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Updated: 9 min 40 sec ago

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.


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.


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.


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,, 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?


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

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, 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.


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 account (and re-add it in iTunes).

Next week, we’ll be back with our long-anticipated interview with Lawrence Kasdan.


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.


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 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, 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 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 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.


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.


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

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, 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, 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 and

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.


The Invitation, and Requels

Tue, 04/05/2016 - 08:03

Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi join us to talk about their new movie The Invitation, and what’s it’s like to go from writing tentpole action films (like Clash of the Titans) to comedies (like Ride Along) to chamber-drama thrillers.

While we have them with us, we talk about the new term “requel” — which is not quite a reboot, not quite a sequel. Is it really a new sub-genre or just a helpful way of explaining things to studio execs?

Also, thanks to everyone who helped us out by answering our three-question poll. We have a better sense of who is using the premium feed, and how we can offer alternatives for listeners.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Heroes, Villains and Two-Handers

Tue, 03/29/2016 - 08:03

With John and Craig both on spring break, it’s a clip show this week. We discuss why movie heroes are rarely ambivalent, why villains are so appealing, and why movies with two primary characters require careful attention.

We’re trying to make plans for the future of the show, and could use your help! Please take a minute to answer our three-question poll to let us know how you’d like to hear both new and old episodes.

(Link to the poll below.)


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 242: No More Milk Money — Transcript

Sat, 03/26/2016 - 13:21

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 242 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting, and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the podcast, we’ll be talking about the transition from feature screenwriter, to TV showrunner, why some movies become timeless, and possibly what is the nature of the contract between a writer and its audience, especially when it comes to gay characters. And to talk about all these things, we are so lucky to have back on the show, our one and own, Aline Brosh McKenna.

Aline Brosh McKenna: Woo-hoo. Episode 242, what’s up?

John: So for people who are just new to the podcast, you may not know that Aline Brosh Mckenna is not only the writer of Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses, she’s also the co-creator and executive producer of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the show that we have championed from the very start, the show that has just now been picked up for a second season. Congratulations, Aline.

Craig: Yeah, congrats. Big news.

John: What is your life like right now?

Aline: Well, I have a few weeks off technically. I have about a couple of months before the writers’ room officially opens, but Rachel and I are going to be doing some work in between, and I’m taking a vacation. And so I am kind of down. I read a book.

John: You read a book? What did you read?

Aline: I read When Breath Becomes Air. It was quite good. But the reason that I thought — the first thing that I emailed you which was what’s a good idea for a movie right now is because I sort of had a vague idea in my brain of like if I was a super human, and I wanted to take these two months and write a script, let’s say I wanted to just write a spec the way I used to kind of in the old days and sit down and just write a screenplay. And I realized, I have no idea what sells as a script right now. Like every single person I know seems to be working on something based on existing material, which we’ve talked about on the show before, but there must be specs that are selling, and maybe I’m like looped out of it.

I’ve had two movies that were made based on original ideas, I wouldn’t write either one of them right now. I don’t think I would write 27 Dresses right now, and I certainly wouldn’t write Morning Glory right now given what I understand of the landscape. So like what is the thing, you know, when we were all coming up there were so many spec selling, and it seems like you would run into someone and be like, oh my god, that idea about, you know, the family that gets irradiated and then you, know, they all have cool mutations or something. That there were ideas that you would hear, kind of classic spec ideas. Has that gone away?

John: Well, how about this? Craig and I will talk to you about what it’s like to a feature screenwriter right now and you can tell us what it’s like to be a big TV writer, and it’s going to be a fair trade.

Aline: That also covers our segues.

John: Right, that’ll be a fair trade.

Aline: Okay.

John: So right now you are done with the show. You’re probably still doing some post stuff, and you directed the final episode.

Aline: I did. I directed the finale.

John: Congratulations, Aline.

Aline: Yes, thank you. It was really fun.

John: I am so excited to see it. When does the show come back? We’re recording this on St. Patrick’s Day, so when do we see the next batch of shows?

Aline: We have 15, 16, 17, 18 left to air, so we have four more to air, then we’ll be off the air for the summer. I think we’re coming back in the fall, but I don’t know the answer to that as I actually don’t know when we’re coming back. I know we will start the writers’ room again in the spring.

John: That’s very nice.

Aline: Yeah.

John: So talk to us about what it was like to transition from being a person who writes, maybe 200, 300 pages of screenplay per year.

Aline: Yeah, I wrote it down. I’ve written eight movies. I have credit on eight movies.

John: Nicely done.

Aline: Written or co-written.

John: That’s not bragging, that’s a fact.

Craig: It’s not bragging when she says it so matter of factly.

Aline: It’s about 800 minutes

John: 800 minutes of screenplay?

Aline: Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Aline: Okay. And it’s about — that’s about, I’m going to say they roughly, all of those shot like in 30 to 40 days, let’s say, so that’s about 300 days of production. That’s in my whole career.

John: So a long, illustrious career.

Aline: Long, many years. In the last — since May, I wrote or re-wrote, you know, we have a room, so it’s collaborative, so it’s not like I was solely writing them, but I either wrote or supervised the rewriting of about 900 pages, about 750 minutes of material, so that’s six movies. We shot for about 135 days. You know, the budget was roughly like a mid-budgeted movie let’s say.

Craig: Right.

John: Is the budget for a season of your show, is it like more than a Morning Glory?

Aline: Yes, yes. So it’s basically, we made a high-mid budget movie that took 135 days to shoot, but was 750 minutes long, and had a 900 page script. So it’s the volume of material that came in and out and off my computer, was just, you know, compared to the 800 pages that have been produced since — the first movie I wrote was I think came out in ’99.

Now, obviously with movies you write many, many drafts, so it’s not — but you know, in an average year as a screenwriter, I mean if you put out 200 or 300 pages in a year, that’s a lot. That’s pretty good. You know, if you put out 200, 250, that’s two scripts, that’s a good amount.

The amount that we were writing and the amount that we were publishing and the fact that they were getting produced and that they were just kind of getting shipped out the door and being shot, and that they were being shot while I was sitting there writing other pages with the room, it felt in a lot of ways like the culminating experience of all these years of being a screenwriter. Like I felt like I had developed these kind of skills and abilities and I found a way to kind of activate them, because you know, as you guys have talked about when you’re a writer plus — when you write, but you also sort of by virtue of some of the experiences I’ve had as a screenwriter, I function a bit as a producer, and I’ve helped with the various phases, and I’ve been on set. And so — but I hadn’t had the direct experience of being responsible for all those things. But screenwriting, 20 some years of screenwriting felt like some sort of prep class for this very intense thing where you’re, you know, making a movie every three weeks.

John: Yeah. We had Dana Fox on the show recently and she was talking about that function where you suddenly are responsible for like, you know what, I know the answers to these questions, and I’m going to tell you the answers to these questions, and not have to make it seem like it was someone else’s idea. In this case, you could just say like, no, this is what it is, and obviously, you’re discussing with your directors and you’re discussing with Rachel, but like you’re deciding what the thing is that you’re making.

Aline: Yeah. I think screenwriters, you become a master of indirect communication. And I think depending on your personality, for someone like me, that’s been something I had to learn. I tend to want to be very direct and have strong opinions, so as a screenwriter, you often kind of learn to couch those, or as Dana says, you know, you try and sort of repackage them to someone else’s, their idea.

But in TV, you don’t have to do that. So that’s a great thing. And I think we’ve talked about that before, but I think what’s interesting is just the amount and the volume of things that were being shipped out the door. The closest to it would be a production rewrite, but the volume of pages is just different because, you know, in a movie, you’re trying to hone this 120-page thing. In a TV show, you got to get to those, you got to get 50 pages out the door every week.

Craig: Yeah, it seems to me like you’ve got two things balancing the equation. On the one hand, when you compare it to writing features, you get a little bit of a break because you are writing the same characters, so you don’t have to reinvent new characters, new situations like you do with all the movies you write, and obviously in movies, you know, we write more than we’re credited for. But on the other side of the equation, you have this other challenge of the relentless pace, so it’s not going to stop any time soon, and because you’re writing the same characters within the situation of the show, you start, I would imagine, there’s this pressure to ask yourself, okay, what else do we do with this character? I guess it’s called, Simpsons Did It Syndrome, right?

Aline: Well that, you know, it’s funny. That was less of an issue. I mean, one of the things that I really loved and it’s another area of my personality that I felt was squelched as a screenwriter, I’m naturally pretty social and gregarious, so being locked in a room alone was always a challenge for me. So being with, you know, on any given day, depending on what was happening in the room, we would have, you know, between 6 and 10 writers in there with me, and obviously, I’m getting drafts from them, so we’re starting with something. Rachel and I wrote I think four, and I wrote one, and then we’re getting drafts also in from people, and then you’re rewriting in a room with, you know, between 6 and 12 funny people shouting out ideas and jokes and reminding you, hey, we already did something like that, or they did something like that on another show, or you’re kind of hive braining the writing all the time, and it’s really enjoyable.

John: So describe that room for us. So in a room where you’re doing that kind of work, is the script up on a projector? What are you actually looking at? Or is everyone just looking at the script in front of them?

Aline: Well, I think all rooms are different. I put my screen up on an Apple TV, so anybody who texts and emails me while I’m writing, I do have to frequently check my texts and emails because of production stuff. So yeah, they’ve seen some stuff that people have texted and emailed me. That’s been funny. And then we take whatever draft we have, and I just — I’m typing on it, and rewriting and moving things around, with the help of the room.

In the beginning, you know, because I was — like you guys, an old person, and had been used to writing alone, I had to learn how to explain to people what I wanted to do. So I would just open up the script and start doing things and moving things around and people had no idea what I was doing. So I learned that I had to give everyone a plan for the day and sort of a plan for what we were doing with the script overall.

We start with like a discussion of the draft we have in front of us, and then we just start going though it, and the more we did it, the faster we got, and we built sort of a multi-headed organism. You know, by its nature, the room is made up of all these different types of brains. And so we have like a very collaborative process where, you know, I think it took a while for people to see like I was an equal opportunity deleter and includer, you know, which is I think what writers are wanting to see in the beginning when they’re first working with somebody is like can she really take in the good ideas. Is she really absorbing the good ideas? And is she really, you know, passing over the ideas that aren’t helpful? And I learned also not to say no to ideas. It’s a sort of not necessary, you just kind of keep going.

John: So you have the script up on screen and everyone’s looking at the script.

Aline: Yes.

John: If there are alts for lines, are you putting those in as just like notes for the alts?

Aline: No, I make decisions. I make a decision.

John: Executive right there in the room.

Aline: Yeah, we pick the best line. Yeah. And so I make the screen, I make the letters huge because it’s hard for people to read which is, this is a geek thing, you guys might relate to this. It’s hard for me because then my screen has very few lines on it.

John: Yes.

Aline: And I always want to make it smaller because I like to write as small as I can possibly see so that I can get a sense of the rhythm, but I have to blow it up very big for people so they can read it. So everybody can read along. And some people have to look — want to look at a piece of paper, some people want to look at the screen, some people kind of just like, are processing things more auditorily. We have all different types of writers.

John: So at the point where you’re just going through this, has there been a table read. There’s not been any sort of reading aloud of the script. So you’re just using your own voice to sort of read aloud and read through these words. And the writer who did that draft is also in the room in the process?

Aline: Yes. The writer of the draft, I always make the sort of touch point, always for the episode. So no matter how much of their original stuff is in the script, they are always the center point for the discussion because they’re the people who’ve been thinking about it, so they’ve gone off for a week or five days to write the script. And if you don’t use them as a resource, you’re going to end up bumping up against story things that they’ve already thought through. So they can explain to you why they tried that, that didn’t work, or they can show you.

And so I always have that writer be in custody of their script, and they go to the production concept meetings with me, so they kind of are the — they Sherpa their script through its process, and that’s been really great because there’s always somebody in the room who has emotional ownership of that episode. And then they go on set, and they’ve been privy to every decision that’s been made on their episode. They understand exactly why it needs to be the way it is. And that’s why in TV, you have to have a writer-producer on the set because they are the people living with the 900-page movie, and they are the ones who know it from beginning to end.

John: They’re the one who can explain to the director why it is that way.

Aline: Exactly.

John: So let’s walk back and let’s say you are a feature writer, probably not with all the credits you have, but you’re a feature writer working on his or her first television show, maybe not the one you created, but you brought in as a staff writer. What are the things that you think you need to learn quickly in order to thrive in that situation?

Aline: Well, it’s a real test of your EQ. You know, some people just are naturally, they naturally understand how much they need to talk. And so some people talk too much, some people talk too little. Most of the people that we had had some experience, so they had been in rooms before. And then you kind of calibrate, I think there’s a natural kind of social calibration. We really lucked out with our room in that everybody is like a lovely person. So we don’t have any clanging bells in our room. Everybody works really harmoniously together and bring something different. There’s no question in my mind that if I was starting out today, I would probably be working in TV.

I had worked in TV when I was younger as well, but if you’re a naturally social person, you’re spending a huge amount of time with people and there’s a lot of like, someone’s using the bathroom, and someone’s making matcha tea, and somebody finished the Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups and, you know, it’s like roommates. So they’re very intense, close relationships.

John: Great. So now, we have a perspective on the TV showrunner side of you. Maybe Craig and I can talk about sort of what feature land is like. So if you’re thinking about maybe during this little break, maybe writing a feature because like –

Aline: Yeah, well, because for the first time in my career — the ones that I was working on, I knew I wasn’t going to be available for six months, so I was working on two movies, and in both cases, I had gotten far enough in the process where I sort of said, okay, you guys, basically should continue without me. And it’s a first time since I think 1991 that I haven’t had a feature script due.

John: So Craig, what do you think Aline should be looking at if she’s — should she really go off and write a spec, or should she go in and –

Aline: But I’m just saying — because if I wanted to — I’m not saying like — I’m not saying what are the gigs out there, I know what the gigs are, I know what the existing gigs are, but I’m just saying like, if it was me or you, or Craig, or a baby writer, and you just were starting out, I don’t really even — I don’t have a sense of what the original spec script market looks like. What does it look like?

Craig: It’s bad. It’s certainly not like it was when we all started in the 90’s. I mean, it’s been a little cyclical. Sometimes, it goes up. Sometimes, it goes down.

What I think has basically disappeared is the lottery ticket spec sale market where people throw a spec out there and there’s a bidding war and it’s purchased for many millions of dollars. That doesn’t seem to exist anymore. There’s, you know, we know now there’s so many more outlets for content, therefore, there’s this enormous demand for content.

There are places I think now probably where if you wrote a spec, you probably wouldn’t be thinking primarily about the studios. You’d be thinking more about the secondary content providers, or now there’s tertiary content providers. And you wouldn’t be thinking in terms of a lottery. At least that would be my advice.

Aline: Let’s say if you wrote — let’s just take, I know Identity Thief wasn’t a spec. But let’s say you had Identity Thief as a spec.

Craig: it started as a spec, actually.

Aline: It started as a spec but not — it was not your spec?

Craig: No. No.

Aline: If you wrote that today — if somebody wrote that today which is like a high concept comedy spec, are those still selling?

Craig: If you –

Aline: Are people still buying those?

Craig: If you write it and you take it to the town with Melissa McCarthy attached to it, yeah. Absolutely.

Aline: What if you have no one attached to it?

Craig: Possibly? Possibly. And I think comedies, you know, if there’s a good, grabby comedy idea and you’re not looking to sell it for a lot of money. For instance, that spec script was written by a middle-school teacher. It was one of those shots-in-the-dark kind of things. It was an idea.

John: So, what I hear Aline is saying though is, when we were first starting out in the business, a script like Identity Thief might sell for seven figures as a big, hot spec sale. And like –

Aline: And then they figured out the movie. Yeah.

John: Yeah. Then they’d figure out the talent and they –

Aline: Do things have to like be movies now?

Craig: Yeah.

Aline: Like if I was going to write something in my downtime, would I call my agent and say, “Hey, does this actor — is this actor interested in sitting down with me and we’ll kind of craft something together and talk it out?”

John: That fells like the Dana Fox model of how she’s getting movies.

Aline: Oh, huh-huh? Yep.

Craig: I think it’s a smart model, actually. I do — I think that the –

Aline: Because I’ve never done that.

Craig: The way the marketplace is now, they have no tolerance for development per se anymore. When they spend a certain amount of money on something, what they’re really saying is, “All right. We’re going to make the movie.”

If we’re going to spend what we used to think of as just money they would spend randomly on things, now, if they spend that money, they’re kind of saying, “We want to make the movie so is it a movie?”

Aline: It better be a movie.

Craig: Yeah. And if you can help us, if you can convince us that it’s a movie by adding key talent that is attractive to us. A filmmaker, like a director is really helpful too.

But if you know — but there’s nothing wrong also if you were to say, “Okay. I’ve got these two months. And I have this idea that I love and I want to write. And I’m not aiming for the big lottery. I just want to open some eyes and maybe somebody picks it up for Netflix or somebody picks it up for somewhere else.” Then you don’t have to work so hard to package.

Aline: Right. I mean what’s been gone for many years is the thing where like you bump into someone in Insomnia and they would say, “Oh so and so sold his spec and it’s about you know, two guys who go on the road with a…”

Craig: Yeah.

Aline: Bear. And it’s you know, and you’d be like, “Oh! Why didn’t I think of that? The bear, obviously.” You know, it’s like –

John: I’m thinking about the Jerry O’Connell movie with the –

Aline: Yeah.

John: The Kangaroo –

Aline: The Kangaroo.

John: Yes.

Aline: That’s a great film.

Craig: Yeah. Kangaroo Jack. Yeah.

Aline: That’s why I went to the bear. And I remember that. Now, I know that’s been gone for a while, but I also feel like if you wrote — so if you write Argo, Argo is probably like if you wrote that on spec, that’s probably going to be like a small movie with like some kind of crafty actor.

John: Here’s what it is. I think if you write Argo, you know, that gets passed around a lot and becomes like a Black List script. And then eventually, some actor production company comes in and tries to — I think a producer notices it and like works really hard to package it up to make it be that one award kind of contender movie of the year.

Aline: Right.

John: And I think honestly weirdly that same thing happens with Identity Thief now. If that’s a spec script that this middle-school teacher writes, it does well, it gets passed around on those lists. It doesn’t get the big sale but some producer feels like, “Oh, I think I know how to do this.”

Aline: I’ll option this and I’ll get — and then maybe I’ll go to Melissa. So it’s sort of the beginning of a seed of a something.

Craig: It’s a — yeah.

Aline: Yeah.

Craig: It’s a low investment strategy. I mean the — what you’re talking about is what we used to have was a high investment strategy where they would just have a screenplay and that was worth millions of dollars. Because they had a much greater need to make movies.

And also I think they had a much more reliable income stream so that machine needed to be fed much more than the current machine needs to be fed. And the current machine tends towards financial safety and far fewer films. So, it only stands to reason that they’re not going to be taking those big bets on a document, which is what they see a screenplay as.

Aline: Right. And that’s the thing. You know, my husband always — I used to say you didn’t sign up to be in the document production business and that’s very true. I mean, one of the tough things about being a screenwriter is you know, those eight movies that I worked on and I worked on a bunch that I’m not credited on, but they’re spread out over a number of years. And you do spend a lot of time as a screenwriter just producing documents that are always and forever documents.

And you know, the great thing about having a series is that the things you are writing are being shot for better or for worse. And so it’s great training ground, I think, for being a writer but it’s also for screenwriters who have a lot of experience, it just has been a great way for me to like get things produced and get things out there. The movie business has gotten just much slower.

John: So my question for you is, aren’t people coming to you saying like, “Why don’t you do another TV show?”

Aline: Yeah.

John: Because having done one that turned out so well, that’s got to be a temptation because you know now how to do it. You know you can do it. Maybe you can’t do two things simultaneously. That may be the issue. But to talk to us about that decision.

Aline: That’s another thing I would love to hear people’s point-of-view on. If I did another pilot and it was something that, “You can’t do two shows at the same time.” Not the way –

John: Well –

Aline: Not the way we’re doing it.

John: Yeah. But some people somehow do, but yes.

Aline: I don’t — I can’t understand that. I mean I have –

John: Yeah, like Rob Thomas does that and –

Aline: Oh, a lot of people do that. And there’s Julie Plec has multiple, and obviously Shonda –

John: Shonda.

Aline: Lots of people do it. But I think you’d have to go and, you know, find somebody and say, “Okay, John, you and I are going to go do a show together and we’ll write the pilot together and then you’ll go off and do it while I’m doing this other show.” I mean, I guess that’s the paradigm.

I would have to spend some time wrapping my mind around that because I’m so — I’ve so loved being on top of all the creative on the TV show with Rachel that I don’t know how — because there were times in that nine month period where like, I really didn’t know when I was going to shower. I don’t know how people are doing it. I look at people, someone like the Berlantis and I — I know they have to be delegating stuff.

Craig: They have to be. They have to be. I mean, isn’t it similar — the analogy in the screenwriting trade for features is there’s some of us who sit and work on a screenplay and that’s our job and we’re trying to get that done. And then there are others of us who kind of move more like producers and they’re supervising things. Like Simon.

Aline: Right.

John: Simon Kinberg.

Craig: Simon starts as a screenwriter, but then really becomes a supervisor of other screenwriters. You know? It’s a producorial thing.

Aline: And then you’re in the creative person management business –

Craig: Right.

Aline: Which is a producing skill, which I feel like it depends on what your temperament is like, but it would be really hard for me not to rip the typewriter out of someone’s hands. And I don’t — I wouldn’t want that to happen to me so, yeah. I mean I think those are — you’re right, those are different.

We have been on this show, Rachel and I are completely immersed. I mean I’m totally immersed. And to be honest, like the thing that I learned and I had to do was to learn how to delegate. And we have other wonderful people on the show. We have another executive producer, Erin Ehrlich, who is like I would say she’s our secret weapon because she’s on set. She’s in post, she does all these things that if I were doing — I mean I know there are showrunners who are 24/7 in all three places. And there’s that documentary about showrunners that was on cable. Yeah. And everyone looks just hammered. I mean, it’s really hard to kind of keep up your taking care of yourself because you — I mean and it’s so different from screenwriting because even with screenwriting, even when I’m working very, very hard on something, it’s like, yeah, I can have dinner with my kids from six to eight.

John: Totally. That’s the thing I wonder. So when I got this Valentine Davies Award a couple months ago for the Writers Guild, I had to give my little speech. And one of the things I tried to explain is like I’m sort of getting this award for all the other stuff I’ve done that’s not writing. And the only reason I could do all these other things is because I’m just a feature writer.

Aline: Right.

John: Like if I were a TV writer, I would not have the life to be able to do all these other things.

Aline: Right.

John: And so Mike, my husband –

Aline: Because as we discussed, like if you do eight hours of screenwriting in a day, that’s like –

John: Oh my god, you’re a hero.

Aline: That’s insane. You know, that means you’re just like synapses are popping off like fireworks and dying.

John: But eight hours as a TV showrunner, like that’s lazy.

Aline: Yeah. Our writers’ room really is 10 to 6. That’s because I am very determined to have it be that way.

John: But that’s the writers’ room. But your job as a showrunner is –

Aline: Right.

John: Not just the writers’ room.

Aline: No. No.

John: So your job as the showrunner — so I’m really thinking about the equivalent because you’re not just moving from being a feature writer to a TV writer. You’re going to being a TV showrunner.

Aline: Right.

John: So there literally has to be a moment where it’s like its 11 o’clock at night and you’re like –

Aline: Oh, yeah.

John: Oh. I still have all this stuff to read.

Aline: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, because when I leave the room, I have to watch cuts and go to set. And yeah, all that stuff. I will tell you that being a feature writer is a great training for the writing which you have to do in television. But it’s absolutely no training really for the producorial stuff which I kind of had garnered over years of being in the movie business.

But if you were like one or two movies in and you had to be a showrunner, they’re taking it. They’re rolling a big roll of the dice because what you’ve learned as a screenwriter is to sit in a room and do iterations of the same thing.

John: You should take a time machine and go back to me writing my very first show, DC. And like not being able to run the show and not sort of knowing what I didn’t know.

Aline: Right.

John: And watching it just sort of crash and burn around me.

Aline: Right.

John: That’s the experience.

Aline: Right. Well, luckily though, WGA does have a very good showrunner program that a bunch of my friends have done. I didn’t do it, but Rachel did it. And my friend, a couple of my friends have done it. And it’s great that there are those skills you can learn. What’s funny about being a screenwriter is that — it’s funny one of the movies that I was on, my own movies that I was on the set of, I just started out by hanging out in the back of the set. Because people aren’t really accustomed to having screenwriters around.

So I would just kind of sit in the back and like read my iPad and read the paper and stuff. And for like the first couple of days and then the director, something came up that he wanted a line to cover something. And I saw him looking at the AD and thinking, “Oh. We need a line for this. We need a line for this.” And then, his eyes swung around to me sitting in the back row of Video Village. You know, reading The New York Times, doing the puzzle. And it occurred to him that I was there and that I could do it.

John: Yeah.

Aline: But I — and I sort of went, “Oh, me? Yeah. Yeah, I guess I could do that.” [laughs]

Craig: It’s amazing like they have — my favorite thing is they have a guy on every crew called the standby painter. And his job is to paint something in the moment, should it need paint.

John: Yes.

Craig: But they don’t have the standby story expert. That’s insane.

Aline: Right. I was watching the director thinking he was thinking, “Oh, shit. I got to figure out a line here. And I don’t know what to do. How can I do this? What can we do?” And it was literally like, you know, angle on screenwriter in the back, writing Isay Morales in the New York Times puzzle, looking off into the middle distance like, “Who? Me? Well, sure.” And it’s just so — I just happened to, you know, that was the set that I happened to be on for most of the shoot. And of course, once they get comfortable — but you have to make them comfortable with you for you to do any of the fun stuff.

John: Yeah.

Aline: And in TV, it’s what I consider mostly the fun stuff. So I’m really curious about — the reason I’m curious about what spec a person would write now is because I’m just curious what people write to break into the business now. And I think of the first spec that I wrote to break in to the business and I don’t know what anyone would do with it. It was a caper comedy about two girls who go on the run after an FBI agent. Like, I don’t even know what I would do with that.

John: I think the question you’re also asking is, should that spec script show your quality? Like your ability to make those words on the page really sing and make those characters pop, or does it have to be like a big idea. Are people buying things based on ideas or based on the writing? And I don’t know that they’re buying them based on either one. Obviously, we’re all out of this spec business –

Aline: Right.

John: In general because that’s not where we make our bread and butter. But my hunch is that they are reading for quality and then looking for like, “Oh. I can apply that to something else” or “I can bring that person in for a meeting on something” or you write that script, that spec-feature script knowing it’s never going to get made but you can use that as your sample for when you try to get staffed on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Aline: Right. Or they’ll take your — they’ll say this is a beautiful script about your grandmother’s exodus from Poland. Do you want to write Logan’s Run?

John: Yes.

Craig: Yeah. That’s basically everything now in the spec market is an audition. The Black List, every now and again, some movie from the Black List will get made.

Aline: But it’s always tiny. It’s always tiny.

Craig: Yeah. But precisely.

Aline: I mean, Argo is an exception. Yeah.

Craig: Precisely. It’s almost always tiny. Most of the people that are coming out of the Black List, those scripts are audition scripts for what the studios already intend to make. And that’s very, very different than the way it used to be. They used to be — the studios used to be entrepreneurial. And they aren’t anymore. They’re not entrepreneurial. They’ve become very focused on repeat business, almost as if they’ve kind of figured out that there’s a way, the way food companies figured out if we just pump a little more sugar and salt into something, people will buy it. They figured it out. And it’s working for them. It’s not working for us necessarily, but it’s definitely working for them. And the business has warped in that direction.

John: Let’s segue to talking about sort of — you know, back when features were good. But really, what makes features timeless. That’s another thing that Aline brought up as a topic.

Aline: Yeah.

John: So you said your son is now watching a lot of classic movies and is he enjoying them all or some working and some not? Like what’s his experience watching classic movies?

Aline: It’s so interesting. Some of them he was just loving and really like Tootsie is just every bit as good now as it was then. I mean, a lot of what dates a movie, hilariously enough, is the music. And you know, Tootsie definitely has that.

John: Well, let’s talk about some things that make a movie timeless –

Aline: Yeah.

John: Or make it — you go back and watch like, “Wow, that just did not hold up.”

Aline: Well, pace. So a lot of the movies that I’ve shown my kids, they perceive is from the ’70s or ’80s, they perceive as glacially slow. Pace has just picked up so much now that like if you don’t have stuff happening, a lot of stuff happening right off the bat and that’s what they’re really used to. So any of the movies that I sort of was dying for them to enjoy that unfurl slowly, they’re just like beyond bored. That’s a huge one.

Craig: It’s a fair criticism because I remember when I was a kid and my father would show me movies from his childhood. That was my complaint. And you know, sometimes people say, “Well, pace — the increasing pace of storytelling is a pox on humanity, where we all have ADHD, it’s — what a shame.” I feel sometimes like we’re just getting more and more efficient plus, we also have the mass backlog of all the stories that have been told. So we get to price those in. I sympathize, you know. It’s a tough one to ask people to watch movies that are dramatically slower than they would be today. Then there are those incredible movies like Silence of the Lambs where if you made it today, you wouldn’t want to change one frame. So a pace seems modern, you know.

John: Absolutely. And I think Silence of the Lambs holds up especially well because even though we’ve seen other movies sort of in that genre since then, it hasn’t been copied by a bunch of other movies after that point. So sometimes you go back and you watch a classic movie that everyone says, like, “Oh, that’s a fantastic movie,” and you watch it and you realize like, “Wow, I’ve seen the lesser version. I’ve seen the knockoff version so many times.”

Aline: Yeah, so many times.

John: That the original version feels like not original because like I’ve seen recalls of this 100 times.

Aline: Yeah. The Graduate was puzzling. Because it’s so oblique and it’s not going right at what it’s about, it’s very novelistic in that way.

John: Yeah.

Aline: And that was super confusing. The ’70s part of Tootsie is confined to its credit sequence. The credit sequence is Michael teaching acting –

John: Yeah.

Aline: And hitting on girls. And then, very quickly it’s into the premise of the movie. So, how fast do you launch the idea of the movie is a big one but then also how direct are your themes. Something like The Graduate is just dealing with themes that are sort of on a novelistic level of complexity that when we do that now, they tend to be very small movies. Like what would you do with The Graduate? You know, The Graduate was a like a hot property book, everybody wanted to make that book.

John: Yeah.

Aline: Amazing.

John: Yeah. So I think we’re talking about not just the great movies of all time, movies that are like, you know, win the awards but there’s also movies that just were so definitive and have sort of lasted. And so I think of like Die Hard. Die Hard didn’t win the awards but Die Hard is obviously a classic and like people can go back to Die Hard and still continue to enjoy it. Shawshank Redemption. But there’s other movies that were just so important at their time which have sort of been forgotten, like Blair Witch Project. Like that was a big deal and it started a whole generation of kind of this found footage thing. But you go back and watch that now and nobody talks about that as being an all-time great movie. It’s –

Aline: It seems like we’re eight generations past that one.

John: Exactly. So I think in some ways, the degree to which it was an experience that you had to encounter at that moment was really important. So Avatar was kind of like a movie that you had to experience in 3D at that moment, but I don’t think people are going back to that, it’s like, “Let’s watch Avatar again.” It doesn’t have the same resonance that Star Wars does to me.

Craig: Or Titanic.

John: Or Titanic.

Craig: People will watch that. I mean, I showed my daughter Titanic and she would have loved another 12 hours of it.

Aline: Yeah. James Cameron is — you know, every James Cameron movie that my kids have seen, they’ve really loved because he’s a very muscular storyteller and always has been and gets right into whatever the premise of it is pretty bam boom. So those movies had held up really well for the kids.

John: I think movies that were successful because of their star tend to not last as long. So I think of like Patch Adams was a giant hit and I think it’s because Robin Williams was a giant big star at the time, but no one is clamoring for Patch Adams again. Like no one’s going to make — no one’s going to remake Patch Adams because like, “Oh, let’s do that again.” It was a great actor in a central role and that made it hit, but no one is dying to see Patch Adams again.

Aline: Well, also you look at — you know, It Happened One Night, won best actor, actress, director, screenplay. I think it won six, it won the Big Six. I mean, I made my kids go see All About Eve at the New Beverly and that was one of the more bewildering experiences of their life.

Craig: I don’t blame them. I don’t.

Aline: And I’m nudging them and saying, “Oh, this is the best part, this is the best part.” And they’re — you know, “She’s going to say, ‘Bumpy night.'” “And they were just contorting in misery.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. You know why, like there are lines when you see All About Eve now and when you get to that line, you feel like you are watching something that is baked into our culture. It’s like, “Oh, that was that thing that happened,” but –

Aline: It’s like going to visit the Washington monument or something.

John: Yeah, or seeing the Mona Lisa.

Craig: Right, like, okay. Yeah, like seeing the Mona Lisa, exactly. But overall, All About Eve, what it is doing is done in a more effective way now by other movies that have kind of mastered that and been inspired by it and taken it to the next level. Like All About Eve to me is interesting as a museum piece.

Aline: I mean, not for me. I enjoy it every bit as much because it’s urbane people talking, but the idea that it would translate for a then 14-year-old boy who loves classic movies, but to him classic movies are Scorsese movies, you know, the Godfather movies. Storytelling has just become so much more visceral but, you know, that being said, I took him to see Room and he was riveted by that and that’s, you know, a small chamber piece, but again, very taught storytelling.

John: Yeah, but it’s also naturalistic in the sense, so like people aren’t, you know, putting on these airs, and it’s not like a fancy dress movie. Like that kind of stuff is I think what distances people.

Craig: I agree.

John: What can also distance people is the time in which the movie takes place, and so the period. And you definitely notice, like I go back and I look at Go and I’m really happy with Go, but it’s very much like that ’90’s thing and you can tell it by — they don’t even have cell phones yet, like it’s not even dated by cell phones because they don’t have cell phones yet. And so, there’s a certain kind of aesthetic which, you know, if you don’t know enough about sort of what it was like to be in that time, it could be a little bit inaccessible. That doesn’t make the movie better or worse, but it makes it harder for a person to click into it.

Aline: I mean, I guess what I’ve noticed also with my son is that movies that have famous directors are the ones he watches. So if it’s a great movie but it was sort of an obscure director, then he’s not — when he is looking up things that are on Criterion Collection, you know, he’s already seen every Spielberg movie because he’s a Spielberg fan. So he started going through them one by one, and that’s another thing that makes a movie a lasting document is being interested in someone’s body of work. What’s amazing to me about Tootsie is that it was written by sort of a hodge-podge of people –

John: Yeah.

Aline: When it seems like such a unified comedic piece, but that’s — if you’re going through Sydney Pollack movies, you know.

John: Well, speaking of hodge-podge of people, I’d be curious to go back and see Pretty Woman and see whether Pretty Woman holds up. I suspect maybe it does. I mean, I think there’s a Cinderella quality to that that probably makes it a timeless thing that independent of Julia Roberts’ stardom — here’s the thing, the movie made her a star. So therefore, she wasn’t coming into the movie already as a star. That may be a useful distinguisher, like you saw this thing blossoming in front of you. I think even if you were to watch it now, you might recognize that something special was happening in front of you.

Craig: Yeah, but you know, you would also feel an enormous distance from the movie because you would know that today you simply would not and could not make a movie about a prostitute that is Julia Roberts that has that experience.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It feels so remote to us the way — you know, when you watch old movies and you see somebody slapping a woman around and then she kisses the guys, you’re like, “Oh, well, back then I guess that was okay,” you know? [laughs]

Aline: Yeah, Pretty Woman is kind of great. I actually did rewatch it a few years ago for some reason and it’s actually — it’s really, really great apart from the star performances which are great. It actually weirdly is trying to be about something and it’s one of those movies that buys back its premise constantly because like he accosts her in the bathroom, he thinks she’s doing drugs, she’s flossing her teeth. Like it really is kind of a very rosy idea of what a hooker is. I think the thing, the sheen that’s gone off the rose now is the hooker being so innocent –

John: Yeah.

Aline: And sort of that Shirley MacLaine/Julia Roberts type.

John: Yeah, that she’s doing it because for some sort of noble reason kind of in a way, like there wasn’t –

Aline: She’s barely, barely been spoiled.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah, it’s just not — it doesn’t sync up with what we understand about women that are in that situation. I mean, you can watch it. Obviously, you watch movies within the context that they were created and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I do feel like –

Aline: But I’ve watched him like he goes to through the Spike Jonze movies, he goes to the Scorsese movies, you know, he goes through the Spielberg movies. Like you really do notice how much if it’s sort of an anonymous filmmaker –

John: Who made that one-off great movie, he’s not going there.

Aline: Yeah, the best –

Craig: Interesting.

Aline: The best movie that — the one that rocked their brains when they were young was Back to the Future. They just couldn’t even believe how — that movie is so entertaining and so funny for a kid. If you want to convince them that movies were cool when you were a kid.

John: That’s so funny because we watched that with my daughter who’s now 10 and like it did not land for her.

Craig: Really?

Aline: Oh, really?

John: Yeah, it didn’t. And –

Craig: My kids love that movie.

Aline: Oh, my kids were like, “Oh, we got to see the sequel,” I was like, “Nah.”

John: So going back to Pretty Woman and our spec script conversation, do you guys remember Milk Money, which was a big spec sale –

Craig: Sure.

John: When that happened. And so, that was the idea of like, “What if we could take the aspects of Home Alone and the aspects of Pretty Woman and put them together?”

Craig: Yeah.

Aline: What was it?

John: So Milk Money –

Craig: It was Melanie Griffith plays a hooker that — well, you go ahead. Tell it, John.

John: Well, I think you’re doing better than I can, but so Melanie Griffith plays a hooker and these boys essentially pool together their money to buy the hooker to be girlfriend/wife to their dad who’s single and sad. Is that correct?

Aline: Oh, uh-huh.

Craig: That’s how I — and then there’s like a fish out water thing where she has to like — I remember she goes to school, like there’s Career Day and she goes. That was like the big scene in the trailer and –

Aline: I remember a spec called Angie.

John: Oh, I remember Angie. Yeah.

Aline: Do you remember this?

John: Yeah.

Aline: It was — because this to me was the apogee of like things being big hot sales that were like, “Wait, what’s that about?” And it was like a New Jersey — and I remember that Madonna wanted to do it and then –

John: But didn’t Geena Davis –

Aline: Geena Davis did it.

John: Yeah.

Aline: And I don’t even remember what it was about but I remember that it was like a hot script and that every actress in town wanted it.

John: I remember the Cheese Stands Alone with –

Craig: Oh, wow. Well, that’s a book, right? I mean, that was –

John: Yeah. But –

Aline: Yeah.

Craig: Isn’t the Cheese –

John: But it was very much an era where like these big like million dollar sales would happen and I just don’t think those things happen now.

Craig: I found them all befuddling. I don’t know about you guys but I was never in that, you know, crazy spec business. I was more of like go out, pitch ideas and you know, like grinded out for my rent. And so, I would read about these huge spec sales, I was like, “I don’t even understand,” like –

John: Craig, what were you doing wrong? I mean, like clearly like it –

Craig: I just didn’t understand. Like I didn’t honestly understand why anybody was buying these things. I think I was already like they are now. Like I didn’t understand, why would you spend all that money on these things especially when so many of them just don’t happen?

Aline: Well, the other thing was that, you know, you’d read these scripts and they would sell for 750 or 850 or whatever and they’d be terrible and you’d say to your agent, “Well, but this is terrible.” They’ll say, “Of course it’s terrible, but they’re going to rewrite it.”

John: Yeah.

Aline: But the idea is so strong. That is what I feel like ship has sailed.

Craig: But I also feel like it was the tulip syndrome, you know, just people began to fetishize the notion of these scripts that the idea that a hot spec would go out on a Friday and somebody would win by Monday was the organizing principle of the business. And so, that’s what happened and that machine needed to be fed. It had no relationship and ultimately, they figured out, it had no relationship to success at the Box Office. I mean, I remember The Last Boy Scout was this insane, you know, spec sale and it didn’t turn into what they thought it would.

Aline: And The Long Kiss Goodnight.

Craig: Right, right.

John: I first met Zak Penn over on the Fox lot and we had a class there because I was still in film school, we had a class and somebody knew Adam and Zak and we went over to their little bungalow office and like we had scotch in their office. I’m like, “Wow, this is Hollywood. I just can’t imagine this is what it is.” And Zak is still a neighbor and friend. But it is just — such a long road. Like that was really the pinnacle of that kind of hot spec sale.

Aline: Right. And basically, all established screenwriters at this point are working on things that are already in development in some way, shape or form. So if you’re an established screenwriter and you went off to write something on your own, it would be something that you either wanted to direct or you wanted to say, “Hey, this is the kind of writing I want to do now,” and show people some other aspect of yourself or you would just be writing it, I guess, for your artistic enjoyment. But you know, now I feel like a lot of times when I talk to writers and they tell me ideas that they’re working on, I’m like, “I would just cut that down to 60 pages and sell that as a pilot.”

John: Yeah. So Craig has been writing stuff to, you know, things he wants to see happen and that also sort of establish him as a different kind of writer. Is that a fair thing to say, Craig?

Craig: Yeah, so far so good.

Aline: But not on spec?

Craig: No, not on spec. Although, well, almost. The thing that I’m doing for HBO certainly isn’t about a financial gain. They have a set deal that they do for all, you know, pilots and things. And so, if the show doesn’t — if the shows goes, it’ll be rewarding but if it doesn’t, it’s not like you get paid a ton to write a pilot for HBO. So that was all about doing something different.

John: And I wrote to direct. And I know you wrote a spec to direct, too, which I guess it’s still out there. You could always go back and do that at some point. Is that a –

Craig: I’m not gonna.

John: No, I’m talking to Aline, I’m sorry.

Aline: Yeah, the problem — I was almost going to make that and then the TV show went. But I was already balking because it involved going to Eastern Europe for six or seven months and leaving my family.

John: Yeah.

Aline: So I wasn’t — you know, one of the things about a lot of TV production is in L.A. And so that was another big draw for me was that we were going to be able to be here, but I don’t know. You know, the thing is, I grew up loving big studio movies and the big studio movies that I grew up loving were, you know, really mainstream kind of commercial movies. Jerry Maguire and, you know, Broadcast News. And I just — now, I feel like if you sat down to write one of those, it’s what you said, you would have to find an actor or find a director or find some way to make it sexy because really, they’re very, very focused on trying to make Uno into a movie.

John: Yeah. So let’s circle back to TV for our last topic. So this is something that Craig put in the outline, it’s a Variety of article about The 100, which is a CW Show, one of your, not a rival show, but another show.

Aline: Sister show?

John: So in this article, Maureen Ryan lists a couple of tips for sort of best practices for TV promotion and publicity in the age of social media. She says, “First, don’t mislead fans or raise their hopes unrealistically. Don’t promote your show as an idea or proponent of a certain kind of storytelling and then drop the ball in a major way with that very element of you show. When things go south, don’t pretend nothing happened. Finally, understand that in this day and age, promotion is a two-way street. The fans flock to your show and help raise its profile, but can just as easily walk away if they are disappointed or feel they’re being manipulated.” Do you feel any of that sort of relationship with your –

Aline: Well, it’s a totally different thing from the movies because you’re having this real-time interaction with people and they get attached to characters and they’re watching them every week and they’re tweeting about it so you know how the storyline is –

John: You guys did live tweeting during every episode?

Aline: Yeah, the actors did, I don’t tweet. But you’re getting direct feedback all the time and so — and people feel connected to these characters that are in their home in a completely different way. I mean, if you’re doing The Revenant as a TV series, people would have freaked out over the bear, you know? But you do have a completely different relationship to the audience where you have a much more direct conversation with them and I really don’t know, because I don’t watch that show, I don’t really know what exactly they did or didn’t do but it sounds like they had a group of very devoted fans who had a certain expectation about the character, and it is, it’s a huge responsibility.

Craig: Yeah, well it seems like part of what exacerbated it was the nature of the character herself. So the character was named Lexi — sorry, Lexa, sorry. Obviously, I don’t watch the show either. But she was lesbian and she was a huge hit with the LGBQT audience and in particular because she wasn’t a two-dimensional gay character. She was three-dimensional, she wasn’t defined by her sexuality. And so they had created this implicit contract with this large audience and then they killed her and they killed her in a way that the fans — first of all, they implied that she wouldn’t die and then she did die. They also killed her in a way that the fans felt kind of steered away from the direction of progressive portrayal of a gay character and was instead a regressive return to a gay character finally has sex with somebody and they have to die. She died in a kind of a — I guess, you’d say a sort of a wimpy way that wasn’t — that they didn’t feel was befitting her stature as a character.

But the point is, this is what fascinates me about this. As a writer, you know, I feel like I’m a little nervous about this, that the fans turned on the people that made this character because they didn’t like what they did with the character. And you think about Game of Thrones and how they treat their characters, right? And it makes me a little nervous that we would end up in a new period where making television, your creative choices are now limited by people’s emotional attachment to those characters. Some of the most powerful things you can do in television is kill someone.

Aline: Yeah. I mean, I think when you’re representing a certain demographic, I mean, people are always very interested to see people portrayed who are like them or they think are like them. And we have a bisexual storyline on our show and we got a gentleman in from GLAD to help us because there were all these preconceptions about bisexual people that we actually didn’t know about because we hadn’t been immersed in it. And you know what, it’s happened to me like, you know, you remember talking to someone and you say like, “Oh, yeah. No, Jews are known for being cheap and greedy,” and they’re like, “What? Yeah, oh. And yeah.” Oh, and then, you know, we were talking about the –

Craig: Well, we are known for that.

Aline: Heavy female Jewish breasts, which some people in the room had never heard that but that’s a stereotypical –

Craig: I’ve never heard that. Heavy Jewish breasts?

Aline: Like — yeah. And Rachel talks about that. So there were all these kind of like –

Craig: I did not know that.

Aline: Specific to these communities, sort of — you know, when you — when I was reading this article and there’s this trope of barrier gay, you have to be aware when you take on something like that, that there are these kind of — just try and educate yourself about the preconceptions and the tropes which you may not know about because the audience has so much familiarity with those tropes and they’re kind of waiting. And it’s — you know, anytime you’re portraying anybody who has a strong allegiance to a group, I think.

John: Well, let’s talk about Darryl from — the bisexual character in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, because it looks like you sort of hung a lantern on all the things that sort of normally come up on bisexual characters, which is like –

Aline: Yeah.

John: It’s just a step on the way to his being gay, that’s it’s like –

Aline: So I knew some of them –

John: Yeah.

Aline: And that was the one that I knew best because I had — one of the reasons we wanted to do that character was because I have friends who are bisexual and everybody always expresses a great deal of skepticism about whether they are bi. So that one I knew, but there were other ones about bisexual people being very promiscuous, which I never really heard.

Craig: I’ve never heard that one either.

Aline: So we went to somebody who had a lot of experience with that group and specializes in depictions of that group. And you really do have a different kind of personal back and forth on a TV show with the fans. And so, I don’t know if this — the creators of this show were familiar with that trope and I don’t know why it’s a trope to kill the gay characters?

John: Well, essentially it’s like once they finally have their moment of happiness, then you yank the rug out and kill them off. Just because it’s the most surprising.

Craig: Yeah, it’s like tragic homosexuality like.

Aline: I see, I see.

Craig: But on the other side of it, what makes me nervous as somebody that writes and creates is that you then are in danger of creating the anti-trope, which is the untouchable gay character because we don’t want to kill our gay character. And you start to disconnect that character from the same dramatic path that everybody else is on, where anything can happen to anybody else. Well, but not that one, you know, that one we have to leave alone. And then you lose certain — and I’m not saying that they did it right at all, I don’t watch this show and they may have totally bungled it. There’s a difference between, “We did not like that you did that,” and, “Your show is bad and you’re bad people for doing it.”

Aline: I wonder if there was a way they could have eliminated her that would have — if there was a nobler way that would have — the fans would have been okay with. I don’t know if it was just the fact that she died because it sounds like it’s a show where there was a lot of violent deaths. It was sort of, she didn’t get a great one –

Craig: Yes.

Aline: That really, you know, made use of her character and she didn’t go out in a blaze of glory.

Craig: She didn’t get a meaningful death.

Aline: Yeah.

Craig: She — well, we don’t — I mean, that’s the thing, you actually don’t know –

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because on a serialized show — and again, I’m not — I don’t know. It may be that that was just — they muffed it right? But, perhaps that is part of what comes next. I mean, one thing that’s interesting is people react in the moment to what they see and they make certain assumptions. So when a character dies on TV, they make an assumption that that’s it and they also make an assumption that the creators of the show chose to kill them out of some kind of capricious sense of drama. But a lot of times, what we know and we have a lot of friends that work in TV and Aline, you work in TV, sometimes actors die because the actor is done and they don’t want to keep going on the show and they say, “Kill me.”

John: Yeah.

Aline: Right. And then — but then, that’s an opportunity, that’s an opportunity to do something really cool with that character. And again, we don’t –

John: Fair enough.

Aline: This is just like a bunch of people because –

Craig: We just don’t know.

Aline: We don’t know, because we don’t watch the show. But I do think, Craig, what you say is really interesting. I know of cases where, you know, showrunners have gotten feedback from the fans and either like apologized or course-corrected because they didn’t quite realize you’re making a million micro decisions about story and sometimes they have ramifications or implications or meaning for people that you can’t anticipate.

Craig: Right. Well and there is an interesting feedback that I think sometimes writers forget. We may have a tendency to think of the emotional arrow going out in one direction. But if we predicate all of our work on the notion that we’re trying to emotionally impact people, we cannot be surprised and immune to the emotions that come back at us. Isn’t that what you want? So you do have to care-take it to some extent. And in movies, as you point out, not a problem, right?

Aline: Well, the other thing about doing in TV show is, there’s so many people that work there and when we were doing the bisexual storyline, a bunch of people came to me and said, “I’m bi,” or, “My friends are bi,” or, “My mom is bi,” or whatever and we really use them as a resource to say like, “Are we doing this in a way that’s accurate, that reflects reality?” And there’s a lot of ways that you can kind of workshop those things in the show.

John: Yeah. It’s time for our One Cool Things.

Aline: Yeah.

John: All right. And Aline’s here, so I’m sure she has a good one.

Aline: Yeah.

John: Mine is so quick and so simple.

Aline: Do it.

John: Mine is the Tresalto drain cleaning snake. So this thing is — actually, so you have a stopped up sink and so you could call a plumber or you would do whatever. This thing looks like a big plastic zip tie, it looks like just like a zip tie, but it has like these little hooks on it. You basically stick it down the drain and pull it up and it yanks out the stuff that’s in there. It’s like it’s so remarkably simple.

Aline: How often does that happen to you?

John: I would say twice a year, a drain gets stopped up.

Aline: Really?

John: Yeah.

Craig: Really? But it seems so weird because not like Mike has a ton of hair, you have no hair.

John: My daughter has hair.

Craig: It’s your daughter.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Your daughter is — her hair is clogging the drain?

John: I found it incredibly useful and it’s like they’re super cheap because they’re just these little plastic things you just shove down there and like –

Craig: Yeah.

John: You can wash it off or you can throw it away, it’s cheap enough.

Aline: Wow.

John: So, simple.

Aline: Wow. All right. Craig, what’s your thing?

Craig: I like that. My thing is an app that has not yet been released but it is being promoted and currently developed by Ford Motor Company and it’s called Go Park. And it’s actually — I want it now. So Go Park basically allows people who are driving — I guess if you’re — and they’re testing it in London now, if you’re driving a Ford and you allow your data to be uploaded, it essentially lets people see where there are parking spots and where there aren’t.

Aline: I mean, I’ve been fantasizing about this my whole driving life.

Craig: I mean, how great would it be, right? The vision of the future is, you’re driving around in some area where there’s no spot and then it goes, “Bing. Someone’s leaving a spot over here,” and you move toward it or even create a system where you can reserve spots like where somebody says, “Okay, I’m going to be leaving in five minutes,” so you can go to where they are and wait for them. Parking is so miserable and it does seem like an elegant solution to that problem. So I’m hopeful.

Aline: That seems like a problem that technology should solve.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Yeah.

Aline: My One Cool Thing is not really a thing, but are you guys watching The People vs OJ?

John: I’ve heard it’s fantastic. I’ve not watched a single minute of it.

Craig: You know I’m not watching it.

Aline: Well, it’s fantastic. But among the fantasticness, Sarah Paulson is putting on a clinic, the likes of which I have not seen in anything in so long. She’s so incredible that I find myself, when I’m watching the scenes, freaking out over how great she is.

John: So she plays Marcia Clark in the show and her wig is fantastic.

Aline: Everything she does is fantastic and the scene — there’s one episode, it’s called, Marcia, Marcia, Marcia, which is about her and how she was treated and how unbelievably sexist and anti-feminist it is, you know, through the lens of today. But she’s so sympathetic and she’s so wonderful, but she’s flawed and she’s interesting and if you are a student of acting at all, you cannot miss what Sarah Paulson is doing. They should give her all the Emmys, they should give her Emmys in categories she’s not nominated in. They should give her craft Emmys. She should just walk in and have multiple Emmys. She’s going to win everything. She’s — I mean, I’ve always been a big fan, but it’s sort of like when you watch somebody and the tennis ball is coming towards them in slow motion and their racket is just in the right place –

John: Yeah.

Aline: Glorious.

John: That’s fantastic.

Craig: I’m going to get a little — I’ll get a little name droppy and I hate doing this, normally I don’t do it. But I’m going to watch it all, like I’m going to binge-watch when I finally get out from under what I’m doing because Courtney Vance is a neighbor of mine, and a friend of mine, and Sarah Paulson is a friend of mine. And so, I’ve heard nothing but great things. And this is also Alexander and Karaszewski, correct?

Aline: Yes.

Craig: Also friends of mine.

Aline: Yes.

Craig: I owe this show watching just out of common decency.

Aline: Oh, well, Courtney Vance, by the way, also, clinic. I mean –

Craig: Great guy, too.

Aline: If she wasn’t in it, he would be the best thing I’d ever seen and my favorite thing and my One Cool Thing because he’s — I actually forget that I’m not watching Johnnie Cochran. He’s completely, completely convincing. It’s — from an acting standpoint, everyone is pretty amazing and John Travolta is doing something slightly in a different tone than they are, but it’s so awesome to watch.

John: Whatever show he’s in is also an enjoyable show.

Aline: It’s amazing.

Craig: Right. You know what, it’s like John Travolta is one of the few actors that can be a guilty pleasure inside of something that is a non-guilty pleasure.

John: Yeah.

Aline: It’s one of the most entertaining, the pilot is one of the most entertaining things I’ve ever seen, the first episode. I think you’ll really enjoy it.

John: Fantastic.

Craig: I’m teed up to watch it. I am very excited.

John: Well, we may watch it next week because next week we are off the air, so we are going to be running a repeat in our stead because Craig and I are both on spring break. If you are looking for something to listen to in our absence, on the Scriptnotes app and also at, we have some bonus episodes, we have my Q&A with Dana Fox, Abbey Kohn, and Marc Silverstein about How To be Single. We also have Craig’s episode with Adam McKay and Charles Randolph talking about The Big Short. So those are two bonus episodes for members. If you want to subscribe and listen to those, you can go to As always, you can find us at for the show notes, the things we talked about, these articles we linked it to. Our outro this week is by Matthew Chilelli who also cut the show. Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel.

Craig: Yeah.

John: We have a very few of those USB drives left. So if you’d like all 200 episodes of Scriptnotes on a USB drive, don’t delay because they’re just about sold out. And that is our show. Aline, congratulations.

Aline: Episode 242, what’s up.

John: Nicely done.

Craig: In the can.

John: So enjoy your break, enjoy whatever thing write. Enjoy going back to the room but we’re just so happy that you’re back with us.

Aline: I’m going to write a spec about a bear and a kangaroo.

John: Fantastic.

Craig: Winner.

John: Thank you. Bye.

Craig: Bye, guys.


No More Milk Money

Tue, 03/22/2016 - 08:03

Craig and John welcome back Aline Brosh McKenna to discuss what she learned going from writing features to show-running Crazy Ex-Girlfriend — and what’s waiting for her back in movie-land. The three of us came into the business at the height of the spec market, but everything is different now.

We also look at why some movies become classics, while others don’t hold up. Plus, a television show’s responsibility to its fans, and the frustrating death of a gay character on CW’s The 100.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 241: Fan Fiction and Ghost Taxis — Transcript

Sun, 03/20/2016 - 13:21

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

(Music, introducing Craig)

And this is episode 241 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting, and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

A special thank you to Med Dier who cut together that weird intro of all Craig’s saying, “My name is Craig Mazin.”

Craig Mazin: I mean, Med Dier is definitely on some meds.

John: Yup.

Craig: That was trippy.

John: That was very trippy. Our episode this week is sort of trippy because we’re talking about a lot of different things including some ghosts, some taxi drivers, some dead chemists living in basements. It’s another one of those How-Would-This-Be-A-Movie episode.

Craig: Yeah.

John: We’re also going to talk about Creed and a lawsuit surrounding that, and the nature of fan fiction and what that means for people trying to use things that are other people’s things. So a big busy episode this week.

Craig: Well, we should probably just get right into it, instead of doing our usual 25 minutes of random chit chat.

John: Yes. So there’ll be no female reproductive health this time. It will be straight to the important business of follow-up, including cow tipping. So Travis writes in, “Being from Kansas, I felt the need to weigh in on cow tipping,” which was my One Cool Thing from a couple of weeks ago and the fact that cow tipping never existed.

He says, “You don’t have to drive too far out of town where I grew up to find open pasture and cows and I have seen it attempted twice in my younger days. I want to preface, I was only an observer, never a participant. Once, when I was in high school, where I witnessed a group of inebriated classmates try. There were about 10 of them and had no luck whatsoever. The second time I saw this attempted was in college by a 6’4″, 250-pound rugby player, who was made of all muscle. He went running at the cow at a dead sprint, made contact and shattered his collarbone. The cow hardly flinched. The guy had to have surgery and wore a sling for six months. Bottom line, your One Cool Thing is correct and don’t mess with cows.”

So there’s no such thing as cow tipping or I guess the point is, you can attempt to tip a cow, you will not succeed and you will hurt your body even more than you’ll hurt the cow.

Craig: I really do love the idea of this rugby player charging the cow and then popping off of it like a bird hitting a window. And the cow — I loved that also the cow hardly flinched, the cow was like, wah? I mean, you think about it, like, cows, right. So we’ve all seen that great scene in the original Rocky where he’s training by punching sides of beef.

John: Yeah.

Craig: That’s just a part of a cow, right?

John: Yeah, it’s part of a cow.

Craig: And he’s punching as hard as he can and we get it, it’s like, “Ouch, that hurts.” This is two sides of beef plus all the stuff inside of it. Yeah. No, of course, you’re not going to tip the cow over, it’s crazy.

John: It’s crazy. I just want to be that rugby player who has to explain it for the next six months. “Oh, how did you hurt yourself, was it playing rugby?” “No, I ran full speed at a cow and shattered my collarbone.”

Craig: Although I feel like in Kansas people will be like, “Oh, yeah, no, no, that’s the number one injury to rugby players right here.” [laughs]

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Cow-tipping incident.

John: I wonder if that ever fully heals, or he’s kind of scarred for life with like a slightly droopy shoulder because of his cow incident?

Craig: Yeah, like, he’s 93 and in an assisted living facility.

John: Yeah.

Craig: His mind is a little gone and people are like, “Boy, what’s the story with this shoulder?” Like he’s moaning a lot and we don’t know why and they take an x-ray and they’re like, “What the hell happened?” And we’ll never know.

John: We’ll never know.

Craig: But it was cow tipping.

John: It was cow tipping. So at some point they’ll search the transcripts, they’ll figure out his height, and figure out when it would have happened and realize like, “Oh, this must be the guy who tried to tip the cow.”

Craig: Yeah, I like that they’re pouring all those resources to try to figure out.

John: Because absolutely no one is going to tip a cow after this because we are such a popular podcast that everyone will now know that you can’t actually do cow tipping.

Craig: You know what the overlap between our listenership and the cow-tipping population is?

John: It’s vast.

Craig: It’s really miniscule. It’s so small.

John: The Venn diagrams don’t even touch. They just sort of like bounce off of each other.

Craig: I feel like they kiss. They just slightly kiss.

John: Just a tiny little kiss, yeah.

Craig: There’s like one. We have one.

John: Yeah, it forms like an infinity sign. They just barely touch. Doug writes, “I saw Craig decline a request for the Hangover 2 and 3 scripts on a Reddit thread a couple of weeks ago. I would imagine that he wouldn’t say no if it was his choice. So what is keeping him from showing those scripts?” Craig, what is keeping you from showing those scripts?

Craig: In that case, it’s because I’m not the only writer of those scripts. I co-wrote Hangover 2 with Todd Phillips and Scot Armstrong, and I co-wrote Hangover 3 with just Todd Philips, so they’re not really mine to send out there willy-nilly. That’s why on that one.

John: Doug continues, “Also I remember him offering to put up the Identity Thief script on library, and that hasn’t happened.”

Craig: Yeah, that has not happened and that’s my fault.

John: Okay.

Craig: So that one, I can put up. Well, technically I share separated rights on that one with the fellow who I co-wrote the story with, you know, we had — well, we didn’t work together but he has shared story credit, but I don’t think that that, that he would have an issue with that. What I want to do is put up my version of Identity Thief because, you know, there were like three of them and then there’s the shooting one I guess, but, you know, I actually think that it’s more interesting to see like, “Okay, here’s what I would have liked.” But that means I have to cobble it together and it takes time and –

John: Yeah.

Craig: So that’s — yeah. I’ll get there one day.

John: One day it’ll happen.

Craig: It’s on my list of things.

John: Yeah, and it is a very interesting point because we talked about this with award seasons scripts, it’s like, “Are they sending out the script they went into production with? Are they sending out something that resembles what the final cut of the movie is?” It really depends on the situation. In your case, you know, you would love to see the script that you think is sort of the best script that existed or, you know, could exist, and they’re all different things. It’s the process of drawing blueprints for a movie and then there’s the final version of the movie and they sometimes resemble each other, and sometimes they don’t.

Craig: Yeah, and I understand when it comes to giving out awards, what choice do you have? You have to give an award for the screenplay as it appears on the screen, so that should be the shooting script. But in this case, I’m presuming that people want to look at this to learn something.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And they can sit down and just watch the movie. Well, they can see the movie if they want, but I think it’s more interesting to see like, here’s a script that got made and here’s what it looked like, and then also to see where things changed and then we could always discuss why. Some of those changes, you know, happen in spite of the writer. What else can you say, you know?

John: Yeah, I would say in my very early writing career, reading the James Cameron scripts for Aliens and also for Point Break, which we had done work on, it was really illuminating to see like, “Oh, this was what was on the page. This is what was shot.” And sometimes you can see like, “Oh, that translated directly to this,” or like, “Oh, wow. That whole character, that whole sub-plot went away.” And you can start to figure out, you know, what changed because of that change.

Craig: Right. Exactly. Yeah.

John: So it is useful.

Craig: Yeah, it’s a good archaeological dig to do.

John: Indeed. All right. Something that came up in the news this week was the movie Creed which someone has filed a lawsuit saying that they, essentially the idea for doing Creed was stolen from them.

Craig: Right.

John: So I’ll give you some backstory here. So it’s a guy named Jarrett Alexander who’s suing the filmmakers of the Rocky sequel, including producer Sylvester Stallone and writer-director Ryan Coogler, and he alleges that they, “Took ideas from him and turned it into a multi-million dollar picture without compensating him.”

So I’m going to link to the article that Oliver Gettell wrote for EW. It’s actually more sophisticated than sort of like, you know, “Ah, they took my idea.” He pitched it. He wrote it up as sort of a spec idea and he was trying to get in the room with the folks who patrolled the rights to do it and he did not succeed apparently in getting in the room to convince them of his idea. He went so far as to shoot a trailer for it which is well before Ryan Coogler’s Creed.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So what’s fascinating is like this is not a copyright claim. And probably the reason it’s not a copyright claim is he doesn’t control the copyright on those underlying characters. So he doesn’t control Rocky. He doesn’t control Apollo Creed. So he’s suing instead for misappropriation of idea, the breach of implied contract, and unjust enrichment. Craig, do you think he will succeed?

Craig: No. No. Jarrett Alexander has such a terrible case here that even if he were in a room with all the other ding-a-lings that file these stupid cases and lose, they would all look at him and say, “Well, you’re crazy.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: This is the dumbest of all the ones we’ve looked at, this is officially the dumbest. So let’s break it down here. First off, you can’t be as you point out, it can’t be a copyright suit because he violated their copyright. Let’s just put that out there, okay?

This is the insanity of this. Part of copyright is that you control the right to make derivative works. Derivative works certainly cover the idea of a sequel or a prequel or anything like that. He’s violating their copyright by creating this thing. But fine, you could say, “Well, what are the damages?” It’s not like it’s out there in the world taking away ticket money from the real Rocky movies or from Creed, obviously it didn’t impact Creed at all. So, yeah, it’s not worth going after the guy on. But, just pointing out, yeah, so he’s violating their rights.

Then, according to the lawsuit, Alexander and his associates, god only knows who these people are — by the way, think about what they’re doing, how stupid it is. They’re already demonstrating that they don’t understand how either the business or the law works, right? They think they can go and sell this thing, but that isn’t theirs to sell. They then attempt to pitch the idea to various industry professionals, sending around the screenplay, and circulating links to a promotional reel, and they — including trying to get Stallone via Twitter, and there’s no response, right?

So they’re just literally flinging this thing out the car window as they drive down Hollywood Boulevard going, “Who wants this? Who wants this?” Right? Then, Sylvester Stallone and Ryan Coogler make their movie. So their suing misappropriation of idea, what does that mean?

Well, we know that ideas are not intellectual property. So it’s not copyright. What misappropriation of idea comes down to is that there are times when people engage in a certain kind of business discussion where it’s understood, I’m bringing you an idea that could turn into value, and you are listening to this idea with the implied understanding, and that’s what implied contract means, that if I like it, and I want to exploit it, I will engage in a good faith negotiation with you to purchase it.

And what happens is, so we engage in that formal discussion, I say, “I don’t want it”. I’m given — in other words I’m given the chance to reject it. I do reject it. And then I develop it anyway without you. That, the courts have said, “Yes, that is a contractual issue. It’s not copyright.” It’s contractual and then you can sue for some kind of damage there because there’s a breach of an implied contract.

John: So, Craig, is there examples of this happening in Hollywood? Because it sounds more like a, “I’ve come up with a great new business idea, I’ve come up with a service that I want to sell. A company I’m going to form.”

Craig: Right.

John: Is it used in Hollywood?

Craig: No. Not that people haven’t tried. And partly it’s not used because generally speaking, people actually do honor the implied contract of that arrangement. Because Hollywood is built around a system of checks and balances, like any stable system, and Hollywood is a stable system. You go in and you pitch something. You, John, you go and you sit down with, let’s say, Donna Langley at Universal and you pitch her an idea, and she says, “Hmm, no.” You leave, and then two weeks later you hear that Donna Langley has hired somebody else to write your idea. Well, she is not just accountable to you. She has to deal with the UTA now. And UTA has all these actors and directors and people that she needs to work with all those agents. She’s just — it’s bad business. She can’t do that. And so she won’t.

In the past, there’s one notable case where somebody tried this angle. So there was an important case called Grosso v. Miramax, because you’re right by the way that implied contract usually it’s a Silicon Valley issue. But down here Grosso v. Miramax, this guy named Grosso said, “Hey, Miramax, you made that movie Rounders, and Brian Koppelman and David Levien, they must have stolen my idea because I came and I pitched you some vague idea about poker, a movie about poker, and you’ve stolen my idea.” And Miramax said, “No, we haven’t, and ideas aren’t intellectual property.”

Grosso then appealed and said, “I’m not” — “You’re right. I’m saying you violated my implied contract.” And the court said — the Appeals Court said, “Yeah, you can absolutely sue for implied contract.” And everyone went, “See, a victory for the little guy.” Ah, no, no, all they said was, “He could sue for that.” So he went back and sued for a violation of implied contract and got his ass handed to him to the point where it was a summary judgment against and he had to pay for Miramax’s court fees. That’s how bad his case was.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So in this case, Jarrett Alexander is attempting the same thing. He’s actually got a worse case.

John: He does have a worse case because clearly he did not control any of this underlying material that he was trying to sell them.

Craig: He didn’t control it nor did he have a formal pitch with them in which they had a chance to reject, according to everything I’ve read. So literally, what he’s saying — and all you have to do, I mean, it’s not hard to think like a lawyer. All you do is just extend the circumstances to see if the law would actually pass the smell test for everyone. If Jarrett Alexander wins, so that means, all I have to do is go on Twitter every 10 minutes with some stupid log line for an idea and then anytime anyone ever makes something similar, I just go, “Oh, implied contract.” No. Stupid.

John: So let us circle back, and like, let’s wind the dials back and say you are Jarrett Alexander and you have created this — you have this idea, you’ve written a script, you’ve made this demo reel, the sort of pitch reel about what your movie is and you had gotten into the room with someone who controls some of the rights. So Stallone, somebody else who could actually make this movie. I think even if you had gotten into that situation, you still have to convince them that you are the person to do it, and that is a very tall order when you really have nothing to show for yourself other than this idea. Is it possible that it could have worked? Yes, it is possible.

It is possible they would say like, “You know what, we like this guy, we think his script his good,” they may not hire you to direct it, but maybe they’ll buy this property from you, at which point they control it fully and could do it. I just don’t see that happening. I have a very hard time imagining that this was going to happen ever for him. So in many ways, I think it’s absolutely fair for him to sort of like, you know what, as a writing sample, I’m going to write this movie that is basically a what-if Apollo Creed’s son came back.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But if I were to do that, I would never have the expectation that I could sell it or that I could ever sue anybody if they made a movie like it.

Craig: Yeah, there is where the delusion happens. I mean, first of all, you have to be delusional, truly delusional, to think that there is something that remarkable and unique about the idea that Apollo Creed’s son is trained by Rocky.

Anybody looking at those movies, if anybody pointed a gun at any Hollywood screenwriter and said, “Come up with a new Rocky,” they would look at Stallone’s age, and they would look and then they would think, well, who were the other characters that we care about? And then think, well, wouldn’t it be interesting if? It’s not. It’s not some brilliant bolt from the blue idea. It’s kind of obvious that what makes Creed a good movie is not that. And this is what people don’t understand, they think ideas are the thing, like, “Oh, yeah, all you had to do is just say, yeah, this guy trains that guy,” Yeah, no. That’s worthless. Truly worthless. And I can line up 50 filmmakers to make a terrible version of that movie that nobody wants to see.

John: Yup. And Ryan Coogler made a great version.

Craig: Correct.

John: So I assume that this lawsuit will not proceed, or if it does proceed, it’ll get shut down for the same reasons that Grosso v. Miramax ultimately got shut down.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But I want you to check with the larger issue which is, this is essentially fan fiction, this is essentially like, I see something out there that I really like a lot and I want to write more about it. And we see that a lot with books so that you have the Twilight fan fiction, you have Harry Potter fan fiction. There’s a whole community of people who write using characters that are not their own characters to extend franchises and sort of bend them to their own will and way. And it’s a thing that’s become increasingly popular the last 10, 20 years.

And so in some cases that fan fiction has become real fiction, so you have Fifty Shades of Grey. Fifty Shades of Grey started as Twilight fan fiction, and EL James took what she started as Twilight fan fiction and essentially just bent it enough so that it was no longer those same characters but it’s the same kind of basic dynamics, the same situations, and became original fiction. That’s something that could have happened with this Apollo Creed movie, and theoretically you could have started with the idea of like, “What if this famous boxer now has to go back and train the son of somebody that he defeated a long time ago?”

Craig: Right.

John: He could have done. He could have essentially filed the serial number’s off and made it seem like its own original thing.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But by making it Rocky, it became a real problem.

Craig: Correct. And he can do that because ideas aren’t property, right? So in the case of fan fiction, and this is why this just shocks me that this guy has the gall to this when he’s the one that’s been trespassing on someone else’s property. With fan fiction, you have to understand that you’re always going to be playing a risky game. If your fan fiction is embedded enough in the source material in terms of taking characters, clear settings, then you are always living at the mercy of the rights holder who can squash you at any point.

Really, I don’t know of any other fan fiction works that have succeeded the way that Fifty Shades of Grey has. But in the case of that, I never read the fan fiction or the novel or saw the movie for that matter. So I really don’t know anything about it other than it involves people getting whipped. But it was based on Twilight but it apparently didn’t have much to do with the elements that are crucial and inevitable to Twilight like being vampires, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: They’re not vampires in Fifty Shades of Grey, right?

John: Exactly.

Craig: So it was entirely portable. You just change some names and in the end what you were was you were inspired by one book to write your own book and that, I mean, look at — I mean, my god, how many Hunger Games-like books are there?

John: Or look at all of the fantasy literature that is influenced by Tolkien. I mean, that’s, you know –

Craig: Right, exactly.

John: Probably most of our sort of fantasy fiction has some debt, some emotional debt to Tolkien, some sort of literary debt to Tolkien. But that’s a different thing. And so I don’t want to sort of slam down on fan fiction because I think fan fiction is a really important way that some writers learn to write and some writers develop confidence in writing and develop a community around their own writing. But you have to be mindful of there’s a ceiling to sort of where you’re going to be able to go if you’re writing with other people’s characters and there’s also still a stigma to be a fan fiction writer. There’s a perception that it’s not real writing and that may not be fair but it’s true.

In the show notes I’ll put a link to an article by Cassandra Clare about fan fiction. So Cassandra Clare is now a pretty big, you know, YA novelist, middle-grade YA novelist. She has the Shadowhunters series. But she used to write fan fiction. And it took a while for people to understand that she was no longer writing fan fiction, this was original fiction and they kept looking for — in her original fiction they kept trying to find parallels to existing works assuming that they were fan fiction.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And that’s frustrating.

Craig: It is. Look, we all pay prices ultimately for the first works we do. People just expect us to keep doing the same thing and, you know, everybody looks at patterns but people can be retrained and obviously she’s done so. The deal with fan fiction is you’re absolutely right, new writers sometimes work in fan fiction because it’s like having training wheels on. There are a bunch of things they don’t have to figure out. Those things have been figured out for them.

It’s a little bit like building IKEA furniture. So the characters have been figured out for them. The tone has been figured out for them. The setting oftentimes and even major plot elements have been figured out for them and now they’re working within those things. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

You learn to ride a bike by first starting with training wheels. I assume people that learned to paint have done some paint by numbers or similar kinds of things or copying other stuff. That’s part of it. But just understand, when you are playing in somebody else’s sandbox in order to learn your craft, the price is it’s not something that you can then hold out to the world as being worthy of the same kind of respect and also financial remuneration that the works you’ve taken from command.

John: Yup. And I haven’t seen examples of — I suspect these will occur at some point where it’s ruled to be a transformative work, a transformative to the point where sort of like a lot of visual art sort of falls under that transformative thing where like they’re taking something and converting it so fully that it’s a sort of statement on the original work and it’s therefore protected as art. So you look at some of Warhol’s Soup Cans, you look at Jeff Koons’s works with existing things where he takes and changes the scale of them so dramatically or changes what they’re made of to the point where they are ruled to be their own unique copyrighted works.

That will probably happen at some point. We’ll see something that is so completely transformative that it gets its own protection and becomes an original work, considered an original work. But Creed was never going to be that. And I guess Fifty Shades of Grey sort of was its own thing. Like, at no point was there a lawsuit that I know of from Stephenie Meyer’s people saying like, “Oh, no, no, that’s Twilight fan fiction,” even though –

Craig: I’m sure they must have explored it but at some point they realized, look, if she changes these names –

John: Yeah.

Craig: And doesn’t use any of your characters, really, she’s just a lady inspired by your work, we’ll lose the case.

John: Yes, and embarrass ourselves.

Craig: And embarrass ourselves. In the case of Jarrett Alexander, he’s not Andy Warhol painting Soup Cans. He’s a soup company making soup cans that say Campbell’s.

John: Yup.

Craig: It just doesn’t work.

John: It does not work. Anyway, we will come back to this case if there’s any resolution. I suspect the resolution will be that it will go away and we’ll not hear about it again. I was happy to see that there wasn’t sort of like a big, you know, Internet outcry saying like how dare they stole his work from him. I think the Internet seemed to understand like, wait, you know, you’re saying he stole Rocky from you?

Craig: Look, at some point I think after the 19th of these in a row, these are the lawsuits that cry wolf. Everybody I think at this point is like, you know what, until somebody actually wins one of these things and no one ever wins ever.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Until someone wins, I think you can all ignore it. It’s noise.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Noise.

John: Noise. All right. Let’s go to our feature of how would this be a movie. We have three of them this week. And we’re going to start with a missing scientist and I’m not sure who, which of our reader sent this through to us this week but it was fascinating and I was just — I pulled out my popcorn as I was reading this because it is so bizarre and so strange.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So this is about a missing scientist found living in a basement drug lab. So a couple from Cottage Grove, Minnesota discovered a man living inside a secret laboratory in their basement. So this was a few Tuesdays ago, officers with the Warrington County Sheriff’s Office went to the Morgan’s family’s house after receiving a call of a possible break in. When the officers pulled up they saw the Morgan family standing by the road.

“They ran up to them and said that they heard a man shouting inside their basement and that’s when they called 911,” said Captain Bruce Normans with the Warrington County Sheriff’s Office. Officers said they could hear a man yelling in the basement the moment they entered the Morgan’s house. But when they moved cautiously in the basement they saw nothing but could hear banging sounds coming from behind the northern wall of the Morgan family’s basement, specifically echoing behind a large storage cabinet.

When the officers moved the large metal cabinet, they uncovered an entry way into a large basement room that was filled with various science equipment along with a terrified elderly man. The 83-year-old man was identified as Dr. Winston Corrigan, a chemistry professor from the University of Minnesota, who went missing in the fall of 1984 and was a previous resident of the home.

So essentially this chemist had sort of barricaded himself in this sort of secret room in the basement, had been living there since 1984 presumably.

Craig: Right.

John: And so the article includes like a photo of this man who seemed very, very out of it. So, this was fascinating. It would be even more fascinating if it were true.

Craig: Yeah. It turns out it’s not true.

John: Yeah. So we’ll also link to the Snopes article that discounts all this. So it’s a fake news site and so we can talk about whether the original story and like what that would be like as a movie because that’s creepy.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Or we could talk about sort of the site that put up the story and sort of why they put up a story. It’s basically it was a site called which was deliberately sort of not even a parody but it deliberately wants — makes itself look like this legitimate site, this sort of legitimate news and science site and just sort of like why you put up a story. There’s something fascinating about the whole culture of fake news stories.

Craig: Right. Yeah, I mean, the actual story itself has some problems. I mean, there is some interesting stuff there I suppose if you wanted to do a creepy horror movie. The idea of someone living in your home. The problem is it’s a guy living in your home in the basement. He’s got to go in and out, a little bit like Hollyfeld from Real Genius. And he’s got to eat stuff and use the bathroom. So I’m not really sure how that works if it’s, you know, the man who died in the house is living in your basement or didn’t die. Some kind of twisty sort of thing, I suppose, maybe. But, yeah, actually kind of interested in the — I don’t know if either — I mean, the notion that you create a fake news site and then you put up these fake news stories. Do you remember that movie — was it called Conspiracy Theory with Mel Gibson?

John: Yes. Yeah, yeah.

Craig: So the idea was he was a nut who believed in a million conspiracy theories and he would publish them in this crazy, like a crazy man’s ranting publication and he just happened to be right about one of them and suddenly people were after him. And so it was like, what happens, it’s that old saying, you know, just because you’re paranoid it doesn’t mean they’re not after you and that was that movie.

John: Do you remember that one time though where Mel Gibson was crazy?

Craig: I love Mel Gibson. You know I love Mel Gibson.

John: I didn’t know you loved Mel Gibson.

Craig: Oh, no, I’m obsessed with Mel Gibson.

John: That’s fantastic.

Craig: I think he should get a break.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I don’t know, man. Look, it’s like I understand. He said some things about gay people. He said some things about Jews. That covers both of us. [laughs] I still feel like I would give him a break. He was drunk. What are you going to do?

Craig: Plus all these things.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So let’s talk about the, if the story were true, and so like you’re taking the “true version” of that story. I think the idea of somebody living in your basement is a good starting place for either a thriller or a horror movie where like, you know, somebody in the family thinks there’s something happening in the basement or the kid sort of sees a person living in the basement and no one else believes them and like the secret door that he’s hiding behind is so good that like you can go down there you swear there’s nobody in your basement. And so you think you’re paranoid and of course there actually is somebody in your basement. And it’s kind of like Panic Room but in reverse like, you know, there’s that hidden place that’s going to come out and there’s a good psychological aspect of that because it really represents — you worry that there’s a sort of secret room in your own self that you’re not aware of.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So, that feels promising and there’s something very cool about that especially if you’re newly moved into this house, you could barely afford to buy the house. It has all the aspects of a haunted house thriller, except like –

Craig: Right.

John: You don’t actually need to have the super natural element and that could be very cool. I wonder if the trailer would play it both ways where like you’re not sure whether it’s supernatural or normal and there’s something fun about that as well.

Craig: Is there any way to do a movie where — like this where you flip the perspective and it’s a young couple moves into a — they move into a house. It’s like it’s not a very nice house, it’s kind of a junky house. And then they keep having these visions where at night they’ll have a dream where they go up to their roof and there’s this other house suddenly above them with these people in it and they can’t see them and those people are kind of threatening to them and then it becomes real and then eventually you realize they’re the ghosts in someone else’s basement.

John: Okay. That was a movie.

Craig: Oh, what was that?

John: And so spoiler warning for people who haven’t seen The Others.

Craig: Oh, you know what, I did see The Others. So maybe that’s –

John: And now you remember.

Craig: Yeah, they were the ghosts.

John: Yeah, god, we’ve ruined a movie for people to see.

Craig: Yeah. No, I totally forgotten that one but, yeah, you’re right. Yeah.

John: Yeah, that was The Others. So I agree flipping the perspective is interesting. I thought you were going to go for like you can actually flip the whole tone. It’s like what if you — like, you know what, I’m never going to leave this house. And so you’re like, the house sells or the house gets foreclosed because of bankruptcy and you’re like, you know what, I’m going to hide in my secret room. They’re never going to kick me out of this house, I’m going to live in that house. That could be kind of fun. And so it’s your relationship with the people who bought your house could be kind of fun.

Craig: Yeah, I don’t know. This one is a tough one.

John: I don’t know that it sustains a whole movie, but it’s certainly a premise.

Craig: Yeah, it’s a something.

John: Yeah, it’s a something.

Craig: I don’t think this is going to be one of the ones that we light the path for Hollywood to follow as we have done numerous times before.

John: No. But what I think it will probably not be a movie but is actually a fascinating character study is this next one. This is an article by Terrence McCoy in the Washington Post about Debi Thomas who, if you are old enough to remember and followed figure skating as I did as a child, she was the first and best ever African-American figure skater. She was fantastic and she was also very smart. So unlike most Olympic athletes who don’t go to school and don’t go to college, she did both. She landed her triple axels and got her medical degree and was just tremendously driven and successful. This article finds her living in a trailer, bankrupt and –

Craig: Down by the river.

John: Literally down by the river with a sort of a no good fiancé and clearly some mental health issues. So it’s a really sobering, not cherry look at what can happen after the glow fades.

Craig: Yeah, I think actually this could be a movie. I don’t know if — I think that this could inspire a movie. I don’t necessarily know anybody wants to see a bio pic of Debi Thomas.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But I think that you could take from this an inspiration to make a movie about what happens to the perfectionist when the world refuses to accommodate them and they break. And it’s really interesting and obviously you’d want some sort of path back to hope because she is a fascinating individual, you know. I didn’t know this at the time. I remember her being a skater back in the Katarina Witt days, you know, the Reagan era.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And, I mean, I understood that she was driven the way that all of these Olympians seemed to be driven but then she had this whole other thing which is, you know, I’m also now going to be a doctor. I’m not just a doctor. I’m going to be a surgeon, right? She ended up being an orthopedic surgeon and was just remarkably driven in this sense. And then, you know, it’s hard to say, I mean, in this story it’s put out there that she was diagnosed — well, first of all, she claimed that she was going to hurt herself and she had a gun and so they committed her temporarily and then medical board records because she lost her license, they indicated that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder which is one of the more over-diagnosed and misunderstood conditions.

And she’s saying, “I don’t have that.” And a lot of other people are like, “Yeah, it doesn’t seem like she has that. It seems like she has something else.” One doctor diagnosed her and said her erratic behavior was not a symptom of bipolar disorder — and this is where I kind of got interested in the character for a movie — but “Naïveté, overconfidence, and her expectation that if she works hard enough she can overcome any obstacle. Her experience as a world class figure skater reinforced this expectation and confidence.” It’s a little bit like what happens to Tracy Flick 20 years down the line.

John: Yeah, I can see that.

Craig: From Election. There’s this break that happens when your drive and will to power is thwarted by the world somehow but it’s clear that, I mean, just from — I mean, it sounds vaguely paranoid, it sounds a little schizophrenic something is seriously wrong with her. There’s no question.

John: Yeah, there definitely were delusions of grandeur — weird to say delusions of grandeur when she actually was sort of champion of the world at a certain point.

Craig: [laughs] I know, right.

John: So maybe she has reasons to believe that she could be grand. But, you know, in my own life when I have had to deal with people in my life who were going through similar kinds of things and could not connect the dots of their life and sort of believe that everything was going to change tomorrow, I recognized some of the same things coming out of her mouth as she was describing her own situation or sort of what was next, or to the blaming of sort of what happened before. I think she’s a fascinating character.

The question for the movie is at what point do you start the movie and at what point you end the movie because it doesn’t seem like it’s useful to do a bio pic from she first puts on skates to where we are now.

Craig: Correct.

John: That’s not going to be a great journey. So are you meeting her at the river as this crazy, just sort of a crazy woman, and then going back to see how she got there? Are you just starting her there and like filling in the backstory just through dialogue of who she was before and moving her forward hopefully to a place where she progresses?

I’m assuming that she is an essential character of the movie but that’s not necessarily the case. She’s also a great ancillary character. If she had kids to be in the movie, they would be fascinating characters to follow through, too. Like if you were her kid what would you do and that’s an interesting dilemma.

Craig: Yeah. I think you’re right to the point of kid although I wouldn’t make it her kid. I think that if I were going to write a movie here I would use the idea of this. I would create a character inspired by this one and I would create a kid who was trying to achieve something most likely what she did. Let’s say it’s ice skating. It doesn’t have to be. We can make it anything. Let’s say it’s ice skating and she knows that — and this is her idol. She herself is this young girl who’s maybe 14, incredibly driven, trying her hardest, and idolizes this woman who was maybe the greatest in the world and then is just gone and nobody knows where she is. But she believes that she lives like in the town over and so she goes to see her and finds and then you create.

I’m always fascinated by these kind of dual redemptions stories where they kind of save each other but in the end there has to be some tragedy here for the older — like that character doesn’t — it doesn’t go well for that character. That character I think dies.

John: So it’s Katarina Witt’s daughter who comes to track down Debi Thomas who defeated her mother back all these years ago and that’s the story you’re building.

Craig: Well, I wouldn’t do the defeat thing. I would probably make it just more like –

John: Well, Craig, I’m pitching that it’s Creed basically.

Craig: Oh, you want to do that. Yeah, no, listen, we can’t do that because that guy is going to sue us.

John: If you want to file off the serial numbers of the Creed you just make it ice skating instead of boxing –

Craig: Make it ice skating, exactly.

John: And make them women instead of men. Done.

Craig: Right, done. No one will ever know.

John: It’s so simple.

Craig: Change white to black, black to white, you’re done.

John: Done.

Craig: There’s something beautiful about, I think, about characters who have failed but in their failure there’s one last thing they do before they go away forever and that’s help somebody else avoid what they did and then that person kind of can blossom and succeed without ending up in a van down by river.

John: Well, what you’re hoping for the older character is a moment of insight because they’ve probably been lacking insight. They’ve been lacking the ability to understand what it is they’re doing and why they’re doing it and sort of why it’s not working. And perhaps the presence of a younger character can actually make them understand the truth of their own life in ways that they never could before that point and get to a happier place. So not everything has to be resolved, but sort of get them back on a track is sort of the goal of that interaction.

Craig: Yeah. It also allows you, I think you want to identify with somebody that is discovering slowly that this person is a mess –

John: Yep.

Craig: And we start to see the layers of mess. There’s that great moment in Karate Kid where it’s like, okay, we got like this kind of cartoony Mentor with a capital M and this kid and he’s teaching him how to wax on and wax off. And then one night he shows up and the guy is drunk and he’s crying about his dead wife and you’re like, wow. When you see the broken nature of your heroes, it’s very touching, it’s very dramatic and it’s also a sign post of a coming of age movie because that’s a coming of age kind of thing.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So I think that that’s probably where I would go and that’s actually like I feel honestly like that could be a movie people would — you could write a good movie like this.

John: Yeah, okay. You’ve got me mostly convinced and I think the good version of that movie introduces a character I think like we’re describing who can be a conduit into meeting this older character and through that process you fill in the backstory, so it’s not –

Craig: Right.

John: Yeah, you’re not limited to just being in the perspective of that first person. It’s also about, you know, she’s a fascinating character because she is so driven and she clearly was so driven and the thing that drives her ultimately becomes her undoing. I mean, it’s the same — I don’t know — I find that with a lot of directors is like the really good directors are kind of crazy because there’s something that’s a little bit broken in their brains and so they just won’t stop. Where other people would’ve stopped, they just will not stop. And as long as they keep directing movies, everything is happy and good and great. But if anything gets in their way, they can be very challenging people to be around. And that seems like it is with her that she was so driven to, “No, no, I’m going to do it all and just watch me do it all,” and when she can’t do it all she sort of turns on herself.

Craig: Yeah, and underneath here there is this beam I think where you go right at the nature of the desperate and terrible nature of perfectionism that in your desire to be perfect you will then cause the thing that will make you imperfect or even less than you could have been because the desperate need to be perfect is what unwinds you and destroys you. And this girl in the beginning seeks her out because she wants to be perfect because she saw, like, in my mind in the scene it’s like no one’s ever gotten a perfect score, it’s like she’s Nadia Comāneci kind of thing. No one’s ever gotten a perfect, perfect score except this one time. This one championship she did it. She was perfect.

I need to find her so I can be better and win. And she finds her and finds this broken woman. And ultimately what she learns is if you try and be perfect that’s what happens. It’s a bit like Whiplash has that kind of same vibe to it, you know.

John: Absolutely. Yeah, so Whiplash is a really good comparison for this, too. You have somebody who is a really dysfunctional person — actually you have two really dysfunctional people who feed off of each other in a very unhealthy way and yet are able to sort of make something amazing because of it.

Craig: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. And so you see like for those of you playing along with the home game, you know, these articles and these stories, you don’t have to necessarily just make the straight line. You know, you’re allowed to kind of fictionalize it and embellish it. Just find something at the core that inspires you and who knows, you know. I mean there’s probably 12 different ways you could be inspired to make totally fictional movies from this sad story.

John: At the Austin Film Festival, one of the How Would this be a Movies we brought up, there was a woman in the audience who said like, “I tried to get the rights to that story and I couldn’t get it.” It was about, I think, a hoarder who had died. And she’s like, “Well, I can’t get the rights to that story.” And I kept saying like, “No, no, no, you don’t need that story. Just take whatever that story means to you and like build a new story. She’s like, “No, I can’t do without that story.”

I was like, “Well, I’m sorry but I think you’re being too stuck on the specific details of what this one thing was that happened and not what the emotional narrative is for you.” And I think it’s the example here. I don’t think you need the Debi Thomas story. I think you need to make the story about probably these two women and what that journey is.

Craig: Yeah, I remember that and I remember thinking that whether that woman knew it or not who asked that question, she was limiting the appeal of the story itself.

John: Yup.

Craig: Because we are less interested in the very specific than we are in the stories that kind of touch us all. I mean, even like the Eddie the Eagle movie that just came out is such an everyman kind of story that it was okay that it was specifically about this one person and it kind of had to be because it was unbelievable, you know, so we needed that bit of truth in there. But a lot of times if you make it really specific about what you read in that article it just seems small or like homework.

John: Yeah, or it feels like a Lifetime movie.

Craig: Right.

John: It’s very much like it’s written about like this one thing taken from the headlines and you are going to hit all these beats and you can read the Wikipedia article about it and sort of get the same information out of it. And so we’re certainly not arguing against specificity, you know, that’s our favorite thing in the entire world, but it needs to be specificity in relation to these characters and this setting and the exact story that you’re telling, not specificity related to that thing that actually happened in real life.

Craig: It’s funny, you know, fictionalizing actually gives you more of an opportunity for specificity because you can specify everything exactly the way you want. What shouldn’t be specific is the appeal. That should be as general as possible I guess is how I put it.

John: Agreed. Our final How This Would be a Movie question is about ghost passengers. This comes from an article in a Japanese news site. It was also replicated in The Mirror in UK and a couple other sites. It’s about the 2011 tsunami in Japan. Specifically, these taxi drivers who have been picking up fares who will ask them to drive to a place that was basically decimated by the flooding and then the passenger disappears, so they are ghost passengers. And these taxi drivers have multiple reports of like picking up these ghost passengers who are not scary per se, but are just sad and like wanting to go back to a place.

So this all stems from a woman named Yuka Kudo who’s 22 and she went to that region every week in her junior year to interview taxi drivers waiting for fares. She asked them, did you have any unusual experiences after the disaster? She asked the question to more than 100 drivers. Many ignored her, some became angry. However, seven drivers recanted their mysterious experiences to her. So, Craig, what is the Japanese taxi ghost movie?

Craig: Oh, boy. I mean, first of all, I don’t believe her.

John: I don’t believe her at all.

Craig: I’m just going to say like she’s made this up completely, because they’re not even good stories, not even good ghost stories. The problem here is that it’s so narrow. This would be a very cool scene in a movie. I think that you would want to sort of — my instinct would be if you’re writing a horror movie and it feels like it has to be a horror movie, I don’t see any other kind of movie involving this sort of thing, that you would maybe say there are ghosts left over from a flood and what do we do and it’s a great opening scene, like it’s a great way to open a movie. Somebody takes a fare. This person says they want to go somewhere.

I love this one line. She said this is one story that a taxi driver definitely did not tell her but she claims he did, [laughs], at least in my opinion. The taxi driver says a woman who was wearing a coat climbed in his cab near Ishinomaki Station. The woman directed him, “Please go to the Minamihama District.” The driver, in his 50s, asked her, “That area is almost empty. Is it okay?” And the woman said in a shivering voice, “Have I died?” Surprised at the question, the driver looked back at the rear seat. No one was there.

That’s goosebumpy. That’s a great way to start a movie. I’m intrigued. There are ghosts. But that’s it. I definitely don’t want to see that happen like three more times with three different cab drivers. [laughs] That would just start to get funny.

John: Yeah. It would be tedious. So I think the question for me is that is it a bunch of people who are trying to do this or is it one specific person because if the bunch of different people that to me it suggests that, well, maybe it’s a TV show, maybe it’s like a limited series where you’re following these different threads and like there are these ghosts who need to get places and you’re piecing together what is actually happening. There’s a reason why these things are happening. Or it’s actually kind of funny where it’s like you’re essentially the ghost taxi like when ghosts need to get some place, they’re basically signaling you and like you’re the person who like always is picking up the ghosts.

Craig: [laughs] Ghost taxi. It’s just so dumb. We got stuff we got to do.

John: Stuff we got to do.

Craig: And we have places to go. We can’t walk.

John: No, we can’t walk.

Craig: Well, I can walk to a taxi.

John: Well, as you saw in the movie Ghost when we did our Ghost episode, like the ghosts ride the subway. So ghosts presumably take taxis as well. It’s natural, it’s New York City.

Craig: Yeah, it’s natural. And it’s a great way to take it. I mean, you take cab and you never have to pay.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I think you could do a horror movie, sort of a Grudge-like movie where the character is Yuka Kudo, 22, senior at Tohoku Gakuin University, and she’s invented out of whole cloth this graduation thesis that has impressed people and become a news story and she just made it up. And she starts getting visited by the ghosts of flood victims who want their revenge because she’s trading in on their sorrow. That’s definitely not what Yuka Kudo was hoping from our podcast. That’s maybe –

John: Yeah, but I think there probably is a horror movie version where sort of take that same Yuka Kudo character and so she’s heard this one story and she goes to investigate and turns out like she’s finding these other people and then she’s obsessed like actually meeting one of these ghosts. And so it’s one thing to hear about these stories, so she’s interviewing these people, but then, like, she’s determined she’s going to find one of these ghosts. And in trying to find one of these ghosts she uncovers dot-dot-dot. So like that’s the initial sort of, you know, initial setup, it’s like a lot of these people have this experience and by the end of the first act she’s actually found one of these ghosts and gotten herself into really serious trouble and that is essentially just a premise. It’s a starting place, but like what those ghosts are trying to do. Is she there to help the ghosts? Are the ghosts ultimately malevolent? What is the psychological feeling of people who have drowned in this flood?

There’s something potentially interesting there. It might be a little bit more like the French series, The Returned. There’s also an American version of The Returned. Where like these dead people keep coming back and like why are they coming back?

Craig: Yeah, and you could, I suppose, give her a personal interest. Her father died in the flood.

John: Yes.

Craig: And then she hears that a taxi driver picked up a ghost and the thought that maybe that’s all real means that maybe she could talk to him again, you know. You could do something like that. I’m not big on horror movies. I got to be honest. Like it’s hard for me with these because I feel like it just comes down to ghosts.

John: Yeah, it does come down to ghosts. So I would say like there definitely is a clear trajectory for like what the horror version of this would be. If there’s a romantic version or if there’s some other, you know, way to bend it, I think that could be very interesting, too. Sort of like once you understand like why she’s doing what she’s doing and what her motivation is. So like her father is a great one but I think it’s her fiancé that she’s looking for, that’s fascinating too.

Craig: Yeah, there’s a romantic comedy ghost tradition. There’s Blithe Spirit and Jeff Lowell made a movie called Over Her Dead Body or Over My Dead Body and, you know, I could see that she’s a cab driver and she picks up some guy and then they have like this really interesting connection and this great conversation. And then they get to this place and then he’s gone.

John: It could be kind of a While You Were Sleeping Forever kind of a movie.

Craig: Right, exactly. While You Were Dead.

John: While You Were Drowning.

Craig: [laughs] Why are we laughing about this? It’s just terrible.

John: Yeah, it’s gallows humor, quite literally.

Craig: Meanwhile I think honestly now somebody is pitching this stupid thing.

John: I’m sure someone is absolutely pitching — the minute this thing was — the minute we publish up someone is making this. So let’s predict which of these movies will become movies. I think there will be some inexpensive version of ghost taxi in the next couple of years.

Craig: Yeah, I think ghost taxi might be the one. It just seems like the most digestible bite size thing. There is an interesting Oscary kind of vibey movie to be made of that’s inspired by the Debi Thomas kind of story.

John: I agree.

Craig: And missing scientist, no.

John: No, I don’t think it’s going to happen.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’s not even real.

Craig: Nope.

John: It’s time for One Cool Things. I’m going to cheat and do two One Cool Things.

Craig: What?

John: The first is by Ingrid Sundberg and she has this thing called The Color Thesaurus, which is actually a very smart idea. When you’re describing colors in screenplays and writing in general you can sort of get stuck on like, “oh, what’s the word for that kind of color?” And she basically just designed this website, and I think there’s also a poster available that just like shows kind of all the colors and like provides words for all those colors and you sort of realize, like oh wow, there are actually a lot of different words that mean different kinds of white for example.

So it’s a useful website when you’re sort of thinking about a color and it’s like, wait, what am I calling that color? And it’s sort of more in the literary sense because there’s always those colors that you can sort of get at a paint store. They have like random like, you know, vibrant dandelion, but these are sort of more useful color names, so I thought that was a great little site.

Craig: It’s cool. I’m looking at it right now. I think she’s misspelled fuchsia.

John: Yeah, that happens.

Craig: But still, this is really cool.

John: Yeah. My second thing is the Walk of Life Project. His hypothesis behind this site is that the Walk of Life by Dire Straits is the perfect song to end any movie. And so what he’s done, he’s taken endings of a whole bunch of movies ranging from The Matrix to 400 Blows to all sorts of different movies and he’s replaced the ending music with the Walk of Life.

Craig: Oh my god.

John: It’s actually kind of fascinating because surprisingly it does work for a lot of movies. I think the reason why it works is because the last shots of movies tend to be sort of about what’s going to happen next, it’s that uplift about sort of the thing that’s going to happen, and Walk of Life just kind of perfectly fits that. The last shots of movies also have like a sort of tendency towards tracking shots, towards sort of like sweeping shots that go out over things and Walk of Life fits very well for that. So, I would recommend you waste some time at the Walk of Life Project, it’s

Craig: That’s amazing. Now if I remember correctly, the Walk of Life also begins with this very cool organy intro like –

John: [hums]

Craig: Yeah. So I think maybe also it’s like it kind of — yeah, it seems like, yeah, I’m going to watch all of these.

John: Yeah, there’s sort of churchy/spiritual quality to the initial organ of it all. And then it gets sort of upbeat.

Craig: Yeah, that’s what I mean. Exactly.

John: So he does it from everything from The Matrix to Friends to, you know, Chinatown probably. Everything is there.

Craig: [hums] Oh, yeah. I’m going to check these out. That’s awesome. My One Cool Thing is also kind of a trailery sort of thing but it is a trailer for one movie and probably a lot of you have seen it already. It’s called Hardcore Henry and this is a movie that I think actually has been in the world for a bit maybe like a year but it’s getting its proper release here in the United States. On my birthday. April 8.

John: Oh, how nice.

Craig: And it is this action movie that it shot entirely in first-person perspective like, you know, first-person shooter style. Remember like in RoboCop there were those scenes where after he dies and he’s been turned into robot, his eyes open and people are looking down at him, you know, saying, “Oh, are you in there?” It’s that but that’s the whole movie, everything. So it’s him running and shooting. And the trailer is incredibly fun. I don’t know if I need to see the movie now that I’ve seen the trailer. I feel like, yeah, that was fun. Like, I don’t know if I need 90 minutes of it. Two and a half minutes was awesome.

So we will include a link to the trailer in the show notes. It’s fun. It’s obviously going to be a very violent movie. So if you don’t like violence, weirdly enough it also doesn’t seem like the kind of thing that would make me puke, you know.

John: Yeah. I remember seeing Jackass, the first Jackass and feeling very, very nauseous thereafter because a lot of the hand-held stuff, but you control it carefully, maybe it’s going to work.

Craig: Well, because the thing is the camera feels pretty rigid, like GoPro videos don’t necessarily make me feel pukey because they don’t have that weird shake that is moving in a way that my eyes wouldn’t move. They’re actually moving in a way my eyes do move. So it didn’t make me puke at least not there, maybe on the big screen it would but cool trailer to watch and some people — and the movie, I should add, is written by Ilya Naishuller and then additional writing by Will Stewart, which means it doesn’t sound like a guild credit. It must have been done overseas. But some people have been asking, is this the future of action movies? Are we going to be now doing first person the way that 3D kind of came back and became this disruptive thing?

Eh, I don’t think so. But this one looks pretty good.

John: It does look cool.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Also in the show notes, I will throw link to The Bronze which is an upcoming movie. Actually it came out at Sundance last year, so I think it’s still coming out which is about an Olympic gymnast who has to go back and train somebody which I thought of as we were discussing Debi Thomas.

Craig: Oh, well there you go.

John: But it’s a comedy. And that’s our show for this week. You can find our show notes at where you’ll find links to many of the things we talked about including these trailers and many of the articles we discussed. You can also find us in iTunes, just go and search for Scriptnotes. While you’re there you can also find the Scriptnotes app which gives you access to all the back episodes, all 240 episodes that exist before this. is where you sign up for all the back archive stuff and it is $2 a month, so thank you if you want to get all those back episodes. They’re also available, the first 200 episodes at least, are available on the Scriptnotes USB drive and so those are at the store. There’s a link in the show notes for how you get those.

Our show as always is edited by Matthew Chilelli.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It is produced by Stuart Friedel.

Craig: Woo.

John: Our Outro this week comes from Sam Tahhan. If you have an outro you’d like us to play, send us a link at That’s also a great place to send questions and longer follow-up pieces. Otherwise you can just reach us on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. And that is our show this week. Thanks, Craig.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: Bye.


Fan Fiction and Ghost Taxis

Tue, 03/15/2016 - 08:03

Craig and John look at three stories in the news for another installment of “How Would This Be a Movie?” From fake scientists to figure skaters, we pitch our takes before some actor’s production company buys the rights.

Speaking of rights, a new lawsuit targets the makers of Creed for stealing the idea. The case will almost certainly get tossed, but it raises a discussion about fan fiction and what constitutes an original work.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 240: David Mamet and the producer pass — Transcript

Fri, 03/11/2016 - 15:22

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

Today on the podcast, we’ll be answering a bunch of listener questions about the craft, about the profession of screenwriting, and about Craig Mazin.

Craig: Oh yeah.

John: Lots of Craig questions.

Craig: I won’t know how to answer any of them.

John: It’s one of our easiest types of episodes because we had to do almost no work. We basically pasted a bunch of questions in here and we’ll just answer them one at a time.

Craig: Or, it’s exactly as easy as it is for me, always, because you do everything.

John: This is the Craig special we’re talking today.

Craig: Oh.

John: Last week on the podcast, we were talking about an article on acting by Marcus Geduld, and so we were looking at his article, and we were comparing what would the similar advice be for talking about good writing. And so Marcus listened to that episode and wrote in and said, “Hey, a friend alerted me to the Episode 239 of your podcast in which you discussed my Quora post about acting. I’ve been feeling some qualms about it. But I was very pleased that it sparked such intelligent conversation on your show. You have a new listener and a fan. Forgive me for bringing up stuff you may already know about. It will take me some time to listen to your whole back catalogue, but I wonder if you’ve discussed David Mamet’s memo to his writing staff on The Unit. It was dashed off and contained a lot of typos, but it’s great fodder for discussion.” So he sends a link to this memo that David Mamet wrote in 2005 for the writing staff of this — I think it was a CBS show called, The Unit.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And I remember seeing it when it came out, but I don’t think we’ve ever discussed it on the show.

Craig: Yeah. Before we started recording, I asked you to go check it because I thought for sure we would have discussed it because I remember reading it and thinking about it and then talking about it, but I guess it wasn’t on this podcast about things that are interesting to screenwriters. So we should talk about it.

John: We’ll have a link to this in the show notes, so you can just click through and see what we’re talking about, but it’s about a four-page, just memo, like a single sentences about advice and frustrations and guidance to his staff about what he’s looking for in an episode in their writing. And you know, one of the sort of central tenets behind it is like don’t be lazy, like you know, the stuff I’m asking you to do is really hard, but that’s sort of your job to do the really hard work. And what he’s really looking for is not plot, it’s not story, it’s drama. And he’s sort of railing against those scenes that are so common, especially in procedural dramas that are not dramatic at all, they’re just information dumps.

Craig: Yeah. One of the things that I found remarkable about this when I read it was that it needed to be written at all, but I understand particularly when you’re doing a procedural, and there is an enormous amount of plot, because every episode has to be centered around some new bit of narrative, it’s tempting to fall into the trap of letting narrative and plot drive everything else. But what he’s reminding them here is very, very true, and it’s something that I think is a little easier for us to keep an eye on in a movie because it’s just our one story — character drives plot, and character relationships drive plot. Even when it seems like the plot isn’t driven by those things, the plot must ultimately be in relationship to those things. It has to either come out of them or exist to change them. So he’s really refocusing their eyes on that.

John: He’s arguing that every scene needs to be about the conflict and discovery of characters within that moment and the scene itself has to have drama, it has to have a spark to it. And it can’t really be the thing that’s connecting you to the next thing.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I’ll read a little bit from it here. “Everyone in creation is screaming at us to make the show clear. We are tasked with it, it seems, cramming a shit load of information into a little bit of time. Our friends, the penguins, which is what he calls the studio execs, think that we, therefore, are employed to communicate information, and so at times, it seems to us. But note, the audience will not tune in to watch information. They wouldn’t. I wouldn’t. No one would or will. The audience will only tune in and stay tuned in to watch drama.

“Question, what is drama? Drama again is the quest of the hero to overcome things which prevent him from achieving a specific acute goal. So we, the writers, must ask ourselves of every scene these three questions. Who wants what, what happens if they don’t get it, and why now?” Those are three great questions.

Craig: They are, and they are questions that I ask of myself constantly and I try and ask them before I write the scene. I don’t like going into a scene without knowing the answers to those questions. The scene must be first and foremost an immediate answer to why now because if the scene could happen later, it probably should happen later, or earlier, or not at all, right? It needs to feel like it must be now, must be. And then the who wants what, this comes up so often, and it’s articulated in so many different ways, but it is the bedrock question of following characters and believing that their people. What do you want? And it changes at times. At times it doesn’t. And it’s static. But when actors say, well, what’s my motivation? That means what do I want? It’s the only way to perform. I think it’s the only way to write a scene. It’s the only way to write a movie.

I think it might have been frustrating for his staff to read this because I don’t know, I suspect that they might have known a lot of this, and they were like, hey, you know, we have to do 26 of these? And it’s not like writing a play, but if you don’t know the answers to these, you are going to end up with that feeling of treading water.

John: Yeah, I definitely would feel some sympathy being on his writing staff because like, hey, you hired us to write on your show because we are writers who’ve written on other things, like, we should in theory know what we’re doing. I think where I sympathize again with Mamet though is that sense of when you’re actually in the process of trying to make these things, you’ll reach those scenes where it’s like, there’s nothing — the scene just needs to be here so I can get this piece of information out. And he’s saying, I know you feel that way, but that’s not a good enough answer. You have to find a way to make that scene dramatic. Otherwise, it’s just not a scene, and it’s not worth anything.

Circling back to his question of like what do the characters want, we’ve talked a lot about, you know, wants and goals and wishes and dreams and motivation on the show, and there’s a whole scale, there’s a whole like sort of mountain of want that a character experiences. There’s that overarching, that wish, that dream, that someday want, which is informing a character for like one day I hope to get this thing. And a character on a TV show will kind of never get that thing they hope to get. A character in a movie probably should get that thing they’re hoping to get.

And then there’s sort of more immediate goals, like what are the things we’re trying to do in this section, like what is a thing I can see in the distance I’m trying to get to, that mountain that I’m trying to get to. But there’s also a very immediate goal, and this is I think what Mamet is getting frustrated about is that it is literally like in this moment where I’m standing here talking to you, what am I trying to achieve?

Craig: Right.

John: And sometimes you don’t see those things happen. And it’s those questions — what I’m trying to achieve right now — that’s informing each line of dialogue, it’s informing why the characters are interacting with each other the way they’re interacting. And I think his frustration is, you encounter these scenes where it’s, “Well, Tom, as you know, blah, blah, blah.” And then it’s just an information dump.

Craig: Precisely. The essence of conflict is each character in conflict, and in one of our episodes we went through all different kinds of conflict, but for all of them, each character in the conflict wants something that is different than what the other person wants. There is no conflict, and thus, no drama in a scene where one character is explaining something to another. That’s a meeting. People go to meetings all day long at work, even if they don’t work at places where you think they have meetings, they do. If you work at Burger King, at some point, the manager is going to be like, hey, guys, we just go these new kinds of fries, and here’s the order that they have to go in. That’s a meeting. That’s boring. It’s just boring. And that’s not why people come to see shows.

So your job, he says, is, you know, information is necessary to make the whole thing work, figure out how to encode that into scenes that are dramatic. Otherwise, why are we watching it, you know?

John: Yeah.

Craig: Like he says, look at your log lines, a log line reading Bob and Sue discuss is not describing a dramatic scene, and he’s right because if they’re just discussing it, there’s no conflict.

John: I think it’s really interesting that he’s going back to the log line because as you’re doing sort of like quick and dirty outlines of like sort of what’s going to happen in the show, you’ll see these things which are basically, these two characters discuss this thing and decide to do this thing. And discuss is never going to be a dramatic scene. And so if all they’re doing is discussing, that scene is not going to meet his standards. If they decide, well, then, what is the nature of the conversation that led to a decision? And so if it’s an argument, then that probably could work. If it is a, you know, Tom convinces Mary to do this thing, that is conflict. You can see what the different character’s goals are. But if it’s just discussing, if it’s just like you know they’re passing the ball back and forth while they’re talking about it, that’s not going to work.

Craig: There are so many ways to bury conflict in there while this information is happening. For instance, one character can be explaining something, let’s say, I think The Unit was a law enforcement show, correct?

John: Yeah, I think so.

Craig: So one character is explaining to another what they found and what he thinks they should do next. And she is listening to this, and then her response is going to be okay, let’s go do it. No conflict, right? But if while they’re talking she needs to be somewhere else, or she wants to be on the phone with someone else, or she sees someone through the window, or she just walked out of something that’s pissed her off, or she has a secret. Anything that makes her want to not be there, suddenly the scene is interesting. He can stop and say, I’m sorry, are you not paying attention to me at all? Of course I am. Now, it’s interesting.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s about people.

John: Yes. So he’s stressing that the scene has to have drama in it. The scene has to be dramatic and again, his words, “It’s not the actor’s job. The actor’s job is to be truthful. It’s not the director’s job. His or her job is to film it straightforwardly, and remind the actors to talk fast. It is your job.” Although Mamet is, you know, weaving in that talking fast, but that’s Mamet, and that’s absolutely true. And I can’t think of any TV shows that are not non-fiction cooking or sort of building thing shows that don’t have that central conflict woven into every scene.

Craig: Absolutely. And frankly it’s why there are certain kinds of shows that I never really got into like Law & Order has been on forever and a lot of people are big Law & Order fans, but I always found my problem with Law & Order was that there were scenes where people that just generally were agreeable coworkers would discuss facts. And I found that like I was in a meeting. I just did not like that so much.

John: I have never liked that show. And that show is sometimes a nice intricate crossword puzzle, but in general, characters would have scowls while they gave each other information, but that wasn’t actually conflict.

Craig: No.

John: Every once in a while, Sam Waterston would like throw some papers around and he’d get really upset, and there were moments where there generally was disagreement, but those things were rare.

Craig: Yeah. So then what you really end up with is living or dying on what I call the prurient interest of the plot. Will they be found guilty or not, which is fine, but kind of not enough for me to watch your show.

John: Yeah. He talks about clarity and curiosity. He says, “The job of the dramatist is to make the audience wonder what happens next. It’s not to explain to them what just happened, or suggest to them what happens next. It’s to create that question mark.” And, you know, to the degree that Law & Order succeeds, I think there is a question mark about how are the pieces going to fit together.

Craig: Right.

John: It’s like they’ve shaken up the box of the big puzzle and now you have to figure out, oh, are they going to be able to put the pieces together in time? The answer is yes, but maybe there’ll be some detours along the way.

Craig: Yeah. It’s a really good outline of how to approach scene work, I think, and a great way to — it’s a nice enumeration of pitfalls.

John: I agree. So why don’t you hit our next question?

Craig: So Robert writes, “When you’re writing for a first step for a studio, do you give the draft to the producer for their notes, that is to say, do a producer pass before you submit to the studio? And if you do, is there a limit to the quantity or scope of adjustments that you will do for the producer, or will you do as much additional work as the producer desires?” And then he clarifies, “As a young writer, you want to do what’s best for the project and be known as a team player, but also don’t want to be taken advantage of, or undermine the guild in any way.”

John: Yes. So Robert is going to be so happy to hear that once you have had a few projects made, this never comes up again. And it’s free and clear to answer your question. So the answer, Robert, is that there’s no great answer for how much leeway you should give to the producer before it goes into the studio, to what degree you should bend to their wishes, to what degree you should be a good team player versus stick to your guns, it’s a really tough thing that you’re going to be wrestling with your entire career.

Craig: Yeah, boy, it’s rough for us when we can’t give you a good answer. And look, for me, I’m actually dealing with this right now. And I’m kind of a hard case about this. Frankly, I don’t have the time to do these passes just for the producer because I have other things I have to do. But in addition, my entire outlook on things is I want everyone to tell me what they think, not just the producer. The producer oftentimes is wonderful and has great insight into the movie they want to make. They will convince you that they have the greatest insight to the movie the studio wants to make. But as you go on in your career, you’ll find out they don’t, any more than anyone does, seemingly. And so sometimes you end up in this trap where you’ve done all these work and then work, and then work, and then work, then you turn it into the studio, and they’re like, what? This isn’t what we wanted.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So here’s the uncomfortable fact for every screenwriter whether you’re new, it’s particularly brutal when you’re new, or whether you’ve been around forever: there will always be pain and friction here in this relationship. You will find yourself in positions where you are going to make people upset. You will find yourself in positions where you’re making yourself upset. And all I can say is that if you are involved in a producer that you believe is starting to behave in a way that is abusive or counter productive to the project, you’re not going to want to work with them again.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So you might as well hunker down with your agent and say, “I’m drawing the line here, we’re turning it in here. And that’s it. And if they flip out, they flip out.” But I’ll say this much, if the studio likes it, they’ll be your best friend.

John: Absolutely. So let’s talk about the difference between realistically in daily practice and contractually. Contractually, you owe the script to the studio, you don’t owe it to the producer. And so when you turn it into the studio, you are saying, you’re delivering your script, and they’re going to pay you your money, the other half of the money that they owe you for the script. And so there’s one person listed on your contract, you turn it in to him or her, and they should cut you a check.

Craig: Yeah.

John: In practice, what tends to happen is you show it to the producer first, kind of as a courtesy, but also to get their feedback. And sometimes you will do additional work based on their notes, and then you will turn it into the studio, and they will pay you. The pitfalls that happen: sometimes the producers will come to you with a tremendous number of notes or just like really crazy things, like wow, that’s going to take so much time to do.

Sometimes you’ll agree with them, sometimes like, well that’s just a better idea, I’m going to go through and fix that. Oftentimes, you’ll be questioning whether it’s a good choice to be doing those notes, and then you’re kind of stuck so do you say like, “Yeah, I don’t think so,” and you go into the studio? Maybe you do, maybe you don’t. You also are always wondering where is that note really coming from. Is that note because they think it’s what’s best for the project or because they’re just playing from fear? If they’re playing from fear, that’s not going to be a helpful situation for you.

The real danger is that they actually have shown it to the studio, and they’re actually sneakily trying to get you to do the studio’s notes as their notes, and that’s just the kind of BS that you encounter and you want to throw somebody through a wall.

Craig: That happens all the time and is literally fraud that they are perpetrating upon you. The thing that bothers me maybe the most about this is that, you said something that I think would be great if both sides saw it this way. But you do this as a courtesy to the producer. But so many producers don’t see it as a courtesy. They see it as something that they’re entitled to.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I don’t feel that way. I just had a very difficult discussion with a producer the other day. And I just said, look, I’m turning in the script, and I’m just kind of curious what you’re intending to do forward, how do you want to deal with this because it’s a one-step deal like they always make. And I said, are you the kind of place that does the whole, oh, let’s do another draft now just for the producer, and he’s like, yeah. I said, well, I’m not that guy.

John: Nope.

Craig: And it was a difficult conversation. And I will remain not that guy. And here’s the deal, yeah, if there’s something terrific and wonderful and interesting, and it’s a couple of weeks, or a week, yeah, I’ll do it. Sure. If it’s what I consider to be a re-write or a draft, no, I won’t. And they’ll say things like, well, the studio will never go forward with this. Okay, that’s right. You know what, they had a choice of how to structure my contract, this is how they structured it, so you know, I’ll take my chances there.

John: Yes. I ran into this situation on a project and the frustrating thing when I sat down with the producers, and things were going great, I sat down with the producers and their notes were just crazy pants like, wait, that’s a fundamental rethinking of the entire thing. That’s actually not the movie I pitched to the studio. And you’re wondering, just like, yeah, as an experiment, maybe I could try that, like the answer is no. And so I just flatly said no, and I left the meeting. And it really messed up my relationship with those producers, but there was just no way I was going to do it. And so we turned in the draft that I had done, and the studio loved it, so great, but it made it for an awkward situation with those producers because I frankly said, “You are insane. I’m in no way doing that thing.” And I thought they were abusing — in the context of trying to like, oh, let’s just like open up all the doors and like really explore things, they were trying to get me to write a completely different movie. And that was not going to fly.

Craig: No. And see? So Robert, note what John said. It screwed up his relationship with these people. That got broken. But I would hazard to guess, John, that you wouldn’t be running back to those producers with something else.

John: Yes.

Craig: So sometimes you got to break things. You can’t be everyone’s friend. If you want to be everyone’s friend, you’re walking around with a mark on your forehead that says, take advantage of me.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And you are going to have to judge these things unfortunately on an incident by incident basis and you’re going to have to understand that the people who are telling you that it has to go this way or else are saying that to con you. And they are sometimes also incidentally correct. But their primary concern is to con you.

John: Yeah. A mutual friend of ours is very, very hardcore about like, oh, I’m done. Here’s the script, bye. And so if you made a one-step deal with him, he’s done. He’s not going to like fix a comma in the script and he’s incredibly hardcore and I think he’s perceived as being incredibly difficult for that reason. And he’s had a lot of success, but I think he also has a reputation for being really difficult. And it’s the kind of behavior that makes you seem really difficult. I’ve never been that hardcore, and I’ve always been like happy to have the conversation with the producer or even the studio saying like, hey, we have this issue, can we talk about this issue specifically because of this problem because we’re trying to go after this actor, or whatever else, I’m fine and happy to do that.

It’s when they’re asking me to essentially just come back in and do more free work that I do go back to what Craig said, is like, well then maybe you should’ve have made a different deal for me. Or in fact, we have optional steps in the deal that you did make for me, let’s visit those.

Craig: Yeah, let’s do them, exactly. Look, I would never recommend to anybody to be the not one period or comma because I think that’s just dumb, you know. And I think that there is great value in doing what I’ll call tweaks to make everybody feel good and invested and whole as they go into the studio with this. But my whole thing is, look, if you want to do more than those tweaks in advance of the studio seeing it, it means this isn’t working for you. If this isn’t working for you, I’m not your guy. So I got to go because I got other things I want to do with my life and what I don’t want to do it just now chase you. I don’t want to chase you and what you want to do. This should be enough for people to go, well, everybody, studio and producer alike, after a week or two of tweaking, we see enough value here that we want you to continue, or we do not see enough value for you to continue. But I think a lot of writers end up chasing somebody who is just running ahead of them flinging fear glitter into the air and they’re just chasing them down this terrible path designed to assuage anxiety to no end.

John: I thought experiment it just occurred to me. So somebody says like, oh, can you just do a couple of days at work and my instinct is usually sort of yes, but what if I rephrase it as like, oh, we just want to reshoot a couple of days. That would be free, right? Of course that wouldn’t be free. Like to reshoot a couple of days would be tremendously expensive. So it seems really weird that you expect my labor to be free whereas everybody else’s labor would be incredibly expensive.

Craig: Yeah, you know, it’s a funny thing actually for me, I brought this up in the conversation with this producer. When I’m in a development phase, I have to be careful about my time, and careful about being paid for the work I do and protecting what I feel is my earned status as a professional writer, to not just do stuff cause. When we’re making a movie, I don’t ask for anything. And what I find a lot of times is, then they’ll call me and they’ll say, you’ve done quite a bit here, we should pay you something for it. And I’ll say, great.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But when we’re making a movie, there’s no teamier team player than me because I love it, but I hate development and I certainly hate wasting my time writing screenplays that aren’t being read by the people that decide to make a movie. Ugh. But anyway, Robert, long answer, difficult answer. You’re asking a good question and I’m sorry we don’t have a great answer for you, we just shared our pain with you instead.

John: Right, let’s do a simpler question. Najeeb writes, why does Craig feed the trolls so hard?

Craig: So I assume Najeeb is talking about Twitter and the people that occasionally go after me because I’m not a fan of Ted Cruz. And they seem to be breaking down into three categories, there were two, now there’s three. Category number one, people whose Twitter avatar is a flag with an eagle. Category two, people whose Twitter avatar is a flag with a cross. And the new one is, flag with don’t tread on my snake.

John: Yeah, very, very important.

Craig: Eagle flaggers, snake flaggers, cross flaggers. Why do I feed the trolls so hard? Because it’ s fun for me. I don’t feed them, they’re feeding me. I’m having fun. Now when I don’t like what they say, or if it’s just like a boring thing and most of them are, I’ll just ignore it. Or if it’s really disgusting, I’ll block them, or it’s just like enough already from you, I’ll block them. Like, oh, now you’re having fun, I don’t want you to have any fun.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So there’s this great line from the Watchmen, Alan Moore wrote for the character Rorschach. He’s been sent to prison, and all the prisoners hate him so much and they’re like, now you’re in here with us, we’re going to kill you. And he says, “No, you don’t get it. I’m not locked up in here with you. You’re locked up in here with me.” [laughs] And that’s me on Twitter. They’re locked in there with me. So that’s why, Najeeb.

John: I do notice sometimes people put those little hashtags at the end of things and they’ll sort of make up their hashtags but like there’s one just yesterday, it was #MazinBaby. And so I was like, oh, I hope other people are using #MazinBaby but they’re not. It was a one-time occurrence of #MazinBaby.

Craig: MazinBaby was pretty good. I like MazinBaby.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah, nice.

John: Talking about Twitter best practices, I used to block people. I don’t block people anymore. I just mute them. And so if you’re not using block or mute, I would encourage you to explore the wonderful world of mute because mute, they just disappear. You just don’t hear them again. It’s like you just ignore them and they never show up in your feed again. And it’s really useful because they don’t know that you’ve done anything and that’s a lovely –

Craig: That’s a great point. It’s funny. Like without naming names, I’ve used mute many times for people I follow.

John: Yes.

Craig: Who I don’t want to upset but who are just boring me. They’re tweeting a lot and it’s all boring.

John: Yep.

Craig: So I mute them. It’s the little white lie but then you got to be careful because then they’re like, hey –

John: Why don’t you ever write me back?

Craig: Yeah. Didn’t you see what I wrote?

John: Yeah. I’m thinking of some people you might have on mute. Here’s a question for you. If somebody is muted, and I can look this up. By the time you’re listening to this podcast, I will have already looked it up, but if I have muted you and somebody writes to both you and me, do I still see the tweet or does it go away completely? I’m not even sure.

Craig: Yeah. I think you see anything that’s got an @ to you. The muting is just basically for stuff that isn’t adding you and it’s just them talking.

John: Oh no. Muting does block people. It does keep people from adding you.

Craig: Oh, it does?

John: It does.

Craig: Oh. Oh, well in that case.

John: It’s useful for that too.

Craig: Then I’m going to stick with blocking for certain people. [laughs]

John: John Lambert writes, “A hypothetical, of course, but if your second script is an original one-hour spec, and it’s genius, what would your next three steps be?”

So here’s the numbers here. It’s the second script. It’s a one-hour drama. He wants to know what three steps you should take next.

Craig: No idea. What? [laughs] What kind of?

John: Yeah, Craig’s not a good person for a one-hour specs but — so you’ve written a spec script and by this I believe you are — I think you’re meaning that it is an original, so that’s not just an episode of you know Law & Order 16, or Chicago Social Services. You’ve written a great episode of television, original episode of TV, a pilot. And people like it. So, I would say — you say it’s great. Well, I think you need some objective measurements about whether it’s great. So, I would say enter it into Austin, enter it into Black List, get people to read it and see whether other people think it’s fantastic.

While you are doing that, you need to write more. Because one or I guess this is your second script, you’re going to need a trunkful of things under your belt before you try to make the move out here. You can make the move out here but before you’re seriously in consideration for a job writing television.

Craig: Yeah. That makes sense to me. I get thrown up by the next three steps. I can’t see three steps ahead. That’s like chess.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I got one step, show it to people and see if you’re right. How about this, get it out of the world of hypothetical, and into the world of actual. And then that should be your next step.

John: So I actually witnessed Craig thinking a few steps ahead though because last night we were playing Pandemic.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It was your second session, my first session playing Pandemic, which was a former One Cool Thing. This is the legacy version where the board actually physically changes once you’ve gotten through a gaming session. It was terrific. And you were very smart about sort of, you know, as we discussed sort of planning to keep cities from going rogue and falling and outbreaks from spreading.

Craig: Well, that’s where my mind is really suited to useless strategic things like playing Pandemic and sometimes not at all suited to what would my next three steps be if I had a genius script in my hand. We all have our strengths. That game by the way, a lot of our One Cool Things just aren’t that cool. That game is so good. I had so much fun. So much fun. I can’t wait. So we — the game is laid out in months. So you play it 12 times assuming that you win each time but if you lose, you get to play it a month over again if you lose. So we’ve only played January and February but we won both times. We’re very proud of ourselves.

John: And our funding has been cut to nothing.

Craig: Yeah. I know. We were extremely — can’t wait to play it again. So, next question. John Sweeny writes, “Subject, idea.” John Sweeny, I’m intrigued. “You guys should sponsor a screenplay contest.” John Sweeny, intrigue, lost. “The prize, the winner gets his screenplay purchased WGA minimum and produced.” What? [Laughs]

John: Because Craig, it’s so easy to make a movie. It’s just ridiculously easy, because you and I, any movie we write, it automatically just gets made.

Craig: Well first of all, let’s back up for a second. I don’t really believe in screenplay contests. I’m still waiting for the waves of incredibly successful screenwriters that are pouring out of these contests.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s just — even the Nicholls which is like the big one, there’s been a few people over the years. A few. Most, no.

So screenplay contests, to me, are a little bit of like an accomplishment trap for people that are trying to achieve something in a business where the actual achievement is an on-off switch and it’s almost always off, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: And the on-off switch is basically get hired, make movie, movie hopefully appeals to people, right? This is a very hard switch to flip to on, so instead, they’re like, you know, you see then people when they write their, “Well, I’m a semi-finalist in this and I was a quarter-finalist in this” and it’s like, what, there’s an Appalachian screen festival where you got fourth round in that? It’s bananas. The last thing in the world I’d want to do is sponsor a screenplay contest.

The prize, the winner gets his screenplay produced. So ladies, you’re out. WGA minimum for an original screenplay I think is $98,000. So that’s a hundred grand for us to split, no problem, and then produce. We have to make it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: There’s like, just because we do a podcast, we should probably spend a few million bucks.

John: Well, yes. Probably so. So, Project Green Light was essentially what he’s describing, which is basically it was a competition and they’d read a bunch of screenplays and they pick a screenplay. And they would make it. And so, that was a show. It’s been shown several times on HBO and other places. So you can watch Project Green Light. I don’t think we’re going to ever be Project Green Light.

Craig: No.

John: The thing which I think, they’re not — you know — John is really not keeping in mind is how much work it is to read through screenplays in a competition setting. So I have friends who read for Nicholls, and it’s sort of their job for like months of the year. All they’re doing is reading scripts. Same with Sundance Labs, like all they’re doing is reading scripts. And that’s just no fun at all.

Craig: No, it’s no bueno.

John: Circling back to the idea of screenplay competitions because in the previous thing, I said like, “Oh, you should submit to Austin or one of the other things,” I’m saying you should submit to those things because they will get your script noticed, and purchased and produced. I’m saying because they will tell you like, “Oh, you’re a really good writer.” And objectively, other people telling you like, “Oh, you’re a really good writer.” Then that’s a clue that like, “Oh, you know, I should probably go where the really good writers are and just get started in this business.” If they’re not telling you’re a really good writer, maybe you need to work on your craft a bit more.

Craig: Yeah. I think that that’s pretty much the most you can hope for from those things. And even then, you have to take them with a grain of salt. Sometimes, they say things are bad and they’re not bad. It’s just that they were wrong. And sometimes –

John: Yeah.

Craig: Frankly, more often than not, they’re too easy on you. I mean, I judged — I was a judge, a finalist judge for the Austin Screenwriting Competition one year, a number of years ago. So, it was — I think there were three judges or four of us. And we were judging the five scripts that made it all the way to the finals.

John: Yep.

Craig: And I hated all of them. All of them. Hated.

John: So right now someone is doing the research to figure out like which year that was and feeling really bad.

Craig: I hated them and I was shocked. I’m sorry to say if you were in there and you remember me being involved. But I hated them. And I didn’t think that they were of the quality that, if it had been me running it, I would have — no one wins. This is why I shouldn’t run.

John: So one of the things I love most about Sundance Labs is they’re kind of upfront about the fact that like they’re not picking the best scripts they’ve ever read. They’re picking the fast hitting stories that can be great movies that no one else is making. And like that’s such a great mandate. Like they’re trying to get stories and voices on screen that are not usually onscreen.

And so when they’re reading things from that perspective, they can overlook some clumsy writing and things that aren’t as good as they could be because they know they’re going to go through these labs process, they’re going to get these things in their best fighting shape to make a really great movie. That’s such a different thing than having to say like, objectively compare like, “Well this is a really good script or that’s a really good script.”

Craig: Yeah. I just don’t like it. I don’t like it and I would never ever in a million years would I be involved in a Project Green Light thing. And I’m not — it’s not a moral thing. I get it.

John: No.

Craig: I mean they’re making entertainment. And Matt and Ben are terrific guys, great screenwriters also. And they’re entertainers. And that’s an entertaining show. But for me, I don’t want to entertain people that way. That’s not how I entertain people. I would never do it. Like, the Sundance Labs, you know, it’s a shame because I was supposed to go one year and then I had to cancel because we were shooting.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But I’d love to go one year. I got to call Michelle and talk to her about that because it sounds like it’s exactly the kind of thing I do like to do.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Which is sit in a very real way with another human being and help them be the best them.

John: Yeah. Exactly.

Craig: All right.

John: Kevin writes, “As an Englishman, it’s easy to tell when non-English actors fail to summon a realistic British accent. So, do American audiences and filmmakers care as much about an accurate non-American accent? Is it an area that’s advanced or gone backwards during your careers? And how important do you think it is for maintaining the audiences’ focus on a story?”

Craig: That’s a good question. I think we do. I think we care very much when we hear bad accents. I think we know bad accents. Remember that we consume a lot of English language entertainment including entertainment from the UK. And even when it’s not UK entertainment but American entertainment, we employ a lot of English actors.

John: A tremendous amount of English actors.

Craig: We love English actors, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: So anytime you meet an English actor, they kind of giggle about the fact that they get this extra boost for being classy and smart just because of their accent but it’s true, right? So we’re very familiar with that.

So, when Kevin Costner attempts to do a British accent in Robin Hood, the world kind of goes bananas because it’s terrible.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s really bad and we absolutely notice it and it gets called out. Similarly, we also notice bad regional American accents.

John: But I will say that most British actors who are doing sort of a down-the-road kind of Middle American accent, they tend to do a pretty good job and like rarely do I hear somebody who is like, “Oh, you’re not concealing your British accent very well.”

It’s a weird thing. I don’t perceive it as being like, “Oh, they didn’t hit like Kansas City accent.” It’s just that I can tell they’re not actually American. I could tell they’re concealing something. We definitely notice when we see people trying to do a very specific regional accent where we actually have the ear for like what that’s supposed to sound like. And when they don’t hit it, it’s really painful.

Craig: Yeah. I think it’s more noticeable to me when American actors are doing a bad British accent because I think British actors are just better trained in doing an American accent because if they want to be in films, they know that there’s this enormous other opportunity for them. There’s an enormous market. I’m with you. It’s very rare that you hear an actor from the UK doing a bad, like a bad American accent, or like come on man, I’m not buying that.

John: It’s fun when you watch on shows where they’ll ask like normal British people to try to fake an American accent. And they tend to go either for like this crazy Californian thing or sort of a John Wayne. They’ll slow down a lot. They’ll try to do things. And it’s the American bias that it’s just sort of always assumed that like, “Oh, if you get rid of your accent, then it’s American.” And of course, it’s just different vowel and letter sounds for everything. And different phrasing and different everything else. But my incorrect perception is that everyone else’s accent is just a hat they’re wearing on top of a normal American accent.

Craig: Yeah, yeah, I think so. I mean, like ultimately Kevin, I guess the answer to your question is, yeah, we all know when somebody’s not doing it right. Everybody knows and nobody likes it.

John: But I think it doesn’t bug us as much as I think it bugs British people when American actors try and fail.

Craig: Well, because they have a pride in their language. It is the English language. It’s not the American language. We don’t. Like if somebody mangles an American accent I don’t think, from another country, I don’t think, oh you — you violated the great, what, it’s not the Queen’s English but Washington’s English? It’s not. So we don’t have that pride in our own. The only — we do have a regional pride, so you have some guy from California trying to do a Boston accent and everybody just goes “Ugh.” Everybody in Massachusetts loses their mind because they have pride in that regionalism.

All right. So we have a question here from Avashy, Avashy from Brooklyn. He writes, “In the screenplay I’m currently writing, there is a news montage. It depicts clips of videos sourced from different TV news reports spanning the course of a month. And beneath that, I want there to be truncated snippets of different reporter VOs that overlap and bleed into each other. For each bit of voice over, how do I label the speaker? Do I write Reporter 1, Reporter 2, Reporter 3? Do I write Reporter, another reporter, yet another reporter?” How about just Reporter each time and specify in the description that it’s always someone new?”

John: So this is the kind of thing which people freak out too much about. Like what is proper screenplay format and that belief that like every person who speaks onscreen has to be individually credited to get their own block of dialogue. How I would do this, and Craig, I’m curious what you would do, I would say, various reporters, and then just have dialogue in there, the little snippets of things. A little slash and then like the next person keeps talking because ultimately you’re going to do this as just like a crazy montage. So breaking this out as individual people talking is not going to be helpful or your friend.

Craig: Sometimes though, you have to, if in between the different reporters talking, new visuals are emerging.

John: Absolutely true.

Craig: So in those cases, I still would do it essentially the way you’re describing and Avashy, you picked on it, it’s your last thing. How about just reporter each time and specify in the description it’s always someone new. That works.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Reporter 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 starts to feel like a spoof almost. It’s goofy.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You definitely don’t want to get into over describing them like reporter, another reporter, yet another reporter because that sounds like a joke. You don’t want to do black reporter, tall reporter, skinny reporter, small, because then it’s like is that important or do we have to go find a short reporter now? So yeah, I just think various reporters, then just do reporter VO, reporter VO, reporter VO.

John: Sounds good. Blake Wrights, “I just finished a feature script and I wrote post credits scene for it. If it was you, how would you let the reader know that this scene takes place after the credits?”

Craig: Oh, okay. Great. So for me, I’ve done a couple of things like this. What I’ll do is, instead of writing “The end,” I’ll just put in bold and sort of to the left where, you know, scene header would go, I’ll say, “Roll credits,” and then I’ll just do like a return, return, return and then I’ll say, “Then:,” and then do a little scene.

John: Yeah. I’ve done similar things. Usually, I’ll do a page break and make it on a new page and then I’ll say like, “Post credits,” and maybe underline that and then there’s that scene that’s post credits. And a lot of my things recently have had post credit sequences and it’s great. That’s what you have to do. So I have sometimes used “The end” or I’ve done “Roll credits” or I’ll say, “After credits” when the next thing happens.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’s fine.

Craig: Yeah. Whatever essentially is clear, there’s no — this is another one of those things where just go for what’s clear and what feels — you can use whatever language feels appropriate for your tone and all the rest of it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: All right. We’ve got here, we’ll do one more.

John: Sure.

Craig: Two more. We have two.

John: They’re short.

Craig: They’re short. Okay. Mohammed from Iran. So this is great. I love that we have listeners in Iran. Mohammed from Iran writes, “Big fan. Really helpful site. Really funny podcast.” Hey, Mohammed, guess what, you’re right and thank you.

John: Yes.

Craig: “But you know what would be a cool idea, if you guys did the book version of the show. The material is there, you just need to come up with a logical order to classify stuff into, maybe sexy Craig — ” Oh, yeah, Mohammed, yeah, “can do a bit of illustrating for it. I’d pay for that. Just kidding.” Wait.

“But please don’t forget the chapter about female reproductive health. That’s what 99% of your fan base wants.”

Mohammed from Iran basically is the coolest dude ever.

John: He really is.

Craig: Thank you, Mohammed. We will get to work on that right away.

John: So I thought about doing the book. So our podcast unlike most podcasts, we have transcripts for every single episode. This is episode 240, later on this week, we’ll have the transcript for this episode that you’re listening to. So we go back and do all of those transcripts partly so I can search for things, like did we ever talk about David Mamet before? But also because have people who are deaf who can’t listen to the show, and so they love to read the transcripts. My friend Steve Healy only reads the transcripts. So that’s great.

So we have all this material and we have thought about, or in the office we’ve talked about like, “Do we do this as a book somehow?” The idea of a book gives me a bit of a shudder just because I hate how-to screenwriting books.

Craig: I know.

John: But if it was just a book that was like, you know, John and Craig talk about screenwriting, I guess I’d be all right with it. I mean, how do you feel about it, Craig, because I really don’t have strong opinions.

Craig: I don’t know. I mean, the transcripts are on the internet, it’s like they’re there. I know the book sort of curates it all for people which is nice.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, but like –

John: You can read the book in the bathroom or –

Craig: Right. Exactly. My problem is the same as yours. I’m so angry about these books and what they do. So I feel like, if we’re going to do a book, it has to be proper and well thought out and done in a way that’s not just throw in the transcripts but that we actually say, “At last, here’s a book that you can buy and don’t — not — you don’t have to buy any other book. Don’t buy any other book ever.” Literally, every store should only have this book. It is definitive. Everything else is crap. Only this book.

John: Well, I think that’s — if the book is about how to be a screenwriter, but I think this is probably — our podcast really isn’t about how to be a screenwriter. It’s basically sort of like, “What is it like being a screenwriter?” And so, that’s the kind of thing which –

Craig: Oh.

John: There are multiple versions of it. That’s something that might be better — you know, could be taken from the transcripts in a more meaningful way. Like it’s our conversations, maybe sort of, you know, annotated and highly edited because lord know we ramble a lot.

So as I thought about doing it, it’s just the matter of who’s going to do that. And so, it’s not going to be Stuart. Stuart is already way too busy. So that’s probably another new person and just becomes this other big project — and let’s be realistic — in my life, to have to be on top of it.

Craig: Definitely not in mine. Yeah, plus you’d have to learn a new person’s name which is really –

John: It’s the worst.

Craig: Hard to do.

John: Something about this last year, I’m having the hardest time remembering new people’s names. It’s just — like the buffer is completely filled. And so, I have a new agent I’m working with on one project and for the life of me, I keep forgetting her name and it’s been so awkward because they’ll be phone conversations where I need to talk about her and I’m like, “Yes. Yes, I was talking with her about — ” Oh, it’s so embarrassing.

Craig: You really need to learn that name.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I like that you’re saying it’s just this random thing and not say the fact that you’re getting old.

John: Oh, no. It couldn’t be that at all.

Craig: No.

John: I think it’s just some bad circuit kind of thing. So once I get the memory upgrade, I’ll be set.

Craig: We’ll take care of that. Don’t you worry.

John: Maxwell writes, “Who do you think would win in an all-out brawl to the death, John or Craig?”

Craig: Huh? Normally, I’m not one to toot my own horn, but I feel like I could kill you.

John: I think Craig probably could. Craig has weight on me. He’s also just –

Craig: Angry.

John: He’s determined. He’s angry. He’s determined.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And I think I would have — here’s what it is: I would have that moment of qualm. I was like, “Am I really going to kill him?” And Craig wouldn’t have that moment. He wouldn’t have that pause.

Craig: No, it’s the pause is the problem.

John: As he’s chocking me out, he would finish it.

Craig: No, no. For sure like they would have to — they’d have to do that thing where we’re like, “He’s dead, man, he’s dead. Stop. He’s already dead.” [Laughs]

John: They’re pulling you off –

Craig: Right.

John: And you’re going back to hit him some more.

Craig: Exactly. “No, no. I don’t believe it.” I won’t stop ever until he’s dead.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So I’m going to go with Craig.

John: Yeah. We got 100% agreement on this podcast.

Craig: Yeah.

John: All right. It’s time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a blog post by Brent Underwood and he has a post called, “What does it take to become a bestselling author?” And he’s a guy who does book consulting and he was very frustrated that on Amazon it is so easy to become the number one bestselling author in any given category because they update their lists continuously.

So unlike The New York Times which has like this methodology how they are like polling all these bookstores across the country and figuring out like what the bestsellers are, Amazon is just looking at their own numbers, like, “Oh, we sold three copies of this book in this one-hour period. It’s the bestseller in this tiny little subcategory.”

And so, this guy’s frustration is that people will, you know, legitimately to some degree claim like, “Oh, I wrote a bestselling book on Amazon.”

Craig: Oh, my god. [laughs]

John: And it’s because you picked this incredibly narrow category that you sold three copies. And so he does this little exercise where he actually does become the bestselling book about free masonry on Amazon.

So an amusing post that I think our readers will enjoy. And it’s also interesting because as screenwriters we’re never really concerned about rankings in a meaningful way. Like when our movies come out, we want our movies to be number one at the Box Office, but there’s no sort of power rankings. But for print authors, getting on that list is incredibly important and this guy is saying those lists are much more suspect than you’d believe.

Craig: There’s an internet meme, one of my favorites, I don’t know if you’re ever seen Identifying Wood.

John: No.

Craig: So it’s a real book and the book is called Identifying Wood and it’s a picture of a man curiously in like a business shirt with a tie and he’s staring at a block of wood through like a jewelers loop.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And then, what they’ve added to the bottom is, “Yup, its wood.” [laughs] And I just — like I’m sure that is the bestselling book in the category of wood identification –

John: 100%.

Craig: Publications. It’s Identifying Wood. Unbelievable. Well, my One Cool Thing is a sad thing but he was so, so cool. I don’t know if I’ve ever talked about Father Ted on the show, I might have. It’s a great Irish sitcom from the ’90s and it ended so — just ended too soon because the star who played Father Ted died very young. It was a brilliant, brilliant show. It was about this kind of morally challenged priest who was always involved in self-aggrandizing schemes, a little bit like Basil Fawlty kind of. Working in this god forsaken parish on some miserable island called Craggy Island off the coast of Ireland.

So it was like he’d be sent to, you know, the ends of the earth and he shared his home with two other priests. One was named Father Dougal who was a complete idiot and the other one was Father Jack. And Father Jack was played by an actor named Frank Kelly who unfortunately passed away this week or this past week. And Father Jack appeared to be a 70-year-old incredibly alcoholic sexually obsessed degenerate who only said four words, one of which was arse, and he’s disgusting, truly just like you take the bad stereotype of the lecherous priest and just put it on roids and it was — that was Father Jack.

Frank Kelly, by all accounts, an incredibly gentle, beautiful nice man and a wonderful actor, played this loathsome character and he was so good at it. So my One Cool Thing this week is Father Jack from Father Ted and we’ll throw a link in the show notes. You can watch episodes of Father Ted on

John: Fantastic. So while you were talking, I was Googling and because we have transcripts, I was able to pull up that in episode 14 that was your One Cool Thing, was Father Ted.

Craig: Oh, fantastic. There you go.

John: And so you talked about it there. So if you would like to listen to the Father Ted episode, it is available on the Scriptnotes app, you can download that in either of the App stores.

Craig: Segue Man.

John: Segue Man. The premium episodes and all those back episodes are available through as well. So that’s where you get an account. It is $2 a month for all of those back episodes. We also have a few of the 200-episode USB drives that have all of the back episodes, or at least the first 200 back episodes. If you would like a copy that could survive post-apocalypse probably, you could get one of those USB drives.

Craig: It has to survive the post-apocalypse as well?

John: Yeah, absolutely. So it’s one thing to survive the initial blast, but once the reavers come through and sort of –

Craig: So it’s really designed not for the blast at all [laughs] –

John: Oh, no, no.

Craig: But for the reavers.

John: Yeah, because honestly the initial blast could probably melt the thing. So –

Craig: Right.

John: You want to put it in like a fireproof safe. You want to go to 10 Cloverfield Lane and like — and slide it underneath the bed there and then you’re fine.

Craig: See that poster by the way, great poster.

John: Great poster. Very exciting.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So the director of that film is I think a listener of our show and I had coffee with him about a year ago when he was going off to direct some movie and it turned out that was 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Craig: How about that? Excellent.

John: Very nice. If you would like to harass Craig on Twitter, he is @clmazin. I’m at @johnaugust. I won’t mute you unless you say something terrible to me.

Craig: You won’t know.

John: We are on iTunes. So please go subscribe to the show in iTunes. It’s great if you want to listen to it at where we host all this stuff, but it’s even better if you subscribe because that way people know that you are subscribing. Give us a nice little review there. That’s always lovely. We have a Facebook page, too, which we occasionally check. So like us on Facebook and tell your friends that we are a show that you listen to.

Our show, as always, is produced by Stuart Friedel. Our outro this week is by Adam Lastname who’s done several of our best outros. If you have an outro for us, you can write into with a link to it. That’s also a place where you can send questions like the ones we answered today. And that’s our show.

Craig, thank you so much.

Craig: I have one last question.

John: Please.

Craig: Who edits this show?

John: I forgot to mention Matthew Chilelli. Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel, as always, and edited by Matthew Chilelli.

Craig: Yeah. Okay. Now, I feel good.

John: That’s very good. Thanks, Craig.

Craig: Thank you.

John: Bye.

Craig: Bye.


David Mamet and the producer pass

Tue, 03/08/2016 - 08:03

In an episode consisting entirely of answers to listener questions, John and Craig discuss David Mamet, internet trolls, post-credit scenes and English actors attempting American accents.

Plus, who would win in an all-out brawl to the death? The answer will probably not surprise you.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.