that would be the only time where I’m like, ugh.

Like I feel like a woman the first two/three days of something.

Craig: Right.

Lorene: And I feel like everybody is waiting for me to either rise to the occasion or be what they think I’m going to be, or something. And so the first few days, I mean, that’s when it’s like, oh, I have to — I have to yell at this line producer and say like don’t talk to me like that. And do things that I would — you know what I’m saying.

John: You have to act out — you physically have to create a situation so that you can express this thing.

Lorene: Right. But then I’m like I want to be able to — I want to establish it so that then it’s like, oh, everyone respects me and knows that I kind of know what I’m doing. And then I can be myself. And then I can just not have that hanging over me every single day. But, it does feel like those are the times when I feel it. The first few days, when you’re just sort of looking around at a mostly male crew, which that just unfortunately is what a lot of crews are like. And you’re sort of like, oh, I have to convince all of these people that I am the leader of this.

And, yeah, I mean, moments like the teamsters and things like that, I mean, it doesn’t happen all the time. And it certainly doesn’t feel like as something progresses and people realize like, oh, she is in charge of this set and I no longer have to, I don’t know what, look at her strangely or take photos of her. But, yeah, something else takes over and at least then I can relax.

John: All right. Well, we hope you have many better sets in the future. And many more movies in the future.

Lorene: Oh, thank you.

John: It’s exciting to see this one come out. This is not this weekend but next weekend.

Lorene: That’s right.

John: For most people in LA and New York, and then more cities to come.

Lorene: Tell your moms, please. It’s not just for moms, but that is at least the –

John: The special connection.

Lorene: I like to think that.

John: So, watching the movie last night, we’re going to skip over this — a bunch of people sent in this thing about this big study they did of film dialogue in 2,000 movies. And it was really a fascinating study. We’ll have a link to it in the show notes. But they looked at 2,000 screenplays, broke them down by gender and age, and sort of which characters are talking. And one of the most interesting things I saw in this was that men have more lines of dialogue even in films where the woman is the main character. Which I thought was strange.

So, I looked at your movie last night, and as we were driving back I’m like, wow, does that even pass the reverse Bechdel Test?

Lorene: I was going to say, we almost fail it.

John: But you pass because the cops have a conversation at the diner.

Lorene: The cops. Exactly.

Craig: Do they have names? The cops have names?

Lorene: Um…

John: Oh, maybe not.

Craig: If they don’t have names, it doesn’t pass.

Lorene: You know what? We had to name them, because they’re all like pretty established actors.

Craig: But does the audience know their names?

Lorene: No, not at all.

Craig: Then you fail.

John: Oh, fail.

Craig: Fail.

John: Fail.

Lorene: Shoot. Is there another moment?

John: I’m trying to think. Are there any moments where — because Billy Magnussen doesn’t talk to any other guys. Does Jason Ritter talk to any other guys?

Craig: I love Jason Ritter.

Lorene: Oh the brothers. That was it. The Italian brothers. I know there’s a scene.

John: Oh, but I don’t know all their names.

Lorene: Well, they had names. They did have names. And they called each other names. But, you know, it’s funny. Most of them are talking about a man. [laughs]

Craig: Well, I think on the reverse it’s okay.

Lorene: Exactly.

John: I think you’re allowed to skate by on the reverse.

Lorene: Right. But it almost fails the reverse Bechdel Test.

Craig: Well, you almost damaged the frailty of the American male ego. So.

Lorene: I couldn’t be happier.

John: It’s like putting another woman in a Star Wars movie, like as the hero there. Like how dare you do that?

Lorene: It was so easy to do. I can’t even tell you. I mean, like, of course the main character is a very talkative woman. And the single lead is another woman. But then all of the daughter’s friends are women. There’s — she certainly makes friends with the guy at the Apple Store. And Michael McKean is in it. And –

John: Oh, actually the two guys in the car. The two brothers in the car. They both have names and they talk to each other.

Lorene: Oh, they do have names. Yes, they do.

John: We got you out of that.

Lorene: Okay good. Phew. Sorry, men. I’m really sorry.

Craig: Thank god.

Lorene: No, but it wasn’t on purpose. I wasn’t really trying to tell a woman’s story, even though of course what she is is a mother and widow and almost identifies exclusively through her relationships with other people. But, yeah, that was fun — it was fun to realize later that if you just sort of treat female characters as people and allow them to have the human condition that, yeah, you can actually tell a story where women talk to each other.

John: Very cool. At the end of every show we do a One Cool Thing. So, if you have a One Cool Thing, something you would like to recommend to people. You can think while Craig and I do ours. If there’s something you want to recommend to folks.

My One Cool Thing is a blog post by Jeff Atwood. There will be a link in the show notes. But the post is titled Thanks for Ruining Another Game Forever, Computers. And he’s looking at sort of how most of the advances in AI, like the kinds of advances that have made it possible to sort of make chess unbeatable for a computer and now Go unbeatable for a computer, are really advances because of graphic processing units, the GPUs that are powering your Play Station 4. Those are where we have all the sort of new power. And if it wasn’t for those, we would sort of be falling behind.

But the same things that we design to put more polygons on the screen are now sort of the big breakthrough in computing. So, it’s a very good article looking at how far we’ve come and how much the costs have fallen.

In 1961, the equivalent processing speed would be $8 billion. Now, in 2015, it’s $0.08. So, from $8 billion to $0.08 is the progress we’ve made.

Craig: That’s pretty cool. I think that’s awesome. I don’t know what this guy is complaining about. I don’t care if a computer can beat some guy at Go. I like my video games to look awesome. I’m angry.

So, well my One Cool Thing was going to be the thing you mentioned, so I’ll just mention it really quickly. It’s this polygraph film dialogue thing where they breakdown the dialogue. So, it’s by Hannah Anderson and Matt Daniels. I think you and I probably will discuss it in depth next week. But one thing about it that I loved just beyond — forget the content. We’re going to get into the content and what all of it means, but I love their website. I love the way they did their graphics. So cool.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I don’t understand how it worked. It was really neat. So, if you like web design –

John: Some people don’t love that system where things are sliding back and forth. It gives people sort of motion sickness.

Craig: Oh, I like it.

John: But I think it’s cool.

Craig: Yeah, I think it’s cool, too. So, that’s my One Cool Thing.

John: Lorene, did you think of something cool to share?

Lorene: Yeah, my One Cool Thing are these escape rooms. Have you been to them?

Craig: Have I been to these?

John: Craig has been to a bunch of them.

Craig: Are you kidding?

Lorene: Craig, come on.

Craig: I got a crew. Me and — do you know Megan Amram?

Lorene: Yeah. She’s great.

Craig: Megan is the queen of these. She’s done I think literally every single one of them. But me and Megan and David Kwong and Chris Miller of Lord & Miller and a whole bunch of people, we’ve done a bunch of these. And I love them so much.

Lorene: I love them. The only reason I’m here is because I’ve escaped out of one of these rooms.

Craig: Which one did you escape from?

Lorene: My boyfriend and I are kind of addicted to them right now. And we go with different groups. Or, we went to one by ourselves.

Craig: Oh my god, just the two of you?

Lorene: We did not get out. It was the first one that we didn’t get out, and we went alone. And we said that we had to break up if we didn’t get out, so I don’t know if we’re still together. But, no, they’re so exciting. For people who don’t know what they are, they’re sort of these living mind puzzles where you show up to a very strange building. Am I right, Craig? They’re all in like the weirdest –

Craig: Yeah, downtown, sort of like on the corner of Scummy and Uh-Oh.

Lorene: [laughs] And Garbage. Yeah. And they’re run by these fantastic creative people, who sometimes they play characters and sometimes they don’t. They give you a scenario and they let you into a room that you have to escape in 60 minutes, usually, by piecing together clues that are all throughout the room. So, one that was my favorite –

Craig: Which one? Tell me.

Lorene: The one that was my favorite was apartment, I don’t know, there was a number. Apartment something.

Craig: Haven’t done that one. Got to do that one.

Lorene: And the guy has died, and by the end you have to deactivate a bomb. And I actually clipped a wire with like seconds to spare. I mean, it was just too exciting for words.

Craig: Did you do the detective?

Lorene: No, is that the one downtown?

Craig: Yep. Did you do The Alchemist?

Lorene: Yes. I did The Alchemist.

Craig: Yeah, we escaped The Alchemist with literally one second left.

Lorene: That was exciting.

Craig: It was insane.

Lorene: Yeah, we had 45 seconds. And it was so good that we went with a larger group. Because sometimes they say you need a certain number of people. And it’s like, oh, do you really? And it’s like, no, you really do or you would not get out in that amount of time.

Craig: Like six to eight. Alan Yang is another guy that does it with us. We try and stock it with as many Ivy League people as we can. [laughs] Like let’s be really smart. But as it turns out, that’s a total red herring. It’s not — there’s a different kind of intelligence going on. It’s like the –

Lorene: Right. And I don’t know what I have, because I certainly may sip on a little something before I go. [laughs] So I get in there and just get all heady and start looking at — I look too closely into photographs trying to figure out the human story. And there’s no human story here.

John: Forget the narrative. Just get out of the room.

Lorene: Just try to find the symbols and get out of the room.

Craig: So the next time we put a group together, you and your boyfriend are going to be in our group. As long as it’s one that you haven’t done. And we’re going to –

Lorene: Yes, please. Please tell me.

John: Last weekend I got to participate in a special sort of puzzle — sort of an escape room, except an escape room from a Bar Mitzvah. I went to a Bar Mitzvah that Aline Brosh McKenna threw. And it was fantastic. So I got to do the sort of complicated puzzle, but one of my partners was Rachel Bloom, who was fantastic.

Lorene: Oh, she’s great.

John: And she was great. And we killed it. We were like by far the champions.

Lorene: You crushed the 13-year-old boys?

John: We did. We really did.

Craig: Wow.

John: We beat David Kwong. And so I felt really good about –

Craig: I don’t understand. What was the puzzle?

John: It was all up at Yamashiro, the great Japanese restaurant on the Hills, and it was a series of puzzles, very Kwongian kind of puzzles. He didn’t put this one together. But it was really fun and well done. And we pieced together all the clues. And listened to the songs and figured out it was a state theme. It was good.

Lorene: That is so fun. I mean, The Alchemist had like — you had to test smells.

Craig: Oh yes. That was a hard one. The smells were tough.

Lorene: You sort of realize very quickly like, wow, I know nothing. [laughs] I don’t know wintergreen from –

Craig: I know wintergreen, because that’s Pepto-Bismol. But then it was like lavender. Lavender is a color. And I can’t even tell what that color is. I know it’s like purple, you know.

Lorene: Oh, it’s so fun. Really fun. For anyone who gets a little tired of going to dinner and movies all the time, which is kind of all I do.

Craig: It’s great.

John: That is our show for this week. So, as always, we are produced by Stuart Friedel. We are edited by Matthew Chilelli, who also did our outro this week. If you have something to ask me or Craig, you can find us on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Lorene, you’re on Twitter, yes?

Lorene: Oh yeah. @lorenescafaria, if you can spell it.

John: That’s fine. There will be links in the show notes with all of our Twitter handles and also a place where if you want to ask us a question, that’s ask@johnaugust.com.

We are on iTunes, so leave us a review. That’s always helpful. If for some reason we do not show up in next week’s feed, just re-subscribe in iTunes, because we must have messed something up as we switched over servers.

Reminder, if you’d like to sign up for the Scriptnotes mailing list, there is a link in the show notes, probably at the top of the show notes. We’ll just be using that for announcements about live shows and stuff like that. If you have suggestions for our live show, tell us where we should do it and who we should invite to be a guest on that.

Lorene: [clears throat]

John: Who should we have? Lorene, tell us?

Lorene: I could show up. I mean, yeah.

John: Lorene is volunteering.

Craig: Yeah, you know, we’ve already had the one woman on this year. It’s enough already.

Lorene: This is it. Yeah.

John: Exactly. We have to have one woman on a list. Hey, we looked at women.

Lorene: You need a token, yeah.

Craig: How many times — I mean, I don’t understand. We’re going to keep putting a woman on? I don’t even understand. [laughs]

Lorene: We’re so shrill.

Craig: What percentage of the world is even women anyway? [laughs]

Lorene: Really.

John: So, tell us who our guests should be and where we should have that live show. Lorene Scafaria, thank you so much for joining us on the show.

Craig: Thanks Lorene.

Lorene: Thank you so much. This was so fun. And just to say, of course, The Meddler comes out. But I wanted to just say we have these t-shirts, Omaze, they’re like this great company that sort of — my god, they did that “You Can Sit with Us” campaign, anti-bullying. And they’re putting out these shirts that just say “Call Your Mother.” And if you go omaze.com/meddler, you’ll see they’re really great. And all proceeds go to charity. It’s a great charity. So, Call Your Mother. Call Your Mother. If you’re lucky enough to have your mother, call your mother.

John: Talk us out with just a little bit of your mother talking to us. I love your mother’s voice.

Lorene: Oh, John, I just love your films so much. Ah, Go, uh, all night long, just like, what are they on drugs? What are they, crazy? It was just so fabulous.

John: Thanks mom.

Lorene: Thanks.

John: Bye.

Craig: Bye.

Links:

The Gold Standard

Thu, 04/21/2016 - 11:44

In this special mini-episode, Craig and John tackle the gold standard and why economists think it’s a flat-out terrible idea.

We don’t discuss screenwriting at all, so feel free to skip this one if monetary theory doesn’t interest you.

This episode is mostly to verify that minor changes to our workflow haven’t messed up the Scriptnotes feed. If for some reason this episode doesn’t show up in your regular podcasting app, please let us know at the ask@johnaugust.com account (and re-add it in iTunes).

Next week, we’ll be back with our long-anticipated interview with Lawrence Kasdan.

Links:

You can download the episode here.

The One with the Idiot Teamster

Tue, 04/19/2016 - 08:03

John and Craig welcome writer-director Lorene Scafaria to talk about her new movie The Meddler and some of the unique challenges faced by female directors.

She joins us as we play a new round of How Would This Be a Movie, tackling global hums, killer grannies and airport conspiracies. We also discuss movies that are often used as shorthand in Hollywood, from Raiders to Die Hard to Midnight Run. (But never The ‘Burbs.)

Next week we’ll be making minor server changes. If for some reason the next episode doesn’t automatically appear in your podcast app next Tuesday, you may need to resubscribe. Sorry, but it will be worth it to listen to special guest Lawrence Kasdan.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 245: Outlines and Treatments — Transcript

Thu, 04/14/2016 - 17:30

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 245 of Scriptnotes. It’s a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the program, we’re going to look at the non-screenplay kinds of things screenwriters end up writing, most notably outlines and treatments. We’ll be looking at some of the ones we’ve written for ourselves and hopefully giving you helpful advice on how to write your own.

We’ll also be answering a question we hope you’ll get to ask one day — how do you deal with sudden success?

Craig: Yeah.

John: Craig, Happy Birthday.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: I did not know it was your birthday until moments before we started recording. But what are your plans for your birthday celebration?

Craig: Well, my daughter is making me some kind of cake.

John: Nice.

Craig: She’s been watching The Great British Bake Off. She’s obsessed with the show. So she’s all about the baking now. So she’s going to bake me a cake. She said, “And daddy, daddy, the icing, I’m making it green because green is your favorite color.”

John: Is that true?

Craig: And I guess on my face, I sort of — my face indicated that green is not my favorite color. [laughs] So then she went, “Green is your favorite color, right?” And I said, “Well, no, I love all colors.” And then she’s like, “But green?” And I said, “Yes, green is my favorite color.” [laughs]

John: I think the challenge with green frosting is it sets an expectation that it should be mint and if it’s not mint, something is very wrong.

Craig: Or lime. I don’t know.

John: I guess lime, a key lime icing frosting could be nice.

Craig: I mean, she’s just winging it. She likes the color. It’s her favorite color. So that’s something. And then my wife and I are going out for a nice little dinner and that’s it. I’m not a big birthday guy.

John: Yeah, after you cross a certain age, birthdays stop becoming fun. It’s just one year closer to your death.

Craig: Actually, it did occur to me that, because I just turned 45 today, that if it works out, you know, well, I think 90 is great.

John: I think 90 is pretty great.

Craig: For a man. So halfway.

John: Yeah. I actually had a heart appointment this week because there was a concern that I had a — it’s actually kind of a thing we can talk about. At our last D&D session, not the one at my house, but the one at your house, I left your house at midnight, and like, wow, my chest feels really strange. And so it’s the question of like should I go to the emergency room or am I just freaking out over nothing? And so I decided I was freaking out over nothing. But then ultimately on Sunday, I ended up going to the emergency room, that Sunday months ago. They’re like, no, you probably don’t have a heart attack. So I’ve actually been through like a month of sort of like tests and things to see if that was a heart problem. And the answer I can definitively say, it was not a heart problem at all.

Craig: No, it was just a panic attack or anxiety or –

John: It was not a panic attack. I’ve had those before. This was actually my ribs got stuck together in a strange way. And so like it’s chiropractic stuff adjustments have helped and I no longer feel that.

Craig: Well, great.

John: But because I actually had all these tests, I now know that my heart is just dandy. So for the next 10 years, I will not have a heart attack. And if I do have a heart attack I want listeners to sue my doctor.

Craig: Well, we’ll get right on that. [laughs]

John: It’s everyone’s priority.

Craig: Yeah, I mean, it will be class action lawsuit at this point.

John: Yes. We should do some follow up. First off, our Lawrence Kasdan interview which was originally supposed to be a live show, and it was not possible to do it as a live show, we are now doing kind of as a live show. We’re doing the Writers Guild Foundation event on April 16 in Beverly Hills at the Writers Guild Theater. And so it’s part of an all day craft thing. So it’s not just Scriptnotes. There’s a bunch of writers talking about writing, so including Aline Brosh McKenna and Rachel Bloom are going to be talking about their great show. Jane Espenson is going to be there talking about stuff. There’s going to be Greg Berlanti and a bunch of superhero folks. So it’s going to be big deal day and afternoon. But part of it is going to be you and me talking to Lawrence Kasdan.

Craig: Right. So we finally get to sit with Larry in front of an audience and grill him about his remarkable career which spans all the way back to the late ’70s and early ’80s when he was making movies like Empire Strikes Back and Raiders of the Lost Ark. And then through things like The Big Chill and The Bodyguard. And I mean, it’s unbelievable with this guy.

And then now, still doing it with The Force Awakens. So after all these years, Larry now has the biggest movie of all time. So we’re going to ask him all sorts of questions. And if you have specific questions, I know we collected a bunch from our live show last time, but you can always send them into ask@johnaugust.com and we’ll, you know –

John: We’ll field it. You know, part of the promise we made at the live show is that the only questions we’re going to ask from the audience are going to be the ones people wrote on little cards on the back. So that will be true for us. But if people grab a microphone and ask a question, we can’t stop them. I guess we could stop them. I mean, Craig, you’re physically intimidating. You could shut them down.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But I’m looking forward to this conversation. And there’s still a few tickets left. So that’s why we’re talking about it because they had like less than 20 left time I checked. So come to it, so it’s Writers Guild Foundation, wgfouncation.org is where you’ll find that. There will also be a link in the show notes.

Craig: Great.

John: Our second thing is actually something you put in the outline here. This is an article in BuzzFeed about Karyn Kusama, the director of The Invitation. And that was a great article, I thought.

Craig: I thought so as well. By the way, I should just add as a side note, because it’s my birthday, so I get to do side notes. I feel like I came off as somewhat disappointed that you didn’t have a heart problem. So I just want to be really clear, I’m happy that you don’t have a heart problem. I don’t know, if you die, I don’t know how to do this show. I just don’t know what to do.

John: It’s going to be very challenging.

Craig: Right. And that’s the only thing that concerns me about your death. [laughs] Like what do I do? How do I hook it up, you know?

John: I think you were more surprised by my admission that I do have a heart and that they did intensive scans with me and found that there was a heart beating inside me.

Craig: I presume that when you said heart, I just thought you were talking about some sort of pump.

John: Yeah, it’s essentially a pump.

Craig: Yeah, it’s a pump.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So Karyn Kusama who directed The Invitation has had a really interesting career. And one thing that she talks about in this article is what it was like when she won Sundance with Girlfight, her first feature film that she wrote and directed, and was the belle of the ball and then didn’t really know how to deal with it. And it occurred to me that this is something that all of us go through when we first “break in.”

And we’ve talked about how people don’t really break in as much as like something happens. And then there’s this attention on you because you’re new and something has happened. And obviously all the people listening to us, I think they would — most of them would like something to happen. Well, what do you do when it happens?

So I thought this would be a good topic for you and I to discuss.

John: Well, let’s go for it. So this could apply to somebody who directed a film that was the talk of Sundance. It can be somebody who wrote an amazing spec script and had a great sale off that or that got a lot of attention or, you know, won the Nicholl Fellowship or, you know, placed in The Black List in a very high place. Or just became famous for some other reason. And we live in an age of sort of viral stars who for whatever reason, they started a Twitter feed that became a huge sensation and what do you do next.

Craig: So I was actually talking about this with Karina Longworth because her podcast, You Must Remember This, has become a sensation and people are calling. And there’s this attention that comes. So I’m going to break down what I sort of remember and what I have continued to perceive, when people get the wave, right, there’s this wave that comes at you, it’s a little bit like a hundredth monkey syndrome like no one’s paying attention to you, no one’s paying attention, and suddenly everyone is.

So the first thing that happen is, everybody starts telling you that you’re great. Now, it’s I think fair to say that some of those people who are telling you that you’re great really do think you’re great. Most of them are telling you you’re great because it doesn’t cost anything to say it and maybe it’s true. I think people are, in our business, they’re always looking for a magic bullet, something that is going to solve all their problems. And oftentimes, that means a filmmaker, a writer. And then they’re thinking, maybe it’s you. Because if other people like you, maybe I should like you, but of course, you’re not a magic bullet.

John: No.

Craig: The other thing that happens is that because it’s — this is no shock, in Hollywood, a lot of people are superficial. Superficial people tend to want what other people want, not what they actually want. They don’t really have any kind of self-directed principled wants. They’re just watching everyone else and following. So a lot of the people that are telling you that you’re great, they’re following. So how do you think you deal or how would you deal with the wave of questionable praise?

John: So I got this off of Go. So before Go was a movie, it was a script that I sold to a little small company but a bunch of people read it and bunch of people liked it. And people would tell me like how much they loved it. And so I was always mindful of the same people who are telling me that they loved it and the people who are calling me for meetings are also the people who didn’t buy the script. So that was a helpful sort of reality check is that they could say they really loved what they wrote, but they didn’t feel like they could make that movie or they didn’t feel like taking the risk to try to make that movie.

And so I was always mindful that these are people who seem to like and appreciate my writing, but they’re not necessarily people who I can trust to make the kinds of movies that I want to make. So I was always listening. I was always happy to get that praise, but I always eager to sort of segue to the next bit of conversation which is what are you working on, what is it that we should be thinking about working on together?

Craig: Precisely. So you carve this middle path where you accept the nice things that people are saying, but you have — I wouldn’t call it paranoia as much as a healthy skepticism because it happens all the time, right? Not everyone can be great. But everybody that has this moment is suddenly “great.” So you’re probably not. You’re just having a moment, right? So in that moment, I think where you want to hopefully get to is figuring out which of the people that are praising you are praising you out of some sense of substance, an actual independent evaluation of you, people that might truly appreciate you and start talking with them.

Did you ever see the movie Overnight?

John: Of course. And so if you have not seen the movie, Overnight, I would recommend when you finish this podcast, put everything else aside and watch the movie, Overnight. It’s usually on Netflix. You’ll find it someplace. It’s a terrific study of one guy who suddenly has all the heat of Hollywood on him and the bad choices he makes.

Craig: Almost exclusively bad choices. He literally does everything wrong. And it’s a great instructive course on what to not do when this happens. I think one thing that this business is really good at is humbling you if you don’t decide to be humble first.

John: Yeah. What I think is interesting comparing — so this guy’s experience making The Boondock Saints and Karyn Kusama’s experience with Girlfight, she had made something really fantastic and everyone could sort of see that she made something really fantastic. But in a strange way, I felt like she didn’t have the confidence in herself that she had done this thing. There was maybe, I don’t want to say impostor syndrome, but there was some degree to which she didn’t step up and say, yes, I deserve this and here are the next things. Whereas this guy who did Boondock Saints overdid that a lot.

Craig: He certainly did. And I think that sometimes with some people — and I think Karyn is one of these people because I know her fairly well. And I appreciate her personality which is quiet and then incredible, you know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I think some people, it’s not so much that they don’t think that they belong there or think that they deserve the praise as much as it is that they just don’t like that. They’re not really designed to be gregarious and in the center of a party.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I think this is an area — and she touches on this in the interview and I think she’s dead right. She refers to a kind of an autism that there are certain kinds of autism that directors have. And when males have it, they’re sort of considered artists or kind of unique, you know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: For instance Doug Liman who, you know from Go.

John: Of course.

Craig: Who’s sort of the poster child of, “Well, he’s very, very odd. But, you know, look at all these movies.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: Whereas a woman can’t — isn’t allowed to be odd.

John: Yeah. A woman with the same traits would be perceived as standoffish.

Craig: Standoffish or weak.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So you have to kind of have to recognize that you may have some of these things in you and that’s fine. In a way, I think it’s probably better to air on the side of less receptive to waves of praise than overly accepting of fake praise. I strongly advice everybody to set their expectations low which is annoying because you’ve worked so hard and everyone told you you couldn’t do it and now you’ve done it. And here I am saying, uh-huh, now calm down and lower your expectations. Because in truth, Hollywood will defy expectations and will undo so-called sure things 99 times out of 100.

John: Yeah. Most things will fall apart. And that’s the strange reality. And so if you’ve successfully made a movie, you know how hard it was to make that movie. And your natural instinct should be, well, the second movie will be easier to make. But I was talking to Kimberly Peirce at an event a couple of months ago, a Black List event. And she said that there should really be a workshop, a club, sort of for like your second movie club because that’s actually the hardest one to get made because you don’t have the sort of like beginner’s sort of like anything is possible, everything is impossible, kind of just zeal in a way.

Craig: Right.

John: You sort of now know how to make it and it’s actually kind of harder to make your second movie than your first movie a lot of times because there’s this weird dance of expectations and realities.

Craig: Well, you know, there is a kind of a clock that starts when this happens. And the clock is ticking and it will last for a certain amount of time. But it is finite, it’s a window. And in that window, you’re new. And you’re exciting. And you represent a world of possibilities. That window closes fairly rapidly. By the time you’re trying to make your second movie, you’re no longer new and emergent, you’re now on a list of people that make movies. And all the sexiness suddenly is gone. So you have to be aware when your moment comes that there is a window. And it’s the one time in your career you get to actually take advantage of everybody else and their psychological weakness because the rest of your career, they’re going to be hammering you and manipulating you.

So I think it’s probably a good idea to make hay while the sun shines and see if you can’t get something going quickly while you have that window but, you know, not at the cost of sacrificing who you are as a filmmaker.

John: So the Karyn Kusama article does a great job sort of listing the choices she made and sort of why they ended up being really challenging situations. And sometimes it was situation like Aeon Flux and a change of studio regimes and other times it was Jennifer’s Body and sort of the production, the marketing, the everything else sort of around it.

It’s also useful to look at sort of positive examples. Like Rawson Thurber, who’s been on the show several times; here is a guy who was working as my assistant. He went off and did Terry Tate: Office Linebacker, a series of commercials, he just did on spec. And he followed it up with — and so that got him heat, to be followed up with a spec sale of Dodgeball which he was able to direct. And he very smartly sort of played in that lane for a while.

Where he got off track is he made Mysteries of Pittsburgh which was sort of not as well received and it took him a while to sort of get back on that same track that he was at before. But, you know, those first two choices he made were very smart about capitalizing on the heat that he had and seeing like, this is what people want me to do. This is of the things people want to me do that I want to do and let me give them that.

Craig: Precisely. And there is a certain perspective on that moment that comes when it’s long in your rearview mirror.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You and I have not been the new guy now for 20 years. [laughs] And so, you know, we’re the old guys. And so it’s hard to even remember that. But you can put it in great perspective when you see it happening to other people, which is another thing. I think if you do have somebody that is older and more experienced and has been through the wars a few times, gravitate toward them in this moment of heat but also cling to the people that have nothing to do with Hollywood.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You are still the same person. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that success means you’re different now. You’re not. Trust me. And you can see it in the documentary, Overnight, how poisonous that becomes when somebody decides that they are a different human being now.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Remain grounded. And try not to mistake the “Wee” of Hollywood with actual Hollywood which is work.

John: Yeah.

Craig: When you have your moment, they will fill your day. They will fill your day with phone calls and lunches and meetings and parties. And you might think, this is what I do as a screenwriter.

John: Yeah. It’s sort of like a press junket for yourself.

Craig: Right.

John: Where you’re just out there sort of promoting yourself and everything is theoretical. The challenge is you got to this place by doing really hard work and if you are not finding ways to do that really hard work and show your best stuff and actually improve, then you’re just spinning your wheels.

Craig: They will love to see you and they will love to see you and see you and see you. And then one day, they’re like, “Uh, is that guy doing anything? Has she written anything since so and so? Don’t invite her. Oh, oh. Yeah, no, no, I can’t take her call.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: And then you realize, oh, that was all just celebrating the work part. And you don’t need to celebrate that much. [laughs] Get to work, you know. Keep going because my recent success is not — that doesn’t count as a career.

John: Yeah.

Craig: That’s what happened. And it’s just the start of something.

John: Well, let’s talk about what projects you should be focusing on. And my advice would be you probably came into the success with some idea of what you wanted to do next. And whatever it is you wanted to do next, that should be a thing that is not necessarily front burner but is still always in consideration. And if there’s somebody who would love to do your next movie, that is, you know, that’s already cooking there, that is fantastic.

But you’ll also be hopefully offered other movies or other projects to work on and be smart about which ones of those you pursue. And you want to be able to show that you can write your own stuff but also that you can write other people’s stuff in the case of a writer. Or if you’re looking at directing assignments which, you know, Karyn Kusama now is. She said she had eight that she to read over the weekend. Be mindful of like, which are the things that are out there are things that I could actually knock out of the park? And if there are some of those and if you like the people who are — it’s hard to say like. If you respect and trust the people who are involved with those projects, you should consider one or two of those. Not 10, one or two of those.

Craig: It’s also a good guide to choosing a representative.

John: Yes.

Craig: A lot of times when you have your moment, you don’t have one. And then they come.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And they almost invariably will present you with these remarkable visions of the future.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because again, it costs them nothing. And they don’t really have to even deliver on those things because, you know, sooner or later it’s like, well, you were working on this and then you were working on this, you know. [laughs] So yeah, no, you haven’t won the Oscar yet, but, you know, we’re getting there.

John: Yeah. Just this last month, I had to get a new agent for this new project and those initial conversations were really important. And one of the things I’ve always said as friends in my life have gotten agents is pick the person who you will never dread getting their phone call because I know some people who don’t like talking to their agent on the phone. And that’s never a good sign. If you’re not looking forward to speaking to them on the phone, that is the wrong representative for you. And that comes in success and that comes in failure, too.

Craig: I completely agree. And similarly, if you’re agent has a vision of who they want to make you and it is not compatible with the vision of who you want to be, that’s also not the representative for you.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah, it’s really simple. I think sometimes of Rian Johnson as a good example of somebody who’s simply stayed the same. He had a moment when he made his film, Brick. It was kind of very similar to a Girlfight moment. And suddenly he was a filmmaker and people were really interested and I think people started calling him and he just thought, no, I know what I want to do.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I want to write this script and I want it to be this and he made The Brothers Bloom. And, you know, the world wasn’t lit on fire by it. And he didn’t panic. He just said, “All right. Well, I’m going to keep doing what I did before.” [laughs]

John: Yeah.

Craig: And then he made Looper and the world was set on fire. And they loved it and now he’s directing Star Wars.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Slow and steady. Never changed. Still hasn’t changed, by the way.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Never really got caught — he’s was the most nerdy, wonderfully nerdy nerd.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Ever. Who’s just unassuming, doesn’t get caught up. Kind of my hero in that regard.

John: I want to say that’s not advocating only going indie. You have to be an auteur, indie person who only does your own things. It’s being true to what you are. And if what you are is a person who does like sort of mid-budget comedies, then go after those mid-budget comedies and make those mid-budget comedies. You know, just don’t try to change into something that you’re not because you feel like you should or that you should be fancy. And don’t try to please other folks. Really look at like what are you going to be happy writing and/or directing for the next two years?

Craig: I’m certainly with you on that. I mean from the start of my career, I was always interested in making movies that a lot of people would go see. Those were the kind of movies I liked. And I moved toward what I liked.

John: Exactly. So we are going to put a link into the show notes for this BuzzFeed article by Adam Vary. Just a really good write up. And a lot of photos of Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi, our guests from last week. A lot are sort of awkwardly staged photos.

Craig: Oh my god. [laughs] So the first one, I’ve already written them. And so the first one Matt Manfredi is staring at the back of Karyn’s head like he hates her guts. Phil is looking at some weird point that’s neither here nor there and seems almost embalmed.

John: Yeah, he does.

Craig: And then Karyn is looking directly at the lens with this like, can you believe I’m saddled with these two idiots look? [laughs] I want to frame it, it’s a great photo.

John: Yeah. It’s really a great photo for like an episode of a podcast about a murder.

Craig: Yeah. [laughs]

John: And like some sort of like, you know, none of them — for the first time, they agreed to be in the room together. [laughs]

Craig: I know, exactly. [laughs] Or this is the last time they’ll be in a room together.

John: Yeah, maybe so.

Craig: Yeah. There’s another one too that’s equally bizarre where they’re sitting at a table with plates and there’s no food and, again, Phil is looking — it’s like it’s actually difficult to look nowhere.

John: Yeah. He manages.

Craig: Yeah, he does it. He’s looking at a spot no one else would look.

John: Yeah. He’s looking slightly — he’s looking behind the lens in an uncomfortable distance.

Craig: Yeah, it’s like the weirdest place. [laughs]

John: I also noticed that his wine glass is fuller than the other two and maybe that’s why he’s staring off at a strange place.

Craig: Right. [laughs] And Matt’s face in that photo is like, well, where is the food?

John: Yeah, where’s the food? And there’s two bottles of wine that are both apparently open. But like, so one of them refused to drink from the yellow bottle. I just don’t know.

Craig: Yeah, these pictures deserve their own show. [laughs] They’re the weirdest photos. I love them.

John: So please look through and look at those. I’d like to jump out of order because our discussion of suggestions for directors who suddenly have heat applies very well to something that came up just this afternoon. So the Writers Guild, when you join the Writers Guild, they assign you a mentor.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And I had a group of five mentees who were assigned to me a couple of years ago. And they’re all phenomenal. But one of them emailed this morning to ask a question about something that’s going on in his life. So he wrote, “I wrote a micro budget script to direct. My reps attached producers who gave it to a big name actress who has raised her hand to star. Next week, I’m set to have a Skype call with her. She’s out of town shooting her giant budget sequel. I’ve never done this sort of Skype before. I’m wondering what on Earth I should say to convince her I’m competent to direct this little movie?”

Craig: Well, we’re probably not the most qualified people to answer this, but you and I have certainly both had to convince actors to be in movies.

John: Yeah. And I had to do this with like Ryan Reynolds for The Nines. Like he was this complete stranger and I had to convince him to do this. Also with Hope Davis, a few other people for projects along the way.

Craig: Yeah. I find myself doing this often times actually. [laughs] I had to convince Jason and Melissa to do Identity Thief before we even hired a director. I sent a letter to Jessica Chastain regarding Huntsman. And I had to talk to Chris because he wasn’t necessarily going to do it. This happens all the time.

I think, frankly, there’s a certain amount that they’re going to discern just from you, from who you are as a person. You know, if you are warm and friendly and positive, they will note. And if you are introspective and thoughtful and quiet, they will note. These things aren’t necessarily good or bad. I think mostly they want to hear some passion. They want to hear what your plan is for the movie and they really want to hear about their character and why you want them.

John: Yeah.

Craig: That’s really important. Why me? Because they know, they’re not stupid. They know there are a list of names that are required to release money into a machine. And they know, for sure, that they get calls from people who are like, we want you to be in this, only you. And that’s not true at all.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So they want to hear “why me.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: And that I think you need a really good answer for.

John: I think the other thing you need to be able to talk about is sort of your vision for the project, not just sort of what the finished film is. And like in talking about the finished film, I think it’s absolutely fine to bring up sort of your references, like the other films it sort of feels like, other films you love, things that can be a part of a conversation. But also, your plans for making in terms of who your collaborators are. Particularly if you’re a first time filmmaker, people talk about like these are the kind of DPs I’m looking at, this is the sort of the look, the color, this is the world I’m looking at for this. If there’s other important elements like production design or locations or that kind of stuff.

It’s fine to talk in a general sense of like how you see yourself making this movie because it helps them visualize what is the experience going to be like of me being on set to have this movie be made. Because a big name actress who’s going to be in your tiny movie, she’s basically giving up all her money and all her freedom to be in a little tiny trailer to make this film. And so is the experience going to be worth her time?

Craig: Right.

John: And that doesn’t mean it has to be like the happiest, shiniest, most comfortable set ever. But she has to believe that you are a person who can make a really great movie, that the experience of making the movie is not going to be torture, and that she’s going to feel like, you know, when it’s all done, that she made the right choice to devote the time to this. And so that’s really what the conversation is about. It’s like making sure that she feels that like her instinct — because the only reason she’s talking to you is because she liked the script, that her instinct that this is a good project and that you might be the right filmmakers are correct.

Craig: Yeah. I mean you make a great point. The only reason a big movie star does a tiny movie is to strengthen people’s understanding of how good they actually are.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s hard to be your best sometimes when you’re in a movie that’s more machine than man.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But small movies give us insight into actors. It reminds us of their humanity. It helps feed into when they do the big movies. And the big movies help feed into the little movies. They need to know that the little movie is going to do something for them. [laughs]

John: Exactly.

Craig: They’re not just doing it for fun. I would also suggest that you don’t — while, I would never suggest sounding aloof, you also want to sound like a partner.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You don’t want to sound like someone who’s just staring up at this huge movie star going golly and everything they say, you’re like, oh yeah, oh my god, yes, yeah. They don’t need that. They’re looking for somebody that can really help steer them through this.

John: I’d also say, you’re going to want to flatter them, or at least sort of in acknowledging that you’re so excited to be talking with them, I think if you can be specific about what it is that they bring that is exciting to you, that’s helpful. So for Ryan Reynolds, the parts that he was going to be playing in The Nines were not like anything he played before. But I could say, “Look, I saw what you did in Amityville Horror. And I didn’t love that movie, but it’s clear that you fully, fully, fully committed to that role. And that’s what is exciting to me as I’m sitting across the table from you is that this is a role that’s going to take a similar level of commitment. And I’ve seen that you can do that. And that kind of specificity is really helpful when you’re talking to a stranger about joining this movie.

Craig: I kind of feel like you negged him.

John: Maybe I did neg him a little bit. Yes, like, yeah, in that crappy movie, you were actually pretty good.

Craig: Yeah. That’s like you’re a pickup artist.

John: That’s really what I do.

Craig: God.

John: Yeah.

Craig: God.

John: The other thing I would say is you talked about sort of like, you know, making sure they feel like it’s about a partnership. You’re not just sort of kind of fully offering them and saying like, oh, no matter what, you’re my star, you’re my whatever. Talk a little bit about sort of not even like schedule, but sort of like what is your life like and like is this actually a realistic thing that could fit into your life to be able to make this movie because what I don’t want my mentee to be doing is to spend six months chasing this actress or hoping that she’s actually going to be onboard and then find out she just goes off and does something else.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Because that’s the challenge with big name movie stars is they get a lot of offers. And they get a lot of offers for a lot of money. And so I don’t want him to structure the conversation in a way like, well, she’s the star and it’s all decided and it’s all done. She should feel in the conversation that he really wants her in the movie and he would love to have her on the movie but he’s going to make this movie with her or without her.

Craig: Right, absolutely. And I would — I guess the only other thing I have to offer is that sometimes the overarching intent that I have when I meet anyone new, whether it’s over the phone or in a room or anything, is to communicate quickly and convincingly that I am a safe, decent person who’s not going to hurt them.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, because — and I don’t mean physically. But this business is full of monsters.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Full of them. And so I’m not suggesting that I’m weak. I don’t think that makes you weak at all. But rather you’re going to be okay with me.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because they’re trusting the director. I mean what they know is after they go, the director is going to edit the movie.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Let’s see what happens, you know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: The director is going to, you know, be dressing them in clothes. It’s like they need trust. They need to know that they can trust you. And saying you can trust me is useless. They need to feel it.

John: A fun exercise to do when you’re really bored is to go through IMDb and like pick up a big name movie star and go through and find what movies he or she has made that like I’ve never heard of this movie. And most of those movies will be sort of exactly like this situation where it’s like they took a chance on this thing which seemed like a good guy was making the movie, and it just did not turn out well or did not turn out well enough that it got a big release. And that happens. And, you know, there’s probably a corollary conversation to be had with actors who are considering like, “Should I take this tiny little indie for no money?” And the answer should be sometimes yes, sometimes no, but like that phone call or Skype that we’re describing is very important on their side, too. And they should trust their instincts and advice of their trusted people about whether to take those jobs or not.

Craig: Word.

John: Word. All right, let’s get to our main topic today which is Outlines and Treatments. So this came up because twice in the last six months or so, I found myself I needed to write up a treatment for a project that I was working on. And I realized that, you know, I hadn’t really talked about this on the air and sort of what treatments are and the difference between outlines and treatments, to the degree that there really are. So I thought we’d just dig in.

And in the show notes, you’re going to find links to a bunch of things that Craig and I have written. So as we talk about different things, if you’re curious what they actually look like, just click on the link and there’ll be PDFs that show what we wrote up for those projects.

Craig: Right, exactly. So I guess we can start with just what’s the difference, right?

John: Sure.

Craig: I don’t know if there is technically like a hard difference but I know that I think of them differently.

John: I do think of them differently, too.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So I think of an outline as being a document that I’m writing for myself mostly. And it’s essentially a plan. It’s like a roadmap for sort of how I’m going to get through this script and sort of what the beats are. And so it’s really written for my own purposes. It tends to be very short. It can sometimes have little just bullet points for what the things are. And it’s basically so I remember what sequence of events happens to get me through this script.

Is that what you call an outline, too?

Craig: Absolutely.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah, absolutely the same. Whereas a treatment is designed to be read by others and usually it is designed to help convince others, either convince them or put them at ease.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I wouldn’t say it’s not called for in your deal but I do it a lot, not because they’re asking me but because I want everybody to kind of agree before you go.

John: Yeah. It gets everyone literally on the same page.

Craig: Right.

John: And because they’ve all read the same documents, they’re like, “Oh, yes, that’s the movie that you described in the room. And now that we’re paying you money, it’s good for us to see this thing so that four or five months from now when you hand us a script, we’re going to say, ‘Oh, that’s right. This is the script I was largely expecting.'”

Craig: And because of that, I tend to be very detailed in my treatments. I just did a treatment, I can’t put it up because, you know, it’s in development. But I did a treatment for Disney and it was 40 pages. So I wrote the movie in the treatment.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, including chunks of dialogue and all of this stuff. Now, when I go and write the screenplay, if I do, then things will change of course and things will expand and contract. But the purpose of this was to say, “Here’s a movie.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: Similarly with my HBO mini-series, the bible was I think 60 pages, and it was every episode reads like an episode of TV.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Here’s the show.

John: Yeah. And so, what we’re describing for treatments tend to be in prose form, it’s paragraphs rather than sort of, you know, little short blocks of things. It’s really giving you a flavor for — in some ways, the same way that a screenplay should be the experience of watching the movie, a treatment is sort of the summarized down experience of reading the screenplay. It’s a compressed version. It’s honestly, it’s like a very good version of what would be written up if there was a synopsis written for your script, like it got sent in for coverage. It’s like the really good version of that.

It’s more persuasive, though. And I think that persuasive thing is a key quality because your audience is people who either do already know what the project is or don’t know what the project is and you’re trying to get them onboard your vision of what it is you’re trying to do. And so, some things that feel like they should be really quick and easy to write, I’ve had to spend days writing out these treatments because I want to make sure that the treatment reads really well and really captures the flavor of what it is I’m trying to do.

Craig: Yeah. The treatment affords you an opportunity to show other people these moments. More than anything, treatments are good at this. Moments, big turns, character changes, events.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And get them onboard with these things that are the iron girders of the building you’re about to make. And you should be excited about this, I think.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I know some people are like, “Oh, god, I’ve got to write a treatment.” Well, you’re a writer. Yeah. And I have found — I don’t know, I’m sure you’re going to answer this yes but I’ll let you. When you’re writing the treatment, you learn, you discover new things about your movie just because you’re sitting and writing it.

John: Absolutely true.

Craig: Yeah. It’s just, it’s inevitable. It’s a good thing to do. I don’t always do it but when I do, I never regret it.

John: Yeah. It’s absolutely true. I think there are times where the process of having to write out this thing is just really daunting and exhausting and it’s like, just let me write the script instead. And the times where I’ve actually had to go through and do that work, I’ve always discovered some new things or I discovered a way to communicate an idea that wouldn’t have occurred to me otherwise.

So they can be very valuable. Before we get into specific examples of things we’ve written, let’s talk about the money behind this and sort of like what it is in terms of your deal or not your deal to write this.

So weirdly, I’d never been paid to write a treatment until I wrote one for Disney. And I think you also wrote one for Disney which was just a treatment, is that right?

Craig: Yeah. I wanted to do it that way, you know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I was like, “Look, either we all want to make the same movie or we don’t. So let’s make a deal where you or I can say no after I do this treatment.” [laughs]

John: And that was a similar situation for a project at Disney. Usually though, a treatment is not an individual step. In the Writers Guild, you know, basic minimum agreement, there is some sort of flat fee for a treatment. And sometimes if you’re being paid scale, then you really should be paid I think that treatment thing as a separate thing. If you’re being paid over scale, sometimes you just write the treatment because it is a useful way to keep everyone on the same page. They probably can’t require the treatment, but it’s actually a very useful thing for just getting everybody seated and centered on what the idea is before you go off and write it.

Craig: Yeah. There is an official MBA step.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So they can break it out. But usually no, I don’t think of this as something to be finicky about. Frankly, when it comes time after I’ve turned it — let’s say I have a one-step deal and I’ve turned in a script and it comes on the heels of a very detailed treatment that everybody signed off on –

John: Yeah.

Craig: When they say, “Well, can we do like the five-week, you know, thing before we turn to the studio,” my answer is, “No. No, no, see, I did this before I wrote the script and that was our moment before. That was the free work. That’s the free work I want to do and I need to do but now I’m not going to do — no.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: It strengthens your hand, I think, in that circumstance.

John: So mostly what Craig and I write are features and so most of what we’re talking about is features. But some of the examples we’re going to bring up are from TV things I wrote. And TV is its own separate beast and its own separate world. And in TV, you are very often writing documents that are not the teleplay. They are other things to get approval to write the teleplay.

And I can’t speak knowledgeably about sort of what that’s like on a current series but I’m going to include some examples of things I wrote between selling the pitch of the pilot and actually turning in the script, which were very important documents that I had to sort of get approvals on before I was able to sort of go off and write.

So the things you’re writing in television can have very different names and so I’m not going to try to give you the wrong terminology for things but you’ll hear like one-pagers or outlines or sometimes we’ll hear treatments. And it’s all very specific to the kind of thing you’re writing. Sometimes approving a story idea or a story area and it’s always going to depend on the nature of the show and the nature of the network and studio relationship.

Craig: Yeah, exactly. It’s funny, I’m looking through my files here and I realize how many of these I’ve written. Like I sent you one but I’m going to send you so many more because I’ve written so many of these. [laughs]

John: [laughs]

Craig: And a lot of times, the ones that I probably will send along are from movies that just never happened because, you know, the ones that have happened, a lot of times I just — I don’t know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I’d just rather have the movie be the movie, you know, like even with Identity Thief. It’s interesting actually. You can see the difference. There are some differences for sure.

John: Let’s go through some of these examples. So I’m going to start with the Big Fish outline. So this is literally a one-page document and this was just really kind of for my own purposes to figure out what the basic scenes were and sort of how it would all fit together.

So it says Act One, Act Two, Act Three. There’s individual lines for each thing and it shows in parentheses which characters are in that scene or that sequence. And so it goes from like “On the day he was born….” “Opening titles: Will grows, Edward annoys” “France: Will gets the call” “Airplane: Fly to Alabama” “The Snowstorm” “Arrive at house: Meet the mother, Dr. Bennett”.

So that actually is sort of the movie I wrote but this is just the, you know, single line version of what the structure of this would be.

Craig: Yeah. This is a classic example of what’s for you. And another thing that I can send along are note cards. So, you know, I’ll break everything down to note cards so you can see what that looks like. That’s my tool for me.

John: Yeah.

Craig: For this, for instance, I’m looking at your Act One here, then it says “First Will/Edward talk”. Well, obliviously you knew what that was. [laughs]

John: Yeah. [laughs]

Craig: So this is absolutely just something that helps you organize your thoughts, which, by the way, I think everybody should do. It’s just my personal opinion. I don’t understand the kind of “I’m just going to wander and discover as I go,” you know. At least this. At least know how it ends, you know. [laughs] So this was a great example of private me-only document.

John: So here’s a bigger document. This is the Big Fish sequence outline based on the 3/31/2000 Draft. And so this is the thing I wrote up for myself but I also shared it with the studio executive to talk through like these are the things that are happening in the script. And specifically, people wanted to see what was real and what was fantasy. And so I sort of did differentiation with boxes about like what was real and what was fantasy.

So in this case, I’m taking an existing script and I just break it into sequences. So I’m referring to both the pages and sort of what’s happening in them. So it’s more detailed because I actually knew the details about what was happening in these different things. So this ends up being a four-page document that sort of talks through what the whole thing is. And it’s just useful to have a compressed shorter version of the thing to look at so if we were making big structural changes, “Okay, if we got rid of this whole thing, what would take its place, how can we compress or move stuff around?”

Big Fish was, looking at it sort of structurally in that level was important for Big Fish because we were always shifting back and forth between those two worlds and figuring out what made the most sense.

Craig: Yeah. I like the fact that you made this document to help people understand something. It can be frustrating at times when people don’t understand something that you know they will understand if they just see the movie.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know it, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: And this is an example. You knew, right? [laughs]

John: I knew.

Craig: Yeah.

John: If I could have gone through the script and just like made all the fantasy sequences in like colored font rather than black and white –

Craig: Right.

John: Maybe that would have done it, too. But people had a hard time sort of visualizing how we were moving back and forth between reality and fantasy.

Craig: Right. And so sometimes you do make a service document. You know, I made one when I came back on The Huntsman and we had not a lot of time to try and do a lot of work. I had to make a document that was basically kind of saying, “Here’s what we’re keeping and here’s what we’re changing and here’s what it’s going to be. And here’s the sets that it’s going to use,” because it was all about like, “Okay, we need you to rewrite this script considerably but we have these locations.” [laughs]

John: Yeah.

Craig: “And we can’t not use them, nor can we get other ones to do different ones.” So you do create service documents a lot. And all of that work is designed to get you to the part of your job that you thought was the only part, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: Which is the writing part. But it’s not. What are you going to do?

John: So I’d love to look at your Identity Theft treatment. I took this to be that there was an existing script and you were doing huge work on it and so before you went off to do this huge work, you wrote up this document to say like, “This is what the thing I’m going to write is going to be like.” Is that correct?

Craig: That’s right. So there were two prior scripts and this was essentially going to be as close to a page one as it gets. And so I wrote this up to help get everybody on the same page because they had struggled –

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, prior to this.

John: So let’s take a look at what you’re actually writing here because this is very much how I write up especially like TV pitches, but you start out by talking about your characters. You describe Sandy Patterson. You say Jason Bateman in parenthesis. You’re talking about who he is and sort of how we’re going to see him, how we’re going to meet him, what his journey is. You talk about Diana, Melissa McCarthy, you say. For Trish Patterson, you already called it as Amanda Peet.

Craig: Yup.

John: And you have other suggestions in here for other folks.

Craig: Yeah, like you can see like Jim Cornish, I thought I was writing for Ricky Gervais originally and then it became Jon Favreau. You know, so those things happen. I had Sam Jackson in here. [laughs] And then I had some Israelis which sadly, you know, didn’t make it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I really loved those Israelis.

John: So you talk through all that stuff about like this is what’s going to be happening character-wise because in the rest of your treatment, you’re not going to really have the opportunity to get the feeling of who those characters are because the treatment is very compressed and it’s just talking through sort of more plot. It’s not getting into the intricacies of character and sort of what the characters feel like.

So you have to sort of start with all that so we know who these people are because we’re getting a very quick hit of them as we read through the treatment.

Craig: Yeah. And as I’m looking through this, it’s funny, sometimes I do it a little differently. I guess I do it a little differently each time. But in this one, part of what I was doing was splitting each — it wasn’t like it was a scene or a sequence. It was just like, “Okay, here’s a story chunk that makes sense to lump under one paragraph, you know, or one subsection.” I would write what happened. And then after, in italics, I would write about what the point of it was.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because a lot of what they had been struggling with was getting out of the episodic nature of what a roadtrip is. Like you go here, you go here, you have those hijinks, you have that, but what’s the point, you know?

John: Yeah.

Craig: So a lot of this document was it was not only about me working it through but it was about comforting everybody that, okay, there will be some substance to this.

John: Yeah. I find I use italics in treatments often to reflect dialogue. So within a block of text, a paragraph that’s describing sort of the action, I’ll use italics to sort of indicate what a character would be saying at this moment and sort of those exchanges back and forth. And if I need to do that work where I’m sort of like, you know, kind of underlining like what a character has experienced or sort of why this is here, then I’ll literally go for underlining or bold face to make sure that people are clear like, this is the point of this section.

Craig: Right, exactly.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And again, you know, you and I both know that if they saw it, they would get it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But that’s part of our job because, you know, it’s actually, the fact that we know that is part of what makes us writers.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It shouldn’t be frustrating to us. It should actually be very comforting that there are some things that we can do the mental math on instantaneously that other people can’t.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So it’s part of this is helping them.

John: And I’ll point out this. This treatment you’ve provided for us is 29 pages long, so this is a lengthy document –

Craig: Yeah.

John: To sort of describe a movie that’s, you know, just a normal length movie.

Craig: Right.

John: So it’s, you know, you really going through the whole process of making sure that we understand the whole movie before it’s made.

Craig: It also in painstakingly making sure that, you know, all the annoying bits and bobs are at least theoretically solvable, you know. The how do they get from here to here and how does she know this and how does he know that, you force yourself to do some of this annoying work sooner rather than later.

John: Yeah.

Craig: At least you know you’ve got like, okay, I’ve got my treatment method as a fallback. Maybe I can come up with something better as I’m writing the screenplay. [laughs] But there is an answer.

John: The thing I’m writing right now, I wrote a treatment for it first. And part of the reason for writing the treatment was to make — there’s potentially a competing project. There’s always going to be competing projects, so we wanted to have something that we could sort of prove like this story was all figured out at this point.

But now that I’m writing the real screenplay, I was like, “Okay, at some point I’ll figure out like how I can get between these two characters and get both of them in.” And so I just had to write that part yesterday for like how am I going to actually intercut these two things. And I was angry at the treatment writer who hadn’t figured it out for me.

Craig: Exactly. [laughs] Exactly. And, you know, sometimes you can kind of embrace the treatmentness of it, you know, and just sort of brush it over.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And sometimes, you know, you want to show that it actually works.

John: Yeah. It would have been too much detail to honestly put in the treatment. I was glad I didn’t put it in the treatment, but like as the actual screenwriter I still had to figure out how I was going to do that. And that’s the job of screenwriting.

Craig: You know, it’s funny, so I’m writing the first episode of this mini-series and as I did the bible, each episode summary got longer and longer. So by the time I got to the last one, it was, you know, the second to last one was like 10 pages and it was dialogue and everything, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: The first one wasn’t quite that detailed and I’m having to do it now, I’m annoyed. [laughs] I wish I had done it then. But I mean, the nature of this first one is such that it kind of defied treatmentizing, you know. You had to kind of just plunge in because it’s about chaos, essentially. So you can’t organize chaos too carefully.

And it’s a new thing for me because it’s television, so I understand like, “Oh, I’m not making something that must be orderly by the end.” In fact, I’m just taking five eggs and smashing them against the wall. And smashing them in an exciting way and then letting the yoke drip down and then cutting to black. [laughs] I love that. That’s fun.

John: Yeah. You’re writing it for premium cable. Most of the things I’ve been writing for have been for broadcast and so one of the next documents we’ll take a look at is for D.C. And it’s the outline I did for the pilot. And this was an outline I had to get approved.

And what was new to me at this point, which I’m so grateful that I had to do this outline, is act breaks. And so I had to be able to show like this is act one and these are the scenes that are going to be in act one. And there’s an act break and then there’s act two and these are the scenes and then there’s an act break. Because in television that still has act breaks for the commercials, it’s so crucial that you’re going out of the story at a place with rising action and an unresolved question so that you have that urge to come back and see what’s next. And so you can enter into that next scene with the question resolved or at least a new burst of energy.

And so, this outline for D.C. is eight pages long and pretty common I think to what a pilot outline would be like. It’s really showing you, “These are the locations we’re going to be, these are the characters, this is how we’re getting through the story of the pilot.”

Craig: Yeah. This is a very good example. And you can also, if folks at home want to follow Tom Schnauz on Twitter, he does this occasionally. So he wrote on Breaking Bad and now he’s maybe like the head writer, I guess, of Better Call Saul and he’s been directing a bunch of episodes, too. And he will post pictures of their card outlines, act one, act two, act three, act four, you know, and the teaser and all the rest of it. And you can blow it up and read them, you know, and you can see it.

And it’s very much like this, you know. You see how much detail goes into the storytelling part. I mean, I think a lot of screenwriters out there, they gravitate towards what they see in a screenplay that they read. And what they see is dialogue. What they don’t see is story, right? The narrative is kind of weirdly invisible underneath the expression of the narrative. But it’s the narrative minus the expression that makes the expression work.

So one thing that these things, outlines and treatments, do is they force you to confront the narrative without the window dressing of the action of a scene and dialogue and all that. You’re forced to just make a story.

John: Exactly. The last thing I want to show here is this was a write-up I did for Alaska, which was a pilot I did for ABC. At the time, it was called The Circle. And I call it a write-up because it’s the kind of thing where once you pitched a show, you end up writing this document which is basically an encapsulation of your pitch that you can say like, “This is what I pitched to you,” and they can actually show this to other folks or they can use it to pitch themselves internally so they just know sort of what it is. And they will give you notes on this. They will give it back to you because they want to be able to communicate to everybody else who’s in the process, this is the show we are trying to make.

So for The Circle, it starts with one page which is very much kind of what the pitch was like. Basically like sort of, “This is what’s cool about the world.” Then we’re going into talking about the characters and who the principal characters are we’re following. And then we’re getting into details about the pilot and finally getting into further episodes, like things that happen after this pilot episode.

This becomes really important because sort of like what you’re describing with, you know, not having the dialogue and therefore being able to see the story of the episode or the story of the movie, this is like without even an episode of the show kind of, this is what the series feels like. This is the broad picture document of this is why this is a show that is airing on your network.

And so this was a really crucial, really sales document. Even though it’s theoretically designed for my own purposes and for us to have a conversation, it’s really to convince them that like, “Oh, this is going to be a show that you will want to have on your network, you know, next fall.”

Craig: This is a great sales document. And let’s remind ourselves that oftentimes the sale between you and them is completed. They’ve bought something.

John: Yes.

Craig: The document is for them to sell it to each other.

John: Yup.

Craig: And if you don’t give them something to read, like for instance, in this Circle outline, it says, “From the description, it sounds like Law & Order without the suits and skyscrapers. Which it is.” Right? Ah-ha. [laughs] So you can help them — you know what this is, it’s Law & Order but in the Alaskan wild. I can see them saying this to each other. It’s like you gave them their little buzzy handle. If you don’t do this for them, they’re going to do it on their own.

John: Yup.

Craig: And you don’t want that.

John: If you also look at this document, you’ll see that I bold-faced things that are incredibly important or sort of like strange. If people end up skimming, they’re at least picking up these crucial things. So “First off, the state only has about 500,000 people. That’s the population of Long Beach, except that they’re spread over a state the size of California, Texas and Montana combined.”

That’s interesting. That’s fascinating. That shows you like what is different about this crime procedural than any other crime procedural that they’ve seen.

Craig: Right.

John: I talk about they have this weird system of boroughs and magistrates. They don’t have police the way we think of them. So there were interesting things that are bold faced there so that people will say like, “Oh, that’s right. This is what’s different about this show than the other five procedurals that we’re developing this year.”

Craig: Yeah. Alaska is awesome, by the way.

John: Alaska is great.

Craig: It’s really cool.

John: And so that’s outlines and treatments. So again, we’ll have links to the ones we discussed today on the show notes for this episode, so just scroll through and find those and pull them up. They’re all PDFs and none of them — well, I guess Big Fish and Identity Thief got made but most of these are like –

Craig: Yeah. Like I’m going to send some –

John: Dead files.

Craig: Yeah, I’m going to send some dead file ones that I like that just never happened.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’s time for One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is something that Craig will absolutely love. This is MCC’s Miscast. So every year, MCC Theater does this big, I guess it’s a fundraiser, but it’s a big event where they have Broadway stars come and they basically gender-reverse the people who are singing the songs. So if it’s a song traditionally sung by a woman, a guy sings it and vice versa.

And so there have been fantastic ones. Jonathan Groff did Sutton Foster’s Anything Goes, did the full tap of it. He was great in the previous one. So this year they had a bunch of great people as always. The two that I’m going to put a link into the show notes for are Tituss Burgess and Tina Fey did a duet that’s great. Tina Fey is singing. She did a great job.

Craig: Excellent.

John: And also, Craig, you will love this. So they did a song from Hamilton. They did The Schuyler Sisters, but they used like three young boys who are on Broadway shows right now –

Craig: Amazing.

John: And they were fantastic.

Craig: Angelica, Eliza and Peggy. The Schuyler sisters.

John: I always feel like I’m the “And Peggy.”

Craig: [laughs] And Peggy. You know, a lot of people think that “And Peggy” gets short shrift in that show, but And Peggy is also Maria Reynolds who plays a huge part in the second act.

John: Yeah, which is great.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Do you realize that there were 12 Schuyler siblings in real life?

Craig: You mean at that time?

John: Yeah.

Craig: There were 12?

John: There were 12.

Craig: Who –

John: It just focuses on three of them. Apparently –

Craig: Who were the other ones? [laughs]

John: They were not important enough to be in there. Maybe it was the rest of the ensemble who was like sliding around the stage all the time. Maybe they’re the other siblings.

Craig: They should do one show where they just keep going.

John: [laughs]

Craig: And Oliver. And Gina. And Dwayne. [laughs]

John: It’s very, very good.

Craig: Excellent.

John: So what’s yours?

Craig: How could mine not be the Tesla Model 3?

John: I cannot wait to get mine. We ordered one.

Craig: Fantastic. So did I.

John: So did Stuart.

Craig: Yes, he did. I had a talk with Stuart and I said, “You’re doing it, buddy.”

So this is the long-awaited and we will still be awaiting affordable car from Tesla and Elon Musk. And their plan is to provide the base model at $35,000, which is definitely in the realm of affordable for most American families. I don’t know what the average amount people spend on a car, but it probably is something like in the mid to high 20s, I would guess. You know, in America, it’s an interesting fact. So it’s not far off the mark there.

It has all the range of the big car, the model S. Not quite as ridiculously zippy, but who cares? The point is, zero emissions, no gasoline, it’s beautifully made. And they got over a million pre-orders, like some insane number.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Like an insane amount. And I did it because it occurred to me that my son will be driving in two years, my daughter will be driving in five years, so yeah, just, you know, an incredibly safe car also.

John: Yeah. So I’m looking forward to it coming or for whatever comes next. We have the Leaf. I love the Leaf. I’m delighted with it. But I think it’s always great to have, you know, new choices, new things out there. Apple will have a car at some point. I’m curious what that car is going to be like.

I’m also curious sort of how much driving will be important in the future. Like my daughter is 10. I’m not convinced driving will be nearly as important for her as it was for me or even a kid right now. Like a lot of kids these days are not nearly as quick to get their driver’s licenses because they have alternatives. And I think alternatives are great. So, will self-driving cars replace this? Probably, at some point.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But –

Craig: At some point.

John: For now, this is a great car.

Craig: Yup, yup, yup, yup.

John: Excited. That is our show this week. So a reminder that if you would like to come to see us on April 16th and join us for the Craft Day at the Writers Guild Foundation, you need to go to wgfoundation.org and sign up for that. It should be a great fun event.

Our outro this week is by Rajesh Naroth who wrote a great 8-bit theme. So thank you, Rajesh. If you have an outro you would like to share with us for the show, you can write to ask@johnaugust.com and send us a link. It’s also where you can write questions like the ones we answered today. On Twitter, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel, as always, and edited by Matthew Chilelli. And thank you all very much. We’ll see you next week.

Craig: Thanks, John.

John: See you.

Links:

We’re having a spring cleaning sale

Tue, 04/12/2016 - 17:43

Whenever we come out with a new Scriptnotes t-shirt, we sell it only by pre-order. We print just the t-shirts we need, then send them out in one big batch.

So we don’t really have “inventory.”

Except we kind of do. In the corner of our office is a set of shelves holding stray t-shirts left over from previous print runs. They exist because we overprint by roughly 10 percent just in case orders get lost or damaged.

Yesterday, we took a count and realized we have more than 50 shirts in random styles and sizes. They’re doing no one any good sitting on a shelf, so we’re having a spring cleaning sale.

Everything in the store is 50% off this week, or until we’re out of shirts.

In addition to the t-shirts, we have 10 remaining Scriptnotes 200-episode USB drives. They’re 50% off.

We also have Writer Emergency Packs. They’re 50% off. (And also 50% off on Amazon.)

At the moment, we don’t have any One Hit Kills on hand, but we’ve marked them 50% off on Amazon, too. If you’ve been curious about our card game of ridiculously overpowered weapons, this is the cheapest you’ll find it.

Finally, we have one wondrous misprint. It’s an Umbrage Orange t-shirt that missed one of the steps during silkscreening, leaving it oddly faint.

I hope to see someone wearing it one day at a live show. Like all our shirts, it’s better in your closet than our shelf.

So stop by the store and take a look.

Why I’m voting no on Amendment 1

Tue, 04/12/2016 - 16:01

This morning, the WGA sent out the link for members to vote on three proposed constitutional amendments.

I’m voting yes on Amendments 2 and 3, which reduce the minimum number of candidates and signatures required for board elections. They’re minor changes. I doubt they will have a big impact either way.

Amendment 1 is the bigger concern. It lengthens the term of officers and board members from two years to three. The more I think about it, the less I like that idea. I’m voting no.

Longer terms are great when you have awesome leadership. Yay stability! But here’s the problem: you don’t always have great leaders.

Sometimes, you have fairly useless people. Sometimes, you have nutjobs steering us down dangerous paths.

So it’s important to give guild members the chance to convey their priorities and vote out the nutjobs when necessary. If we’re only voting on them every three years, that’s hard to do.

Here’s what Craig says on the issue:

No matter what kind of writer you are and no matter what kind of union politics you’d like to see in action, Amendment One does absolutely nothing for you other than limiting your voice and your influence over your union.

The other big problem with longer terms is getting writers to run for office in the first place.

Having served twice on the nominating committee, I’ve had to do a fair amount of arm-twisting to get qualified writers to run for the board. I guarantee longer terms will discourage strong candidates from running. As writers, we don’t know where our lives and careers will take us. Will we be running a show? Directing a movie? Committing to three years of service is too much to ask of a busy, working writer — the exact kind of writer we want on the board.

So I’m voting no on Amendment 1.

Here’s my worry: There’s a good chance this amendment will pass, because most amendments sent to the membership get approved.

After all, it already got the thumbs-up from the board. Some very smart friends of mine voted for it, and I understand their reasons and logic. In fact, if I could guarantee that only those thoughtful and dedicated board members would be serving for three years, I would wholeheartedly support the amendment.

But I can’t, so I won’t.

If you’re a WGA member, I’d urge you to vote no on Amendment 1.

Outlines and Treatments

Tue, 04/12/2016 - 08:03

John and Craig look at the non-screenplay things screenwriters end up writing, most notably outlines and treatments. We discuss some of the ones we’ve written (with examples), and offer advice on writing your own.

Also, how do you deal with sudden success? And what should a writer-director say when talking to a Very Famous Actress about starring in his movie?

Our live conversation with Lawrence Kasdan is this Saturday! Find out more about the all-day Craft Day featuring many previous (and future) Scriptnotes guests in the links below.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Writer Emergency Pack now on Amazon UK

Mon, 04/11/2016 - 17:48

We’ve been selling Writer Emergency Pack on Amazon for over a year — but only the US version of Amazon. There are 10 marketplaces in all, covering different areas of the world. North America Europe Asia Amazon.com Amazon.co.uk Amazon.co.jp Amazon.ca Amazon.de Amazon.cn Amazon.fr Amazon.in Amazon.it Amazon.es

As of this afternoon, we’ve added our second marketplace: the United Kingom. We’re officially in stock!

We picked the UK because it was the second-biggest market for us after the US. It also serves as a gateway to Europe. When purchasing through Amazon.com, European buyers have to pay customs, making it significantly more expensive. Plus orders need to be shipped overseas, adding time to delivery. When buying through Amazon.co.uk, orders are shipped from London, and customs fees are already paid (by us).

This saves customers time, money and hassle.

At some point, I’ll write up a post explaining the process of setting up Amazon FBA for the UK. It was much more complicated than I expected, mostly because of dealing with importers and logistics. We had our shipment held at Heathrow for lack of an EORI number, which you can only get through a finicky online form. For ten days, we had no idea where the decks actually were, until they suddenly showed up for sale this afternoon.

But we’re happy to finally be available. You can find us on both Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.

They’re also available directly through the Writer Emergency store.

Scriptnotes, Ep 244: The Invitation, and Requels — Transcript

Fri, 04/08/2016 - 16:37

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

Today on the podcast, we are joined by Matt Manfredi and Phil Hay to talk about their new movie, The Invitation, and how they balance writing small Indies with big budget franchises. And on the topic of franchises, we’ll discuss requels, which are not quite reboots and not quite sequels. Plus we’ll get to these listener questions.

Craig, how are you today?

Craig: Well, given the amount of work that we have to do here in this podcast, I’m not feeling that great. [laughs]

Actually, I was in a terrific mood and then you just laid that much on. I mean, that’s so much.

John: Absolutely. And that they’re terrible, dismal guests who will be not amusing or interesting whatsoever.

Craig: We’re going to have to drag them down the field on our backs.

John: So before we get to that hard, hard work, let’s do some follow-up from last week.

Craig: All right.

John: Last week on the clip show, I asked listeners to take a three-question poll about our podcast and specifically the premium feed. Several hundred of you not only filled out the poll, you left great comments and suggestions.

Craig, once again, we have the best listeners of any podcast in America.

Craig: Well, I’m going to have to take your word for that, obviously, since I don’t listen to other podcasts. But from what I’ve seen and heard, I’ve got to agree with you, our listeners are basically pretty cool.

John: Here’s what our listeners told us. They said we should keep the premium feed because enough of them like it and enjoy it. It’s a way to get to all those back catalog episodes. Sometimes they listen to episodes for the first time or they listen to it for the seventh time. So we’ll keep doing that for the people who like that.

We’ll probably also make more of the USB drives that have all of the episodes on them, including the bonus episodes. We’re approaching 250 so we’ll probably do a 250-episode drive for that.

Craig: God, 250?

John: That’s a lot of episodes.

Craig: 250? John.

John: Yeah.

Craig: John, it’s like five years.

John: It’s like five years of my life spent.

Craig: That’s five years of our life. [laughs]

John: No, it’s really my life. [laughs] It’s about like, you know, maybe 50 hours of your life.

Craig: Yeah, but I feel like

John: Well, I guess it’s 250 hours of your life.

Craig: Yeah, I feel like we have a life together.

John: We do have a life together. Some marriages have not lasted the number of episodes that we’ve recorded.

Craig: Especially where we live.

John: Yeah, especially where we live.

So the whole reason I started asking the questions about what we should do with the premium feed is because some people were having real problems with the premium feed both on a technical level and on a billing level. So we’re still going to look for some alternate way for people who want to support the podcast, to help pay for Stuart and for Matthew, because you guys are awesome. So some way you guys can support the show and get those bonus episodes as well. So it might be Patreon, it might be something else.

If you have specific suggestions for things we can do to make that easier, let us know. But we will keep doing what we’re doing, and we should get to today’s work.

Craig: What if people send in canned goods to Stuart?

John: I think that would be a terrific idea. I think

Craig: I mean, Stuart loves green beans.

John: Yes, he’s the best the biggest fan of green beans.

Craig: Corn nibblets.

John: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So as long as we keep Stuart fed, that’s crucial.

Craig: When you were a kid

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I’m sorry, we’ll get to Phil and Matt in a second.

John: Oh, there’s no rush.

Craig: I’m stalling because they’re going to be the worst. [laughs] When you were a kid, did you do the thing right in front of Thanksgiving in elementary school where would you do the canned food drive?

John: Of course, you had to do the canned food drive.

Craig: And I was always arguing with my because my mother is, you know, as we’ve established, probably I don’t know if we’ve established on the podcast, but she’s the worst. So she would always want to get like these healthy food. I’m like, “Nobody wants green nobody wants these nasty green beans in a can. Let’s get the yams.” I was always a yams guy.

John: Oh my God, yams are the worst.

Craig: What?

John: I can’t I can’t believe we haven’t gotten into this. Like who would eat yams?

Craig: I would.

John: The only kind of yam-type vegetable I’ll eat is like sweet potato fries. Delightful. Any other form of sweet potato or yam and you know, yams aren’t even yams. Like yams

Craig: I know. Oh God.

John: Are an African thing and God, it’s

Craig: You know what, especially the ones in the can. [laughs] God only know what those are.

John: Exactly. They’re some sort of special product invented by scientists.

Craig: Yeah. It’s soylent orange.

John: It’s soylent orange.

So on the topic of yams, let’s get to our guests today.

Craig: Segue Man.

John: Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi are a writing team whose credits include Clash of the Titans, Aeon Flux, Crazy Beautiful and both Ride Alongs.

Their new movie is The Invitation, which is in U.S. theaters April 8th and also available through iTunes that same day. It debuted at South by Southwest and it’s currently 89% fresh in Rotten Tomatoes. It was only 88% fresh this morning, now it’s 89% so who knows how high it will be by the time we listen to this podcast.

The film, The Invitation, is set at a dinner party in the Hollywood Hills where a group of friends are reconnecting after a tragedy. But something seems a little amiss. Let’s listen to a clip.

[Clip plays]

John: So Matt, are they harmless?

Matt Manfredi: You have to go see the movie to find out.

John: All right. So it’s

Craig: You don’t just want to tell us what happens to save us the effort?

Matt: I find people usually like to just have some people tell them what the movie is and then

Craig: Right. Just skip the whole thing of having to go through

Matt: Yeah, just getting in the car. It’s narration.

Craig: Because the movie is, it’s like an hour-and-a-half. I mean, if you just tell us

Matt: It’s a big time commitment.

Craig: It’s huge.

John: It is a big time commitment.

So Craig and I both have seen your movie. I saw it at an official screening at ICM and it was a delightful night and it was I loved seeing it on the big screen. Craig didn’t see it that way. He saw it on a screener.

Craig: Yeah, I did. But I have to say and you know, it’s funny because we’re friends with Karyn Kusama, the director and Phil’s wife, and she was very concerned. She said you have to watch it with the sound really high and you’ve got to make sure that the lights are low.

So I did it.

John: Oh, nice.

Craig: I turned the lights way down, cranked the sound, looked great. I enjoyed the experience of watching a nice film at home. [laughs] It was great.

Phil Hay: So it’s in theaters and VOD. So however you like it

John: Absolutely.

Phil: You can have it.

John: So I think what I’ll pitch without sort of seeing it with an audience is there are not necessarily jump scares but there is a collective experience of trying to figure out like what is actually going on.

And so the reason why I asked like, “Are they dangerous?” like that becomes a real valid question. It’s like, “Are these people what they seem to be? Are there red herrings being thrown about?” And yes, there are red herrings being thrown about.

Matt: I think that our biggest conversations making the movie were all about where should where do we want the audience to be situated vis-a-vis Will, the lead character. And can we trust him? Can we trust his point of view? And it you know, the experience, I think, to kind of put a cell on the theatrical experience, it has been really gratifying and fascinating to sit with many audiences and watch the movie and see that it does play. There is a feeling between the audience members where there’s a palpable sense of sweating it out with other people

Craig: Yeah.

Matt: And there’s a tension and dread that it’s if it works for you, hopefully

Phil: Yeah.

Matt: It works better in the theater.

Craig: It does feel like it feels like one I mean, there are certain kinds of movies that require a communal experience. I don’t know if this requires a bigger and definitely see how it would accentuate it and, you know, that you because tension is something that you can feel in a room.

And it is available in big cities. I mean, so

Phil: Yes.

Craig: People in New York. What did you say, New York, Austin, Boston, where else?

Phil: Dallas.

Craig: L.A.

Phil: Houston, L.A.

Matt: Kind of expands the week

Phil: And the week after we’re in Chicago and

Matt: Cleveland.

Phil: Cleveland and Columbus.

Craig: So lots of opportunities for

Matt: Yes. Yes.

Phil: Absolutely.

John: So I saw it several months ago, but since the time I saw that, I also saw 10 Cloverfield Lane and the movies are similar in the sense that they are both taking place in small environments. You’re closed in and you’re not sure who you can trust.

And you Phil, what you were saying about character’s point of view, you’re not entirely sure if you can trust the point of view of your lead character because he has gone through a tragedy and he may be perceiving things not the way they really are. And by laser-focusing on just his point of view on things, you have limited information.

So can you talk us through sort of the writing process and figuring out like did this start from an idea of a dinner party? Did it start from an idea of this character? What was the impetus behind this movie?

Phil: This kind of came from an emotional sort of emotional/thematic feeling. And I think that we started talking this is many years ago. We’ve been living with this script for a long time. And I think it started out with a sort of what if question, which I think a lot of movies that could be categorized as horror or science fiction fall into to, which is what if you knew someone very, very well, you knew them better than anyone else in the world. You were married to them. And they disappeared one day and when they came back, they were a completely different person.

That sort of emotional horror was part of it. And then we also were sort of very interested in cults and interested in the kind of very dark mythology of the Hollywood Hills and California itself.

Matt: Also we were having a lot of conversations about grief and the isolation of it and how, you know, people can grieve the same person in very different ways and, you know, taking that to its logical and perhaps scary extension.

So yeah, and you know, in terms of and you know, in terms of the we kind of had the ending which, you know, is we had that first in the way that you’ll the ending is, in a way, the premise of the movie.

Craig: Right.

Matt: So we have these ideas that we’re working around. We have this ending which, you know, again, is the premise of it, and so we kind of worked from there. And in terms of like Will’s point of view and it was a challenge that was one of the big writing challenges I think, which was deciding how much information to parcel out and keep it going. Because the movie is kind of a slow burn and you want to keep the audience invested. You want to have events along the way, but it was like we kept removing things and seeing how much we could remove.

Phil: And in this context, what was interesting, you know, having written many different kinds of movies, in this particular movie, the sense that our turns of reveal in something being apparently true and then being revealed to be not true at all, and then that new apparent truth being subverted in a different way. It kind of required us to a very microscopic manner, think about character turns and think about shifts in mood and tone over the course of this party because, you know, I think a lot of it is wrapped up in a lot of what’s underneath, what we’re trying to explore in the script is just the idea of manners and social propriety and how our instincts for preservation can be sort of obscured by our desire to

Matt: Please others.

Phil: Be cool and not be the person that’s

Craig: Just follow the rules of the party. It’s really instructive for because we have a lot people that listen to us who are aspiring screenwriters and we talk about theme all the time. We talk about character all the time. We talk about knowing what your movie is really about, which isn’t what it’s about. And so it’s very instructive, I think, for people to hear that the things that you start with.

So this is a thriller. So on the other side of the screen, for the consumer, they’re seeing a thriller. It’s Hitchcockian. It’s suspenseful. It’s Polanski-ish, right? It reminded me of Rosemary’s Baby. It reminded me of Strangers on a Train. It reminded me of any kind of closed room story. All of those things are very craft-wise and they’re very front-facing.

But behind it, you guys start with what happens if somebody you know you don’t really know and grief. So very instructive, I think, for people to hear how you guys start and then the craft is in service of that.

Matt: Yeah. I mean, it makes the writing process easier. I mean, you know, the only times I get stuck writing is when I don’t know what the scene is about. You know, I know have to write the scene

Craig: Right.

Matt: And it happens to be in the plot but I all day, I’m banging my head against the wall and it’s just because I don’t thematically know what this is about.

Craig: And you know that you won’t get help from Phil.

Matt: No.

Phil: No. That’s not that’s not possible. [laughs]

Matt: He’s useless.

Phil: I’m just on the phone doing business. So [laughs]

Craig: He handles the business. [laughs]

Matt: Yeah, he’s basically an automaton who goes to lunches.

Craig: Right, exactly.

Phil: But, no, I mean I think that like that’s been important to all of us. We learn them we learn them as we do the process of writing. But we’ve sort of realized that that is what is the moment of genesis for us on anything that we write, whether it’s our own thing to say why should this exist. Why is this why do I want to what I’m trying to get at? What am I trying to explore? Or something that we’re working on that comes from outside where it’s like what is my connection to this. Why am I the one that needs to do this?

Once we know what it’s about or what we what we’re trying to discover about it, then every conversation is about that in some way even when it’s not directly. Every conversation a character has should be reflecting that in a not literal way. And it just I don’t know how to do a movie without that.

Craig: Yeah.

Phil: Without knowing what its place in the intellectual world is, you know.

Craig: Right.

John: So when did you actually start writing this movie?

Matt: A while ago.

Phil: Yeah. We were trying to figure that out. It’s been so long we could I think we sort of had the basic idea and some of the structure long ago, more than 10 years ago.

Matt: Yeah.

Craig: Wow.

Phil: And it’d been just sort of haunting us a little bit. And there’s something interesting about but I don’t know if it’s the same for you, if we’ve talked about this. But there is something about this particular story and script and making this movie that is one of the most mysterious of them to me that we’ve ever done just in terms of I felt like I was always learning about it while doing it.

So it took years for me, personally, to like be with it and live with it and try to understand it well enough to write it, you know. And then I think we started writing it probably eight years ago and then we were originally thinking of directing it and we sort of realized that I lived with a much better director.

Craig: Yeah. She’s pretty good.

Phil: And yeah. And

Matt: She’s talented.

Craig: Yeah.

Phil; So then it came to life in a different way once Karyn was involved. And you know, like every independent film, it took a really long time to get together but

Craig: Well, you know, there’s the question that I’m sure everyone is going to ask at the, you know, as you go through promotions. What’s it like when you’re wife is directing and all that. But what there’s another thing that happens before that happens. Because that question really I mean, putting aside the fact that Karyn is your wife, that question is always about what it’s like as a writer to see your work translated by somebody else.

But there’s also it’s interesting when you guys said that you’d been working on this for eight years or ten years. There’s a narrowing of possibilities that occurs as you get towards the end. And I’m always fascinated to talk to writers about that moment right before the director starts to translate, when you go, “We have arrived at an end.” Did you feel like you had gotten through that without too many compromises? Did it resemble what you had hoped it would resemble?

Phil: I would say it resembles it exactly

Matt: Very much.

Phil: In an almost uncanny

Craig: Great.

Phil: Way, because Karyn part of it is the three of us becoming a very inseparable unit during this movie. And part of it is Karyn’s approach. Every director is different and, you know, as a writer, no matter who the director is, you’re just trying to serve the director, you’re trying to merge what you can bring and what your and your story with their story and make it the same story. And Karyn, the way she works is very she wouldn’t have even approached it if she didn’t want to tell the story that we had right there on the script.

Craig: Right.

Phil: And then, of course, we went through it with her and we but the way Karyn works is she always like trusts us to get there. She’s talking in terms of the themes and the characters and the feelings and the moments and the tuning and the relationships. So it really is exactly I mean, I’ve, you know, never had an experience where it has been it is it’s truly I can’t imagine it any different

Matt: Yeah.

Phil: Because it is what it is.

John: So when did it go from like, “Here’s the script. Here’s an idea. We now have a great director on board,” when did you decide, “Okay, we’re going to just make this movie?” What was the tipping point for this is a thing we could do versus this a thing we’re going to start shooting?

Matt: I think when Karyn came on and then, you know, she started meeting with actors and then you in that kind of circular dance of financing

Craig: Right.

Matt: Casting, financing, casting.

Phil: They need a cast, cast needs finance.

Matt: Exactly.

Craig: Right.

Matt: And so but that all started pretty quickly after Karyn got involved.

Phil: And then the journey was like I mean, we entered that phase of at some point you enter that dangerous phase of going from something we wanted to do to, at least in my mind, something we had to do. That once Karyn and Matt and I were together and working on it and envisioning it and we had some of the actors that we’d have in the movie, you know, as every independent movie, so many crazy icebergs appeared at the last minute

Craig: Yeah.

Phil: As they always do. And like emotionally, it felt like we had to make this movie. And there was almost a calm in that, of knowing that all of us spend a lot of time building up our professional armature because we are extreme veterans of the feeling of getting something almost there and not having it happen

Craig: Right.

Phil: Or it gets diverted into a different area that you want it to. Any of that stuff. And I think that on a very emotional level, we all knew for all, many reasons, that we had to make this movie.

Matt: Well, because we were all heading towards the same place. Everyone. We saw it the same way and you could see the finish line already, you know.

Craig: Right.

Matt: We knew it was going to

Craig: And how many days did you guys shoot?

Matt: 20.

Phil: 20.

Craig: 20 days.

John: It was 20 days here in Los Angeles and

Phil: Yes.

John: I’m curious about sort of the financial model behind this because if I’m a financer looking at this, it looks kind of like a Blumhouse movie in the sense like you’re in sort one location. It’s a thriller. It’s not a horror movie, though.

Phil: Yeah.

John: Was there any pushback to sort of like make it, you know, bigger, more supernatural, to have some aspect that could be more easily marketed, so it wasn’t Hitchcockian but it was more, you know, gory or something?

Phil: Initially and there weren’t really any pushes to make it more genre or anything like that. At one point, you know, the movie cost a million dollars. At one point it was they were we were talking about well, it had a $3 million dollar level. And at that point that point cast there becomes

Craig: Right.

Phil: A greater pressure on cast.

Craig: Right.

Phil: And then all of a sudden you’re talking things, “Okay. Well, does that fit? Can we make it fit?” you know, and but there wasn’t really any pressure to

Matt: We yeah. I mean

Phil: We changed content.

Matt: We could have had in I imagine there could have been a time we had internal pressure, but we didn’t where you’d say like we want to get this movie made and so what are the kind of, you know, attractive things that one could and you know, that, you know, how you could turn it to kind of huff up its writer feathers.

Phil: Well, but you know, it is because you’re right. There is this it’s not a horror movie, it’s but it lives within the

John: In that space.

Phil: Genre.

Craig: It’s a it’s a

Phil: Galaxy

Craig: You know it’s a paranoid thriller

Phil: Yeah. But in that way, so like having not written one of those before. You’re confident in what you’ve written, but at the same time you’re like, “This is a slow burn. I wonder if this do we need to insert something

Matt: But we sort of knew

Phil: You know, stabby. [laughs]

Matt: Yeah.

Craig: Right.

Phil: You know what I mean? Like, but I think we knew

Matt: Yeah.

Phil: We really knew that I mean, we really knew that there this could never be a movie where there would be a sort of regular pace of tension and release, tension and release, scares

Craig: Right.

Phil: Et cetera.

Craig: It wasn’t that

Phil: That it’s not that. And what it really is is a drama that turns into a paranoid thriller that

Craig: Right.

Phil: Turns into a horror movie. It’s all those things. But I think so I think that we did know that and this would be the, you know, the advice to give to anyone making an independent film, that the reason you make it is to do it the way that it has to be done.

Craig: Yeah.

Phil: And to not jump for when it seems like the gap is really you’re really close and to jump for the thing that will make it go, whether it’s an actor that everyone wants but you know is not right, or any of those things, I think we all collectively realized that, you know, once we dropped the budget to be as low as possible and we’re counting on Karyn’s skill to make the movie feel big as a movie, then we can cast exactly the right actors, the people who will feel real, and we can shoot it here in L.A. which felt critical to us on many levels. But just

Craig: Yeah.

Phil: It is an L.A. and it should be here. So

Craig: But I mean, that’s what you get back from giving up things, right? So

Phil: Yeah, exactly.

Craig: And the tragedy is to give up the big budget and to give up all of this and then also then give up your vision at the same time.

Phil: Exactly.

Craig: That’s crazy.

Phil: Exactly.

John: A lot of these decisions you’re talking about remind of our conversation with Mari Heller about The Diary of a Teenage Girl which was basically how do you, you know, put together exactly the right package for the right budget so that you make the right choices to make the right movie. And it sounds like you guys found that at this budget level because looking at your film, there’s probably a much, much lower version budget that you could do with, you know, that doesn’t look as good, it doesn’t shoot as many days, it’s going to be rushed, it’s going to be frantic, but it wouldn’t be the same movie. It would be

Matt: Well, the movie had to have like –

Phil: I think it would lose its movieness.

Matt: The movie had to have like the house had to be seductive and lush, you know, as part of the story in a way.

John: Yeah.

Phil: So it has to be that. Also, you know, we had we were a union, you know, that it was a SAG contract, you have 12 actors on for the run.

Craig: Big cast.

Phil: Yeah.

Matt: It just eats up a lot of money.

Craig: Plus, any time you’re shooting like the dinner scene, when I saw people sitting around the table I immediately tense up. [laughs]

Phil: Yeah, you know what you know what that’s about, yeah.

Craig: Oh, god. There’s three days of angles.

Matt: So in order to have a SAG movie, the movie couldn’t have gone much lower than what we were at.

Phil: That was the thing we learned about

Matt: Yeah.

Phil: Independent films is that the you know, everyone knows that the number of days is a big is your biggest factor in budget, but the number of actors and the number of days you have is a huge one and you know, and talking about the dinner scene, one thing that was kind of fascinating about the process of making this is realizing again, Karyn, because the schedule is so limited had to be very aggressive about her choices

Craig: Right.

Phil: On the day, everything was there was not room to mess around and there was not room to kind of find stuff. It was which is why we worked to make the script exactly what the movie was going to be and the actors invested in that. And we did get two-and-a-half days of rehearsal which is a miracle because

Matt: Which was crucial though.

Phil: Critical because

Craig: To help them find their voice.

Phil: Exactly.

Craig: You set their pace.

Phil: And physically relate to each other in the space. And yeah, basically do some pretty precise blocking because Karyn knew she couldn’t just like hose down the scenes.

Matt: No.

Phil: Because you don’t have time and it’s not her style. So she knew. There’s going to be scenes, I’m going to be playing this in the master, almost the whole scene and it’s an important scene and it’s going to be that’s where it’s going to be. And then what you learn is, you cannot have a single actor who is less than great.

Matt: Yeah.

Phil: Because everybody is in the shot, everybody is reacting. Everybody is in the moment and you have nowhere to go. So it’s another kind of benefit of looking at every single part and saying the only the reason these actors are here is because we think they are the best actors, because they really are, they’re in everything.

Craig: They were it was a terrific cast. Everyone was spot on, gave great performances. You have that many people, everyone was distinct. You know, this is a common problem you’ll hear when people read a screenplay and it translates into a movie, “Well that one seem like that one. Those two seemed a lot alike, you didn’t need why did you have to have two of them.” Everyone was very clearly distinct.

I also think it’s a real benefit when you don’t have so Phil said, hose down. What that means is do coverage, so you shoot a master, and then hosing it down means, okay, now, I get a single on you, I get a single on you. I get an over, I get a two.

So when you’re shooting things in master style because you don’t have time to do all the coverage, I actually think it helps a movie like this because now things are happening behind in one. Because every time you cut, I don’t know who told me this, but I think about it all the time, every time you cut, you’re cheating, right? And sometimes you have to cheat, but if you cannot cut and somebody moves and there’s like that when he sees somebody someone’s talking and then a little bit off to the right you see two other people starting to whisper, that’s wonderful. There are a lot of moments like that.

Matt: Yeah, and it kind of you’ve forced the actors to kind of develop their relationships even further.

Phil: Right.

Matt: You know, and it’s fun and they really did. I mean, we shot it we shot it in order for the most part.

Craig: Oh, that’s really that’s great.

Phil: Which was really interesting

Craig: Which you can do because you’re in one place.

Matt: And we kind of had to do because the house had maybe one less room than we needed.

Phil: Right, right. I mean, we really every square inch of that house was

Craig: Did you do that thing where you redress one room to be another?

Phil: We didn’t. Though we I mean, and that what was interesting, too, about that is this particular movie was it was really helpful to be able to shoot in continuity for almost like 90% probably in continuity because I think the actual experience of making it and you know, it’s funny you it’s almost truism that sometimes like the darkest movies are the most positive experiences that the people and we had a lot of fun making this movie even though it’s a very dark film.

And I think that everybody had to be living together in that house basically. I mean, we were moving we had the production office upstairs and we were shooting downstairs, then the production office moved.

Craig: Crazy.

Phil: The copy machine is trying to get down the stairs.

John: As I watching the movie I kept thinking like everyone is like jammed in that little room down this corner. [Cross talk] And there’s a couple of times where the camera has to turn, like oh, how is he going to do it.

Phil: We had we had the DP at one point having to leap up onto a bar, a little mini bar and be sitting, you know

Craig: Yeah.

Phil: In this little box

Matt: Because there’s no walls can fly out of the way.

Phil: There is no.

John: Let’s talk a little bit about geography because that affects your scene writing as well because there’s moments in the movie where a lot of people are having conversations together but then they need to break off into separate conversations. So did you have to change anything in the script based on the house you ended up picking for this movie?

Matt: We did. The house I mean, the house actually ticked most of the boxes we had in the script. I mean, we there was definitely in the script there was like they go upstairs and they’re down. Now, he’s in the yard, which can look back at the house and, you know.

There were those things that for the most part ended up working out okay, probably 80% of it. But we did have to rejigger a few things. We also lost one character along the way.

John: What did that character do? Just so

Phil: She was Amanda who was mentioned, who is the character of Ben played by Jay Larson, his wife who is at home pissed. She used be at the party pissed and then

Craig: Just couldn’t support it?

Phil: We just sort of realized at some point in the process that she was the only like you said, I am glad that it plays that way, that every character has a reason they need to be there. She was the character that I think she had some interesting stuff to say but she didn’t really have a reason to be there and we liked what it did to Ben’s character to not have his wife there at the party.

And so but the things that were interesting on a screenwriting level is like walking through the house with Karyn, with the DP, with the ADs and mapping it and realizing the opportunities, you know. We’re saying, “You know, we have an opportunity in this house because the dining room is upstairs, which is a very weird thing.”

John: It’s a very strange house.

Phil: That it’s a very strange layout. It kind of gave the opportunity and Karyn sort of realized, she said, “I’m going to play this movie. The first half of the movie is downstairs and the second half of the movie is upstairs. “And there’s a real pivot right in the middle

Craig: Oh, yeah.

Phil: When they go upstairs.

Craig: And it’s a great shot, too. I love what she did. I’ve actually never seen anything quite like that. So it’s not this is a movie where it’s not a spoiler to say that there are spoilers for this movie.

Matt: Yeah, yeah.

Craig: But this is not a spoiler. When they go upstairs, Karyn shoots just their feet and you just see shoes and sneakers and slippers of people going and it was actually fascinating.

Phil: Oh, yeah.

Matt: Yeah, it’s a cool shot.

Craig: I love that shot.

Matt: It’s a cool shot.

Craig: It’s like you know, I’m like transition fan, you know, I always love transitions and I’ve never seen that one. I thought it was great. It was great.

Phil: That’s great. Cool.

John: So let’s talk about the cost of the film, not just in terms of actually making it, but in terms of you and your time because all the time you spent making this movie is time you’re not writing a movie for a studio and doing everything else. Did that factor in? As you set off to make this movie, did you think like, “Okay. Well, I’m going to have to jump out of our screenwriting career for six months to make this film,” and all the time in post, and all the time promoting it right now?

Phil: Yeah. I mean, it sort of has serendipitously so far worked out where there were you know, we’re all we’re really used to trying to do a lot of stuff at once and as we all have to be, sort of. But I think with this, in particular, we knew that we had to be there every day, we knew that we had fortunately, it’s only four weeks and, you know, and it was four weeks in June.

Matt: I mean, we got really lucky that break. I mean, Ride Along 2 was filming while we were filming this. So our work kind of

Phil: So we kind of

Matt: Was done with that.

Phil: We got right to the rehearsal period which is the

Craig: Right.

Phil: Important stuff and then we were making this while they were shooting that and that worked out, perfect timing wise.

Craig: That’s another thing I want to talk to you guys about, which is your range, which is remarkable. And I think that actually a lot of writers have a far wider range than people understand. They tend to see our names associated with certain kinds of movies because those are the ones that are getting made then these other ones take eight or 10 years.

And obviously, because they’re smaller, they don’t necessarily have the same visibility, but you guys are writing Ride Along, so you’re writing these big, you know, comic mainstream hit movies and then there’s this which is the opposite.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, the dead opposite. I guess my question is, am I wrong or am I right? I know I’m right about you guys, but are most writers like this or do you think it’s a rare thing?

Matt: It’s come up with us before, but to me it was a totally organic thing. I mean, you know, when you start out, you write a spec script, you go out to the lowest rung of executives and they pitch you their projects that are going nowhere.

Craig: That match your spec script.

Matt: You know what I mean?

Craig: Right.

Matt: And so and but there is a wide diversity of stuff out there and we’ve and we’re interested in all kinds of stories and so we would you know, we took a few on and we got a couple made and, you know. But you get these weird meetings where we’ve written like a Bull Durham type of comedy. And we got called in and someone said, “How would you like to work on a World War 2 biopic?” We’re like, “Yes.”

Phil: I love that. Yeah, yeah, of course.

Craig: We would like that.

Matt: We would like that because it these things interest us and I think very early on, we got opportunities to work in a few different genres and then and never even thought about pigeon-holing or not, or just kind of organically worked out that way

Phil: And I think that to what you were saying, Craig, I think it’s true of I mean, most of the writers that I know. I mean, people tend to get reduced in the conversation. You know, whether it’s internally or externally.

Matt: Lists, or.

Phil: And, you know, writers are like anybody, that everybody is complicated. That I don’t know anybody in the world that’s just one thing and

Craig: But they’re always surprised that “I didn’t know you could write this.” What?

Matt: Right.

John: Do you think that this movie will have any impact on your Hollywood careers or is this just a separate track?

Phil: I’d like to think that it would, simply because it does show however you feel about the movie, it does directly without any diffusion show what we want to do. And I think my hope is that people will you know, we have lots of great people we work with and those people and other people, I hope would see this movie and you know, sort of in the way, Craig, that you’ve been consciously pushing into different areas.

Craig: Right.

Phil: That’s kind of what we’d like to do, too. That hopefully this movie, whatever those are. And that there’s, you know, whether that means thrillers or whether that means a straight drama or whether that what that would be called. That’s what we’re hoping that people see.

Craig: I think it’s I think you did it. I mean, you have a movie. It’s well received. It’s going to I think, the audience that finds it is going to really appreciate it. This is there’s you know, it’s funny, there’s not a lot of barrier-to-entry to this movie, you know. I always feel like suspense thriller, psychological thriller and the fact that you made it about universal themes means that, honestly, I think people are going to like it.

I consider myself like I’m a representative of the audience. I really am. It’s like my whole career, I’ve always the thought of myself as that. And I think they’re going to love it and I think certainly people here in our business are going to watch it and really appreciate it. I also think Karyn’s going to get a huge amount of attention.

Phil: Well I’ve I

Craig: Perhaps overshadowing you guys completely and then you

Phil: That’s okay that’s okay with me.

Craig: With you?

Phil: Yeah. [laughs]

Matt: I’ll be fine. [laughs] I’ll be fine.

John: Does community property apply to writing partners? [laughs]

Phil: Yeah, definitely. At this point, definitely.

Matt: Oh, I got to consult our lawyer.

Phil: But yeah no, I mean and I think that’s my hope. I’m glad that you see it that way because I think that, you know, in a way one could say this is an art movie by its by some of its characteristics or by its budget or, you know, by the theaters that it’s being released in, et cetera. But for both Matt and I and for Karyn, we want to tell a compelling story. We don’t have a bone in us that wants to meander or, you know, like

Craig: I don’t think of it as an art film.

Phil: Yeah. And I think that

Craig: Do you think what did you think? Did you see it as an art movie?

John: No. I saw it as a thriller and the same way that, you know, like You’re Next is a great thriller that got him started and sort of got him put on lists. This is the one that I think, you know, shows, “Oh, you remember Karyn Kusama? She’s actually really, really good.” Because I mean people who don’t know who she is, I mean, I should have given her some of her credits. So Aeon Flux, she did

Phil: Girlfight was her first.

Craig: Girlfight was the one.

John: Girlfight was the breakout. Absolutely.

Craig: Right.

Phil: Aeon Flux and then Jennifer’s Body.

Craig: But she’s also

John: A huge a great TV director. And so, Man in the High Castle, the best episode of that show as well. So I got to think if I’m her agent and your agents, I’m very excited to put you guys up for fascinating jobs, especially things that she can direct because

Phil: Yeah. And we definitely want to. I mean, something that’s, you know it was always our hope with this particular movie was that you know, Matt and I are now writing another movie for Karyn to direct. It would be, you know, which is because it’s just what we want to do. You know, it’s how we want to spend our lives.

And we, you know, it’s still going to be independent. It will be a little bit bigger than this one, but very consciously, it will be an independent film. But we also the three of us want to start going after working together in the studio system because it has been interesting. We’ve had our path, she’s had her path, and we want to pull it together.

Craig: But you will. I mean, you guys know because you’ve been around long enough, how this goes. You have these you know, you write a script and things go well and the studio says, “All right, we’re going to make it. Now we have to talk about directors,” because that’s the big thing. And then you get this list and you go, “Oh no. These people are I hate all of them. All of them.” And this is not a big list. It’s a short list.

Phil: Right.

Craig: So then the amount directors you like are so narrow and then you find the one you like and they maybe even really like what you’ve done but they’re not available. So if Karyn kind of gets on to this list now because of this, and I think she will because there’s a the desire for directors is massive compared to the supply, then you guys are already like in great shape. I mean, this will be a very fruitful relationship for all of you except for Matt.

Matt: Yeah. [laughs]

John: Oh well, he’s lucky to be included, a little bit.

Craig: He’s lucky to be included. [laughs]

Phil: Matt is really Matt the great thing about Matt is he’s just happy to be here.

Matt: I have a few strong concepts that I’m willing to talk about. [laughs]

Craig: Welcome, Manfredi.

Matt: Fast casual.

Phil: Matt is the king of fast casual.

Craig: QSR.

John: Let’s talk about some of these big giant movies because there’s an article that came out this last week. This was by Pamela McClintock writing for the Hollywood Reporter. And she coined a term maybe she’s not the first person to coin it, but I kind of like the term, requels, which is not quite a reboot, not quite a sequel. And it’s the way you might think of a J.J. Abrams Star Wars and that like it kind of feels like it’s the first movie but it’s actually still in the same universe as Star Wars.

I think the Star Trek movies are sort of that way, too. They’re kind of they manage to sort of have both where they’re rebooting the initial story but they’re also still set in the same universe. You know, upcoming Ghostbusters is doing that.

What do we think of this sort of idea, this trend of, you know, looking at a movie as a giant piece of universe IP rather than this is the story we’re going to tell again?

Matt: I mean, I like the idea the requel thing is you can look at it as a cynical thing, you know, as just we’re out of ideas, we’re going to make another one. But there’s something encouraging about it because it acknowledges what was great and what people love and how we can’t completely abandon that if we’re going to move forward. And so there’s something kind of encouraging, there’s an understanding of film that goes into that, and I think it’s kind of it’s fun.

Phil: Yeah. I think that they’re, to my mind, that there is a in a way, it reveals something that’s true about movies which is that they’re folklore and they’re mythology, and they are folktales. And so Star Wars is arguably our most powerful folktale that we have. And what’s true about folktales in every culture is they get the characters get put in different clothes and the same story is told.

And what you learn about that, whatever was the powerful thematic or emotional truth about the society it’s in, it’s refracted differently when a woman is put in Luke Skywalker’s clothes or when, you know, like that. And so they’re in on that sense, I think there’s something really interesting about acknowledging the sort of like first story that is what we’re dealing with.

On the other hand, you want to make sure that you’re telling the story that you’re telling and that there is a story that is that belongs to you. And I mean, I think the thing that is really most successful that was captured in the new Star Wars, in Star Wars 7, is the feeling of Star Wars. And to me, that is the thing. That is what you’re looking for.

Craig: Right. You’re looking for that feeling.

Phil: And you know, maybe it’s like sort of my post-modern upbringing, you know. But I also think what’s interesting is it further reflects the truth. It mainstreams a truth that I think is true when you think about post-modernism is that people are capable of holding stories in so many places.

Craig: Oh, yeah.

Phil: And especially in the world of comic books for example, where everything is about here’s an alternate universe where Spider Man is evil now and here’s a

Craig: Oh, yeah.

Phil: You know. And I think that there is something interesting about the play of our knowledge of stories.

Craig: Well, it’s like a we live in a remix culture and I feel like sometimes studios are very rudimentary in their understanding of these things. Like requel is a helpful term for people that are limited in their understanding of how to remix culture because now they can say, okay, reboot was a helpful word for studio executives to literally understand something that I think a lot of filmmakers just understood.

Matt: Right.

Craig: Like of course what do you mean? You just do it again but different, right?

Phil: Yeah.

Matt: I don’t think as many properties can withstand the universal treatment as is thought.

Craig: Well that’s a different thing than requel, yeah.

Matt: It’s a different thing. But it the article touches on that a little bit.

Craig: Yeah, that’s a problem.

John: Well I think Terminator is a great example of that. Because like we know we love Terminator. Terminator is a fantastic movie. But as you try to reboot that universe too many times, we don’t we don’t grab on to it. Like you sort of forget like, “Oh what is it about that that we love so much?” Well it’s not what you gave us, so

Craig: Also, it’s not a universe. I mean, what people forget, everybody wants the universe because of what Marvel has done. Marvel has thousands of characters built up over decades.

Phil: Right

Matt: That were already crossing over.

Craig: They were already crossing over and being requeled and sequeled and prequeled and retconned and all that stuff, and remixed constantly. Marvel in particular, as opposed to DC, their whole schtick was that even though they’re dealing with superheroes and supervillains, they have human problems.

Matt: Right.

Craig: So that was a legitimate universe. When I was a kid I had the encyclopedia and I would flip through every and it was I could read that all day and

Phil: Did you play the role playing game?

Craig: Of course I did.

John: Of course. We all did.

Craig: We all did. Uncanny, unearthly, that as me.

Matt: Oh, defensive armor.

Craig: Yeah.

Matt: Oh, I got one power. Oh, defensive armor. Yeah.

Craig: I have

Phil: I guess Matt’s going to be the warthog again.

Craig: I like dark force. I remember something like I can move a thing. It was not a great game, but that’s a legitimate universe, and that you see them desperate to try and turn things into universes and you’re like, “You’re out of characters in about ten minutes, buddy. You’re not going to there’s no universe here”

John: Matt, I want to go back to what you said about sort of post-modernism, or maybe Phil you said it. Like the ability to hold multiple things in your head at the same time. I think Deadpool was a great example of audiences actually are able to understand that you’re in kind of a meta movie. And they’re able to sort of take in that we are watching a movie and the character the lead character understands that they’re in movie and can talk to you directly. I think that ability to break the fourth wall is something we are underestimating audience’s abilities to hold complex information and complex information about the story they’re seeing.

Matt: Right.

Phil: And most importantly still care.

John: Yes.

Phil: Because I think some people would assume and maybe have evidence for it that if you undercut it to that extent, you won’t care and then so if you don’t care about the character. However, I’d you care about that character, it works –

Matt: Like Scream did that to some extent for

Phil: Absolutely. And I think in another genre, you know, that I think it’s relevant to talk about a movie that did this incredibly is Michael Haneke’s Funny Games which I don’t know if you guys have seen it. But it is

Craig: He is dropping Haneke on us.

Phil: I’m dropping some Haneke guys. It’s Haneke, I don’t know. I’m undercutting myself by probably a horrible pronunciation. Your Austrian listeners will

Craig: No. I think it is. I’ve always laughed at it because it reminds me of Jewish Christmas.

Phil: But that movie is a critique of thrillers and horror movies. While and of Hitchcockian suspense and like it’s what it does to you as an audience member while being an incredibly good version of that. It plays just as thrilling as anything you could, while doing that at the same time.

Craig: Lord and Miller do this a lot. The, you know, Lego Movie is a, in its one sense, is a critique of the very rigid Joseph Campbell storytelling mode and on the other hand does that.

Phil: Yeah, right.

Craig: Filmmakers are smart in ways that I think that sometimes, again, I don’t mean to beat up studios, but a lot of times, they just don’t see things we see. For instance, if I said to you guys I’m going to have a character who is a superhero. He’s going to have a love story. There’s going to be a revenge story. He’s got a tragedy. We’re going to care.

He’s also going to talk to the audience and break the fourth wall all the time. You might go, “Well” and I go “But, when he’s talking to the audience, he’s in a mask and you can’t see his face. What do you think now?”

Phil: About that?

Craig: Yeah. You’re like, “Yeah got it, different. It’s different,” you know. And it is different.

Phil: Yeah.

Craig: We see these things and I think that’s why I mean, the truth is I don’t know if there’s like a requel thing happening. I just want more words for the people we work with to have so they can go, “Oh you guys are doing a blankity-blank.”

Phil: Definitely.

John: I think that is really useful because I think otherwise if you don’t have this kind of word, then people keep trying to fit it into one category.

Craig: Right.

John: Or another category. It’s like, “Oh but it doesn’t fit in either one of these categories.” It’s like, well, we’re going to make a new category for this thing that we’re doing and

Craig: Yeah. Like and you can’t come up with a new category. That freaks them out.

Matt: But the requel thing is, it is a good thing to have in your mind because I think that’s where some of the reboots go a little wrong is they just it’s an admirable thing to want to make it your own and do something different. But when you ignore what made it

Craig: Right.

Matt: Great in the first place, you know

Phil: Well that’s the thing I mean, I referenced Star Wars, which again, they did so right, the feeling of Star Wars and transmitted it. I watched as my 9-year-old son had the 9-year-old boy experience of entering the world of Star Wars. And it’s tremendously powerful and it requires a tremendous amount of skill to do that.

And I think that the feeling of that’s the thing that I was like what’s the feeling of that thing. And it’s not about the and maybe it just betrays my proclivities toward this kind of storytelling. I’m just I want to know what the like feeling of that universe is as opposed to what’s the most clever development of the story the plotting of how that world gets expanded.

Craig: Right.

Phil: It’s how do you capture that ineffable thing.

Matt: You know when I knew we were in good hands with Star Wars was when they go out into the hangar for the first time after they’re on the planet, they go in the hangar and just in like the middle background, that little shoebox robot guy.

Craig: Yeah, the little the little mouse droid.

Matt: Remember that one? It was from the first one. And only just like on your seventh viewing, you came to appreciate that robot in Star Wars.

Craig: Of course.

Matt: And he just cruises through moment one or she, I don’t know.

Craig: Yeah. No. It was or it. It was absolutely pushing every nostalgia button possible. It’s funny from, you know, I’m the movie I’m looking forward to is the next one. I enjoyed Force Awakens because it gave me the feeling. But I also now, I’m like, “Good. You’ve you kind of lifted me up out of bed with nostalgia, now give me new.”

Phil: Yeah, and I’m thrilled to be unmoored not knowing what to expect.

Craig: Right.

Phil: And that

Craig: Because I know yeah, like oh, yeah, I’m in a safe place now. Now, you can give me new.

Phil: Yeah.

Craig: So I think this next one which our friend Rian Johnson is directing is going to be

John: Yeah, he’s an Indie director who made good.

Phil: Yes.

John: So yeah.

Craig: He is an indie director, exactly. Karyn Kusama is the next Rian Johnson.

John: I think so.

Phil: Both of those kids got moxie.

John: Yeah, they got moxie.

Phil: They got moxie.

John: We have two listener questions which I thought we’d throw to you guys because you could answer them as easily as we could. Joel writes

Craig: Let’s see if that’s true.

Phil: Well, yeah.

John: Does height matter in a Hollywood environment?

Craig: That is really is one of the easiest questions.

Phil: This is tough because I’m a towering figure. I top out at 7’2″, Gheorghe Muresan height.

John: Joel writes, “I am currently 5’4″, around Martin Scorsese height, but I built myself up to be more than my height, but it still concerns me.”

And I should say Joel is the editor of his high school newspaper. So what should we tell Joel, who’s 5’4″, editor of his high school newspaper.

Craig: 5’4″ is not, I mean

Matt: 5’4″ is

Craig: It’s short but it’s not like, “What the oh, my god.”

Phil: Yeah. No, that seems

Matt: Look at look at what Prince did.

Craig: Look at what

Phil: Exactly.

Craig: Look I mean, who runs, Brad Gray, who runs Paramount. He’s probably 5’5″ or something like that or 5’6″.

Phil: I would say that

Matt: It does not matter.

Phil: It does not matter.

John: I don’t think it matters at all.

Matt: Even at all.

Phil: Not at all.

Craig: Not the slightest.

Phil: However, it’s great to be extremely handsome like John August. That’s very helpful, guys.

Matt: If I can just correct you, the first spec script we sent out, we got inquiries back from the studio about how tall we were.

Craig: Right. I know. That’s a rough one. Obviously, we do, you know, face that.

Matt: Right.

Craig: Yeah.

Phil: I think there’s a serious question in there though about like how you present yourself and about self-confidence

Matt: Yeah, yeah.

Phil: And I think, you know, one way to say it would I think what we’re trying to get at is if you are confident and you are in yourself, you’ll seem great.

John: Absolutely. And if you lean into you height so that it’s just not is a thing that is worrying you that at all sets you apart, that’s fantastic. But I will say like, once you’re sitting on that couch drinking your bottled water and having that meeting, your height does not matter whatsoever.

Matt: Also, once you’ve gotten yourself in the door with your writing

John: Yes.

Matt: You know, it’s very easy to format your script correctly.

John: Yes.

Matt: And then you can just do what you want.

Craig: How much do you get paid for formatting your script correctly on the market?

Matt: It’s about 85% of our salary. [laughs]

John: You know what? The writing wasn’t just so good, but the formatting was fantastic.

Phil: It’s more tip-based, that part of it.

John: Yeah.

Phil: We’re very low base, but

Craig: I wasn’t going to take this meeting, but we ran it through our computer and I got to tell you, the numbers were shocking, 98% guys. [laughs]

Matt: Who would you say are the top formatters in the industry? [laughs]

Craig: Scott Frank, of course.

Phil: He’s out for everything, yeah. [laughs]

John: The dialogue was a little stilted by the margins were fantastic.

Matt: Oh, my god. Absolutely.

Phil: We got a caliper out. [laughs]

Craig: We got a Vernier caliper.

John: The other thing I’ll tell Joel as well is the reason that you can be more confident about what your script looks like and how you present yourself is by just reading a bunch of scripts.

Phil: Yeah.

John: And so the answer for like why you know how to format that quote over black is by reading a bunch of scripts and seeing how other people do it in scripts that sell.

Phil: And I I mean, and to yeah, again, to be a little serious, I very much empathize with and respect the idea of wanting to do it right. If you don’t know and you haven’t done it a million times, you don’t want to get disregarded by, you know, a faux pas, you know. But I do think

Craig: Unfortunately they’re being told constantly by the screenwriting guru industry.

Phil: Yes.

Craig: That this because that’s what screenwriting gurus know. So they’re always like, “Don’t do that.”

Phil: Yeah. And I think that what we’re saying is and you’ve said many times you guys on the show, which I think is true is that really doesn’t matter. But you know, it has to feel right, it has to it just it has to tell the story in a way that is

Matt: No, but it sticks in your head, you know, like early on someone said like, “Don’t put a music queue in there.”

Craig: Right.

Matt: And then

Craig: That voice

Matt: Sometimes you need a music, sometimes you need some Halen in there.

Craig: Sometimes you do whatever you want.

Phil: Sometimes you got to throw a little Halen in there.

Craig: Right.

John: Yeah.

Matt: But if it works if your story needs it, do it.

Phil: Yeah.

Craig: Always.

John: Always. It’s time for One Cool Thing. Craig, tell us a One Cool Thing.

Craig: So this week they’ve announced a blood test for concussions. This actually has a chance of legitimately changing the way professional sports work and also college sports and even sports in high school. Obviously, we have all been following the story about the NFL, they, in particular, have a huge concussion problem and then a resulting CTI and

John: Well, essentially

Craig: Players that are killing themselves because of this chronic brain injury.

John: Yeah. So if you a concussion is bad for you, but a series of concussions, again and again and again will

Craig: They now say even one concussion, literally one, it increases the chance that you’re going to have this chronic CTE, I should say. It’s a disaster.

Part of the other problem is diagnosing concussions is a little bit of an art up until this point. So they would say things like, “Well, are the pupils are uneven. Are you puking? Do you have a really bad headache for week?” But by that point, they’re just sending back guys back in the game.

So this blood test now can tell them, I think, within hours. Because when you have a proper concussion, there’s a release of a certain kind of protein from the brain itself. Now they can within a couple of hours and then treat you accordingly. And really what that means is you can’t play for a while.

Look, I’m just fascinated by where the NFL is going to go in general because of this stuff. But I am I’m hoping that this test becomes widely available and is used particularly in high school sports.

Matt: Well, you’re not reliant on the player and the you know, to say

Craig: Yeah, the player is just like, “Oh, yeah. I got my bell rung but I’m okay,” and

Matt: There’s the whole thing about fake you know, taking your baseline test and kind of flunking it.

Craig: Right. So that-

Matt: So that if you have a concussion

Craig: Oh, yeah.

Matt: You test out clear.

Craig: Yeah. And then, you know, that’s for guys that are making their money playing, and then for high school kids who aren’t, sometimes their coaches just don’t care.

Matt: Right.

Craig: They just want to win.

John: Yeah. So I think the gambit here is you have to have your buddy hit you really hard so you get a concussion and you take your baseline test and then and then if you get hit again exactly. [laughs] So like, “You know, Bob, I need you to hit me with this shovel as hard as you can.”

Phil: Great advice from the Scriptnotes podcast.

Craig: I got to say that guy, CTE is not his biggest problem.

John: No, it’s not.

Craig: Whether he gets it or not, it’s not going to go well for him.

John: Yeah, his life is not going to be a delight. My One Cool Thing is an article by William Power in The Wall Street Journal, it’s called the Difficult, Delicate Untangling of Our Parents’ Financial Lives. So I don’t know if any of you guys have had to face this yet, but part of my spring break was dealing with the challenge of parents who can no longer really be on top of their finances and that the whole process of sort of taking over some control over their finances and really seeing doing the forensic work to discover where money actually is and isn’t and stuff like that. So

Matt: I mean, it’s incredibly complicated.

John: Yeah.

Matt: My father passed away this year and he took care of things for my mom, but he was the one who handled it and it’s

Craig: Right.

Matt: Even when you take care of things, the transfers and all this stuff is so complicated, it’s so

Phil: And happening at a time

Matt: And happening at a time when you’re not you don’t want to deal with that.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So one I don’t know if they mention it in the article, but we have a trust. So Melissa and I are both trustees of our family trust and then we can name executors and things. So if I get bumped off because I’m never going to die, you know, naturally, but I will be murdered. [laughs] I mean, it’s going to be Murder on the Orient Express. [laughs]

John: Someone’s going to take over your Tesla controls.

Phil: Which one of these people doesn’t have a motive? [laughs]

Craig: That’s sadly my life. But it’s a way to kind of avoid the hassle of the transferring because it never transfers, it’s always in the trust.

John: Right.

Craig: And the trust can independently assign new

Matt: Sure.

Craig: Look at us. Normally we talk about female reproductive health, but this is this is a new topic for us.

John: Yeah. Death and aging.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So I’ll say that like a trust is a fantastic solution for sort of well-off individuals who are planning now, the process of like going in and dealing with someone’s finances that are already set up could be really complicated. And the things you think would be so straightforward for you to explain to somebody are so hard to explain when you’re losing your ability to

Craig: Right.

John: Be on top of things. So I just I pass this along out of sympathy for everyone who has to go through it.

Do you guys have One Cool Things? Did you come with two of these?

Phil: We do. I mean, I have one but it is it’s really in the context of these

Matt: Yeah, mine’s on the lighter side.

Matt: Incredibly important

John: We like light ones.

Craig: No, no. We do light ones all the time.

John: Yeah.

Craig: No, we don’t. Go ahead guys.

Matt: I have one

Craig: Show your show your shallowness.

Phil: Yeah. Exactly.

Matt: Watch and learn.

Craig: Yeah.

Phil: I have one which is a record club that I belong to.

Craig: Columbia Record House?

Phil: I wish it was.

Matt: How many do you have to buy?

Craig: One penny. [laughs]

Phil: Last month I got 500. [laughs]

Matt: 500 of his greatest hits.

John: A lot of Phil Collins.

Phil: Yeah, copies of Asia by Steely Dan.

Craig: They pay me $80 and I take all of their CDs off their hands.

Phil: I think I’ve assume their global debt. So I don’t think the Santana records are going to help this one. [laughs] But it is it’s called Vinyl Me Please and it is a really cool record club. You get a record every month and they select it. They’re really smart, interesting people with eclectic taste. And they’re not all going to be ones you love, but they send it to you and it’s everything from they’ll press a record from an unsigned band and put it out. They’ll reissue they do a special reissue of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid on purple vinyl and you’ll have that. It’s just a very fun way to get a little once a month

Craig: Vinyl

Phil: Random record.

Craig: Me Please. And what because my son is into music production now and he has a turntable because he loves vinyl and he loves kind of bringing that stuff in. What would it cost an individual for Vinyl Me Please?

Phil: I think it’s something like I can’t say for sure, but it’s a 20ó

John: $10,000 a year.

Phil: Yeah, it’s like $10,000 a year. No, it’s like 25 bucks a month or something like that.

Craig: $25 a month.

Matt: You get a record.

Craig: I got to talk to the people that run my trust. [laughs] That’s a lot.

John: For a kid, yeah.

Phil: But you know, when you think of what it costs you to buy so also you get like a little piece of art that somebody’s made to go with the record and it just feels it feels special.

Craig: I’m down. I’m joining.

Phil: And it is literally One Cool Thing.

Craig: Well, there’s no way that what Matt says can top that.

Phil: Nope. I can’t imagine

Matt: But I’m always fascinated like what the internet can provide you. And I was thinking my first concert was Devo. I went and saw Devo

Craig: Nice.

Matt: From the, Oh, No! It’s Devo tour.

Craig: Nice.

Matt: And I was like, god, that was a great shirt. I wonder if I could find a reproduction of that shirt. I Google it, there’s a dude with a site, he’s selling a reproduction of that shirt and two Buzzcocks shirts.

Craig: Wow.

Matt: That’s his entire business.

Craig: That’s it. That’s his business.

Matt: That’s it. It’s gone now.

Craig: Okay.

Matt: So today

Craig: Weird.

Phil: Because he didn’t pay a dime to the surviving members of Devo.

Matt: But it’s inspiring that someone’s out there doing that for you.

Craig: Right.

Matt: While I’m talking to you. Today, someone, our friend, Ted, reminded us that Bad News Bears is going to be 40.

Craig: Yes.

Matt: One of my favorite movies. And so I needed no further excuse than to like, “God, you know, someone should make a hat. Someone should reproduce the hat from Bad News Bears.”

Craig: Yeah.

Matt: Someone has.

Craig: Of course they have.

Matt: Ideal Cap Company.

Craig: Nice.

Matt: And they do fictional baseball caps.

Craig: That’s brilliant.

Phil: From, you know, the New York Knights, the team from

Craig: Wow.

Phil: A League of Their Own and, you know, they do the the requisites.

Craig: The Atlanta Peaches or something like that or

Phil: I’m feverishly ordering hats the second we are done with this.

Matt: The requisite, you know, minor league ball caps

Craig: Sure.

Matt: Old timey stuff.

Craig: Of course. Oh, that’s brilliant. I love that. So they just do and they do so mostly fictional I mean, that’s

Matt: Pretty cool. It’s pretty cool.

Craig: Somebody got me once, they got two t-shirts. One was these Paper Street Soap Company.

Matt: Oh, yeah.

Craig: From Fight Club and the other was like a tourist gift shop shirt

Matt: Yeah.

Craig: From the Overlook Hotel.

Matt: Last exit to nowhere.

Craig: Yeah. Those guys are awesome.

Matt: Looks like they have the shirt from the diner that Dirty Harry goes into .

Phil: Or like the shirt Harry Dean Stanton’s character Brett from Alien is wearing underneath his Hawaiian shirt.

Craig: Of course.

Matt: I’m such a geek for those things.

Craig: Yeah. That is One Cool Thing.

Matt: Thank you.

Craig: Who know that, those were Four Cool Things.

John: Well done.

Phil: Those are four cool things. We really we painted a

Craig: Well, that was our first hour guys. We have four more to go.

Phil: That’s great.

John: Yeah, Craig, I think we may have been wrong. We were predicting this to be a dismal episode with terrible guests, and I

Craig: No, I think we were right.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It was terrible. [laughs]

Matt: I understand.

Phil: You caught us at our absolute height guys. So

Craig: Exactly. The best of them is still terrible.

John: And that’s our show for this week. As always, our show is produced by Stuart Friedel, it is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Adam Last Name, we still don’t know his last name but he writes these great outtros and so we’ll include another one on this one.

Craig: It’s Lastname, but fine.

John: You think it’s actually Lastname?

Phil: Lastname.

John: Yeah. Very nice. If you have a question for Craig Mazin, you should write to him @clmazin. I’m @johnaugust on Twitter. Do you have guys have Twitter handles? Do you write on Twitter?

Phil: I got one that’s used occasionally, it’s @phillycarly.

John: All right.

Matt: I’m @MattRManfredi.

John: Nice.

Phil: It’s just like. It could be a

John: A little flare.

Craig: A lawyer.

Matt: Middle manager.

Phil: Yeah, middle manager.

John: There’s no chance you’ll be figure out their Twitter handles. But fortunately, in our show notes, you’d be able to find links to most of the things we talked about including their Twitter handles.

Their film is out on April 8th, it’s called The Invitation. You should see it on a big screen. But if you don’t have it in a big screen in your city, you should see it on iTunes.

Craig: iTunes.

John: And pay-per-view right on Direct TV.

Matt: Yes.

Phil: Yes. Exactly. And if you are in Los Angeles, you should come out to the ArcLight on April 8th, 9th, or 10th and we will have a bunch of special Q&As where Matt, Karyn, and I will be and Logan Marshall Green.

Craig: Oh, great.

Phil: And one of our wonderful Q&A people will be John August.

John: I will be hosting the Q&A.

Craig: Oh, you’ll be hosting the Q&A.

John: On the April 8th screening, I believe.

Phil: The 10th.

John: April 10th screening, I’ll be hosting it.

Phil: Thank god, we worked that out.

John: Yeah, very nice.

Matt: Maybe he’s not available now.

John: Yeah. Thank you guys so much for being here.

Phil: Thank you guys. It was fun.

Craig: Thanks boys.

John: And good luck with your film.

Matt: Thanks.

Phil: Thank you.

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