You are here

John August's Blog

Subscribe to John August's Blog feed John August's Blog
A ton of useful information about screenwriting.
Updated: 2 hours 3 min ago

NDAs and other acronyms

12 hours 50 min ago

Craig and John open the mailbag to answer questions on acronyms in dialogue, off-the-air specs and international WGA jurisdiction. Plus we look at the growing trend of non-disclosure agreements on studio projects, and whether the nature of film requires less complex characters.

The big news: we have new Scriptnotes t-shirts! They’re available only by pre-order, and only for a short time. Join us at the store as we talk through the three designs, ranging from the classic logo, to vintage Camp Scriptnotes to an all-new Three-Act Structure blueprint by listener Taino Soba. Orders must be in by THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 17th. (Link below)


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 212: Diary of a First-Time Director– Transcript

Fri, 08/28/2015 - 14:42

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

Today, we will be looking at how you get your first movie made, with special guest Mari Heller, writer and director of Diary of a Teenage Girl. She’s three feet away from us and I cannot wait to tell her how good her movie is.

Craig: But don’t tell her yet.

John: No. But first, we have to do some follow-up, Craig. T-shirts. So sometime next week, we will have them up in the store for people to look at and pre-order. They’ll be available for pre-order for at least two weeks. We will be sending them out to you in your homes middle of October. So they should be on your body in time for the Austin Film Festival.

Craig: Oh, the Austin Film Festival is something that we’re both going to be at.

John: We will both be there. That’s the second piece of follow-up. We’re going to be doing two live Scriptnotes shows. We’ll do –

Craig: Two.

John: Two.

Craig: Two.

John: First is a normal Scriptnotes with some special guests. The second is a live Three Page Challenge.

Craig: Live Three Page Challenge, I believe we will be joined by Kelly Marcel. Is that correct?

John: She is going to be on stage with us looking through those three pages.

Craig: She asked me the other day, “You’ll have to tell me what’s involved in that.” And I said, “You read three pages.”

John: Yeah. So there’ll be three or four people. So it will be maybe a total of 12 pages to look at. Because you can skip the title page because we’ll tell you who that actual writer is.

Craig: I didn’t want to overwhelm her.

John: [laughs]

Craig: Can we talk about some of the people that we’re going to have on the other show or we should not?

John: I think we can talk about them because no one’s fully officially confirmed. But I think we’re going to have those folks.

Craig: Well, all right.

John: So, Andrea Berloff.

Craig: Andrea Berloff who has Straight Outta Compton in movie theaters right now.

John: A small independent film that I think has a shot.

Craig: Small tiny film.

John: She’s also running for the WGA Board.

Craig: So Andrea Berloff is a college friend’s cousin. It’s a buddy of mine from college. She is his cousin. He’s just a very Jewishy guy, just like me, but Jewisherer. And she’s his Jewishererer cousin. So like Andrea Berloff, I just, I’m still just — I just love the fact that Andrea Berloff wrote Straight Outta Compton. It makes me happy. It makes the world feel right. I love it.

John: I saw Andrea last night and I was telling her where we were going to go for dinner. And she was chastising me because she had once had dinner there and her salmon and her salad were touching, and that’s just wrong.

Craig: Do you understand what I’m saying?

John: [laughs] I do completely understand what you’re saying. She has to be somebody’s Jewish cousin.

Craig: She is Andrew Blaw’s Jewish cousin.

John: Our other guests will include Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber and a third guest who is not yet confirmed but I think would be great.

Craig: Fantastic.

John: So that would be great.

Craig: All right.

John: Stuart Friedel will not be with us but I think we’re going to have a special Austin Stuart. So it’s got a lot of new things to look forward to.

Craig: Austin Stuart.

John: Austin Stuart, because there ends up being enough stuff that has to be done and dealt with when we try to do these shows. And I try to do it myself and I do a bad job. So you and I will have somebody –

Craig: Great.

John: A utility person.

Craig: My knuckles are looking forward to smashing into that person’s face.

John: But I’m mostly looking forward to our topic for today, which is Mari Heller. So, welcome to our show.

Marielle Heller: I am so excited to be here.

Craig: Mari Heller. Here’s how she comes to us.

John: Right.

Craig: So Mike Birbiglia, standup comedian, filmmaker, occasional radio commentator –

Marielle: Yup.

Craig: I was in New York and he invited me to come to his house in hipsterton. I believe it’s in the hipsterton section of Brooklyn.

Marielle: [laughs] Yes. All of Brooklyn is sort of hipsterton. But, yes, North Hipsterton –

Craig: This was like North Hipsterton.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: But as the night was winding down he said, “By the way, you know who lives right on the other side of this wall in my duplex here in hipsterton is Jorma Taccone and Mari Heller.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s cool,” because, you know, as I’ve mentioned on the show [laughs] many, many times, I think MacGruber is one of the great American films and should be in the Library of Congress.

Marielle: I totally agree.

Craig: And it’s awesome. But I didn’t really know much about you.

Marielle: No.

Craig: I was just very excited about Jorma. And he said, “Well, you know, Jorma and Mari are big fans of the show.” I was like, “Wow, this is great.” You know, and he said, “And she’s a filmmaker. She’s got this movie coming out.” And I was like, “Uh-huh, well, great.”

Marielle: [laughs]

Craig: [laughs] I’m sure she does. Why don’t we get them both on the show? It’ll be terrific.

Marielle: But really, you just wanted to talk about MacGruber.

Craig: Mostly. I was like –

Marielle: Let’s be honest.

Craig: I had MacGruber in my eyes and I was really, really excited. Head back home to my hotel. And there is an email waiting for me from Dan Chariton, another friend of ours, who said, “Hey, weirdest thing. I was at the park. We’re having a little baby play day and Jorma Taccone and Mari Heller were there. And they were talking about how they’re big fans of the show.” And I was like, well this is…this is…

Marielle: It was weird.

Craig: It was weird.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: So then we started talking. And then I realized actually that the movie you had made was supposed to be pretty awesome. And I was like, well –

John: But did Craig run out and see the movie right away? No.

Craig: Well, no, no. I don’t do that.

Marielle: No. I know.

Craig: Let’s just be clear. I don’t do things like that.

John: But you have seen it now because we both watched it last night. And it is fantastic.

Craig: Well, so this is the thing. And this is what I want to say to you before we let you start talking. Because when we let you start talking, then you go and you go.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And we won’t stop you. It’s better than MacGruber.

Marielle: Ohh!

Craig: And I know — and I feel a little weird about saying it. And I know some people would be like, are you being sarcastic? I’m not being sarcastic. MacGruber is a great American film. This is better than MacGruber. And obviously it’s a very different film.

Marielle: Very different.

Craig: But you two together ring both sides my bell so great. I mean your kid is going to grow up to be an amazing filmmaker who really pleases — I mean just was blown away. So thank you, Mari Heller, for coming to talk to us on our show.

Marielle: Oh my God, I’m so happy. And there are so many other weird coincidences on the other side of all of those coincidences.

Craig: Okay, tell me.

Marielle: You just — well, Mike Birbiglia is the one who introduced me to your guys’ show. We moved next door to each other randomly. We knew Mike. We bought our place in New York and we’re in escrow, we were like — we didn’t even have the keys yet. And I happen to go into our agent’s office and an agent popped her head out, and was like, “Hey, I hear you’re moving to blah, blah, blah,” named our address.

And I was like, “How does she know this? We don’t even own the place yet.” And she was like, “I know who your next door neighbor is.” And we’re like, “Who?” She was like, “Mike Birbiglia.” And we were like, “Wait, we know Mike. He’s our buddy. We didn’t know him that well yet.” So we ended up moving in randomly, sharing a wall.

Craig: Sharing a wall.

Marielle: We’ve become such close friends with he and his wife. Like they are just some of our best friends now. They have a baby, we have a baby. It’s like — it’s amazing.

Craig: So when there is one screaming, crying on the side of the wall –

Marielle: Who cares?

John: Who cares?

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: I think it would actually be cool if you did care and you were constantly banging the wall.

John: [laughs]

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: And when your baby was crying, you’re like –

Marielle: You’re like, “Get over it.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: That’s a baby, ass.

Marielle: Exactly. Yeah, so that was random. And then he is the one who introduced me to your guys’ podcast and got me totally addicted. And we talk about it all the time.

Craig: Yeah.

Marielle: We talk about filmmaking. We talk about your podcast. We talk about — we watch movies together all the time. It’s this great little –

Craig: That’s awesome.

Marielle: We’re building a great little life in Brooklyn [laughs] together. And we have a little artistic –

Craig: You’re little kibbutz.

Marielle: Yeah, kibbutz, exactly.

John: Well, now that you’re here with us, I want to talk about your movie. And people who have not seen your movie, which is probably most of America because you’ve just come out –

Marielle: Yes.

John: I want to give a little bit of a back story on what this movie is so people know what the hell we’re talking about. So Diary of a Teenage Girl is a new movie out in theaters right now. It stars Bel Powley.

Marielle: Bel Powley.

John: Bel Powley as the titular 15-year-old Minnie living in 1976 San Francisco. And we have a clip from it. So we’re going to play a clip from the trailer so people know what we’re talking about.

Marielle: Awesome.

Craig: We can do that?

John: We can do that.

(Video Starts Playing)

Minnie Goetze: My name is Minnie Goetze. I’m recording this onto a cassette tape because my life has gotten really crazy of late. I had sex today.

Female: What? So happy. [laughs]

Minnie Goetze: If you’re listening to this without my permission, please stop now. Just stop.

Female: I’m going to kill you.

Minnie Goetze: This makes me officially an adult. Do I look different than I did yesterday?

Male: Hey.

Minnie Goetze: Hey. It feels so good to imagine that he might be thinking about me. I wonder if anybody loves me who I don’t know about.

Male: (Inaudible).

Minnie Goetze: I get distracted sometimes, overwhelmed by my all-consuming thoughts about sex and men.

Female: I don’t know what’s wrong with you. I think he’d be more into boys.

Male: What are you waiting for?

Female: You have a kind of power, you know. You just don’t know it yet.

(Video Ends)

John: So the film also stars Kristen Wiig who you just heard as Minnie’s mother. And Alexander SkarsgÂrd as the mother’s boyfriend with whom Minnie begins a very complicated affair which is really the bulk of this movie.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: The film debuted at Sundance this last year to –

Marielle: Yes.

John: Huge acclaim. It is 94% Rotten Tomatoes. It’s just crazy and it’s really, really good. So thank you very much for –

Marielle: Thank you.

John: Coming here to talk to us about it.

Marielle: Yeah. And I also went through the Sundance Screenwriters Lab and Directors Lab with the movie.

Craig: With Scott Frank.

Marielle: With Scott Frank was one — so that was another connection.

Craig: So that’s another one. So Scott cast you in Walk Among the Tombstones.

Marielle: And cast me in A Walk Among the Tombstones, which I largely was cut out. I did have a scene where I was sort of alive, almost like a ghost and then –

Craig: You were briefly alive.

Marielle: And then I got cut out.

Craig: He sends his love. So he was one of your advisors.

Marielle: He was.

Craig: And he said he just thinks the world of you and is just –

Marielle: And I feel the same about him, yeah. I texted him at some point when you guys were talking about him on the podcast. And I was like, “I just heard them talking about you on Scriptnotes.”

Craig: Oh, yeah. He’s like, he hates all the — you know how I hate podcasts?

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: He really hates podcasts.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

Marielle: I can imagine that about him. But that makes me love him even more. He’s a great guy.

Craig: Obviously I agree.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: Obviously I agree.

John: Talk to us about your movie. So where does this movie come from? So I know it’s based on a graphic novel. And did you find the graphic novel and that was the start? How did this movie come to be?

Marielle: This project has been like an eight-year total passion project for me and actually was the project that started me writing. I was a theater actor mostly. And I just read this book that my sister gave me. She gave it to me as a Christmas present. And I fell in love with it. And I had been thinking about writing. And I had wanted to write something for a while and the right thing hadn’t come along, I hadn’t had the idea that I felt like was the right thing.

And reading this graphic novel, I was so blown away by this character. She felt like the most honest depiction of what it really felt like to be a teenage girl. There’s a lot of movies and a lot of books about teenage boys and not a lot what it really feels like to be a teenage girl.

Anyway, I was so blown away by it. I actually closed the cover and called the publisher. Like Googled the name of the publisher, picked up the phone, and started rambling about, “I want to make this into something.” And I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even have an agent at the time. So I was just trying to get the rights myself.

I got kind of shut down by [laughs] her agents at some point who were like, “Who are you? No.” And then just kept pestering and stalking the author and her agents until they eventually gave me the rights to it.

And first, I wrote it as a play, as a stage play. And then –

John: Did you end up performing it as a stage play?

Marielle: Yeah, we did the stage play in New York in 2010. I played the lead character. And I wrote it, produced it. I had other people direct it and I was in it. Kind of put it away for a little while and then started to think about it as a screenplay because meanwhile the project had sort of sparked me to writing. So over the course of the many years it took me to put the play up, I started writing screenplays, I started working with a writing partner.

We wrote a number of screenplays and kind of started getting work on, we wrote a couple of pilots and wrote a few screenplays, none of which got produced sadly. But, you know, we were like making our living as a writer. So I had gotten that bug and then I started thinking about this as a screenplay and started writing it. And somebody early on said, “This is going to be a really hard movie to make.”

John: Yeah. You set a very — you set a very low bar. So it’s a 15-year-old girl exploring her sexuality –

Marielle: Yes.

John: In period San Francisco.

Marielle: Yes.

John: Easy.

Craig: They do those all the time. That’s all Fox makes now.

John: Yeah. It’s 100% –

Marielle: Yeah, yeah.

John: They have a whole specialty label that it’s just those movies.

Marielle: I know. God, it’s like every other movie.

John: But what was it that sparked to you about this idea? Because we’re all too young to have actually lived –

Marielle: Yeah.

John: As a teenager in those times. And yet, there’s a specificity to what you’re trying to do with this experience.

Marielle: But I did grow up in the Bay Area. And the Bay Area has a really specific culture. And there was just something about this girl’s voice that felt really, really authentic. And I have this pet peeve about the way all teenagers but mostly teenage girls are depicted mostly in movies and TV where they’re always either — they’re just two-dimensional. They’re really quippy and they have like a perfect response for everything, which is just not how it felt to be a teenager to me.

I was really dramatic and everything felt like it was life or death. I was not able to cope with the world with everything rolling off my back and some little sarcastic response to everything that happened. It was actually a painful time of life for me. And I felt like this book kind of captured what that really felt like, even though it wasn’t my exact experiences. It was just, it captured what it felt like to be a girl starting to have sexual thoughts who doesn’t know what to do with them. And it just felt important for that reason.

Craig: Well, before we get into some of the interesting writing challenges that you had in the movie and how I think you sailed through them beautifully, let me just say I’m glad that you found writing and I’m glad that you found filmmaking because this is what you’re supposed to be doing. I’m sure that you were great on –

Marielle: Thanks, Craig.

Craig: I’m sure that you were a fine actor on stage. I’m sure. However, there’s like a billion of those people, right? There’s precious few people, honestly, who can do what you did. And what’s so interesting when I was watching the movie was every now and again — and, by the way, it’s not always when it’s the same writer and directors, because writer/directors can fall into traps as well.

But every now and then, I see a movie and I think it’s all of a piece. I don’t see the separation between the filmmaking and the writing and the writing and the directing and the acting and the dialogue. It’s all of a piece. It feels perfectly integrated. You did a spectacular job. I mean, you have such a good eye –

Marielle: Oh, thank you.

Craig: By the way. Just a remarkable eye. I mean, these are things that I don’t think anyone can teach. I know they try and teach these things but I think it’s a waste of time. You know how I feel about all that stuff.

I just love watching movies where I think, “Well, I couldn’t have done that in a million years. I don’t even know — why did she put the camera there? I don’t know. I’m glad she did. I would’ve never put the camera there.” So I just wanted to say right off the bat, you’re supposed to be doing this.

Marielle: [laughs]

Craig: So don’t do other things. Do this now, okay?

Marielle: I appreciate that. And this is what I want to do now.

Craig: Good.

Marielle: So –

Craig: Well, many people will be calling and offering you Transformers sequels but we’ll work on what –

Marielle: [laughs]

John: [laughs] We have a lot of creative advice for like sort of which projects to tackle next.

Marielle: I appreciate it.

John: Yeah. But that’ll be off air.

Marielle: Okay.

John: Talk to me about then moving from the play to moving to a screenplay. What were the writing changes that happened there? And then how did Sundance get involved? What were the next steps there?

Marielle: I sort of started from scratch when I started to think about it as a movie because obviously, it’s such a different — the play was sort of this distilled version of the story. It was five characters, it was a really intimate play. We performed it in the round. It was very theatrical. I thought the whole time when writing it, why does this have to be a play?

And I tried to write a version that couldn’t be a movie, that couldn’t be just a book, but that needed to be a play. And then had to basically toss all of that to start thinking of it, “Okay, now why does it have to be a movie? And what are the ways in which it’s inherently filmic? What are the ways in which it’s visual?”

It’s based on a graphic novel, so that sort of led to this animation. The graphic novel isn’t a traditional graphic novel. It’s not all comic book panels. It’s diary entries with full page illustrations and comic book sections. So it’s sort of a hybrid, so that kind of gave me the inspiration for the movie to be a bit of a hybrid and have mixed media all kind of playing with each other.

Yeah, and the world can be so much wider when you write it as a screenplay. You can have more than five people who speak.

Craig: Yes. Unless you’re the movie Ghost.

Marielle: Right, right. [laughs] I enjoyed that episode very much. Yeah, obviously I knew the material so inside and out after working on it as a play and I had written so many drafts of it as a play. So I had the material really already. It was all memorized also because I had played the character. But I really did kind of start from scratch when I started writing it as a screenplay.

And then going through the Screenwriters Lab was really key for me, too. It really changed a lot of things and kind of clarified — I was so clear about the story and all of the things that were important to me. But the ways that those were functioning the way I wanted them to be and the ways that I was failing at how I wanted it to function just became really clear.

John: Talk through the experience out of the Screenwriters Lab for you. So, you come into the lab with a finished screenplay.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: You’re sitting down with a bunch of advisors, you’re up on a mountain in Utah.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: What is the, I don’t know, psychological process of going through and talking with the different advisors about this thing you’re trying to make?

Marielle: I mean, it kind of breaks you down and sort of destroys you mentally in a really good way but I think forces you to learn how to take feedback. You sit down one-on-one with advisors who’ve read your script in a more detailed way than I’d ever have anyone read a script for me.

I was so used to having these really surface-level conversations with people who had done a really loose pass of reading the script and given me their first thoughts. And they would get the names wrong or they would miss whole sections when they were remembering how it had been. This was not like that. This is sitting down with people who are like, “On page 15, you have this moment where you,” and you’re like, “Oh, you are serious about this. Okay.”

John: Is that Susan Shilliday?

Marielle: [laughs] I did have a Susan Shilliday. But everybody there, everybody has read it in such a thoughtful way and is there just to help you make your movie the best it can be. There’s no second agenda there. It’s just to help you make your script as good as possible. But that doesn’t mean everybody agrees with each other, too. So you’ll have like a three-hour meeting with Scott Frank. You’ll sit down, he’ll give you all of his thoughts about the script. And you’ll leave going, “Okay, I know exactly how I’m going to rewrite.”

And then you’ll sit down with Dana Stevens and she’ll tell you something totally opposite. “Oh no, I loved that part, I hated this part. This is what I think about this.” And then you leave going, “Oh my god, now I have no idea what I’m going to do.”

Craig: That in and of itself is great training and you almost have to have a meta awareness of how this all works because we — I think we’re all sponges by nature. That’s how we do what we do. We can’t really talk about the world, describe the world, describe humans if we’re not absorbing the people around us.

Dangerously, however then, we absorb strong voices. Look, I’m writing a movie right now for Scott to direct and Lindsay Doran is the producer. They don’t always agree.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: But boy, they’re convincing when they’re talking. And what happens, you have to be really careful about is that feeling where suddenly you realize, “Where is my compass?”

Marielle: Exactly.

Craig: “Where is my vote? I’ve lost — “

Marielle: Exactly.

Craig: “I’ve lost my vote in here somehow.” And now I’m just kind of chasing. And then that’s a great time to step back and say, “Everyone, shut up.” [Laughs]

Marielle: Let me digest this. Let me figure out –

Craig: Now it’s my time.

Marielle: How it’s sitting.

Craig: Correct.

Marielle: And what they do so smartly at the Writers Lab is they don’t let you write.

Craig: That is a great thing because you have to absorb, absorb.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: And then you can’t write towards anyone, you go away. Because here’s the thing, you also learn a lesson there, which is, they can’t all be right.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: They can all be brilliant but they can’t all be right. They can only be right for the movie that they would make of your movie.

Marielle: Exactly. There isn’t really a right. All there is is who’s helping you get closer to what you want it to be.

Craig: Bingo.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: And unfortunately then what that means is the movie that you want it to be, your understanding of what it’s supposed to be, ultimately comes down to something that is inherent to you, is not teachable.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: Right? So there needs to be some core of substance there that people can work upon.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: They can’t make it for you. So –

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: I love the story because I love listening to people getting the disparate views and then synthesizing them through themselves.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: It’s the only way we get stuff done. Because you’ve gone through these iterations.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: I’m wondering, did you ever feel like writer Mari was having an argument with director Mari or vice versa? And how would those arguments be litigated? Or did it all feel like –

Marielle: I did feel like I had those moments mostly actually in production. Up until then, I was really much more in my writer place for so many years. And then I had this weird moment where I would be just sitting and talking with the actors and they’d go, “You know, could I change this line?” We did a lot of rehearsal, which not everybody gets to do on their movies. But I come from theater, I love rehearsal. I really wanted to rehearse with the actors. And I had great actors who wanted to rehearse.

But we would be sitting around and talking about a scene and, you know, maybe Alexander would say like, “I don’t know, the way this line is coming out of my mouth isn’t feeling quite right.” But what I loved about working with him and with Bell and with Kristen is they wouldn’t just change it. We would talk about it and I’d go, “Okay, let me rewrite that.” And I’d come back the next day with new pages based on their thoughts or their notes.

But sometimes they’d go, “Could I change this line in this?” And I’d go, “Yeah.” And then in my mind I’d go, “Wait, this is the final rewrite.” Whatever we’re deciding right now, I’ve done 85 drafts of this script over these many, many years. And it’s always felt fine to try something new and to shift something, “Yeah, let’s change that line,” because it was never a final choice.

Craig: Right.

Marielle: And then to suddenly be in production and to go, “Oh, wait, whatever choice we make right now, that’s the final rewrite.”

John: Yeah.

Marielle: That felt really scary all of a sudden. So I would have those moments where my writer-self and my director-self would kind of bump up against each other.

Craig: Yeah, I’m very familiar with that. You know, I don’t blame actors at all because they only see what you give them. They don’t see the mile behind it of stuff. And frankly, sometimes either they’re right because their perspective is new or it doesn’t matter, they have to say it.

Marielle: Totally.

Craig: And if it doesn’t come out right from their mouth –

Marielle: And their version of this character is maybe different than the version you had in your head, at least a little bit. Shade is different. And I had actors with great instincts. So often, if they came to me and said, “Something about this isn’t feeling right,” they were right.

Craig: Yeah. I think that you have to find some ego gratification in the sense that, look, I did this for all this time and now this person is coming and going, “Can I just change it?” and not think to yourself, “Oh, is it that easy? We’re just going to change it, la-la-la.” But to think what they’re asking to — their change only exists as a result of what I’ve done –

Marielle: Right. Right.

Craig: You know, and the current text around it.

Marielle: And what I grew to love about the way the actors were approaching it was they felt really protective of these characters because they had felt like they knew them based on all the work I had done. They felt like these were characters who they loved and they wanted to protect and they wanted to do right by. So if they wanted to make a change, it was because they were invested. And that was a good thing.

Craig: Right. They cared.

Marielle: They cared.

John: So you had many years to work on the writing of this.

Marielle: Yes.

John: How did you learn about directing? Because you seem to be a very quick study. It’s really, really well-directed. I mean on every level, on production design, on shot design, it’s all really smartly done and performances you get are astonishing. What was the process of learning how to direct?

Marielle: Well, I didn’t go to film school. I went to a theater school.

Craig: Good.

Marielle: [laughs].

Craig: Good. I’m telling you, good.

Marielle: Yeah. But as you said, my husband’s a director. And so I’ve been on a lot of sets and I’ve been around and honestly wasn’t that interested in directing for a long time.

Craig: Watching him you were just bored to death.

Marielle: No, no, I mean I was kind of like, “Okay, this is interesting,” and I enjoy being on set. But I was never eager to talk about like lenses with him or like how you were going to set up a stunt or anything like that. Mostly because I’m really character-based in the way that I get excited about things, too, and some of the technology felt like, “Well, this isn’t the thing that’s driving me.”

But as I started to imagine my movie being directed by somebody else, I was like, “Oh, no. I have to direct my movie. This is my movie.” So I just had to figure it out kind of. And I sort of used the Sundance Directors Lab as like my sort of film school.

John: So talk us through that because people might not be familiar with that part of it. So the screenwriters lab — were you the winter’s lab?

Marielle: Yeah.

John: Because you were up on a snowy mountain.

Marielle: Snowy mountain just in your head.

John: Just in your head, a bunch of writers.

Marielle: Yes.

John: It’s really small. Directors Lab is a much different experience.

Marielle: Directors Lab is like so physical. The Writers Lab is just this totally internal heady experience where you’re having one-on-one meetings. And then the Directors Lab is five weeks where you get a small cast, you get a small crew, you take the hardest scenes of your movie and you workshop them. And you shoot them.

And it’s almost like a reality show because you do like one day of prep, one day of shooting, one day of editing, and they limit your hours. So at 5 o’clock, someone knocks on your edit door and is like, “You’re done.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: That’s miserable.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: Yeah, but you probably learned a lot there. So which scenes did you pick to be the ones you wanted to — ?

Marielle: So –

John: They don’t say your hardest scenes, they say the ones that scare you the most.

Marielle: The ones that scare you the most. And these will only make sense if somebody’s seen my movie. But pick the scene where they do acid.

Craig: Right.

Marielle: Which was one of my hardest scenes through the writing process, [laughs] the shooting process. Every part of the process, that was a really, really difficult scene to nail because it’s a drug sequence. People have done drug sequences in movies forever. Sometimes they’re done really well, sometimes they’re done really poorly.

I didn’t want to do the same version that I’d seen before but it’s also a really critical turning point. And both of the characters have a major emotional moment that happens that has to be treated seriously, so you can’t just be laughing at them through the whole thing either like, “Ha-ha, they’re on drugs. Isn’t this hilarious?”

Craig: Right.

Marielle: You actually have to believe the emotional build that happens throughout the scene, too. So that was a really complicated one. That was the one I failed the most at when I was at the labs.

John: [laughs]

Marielle: I did a scene where they have a big fight in the car and she ends up going into this sort of fantasy sequence in the bath tub.

Craig: Right.

Marielle: And sinks down into the –

Craig: Yes.

Marielle: Into the –

Craig: Into the ocean.

Marielle: Yeah, yeah. So I did that sequence kind of trying to mesh a really realistic, difficult emotional scene with this sort of fantasy.

Craig: You shot even like the wide shot of her.

Marielle: I didn’t get the wide shot of her.

Craig: You didn’t get that one, right.

Marielle: But I did like in the bathtub and we did all of these practical effects and we did it in this really small way at the labs. That’s part of the fun thing about the Directors Lab, it teaches you how to do things really practically. And that was really good for me.

Craig: I was fascinated by the general, let’s call them the technicals of this movie. And there were a bunch of things that I watched over again just to watch and see. Like for instance, that one. I guess I saw it and the best of it is you don’t notice it. And then after it goes by, I think, “Wait, hold on, where did that ocean — ” I want to see like what’s the line there. And I watched it and so I can see what’s happening and I assume it’s a pool or something –

Marielle: It was a pool, yeah.

Craig: There was a big light. But I loved the way the light worked behind it.

Marielle: That was a pool with garbage bags lining it.

Craig: Yeah.

Marielle: And a giant light over it.

Craig: A big light.

Marielle: I mean it was –

Craig: It’s amazing how that works, right?

Marielle: And it was dirty. The pool got dirty and the particles ended up being like this beautiful –

Craig: Filter, right?

Marielle: It was amazing.

Craig: I mean first of all, I’m fascinated by the look of the movie because — did you shoot digital and then filter the hell out of it?

Marielle: No. We shot digitally but we shot anamorphic. And we shot with these beautiful lenses from the ’60s.

Craig: Okay, so you shot –

Marielle: So we shot on the red epic –

Craig: Vintage lenses.

Marielle: But we shot with vintage lenses.

Craig: Fascinating. And then, but color-wise too, I mean it’s like –

Marielle: So this is a little tidbit I love. Brandon Trost who was our DP, shot movies like The Interview, Neighbors –

Craig: Wow.

Marielle: MacGruber.

John: So I was looking at his credits and I was like — it was such a great lesson to like not necessarily judge a person’s artistic abilities based on the things they had done before –

Marielle: Totally.

John: Because none of these things would ever suggest to me that he could do the DP for your movie.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: MacGruber was shot brilliantly.

John: Yes, but as a comedy.

Craig: Brilliantly.

Marielle: Brilliantly. And what’s really funny is I think Brandon sort of became the comedy DP because of MacGruber. But the whole reason that Jorma wanted him to do MacGruber was because he didn’t look like a comedy DP. He didn’t do this like blanket lighting, really bright –

Craig: Walmart lighting.

Marielle: He shot it like an action movie. And that’s what Jorma wanted for MacGruber. So he hired him because he was the anti-comedy DP.

Craig: Right.

Marielle: And then it ended up leading all of these people to be like, “I want that guy.” And so he’s done all of these comedies –

Craig: Yeah. This movie is going to change –

John: Oh, yeah.

Craig: That for him.

Marielle: The way people see him. I know.

Craig: Because, I mean it just was beautifully done. And then on your end of things and with your effects team, the way that the animation was integrated was really gorgeous and I loved how simple it was and –

John: Well, it looks simple. But I was watching this last night and thinking like, “Oh, she must have been so excited when she like wrapped production.” It’s like, “Oh, now we have to make an entire animated film on top of this movie.”

Marielle: Yeah.

John: I mean that was –

Marielle: We actually started the animation really early. That was the first element that I started. It was all done essentially by one animator, Sara, who’s an Icelandic animator who lives in New York who’s amazing. And she hand-drew everything.

So I brought her on creatively like a year before we started filming because I was like, “This is huge and I think we need to figure a lot of this out before we film.” Just so I could shoot based on what we needed for the animation. Some stuff we found later but a lot of things were planned out ahead of time. But also, she just had so much work to do with it.

Craig: There was a moment in the animation that I almost felt was like, “Is this rotoscoped?” And I couldn’t tell. When the guy is telling her you’re too intense and that, you know. And in animation, she’s holding the monster and just looks away and a tear. Was that rotoscoped or was that — ?

Marielle: The tear or the face?

Craig: Yeah, the face and the tear at that moment.

Marielle: The face was rotoscoped in that moment but not the tear.

Craig: Okay, but I knew the face were –

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: Because it was great.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: All right, so rotoscoping, for those of you playing at home, rotoscoping is when you take film, live action film, and then you — it’s a process where you draw over it. And there are a lot of good examples of rotoscoping in movies where it’s essentially they’re animating real live footage. So it has that funky look to it. But there was something about that moment where it’s like it had to be because it had to be real.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: You know? And god, that look away that she does there is nuts.

Marielle: That’s one of my favorite kind of plays between the animation and the live action, too, is that sequence because it kind of really — there’s something about it. She’s having this experience with a boy who’s kind of shaming her and making her feel really bad about herself sexually and then she’s imagining herself as this gross big monster stomping through the city.

That’s how you feel emotionally in that moment and it was just personifying that. That was one of the moments that I was happy with how it came out. And I thought you were going to bring up the moment in the acid trip where she kind of turns into a bird, because that’s another rotoscoping moment.

Craig: Yes, that was rotoscoped. Correct. It was rotoscope because it needed to be rotoscoped –

Marielle: Right.

Craig: Because it was on her.

Marielle: But it was rotoscoped in maybe a way that you wouldn’t even know. What we discovered when we were doing tests for that was that in order to get the movement of feathers, it’s really difficult to do that animation-wise in a way that felt really real. So we did all these tests and she realized, you know, this looks better if we have real feathers moving. So then our costume designer had to hand-sew a bird suit where she sewed every single feather on in a way that they could all move. And so it was the most difficult –

Craig: And then you rotoscoped on top of it.

Marielle: And then we rotoscoped on top of — every single feather got rotoscoped.

Craig: Wow.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: Wow, well that works.

John: So before you had rotoscoped those feathers, you actually had to raise the money to put this movie into production.

Marielle: Yes.

John: And that’s the thing I was sort of most curious about watching this last night because, as we talked about, it’s such a difficult movie to get made.

Marielle: Yes.

John: So you’re dealing not only with period, you’re dealing with a young girl. You’re dealing with a really, potentially uncomfortable — I mean this would now be statutory rape, so –

Marielle: It would have been then, too.

John: Okay.

Marielle: I mean age of consent was 18 at the time in San Francisco.

Craig: She’s 15?

Marielle: She’s 15 and having sex with a 35-year-old man.

John: Right. And in certain markets like in England, you have like a harder time getting released.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: Here it’s a rated R movie.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: So these are all things that a financier would look at and say like, “Well, what is the upside of making this movie?”

Marielle: Yeah.

John: Like basically you wrote a movie that has to be just like brilliantly perfect. And good luck and congratulations it is but –

Marielle: And a lot of it was going to ride on execution and tone because some people would read the script and would find it incredibly dark. And what I’m proud of with the movie is I actually think there’s a lot of humor in it and there’s a lot of lightness. It’s a tough subject matter but it hopefully doesn’t make you feel horrible about the world.

John: What were the conversations? So like who were you sending this to? Were you sending this to small production companies, like what were the — ?

Marielle: I was sending it to small production companies or people that I was hearing were excited to take risks, who were interested in interesting projects rather than — obviously this was not going to be a giant budget movie. So coming out of the labs, I felt really like I’m ready to make this movie.

Jorma already had a relationship with a commercial company called Caviar and we knew they were wanting to start making movies. So we sent them the script and they were the first people who came on financier-wise. And they were really just excited about the script and felt like this is a project that I want to get involved with.

But actually, the way that the process really went was I actually got the actors involved first. So I got Kristen Wiig involved before I had even really set up the money.

Craig: Which helped?

Marielle: Which helped. And it was a juicy part. It was something she could get excited about. And it was kind of a backdoor way of getting the movie made was sort of getting the actors involved and then getting the money to follow basically.

Craig: What was the budget for this film? I have a guess number.

Marielle: I can’t really talk about it.

Craig: Oh, you can’t?

Marielle: I think I’m not supposed to talk about it, yeah.

John: You never supposed to talk about with Sundance movies –

Craig: You’re not allowed to talk about it?

Marielle: No.

John: They’re never supposed talk about it because –

Marielle: Because it’s Sundance, it’s a Sony and like –

Craig: Oh, that’s right. You have to sell the movie. But it already sold.

Marielle: It’s sold but I’m still — I don’t know.

John: Yeah, you still don’t ever say.

Marielle: I’m still not supposed to say.

John: With The Nines I never say what the budget was.

Marielle: But I can tell you after.

Craig: Yeah, let’s see if I was close.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: But you can tell us about sort of the challenges of production because –

Marielle: It was a small budget. I will say that. It was a very small budget and we shot the whole movie in 24 days in San Francisco.

Craig: Wow. That’s remarkable.

John: But shooting in San Francisco, you know, is notoriously one of the worst places on earth to film.

Marielle: So apparently if I had gone to film school, I would have learned a lot of things that I was not supposed to do on my first movie. Not set it in a period, not have 38 locations, which is what I think we had, not shoot in San Francisco. What are the other big mistakes I made? But I didn’t go to film school, yeah –

John: But you also had a lot –

Craig: And no dogs.

Marielle: A cat.

Craig: Oh, you had the cat.

Marielle: I had a cat.

Craig: And the cat had to hiss on –

John: That was good luck.

Marielle: That just happened. That was my cat.

Craig: That cat nailed it.

John: Domino.

Marielle: I know.

Craig: Nailed it.

Marielle: I know.

John: You also had situations where you had to shoot night for night because you were in this apartment and windows were looking out of the whole city.

Marielle: Oh, everything had to be.

John: But that was all great production design and production value, you know, out of that.

Marielle: Yes.

John: How early did you have a production designer, art designer on to find all of those yellows you have in your movie?

Marielle: Our production designer, Jonah Markowitz, who is brilliant, came on four weeks, eight weeks?

John: Wow.

Marielle: But maybe I met him eight weeks before we went in and we only had four weeks to prep. It was crazy.

John: So –

Marielle: Yeah. I mean, on such a small budget, we had so many sets and they had to basically take an apartment that existed in San Francisco, which did have the bones that felt like a real ’70s apartment. But every single thing you see in that movie, every piece of wallpaper, every piece of furniture, every rug, every little detail, they did. They painted, they, you know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And boy, does it look great.

Marielle: I know.

Craig: It reminds me because I mean, look, 1976, I was five. I can remember it

Marielle: We looked through a lot of our families’ pictures and kind of tried to really — because growing up in the Bay Area, there’s a specific vibe there. It’s different than Ohio in 1976 or New York in 1976. And so we really wanted to get that right of like, “There’s a lot of stuff from the ’60s still hanging around. It’s not just the newest thing that came out in 1976.”

Craig: That’s right. That’s a mistake that people make –

Marielle: Definitely.

Craig: When it’s definitely like, “Look, everybody, it’s disco.” No, people actually don’t like — by the way, I had that tape recorder. I had it. I saw it and my heart just –

Marielle: Oh, I love that.

Craig: Exploded, with the stupid mic.

Marielle: Yeah. I mean, didn’t we all do that? Another thing I really related to about this character was being a kid who just makes projects out of anything.

Craig: Of course.

Marielle: You’re an artist. You’re always like recording things or recording yourself or pretending you have a radio show or –

Craig: Oh, my god. My sister and I –

Marielle: We didn’t know podcasts yet but –

Craig: My sister and I would record interviews with each other.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: It was insane. We would put on shows all the time.

Marielle: Totally.

Craig: Yeah.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: So what scenes did not make it into the movie? What stuff that you filmed isn’t in the movie we watched last night?

Marielle: There’s a whole story line where Pascal, who’s Chris Meloni’s character in the movie –

John: I had a hunch he had more.

Marielle: Sleeps with Minnie’s best friend, Kimmie.

John: Aha.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

Marielle: And Minnie finds out that they’ve been sleeping together. And has a huge breakup with her best friend, basically. So on top of everything else in her life kind of going really wrong –

Craig: I could see –

Marielle: She also has this breakup.

Craig: I knew why that’s there. That would make me really tense because I’m like, “Oh God, if that’s a problemó”

Marielle: Right. She has nobody.

Craig: But the truth is I also can see why you don’t need it.

John: So at what point did that storyline, you know –

Marielle: I cut it out in the edit, probably like, eight weeks in the edit, maybe more, where we had watched a number of cuts of the movie. And it was running a little long, but it was also kind of taking us off track emotionally. And I had fought to keep it in in the script.

Craig: Of course.

Marielle: There had been people who had suggested it going earlier and I wasn’t ready. And we shot it and I’m –

John: It was Scott Frank, wasn’t it? Scott Frank is the –

Marielle: No.

Craig: Well, it’s funny that mentioned, because Scott, I had a moment with Scott where he had shown me his draft of A Walk Among the Tombstones in script stage. And I said, “Look, here’s the storyline between Liam Neeson and Liam Neeson’s son that could probably just go.”

Marielle: Right.

Craig: And he’s like, “I know.” And he fought for it and he kept it and he shot it.

Marielle: Got cut out in the edit.

Craig: And the thing is there are times when people say, “You don’t need this.” And you fight for it. And you did need it.

John: Yes.

Marielle: Yes. And I totally had those moments.

Craig: Right. But then, there are those times where it’s like — and it just goes to show you can’t be perfect. That’s kind of why I love the way that you were able to sort of start making the movie before you made the movie. If everybody gets the chance to do that, because the truth is most people go and make the movie, they don’t have your experience at Sundance. So they can’t shoot the LSD scene –

Marielle: Right.

Craig: Three or four times. They just shoot your first bad version of it.

Marielle: Right. Exactly. And then, they go into the edit and they go, “What do I do?”

Craig: Pretty much.

Marielle: “This is not what I want it to be. This isn’t telling the story I needed to tell.”

Craig: I know.

Marielle: I also found it really helpful that I did a number of readings of the script, which Mike Birbiglia does those readings. There’s something about just hearing it out loud that I want to do for every movie I ever do also because you do just hear things and recognize problems when you hear — it’s so different than when you’re just writing something.

Craig: Every stage that gets it further away from text –

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: Is informative. The reading is informative. Watching them do it on set is informative, so you go, “Okay. This next take, let’s try something else.” Your first — watching your first cut is informative. And then as many times as you’ve seen the cut, watching it with other people, it’s like you’re seeing a different movie.

Marielle: Totally.

Craig: Every single time, you learn more.

Marielle: It’s true. Yeah. And I’m never going to get to have the experience of going to the Sundance Labs again with my movies, unfortunately. I wish I would, because you just learning as much as you possibly can before you’re shooting. Because shooting is so fast –

John: Yes.

Marielle: It happens so quickly.

Craig: And final.

Marielle: And it’s final. And there’s that weird feeling of this is final. I want to take as much time as I can before you get to that phase of getting to know all of your problems.

John: Yeah, I think sometimes people are afraid of doing the prep work because it’s like, “Oh, you know, I want to be bold. I want to make big bold choices.” But I find that, honestly, if you don’t do the prep, you’d end up sort of making way too safe of choices sometimes.

Marielle: I think that’s right.

John: You over cover things because like, “I don’t know how I am going to do this. I’m just going to shoot it a thousand different ways.” And you’ve lost that great shot you could have gotten because –

Marielle: Right.

John: You didn’t trust yourself.

Marielle: You don’t trust yourself to just, “Let’s get this as one big oner.”

John: Yeah.

Marielle: That’ll be so fun. And you if really know, if you’ve worked it out, you can trust that’ll work in my edit. I know this will work. And Sundance does that really well. They push you to take crazy chances –

John: Yes.

Marielle: When you’re shooting your scenes and to make mistakes.

Craig: Yeah, if you’re not prepared, you end up making other people’s choices.

John: Yeah.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: You end up making the AD’s choice or the DP’s choice –

Marielle: You get swayed by people on set. You get –

Craig: Absolutely.

Marielle: Swayed by your actors. You’re like, “Oh, look at that really funny thing the actor is doing. It doesn’t have to do with the original scene, but maybe that will be great.” And sometimes it might be great and sometimes it might take the scene totally off course.

Craig: Sabotage.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: They’re all trying to sabotage you.

Marielle: Or, “Oh, look at that cool lighting that just happened.”

Craig: Right

Marielle: “Maybe we should shoot the scene like this instead because of that cool lighting.” All of those things are problems that –

Craig: They all see their own movie, right?

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: And the actor’s movie is about their character.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: And the DP’s movie is about the look.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: And the AD’s movie is about getting out on time.

Marielle: Yes. [laughs]

Craig: Literally.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: Which is their job and they’re all important, but only you see all of it.

Marielle: Yeah. And the props department cares about that lighter. And whether that lighter gets used right –

Craig: Only about it.

Marielle: Yes. And you need everyone to care that much about their jobs in order to do a good a job, but you have to be the one who keeps it all together and doesn’t let yourself get –

Craig: Exactly.

Marielle: Swayed by all of those.

Craig: Because in the absence of your choices, they will fill in. Oh, my god, will they fill in.

Marielle: Yes, it’s so true.

Craig: And then, you’re at the mercy.

Marielle: It’s true.

John: So one of the biggest things in preparation you probably had to do is figuring out all of the sex scenes in the movie.

Marielle: Yes.

John: Because you have — there’s a tremendous number of sex scenes in the film.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: So many sex scenes.

Marielle: So many sex scenes.

John: So much sex.

Marielle: There’s a fair amount of — there’s a fair amount of boning.

John: I think there’s like 12.

Craig: 12, really?

John: I bet there’s 12.

Marielle: I don’t think there’s 12. I think there’s probably about six.

John: Six. All right.

Craig: Yes, that sounds like –

John: Or maybe sequences.

Marielle: Well, it depends on how you can –

John: Yes, exactly.

Marielle: We have a little montage. [laughs]

John: I’m accounting you to the little shots of the montage.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: But you had to think about sort of –

Craig: The thing in the bathroom doesn’t count as a sex scene for me –

Marielle: Right.

Craig: That was a transaction.

Marielle: Right. Right.

John: But within the sex scenes, you have to figure out sort of, obviously, where you’re at with the characters emotionally.

Marielle: Yes.

John: But also, where, as a movie you are with the nudity, where you’re at with the relationship.

Marielle: Yeah, it’s a really fine line to balance all of the amount — how much nudity you’re going to see, how much sex you’re going to see.

John: So what are the conversations you’re having internally? And then, what are the conversations you’re having with your crew and with your actors and sort of how you’re going to do all of this.

Marielle: Well, I kind of made rules for myself while I was writing about — I never wanted the nudity to feel exploitative and I never wanted it to feel gratuitous, but you can’t make a movie about coming of age and a girl’s sexuality without showing some nudity and having some sex scenes. So I sort of just laid out certain guidelines, which is like, the scenes where you see the most nudity are non-sexual situations. So she’s examining her body in the mirror. They have a big fight, where she’s almost totally naked. They’re not sexual. And then, the sex scenes tended to be therefore sort of where there’s less nudity, you see less. There’s more implied. There’s actual sex happening, but we also wanted the sex to be more truthful. And so it’s not like shot with quick cuts and really sexy angles. It’s much more straight on.

Craig: I was surprised by the lack of saxophone.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: [laughs]

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: Really shocked.

Marielle: Especially after seeing MacGruber. You’re like –

John: Yeah. [laughs]

Marielle: They love saxophone.

Craig: Oh, God, MacGruber. The sex scene in MacGruber. Sorry.

Marielle: The sex scene in MacGruber –

Craig: May be the greatest sex scene.

Marielle: Ruined sex

John: Yes.

Craig: It may be the greatest.

Marielle: So many people have said to Jorma like, “Wow, that sex scene really kind of ruined sex for me for a while.”

Craig: No, that sex scene –

Marielle: Enhanced sex for you?

Craig: Absolute — it’s like all –

Marielle: Oh, that’s a problem. That’s a problem, I think.

John: [laughs]

Craig: “Uh, uh, ohh, ooh, I’m going to shoot.”

Marielle: “I’m going to shoot.”

Craig: “I’m going to shoot.”

Marielle: Oh, God.

Craig: I say that to my wife all the time.

Marielle: There’s one shot in MacGruber where you can see Kristen during the sex scene as starting to laugh.

Craig: Yeah.

Marielle: And she has to turn her head away from the camera.

Craig: I know that, too. I know that well. Of course, because I’ve seen it many times.

Marielle: And it — but it was such a good take of Will, you couldn’t cut away from it. It was too important.

Craig: And I’m sorry to hijack this, because we’re going to talk to Jorma about all of this. But also the look on –

Marielle: Ryan Phillippe?

Craig: No. no, no.

Marielle: Val Kilmer?

Craig: No. His dead wife.

Marielle: Oh, Maya Rudolph.

Craig: It’s so weird because I’m like literally Minnie Riperton’s daughter. That’s how like the mind works sometimes. We’re you’re like the obvious name is gone. The trivia is there.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: Maya Rudolph is making this face when he’s having sex with her.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: And it’s like — it’s not disgust, but it’s almost disgust. She’s like looking down her nose. I think she’s into it. It’s hard to tell.

Marielle: So she was eight or nine months pregnant –

John: Pregnant, I know.

Marielle: While they filmed that.

John: She’s basically always pregnant. [laughs]

Marielle: Yes, she’s had four kids. [laughs] She was so pregnant shooting the grossest sex scene in a graveyard.

Craig: So great. So great.

Marielle: [laughs] And then they had to like digitally take out her belly. It was so ridiculous. And I was — we were all sitting there during that sex scene when that was being filmed, just being like, this baby, like what is this baby’s experience of this?

Craig: I know. The baby is like, “Why?”

Marielle: This is so insane.

Craig: She will always have that moment on film.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: Well, I think that you accomplished what you were setting out to do because the truth is I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie with that much nudity where there was no arousal whatsoever on my part. There was nothing arousing about any of it. And it wasn’t like it was off putting either.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: It was more — I was really invested entirely in what was going on emotionally with the characters.

Marielle: Well, hopefully, you’re more in her perspective.

John: Yes.

Marielle: I mean –

Craig: Yes, 100%.

Marielle: That was sort of the point. It was like, being in the teenage girls’ perspective more than being — we tend to see sex scenes from a male perspective. That’s how they tend to be shot.

Craig: Right.

Marielle: That’s how they tend to be written. And this was a movie that we were just trying the whole time to not be in the grown up perspective and to not be in the male perspective. We wanted to be in the teenage girl’s.

Craig: Well, let’s talk about this for a moment because you succeeded on that level. And you also managed to — because sometimes when I have seen scenes from the — they’re strictly from the female perspective, that sex is then automatically a problem. I don’t like this.

Marielle: Oh, no. No.

Craig: Or this is, you know — she does like it.

Marielle: This is a character who’s totally into it.

Craig: She really likes it. And so, I guess the larger question is, it seems to me that you very cannily avoided tropes just everywhere you could.

Marielle: Oh, good. Yeah.

Craig: However, there is a risk when your primary goal is let’s not do what other people have done because, of course, at the heart of every trope, there’s something that’s real that connects to people. That’s how they became tropes in the first place.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: So, did you ever worry that you were essentially wandering off the reservation to the extent where maybe people would not be able to recognize themselves in this character or –

Marielle: Well, the particular trope that teenage girl characters tend to fall into, which is that they don’t like sex and that the narrative that we’re given as teenage girls is like boys are going to want us to have sex with you and you’re going to have to decide when to give it up.

Craig: Right.

Marielle: But you’re not going to want it yourself. That particular trope is just not true.

Craig: Right.

Marielle: And so for me personally that always felt like something that –

Craig: That was an easy one to smash.

Marielle: It was like this isn’t truthful and when you’re a teenage girl and you’ve never seen that told in a truthful way, it’s actually really damaging because you think something’s wrong with you, if you think about sex. And the only examples you have in movies are like boys think about sex, girls don’t think about sex.

Craig: Right.

Marielle: So for me, that made me feel when I was young, like, maybe I’m a boy? Or like, maybe something’s wrong with me because I think about sex. And so that was like no question. This is a trope that needs to go. This is a teenage girl who thinks about sex and –

Craig: Right.

Marielle: Wants to have sex. But I did worry, I suppose, about the whole movie being so specific and so about this one time and place. And I thought, I hoped that the specificity of it would make people connect to it more. But I guess I did worry that it might be a movie for a small group of people.

Craig: Well, it is — I think you made a movie that I would show anyone. And by the way, this is a movie I would show my daughter, not yet. She’s 10.

Marielle: How old is she? No. Yeah, not yet.

Craig: But here’s the interesting thing. What this character does is it reminds me a lot of movies, if I were to translate it over to the boy zone, where there are movies about teenage boys who do outrageous things that I go, “Okay, I understand why you did those outrageous things, I understand the spirit of those. I share that spirit and that impulse. I don’t do those.”

Marielle: Right.

John: Yeah.

Marielle: You don’t have to act on all of those impulses –

Craig: Correct.

Marielle: In order to relate to them.

Craig: Exactly. And so –

Marielle: It’s like Into the Wild. Like I never ran away from entire my life but there’s something about the humanness of that impulse to like get — just to leave your whole life, your parents, everything you grew up with, all of the rules that you’ve been taught your entire life and throw them to the wind and to just like go out into the wilderness. I’d never do it but I relate to the impulse.

Craig: I related. You know, that’s the thing. Even when she was doing things that were dangerous, I’ve — one of the best choices in the movie is when she and her friend, after the bathroom scene, say we should not have done that.

Marielle: Right.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because I needed that.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: I literally needed it or I was going to start –

Marielle: You need the remorse.

John: Yeah.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: I was going to start to lose her.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: You know, I needed it because she’s making terrible choices over and over and over.

Marielle: As most of us did when we were teenagers.

Craig: That’s what –

John: Yes.

Marielle: Even if they weren’t like that extreme, we all still probably made some pretty bad choices.

Craig: We all made some bad — well, this is the thing. Children, we tend to idealize children in movies, when in fact, children are the worst of us. I believe.

Marielle: Right. [laughs]

Craig: Basically, they are the worst of us. If children ran the world, it would just be flames and broken glass in the next five minutes. But we then doubly do it to girls.

Marielle: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Because we ask that our female characters are more moral.

John: Mm-hmm.

Marielle: We do. Particularly, teenage girls, we want them to be examples of how we wished teenage girls were. We don’t want to see what they truly are.

Craig: And, you know, so you don’t have a sister, do you?

John: I don’t.

Craig: So my sister is a year and half younger than I am. So when I was in high school, and we shared a bathroom. So when I was in high school, I would, you know — when I would go to the bathroom, she’s got her Seventeen Magazines all stacked up. So I would sit there flipping through Seventeen Magazine. And it would make me laugh because every Seventeen Magazine gave girls the following two messages. Here’s how to look as sexy as possible. Do not have sex.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: Well –

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: How can we expect any girl to not lose her mind?

Marielle: Exactly.

Craig: So I loved all — I mean I just thought that you managed to avoid tropes but at the same time, there was — it was also you made a new trope. I don’t know, it’s like weird way of saying it, but like, a new thing that’s true, a truism, that people just weren’t ready to talk about.

Marielle: Mm-hmm. Interesting.

Craig: Which is the way that female sexuality is so scrambled up at the age. Anyway, you did a fantastic job.

John: You did a fantastic job.

Marielle: Thank you.

John: Has the TV show Girls come up in any of the making of the movie, the discussion of the movie? Because I –

Marielle: Totally.

John: I look at this character and you can see a Hannah Horvath character if she was transported through, you know, time and space and put there, some of the same issues and struggles that she’s facing. And has that been a useful thing for you as a filmmaker or a frustrating thing when those comparisons come up?

Marielle: Well — oh, no, it’s been useful. I mean, I started working on this movie before Girls came out.

John: Yeah.

Marielle: But I remember when Girls came out kind of feeling like maybe this will help me because people will be a little more open to this conversation right now.

John: Yeah.

Marielle: And it felt like I was sort of cluing into, I don’t know, this bigger conversation happening in our society about female sexuality.

John: That there’s an audience, there’s an eagerness to talk about –

Marielle: Yeah.

John: Sexuality

Marielle: And it’s always nice to think when you’re writing something, I don’t think you can plan it this way, but when suddenly you recognize that there’s a bigger conversation that you’re sort of stepping into and becoming a part of and it has to just — the timing has to work out right. And it felt that way with this. It felt like, “Oh, we’re sort of becoming part of the conversation.”

Craig: I have to say, though, this is why I love that movies are still here and I know that television does great work in — and has done better work lately than ever before, but this is the kind of thing that a movie does best. Because when you have television and the characters must continue on, what ends up happening is a sort of ultimately a trivialization of these incredibly I’ll say traumatic and yet wonderful experiences that happen to us in our lives.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: This is what movies do best, is they focus in on those moments — the big change moment of your life. Television will ultimately have to trivialize it.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: Because they have to keep doing it over and over again.

Marielle: Well, television has to be about more mundane things in order to kind of keep us involved.

Craig: Correct.

Marielle: And it can’t — it can’t — if the stakes were that high all the time in TV, you’d get burned out.

Craig: You’d get burned out. I mean, you — and the fact is just by repetition of seeing a certain circumstance over and over and over, you’d become burned out. This is what movies do best. And there is a — you know, this moment when your childhood breaks apart and you slowly put yourself back together, movies will always do this better.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, it’s a terrific coming of age movie. And I honestly feel like everybody over the age of 15 [laughs] should see it.

Marielle: Thank you.

John: Can we talk about the nature of your role now after you made this movie? The movie comes out at Sundance, it sells.

Marielle: Yes.

John: But you were still on a treadmill for quite a long time to –

Marielle: Yes.

John: Make this movie out. So, you know, we are friends through friends and that’s why you’re here, but you were on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. You were –

Marielle: Yeah.

John: You were talking. And this is going to be continuing all the way through the award season. So, your job continues.

Marielle: Nobody talks about this. How long –

John: So let’s talk about this.

Marielle: The period of –

John: Let’s talk about this.

Marielle: Movie making is.

John: It’s a haul. Especially –

Marielle: It’s a halt.

John: When you have a January Sundance movie that’s coming out the next year.

Marielle: And when you are first time filmmaker and so it’s the little film that really needs that kind of word of mouth and it needs the hustle behind it in order to get it seen.

Craig: Yeah.

Marielle: So, yeah, we’ve done the festivals circuit, so we did Sundance. We got bought by Sony Pictures Classics there, which was amazing and so much more than I could have dreamed. Then, we went to Berlin. I should mention, I had a 5.5-week-old at Sundance.

Craig: God.

Marielle: And then he was eight weeks by the time we went to Berlin.

John: This is a human child.

Marielle: Human child.

John: Not a dog. This is a human child that she gave birth to.

Marielle: Yes, yes, yes, exactly.

Craig: And then let’s also point out then all of the pregnant time prior to that?

Marielle: Right, so I wrapped filming and got pregnant within about a month and then was pregnant all of post.

Craig: Wow.

Marielle: And then –

Craig: So you weren’t throwing up after you saw that first assembly because it was bad.

Marielle: Right. Who knows? Who knows why I was throwing up?

Craig: It may have been bad.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: It may have been the baby.

Marielle: It may have been the baby. It’s hard to know.

Craig: Either way, you’re puking.

Marielle: Yeah, I was puking, puking, puking. Exactly. Yeah, there was — I had, I had a meeting set with distributors for the day that I went into labor. It was all like, it was all pushed up to the limit.

Craig: That happened to me.

Marielle: Yeah, I know it’s a classic story.

Craig: Oh, yeah.

Marielle: So then we did the festival circuit. We did New Directors, New Films at MoMA which was a really cool festival. The movie has travelled to even more festivals than I’ve been able to go to because it’s gone to like Sydney and Seoul and it’s gone all over the world. And I’ve been able to go to a certain number of festivals. Bell has gone to a certain number of festivals, the lead actress from the movie. We’ve gone to some together. Alexander’s gone to some with us. So kind of through the fall we did the L.A Film Festival. We’ve done a ton of festivals. And then we sort of started the bigger press roll out. So we’ve been doing press in L.A. and Dallas, and San Francisco.

Craig: The movie is out in theaters now.

Marielle: It’s out in theaters now. We just expanded this weekend.

Craig: This weekend, okay, this past weekend.

Marielle: This past weekend, right. This comes out on Tuesday’s. I know you guys, I’m a really big fan. So at this point, I think were in about 30 cities.

Craig: Great.

Marielle: So it’s getting much wider.

John: So this is sort of the Whiplash plan where like it’s a very slow rollout.

Marielle: Right.

John: And there’s no video-on-demand. It’s strictly theatrical.

Marielle: It’s only theatrical and the hope is that word of mouth helps build, you know, helps to build an audience because it is such a small movie. It’s not going to be the type of movie that we blast everywhere all at the same time but build slowly.

Craig: I hope that you’re getting a lot of attention from people at our movie studios because I if were running a movie studio, I would be saying to you, “Please, please even these are the movies I’m making pick one and do it.”

Marielle: I got to say I am getting a lot of attention.

John: Good, that’s fantastic. I put you on a list this morning.

Marielle: You did?

John: I did.

Marielle: Thank you. It’s a funny time to be a female filmmaker. There’s a lot articles being written, a lot of conversations, the ACLU hearing that happened. There’s a lot of conversations about how underrepresented women are behind the camera. 9% of Hollywood movies are getting made by women. That number hasn’t changed in 30 years.

So right now in this moment, though, I think public opinion has started to shaming the studios into catching up and there’s this feeling of like, “Oh, we got to be doing more. We need to be hiring more women.” And kind of am getting one of the [laughs] –

John: Great.

Marielle: I’m getting to see the benefits of that.

Craig: I’m going to disagree with you slightly. I do think that they are right now making an aggressive effort.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: I do because I think they are embarrassed. I don’t think that’s why they’re calling you.

Marielle: Thank you.

Craig: I have to say, as one of the, it’s one of the unfortunate side effects of any kind of effort to improve diversity statistics is that then if they go up, there’s always that question are you –

Marielle: Of like did it happen because they were good or did it happen because they were just a girl?

Craig: Are you in here because affirmative action? Are you here because you’re a girl or you’re in here because of quota or whatever?

Marielle: Right.

Craig: And that sucks, it sucks all around, but I will say that in your case I truly believe that because, look, they just love money more than anything. They love money and I think they look at your movie and they look at you and I think this is an incredibly assured filmmaker with a voice and an eye and she writes. We can make money off of this person. That’s what I think it’s about.

Marielle: I think that’s probably true. I mean I feel I can tell the difference between the calls that are about people who truly love what I’ve done and the types of stories that I want tell and the people who are like what are the women? Who are the women? Who we’ve approved? Who do we put on this list? Let’s find a woman for this.

Craig: Just make sure that Mari is not like some European guy.

Marielle: Yeah, [laughs] exactly.

John: “That is a woman, right?”

Marielle: Like I did get a call, I think it’s okay for me to say this. There was that moment where the director of Wonder Woman fell out, there was like that one day scramble and my agents called and were like are you a huge Wonder Woman fan?

John: [laughs].

Marielle: Because your name is coming up and I was like, “Wow, they are really just pulling any woman that they can.” There’s just trying to find a woman director who they can — yeah. And I –

Craig: It was certainly there was — it appeared that there was like — there was that panic that day. Yes.

Marielle: For that one day, and now they have a wonderful woman involved and who probably should be and whatever but it was a funny moment where I was like, “I’m just getting this call because I’m a girl right now.”

Craig: Yeah, probably [laughs].

Marielle: Yeah, [laughs].

Craig: I think so [laughs]. That one, I’ll give you that.

Marielle: That one, yeah.

Craig: I’ll give you that.

John: I would step back and take a look at, you know, Colin Trevorrow coming off of Safety Not Guarantee jumping up to Jurassic World.

Marielle: Yes.

John: Like your movie and his movie, they’re similarly like really well done versions of tiny little indie movies.

Marielle: There, that’s a big conversations that’s happened out of Sundance is like why is it that the white male directors who come out of Sundance who make a million dollar movie get offered hundred million dollar franchises and the women very rarely. They might get their next movie is the $3 million movie. Why is that leap not happening?

Craig: Yeah.

John: Maybe, maybe break that pattern.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Well, in part, it will require you to want to make one of those movies.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: You know, Colin Trevorrow wanted to make Jurassic World. And so here’s my secret hope because as again, I love MacGruber. So you know the kind of movies — I mean I love this movie, I love MacGruber. I love lots of movies.

Marielle: It’s a great double feature [laughs].

Craig: It really is amazing. By the way, the best of all.

Marielle: Which one should go first?

John: I think the mashup version is really good.

Craig: The mashup would be great no. You have to Diary first, to get everybody really like, “Wow.” And then just hit them with MacGruber.

Marielle: Yeah, and just get — the laughter just leaves you.

Craig: Take these broken wings — okay, anyway, so we’ll have that episode. But I hope you that actually you can find a movie, you know, because they open up their big cabinet and they’re like look at the stuff we stuff we want to make.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: A lot of times what they want to make is horrendous. But sometimes in there there’s something great and I hope you find something that you can get a budget for and you can get a big movie with, and you can get all the toys to play with and that you want to do.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: Because that would be the best thing of all. I mean I really — this is what you should be doing, do this for sure.

Marielle: I want to. I mean I really did enjoy it and this, there was something about directing that just felt really natural to me because I am an actor and I love actors and I love working with actors and I loved — and being on set is just so fun. It’s so infectious like it’s just a great experience. It’s so stressful, it’s so hard [laughs]. The whole thing is so difficult but it’s also so great.

Craig: You did a fantastic job.

John: Hooray.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’s come time for One Cool Things. Craig, what is your One Cool Thing this week?

Craig: So, I actually have a One Cool Thing this week and I’m going to do it — while I’m talking about it, I’m going to do it.

John: Do it.

Craig: It’s so cool and actually weird and I got before I saw your movie, Mari, but it kind of flows into it. So this is called, VHS camcorder. And it’s like, I don’t know, four bucks or something. And so I’m going to do this, so it’s got this like little thing. And it basically turns video into like — into VHS and you can even change the — but it really actually does look like it. I mean it’s the weirdest thing.

John: So for people who are at home who can’t see this.

Craig: Put this up. Say hi.

Marielle: Hi.

John: There’s time code in the bottom and it very much feels like –

Craig: Now I sound like a crazy man. [laughs]

Marielle: Hello.

Craig: And there’s John.

John: And I’m here.

Craig: Hello and welcome to Scriptnotes and even though it says August 21, 2015, really?

Marielle: Does it look like the beginning of Elf?

Craig: It looks [laughs] do a head turn for me like you’re on Elf. Starring Mari Heller.

Marielle: Wait, wait. I have to be — I have to be on the phone.

Craig: Okay [laughs]. Okay, that’s perfect. Anyway, it’s a great app and it’s fun and it’s cheap. And I don’t know, for kids like I showed it to my kids, I’m like, “Look, this is what Daddy’s videos used to look like.” And they’re like, actually my son was like, “Wow, this is pretty cool.” Like because, you know, for them now everything is like add vinyl noise to my, you know, my electronic music track, so anyway that’s my One Cool Thing.

John: Very cool. My One Cool Thing is an article I just read this morning. It is called I’m Sorry I Didn’t Respond to Your Email, My Husband Coughed to Death Two Years Ago by Rachel Ward. And it’s a true story so she’s a producer for Morning Edition and it’s her talking through the last two years after her husband died. So she’s, you know, a young married woman.

Marielle: Oh my God.

John: Her husband died in a very sudden –

Craig: Literally coughed to death?

John: Yes.

Craig: Just like he started coughing –

John: And then died.

Craig: Just randomly?

John: Yeah. So, it goes into sort of what actually happened or to the degree to which they understand what actually happened. But on the podcast, previously, we talked about sort of how those moments of death that we see in movies and sort of the ambulance coming or the coroner like are never quite the way it is in real life. And so she talks through what that reality is, but also in a very smart way talks through what it’s like to have to introduce to yourself to new people as like, “I’m a widow.” Like it’s a strange thing.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: So what I’m bringing it up here is that she’s kind of actually kind of like a great movie character. You can very much envision sort of this is the start of a movie story and sort of what that is. So I thought it was just a really well written piece.

Marielle: It’s kind of like The Year of Magical Thinking.

John: Yeah it is, but a very, you know, young version of that which is so different. Also just fascinating to see it on Medium which is such a weird medium for it to be in because you’re used to this being like if it was a New Yorker article, you sort of know what that’s supposed to feel like but Medium where there’s like a comments like midway through and stuff. It’s an odd format for it but also very relevant at the time. Mari, do you have a One Cool Thing?

Marielle: I do, you guys I agonized over my One Cool Thing. I’m such a big fan of the show that I was like texting people being like I have to come up with a One Cool Thing. I don’t know that I came up with the best one but it’s a parenting thing and you guys do talk about parenting on here sometimes. I’m a parent of a young, young baby, 8 months and there is an app called Wonder Weeks that I have found to be really useful.

It kind of goes through the major cognitive leaps that a baby goes through, it’s really focused on brain development. And babies do tend to follow pretty clear patterns like between six and eight weeks this major leap happens to them, they learn to see patterns in the world or whatever it is.

At this point at four months, they’re able to understand the concept of something going inside of a cup and something coming out of that cup [laughs]. You know, these really kind of basic leaps but they — what happens is when a baby is going through a major leap, they tend to have a lot behavioral problems, their sleep gets disrupted because their brain is making this major leap and they’re figuring things out and they’re practicing when they should be sleeping, instead they’re like practicing things with their hands or their minds.

So it’s really helpful to know what those leaps are as you’re going along so that you can be a little patient and you can have some empathy for what your baby is going through and you can go, “Okay, this is just a normal leap they’re going through and in a week, it’s going to settle back down.”

Craig: Do they have that app for teenagers?

Marielle: They should. [laughs]

John: That would be awesome.

Craig: Because I would really like that.

Marielle: I don’t know if it’s as predictable with teenagers as it is with little babies. But yeah, I found it to be, to make me a more patient parent where I can look at this app and it has a whole calendar listing of where all the different leaps happen. It’s just, and it makes me kind of, it makes me empathize with him and what he’s going through and how much he’s growing and learning.

Craig: They don’t have the fear of the unknown.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: So why is he shrieking all of a sudden for last three days?

Marielle: Right.

Craig: And usually people, the immediate thing that parents think is what did we feed him, what did we feed him?” He’s got — most kids are fine. You feed them whatever they want, they’re like goats. But that makes sense that they’re — that cognitively because think about it, it’s like it’s brain damage in reverse.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: I mean every time your brain changes, it’s traumatic.

Marielle: Right. And my kid just started scooting. So he’s just figured out how to move and it has totally flipped his brain out. I mean he’s so excited, but he can’t go to sleep because he’s like trying to scoot around everywhere and it’s –

Craig: Boys by the way are — they’re just so hyper.

Marielle: He’s so hyper. And he wakes up just bouncing off the wall, so excited because his body can suddenly do things that he’s clearly wanted to do for so long.

Craig: I’m so glad I didn’t have two boys. If I had had two boys, honestly, I would just — all right, I –

Marielle: Jorma and I were talking about that this morning. I was like, I have to say my biggest fear of us having a second kid is that I’d have another boy, and I’d just be this one lone woman in a house full of boys.

Craig: Yeah, in a house full of — yeah.

Marielle: It’s scary to me.

Craig: Yeah, especially during the teenage years. My daughter — I mean that’s other great cure for panic over what’s going through your baby’s mind is having your second baby, because then you’re like, whatever. It works out.

Marielle: It works out, I know.

Craig: I know what’s on the other side of this at the very least.

Marielle: I also just find it kind of interesting to understand what they’re going through and that babies do fall into such clear patterns and that almost every baby does kind of follow these patterns. It’s so crazy.

Craig: All those — you know the things that like this, this thing that the baby does, whatever they call it –

John: The Heisman?

Craig: They call it, yeah, the fencing maneuver, it’s like and then the startle thing, all babies do this.

Marielle: Yeah, that’s called like moray.

John: Yeah, reflex.

Marielle: Something reflex, right and it’s not moray, that’s when –

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah, but they think — they do that and no one can see because it’s a podcast. This is why I don’t listen to podcasts because you can’t see. Anyway, yeah, we’re all incredibly similar

Marielle: Well, and that one I heard the startle reflex is from when we were apes or when were — it’s evolution when we were having to hold on to our mother’s backs and the hair.

Craig: Wait, evolution, you believe in evolution? [laughs]

Marielle: No, no [laughs]. But that when that babies needed to hold on to their mother’s hair if they were falling, so they would do this in order to not fall off.

Craig: That would work with you though, you actually have incredible hair.

Marielle: My baby pulls on to my hair and uses it as ropes to lift himself up, yes.

Craig: I bet he does.

John: Good stuff. You can find that information about Wonder Weeks and VHS Camcorder apps and this article I talked about on our show notes on the show page, You can also find this on the iTunes store. We are at Scriptnotes, just look for us there, you can also find the app. Our outro this week is composed by a young composer named Jack Mazin.

Craig: Oh yes, my son has –

Marielle: How cool.

Craig: He’s been working — he’s starting to do like electronic music and stuff and this is one of his first compositions.

Marielle: That’s so cool.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah. Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Thank you, Matthew. And Mari Heller, thank you so much for coming and talking to us about directing.

Marielle: I want to keep going, I just don’t want this to ever be over. This is such an exciting moment for me.

Craig: We’ll have you back. I mean this isn’t the end. This isn’t the end.

Marielle: I’ll just come back when you have Jorma on to talk about MacGruber and I’ll just listen.

Craig: By the way, you have to be here. That would be great.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: And we should also put in the show notes just because it’s not like — there aren’t billboards out there, let’s put a link in for people to go get tickets to go see on Diary of a Teenage Girl.

John: Absolutely. So we’ll have a link to the website which will have all that information and to the trailer.

Craig: Great job, Mari. Mari, you were an excellent guest.

Marielle: I’m so happy.

John: Thanks.


Diary of a First-Time Director

Tue, 08/25/2015 - 08:03

John and Craig sit down with Marielle Heller, the writer and director of the acclaimed feature The Diary of a Teenage Girl, to talk about the journey of getting her movie made, from optioning the novel to the Sundance Labs through production.

We discuss sex scenes and ’70s wallpaper, anamorphic lenses and leaving subplots on the cutting room floor. Plus there’s a lot of MacGruber.

Heller’s film is in US theaters now, and expanding week-by-week. Don’t miss it.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 211: The International Episode — Transcript

Fri, 08/21/2015 - 17:37

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

Today, we are going very international. We will look at how movies are translated, including an interview with a guy who does subtitles for a living. We’ll look at how Pixar and other companies are localizing movies for international audiences. And we’ll also look at what happens when China becomes the biggest movie market. And then at the very end, we’ll come back to Los Angeles for a look at the WGA elections and who we think you should be paying attention to.

Craig: This is quite a show.

John: A big, mostly international, show. Yes.

Craig: And John, you were just international yourself.

John: I was. I just got back to Los Angeles early this morning. I’m super, super jetlagged. So if I nod off at any point during the podcast, Craig will just take over and run it.

Craig: Is this like the middle of the night for you right now?

John: This is sort of a weird murky middle period. So we’re recording this at 1 PM, so the 5 PM nap hasn’t kicked in yet. But I still don’t feel quite normal at all.

Craig: Oh, this is the worst feeling in the world. It truly is the worst. I wish the earth would stop turning.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Because then we wouldn’t have this problem. The only issue then is, obviously, everyone would die instantly.

John: Yes.

Craig: And even if we didn’t die instantly, half of the planet will be plunged in eternal darkness.

John: That wouldn’t be good at all.

Craig: No.

John: But my vacation was fantastic. So I was in Ireland and France. I want to thank you, Craig, for recording two episodes in advance. So we actually stockpiled those two episodes.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Sorry to disappoint, spoil how the magic is made.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: But, we backed up those two episodes and we had a great vacation with no Scriptnotes to be done.

Craig: Yeah, it was actually kind of nice to get a week off, so to speak. I understand now why, you know, like game shows, I think they record a whole week of game shows in a day or something.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I get it.

John: That’s how you do it.

Craig: Yeah. [laughs] It actually makes sense.

John: Yeah, totally. Yeah. Jeopardy!, everyone has to bring like four changes of clothes because they record through all the week’s episodes in a day. And come on, that’s a good life.

Craig: It’s not bad. Like Gene Rayburn who used to the Match Game — remember the Match Game?

John: I do remember the Match Game.

Craig: Match Game.

John: Man, we’re old.

Craig: We are old. Charles Nelson Reilly. Charles Nelson Reilly is a good one.

John: Yeah, he’s so good.

Craig: So Gene Rayburn was the host of the Match Game and he didn’t even live in Los Angeles. He would just fly in once every, I don’t know, two weeks and record two weeks of shows in like four hours and then go home.

John: I forget which actor it was. I mean, he was the dad in My Three Sons, but I don’t remember the actor’s name.

Craig: Fred MacMurray.

John: Fred MacMurray. So he was actually a movie star at the time. And so he would come in and film out the entire season in like a few days. So basically –

Craig: [laughs]

John: That’s why he’s always like in his office and the kids come in with a problem and he goes off. So he had no day-to-day involvement with the show. He just would film his scenes and then he would go off.

Craig: Well, that’s so good. Like back in the day, when they would script these television shows, the scripts were the scripts. That’s it. We’ve written the whole year, this is what we’re doing. You actors, you’re doing this exactly. So we can literally have a guy come in and just read the line, “Wow,” [laughs], from episode 23 and that’ll work, because that’s –

John: It’ll work fine.

Craig: Everyone’s doing what they’re — just follow the script. Ah, simpler days.

John: Simpler days. But we live in a more complicated time. So before we get to our international topics, let’s do some follow-up. First off, in the previous episode I said that we would have USB drives with the 200 episodes of Scriptnotes on them. They are here. They are in the store. And people are buying them. So thank you to everyone that’s buying one.

Craig: Right. Thank you.

John: If you would like all 200 episodes, the first 200 episodes of Scriptnotes on a USB drive, you can just go to and we will send one in your direction.

Next up, T-shirts. So a bunch of people sent in designs for T-shirts. We had 45 entries for T-shirts and we’ve just started looking through them. And some of them are magnificent and some of them are silly jokes about Sexy Craig and random little things. But thank you to everyone who submitted one. And so, we’ll have news next week about what T-shirt design we’re going to go with. But I’ll also try to put up at least a couple of my favorites on the Facebook page because we never use our Facebook page, so it’s a good excuse for using the Facebook page.

Craig: One of them depicted me as enormously fat. What is the deal? Like, I don’t understand. Even at my fattest, I wasn’t that fat.

John: So Dustin Box, who works for me, had that same comment when I was showing him some of the T-shirts. I was like, “Why does everyone depict Craig as being super fat?”

Craig: Yeah.

John: And you –

Craig: I have a fat voice.

John: You have a fat voice, I guess.

Craig: Fat voice.

John: One of the illustrations I’ll put up has us as Ernie and Bert. And that’s actually kind of clever.

Craig: Yeah. That works. I get it.

John: You do look kind of like a little bit –

Craig: I have a round face. [laughs] I get it.

John: Here’s the reason why I think people perceive you as being fat is if you Google Image search Craig Mazin, one of the images that comes up is from your fatter days.

Craig: Right.

John: And you used to be a heavier person and so that’s the thing that the people are gravitating towards. And any sort of caricature is always going to, you know, hyperbolize some aspect of you –

Craig: Yeah.

John: And they’re choosing to make you obese.

Craig: That’s the reality in the age we live now is you can lose weight but you can’t really lose weight because Google [laughs] insists –

John: [laughs]

Craig: That you’re fat forever. No matter what. Or if you were once thin, I suppose, and maybe too thin and then you become a different weight, you’ll always be that person who’s scrawny. Yeah, basically, we are whatever the first image is. That’s it, forever.

John: Yes.

Craig: Until we’re dead.

John: And I will say that I do not caricature well, either. So [laughs] in any of the illustrations that show me, I am some sort of either Skeletor creature.

Craig: Right.

John: Often my head becomes triangular, so I don’t know quite what that is.

Craig: Yeah. Basically, to draw you, it appears that people simply sketch a banana and then put two eyes on and an enormous mouth.

John: Yes.

Craig: Like an endlessly long mouth. People are strange.

John: People are strange. I would love to see the real-life versions of these caricatures because they would be horrific freaks.

Craig: Oh, yeah. I mean, that’s the stuff of nightmares.

John: That’s the joy.

Craig: You’re a nightmare freak.

John: [laughs] So if you would like some visuals to go with this description, you can at those on the Facebook page. So in a follow-up to today’s topics actually comes from episode 208. Way back then, Craig said –

Craig: There’s this other hidden job that I would love for you and I — you know what? I just had an idea, John. John, every now and then, I have an idea. So you write a movie, the movie gets made. And then we all know, the movie plays overseas. What we forget is that all across the world, in many, many, many countries, there are people whose job is to dub the movie.

Most American movies play overseas dubbed, I believe. I mean, you can probably find some subtitled versions, too. But the people who dub in the other languages, that’s a fascinating gig because they have to essentially do this really quickly. Sometimes, you know, with the way things are released, they maybe have two weeks to dub an entire movie.

And then, translation is a real art, you know, especially in comedy. You have a line, it’s a joke but it’s based on wordplay. How do you translate that? How does that make sense? I’d love to get somebody on who does that for a living to talk to them about how they go through the way the screenplay is showing through the movie and how they turn that into another language.

John: So, luckily, I know several people who do this for a living. So Craig, I was in Paris last week and I got a chance to sit down with my friend, Emmanuel Denizot, who does this for a living. So he is a professional subtitler. That is his whole job.

Craig: Awesome.

John: He used to work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He did Much Ado About Nothing for Joss Whedon as well. He did work on Sex and the City. He also had, I think, probably the most exhausting and terrifying job I could imagine, which is he had to do the subtitles for The Daily Show.

Craig: Wow.

John: So for a while, The Daily Show was airing in France and they would have to do it the next — basically, they’d get it at night and it would have to go up the next morning.

Craig: Oh, my god. And it’s not like –

John: So they’d have to work all night.

Craig: And that’s really specific. It’s comedy. It’s fast. It’s dialogue. It’s overlapping, a lot of phrases that are idiosyncratic to English. That is a nightmare.

John: That was a nightmare job. So that one, he said that there was actually a whole team and they would basically get locked in a room. There’s one American guy who was there for like weird specific subtleties and things to try to make stuff make sense. But that sounds like a crazy person’s job.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: But we want to talk about how movies are subtitled. And so I sat down with him and this is the interview I had with him.

So Manu, thank you so much for talking with us about subtitling and dubbing. So, tell us what it is you do.

Emmanuel Denizot: Well, thank you so much for asking me. My job is called subtitling. I’m a subtitler. It’s basically, whenever a foreign film, English language, an English language film, in my case is distributed over here in France, distributors need a version with subtitles for the audience to follow the film. So I get a phone call from a distributor asking me to write the subtitles for them.

John: Manu, what languages do you translate from and into?

Emmanuel: I translate mainly from English into French. I do the occasional German and Spanish-speaking films.

John: So can you tell us about some of the projects you’ve worked on?

Emmanuel: Recently, I worked on Night at the Museum 3 for Fox. I worked on indie films showing at the Berlinale competition this year. It’s 45 Years by Andrew Haigh, and Victoria, a German film by Sebastian Schipper. I also worked on a new film by Sophie Barthes, a new version of Madame Bovary, the classic Flaubert novel. I only do subtitles. I never worked on the dubbing side of things. So I only work on the subtitles. Someone else will be doing the dubbing for these films.

John: In France, what percentage of movies are dubbed versus subtitled?

Emmanuel: In France, basically, if you’re talking about Hollywood films, they are all subtitled and dubbed, both. If you’re talking about indie, art-house films, they are going to be subtitled for sure and there might be a dubbed version. It’s the decision of the distributor, depending on what they think the following for the film can be.

John: Well, a mass market movie like Night at the Museum will always have to be dubbed because the kids will need to see it and the whole world needs to see it. In the U.S., we only really see movies that are subtitled. And the only movies we see that come from overseas tend to be those art-house movies. Is there any bias against subtitles or against dubbing for art-house films?

Emmanuel: Well, here in France, people are used to dubbed versions, to start with. The subtitled versions is more of a new trend. It started in the ’80s, I would say. Before the ’80s, it was subtitled but it was really an elite who would go and see these art-house films with subtitles. Most people would be watching films in French and watching them on TV. But it has changed a lot. And in the last 20 years in Paris, you’ll find more subtitled versions of films. Even of major films, Hollywood films, you’ll find a subtitled version rather than a French version, but there’s always a choice of both.

John: So for an individual movie, talk me through the process. Who hires you? Who calls you up and says, “We’d like you to do the subtitles for this film.”

Emmanuel: It’s the distributor, the French distributor. Say in case of the 20th Century Fox, they have the technical manager that will be in charge of the whole subtitling process. He will call me up. In a smaller company, a smaller distributor, they might not have a technical manager but they have like servicing or someone in charge. Same story.

John: And what is the first thing you do when you get the call to subtitle a film?

Emmanuel: Well, often we are asked to see the film. They’ll send us a copy. We discuss it over the phone. You know, because you might not want to do it for — most of the time, you feel you’re up to the task. But you know, depending what you like or your feelings, so we watch the film and then we call the client again and discuss it and we say, “Yeah, we’d like to go ahead with it.”

John: Do people request an individual subtitler? Like, are you known for doing a certain kind of thing? Or is there a person who’s really good with comedies, a person who’s really good with thrillers?

Emmanuel: It doesn’t work quite like that but, of course, just like any job, you know, if you’ve done a lot of comedies, you’ll be asked more comedies. If you’ve done a lot of dramas, you know, it kind of goes like this. But, I mean, I’ve sort of worked on all kinds of genres. But I’m specialized in indie films, rather. I don’t work much on the blockbusters at all. Really I work in art-house. But again, that’s because the clients, the distributors I work for, that’s what they specialize in as well.

John: So, you had a chance to look at the movie and what is the first process in doing your translation and doing the subtitles? Are you looking at a script or you’re just working off the film that they present you?

Emmanuel: After I watched the film, I get like a technical version of it with time codes. It goes via a lab. They’ll send me a proper copy. And I’ve got a professional software that I work on. And I also get a script, which in the case of Hollywood will be annotated, with lots of remarks and notes of interest. And then, yeah, so we’ve got a lot of material to work from and depending on the film, there’s all kind of research involved.

John: So you want to translate the dialogue. Are you going character by character, scene by scene or is it you’re doing a whole scene at once?

Emmanuel: Yeah. We do a whole scene at once, because it’s very linear for us because basically the film is edited. It’s finished. Well, most of the time. [laughs] So we work, yes, scene by scene, basically. I’ll work on a scene onto the next one.

John: So it’s not possible though to just take a line out of context, it has to be based on what the character before said and what the character is responding. There’s no machine possible translation to do this work?

Emmanuel: No. Hopefully, not. No [laughs]. No. Yeah, because it’s very much what you’ve written before, what you would be writing next. So everything is the length, the rhythm, the fluidity, it’s a writing process. You know, a proper one. So, yeah, it’s all very linear and it has to fit in.

John: Can you tell good subtitles from bad subtitles? What’s the difference?

Emmanuel: Well, the bad subtitles are the ones you’re going to see [laughs] bizarrely enough. The ones that you’re going to not understand right away, the ones that you’re going to wonder what it means, they’re going to be too long, it’s going to be tedious.

John: What is too long? How long can a person read? How many words can be onscreen at a time?

Emmanuel: They say we can read about 15 characters per second, something like that. So, it’s very little. We have very little space, which is the challenge. So this job is not just translating. That’s why there’s proper adaptation. We really re-write in the way that we try to remain faithful but we do have to re-write because of these space issues.

John: So this is a question from Craig. He asks, “Are there ever any jokes that simply refuse to be translated into something funny that fits in the moment? Like wordplay or American culture references? Do you ever just bail on a joke because there’s no equivalent and simply go for the line that conveys the original meaning but isn’t funny?”

Emmanuel: Jokes are always going to be the trickiest. Comedies are the trickiest in my job, definitely. Puns, you know, references, things that people won’t know about, so we won’t drop them. We might come up with something different. So, yes, there’s writing involved. We might take the liberty to totally drop the reference and change it. But it has to be funny. If the line is funny in the American version, it has to be in the French one. We work around it.

John: Are there any instances where you see a line of dialogue in the English version, you just have no idea what it’s actually supposed to mean?

Emmanuel: It has happened, I’m afraid [laughs]. Yeah, in that case, it’s easy enough. I mean, we can ask the distributor to contact someone. We try not to do it. Often, distributors don’t want to do this [laughs]. But if we have to, we will. But the first way, the easiest way is just to ask friends and, you know, and so I’ll email American friends and then ask around.

But often in other cases, they get back to me saying they haven’t got a clue. [laughs]

John: So in those situations, what is it about those lines of dialogue or is it just a weird reference or a joke? Do you think it was somebody’s improv that sort of only makes sense in the moment?

Emmanuel: Yeah, I think sometimes it’s improv and sometimes, you know, probably shouldn’t have stayed in the edit. It’s there and I don’t know [laughs] what kinds of things happened on the film.

John: This is a question from Craig. How do you deal with lines that are specifically about English pronunciation? For example, in The Hangover, Alan pronounces the word retard as retard. What do you do with moments like that? Would you mangle the pronunciation of the French word and hope it works in a similar fashion?

Emmanuel: Yeah, that’s the sort of example that I say there’s no subtitles for that. Yeah, if it’s something on the pronunciations, there’s no way in the writing process you can render that. It’s very difficult.

There was a film many, many years ago I worked on called Puccini for Beginners and there was a running gag on the word [BLEEP] and Kant and the philosopher. And there was like three or four subtitles involved for me when she was playing on that misunderstanding of the two. And I worked my way around it eventually. But you can’t just, you know, it’s very difficult to find a way.

John: So you’re using this specialized software and it’s already time coded, so you know you have to put in this line and this line. And once you have that whole thing done, who takes a look at it next? What’s next step in the process?

Emmanuel: Once I’ve written my list of subtitles, when I’m finished, we go to a lab. There is a proofreader there hired by the lab, a professional checker. And the client will be present as well. And plus there might be the producer, there might be the director, whoever wants to — involved in the film wants to be there can be there of course. So sometimes there are six of us in the room. But often enough, it’s like three or four.

And we go through it for a whole day. At least a half day we go through every scene. We go through the whole film, you know, step by step. And we discuss the subtitles, what’s meant, why is this reference there, you know, why couldn’t I fit in that word, you know? This pronunciation, what did I do with it. Every little detail would be scrutinized and discussed with the client, explaining my own decision, my own choices.

John: Are there ever moments where you have to change a character’s name or refer to somebody in a different way because you’re writing it out?

Emmanuel: Yeah, it can happen. It can happen. It will happen more often in the dubbing process. But in subtitling, it’s very unusual. But it might be for reasons of the story or a joke, you know, that’s involved. Anything is possible. I mean, anything goes.

John: So, from the time you’ve gotten the call to start something to — you’ve had it on your computer, you’ve gone through it, how long does it take you to actually do subtitles for one movie before it gets to the client?

Emmanuel: We’re given two to three weeks. [laughs] Madame Bovary, you know, I got six weeks. But the average is three weeks, two to three weeks.

John: For a giant movie like Night at the Museum 3, was there less time or more time?

Emmanuel: We had three weeks but there were two of us. There were two writers.

John: And do you just divide the movie up in half and each of you takes half?

Emmanuel: Exactly.

John: And you check each other’s work?

Emmanuel: Yeah, exactly. We worked on one hour each. And then we put everything in common and worked together for three days.

John: So it seems like there’s a lot of writing involved in this. Is subtitling a good job for an aspiring filmmaker or does it burn a hole in your brain? It just feels like it could be both great and also incredibly exhausting.

Emmanuel: Yeah. I think it’s very different from filmmaking. It’s a totally different job. I mean, I’ve heard of filmmakers that had a go with it. I don’t think it’s a way into filmmaking anyway. It can be a way of making some money but it’s not that easy anyway to get the gig to start with. Subtitling is a small world, too. [laughs] There are few of us and there’s enough of us to do the work.

And, yeah, it’s a job anyway. You can’t just improvise it, you know. It’s technique and it’s know-how and you have to go through many years of writing to get the hang of it and to be good at it.

John: How did you get your first job doing subtitles?

Emmanuel: My very first job was for a channel called TCM, Turner Classic Movies. And it was in London via a laboratory specialized technical lab.

John: And do you take a test for it or how do you get the job?

Emmanuel: I’d worked for Disney on a TV program so they’d seen my work on TV. So, no, the first film was like a test and then they hired me again, basically.

John: One last bonus question. What do you do with songs? Are you responsible for finding translations for all the songs? And are you trying to create a rhyme as you’re doing that?

Emmanuel: Yeah. I love doing songs. [laughs]. Yeah, again, Hollywood, Hindi is going to be different. Hollywood’s, I’ve never worked on songs for Hollywood but I heard stories from friends, many friends who are working on musicals. It varies.

Sometimes, Hollywood will input someone else just for the songs. But most of time, you know, it’s the same subtitler. And it’s a lot of work, and it’s a different job, and we love it, you know, because it’s like, you know, full-on writing process, adaptation, rewriting totally. And we do rhyme and we do work hard to try and get the rhythm and something nice.

John: Great. Manu, thank you so much for talking with us.

Emmanuel: Well, thank you so much for asking me. It was great. Thanks.

John: So Craig, that’s a look at subtitles. And so, what I found fascinating to hear Manu talking about was the difference between subtitling and dubbing, that they’re really completely separate departments. I went out for drinks with him afterwards and he said that there are some cases where the dubbers and the subtitlers will talk to each other basically to agree on the names for things or sort of how they’re handling things.

Craig: Yeah.

John: A lot of times, the subtitles are done before the dubs are done. So they’ll sort of compare their scripts. But dubbing has its own special challenges. In some cases, they will completely change a character’s name so it’ll fit a character’s mouth better. So they’ll make big changes. Like the name of a city will change because it’ll fit in someone else’s mouth better.

What he’s doing for subtitles is trying to be much more literal to what the words were that were spoken. And that’s what he really sees his job as being.

Craig: Well, it was a really good interview and I learned a lot. And my big surprise was how, at least in France, the culture, the foreign film culture was really all about dubbing until he says about 20 years ago when things start to change and subtitles become more important. But prior to that, subtitles were seen as essentially for the elite.

And, you know, of course from my point of view, I just figured that French people being more enlightened about everything from cinema to cheese would have insisted on subtitles because there is a sense that subtitles are better because they are more accurate. I’m not sure that that really is the case. It was interesting to hear him describe how both have their pluses and minuses. But that surprised me and it was really interesting to hear that.

So great perspective from somebody who does the job. And it does sound like it’s a fairly small monkhood of specialized geniuses who do this stuff.

John: Absolutely. And just as when we had Alice on talking about how descriptive audio for the blind works, there are certain people who will be picked for specific jobs. And so, sometimes the client will say, “We really want him to do it because he thinks he’s going to do the right thing. He’s going to really, you know, be able to create the subtitles that we want for this movie.” And sometimes they will be picked individually by name.

An example being Much Ado About Nothing. And so he said like, “Oh, I did the subtitles for that.” I’m like, “Well, that must’ve been the world’s easiest job because it’s an existing play. They did the play. Like how hard could that be?” And he said it was his equivalent of Inland Empire where it seems like it should be so simple and then you actually get into it and you’re trying to adapt this Shakespearean dialogue and have a rhythm and a meter and a rhyme to it.

Craig: Right.

John: And while there are existing translations of those plays, it’s not necessarily going to fit what is actually showing up on the screen. And so that was the case –

Craig: That’s a really messy situation. I mean, translating Shakespeare is hard enough. Now you’re translating it to fit people saying it? Yeesh.

John: Yeesh. So that was a particularly big challenge. He said though, one of the things he loves to do is when there are songs because they will try to make the subtitles work with both the content, you know, the meaning of the song, but also have its own rhyme and its own meter because people will, even as they’re reading, will try to sort of create a songlike feel to it.

And so, they’re hearing the song being sung, you want the words that show up below to both convey the meaning but also feel like they are song words. And so those are things that take longer. So while he might usually have three weeks to do a job, in some cases, like Much Ado About Nothing or something with a lot of songs in it, the time expands because you’re having to do really difficult things.

Craig: You know what’s interesting is that you and I obsess over our screenplays and then, presuming that we’re involved in the production, we are very opinionated and very specific about how we think things should go in the movie and what’s right and what’s wrong.

But what happens to the movies afterwards, it truly is an ignorance is bliss phenomenon. I have no idea. And because I have no idea, I have no care [laughs]. I really should take a lesson from that. It’s a good way to approach stress and control issues.

John: Yep. The last thing that was fascinating to me as we talked after this interview was the community of fan subbers, which I had a sense existed out there but I wasn’t clear sort of the degree to which they existed is that movies, especially in the age of torrents, movies will show up out there in the wilderness. And if someone speaks another language and they’re trying to watch this movie, they’re going to try to download the file that has the subtitles. And those subtitles will often be created by fans who speak the language. And so there’ll be multiple versions of subtitles for some movies because just random people have done it.

Nima, who works for me, has talked about this one anime movie that he loves. And he’s seen DVDs of it with completely different subtitles. And that really changes sort of, some cases, ruin the story based on bad subtitling.

Craig: Again, I don’t want to know [laughs], so I just close my eyes. Like I hear the fan subber community and I file it in the same area of my brain responsible for Bronies. I know they’re there. Now I know they’re there. That’s it. I don’t need to know more. There’s no judgment but I know that I don’t have to worry about it.

John: Absolutely. So another thing which you shouldn’t have to worry too much about but increasingly you might need to worry about is changes to your movie based on where it’s showing overseas. This comes to us from Laura Bradley writing for Slate. It’s an article titled, Inside Out Director Pete Docter Explains Why Pixar Remade Certain Scenes for Foreign Viewers.

It’s a really great look at sort of how Pixar, being able to be Pixar and being able to change anything on the frame, in some cases change shots, change whole meanings of little scenes so that when the film played internationally it would make sense for local viewers. So this wasn’t just changing words, it wasn’t changing the subtitles, they were literally animating different things based on where the movie was going to be seen.

Craig: Yeah, I think it’s brilliant. So for example, there’s a moment where Bing Bong is reading a sign in the film and he points at the letters D-A-N-G-E-R and says, “It’s a shortcut.” Haha, there’s the joke.

So obviously, in a live action movie, that would just be subtitled and people would have to sort of get it. Joke wouldn’t quite work because it’s so visual and spelling based.

But in animation, they changed the word to match I guess the language where they were sending it. And then in certain cases where letters read right to left, for instance Hebrew or Arabic, Bing Bong moves his finger from right to left instead of left to right as he reads the word. That is kind of brilliant. And especially if you’re a company like Pixar and you got all the money in the world, why not? Do it. I mean, just makes for a better experience, you know.

John: Yeah, this kind of localization reminds me of the early days of Hollywood where they would sometimes shoot a movie in multiple languages simultaneously. And so they would have the American cast, they would have the German cast, they’d have the French cast.

And so they would shoot a scene, maybe the English scene first. And like, those people take a break and they’d shoot the exact same scene with the German cast and the French cast. And so they could make a movie hyper localized for its audience.

We don’t do that anymore but it sort of reminded me of that thing that used to exist. I think some of the early — I’m going to get this wrong. But I think some of the early Hitchcock movies had that where they actually had multiple casts for different markets.

Craig: I remember either this was a movie that was made or they were talking about making movie, that was about the Mexican casts that would come in at night when Universal was making its old classic monster movies. Then Mexican casts would come in at night and work a night shift shooting the Mexican version.

And they were trying to make a movie about that but maybe they did make a movie about that [laughs] and I’m just… –

So, this is what happens as the plaque settles in around the neurons. But isn’t that a fascinating thing? And as I recall, the story was very much about how — of what it meant to be a second class citizen because they were treated often that way.

But, yeah, localization of film is inevitable, I think. It’s fascinating. And I do think that this will spread from animation where we can see how it might be simpler to do, to live action. It’s inevitable. They won’t be able to localize the way that we localize software, “Pick your language from this list of 30 languages.” But there will be changes made for the biggest marketplaces. And the biggest marketplaces are Germany, Russia, England, Australia, France, Brazil, and of course, China.

John: You are now Segue Man, because that is our next topic, is China. So several recent articles have pointed out the fact that China is on the verge of overtaking the U.S. as the biggest movie market. Right now, they are arguably the second biggest market. And if not the second, they are very close to second.

China is building, depending on the article, either 10 or 30 new movie screens each day. And if current rates continue, China’s box office will be two-thirds of that of the U.S. by the end of this year. So they’re very close to being able to overtake us.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Some of the recent movies that have done bonkers in China, $380 million from Furious 7, and $240 million from Avengers: Age of Ultron, and from Jurassic World. So China right now, the floodgates aren’t fully open. So only a certain number of movies are allowed to be released, certain number of North American movies are allowed to be released every year. That’s going to change I guess in 2020/2021, sorry, 2017, more things get to be opened.

But it’s just crazy. When you’re talking about $380 million, that’s bigger than Japan. That’s a huge amount of your money that’s going to be coming in for your movie. And in some cases, we’ve already started making changes to the movies that we’re releasing in China. We’re doing that sort of hyper localization right now. So a Chinese character will save Tony Stark at a certain key moment.

And in Transformers, the characters will drink a certain kind of milk because that is the kind of milk that China wants you to drink. Or even like the Great Wall will not be destroyed in certain scenes if they’re being shown in China. So that’s the world we’re already living in.

Craig: Yeah. Did you see the most recent Mission Impossible film?

John: I haven’t seen it yet.

Craig: It’s excellent. And filmed, Chris McQuarrie, friend of the show, friend of mine, excellent guy, did a great job. [laughs] The opening shows, you know, the producer cards, you know, like there’s Bad Robot and there’s this and that. Two of them are a Chinese company.

So not only is China this enormous marketplace for the viewing of films, it is now investing in films. This is the most profound change that has happened to the movie business, I think, since the creation of the movie business. I really do believe this. I think this is not only going to make a significant change, it’s going to permanently change the movie business and in some ways good and a lot of ways not so good.

We just have to be aware this is coming and it’s not — there’s a temptation to say that studios simply do what will end up making them the most money, but they’re in a tough spot. I mean yes, this will end up making them more money, but the tough spot that they’re in is piracy.

The rise of the digital world hasn’t killed movies and television the way that it nearly killed music and ultimately turned music into a totally different industry. But the nature of piracy is such now that if you do not deal with the devil you know, you’ll be dealing with the devil you don’t. One way or another these movies will be seen in Asia. One way or another. Either they will be paid for or not.

I mean I spent some time in Thailand on a movie and there’s this huge, huge mall in Bangkok and there are about I don’t know 20 or 30 stores in that mall that all do the exact same thing. And that thing is sell movies. All pirated. All of them. So that is the movie business in Thailand, is piracy. So this is something that the movie business has to do in a way.

Now, the upsides. There will be opportunities to make more movies I think. The feature film business that contracted I think is possibly on the verge of a great expansion. That is entirely tied to China loosening the purse strings on the screens. If they do that, then yes, and if they don’t, then no. Hopefully, they will. And the financial crunch that we have been experiencing in feature films where everything is watched very, very closely may also loosen up still as Chinese financing comes into the market and comes in fairly aggressively.

There are already multiple companies now that are almost exclusively financed by Chinese money and so there should be more opportunities there and perhaps more money to pay writers and more money for the budgets of the films.

Well, what are the downsides? Well, creatively there’s a huge one. Unlike any other foreign marketplace, China has a complete control over what gets shown in their theaters because they’re not an open market. At least not the way that we are in the West. They are still a communist nation. So they don’t have to show anything they don’t want to which means I can make a movie and the bad guy can be a Russian and they’ll show that in Russia for sure. But I can’t make a bad guy Chinese anymore. Can’t do it.

John: Nope.

Craig: And that’s an interesting thing considering what’s going on in the world today. Is that positive? That’s tough. No, it’s not. It’s actually not tough. That’s not positive. We should be able to freely express whatever we want, but in this case, doesn’t look likely.

John: So you look at the movies that succeed in China and they tend to be PG-13 movies and partly that seems to be because China doesn’t actually have a movie classification system the way we do. So they don’t have G, PG, R. They just have movies either approved or it’s not approved. And the movies that get approved tend to be the PG-13 movies. So they don’t have an idea of an adult movie, or at least of the movies that they’re bringing in from the U.S., they’re not bringing in our hard Rs. They’re not bringing in our, you know, Gone Girls presumably.

So while I, like you, I’m excited that there is this fervent desire to have big screen movies which make money which is great and fantastic. It is a little troubling that the kinds of movies we’re going to be able to make to show in China are going to be kind of the big movies that we’re already making. And it’s going to be hard to use any of that new money to make stuff that is not going to be possible to play there.

The devil’s advocate side of this is that maybe by the fact that we know that China won’t take certain kinds of movies, maybe we don’t even have to try to get them to show up there. So I think there might be some logic at some studios to say like, “You know what, we know this movie can never play in China so we may keep our budget a little bit lower, but we’re not going to even to try to make it happen there. We’re not going to try to bend this movie to make it a Chinese possible movie. We’ll just make the movie that we can show to the rest of the world.”

Craig: I think you’re giving studio executives a little more credit than they deserve, at least in the bravery department. If they’re in business with China, they’re in business with China. They can’t really effectively put a movie out that paints the Chinese government or the Chinese military in a bad light and then –

John: Oh, no, I’m certainly not saying that. I’m just saying if they want to make the hard-R movie –

Craig: Oh, yeah.

John: It couldn’t possibly play there.

Craig: Yeah, no, they’ll keep making those. But you’re right about that. But the budgets of those will be effectively curtailed. I mean when people say why — I mean at what point does the superhero thing stop? There’s so many and it never ends. Well, this is why. I mean it’s China. The answer is China. We’ve never experienced — this is why I, you know, I’m saying that we’re in an area now where we will be permanently changed. We’ve never experienced a time in American movie studio history where the American audience wasn’t the primary goal and wasn’t the primary consideration. We are approaching that point now.

And it’s going to change things quite a bit. It’s fascinating. I think I’m getting old at the right time. Let’s put it that way. [laughs]. You know?

John: Because the thing we have to keep in mind is that China is making its own movies as well. So one of the biggest movies, if not the biggest movie in Chinese history now, is Monster Hunt which is, you know, this huge blockbuster animated — I think combination animation/live action. And it will ultimately show here in some capacity, but it doesn’t matter because it made so much money there that they don’t even have to sort of worry about it traveling overseas.

Craig: Right.

John: And that is a fascinating change because we’re used to movies that are made a certain budget scale have to be made for us and it no longer has to be made for us.

Craig: Well, that’s something else to consider when you talk about Chinese-made productions. Because the government is entwined with industry there in a way that it is not here, they can be as anti-competitive as they wish. If they have a domestic production in China that they want to succeed, they’ll just not allow an American film to run against it. If they don’t care so much about the American film, they may say, “Well, you can run it between this and this, but every other studio can run their stuff between this and this.”

And then of course, there’s the fact that we don’t really know what success is over there because it’s not an open marketplace nor do they have what we would call freedom of information. It’s impossible to know. So the studios will do this because they have to by nature, you know, for their shareholders. It’s maximizing their profits and they have to buy I think just competitive necessity because of the piracy situation. But you know how we get those net profit statements that are meaningless and full of lies from the studios? I have a feeling they’re about to be hoisted by their own petard. [laughs] I really do. I think they’re going to start getting statements from the Chinese government like, “Here’s what we collected on your movie.” “Uh, it seemed like it was more.” “No. No, that was it.”

John: “No, that was it.”

Craig: Yeah, it’ll be — I’m fascinated to see how this unfolds. Truly fascinated.

John: Yeah, I don’t know what the actual future is going to hold. But I think one of the possibilities is that certain actors who are stars here may be megastars in China and that would become a bigger factor in the movies we make. So an example being Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. His movie San Andreas made 55 in its first — $55 million its first week in China, which is huge.

Craig: Wow.

John: And apparently he’s a huge star off of Fast and Furious 7. So while he is a genuine star here and can open a movie, he is clearly worth a tremendous amount in China and that is exciting and fascinating if you are his representatives because you can say, “You know what, I think his price should be a little bit higher because look at what he can do. And, look, he can do things that none of your other stars can do.” That’s going to be fascinating to see what happens.

Craig: Yeah, I think that it’s fair to say that every studio within five years will either be significantly reoriented toward the Chinese marketplace, or they will have divisions that are significantly reoriented towards the Chinese marketplace. But, you know, every studio went through a period where they had their art house division, they had their — then there was the genre division. You know, “Well, we’re going to make the micro budget horror movies,” and lot of them still do. I think this is inevitable. This is just — it’s the way it’s going to be. Everybody is looking at China.

John: I disagree with you because I don’t think you could even make a division. I think it has to be your primary focus has to be this. Like your only green-lighting a movie once you’ve run it through the specialist who sort of deals with China because it’s not like, you know, a Fox Searchlight where like, “Oh, this is going to be our Chinese big movie.” It’s like, “No, every movie has to be your Chinese big movie if it’s costing $200 million.”

Craig: Well, that’s going to get interesting.

John: it’s going to get fascinating. The only thing I’d also question is you said like, “Oh, the Chinese government sends you these statements.” I do believe that they are — that the accounting that they’re getting is from Chinese companies that are genuinely Chinese companies. The challenge is that we don’t know the degree to which that we have the ability to really look inside what’s happening with those Chinese companies.

And I know people who have started companies, who’ve started productions with the belief that this Chinese money was coming and the Chinese money didn’t come. And that’s probably happened throughout all of history of Hollywood. It’s like that some foreign investor has promised a bunch money and then not shown up with it, but it’ll be interesting to see how that manifests in our relationship with China over the years.

Craig: No doubt. They are not known for their financial transparency.

John: Yes. So our final topic today is the WGA elections, which is also about the future of our industry. The elections are coming up soon. We are electing a new President, a Secretary-Treasurer, a new Vice President. There’s going to be an annual candidates’ night, a town hall forum where guild members can ask questions of these people. That’s on September 2nd. The voting period is going to end on September 21st. So now is the time to start thinking about who we want to be on the board and running the WGA for the next two years.

Craig: Right.

John: And Craig you had some thoughts?

Craig: I do. I do. So first there’s — let’s talk about the officers. This is an officer year so the way the guild elections work is every year there’s an election. On even years, the election is just for eight board members, half of the board. On odd years, it’s for the other half of the board and the three officers — President, Vice President, and Secretary-Treasurer.

This year we have Howard Rodman and Joan Meyerson running for President. We have Carl Gottlieb and David Goodman running for Vice President. And we have Aaron Mendelsohn unopposed for Secretary-Treasurer. Now here’s what’s interesting, this is now the second time this has happened. So in our constitution, we are not allowed as a union to have what they call a white ballot election where somebody runs unopposed, not constitutional. Therefore, every year the guild goes through quite a bit of rigmarole to make sure that at least two people are running for office.

Oftentimes one of them is kind of just doing it to fulfill the obligation, but doesn’t expect to win. Nonetheless, those are the rules. This is now the second time this has happened. It happened once with Chris Keyser and now it’s happened with Aaron Mendelsohn. Now this — my understanding with the Aaron Mendelsohn situation was they had two candidates and then after the candidates were announced and the time after which a new candidate could not emerge had passed, that second candidate said, “Oh, you know what, I’m dropping out.” And so now Aaron’s running unopposed.

Well, that just seems like a great way for us to completely get around this whole, “There has to be two people.” And my feeling is either there has to be two people or there doesn’t have to be two people. If somebody drops out after that deadline, you have to go and find another person or amend the constitution so we can stop pretending that we need two people because if that’s the workaround, if that’s a loophole, I think that’s going to happen more and more and we’ll continue to end up with situations where people are running unopposed. Anyway –

John: Yeah.

Craig: Side note.

John: Anyway, those — these aren’t, you know, that’s certainly no slight on Aaron Mendelsohn. It’s a job that someone needs to do, it’s not — it’s hard to find a person to run for that spot obviously because we had a hard time this year and other years trying to convince someone to do that officer job.

Craig: Yeah, it’s hard to get people to run, period, the end. But you and I, we try our best and sometimes we’re on the nominating committee and so forth.

Okay, so let’s talk about who I think you all out there should vote for and why. For President it’s a no-brainer, you should vote for Howard Rodman. Why? Howard has been Chris Keyser’s right hand man now for four years and has been very active with the union for a long, long time. Interesting, Howard started on the Patric Verrone side of things and has made his way more towards what I would call the moderate reasonable middle. And to wit, he and I talk all the time about guild politics and we disagree at times and at times we agree. But I’ve always found Howard to be open-minded, rational, and interested in doing what works, not what fits some sort of ideological paradigm.

For me, the notion that we would walk away from the continuity of what’s been working is a bad idea. I think that let’s call it the — we’ve had the Chris Keyser-Billy Ray School of Negotiations. I think they’ve worked and I think Howard represents a continuity with that. His opponent, Joan Meyerson, is what I would call an unreconstructed Verronian and is just moving backwards to — it really — I don’t know how else to say it. I just view her as Patric Verrone. I think if Joan Meyerson is elected, you’ve effectively elected Patric Verrone again. And if you want that, great, vote for Joan Meyerson. I do not.

John: So for people who are just tuning in to the podcast who do not know the intricacies of WGA history and things, Patric Verrone was running the guild at the time of our last strike. He and Craig do not see eye to eye on pretty much any topic. The skies are completely different colors in your two worlds.

Craig: Yeah, I think the sky is blue. [laughs] And Patric has reasons why it’s otherwise. So I think Howard is just a slam dunk choice here. Very important frankly that we elect him. Less important for how brilliant Howard is, more important that it’s not Joan. I don’t know how else to put it because I don’t want Patric Verrone with that much power ever again.

John: I will just quickly second your vote for Howard Rodman who has been a friend for many, many years. But beyond his incredible intelligence, I think continuity is the crucial factor here and that I was on the last negotiating committee and I saw the rigor and practicality of the approach to how this negotiation was done. And I honestly, genuinely believe the primary function of this President and of the guild is to make sure that our relationship with the studios is constructive and focused on getting the best deal for writers — all writers at all levels possible. And so I saw that happening with Chris Keyser, I think Howard would be able to keep up that tradition.

Craig: No question. No question. To me, slam dunk, no-brainer, vote for Howard Rodman. Vice President is a tougher one. I don’t think we could go wrong here. We have Carl Gottlieb who is a legend both in Writers Guild politics, but also for writing small art films like Jaws and The Jerk.

John: I’ve heard of Jaws.

Craig: You’ve heard of Jaws and The Jerk. The two best movies starting with J by far. Carl is a fantastic guy and he has served in an officer position a number of times. He has served on the board many, many times. He is extraordinary well experienced in this area. He’s gone through negotiations, he’s done it all. So I love Carl.

Now, David Goodman is an interesting one because he too started as a Verrone guy and has changed. He’s definitely more I think towards that end of things than a guy like Carl. But I like David not only personally, I do think, you know, that he is — that he’s one of those people who is instructed by reality. I don’t know how else to put it. You know, he came in with a theory of how things were supposed to work as spoon-fed to him by Mr. V and then looked around and noticed that perhaps the world didn’t conform to that theory, quite so neatly. So, I like both of those guys. I don’t think you can go wrong. So I’ll just leave it.

John: Would you say if we’re — if we’re going to talk about Carl Gottlieb’s credits, we should say David Goodman is a –

Craig: Yes.

John: Working writer-producer on animation. He does Family Guy, from American Dad, goes all the way back to Futurama and many, many other shows. So he’s one of these people who’s actually working doing that high level television work which is crucial.

Craig: Yes. And that’s always a very — that’s a really good thing to have whether, I mean, David has been on the board for a number of years. It’s good to have people like that involved. Obviously you and I feel this way because we are working writers and having served on the board, I know that a lot of times, the people who are in charge aren’t necessarily, you know, working. [laughs] I don’t know how else to put it.

John: What I want to able is to stress is that I think it’s important to have representation of writers at all levels of business. I want to have some people who are sort new, young people, who are dealing with sort of the issues on the ground that for what a young staff writer is dealing with. But you need to have some people there who are doing the high level work and sitting across the table from the people we’re negotiating with so they really can understand the other side and really can talk to those people as peers. And then Goodman to me feels like that kind of person.

Craig: Yeah, I agree. And this is actually quite important. I agree with you that there is no — I don’t see any value in putting this thought out there. You know, everybody that so-called runs the union should be a working writer. Now, a lot of our best and brightest are people that have worked in the past and they’re now essentially retired or semi-retired like for instance Carl Gottlieb. And there’s no reason to disqualify anybody from service if they are member in good standing and want to serve and are eligible to run.

Kind of distressingly, a different point of view was point out there by Patric Verrone himself who seems to be arguing in favor of us voting for Joan Meyerson because she’s working more than Howard but that’s — I don’t think that’s true at all. Howard still is, you know, he’s got a feature career. I mean, he is also is a professor at USC, a professor of screenwriting, which ain’t too bad either. I just don’t think that’s sort of divisive. But look, that’s what Patric does. That’s it’s his favorite move.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So, he’ll say that on one hand then he’ll say, but also, you know, you should elect Dan Wilcox, even though, Dan Wilcox as far as I know hasn’t worked in decades. So I don’t understand how Patric works and never will. Okay, so Secretary-Treasurer, you have no choice [laughs] you’re voting for Aaron Mendelsohn.

John: And Aaron’s great. Congratulations, Aaron Mendelsohn.

Craig: Way to go at, Aaron. [laughs] Awesome. Okay. Let’s talk about the board.

John: I have strong priorities for my side which I see in the workflow that you are endorsing as well.

Craig: Okay, so then we are both strongly in favor of — these are my two big ones. I’m going to say to all of you out there, when you’re voting for the board of directors, you can vote for up to eight people. You actually don’t have to vote for all eight.

John: No.

Craig: There is a theory that if you truly love one, two, three, four, five, six, seven people, don’t vote for eight because you’re actually diluting your vote with other people. You’re helping other people who may then beat the person you truly, truly love. So just know that that’s an option. Here are the two people that I think are incredibly important for us to get on the board. One, Andrea Berloff. Andrea is a screenwriter. She’s got a movie coming out this weekend as we we’re recording, Straight out of Compton. And she’s been working for a long time. She is very smart, extraordinarily rational, she’s a feature writer. Oh my God, do you realize how underrepresented we are as feature writers?

John: That is why both of these picks I think are so important.

Craig: So important.

John: So much of what needs to be figured out in this next negotiation involves feature writers. If we don’t have feature writers represented here, we’re just — we’re going to keep backsliding.

Craig: Exactly. So I think very, very important that we elect Andrea Berloff. That actually is the most important move I think we can make is Andrea, because it’s also, I — we have — I mean I was on the board with Melissa Rosenberg and Katherine Fugate, I think they were the two female feature writers that I served with. I’m not sure there have been that many more female feature writers that have been on the board. That is one of the smallest segments, so really have to elect Andrea, must, must, must. And then, my second priority is Zak Penn for the same reason. He is a working writer and he’s a feature writer and we — the working feature writer is the most underrepresented category on the board. So we got to elect Andrea and Zak, must.

John: Yeah. Because one thing I want people to keep in mind is that a bunch of people are staying put. So we only elect half the board at a time. So the folks who are going to be still on this board no matter what include Shawn Ryan who runs a bunch of great TV shows, and Michael Oates Palmer who’s had a lot of TV experience too. So it’s not like we’re going to miss out on like high level TV people. They’re always going to be there. I just want to make sure we get some really good feature writers on there, so that’s why I’d add Billy Ray to that list because Billy Ray is, you know, a great feature writer and has just tremendous guild experience.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So I want to make sure Billy Ray is back in it.

Craig: Yeah, for sure. I mean Billy Ray is — look, every organization has its titular leaders and then its other leaders. And Billy Ray to me is as much the president of our union as Chris Keyser. And that’s no ill reflection on Chris, who I think has done a spectacular job. In fact, one of the best things he’s done is really looked to partner in power with Billy. Billy has done a spectacular job on our collected behalf. You know, I’m constantly yelling at him to run for president. He’s constantly telling me to F off, it’s great [laughs] sorry, it’s our running — it’s our running joke. It’s how we end every phone call. But yeah, he must come back for sure. And look, he’s not going to have a problem being reelected.

But my big ones there — there are some people that I think also you should not vote for. And I’m happy to tell you why. They might be elected again but I don’t think that Alfredo Barrios in terms of what I’ve seen from him, I think he represents a bygone point of view that is counterproductive. I know that Dan Wilcox is bad board member because I served with him and I wouldn’t vote for him ever. If there were eight Dan Wilcoxes running, I just wouldn’t vote. [laughs] So, I think his time has come and gone, he’s got to go. He’s not good at being a board member. He is another nodding head for Patric. And I’m not a fan.

John: You know, the last person who I want to single out and read through his candidate statement is somebody I convinced to run this last cycle is Aaron Fullerton, who’s a young, low level TV writer. I just felt that it was really important to have the voices of some people who are just sort of new staff writers represented there because there are some things that higher level TV people are probably just not aware of in the daily experience of young staff writer. If you don’t have some of those folks on the board now to share both what they’re experiencing and also to grow with the board, I think we’re going to miss out. So Aaron Fullerton is one person who I sort of twisted his arm to run and he has agreed to run again.

Craig: That’s great. I think that’s a really good point. And regardless of how the election turns out, the negotiating committee is a rather large committee that’s appointed by the board. And if somebody runs for the board and doesn’t get elected, there’s still a chance that they might get appointed to the negotiating committee. So hopefully — it would be great to see him win and if he doesn’t win then maybe his voice could still get heard when it counts the most.

John: And he is also the host of a podcast the WGA has put out, so we will have a link to his podcast in the show notes.

Craig: I’m not going to listen to that. It’s a podcast?

John: You don’t listen to any podcasts.

Craig: No, why would I?

John: No. All right. It’s come the time for our One Cool Things. Craig, do you have a One Cool Thing this week? You didn’t think about it?

Craig: [laughs].

John: Here, it’s come time for our One Cool Things. Let me start off. My One Cool Thing was actually something useful I used in Paris this last week. So, Microsoft has an app called Translator, which is for your iPhone. And it does a really good job of just translating, so you can speak to it and it will translate it into the language that you wanted. You can even speak aloud, the things it translated. It’s very, very fast. What pushed it over the top for me was that it has also has an Apple Watch app and so you can sort of like Siri dictate into it and it will come back with the translation, which is just tremendously useful and it makes me feel like I’m living slightly in the future, so.

Craig: You are.

John: With this app, Translator, by Microsoft.

Craig: Excellent. Well, I’ll go with something’s that’s in the same technological pocket. I made a switch recently. I finally had it with Safari and switched over to Chrome. What is your browser choice on your desktop?

John: My desktop browser choice is Safari for almost everything, but I keep Chrome for some backup stuff.

Craig: Yeah. So I had just gotten annoyed. I had just gotten annoyed with Safari. Too many things just not do anything and — so I went over to Chrome and I’ve been quite happy. But I still use Safari on my phone and on my iPad. So what is one to do? There is this wonderful feature where you could sync your bookmarks through iCloud. So if you put a bookmark on Safari, it would show up on your browser on your iPad.

Well, I’m not using Safari on the desktop, so what I would do, there is a free extension called XMarks Bookmarks Synchronizer. And XMarks Bookmarks Synchronizer is configurable so that it automatically syncs your Chrome bookmarks with your Safari bookmarks. It means when I add a bookmark on Chrome, XMarks syncs it over Safari and then iCloud takes it from there and syncs it over to everywhere else. Perfect solution.

John: Hooray, I would say it’s a perfect solution until something breaks. I think it’s wonderful that’s working for you right now. I would like to — I will make myself a note to check back in one year to see if it’s still functioning.

Craig: What’s so strange to me is that I’m the Jewish one, but really you’re more Jewish than I am about things like that.

John: Jewish in what way? Like what stereotype of a Jewish person –

Craig: Okay.

John: Am I manifesting in saying that?

Craig: No, right, right.

John: Is it a pessimism?

Craig: Right there you were not Jewish. [laughs] That was the least Jewish thing. Explain exactly — yeah it’s the pessimism. It’s the presumption that something will break. I don’t know these things break. Trust it if you want.

John: [laughs] I say it’s less of pessimism and more of just a general observation that hacky things like this tend to collapse. And while this is wonderful for you right now, it is sort of a hack. And the person who’s developed some hacks like Less IMDb, that extension for Safari and for Chrome, that let’s IMDb like not look so terrible. Those hacks are hard to maintain. So I’d be curious whether your hard to pronounce bookmark synchronizer thing will be still functioning a year for now. Maybe it will, but it’s relying both on Chrome and iCloud. And I just know as developer, those are challenging things to get to work as you expect them to work.

Craig: It will never work. You’ll see, in a year, you come talk to me — by the way, every Jewish person in my mind is from New York because I’m Jewish and from New York.

John: Exactly. So that solecism is a manifest.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’s really a show about international issues and stereotypes and solecism. I want to give one last final plug and shout out to David Wain’s, amazing show, Wet Hot American Summer. So we took our Apple TV with us to Paris for the sole reason that I wanted to be able to watch Wet Hot American Summer when it came out. It is just so good. So Craig will never watch it because he doesn’t watch TV shows.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But I just loved it. It was so good. So I already congratulated David Wain, but we’ll have him back on the show at some point to talk about how the hell they did it because it’s so complicated. They have all these giant movie stars wandering through it and it was just great.

Craig: I’ll probably watch it then.

John: You should watch it then.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Your friend Bradley Cooper is in it. And he’s kissing boys.

Craig: Oh, Coop –

John: So you’ll like that.

Craig: Coop’s back?

John: Coop’s back. He’s singing. He’s, you know, doing all sorts of stuff.

Craig: I love that guy. He’s kissing boys.

John: He’s so good. He’s kissing boys. There’s a –

Craig: He’s so strong. He’s so strong. Bradley –

John: Is he actually physically strong?

Craig: Physically strong. You know, he was — Bradley was a nationally ranked tennis player in high school I think. He’s a natural athlete, very, very strong. He had this thing. I don’t know what it was. But every morning I would come in and — when we’re shooting and he would see me and be like, “Here he comes,” and then he would come up to me and start wrestling with me. I never asked for it. I don’t know why he would do it [laughs] and I don’t know why I had to wrestle with him. And every morning, he would hurt me, because he’s — I mean, I’m not weak, but he’s taller and stronger and he would just — it was as if every morning he had to make me submit and be beta to him.

John: [laughs] I do know what that is. Actually, my last boss would do that same thing where he would like wrestle me and it was just the weird sort of like playground domination move and I could not get out of that office fast enough.

Craig: I mean, I didn’t mind because I never tried to –

John: Well, it’s also Bradley Cooper so –

Craig: I mean I’m not trying to beat him, I can’t. [laughs] I can’t. It’s not, you know — I’m not paid for my musculature. So my strength is if he wants to sit down and challenge me to a crossword puzzle face off, I’ll — hey Cooper, I will destroy you.

John: I don’t know. I see he’s the kind of person who prepares a lot, so maybe he would spend, you know, three years preparing like Tom Cruise would be to hang of a jet.

Craig: Cruise by the way, I could see if Cruise had time, I could see him doing it. But Cooper, no. No.

John: No.

Craig: I’ll take him every single time.

John: All right. That is our show this week. Our outro this week is by Jonah Bech Vestergard who I think is from some European country. Jonah, thank you so much for your cool outro. As always, our show is produced by Stuart Friedel.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Our editing is by Matthew Chilelli. Thank you, Matthew. We made this episode so hard for you [laughs] so thank you very much. Jet lag.

Craig: Jet lag.

John: If you would like to subscribe to our show, we would love to have you subscribe. Go to iTunes, search for Scriptnotes and click it and you’ll be subscribed. While you’re there, you’ll also probably find this Scriptnotes app. That Scriptnotes app will give you access to all the back catalog. It is $2 a month. And for that, you get all 200 episodes and the bonus episodes as well. So thank you to everybody who subscribed to that. We have so many sort of premium subscribers now, it’s just nuts. So thank you to everyone who’s done that.

Craig: Thank you.

John: If you have a question for me or for Craig, you should write to You could also tweet at us. Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. A reminder to check out the Facebook page. I will try to remember to put some of the designs you had for t-shirts. Thank you to everyone who submitted one. I probably won’t get all of them up on the Facebook page. I’ll say there is a common theme that a lot of people did, a musical staff with the [hums theme] which I thought was clever. But I’m not sure that’s going to be our t-shirt.

Craig: No.

John: But thank you to everyone who submitted those ideas and other ones and don’t make Craig fat.

Craig: Yeah, what the hell. [laughs] I mean –

John: [laughs] What the hell.

Craig: Just make me accurately fat. I want to be faturate.

John: He’s only asking for specificity and honesty.

Craig: Thanks, guys.

John: Thanks. Bye.

Craig: Bye.


The International Episode

Tue, 08/18/2015 - 08:03

Craig and John look at how movies are translated, including an interview with a guy who does subtitles for a living. Plus, how Pixar and other companies are localizing movies for international audiences, and what happens when China becomes the largest film market.

The USB drives are back in the store, and we’re close to announcing our picks for the next Scriptnotes t-shirt. (You can see some of the entries on our Facebook page.)


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Short cut-aways, and the value of BACK TO:

Mon, 08/17/2015 - 17:02

The script I’m writing has a character who is reconstructing past events. In several scenes, we cut away to these memories, always returning to the current scene.

There are several ways to do this on the page.

The first technique is to simply use full scene headers. (This example is made up just for this blog post.)

Roger squints in the glare of light.



ORDERLIES strap Roger’s forehead to the table. A DRILL WHIRRS as a BRIGHT LIGHT swings overhead.



Roger squats down, suddenly reeling.

That BACK TO: is your friend. It’s a reminder to the reader that you were in the middle of another scene, and it’s still happening. Yes, you could just use CUT TO. But it’s ambiguous. Are you still in the same scene, or is this a different place/time?

BACK TO: is also a huge help if the cutaway involves multiple locations — the finale of Big Fish, for example. It’s a signal to the reader that all of the cutting is done.

Doing less

If you’re cutting away to the same thing often, using the full scene header gets annoying. It’s like that guy at a party who keeps introducing himself.

We know who you are, Dave. You can stop.

In the example above, if we’ve been to that examination room scene before, I’m more likely to write it like this:

As Roger squints in the glare of light --

ORDERLIES strap Roger’s forehead to the table. A DRILL WHIRRS as a BRIGHT LIGHT swings overhead.


Roger squats down, suddenly reeling.

Removing the location and the transitions feels like cheating, but it better reflects my intention with the scene. This cutaway is meant to be a nibble, not a meal.

Setting it off with italics isn’t required, but it signals the reader to pay attention — we’re doing something special here. Bold or underline would also work. (If you use special formatting for flashbacks like this, don’t use it for any other narrative device.)

That BACK TO SCENE is also optional, but here I like it as a tiny speed bump to make sure the reader understands that we’re out of flashback mode.

Is it weird to have BACK TO SCENE without a CUT TO? Kind of. You could use a CUT TO: and even skip the italics. But it’s extra lines, and I don’t think the reader is likely to get lost.

In production

When it comes time to make the movie, everything needs a scene number. We generally think of scene numbers going with scene headers, but the reality is that anything can have a number attached, including the italicized action lines above.

There are different philosophies for how to number flashback scenes, but my preference would be to keep the copy room scene as a single scene number (e.g. 34) and group together all of the examination room scenes as a sequence (e.g. A900, B900, C900). This way, the copy room scene doesn’t get divided across a few strips, potentially confusing everyone.

Numbering scenes is a conversation to have with the director, A.D. and line producer. It’s a luxury problem, because it means your movie is getting made.

Scriptnotes, Ep 210: One-Handed Movie Heroes — Transcript

Thu, 08/13/2015 - 17:26

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

Today on the program, we will be talking about one-handed movie heroes, the last things you should do before handing in a script, and we will look at three new Three Page Challenges. A big show.

Craig: I would say so. I mean, maybe too big.

John: Maybe too big. We’ll try to compress it into the space allotted by the infinite boundaries of the Internet.

Craig: Oh, god.

John: See, you don’t listen to any other podcasts but some podcasts have been known to go on for like three hours.

Craig: Well, that’s crazy. That’s just dumb.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Who wants that?

John: Although, I will say that when we were first talking about doing this podcast, there were other screenwriter friends who said like, “Yeah, you know what, maybe like limit it to 20 minutes.” I can’t even imagine this as a 20-minute podcast.

Craig: I can’t imagine any podcast. [laughs] That’s the God’s honest truth. People say, “Hey, I listen to your show,” and I think, “That’s awesome.” But then quietly to myself I think, “Why do you listen to podcasts?”

John: Yeah, because they’re wonderful.

Craig: No.

John: Podcasts are delightful. Craig, what do you do on planes when you’re on like a long plane trip?

Craig: I do the crossword puzzle. I usually have some sort of iPad game that I play. I’ll read a book and then I try and do a little writing.

John: When you are in your car, when you’re in your Tesla driving from your house way out in La Cañada to, say, Sony, what do you listen to in the car?

Craig: Well, first of all, I don’t go to Sony. Too far.

John: That’s true. [laughs]

Craig: But I generally listen to music, oftentimes Broadway.

John: I can imagine that. On Sirius do you listen to Broadway?

Craig: I love Seth Rudetsky on Sirius/XM. In fact, Seth Rudetsky, it’ll be too late when this show comes out, but he will have been in town and I’m going to go see him at Largo.

John: Nice.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Good.

Craig: He’s my favorite.

John: Oh, he’s wonderful. All right, let’s get to our topics for today. So this was a thing that occurred to me just this morning. And it was based on a conversation I’d had last week or the week before with a person I’m going to call the Polish director, who’s not in fact a Polish director, but I said that I would refer to this person as the Polish director.

Craig: All right.

John: So I was having a conversation with the Polish director and she asked about this character and sort of what this character was trying to do at this moment, what his goals were, and what the character thought about the situation. And I responded from the character’s perspective saying like, “Well, on one hand, he’s thinking this but on the other hand, he’s also aware of this situation.”

And as I was saying that, I started to make a realization about a crucial thing that is different about movie characters and actual real life people in that me as a real life person, I can have complicated, complex views that embody different opinions simultaneously. A movie hero doesn’t.

And I recognized I was sort of wrong in trying to describe on one hand and on the other hand for this hero because there wasn’t going to be space for this hero to have these interesting, conflicting views or to express them. That in a movie, a hero kind of needs to be able to have one thing.

And if I wanted to make a movie that had these complicated views, I probably needed to split those views among two characters that could actually have a dialogue rather than try to have them embodied in one character.

Craig: Yeah. I don’t think that you’re arguing that a character can’t have some sort of internal conflict over something.

John: Oh, no, not a bit.

Craig: [laughs] We’re not really interested in these hyper rational characters who can rationally see both sides of an issue and then try and find some sort of reasonable middle ground consensus. [laughs] We like that in, say, our local city planner but not so much in a movie hero. You’re absolutely right.

Part of it has to do with what actors do best. And what actors do best is portray a singular intention. Now, that singular intention may be one that causes them anguish.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Sophie’s Choice, she has to make a choice. It’s an anguished choice. Her intention ultimately is to save a child. It’s just that it hurts, you know.

John: I would say most movies involve characters making a choice and decisions. Sometimes both decisions have a cost associated with them. They’re working through those costs but that’s a different thing than having sort of this morally complex way of approaching a situation or scenario.

Like a lot of times, if you’re wrestling with something, you need to wrestle with somebody. And in movies, you generally don’t see one character wrestling with him or herself for a long period of time.

Craig: Yeah. The movie can be ambiguous.

John: Yes.

Craig: So the movie can refuse to take a position on something. But the way it refuses to take a position on something is by presenting different characters who have a position, who make their cases well.

John: So I would say that this is a thing that is true about movies but it’s not necessarily true about other art forms or other literary art forms. So there are plays in which characters have complicated simultaneously divergent opinions. I was thinking about John Patrick Shanley’s play Doubt.

Craig: Right.

John: And in that, our lead character, she’s grappling with the issues of to what degree does she pursue or hold back from this allegation of childhood sexual abuse. And the play is ambiguous but her reaction to it is similarly ambiguous in a way that is not commonly found in movies.

And of course, books have all the time in the world. Books have the ability to have introspection. So you can go into a character’s head and really explore these complicated feelings that the characters could honestly have. That’s very challenging to do in a movie.

Craig: It is. And Doubt is a terrific example because in a way, what that play is about is the difficulty of being the two-handed thinker. Everyone in that play, and there’s not many characters — you have a priest who is accused of something and has perhaps been accused of in the past as well. You have a young boy. You have the boy’s mother. And then you have this nun.

And the boy, the priest, and the mother are presenting points of view that inspire doubt. And the nun has none of it. Oh, and I’m sorry, she has her — there’s a younger nun.

John: There’s the assistant, yeah.

Craig: Right. Everyone is kind of saying this is morally weird territory we’re in. And we’re afraid that we’re going to make the wrong choice because it’s difficult. And she doesn’t see it that way. She is clear, clear, clear, clear, clear until the very, very end when she breaks down and says, “I have doubt.”

And for a nun to say I have doubt, I mean, obviously it’s profoundly about faith itself. But it shows that the notion that a movie character can’t have a clean point of view on a topic is so disruptive to them that it’s a breakdown. It’s not something that you’d want to watch a character just carrying around for a whole movie because they would be a ditherer.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And we don’t want people dithering. We want them doing, and then perhaps being confronted with the cost of not dithering.

John: Yeah. In looking at other media and sort of how they’re able to deal with these things, musicals have, again, introspection. So you look at Into the Woods and the Cinderella character, she’s on the steps of the palace and her song on the steps of the palace, she’s wrestling with this like, “I don’t know how I feel about this. On some levels I’m attracted, on some levels I’m repulsed.”

These are true human emotions that are very challenging to get out of a character without a song that lets us get inside her head. And she can be simultaneously intrigued and repulsed by this possibility, scared of herself, scared of her feelings. These are really difficult things for a movie hero without songs to communicate.

Craig: Yeah. I’m experiencing the gift of this right now because I’ve started breaking a story for this movie musical and I have to retrain the way I think because normally a huge part of the job is externalizing what is internal. And here, that would be a failure. If you have something internal, that’s an opportunity. And you get to reveal it. And that’s exciting.

So it’s just a retraining process, you know. You have to think in a way that you don’t normally think for movies because you want to be inside someone’s head. And when you’re in their head, you want them to be conflicted and you want them to be two hands or three or five because that’s what makes the song interesting.

John: Exactly. So contrast this with, you know, an Aaron Sorkin movie. Classically, you will see these different points of view but they’re embodied by different characters who hold on to their one point of view incredibly strongly and articulate their single point of view with great authority and with tremendous conviction.

So you see very few characters in Sorkin’s screenplays where like, “I don’t know how I feel about this.” It’s like, no, that’s not a Sorkin screenplay. It’s a very different perspective on how they’re approaching the reality of their world.

Craig: Yeah. And I think you’re right that Sorkin does it in a very demonstrable way. But in practically every movie, what you’re looking at is somebody who thinks a certain thing. They may be resisting. And oftentimes, they are resisting a truth. And so what they are articulating is the opposite of what the bravest version of themselves would do.

So for instance, in A Few Good Men, Tom Cruise has a certain core of bravery that says stand up for justice at any cost. And he’s running from that as fast as he can. His whole life he’s been running from that as fast as he can. And at long last, in the way the story unfolds, he finally decides to run at it.

But if you think about it, all he’s done is switch the needle on the compass. He was always hurdling steadily in a direction.

John: Yes.

Craig: And that is very typical for practically every movie character.

John: I’d agree. Because you’re with these characters for a short period of time, you don’t have the opportunity to look inside their heads or to see them grow and change over a long period of time, over seasons of a show, and become a different thing. They have to sort of be the thing, to some degree, that they’re going to be at the end of the story that has to be embodied in them at the start of that.

You have to have a way to go from what I saw there to where the story is going to take me. You’re on a very short journey with them. And so a character who is wrestling internally with these things that can’t be externalized, who’s trying to hold two competing ideas simultaneously, you’re going to have a very difficult time exposing what’s going on inside their head for these things.

Craig: Correct.

John: But this internal wrestling is a thing that a real person like me deals with all the time. And so I was looking through what are some issues which I have complicated, overlapping, contrasting beliefs about things.

So if you look at, you know, pretty much any political topic. So from GMOs to abortion to the balance between religious liberty and civil process, there are shades of gray in there. I’m not an absolutist about any of these things. And you kind of don’t want your politicians to be so absolutist about these things because they have to be able to deal with the subtle realities of what those things are.

Craig: Well, unfortunately, this is where movies have hurt culture. And I guess to let movies off the hook a little bit, our natural human obsession with narrative has hurt culture, because we can’t handle it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: We want the certainty that a good story gives us. This is right and this is wrong. These are good people, these are the bad people. And in movies, you don’t end with a, “Gee, I wonder. You know, everybody’s got an interesting point and there is no clear path to action.” You know, that’s a bad narrative.

In politics, they have cannily seized the tool of narrative to advance their own agenda. And they do. They do regularly everything. Everything from politicians on both sides of the aisle is pushed through a narrative filter. And it is destroying our government’s ability to behave like intelligent, rational adults in a world that does not conform to the rules of narrative. The whole point of narrative is to give us relief from a world that doesn’t conform to narrative.

John: Mm-hmm. And so you look at a candidate like Donald Trump who is in some ways the manifestation of a movie hero who has absolute certainty that everything he’s saying is exactly the truth and that this is the way that the world is constructed. And so he will say exactly what he’s thinking at that moment. And you can definitely see why it’s attractive to people but why it’s also a challenging thing to envision in an elected political official.

Craig: And he’s not even running for President, he’s just running because he’s telling a story. He just likes being on TV. I assume that we all know, right? Don’t we all know what’s going on? [laughs] Don’t we get it? I mean, who doesn’t get the joke?

John: Yeah, but I think we’re, to some degrees, horrified and fascinated that we’re living in the reality in which like, “Oh, but yeah, but really? No, really?” And so it feels like we’re living inside this Onion story and we’re like, “Oh, but we’re going to realize it’s a joke at some point.”

Craig: But we can’t possibly proclaim our innocence here or our surprise. When we live in a culture where there are TV shows in which actual human beings compete to marry a stranger and a world in which Donald Trump himself gathers celebrities together and has them fight over nonsense and fires them one by one, that is the narrativization of reality. And so we escape from reality through narrative.

And now, we like narrative so much we want to change reality to conform to narrative. Well, reality will not change. Reality will always be anti-narrative. Like I remember when we went through the strike in 2007 and the years leading up to it, in 2005 and ’06, Ted Elliott and I would talk about this thing we called screenwriter bleedthrough where writers in particular were susceptible to thinking about reality in narrative terms.

And in narrative terms, the Writers Guild wins. We’re the underdogs, you know. I mean, the bosses don’t — they shouldn’t win that fight, right? We come from behind, we win the day, we claim a victory. But the rest of the world doesn’t give a damn about narrative.

John: Yeah.

Craig: At all. And just believing that you should win and being the underdog doesn’t mean a damn thing.

John: So I don’t have a solution here. I just wanted to sort of share my observation that in some cases, a thing I was trying to do to make this character feel real to me was not in the best service of this movie. And yet, the greater macro point is I think the frustration that because it is so challenging to have heroic characters who have to deal with subtle complexities and sort of the give and take of reality, I think we can sometimes negatively steer our popular culture in a way that believes that like any sort of ambiguity, any sort of compromise is a failure.

Craig: Yeah. There’s no question. I mean, between the rise of television and then the kind of pervasive nature of narrative in our culture and then reality television which further confuses these things, it gets harder and harder to put up with the bad storytelling of the world. And so we try and deny it.

But the truth is that bad storytelling is irrelevant to good outcomes in the world. Well, that’s my soap box for the day.

John: [laughs] What a depressing start to the podcast.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Let’s go on to something that’s we’re on much firmer ground. And so this is a topic I’m going to call last looks.

So when you are making a movie or a TV show, you’ll hear a call from the first ADs saying, “Last looks,” which means we are just about to start filming this shot, this scene. If anyone has any last things they need to do, do it quickly because we’re about to start rolling. And so this is when the hair and makeup people race in and do one last little touchup on the actor. This is when the final tweaks are done on the lights and everyone starts to clear the sets.

So I want to talk about last looks for the screenwriter which are, what are those last things you do on a script before you send it out to someone else to read.

Craig: Oh, it’s such a great topic because if you’re doing it right, you should be panicked while you’re doing it that you’re going to forget something. I mean, for me, it starts by printing the script out on paper because your last looks at the paper will be far more accurate then they will as you’re scrolling blithely by on the screen.

John: Yeah. So the things I’m taking a look for when I’m about to turn in something is I’m looking at like, if there is a header, like a header because there are colored pages or there’s other changes, is the header correct. Do I have the right date in there? Do I have the right draft in there? Because that’s one of those easy things to sort of overlook as you’re doing the work. It’s like, “Oh, I never changed the date on that thing.”

Also, I’m checking the date on the title page, making sure all the stuff on the title page is actually accurately reflecting what’s going on there because especially if you’re working in Final Draft, the title page is a whole separate document, essentially, so you’re not really looking at that. And it’s very easy to create the PDF and send it through without having looked at like, “Oh, crap, I never changed the date on the title page.”

Craig: Yeah.

John: I’ve made that mistake.

Craig: Certainly if you’re in production, the amount of things that you have to keep your eye on expands quite a bit. So you want to make sure that your pages make sense, that you haven’t somehow managed to put some blank C page in there that you don’t need. You want to make sure that your revision level is correct, that you didn’t accidentally continue to make revisions in the old revision which is a disaster. So there’s also the first looks, you know, making sure you do that stuff right, making sure you didn’t mess up your scene numbers, check it against another draft. And then check that title page really carefully.

And I wish I could say that I rarely catch mistakes, I catch mistakes all the time.

John: All the time.

Craig: And I have to say that I feel like I’m one of the few writers that really cares about this stuff because I will see messes all the time. And, you know, nothing is more bothersome to a production. And what they’ll do is they’ll just take the script away from you, essentially. And they’ll be in charge of the script.

And I hate that. I want to be in charge of the script because it’s my script. But there’s a responsibility that goes with that to understand how it works. You’ve got to learn how it works if you’re in production.

John: So on the 200th episode, if you’re curious about that, we did talk through a lot about the fears and challenges of production and color pages and sort of the nightmare scenarios of like, “Oh, no, I started typing with revisions on or off and things got screwy.” So let’s talk about sort of like any normal draft you’re sending through to the studios like just a development pass.

One of the things I’ve noticed sometimes is it will switch to the wrong Courier at a certain point. So I use Courier Prime for everything. But if I’m copying and pasting from something else, every once in a while, old Courier will show up there. And sometimes kind of hard to see when you’re going back and forth. But it’s enough different that I don’t like for that to happen.

So a quick thing I like to do, if I’ve not used any other fonts throughout the whole document, there’s no reason why I had any special character in there, any sort of weird things, I will do a select all and choose Courier Prime again.

Craig: Right.

John: Just to make sure that it all got through with the right typeface. Classically, what I used to do and I do a little bit less now but especially if I’m really mindful of the page count and that I’m worried that someone is going to perceive this as being too long, if there’s going to be an issue, I will go through and do like one last check for widows and orphans.

So, widows are classically those little bits of text — they’re basically the first line on a new page. If it’s just a word or a few words, that’s a widow. And you can often find ways to pull that to the previous page.

An orphan is the last little bit of text below a text block. So let’s say you have some dialogue and there’s one line that just has one word on it. You can often find ways without rewriting just by nudging a margin, doing something to pull that one word up.

And it seems like, well, you’re only saving one line. But because these documents are so long, saving one or two or three lines early on in the script can suddenly pull a whole page out of your script.

Craig: Yeah. There’s a ripple effect. Mostly, I do this because I want certain things to end in a certain way on the page. So if there’s a line that I — I don’t want to break up, you know, a big reveal, like there’s a set up moment, a thing and then — so someone says, “Wait a second. I know who stole it.” And someone says, “Who?” And then I turn the page and the first person says, “You.”

Oh, well, I want that [laughs] — I’m interrupting a rhythm, a moment, you know. So I’m mostly concerned about that stuff. I mean, yeah, I don’t like the orphan thing either with one little word sticking at the end. I’ll just fix that as a matter, of course. And I do get kind of obsessive about — and I also have a thing like I really, as much as I can, I try to not break up dialogue speeches across a page break.

John: Yeah. So the software we’re using will look for ways to fit as much as possible onto a page. And that’s good. And most of the times, it does a pretty smart job with it. If you have a scene description that’s a couple of lines long, if it has to break the scene description, it will break it at the period. It will break it at the sentence rather than like put a half a sentence on one page and half a sentence on the next page. That’s a good thing.

It’ll do the same stuff with dialogue. But if you can avoid that break, all the better because you’ve kept those lines together for a reason. And if you can keep them together, you know, rather than having them break across a page break, all the better.

Craig: Yeah. It’s not going to kill you. It’s not going to ruin your script but it’s really just about, “Hey, I’d like you to read this the way I intended it to be read.”

John: Craig, do you do spell check anymore? I find I basically have stopped using spell check.

Craig: I do as a very one final, final thing. Generally speaking, I know how to spell and I’m a good typer and I’m reading my stuff over a lot, so I’ll catch almost every little dinky thing. But every now and then, it’ll find something. So I do it at the very, very end.

John: Yeah. And one last thing I do, and I’ve talked about this on previous shows, I went from two spaces after the period to a single space after the period. And so if there’s any question in my head that I may have accidentally put two spaces after periods, I’ll do a global find and replace. I’ll search for period space, space and I’ll change that to period space. And that compresses those all down to single spaces if there are any of those out there.

Craig: Welcome to the right way of doing things.

John: Yes. So I converted, you know, eight years ago but every once in a while, something will still get off or for whatever reason an extra space gets in there and just it’s better that way.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah. So those are some last looks and maybe we’ll notice some of these issues as we look through the Three Pages that people have sent in.

So if you’re new to the podcast, every once in a while, we will do a Three Page Challenge. And what we do is we invite people to send in their pages, the first three pages of their script, their pilot, whatever. And Stuart looks through all of them and picks a couple of them for us to look at on the air.

So if you’re interested in sending through your pages, you go to and there are instructions about how you do that and how you attach your files. If you would like to read through these samples with us, you can go to the show notes at and there are links to the PDFs so you can read along with us and see what we are talking about when we talk about these pages and samples.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So Stuart picked these and we don’t influence his decisions at all ahead of time. We don’t tell him what we’re looking for. He just picks three. So I’ll start with The Hitchcock Murders by Andy Maycock. So let me give you a quick summary of what’s happening here.

So we open on “Black: The RATTLE and PUNCH of a manual typewriter”. There’s a narrator who speaks who says, “The first thing you oughta know, it’s all fiction.” We’re in the Hollywood Hills, it’s dusk, it’s 1953. The narrator keeps talking about the Hollywood Dream as we meet David Morgan, a young studio executive who drops a cigarette to the ground. There’s a movie camera whirring away on a tripod in the dying bushes. There’s a single gunshot, birds fly away, and Morgan’s body lands in the scrub, blood pooling under his head.

The camera catches and pings, out of film, still aimed at the body, a thin layer of smoke. The narration finishes. We smash cut to the inside of a movie theater, same time period. The crowd is watching Kiss Me, Kate. It’s a 3D movie. The characters we’re meeting here are Lyle Tabbins who is a would-be heartthrob and his date, Veronica, with starlet-raven hair and short dressy Audrey Hepburn gloves. She likes the movie, he’s not so much a fan.

Leaving the theater, Tabbins says he has someplace to be, he’s not going to be able to go on with their date. But he says, “No, no, there’s no other woman for me. Takes all my effort just to be no good to you.” She leaves off. This is Christmas Eve 1953, the title tells us. Tabbins goes back into the movie theater lobby, talks to Rosalind, the cigarette girl. And he says to her, “You’re awfully quiet.” “The Creep’s still calling me.” “Wife probably kicked him out.” And we leave with their dialogue, their conversation at the bottom of page 3.

Craig: All right. So, Andy, good job. There’s a lot to like here. And overall, I think the good news is when I read this, I felt like I was reading a real movie script. It didn’t seem like an amateur movie script. Things, the pages look right, there’s a good balance of action and dialogue. And character, character, character. So I’m getting a lot from your characters.

And also, interesting, in these three pages, a lot happens, which I like. It means that you’ve written tightly. So let’s just quickly go through some of the things that were good and maybe some things that you need to think about.

We hear, it begins with the sound of a typewriter and then a Zippo opening and flaring and closing, which is very “Ooh, ahh”. And then a narrator speaks and right here, we’re getting a little sense of, you know, that you, Andy, like you’re trying to kind of give us that noir feeling through your action, which I think is okay because the script is clearly stylized to be noir, so it’s okay to say, “His voice long marinated in bourbon and Pall Malls.” Pall Malls, a particularly appropriate cigarette for that.

Now, the narrator begins talking here. And he says, “First thing you oughta know, it’s all fiction.” Okay, that’s provocative. We then go to the Hollywood Hills and he continues talking about the Hollywood Dream. And it’s good voiceover. Then this man appears, he is a young studio executive, he drops a cigarette to the ground. I like, “But not for long.” Good. You’re confident. You don’t care that I know that he’s going to die. It doesn’t matter.

And then he says, the character, this guy, David Morgan says, “Guess I believe it now,” to no one.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But there is a camera whirring away which, theoretically, he’s put there to film his own death. Then the narrator continues talking to you and the audience about the difference between the East Coast and the West Coast, referencing gun powder. And then Morgan kills himself in a kind of a nice romantic way in terms of the description, you know. “His fingers spread wide, empty and pleading.”

So, look, the good news is you know how to write, you understand words. I don’t understand what this voiceover is actually doing for you here.

John: Yeah. I got really confused here. I got confused to the degree to which Morgan is responding to the voiceover. Is Morgan hearing the voiceover? I got really lost in this first section. I’m about to get lost again.

So I thought it was all provocative. I thought it created a good world. And yet, I didn’t know what I was supposed to know at this point.

Craig: I mean, what I took it as is that the narrator is talking generically to us and the audience about whether or not you should believe success stories. Morgan says something to himself that kind of thematically echoes what the voiceover is saying. And then the voiceover continues.

That’s not a good idea because it’s going to create that confusion. My bigger issue is while I liked what the narrator was saying, I know for sure that this scene would work really well if nobody had any narration whatsoever. And that instead of the kind of super stylized opening, we began with this valley, we had this guy setting up a camera and starting it filming and then walking out there and then saying, “Guess I believe it now,” which we would be like, “What? Who are you talking to?” And then he killed himself, “Whoa.”

Okay, that would work better to me than this version with the voiceover.

John: Yeah. I think there was aspects of just too many things happening simultaneously. So we’re having to deal with like, okay, there’s a camera running, what is the camera supposed to be filming, was the camera already going, do I need to be worried about there’s somebody else in the scene, you had this voiceover. It seems like he’s talking back to the voiceover. It just felt like there’s too much being thrown at me all at once.

And I agree with you, I don’t even think you necessarily need Morgan’s line of dialogue, too. I think if that’s just a silent scene where like this guy sort of takes one last look, camera is running and then he kills himself, that’s provocative.

Craig: Yeah. That’s the other option is get rid of that Morgan line. So you kind of can have one or the other but not both, I think, because it doesn’t work. Then we go to a movie theater and now we’re kind of that iconic shot of an audience, a 1950s audience and their 3D glasses. I like the description of Lyle Tabbins, “A square-jawed would-be heartthrob in a shirt and tie.”

I actually learn a lot just from that. And I think “would-be heartthrob”, it’s sort of like, I don’t know, I got something from that description. He seems a bit grumpy. And then it’s after the movie, he’s with his date, Veronica. And he essentially puts her in a car. She has this sort of vampy, noirish way of talking. “Well, don’t leave me home all alone on Christmas. I don’t know what I’ll do, nothing to unwrap.” You know, okay, I like that, you know. It feels right.

And then he kind of sends her on her way. It says, “SUPER: Christmas Eve, 1953.” Well, she just said, “Don’t leave me home all alone on Christmas,” and the slug line said 1953 earlier, so I don’t know, just maybe not repeat that. Also, we should know that it’s period. I don’t know if 1953 the specific year is important, let me know. But the movie is going to be telling me this is in the ’50s. I don’t know if we need that super.

He goes back into the theater and does in fact, it seems like there is another girl here, Rosalind. And they have an interesting past. It seems like they have this relationship, I can’t quite tell if they’re lovers or not, but she’s obviously been dating a married man who has beaten her in the past. And Tabbins, apparently, had gotten revenge on her behalf by punching him in the face.

All decent noir stuff. And I kind of liked the way it was going back and forth. I picked up what was going on, at least I think I did. So it was enjoyable. I mean, I don’t know how much of this movie I could take but that has nothing to do with Andy. That’s just my taste. You know, like neo noirs are tough.

John: So I got really lost in the cut from the guy’s death to the movie theater because I think because I saw a camera running, I assumed that what they were watching was somehow related to the thing I had just seen. And the smash cut to I think partly influenced my confusion there. But I had to go through it like three times to make sure like, wait, no, so they weren’t watching the scene that was there.

If the very first image I’d gotten was a Kiss Me, Kate image that makes it very clear that it’s not this moment I just saw, that would have helped me here. So right now in the scene description, “The crowd, in their red-and-blue 3D glasses, squeals as Ann Miller tosses her red glove in their direction during her production number in Kiss Me, Kate.”

If I had started on Ann Miller tosses a glove, then I would know like, okay, I’m not watching that same movie. I’m not watching the scene that just happened. And what I saw before wasn’t a scene in a movie. And I immediately kind of went there I think partly because I had been thrown off with like there’s a narrator but people seem to be able to talk to the narrator. I didn’t quite know what the rules of this movie were.

Craig: Got it.

John: So that’s what was tripping me up. So literally, if the first image was not the movie theater audience but was what we were seeing on screen, I would have known what was happening here a little bit faster.

I thought these are great names for these characters.

Craig: Yeah, I like them.

John: So Veronica, Lyle Tabbins, we get to Rosalind. It’s like they’re all very specific period names that make me feel like, okay, we’re in this space.

And the other, again, specificity, we say this every time, but her camelhair coat, a tray of smokes, a pinup figure, blonde hair cascading over one eye, these are all details that make me feel like, “Oh, I know what this movie is supposed to look like and feel like.”

Craig: Exactly.

John: And so, again, I’m not a huge neo noir person. That’s not sort of my genre but I feel what this movie is wanting to be. And that’s a very good thing to be at three pages in.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, this might just be noir, you know. Like I don’t even know if it’s neo noir. But I agree. I thought that, look, the big headline for me is that Andy can write and he seems to understand how to tell a story visually.

Like everyone, and especially with noir which is notoriously subtextual and detail-oriented, hard to follow — I remember when I saw The Maltese Falcon, I was like 15 and I was like, “All right, let me watch that again now because I don’t know what the hell just happened. [laughs] Like, why is that a fake and what happened?”

But it is remarkable to me how often when you and I discuss these three pages, so many of our problems come down to clarity. And that’s a big wrestling match for the writer because they don’t want to be on the nose. But then they don’t want to be confusing. It’s a tough one. So, you know, adjusting that balance is the name of the game. But overall, very promising.

John: Two episodes ago, we had Alice on and she was the person who worked doing audio descriptions for the blind. And we were talking about that ambiguity. And I was thinking about that as I was looking through that scene in the script where he’s looking over the valley and there’s the narrator and he has the gun. And that came up as like, “Well, what would she actually say? And would she actually know what she’s supposed to be interpreting at that moment about whether he’s answering back or not answering back,” you know, in some ways thinking about like, how she would describe it might be a useful way of figuring out like, “Am I being clear enough here about what my intention is?”

Craig: Right. I’m with you 100% on that.

John: Cool. Our next one. Do you want to read this one?

Craig: Yeah, sure. I’ll do Time Heist. I’m debating whether I should do a prologue or an epilogue on this. I’m going to go prologue.

John: All right.

Craig: So Time Heist, as you might imagine, is about people traveling in time and stealing things. I’m guessing and you’ll see and I’m right. I just got pitched this idea. [laughs] So I just got pitched this idea about somebody — so I just want to say, Brian, I swear to God, I’m not stealing your idea. I don’t know if I’m going to do it. I probably won’t. But just in case, you should know, the idea of time heisting is I mean of course, time bandits already established that that idea is an idea. But I just wanted you to be aware that someone had spoken to me about it. Okay.

John: So here’s what he can take a good sign is that people who are actually making movies think that that is a world of movie that should be made.

Craig: Exactly. Yeah.

John: Yeah, so good job.

Craig: Good job. Okay, so let’s summarize. We are in the German countryside, 1945, night. And a armored Nazi cargo truck is heading down the road. Half asleep Nazi soldier at the wheel. His superior is napping away in the passenger seat.

Behind the Nazi cargo truck, a military jeep appears but its headlights are not on. And at the wheel of that jeep is Kristof Wexler, 30, also in a Nazi uniform. And he speeds up closing the gap between the two trucks.

Underneath the truck, we see a flicker of light and then we reveal that that is Blake Gardner, 30s, charming and confident. Holding a small propane torch. He’s under the truck like on a dolly, strapped to the undercarriage of the truck.

And although he is dressed in 1940s fatigues, he’s wearing this futuristic time piece on his wrist. So he begins cutting into the bottom of the truck with his torch. Then Blake begins talking to somebody in his earpiece and we reveal that he’s talking to Dr. Nicholas Halligan, 30 — everyone is exactly 30. Tweed coat and glasses. And Dr. Halligan is in a parked Volkswagen Beetle on the side of the road. He’s studying charts and documents and he’s warning them, 90 seconds until impact.

Unfortunately, Blake drops his torch because the truck hits a pothole. Halligan hears about this and says, “You have to abort.” But Blake has a better idea. Even though there’s only 45 seconds left, he starts moving down the undercarriage of the Nazi cargo truck towards the front. And then before we find out what he does, another truck is heading barreling toward them from the other direction. Those are the first three pages of Time Heist.

John: Time Heist. You get what is supposed to be happening here. I was able to follow the general flow of the action. So there’s a guy underneath the truck. He’s trying to get into the truck. Something goes wrong. He’s going to have to change his plans, but he’s going to stick with it and go through it. This is a movie hero doing movie hero kind of things.

I had a weird thing. I am curious whether this happened for you too. We’re on dirt road. It’s established that we’re on a dirt road. And then the minute we got to the dolly underneath the truck. I’m like, “Well, that doesn’t work.” The dolly under the truck feels like such a modern slick paved road kind of thing. I was having a hard time visualizing like, “Wait, how was this all going to necessarily work?”

The reveal that this people are — you know, he’s a time traveler because he has this sort of glowing watch. Well, okay. But it felt like a lot to suppose the audience is going to be with you about what that information means when they see this glowing watch on him.

Craig: Right.

John: It felt like it’s supposing things of the audience that I didn’t necessarily know you could count on happening properly.

Craig: Yeah. Well, the fact is it’s announcing the concept in a time when I’m not sure you want to the audience to know what the concept is. I mean, let’s just start with this. Since somebody mentioned this movie idea [laughs] to me, I mean this is not how I would do it. To me, if you’re going to do a time heist movie, you start with a heist.

John: Yeah.

Craig: In a time period. And they are — so three guys are stealing something out of the back of some Nazi truck. And we don’t know — time doesn’t have anything to do with it whatsoever but –

John: Because nothing involving time travel is important at the time that this is revealed.

Craig: That’s right. And they should get caught. In fact, they should almost — when they get caught, they should be totally unconcerned with being caught because once they’re locked up in the paddy wagon, they know the timer is going to go off and they’re just going to go sucked back through time again. I mean, one way or another, you’ve got to introduce the concept to the audience like it’s its own character.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You can’t just plop it on them and go, “Well, they’re going to know it’s about time because it’s called Time Heist, so let’s just start with, you know, them going through time and heisting.” No. I mean you need to build, you know, build to your concept.

John: So let’s take this exact same action sequence and look at ways so we can implement this idea. So this guy is trying to break into a truck. That’s great. You don’t need to be a time traveler to do that. So he’s going to do this, something goes wrong, he has a propane torch. Even though he’s a time traveler, he still apparently has sort of like old fashioned kind of tools. He doesn’t have like a laser cutter.

So he has his propane torch. He’s trying to get in there. We don’t know anything about time travel so far. This goes wrong. We could still say like you got 90 seconds, like, no I can do it. We believe there’s 90 seconds because maybe there’s — they know that there’s an intervention coming or they had the road block or something. He gets up in. Again, we saw the movie is called Time Heist. So it’s not going to be a surprise that our hero ultimately becomes revealed as a time traveler.

The potential for surprise is that the driver of this other car or van is also a time traveler, that there’s something else going on that’s an actual level of surprise. So I think there are moments you can get to it. I kind of push back that the first reveal that our hero is a time traveler, that the villains are time travelers until it’s a really interesting, crucial, make or break moment.

Craig: Yeah, you have to think about how to delight people, tease them and surprise them. And you just can’t dump stuff in their lap like that, you know. The description of the action — I was able to follow it pretty well. Got a little lost around exterior side of the road, continuous to parked Volkswagen Beetle. And then interior VW Beetle. Because you’re not separate — you know, I like to separate my slug lines with an extra line break above it. And I also like to bold them.

But you don’t. That’s fine. Except when you have a parked Volkswagen Beetle on all caps, now I got this like three lines in a row of a lot of all caps and then, I’m sorry, four because of Dr. Nicholas Halligan. That’s a block of four all caps. And I got a little skimmy on that, which I think is a natural thing.

I’m a little concerned that the stunt that’s going on with the truck is exactly out of Raiders of the Lost Ark in which your hero is trapped underneath a Nazi truck and is moving towards the front of it by going under the undercarriage. So I don’t love that.

John: I just feel like that overall climbing under truck has become the new air duct. And we just see it so often and, you know, we saw it in the most recent Mad Max as well. I just don’t know that’s going to be our best friend for action sequences for a while.

Craig: Yeah. I agree. And let’s put it this way. It’s never going to be your best friend in a spec script. You know, if a director — if you guys are making a movie and a director says, “Oh my god, I have this amazing way of doing the old under the truck trick,” sure. But, you know, that’s not the case here.

I’m going to call out just an odd — so look, not everyone can be 30. I think 30s is fine. But it’s like a weird thing that everyone is exactly 30. Dr. Nicholas Halligan has an odd way of talking.

John: He does.

Craig: “What is the matter?” And then he says, “That settles it. We must abort.” ‘We must abort’ and ‘What is the matter?’ are a little robotic.

John: Yeah. Maybe he’s a robot.

Craig: Oh, maybe he’s a robot.

John: That would be fun.

Craig: That would actually be awesome. I don’t think he is, though.

John: No. It would not be so good if he were. Craig, did you watch the show Voyagers! growing up?

Craig: I did watch Voyagers!

John: I love that show.

Craig: With Jon-Erik Hexum.

John: They had a little time piece. Got to get back in time.

Craig: In fact, hold on a second, I’m going to try and pull the name of the kid. It’s Jon-Erick Hexum — and I feel like the kid’s last name was like Peluce or something.

John: Yeah, it was some Italian name.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Like Lorenzo or something.

Craig: I think it was — I don’t know, Peluce, that doesn’t sound right — but maybe it is. Yeah, no, I love that show. And that’s just the whole genre. There’s that. There was Sliders. There was –

John: Quantum Leap.

Craig: Quantum Leap. Exactly. I mean so this is all very familiar territory. All the more reason to really think like a magician.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, magicians understand how to misdirect and they understand the value of surprise. And you just want to do that as much as possible particularly in a movie where you have the benefit of this huge high concept.

John: Yeah. Meeno Peluce was the character.

Craig: My God, I was pretty — Peluce. Yeah, okay.

John: Nicely done. Meeno is a great name also.

Craig: Meeno, I know. And poor Jon-Erik Hexum.

John: Jon-Erik Hexum, so sexy, so dead.

Craig: So dead. Do you know what his last words were? This isn’t even a joke. His last words were, “I wonder if this will hurt.” Because you know how he died, right?

John: Yeah, he was firing what he thought was a blank and –

Craig: It was a blank.

John: Oh, it was a blank.

Craig: It was a blank.

John: You can’t fire a blank into your temple because it will actually shatter your bone and –

Craig: Yeah, because there’s a concussive force that comes out of it that basically is like being punched really, really, really — it’s like basically being hit in the head with a hammer at full force. So yeah, you’re going to die. I mean — and so, “I wonder if this will hurt.” It did hurt.

John: It did. It was terrible.

Craig: Bummer. Poor Jon.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Erik.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Hexum. So we have one more to go. You want to read this one?

John: I’ll do this one. So this last one comes from Len Anderson IV. It’s titled One White Flint North. The tile page includes address, phone number. But not his actual address and phone number. So that might be a thing –

Craig: I did try calling him. I tried dialing phone number.

John: And it’s weird because you think like, you do the thing where on the keyboard like you dialed the P and the H and the –

Craig: Guess what? Worked.

John: It worked. Actually, it’s so amazing that we got to him.

Craig: Got to him. I’m actually going to hang out with him tonight at address.

John: [laughs] All right. We open in the teaser. So this looks like a TV pilot. Over black, tactical ops radio jabber. We are following a truck. It’s semi-modified, tire pressure status, GPS, it’s a high-tech truck. The driver is 35. Hands at ten and two. And next to him is Brent Voss, 28, a SWAT team member. They’re scanning the landscape. They ain’t hauling Frosted Flakes.

They are talking on the radio. They’re communicating with their team. And so we see the other people who are watching this truck as they move. So we’re on I-15 in California. There’s a helicopter tracking them from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. And the team lead, Brendan Burks is watching them, communicating through to Rachel who is at the ops center for NRC.

There are wall screens. They are going through all the technical stuff of like tracking this truck as it moves down – -there’s a convoy of three vehicles, light Interstate traffic.

Rachel Alvarez, 35, is the NRC Securities and Safeguards Department. She’s given the go ahead to move on ahead. And there’s chatter back and forth between the different team members as they are moving with the truck down the road. That’s honestly kind of all that happens in these three pages.

Craig: Yes, all right. Well, let’s get into it, Len. [laughs] I like to call these tough guy quipping movies because that’s basically what’s going on. Tough guys are all quipping. So let’s start. I mean there’s perfectly good opening visual. Although, I wasn’t sure how we were supposed to tumble to face. So it says, “A SINGLE FLOWER waves in the wind — WIDER: shoulder of an INTERSTATE FREEWAY — A BLACK SEDAN whizzes by — move with the breeze, tumble to face — the grill of a SEMI TRUCK.” So the camera is tumbling to face? I don’t know how that works exactly. Unless we’re on the dandelion cam. So that was just weird to me. But okay.

Then we go into this truck. And it says, modified. Duress button. Tire pressure status. GPS track. Now, I read that like three times. So I’m like, okay, modified is an adjective. And then duress button is one of the things that they’ve modified in there. But I don’t know how I’m supposed to know it’s a duress button. Does it say duress over it? Because I think it’s just going to be a button.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So what am I looking at? I’m looking at a button? And then it says tire pressure status. Most cars have that now. GPS track, every car has that. So I wasn’t really sure like how am I supposed to know that this is a special truck other than that there’s a button? Okay. Button.

We have the driver who’s wearing a flight suit, okay. And then there’s a guy next to him in SWAT team gear. Fine. Got it. And then the radio crackles. Brent chimes in, “Checkpoint Chargers.” Now, no one said anything to him. So all that happened was there’s some static and then he decided that that was meaningful static and then talked to somebody.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And then he says to the driver, “Just like rehearsal. Another Sunday driver heading to grandma’s house.” And my reaction to that is to say, “No.”

No, no, no, no, no, no, no.

John: Yes?

Craig: No.

John: No.

Craig: You can’t do this stuff. We are in 2015. This stuff was old in 1986. This is like Golan-Globus dialogue. You can’t do it. People don’t talk like this. We now live in a time when we see military movies that are hyper realistic.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And they are practically like journalists embedding themselves, right? The movies are like embedding themselves in a fictionalized world of soldiers. And they are very real. There’s an enormous attention to detail because everybody knows what fake is now. Everybody.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And this is it. That is fake. Okay, then we come back to this flatbed trailer. It says black rubber covers the cargo, which in this case [laughs], it’s a nuclear waste cask.

John: Yeah.

Craig: How do I know? Because isn’t the black rubber covering it? And then it says an orange cylinder, capped with three feet of rubber on each end. Is that underneath the other rubber? Or is the black rubber covering the ends?

And then it says 8,000 pounds of concrete. Orange concrete? I don’t understand. It’s impenetrable. I would have no way of knowing that because a pamphlet hasn’t been handed to the audience. See, so much information that just isn’t possible to get. Like is it a duress button. Who am I talking to on the radio? Is it impenetrable? What’s inside of it? How the hell would we know any of that?

John: We wouldn’t. So let’s take a step back and look at this clearly on page four, God, I hope on page four, something is going to go horribly wrong. And someone is going to interrupt this convoy. And bad stuff is going to happen. And it was unfortunate it didn’t happen before now. But that’s where we’re at.

But let’s take a look at if you are starting a movie with the truck and before the bad guys approached, your first three pages are so precious and so to only have truck set up and not to actually get to know about your characters feels like a real mistake. Or at least to not have something to tell us what is special about your world or what’s at stake, really honestly what the cargo is that you’re holding feels like a real challenge.

Craig: It does. And there are all sorts of ways to get into this. And maybe the best way is this, I don’t know, to just start with them on a truck talking. But it felt like, again, we were just dumping the premise in people’s laps. And there was no sense of surprise or discovery to be had. You know, there was no cleverness to it. It’s just we’re in a truck with nuclear waste.

Then, oh boy, okay, now, this whole thing here, now they’re in some kind of like a datacenter, this is the Jason Bourne datacenter. Let’s just call it that, the Jason Bourne datacenter for an international monitoring of objects. They’re in it. I don’t necessarily believe that such a thing exists. Maybe it does. I doubt it.

John: Well, I bet it does within the TV series that he is describing because I think I need to remember that this is meant to be a pilot for a TV show. And so within this world, I wouldn’t be surprised if this headquarters is a crucial thing. And some of these characters we’re meeting are crucial people involved here.

But I haven’t been convinced by the end of page three that, “Oh, wow, this is going to be a cool world of people I want to see.”

Craig: I agree. We have an ops assistant saying, “Copy Chargers.” So I believe he is responding to Brent who said, “Checkpoint Chargers.” So Checkpoint Chargers is in the middle of page one. Copy Chargers is in the middle of page two. So that’s quite a long pause before he decides to answer.

And then he says to no one in particular, Chester — maybe Chester saying to the ops assistant or maybe saying it to the guy on the radio, “Welcome to the show.” What show? I mean, come on. You want to say welcome to the show. It better be some sort of bad ass thing like you’re, you know, I don’t know, Seal Team 6 or something. I just don’t buy it.

John: So let’s try to envision what this pilot might actually be about and sort of what is going to be happening over the course of this. So let’s say that this is the team that deals with emergency nuclear situations. I’m just going to spitball and guess here. And so maybe this ops center becomes a crucial thing.

Then it’s actually great and fine to start in a truck and then we move to the ops center. But what we’re doing in the ops center should probably be a better indication of sort of like normal daily life, but also be giving us character information about who’s sort of in charge of what things, what is the normal sort of daily activity going to be like? Are there any sort of like character details or character runner jokes that we’re starting to set up here that makes us feel like everyone is expecting this to go okay, but also have a plan for if things go poorly. Then I’m engaged and I’m leaning in.

Also, by the end of page three, I need to feel some threat and some stakes, like I need to know that the bad guys are going to be picking up. Or I need to see like that motorcycle revving behind the billboard, the whatever that’s going to be happening here.

Craig: Yeah. I feel like the opening sequence needs to justify why the central premise of the show should happen. I don’t want them to already be in place and doing stuff and then something extraordinary happens. I want to see why some new group is necessary to monitor these things. I want to see something go wrong because of inattention or because of a bad guy or whatever it is, but it could have been prevented if. It’s why I still think like the opening scene of WarGames, one of the best opening scenes in history — do you remember the opening scene in WarGames?

John: I don’t remember WarGames at all, so –

Craig: WarGames opens with two guys in a missile silo. And they’re just chitchatting. And then they get a little thing. It’s like, “Oh, probably another test.” And they get the message and it’s not a test. It’s the launch codes.

And there’s a younger guy and an older guy. And the younger guy is like, “Oh my God, this is really happening.” And the older guy is like, “Calm down. It’s okay. I’m just going to call.” And the phone is not working I think because they automatically shut it down in case of launch codes. And this is it, it’s really happening.

So they both put their keys in. And on the count of three, they have to turn their keys. And on the count of three, the young guy turns his key, but the old guy, it’s just his hand is on the key, he can’t turn it. He just can’t do it.

And the younger guy says, “Turn your key, sir.” And the guy doesn’t. And then the younger guy pulls out a gun and aims it at the old guy and says, “Turn your key.” And then we go, boom, cuts to black. And then WarGames, we’re like, “Oh my God, what the hell just happened?”

Then you see a scene where all these generals are meeting in NORAD and they’re saying, “Well, we ran kind of like a special test where we gave everybody real codes that we knew wouldn’t actually work to see how many of them would actually do it if they thought it was real. And it turns out that like 38% of them did not launch, which is why we need a new system where we don’t rely on human beings to make those decisions.

And you’re like, “Yes.” You just figured out how to justify this ridiculous concept that [laughs] a computer is going to be in charge of our nuclear weapons. And I believed it. So this show needs to do that. It needs to justify why there should be a show about monitoring trucks with nuclear waste.

John: Now, I’m putting that assumption on the show. So it is entirely possible that this is actually a serialized show rather than a procedural show that it’s actually, we’re going to follow this nuclear waste as it gets transported around the world. It can be possible that I’m completely wrong of what the intention was here.

But I would just say like my reading of these first three pages and what this action sequence seems to be setting up, feels like that kind of thing. So if that’s not the intention, you need to pull me out of that intention probably quicker.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So if our sympathy is actually going to lie with the people who are stealing it, then I need to see those people before now.

Craig: I agree.

John: If our sympathy is going to be with like ordinary pedestrians or ordinary sort of people in the world, then maybe you are in a car with a family bickering and like this giant convoy moves past, like “What the hell is that truck?” And one of them says like, “Oh I think that’s, crap, like that’s nuclear waste, like they’re hauling stuff.” And like, oh, now I have this information. And I’m ready for things to go horribly wrong.

Craig: Yeah. Let’s also just talk about characters. I’m going to read some lines here. Brent says, “Just like rehearsal. Another Sunday driver heading to grandma’s house.” Chester says, “Welcome to the show.” Then Rachel is described as “Doesn’t have time for Twitter. She’s just good.” And Casey Stack is described as “Former army, deals with PTSD on his own dime.”

Well, my goodness. Everybody is just so damn cool, aren’t they? I mean I — ugh, no.

John: Yeah.

Craig: No, no. They’re caricatures. They’re not characters.

John: Yeah. That’s why you’re paid the big bucks, which it says on page three.

Craig: Yeah, she says that she goes — and they’re having this thing that we’ve seen a million times of two people doing, you know, scary military stuff that would freak us out having this, you know, very mundane conversation. You’re not sticking me with an after action report on this on. That’s why you’re paid the big bucks.

So, you know, this feels very ’80s. It feels like ’80s. It feels really broad. And not intentionally broad. So I think you have to really ask yourself these following questions. What is the kind of show that you’re trying to do that’s like on the air right now? Where would it fit like if you could have a, you know, a show come on and then your show come on. What would be a good match?

Ask yourself, would these characters fly on that show? You have to earn your premise. You can’t just dump it on us and say, “Yeah, see? Nuclear waste is the problem and we have the team to solve it.” No. Make me believe that it’s a problem. And then answer the problem with your show.

And I think you got to also comb through the writing here and look for things that are ambiguous or confusing like this are covered, but we can see them. Things are impenetrable, we have no idea. A button means a thing, but it’s just a button. You know what I mean?

John: The other thing I want to say is that, if you’re writing this as a spec pilot, your intention probably is not that this gets produced, but this is as a writing sample. This just shows like, “Oh, I can write a really good episode of a one-hour TV show.” And so this hopefully something you’re writing in order to be staffed. And that is a great good thing to be doing.

And even people who are currently staffed on TV shows will continue to write spec pilots just for those reasons so they can get staffed on other shows, they can show the different kinds of things that they can write.

But as you’re writing these, yes, you’re looking at the TV landscape, you’re looking at sort of what shows could be on the air, where this could fit. But you’re not going for the lowest common denominator like, “Well, it’s better than that worst show that somehow made it on to the air.” It actually has to be great because the people who are staffing these TV shows are reading 100 scripts to try to fill their staff.

And so they’re going to respond to things that are like innovative and great and smart and brilliant and somehow manage to feel like TV, but better than TV. And so anything that feels like this, honestly, that feels like it’s just kind of going through the motions is not going to result in a happy outcome.

Craig: Yeah. And look, Len, I know I just beat you up there. And I do apologize if that came off as harsh. And I know you probably don’t feel particularly good. But just know this. Through that process, you are now part of our brother and sisterhood. This is what we all go through. And we’ve all been there before. I’ve been on the other end of this many, many, many, many, many times. And don’t get discouraged by that. Take a week off from it. [laughs] Then take it to heart and start again.

John: To me if felt like it’s somebody who is for the first time learning the form and the format and learning how to communicate things they see in their head on the page. And so they’re trying to write the kind of sequences that they used to seeing. And not realizing that the kind of stuff that’s in here, not only is it really familiar, but it would done much more quickly and efficiently in an actual script.

And so reading a bunch more really good action scripts would probably be a great start. Reading more TV pilots will be a great start, too.

Craig: I concur.

John: Cool. I want to want thank all three of our people for writing in with their samples and letting us talk about them on the air. And everybody else who has sent things through, even if we haven’t talked about it, you are all very brave people because you never know which scripts Stuart is going to pick.

Again, if you would like to send in one of these Three Page Challenges, go to and there’s the instructions for how you send those things to us to read. So again, thank you to these people for being so brave.

Craig: Yes. Thank you to everybody who sends these in. And, you know, yeah, God, you’re braver than I am.

John: Cool. It’s time for our One Cool Things. Mine is a simple little article by Caroline Moss about Logan Paul. Craig, do you know who Logan Paul is?

Craig: I read the article, so I do.

John: Awesome. Craig did his homework. Logan Paul is a star on Vine. And if you don’t know what Vine is, it’s little six second clips. Twitter bought the company. And what I found so fascinating about it — because he can come off poorly depending on how you read the article. But I was thinking about how, if you were to read a profile of Will Smith or Mark Wahlberg at the time where there were just trying to break through, they would probably sound a lot like Logan Paul’s thing. So that’s not saying that he is going to break through and become some giant success. But he has the kind of ambition that I associate with some people who became famous later on.

So it’s so fascinating to be a star in a nascent medium and to be grappling with the kinds of things that he is now facing.

Craig: Well, it’s an interesting phenomenon that has emerged. There is a wall between new media — I’ll call it new media independent stardom and traditional stardom. So do you know who PewDiePie is?

John: Of course, PewDiePie, a YouTube star.

Craig: Right, great. So PewDiePie makes millions and millions of dollars a year. And he is famous the world over. But no one is going to put PewDiePie in a movie. And I don’t think they’re going to give PewDiePie his TV show and not that he would want it anyway, he is doing pretty well on his own. Because it doesn’t feel like that’s what it’s about. That fame is a different fame.

John: Yeah.

Craig: When we look at movie stars and television stars, we’re looking for people to occupy hero spaces. And those are certain kinds of people. And they’re not always beautiful people or strong people. They come in all shapes and sizes. But they occupy hero spaces.

The new media independent star occupies a traditional space. They are like us. That’s the point. And we just happen to like what they’re doing. So it is interesting to see what’s going on here. The piece was a little side-eye-ish towards him. I thought, you know, they kind of — they didn’t make him look too good in that segment about him and his acting class where basically the article said, “He’s not acting very well nor is he taking direction very well. But he still thinks he did a great job.”

And you have to kind of take it with a grain of salt because it’s the reporter’s point of view. That’s probably not a good thing.

John: But I thought she was actually more generous with him about the song he’s trying to do and how hard he’s working in a way that I thought was refreshing because so often, you see like, you know, “Well, why does PewDiePie make $12 million a year?” Or “Why does this guy have all these fans?” It’s like, “Well, they’re actually working really hard.”

And so I found it nice to see that the things that seem like casual one off flippant things were actually a lot of planning, a lot of work to try to make them happen.

Craig: Yeah. No, these guys — I’m the last person in the world to do the, “Well, why is that guy making all that money for stupid Vines or videos about video games and…” Well, you know what, I believe in the marketplace. If they’re making millions of dollars a year, they’re doing something right. Obviously, they’re connecting with a huge audience.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And yeah, those Vines actually look really complicated. There’s another guy that does them, a similar kind of deal.

John: Yeah. Avery Monson does these really — I’ll link in to some of his stuff, too — these really complicated visual illusions that are –

Craig: That must be who I’m thinking of. Is he Asian?

John: I don’t think so.

Craig: There’s an Asian guy, Asian-American guy who does them. And they’re awesome. So anyway, yeah, no these guys deserve their stardom. The question is, can it crossover? I don’t know. I don’t know. My One Cool Thing this week, another Twitter suggestion is called Thync, spelled T-H-Y-N-C. Haha, like Thync, Thync.

So I mean [laughs] if this thing works, I’m so tempted to get it. I might just get it. So it essentially is a device that you put on your head [laughs] –

John: It looks amazing, Craig. I just loaded up the site.

Craig: It does look amazing. It’s like, it’s very Star Wars. It looks like a Lobot sort of thing. And it essentially sends wave forms through your skin into your brain.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And essentially it’s a frequency. They’re just using frequency outputs. And in fact, that is a legitimate thing. People do this for muscles a lot, you know, you’ve heard of like tense devices and things like that, electricity and so on and so forth.

What they are saying is that this device, actually there’s two modes. One which is to calm you down. And the other one is to essentially stimulate you into a state of non-anxious alertness. Naturally, my BS detector went straight up. [laughs]

John: Yeah.

Craig: Naturally. But they published a paper and I read the paper. And if the data is correct, it kind of works. There is a strongly statistically significant difference between the placebo control which I thought they did well and their device. And they have a quote on their page talking about blurbs from a professor at the City College of New York, Neural Engineering, brain stimulation and medical device design, Dr. Marom Bikson.

So then I went I’m like still like [laughs], so I looked around for some reviews and a couple of people have reviewed it and they said, “Yeah, it works.”

John: All right.

Craig: So should I try it?

John: You should absolutely try it.

Craig: Okay.

John: Craig, you got to spend that money.

Craig: I got to spend that money.

John: So a similar or kind of related thing, I have the Muse headset, which is a sort of meditation kind of thing. Like basically it’s tracking your I want to say brain energy, but that’s a really poor way of phrasing it. But it has an app that goes with it and you’re able to sort of like calm yourself down and you could actually measure sort of like as you’re calming yourself down. And you can change the pitch of things. And you can feel these birds standing on your shoulder.

And it’s impressive, but it one of those things where I used it like four times and like I haven’t touched in a long time. I’ll be curious what your experience is with this and whether you find it useful enough that you’re using it often or you use a little bit and then it goes into that same drawer with your Google Glasses.

Craig: Oh, the Google Glasses, what a piece of crap.

John: Well, but I think it’s good that you helped keep that company in business because they’re a struggling startup.

Craig: It’s a Kickstarter.

John: [laughs]

Craig: That was a great show.

John: That was a good show. So thank you very much. Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel, as always.

Craig: Yeah.

John: it’s edited by Matthew Chilelli. Thank you, Matthew. Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth who has done some of our best outros. So thank you for sending in this one.

If you have an outro to send in, you can write to That’s also where you can send in questions about things we talked about on the show. Short things are great on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.

As always, you can find us on iTunes. You can download the podcast there. You can also leave us a review which is lovely. If you would like to get a USB drive with all 200 episodes — the first 200 episodes of the show, those should be in the store now, hopefully, by the time you get this podcast. And you can go to USB drives are $20 and have all of the episodes of the show including the dirty episodes which is always fun.

And that’s our show for this week.

Craig: Awesome.

John: Craig, thank you so much.

Craig: Thanks, John.

John: All right. Bye.

Craig: Bye.

One-Handed Movie Heroes

Tue, 08/11/2015 - 08:03

John and Craig discuss why movie heroes — unlike those in novels or musicals — generally don’t profess internally conflicting views. In reality, our feelings on a topic are likely shades of gray. On the big screen, characters tend to articulate a single point firmly.

We also discuss the last few things we do when getting ready to submit a script.

Then it’s time for three new entries in the Three Page Challenge, with Nazis, nukes and noir.

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 209: How to Not Be a Jerk — Transcript

Mon, 08/10/2015 - 14:10

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is episode 209 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the show we will be talking about how critic quotes get massaged to be used as advertising blurbs, how not to be a screenwriting jerk, and why movies are almost never late.

But first, we have some follow-up. Craig, in the episode we talked about reshoots, we mentioned the reshoots on World War Z and you tweeted a link that I thought was really great.

Craig: Yeah. So this was an article that came out actually just ahead of the movie’s release. And it caused quite a bit of consternation. And frankly, I was a bit shocked by how many people were willing to speak to Vanity Fair. They did a pretty in-depth take on what had gone wrong, at least what had gone wrong as far as they could tell.

And, you know, I’m always going on about how terrible entertainment journalism is. This was an example of actual journalism about entertainment, which is a different thing. And so they spoke with Marc Forster, the director. They didn’t speak with Brad Pitt but they did speak with Damon Lindelof who came in to do a lot of work along Drew Goddard. Chris McQuarrie did a lot of work as well, although he did not agree to talk to Vanity Fair about it. They spoke with the studio, they spoke with producers. And you got a kind of a picture of what went wrong.

And it’s interesting, I guess the advanced bad buzz about that movie was “The director and the actor aren’t talking and they hate each other and no one knows what they’re doing and the movie sucks.” And what it really came down to was script problems. It was just the ending was wrong.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s a script problem.

John: And that wasn’t the fault of, you know, the original writers of the movie. It was an intention that didn’t actually work when it was time to make it as a movie. And so they shot a whole different ending that didn’t end up becoming the movie they wanted it to be.

Craig: It does seem like, if you can find some blame in the what went wrong, it probably was with the good old development process where they try to jam disparate writers together with disparate voices and disparate viewpoints on the material and they got something of a feathered fish there at the end that just didn’t work.

And, you know, sometimes, like we were saying, when you come in, I mean, you and I have both been in situations where we’ve come in to a movie that is completed and is in trouble, and people look at us and say, “Well, what do we do to fix this?” And the fact that you can come in and see everything as a whole and then point to spots and go, “That doesn’t belong with the whole,” you just have this enormous creative advantage over anyone else who’s been slogging through the woods. You actually can see the forest.

And not to take anything away from Damon or Drew or Chris, they were the beneficiaries of that perspective. That said, they also pulled off a really great ending, as did Marc Forster, as did Brad Pitt, as did the whole production. Yes, there are things in the article about how they went wildly over budget and all the rest of it. Yeah, but that happens.

I mean, it was huge movie and interestingly enough, the article sort of says, “Boy, this thing is going to have to make like $400 million to make its money back.” And it went on to make close to 600 at the Box Office.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So, I think all told, well, here, the proof is in the pudding, they’re making a World War Z 2. What else do you need to know?

John: What I think is so interesting about this situation of World War Z is that the temptation I think was to always make the ending bigger, that it had to grow to become something larger and larger. And so the ending apparently they shot was really huge. And that wasn’t what the movie ultimately wanted. The movie wanted to sort of get small.

And so the ending of the actual World War Z movie becomes much more isolated, that they go into that lab. It’s much more sort of a single man and a single decision. It’s so interesting that it was such a completely different scale of ending, although it made it a success.

Craig: Yeah. One thing that the trio of writers that came on to work on that third act picked up on so smartly was that scale is often unemotional by definition. The world or a city is not a question of individual emotion. It’s a question of external stakes.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But what they did with the ending, the retool of the ending was they reduced the stakes down, the immediate stakes at least to “I have to walk through a wing full of zombies in a small cramped building.” But what it really came down to is, “I have a theory and I’m going to put it to the test. And if I’m wrong, I’m never going to see my family again and their daddy and their husband is going to die.”

John: Yup.

Craig: And suddenly, the emotional stakes were enormous. And that’s why it worked.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And, boy, there is a lesson there that gets missed [laughs] over and over and over.

John: I will say that even in situations that haven’t been reshoots on movies but where I’ve come in to do a rewrite before a production, a lot of my job has been simplification, is that the script over the course of development has gotten much more complicated. And there’s been like layer upon layer upon layer added to things. A lot of times, my job is to really kind of find the through line and get rid of the stuff that is not going to be probably part of the final movie and to sort of simplify things down to what is the core idea of this movie.

Am I always right? No, I’m not. But it looks like this was a situation where that rewrite happened after it was shot. And that they pulled it off is so remarkable.

Craig: Yeah. They really did. I mean, I didn’t use that word “cruft” once to describe that sort of like “So clear away the cruft.” I mean, unfortunately, when you have a situation where the developers have more natural authority in a development process than a writer, the risk of cruft is enormously high. You’ve got maybe a rookie writer or a relatively new writer and then you got a lot of big players in the game, big producers, big studio, big actor.

By the way, I don’t think that was the case with World War Z but in over a time, I’ve noticed that this trend occurs. The writer essentially doesn’t have the ability to keep the invaders out of the castle. And you end up with a script that is riddled with other people’s ideas.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I’ve said this before, sometimes they’re good ideas but it doesn’t matter. Either the movie is of a whole or it’s not. And I would rather a script where there were mistakes that were consistent with what was good than a script that was a collection of interesting ideas that have nothing to do with each other and are disparate voices.

So when you come in [laughs], I think a lot of times what happens is we come in, we sit in this room and we just start going down a list of stuff that we have to get rid of. And a lot of people in the room sort of uncomfortably begin nodding because they know that they are partly or often largely to blame.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But you got to kind of say it. And there’s a dance we do. I’m not pointing fingers and no one’s to blame. And everybody kind of goes, “Yeah, no one’s to blame.” And then you move forward.

John: Yeah. You sort of pretend that this document just landed there somehow magically, that there wasn’t a history before it got into the room.

Craig: [laughs] That’s right.

John: On my job, when I first approach one of those meetings, is to talk about the things I love because so often, they’re so bogged down in what’s not working and sort of all their fears and doubts and insecurities that for me to say, “By the way guys, this is really good. Like these sections are working so, so well. And let’s protect what’s working great. And then, you know, look at the rest of the stuff.”

Craig: Yeah.

John: Jane Espenson once, I think on one of our Christmas shows, I asked her about certain terms. And she had a term called “laying down plastic” which is you put down plastic underneath the script sort of. So as you do all the brutal cuts, nothing else gets sort of damaged in the cutting, and the hacking, and the retooling and refashioning.

And so part of my job is to sort of point out where we need to put down some plastic and not destroy what’s already really good in the script.

Craig: It’s very good advice, I think, for any writer going into that situation, a rewrite situation which means things have gone well for you so far in your career. Now people are calling you to say, “Hey, we’re so interested in the way you write that we think you might be able to fix something that we don’t know how to fix.”

There’s that old term “script doctor” which I hate because it just, it romanticizes something that doesn’t deserve romanticization. But part of it is accurate in that you do need to think like a doctor and you need to recognize that the script is like a patient. And you don’t walk into the waiting room where the family is and say, “Oh, my god, okay. Oh, my god. Well, I’ve looked at him.” And they’re like, “What?”

John: [laughs]

Craig: “I mean, I think that he’s probably, I mean, we’re probably going to have to take the finger off.” And they’re like, “What? Oh, that’s it?” Right?

So you have to gauge what you’re doing. That said, I actually was in one of these sort of moments. A movie had been shot, finished and was then screened for a few screenwriters to sort of say like, “We think we have a problem. How bad is the problem? We think maybe it just needs some comedy.” And Damon Lindelof and I were both part of the group. And I think [laughs] we all walked out of there thinking, “Yeah, let’s not talk about comedy. That would sort of be like do we need Botox?”

This person’s bleeding out [laughs]. Like forget sort of the outpatient clinic. Let’s go to ER, let’s go to OR, let’s start stabilizing, you know. And we were honest about it because there’s no sense in throwing, sprinkling some jokes on something that is, at its core, seriously sick. And in that case, it ended up working out. I mean, neither of us worked on it. Then we sort of like collectively put together a plan or some theories and then, you know, they went and sort of did the work, but interesting.

John: We’re going to circle back and talk about tact and discretion and those topics as we get to our discussion of how not to be a jerk as a screenwriter. The second bit of follow-up I wanted to get to was maybe three or four episodes ago we talked about Stretch Armstrong.

We just, in passing, we said, “Oh, somebody should write a book about the attempts to make a Stretch Armstrong movie,” because you and I both in probably our entire Hollywood careers, that project has been out there somewhere. It’s like the only project I can think of that had both Danny DeVito attached to it and Taylor Lautner attached to it at different points.

Craig: [laughs]

John: So someone wrote in asking like, “Hey, well, maybe I should write the book on it.” And actually then sent us the link to a Hollywood Reporter article by Thomas Golianopoulos which does an oral history of the Stretch Armstrong project. So I’ll put up that link into the show notes as well because it’s just fascinating to hear people talk through their experiences trying to make a Stretch Armstrong movie. A piece of IP that seems fascinating but also like, “Are you really going to make that movie?”

Craig: I thought it was a great article. It’s funny, I don’t think I’ve ever seen that article, but my former writing partner, Greg Erb, is quoted throughout and they do reference the work that Greg and I did on it. And it’s funny because at the time, we were very young. I mean, I think I was, I want to say I was like 26 years old. I had just written I think one movie for Disney. This was sort of like our follow-up project was, “Here, we’ll give you this, you know, [laughs] this wonderful golden goose. All you have to do is wait for the egg.”

And I remember that we did our job, and we thought we did a good job, and everyone seemed to like it. And then suddenly, it was gone. And we just never understood why. And at the time I just thought, “Well, maybe we didn’t do that good of a job or maybe that’s just Hollywood. I mean, they must know what they’re doing.”

And then I read this thing and I think Matt Bearman or Bernie Goldmann, one of them said, “Yeah, we should have just made that one.” And, you know, it’s funny because in truth, they shouldn’t have. I actually [laughs] disagree. I don’t think they should have made that, the script that we wrote because, you know, I don’t think any of those scripts were ever going to work. The idea just isn’t calling for a movie.

That said, if they had made our version, it probably would’ve been a fine family outing from Disney and they would have sold many VHSs. But it was fascinating to sort of look back through the lens of time and see like how after, I don’t know, now it’s been like 15 years or, geez, longer, you know, almost 20, and everybody could be a honest and just go, “Yeah, yeah. We screwed up.”

John: Yup. I had a flashback to this this past week where I got a Google news alert and it had my name on it for Bob the Musical which they are still in development on at Disney. And so I had done a pass of that so many years ago. And it’s one of those things, I think it’s like a Stretch Armstrong and there’s fundamentally like, “Oh, I can see the trailer for that, so I can see why you’re continuing to pursue it.” But they’re still developing it. They’re still trying to make a movie out of this concept about a guy who wakes up into a musical.

Craig: Well, I still think I would see that movie if somebody figures it out.

John: Yeah, exactly, so that’s why they keep developing it. So we’ll have links in the show notes to both the Laura Holson article for Vanity Fair and this Thomas article with the oral history of Stretch Armstrong.

But to get to today’s new topics, there was a great rant I thought by A.A. Dowd and The A.V. Club this week. And since we’re not going to have the disclaimer about swearing in the show, no, I did not say you’re — what does he actually say? “No, I didn’t call your ‘blanky’ movie a ‘comedic masterstroke’.” And I thought it was a great chance to talk about sort of, you know, the realities of how you use quotes from critics in advertisements because obviously we see like, you know, just two words taken out of random.

And like well, how are they picking those two words, do the critics have approval of those words? So here is what he actually wrote about the movie released called Accidental Love. It was originally called Nailed. It’s one of those movies that sat on the shelf for a very long time.

So he wrote, “To be fair to whoever refashioned Accidental Love from the abandoned scraps of Nailed, there’s little reason to believe that the ideal untroubled version of the material would have been a comedic masterstroke.” So out of that paragraph, they took the words comedic masterstroke [laughs] and put it in quotes and put his name by it.

Craig: [Laughs] Good. I love it. I love it.

John: You know, to the degree I have sympathy for critics, it’s when their words are taken so wildly out of context and then, of course, I’ve seen my own work taken wildly out of context as well.

Craig: Oh, sure. I mean, look, it’s not ethical. It’s not something that people should do. That said, I can’t help but giggle at the thought of critics confronted with the reality of what the movie business thinks of them. Because, you know, I’ve often wondered, if there are a whole bunch of movies that probably don’t need critics, why do they even send things to critics? Why not just not let them see it, you know, and then they’ll see it whatever opening weekend. Why do they go through all this?

And the reason they go through this is because they’re looking for, basically, advertising. They’re looking for free advertising. They’re looking for a way to continue to hoodwink, although we call it marketing, hoodwink the public into seeing something through the use of critics’ remarks.

Now, here’s the thing. You don’t have to scratch the surface very deeply to see what studios think of critics because [laughs] if they thought that critics were valid, then they would also then put the negative things on. I mean, in other words, they don’t say like, “Well, unfortunately, this movie was not reviewed well, but you should still see it. We believe in it.”

No. They don’t care what critics think. They’re just using the good stuff as they can, hypocritically, to try and fool people into seeing their movie as if the critic’s point of view is relevant to the audience’s point of view. It’s all a con.

And of course, the critics are sitting there going, “Well, hey, no, you misquoted me.” “Oh, I’m sorry. But did you not know that this was really the only upshot of what you did?” I mean, in the end, that is the only upshot. That’s what happens. I mean, when we’re talking about large movies, they can’t make or break a movie. They can’t. We see it time and time again.

So with that in mind, especially now when everyone feels so, I don’t know, post facto with criticism because, you know, people go to see a movie Thursday at midnight and start tweeting about it right away, I think that this is really the only sign that these reviews existed. Either we’ve combined you into a slurry and here’s the percentage number which is rather high, or it’s a comedic masterstroke. They shouldn’t do that. They really shouldn’t. But it makes me giggle.

John: So there’s actually two periods in time which you sort of see this “action” happening. One is at the first release and one is at the home video release. And in this case, this was the home video release. And this is for a movie that most people have no idea existed.

So I think the marketers, in this case, it was a distributor for Canada, desperately needed to have something that they could say that said like, “It’s a comedy. “And so they were looking for something they could say like, “Let’s look through all the reviews and somebody who says it’s a comedy [laughs] because it is not entirely clear that it’s a comedy.” And so they found this thing and it’s like, “Oh, let’s just do it.”

But, Craig, I’m curious whether you’ve had this experience where you’ve seen cuts of TV spots for your movie and they have those sort of slugs in there for the quotes that are going to go in there. Have you seen that before?

Craig: They used to do way more of those. They actually don’t do many of those anymore because they realized that they don’t work [laughs], which is another thing that makes me giggle. You’re right. Like when you’re trying to sell a product on a shelf, putting some signifier on it like, “This is chocolate and peanut butter, not vanilla and mint,” it’s good for people to know what they’re buying.

But in TV ads, they used to do these spots all the time. Sometimes they’d even have testimonial spots where people would come out of a movie theatre going, “I laughed, I cried, I ran the gamut of emotions.” They don’t do it anymore because it doesn’t work. They really don’t work.

But, yes, back in the day, they used to make these spots and they would put slugs in. And then even when I was doing this back in 1994 at Disney, we would make these 30-second review spots and hold slugs and then we would get, usually it was advanced press like you’d get some long lead stuff often from International.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And then you’d start slotting in their comments. We never did anything that was this outrageous. Sometimes you would kind of fudge a little bit with the old dot, dot, dot method. A…brilliant…movie. [laughs]

John: What I’ve seen in terms of the pre-cut ads is when they sort of need the quotes for tempo. So it’s like, “Bum, bum, outrageous. Bum, bum, crazy. Bum, bum, the best thing he’s done since, you know, it’s sort of like or like bigger than Jaws or something like that.” So they need those sort of like, you know, things to build so they’re looking for that single word that sort of gets you to the next point. But, you know, even with Big Fish — the movie to some degree, but also the Broadway Show. Broadway Shows are incredibly review driven, and so we needed to have those review quotes because they’re literally like on the door of the Neil Simon Theatre.

It’s like a huge, important thing. And so our New York Times review was not good, but there were things that are good in The New York Times review. And so you have this — these review quotes that sort of talk about the things they praised about the show and sort of obviously don’t mention the things they didn’t like about the show. And that it’s this weird dance you play. And I think it’s — in Broadway, it’s even sort of more cloistered and more sort of screwed up because of how small the community is that the relationship between the reviewer and success for the show is so deeply coupled.

In the case of A.A. Dowd here, you know, he’s frustrated that his quotes got used. But like, it’s not going to hurt him personally.

Craig: No. No. Nobody — I mean, ultimately. And I apologize to A.A. Dowd, but he’s not going to make or break a movie. It could have been anybody. They could have literally put anything on there. They could have just had one of their kids review it for their high school newspaper and put that on. I mean, it just didn’t matter.

Broadway, you’re right. It’s very different. And of course, you can — if you’re good at reading these things, you can sort of suss out like who’s fudging, like, you know. Like, “John Smith…really impresses.” Oh, is that the best thing?

John: [laughs] Yeah.

Craig: Is that the best thing in the review? I’m going to guess that wasn’t a great review, you know. Broadway is fascinating to me because Ben Brantley, the critic for The New York Times, is kind of incredibly powerful. He’s actually — I’m just — I am immediately fearful of any system where one individual has that much influence.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s scary to me. And I don’t think it makes sense. And I’m not taking anything away from Ben Brantley, his point of view, his taste, whether, you know, how often he is correct, in terms of what shows work for the audience and what shows don’t. It’s just more like, shouldn’t there be two Ben Brantleys? Just in case. Like, shouldn’t there be a fail safe? In case he just happens to not like a thing that other people would really love?

John: It’s also fascinating because in the theater world, sometimes, for some outlets, the same person who writes about the show is the reviewer ultimately. In other cases, they’re completely separate people. And so, you know, does that person have history back story? Did that person interview you before they saw the show? Or is that person coming in cold, like a food critic, and just seeing this thing that you’re serving up to him or her.

And it’s a very different experience. We could probably have, you know, a whole one hour podcast about what is screwed up and is fascinating and is just crazy about Broadway.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But then, we would never release it because it would hurt both of our careers.

Craig: It would hurt our careers.

John: [laughs]

Craig: It would absolutely destroy our careers. And you know, again, just for the record, I love Ben Brantley.

John: Oh, just — maybe just the best person on earth. Yeah. Good stuff.

Craig: No, actually, I don’t know anything about him and I’ve never had a Broadway show so, I can’t — I mean, I just — just the idea. I mean, in theory, it’s just the theory of one person having that much influence is — that makes me nervous.

John: Yeah. I think, my — in the podcast, we will never record about Broadway. I think, what I found fascinating about it is because it is such a small and such an insular community, all the things that happen in small, insular communities, definitely happened there. And if you could magically transform things so that Broadway wasn’t the ultimate goal of all live theater –

Craig: Right.

John: Then I think you could — through diversity, you’d find more strength. But that’s not the system that we are in, so we have to adjust to the system that we are in.

Craig: Alas.

John: Alas. So let’s turn to our next topic. You put this on the document as behaving like a pro. We talked about professionalism a couple of weeks ago. I would rephrase this as like, how not to be a jerk. Is that a fair assessment of what you’re going for here?

Craig: I think so, basically. Yeah, I mean, how not to be a jerk, maybe how to not be douche bucket.

John: Mm-hmm. Yeah, sure.

Craig: Yeah. Is that going push us though?

John: Yeah, how to avoid douche behavior. No, I think douche is fine.

Craig: Yeah. I think how to not be douche bucket. How to avoid douche behavior. How to just — how to avoid people looking at things you say or write and wrinkling their nose and going, “Oh, god.”

John: Yeah. Or giving you a little side eye.

Craig: Little bit of side eye. And I should say that this is something that I’ve been sort of thinking about for a while — long time. This is not some kind of subtweety, quiet reference to any individual person, whatsoever. So please don’t take it that way. You know, this isn’t like blind item stuff. It’s not. This is stuff I’ve seen people do over the last 20 years, in all forms. And it’s not just like, “Oh, whatever happened yesterday on Twitter.” So please don’t take it that way.

John: Yeah. And I think, as I’m looking through your list, a lot of what you’re describing, I would say are best practices. It’s just if you could sort of sit somebody down who is about to have their first movie come out –

Craig: Yeah.

John: These are the kinds of things you would tell him or her to make sure that no one was going to watch you throw them off a cliff.

Craig: Yeah. In a lot of fields, there is a — I think a responsible and positive culture of veterans instructing rookies. And sometimes, it gets bad. Sometimes, it’s more about hazing and it’s — and that’s awful. But in the good versions of it, it’s like, “Hey, rook. Come here. Let me tell you how we expect you to behave. And let me tell you how we would expect you to not behave. This is the kind of stuff that we think of as classy and positive and accruing to the benefit of all of us. And this is the kind of behavior that we think gives us all kind of a black eye.” So it’s a little bit of that. This is like, “So, hey, gather around — gather around the podcast, rookies, and let’s go through some do’s and don’ts.”

John: Get us started, Craig.

Craig: All right. Again, because it’s a culture that I think exists in sports and in other fields of work, in almost all of these fields, when we talk about being a pro or being classy, what we’re talking about is a few things. First, when it comes to praise, let praise come from other people. It’s really not going to do you any good to explain to other people how good you are. [laughs]

Just let other people say that. And they will or they won’t. But either way, let it come from other people. Also, given that we’re on a team of some kind, if we’ve written a movie, be gracious to the other people on the team. That doesn’t mean that you have to like the other people on the team. That doesn’t mean that the other people on the team are — perhaps have contributed in an equal manner to you. It just means be gracious because it costs nothing.

And kind of snippiness towards other people, kind of begins to become petty. I understand what it satisfies, at times, if you feel slighted or injured by another person or you feel like maybe somebody else is getting too much attention. I get the desire to grab the mic back, but just don’t be Kanye, you know.

John: Yeah. I would also say that, sometimes, your silence can be very, very loud. And so, if someone says like, “Wow. You know, actor Y is just phenomenal. I can’t believe it. You must feel so lucky that he was in your movie.” And you know that he was just an incredible jerk. And so, if you say nothing, or you just like sort of twiddle your thumbs, that’s subtweeting. That’s basically sort of like, you know, you’re calling him out by just saying nothing. So you practice the nice things, sort of like, “Yes, he’s immensely talented.” Or like –

Craig: Right.

John: “We were so lucky to have him in this movie.” It’s like, “You know, I see the kind of things he does and it’s fantastic.” So, as I’m saying this, people are probably going through all old footage where I’ve said these things about some actors who I didn’t like. But that’s reality. That’s the game we play. And so you –

Craig: It is.

John: And just the same way you kind of hope that they will actually mention you at some point. You mention them when the time comes up.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, you’ll see this is, you know — it’s a famous scene in Bull Durham where they go through this. I mean, in baseball, some pitcher hits you and you think it’s intentional and there’s a ruckus. After the game, the reporter say, you know, “What did you think of him?” “You know what? You know, he’s a great competitor. And I think sometimes out there people get a little worked up. I mean, I don’t — did he throw me on purpose? I don’t — it doesn’t really matter. I’m good, you know. I just — I’m just trying to play the game as hard as I can and, you know, try and help the team win.” Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. There’s no point in going further because all it’s going to do is just generate prurient nonsense. [laughs]

John: Well, circling back to the article about World War Z, none of those people were throwing each other under the bus.

Craig: Right.

John: They were just talking about realistically this is what happened. And it’s sort of you know — even in situations where I’ve had horrible experiences with other people, I will talk to you privately about it, but publicly, I will always be sort of like, “You know what? It was a war we all fought together.” Even like Charlie’s Angels, the first Charlie’s Angels, was notoriously sort of a challenging movie to shoot. But I often describe Charlie’s Angels being like, “Yeah, you know what? I describe it like the monster. You know, every day, somebody was the monster. Some days, I was the monster. And we just had to fight the monster. And that’s just how we made the movie. And I’m so happy with how it turned out.”

Craig: Yeah. I mean, I won’t say a bad word ever in public about any actor, writer, or director, or producer I’ve worked with. I just won’t. I just don’t know what the point is. It’s not going to — what is it going to do? Change their behaviors? Is it going to make my life better? So just, you know, in general, if you can, be gracious.

And that connects to taking the high road whenever possible because there are times when other people aren’t gracious to you. And if somebody should say something or imply something and they are part of our world, in terms of public response, if you can, just take the high road. It’s like the most obvious, blatant technique in the world, and yet it works 100% of the time.

John: Yeah. So, when the actor says, “Oh, yeah. We improved everything.” You respond like, “We’re so lucky to have such amazingly talented actors in the movie.”

Craig: Yeah. You know, and you could like, if somebody asks — like, I’ve had this question come up constantly. Any interview I did for the Hangover movies, they’re like, “How much — you know, the guys were talking about how they kind of came up with that moment. And how much of the script is scripted? And how much is improv?” I’m like, “You know what, that was a great moment. And there are those moments in the movie where they do kind of just go and invent their thing. You know, we try and keep the script the focus of the day. We always get the script. There are moments where, as a team, we all agree, ‘Let’s just do the script.’ And then there are moments, as a team, where we realize we have opportunities to let these guys kind of expand.”

You know, it’s like, how hard is that? And the thing is, 98% of the time, I mean it. I’m not being disingenuous. I’m not being manipulative. I mean what the high road is saying. There are the 2% of the time where I don’t, but I take it anyway because it’s a better way to live. It accrues to your benefit. This is all cost benefit analysis stuff. It really is.

Similarly, if there is a dispute that somebody else starts or that exists, if you can possibly do so, keep it private.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You can confront somebody over the things they say. I mean I had a situation many, many years ago where I won’t even get — I won’t say who. See?

John: That discretion, yeah.

Craig: I won’t say who. But it was a he. And he said very insulting, stupid, and factually incorrect things about me and in a somewhat public forum. And I addressed it privately. It’s as simple as that because in my mind, yes, that was a public. So that was public. And then there’s no response on my end publicly but I’m okay with that because the truth is it’s forgotten. You know, my new rule is if you get in trouble on the Internet and you’re Rachel Dolezal or whatever. Just go away for two weeks, you’ll be fine. Two weeks later, you’re okay.

And nobody noticed. You notice more than anyone else. Keep it private whenever possible. Now, there are times when that’s not possible. So there are times when people behave terribly. They are abusive. They are cruel. They are discriminatory. There’s behaviors that people can exhibit and inflict that frankly should be called out. But if that’s the case, and I’ve never done it, the test I have is, okay, if I’m going to say tweet about something like that, then I follow this rule, am I willing to call a newspaper about it rule.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So in the old days, you’d have to pick up the phone [laughs] dial up Variety and say, “I have a story. Blah, blah, blah, put his hands on me and pushed me against the wall. And got violent and threatened my life.” Yeah, okay. So they would probably write an article about that. If you can’t pass that test in your mind, then probably you should be going towards the high road or keeping the dispute private method.

John: Yeah. So I would also stress that there’s different levels of private and public. And so there’s private where it’s just like just you and the other individual involved. There’s private in the sense that it’s just the core team. And so if there’s a dispute, you keep it within the production and keep it within the people who really need to be involved. Sometimes your reps or sometimes, you know, the other folks who are directly part of this scenario. Very rarely do you need to get up to the level of Twitter which is the entire world. And we see people, you know, subtweeting at each other. And you see like the spat between Taylor Swift and –

Craig: Right.

John: It was Rihanna. Katy Perry was in it as well. It’s just like you’re not helping anybody there. And so I don’t understand why you would necessarily want to do that because — I’m not saying that you should, you know, keep everything secret or if there are real terrible things or if there are crimes being committed, you have to deal with those things. But just putting somebody on blast for something that is not going to help you in the long run doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.

Craig: Subtweeting is just the 2015 word for passive-aggressive behavior. I mean, that’s all it is. It’s passive-aggressive. And passive-aggressive behavior is self-defeating 100% of the time. Subtweeting will never accomplish anything. It just won’t. What you’re really doing is trying to get the benefit of attacking somebody without the cost of being accountable to your own words.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And no one respects it really. The only people who like it are people who were just chasing dirt and don’t care about you. They’re just interested in dirt. They just love negativity. Well, good luck with that group.

John: Also, I think when you see people who are subtweeting, I feel it’s largely because they don’t have a conception of themselves independently of their public persona. And so if their public persona is not commenting on this, they feel like they are, you know, not being true to themselves. And that’s maybe a situation where they should be examining what is their relationship with social media.

Craig: Well, that’s true. And that’s a thing. I think another aspect of subtweeting is that it is — and I understand this. It’s sort of a regression tactic. You’re going back to childhood and you’re basically crying in the hopes that people will come and hug you.

John: Yup.

Craig: And I understand that. Everybody wants comfort, but I would much rather somebody just say, “Listen, I’ve had one of those days where I’ve kind of been attacked and I feel sad and I’m bummed out. And everyone give me a hug.” That’s fine. You know, that’s okay because you’re just being honest. But if you say, “Well, for the fourth time in a row, I’ve realized that a certain somebody who runs a certain production company is a certain jerk.”

John: Yes.

Craig: Okay. So then, what are you doing? Rallying the troops to go, “Well, hey, man, you’re awesome. Don’t let anyone get you down. Is it so and so? He’s no good.” No, that’s not going to help.

John: That’s not going to help. So everything that we’re talking about so far I think really applies to everybody in all fields. So just to recap what this basic guideline was was let praise come from other people, be gracious. Take the high road when possible and keep private disputes private as much as possible.

Craig: Right.

John: But let’s focus on what it means for screenwriters. So if you’re a screenwriter with your first film coming out, what should you be doing?

Craig: Well, the first rule and this one works elsewhere because it comes from elsewhere. Act like you’ve been there before. And that’s a hard one for people because they haven’t been there before. And everybody gets really excited. I mean if you have a movie coming out, that’s exciting.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And it’s attached to a ton of romantic notions. It’s attached to a dream. It’s attached to all these aspirations. You are deriving an enormous amount of identity from that thing which frankly you shouldn’t.

And so it’s understandable that you will get giddy and maybe a little self-congratulatory and a little nuts. And you might go overboard. And listen, anybody who blames you for going a little nuts on your first real movie is being a jerk. But if you can just temper yourself and remember act like you’ve been there before. Because when the second and third, and fourth, and fifth movie comes around, you will have been there before. And at that point, you will have no excuse. [laughs] So just calm down and don’t go bananas patting yourself on the back in public over anything that you’re doing anymore than would you would imagine a kind of steady, confident, veteran, professional would do.

John: So, Craig, when you and I had our first movies come out, the only way we could speak to the press or speak to the world was through kind of official channels. So it was through the press junkets that the movie studio set up. It was through interviews that our publicists might have set up. So we had to sort of go through proper channels to do that.

If you have a movie coming out in 2015, 2016, you are suddenly out on all those social media channels yourself. And so you can tweet about your movie. You can say things. You can be showing photos on Instagram from premiere or from the set. And that creates a very different relationship between the screenwriter, the production, and the people releasing the movie, and the press I guess, too.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So that four-sided relationship is so different than what it was before. And I don’t know that we necessarily have it all figured out in terms of what the best practices are. You know, basically, how often should you retweet when someone says something great about the movie?

Craig: [laughs] Right.

John: Well, you know, sometimes but not too much.

Craig: Right.

John: And you always have to ask yourself, like, “Will this be perceived as boasting or will this be perceived as sort of, you know, being proud of your work?” Are you reminding them that this thing exists, are you letting them know that it’s getting good reception? Or are you just showing off?

Craig: And it’s tough. I mean, the one simple way of looking at it is, “Am I promoting a movie or am I promoting myself?” Because if you’re promoting the movie, I think all behavior is appropriate. That’s the idea of promotion, you know, is getting people to go see something. It’s a little tricky when you’re involved. But we don’t think of it as tricky when actors are involved. They go on talk shows, that’s part of their gig, and they promote the movie.

They promote the movie when they don’t like the movie. They promote the movie when they do like the movie. They promote the movie when they haven’t even seen the movie. It’s literally written into their job contracts. It’s their gig.

It’s not written into ours. And traditionally, screenwriters have been essentially invisible and silent during the promotional process. So on the plus side, we have this amazing opportunity now, at last, to be visible. On the down side, we don’t [laughs] have a ton of experience doing this, right? An actor, a steady working movie star does, what, three movies a year?

John: Yeah.

Craig: Three promotional cycles a year, year after year after year. The best and most consistent feature film writers are looking at one movie every two years, I’d say, on the average. And only in the last five years have we had a reliable source of promotional avenue for ourselves. So we’re not necessarily great at it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You got to think about it. And you do have to think, “Am I promoting a movie or am I promoting myself?” And if you don’t have a lot of followers, then what are you trying to do? Really whip up those 5,000 people to go see the movie? It’s, you know, so you do. You have to find a balance. You don’t want to be perceived as boasting.

And there are some things that you can do that are going to trip everyone’s boast alarm and clearly bring you far afield from, say, promoting a movie.

John: So what are some things that are going to — if you were to see them show up in your feed, you’d be like, “Uh, uh, uh.” You know, that’s where you send the private DM saying like, “Cool it on this.”

Craig: Right. I mean, four big ones. Money.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I’ve never seen anybody literally go on and say, “Oh, I got paid blah, blah, blah for this.” However, I have seen people say things like, “You know, you’d think that if I — ” and again, this is no one specific. “You think if, you know, if they pay me seven figures that they’d care about what I write,” okay, well, don’t say that.

John: Yeah.

Craig: That’s just boasting. Comments about your awesome agents. “Well, you know, I had a great meeting today at CAA. Everyone’s, you know, excited about blah.” Okay.

John: Oh, no.

Craig: Oh, good for you, you’re represented at CAA. Complaining about how much work you have. Sometimes I feel like that’s something that I have tiptoed towards [laughs] because I was really like, “Oh, my god, this is not good. I’m in a bunch of trouble here.” And then I stopped and went, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait a second. That’s just going to come off terrible.”

Because most people who read these things either want to be screenwriters or they’re just starting and their problem isn’t, “Oh, my god, too much work.” Shut up. You know, so thank God I’ve never made that mistake. Because, look, you can suffer from that too much work syndrome but no one wants to hear it. No one.

John: Yeah. I think before you send any tweet that sort of implies like, “Oh, my god, I’m working too much,” you have to really look at sort of how that could come across to the other side. I guess it’s every tweet you have to sort of look at how can this be misinterpreted. There are tweets, you know, I think that are totally valid about like, “My brain is melting. You know, I have 14 scenes to write before tomorrow.”

Craig: That’s fine.

John: Basically, it’s the same thing about like any kind of joke. Like a joke in which you seem like the idiot in the joke is probably a good joke. But the joke in which it seems like the other person is an idiot is not, you know, the same.

Craig: I agree. Yeah, like how much work I have to do on a script is always fair game because everybody has that experience. How many projects I have going on, nobody wants to hear that. Similarly, nobody really wants to hear your name dropping. Yes, good for you, you know a famous person, you know. Like I don’t need to know that you had lunch with Ridley today or whatever, you know, or [laughs] I don’t know who.

Like the worst is when you’re like, you know, “Had an amazing meeting with Tom. You know, we’re going to find something to do together.” And you’re like, “Oh, are you going to make me ask you if it’s Hanks or Cruise, you jerk?” That’s the worst.

John: Yeah.

Craig: The worst. I mean, we can talk about people we know, but only when it’s relevant [laughs] and the point isn’t “look at me”.

John: Yup. All the stuff that we’re talking about here is so important for screenwriters who are doing this once, maybe twice a year. There’s a whole other category of writers who are doing this every week, during sometimes in the season where they have TV shows on the air and they are asked by the studios and networks to live-tweet their shows. And so I have friends who work on these TV shows and they are supposed to live-tweet their episodes when they come up.

Craig: Right.

John: It’s a whole different thing. And if you are in the situation, you will get a set of instructions from the studio, from the network, and from the showrunner about what you’re supposed to be doing and how you’re supposed to be doing it. The frustration and the challenge is, to what degree are you an employee writing on your job versus being your own public persona self.

And if you are live-tweeting your show on this Twitter channel, to what degree can you also post other random stuff that isn’t about that show that could become controversial? It makes it really challenging to know, are the people following me because I write on Castle or are they following me because I am myself? And that is a weird situation that we put writers in.

Craig: It’s a very strange situation. And you’re right. It’s a wonderful exception to call out here. So anyone that is a creator of, say, a network television show or a cable show, they’re required to be very present and very active on Twitter in promotion of the show. And so, you know, like Derek Haas live-tweets episodes all the time, has his fans do like ask me five questions. That’s all promoting the show. Not only is it legal but it’s just smart.

And the truth is, I have no problem with the idea that writers are now actively involved in that because I think that it gives us that much more visibility and control over the outcome so that, you know, we can improve our own bottom line. The more people who watch, the better off it is for us as creators of television.

And this is something that actors have always done. And they don’t get paid to promote. I mean, you get paid to act and you will also promote, you know what I mean?

John: Yeah.

Craig: This is more like when you’re not — I think we’re talking about people that aren’t involved in something like that.

John: Yeah, for sure. Now, I want to make sure that I’m not scaring people away from tweeting about the work they’re doing because I think, you know, sharing what you’ve done is actually a great important thing that social media is really good at.

Casper Kelly tweeted out about an episode of his show, Your Pretty Face is Going to Hell, and I didn’t realize that was his show. And so I watched the episode. It was genuinely genius. And so that a good situation where like, well, it’s a good thing he tweeted that. It’s a good thing I followed it because otherwise I would not have seen the show and not have known that it’s really good, so.

Craig: He’s promoting the show.

John: He’s promoting the show.

Craig: He’s promoting the show. It’s actually a great example because in the middle of the madness over Too Many Cooks, Casper Kelly never ever once behaved in a way that made me go, “Uh, douchebucket.” He was classy, he had a sense of humor about himself, he had an appropriate humility without seeming like he was fake. And yet also was able to kind of share some of the joy of what was going on with that. It was just really well done.

And it’s a weird thing to say in an episode where we’re kind of trying to teach people but I almost feel like, “Geez, maybe this isn’t teachable. Maybe it’s just something people know.” I hope it’s teachable.

John: I think it’s teachable. Let’s try to wrap this up with talking about what your actual goals should be when you are in a situation where you are promoting something where you needed to talk about your work. What are you trying to convey?

Craig: I mean, I hope that, as a group, we can appear confident, we can appear positively passionate, not negatively passionate, that we can show some self-awareness, that we can recognize that we are one of the key partners in a process that involved multiple people.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And above all, that we can be collegial and respectful to our fellow writers, if at all possible. That doesn’t mean you have to like what they’re doing. And maybe I’m just old school grumpy dude, but in my blood, I believe it’s just not professional to run down fellow writers, unless they have really, like, blatantly been asking for it. You know what I mean?

John: And so in many ways, I would never go after a writer for their writing. I would go after them for behavior that is, I think, dangerous or inappropriate in the business. And so, yeah, you know, be cool. Be a colleague. Be a cheerleader and a champion of writers wherever possible.

The last thing I would add in terms of what you need to promote when you’re talking about a project is just be grateful. So, acknowledge that you have the luxury of being able to write this thing and see it get made. And for all the troubles and all the flaws and all of the shouting matches and everything else, it is remarkable that you had the opportunity to get a movie made.

And so, gratefulness at every step of the process is important, too. For everyone who is sitting across from you at a press junket, for everyone who is following you on Twitter, for everyone who’s asking you that question about the movie, be grateful. If someone is taking the time to send you a tweet saying, “I love the movie,” send the tweet back saying thanks. It’s not much.

Craig: Yeah. It’s not much but it’s just common courtesy, you know. It’s just being a decent person. And I just look at it in terms of my relationship with my fellow writers, I just think, whatever shoes a writer is in, I’ll be in those shoes soon enough.

John: That’s true.

Craig: Or I’ve already been in them. So they don’t need me kicking them in the jaw, you know. If I have a friend and their movie comes out and it bombs and critics hate it and everyone on Twitter is ripping it to shreds, or even if they’re not my friend. Even if it’s somebody I hate, it’s somebody I hate and their movie is crap and it bombs and no one likes it in the whole world and they’re all talking about how this person is going to get run out of Hollywood on a rail and it’s a Schadenfreude, a dream come true, I don’t say anything because that’s not going to get me anywhere.

John: Nope, not a bit.

Craig: No. No.

John: We’re going to close up with one question. Jenny writes in to ask, “Your discussion of reshoots got me wondering. I’ve noticed that movies set release dates very early and then nearly always hit those unless the movies just gets canceled. As someone who’s a bit of an outsider, it seems strange to me that a creative process like making a movie could be predicted so well. Is there a large buffer factored in or is the actual production down to a science? By comparison, I work in a software where it’s difficult to actually predict what will be completed in two weeks.”

Craig: Sure. It’s a great question.

John: Yeah.

Craig: The answer is it’s down to kind of a science. They know when they green light a movie, they take — they break the script down and in breaking it down, they determine primarily, number one thing first, how many days will it take to shoot this? And there can be a little bit of a negotiation between the director and the producer and the studio. But in the end, everybody just kind of goes, “Yeah, that seems appropriate. Okay, its’ going to take 50 days to shoot, so that’s this many weeks.”

Now, how many weeks will we need to prep. Everybody kind of agrees based on the elements of the movie, either there’s a lot of effects or there’s no effects or this or that, will need say three months to prep, standard amount.

Good. So we have three months of prep. We have, let’s say, three months of shooting. And now, how long will it take us to go through post? Well, they basically say a movie like this generally posts in this amount of time. And then we’re going to give ourselves a little bit of a buffer because we know that marketing needs some things here and there. And then we’re going to put the movie out here.

So with rare exception, there is enough time to get the movie done. There are times where you are in a jam and you’re actually backing out of the release date and you are just go, go, go.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I’ve been in those and those are the worst.

John: Those are the worst. So I would say, Craig is right, is that there’s a lot of expertise and a lot of institutional knowledge about how to make movies and sort of like what the process of making a movie is like. Even though every movie is different, every movie is largely the same in terms of the technical things that need to get done.

But what I would say — and something that’s probably very familiar to anybody who makes anything is it does ultimately come down to a pick two scenario where you have to choose between speed, quality, and money. And in Hollywood, we basically always end up optimizing for speed because we have to hit those release dates. It’s almost never worth it for us to push the release dates back because we’ve already booked commercials, we’ve already started running things. So we’ll spend as money as it takes to get the movie finished or we will cut back on the quality of the movie in order to hit that release date.

So that’s the reality. It’s like, you know, when you see movies go wildly over budget, a lot of times it is because they had to rush through visual effects or had to rush through these things to get stuff to happen. Or movies aren’t maybe as good as they could possibly be. Well, if it had an extra six months of post, they probably could have made that movie better, but they didn’t.

The challenge I will say, overall, is — Craig starts his discussion saying like, “Okay, we have the script. We’re breaking it down. We’re doing all that stuff.” Increasingly, we are slotting movies based on like just a title and like that’s going to come out in 2018 on this weekend. And that becomes the real problem because we don’t know what the movie actually is. We just know it’s the title of the movie and we have these people kind of tentatively attached. But we don’t have a script, we don’t have anything.

And those are the movies to watch out for because they will tend to become problem stories.

Craig: They can. Sometimes what happens is the studio will start with — they might not even start with a release date. They might start with an actor’s availability. You have a big movie star. Let’s just take Tom Cruise for instance. You have Tom Cruise, he’s constantly working. He likes the idea of this topic. He wants to do that movie. He wants it to be with this director and this writer. The director and the writer are both interested in doing it. Tom Cruise is available in exactly one-and-a-half years. He has a slot in one-and-a-half years.

You need to be ready to shoot when that slot hits because they’ve made him a deal. And he’s locked in for that slot. They bought that slot. It’s happening. They’re paying him. You’re making the movie. Let’s go. And these things do happen. And hopefully, they happen in a way where you don’t feel like you’re completely up against the wall. But it can get gnarly. I mean, the worst I ever had, the worst, was Scary Movie 3. Bob Weinstein –

John: He’s a villain of so many of your stories.

Craig: He really is. And that’s like one guy like I have no problem throwing him under the bus because whatever, he’s Bob Weinstein. It’s like everyone knows — he knows, if he were here, he would agree. [laughs]

John: He’s an indestructible counter bus.

Craig: He really is. He’s an indestructible counter bus. So Bob Weinstein had — he had made two of the Scary Movies with the Wayanses. He wanted to make a third. And they asked him for too much money in his opinion. And he said, “No.” And he got rid of them. They went on to make their own spoof movies somewhere else. And he became truly obsessed with the idea that we had to beat the Wayans brothers to market with our own spoof movie. And when I say our, I had no idea this was going on. [laughs]

John: Awesome.

Craig: I was working on an adaptation of Harvey, the Mary Chase play.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So when he called me, he’s like, “Here’s the situation. You are going to write this movie. And David Zucker is going to direct this movie. And it’s going to come out. And I have the date and it’s coming out on October 23rd,” I think it was.

And when he called me, it was December 1st, I believe. So I met David Zucker on December 2nd. And all we knew was we have to make a movie and it was in theaters on October 23rd.

John: That’s really fast.

Craig: That is. I don’t think you can make a wide release studio film faster than we made that. And man, it showed. I mean there are some stuff in there that I love and then I’m like, “Oh boy.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: Oh, that’s what happens. [laughs] I mean it was — it was bananas. Bananas.

John: Just to wrap up this topic. I will say that movies do get pushed probably more often than you think. So if you go into any big studio conference room, they will have on a giant board these magnetic tiles that show all the movies from all the different studios and sort of tracking forward three years in many cases.

And every week, some of those movies are going to be pushed around and moved to different slots. But it’s not, they weren’t so locked down before. You only hear about the release dates for like the giant Marvel movies and like those aren’t going to change likely because they have toy deals and so many other things.

But the other randoms like sort of like the Russell Crowe thriller, well, that could shift six months and nobody kind of knew when it was supposed to come out. So I will say that sometimes things get moved around, but rarely is it because the movie is not ready. It’s more likely because the competition is not good around it. There’s some other competitive reason why they don’t want to go out on that week.

Craig: That’s exactly right. See, the Marvel movies and those big tent poles, when they land on a spot, what they’re saying is, “Get out of my spot, right? No one wants to go up against Avengers 3. Okay. So we’re picking the weekend and we’re telling everybody else, ‘Don’t go up against Avengers 3 if you have your own. If you have Batman whatever, don’t put it there.'”

John: Yeah.

Craig: So those things start to occupy spaces and cannot be contested by certain kinds of movies. If you have a certain kind of movie and suddenly you got squashed by that thing. When you think, “Oh, this is not counter programming [laughs] for the Avengers at all,” you’ve got to move.

And, you know, look, I got caught up with that whole thing, not personally. I mean I had nothing to do with the decisions, but somewhat infamously, The Hangover Part III came out the same weekend as Fast and Furious 6. And everybody was like, “That didn’t really make sense.”

John: No.

Craig: And it didn’t. [laughs] I mean they both did okay that opening week, but –

John: But they both took a haircut that they didn’t necessarily need to take.

Craig: [laughs] I think we took more of a haircut than they did.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, look, the movie ended up making $100 million, whatever. But it probably would have worked better on a — but sometimes it’s like, you know what, sometimes you’re rewarded for the aggressive move. That world of picking dates for distribution is nightmarish. I don’t understand any of that stuff. It’s scary to me.

John: Yeah, I don’t envy the people whose job it is to do that, to defend that. Not good.

Craig: Not good.

John: All right. Let’s get to our One Cool Things. So for my One Cool Things, I have two related pieces of video, both on YouTube. What I love about them is they’re both showing the early versions of things that are now really familiar.

So the first is Vacation, the song Vacation by the Textones, which is before — a group that existed before the Go-Go’s. And so they had some of the same members, but was the pre-Go-Go’s version. And so some of the lyrics are different. The chorus is different. But in this video, you can see them. You can hear the song. And it’s like, “Oh, that’s Vacation but it’s not quite Vacation. It’s Vacation before it was Vacation.” So I loved it because it’s familiar but unfamiliar at the same time.

Likewise, Madonna’s Vogue video, shot by David Fincher, is one of the best videos probably ever made. And we’re so familiar with really kind of every shot in it. This is a 30-minute video that is basically — they call it the B-Roll, but it’s really all of the dailies of Vogue. And so it’s all the setups and sort of the multiple takes of all the setups.

And you start to recognize like, “Oh, yeah, like there were small little flubs there and there’s a reason why you did another take of that one.” And that everything that is so perfect about the video wouldn’t have been quite so perfect if they had settled for that first take or that fifth take. And so it’s just a great way of seeing what you actually would have gotten if you had actually sat down and watched the dailies on things.

And so when Craig and I are making movies, a lot of times we see the dailies. So we see like the five takes of that guy answering the phone. And we’ll have a sense of which ones work. This is an example of what that’s like for a music video.

Craig: Maybe that’s why David Fincher now famously will do like 100 takes of things. It’s the lesson of Vogue.

John: It’s the lesson of Vogue. So this is how it all started, how it all went very, very wrong.

Craig: Vogue. Okay. So my One Cool Thing this week was a recommendation from one of our Twitter followers. And I loved it. It’s a guy on YouTube named Smooth McGroove. And I said to my son, Jack, I’m like, “Hey Jack, you know, who is Smooth McGroove is?” He’s like, “Yeah.” Like, “Idiot.” [laughs] “Of course, I do.”

So Smooth McGroove is awesome. He’s a guy that does a cappella versions of famous video game songs and they’re all instrumental songs. So he does that thing where he’ll like tile himself. Like he’ll do a nine tile of himself and he’s got a nine-part harmony going on. Well, you know, maybe it’s five-part harmony and then four of the other voices are doing like, you know, beat boxes or something like that to add flavor.

But he does these incredibly good, like really good renditions of these awesome, a lot in Nintendo stuff, like a lot of Zelda and Super Mario. And it’s so cool. I just love — I mean I watched like eight of them.

John: Yeah.

Craig: He’s so good. He’s really, really good. So check out Smooth McGroove. If you like a cappella and you like classic video gaming, Smooth McGroove.

John: Fantastic. When you first said that name, I was worried it’s going to be like a Sexy Craig thing. So I’m happy it was a cappella because Sexy Craig is not an a cappella fan.

Craig: Sexy Craig likes everything.

John: Our show this week was produced by Stuart Friedel, as always. Our editing is by Matthew Chilelli. Thank you, Matthew.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Our outro this week is by Kim Atle. If you have an idea for an outro for our shows, something that uses the [hums theme] you can write into That’s also where you can send in questions like the question we answered from Jenny today.

On Twitter, we are @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. If you are on iTunes, please stop by and leave us a review because those help us out a lot and help other people find the show. There, you can also download the Scriptnotes app which gives you access to all the back catalog shows.

Many people have written in saying, “Hey, I missed the 200 episode USB drives.” So we’re going to make a make a few more of those. So they’re not quite in the store yet, but I will let you know when they are back up in the store, so you can purchase them and listen to all 200 episodes of our show up to this point.

Craig, thank you so much for a fun episode.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: All right. See you soon.

Craig: Bye.


How to Not Be a Jerk

Tue, 08/04/2015 - 08:03

Craig and John look at best practices for screenwriters promoting their films, both in traditional media and online. We’re not subtweeting anyone, and neither should you.

Also this week: more on reshoots, Stretch Armstrong and selective editing of quotes in movie reviews.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 208: How descriptive audio works — Transcript

Fri, 07/31/2015 - 14:23

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hey, this is John. So today’s episode has some explicit language. So if you’re traveling in a car with children, you may not want to listen to this episode in the car where your kids could hear it. Thanks.

Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

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

Today on the show, we are going to be looking at narrative audio description and how that all works. We’re going to look at the WGA financial numbers and see what that means for screenwriters and for television writers. And we are going to answer a bunch of listener questions.

But first, last week on the show, we talked about Scriptnotes t-shirts.

Craig: Yeah.

John: There’s nothing more revelatory about what your audience thinks of you than what designs they send at you.

Craig: I can’t.

John: Looking through the initial batch of ideas –

Craig: [laughs] I don’t want to know. How bad is it?

John: Well, there’s a lot of Sexy Craig.

Craig: Oh well, as well there should be.

John: There’s a lot of typed pages. And typed pages like seemed a good idea for a podcast about screenwriting, but I don’t know that anybody really wants to read your shirt closely. So we’ll see if that’s the winning idea.

Craig: People don’t want to read screenplays either. [laughs] So I don’t want to read shirts.

John: [laughs] And there are a few references to Stuart. So I put a link to that in the Workflowy so you can see one of the Stuart shirts because Stuart is really the unvoiced third voice of the Scriptnotes podcast.

But if you have an idea for a Scriptnotes t-shirt that you would desperately want to see, you can go visit and there are full instructions about sort of what we’re looking for and what we’re not looking for and sort of best practices and guidelines. Deadline is August 11th, so you have a few more weeks to figure out your ideal Scriptnotes t-shirt design.

Craig: Great. I can’t wait to see at least one or two of the Sexy Craig drawings. I mean you’re going to send them to me, right?

John: Yes, I will send to you the ones that are especially not safe for work.

Craig: You know who is not at all interested in Sexy Craig t-shirts?

John: Who’s that?

Craig: Sexy Craig. You don’t have to –

John: Does Sexy Craig not wear t-shirts?

Craig: No, he doesn’t have time for t-shirts.

John: All right, he’s too busy smoking and hanging out.

Craig: Well, it’s not what he’s doing, John. He’s busy though. Oh, he’s busy.

John: He’s probably busy playing Capitals. So your One Cool Thing last week was this game Capitals for iOS.

Craig: [laughs] That’s Nerdy Craig.

John: That’s Nerdy Craig. Nerdy Craig has beaten me probably four times I think in Capitals.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Right now we’re in the middle of an endless game that will, I mean –

Craig: [laughs] It’s, here’s what basically was happening is –

John: Through the next century, we’ll be playing this game.

Craig: I am denying John. He is going to win this game. It’s inevitable.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But I’m doing that — it’s like Masada. I’m basically now at the top of the hill [laughs] and at the very last moment, I’ll kill myself. But I’m going to make him lose — yeah, it’s 300. I’m the 300 Spartans. You’re Xerxes.

John: So I would say after a week of playing this game, my observation and my biggest criticism is that it falls into like a consistent kind of game design trap of once you’re ahead, it’s very hard to not stay ahead and sort of conversely, once you fall behind, it’s very unlikely that you’re ever going to win the game. So classically Risk is that kind of game. Monopoly, if you play the endless version of Monopoly, it’s sort of this game.

And I’m frustrated by Capitals for that reason, is that basically once you get into a position like we are in in this game, it’s just going to be a long, long stalemate.

Craig: Well, okay, but here’s the thing, what if I win?

John: If you win, then you’ve proven to be the exception to the rule and therefore, you know, you’re the underdog story perhaps.

Craig: That’s right.

John: And maybe there’s a narrative arc that you could find from your sudden victory in Capitals, but I have a feeling it’s just going to be a long slog because both of us are going to be play incredibly defensively in order to make this game go on forever.

Craig: Well, yeah. What I’m hoping for is that I get a random splash of letters that lets me break through.

John: All right.

Craig: And if I can do that –

John: You’re waiting for the miracle. You’re waiting for the sudden eclipse that sort of terrifies the soldiers and they flee and therefore you’re able to charge across the board and somehow capture my little castle dude.

Craig: You ask me for a miracle, I give you the FBI.

John: Very nice. Our second bit of follow up is also about capitals. This is a letter from Michael W. who writes, “It really hit me hard when Craig said that he was in favor of capitalizing whatever you want in a screenplay when in reference to the Aliens screenplay. This is without a doubt my biggest pet peeve in screenwriting. I don’t understand why it happens so often.

“Surely, you want the capitalization to really stand out and mean something. Whenever I see capitalization used more than once per page, especially if there seems to be no real pattern to what gets a cap, it just comes across as obnoxious and irritating, almost like a person who thinks that shouting random words in their sentences is a great way to get people to listen to them.

“I’m a big fan of caps when used sparingly. But when it feels like the text is in caps, to me, it just feels like a cheap gimmick that gets really old quickly and makes me want to pay less interest. So why the love of random caps, Craig? Why?”

Craig: Well, obviously, when I’m writing for the studio that Michael W. owns, I really pull back on those caps because I’m very concerned with what makes — what feels like a cheap gimmick to Michael W. and what gets old really quickly and makes Michael W. want to pay less interest. [laughs]

Normally, however, I’m not working for the studio that Michael W. owns. I work for the other studios and they don’t seem to mind. And so this here, this right here, we have an example, John, of someone who has externalized that their internal taste to the world. They have determined that because they loathe something, surely it is wrong and the rest of the world also loathes it. No.

Here’s my biggest pet hate [laughs] in opinionating. People who have a strong opinion and think it matters. I understand you don’t like it. If I were writing this letter, I would’ve written this letter, “I’m really surprised that you like that. For some reason, I hate it. It just strikes me wrong. But I get that other people seem to like it. So my question is, have you ever run across anybody in your professional life who’s pushed back on that or not?” That would be a good question.

John: It would be a great question.

Craig: It would be a really good question because then it would be relevant to other people instead of externalizing your individual [laughs] opinion to the world, you would be trying to find a consensus in pragmatic use for our podcast time together, Michael W., but you have failed to do that. So my response to you is –

John: I would love to answer the rephrased question that Craig just asked. And that I do feel like there are times in which one writer’s personal style can be to the detriment of his or her work being taken the best possible way.

And I think there is generally a band of which, you know, a certain amount of capitalization is fine up to that point and more than that, people will just sort of tune you out. And I think, you know, there are individual writer voices. Individual writer of voices are wonderful things as we write movies for Hollywood studios.

There is a — I find a fairly wide band of sort of what you can do in those pages in order to make it come across well to an average reader.

One thing I think we talked about on the show before is, Craig, have you gone in and done a rewrite and the writer before you had a very different page style than you did and you had to either adapt to their page style or go through and change the whole script, you know, the scene description to match your style.

Craig: Yeah, it just ends up frequently that on rewrites I am starting — often at times I’m starting from scratch. But there have been times, a really weird instance on The Huntsman where someone had come in to just do a week while I was off doing another thing. And then I had to come back to finish. And the stuff that they had done in the week, now we are in production, right?

So I’m looking at some of the things and I’m like, okay, that’s fine, but I just — I don’t like the way he does his dashes and his dot-dots. And there’s like a weird extra space between two words, it’s just a mistake. But if I fix it, it’s a changed page.

John: You’re not going to do that.

Craig: I didn’t do it. But God, I wanted to. It was driving me crazy. But yeah, I think that if you are working on something, I have done something where I needed to sort of fit in. I don’t try and fit into their style. I have to do what I’m doing. People are paying me to do whatever I can do.

So to me, where I need to fit in stylistically is with the characters’ voices. That’s the area where people will notice. But people in the audience will not notice that I describe things somewhat differently. My job now behind the scenes is to get everybody on the same page in terms of what the intention is.

You know, I don’t care if my three pages in the middle of your script look a little different in terms of how things are described. I just need to know that in terms of the choices that are made and the words the people say and the tone of the material on screen that it is seamless.

John: Yeah, I think that’s a good working rule is to try to make sure that you’re consistently carrying the torch of what an audience actually experiences. And if the scene description is not a cohesive experience throughout the entire script, that’s maybe not the most crucial thing.

Craig: Yeah.

John: There have been times where I have come in and I’m literally just going to be there for two days, I’m just working on one specific little thing. And if the other writer has a much more bombastic style, I will adapt to their bombastic style just so that the scene won’t feel weird.

Craig: Right.

John: Especially if you’re doing a lot of action sequences. And there’s some project in which the Wibberleys and I were both working on it sort of separately, but they were really the primary force there. And they are much bigger all caps, underlines, you know, some bold face in there. And I’ll happily do that when that is the case.

It also reminds me of TV shows tend to have house styles for how their scripts read and look so that it feels the same episode after episode no matter who wrote the episode. And so classically both the Damon Lindelof shows and the J.J. Abrams shows, they use a lot of fucking in the scene description. And so a giant fucking explosion will happen.

We just posted in Weekend Read the pilot script for Once Upon a Time by Kitsis and Horowitz. And they are from that camp. And so they use fucking all the time in their things and like this script had like seven fuckings in it just for like a 60-minute pilot.

And when we posted it, Adam Horowitz was like mortified. He’s like, “Oh, I can send you the cleaned up version that we use for when we’re having people sign scripts and stuff like that.”

Craig: Right.

John: “Doesn’t have all the F-bombs in it.” It’s like, no, it’s really how they write their scripts. It’s like they need the F-words in there to sell the scale of what those moments are like.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Both styles are fine.

Craig: I will do that at times. I don’t do that often. But maybe once or twice in the screenplay where I know it’s not meant to be rated R, I’ll still in description, you know, I might have somebody say, you know, she stares at him, “What the fuck?” You know, what the fuck is an incredibly evocative phrase. It puts a face on a character in your mind. You immediately know so much about what they’re thinking and how they’re supposed to look. It’s just really terse. You know, it’s a good way to quickly state something without any confusion in the reader.

I mean when it comes to this capitalization stuff, I’ve read screenplays from all sorts of people and while there are always little things that are like, “Oh, I wouldn’t, you know, I don’t do my thing like this. And I don’t do mine like that,” I’ve never read a script where I thought, “What’s with so — there’s so many capitalized words. My God, half the page is capitalized. I’ve never seen anyone even come close to that.”

Michael W. doesn’t want more than one per page which seems just like the most arbitrary and frankly dumb thing I’ve ever heard, like why? Why is two a problem? What does that even mean? This is a bad question. It’s not a question.

John: That’s not a question. It’s just like a statement or opinion, phrased as a question.

Craig: No, no. Yeah, he basically just wanted to do like his own version of an umbrage rant and then end it with, so why the love of random caps to make it officially a question. But look, Michael, I got to tell you, this isn’t how you do umbrage. You need a whole class [laughs] on umbrage because I’m not believing it. I don’t believe it. You’re not feeling it, man.

John: So what is the guidelines for umbrage? I think you need to firmly state your opinion and then like categorically break down the reasons why you have this opinion, sort of restate your opinion more strongly, and express moral outrage that somebody could have an opinion that is opposite than yours. Is that a schema? Is that a sort of way of thinking about an umbrage rant?

Craig: It’s not bad. Like it’s your understanding of it, which is really [laughs] interesting. But to me, it has to start with a kernel of something that you hold very true and near and dear to you. And then you have to see that other people are just denying it. They’re denying it. And they’re doing so in a way that is causing themselves and other people problems.

The umbrage isn’t about I have an opinion and the rest of the world needs to agree with me. I see things all the time, like, “I don’t like that.” But who gives a crap if I don’t like it? “I don’t like this sandwich.” That’s not umbrage material. “You capitalize too much.” That’s not umbrage material.

Umbrage material is more like, you’ve decided that the best way to go about something is to do A, B and C, and I’m telling you you’re hurting yourself and others. That’s umbrage material. I’m getting angry now thinking about my hypothetical example that only has A, B and C in it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s an emotional place. You have to understand, it’s an emotional [laughs] place I can occupy. You know, like some actors can just cry on the spot?

John: Oh yeah, I’m a good crier actually.

Craig: There you go. I can’t do that, but I can become furious in a second.

John: That’s nice. And is it that you’re imagining the hypotheticals or you’re imagining the conversations or you’re imagining the other side of the argument? Is that how you’re getting to that furious place?

Craig: I’m literally just placing myself in the emotional space of watching somebody do something that is hurting themselves or other people. And I have a thing in my brain, I don’t believe you have, John, [laughs], it’s just another area in my brain that begins to pulsate and send out signals and it’s that — you see people don’t understand. The umbrage is not about this kind of snotty, hypercritical view of the world. I’m the opposite of — I’m hypocritical of art and personal expressions. I don’t care, like I — people were sending around, “Oh my God, you got to see this. This guy goes on this amazing rant about Pixels and totally takes it down.”

Well, I’m not going to watch that because I don’t give a shit. Oh my God, a guy worked himself up into a fake frenzy over a fucking movie? A movie for fucking 13-year-olds and that’s what you’re going to do, adult man? [laughs] You’re going to go out and you’re going to go crazy about that?” Something’s gone wrong with you and I don’t care. It’s not for you. What drives me crazy is the other stuff. It’s when I watch my union say, “We’ve got a great idea.” And I go, “No, you’re going to hurt people with that.” That’s what makes me crazy.

John: I want to briefly defend the Pixels rants because I was, like you, convinced like, “Oh come on, what are you complaining about?” Like this is the Pixels movie. And then Stuart watched it, so I actually watched it and I actually found there were moments of artistry within his anger that was not really manufactured, but actually a true expression of loss and sadness. That’s why I found that one to be interesting, but I agree with you the general sense of angry nerd ranting, there’s a column in Wired called Angry Nerd which is just that manufactured umbrage.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Which is just completely fake. It’s as fake as –

Craig: It’s fake.

John: A listicle in BuzzFeed.

Craig: And I’m sorry. If you legitimately have honest, sad, torn up feelings over fucking Pixels, then you need meds. You need meds. Meds. Meds. [laughs] Now, I’m getting angry. Getting angry about that.

John: Our next bit follow up. In last week’s episode, we talked about audio description for films and TV shows designed for the vision impaired or the blind and we really knew almost nothing about it. And our question was whether the people who are writing this description are using a script or if they’re just watching the filmed product and writing the description based on that. And so the minute the podcast went up, we had a bunch of emails from people who actually did this for a living and they were incredibly helpful, so I did a follow-up blog post which I’ll put into the show notes about that.

The short version of it is it’s really based on what shows up on screen and they’re very carefully tailoring the things they say and to fit them in small pauses to really give you the best experience of what this would be like if you were actually being able to watch the finished product. It’s an incredibly difficult job obviously because you are trying to, you know, with very limited time and resources create the experience of watching a thing when you only have audio. As screenwriters, we’re doing everything that we can to describe a movie with what people see and what we hear. Here, we have to take away all those visions and that’s an interesting challenge.

So I wanted to actually play examples because it was really strange to talk about something without being able to hear it. So here are two examples from Daredevil. So Daredevil is a TV show on Netflix. It was actually controversial when it first launched because the audio descriptions weren’t ready and so then they added them later on and they’re really good. So first I want to play you a scene from the pilot and this is just what you would see on screen, so just the audio that would actually match with the video that you would see.

(Daredevil scene begins)

[Girls screaming]

Turk Barrett: Hey, hey. Man, shut up. I’m getting $1,000 a head for y’all. So, you be quiet, I’ll let you have a bucket. You don’t — .

[Girls screaming]

Man: [Speaking Foreign Language]

Turk Barrett: Scream all you want. Come on, let me hear you scream. Scream louder. Nobody gives a shit down here. [laughs]

(Daredevil scene ends)

John: Okay. So, Craig, I think that we can safely assume that you’ve not seen the pilot for Daredevil because you watch no television.

Craig: Right, it’s on television, so you had a 99.9% chance.

John: All right, so let’s — just based on what you heard there, what do you think is happening in that scene?

Craig: Okay. There’s a bad guy. He’s black, I’m guessing from his voice. He’s got hostages. One of them has asked for a bucket, [laughs] I’m not sure why. And he says he’ll give them a bucket, and then he’s tasing them. It sounds like he’s tasing them to torture them, and then he’s laughing ha-ha-ha. Then I think we switched perspective to Daredevil because I feel like I’m hearing his echo location sound effect, and I assume then he comes in, just starts beating the crap out of everybody. And yeah, that’s what I think happens.

John: And that’s actually pretty close. But now, let’s take a listen to that descriptive audio that goes with that, and it will paint a little bit more a full picture of what’s happening here.

Craig: Okay.

(Daredevil scene begins)

[Girls screaming]

Narrator: Two thugs drag three young women to a storage container on the docks. A man in a leather coat appears around the opening door.

Turk Barrett: Hey, hey. Man, shut up. I’m getting a $1,000 a head for y’all. So, you be quiet, I’ll let you have a bucket. You don’t –

Narrator: He holds up a cattle prod.

[Tasing sound]

Narrator: Then jams it into one woman’s belly while an overweight man in a lawn chair watches at the edge of the dock.

[Girls screaming] [Tasing]

Man: [Speaking foreign language]

Narrator: The injured woman and the others are shoved into the container.

Turk Barrett: Scream all you want. Come on, let me hear you scream. Scream louder. Nobody gives a shit down here. [Laughs]

Narrator: A man with a crude mask covering his head and eyes crouches behind the thug. The thug turns as the man leaps knocking him down. The cattle prod rolls on the filthy wet dock. The man stands, it’s Matt. He listens as the thugs rush in. One thug goes down instantly. The terrorized girls watch.

Matt fights the other thug. He batters the man in a storm of punches knocking him against the container door, then flipping him over onto the dock. The other creep charges getting in some hard punches before Matt knees him in the gut and headbutts him. As they fight, the leader comes too, woozily reaching into his back waist band.

Matt, crouched, swing kicks the thug, then snaps his leg at the knee. He hears the leader cock the gun. The leader turns and shoots. The masked man flings himself into a roll and grabs the cattle prod.

John: So, what did you think?

Craig: I mean, I kind of love it. It’s interesting. It’s a huge job, first of all. That’s what that I was thinking when I was listening was somebody has to write all that because that’s not the way we would write the screenplay. For starters, we won’t know all those things when we’re writing the screenplay. We won’t know exactly how the fight was going to go down. That gets structured by the stunt guys, and then sort of shown to everybody, and then done on the day, and then edited.

So, you can’t have the screenplay be as accurate as somebody describing what they’re seeing, meaning somebody is writing the description. And that’s a big job. Deciding what to say and what to not say is a big job. You picked an interesting one here because there’s not a lot of dialogue, you know, so you could see how he’s sort of getting out of the way when there is, and giving us some basic context. I like that everything — didn’t seem like they were skipping anything. So, you know, an overweight man in a lawn chair on the other side of the dock is watching. That’s information I didn’t have without the descriptive audio, and –

John: Absolutely. I think that’s crucial because like, I mean even the person who’s writing up the description for this episode doesn’t know if that man is actually going to come back and become important later on. So, you got to put him in there.

Craig: Yeah, and you’d also don’t know, even as the screenwriter, you don’t know exactly when you’re going to cut to that guy. I mean you might have an indication when you’re going to cut, but then in the editing room things happen, so again it’s all done after the fact as far as I could tell. It reminds me a little bit of like a book on tape because you immediately start painting your own visual picture in your head. I can see the shipping container. I liked that it was the wet filthy ground instead of just the ground. You know, so I liked that they were adding things that helped the mind paint that image. It was cool.

John: It was cool. And I thought it was actually really well performed like that the narrator they use for this does a great job. So the Daredevil pilot was written by Drew Goddard who’s amazingly talented. I’m trying to find the credit of the guy who or the people who wrote up the descriptive audio for it because I thought they did a great job too.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And I agree with you that it’s not — you know, when it got into the fight sequence, I wondered if they might have looked at what the text was from the fight as written on the page because like some of those flurry of blows, that kind of stuff, that felt scene description-y. I can see that being part of the fight scene description, but it’s never going to be so directly matching what the fight choreography was going to be. So, you know, I thought it was really well done.

Craig: Yeah, like maybe they take what’s in the script and then remove bits that have been edited out and kind of add things in that were done on the day. You know, so they use the script as a basis and then kind of go from there.

John: So, what Daredevil makes clear is that writing this descriptive audio is not easy. And I wanted to talk to somebody who did this for a living. So, yesterday I got on Skype with Alice Sanders in London. Alice, thank you so much for being with us.

Alice Sanders: My pleasure.

John: So, can you tell us some of the movies you’ve worked on?

Alice: Oh, I’ve worked on so many films. One of my favorites to describe was Up, the Pixar film. I’ve worked on Inception, and Bridesmaids. I tend to get given a lot of comedy films or films for kids. I did Nanny McPhee because apparently I have a light-hearted comedy voice. So you tend to write the films that you also voice, but that’s not always the case.

John: So, at what point does a film come to you for descriptive audio?

Alice: Well, normally when it’s completely finished, although again, that is not always the case. We have had films that have not had all their special effects and stuff finished, which obviously makes it very difficult to describe properly because we need to see everything in order to describe it for visually impaired people.

John: So, which company do you actually work for? Is it one place that does all of it for movies or is it different companies contract out?

Alice: No. Well, I work for Deluxe, but obviously I work in London. And I know that Deluxe in L.A. also does movies, but their movie audio description will be different to the British one.

John: So, for each market — so, the U.K. English versus the American English would have different descriptive audio?

Alice: Absolutely. The actual writing will tend to be very similar, although obviously there’ll be a few words that are different like, you know, lift and elevator and all those kind of things. But also the American one will have an American voice and the British one will have a British voice.

John: So, let’s take the movie Up. So, this movie comes to you for descriptive audio, what is the first thing you do?

Alice: The first thing I do is open the clip and start watching it. I don’t watch the film before I start describing it, but I don’t describe it in real time because that would be impossibly difficult. So, what you do is you pause the film. I mean you can stop, and rewind and fast forward, you know, wherever you like.

And then what you start to do is you time in what I would call a box, which is a single description. And obviously you do it between dialogue, so the shortest description would tend to be a second, you wouldn’t go under that. But you can have anything up to, you know, well even minutes and minutes of silence in a film, although you would tend to break that up into descriptions rather than record kind of five minutes straight of audio description.

John: So, when you do this process, are you typing up a document or is this in specialized software?

Alice: It’s in specialized software, which is also used for subtitling. On the program, we can time in a box to the exact frame of the film. So, I could have a box that was like one second. I could have a box that was like 38 seconds and four frames.

John: And so, once you have this box described, you’re writing up the description for what the narrator is ultimately going to say in that space?

Alice: Exactly. So, once you’ve timed in the box, then you write the description. And so, the description will include anything that’s going on visually really. If you have a short space, then what you’re trying to get in is the relevant piece of information for a visually impaired person to understand what is happening in the film conceptually like plot-wise.

John: Now, are there any cases where you have to sort of move a piece of information from one time period to another time period because there wasn’t a space there to get that crucial detail in there? The Daredevil thing we just listened to, there was like a man sitting in a chair by the river. And it felt like it wasn’t especially important that you establish that now, as long you establish it in the scene. So do you ever slide where you describe something?

Alice: As much as possible, you try to get it in at the moment that it’s happening because you almost always describe in present tense or present tense continuous. But occasionally, of course, that happens. So there’ll be dialogue over a very important action. And then you can do something in past tense.

John: Describing in the present tense, screenplays are also written in the present tense. Do you ever look at the original screenplay for the movie as you’re doing the descriptions?

Alice: Yes. If we have the script, that’s really, really helpful because, first of all, it will give you all the characters’ names. Because what you’re doing when you’re audio describing as well is, this sounds like a silly thing to say, but we’re trying to understand what’s going on as quickly as possible, which I guess you’re doing as a viewer of a movie.

But as an audio describer, you sort of have to be one step ahead. So you get very good at quickly understanding like a plot or a character and stuff like that. But having a script means that you have all the character names so that you can correctly identify characters easily. If you have a, what’s it called, like a spotting script, you’ll have visual directions as well, which of course are really, really useful to us because it’s not always really obvious where you are all the time.

John: What was the most difficult movie you had to describe?

Alice: The most [laughs] difficult film I have ever described, without a doubt, is David Lynch’s Inland Empire.

John: And why was it difficult?

Alice: Have you seen Inland Empire?

John: I have seen it. It feels like you would have a very hard time explaining what was on the screen.

Alice: So there were so many reasons that it was hard. I’m a massive Lynch fan, but it is a deeply weird movie even for Lynch. So you have these scenes where there are sort of like human-like figures but with bunny heads kind of interspersed into the other plot. I call it a plot. I mean, it’s certainly not a linear or obvious story.

The other thing that was really, really hard was that there’s two characters that are actors who also play a role that has a different name. So, essentially, they’re playing two characters. And at a certain point in the movie, you can no longer be certain whether they’re the actor or the role. You know, they switch between the two characters sort of fluidly and you don’t really know.

And so it’s the only time ever, really, in an audio description that I’ve broken the fourth wall because I just didn’t know anymore. So I just was like, “Listen, guys, it might be this character or this character. I mean, I’ll choose a name but, you know, from here on in, you can decide for yourself because I don’t know anymore.”

John: Well, it sounds like the descriptive audio is trying to make something that is potentially ambiguous and make it less ambiguous. So someone who’s listening to just the soundtrack might not really know what’s going on. And so your job is to make it more clear what’s going on.

And in the case of Inland Empire, you just can’t do that because you, yourself as a viewer, have no clear sense of what is supposed to be happening and what the audience is supposed to be feeling.

Alice: Absolutely.

John: Do you ever use wes or like do you use the second person plural? In screenwriting, we often will fall back to ‘we see’, ‘we hear’, ‘we do this’, or is it just simple present tense scene description?

Alice: We tend to avoid that [laughs] because I think sometimes it can take you out of the moment almost. We tend to also avoid using any kind of technical language about shots or, you know, camera angles or anything like that. We may very, very rarely use those if it’s extremely relevant. Like, for example, in a kind of 3D thing, if something leaps out at you. Or if maybe somebody turns to the camera and sort of like addresses the camera directly, we might say that because that’s quite an unusual thing to happen in a film. But, yeah, we tend to just present tense, very simple.

John: Great. Alice, how does somebody get your job?

Alice: [laughs] Well, I just did a writing test and a voice test to get my job. Obviously, you have to be quite a good writer, she says bidding herself up. You have to be very concise a lot of the time because you’ll have so little time and you really have to get across those salient points for a visually impaired person to be able to understand the film.

You also have to sound fairly decent on a microphone. And I think sometimes having a nice voice isn’t always enough. I think it took me a while, actually, to sound natural on a microphone. At first, I think I was quite nervous. But audio descriptions should sort of fit in with the film. It shouldn’t jolt you out of the film. So you should be able to kind of weave in and out quite naturally, which is actually also more difficult than it sounds I think.

John: When you’re writing this description, how often are you going to be the person who’s doing the narration versus another person?

Alice: They tend to try and give you films that you will voice because it’s much easier to — because what you do when you record is, again, the software will queue you up to every description but only sort of a second or two seconds before each run. So if you’re reading your own work, it is of course much easier because you sort of have an idea of what’s coming up. You know, you don’t know it off by heart but you know what you’ve written.

Whereas if you’re sight-reading someone else’s work, that’s quite difficult. So they do try to give you the writing if you’re going to record. But it doesn’t always work out like that.

John: Are there cases where a movie will have a lot of women characters in it and they therefore would want to have a man be the other voice so no one gets confused or people just can sort that out?

Alice: Well, no, absolutely. And the film companies will often choose the voice of the film. So they might get sent a few samples. And, yeah, they definitely sometimes choose, you know, a man because it’s mainly women and therefore to sort of, yeah, differentiate. But, again, like I said, I sort of get chosen for a lot of lighthearted things because apparently I sound lighthearted even though I’m a very serious person. And normally, you’ll probably get a man doing an action film and a woman doing a rom-com and that kind of thing.

John: That’s great. Alice, thank you so much for talking us through this. I understand this so much better than I did five minutes ago.

Alice: [laughs] That’s good, great.

John: Great. Alice, thank you.

Alice: You’re welcome.

John: And that is descriptive audio. So, thank you to everybody who wrote in with suggestions and especially for people who put me in contact with Alice to talk about what it was like to write descriptive audio, a thing I knew nothing about and a week later, I know so much more.

Craig: Yeah. That’s a big job.

John: Big job.

Craig: You know, there’s this other hidden job that I would love for you and I — you know what, I just had an idea, John. John, every now and then, I have an idea. So you write a movie, the movie gets made. And then as we all know, the movie play overseas. What we forget is that all across the world, in many, many, many countries, there are people whose job is to dub the movie. Most American movies play overseas dubbed, I believe. I mean, you can probably find some subtitled versions, too.

But the people who dub in the other languages, that’s a fascinating gig because they have to essentially do this really quickly. Sometimes, you know, with the way things are released, they maybe have two weeks to dub an entire movie. And then translation is a real art. You know, especially in comedy, you have a line, it’s a joke but it’s based on wordplay, how do you translate that? How does it make sense?

I’d love to get somebody on who does that for a living, to talk to them about how they go through the way the screenplay is showing through the movie and how they turn that into another language.

John: So, luckily, I know several people who do this for a living.

Craig: Really?

John: Yeah. These are French friends who do it. And your instinct is right in that in many markets, movies are dubbed. In many markets, movies are subtitled. But often, the people who would do subtitling are not the same people who do dubbing.

Craig: Right.

John: And it’s a completely complicated, crazy world in which they work. But, yes, I can get them on the air and they would be fantastic. One of them, Mannu, actually did a blog post for me, talking through what his process was. So I’ll put a link to Mannu’s post in the show notes.

Craig: Well, great.

John: But we’ll get either him or my friend, Fred, on to talk about that job because it is really crazy. And so my husband, Mike, who speaks French, sometimes Mannu will email Mike saying like, “What does this joke even mean?”

Craig: [laughs]

John: Like, essentially, he’s looking at an American movie, he’s like, “I’m trying to understand what this is actually supposed to be.”

Craig: Right.

John: And Mike will give him some sense of what it could be and so then Mannu has to find the French equivalent.

Craig: What if Mike just had no sense of humor?

John: That would be awesome.

Craig: Yeah. So he would just guess at what it meant. It’s so confusing for the world over.

John: Yeah. Well, I think what’s also interesting, the difference between people who are doing dubbing and subtitling versus descriptive audio is that the dubbers and subtitlers are almost invariably, they are native speakers of the language they are converting into. So they speak English but they’re converting it into French or Arabic or some other language.

People who are doing descriptive audio necessarily need to be sighted so they can see what’s actually happening there but they also need to be able to experience the movie as a blind person would experience it. So the people who wrote in with their experiences about how they did it, some of them would talk about like watching something with the picture turned off just to see like what was there and what you could get with no visual information.

Craig: It’s a great idea. Right, like you think to yourself, “Okay, I almost need to see it.” I mean, I assume with practice, that’s no longer necessary. But to watch it first without the picture and then see what emerged from you, well, that difference is what you’re filling in. Very cool.

John: Cool.

Craig: Very cool.

John: All right, onto this week’s show with some questions from listeners. Rick Silcox asks, “As a follow-up to the discussion about getting ideas from the media such as FIFA, can you talk about your processes for vetting your ideas? How much will you develop an idea in your head before you decide to start writing it or drop the idea? Once you’ve started writing, what will make you give up on the idea? Do you ever truly give up on a notion or do you keep it in mind in case some new revelation comes along?”

So, Craig, what is your vetting process for an idea?

Craig: Well, I would say there is the left brain vetting and the right brain vetting. The left brain needs to feel like there is a through line that can be followed where the end is a commentary on the beginning, that the process and journey of the movie will be interesting, and there will be places for characters to evolve and change, and that the premise of the movie is fertile ground for stuff to happen.

And that’s all good. But then there’s the right brain vetting which is, “Do I love this or is this just something I could do? Am I excited? Is this getting me going? Do I want to write this?” You know, early on in your career, you have to kind of shut your right brain down a little bit because you’re starving and you need to pay your rent. And so you’re like, “Well, I don’t love this but I could do it. So I will left brain my way through this. And maybe as I do it, I will come to love it. I will grow to love it.”

But, yeah, ideally, you want to have both. So I do drop ideas. I have ideas sometimes that people are like, “Yeah, we’d buy that.” And I think, “Great, let me just get to the place where I feel like I would be able to write it for sure.” And sometimes I don’t. And then I say, “Well, I’m not going to do it,” you know, because it doesn’t seem like something that would delight me.

And there’s only so many things you can write. We’re all on a clock. I’ve wasted a lot of time writing a lot of stuff I didn’t want to write. That’s the God’s honest truth. So I try now more than ever to only write things I do want to write.

John: Yeah. I completely understand that sense of lost time writing things that seemed like a good idea to write. It’s like your left brain convinces you like, “Oh, you should totally write that.” And I knew I could write that but it really wasn’t the thing I should have written. And there were some years that have been lost to sort of writing the wrong thing.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And some of those movies got made, some of those movies didn’t get made. Most of those movies didn’t get made. And on some level, it was I think in part because I didn’t fundamentally love them.

Craig: Honestly, it’s worse when they do get made. God’s honest truth, that’s the worst because then you’re sitting there like, “Why did no one stop this thing?” [laughs]

John: [laughs] One of my crucial questions for myself is, would I pay to see this movie? And if I wouldn’t pay to see this movie, then I have no business writing it. And that’s just a very simple gut check for me.

There was a project that got offered in my direction. I won’t say it was fully offered to me but like they said, “Hey, would you be interested in writing this thing?” And it was very tantalizing because it was very high profile kind of thing. And yet, as I had the phone call conversations with it and sort of went through it, I couldn’t fundamentally see myself being happy writing this movie three years from now.

And you have to approach any project like that as, you know, a multiyear commitment. And I just didn’t see myself necessarily wanting to spend all those years on this project to the exclusion of other projects. I mean, everything you say yes to is something else you’re saying no to. And the opportunity cost of this one was just higher than I was willing to spend.

That’s part of the reason why I think some writers in our position end up rewriting a bunch of other little things because the opportunity cost seems so much smaller to just spend a couple of weeks on something. It’s when you’ve done a couple of weeks on a bunch of things, you realize like, “Oh, wow, I could have written a whole other script in the time that I’ve been tinkering with these other people’s movies.”

Craig: I know. Yeah. I mean, people always wonder, “Why don’t they write original things anymore?” Well, because when you get the little jobs and they say, “Here, come on board for two weeks or three weeks,” in a weird way, there’s no pressure. People are saying, “Help us.” And you can definitely help in two or three weeks, always, you know.

I mean, if you’re decent, you’re hopefully not one of those people that’s going to make it go backwards but let’s say you don’t, you know what to do, you feel comfortable with it and you can make it go forward, it’s only two or three weeks of your life. That’s no big deal. And, you know, they pay you pretty well for those things. And you don’t have a sense of loss over it.

If someone says, “Oh, we just don’t like the thing you did on this part of it,” okay, I’ll change that. I mean, I get it. I’m here to visit for two or three weeks. You don’t feel the pain.

A lot of times, those jobs are like, they’re all ups and no downs. The only down is that, you know, you’re servicing something for two or three weeks and that’s not necessarily the kind of thing that you can do all the time. I mean, ultimately, Hollywood will ask you to do that stuff all the time, until one day, they go, “This guy is just one of those guys that just keeps taking from our plate. [laughs] What is he going to give?”

So you have to do both. And it’s tricky. These days, a lot of what I think about with my ideas is who would be the right person to collaborate on with this, whether it’s a director or a producer or an actor. And if I can think of the right person, then that also gets me excited because a lot of the work that I’ve done that I’ve been happiest with has been the product of good relationships.

John: That makes a lot of sense. Part of my vetting process is, “Can I write a trailer for it?” which seems really strange but like I have to have a sense of like I know what this movie would feel like on a screen. I know what somebody would see that would make them want to come spend, you know, $15 to see this on the big screen.

And so writing the trailer early on is sort of a crucial first step for me. Something I said in the 100th episode of Scriptnotes was I write the movie that has the best ending. And so if I don’t have a sense of where this movie is going to end up, I won’t start writing it.

And the last thing which has been really helpful for me is describing it to Kelly Marcel because for whatever reason, if Kelly Marcel is enthusiastic about something I’m thinking about writing, I suddenly want to write it because I want to keep Kelly happy.

Craig: She’s an amazing cheerleader that way. I’ve pitched many things over time to her and she’s just naturally very supportive about that stuff. Although, have you gotten like the anti-Marcel, like has she ever kind of just gotten heavy-lidded and like, “No?”

John: [laughs] You know, it was so funny because when you started to describe the anti-Marcel, I saw like a sadness in her eyes and I knew exactly what you were going for. Yes, I have seen that sort of like, you know, “Oh, yeah, I just felt my heart sink a little bit.” But those can be useful, too.

Craig: And then she went, “Um, John, um, I don’t know. I don’t know.” Yeah.

John: [laughs]

Craig: But that’s useful, too.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: You know, you said a couple of things that I definitely do. I definitely think of the trailer. Specifically, I think of trailer moments because like I’ll go, all right, my left brain is good enough to know to not start writing something that you couldn’t make a trailer out of. But I’m looking for those moments where the trailer exceeds expectations and basically turns things on its head a little bit for people and they go, “Wait, what?” you know.

So that’s always useful. And the ending is everything. So, like you, I’m obsessed with the ending. And in fact, this thing I’m working on right now, you know, for months I’ve been thinking there’s something wrong with this beginning because I know what the ending is supposed to be but this beginning will never earn me that ending. And I kind of just had a meltdown about it two days ago and then went, “Oh, wait, wait, wait, I know what to do with this beginning.” And it’s the smallest thing and it will make me earn my ending and I’m happy now.

But until that happens, how do you proceed, you know? I need to know. The beginning and the ending is the movie. That’s the point of a movie.

John: Yeah. All right, next question. Will in San Diego writes, “I’m just starting to write my first screenplay. I wish to include the use of a specific song in my piece. Can I put the song in the screenplay and just change it later if necessary?”

Simple answer. What’s the simple answer, Craig?

Craig: Yes.

John: Yes, you may. You may cite the use of a specific song in your screenplay that is completely fine and fair use and no one will look askance. Does that mean that that song will necessarily be in the movie? No. But does it help the reader get a sense of what that section of the screenplay feels like? Sure, it could help.

Don’t make your screenplay be like a playlist because that is annoying. To me, my pet peeve is like capitalization, like that’s the thing where it’s like, “Come on, I’m reading a screenplay not a playlist.” But if the use of that song helps, go for it.

Craig: Yeah. I think that what can strike a reader as amateurish is when you’ve got multiple scenes showing, say, a car driving down the road and we hear China Grove from The Doobie Brothers. You know, like, well, yes, we could hear a typical driving rock song there or another driving rock song. Don’t give me generic choices. If you’re going to do it, it has to be very purposeful.

Now, interesting, you got to find this weird middle space. It can’t be generic. It has to be purposeful. But it can’t be something that — at least I would recommend strongly that it’s not something that indicates to a buyer we absolutely must get this song because it’s now a plot point, you know.

Like in Cowboy Ninja Viking, there was this moment where the camera was sort of floating through this abandoned mental hospital. There is an abandoned hospital on — I’m not going to say where it is because I don’t want to give away my secret location. But this very cool, like from 1910, 1920 abandoned mental hospital.

And I wanted something that wasn’t like just creepy score. I didn’t want it to feel horror movie. I wanted it to feel like kind of odd and I wanted to comment on thematically what was going on with the main character who is about to enter this place.

And I’m a big Pink Floyd fan and there’s this great Pink Floyd song called If. And it’s, you know, as far as Floyd goes, it’s fairly obscure. Not a lot of people know it but it has these really beautiful lyrics and this really beautiful feeling to it, so I included that. I even included the lyrics because I felt like I’m writing a visual montage and I’m suggesting that this is sort of the tone that we would go for so that you understand how it feels.

And that’s okay. It doesn’t mean it has to be that song, but it’s not a generic song.

John: Yeah. In my script for Dark Shadows, there’s a section in which Barnabas Collins kills all the members of this terrible cult. And it is scored to Sunshine of Your Love which was just a lovely sort of counterpoint to the horrific violence of the scene. And it was a charming sequence which I wish would have shot.

And that’s the case where they probably would have used that song. But they didn’t have to use that song. But it gave you a good feel for what that section was supposed to feel like. It gave you a sense of what the texture of that section was.

Craig: There’s a great Sunshine of Your Love section of Goodfellas, I believe.

John: Oh, yeah.

Craig: [makes guitar sound]

John: [makes guitar sound] You know what, I said Sunshine of Your Love, I meant Age of Aquarius.

Craig: Totally different song.

John: This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius. It’s a different song.

Craig: That is a completely different song.

John: But happy in that sort of happy in the ’70s way.

Craig: Yeah, because Sunshine of Your Love actually is kind of creepy. But, yeah, Age of Aquarius is a little more upbeat and “harmony and understanding”.

John: Yeah, so when you’re decapitating people with a sword, it’s a fun choice.

Craig: Yup, that is a fun choice.

John: Brad in Maryland writes, “I’ve been working on a buddy road trip comedy between a fictional character and a celebrity from a ’90s sitcom. The celebrity character is a completely outrageous, obviously fictional portrayal. The only thing he shares with the real person is his name and a love interest from the ’90s. I don’t intend for this to be made. It’s merely a writing sample. And if it generates buzz on The Black List, that’s a plus. Am I vulnerable to a libel lawsuit if I continue down this road? I know libel needs to be false and defamatory statements of fact. But do celebrities get special treatment because of their brand?”

Craig, what do you think?

Craig: I think celebrities do get special treatment in favor of you. They’re public figures. So, essentially, they are more open to lampooning and spoofing and parodying than people that aren’t public figures. You should be fine. I mean, the basic test is, would anybody reasonably assume that what you’re suggesting in the screenplay is true and that this person has done those things?

The fact that it’s already a fictional screenplay, I mean, you can write [laughs] a fictional screenplay on the cover if you want. But, you know, the other issue is damages. Generally speaking, if somebody, let’s see, it’s a celebrity from a ’90s sitcom. I’ll go with television’s Matthew Perry.

So, Matthew, you’ve written a buddy road trip comedy about, you know, a guy who meets Matthew Perry in a bar and they go on the road. Matthew Perry finds out about this and he goes, “Oh, my god, the script is suggesting that I’m blah, blah, blah and blah, blah, blah and I’m not. And that’s defamatory.” And he runs to his lawyer and his lawyer says, “Well, yeah, but what are the damages at this point? You’re going to sue this Brad in Maryland, you know?”

And Brad, I mean, unless you’re a DuPont — oh, no, those are Delaware, aren’t they? [laughs]

John: Yeah.

Craig: So I’m just going to assume, Brad, you’re just an average American guy who has a certain amount of assets that would not be significant to the star of a ’90s sitcom, so he’s not going to want to sue you. What he would want to do is wait and sue the movie [laughs] or the studio. And so their legal department will make their process through.

I don’t think that you would be vulnerable to a libel lawsuit. I, not an attorney, do not think that you would be vulnerable. So if you want to cover that base for sure, always best to talk to a lawyer.

John: Brad, I think you have precedent on your side, too. If you look at Being John Malkovich, John Malkovich was not involved in that project until it was going to become a movie. So his name was in the title and it was not yet involving him.

Another example is Harold & Kumar. I could be wrong but I think Neil Patrick Harris was always scripted in to be that role in Harold & Kumar. And he is obviously a fictional version of himself and he decided to do it. I think it’s not a bad idea, honestly, to take — a good execution of what you’re describing could be a great writing example that people enjoy reading. And the ability to sort of, you know, tweak a known celebrity’s persona could be fine.

So, basically don’t worry about it. Forge ahead, I say.

Craig: I’m with that, yeah.

John: Do you want to take this last one?

Craig: Sure. Anthony, Anthony writes, “The New York Times just published a feature about the lawlessness of the High Seas, basically crimes that can happen onboard cargo ships on Trans-Atlantic voyages. Note, the article isn’t about pirating, as portrayed in Captain Phillips. It’s a world I probably wouldn’t have known about if not for this one specific article. In doing some more additional research, there isn’t much documentation of it elsewhere online.

It’s not a commonly known or reported world and the events that take place in a completely fictionalized story would likely resemble events referenced in the article because the article talks broadly about the types of crimes that take place onboard these ships. Because this article is essentially the only source of that information, couldn’t The New York Times, theoretically speaking, say that I infringed their copyright or not obtained the rights to the article when they feel I should have?”

John: I thought this was a really good question because it talks about that sort of murky grey line between what are just facts that are available for everyone to use and what is specific implementation of details that are protectable by copyright. And I thought this fell in a really nice zone where he couldn’t find anything that wasn’t in this article that talks about the things he wants to talk about. And so if he wants to make a movie about this specific thing, he would be well-served, I think, having the rights to this article.

Now, let’s say he liked a lot of the ideas in it but like, “But I want to set this in space,” well, just go for it. But because, to me, this felt like he wants to use some very specific details that he could only find in this article, he should strongly consider getting this article. Craig, what did you think?

Craig: It is, I would say, de rigueur for studios to pick up articles like this. In fact, somebody probably already has. And therein lies your problem, Anthony. They’ll buy the rights to these articles. When they buy the rights to the articles, I always feel like most of the time what they’re really buying is the right to the whole body of work.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because the article isn’t going to cover everything. So, all of their research, all of their sources, the ability to talk to their contacts, the contact information, it just becomes a lot easier.

Here’s a simple truth. Facts are in the public domain. So The New York Times does not own the facts in that story that they’ve reported. You may use any of those facts because they’re facts. People, so for instance, there’s a captain of one of the boats. Well, if elements of his life are suddenly appearing in your movie, that’s an issue most likely because he’s not a public figure. So you would have to get life rights.

A lot of times, what happens with articles is that agencies will represent both the article writer, the journalist, and the key person that the story is about or if there is a key person, the life rights, so that it’s all bundled together into one package so that you’re free and clear to make the movie you need to make.

In this case, I would think that you shouldn’t worry about The New York Times. You should worry about the people that The New York Times is quoting. That’s just my gut feeling. And that you should fictionalize your characters so that they’re not overlapping with real people’s lives. That becomes a problem. The facts that there are boats and these crimes take place, those facts are free and clear to all human beings.

John: I think you made some really crucial distinction in that in most cases, it’s not a screenwriter who goes out and gets the rights to a New York Times’ article, it’s a producer. It’s a producer or it’s a studio who says, we think there is a story idea here and we’re going to try to lock this down so that we can make a movie about this. And they want something they can protect and defend so that they can then hire on a writer to write them that movie.

And so a lot of movies you wouldn’t think are based on articles are based on things like this. So way back to like the John Travolta movie, Perfect, I think it’s based on like a Rolling Stone article about aerobics instructors. There’s –

Craig: Saturday Night Fever. Yeah.

John: Yeah. So there are weird examples of movies you wouldn’t think would have to be based on anything, which are based on non-fiction articles. So there is a precedent for it. Could you have made a movie like Saturday Night Fever without an underlying article? Of course, you could have. But somebody wanted to make a movie in that space and they bought that article and therefore the movie became based upon that article.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I would say in a very general sense, if you as an individual writer want to do something set in a specific world and there’s, you know, there’s limited research, but there’s one article you find. I would not set your hopes on getting the rights to that one article because you are then bound to that article and you’re bound to the underlying article rights of that article. And it just becomes complicated. The degree to which writer can control his or her complete destiny and not have any chain of title issues behind your property, you’re going be happier and better.

Craig: Yeah, I agree.

John: Cool. Last final topic for this week’s show is the WGA financial report which just came out. And Craig took a look through it. I’ve just cracked it open. But Craig, can you give us any highlights from this financial report?

Craig: Yeah, sure. It’s not good news for those of us who work in movies, I’ll tell you that much. Total earnings for writers were basically flat from the year prior, technically down 0.2%, I think that’s essentially a flat line.

And the number of writers reporting earnings, so how many of us worked, down 1% from last year overall. If you’re interested in knowing, the number of writers reporting earnings in 2014, 4,899. So just under 5,000 professional writers in the Writers Guild West. Very small amount.

John: Very small amount.

Craig: That’s it. Yeah.

John: If you want to read along with us, we’ll have a link for this in the show notes. You can see a PDF of the annual report. So the WGA is required to publish this every year to show what its members are actually earning, what’s coming in for both film and for television and in residuals.

And so the television picture is I think as we could anecdotally guess is not that bad. It was actually — there’s pretty good employment in television. If you are a writer who wanted to work in Hollywood, television would seem to be the place to go. So what’s the best numbers to look at? What’s the best chart here? Earnings and employment in screen.

Craig: Well, first we’ll say that television in terms of number of writers reporting in was sort of flat. It was up 1% and earning is up 2.3%, which is not bad. It beats the bank account these days.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But of interest is you’ve got 4,900 writers reporting earnings in Writers Guild West. Of that 4,900, a full 3,900 of them, so essentially, you know, three-quarters, right, or more are in TV. So that’s a lot. Now, there are some that write in TV and movies, so there’s some overlap. But the great bulk of people working and voting in the Writers Guild West are TV writers.

Now, if everything is flat, then hopefully it stayed at least flat or better in screen — oh, here comes the — here, it just get worse and worse. And by the way, as far as I can tell, no plan. Not plan to stop it. And I’m not sure that there is a plan that will stop it.

Earnings and employment in screen, the number of writers — so to contrast, in 2009, there were 3,166 working writers in television. 2014, 3,888. So that’s an increase of about 700 and a little bit. In screen, we’ve dropped about 300, from 1,836 in 2009 to 1,556 in 2014. But what is even worse is that that has been a steady trend down and down and down. For instance, this year, down almost 6% in terms of working screenwriters from the prior year. And I’m talking about 2014 to 2013.

And then of course, what are we making? And not surprisingly, fewer writers means less money. It’s not like they’re spending the same amount of money and just giving fewer writers more of it. The pie is shrinking. And it has been shrinking steadily year after year after year in a kind of grinding freefall. The total earnings reported in 2009 for screen were $432 million. In 2014, we’re down to $313 million. That’s about 70% of what it was in 2009. And it dropped 5.5% from 2013 to 2014. I have no reason to think it’s not going to get worse. It just, it’s bad. It’s bad.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And part of the problem for guys like you and me is that we are now kind of entering a minority phase in our union. We are both a numeric minority and we are a financial minority. And our interests will, as this — it’s a real catch 22, the less you make and the fewer of you there are, the less power you have to use, you know, to kind of exercise you and your muscle to help yourselves. So I’m not sure what to do.

John: I don’t know what to do either. If there’s any, you know, silver lining to all of this is that the gains in television have made up for some of the losses in screen, on the big screen. And so therefore, some of these writers who are not making a living on writing for features are making a writing living in television and maybe they’re happy in television, so maybe it’s not a bad thing.

But if you’re a writer, whose goal is to really work on the big screen, it’s increasingly less likely you’re going to have a great career doing that.

The last bit to look at here is total residuals, which seemed fairly flat to me. Theatrical residuals were down 0.15% from 13 to 15. Television residuals were up 4.8%. That’s not the worst thing.

Craig: Yeah. No, I mean the residuals are — because the residuals are based on the library, they will shield you from certain realities for a while. But there will be an echo. What’s happening now in feature film employment will echo forward. And we will see the commensurate drop in residuals down the line. It’s inevitable because they’re just not making as many movies.

John: Exactly. So fewer movies being made, fewer movies getting residuals. And then we don’t know what the structural changes to people not buying DVDs anymore, people streaming. We don’t know the full extent to which that’s going implement how much money is coming in on those checks.

Craig: Yeah. We did see a kind of an interesting bump in theatrical reuse, miscellaneous theatrical reuse. I don’t know what that means. I’m kind of curious about that because they breakdown theatricals residuals — the big number is in television.

So we make movies and then they replay them on TV all over the world for free essentially, but supported by ads of course. Then there’s home video, which we all know. It’s been, I mean, decimated from — it’s dropped from 2009 to 2014, that’s down 36%, horrendous.

Pay TV continues a nice climb. So that’s your HBOs and so forth. DVD script fee is nonsense, it doesn’t matter. It’s $5,000 every time you write a movie. New media reuse is up, not surprisingly, 1,421% [laughs] over the last five years. But in doing so, only now is starting to hit numbers that are significant. So for instance, pay TV generates $53 million in residuals in 2014 for screenwriters, new media reuse, $11.5 million. But still, better.

Then there’s this thing, this miscellaneous theatrical reuse. The numbers aren’t big. I’m just kind of –

John: I don’t know what it is.

Craig: I don’t know what it is either. I wonder what that is. Anyway, they’re small numbers, who cares? Point being, total theatrical residuals, down 1.5%. Total television residuals, up nearly 5%. And I got to say, anything that goes up 5% right now when a typical savings account is giving you 0.7%, is really good. And down 1.5% is really bad. And that’s going to — that number, I’m afraid, is going to get worse and worse.

John: Yeah, I’m looking through why the numbers are up for television residuals. And the big gains seem to be in obviously new media reuse, so that’s the new services that we have for doing stuff. And great, as we talked about on the show before, writers get more money in residuals if they rent a movie on iTunes than they would have if they were to stream a movie on Netflix and honestly probably more money than it would on a DVD sale, at least DVD sale at most common prices. So we’ll see. There’s some reason for optimism there.

It is time to wrap up our show. So let’s do our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is this weird sculpture website that I went to and actually bought something off it. It’s a place called Bathsheba. And Craig, click on the link because I think you’ll actually really dig these things.

Craig: All right.

John: They’re basically these things you can buy that are sort of paper weight size generally and they’re all 3D printed, but they’re 3D printed in metal. And there are these impossible shapes that look like, I don’t know, things we’d find in Star Trek. They are just kind of great.

So there are knots that seem impossible. The thing I’m holding is sort of — it’s four-sided, it sort of feels like a four-sided die, but it’s actually all one piece, but it’s sharp and spiky. It feels like you could throw it as cling on weapon. I just really dug it.

So I found this site through Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools site, which is another great site. I’ll put a link in the show notes, which has just like random stuff you can buy. So Bathsheba Sculptures is my One Cool Thing.

Craig: That one that you have, I think it’s called Rajina.

John: Yeah. It feels like a spiky kind of –

Craig: It could be Rajina.

John: Rajina, the queen.

Craig: Nothing there — a Rajina is not a spiky pipe. Okay. Here we go. One Cool Thing for me. Oh, so here’s like an interesting one. It’s like a One Cool Thing that’s trumped an old One Cool Thing. So it’s an app called MacID. So we talked about Knock before. That was one of our One Cool Things. And the idea of Knock was you’ve got your computer locked down with a simple login password. And instead of having to type in your password every time, you can just — your phone will know, the app on the phone syncs up Bluetooth-wise with your computer. It knows that it needs that. And it says, hey, knock on the back of me. And you knock on the back of your phone and it fills the password in for you and it’s great.

And that was great for a bit and then it just stopped working for me.

John: It’s not working for me too.

Craig: Okay. It’s just a mess. I don’t know what happened with it. But it ain’t working. Even worse, the whole point of it which was knocking on stuff basically became obliterated once they introduced the touch ID functionality. And even Knock was like no more knocking, just use touch. It just doesn’t work at least for me and for you [laughs] for 1,000% of us, it doesn’t work.

So MacID, same thing. I mean in terms of what it’s supposed to do and it does it. And it works.

John: It’s great.

Craig: So get it.

John: But I haven’t tried it yet. I’m excited to try it.

Craig: Yes.

John: Now, Craig, my question for you is, you and I both have Apple watches. Shouldn’t our computers just that we are in front of them because we have our Apple watches on? Shouldn’t that be identify enough?

Craig: It should and it — well, it is. But the point is you may not want to unlock your computer just because you’re walking by it. So actually MacID works really well with your watch. So when I sit down — maybe the first time after a couple of hours, it takes like a second or two and then my wrist buzzes and I look down and I tap my thing and unlocked.

John: Oh nice.

Craig: But then after that, you know, it’s really quick and like, boop, boop, and it fills in your passwords. I’m very happy with it.

John: Great. That is our show this week. Reminder, that if you have an idea for a Scriptnotes t-shirt, we would love to see it. So go to and there’s some instructions there for how you can tell the world about your Scriptnotes -t-shirt idea. August 11th is the deadline for that.

If you would like to know more about some of the things we talked about, there are show notes at Just search and you’ll see all of the back episodes including transcripts.

Thank you Stuart Friedel for getting those transcripts together. He’s our producer. Our show is edited by Matthew Chilelli who also did our outro this week. I would like to thank Alice for coming on the show to talk to us about describers and what they do. And Craig, have a great week.

Craig: You too, John.


How descriptive audio works

Tue, 07/28/2015 - 08:03

John and Craig take a deep look at how descriptive audio for the blind works, with clips from Daredevil and an interview with a woman who does it for a living. It’s a fascinating form of writing, with many of the same challenges screenwriters face.

Also this week: Capitals, capitalization, the WGA financial numbers, and answers to a bunch of listener questions.

If you have a Scriptnotes t-shirt design, the deadline is August 11th. Click the link below for details.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 207: Why movies have reshoots — Transcript

Fri, 07/24/2015 - 16:00

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

Craig and I were both in New York last week. We overlapped but we did not actually see each other in New York. But it was so nice to be back in the city. I had not been back since Big Fish had closed, so it had been a year and a half since I’d been there. It was wonderful to see the city in the sunshine. It was just a really fun week. Did you have a good time there?

Craig: I did. I always have a great time. Very humid.

John: It was. I kind of enjoyed it.

Craig: It was so humid. Oh my god, you walk outside and you’re already sweaty. But I did. I was there working but I also saw Fun Home which I would recommend to anyone within a day’s travel of New York to see. It’s so good. Everything about that show is good. Everything.

John: I was talking to a friend who’d seen it recently. I’ve not seen it yet, but he described how at the end he’s just like, “Oh wait, that’s the end? Oh my god, that was amazing!” Was that your experience?

Craig: Well, yeah, and also because they blow through. There’s no intermission, which I love.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And because the show doesn’t quite hit two hours. It’s like an hour and maybe 45.

It’s one of those things where you’re like, okay, sometimes you see a show and you’re like, “Well, I loved all the songs except these three,” or “I loved all the songs and those actors but not that one,” or “I loved all that stuff but then the set was really glum and everybody was moving around wherein it was hard to hear.” It’s in the round. Everyone’s around on top of it. Every actor is amazing. Every song is great. [laughs] All the lyrics are great, everything works. It’s just insane.

And there’s this girl, Sydney Lucas who plays — I mean the idea is that Alison Bechdel of the Bechdel test, it’s sort of the story of her life and how she grew up. And so there are three Alisons. There’s grownup Alison, and then there’s young, like 10-year Alison, and then there’s college age 18-year-old Alison. All of them were amazing. But the girl that plays 10-year-old Alison is kind of supernaturally good because I have a 10-year-old. I don’t understand how that — that kid is already better than everyone else on Broadway. It’s sick, it’s sick. I mean, not just singing and dancing, but her performance.

John: She did the Tony Awards, if I remember correctly. She sang that key song on the Tony Awards, didn’t she?

Craig: Yes. The, [sings] “ring, a ring, your ring of keys.” Yeah, amazing. And she’s 11 now, I think. Oh, yeah, over the hill. I honestly do believe that in 10 years, she’s just going to be running Broadway. Sick, so good. But an amazing show. So good. Michael Cerveris, very famous for Sweeney Todd among other things, incredible. Everybody’s incredible in it. Everybody.

John: So the only show I got to see this last time was a remarkable special occasion to see Andrew Lippa’s Wild Party. You got to see a special sneak rehearsal of The Wild Party, which was so great but we can’t really rave too much about it because it’s closed and no one’s ever going to get to see it because it was just a one-week engagement.

Craig: Right.

John: But one of my best times in this trip in New York was this random coffee that Andrew had set up with a friend of his. And without getting into too much detail about who she is and sort of what it was about, I find it so fascinating when you sit down with somebody who you fundamentally disagree with and you realize quite early in the conversation like, “Wow our overlap is so, so tiny.” But then when you realize it’s actually a very smart person, you can have these amazing conversations and sort of pull out bits of vocabulary that you would never encounter otherwise.

I find the same thing if I talk to like a really conservative Republican. You know, sometimes there’s that bristly feeling. But also, if they’re really smart, you sort of get this alternate worldview that is so enlightening and fascinating. One of the best hours of this whole trip was this weird coffee that was so uncomfortable at moments, but I found myself just recording, sort of, the phrases she was using to talk about things. Have you encountered that in your life?

Craig: I seek it out. One of the things that dismays me about modern culture is that there’s this desperation for consensus. And I love conflict. I mean, you know, not pointless conflict, but I love talking to people with whom I disagree because I do change my mind about things and I learn and I expand my view of the world. I mean, there are some things I’m set in. I just know I’m set in some things.

I don’t believe that homeopathic medicine works. I think it’s garbage. That’s just a fact for me at this point. But there are all sorts of wonderful things that people will say and I’ll go, “Wait, what?” And then we’ll have a great conversation. And like you, if I respect their intelligence, then I immediately have to give it a fair hearing and I have to really take it into consideration. I love that feeling.

John: Yeah. This was very much a homeopathy kind of conversation where our fundamental worldviews of how the universe functions were so divergent as to be like I live in this world and you live in Star Wars. But that can be kind of great because you just get to learn the terms that she uses to describe the universe she believes she lives in. And that can be great.

Craig: I’m just sensing that maybe like touchy feely spiritual energy?

John: Off-air I will send you the link to the website and you’ll be fascinated.

Craig: [laughs] Why did Andrew put you in this situation? Does he not know you?

John: I think he does know me. He knew that I would enjoy it and still chastise him for it.

Craig: Okay.

John: So, today on the program, we have one-and-a-half topics to talk through. The half topic is sort of a follow-up question about credits and which script the writing credit is based upon. And then we’re going to talk about reshoots which was the topic that we had meant to talk about last week. We ran out of time, so we’re going to dig deep into why movies have reshoots.

But first, we have some newsy kind of follow-upy kind of things. In our last episode, we talked about scene description. And a listener to the podcast, my husband Mike, asked a question. He didn’t have to write in because he could actually just asked the question. What is descriptive audio?

And he was watching Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. And Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and other shows like Daredevil have what’s called descriptive audio where they actually tell you sort of what’s happening on the screen. So if you’re visually impaired, if you’re blind, you know what’s happening. And his question was, where does that action come from? Are they –

Craig: Wait. If you’re blind?

John: If you’re blind.

Craig: How do you see it on the TV?

John: They say it aloud.

Craig: Oh, they say it. They’re describing it?

John: They’re describing what’s happening.

Craig: Wow, I had no idea there was a thing like that.

John: And I don’t honestly know very much about it. So I bring this up not to answer the question but really to ask the question because I have a strong suspicion that somebody who listens to this show will have the answer for who is responsible for doing descriptive audio for these kind of programs. What is the process? Are they looking at the script or are they looking at the finished product and just figuring out like what they need to actually say so the thing makes sense? I think it’s amazing that it exists. I think it’s potentially great.

So, this is really a question. It’s like sort of where does descriptive audio come from? And to what degree are they using the script to generate the descriptive audio or is it just a person whose job it is, sort of like the person who would do subtitles –

Craig: Right.

John: Except they do the audio descriptions.

Craig: Yeah, I’m so curious how they manage to do it when they’re dealing with dialogue. If it’s like a walk-and-talk and two people are talking and while they’re talking they’re doing something that’s sort of important, how do they kind of sneak in their description while the characters are talking?

John: Yeah. Someone will know the answer. So I –

Craig: Someone will know. Ryan Knighton might know.

John: Ryan Knighton, our blind screenwriter friend, might know. Might. Might not.

Craig: He’s the only one. He’s the only one we have. And by the way, he’s the only one we ever will have. As far as I’m concerned, we’ve got room for one.

John: Yeah. Well, actually, he hires a team to go after any other blind writer who might consider going into the movie business.

Craig: That’s his thing.

John: That’s his thing.

Craig: Yeah.

John: There’s a great book that I almost adapted called The Ax. I think it’s by, it might be Donald Westlake. I’m trying to remember who wrote it. But basically, this guy is a specialist in one very esoteric kind of mechanical repair, I think. And he starts to realize that there are only like four people in the country who do what he does. He puts out an ad in the papers for this exact position and collects all the resumes. Then he goes off and kills them one by one.

Craig: That’s the blue collar version of Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which is also playing on Broadway, based on Kind Hearts and Coronets, where a guy is the ninth person in line to a great fortune and so he just goes about meeting all the people ahead of him on the list in his expanded family and bumping them off.

John: Yeah. That’s basically what Ryan Knighton does. So all these trips to Los Angeles which seemed like they are to take meetings and things, they were really just to kill people. Yeah.

Craig: To kill.

John: To kill. Also in last week’s episode, we were talking about the scene description from different movies and people really loved we went through that, so we should put that on the list to go through again to take a look at the actual scene description in movies that we love.

You and I had a disagreement about the script for Up and you thought that the single-line scene description was sort of — was not to your taste. A listener wrote in and said that he had seen an interview with Pete Docter where Pete Docter had singled out Walter Hill’s Alien script. That he loved it. And the Alien script did the same thing. And this reader was at least correct in the fact that the Walter Hill script for Alien does the same technique where it’s single lines to describe everything.

Craig: Yeah. And for whatever reason when I was looking at that, it felt a little more evocative and I could see what was going on. I found the Up script to be kind of cold. But I guess, the bigger point is that Pixar scripts are funny things. They kind of live side by side with enormous amounts of other work that is expanding.

I mean, I think in all animation, the screenplay is this funny thing that’s living in parallel to all this other support work. So you can kind of get away, I think, with a more sparse or even really Spartan style like that because you know that you also have reams and reams of story reels backing you up.

John: Absolutely. Everything in animation is a transitional state to get to that final rendered frame. And so, you know, the script is just, in many ways, is the precursor to what’s going to be the storyboards or what’s going to be the scratch reels. So, a different thing.

Next bit of news is Austin Film Festival. You and I are both planning to attend the Austin Film Festival this year.

Craig: Yes.

John: Begins October 29th. There will be a live Scriptnotes, very, very likely. There will also be other panels, probably even a Three Page Challenge. So if you’re considering going to Austin and this tips you in the favor of going to Austin, please come because we will be there and we look forward to seeing you guys there.

Craig: See you in the Driskill Bar or upstairs. You know what, maybe I’ll get you to smoke a cigar this time.

John: I will never smoke a cigar.

Craig: I think I can get you to do it.

John: Yeah. Enough peer pressure and Craig will get me to do it.

Craig: [laughs]

John: [laughs] Okay. Craig loves it when I get just a little bit drunk and happy. That’s his favorite moment.

Craig: I mean, well, you know, Austin John August is the best of all John Augusts.

John: Craig was not there last year, so I’m looking forward to having your return there. And it looks like we’re going to have other Scriptnotes friends and family. Kelly Marcel will likely be there, so please come and join us.

One thing you may want to consider is wearing a Scriptnotes t-shirt so we can know that you are a Scriptnotes listener. And which brings us to the next point which is that we are kind of sold out of Scriptnotes shirts. We actually need to make a new batch of shirts.

And so what we’d like to propose to our listeners is that I suspect we have some incredibly talented designers and artists among our listenership. And I think this time –

Craig: Ooh, this is a good idea.

John: I think this time through, we should let the listeners design the shirt. So just the same way that we have great musicians who do our outros, make a cool shirt. And so this will just be for the LOLs, for the giggles. But if you have a great idea for a Scriptnotes shirt and you want to draw it up and send it in, we would love to see it. And so let’s put a two-week deadline on people submitting in their ideas for Scriptnotes shirts. We will put up a page at and you can see all the submission guidelines for sort of what we need.

Most of our shirts have been one color. We could maybe do two colors, if you can convince us that’s a good idea. If you have a certain idea for the color of shirt it should be on, that’s also great. I don’t know whether it’s going to be a thing where people are going to vote on it or just whether Craig and I are going to pick our favorites. But I think we’ll have a really cool shirt out of this whole process.

Craig: John, when you were in high school, middle school, did you have the burnout t-shirt with the one color except that the sleeves were the different color? You know, like those concert t-shirts? You know what I’m talking about?

John: I associate that with like a baseball jersey. It’s a different thing?

Craig: Well, it’s kind of, but you know, like if you had gone and seen Van Halen, their concert shirts were always — they would have like the different sleeve color with — I just remember thinking that they were cool, and that all the kids that smoked wore those and I wanted to wear them. No?

John: That’s why you started smoking, Craig.

Craig: I did.

John: And that’s why you started smoking on the podcast. And then it became an e-cigarette podcast. The people who have, for the 200 episodes now, they’re going to — somewhere in the 70s or 80s where like you could definitely hear Craig smoking.

Craig: Good. Good.

John: Good, because you know what? We’ve moved on, we’ve evolved. It’s good.

Craig: Good. Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah, man. You know who likes smoking?

John: [laughs]

Craig: Sexy Craig. Sexy Craig likes a nice — you know what? I need a cigarette.

John: Sexy Craig is leaning against a brick wall, smoking a cigarette.

Craig: [laughs] He’s so cool, that guy. Oh, I wish I could be him.

John: He is basically Snoopy in a leather jacket.

Craig: Really? [laughs]

John: [laughs]

Craig: Yes, he’s Joe Cool. He’s Joe Cool.

John: He is Joe Cool. Have you seen the trailer for The Peanuts Movie?

Craig: I loved it. I don’t know about you. I thought it was awesome.

John: I kind of loved it, too. I had weirdly low expectations. And then I realized like, “Oh, you know what, I actually liked the ABC animated specials. And so like, well, why wouldn’t I like this?” And I thought they actually did a great job.

Craig: Well, it was funny because the visual aspect of it was kind of brilliant. I mean, obviously they said, “We want to not be 2D. Nobody makes 2D animated movies anymore. But we want to really be in the zone of the way those 2D — all those specials looked on television.” And they did it without being creepy. And everything sounded right. And I just thought it seemed very much in the tone of Peanuts. I actually think it’s going to be great. But, you know, I could be wrong. But I loved the trailer.

John: Yeah, I don’t know that it’s going to work because my daughter has no interest in Peanuts whatsoever. She has no understanding of it. So I wonder if it’s going to be able to connect really to this group of, you know, kids who see PG movies or G-rated movies, but maybe it will.

Craig: This terrible generation, you mean, of ingrates?

John: This terrible lost generation of Minecraft players.

Craig: Lost.

John: Lost. So, to wrap up t-shirts, just go to If you have an idea for a t-shirt and want to submit your t-shirt, I don’t honestly know what this page will say, but by the time this podcast comes out, we will put that up. This idea came to me about 45 minutes ago.

Craig: That’s good.

John: Let’s go to our topics. First off, this is a Craig topic. Craig, when we are determining credits for a screenplay, so when the Writers Guild arbitration comes through, what are we basing that determination on? Is it the script as shot or what’s actually up on the screen? What is the process here?

Craig: It’s a very good question. And it’s one, when we went through our big credits discussion, I failed to consider. And somebody on Twitter just asked it in a very — I thought it was a very kind of smart way, like, “Actually, do you watch the movie and base the credits on the movie? Do you do a transcript or was it the last — ?”

Here’s the way it works. The deal is that we all get what’s called the final shooting script, so that’s essentially the last printed screenplay. And when you’re in production, you know there may be lots of revisions and things. And maybe somebody comes and does one week of work at the very, very end. Well, their script is the final shooting script. And then the idea of credit arbitration is you go back and see, “Well, who contributed towards that final shooting script?”

The idea of the final shooting script is that it should represent the film on screen. But, of course, sometimes that’s not true. There are times when a final shooting script comes in, and it really doesn’t represent what’s on screen. Maybe the final shooting script is three hours and the film was three hours, but now it’s been cut down to an hour and a half. So, what do you do? How do you get some accurate sense?

Well, there is a little bit of a protection here. What our collective bargaining agreement says is that if, you know, when we get the notice of tentative writing credits, we also receive the “final shooting script.” Well, if any of the participating writers says, “This isn’t actually — this isn’t the movie,” then what can happen is the Guild can go back to the company and say, “Hey, can you give us a cutting continuity?”

And a cutting continuity is essentially, “Show me a list of scenes and how long they last in the movie in order.” And that document itself isn’t something that you give credit for, but it should help you vet the accuracy of the final shooting script, so that you don’t end up awarding credit to a document that doesn’t represent the movie. And that’s basically how we do it.

John: Now, in my experience as an arbiter and going through arbitrations, I’ve never had one of these situations come up. Have you had it come up?

Craig: It’s possible that you could, as an arbiter, receive both the final shooting script and the cutting continuity. But more often than not, if there’s a discrepancy, they’re going to go back and reissue a new final shooting script.

John: I see what you’re saying. So, they would take this continuity and then from that generate a script that shows omits for all the stuff that actually is not in the actual movie.

Craig: Right. The studio would have to do that. Or in the other direction, somebody could say, “Hey, the final shooting script doesn’t include like eight scenes that were, I don’t know, done on the day, but never written down,” or something like that, you know.

So, sometimes it’s additive. But no, as an arbiter, I’ve never been given anything to qualify the final shooting script. There is this quirky weird thing that the last writer is the final shooting script. I always found that odd. You know, like you have writer A, B, C, D, E. And writer E was just there for a week and it says, “Final shooting script writer E.” Well, that sounds very official and compelling. But, you know, the arbiters are pretty smart. We know to actually do the work and see who did what.

John: Absolutely. So, as we’re going through these A, B, C, D, Es, we’re only really looking for what did E actually change and how did the changes that she made really impact the movie overall, and is that enough of a change to merit either story or screenplay consideration.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So, this feels like a good segue into our big topic for today, which is reshoots. And so, often, an arbitration will come up, and this happened to me twice in arbitrations I’ve done, where the credit had been determined or they had started the process of determining credit, and they’d gone off and done reshoots. And because of the reshoots and new writing that had happened, they decided like, “You know what, we actually have to stop and look at this new material that’s going into the reshoots.”

So, let’s talk about what reshoots are, and why movies sometimes have reshoots. Because I think there’s a stigma attached to them, like a movie that has reshoots is in trouble. And in my experience, that’s not usually or necessarily the case. So, I’d love to sort of go through a bigger discussion of why movies have reshoots, what the writer’s role is in reshoots, and our own personal experiences in that.

Craig: Yeah, for sure. I mean, it’s a great topic. When you and I started, I think it would be fair to say that reshoots did have a bit of a stigma. At this point now, I don’t know of any movie that doesn’t have some sense of what they now just call additional photography because the process has become refined in a certain way. In the old days, I think a lot of movies avoided reshoots entirely. It was just like, “This is the movie and, you know, that’s the way it is.” And remember, we didn’t have a world of non-linear digital editing, so reediting things was really hard and cumbersome.

And when the movie was the movie, it was the movie. Reshoots were when things were disastrous. And plus, of course, they’re expensive. You’re reshooting a scene to make it better. You’re reshooting a scene because somebody stank in it. You’re reshooting a scene because you need a new scene. Nowadays, not so often the case, frankly. Yeah, there are movies in trouble that have additional photography. There are also movies that are scoring through the roof and audiences love them, and they have additional photography.

So, yeah, let’s go through all the different possibilities of why we end up shooting extra stuff after we’ve — and this is always after you’ve had a cut of the film, and almost always after you’ve screened it at least once for an audience.

John: Yeah. So, obviously, the first reason why you might reshoot something is because something went wrong. And so, either there’s actually some technical problem. In my first movie, Go, we literally lost some footage where it ended up being an insurance claim. But there was like camera damage and some of the footage was unusable. So we actually had to go back and reshoot something. That was an insurance day, and that was part of reshoots.

More likely, something went wrong and like something is just not working about the film. And you have made a decision that you’re going to shoot something new or reshoot a scene or recast an actor because something is not working, and it’s going to be worth your time and money to go back through and reshoot this to make the movie better. While not all reshoots are for something going wrong, it is still probably a principal reason for why you’re showing up there again.

Craig: Yeah. Sometimes it’s something’s gone wrong, and sometimes it’s something hasn’t gone quite as right as you think it could. And there’s all these little subdivisions of things going wrong. One thing that happens frequently is an issue of clarification. What goes wrong is that the filmmakers were hoping to be subtly engaging. They didn’t want to hit the audience over the head with stuff because that’s boring storytelling, so they were kind of doing the thing where they’re asking the audience to come along and discover things with them. And they miscalculated, and a large chunk of the audience has no idea what’s going on. They’re lost.

That is something that happens all the time, and sometimes in the smallest ways. But in the smallest way, you get into such trouble because people are confused, and you need an extra line or sometimes you need an extra scene.

John: Yeah. I mean, if you need an extra line, you will always try to find a way to throw it on somebody’s back so you don’t have to go shoot it all over. So when I say throwing it on somebody’s back, that’s literally like where you are looking at me, so you are on camera but I’m saying a line. And that is to clarify like, “Oh, this happened last night,” or “I just got the call from Martinez and we’re going down to the station.” That can be really hacky, but it’s often the easiest and simplest way to do that stuff.

In my experience, when you’re actually going through to shoot something new for clarification, it’s often because you cut something out of the movie. Maybe you realize like the movie is just too long and we need to cut out this little sequence, but there was important story points that were in that sequence. And so, you can’t cut it out because of the story points. So, what we can do, though, is have a replacement scene that does the job of what those three scenes did and gets us past that point.

Craig: Yes.

John: And so, as you’re editing, you’re like, okay, you’re literally putting like a piece of black there with type on it that says like, “New scene, something, something, something, something,” that does the job of what used to be there.

Craig: It is so frustrating when you’re in the editing room and you’ve got 10 minutes of stuff that you think should go. It’s not helping the movie. People don’t seem to enjoy it. It’s not working the way it’s supposed to, but you’re jammed because in the middle of it is this thing that they need to know. It’s a fact. And it can be so frustrating because you’re like, “Oh, I wish we could just hand out a pamphlet at the beginning of the movie saying this fact and then we wouldn’t need that stuff.”

So you’re right. In those moments, you sometimes add to take away. I’m going to shoot a 40-second walk-and-talk to replace 10 minutes of stuff. As you said, the first instinct of the producer in the studio is ADR.

So, ADR is our term for automatic dialogue replacement or sometimes you will hear it called looping. And that is when the actor can come in and record their voice and we just use the audio. And as John said, we’re looking at something else. So, two people look at a building, we cut to the building, and we hear them off-screen saying, “So, that’s where so and so shot blankity blank yesterday.”

It can be hacky. There’s a great Patton Oswalt bit where he’s hired to go work on an animated movie for a big company and they’re like, “Look, the animation’s all finished. It’s done. We’re just looking for extra jokes that we could throw in on audio.” And he just goes through this whole thing of how ridiculously hard that is. And kind of just go, “It’s just a folly to think that you could be funny with these weirdo lines just bombing in from nowhere.” [laughs] But they always think that that’s going to solve everything.

It rarely does. And if it does, it doesn’t solve it as effectively as shooting something to stitch things together.

John: I hosted a panel with the editors of the second Star Trek movie. And these women we were talking about how there was literally a shot they needed and they had already done the reshoots, they couldn’t do it. So they literally just pulled out their iPhones and shot it in like the corner of their office, like literally one little matching shot they needed.

And that’s sort of the visual equivalent of ADR. They needed this one shot and apparently it ended up in the movie. And it was a piece of crucial connective tissue. And a lot of times when you see reshoots scheduled you’ll see like all this sort of punch list of things they need, it’s because they need those tiny little pieces to make things fit together.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And sometimes it’s because there’s actually a happy reason why they want to do more photography. It’s because somebody who was in the movie is now a much bigger star. An example I think was Channing Tatum in the second G.I. Joe. He blew up and became a much bigger star after the first movie. And they’re like, “Let’s put more Channing Tatum in this movie.” And I think they probably had to pay him some more money to do that. But that’s a good reason to do it. You know, if you have a bigger star than you thought you did and there’s more stuff for him to do, you do it.

Craig: Yeah. Often, when you make deals with actors, it covers additional photography, pending their schedule. I mean, that’s the big thing. And the schedules become nightmarish because actors, they’re constantly going from movie to movie to movie. And you’d think, “Well, okay. We’ll just, you know, grab you on your day off.”

Well, first of all, no one ever thinks about these poor actors getting a day off. It’s like, “Well, if you have a day off, we’ll shove in another thing.” But the bigger problem is when they go to another movie, they cut their hair or they grow a beard. [laughs] Or they dye their hair or get a tattoo or something. Whatever it is that they do, it’s some kind of permanent change for that role and you’re stuck — you know, I remember we were really jammed because we had to shoot this one thing for the third Hangover movie and Bradley had already moved on to American Hustle and had started to grow his beard.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And we had to get rid of the beard because he doesn’t have a beard in the scene [laughs] because the scene is, you know, it’s just not there. And you can add a beard, you can’t take one away. So it was like a whole negotiation. Like, literally, getting a guy to shave becomes a negotiation between productions.

But you do find yourself in situations where you test a movie, you experience a movie with the audience, and you think they love this person, we need one more bit with that person. Or, like you said, maybe it’s calculation. They become a big star. But sometimes it’s just that they’re killing it in the movie, you know.

John: Absolutely. I’ve had the exact same situation where you need to reshoot with somebody and their hair is different. It’s going to be very, very challenging. My movie, The Nines, Ryan Reynolds plays three different characters and they all have vastly different hairstyles and different hair colors. And so we had two days of reshoots but he had to play bits of all three characters.

And so, I’m trying to find a way. It’s like, “So how do we make your hair blonde for one shot?” And it turns out there is that technology. There’s actually a gel you can put in that could, in a quick shot, will make you believe that it’s blonde hair. And so, it works in the movie. But somebody will win the Oscar for digital beard removal. And we’ll all be saved.

Craig: Well, trust me when I tell you, it was discussed. [laughs] There was a whole discussion of can you remove — I mean, because now, everyone’s first option is “Well, what can we do in a computer? I mean, can we take the computer and — “

John: Yeah, just put little tracking dots on his beard and they just paint it over.

Craig: I’m telling you, we had this [laughs] –

John: Of course you did.

Craig: Research was done and then concluded, “No. that’s not possible.”

John: But on to the topic of tracking dots, the death of Paul Walker and The Fast and the Furious movie was another example of you need to do massive reshoots and really retooling the whole story to accommodate what footage you had and what movie you could make out of what had already been filmed. And so that was a case where Chris Morgan and company had to stop and really look at sort of what is the movie now and how are we going to address this.

So, most cases, you’re not going to be having to deal with such a huge issue. But that’s the reality you live in, is that you are depending on these flesh and blood actors to be able to do these things. And if it’s not a death, like that’s sort of the worst case scenario, but it could be a pregnancy that makes it much more difficult for somebody to do something, or an injury. On Go, Sarah Polley had an injury that forced us to really restructure how we were filming some things.

Craig: This is maybe not a situation where people who dream of being screenwriters fantasize themselves being in. This doesn’t feel like the romanticized version of an artist writing the great American screenplay. But I will tell you, this is where the big boys and the big girls play.

There are times when large changes need to be made for a whole bunch of reasons. And in this case, it was tragedy, right? So, the movie star has passed away in the middle of production, what do you do? And once the powers that be make their decision about what the ultimate goal is, and in that case, it was to move forward and retool the movie, you have to sit down like a field marshal.

You have to take your artist hat off for a second and you have to sit down like a field marshal and look at what you have and start coming up with a plan to cut away the stuff that will no longer work under any circumstances, preserve what should be preserved, and then put your artist hat back on and imagine how you fill it all in in a way that makes it feel like it was always meant to be like this.

And so, people know because there was a big article that came out about how World War Z worked out. And there was big surgery on World War Z. And that stuff, that is advanced screenwriting 505, as far as I’m concerned. That’s when it gets really dicey and crazy, but also can be — well, it’s the closest we come to, like, mass unit surgery, you know, where there’s blood everywhere and no one seems to mind, you know.

John: Yes.

Craig: It can be exciting.

John: Let’s talk about what the writer’s role is because I think World War Z is the extreme example where, essentially, let’s make an entire new second half of the movie which was a huge change with new writers with Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard coming into really rethink what the whole ending was and they threw out, you know, an entire sequence which had already been filmed, versus most movies where hopefully the — a principal writer is the person who is writing the new stuff that needs to fit in there and what the function of that writer is.

Now, best case scenario, the writer has been involved through the whole production and has a sense of what was happening on the day. But often in my experience, being able to step back and not know about how the sausage was made is incredibly helpful when you’re looking at a cut and it’s just not working at all. And you get to sort of put on your storyteller hat again and recognize the movie wants to go here rather than where it is right now.

And you get to again like create solutions rather than just point out the problems. You could define like, well, if this thing did exist then we could go from here to there or, you know, quite often like that’s not where the movie wants to end. I know that’s, you know, I wrote this whole movie. I really had a vision for where it got to, but the movie you actually made doesn’t deliver me there. It actually delivers me over here. And that new place is a great place. So let’s make a new ending. And so often the ending is what you end up rewriting. Beginnings and endings get the most attention in reshoots.

Craig: Yeah. Beginnings and endings for sure. And endings really for sure. I mean I know also that Chris McQuarrie did a lot of work on World War Z, too. I mean the thing that essentially goes unsaid with a lot of this stuff is that if you get into a place where major surgery is required, there has been a disconnect, either the writing wasn’t really solid enough to begin with and the director has done his or her best job with it but there are huge problems.

Or, the director maybe has wandered away from what people liked about the screenplay. Somehow there’s a disconnect. And it has resulted in this — it’s rare that a writer and a director are both tight together, working as a tight team from start to finish and they deliver something that everybody goes, “No, there’s incoherent stretches and we got to” — you know, it’s usually because of a disconnect. Because two people have been making two different movies at once.

And then you throw in a star. And maybe the star –

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: And maybe the star wants to make a third different movie. Oh, this is how it happens, right? And when they bring the new writer in and it’s almost always somebody new, everyone — and this is where if you’ve ever been in this situation, and I’ve been in the situation, this is when you learn what the business really thinks of screenwriters.

We’ll get a lot of dismissive stuff. And we will complain when we’re not mentioned in news stories or when the New York Times does a review, doesn’t even mention the screenwriter’s name, any of that stuff, garbage, who cares. When they call you in and they say, “Our movie is dying and we need you to fix it,” and everybody looks at you, that’s when you find out the value of the screenwriter. That’s when you find out that the role of the screenwriter.

At that point, the screenwriter does become the architect of some new vision. And in part it’s because — look, directing is the hardest thing. I’ve said it before, a million times. Directing a movie is the hardest job in Hollywood. And when you are done directing a movie, you’re near death. Emotionally, sometimes physically, you are sick.

And then they come to you and they say, it’s not working. And it’s really not working and we need to do another two weeks of work or three weeks of work. You feel terrible and you feel lost. And you feel maybe there’s some shame, and tired, and confused. Somebody needs to put you on their back for a little bit to help. And it’s that screenwriter who comes in and kind of says, all right, let me be your hero for a little bit. And try and deliver what I would call the illusion that this was always meant to be this way. And it’s funny, you know. I loved World War Z. I loved it.

John: I loved it, too.

Craig: Yeah. And I remember watching it and thinking, okay, I want to try and find the spot. I want to see if I can find the scene because I knew that the bulk of the stuff was really the ending. And I wanted to see like, can I find the seam? And I was close but even the seam I thought was done so well, they really just did a great job. And that’s, I love that. I just love stories like that. They’re inspiring to those of us who practice the craft within the madness of the studio system.

John: Now, circling back to sort of why and when you bring in new writers. I think what would be important in that situation where things were clearly not going well with the film is that the new writer can look at sort of what is shot and has no baggage about what the intention was. He can only look at sort of like this is what we have, like these are all the Legos that you’ve given me. With these Legos, I can build this thing and we could add new Legos to build this whole bigger thing. What do you think of this movie that I could present to you?

And that’s really compelling. When Aline was on this last time, she was talking about the pilot that she and Rachel did and how it didn’t go at Showtime. And then they had this vision for like, you know what, we could actually do it as a broadcast show, but what we need to do is really rethink sort of how some stuff works and write new scenes. And what I loved about what they did is they just, they approached it kind of like a reshoot. They wrote all the stuff. And so like here’s what we shot. Here’s what the full thing will be. This is the vision for what it is. And that’s what reshoots are, is the chance to say, acknowledging this was the original intention. This is what the new intention can be and this is what the final product can look like.

Craig: It’s not fair in a way to the original writer because when you come in and you’ve seen half a movie and you know what works and you know what doesn’t, you have this remarkable head start. You have a clarity that the original writer could never possibly have. And it’s why, more often than not, the writers who come in and do that work will not receive credit. They kind of do it in the shadows. And I think that that’s appropriate for a lot of these situations. And it happens so much more often than people know because it is this massive leg up.

John: Let’s talk what the leg up is. This subsequent writer has the ability to see the performances, see the world, know exactly what did work and what doesn’t work. And so, when he’s writing new scenes, he knows not to go in those terrible pits because he knows that will just never work. He knows that like, that actor is just not — is the death of comedy.

Craig: Right.

John: So, don’t try to throw any comedy towards that actor. Let that guy be just the straight man. And knows that like the director has a great ability to do this kind of thing, but whatever you do, don’t throw this kind of thing at him. And that’s a huge advantage.

Craig: It’s huge. And especially when you’re talking about comedy, when you know what the biggest laugh in the movie is and then you have the ability to then write a call back to that laugh at the end of the movie, talk about an advantage over the poor guy that was just guessing the first time around, you know. So you’re standing on the shoulders of everybody that kind of got you maybe to the 70 yard line, you’re supposed to get it all the way, you get it all the away. 30, I should say 30 yard line. There is no 70 yard line, 30 yard line.

John: I guess you’re right. So let’s talk about our own movies and just quickly go through some of our own experiences. So I talked a little bit about Go. And in Go, we ended up reshooting the ending. And I think there’s a perception that is like, oh, because the ending wasn’t working. No, because we literally had no audio for a crucial scene. Our very first day of filming, somehow we ended up losing all of the audio. And so what used to happen at the end of Go is the guys who came to Vegas — the guys who went to Vegas, arrived back in Los Angeles. They were holed up in Simon’s apartment and expecting the guys from Vegas to show up and the guys ended up going over to Gaines’s house and it was a very different scene.

So basically, the guys in Vegas, they all paid off. And so we shot that scene, it was on the very first day, I remember cheering when like there’s a — we have a scene in the can. What I did not know is that the audio was lost forever. And so we had this silent scene that we were going to have to re-voice completely if we wanted to.

And it wasn’t really that great of a scene. It just didn’t turn out very well. And so when we needed to go back and reshoot stuff, I wrote the new scene where Simon goes to Gaines’s apartment which is a much better scene. Anyway, so I was happy that it resolved that way. But that was the bulk of the reshooting.

And the rest of it was just connective tissue. It was the, we needed a shot of Katie Holmes walking at one point to the get us from the rave to when she meets up at the restaurant. There were little tiny bits of things that on the day of shooting, you didn’t really believe you needed. But in the editing room, you found out you actually desperately needed.

Craig: That debate is my favorite. [laughs] When you’re on set, you’re constantly debating. Do we even need this? And there are times when you think as a writer, yeah, we need it because I wrote it and that’s how we saw it and then you’re like, oh, jeez, we really did not need that. But then there are those times where you know and you’re like, you guys, you’re applying the same kind of don’t need it test to this and I’m telling you, you need it, you need it.

And even if we don’t need it eventually, it will be only as a result of the audience proving to us we didn’t need it. We’ll never look at it in the cut and go, yeah for sure, we don’t need it. We should shoot it. And ideally, you will have that relationship where you can make the case, but sometimes you don’t. Sometimes reshoots are essentially making up for the times when the production ignored the script.

John: Absolutely true. And I will tell you that on several of the movies I’ve worked on, the best friend of the writer can be the editor whose watching the dailies and is whisperings to the director, you need this shot. You didn’t get the shot of this cutaway reaction and you desperately need it. And if you’re still in the same location, you will find that gets added to the end of the day’s work and it gets in there because the editor knows what she’s cutting and knows that she’s going to need that shot to make that scene work.

Craig: Yeah, there’s the work flow. The editors get this material at night. They go start looking through stuff and part of their job is to send a red alert to the producer if they think something crucial is missing. Not maybe artistically crucial, but just physically in terms of continuity crucial. And so you will sometimes get those, they feel like we blew it there. A lot of times what you’ll get is you shot that in the wrong — yeah, they were looking the wrong way. There’s a lot of stuff like that, you know, you get those things. It happens.

John: I should also clarify. I don’t think we’ve ever talked about on the show what inserts are. And so, in a weird way, I think we do less inserts now than we used to. Although they’re very common in television. Whenever you cut to like a prop sitting on a table or like somebody hand somebody something, that can be considered an insert where it’s not part of the principle photography, it’s like just a little small bit of action.

And in the old days, there used to be whole insert stages where they would film just those little bits of like that briefcase being handed off or that little shot or like that telephone ringing there. You don’t see that quite as much anymore, but inserts can be their own special little subunit. Sometimes the second unit will take care of that. On Go I did a lot of the inserts so literally like the money sliding under the door, that was my second unit was doing that but also little bits of reaction shots from other characters. So sometimes that will happen, those inserts will be shot during production. But inserts are often kind of added to the workflow of additional photography, those little bits and pieces that an editor needs to make a scene work.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So tell me about your movies.

Craig: Oh well, the stuff I did with Todd Phillips, we didn’t do much at all in terms of additional photography. I think in Hangover II, we didn’t do any. There’s one thing that got shot on a stage in LA and it just looked stagey. It didn’t look real, so we reshot in Bangkok, but it was still part of principal.

And in Hangover III, we had saved — we wanted to see the movie before we figured out like what to do in the last, last, tiny, tiny bit, the little coda bit, so we did. So it was always like a scheduled sort of thing that we knew was waiting there.

My big reshoot story was Scary Movie 3. And I was still pretty young and I had had a couple of movies made, they didn’t work in theaters. I was doing Scary Movie 3. I was scared [laughs]. I didn’t know what was really happening. The movie was done in an incredibly rushed fashion and Bob Weinstein, frankly, was being Bob Weinstein, which is a force of complete chaos and demanding things that, you know, in our defense, we warned him just would not work. And demanded script changes that we warned him would not work.

And they didn’t. And we had a — I mean some of it was also some of the stuff just didn’t work that we wanted. So we had this, just this thing. It was like this weird piece of Swiss cheese. And in a movie like that which is all about laughs, if it’s not funny, it’s not in the movie. And if it is, it is. That was it. So, we had like — I want to say we basically had about 55 minutes of movie.

John: [laughs] You’re doing great, Craig.

Craig: Yeah, we had 55 minutes of movie. We needed 75 minutes of movie and not including credits. And we had I think four weeks, four weeks. So, I remember I still have the documents somewhere. I put together a roadmap and it was basically, okay, in a day, I sat down and went here’s what we have that works. Here are the big things that are coming out. These are the gaps we have. Here’s a new story that will make sense of all that plus new scenes that will fit into those spots that will be better now that we know what we’ve seen.

Now, we’re going to write that and we did in a week. And now, we’re going to shoot it, and we did in 10 days. And all that stuff went in, all of it worked really well. And by the time it was done, the movie had gone from this 55-minute, what the hell is that, to this thing that played great in test screenings and then went on to be a hit. That was me growing up. I mean I was scared to death and I honestly thought that I was just basically sitting in Skylab while it was falling out of the sky. But I’ve never worked faster and harder. It was insane.

John: Tell me about the document you created there. So was it essentially a memo to the whole team saying like, this is where I think the new work is, basically like, there’s this scene and I think it’s just blocking out in sentences like what would happen in this intermediary scene?

Craig: I’ll see if I can dig it up and we’ll put it on the thing. Well, first of all, that was when I learned that all formalities go out the window when a movie is in trouble, all of them. All of the things that people are sticklers about, like don’t talk to them until you talk to me, but no, all of it, gone. Now, it’s literally, here’s the note to the whole everybody involved in this, everybody at the studio, everybody in the production, everybody. This is what we’re doing. We don’t have time to argue. We’re doing this. And either we’re going to have a movie if we do this or we can discuss it but not have a movie.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And so, it was this. And yeah, it was very much like a manifesto of how to — I mean and — and think about it, it’s like all that effort and manifesto [laughs] and battle plan for a movie that’s ridiculous.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Where every scene is ridiculous, like the silliest movie ever but, you know.

John: I was just going through my files and I found some of my old memos from that time. And I had forgotten that those were all faxed. Like I was faxing those things through — were you at email by Scary Movie 3, or was that still faxes?

Craig: It was both but Bob was completely fax. In fact, I have this memory of sitting in what my son’s room is now. So he was just a baby and he was off in a different room near my wife. And I’m in this room as my office. And it’s like, I think it’s midnight, my time. It’s 3 AM, New York, where Bob is. He’s still awake. And he’s having me send him pages for the new things. And so I’m faxing them. He’s reading them as they come out of the fax and giving me notes as he reads them. So, I’m getting notes while I’m faxing [laughs] in live. So sick.

John: Yeah, that’s familiar.

Craig: Faxing. I mean, God, can you believe it?

John: Just the sound of the fax machine connecting.

Craig: So we’re old.

John: We’re old. That’s basically what we’re telling you. There were these things called fax machines and you wouldn’t believe them. It sounds like technology from the future, but it was actually terrible.

Craig: Terrible, truly terrible.

John: Truly terrible. I talked a little bit about The Nines with Ryan’s hair color, but actually the bigger thing we ended up shooting with The Nines, we shot a new ending which is very costly when you do. Largely, that was because I sort of had a Channing Tatum in my movie which is Elle Fanning, who was great. And we’d cast Elle because she said yes. She was talented. But I’d written the role deliberately to be kind of actor-proof and so the character was mute, so I wouldn’t have to deal with a terrible child actor on the set. And then we ended up casting this brilliant child actor who could do so much more.

And so as we looked at the footage, it’s like, oh my God, she’s great. And I actually want much more Elle Fanning in the movie and, you know, her stuff with Ryan was great. Her stuff with Melissa was great. And so I wrote new stuff for her. So she was in three new scenes that were not part of the original script. And so we got this all in, in a day.

What is sometimes challenging about reshoots is it’s likely not the same crew that you had before, because that crew went off and they’re doing other movies just like actors are doing other movies. And so you assemble a brand new crew who has no idea what your movie is necessarily. It’s where you really recognize how important it is that all of your original crew takes really good notes. And so like our costume designers were fantastic and had everything marked and labeled exactly right so that we could put the right thing on the right actor at the right time.

So it was a whole new crew, a new DP doing this reshoot, but you wouldn’t know what was old and what was new. That’s the advantage of having these tremendously professional crews who can just do anything.

Craig: They’re really good at that. And they also know that they can’t leave behind a mess for the next people because often times, they’re the next people.

John: Exactly.

Craig: You know, so they all kind of move back and forth between, okay, I got a big movie or I’m not working right now and there’s a reshoot going for a week, I’ll go do that. They all rely on each other. You can’t survive in this business if you leave behind a mess and you’re unprofessional.

I will say that more often than not, when you’re doing additional photography, the same DP is there. That’s somewhat rare –

John: It’s unusual.

Craig: Yeah. But it does happen where they just get booked like that and they got to go.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And that’s a rough one.

John: So Nancy Schreiber, our DP, had a conversation with Matthew who took over and did this. And so they were able to talk through exactly the stocks, exactly the light, the look, you know, how everything should work. But she was off shooting another movie. And that’s how things go.

Craig: It happens.

John: As I say this, I’m realizing that I don’t think we necessarily talk enough on the show about how amazing crews are because we are a show about screenwriters, mostly. But the people who are making movies are these tremendously talented craftsmen and artisans and technicians who can do these ridiculously difficult things and make it seem really easy. So, I know we have listeners who are working below the line in all sorts of other capacities, but just I want a little shout out to them for all their ridiculously hard work in making these things possible.

Craig: I mean, if you don’t love the people who work so-called below the line, you’re an idiot. Because you forge relationships with them. I mean, there are certain — there’s a makeup artist that I’ve worked with, I don’t know, like three or four different times. There are hair people I see all the time. The same people — I see grips I know from god knows back when.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And then sometimes, I meet people — I remember I went in a meeting once. I think it was at Reese Witherspoon’s company and I met with her head of development. And she mentioned that she was married to a grip that I had worked with and that he liked me and that — you know, these things — people talk. They all know. If you’re a jerk on set, then you’re just bad. I mean, you have to take care of these people. Now I will say, there are times when there’s struggles on sets and you’re dealing with temperamental artists, at times. And below the line people are artists, too. I mean, especially when you’re talking about production designers and costume designers and — so things can get heated and sometimes, there are blowouts. And it happens.

But there has to be a level of respect underneath it. And I have enormous respect for everybody that shows up to do that job. I mean we’re all freaks, right? Everybody that works in show business is a freak.

Like, if you’re an electrician and you choose to do that instead of, you know, just go and get paid a whole bunch of money to fix people’s wires and circuit breakers, you’re a freak. But you’re my kind of freak. You’re the best freak. You’re somebody who wants to be in the show, you know. It’s like we’re all in all the big show. And you got to love those people. You have to. And you have to stand by them, you know.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: I’m a big defender. This stuff, like I’m a huge believer that there needs to be, like, proper turnarounds for crews because they are falling asleep, dead on their feet, on their way home. It’s really dangerous for them. I’m a huge supporter of anything that keeps production here, in our neighborhood, where people have come to make their livings, you know. I stand by my crews.

John: I do too. Well, let’s wrap up our conversation about reshoots.

So I think the take home from this should be is that reshooting is not a sign of distress or trouble, necessarily. It is a, I think, an increasingly common aspect of filmmaking. And I think, even over the last decade, more and more productions I’ve been going into have an anticipation that things will be reshot. That it’s not you have to get it right the very first time. There’s going to be things that you will discover along the way.

Digital technology probably has helped that. I think digital editing has helped that. But also just the sense that we know we can do it, so we will do it when we need to.

Craig: Exactly.

John: All right. Let’s get to One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is just a little blogpost article. It’s a conversation between Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro about genre. And I thought it was such a great conversation between two writers talking about what it’s like to be writing in a genre versus writing sort of traditional literary fiction. And the sort of artificial distinctions we make but also how reader expectation and critic expectation colors an appreciation of the work.

And so, as a person who writes in different genres, I thought it was just a really great discussion between two very talented writers.

Craig: Yeah. I had actually read that on my own. I should have made that my One Cool Thing at some point. It was a really good discussion that those guys had.

John: So there’ll be a link to that in the show notes. And I actually know your thing too because on this last trip I was going to challenge you in this game. So tell me how much you love this game.

Craig: Right. Well, I got two One Cool Things because I didn’t have one last week. So it’s called Capitals. And I give full credit to my friend, Peter Carlin, for turning me on to this one.

And it’s another word battle game. Basically, you’ve got like a honeycomb kind of grid laid out and each player has a little home base tile. And then, you’re trying to make words out of the letters that are in between you. And the more you can kind of take control of spaces by making words, you can protect your base and then you — you know, it’s pretty simple. You’re trying to take over the board. And if you can make a word around their home base, then you get an extra turn. And at that point, you just start to crush them.

It’s very similar to when you and I used to play — what was that game we used to play?

John: It was Letterpress.

Craig: Letterpress. It’s a very similar thing. So Peter and I have been playing this one game. He started a game with me. And it was like two weeks ago. We’re still playing it. It’s like such a — it’s like a war in Russia, it’s just going on and on. [laughs] And we’re like barely moving back and forth. It’s brutal, but fun. So, that’s Capitals. Definitely, iOS. Probably, Android. But I don’t care about Android and neither should you.

And then, my other One Cool Thing — so my Two Cool Things, is Bloom County is back.

John: I’m so excited for Bloom County.

Craig: I’m so excited now, because I have — one of the great joys of my life is having a friendship with Berkeley Breathed. I found out about this and I’m going to be just a clunky name dropper here, because he emailed me to tell me.

John: Aw.

Craig: I know. Very exciting. And it’s been — this is real Bloom County. So, he’s doing Bloom County again like the proper four-panel strip, black and white, and bringing all the old characters back. He did tell me — I guess I’ll just let this out of the bag that he might not go back to some of the — like Portnoy and Hodge-Podge where the talking — you know, so we had like a rabbit and he had a hedgehog or goffer, [laughs], I’m not quite sure what that guy was. Goffer?

Because he felt like talking animals, like casually talking animals used to be interesting. And now, everybody has casually talking animals. So we might not do them. He might just stick with Opus and the humans, but we’ll see. I have a feeling. I have a feeling they’ll all come back. And it’s like a being a kid again, because it’s — you can go back again.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s great. And the first strip was hysterical and they’ve all been really good since. And so, check it out. And so, if you want to — by the way, here’s the other thing, he’s distributing it on Facebook.

John: Great.

Craig: So if you just go to Berkeley Breathed’s page. You know, it’s not like you have to be his friend. It’s one of those pages that you can like. And then, he’ll show up in your feed and every day there will be a Bloom County.

John: That’s very, very nice. On Instagram, I think I posted this last week or a week before, the same — sort of digging through the files where I found these faxes I had sent back and forth to Dimension, I found my Bloom County that I had saved from when Bloom County closed, when the very last –

Craig: Ah, yes.

John: Sunday comic of Bloom County, which was ’99, I want to say.

Craig: The door, it’s like the open door and it’s Ronald-Ann or something like that, right? Isn’t that the last one?

John: No, no. The last one is like, it’s a beautiful day of snow. It’s like, let’s go have an adventure. So like, basically it’s –

Craig: Oh, wait. Oh, you’re talking about Calvin and Hobbes. I’m sorry. I thought you’re talking about the last Bloom County.

John: Oh, my God. I’ve been talking about Calvin and Hobbes. What am I doing?

Craig: I know why. I’ve been talking –

John: I want Calvin and Hobbes to come back.

Craig: [laughs] I thought you were talking about Bloom County because you said –

John: Yeah.

Craig: [Laughs] You were — that was the mistake I made. I trusted you.

John: That really was the — you trusted my words. So basically, I had nostalgia for the wrong thing. But I really do — I do know that there are two separate universes. I do know that Opus never talks to Calvin. But that crossover could be kind of great.

Craig: It actually would be kind of great. I know that Berkley is a huge admirer of Bill Watterson. I mean, everyone that works in the comic space is a huge admirer of Calvin and Hobbes and Bill Watterson, so –

John: You know, Craig Mazin, we have been so instrumental at connecting people. Maybe we can make this connection happen and make this crossover event occur.

Craig: [laughs] I’ll do my best. I’ll handle Berkley. You take on the other guy.

John: All right. [laughs] Bill Watterson?

Craig: Who’s a notorious reckless that talks to no one.

John: Here’s what I think it is. Somehow, I associated the recluse story of Bill Watterson with Berkeley Breathed. I conflated the two artists and sort of their — why they stopped doing their things. And so –

Craig: You know, it — there’s worse things than to be conflated with the man who made Calvin and Hobbes. I mean, that’s — I always think of like there are three great strips from my childhood and one of them I would just read because it was like vegetables and that was Doonesbury, which felt like eating vegetables. I never actually liked Doonesbury but I understood it was certainly a better quality and more interesting than, you know, Family Circus.

So I would read Doonesbury, sort of like as homework and then — but I loved Calvin and Hobbes and I loved Bloom County. Those were my, and the Far Side, those were just amazing.

John: Oh, right. They’re incredible. And of course, Cathy. There was actually a period in my life where I just loved Cathy.

Craig: [laughs]

John: But I was like eight. I was like, oh, it’s Cathy. It was like, I can very much relate to Cathy. She’s a bit, ack.

Craig: So Cathy, for those of you that never read it. It’s a strip about a woman with severe eating disorders.

John: [Laughs]

Craig: Severe eating disorders.

John: And body dysmorphia.

Craig: Body dysmorphia and fear of men and a sweating problem, constantly sweating. But most –

John: And a noncommittal boyfriend. Yeah.

Craig: Right, noncommittal boyfriend. But mostly, it was about an eating disorder. It was like a lot of the strips were like, oh, no, chocolate. Well, I guess I’ll be fat, you know. [laughs] It was horrible. Horrible. I mean, I didn’t enjoy Cathy. I’m just being honest. It just didn’t –

John: No, I outgrew my Cathy pretty quickly. But then I was dating a guy who still loved Cathy. And who was like 23 or 24, and just loved Cathy and had Cathy strips on his refrigerator.

Craig: Nope

John: Which was –

Craig: Nope.

John: A warning sign.

Craig: That’s a disqualifier. It’s what we call that. [laughs] You’re out.

John: It is a giant red flag. Oh, but, you know, I would still go for the crossover Cathy-Garfield. That feels really good.

Craig: Yeah. Like Garfield –

John: What if Cathy started dating Jon and then like it could be like the really vicious relationship between Cathy and Garfield and like fighting over lasagna.

Craig: Or both, kind of — again, Garfield having this weird eating disorder [laughs] issue. Like he’s, kind of — he would gorge and she would starve herself. I mean, really, there’s an amazing comic to be done where the two of them are actually in a clinic together, like a rehab center, just getting better and like learning how to just accept their bodies and their appetites and just being done very seriously. I would love to — that I would like to see.

John: Also in the show notes today, we’ll put Garfield Minus Garfield –

Craig: It’s the greatest.

John: Which I’m sure is the strip you’ve seen –

Craig: Yeah.

John: Which is just so great. It was just — the Garfield comic strip with him removed and so it’s just the other –

Craig: It’s just Jon.

John: Usually, Jon the owner, just talking to no one. That would be great.

Craig: [laughs] Sometimes he doesn’t say anything. Sometimes he just is tired looking for three panels and then the fourth panel, his eyes go really big. [laughs] It’s awesome. It’s so great.

John: [laughs] Good stuff.

Craig: Yup.

John: All right. So you can find that link and the links to almost everything else we talked about today in the show notes. Those are at or Those will both take you to the right place. You can subscribe to Scriptnotes on iTunes. Just search for Scriptnotes. There, you’ll also find the Scriptnotes app which will let you download all those back episodes. There’s also an app for Android. Our outro this week is written by –

Craig: Leon Schatz.

John: Leon Schatz. Leon Schatz, thank you for writing your great outro. It’s a very good summer kickback vibe.

As always, our show is produced by Stuart Friedel –

Craig: Yeah.

John: And it’s edited by Matthew Chilelli. If you have an idea for a Scriptnotes t-shirt, you should go to and look through the instructions we have there for how to submit your shirt. I know there will be some Twitter hashtag that you can also apply to your image so that people can see what a genius artist you are.

I’m kind of excited to see what people do. I have a hunch we have really talented listeners who can make a really cool shirt.

Craig: No question. I know we do.

John: I know we do. Craig, enjoy the last bit of this vacation and I will see you next week.

Craig: See you next week, John.

John: Bye.


Weekend Read gains new features, fixes an annoying bug

Thu, 07/23/2015 - 13:06

Weekend Read 1.5.4, available now, adds optional push notifications for new scripts in the For Your Consideration section. It also fixes a really annoying bug where the app might insist that your library was full when it wasn’t.

It’s a free update for all users.

We’ve been adding a lot of new scripts recently — but you could easily miss them if you’re not checking the app every day. With push notifications turned on, you’ll get a banner telling you the moment there’s something new to download.

And there’s a lot to download. Each Friday this summer, we’re putting up new scripts in the Featured Friday section. These scripts are only available for the weekend, so you don’t want to miss them.

Tomorrow’s theme is Pilots, and includes early drafts of shows you’ve seen plus unproduced work from the Black List.

Keeping count

For the past few weeks, nearly 100% of our support emails were a version of the following:

I love Weekend Read, but it keeps telling me my library is full when I only have one (or two, or zero) scripts in it. Help!

No matter what we did, we couldn’t reproduce the error. We could offer affected users a fix — delete the app and reinstall it — but that didn’t solve the underlying problem.

Nima finally figured out what was wrong. Because of an API change, scripts imported directly from Mail were getting double-counted. Even when they were deleted, the count was wrong.

The fix took several weeks, then several minutes, but now it’s done.

You can find Weekend Read on the App Store.

How descriptive narration gets written

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 10:36

On this week’s episode of Scriptnotes, I wondered aloud how descriptive narration for the blind was written, and whether those writers consulted the screenplay.

Several listeners quickly pointed me to WGBH, and this FAQ:

Closed captions and descriptive narration are created as part of a movie’s post production process. Once a film has been finalized, a script and a copy of the film are provided to WGBH’s Los Angeles production office.

While the screenplay is a good starting place for captions, descriptive narration really depends on the finished work:

Descriptions are written by specially trained writers called describers.

A describer initially listens to the film without watching it, in order to approximate the experience of a person who has limited or no vision. The describer pays close attention to what is already communicated by the soundtrack. The describer uses specially designed computer software to map out the pauses in the movie and then crafts the most expressive and effective description possible in the space available.

After a script is written, it is edited and rechecked several times. The script is checked for timing, continuity, accuracy, and a natural flow. Professional narrators then read the script while watching and listening to the program.

Thanks to everyone who wrote in. We’ll try to arrange a conversation with a describer for a future episode.

Why movies have reshoots

Tue, 07/21/2015 - 08:03

Reshoots used to be a sign that something had gone horribly wrong. But not anymore. John and Craig look at the reasons why Hollywood movies often go back for additional photography, and how the writer is involved.

Also this week, arbitration esoterica about the “final shooting script,” descriptive text for the blind, and news about the Austin Film Festival. (We’re going.)

It’s been almost a year since the last round of Scriptnotes t-shirts. So let’s print some more. We likely have amazing artists among our listeners, so if you have a design for a shirt you want to see, follow the link below for details. (The deadline for submissions is August 11th.)


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 206: Everything but the dialogue — Transcript

Fri, 07/17/2015 - 15:14

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

Craig, it’s great to be back on the air with you. Last week was a strange episode because it was the first time in the Scriptnotes history where I had not actually listened to the episode before it was aired. So the interview with Alec Berg, I had heard none of it, and suddenly it’s there in my ears as I’m on the treadmill. And I thought it was delightful.

Craig: Well thank you. I was a little worried just because we were winging it technologically. I mean, we were just basically sitting around my laptop because I had stupidly forgotten the microphone and all that other stuff. But, you know, it’s proof that content is king. It doesn’t really matter what it sounds like as long as what people are saying are interesting. And Alec, as always, was fascinating.

John: He’s a great guy. And so thank you for doing that interview. We are back at our real microphones on Skype. We are on different coasts, but it’s more like a normal show this week. This week on the show we’re going to be talking about revenue sharing. We’re going to talk about scene description. And we’re going to talk about reshoots. These are three kind of cool topics. So, I’m eager to get into it.

But first, follow up. On last week’s episode of the show I talked about the USB drives that have all 200 episodes of Scriptnotes on them. I said that you could use the special promo code — what was the promo code, Craig?

Craig: Singularity.

John: I said you could use that promo code and save 20%. I was wrong. It’s 10%, which is $2. I just got math — math is hard for me in my head as I speak. So many people used the code Singularity that we’re almost sold out. So, it may be moot by the time you’re hearing this podcast. We may be sold out of those USB drives. But thank you to everyone who purchased one of those.

Craig: That’s great. I’m glad that people are picking those up. You know, it is our contention that if you don’t have the money to go to film school, but you do have — how much does this thing cost?

John: $20.

Craig: $20, minus ten percent.

John: Yes.

Craig: $18, plus tax, not a bad option. It’s certainly cheaper than the cheapest film school is per day.

John: Yes.

Craig: So, give it a shot.

John: Give it a shot. This week we want to talk about revenue sharing. And this was a topic that got sent into us by a friend on Twitter. I’m sorry, I didn’t look up who actually sent us the link to the article, but I thought it was really interesting because I had not heard about this kind of plan before. So, what’s happening is Paramount Pictures, AMC Theaters, and Cineplex Entertainment are cutting this new deal for two movies that they’re going to be releasing.

First is Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension, and then there’s also Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. And when they release them into theaters, very shortly after being released in the theaters they will be coming out on home video. Now, we’ve seen other movies before that have done sort of day and date, a lot of indie films will do the same weekend they’re out in theaters they’ll be available on iTunes. But this is sort of a special case where it’s going to be wide releases of these movies and then at whatever point it drops below 300 screens it goes out on home video very shortly thereafter.

Craig, what did you make of this?

Craig: Well, it was very interesting. It’s smart, but I want to get into why it’s a very specific targeted strategy. Let’s walk back for a second to the history of this situation. There’s a natural push and pull between the studios and the exhibitors. The studios understand that they make most of their money from the first couple of weeks in exhibition, and then following that they get less and less coming back to them.

The theaters continue to take a pretty healthy piece of the ticket sales, but of course a bucket of popcorn costs just as much on week five of a movie as it does on week one. What concerns the movie theaters is, look, if you give us a movie and then you turn around four weeks later and put it out on digital, people just aren’t going to come to the theater. They’re just going to wait the four weeks because it’s maybe easier than driving to the theater. They’ll just wait and they’ll see it at home. They won’t feel like they’re missing out on an experience. They won’t feel like, you know, oh my god, everyone around me has seen this movie except for me and I’m waiting the three months before it’s available on video.

So, the studios naturally want to shrink the window between theatrical release and digital release. And the exhibitors want it to be as long as possible. So, here’s what Paramount does. They say, look, on these two films what we’re saying to you guys is let us release this thing on digital way earlier than we normally would. We’re going to really shrink that window. But to compensate you for this we’ll give you a piece of what we make on the digital following three months after the initial theatrical release. So we put it out in theaters, 17 days go by, and now it’s still running in your theaters, but you can also watch it digitally at home.

For those people who watch it digitally at home, from that — up until 90 days from the start of the theatrical release — we’ll kick back a little piece of it to you guys. And when I say a little piece, it could be a big piece. We don’t know what the actual percentage is.

And it’s fascinating because, of course, the exhibitors, the theater owners, they have nothing to do with you at home buying the movie. It’s basically the studio buying the right from the theaters to run the movie in the theater and then allow them to sell it to home video. Of course, look at the movies that they’re doing it with, and there’s where it gets –

John: Yeah. So, the two films are Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse. And those are genre movies and there’s a really telling quote from one of the theater owners. Ellis Jacobs says, “Some films generate 99% of their gross in the first four to six weeks of release, followed by a two-month window where they’re completely unavailable to the legitimate marketplace.” And that term “the legitimate marketplace” is really what’s underlying all of this discussion.

When movies are released in the theaters, people go see them in the theaters because that’s the only place to see them, until they show up on torrents. Until everyone is just illegally downloading them. And so there’s always been that period of time where people could download those movies and watch them at home. It just wasn’t legal.

And the studios are saying, listen, we want to actually capture some of that money and be able to make money off of these movies during this time when people are just streaming them, or illegally downloading them.

Craig: That’s right. So, the studios want to shrink the window in part because they want to make more money, and in part because they want to defeat piracy. On these two movies, the exhibitors understand that when they say — I think the quote you said, “99% is within the first four to six weeks of release.” He’s being really generous with that number. My guess is that on a movie like a Paranormal Activity title, 99% of the theatrical gross is within the first three weeks.

Because it’s such an opening night business. It’s very teenage driven. It’s also — they have a high Latino turnout. They have a high African American turnout. We know that Latinos and African Americans are big drivers of early movie-going, like first week of movie-going. They are right on those releases.

So, on a movie like a Paranormal Activity, everybody, Paramount and the theaters, they know that, meh, after 17 days of a theatrical run, a lot of that juice has been squeezed out of the orange anyway. So, this way the theaters are kind of saying, well, we probably weren’t going to make that much money off these movies anyway after 17 days. And since you guys are willing to kick back to us some of that sweet digital money for another 73 days, why not? What you won’t see are any arrangements like this with movies that theoretically play in a more traditional way.

John: Agreed. I think it’s important to understand that the relationship between studios and exhibitors, exhibitors being the theater chains, they are contractual, but there’s also some governmental influence underneath this. Because once upon on a time these used to be vertically integrated companies. And so Paramount used to own its theaters. And if we still were setup that same way, Paramount would have done this a long time ago. Paramount would have recognized that like, listen, why bother with a window. Just get it out there, get a big push, and like next week we should put it on digital.

But they have to have this complicated relationship with their exhibitors now because they’re not allowed to own them, so they have to have a negotiation. And that negotiation has been sometimes favored towards the studios, sometimes favored for their exhibitors, but they need each other, because they’re not allowed to own each other.

And so exhibitors quite reasonably are worried that if the average theater goer understands that a movie is going to be available two weeks after it’s on the big screen, they’re just going to wait and see it at home. And that is really their worry and that’s why they don’t want most films to go this way.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, the theaters and the studios do this interesting dance. It’s a dance of negotiation where the exhibitors desperately want the big movies. The studios want them to take all of their movies, right? So, there’s that whole negotiation. Yeah, you can have The Avengers if you also take this. Right?

Okay, so there’s that part. Then the theater owners obviously want as much time as possible in the theaters exclusively, because that’s why people go to the movie theaters. The companies, of course, want to make money however they can, as fast as they can. Then, the studios really want the exhibitors to make movie theaters as awesome as they can. The studios want movie theaters to be all digital, and have great seats, and to be clean.

They don’t want movie theaters to charge too much for tickets to drive people away, unless it’s a really great movie, then they would love that. If the movie theaters had their druthers, popcorn would be free, because they don’t make any money off of it. And they know that movie goers are annoyed by the high prices of concessions. All these interesting things are going on here. So, far so good — both businesses seem to be okay. It’s a weird thing.

I’ve always felt that the nature of the exhibition arrangement is one of the reasons why you see this remarkable permanency in Hollywood studio corporate history. You have these big five studios and they’ve always been the big five studios and they pretty much always will be because they’re the ones that have the libraries and the negotiation clout with the exhibitors.

John: Yeah. It’s one of those kind of weird oligopoly/olinopsony, what is the equivalent of the oligopoly for the buyer side? There’s a very limited number of buyers. There’s a very limited number of sellers. In this case you have two of the buyers, if you want to call them buyers, the exhibitors, dealing — cutting a deal with one of the big sellers. And it’s an experiment that I think everyone is going to be watching because a lot of studios are making movies that are in this window. A lot of Lions Gate movies feel like they’re kind of in this window.

Craig: I agree. And if it works out mutually to everyone’s success, now, of course, it creates a whole other channel of negotiations because if this works then the next thing that happens is the studios say, well, we’ll do it again, but we’re not going to give you quite as much of the digital. You know, this will always be the way that corporations deal with each other. It is fascinating.

I think from a screenwriter point of view, this is a good deal. Because all of our residuals are for what we call ancillary markets. So the primary or what they call secondary exhibition. Primary exhibition covers theatrical release and curiously enough releases on airplanes.

John: Yup.

Craig: So, we don’t get any money from the run in the theater. We only get money from sale to television, downloads, rentals, etc. This is good for the writers of Paranormal Activity: Ghost Dimension, and the writers of Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse because they should get a nice boost on the digital sales. So, from a writing point of view, all of us should be very much in favor of this.

John: Fast forward to the next negotiation and how much do you want to bet the studios want to put a clause in there that defines ancillary markets as being markets that are encountered within like a 90-day window after theatrical. I just feel like there’s going to be some way that they’re going to claim that, well, this is still part of the theatrical release because we’re still sharing the proceeds back with the exhibitors.

Craig: I think they may ask. I mean, the obvious response is –

John: No.

Craig: You can share with anybody whatever you want. But we get a piece of your grosses, period, the end. That’s it. You can give it all to charity. We don’t care what you do with your end.

John: Mm-hmm. But I would not be surprised if this becomes — if this is successful and other studios try to emulate this model — I would not be surprised if we see this kind of hybrid approach being a factor in upcoming negotiations.

Craig: It may very well be. We’ll see. We’ll see. I hope not. Because to me it feels like kind of a big strike issue, unless we can show that this is a minor, minor deal. Like, okay, if you’re giving away 1% and you want to take away 1% of our residuals during that 67 days, I suppose there’s a negotiation there. Maybe. Because it’s minor. But, you know, but — ah…eh…

John: I don’t want us to put a dark cloud over what I think is overall an interesting idea and an interesting experiment because everyone who goes to see these kinds of movies recognizes that there’s something really weird and broken about sort of how long that window is between these kind of movies and when you can find them legally online.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And honestly, all screenwriters want — we’re not getting paid any residuals on those stolen movies, so –

Craig: That’s right.

John: We want those to be converted to legitimate sources.

Craig: That’s one of my beefs with the Writers Guild is that they — we should be as aligned as possible with anti-piracy efforts. Sometimes I feel like we’re not quite there the way that the DGA is. But, yeah, no question. The system is old in a new era. And these sorts of creative solutions will happen more and more, but I do think that they will happen in this way, in a very a la carte way. Because this is not a model that applies to most movies I would even argue. It just applies to some.

John: Yeah. So far we’ve only seen this applied to these kind of special genre movies and as we’ve talked about in previous episodes the day and date releases, home video, and theatrical for indie films, sort of like the Sundance movie –

Craig: Right. Because those movies tend to only be running theatrically in a few cities anyway.

John: Exactly. Cool. Our next topic is something we’ve never actually done before, which is, you know, we’ve done Three Page Challenges where we’ve looked at three pages that listeners have sent in and gone through them. We end up talking a lot about the scene description, but we’ve never really talked about scene description just by itself. And so I thought this week we would go through and take a look at seven examples of produced screenplays, movies you’ve seen, and what those looked like on the page.

And so if you want to read along home with us, there are little snippets that are available. You can follow the links in the show notes at And they’re just little graphics that take a screenshot of a piece of the page so that we can talk about what those words were on the page that became the scenes that you saw. So, the six movies that we’re going to look at are Aliens, Erin Brockovich, Ocean’s 11, Unforgiven, Wall-E, Wanted, and Whip It.

So, these are just a random sample I picked this morning of different movies, some of them are what we consider action movies, others are just dramas or comedies. But just a sense of what those words are like on the page and by scene description let’s just talk about our terms here. I’m really referring to everything that’s not the character’s talking.

So, it’s everything that would be on the page to help describe what the movie actually is, but isn’t a character talking. And so those are the action lines, those are how you are moving across the page. What punctuation you’re using. What nouns you’re choosing. What verbs you’re choosing to sort of show how things look.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: So, let’s take a look at Aliens. Aliens is really one of those movies that screenwriters of my generation sort of go back to, because it’s one of the first scripts we just read and loved and kind of tried to copy James Cameron’s style.

This is an example from the start of Aliens. This is him describing the Narcissus. I won’t go through all of this, but I’m just going to give you a sense of what it feels like on the page.

INT. NARCISSUS. There’s no day or night. Just INT. NARCISSUS.

Dark and dormant as a crypt. The searchlights stream in the dusty windows. Outside, massive metal forms can BE SEEN descending around the shuttle. Like the tolling of a bell, a BASSO PROFUNDO CLANG reverberates through the hull.

CLOSE ON THE AIRLOCK DOOR. Light glares as a cutting torch bursts through the metal. Sparks shower into the room.

A second torch cuts through. They move with machine precision, cutting a rectangular path, conversion as the torches meet. Cut off. The door falls inward revealing a bizarre multi-armed figure. A ROBOT WELDER.

So, that’s the very start of Aliens. This is coming to find Ripley in her spaceship. And I remember what that looks like when I saw it in the movie, but this would have given me a very good sense of what this movie felt like. Craig, how do you react to this?

Craig: Well, this to me, I think of this, and I’m not sure if it’s because the script was so influential, or if it’s simply within a tradition that’s longer, this feels like a very typical way of doing things. And I don’t mean to say boring at all. I mean to say this is sort of how you do it. Like when I think of like a good classic way of writing description, it is a little bit prosy, right? He doesn’t shy completely away from prose. “Dark and dormant as a crypt” is evocative.

But he’s using — he’s not writing full, complete sentences. He’s doing a lot of little bursts. Like, “Sparks shower into the room” is a technical sentence, but it’s not like a full, or like the words “Cut off” is a sentence. That obviously is a little bit of a fragment.

So, he kind of goes fragmented at times. Mostly the action description is focusing you on the visuals and on the audio, which is important. So, to me, this is a very classic way of doing things. There’s not a lot of stuff in here — there’s nothing cute. There’s nothing clever or referential to the reader. There’s nothing that you wouldn’t know if you weren’t watching or listening to the movie.

This, frankly, is pretty much the way I like to approach things. Also interesting is his use of capitalization which is very much the way I use it. And it’s when I feel like it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So, you know, sometimes he’ll say, like he’s using it in a typical way when a new character enters. ROBOT WELDER. THREE MEN. Sometimes he uses it to call out a specific prop. HYPER SLEEP CAPSULE. Sometimes he uses it for a sound, or even an action. Like he says, “Outside, massive metal forms can BE SEEN.” And it’s there just to help you. It’s almost like you can see the camera swinging to it, you know what I mean?

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: So, this is very classic. I think you could not go wrong if you adopt this as your style.

John: Absolutely. Let’s talk about the literary techniques he’s using. So you have metaphor and simile in here. So, “Dark and dormant as a crypt.” “Like the tolling of a bell.” So, obviously you can’t see metaphor and simile up on a screen, but that’s how you’re trying to create the image in the reader’s head, or create the sound in the reader’s head.

He’s not afraid of referencing the camera. So, it does say, “ANGLE INSIDE CAPSULE,” “f.g.” for foreground, which is not common, but you totally get what’s happening there. This feels like a script that was both written to be shot, and written to be read. He actually has a great appreciation for the person who is spending the time to read the script and is trying to create on the page as close to the experience as what he wants to create on the big screen down the road.

Craig: Right.

John: So, this is terrific on that level.

Craig: Yeah, I agree. And it’s one of the reasons I get so frustrated when so-called script whatevers say, “Don’t do…script…” because what he’s doing here isn’t so much writing a script like, oh, I’m just writing directorial notes for myself. What he’s doing is helping the reader watch a movie. Everything he writes in here, everything, is essentially him describing to you the movie that’s running in his head. So, “Dark and dormant as a crypt” is evocative and I can see it. And then I see, “Searchlights stream in the dusty windows.”

I see all of it, and it’s — even “Like the tolling of a bell, a BASSO PROFUNDO CLANG.” So, some people might not know what a Basso Profundo Clang is, but they know what the tolling of a bell is. So, we’re good.

John: Yeah.

Craig: “Light glares as a cutting torch bursts,” I can see it. It’s all about helping me see, and the angles help me see.

John: The next last paragraph, “ANGLE INSIDE CAPSULE as light stabs in where the dust is wiped away, illuminating a WOMAN, her face in peaceful repose.”

So, here we go. This is a long sentence for what this. So, “Inside the capsule, light stabs.” Great. I totally get what the stabbing is in that case. “As dust is wiped away.” So here it’s like we’ve moved to passive voice kind of here for a second. You know, dust is wiped away. But we’re inside and he’s using the whole sentence to sort of let us know this is a longer shot. We’re inside something. It’s meant to be mysterious and it’s meant to be a little bit more serene inside here. It’s just terrifically well done.

Craig: It’s so good. It’s so good. And it’s so purposeful. Like this is my favorite kind of description, frankly, because it is both creative and utilitarian. I’m a big fan of this sort of thing.

John: Great. Next up we have Erin Brockovich, and here’s a snippet of the script by Susannah Grant.

INT. MASRY & VITITOE — lord, I have no idea what the name is — RECEPTION AREA — DAY.

Morning. Erin walks in, wearing her usual garb. She passes the coffee area where Jane, Brenda, and Anna are milling. Brenda sees her, gives Anna a nudge. They both check out her short hem. Anna nudges Jane, who looks as well. Erin glances over just in time to see all three of them staring back at her judgmentally. She stops in her tracks and stares back.

Y’all got something you want to discuss?

The women go back to stirring their coffees. Erin walks on.

Next scene.


Ed is walking over to his office with the coffee cup in his hand when he trips over the same box of files again.

So, a very different style here. This first paragraph, all the scene description before Erin talks is just one block. And yet it works really well for me because it gives me the feeling that this is a oner, that basically this is all happening in a single shot. This is all sort of one idea is them looking at her. And then we’re going to circle back around to what her reaction is to them looking at her.

Craig: Yeah. This is a very common way of describing scenes that are not about the camera. The camera should not be noticed here at all.

So, when we look at James Cameron’s opening, it’s incredibly visual because there is no dialogue and it’s entirely about telling the story of the mystery of a space that’s being illuminated and exciting things are going on.

This scene is about people and what’s going on in their heads. And about what looks mean and what looks don’t mean. And looking away and looking at. And in that case this is appropriate because I don’t need to know the angles on that, at all. The angles, frankly, will be incredibly boring and obvious.

It’s entirely about the performance, so in this case I like the fact that the action takes a back seat to the performance. And all of the action is now actually describing what’s happening inside people’s heads, so that when Erin says, “Y’all got something you want to discuss?” and then they go back to stirring their coffees, I know exactly what happened.

You could have done this in dialogue. You know, it could have been whispered. “You see what she’s wearing?” “Y’all got something to discuss?” “No, no, no.” Right?

And so I like that in this case you go, no, no, I don’t want to do that in dialogue. I want to do it in action. Well, this is how you do that in action.

John: Yup. I mean, if you didn’t understand English, you would still understand this scene. And you would understand that they are looking conspiratorially and reacting. And that she says something back that shuts them up. That’s all you really need to know. So, honestly the line of dialogue isn’t especially important for making the scene work.

Craig: Yeah. This is one area where — I don’t want people to think that just because I say you’re allowed to use camera angles means you should always use them. This would be a place where it would be very clunky to suddenly say, “Angle on Erin. She stops in her tracks and stares back.” You just don’t want that. Because it’s a boring shot.

John: Yeah. This makes it seem easy and sort of thrown off in a way that’s just right. I wanted to talk about that last line before we go to the next scene. “The women go back to stirring their coffees. Erin walks on.”

It’s a great example of just varying your sentence length to create a good rhythm on the page. So, those were some long sentences beforehand. It was a big long block. Here we just have two short sentences. “The women go back to stirring their coffees. Erin walks on.” A three-word sentence that lets us know that that scene is done and we’re on to the next thing.

You don’t need a Cut To when you have Erin walks on. That short sentence is your cut to.

Craig: That’s correct. And I would also say that let’s say your intention was that she would say, “Y’all got something you want to discuss?” and then you just for whatever reason wanted to cut away to something else, sometimes I’ll read in scripts where people end a scene on a dialogue line. It’s just a bad idea I think in general. Because you do want the line to land somehow.

Now, here you clearly need it to land, plus Erin is leaving. But I think in action it’s best to begin and end a scene with action.

John: Yeah. And of course you’re not making a blanket –

Craig: No.

John: Recommendation.

Craig: No, it’s just a good –

John: Yeah, so I’m sure you have scripts where you’ve deliberately ended on a line of dialogue and I’ve done it, too, but it’s a very sort of unique special case where you definitely want to leave the feeling that the camera is ending up on that person as they say this line, and you’re not supposed to be getting the reaction. That the next shot is the reaction to what they just said.

Craig: Yeah. I probably even in those circumstances, I’d probably pull a Cut To in there because I want some sense that I know what I’m doing. That it’s intentional.

John: Yeah. I think the Cut To is almost required for doing that technique.

Craig: Yeah. Ooh, I want to read this one.

John: You can read this one. This is Ocean’s 11 by Ted Griffin.

Craig: Right. And here in this little snippet you’ll see that these are all called out as individual scene numbers. So, this is from a production script where everything was numbered. So, I’ll sort of emphasize where things are capitalized.

MIRADOR SUITE. Now empty, Livingston’s monitors still displaying the masked men in the vault.

WHITE VAN. Navigating the streets of Las Vegas.

FIVE SEDANS. Tailing the van, security goons piled into each, and maybe we NOTICE (or maybe not) the Rolls-Royce tailing them.

TESS. Pacing in Benedict’s suite, biting her nails, debating whether to blow the whistle on Danny. ON TV: a newscast of the contentious aftermath of the prize fight.

UZI GUARDS, bound and unarmed, unconscious to the activity within the vault.

RUSTY’S CELL PHONE opened and unmanned.

BENEDICT listens — the line has gone dead. He hangs up.

Ooh, good job.

John: So good.

Craig: Good job, Ted.

John: Good job, Ted Griffin. I wanted to include this because so often you see like, well, the question is like well how do I do a montage, how do I format a montage and, you know, sometimes you do it with bullet points, sort of you quickly go through a list of shots. But this is more commonly what you’re really needing to do in a montage which is you’re moving between different people and different places and they all have to build up to sort of one greater sequence. And this is great example of how you actually do that.

So, you notice that the start of each one he’s in all caps in uppercase doing the where we’re at. So, MIRADOR SUITE, WHITE VAN, FIVE SEDANS, TESS. And then the description right after that is set up in a parallel structure, so it’s always navigating, tailing, pacing. He’s coming with an adjectival, participle phrase to sort of give you a sense of what the action is, but not really the verb. So, it could be, “White van navigates the streets of Las Vegas.” But instead it’s, “White van, navigating the streets of Las Vegas.”

It’s a continuous action that we’re just catching a glimpse of it while it’s going on.

Craig: Yeah. This is all about creating the sense of flow across things that otherwise would be considered fragmented. So, let’s just go right off the bat here. Ted gets rid of INTs and EXTs. Doesn’t need them. Doesn’t want to bother with them. And I don’t blame him at all, especially when you have so many of these in a row. It would be just like word salad to have all these INTs and EXTs, and we don’t need them. We know that the white van navigating the streets of Las Vegas is outside. And we know that Tess in Benedict’s suite is inside.

We’re getting all of that. So, he says, eh, screw all that formality. Don’t need it. I also love that the way it’s running here, there’s a rapidity to it. We can feel the pace of these scenes. We can see — there’s a motion going on to all of this.

And then there’s this interesting — this would fall — I would put this in the school of extreme utility. But, then there are these little twists. For instance, “FIVE SEDANS tailing the van, security goons piled into each, and maybe we NOTICE,” and in parenthesis, “(or maybe not) the Rolls-Royce tailing them,” which is great, because that’s different than what Cameron does. Cameron probably would never write that, because what do you mean, maybe not? Well either we do or we don’t, right?

But actually that is something. Like the instruction there is a careful viewer who is paying attention to that will see it, but otherwise they won’t. We’re not making a deal of it.

John: In the script I just turned in, there’s some scene description of an apartment that we go to the first time. And I call out that there’s some memorabilia from an earlier scene in the set decoration, but it’s not crucial. It’s like it’s a useful thing that’s there that helps sort of connect it to an earlier thing, but it’s not an urgent thing that the viewer doesn’t see it that the world comes crashing to an end.

And so that “or maybe not” is a useful thing. It’s not saying like throwing up your hands like you don’t care. It’s saying that it’s like it’s there and it’s interesting, but it’s not essential.

Craig: Right. Similarly, there’s a thing that probably I don’t think Cameron would do in his description, but I like that Ted does it here. On Tess, “Debating whether to blow the whistle on Danny.” Well, can you film that? Yes, you can.

As long as the screenplay has made it clear that she’s in a position where she would be debating that, what you’re saying there is act like you’re debating that. And I’ll see it. I should be able to see — that’s something that an actor can act. So, I like that that’s there. And then you see that on TV there’s this prize fight going on. So there’s all these layers of stuff.

I love that Rusty’s cell phone is his own scene. It’s just great. Because that — here’s the other thing. Once you start down the road of a pattern for a montage, you’re in that pattern.

John: Yup.

Craig: So, you can’t just suddenly go, okay, now here’s a bunch of things all together in one scene. No. Uzi guards and now Rusty’s cell phone is his own scene, just sitting there, all good, and then you go back to Benedict. “The line has gone dead.” Great. Great. Great.

Just a really good way to move you through this moment. It’s fun. You can feel — like you can almost feel the music through this which is great.

John: Absolutely. Probably a good sign for almost any montage is that you should be able to sense the underlying audio, which is generally music, that’s going to be the bed that’s going to tie all these things together.

And each of these shots feels about the same length, even though they consist of very different material in them.

Circling back to what you said about Tess, “Pacing in Benedict’s suite, biting her nails, debating whether to blow the whistle on Danny.” In all these examples, these are scenes that were already set up someplace else. And so if you’re coming back to something you don’t have to sort of do all the work again to establish who that person was, what they were doing. We had an earlier scene where we saw her. We saw or we knew what her situation was, so we don’t have to do the full recap here. It’s just like, you know, remind us like, oh, she’s debating what she’s going to do.

Craig: Right.

John: Great. We got it.

Craig: Yeah. And it’s really underscoring also how much work the screenplay has done well, because there’s a simplicity and a clarity. There’s no confusion at this point what her pacing is about. That means the screenplay has done its job. So, excellent work there. Ooh, can I read this one, too?

John: You can read this one, too.

Craig: Only because it’s like my favorite and I just feel like maybe I’ll get smarter for having read it. [laughs] So this is a little bit from Unforgiven by David Webb Peoples. Obviously one of the great, great screenplays ever.

BAH-WHOOM! Munny fires and smoke belches out…

Skinny is blown back against the wall and falls to the floor a bloody mess and…

Little Bill is reaching for the Spencer which is leaning against the bar near his leg but he freezes because…

Munny has turned the shotgun on him and Munny sees Ned’s Spencer there and his eyes show how feels about it.

For a moment while the smoke clears the bar is silent and there are nervous glances cast at the bloody body of Skinny but Little Bill keeps his eyes on Munny.

Little Bill says, “Well sir…You are a cowardly sonofabitch because you have just shot down an unarmed man.

Actually, I think in the movie they flipped that. Regardless.

Then….It has become a very formal moment and there are, figuratively speaking, only two people in the room, Munny and Little Bill…and WW Beauchamp is watching them, scared to death, but this is it, what all those Easterners dreamed about, the showdown in the saloon.

John: So much to love here. And so different than some of our other examples. And that’s why I thought we would include it.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So, let’s talk about dot-dot-dot and dash-dash. So, here David Webb Peoples is sort of continuing the continuity of the action by ending each line on a dot-dot-dot. So, and…, and…, because…. So, there’s a cause and effect to each time that we’re cutting.

You know, you don’t necessarily have to believe that each one of these paragraphs is its own shot, but it kind of feels that way.

We’re always in the present tense, and yet look at the choices he’s making about present tense. Skinny is blown against the wall. So, rather than saying the shot blows Skinny back, he is blown back, so we’re seeing the effect of that shot from a previous cut.

Little Bill is reaching for the Spencer which is leaning against the bar near his leg, so we are — so often in screenwriting books they’ll talk about like oh don’t use –

Craig: Get rid of I-N-G. Wah!

John: Yeah, exactly.

Craig: Blech.

John: But here twice in a row, because we’re establishing geography and location and sort of the continuity of a person’s action.

Craig: Right.

John: It’s so fascinating here, I think, where Munny has turned the shotgun on him. So rather than saying Munny turns the shotgun on him, like it has already happened, so we’re coming into a moment that has just happened, so we’re seeing the effect of what has just happened.

Craig: It’s so great. It’s so great. And, you know, this is where these, again, these screenwriting knucklehead gurus out there, I just want to put them all on a spaceship and send them into the sun, because they don’t even understand, ooh, here it comes, they don’t understand –

John: Yup. I knew it was coming.

Craig: They don’t understand the point of verbs. This is a — this is masterful. What peoples is doing here is masterful. And if you pay attention you can see the movie happening because of the verb tenses, right? Little Bill is reaching for the Spencer means when the camera cuts to Bill he’s already in motion. Not reaches for, which means he makes a decision to reach and then reaches. He’s already moving. The thing is already there. And then, but he freezes because Munny has turned the shotgun on him.

Munny has turned the shotgun on him means that Little Bill is discovering something that has happened off-screen that he didn’t realize happened, and that’s so impactful for the audience. Because it means that he’s going to see something first and we’re going to see in his eyes fear. And then we’re going to reveal what he’s scared of.

This is how verbs work, you enormous pile of [laughs] of exploitative –

John: You’re not talking to me. You’re talking to some strawman –

Craig: You exploitative mother-f’ers. “Don’t use I-N-G verbs.” You idiots. Right? So this is what it’s about.

And I love it!

John: Mm-hmm. This last paragraph is so fascinating to me, because “It has become a very formal moment and there are, figuratively speaking,” so it’s a huge long paragraph. This phrase, “it has become a very formal moment,” doesn’t that feel like a slow pullback to you?

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: It’s like you’re just like you’re recognizing like, oh, we’ve been in these little moments and then suddenly we’re getting bigger and wider and we’re sort of seeing what exactly has happened here.

So, it’s like it’s taking stock of the last few moments and sort of like what the scene is like now. And you don’t have to do this, but in some ways to write to Unforgiven you have to do this, because that’s what the movie feels like.

Craig: Absolutely. And, by the way, I think wrong. I think that this is exactly the order that Little Bill said it in. It’s just maybe he fiddled with a couple of words. But, no, of course, it’s exactly right. So, here’s the deal, right, I love dot-dot-dots. I’m a huge fan of them because what dot-dot-dots do for me is they kind of imply you’re holding your breath. You know, like Walter Murch wrote this great book called In the Blink of an Eye where he talks how the audience will naturally blink where you kind of want to cut, you know.

And that’s just the way our brains work. And similarly, when things like this are happening, it’s common for people to say, “Oh my god, I finally breathed. Like I was holding my breath through that whole thing.” That’s what dot-dot-dot is doing. It’s saying hold your breath. Hold your breath. Hold your breath. And then Little Bill says this, and the way that David Peoples writes this last paragraph it implies you’re breathing now. In fact, we’re going to take our time to breathe and discover this tableau, that it’s now formal. Now, all the action is over and we have entered this new weird thing where two gods among men have dropped all the pretenses and are cutting to the truth.

And then I love this, “And WW Beauchamp is watching them, scared to death that this is, what all those Easterners dreamed about, the showdown in the saloon,” which is something that is acted beautifully in that moment. It’s just great. And there’s nothing wrong. It’s not too wordy, as far as I’m concerned. I feel like this is really bursty, like quick bursts, and exciting, and then when the movie becomes a little bit languid, the action becomes languid.

So this is poetry to me. The use of action is helping imply the pace of the scene itself.

John: Great. Our next example is from Wall-E, which has a similar sort of strange style to it, like sort of not conventional style. But completely suits the movie that Wall-E is. So, Wall-E, if you remember, so much of Wall-E takes place like a silent film. And if you read the script, it sort of feels that way.

So, I’ll describe this to you and if you look at the actual sample, these single sentences are all their own line. So there’s no paragraphs here. They’re all just given their own line. They’re blocked together in some ways to sort of imply a bit of more continuity of action, but they’re all single sentences.


Wally motors outside. Turns over his Igloo cooler to clean it out. Pauses to take in the night sky. STARS struggle to be seen through the polluted haze. Wally presses the “Play” button on his chest. The newly sampled It Only Takes a Moment plays.

The wind picks up. A WARNING LIGHT sounds on Wally’s chest. He looks out into the night. A RAGING SANDSTORM approaches off the bay…

Unfazed, Wally heads back in the truck. It Only Takes a Moment still gently playing.

…The massive wave of sand roars closer…

Wally raises the door. Pauses. WHISTLES for his cockroach to come inside. The door shuts just as the storm hits. Obliterates everything in view.

Craig: Well, I love Wall-E. Love Wall-E. I would not recommend that people write traditional screenplays this way. I wouldn’t even recommend people write animated screenplays this way, because this document feels like a notes documents for people who are all working on a movie.

This document feels like it’s in support of reams and reams of storyboards and story art. And on its own is simply not going to do the job. Like, I read this and it doesn’t make me see the movie at all.

It feels like a support document. So, I think that this is a more technical way of doing things within a framework of a storyboarded process, but I don’t think that this would be advisable for a movie where somebody didn’t know your story at all and was going to read it.

John: I disagree with you. I think I could read this document and have a really good sense of what the movie felt like.

And it would take me a little while to get into this strange spare style, but honestly it does feel what certainly the first half of Wall-E feels like to me, which is a bunch of individual shots where he is a small figure against a large landscape or, you know, just he’s center frame and there’s just this giant emptiness around him.

I really dug it. And so even if you were to try to apply some of these lessons to a more conventionally written screenplay, I want to talk about trimming off subjects of sentences because you don’t need them a lot of times.

So, let’s imagine these first couple of sentences where in a more conventionally formatted script. “Wally motors outside. Turns over his Igloo cooler to clean it out. Pauses to take in the night sky.” You don’t need the He’s, you don’t need the It’s, you don’t need Wally’s, as long as you have parallel structure between those sentences, we get it.

And particularly if you’re writing action sequences, you’re very often going to trim off those subjects because we know who’s doing it, so just give us the verb and let’s keep going.

Craig: Yeah, I agree. I do that all the time, and I obviously write in a more traditional sense. Where this doesn’t work for me, if I weren’t familiar with Wall-E, if I didn’t see artwork, I hadn’t been looking at storyboards is things like, it says, “A raging sandstorm approaches off the bay…” but that’s it. It’s just a raging sandstorm. Okay.

And then it’s a “massive wave of sand.” And then it says, “The door shuts just as the storm hits.” It’s so flat and I’m not excited. And I want to be excited in things like that. He says, “Whistles for his cockroach to come inside.” I’m not sure if a cockroach does come inside there, or not. I don’t know. And it says “obliterates everything in view.” It’s all so flat and it feels very much like Wally himself, like Wally is writing this script. But I don’t want Wally to be writing the script. I want somebody like Pete Docter to be writing the script to make me feel for Wally, which is in fact what was going on.

I think it was Pete Docter who did this one, right?

John: Yeah. Pete Docter, Andrew Stanton.

Craig: Oh, Stanton.

John: Other credits were Jim Reardon, yeah.

Craig: I’m just fascinated by this. You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to ask our friend Emily Zulauf like what the deal is with this, because I can’t imagine that they would give this to somebody that didn’t know anything else and say what do you think of this movie we’re making. So, I’m in a different place than you are on this one.

John: Yeah. For sure you could imagine this document along with the artwork, or the sense of like each of these lines became one panel of a storyboard. And maybe that’s sort of how their internal process works. But I really do think this is a way you could write a script and have it be quite successful. So, all right, next is a much more conventional thing but also quite delightful thing from our friends Derek Haas and Michael Brandt. This is from the movie Wanted.

THWAP! A bullet finds its way through the space and hits the Electrician in the back of the shoulder, spinning him around.

CLOSE ON: Cross’s gun. Another shot and we follow the bullet, across the dock, and dipping low into the next space in the paper stack — right where Electrician is now leaning…

…the bullet buries in his eye, sending him to the floor.

Wesley sees Cross race for a set of stairs. Just as Wesley is about to cut him down, Cross fires at a wooden beam holding back some massive rolls of NEWSPAPER. The rolls tumble over and Wesley has to dive out of the way, allowing Cross to escape up the stairs.

Wesley, Fox, and the Waiter all race for the stairs.

Craig: Yeah. To me, this is, again, very traditional way of doing action. One thing that the guys do here is they’re not shying away from violence, right, so the action — when we write action, you can say like, “He’s shot, falls to the ground.” And the action is telling you this is a movie about the ballet of violence. When it’s “THWAP! A bullet finds its way through the space and hits the Electrician in the back of the shoulder, spinning him around,” we understand that we’re doing ballet now. First of all, we know that we’re actually following the bullet, which tells us, again, about pace.

When “the bullet buries in his eye, sending him to the floor,” it’s underlined. They’re like, hey, this is what we’re about here. This is a movie in which violence is supposed to be operatic.

And people running and dancing around, like I don’t know what these guys are thinking, and I don’t need to. I don’t know what their characters are in this moment. It’s not about that. So, contrast this with say like in Unforgiven we can see like, oh my god, he turns and then there’s this moment of dread. And then we reveal this. This is more pure action.

And this is a very typical way of writing pure action. High energy. And use the action to let us know exactly how lurid we’re going to be.

John: Yup. Also, the use of underlining is part of the reason why I chose this section of the script. Action scripts will tend to use underlining as like an extra form of punctuation. It’s like a way of sort of visually indicating what the key crucial beats are. And so you will underline the things that you want to make sure the reader doesn’t miss, but also it’s just going to give you a sense of this is already a very loud scene, so what are the loudest parts within this loud scene.

And sort of what do you need to make sure you’re focusing on. Even within the uppercase, like that NEWSPAPER still gets capitalized because — it’s not just because it’s a key prop, but because it’s a big thing you need to make sure you don’t miss. It’s a thing that’s going to be causing the action in the next section.

Craig: Right.

John: It’s essentially its own character for the rest of this paragraph.

Craig: Yeah. And so like if you don’t capitalize newspaper and so everything is just underlined there, you’ll notice it, but massive rolls of newspaper you’re like, well, okay, so massive rolls of newspaper. Newspaper doesn’t seem very massive to me. Massive rolls of all capitalized newspaper, I’m just already imagining lots of newspaper, like a massive amount of newspaper, which is what they want. So, they’re smart that way.

I thought this was done really, really well. And, by the way, just side note, love this movie. Love — so entertaining. I was so entertained by Wanted.

John: Yeah. Wanted is a movie that knows what it is in a way that so many movies don’t. It never shied away from being its own true self, and that’s what I really appreciated about it. It was nutso.

Craig: Yes, it was.

John: And wasn’t Chris Pratt in that? Chris Pratt plays like –

Craig: Yes, he plays like his jerk buddy at work who is screwing his girlfriend.

John: Like on a copy machine. There’s some crazy –

Craig: Yeah, exactly. He hits him in the face with the keyboard and the keyboard letters spell out F-U I think, or, I’m trying to keep it clean. But it was very cool. I don’t know, Timur is nuts, man. That guy — I love that movie.

John: Yeah. I love it, too. Whatever happened to Chris Pratt?

Craig: I don’t know. I don’t know. For a moment there, uh, you know, I think he’s just mostly doing that role, like he plays that guy, the jerk.

John: The jerk. Yeah.

Craig: Like the jerk who is in a movie for a scene to make the hero look good.

John: Yeah. Sometimes you get typecast because it’s really who you are.

Craig: Yeah, well he gained a ton of weight. He’s like 300 pounds now.

John: It’s rough. Our final example is from Whip It. And I wanted another example of a montage. And this is a movie that has a lot of montages because like most sports movies there’s time where you’re really trying to summarize down what a match feels like, what a game feels like, to sort of those key moments. So, here is one of the matches in Whip It.


The First Jam — Bliss CHEERS Crystal Death on from the bench, Robin Graves sneaks past to get the points for the Widows.

Johnny Rock-It says, “Robin Graves makes off with three points. The Widows take the lead!”

Bliss watches as jam after jam the Hurl Scouts get smoked. Her team is disorganized, each girl doing her own thing.

Smashley jams for the Hurl Scouts, but gets frustrated and starts a FIGHT with one of the Black Widows.

Letha jams as Smashley sits in the penalty box.


Smashley is back to jam, but takes a nasty BLOCK. She’s hurt. Malice turns to Bliss.

Craig: Yeah, I mean, it gets the job done.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Yeah, this is pretty spare, actually. I mean, I’m kind of a little surprised, because I’ve seen the movie which is so much fun, and these things are such high energy. I mean, I guess I am being a little critical. Like I kind of want sound. I want sound. I want crunching. I want like, you know, like starts a fight, like how? Like punches her?

John: Punches her? You know, I feel like I actually got some of that sound and some of the feel just by the use of the verbs she did choose. So, “jam after jam they get smoked.” Picking the fights. Takes a nasty block. I think this scene comes from later on in the movie, so this may be after we’ve had quite a few examples of like what these matches feel like, so this may be one of the shorter matches in the movie overall.

Craig: Right. Okay, well that’s a good point. Because there is a real fatigue that can set in. It’s one thing to do the ballet of the bullet smashing into eyes, and people smashing into each other, but if this is the ninth or tenth of these at some point in the movie, then I guess short-handing makes sense, because one thing that does happen — and everybody knows this as you’re reading a script — is you read faster. It’s like faster, faster, faster because if the script has done its done its job right, you want to see what happens

John: Yup.

Craig: You want to see what happens. So, you start to go faster and faster. You don’t want quite as much really painstaking detail in here. And perhaps, you know, if Smashley has started a fight before, then — and it’s been spelled out really clearly, then starts a fight here, I kind of get how she’s doing it.

So, that makes sense to me.

John: Cool. I hope this was helpful for people. So, you can find all of the examples that we talked about here. There’s little images that you can download on the Internet. Just go to and in the show notes for this week’s show you’ll see all of these images that you can read along with us. Thank you, Craig.

Craig: You know what? That was great. I feel like we’ve got a pretty big show here. Maybe we should push reshoots to next week?

John: I think we’re going to push reshoots to next week. So, in next week’s episode we will talk about what are reshoots, why do movies have them. How do writers get involved with reshoots? What happens if the original writer is not the writer on the reshoots? And we’ll talk through some of our own examples with our films that have gone through reshoots and what has worked well and what has not worked well.

But there is time for One Cool Things if Craig has a One Cool Thing.

Craig: Uh, my One Cool Thing is your One Cool Thing.

John: All right. My One Cool Thing is A World Without Work. It’s an article by Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. And I thought it was just a really good think piece overall about what is the future of America and other western economies going to be like as more and more of our work gets replaced by technology. And so to date we’ve seen like factory jobs being replaced, but as clerk jobs and transportation jobs and other things get replaced, there may just not be a place for some people to have jobs in the classic sense that we’ve had jobs.

And what does the world look like, not just in terms of how does the economy work, but psychologically how do we deal with a society where not everyone is going to be employed or needs to be employed. And so I thought it was interesting for everyone to sort of take a look at.

Also, the kind of work that you and I do, Craig, is sort of kind of weird luxury work. And we’re not kind of crucial or fundamental to any part of the economy. And we could easily, while we’re not going to be replaced by computers tomorrow, it just got me thinking about sort of what my life would be like and what my identity would be like if it weren’t the job that I had.

Craig: You know, artists have never been essential to society the way that people that grow food are, or doctors are, but we’ve always been in demand. I mean, well, not all of them, but a bunch of them.

So, the nice thing is I always feel like what we do at least, there’s always a place for it. People will always want to be entertained. It’s just innate to the human condition. So, yeah, I don’t think we will be replaced by computers.

I think I could be replaced by a computer. [laughs] That’s just me.

John: I think it does, and this article does lay out, is that it does allow for a greater number of people who have artistic ambitions to sort of fulfill those artistic ambitions because there’s no fundamental need for them to be working.

And so I think it may create a class of people who were never kind of looking for a job, or just decided to have sort of the minimal jobs and just become artists in whatever capacity they wanted to be because there’s no pressure to define yourself by making a certain amount of money.

Craig: All right.

John: We’ll see.

Craig: Yup.

John: Craig, thank you so much for another fun podcast. Our show, as always, is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. I’m not sure who did the outro this week, but if you have an outro for our show, you can write into That’s also the place where you can send your questions, long questions are the place for that.

Short questions are great on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.

If you would like to subscribe to our show, you should subscribe to it in iTunes. Just go to iTunes and search for Scriptnotes. Also in iTunes you can find the Scriptnotes App which lets you get access to all the back episodes of the show. There’s also one for Android.

If you would like a USB drive, there’s a small chance that there are still some left in the store. So you could go to and get one of those. There’s a 10% discount if you use the code SINGULARITY.

And that’s our show this week. Craig, have a fun week.

Craig: You too, John.

John: Bye.

Craig: Bye.


Everything but the dialogue

Tue, 07/14/2015 - 08:03

John and Craig take a deep dive into scene description, looking at how seven produced screenplays arranged the words on the page. With samples from Aliens, Erin Brockovich, Oceans 11, Unforgiven, Wall-E, Wanted and Whip It, we tackle verbs and metaphors, ellipses and underlining.

You can look at the show notes to see the exact scenes we’re discussing.

Also this week, Paramount has cut a deal with two exhibitors to greatly shorten the window between theatrical and home video on two upcoming releases. We look at why, and what this experiment means for writers in the near and long-term.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Fight the Giant, or Moving Up the Showdown

Fri, 07/10/2015 - 12:39

In most stories built around a heroic quest, the big confrontation comes at the end. The heroes face off against their well-established nemesis, and likely prevail. After that, there’s a little time left for wrap-up and rebuilding.

This is the common pattern for most feature films, with a battle or competition happening in the third act.

But it’s not just movies. In novels, the showdown generally happens in one of the final chapters. In series television, the quest to defeat the Big Bad might span a whole season, but the main event comes in the finale. In videogames, this stage even has a name: The Boss Level. The player finally has the skills and hit points to kill Diablo.

Whenever you see such a clear narrative pattern, there’s a great opportunity to subvert it.

Moving the fight earlier can take both your reader and your hero by surprise.

There are three basic structures for getting the fight to happen earlier than expected.

The hero rushes in. Perhaps the hero gets a tip that the villain is momentarily exposed. She is forced to make a decision: go in fast or wait for the next opportunity. She decides to strike now, for better or worse. Without the benefit of time and planning, she is forced to improvise.

The villain surprises the hero. Rather than wait for the hero to show up, smart villains often attack first. In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling lets Voldemort trap Harry so he can battle him face-to-face, breaking the expectation that the showdown would only happen at the very end. In the real world, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor is a classic example of the enemy

Fate intervenes. Some outside force — the boxing commission, an avalanche, pure coincidence — puts the hero and the villain in the same space when neither was quite ready for it.

However your hero and villain end up battling, the outcome should have a huge impact on the rest of your story.

Letting the giant score an early victory helps in several ways:

  1. You’ve established what a powerful threat the villain is.
  2. You’ve knocked your hero down. Almost anything that’s bad for your hero is good for your story.
  3. You’ve warned the reader not to assume your story will follow conventional patterns.

Maybe you’ve even decided to Kill The Hero:

Sometimes, it’s fun to let your hero win this early battle. Maybe the presumed villain wasn’t the ultimate villain after all — or in killing him, the hero has unleashed something much worse. Perhaps That’s Not the Dragon:

In most cases, both hero and villain will survive this early brawl, but both will be changed by the encounter.

Using Fight the Giant

Like every card in Writer Emergency Pack, Fight the Giant can be used at both macro and micro levels of the story process.

Fight the Giant might be a key plot point on which your entire story hangs. Perhaps an unexpected, early defeat sends your hero’s allies packing, and he must now assemble and train a new army from the remnants.

On a sequence level, Fight the Giant is a great way to ratchet up the tension. Your hero had a plan for how this was supposed to go down, but the villain had a plan of her own. And she moved faster.

Finally, Fight the Giant can be a great focus in a single scene. Your cat-burglar hero was expecting three minutes notice when the villain would be returning to his penthouse, but suddenly he’s here in front of him.

No matter how you use Fight the Giant, make the most of its surprise factor. Catch your hero flat-footed, and keep your heroes on their toes.

Fight the Giant is Card 2 of 26 in Writer Emergency Pack, which you can find in the Store and on Amazon.

Featured Friday: Before they were filmed

Fri, 07/10/2015 - 11:08

Every Friday this summer, we’re featuring exclusive scripts in Weekend Read. Some of these will be produced works, others just titles that caught the attention of readers.

Today’s collection includes:

  1. The first draft of The Spectacular Now written by Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber. Scott writes, “First draft we ever turned in I believe. Bit different from the finished film, so hopefully interesting to the readers.”

  2. The shooting script for Erin Brockovich by Susannah Grant, who notes that the published script in bookstores “just prints exactly what ends up on the screen, so for your purposes, this is better. It shows how much editing takes place in post.”

  3. Three Months by Jared Frieder, recommended to us by our friends at The Black List. Franklin Leonard says, “This is a really good one. Won the Austin Film Festival contest last year and I believe Oren Uziel is attached to produce it.”

You can find these Featured Fridays scripts in Weekend Read’s For Your Consideration section. Each Friday’s scripts are available for that weekend only, and only in the app.