John August's Blog
At the start of the month, I wrote a post urging readers to go ahead and send happy support emails. Quite a few users took me up on the offer. Thanks to everyone who wrote in.
Emailing developers is a great way to let them know you like what they’re doing.
Leaving a review in the App Store helps pay it forward, letting potential buyers know that an app has fans. We get an alert in Slack whenever a new review is posted, and immediately take a look.
Here are the four most recent Highland reviews: three raves, and one disappointed user.
This afternoon, pdx-j wrote:
Of all the screenwriting apps I’ve tried, this is my favorite by far. Once you learn to write in Fountain (it’s really not that hard; I promise), writing in Highland becomes intuitive.
I hate having to tab through different screenplay aspects and becoming distracted by how your writing appears on the screen. It hampers the creative flow. Most of the other screenwriting apps out there are so busy and complicated, filled with cumbersome extras in order to make it appear it’s worth the high price.
With Highland, you can just write and write and then convert it all into screenplay format at the end of the day. Fantastic. And because you write in plain text, you can write in pretty much any word processor and easily paste it into Highland. I often write scenes in Evernote on my phone when I’m away from my computer, and then just paste it into Highland later. I’ve never had any problems with this process.
And that’s just the writing portion of this app. The ability to convert files between PDFs, Final Draft, and Fountain plain text is amazing. Thanks for making a great app!
An MBA might say that Highland has good “market fit” with pdx-j. We’re an app that works the way he wants us to work. Both sides are happy.
As we go through reviews and support emails, we find at least half of the negative ones are from users who were expecting a different kind of app. We’re unlikely to be able to make them happy. That’s why we make our Mac App Store screenshots clear and straightforward. It’s also why we have a standard email that walks users through the process of getting a refund from Apple.
On Friday, ngonzale3 wrote:
It really is like magic how Highland works out the formatting so that the writer can go on writing. I have Final Draft 8 and instead of upgrading to 9, I upgraded to Highland.
My only, constructive criticism is that it would be great to have the software remember some of the names that will repeat themselves somehow. This way we can save more time from setting up the names for Highland to format it properly.
Again this is a minor, spoiled-bratty request from a truly grateful writer. This software actually makes me believe that I am, strangely as that sounds, rather than a programer trying to write a screenplay, the way Final Draft can.
Auto-completing character names is a completely reasonable request. Other screenwriting apps do it, and it doesn’t violate the spirit of Fountain or Highland.
The challenge comes in designing an interface for dealing with the list of character names. Do you let users see the list? Edit it? Export it? Each “yes” adds complexity, so it needs to be worth it.
In May, David Witus wrote:
I really liked Highland for the first month or so that I used it. But then I started noticing two problems.
1) it would quit unexpectedly. This wasn’t a huge problem because it seemed like it could re-open easily enough without any lost (unsaved) work. That is, it seemed to just pick up right where it left off.
But 2) the PDF output would drop text at the bottom on assorted pages. This was a much bigger problem.
Dialogue that I knew did not follow other dialog appeared in the PDF saved version, but in the input version, it was there. I could not figure out why this was happening and noticed that if I added an action, it would go away. But it would come back up eventually somewhere else.
When you are talking about a 120-page screenplay, this is a huge problem. In fact, I registered a script that had this problem before I realized it and had to get the Copyright Office to reset the link so that I could upload a corrected version. I chose a different application for the second try, and have not used Highland again.
David encountered bugs that made him lose his trust in an app that he really liked.
Highland is a pretty mature app, so why does it have bugs at all? I can think of a few reasons:
It’s dealing with a lot of files it didn’t create. While its native Fountain format is pretty much bulletproof, both PDF and Final Draft files can be incredibly strange. Importing and exporting these documents can be problematic. And each time a new app comes on the scene, its files may be weird in entirely new ways.
Squashing bugs sometimes introduces new ones. When Nima gets a support email, he often asks for a sample file so he can reproduce the problem. Once he fixes the issue with that file, how can he be sure it won’t mess something up with another document? The best answer is probably to run the new build through a large corpus of known files and look for anomalies, so we’ve started to do exactly that. But…
We’re never quite sure what people are trying to do. Because Highland is essentially a text editor, you can type anything into it. You can type a novel, a grocery list, or a 4,000 page manifesto with no white space. When you hit the preview button, it shouldn’t crash. But because the app is expecting Fountain format, it’s making guesses that may be very wrong. In the case of David’s screenplay, it sounds like Highland was miscounting page lines. Without seeing the file, Nima wouldn’t be able to figure out where the issue arose.
These are explanations, but not excuses. If I had David’s experience, I’d be frustrated too. Had he emailed us first, Nima might have been able to send him an interim build that fixed his issue. But I understand the instinct behind leaving the two-star review.
(As far as I know, David may still have Highland installed, so the most recent build may have already addressed his issues.)
On Wednesday, kencarell wrote:
Love this app. I was using Adobe Story for a while but it was clunky and hard to use.
It takes a little getting used to if you’re used to those auto-format screenwriting softwares but after some practice, it’s really easy to use. I like that you can switch the font you’re typing in around but it still shows up in Courier (or Courier New or Prime, depending on your settings) when you look at it in preview mode.
My only critique with it is I would like to see some more added to it in future versions. I know it’s not meant to be a whole production software but add something as simple as scene numbers would be nice.
A lock mode would be good too with revisions afterward (so it numbers pages with A/B, etc.). I know this is supposed to be very streamlined so it’s unlikely these things will be added but they would be a good bonus.
Otherwise though, love how clean and smooth this software runs. Great stuff John!
Highland actually already has scene numbers. Simply put the number surrounded by hashtags after the scene header.
INT. HOUSE – DAY #32#
In the preview, that number will move to both the left and right margins.
I use Highland every day — in fact, I’m writing this post in it. A lot of what the app is today and will become in the future is driven by my needs.
Upcoming versions of Highland will be adding some remarkably useful things, but we’re not looking to become a Final Draft or Fade In killer. Each of these apps does a credible job with locked pages and other production drudgery. It’s simply not that interesting for us to try to do it better.
Rather, we want to create apps that make writing slightly more delightful. All four of the reviews above feel like they came from our ideal users: writers who want an app that gets out of the way and lets them focus on the words. So our goal is to keep those people extremely happy.
You can find Highland and all of its reviews on the Mac App Store.
Craig and John look at why certain genres of movies — mid-budget thrillers, adult dramas and romantic comedies — aren’t getting made, and whether there’s any way to get them back.
We also look at Apple Music, and what streaming means for screenwriters. Finally, we chart the screenwriter’s job from pitch to premiere, and how few of those steps are actually paid.
Big news: we have brand-new USB drives with the entire Scriptnotes catalog available at store.johnaugust.com. Quantities are limited, so don’t delay.
- Scriptnotes 200 Episode USB drives are available now!
- Ben Affleck to Produce FIFA Scandal Film for Warner Bros.
- Scriptnotes, 194: Poking the Bear
- Is Hollywood Making Too Many Movies?
- Betteridge’s law of headlines
- STX Entertainment and on Wikipedia
- To Apple, Love Taylor
- Taylor Swift Scuffle Aside, Apple’s New Music Service Is Expected to Thrive
- Supreme Court Ruling Makes Same-Sex Marriage a Right Nationwide
- Neil Gaiman’s advice for getting idea on paper
- Outro by Rajesh Naroth (send us yours!)
Gina Ippolito writes about how she got staffed on her first TV show:
I went to the meeting and basically just talked with three of the dudes who work on the show, including the creator. They asked me about myself and I talked about my love of geeky sci-fi shows, the stuff I do at UCB and iO, and the fact that I’ve been playing chess competitively since I was little. The creator was also a huge chess nerd. One of the other guys loved sci fi shows. We geeked out for a while. Basically I just hung out with them and I left the room feeling like it was a fun time. The next day they emailed me to say they’d like to staff me.
So that’s the story. No insane coincidences, no extreme nepotism, no “I saved the life of the president of Cartoon Network’s daughter from being hit by a car so they gave me a job!” All simple, straightforward, and something that anyone could accomplish, with the right tools.
Ippolito’s tools include persistence, collaboration, and being nice to everyone along the way. It’s classic advice, but also easy to forget.
You should also read her post on How to Get and Keep Writing Jobs.
Every Friday this summer, we’ll be 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:
The final shooting script for National Treasure. Story by Jim Kouf and Oren Aviv & Charles Segars. Screenplay by Jim Kouf and Cormac Wibberley & Marianne Wibberley.
The outline, script and season one arcs for my 20th/ABC pilot Chosen.
I Fucked James Bond by Josh Hallman, which won the “Fade To Black Award” sponsored by Franklin Leonard and The Black List at the 2014 Austin Film Festival.
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.
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 203 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, how are you?
Craig: You know, I’m doing quite well. I’m in the strange screenwriter summer place where my children seem to be off of work. I’m not off of work but I feel like I should be off of work. In fact, I think I have more to do now than I did before. I don’t think we ever outgrow the feeling that summer is supposed to be not-work time.
John: Yes. I had the week-long vacation which really felt like my summer break but I’m definitely now back into it. And I’m in to this rewrite and figuring out how to actually execute those things. I said, “Oh, yeah, sure. I can do that.” And then you stare at the scenes and figure out, “Oh, my god, how am I going to do that?”
Craig: Isn’t that the worse feeling when you think to yourself in the moment, “Oh, you know what, there is an easy path there.” And then after maybe five more minutes of private consideration you realize, “Oh, no, no. Oh, no, no.” But it’s too late.
Craig: You’ve said it was easy.
John: You already said yes.
Craig: Yeah, I know it’s terrible.
John: Yeah. And the challenges are, in general, I could do all those things but to do all those things without adding pages is incredibly difficult. So you’re looking at sort of how to make these changes work in a way that makes everything better and doesn’t drag stuff out. And I think I can really do that in this pass, but it’s just taken some really careful brain time to do it.
Craig, I don’t know if you ever do this thing called Morning Pages? Have you heard this idea of Morning Pages?
John: No. So I think I’m probably doing it wrong and I’ll probably explain it wrong. But it’s the idea that the first thing when you wake up in the morning, you go and you write down the stuff that your day is about or the stuff that you’re going to be working on that day and it’s meant to be a way to focus your brain and focus your attention. And I think there’s probably a philosophy that I’m not executing quite correctly. But this last week I tried it.
And so, every morning I’ve been waking up and before I go downstairs and drink my coffee, I’ll just spend a few minutes scribbling down sort of what this stuff is that I’m writing that day. And it has been useful, I think, in terms of focusing on what I’m actually going to do and what the scene work will be for that. And so, some of the solutions I found this week have come out of that. So, if people are looking for a new thing to try, that might be the new thing to try.
Craig: I do a similar thing but I usually do it right before I go to bed. Because I find that if I have some clarity about what the next days’ accomplishments are supposed to be, it’s a lot easier for me to go to sleep. I feel comforted. I think, okay, I have a plan.
If I go to bed without any concept of what the next day is going to be, sometimes, I toss and turn. I’m a little worried. When I wake up I can just start to do those things, of course, as you know, I will use the shower as the shower.
Craig: Get it?
John: The shower is the shower of revelations for how you’re going to get things done.
Craig: Don’t anyone ever tell me I’m not clever.
Craig: I changed a vowel sound.
John: Yeah, no one will ever tell you that you’re not clever.
John: They’ll never tell you that you’re not clever.
Craig: Everyone is thinking it.
John: So let us get to the work for today which is we were going to talk about what turnaround is and how it works. You know what, it’s possible we discussed turnaround on a previous episode, but if we have, it’s been so long ago that you and I don’t even remember what turnaround is.
John: So we’re going to have a Professor Craig explanation of what turnaround is.
John: We’re also going to answer a bunch of leftover questions from the live 200th episode. That was a fun time where we had people writing their questions, you know, listening to the show in real-time, sending in their thoughts and their questions. We were able to answer maybe five of them on the air, but we had a lot of them leftover.
John: So Stuart gathered them together and we’re going to try to blow through a bunch of them today.
John: So, it should be a fun episode.
But first we have some follow up. In the last week’s episode, we discussed a site called FAST Screenplays and our opinion of it to summarize was not high. And we did not think it was necessarily a site to which people should be paying money. Craig had the opportunity this week to do some follow up and conversations with the owner of the site and the program, Jeff Bollow. So do you want to summarize what that entailed?
Craig: Yeah, well, Jeff contacted both of us on Twitter publicly so everybody could see that that’s there and essentially and then followed up with an email saying, “Hey, you know, I feel like I’ve been misunderstood here and actually I’d love a chance to explain to you what I’m doing. I think you will agree that it is a positive thing and it really is worth $30,000,” and et cetera.
And before we decide how we’re going to deal with this, I did have one question for him. Because the thing that was bothering me I suppose the most, the thing that stood out the most that was setting FAST Screenplays apart from a lot of the other sites that we get angry about was that he was claiming it was not-for-profit. And so I asked him if in fact his company and I wasn’t sure if his company was Australian or American, if it was recognized by any relevant taxation authority as a not-for-profit or non-profit company and he wrote us back and said, “Actually, no, it’s not.”
And what he said is that he never intended to imply that it was a legitimate charity, you know, or a non-profit organization the way we understand them to be in the legal sense. He wasn’t even aware that that was possibly something that he could be misleading about, but he understands now that that is misleading and so he apparently has taken that description off of the website. So, at least, there was a positive development.
You know, I’m not sure how to go about this with him because on the one hand I do feel like anybody that we suggest is not being, hmm, let’s say, ultimately useful for the good and welfare of screenwriters should have a chance to defend themselves or rebut or explain. On the other hand, I’m concerned about just giving him our venue as a platform to promote his program. I don’t want to do that either because, frankly, I have no interest in that. So I’m not sure how to proceed here.
What’s your instinct, John?
John: My instinct is to do sort of exactly what we just did in this last 30 seconds which is to explain that there was a conversation and that some things were said, but, you know, it’s up to other people in their own venues to figure out the ways to respond and that it’s not our place to offer an open-mic to anybody who feels offended.
Craig: Well, I think that that settles that. I mean, I do think that he is obviously — he can go ahead and sort of put his own rebuttal up on his website. I was glad that we cleared up the non-profit issue. That was the thing that was really sticking out to me. But, yeah, I agree with you. I think — and, you know, we’ll respond to him but, you know, he was offering to explain his system to us and how it works. I just I’m not interested in that. I don’t –
John: I’m not interested either.
John: It’s a podcast about things that are interesting to screenwriters, notably us, and that was not particularly interesting to me.
Craig: We’re not interested in it therefore it will not be on our podcast about things that are interesting to us.
John: You and I both got a tweet from a person named Matt Treacy who writes, “Curious whether you guys actually do any genuine research or contact individuals before assassinating their character.”
John: And I do want to clear this up because we do a lot of research and people may not realize that part of the funds that we’re getting from the subscriptions is to hire private investigators to sort of really do the leg work and the field work to make sure that it’s possible for us to really, you know, know what we’re talking about. So it may just seem like we’re just two guys standing at microphones talking once a week but there’s really a whole crack research team behind this whole thing. And, you know, sometimes, you know, the ethical calls that we get into, it’s sort of like an Aaron Sorkin show where there’s a lot of back and forth, Craig and I are arguing before we get on the air but that we really have all the facts exactly right and straight. And I hope that comes across in our weekly banter.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, look, we sit down every week and we pick from a list of people who we feel deserve to be assassinated. And then we have, yes, a lot of times we’re yelling at each other, “But are you sure? Are you sure?” No, we’re not in the business of character assassination. We read a guy’s website and we commented on it. I think probably that’s a friend. I assume that’s a friend.
John: I think it may be a friend.
Craig: I think it might be a friend. I don’t think that friend is doing his friend any favors with that kind of thing. I mean, no, we’re not interested in character assassination. We are interested in protecting, as I said before, the good and welfare of screenwriters in general. Anybody that’s looking to make a buck off of screenwriters ought to be able to face this kind of critique. And considering that I basically start from a default position of don’t spend money on your screenwriter career, is it really that shocking that I had a problem with that?
John: Nothing is shocking to me anymore, Craig.
Our next bit of follow up is Tess Gerritsen who has a lawsuit in the works against the film Gravity. So we first talked about this in a full-length dedicated episode. It’s episode 183. And so I think it’s time for a little bit of Game of Thrones sort of previously on Scriptnotes so we can actually get all up to speed because it’s really complicated. So I’ll try to do the short version of this.
So previously in the Gravity legal drama, novelist Tess Gerritsen writes a book called Gravity. She sells the film rights to Newline for $1 million with additional payments due if they make the movie. Alfonso Cuarón makes a movie called Gravity for Warner Bros which is a giant hit. Gerritsen says, “Hey, wait, that movie is based on my book.” Warner says, “Nah-uh. It isn’t. And even if it were, the movie rights are owned by Newline and we own Newline so there’s no issue here.”
Gerritsen sues. She wants the money she feels that she’s owed and also a discovery basically, ability to do research within Warner Bros, so she can establish that Warner and Newline are deliberately trying to screw her out of the money.
So the judge here was Judge Margaret Morrow and she said basically, “Nope, you haven’t made a compelling case.” But she gave Gerritsen’s legal team an opportunity to revise their complaint to address the nature of the corporate relationship between Warner and Newline and that’s where we left it last February.
So in the meantime, it turns out Gerritsen’s legal team did file their amended complaint and Judge Morrow this past week came back and said basically again, “Nope.” And so we’ll put a link in the show notes to the actual like 50 or 60-page legal document that came out of it, like, Gerritsen’s opinion. But I’ll tell you, it’s one of the most boring legal documents I’ve ever gone through and I’ve gone through a bunch, because it’s only really looking at the nature of the corporate relationship between Warners and Newline and it’s just eye-glazingly boring in terms of what is the difference between a merger and an acquisition and a stock thing.
John: And, I don’t know, Craig, did you try to pile through it?
Craig: Yeah, yeah, I tried. You’re exactly right. What’s happened here is that Gerritsen’s case which the moral core of it is, “Hey, you ripped off my book.” And she also alleges that she did some writing on the screenplay that was developed of her book directly which was written by Michael Goldenberg, not the Cuaróns. The moral core, you rip me off, that’s been discarded. At this point now it’s just been drifting to this whole other thing of, “Hey, these are the same companies and so I should automatically…”
It’s very much now about the relationship between these companies. And so, naturally, the ensuing legal decision is as boring as that topic. And I couldn’t finish it because, as you said, it was eye-glazingly tedious. But the upshot is that the judge enlisting multiple cases and all that other stuff just said, “No, no, you’re done.”
John: Yeah, it feels like the whole thing was like one giant parenthetical. It was all like, you know, half of a page would be sort of parenthesis about all these other cases. And so, it was really hard to get through.
One of the key phrases that’s in here is “breach of implied covenant” which is basically that Katja/Newline had an obligation to pursue the claim against Warner Bros for, you know, making Gravity –
John: Which is the same as their project or related to their project, she wasn’t buying that. So that was sort of the upshot of that. It looks like there’s still one more round of this where they’re able to go back another time and try to make their case on the specific nature of the relationship, but she’s even sort of drawing a tighter circle about what could be in this revised complaint. So we’ll see what happens next.
Craig: it’s getting pretty watered down. I mean, look, she’s –
Craig: She’s now saying like, forget whether or not I can prove that they did this; now what I’m really angry about is that they, Newline, didn’t try and sue them. But, yeah, okay, fine and no, but also, where is the substance now? At no point have we ever seen any substance from her that Cuarón’s movie has anything to do with her book or her screenplay with Newline.
John: Yeah. So in her latest blog post Tess Gerritsen talks through sort of her reaction to this whole thing. And so, continuing tradition from the first Gravity, we have our friend Christy reading Tess Gerritsen’s words here so we can respond to it so it’s not just me talking this whole time. So here is a sample of the latest blog post.
“This ruling allows me no possibility of remedy. Even if the Warner Bros film had copied my story word for word there would be nothing I could do about it.”
John: Craig, is that true?
Craig: No, that is totally not true. It’s so not true that my teeth hurt.
John: So let’s imagine this hypothetical where she is exactly right, where there’s just no question that the film Gravity completely copies the plot, story, characters, everything from her book, what would be different about this situation?
Craig: So she’s saying, even if the Warner Bros film had copied my story word for word there would be nothing I could do about it. At that point, the easiest thing for her to do about it would be to file a credits complaint and she would certainly know. File an arbitration complaint with the Guild when the credits for Cuarón’s Gravity are being determined to say, “Hold on a second, they’ve left my name off. I should be included on this as a participating writer.”
If for story alone she had written material, not just the novel but had also written screenplay material, so right off the bat, there is a way — and let me point out, you don’t even have to be employed. If she had written a screenplay in her house and had — and there were some proof that it had existed prior to Cuarón’s screenplay, that would be enough for her to say to the WGA, “Hold on. I got ripped off here. I deserve to be a participating writer. I have material in the final screenplay of this film.” That is separate and apart from her rights issues and her contract issues with Newline and Warner Bros, but it would afford her, if she were correct, and hearing her hypothetical “copied my story word for word” she would almost certainly get some kind of story credit and she would also get residuals.
And then working backwards from there, it would be extremely hard for Warner Bros or Newline to say, “Oh, yeah, and you know what, we’re also not going to now honor the contract that says, if we make a movie of your book, you get $500,000.” I’ll ignore the 2.5% of net profits since that doesn’t exist.” Really, what it comes down to is $500,000 and credit. And so, of course, there would have been something she could have done about it.
But no, the Warner Bros film did not copy her story word for word. And I find this very slippery. What’s she’s doing is saying, “Well, okay, what I know is that I cannot show that they copied my story word for word or a word as far as I could tell, so I’ll just say that if they had, there’d be nothing I could about it.” But they didn’t and there would have been.
John: Yeah. Also, imagine this hypothetical. So let’s say it plays out more the way the real situation does where Tess Gerritsen says she was aware that there was a film called Gravity, at the time, she believed it wasn’t based on her book at all. It was only after seeing the movie that she was aware like, oh, she said she became aware like, “Oh, clearly, this is based on my thing. And I find out later that Cuarón knew about it and all that stuff.” Let’s say all of that is true, if in this hypothetical it really were based sort of word by word on her book or very strongly related to her book, there is no way Warners would have let this go to a lawsuit. The hypotheticals would have worked out very differently because there would be no sort of ambiguity about what the situation is.
The reality is she is sort of waves her hands and saying, “It’s the same title. It’s about these same kinds of things” but when you dig deeper into it, they’re very, very different stories. And that’s why Warners feels like, “You know what, these aren’t related at all.” And I think a lot of people would find they’re not related at all if they actual compare it apples-to-apples.
Let’s listen to a little bit more from what she says.
“The court’s latest decision focused solely on the Warner Bros/Newline corporate relationship. It did not take into consideration my novel or Cuarón’s film or the similarities between them.”
Well, that’s true. This is the nature of this new complaint and this new round was that it was only supposed to be about this relationship. That’s all they’re allowed to talk about.
Craig: Yeah, she’s saying this like she didn’t file this complaint.
Craig: She files a complaint saying, “Hold on, these two companies are more related than they think and the judge is saying, ‘Actually, no, they’re not.'” And now she’s complaining that they didn’t talk about the material in the book?
John: Yeah. One last one here.
“It did not address my third-act rewrite of Michael Goldenberg’s Gravity script in which I depicted satellite debris colliding with the International Space Station, the destruction of ISS, and the sole surviving female astronaut adrift in her EVA suit.”
So this is new information for me because this is the first time I think I’ve seen her claiming that she actually wrote on the screenplay itself or that she’d — because she said something about like she was writing like story stuff, but I’m really unclear now, was she hired to write on the movie? Like, is she a contracted writer on the movie? What is she claiming here?
Craig: The truth is that, I’m not sure, because like you, I seem to recall that she was providing story material of some kind in additional to her novel, you know, prose material that then was handed to Goldenberg possibly or maybe handed to the studio and not handed to Goldenberg. We don’t know. Now she’s saying that she did a rewrite of his screenplay itself. Either way your depiction, her depiction of satellite debris colliding with the international space station, the destruction of the space station, and the sole surviving female astronaut adrift in her EVA suit would in its essence have no more to do with Cuarón’s Gravity then what was it called, Deep Space Homer did?
Craig: You know, when The Simpsons did it.
Craig: This is the part about this that’s so puzzling to me, she –
John: South Park defense.
Craig: Yeah, there you go. Tess Gerritsen is behaving as if she invented the concept of a space station in trouble and astronauts adrift in space. I remember seeing that whole, the Mission of Mars movie had astronauts drifting in space. This is not new and that’s not the core of unique literary expression in fixed form. I think she refuses to acknowledge the fact that these casual similarities do not rise to the test of infringement or use of her copyrighted material or the material that she licensed to Newline. She has provided still as far as I can tell no concrete evidence. The way, for instance, was provided in the Sherlock Holmes case by the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle. There’s nothing. She’s just making assertions.
Craig: And I think frankly if her book had been called something other than Gravity, we wouldn’t be dealing with this lawsuit. It’s like the title has become a fetish where you can’t get past the fact that it’s two things, a book with one title and a movie with the one title and they’re both about trouble in space but that’s seems to be — I just, I’m puzzled by this. I don’t know why she’s continuing to do this. She’s going to keep losing because what’s not there is what needs to be there. This is the, you know, the case of the dog that didn’t bark. Where is the literary material that is the same?
John: So I do think I understand more why she’s pursuing it because from her perspective all of us could say these same things until the end of time. And she would still feel in her heart that it was based on it and she’s not going to ever change that feeling. I don’t think she’s going win this lawsuit. But I really do fundamentally understand why she feels the way she feels. It’s really hard to take yourself out of the experience that you lived and the book that you wrote and sort of your perspective. It’s not even sort of egocentricism, it’s just reality. And I kind of get it from her side and I’m sympathetic to her feeling about it.
Where I’m frustrated is that to raise this as like this is a battle cry to all writers that they’re going to try to screw you over, that this is a great injustice being done, that all writers are in danger. And this was my frustration in the original episode, too, is that she’s trying to generalize her kind of unique situation to the plight of all writers and that’s actually not accurate.
Craig: It’s not accurate. Here is the nightmare scenario she’s putting out there as one that she’s experiencing and therefore look out everyone. What she’s saying is if you write a novel and you license the film rights to a studio, the studio can then essentially be bought by somebody else and then if that somebody else rips you off, you have no recourse because the studio you sold the rights to are really the only ones that have standing. They’re the ones that have been “injured,” but they’re in bed with the purchasing company so you just got screwed.
Craig: Here is the problem with that. I don’t believe that’s how it works at all. It doesn’t work that way because it doesn’t happen. It would happen all the time. If it were that easy, it would constantly happen. It does not. This is the first lawsuit of this kind, I recall. And second of all, I would think that if you could show clear infringement, there would be a legal case against the people that you sold your license to to say basically you dealt in bad faith here.
Craig: And the material would be the proof, but it’s not there. So what’s happening is I think she’s confusing somebody saying, “You really don’t have,” I mean, based on what you’re saying you don’t have a case with — then none of you would have a case. No, no, it’s just — you don’t have a case. Because the similarities, at least, from what I’ve been presented don’t appear to be there.
John: Yep. So let’s move on to a new topic and this was suggested by a mutual writer friend of ours who asked, “Hey, could you guys talk about turnaround.” And so, turnaround is a term of art that you hear thrown around Hollywood about a script that used to be at one studio and now it’s at a different studio or something is in turnaround and it probably doesn’t mean quite what we think it means. And there actually are very specific terms to it. And so, whenever there is something that has very specific contractual language associated with it, my first recourse is to call Craig Mazin. And so, Craig, let’s talk through turnaround, what it means and what it means for screenwriters.
Craig: Sure. Well, turnaround basically means the studio that had been marching in a direction toward making a movie is turning around. They’re saying, “Look, we have been developing this screenplay. We have decided we are no longer interested in spending more money to develop the screenplay to a place where we could then put it into production. We are ceasing development on this project.”
John: Why would a studio decide to stop?
Craig: Well, all sorts of reasons. The most obvious is that they realize the futility of the effort. [laughs] After a bunch of tries, they all look at each other and go, “Does anybody still like this?” I mean, sometimes people buy things and they think, “Well, the idea is good. We don’t like the script. Let’s develop and now it’ll get good.” It never does.
Craig: Very frequently what happens is that there is a change in leadership at the studio. People are fired or quit. New people come in. They look at the development slate and they go, “What’s that?” And someone says, “Oh, yeah, we’ve spent $4 million trying to make that into a movie.” “Well, stop. It’s stupid. I hate it.” The project is now in turnaround.
John: What kinds of projects can go into turnaround? Is it anything that a studio is developing or only very specific kinds of projects?
Craig: Every single thing they’re developing can be put into turnaround. There are things that are more likely than others to be put in turnaround.
John: But let’s not conflate the idea of letting the option on a book lapse is not the same thing as turnaround. So in general, something that gets put into turnaround is something that the studio owns out right and entirely. So it could be a spec script that they purchased. It could be a book that they purchased. They didn’t just option it. They actually purchased it. They bought out all the rights to it. They own it and control it. So it’s not that they have a ticking clock on it. They really are done.
So, a lot of the work that I end up doing, working on is adaptations of books. And so there are some of those movies that haven’t been made. But those projects that I’ve written can’t go into turnaround really because they’ve left the options on those underlying books lapse. Or there’s some fundamental rights that are not associated directly with my script that a person would also have to buy. And so those things don’t tend to go into turnaround.
Craig: Yeah, essentially what happens is when they let rights cycles lapse, that is the ultimate proof of turnaround. Essentially, they’re saying, “We have a renewal fee coming up. Do we want to spend money to renew this or should we just kill this thing now?” So they say, “Let’s kill it now and let the cycle lapse.” It is essentially turned around and then it goes out of rights cycle, yeah.
John: Yeah. But in general, we mean turnaround when the studio is actively letting someone else buy it. Is that what you mean for turnaround?
Craig: No, to me, a movie studio can go into turnaround on a project and that’s the last thing anyone ever hears of it. It’s a dead letter office project. They stop developing it and it goes away forever. But things can be bought out of turnaround by other studios. And that’s where it gets a little interesting.
John: Great. So talk us through how a studio can buy something out and what a screenwriter needs to know about turnaround. If she was working on a project that is now in turnaround, what does that mean for her?
Craig: At the moment, it means that the studio that hired you or purchased your spec screenplay is no longer interested in making it into a movie. They’re not going to be spending any more money on you or any other writer to keep marching towards possible production.
It doesn’t, however, mean it’s dead absolutely. It just means it’s dead there. At that time, if an agent says to you, “Hey, look, you know, maybe we can get another studio interested in getting this out of turnaround,” what they’re saying is we can get another buyer who can come to your studio and say, “We actually like this project. Can we have it? Would you sell it to us?”
And this creates an interesting situation for — let’s call them Studio A has put something into turnaround and Studio B comes along and says, “Oh, you know, actually we would take that off your hands.” The question now becomes an issue of negotiation.
Studio A, let’s say, John, they buy a script from you. It’s an original. After a year, they say to you, “You know what, we kind of want to bring in a new voice.” So then they bring in me, which is natural, of course. [laughs] Of course.
Craig: Because they are hopeful, John.
John: To pay twice as much.
Craig: Yeah. [laughs] They want this to be good. So they bring it to me, I work on it for a year and then they look at each other and say, “Wow.”
John: We made a huge mistake. I mean, Craig Mazin to rewrite the script? What were we thinking?
Craig: [laughs] Basically, both of these guys have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that neither of them know what they’re doing and this should not be a movie. Let’s put it into turnaround.
Now, you, not me, because here’s the thing, I don’t control anything there, ultimately. I don’t have anything sort of to buy. And I’ll explain why. You do. You have this first script. So your agent goes to Studio B and says, “Let’s go get it out of turnaround.” Studio B calls up Studio A and says, “Hey, you’ve spent X dollars developing this on John and Craig and you’ve gotten nowhere and you have nothing to show for it, nor will you ever. How about we take it off your hands?” And Studio A says, “Fine. Pay us what we spent on it and you could take it off our hands.”
And then Studio B goes, “Nah, I don’t think so. How about we give you half? Half is better than nothing.” And so the negotiation begins. The reason that you have to drive that and not me is because of chronology. See, my screenplay is based on yours. Your screenplay is based on nothing. You created it. If they came and they just said, “We just want Craig’s script,” the problem is that my script is useless because it’s based on your script and Studio A would still own your script.
John: Yeah. Chain of title.
Craig: Chain of title. They’ve got to go all the way back to the beginning. That’s the key one. Now, they may go back to the beginning and say, “Look, we love John’s script, we hate Craig’s script. We just want to buy John’s script out of turnaround. And we assure you, as we develop it forward from John’s script, we will not be infringing on anything that’s in Craig’s script. So we just want to buy John’s script out of turnaround.”
Sometimes they say, “We actually really like what Craig did. We want to keep going, so we want to buy both scripts out of turnaround.” That’s how it works.
John: That’s great. So when can turnaround kick in? Is there something that a screenwriter needs to be mindful of? Are there ticking clocks, are there windows?
Craig: There are, if you’re talking about reversion. But that’s a different thing than turnaround.
John: Yeah, so let’s go through both of these. And, you know, because I think when the writer was actually asking us, I think he was really looking at reversion. He was looking at a script that was lying dormant for a while.
John: So let’s draw a sharp line here between turnaround and reversion. So, turnaround is the studio said, “You know what, we’re done.” Another studio comes to it and says, “Oh, you know what, we actually would really want to do that.” And sometimes, individual writers will have in their contract specific language about that turnaround, that there would be some sort of dates and times and abilities to control. But in a general sense, it’s just a negotiation where Studio B comes to studio and says, “Hey, you know what, we actually really do want to make this movie. What would you think about that?”
Now, Craig, sometimes Studio A doesn’t want to make the movie but they don’t want Studio B to make the movie either. Let’s figure out why they wouldn’t want that to happen.
Craig: Happens all the time. It is one thing to say, “We’re making a guess that this project is not worth producing.” It’s another thing to say, “We’re making a guess that this project is not worth producing and we’re willing to let another studio prove us right.” Because they may prove you wrong and there are a lot of examples of this.
For instance, Fox had The Blind Side. They didn’t think it was worth producing. They let it go in turnaround to Alcon and Warner Bros. And Alcon and Warner Bros. went along and proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Fox was wrong.
Craig: That is, it’s embarrassing and it impacts them competitively. I mean, the worst thing in the world is you put a movie out in the same week and another studio puts out a movie that you used to have but you let go in turnaround and they kick your butt. It’s a little bit like trading a pitcher to another team and then three weeks later that pitcher no hits you. It’s just a terrible feeling.
So sometimes, it’s worth it to them to just bite the bullet and say, “No one gets it because we don’t want to have our faces rubbed in this.” And they can do that if they so desire on projects that are based on underlying material.
But, interestingly, they can’t completely do that with impunity when we’re talking about an original screenplay. And this is where reversion comes in. A turnaround is something that studios do. Reversion is something a writer can do. And this is something that’s in our collective bargaining agreement.
John: So talk us through it. Talk us through what a writer has the ability to do if she has written an original screenplay or something that she’s set up off of a pitch. It was her entire idea.
Craig: So she sold a spec or she pitched something that was original, they bought it, and she’s written the first screenplay. She has originated this. That is, A, number one criteria, it must be original. If there’s underlying material, there’s no way that she would ever be able to control the rights in toto for somebody else, right? Because there would be an author out there. Okay, so that’s number one. Script must be original.
Next, she has to wait five years from either the sale of her spec or when she finishes her initial services. If she’s hired to write a draft or even if she’s hired to write two drafts, when she’s finished with that, that’s when the clock starts. She’s got to wait five years.
Five years and then on the day that five years is up, a two-year window begins. The two-year window allows her to go shop this somewhere else. But we’ve got some restrictions. And frankly, the restrictions are so odious that reversion happens extraordinarily rarely. It is unicornic, as we often say on the show.
So, restrictions. You’ve got your two years. One, the two-year window only really begins if the script is not in what they call active development. Well, what is active development? From our point of view as writers, well, are you paying another writer to work on this? From their point of view, while we’re looking for another writer, we’re having meetings with writers, we’ve attached an actor, we’re talking to directors.
It can get very fuzzy. And essentially, the studio can obliterate your effective two-year window if they really want to. If they really wanted to, they can just pay somebody scale. They can chuck 60 grand at somebody to go really slowly over two years. So, there’s that.
Let’s say they’re cool about it. They’re like, “Yeah, cool. Take your two years. You got it.” All right. You can get the script back at that point by paying the studio the money that they paid you.
John: So in my case, let’s say that I wanted to reacquire the script that you had horribly butchered and the five years have passed. So I would be able to pay them back the 100K they had paid me to write the script — so let’s say it was a pitch. So I write them a check for $100,000 and I own the script again. And I don’t have to pay the money that they paid you, right?
Craig: That’s almost right. Yes, you don’t have to pay the money that they paid me. However, you have to pay them, I believe, the money that they paid you, plus interest, I think. I think. It may just be that you have to pay them back the money they paid you. Let’s just say it is. Fine.
Craig: You give them that money. Right off the bat, that can be a problem because let’s say they bought your script for $1 million. You don’t get $1 million. You get $900,000 after your agent. Whoop, it’s down to $850,000 after lawyer. Whoop, it’s down to, let’s say, 500 grand after taxes, okay?
Craig: And that was five years ago. They need $1 million. So right off the bat, that’s an issue. Okay, that’s number one. Now, you could theoretically find a studio to back you on this, right. If a studio wanted to buy it, that’s probably the way it works. So at that point, let’s say you have a partner in line already. And they say, “Yeah, we’ll take care of it. We will pay back the money for you.” But the new purchasing studio, in the case of reversion — because remember, reversion is something that must happen if you follow the rules. It’s in our contract. It’s not something that Studio A could do, right? If you catch them the right way with the rules, they have to give it.
So, unfortunately, there are punitive things built in. Studio B, when they’re trying to get something that you’re reverting, they have to pay the original studio for all the costs to all the subsequent writers, including the pension and health that was paid on top of that, and interest on top of it.
And this becomes tough, especially if you wrote a spec screenplay and then, as is often the case, six writers came along and each of them, you know, $1 million a pop or more and there’s $8 million against the screenplay and you get the rights, you know, in your two-year window and you take it out of Disney and you bring it over to Universal and they’re like, “Well, we’d love to but it’s going to cost us $12 million just for a script. And that’s too much. We can’t do it.”
And so, unfortunately, this is why reversion is very, very rare. It’s basically saying, “You can get your script back but you have a very narrow timeline in which you can do it. And the studio you sell it to has to be full burdened of development paid for. It can’t be negotiated down.” Frankly, you’re much better off just doing a traditional turnaround process.
John: Yeah. That sounds brutal. So, very few projects do go through reversion. More projects sometimes do go through turnaround. You and I both, through our Fox deal, we have sort of special reversion rights on the things we write underneath that special Fox deal. So I think sometimes there are special cases where, you know, a screenwriter would have better terms than sort of the standard WGA deal.
John: But it’s not common. And so, the writer who’s writing to us, I think he was asking about this exact sort of reversion question. And our general answer back to him is that it’s theoretically possible. But it’s challenging. Would our advice to him be to go forthright up to the studio and say, “Hey, it’s about this five-year window and I’m just wondering because I would like to reacquire it,” or should he just wait and then suddenly spring it?
Craig: I would wait and suddenly spring it.
John: I agree.
Craig: You know how this goes. People don’t want something until they realize somebody else wants it. You know, the worst thing you could do is come to a studio and say, “Hey, look, I was thinking about maybe getting the script out of turnaround because Chris Pratt wants to be in it now.” They’re like, “What? Oh, really? Great.”
John: What? What? What?
Craig: “He could be in it for us. And please go away. We’re hiring another writer.” So, in a way, you kind of want to spring it on them. It will work best if there is not a lot of money against the project. It’s going to be very tough to get it out of there with reversion if there is a lot.
John: Yeah. That is absolutely true. The last bit of leverage that you might have is that sometimes there are relationships. And this is a relationship business. And there are cases I can think of where someone has been able to take a project from one studio to another studio when Studio A would wouldn’t make it, they got it to Studio B because you say like, “I will never work for you again unless you let me make this movie somewhere else.”
And if you are a filmmaker with enough power to do that, Studio A may say yes because they want you to be happy and they want you to be able to do things in the future. I guess my general advice in the situation is become a very powerful filmmaker and then you can have more ability to do turnaround and reversion in the way you want them to happen.
Craig: No question. I mean, let’s remember that reversion, as I’ve described it, is something that we “get” for better or worse in the minimum basic agreement. It is a right for every single writer, including the person that has just sold their first screenplay. It is not a particularly great right.
So you always have the opportunity to do better when you have leverage when you’re selling something. You can put in what they call Proceed to Production clauses where if the company does not get you to production in a certain amount of time, you automatically get things back in an easy way.
Or you’re in a position where you can say, “Look, I’m writing this for you. You don’t want to do that. Let these guys do it and I’ll do that for you.” But when you’re talking about the minimum basics, unfortunately, our reversion rights are minimum.
John: The last thing I want to ask you about, Craig, is sometimes in relationship turnaround, I’ve heard something happen about like, oh suddenly this actor became attached and therefore that canceled the turnaround.
John: What’s happening with that? What is the nature of that attachment that messed up turnaround?
Craig: Yeah, I mean, there’s a thing called no new elements where basically, when you have Proceed to Production clauses and everybody deals with this. Producers deal with this, writers, directors, everybody. When you have any kind of contractual arrangement where you’re saying, “Look, if you don’t get me to production in a certain amount of time, I get to leave with this.” Or if you have a deal where it’s like, “Oh, I have a first look for you, right? I have a first look. You get to look at it once. If you pass, I get to take it somewhere else.”
A lot of times, you’ll see a no new elements clause which basically says, “Hey, when we say we don’t want it, we say we don’t want it as you’re showing it to us. But if you add a new element to that, like attaching a big actor or attaching a big director, that’s not the same thing you showed us. We get to have that now or at least we get a chance to say no to that.” And that’s only fair. Let’s say you spend a whole bunch of money to give somebody a bungalow and a production deal and all the overhead and the whole deal is but you bring us stuff first, and they bring you a script but they don’t really want to do it with you, so like, “Yeah, here’s the script and we don’t have anybody attached.” They’re like, “Um, no.” “Okay, thanks.” And then a week later you realize, you read that they have sold it to a different studio with Chris Pratt attached, “Come on, guys. It doesn’t work that way.”
So when they add a new element, or you add a new element, you got to realize you’re kind of resetting the clock.
John: Absolutely true. Great. So let’s get to some questions that were left over from our live show and talk through as many of them as we can. Jenny Shelton asked, “Can you talk about the difference between selling a screenplay versus selling a series? And if a new writer has sold a spec pilot, would that guarantee them a spot in the writer’s room?”
So Aline was on the show, so we were talking a lot about television on that episode. But I could talk about sort of selling a pilot because I’ve done that. And you’ve done that now, too.
John: So, selling a screenplay, let’s say you’re a new writer and you sell a screenplay. You are going to be sticking around for minimum of one new draft, Craig. What is the guarantee for new writers selling a spec screenplay?
Craig: The minimum?
Craig: You are guaranteed the first employed draft, essentially.
John: Great. So you will have a purchase price for that screenplay and they will also have to pay you Writers Guild minimum at least to do a rewrite of that draft. But there’s no guarantee that you’re going to continue on with that project after that.
In series land, there’s probably some WGA minimums there. I don’t know what they are. But I’ll tell you, in practice, if you are a new writer coming in without a lot of experience and you are writing a spec TV show, which didn’t use to be that common but now sometimes are more common. Well, they will just buy or read a script and say, “Oh, maybe we’ll try to make this.”
The very first thing they’re going to do is partner you up with an experienced showrunner. And, hopefully, the two of you together will figure out how to make this into a series and how to do all these things. You will, yes, be in the room for that show. You’re going to have some role in it. And as long as you prove yourself to be invaluable to it, you will have a function on that show. If you do not prove yourself to be invaluable, they will find a way to not have you be part of the show.
Craig: Unfortunately, that is true.
John: That is true. So, creatively, I mean, there’ll be contractual language, so you’ll still get paid for some things. But they will try to find a way to not have you be around because you are a drag on their vision for what the show should be.
Craig: Yeah, it’s not like they default to getting rid of the new guy. I mean, it’s not that. It’s just that what they default to is getting rid of somebody that they think is going to be disruptive or counterproductive to the production of the show, which is really hard. And the last thing you can really survive is any kind of toxic presence, particularly in the position of authority. So, yeah, you know, if you’re useful and essential –
John: I was fired off.
Craig: You were fired.
John: Yeah, I was fired off of my TV show.
Craig: Yeah. You were obviously a toxic. You were toxic.
John: I was toxic.
Craig: Toxic. You were toxic. [laughs]
John: Ugh. Steve Betters writes, “With regards to getting an agent, which is better, a really good script, a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10 or 3/8? Is there a difference to that answer going for a writer’s assistant job?”
Craig: Too much calculation here, Steve. I wouldn’t worry about that. Who knows? You know, the whole thing about these numbers, the rankings, this is one thing where I think The Black List has caused trouble is The Black List and their system of 1 to 10 has started to codify what these numbers mean. They don’t mean anything at all. A really good script, a 9 let’s say, one really good script, a 9 on a scale of 1 to 10, whose 9? Whose 9 is that?
Craig: And three scripts that are 8s, whose 8s? I don’t know what any of that means. This is normal to want to find some predictability and certainty. In a business like this, I must tell you, there’s none. There’s none. You just got to write as well as you can. You can’t write better than you can write. Try and get better as you go. But where you are right now, that’s as good as you can be and that’s as good as you can be.
John: To try to do this without the numbers, let’s do some adjectives rather than numbers. I think to rephrase his question of like would an agent rather have a writer who has written one spectacular script and nothing else or a writer who has written three really good scripts?
I maybe would side with the three really good scripts, only in the sense that you want to know that this person can write multiple things. This person is a workhorse. These are all things that are very exciting for an agent. But honestly, both those situations are probably people that an agent would be interested in.
As far as a writers’ assistant, I’ve never read anything that my assistants have come in — I’ve never read their samples. I’ve never read their screenplay material. So I don’t know that that’s necessarily a huge goal of yours to write an amazing sample to try to get a job as a writer’s assistant because you’re often not being read. You’re basically like, “Hey, you seem like a confident person who’s not going to screw up my life.” That is one of the fundamental characteristics of a great writer’s assistant.
Craig: Is that the way it works for the television writer’s assistants, you know, when they work in the room?
John: You know, I think sometimes they are read like in a staffing kind of way. But my inkling is that in many situations, they’re not really being read as writers. They’re being, you know, hired for — this person seems like a competent person to take the order from Tender Greens and not screw things up.
Craig: Ah, I couldn’t do that.
John: Yeah. I could never do that. And the fact that they end up becoming a good writer and that they have good ideas in the room is what gets a co-EP to read heir script and say, “Oh my gosh she can actually write.”
John: And that hopefully gets them the freelance episode on one of the shows.
John: Wayward writes, “Say, you’re bogged down in a script, around the rocky shoals.” This is an Aline Brosh McKenna term. She’s talking about pages 60 to 80, sort of like post middle, before you get into the third act. “Maybe things aren’t coming to you as fluidly as they were on the pages before, what are some good ways to evaluate whether or not you should put your head down and push through or take a step back and reevaluate the decisions you made up to that point?” Craig, what’s your advice as you’re getting stuck there?
Craig: I think you should probably consider doing both. I mean, you certainly want to go back, read from the start again and ask yourself where your plan might have gone awry. Hopefully, you had a plan. And maybe think to yourself that perhaps you are projecting the end of your script a little further away than it actually was.
What I notice is that a lot of people who run into the rocky shoals between 60 and 80 end up with a 128-page script and think, “Oh actually, I really think this is reading long. I probably should just move things up.”
Craig: Because things take longer to write than we think they’re going to take. But if you’re having trouble there, take a break. Show it to somebody that you trust, read it out loud, put it aside and come back in a week.
Or if you haven’t organized things prior to the writing, this would be the time to sit down and start making index cards and really ask yourself what needs to happen to get me from here to here and what would be the most interesting way to do that.
John: I think long-term listeners will know exactly what my advice will be, which is to skip ahead and write the third act stuff that you know because my hunch is that you have a really good sense of what’s happening later on. You’re just stuck in this one little moment. Write that stuff that you do know later on. Just don’t forget about sort of like what’s going to go in that middle part.
By the time you’ve gotten through that stuff, you’ll have some clarity about what needed to happen to get you to that moment. And what Craig’s realization of like, “Oh man, maybe I didn’t need all that stuff,” will probably become very clear once you’ve written that later stuff. That’s just my way of doing it.
Craig: I’m with you. Here, I’ll read one, if you’d like. This is from Rebecca. She says, “Army wife here. I’m happy with the idea of moving to LA to work my butt off. And my husband is very supportive of my writing. But the army thing, down with the Ryan Knighton version of doing things, I’m just wondering if you have any other suggestions for me. Are their entry type jobs like long-distance reading, et cetera, that might be possible for a gal like me? Not so delusional to think I can just write a spec and break in from wherever the army takes us. Also, want to be realistic and mature. If it’s not meant for me now, then it’s not.”
What do you have to say to Rebecca?
John: I love Rebecca.
Craig: She’s cool.
John: Rebecca is the best.
Craig: What I love about Rebecca mostly is that she drops the subjects of sentences. I love that.
Craig: I do that all the time.
John: She’s writing like she’s writing action lines.
John: You know, like a clipped scene.
Craig: It’s exciting.
John: Yeah, I love Rebecca because she is both optimistic and realistic simultaneously which is such a difficult quality to pull off. So, yes, as an army wife, you are probably going to travel around a lot. Los Angeles may not be the easiest place for you to get to. I would say that she should write, write, write wherever she is and build up a war chest of maybe three good screenplays and then look at whether it’s going to be realistic for her to come out to Los Angeles for a period of time and really make a run at this.
And whether their family — I don’t know if they have kids, sort of what their situation is, but there might be a realistic situation where she’s out here for six months trying to figure out this thing and see if it’s really going to be possible for her and see if it will work.
She won’t know until she tries. And I think it’s worth maybe trying.
Craig: Yeah. And it’s easier now than it’s ever been before. So one thing Rebecca could consider is just dipping your toe in by writing a script and sending it off to a place like The Black List, not because the numbers are determinative of anything. But at least, they can give you a general idea, am I way off base here? Am I the guy who goes on American Idol and gets laughed at? Am I the woman who goes on American Idol and they’re like, you’re good, you’re just not great? Or am I the person who goes on and they go, wow, you could actually win this thing?
Generally, find out what general bubble you’re in and then make some choices based on that because the last thing you want to do is uproot your life over something that probably just is never going to happen or won’t make you happy while you’re trying to make it happen. So get some like — I would say start there, by getting some very broad evaluations of your work, just so you have a sense of like where am I exactly in this whole thing?
John: And I’d also say that screenwriting is one of the few kinds of writing that is so location-dependent. Anything else you want to write, you could kind of write from anywhere. And so if there’s another kind of thing you want to write, if you want to write short stories, you want to write novels, if you want to write plays, honestly, all of that stuff happens everywhere. Screenplays and television, it’s just one of those rare things that is so specific to Los Angeles and to some degree New York, a little bit to Austin. It’s just not as realistic to do at other places.
So if there’s another kind of writing that you also like, try that other kind of writing.
Craig: Yeah. Agreed.
John: Kevin writes, “Random question. In Hangover III, one of the great jokes in my humble opinion is ‘Nobody eats four marshmallows, Stu!’
Craig: Nobody eats four marshmallows, Stu! [laughs]
John: This joke is in theory is set up in Hangover II, but could have been reverse engineered after the fact. What is the genesis of this joke, Craig Mazin?
Craig: I am the genesis of this joke. [laughs] Well, it wasn’t reverse engineered. It was forward engineered. So in Hangover II, Alan — oh, spoiler alert — Alan drugs his friends. He’s just trying to drug Stu’s fiancee’s brother with some chloroform-laced marshmallows. Well, I don’t know, I can’t even remember what he puts in the marshmallows, but we started with chloroform. And unfortunately, everybody eats the marshmallows and they all get drugged.
And so in Hangover III, we had a scene where the guys were on their way to Tijuana to meet up with Mr. Chow and we needed just like a bridging scene there and we had written one and we got out there and we were shooting it. And, you know, shooting scenes in cars is the worst. I mean we had the guys actually in a car. And we were in the chase car and all the process truck.
It just was not working. The scene was just deadly. I can’t even remember what it was. All I know is that — so after about few takes, Todd said, “All right. We’re not — this is never going to be in the movie. We got to figure something else out.” And so I did a first draft of another scene that we ended up then shooting in like a green screen car which I got to say, shooting green screen in cars now is great. It really — I mean for a simple discussion in car — I mean, for a cool car scene, no, but for a simple car discussion, it’s pretty great. It’s so much easier anyway.
And in that scene, they’re talking about how they’re going to get Mr. Chow and Alan suggests that he can drug Mr. Chow. He’s drugged lots of people before and Stu says, “Yeah, us. You almost killed us.” And Alan says, “No, that’s ridiculous. I set it so that you could eat at least three marshmallows before you would die.” [laughs] And Stu’s like, “What are you saying? That if we had eaten four marshmallows, we would have died?” And Alan says, “Nobody eats four marshmallows, Stu.”
I just love that Alan’s logic was such that he thought it through. And he’s like, “Yeah, no one’s going to ever eat four marshmallows. That was it. And that’s why –
John: It’s not a possible thing.
Craig: That’s why Stu is alive because — and by the way, here’s the crazy thing. Alan was right. Nobody eats four marshmallows. Nobody.
John: I’ve eaten four marshmallows in my life.
Craig: Yeah. You should be dead.
John: Adam Alterberg writes, “What are some tips for writing for production? Does the tone change when you’re doing rewrites day after day?” I’ll take the first crack at this. I would say yes. If you’re like literally writing the stuff that is being shot tomorrow, you might find yourself being a little less artful in the scene description and little bit more pragmatic to exactly what’s happening.
I do find that I’m a little less precious about my clauses and sort of how things are going to play in the non-dialogue lines because I’m just trying to get it to be as clear as possible and specific so that everyone and every department knows exactly what needs to happen.
Craig, have you found any change in what your writing feels like when you’re writing for production?
Craig: Yes, I think that is generally far more compact. It’s concise. And when you are writing during production, you are, well, you should be informed by what you’ve been watching. You’re starting to pick up on certain rhythms. You’re starting to see which actors do better with which material. You’re starting to see which ones are more fun when they’re talking and which ones are more fun when they’re not. And you’re writing to everyone’s strengths. And you’re also writing within the tone of what seems to be sticking out as good and away from stuff that maybe just wasn’t working.
I mean, production is going to reveal things about your screenplay. Nobody gets everything right, so your job is to notice what is right? And then write towards that. This is why very frequently the stuff that you write during production has a much higher rate of inclusion in the final movie because it’s informed.
John: There will be some times where, in the scene descriptions, like not angry at all dash dash because like you see that one actor is going just nutso in a place and you need to sort of rein that back. In the live show, we talked about writing with locked pages. And so you’re trying not to force page breaks because then it becomes an extra page. And so sometimes I will write the shortest sentence imaginable so it doesn’t break in to two lines, so you try to get things together. It’s not nearly so pretty.
And the funny thing is sometimes when they send out the Academy For Your Consideration scripts, you can sort of tell like which scenes were like the pristine sort of like, oh, the literary scenes like where everything is beautiful and like which were just like the nuts and bolts for productions scenes. You can sort of tell a shift in how that scene description is written.
Craig: Yeah, for sure. I mean you start to lose all of the fufara, the fufara.
John: Yeah, it starts as poetry and becomes –
John: Much less.
Craig: Much less. Amy, is this your daughter or a different Amy?
John: It’s not my daughter. It is some other, Amy. There’s apparently multiple Amy’s in the world.
Craig: Who knew? Amy writes, “Is an unknown writer better off writing ‘high concept’ specs, that is to say inherently big budget, or should I write an indie drama with a limited budget.” There’s a lot of presumptions in that question. [laughs]
John: [laughs] I think most of our listeners know, our standard advice here is you should write the script that is the best script you can possibly write and the script that could actually get made. And both the high concept and the indie script have a chance of getting made if they’re the right kind of thing.
But if you are a person who should be writing big things, then write the big thing. If you are person who should be writing the small thing, you should write the small thing. If you don’t know what kind of writer you really are and what’s really interesting to you, pick one and write it and let’s see what happens.
John: Craig, what’s your thoughts?
Craig: I completely agree that we have lots of examples of people breaking in with big, big action adventure, tent pole kind of movies. We also have a plenty of examples of people doing the opposite and writing very small independent films and breaking in that way. And you have to write what you’re good at. Nobody wants Diablo Cody’s tent pole action movie. I don’t think Diablo Cody wants Diablo Cody’s tent pole action movie. It’s just not what interests her creatively, at least not to this point.
Similarly speaking, I’m not sure that I would want and I’m trying to think of like a big tent pole-y kind of guy. Like I don’t want their tiny little movies.
John: Simon Kinberg.
John: Let’s think about Simon Kinberg.
Craig: I don’t want Simon Kinberg’s My Dinner with Andre. I just don’t. I want Simon to do what Simon does. I will challenge this, though. High concept does not mean inherently big budget. There are a lot of tiny movies that are very high concept. High concept just means that there’s a big hooky idea at the heart of the script. And you can have a very small movie with a big hooky idea in it.
John: I agree. Juan writes, “I’m currently pursuing a BFA in film production at Emerson College. I’m also having a quarter life crisis because I have no idea what I’m going to do once I graduate. What are your thoughts in pursuing a collegiate film education versus diving into the industry head on?”
Craig: First of all –
John: We’ve talked about this before, but –
Craig: I mean –
Craig: He says he’s having a quarter life crisis, but that presumes he’s going to make it to 80. We don’t know Juan. [laughs] This could be mid life.
Craig: Think about it. This could be end life.
John: You could be dead tomorrow, Juan.
Craig: Exactly. You may not be alive right now.
John: You may eat your fourth marshmallow and this is all for none.
Craig: Nobody eats four marshmallows, John.
John: Oh, true.
Craig: I kind of love the way Zach said that. He was like righteously indignant. [laughs] Like how dare you say something that stupid? Look, my personal feeling if you are asking, and you are, is dive in. I believe in diving in. I think that if you have the money and the luxury and the time and you have been accepted to one of the very few prestigious film schools like UCLA or USC or NYU. I don’t even know if UCLA counts, USC or NYU, then sure, it’s something absolutely to consider. You will meet a lot of people. John went there and met a lot of people.
But on the other hand, it is absolutely not necessary. Scott Frank, I think, went to UC Santa Barbara. I’m not even sure he went to graduate school there. I didn’t go to film school. I don’t think Ted Griffin went to film school. I don’t think John Gatins went to film school. Alec Berg didn’t go to film school. I’m just running down a list of friends that just didn’t go, you know.
Craig: And we just dove in. So I would say, consider it a luxury. And if you have the money and the time, go for it. If you’re ready to go now and you’re more of a dive-in, let’s just do this, I learn better by doing guy, then dive in.
John: I largely agree with Craig. I did go to film school and it was hugely valuable to me. And I don’t think I would have the same career perspective if I hadn’t gone through film school. I just, I wasn’t ready to dive in, but film school was a great place for me to start.
I’m a little concerned for Juan that he feels, you know, finishing up his BFA and whatever is happening at Emerson isn’t giving him the confidence to say, “I know what’s next. I know what my steps are.” Well, that’s something you should be getting out of film school. You should be hopefully making friends and contacts with people who you want to be working with for the next 15 years and be excited about making movies.
And if film school is not making you excited about making movies, then something is wrong. So I can’t fix everything. But that’s my punch.
Craig: I just don’t think that anybody taking an undergraduate course in film production anywhere is going to get that kind of thing. I mean you, like you and Rian, I believe Rian went to USC as well, right? Rian Johnson. So you guys went to — this is a, you know, premier film school and it is supported by extraordinary alumni like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and others. And the people that you meet there are the cream of the crop and they will be in the movie business. They may be in the movie business hiring you. I mean they have a whole production, you know, a whole system for that.
Emerson College is a perfectly fine school, but I can’t imagine that a BFA in film production from Emerson College is going to put you in touch with a lot of people that will ultimately end up in Hollywood nor I am surprised that you seem puzzled as what to do.
This is the problem with higher education right now anyway. A lot of what passes for so called film studies in undergraduate education is really about film criticism. And it’s not about filmmaking. And you may have found some filmmaking there, I hope you did. There is no substitute for actual filmmaking.
People are different. Like John said something interesting. He wasn’t ready. And that’s important to know. And if you don’t feel ready, find your way to kind of — that channel that will prepare you. If you do feel ready, if you’re impatient — I was born impatient — then honor that and get in there. Get your hands dirty.
John: And I recognize as you were talking there that I misread and I was — for some reason thought he was an MFA rather than a BFA. So he’s an undergrad and as an undergrad, he asks, you know what, it’s kind of actually totally natural to not know what’s next and what’s happening. So I was sort of slamming Emerson for not helping you out as an MFA, but, no, as a BFA, you’re supposed to be a little bit lost in the weeds now. That’s just part of your nature and your life.
And so if you feel like you need more structure getting started, moving out to LA and going to a film school would be great. Moving out to LA and being the person who is scrambling would also be great. So just know which kind of person you are.
John: Do you want to take the last one here, Craig?
Craig: Sure, the last is from Crowe Sensei. “In episode 82″ — oh, come on. That’s not fair. “Craig said,” like I would remember, “Craig said, he would be willing to read the entire script of The Answerer by Ben W. after reading his Three Page Challenge. Did Ben W ever send it in and did Craig read it?”
Yes. Now, I’m going from memory here because this is years ago, but I believe, yes, Ben W. did send me the whole thing. Yes, I read it. Yes, I liked it. And in fact, as I recall, I actually did send it along to a friend who worked at a, well, let’s just say a very prestigious animation studio, because it was intended to be animation, I believe. Or even if it wasn’t, it seemed appropriate for that medium.
So I actually did a nice thing. That’s how I remember it. That’s how I remember it, by the way. [laughs]
John: But I kind of remember that, too. I remember you talking about this on the previous episode that you did actually follow up with him and you did forward it on. So my recollection of it was the same as what you’ve just said, which means it probably actually happened.
Craig: How could we both be wrong?
John: That’s not possible.
Craig: Not possible.
John: Nobody eats four marshmallows.
Craig: No. Nobody eats four marshmallows, John.
John: Craig, talk to us about One Cool Thing.
Craig: Okay. So my One Cool Thing was featured at E3. By the way, I went to E3 for a day.
John: Oh my God, Craig, you went to E3? That sounds amazing.
Craig: It was –
John: Was it a zoo?
Craig: Yeah, it was a zoo, but it was a great zoo. It was like a zoo of — I mean, you know, there was a lot of fedora wearing, very cool stuff there. Just a general trend, virtual headsets everywhere. Everywhere. Everyone’s making them.
But Microsoft in conjunction with the Minecraft people demonstrated this thing. I didn’t see this live, but there is a video of it and we’ll put it in the show notes. It’s pretty startling. So they’re using this new technology from Microsoft called the Microsoft HoloLens. Have you seen this thingy?
John: I have. So it looks like a visor that’s in front of you, but you’ll actually be able to see through it and at the same, they’re projecting image into the lens you’re looking through.
Craig: Yeah. So essentially, it’s putting virtual things in your environment that you can see and they’re of remarkable quality, actually. And they were demonstrating how you can use this with say a game like Minecraft where you have a table set up and the HoloLens understands that this table is specifically key to what it’s creating and you can start to just through voice commands create an entire structure in Minecraft in front of you, in real space, right there that you can see and you can manipulate it. And by moving your head into it, you can see inside it.
It’s kind of remarkable. In looking at this stuff, you start to realize, we are on the verge of some awesome stuff, I mean truly awesome, mind-blowing stuff that’s going to change the way we interact with that world around us.
That said, apparently, the demo for this thing was kind of goosed to be maybe a little bit better than you might be able to get now. I mean I don’t know even know if the HoloLens is specifically available yet. But from what I understand, there are some field of view issues with this thing. It doesn’t quite work the way you want it to work yet. But as a general proof of concept, it’s astonishing, just astonishing.
And the applications are — I mean, just absurd when you think of the things that you can do once they nail this stuff down. It’s going to be pretty amazing. And I would imagine, John, when you and I are 60 years old, the way that we now all walk down the streets staring at our little phone. We’re all going to be walking down the street wearing these stupid goggles and just seeing what we want to see. I mean just seeing an entirely different world. It’s going to be bananas.
John: Yeah, it’s going to be crazy. The same way that I can’t do any work or walk any place without like a podcast in my ears. I will want to have my own reality projected in front of me so I don’t need to see everything that’s horrible around me. So there’s a whole troubling Black Mirror episode that could probably be written about just that.
But we’ll have a video for this demonstration in the show notes because my daughter saw the same video that you linked to. And she squealed like three times.
Craig: It’s squealable, yeah.
John: It is incredible.
Craig: Yeah, way, way cool.
John: Yeah. My One Cool Thing is Jonathan Mann who is a very talented songwriter, composer. He’s mostly known for Song a Day. And so in the sort of nerdy podcast world, he’s certainly well-known. He started listening to the show. And he tweeted that he loves the show. And he also tweeted a link to a video he made called Some Guy and it’s very much related to a conversation we had had where so often in the headlines or even in the stories about the things we write, we’re just referred to as, you know, it’s as if the movie suddenly happened, it was written by Some Guy.
John: And Jonathan Mann has a very funny song called Some Guy which is about this very concept. So we will use that as the outro for this week’s episode, so you can take a listen to that as well.
Craig: That’s awesome. Well, thank you, Jonathan. That’s really cool. And we’re glad to have you as listener.
John: So that is our show for this week. If you would like to send us a question, like one of the questions we answered today, short ones are great on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Our email address is ask@johnaugust and that’s where you can send those longer questions to us. It’s also where, if you have an outro, that you would like to put on the show, something that uses the [hums] intro, send it there. Send us a link to that and we’ll use it in a future episode, perhaps.
We are on iTunes. So go to iTunes please and subscribe. If you’re listening to this on the website where the show notes are, that’s fantastic. Also really helpful, though, if you do subscribe and leave us a comment to let us know that you enjoy the show, hopefully.
We have an app in the App Store. It is called Scriptnotes. It’s for listening to all the back episodes, way back to episode one and all the bonus episodes as well. You can find that in the app store for iOS and for Android. And that’s our show. So Craig, thank you so much.
Craig: Thank you, John.
John: And have a great week.
- Scriptnotes 202, in which we discuss FAST Screenplay
- Scriptnotes 183: The Deal with the Gravity Lawsuit, and follow up from Scriptnotes 186
- The Gerritsen Ruling, in its entirety
- Turnaround on Wikipedia
- The 200th Episode Live Show
- “Nobody eats four marshmallows” from The Hangover 3
- Scriptnotes 82, featuring Ben W’s Three Pages
- Minecraft Hololens demo at E3
- The “Some Guy” Anthem, by Jonathan Mann
- Outro by Jonathan Mann (send us yours!)
Writers often create challenges for heroes by taking away something they desperately need or want. Billionaires go bankrupt. Children become orphans. Diamonds get dropped in the snow.
Faced with this setback, heroes must find new ways forward, often against staggering odds. In some cases, they’re searching of the proverbial needle in the haystack.
Like many of the cards in Writer Emergency Pack, Stack of Needles invites you to consider doing exactly the opposite.
At first glance, Stack of Needles feels like a plot device — potentially an arbitrary one. You’re changing the trajectory of the story by introducing new elements.
Look a little deeper and you realize Stack of Needles can be a terrific way to reveal character. By giving your hero the thing she said she wanted, you force her to confront her true motivations, her future goals, and the burden of abundance.
“More tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.”
― Truman Capote
In the second season of Silicon Valley, the small tech startup is frequently overwhelmed:
- They raise too much VC money.
- Hooli sends over hundreds of boxes of legal files, crowding them out of their living room.
- Their dormant video feed suddenly goes viral, melting their servers.
In each of these cases, the heroes were challenged not by scarcity, but abundance. By getting what they wanted, they got screwed.
The best consequences are the ones closely aligned with what the hero wants.
If your misanthropic baker wins the lottery, that’s not particularly special. But if his chocolate-horseradish muffins become a national obsession, that’s on-point and relevant. The thing he loves (baking) has brought him the thing he hates (people).
Sudden abundance forces characters to make choices they didn’t expect to make. When the pauper becomes a prince, will he bring his friends with him? When the zombie-outbreak survivors find a massive food cache, do they invite outsiders or close ranks?
Remember that nothing happens to just one character. Your hero’s success will affect everyone around her, for better or worse.Using Stack of Needles
Like every card in Writer Emergency Pack, Stack of Needles can be used at both macro and micro levels of the story process.
Stack of Needles might be reflected in the main arc of your story. Does your hero struggle because of initial success? From Dreamgirls to Black Swan, many show-biz stories are built around this framework. Sequels often incorporate this idea as well, with the victorious heroes having to rediscover aspects of their earlier, simpler life.
On a sequence level, Stack of Needles works well as a mid-story twist. After finally discovering her real father’s name — Zebediah Obercampf — your hero will be frustrated to learn there are 100 men with that name living in the US.
Finally, Stack of Needles can be a great focus in a single scene. Your bank robber has just broken into the vault, but rather than one million dollars, he finds 100 million. Does he try to take it all? How will he get it out?
No matter how you use Stack of Needles, make the most of its much-ness. Give your hero more than he can handle, and watch what happens.
John and Craig take an in-depth look at turnaround and reversion, and how screenwriters get their scripts back from a studio.
We also look at the latest developments in the Gravity saga, and answer a bunch of leftover questions from the live 200th episode.
- Scriptnotes 202, in which we discuss FAST Screenplay
- Scriptnotes 183: The Deal with the Gravity Lawsuit, and follow up from Scriptnotes 186
- The Gerritsen Ruling, in its entirety
- Turnaround on Wikipedia
- The 200th Episode Live Show
- “Nobody eats four marshmallows” from The Hangover 3
- Scriptnotes 82, featuring Ben W’s Three Pages
- Minecraft Hololens demo at E3
- The “Some Guy” Anthem, by Jonathan Mann
- Outro by Jonathan Mann (send us yours!)
The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hey, this is John. So today’s episode has Three Page Challenges in it that use some F-words, so if you’re listening to this in the car, there’s a very good chance we will end up using some of those F-words in the podcast. So, just standard issue warning for explicit language. Thanks.
Hello, and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My, my, my name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 202 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, I’m in Vancouver Canada. You’re in La Cañada. So, in some ways we are straddling the border, but also in the same semantic space.
Craig: Yeah. La Cañada is the sister city to all of Canada. I love Vancouver.
John: One tiny little village in California. One giant country that is very close to the US border.
Craig: It’s massive. What are you doing up there?
John: Just vacation. Just a week’s vacation.
Craig: Ooh, I like it.
John: We picked one of the weeks of the year in which Vancouver is absolutely stunningly beautiful and sunny and it’s been terrific. So, I tweeted and you probably saw this tweet. I jumped off a bridge, which was quite fun.
Craig: Yeah. I saw it and I think you’re out of your mind.
John: Yes. I am insane, but it was actually tremendously fun. And it was because my whole family, or actually four people in my family decided, hey, let’s do it. And so I said, you know what, that’s a really good idea. We should do it. So even my nine-year-old daughter did it, which was again, questionable parenting if anything had gone wrong. But because everything went really right, it was empowering for her as a young woman who could take charge of her destiny and jump off bridges.
Craig: You know, it’s not. It’s not empowering. It’s sick. I don’t understand why you would do it. I don’t understand why she did it. I don’t understand why anyone does that. This bungee jumping thing — anything jumping, bungee jumping, jumping out of a plane, jumping — base –
John: Jumping on a trampoline.
Craig: Base jumping. Jumping off of a couch. [laughs] But you know, here’s the thing, I do believe that there’s some kind of genetic thing where some people appreciate that feeling of falling and other people hate it. And I’m definitely in the hate it camp.
My daughter is — she loves it. She loves rollercoasters and all that stuff. I can’t. And my son is like me. We can’t. You know, that feeling I’m talking about right?
John: Absolutely. It’s that feeling of being completely out of control, but at the same time knowing intellectually that nothing bad can actually happen to me.
Craig: I’m not talking about the psychological. I’m talking about the physiological feeling. Do you not get that sensation?
John: Oh, I absolutely get that sensation. But also I know that the endorphin rush that happens after is also tremendously great. So, I’m looking past that terrible moment to the great moment.
Craig: A couple years ago I was in Florida with my in-laws. We were having dinner and my wife’s grandmother, who is still alive, god bless her. Even though I think she’s 97 now. So she was about 95. We’re all sitting there eating dinner and this topic comes up, the topic of falling and that feeling.
And my mother-in-law said where do you feel that feeling. And I said it’s in the pit of my stomach. And we were all talking about where it was. And then my wife said, Gamma, because that’s what she calls her grandma. “Gamma, where do you feel that feeling?” And she looked up from her baked fish and she said, “In my clitoris.”
Craig: It was the greatest moment of my life.
John: And I have a suspicion that because of that she enjoyed the feeling of falling. I hope she enjoyed the feeling of falling.
Craig: No. [laughs] She wasn’t actually a big fan of it. No, because not all clitoris feelings are good feelings. There’s good clitoris and bad clitoris, I guess. But when a 95-year-old woman refers to her clitoris in any context, it’s spectacular.
John: Craig, we’ve just found a title for this week’s episode. There’s good clitoris and bad clitoris. It won’t be controversial at all.
Craig: No, no. Twitter won’t erupt.
John: Not a bit. So while the title of today’s episode might be about the clitoris, the actual topics we’ll be discussing today really have nothing to do with female genital health. We’ll be looking at three Three Page Challenges. We’ll be looking at a system for writing your screenplay that must work because the guy gave a Ted Talk. We’ll look at everyday heroes. We’ll look at what happens when a union threatens to sue a filmmaker.
But first, we have follow up. Craig?
Craig: Just a touch of follow up. I heard from a couple of writers on Telltale Software’s Game of Thrones app, because that was my One Cool Thing last week. And I did leave one name off, Zach Schiff Abrams who actually ran the writing room early on when they were breaking the story. They were very happy to be called out on the podcast. So, I just wanted to make sure that we acknowledged Zach because he was obviously a big part of the development of that product.
John: Craig, I played the first two episodes of it on this trip. I played one on the plane. I played one last night. They really are just phenomenally well done. So, a great recommendation from you, but really just a great experience for anybody who is jonesing for a little bit extra Game of Thrones in their lives.
I really want to make some House Forrester like t-shirts. I want like a House Forrester team shirt because I’m really rooting for the Forresters. And I just feel like more bad things are going to happen to them.
Craig: I mean, even Jesus is like, come on. Come on, you’re being a little hard on those people.
John: Now, Craig, have you gone back and made different choices along the way? Because for people who didn’t follow the last episode, these Game of Thrones games done by Telltale games, they’re sort of like Choose Your Own Adventure where you get to make choices along the way. They’re more sophisticated than the simple book kind of choices, but you can kind of make some choices that are going to affect the plot, but you also get the chance to rewind and make some different choices if you want to.
Have you just stuck with the original choices, or did you go back and change anything along the way?
Craig: I’ve stuck with my original choices. I suspect now that I’ve played through four of these things that it’s really the allusion of choice.
John: I think you’re right.
Craig: They carry over some things. They’ll say things like, well, you did do blanket-blank. But those things really still are contained within the rails of the story. The big things that happen, you cannot avoid happening.
John: I was curious whether the song the girl sings — this is not a spoiler at all — the song the girl sings incorporates some of these specific events that you did or didn’t — it was generic enough, so we’ll see.
Craig: No, I think that song actually is a good example of how your choices do impact things, because it’s those areas where they go, okay, we’ll reward you and make you feel like your choices matter. But your choices don’t matter. [laughs] Not really. You’re really just watching TV. You’re just watching a side series of Game of Thrones. That’s the way I feel about it. I think they’ve just done a great job.
John: So, while that game may be slightly on rails, this guy has a system that can break you out of your rails. This is a system for writing a screenplay quickly and, Craig, this is your entry to the Workflowy, so tell us about this guy and why we should maybe stop the podcast right now.
Craig: Well, someone on Twitter who just likes winding up — I mean, that’s what’s happened now. I get it. People go, “Oh, this will make him crazy.” And they’re right. I’m not complicated. They sent me a link to a website called FAST Screenplay. Fastscreenplay.com. And the gentleman who runs Fastscreenplay.com, Jeff Bollow, gave a Ted Talk, well, it’s a TEDx Talk –
Craig: In Dockland, which I think is –
John: It’s Australia.
John: And so he’s not Australian though. That’s a fascinating thing. I kept waiting for an Australian accent and it never came.
Craig: Right. I don’t understand the deal with TEDx. The deal with TEDx is pretty much anybody who can write the word Ted on a banner and stick it behind them gets to give a TEDx talk? I don’t understand any of it. Anyway, I went over to this website and I just got infuriated.
And here’s the thing. So, look, he’s selling a system. It’s the same old come on that we’ve read in a million different ways, in a million different places. He’s got a system to help you write a screenplay. It’s a system to help you write a screenplay that reads fast and eventually if you master his system you can write fast. Obviously, the system is not good enough to get him to sell screenplays for millions of dollars apiece. He would prefer to just take your money. Always interesting.
And you get this lifetime membership. Lifetime membership for a limited time only, $600. What?! And that regular price is $1,300. But, you know, it’s a special right now because it’s celebrating the release of his Ted Talk. But here’s the thing, all right, so whatever, it’s baloney, of course. I mean, he says things like, “FAST Screenplay is a yearlong step-by-step professional screenplay development system worth over $30,000.” Uh, yeah, if you also get like a Kia with it or –
[laughs] I mean, I don’t — how do you come up with that number? And then he says it’s designed to replace a three-year university program and ten years’ worth of real world, hands-on skills and insights, which as you know are incredibly quantifiable.
It includes over 1 million words of content. Oh boy. That must mean it’s good.
But here’s the thing that really snagged me in my little umbrage gland and started squeezing it. He says, “Please note FAST Screenplay is entirely not-for-profit. Every dollar that comes in is poured right back into the system, which is why we keep our price so low.” What the hell does that mean?
John: It’s fascinating.
Craig: So, of course, I immediately went, wait a second. Not-for-profit, that’s not just a phrase. That is a status. That’s a tax status here in the United States. It is an IRS tax status. So, I started looking to see, well, what is this company? Well, according to their website, FAST Screenplay is trademarked and copyright by Embryo Films in Sydney, Australia. Embryo Films seems to be just a — seems to be a for-profit film production company that is turn owed by another media company of some sort.
I see no information indicating that they have any kind of tax exempt status as a non-profit or not-for-profit corporation. But also if it’s not-for-profit, why are you charging anyone anything? Why don’t you just put it out there?
John: There’s a subtle distinction between not-for-profit and unprofitable. And there are many businesses that are unprofitable, but not actually not-for-profit. It’s an important distinction that seems to be really swept under the rug here.
I found the site and his whole video kind of fascinating. And I had to sort of keep skimming through the video because it was just so empty and vacuous and it’s just like a bunch of buzz words strung together in a way that had the qualities of human speech without actually having any content.
John: And the site is very much the same thing, too. But, honestly, you could switch out the word screenplay for almost anything else on any page and it could be about like investing in real estate, or how to do almost anything. So, it felt like there was a template kind of behind the whole thing.
That said, I thought it was all really well executed template stuff. And so I found myself sort of fascinated and repulsed by him as an individual and what he was trying to do. And as a character I found him kind of fascinating. As a person who is trying to take money from screenwriters, I found him, of course, just to be horrible.
Craig: Yeah. And this is a new twist on the generic horribleness of these sorts of people and these sorts of ventures. And it’s the, oh, we’re not-for-profit. Does that mean — do they pay themselves salaries? Like what do they do with all of this money if they’re not for profit? Is it to run this website? That can’t cost that much. I mean, each person is giving them hundreds of dollars, even if you just go month-to-month, which is an option.
A three-month subscription is $300. That’s their minimum, as far as I can tell on their website. So, everyone is giving them somewhere between $300 to $1,300. What are they doing with all that money?
Are they paying themselves salaries and so that’s why it’s not-for-profit? None of this makes any sense. I don’t know what this sentence means. “Every dollar that comes in is poured right back into the system.” What?
John: Well he says very clearly, “Our goal is not to make money off writers. It’s to generate screenplays which we can turn into films and lift the overall quality of screenwriting to empower individual voices and visions around the world.” Parenthetical, it’s the “variety of imagination that expands our thinking.”
Craig: What the hell does that mean?
John: I don’t know what it means. But I found it all kind of just amazing, as if some sort of bizarre AB tested kind of system developed the perfect like I’m going to get money off of screenwriters system.
Craig: I think you’re actually onto something. This really does feel like a brilliant application of a standard get rich quick template. That you could plug in real estate or investment or work from home or penis enlargement, or any of these things, and lay it out like this and it would work.
I’m just baffled.
John: So, here is why — I’m trying to always play my devil’s advocate. Like, well, what if he really is sincere, and what if he truly believes what he’s saying. And on some level he might truly believe what he’s saying. But if his overall goal is to improve the lot of writers and to do the things he’s saying in these dreamy kind of speeches, there are many other ways to do that. And there are many sources he should be looking for those screenplays rather than trying to create a new class of brilliant screenwriters from scratch.
That’s the part that feels so incredibly disingenuous. He’s saying like, oh, I searched throughout Australia and could not find any good screenplays, so I must now make more screenwriters. That I just don’t believe on any level.
Craig: Yeah, I know. If he doesn’t care about profit and he wants to help screenwriters and he has this brilliant system that will transform you into a genius, just publish it on the web for free.
John: That would be great. You could either do that, or you could fund the very needy Australian screenwriters who have things they want to make, and they cannot make them in Australia because it’s challenging to make films in Australia. That would be another great way to do that.
Craig: I just — I don’t know what to do anymore. I’m tired.
John: Let’s switch to a happier topic. This is another great suggestion from Craig Mazin. It’s an article by Jordan Crucchiola called Bring Back Everyday Heroes. It ran in Wired Magazine. And it’s talking about the nature of heroes in our movies and how they have literally gotten bigger. And as the movies have gotten bigger, literally the men in these movies have gotten so much bigger in a way that is strange and perhaps dangerous. Craig, take it.
Craig: Well, every now and then you come across an article that says something that you think is immediately obvious and yet no one has pointed it out yet in this kind of way. And this was one of those articles. So, Jordan Crucchiola, I’m going to go with the standard Italian pronunciation, I don’t know if that’s right. So, what he says basically is that we used to have a certain kind of American action hero, a male American action hero who at least physically was roughly like the average guy.
He uses the example of Kurt Russell in Big Trouble in Little China. Kurt Russell, he’s in decent shape. You know, he’s not overweight, but maybe he had gone to the gym a bit. There’s not a ton of muscles there. And that’s kind of the point. But now he says take a look at the evolution of Hugh Jackman from the first X-Men movie, where he played Wolverine, to now. And it’s astonishing.
I mean, truly astonishing. It’s like looking at the before and after pictures of Barry Bonds when he was playing as a rookie for the Pirates and he looked like he was basically 170 pounds soaking wet. And then eventually after all the ‘roids and the HGH, he was like the Incredible Hulk. It’s a very similar thing when you look at Hugh Jackman’s body. And I don’t know if there’s any kind of chemical shenanigans. I just think it’s insane amount of working out.
And what he says, at least the point he’s making, is this isn’t just a superficial issue. It’s actually affecting stories, and that’s what really fascinated me because the truth is when an actor has a certain physicality it limits or it certainly influences the choices you make about that character.
John: Exactly. So, a lot of times you’ll be writing a character who is supposed to be like the ordinary guy next door. So, an ordinary man forced into extraordinary circumstances. But the Rock isn’t an ordinary person. He is sort of by definition special from the very beginning. And the characters who we are seeing in these kinds of movies these days are these just larger than life and sort of impossible people. So, you don’t have the Kurt Russells as your action heroes. You don’t even have the Keanu Reeves as action heroes. You have these super human gods.
He does single out like some movies really call for gods. So you look at Captain America, well I mean he’s Chris Evans because he’s supposed to be this sort of larger than life character. He’s like this ordinary man who got transformed. That’s great. Or you have Thor. And Thor is supposed to be a god. Great. Chris Hemsworth is perfect for that.
But you have these other people that are supposed to be just kind of normal folks. You end up casting the Rock in it, suddenly you have to change the backstory to make some reason why that person is in this movie right now.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, here’s what I think silently goes on when I see a character who is just an amazing physical specimen. A certain amount of drama is immediately diminished. Here are some things that I think can’t be true about that character. They can’t be lazy. They can’t be unmotivated. They can’t be undisciplined. They can’t be depressed. They can’t be resigned to life. They can’t even be uncool, because it’s essentially impossible to become that freaking awesome if you’re held back in all of these other ways. And so you start to lose dimensions of that character. You also start to lose a certain amount of risk.
So, when you look at The Terminator, obviously Arnold Schwarzenegger is supposed to be massive because he’s this possible robot. But playing against him you had Michael Biehn who basically was like a 165 pound guy.
Craig: And that made it better, you know. I mean, you don’t want — and eventually you could see how those movies then turned into bigger against bigger. You know, we had what you’d call great everyday heroes. Harrison Ford, who kind of elevated fear as the epitome of heroism. All of his characters were always afraid. And that made them more believable. Charles Bronson was skinny but super angry, which I thought was really cool. Steve McQueen sort of embodied whatever the non-physical dimensions of a classic masculinity are. And then you had Sean Connery who was all about charm and confidence instead of brawn.
You see the difference between Sean Connery’s body and Daniel Craig’s body. It’s not even close.
John: Absolutely. You look at Harrison in Indiana Jones. Now we would make Indiana Jones with Chris Pratt who has also transformed from schlubby guy into super-hot guy and sort of action star big muscle guy. And that changes the nature of that character.
Now, it would be a question of when Chris Pratt plays that character, is he going to keep this new Chris Pratt body, or is he going to go back to an ordinary size? I don’t know. But it does change our approach to that character if he’s already the biggest guy in the room.
Craig: Yeah, for sure. I mean, is this the worst thing in the world? No. There’s still actors that portray a kind of an everyman sense. But there is a dark side to this. For every article about the latest fashion for women or the latest fad diet for women, there are three articles saying this is not good for women and for girls.
But these things that are happening now in movies I think are probably also not good for boys and for men. And there’s some interesting — I started looking around, some interesting statistics. Over the last three decades, the percentage of men that said they had body image concerns has gone from 15% to 43%, which is a rate comparable to those currently found in women.
And when you look at what they call the muscularity of ideal male body representations, from 1979 to the 1990s it went way high. And is currently still way, way up there. I think it’s not great for boys to look up to the heroes and see these absolutely impossible to achieve bodies. I mean, they’re not impossible to achieve. Well, from where I’m sitting they are.
John: So, here we’re taking a look at how male heroes have become sort of giant and larger than life. In many ways I’d say that women in movies have always been sort of these impossible to achieve ideals. They’re always like they’re a great cook and yet they’re hot in the sack and they’re stunningly beautiful and they can do all these things. Women are always supposed to be perfect.
And in some ways we’re maybe falling into the same trap with our male characters where what you said before, if that guy is that ripped he can’t be lazy. By his nature he couldn’t be sort of the slack off. I just worry that we’re going to end up with these characters who are so perfect from the beginning that they’re not going to have any journey to go on.
You know, you look at Linda Hamilton in The Terminator. We talked about Michael Biehn, but Linda Hamilton in the first Terminator, she’s just an ordinary woman. She’s not — there’s nothing special about her. She’s a waitress. And then because she’s ordinary, she’s really fragile. And then in the second movie she can become hardened and tough because of the events of the first movie. And she can be ripped in that movie and that was a great transformation. That was a change.
Now, I just worry that she’s going to have to be sort of jacked from the very start and that’s not the same kind of movie. That’s not the same kind of experience.
Craig: I agree. It’s a little bit of the superhero-ization of human characters. I think for a lot of these actors, they realize that in Hollywood today the apex of our business and the apex of how you are employed as an actor is to be a very popular superhero. And so you have to have a certain kind of body.
And the problem is that you have that body while you’re making that movie and other movies. And you can’t stop, because there’s going to be four action man movies and you have to be jacked up for all four. So, looks like when you’re doing the other movies in between, you’re going to also have to be jacked up. And that’s becoming an issue.
John: It’s limiting the kinds of movies you can make. I was trying to think of some movies that wouldn’t be possible to make because we don’t have the right people anymore. Like kind of any movie that Burt Reynolds was in. You know, you don’t make Smokey and the Bandit kind of because I don’t know who we stick in Smokey and the Bandit who is that sort of — maybe you just go with like the guy who stayed schlubby. Maybe go with like a Josh Gad kind of character because there’s just no other choice to make that.
Or the counter example, you look at Melissa McCarthy in Spy this last weekend, a huge hit. And maybe that was in some ways a reaction to everything we’ve been forced by like what a hero is supposed to look like. And that’s maybe the reason why Melissa has become this force in popular culture is because she’s not representing all those other ideals.
Craig: Well, yeah, I mean, she is one of the few women onscreen that represents that what a good third or more of American women actually look like and are ignored. And whereas no men are ignored. I mean, there’s an actor I can look at for every male body type onscreen, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep an eye on — it’s like well what we did to women and what we’ve always done to women onscreen is wrong, and now we’re starting to do it to guys.
So, how about we don’t do it to either men or women. [laughs] That would be nice, right? There is one interesting thing I noted was the casting of Paul Rudd as Ant Man which reminded me very much of when they cast Michael Keaton as Batman. And I thought, oh, you know, yeah. Like, that’s a regular person. Like the whole point of a superhero movie is that you are wearing a suit that makes you awesome, or that you have some sort of particular kind of training or attitude that makes you awesome. You don’t necessarily need to be massively jacked up. You can be a little bit more representative of a wish fulfillment.
John: I would say if you look at the Iron Man movies as they tracked across, I think they’ve focused much less and less on Robert Downey, Jr.’s physical health over the course of them. You know, you don’t shirtless shots of Robert Downey Jr. anymore. And maybe that’s great. Maybe that’s okay.
But, again, that’s a character who has a suit of armor, so therefore doesn’t have to be, I don’t know, doesn’t have to be ripped and doesn’t have to rely on his own physicality. And it would be great to see more movies with heroes who are relying on their physicality and its ordinary person physicality rather than sort of super seven days at the gym physicality.
Craig: Yeah. I’m with you on that one.
John: So, how do we fix this, Craig? We can’t just point out the problem without correcting the problem.
Craig: I think that these problems are always fixed the same way. A hit movie comes out that shoes a different possibility. So, every movie Melissa McCarthy makes is that movie right now. I mean, she has failed to fail. From Bridesmaids through to Spy, every movie she’s starred in has been a hit. Every single one. And she has this extraordinary fan base that is very broad and very deep and that’s a testament to her. And I think that’s opening a lot of eyes. That’s the way Hollywood works. They just respect money. They don’t actually have any real belief system. I think people think they do.
They don’t. Their only belief system is what will put money in my pocket. So, I’m hoping — I’m actually rooting for Ant Man. I was really rooting for it when I knew that Edgar Wright was doing it, but I’m still going to give this one its fair shot because it does seem like an everyman kind of deal. That’s the only thing that’s going to help.
John: I agree. And I think as we find heroes who aren’t the classic — the sort of new ideal of this sort of Superman thing, we just need to sort of point that out and make sure that people are aware that this is a good thing that we’re doing this.
The upcoming Fantastic Four, Miles Teller is in that. And Miles Teller isn’t a giant, ripped guy. Maybe that will work, and maybe that will be another sort of indication that there’s not just one type of person we stick in these kinds of movies. We’ll see.
Craig: Yeah. I think the better test are the guys like the Wolverines. Because, you know, Mr. Fantastic is supposed to be like a slender, stretchy kind of guy. It’s the brawlers, you know. The Kurt Russell used to kick butt and he didn’t need to be massive.
John: Where is our Roadhouse going to come from?
Craig: Exactly. Although he was really cut in that movie.
John: It’s tough. So, while we’re figuring out who should star in the next Roadhouse, Screen Actors Guild and AFTRA are working to make sure that we don’t see another aspect of the film industry portrayed. This is a lawsuit. Craig, talk us through this.
Craig: Oh boy. What a mess this is. So, a woman named Amy Berg has directed a documentary about the sexual abuse of child actors in Hollywood. The film is called An Open Secret. And it is currently platforming right now. I suspect like most documentaries it will not have a big theatrical life. It will mostly exist on video on demand.
And I have not seen the documentary, although it is about a topic that is sorely needed to be aired out. There is a legitimate issue that’s been going on for years and years about the sexual abuse of child actors. And one of the people that she interviewed was a gentleman named Michael Harrah who is a, or was a, manager of child actors and a former child actor himself who had been a longtime member of the SAG Young Performers Committee which he co-founded in 1975 and chaired from 2001 to 2003.
And when she sat down to interview him at SAG I believe she confronted him with the fact that this guy Joey Coleman, who was a former client of Michael Harrah’s, is accusing him essentially of making advances toward him. Having him sleep in Mr. Harrah’s bed. Mr. Harrah touching him in a way that he did not want. And when — since Michael Harrah apparently acknowledged that he might have done something unwanted. He said in the interview, “That was something unwanted I shouldn’t have done. And there’s no way you can undo that, but it is certainly something I shouldn’t have done.” Yikes.
Okay. Well, that’s not good. But here’s a really ridiculous outcome of this. SAG, feeling somehow like they’re being tarred with this brush because this guy is being presented as somebody who sat on a SAG committee and created a SAG committee, which he did, SAG has now threatened to sue Ms. Berg and is attempting to block her film because they do not want any references to SAG, SAG/AFTRA, or any SAG/AFTRA committees to be included in any portions of the documentary.
Then, they claim they didn’t do that. But they did. This is just terrible behavior by the union in my opinion.
John: So, we don’t have any more information about the actual nature of the allegations of the actual abuse way back there. So, this is just us talking about sort of what is the function of a union in sort of threatening a filmmaker for essentially defaming the union or saying anything untoward about the union or making sort of allegations about the union.
You can understand an organization trying to protect itself, but this felt like really tone deaf in terms of what they were trying to do. If you are a union representing actors, you want to embrace the idea of filmmakers tackling difficult subjects and try to sort of come to clarity. You want to sort of publicly state it is our goal to protect all actors. Like that’s the first thing you should probably be doing, rather than sort of coming after saying don’t dare use our logo in your film.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, here’s the deal. From what I understand from this article, Miss Berg’s film does not accuse SAG/AFTRA institutionally of any crime. What she’s saying is that somebody who was a co-founder and member of their committee, the Young Performers Committee, seems to be admitting, at least on tape, to very questionable behavior at best. And at worst, child molestation.
And SAG’s reaction just seems really, really out of whack. And I think sometimes unions do stuff like this because there is a certain amount of paranoia and monomania as a cultural default. They are so used to the fight that they fight with the companies that they go into this defensive stance where anything that is “not good for us” will therefore weaken us at the bargaining table and be bad for actors. Anything. So there is this closing of ranks when bad news arrives and I just think it was a huge mistake, huge mistake. And I would ask anyone over there that’s involved in this decision to think twice, thrice, and quadrice, because this is not what you want to be doing as a union, threatening to sue a director for a film that frankly is getting to the heart of something that’s hurting your members.
John: It very much feels like the memo went to the wrong department. And if the memo had gone to the public relations department, they would have had a response to it which would have been maybe the correct response. But instead it goes to the legal department and the legal department does what legal departments do. They respond in legalistic kind of ways. And they don’t necessarily have a good sense of how something will play out in the broader world. And that really feels like what happened here is that if your first instinct is, well, we have to threaten a lawsuit because that’s what we do, that’s not going to necessarily be the right outcome here.
So, again, that speaks to leadership and sort of who you put in charge to sort of make these decisions about how you handle situations that come up.
If I were SAG, if I were running SAG, and lord knows I would never want to run SAG/AFTRA, but if I were running that I would look at this as a really good test case for when bad stuff happens, how are we going to make the decision about who should handle it and the ways we should handle it. And this was just really bungled.
Craig: It’s bungled. And I think you’ll see a little bit of what they call the Streisand effect. Where very famously years ago somebody found out where Barbra Streisand lived and put her address and a link to — a Google Earth photo of her home on the Internet on some small unattended corner of the Internet. She found out, went crazy, sued, and suddenly everybody knew where she lived. [laughs] And everybody saw her house. And I think that SAG/AFTRA is just making this so much worse because now when I hear about Miss Berg’s movie I immediately think, oh yeah, that’s the one that SAG/AFTRA is suing her over. That’s crazy.
What a bad decision. Bad decision. Bad. Bad, bad, bad. So, no good SAG/AFTRA. Big mistake.
John: All right. Now we get to go to some good things. We get to look at three Three Page Challenges. So, it’s been a while since we’ve done this. God, maybe ten episodes. But if you’re new to the show, every once and awhile we invite our listeners to send in the first three pages of their screenplay or their pilot of a TV show and we look through them on the air.
So, if you would like to look through these pages with us, you can find links to the PDFs at johnaugust.com. Just search for this episode and Stuart will put the links in there. You will also find them on Weekend Read if you are on the iPhone and want to download them on there.
So, we have three of these. Thank you to everybody who submitted them. If you would like to submit your own scripts to be looked at for the Three Page Challenge, just those first three pages can be sent to johnaugust.com/threepage, and that is where you will find instructions for sending us your three pages so that we can look through them on the air.
We get about 100 a week or something, and Stuart has to go through all of them. So, if we don’t get to yours that’s because of just sheer numbers. It’s not because we don’t individually like you or love your writing. Stuart tries to pick a representative sample of what we get in and sometimes the best of what we get in, but sometimes just things that have interesting things to talk about. And I felt like all three of these Three Page Challenges had really interesting things that people can learn from.
John: Craig, which of these should we hit first?
Craig: Well I’m holding Get One Free in my hand by Zach Kaplan.
John: Let’s do it. Do you want to — ?
Craig: Summarize this?
John: Yeah, recap that for us.
Craig: All right. I’ll give you a little recap. So, Get One Free, written by Zach Kaplan. It opens on black and a voiceover, a man that we’ll know as Sadler is talking about how even in suicide brand loyalty matters. And then we fade in on a convenience store where Mr. Sadler is buying a pack of cigarettes from a low key paranoid Indian man in his 50s, Barry. And he identifies that his brand is Camel Crush. And then while Barry goes to get his cigarettes, Sadler looks around and imagines different kinds of people and the different kinds of cigarettes that they buy and smoke. And in voiceover comments about how blue collar types smoke Marlboro Reds and sorority girls smoke lights. And housewives smoke Parliaments. And depressed 65-year-old men smoke L&Ms.
And then at last he gets his cigarettes. He goes out into the parking lot, sees four teenager skateboarders, teenage skateboarders around his car. And they ask him if he could buy them some cigarettes. And that’s essentially our three pages.
John: Absolutely. So, this reminded me a bit of, because this had the nature of a character who is in the scene and we also had his voiceover through a lot of it, it reminded me a bit of Fight Club in that sense of where you have sort of the narration of the moment in addition to the things happening within the scenes.
If I had a frustration, it’s that while the voiceover felt like it was happening in its own space and was sort of its own movie, the actual action happening onscreen wasn’t that compelling in our first three pages. It was a lot of just standing there, waiting around, looking at things. So, I felt a little under-excited about Sadler, our hero, based on what he was doing. Basically the only information I had was this ongoing voiceover from him and it wasn’t giving me a great sense of who he really was, or why should we be looking for what he does on page four.
That was sort of my first instincts here. The actual writing of the voiceover about sort of the different kinds of cigarettes, sure, I totally get that. But in some ways it felt like it would be a more interesting Tumblr post than a voiceover setup for what we’re seeing right here on the screen.
Craig, what was your instinct?
Craig: Similar. I thought that it was — first of all, I’m not one of these people that has a voiceover problem. You know, we hear this all the time, “Don’t start your script with voiceover, blah, blah, blah.”
No, go ahead. It’s good. I like it. I thought it was a mistake to start the voiceover where he did. So, Zach has the voiceover begin over black. That little speech that he does there is disconnected from any visuals so unless it’s something a little epic and poetic and specifically expository like say the beginning of Lord of the Rings, it’s just going to feel a bit of a mistake to hear just that much talking over darkness. Also, it’s not necessarily.
Because we’re going to go back and we’re going to have voiceover in a bit, I’d rather just open with a guy buying a pack of cigarettes. And the man says what kind and he goes, “Oh, I’m sorry Camel Crush.” And then he begins to think about what he just said and about brands. That would be more interesting to me. I would actually just recommend cutting that first chuck of VO.
A little bit of a problem for me, I actually got a lot I thought about who this guy was from his VO. He seems nihilistic. He seems too cool for school. He seems bored with life. He’s got that tone of a person who observes without feeling like he’s part of humanity.
A little bit of a problem is I don’t actually believe what he’s saying here. I don’t believe what he’s saying about these brands. There’s a little bit of a facts not in evidence. He’s telling me that plastic surgery infused housewives in their 40s are all about the Parliaments. Are they?
And if they are, who cares? I mean, there’s a little bit of a who cares factor to that. When he goes outside and these kids ask him to buy them cigarettes, it ends really well. I like this. There’s a certain wit here. The kids ask to buy cigarettes and then they hand him a $5 bill and the kid says, “Here’s five bucks. Wait, haven’t I seen you on TV,” which is interesting. He must have been on TV.
Sadler says, “No. And you can take those five bucks and buy a time machine, because it’s not 19-fucking-95.” And that’s really smart.
So, I think that Zach has a really good sense of how people talk. He’s got an interesting rhythm. I think he’s trying to be cinematic here which is cool. The content may be, I don’t know, I’m interested. I’m curious to see where it goes. This may be the wrong topic for a good writer. Because it feels a little forced, but it may also work out pretty smartly.
John: So, I agree with you about the voiceover and that by starting the voiceover over black, it makes it feel like that is the framing for the entire movie. But the voiceover speech is just about the cigarette thing. And I can’t believe that the whole movie is going to be about brands and cigarettes. So, by starting it within the scene I think you’re going to make a stronger case for here’s a guy and now we’re going to hear his voiceover while he’s waiting for his cigarettes. That’s going to probably get us better started on this specific thread of who he is.
Because there is so much voiceover and it feels like this is a thing he’s going to do throughout the script, that it’s not just going to be the situation where there’s some voiceover at the very start and then it goes away for a lot of it, and there’s also going to be situations in which Sadler is going to both be talking within a scene and when he’s going to be voiceover-ing, I would consider putting all of Sadler’s voiceover in italics just to make it really simple and clear to the reader which things are being said to a character and which things are being said just to the audience.
An example is on page three. “The kids turn to him, nervous. ‘Hey man, um…can you buy us a pack?’ ‘Welcome to the team.'” That’s a voiceover and I think it’s great that that’s in voiceover, but it would be very easy to skip over that voiceover little tag because you just become blind to it. So, sticking in italics might help us realize that the moment didn’t stop. We just had a line of voiceover there.
Craig: Yeah. That’s a really good idea. Plus, there is a little bit of a formatting — I’m going to call it a mistake.
John: I agree.
Craig: It’s not a killer, but he’s putting VO in a parenthetical where the so-called Riley’s go, like thoughtfully. He’s putting it under the character name. Typically what we do is put a (VO) in parenthesis next to the character name. So, it would say, SADLER (VO) on one line, and then his VO.
John: Most people would call that a character extension. So, if it’s a parenthetical, something that’s in parenthesis right after the character’s name, that would usually be voiceover, OS, or OC for off-camera. Sometimes I’ll do that for On-Radio, just to be clear it’s a different kind of speech but it’s not talking about the delivery of the line, or not clarifying sort of the action that’s happening there.
Craig: Yeah. Especially in a script where, you’re right, I think your suspicion that there’s going to be a lot voiceover is correct. You’re actually going to save a lot of space.
John: Yeah. Helpful.
Craig: It’s a ton of lines, yeah, that you’re just wasting there.
John: I had a bit of an issue with the shopkeeper. “A low-key paranoid Indian man in his 50s, BARRY, tends to him. Sadler stares at the cigarettes.” So, you call this guy Barry, but is Barry going to keep coming back? Because it felt weird to me that we’re giving this guy such a specific name, a name that doesn’t really fit a 50-year-old Indian man description. And so I have to keep track of these two names. And Barry and Sandler for some reason feel kind of similar.
So, by the time I saw Barry again, I was like, wait, who’s Barry? I had to go back to figure out that it was the shopkeeper. If it’s not an important character, I would maybe just keep him shopkeeper if we’re not going to be circling back to see him again. How did you feel about that?
Craig: I agree. There are a couple issues here on Barry. One is that, yeah, you’re right, if he’s not a recurring character, call him Clerk I think would be fine.
I wasn’t quite sure why he was so hostile. It seemed like a pointless hostility unless they have a preexisting relationship which doesn’t appear to be the case, because Barry doesn’t know what his brand is.
Also, if you look at this paragraph, this is something that I see a lot and I would make a suggestion here, Zach. “SADLER, 35, slightly hipster-ish, dirty blonde hair, stands dead-eyed in front of the counter.” And then I would do the line of dialogue. “Sadler: Can I get a pack of smokes?” Then say, “A low-key paranoid Indian man in his 50s, BARRY, tends to him.” “What kind?”
Because when you do it all at once is happening is I am imagining, when I read action I’m imagining it happening. What I’m imagining happening the way you’ve written it, Zach, is a guy standing there and another guy is tending to him. I don’t know how that means. I just feel like two people are staring at each other and then finally someone says, “Can I get a pack of smokes,” which I don’t think is what you –
John: I agree with you there. Splitting that up is going to make that read a lot more clearly. So, page three is where I had the most issues with action lines and figuring out the best way to arrange our sentences to get the effect across. So, “EXT. PARKING LOT – SOON AFTER Sadler’s walking to his car, but he sees a group of four adolescent, skateboarding degenerates around his car.” In this sentence we’re using the word car twice, which isn’t awful, but isn’t maybe the best we could do.
We also need to capitalize FOUR ADOLESCENT SKATEBOARDING DEGENERATES or some part of that to indicate that these are actually people.
Craig: Yeah, I’d capitalize DEGENERATES.
John: I would agree. That’s the best choice. And I’d write around one of the cars, just because it’s more important that as Sadler is walking out he sees a group of four adolescent skateboarding degenerates around his car. Just get rid of the second car. Repeating a word within a sentence without effect is not your best choice.
Next paragraph down, two paragraphs down, “Sadler takes a few steps back, unsure, then keeps walking toward his car.” It’s mean to be a character moment, but by keeping it all as one sentence you sort of lost the flow. So, if you broke that into two sentences, “Sadler stops, unsure. Stills himself. Continues walking towards his car.” Breaking that was two separate things makes those actions you can actually play. As one sentence it’s like I don’t know where it began or where it ended.
Craig: I think that beat is clashing with what’s going on anyway. I mean, what I took from that was that he was nervous that these kids were there to beat him up, or rip him off, or something. But in fact the kids themselves are nervous because they want cigarettes. They’re waiting for this guy to come out so they can ask him for cigarettes. If you see a bunch of nervous kids around your car, you’re not nervous. I think he probably should just say, “Can I help you guys with something?” and we could skip this beat.
Remember, in a movie we’re going to have to watch this guy stop, see them, take a step back, then walk towards them. Then “Can I help you guys with something?” It just feels like it’s going to get cut. It’s not informing what’s going on.
John: I agree with you. So, Craig, what’s your verdict after three pages here?
Craig: My verdict is that Zach has some skill and I like the way he writes. I like his dialogue. I thought that he’s — and there’s an interesting. I will say I’m particularly pleased with the fact that he’s clearly writing about something, even if the voiceover at the top is perhaps out of place. The notion of brand and what brand means for yourself as you are self-harming is interesting.
I don’t know where it goes. I don’t know what the point is yet. I just like that there’s going to be a point, hopefully. So, it’s ambitious. I don’t know if any of it works out well. But, no, I was pleased.
John: I would agree with you. I’m curious enough to see what this movie becomes, because after the end of page three I really have no good sense of where it’s going to go. You have a sort of nihilistic hero and we don’t know sort of what the next step is for this movie. So, I think I would get to page ten and if it was — I’d hope by page ten to know what kind of movie I was in.
The last thing I would say is most people who send in Three Page Challenges put some sort of contact information on the front page. Just a generally good idea to put an email address or some way that people could get ahold of you if they love your pages. Zach didn’t have one. But if you are sending this in, it’s useful, because you want people to like this and reach out to you to tell you that you’re a great writer. So, put some sort of contact information on your title page.
John: Great. Our next script is called Not Dark Yet, by RM Weatherly. And RM is a woman. Stuart confirmed this for us. It is a script written in Courier Prime, so therefore it’s already about three steps ahead.
Craig: Oh lord.
John: Oh lord. Let me give a summary of this. So, we start in a well-ordered street of cookie-cutter McMansions. Just outside this neighborhood we see Damon Carol in his 30s who is standing over a dead body. He’s in his pajamas. He has his dog. And he’s come across a body. And he’s really not freaked out by it. He sort of kicks it with his foot. It reacts a little bit.
He tells the dog, “No, no. We won’t call the police yet. The police are sleeping. We’ll wait till they wake up.” And he convinces his dog to leave.
Next we’re in a diner in the morning. And we see our guy, who is evidently a detective, talking with a potential client. Her name is Eva. And they’re talking about her hiring him to do some recon on her husband who might be having an affair with somebody. She’s not convinced that he is having an affair. It’s sort of more idle curiosity. And they talk about sort of that there aren’t many detectives left in his line of work in this area.
So, that is where we’re at at the end of three pages. Craig, talk us through it.
Craig: There’s a lot of confusion in this for me. And so I was working hard to try and figure things out. And failed in spots. I think I succeeded in some spots. But let’s talk content first. The contrast of the cookie-cutter McMansion neighborhood, wealthy suburb, to a forest — now it says just outside the town. I have no idea how we’re supposed to know that it’s a forest just outside the town, unless we see the forest from the suburb and then cut to the forest.
And then we see Damon Carol who is there with his dog. He’s wearing matching monogram pajamas under an overcoat. He’s staring at this corpse. He’s at ease.
Okay, interesting. Fine. He touches the body with his foot, then cringes as the corpse has a phantom reaction. I don’t think that’s how corpses work. There is some sort of stuff like that shortly after death. But not like when you’re in the forest and somebody touches you with your foot, you’re not going to sit up. And even if you did, Damon should freak out because — and then realize that it’s phantom reaction.
He then says to his dog, “I thought I smelled something.” Now, I don’t know if that’s “I thought I smelled something,” or “I thought I smelled something.” I don’t know what he’s talking about.
John: It feels like it’s in the wrong place. I got really tripped up by that line, too.
Craig: Yeah. I was so confused by it and I even thought like, wait, is this one of those things where the corpse has evacuating its bowels? I literally had no idea what the hell was going on that point.
Then, some headlights approach and he covers the body up. It says, “Suddenly, at the sight of HEADLIGHTS approaching in the distance, Damon picks up debris to create a leafy sheet over the body.” Well, he’s certainly speedy, isn’t he? This is a car driving by, and he’s going to cover a body with leaves before the car gets past him? I don’t think so. That didn’t work.
Then, he says, “We’re going to come back.” And he says to his dog, “The po-lice don’t get in till 7.” At this point I’m like, okay, wait, so that’s sort of like an African American dialectic affectation. Is he black? And the name Damon is a pretty common name for black men. So is he black? I don’t know, because no one is telling me. But am I supposed to know from that? Or is that just an errant hyphen?
John: Is it affectation? Is that some weird way that he’s talking for an affect?
John: We have no idea. We don’t have enough information about him to know what the hell is going on.
Craig: Right. So, at this point, now I understand the point of a scene like that is to create mystery, but there’s a fine line between mystery and confusion. I need to know that I’m not supposed to know things. I can’t think I’m supposed to know things but I don’t. That’s confusion.
So, okay, we get to this diner. Now, this is an interesting conversation. This woman, and all we know about her is that she’s robust and big-boned. I don’t know what that means exactly. Does that mean fat? Does that mean tall? Does that mean fat and tall? Big-boned is a euphemism, that’s sort of a meaningless euphemism. Regardless, there’s an interesting dynamic here. This is where I started to perk up.
Essentially this woman is saying, I got from this conversation that he was a detective. And I got from what her comments were is that the detective business is sort of done. He’s the only detective around because there isn’t really any crime around here. And then she suggests that she will hire him to tail her husband because he might be up to something. And you know what? She’ll even pay him double. And at that point Damon realizes she doesn’t suspect her husband at all. She’s taking pity on him. She’s essentially trumping up a job to pay him.
Now, that’s interesting. But it came out all wonky. It’s a good dynamic. It’s a good subtext to arrive at. The problem is I only determine that from the action lines. I don’t think I get it from the dialogue.
Craig: And so it’s wonky. It’s off.
John: I agree it’s wonky and it’s off. And I actually had a challenge with that whole diner scene because the line that leads into right now is, “Are you alone?” And then we cut to a diner. And so my natural story brain goes like, oh, whoever is asking that question must be the person who is like seating him at a table, or something like that.
So, I read Eva as a waitress the first time through. And it wasn’t until I got to the end of page three that Damon motions for the waitress for another cup of coffee and I realized like, oh wait, they’re sitting at the same table. And I didn’t catch that here. Because there’s nothing that indicates that they’re sitting at the same table. All we hear is “The voice belongs to a robust, big-boned EVA KEYS, in her late 40s. Damon takes a sip of coffee, considering his answer before speaking, but Eva has a mill of questions. She continues:”
So, I didn’t get that they were sitting alone at a booth. I didn’t know anything about the space. And so I just made the wrong assumption based on the prelap getting me into here.
I got confused a lot, too. And let’s talk about the nature of the setting. The suburb and then the forest. Right now, RM, she has Wealth Suburb — Night and then Ext. Forest — Continuous. Continuous isn’t really the right choice here. Continuous is if it literally is a continuation of the same action. And that’s not where we are. So, just give Night here. So, we’re traveling to a new place, put the city lights in the distance if you want to. Do something to let us know where we are in relation to that previous place you set up.
I’m not convinced that cookie-cutter McMansions is going to make sense for this character ultimately with the conversation we have later on, but regardless, if the forest needs to be near, show us where the city is and tell us that it’s important.
Craig: Here’s the thing. You’ve touched on something important. What Eva and Damon are discussing essentially is that he’s the only private eye that’s left. And he says, “That’s right. Damon Carol, the only one in the book.” And I don’t like lines like that where somebody clearly announces their name so the audience knows. There’s better ways to do that.
But, why would there be any private eyes in a McMansion suburb? That’s not where private eyes are. Why would anybody be surprised that there’s only one left? Frankly, they should be surprised that there’s one at all.
Craig: It just doesn’t make sense.
John: If it were like a dying town, if it were a Cincinnati or like something that used to have private eyes and they all left because everybody left, that would be great. Or if it was some sort of like it was a boom town that people moved on from, that would be great.
I like the idea of the last detective left in a town. That’s a great idea for a character. And I sense that this Damon guy could be really fascinating. And I’m projecting forward, but I’m guessing the reason he hides this body is so that he can actually discover it later when the police are there and get credit for it. He has a whole game plan. But I’m not getting it through the scenes that I’m actually seeing on the page.
So, even this thing about the phantom reaction. I have a sense that RM has an idea in her head of what that reaction is. Describe it. Be specific rather than just say a phantom reaction, because I don’t know what that is. Does it shit itself? Does it pass gas? Does something pop? Is there spontaneous spasm? Anything would be great. But phantom reaction, I don’t know what that is.
Craig: Yeah. I’m going to make a suggestion, RM, too. I’ve been thinking about this diner scene. The idea that someone is hiring a private eye out of pity is really interesting. I think the scene would probably work better, and I don’t know if this ruins the story or not, if he’s sitting in a booth with this woman and he’s saying, “Are you ready?”
And she says, “Yes, I’m ready.”
And he opens up a folder and he shows pictures of her husband. And he says, “I’ve tracked him here, I’ve tracked him there. I’ve checked his texts and all the rest of it, and this is where he’s been going.” And he shows her. And it’s — he’s going to the library.
And she’s like, “Oh, so he’s not cheating on me?”
And that’s when Damon leans back and says, “No, he’s not cheating you. And that’s when I decided to follow you.” And then he shows pictures of her and how she, or texts that she called him and said, “Look, just do this, the guy needs the work.”
In other words, let him be a real detective to the point where he detects using his detective skills that this was a pity hire. Which is — because I want to know that he had to find out, that he didn’t immediately know it, but that there was that moment of sickening realization that somebody is giving you a handout. Like you thought you had a real job and it turns out to just be pity. That’s awful. So, find a way to demonstrate that a little more dramatically and with a little more surprise for the audience.
John: Agreed. You’re also describing a scene that has changes over the course of it. Where we approach the scene with one bit of information, we approach it with everything we know about detectives, and so therefore the next thing is that the detective is going to show us that the man is having an affair. Oh, but the surprise is that he’s not having an affair. The second surprise is that you actually hired me out of pity and the scene can build and change.
Craig: Right. Exactly. So, that’s what you’re going for. And I think particularly in an early moment when you’re establishing a character, showing that they’re competent is important information. I suspect that you’re going to want Damon to be competent. Demonstrating that they are in dire straits through their competence would be interesting, too.
So, anyway, I think there’s a lot of work that needs to happen there. And really do take this to heart, RM, that mystery is good, confusion is bad.
John: Agreed. We were talking about sort of the dialogue scene, but let’s also back up to the discovery of the body scene, which I think should play as a completely silent scene. I don’t think there’s any reason for a guy to talk to his dog. It feels forced to talk to your dog.
But, that moment of suspense where he’s like is he going to be able to cover up this body in time, give us some real — give us some time there. Give us some sentences to describe the sort of growing — the headlights getting closer. He’s trying to cover it up. He’s trying to find the right kind of leaves to go over it. The dog keeps knocking the leaves off it, like you know, there’s moments of suspense, or comedy, or something else there that’s going to be fascinating and we’re going to watch it because it’s such an odd choice to like find a body and then try to cover it up.
That could be great. And we could be with him in suspense and knowing will that car see him. Will that car stop? Will there by anything strange happening? Is he going to wave to the driver as it goes past? There could be something really great there.
Craig: Yeah. And maybe just so that you have the time to play that moment, don’t make it a car. Make it a couple on a date going through the woods.
John: Someone on a bike, nice and slow.
Craig: Yeah. Something. You got to think about real time. This is where screenwriters — it’s normal, we do it all the time. We compress time and space in our minds with such ease, but we forget that somebody at some point is going to be out in a freaking woods at two in the morning going, wait, ugh, the car has to be going like one mile an hour. We won’t even be able to see it until it’s there.
We need all this time for him to do all this stuff. It’s just never going to work. You got to think ahead to those moments. Those are the worst moments where you just think, oh, who cares. The audience. They care.
All right. Well, why don’t we move on to our third Three Page Challenge? This one is called Youth on Fire by Olufemi S. Sowemimo. And I’m going to summarize this as best I can, [laughs], because this is –
John: This is where you’re earning your big bucks today, Craig.
Craig: Yeah. I’m going to get a good paycheck out of this. We begin, again, with voiceover over darkness. Someone named Castor saying, “It takes three things to start a fire.” We then are in a college lecture classroom at night. We see two people in the center of the rooms, Sarafina Wyngaard, 19 and beautiful, drenched in some sort of viscous yellow goop. And holding on to her a beaten man, Castor Pollack, 22, and geek-nouveau.
Around them in the room there appears there’s been some kind of huge fight in here. And all of this yellow goop is everywhere. It’s on the walls. It’s coming down into puddles on the floor.
Outside the window, there’s smoke and fire, a college campus set ablaze. Sarafina is holding a Bic lighter in her hand, twirling it around. And so Castor in voiceover says, “It takes three things to start a fire. Oxygen.” Then we cut to a burn ward. He says, a different voice, male voice, Ken, says, “Heat.” And we see a burned figure on a bed with oxygen tanks. And then we go to a grassy field and we hear Sarafina in voiceover saying, “Fuel,” and we see two silhouettes making love, a burning gazebo directly behind them, casting their intertwined shadows.
Then we cut to a city street and an angry mob of teens and twentysomethings fighting with police, overwhelming them. And in voiceover, “All it takes to set it off is a spark.” Sarafina, back in the classroom, places her thumb on the lighter. And before it sparks we cut to black. And then we fade in on Arizona Institute of Technology, AIT Campus Day. It’s apparently finals day and Congrats Graduates.
There is a large bear. This is the school mascot. He’s on his hind legs and a placard says the AIT Great Bear. And a distressed student comes out of the building and he looks at his final exam, it’s terrible, he’s gotten a terrible grade. And he freaks out and starts attacking the bear, yelling at the bear about how upset he is and how much he hates school. And while he’s doing that, Castor in voiceover talks about how school basically screws everybody.
And that’s –
John: That’s our three pages.
Craig: That’s a lot in three pages.
John: It’s a lot in three pages. So, I love movies that start with provocative imagery and gives us a sense of sort of the flash forward of where is this all going to get to. And so that’s very much what he’s doing here is setting sort of some moment from probably quite late in the story where this couple is together, something terrible has happened, the school is on fire. There’s yellow goop for some reason. These provocative images invite us to ask questions and therefore we are intrigued to get the answers to those questions, and therefore we’ll keep watching the movie.
The challenge I face is that I got just really lost and I lost some faith in this movie’s ability to make me want to follow all the way to those answers. Especially when we got into this student who comes out and has all his interactions with the bear. That’s where I was like I don’t — I didn’t feel confident that I was in good storytelling hands based on the things that we’re happening, and especially in that last page.
Craig, where were you at with this?
Craig: Well, that’s right. I mean, so, look, lots of good things to talk about here. Olufemi has a terrific sense of how to create a mental image with text. And that, boy, that’s a big part of our job. And so I saw everything on the first page and a half. There was a hundred things going on. I saw it all. And that’s great. And I was really interested. And I understood that there was a mystery there. I wasn’t confused.
I was fascinated. And it was so interesting. I think that voiceover wise, you’re going to run into trouble moving voiceover like this between three voices because in particular I don’t think anyone is going to know that Castor and Ken are different people. Male voices, even when they’re different men, will often sound the same if there’s a continuity of voiceover like that. Particularly when we’re not seeing a different voice. And we don’t. There’s a burned figure on a bed. So, that’s a little bit tricky.
I thought the order, oxygen, heat, and fuel, was wrong, because we start with a lighter, then we go to oxygen, then we go to fuel. So I thought it should have been heat, oxygen, fuel.
But I was so like, oh my god, this is crazy. What — how — and I understood that I was definitely going for another Stuart special, [laughs], where we open at the end of a movie and then go to the beginning. And that’s because Stuart loves that. Don’t keep doing it just to make Stuart pick your scripts. But then, oh man, did it fall off the rails. And the reason it fell off the rails was tone. Tone, tone, tone.
So, the first page and a half is dark, and moody, and poetic. I mean, the character’s name on page one, and I don’t love things like this.
John: Sarafina and Castor.
Craig: Well, and also Castor — his name is — where is page one. Castor Pollack. Which is sort of a hammy reference to Castor and Pollux, the Roman twins. You know, all right, fine. He went to school, I get it. But the tone is mood and poetic and visual.
Then when we get to this scene, where the student, the first thing he does is yell at this bear and says, “Fuck you, rape bear. Screwed me right up the ass, you stupid bear. You like that? Did you like it, huh?” This — I’m like, wait, wait, it’s like I started watching Fight Club and then I cut to black and then the next scene I’m watching Neighbors.
Craig: What’s going on? I was so confused. And then Castor’s voiceover seems completely irrelevant because all we’re really watching is a student freak out and Castor’s voiceover saying, “Students freak out.” This did not work.
John: It didn’t work at all. And I lost a sense of where this voiceover could be connected to. So, if you’re giving me these provocative images and you have a voiceover that’s sort of establishing like, you know, to make a fire you need heat, fuel, and oxygen. Like, I get what that is. That’s like a movie telling itself. But then to have that voiceover and have multiple voiceover empowered people feeding me more stuff just made me frustrated and sort of confused about what was going on.
But I really want to talk about the stressed student, because what he’s doing is so crazy cartoonish, but even the setup feels really strange and sort of not specific to our shared understanding of how college campuses work.
Craig: Wait, you didn’t buy that his final exam was graded instantly? [laughs]
John: So, his final exam, and “red marks cover the page like battle wounds. Nonsense. Absurd. You can go do better, etc. Up top a score of 13 out of 50.” We have the macro lens out for that, because we’re reading a lot apparently. If we see this guy freak out, we’re going to get why he’s freaking out. And this felt like the kind of scene that should have taken place entirely without him talking or without anyone else talking. And so if you want to do some cartoonish things, don’t also have him say cartoonish things. You can have him take cartoonish actions or like, you know, get fucked by the bear, or sort of do that stuff that he wants to do, just let’s not talk about. Let’s just sort of show it.
And if you want to comment on it, maybe have real characters in the scene commenting on it, because the voiceover was just not working for us.
I also want to talk about the specificity of campus. Like what is campus? Colleges are big and I don’t have a sense of where we are on this campus. I needed a little bit more scene setting, because apparently this is where most of the story is going to take place, is my guess, since we’re ending there and we’re starting here. Give us more. Tell us, are we in the main quad? Give us a sense of what kind of school this is. Because you say Arizona Institute of Technology. It’s like, am I supposed to think ASU, am I supposed to think MIT? Those are very different vibes and very different kind of feelings of what those students are like.
In general, like since we’re going to end on sort of a war scene, is this supposed to be normal days? Is the calm before the war? Show us some calm before this guy storms out.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, when you have a character doing something like this guy is doing where he’s mimicking being raped by the bear, no one does that on their own. It’s just simply not — at that point you’re mentally ill. That’s crazy. You would do it in front of a friend to make them understand how you felt possibly. I mean, I don’t love it at all, but you would not do it alone.
And it’s being commented on, again, by Castor, Ken, and Sarafina in voiceover. We have these three disembodied voices like a Greek chorus suddenly now talking, like having a conversation in VO. Look VO can be terrific. A conversation in VO, when we have no idea who is doing it yet, very difficult. And when the tone of the conversation is in polar opposition to the tone of what we’re looking at, you end up with a disaster.
So, this is so interesting to me because I feel like page one through 1.5 is fantastic. And page 1.5 to three is horrendous. And so I guess I would say that’s good news, because if you can make 1.5 fantastic pages, you can make 110 fantastic pages. But, something went rapidly awry.
John: I also want to think about what is the audience’s expectation after this kind of opening. So, when we do the flash forward opening and then we’re coming back to sort of the real start of the movie, my instinct is the first person I see, or the first person I should be focused on should be one of the important people. And so when you tell me in the script “distressed student,” and then I get a page and a half of just distressed student doing stuff, I’m thinking well is this our hero? Is this the guy I’m supposed to be focusing on? Because as a moviegoer, I would assume like, oh, this must be our main hero person. But the reason I know it’s not is because you didn’t give him a name. He’s just called Distressed Student.
So, I’m really conflicted about sort of should I be paying any attention to this guy? Is one of these other people going to step in, oh wait, they’re being voiceover, so who knows. And that’s a real frustration. Stories don’t always have to start with your hero. Obviously many great movies start with characters who are not your hero, who are sort of disposable and you never see again, but movies that start with this sort of flash forward structure and then come back to reality, I would bet 90% of them, one of the very first people you’re going to see if your hero to establish, ground you in the reality of this is the character’s journey.
Craig: Absolutely true. In fact, I’ll go a step further. When you start with voiceover over a tableau like this, sort of a — I imagine this is all very tableau like, these first 1.5 pages. When you come out of it, you’re close on someone. You want to be physically close on a face. I could easily see the first thing we see being Castor’s face not beaten, and we hear over his face some cry. And then we reveal that he’s looking out his window at a girl who is sitting under a banner that says Congratulations on your Finals, or Good Luck on Finals, and she’s just sobbing.
And we go, oh boy. You know, I would get that. But you’re so right. You have to come back to a face almost to understand even time wise what the hell is going on. If you’re going to play the time game, help me.
John: Great. So, as always, I want to thank everyone who has submitted for the Three Page Challenges, especially these three people who were brave enough to have us talk about their three pages on the air. If you have your own three pages you want us to take a look at, it’s johnaugust.com/threepage, and you can submit your own. If you want to read through the ones we’ve talked about, they’re on the show notes, so just johnaugust.com.
It’s time for One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a video that everybody on the Internet said I should watch, but I avoided watching it because it’s 15 minutes long. Now I watched it and it’s really, really good. It’s called The Fallen of World War II by Neil Halloran. And what he did is a great data visualization of –
Craig: It’s so cool.
John: It’s so good. It’s all the deaths of WWII. And sort of showing in sort of a great chart form of like how many people died from each country, both military casualties and civilian casualties. And it sort of shows you how big WWII really was and how it sort of out-scaled everything that had come before it, and really everything that’s come after it.
And so it was harrowing but it was also — ends on a surprisingly hopeful note in the sense that you recognize that since the horror of WWII we’ve not had anything approaching that in terms of death on a global scale. So, really just spectacularly well done. Just a great example of what’s possible to do with great data visualization. It also reminded me way back in episode 30 I talked about The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronical of Atrocities by Matthew White, which if you liked this visualization, I would urge you to read that book. Because what it does is it talks through sort of all of history’s great atrocities, some of which are in Halloran’s video.
But it gives you a sense of like what is the context for these great deaths that have happened in history and the kinds of things that lead to these big catastrophic events.
Craig: Yeah. It’s great. Anytime somebody says how bad things are now, and the world is getting worse, I perversely want to punch them and make the world worse because we’re not even in the same galaxy of badness that existed in the middle of the 20th century.
When you look at Russia alone, it’s astonishing. When you think about what it means for millions of people to die, and then you think about tens of millions of people. It’s unfathomable. And there are all sorts of theories as to why it hasn’t happened since, one of which is kind of obvious, because it can’t. Everybody has nuclear weapons. You simply can’t do it anymore. You can’t have a war like that anymore. But I think also the war itself was proof that we shouldn’t have a war like that anymore.
It’s unreal. It’s just hard to fathom living on a planet and yet, you know, my parents were alive when that was happening. It’s just remarkable. Just remarkable. So, yeah, an amazing video.
My One Cool Thing is like on the other end of the spectrum. It’s on the loose end. So, I’m not a big wine guy, but any time I get a bottle or something I just want to say like, oh, is this crap or is it okay? And I think I mentioned this to you. There’s a website called CellarTracker where people can write their opinions of wine and it’s actually kind of useful because people that know about wine — and I am not one of them — will say things like, you know, this is a good wine, but don’t drink it now, drink it three years from now. Or leave this out for an hour, or just go ahead and drink it.
And they have an app now, it’s free, and one of the coolest things about it is you can take a picture of a wine label and it will search some database somewhere in the sky and show you that bottle of wine exactly from that year with all the reviews and thoughts on it. It’s so cool.
It will even give you a sense of what it should cost. So, if you’re in a store and they’re like, “This is the best and it only costs $120,” well, maybe it really only costs $50. So, very cool, and it’s free. They ask for a voluntary payment, which I have yet to do. Actually I just noticed that it said that. [laughs] I feel super ashamed. I will send my voluntary payment in. CellarTracker for iPhone and possibly for those other phones that others talk about.
John: Yes. The engine underlying it is the same thing that does Vimeo, which is an app I’ve used for a while. And I think it’s actually so smart because it’s a great use of like you have a limited data set. Although there’s thousands of wines in the world, there’s only thousands of wines in the world. So you can actually just digitize all of the labels out there and then figure out like these are the wines. And you can match those up to reviews of them and actually provide a useful service from that data set.
So, I thought it was just a really smart use of cellphone camera technologies, scanning, the power of the computers that are in our little pockets all the time to do it.
Craig: What a world!
John: We live in a great world. Better than WWII. So, this is all –
Craig: Yeah, and in WWII people were dying in the millions and now in 2015 my phone gets me drunk.
John: Ha-ha. And that’s our show this week. If you have something to say to Craig Mazin, you should write him on Twitter. He is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. Longer questions, write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you would like to leave us a review on iTunes, that would be fantastic. Just search for us there at Scriptnotes. That’s also where you can download the Scriptnotes app for your iOS device. We’re also available for Android devices on the appropriate app stores.
Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel who picked these Three Page Challenges. Thank you, Stuart.
Our show is edited by Matthew Chilelli, and man, did I make his life difficult this week. We had Skype dropouts and my brain did not work very well. So, thank you, Matthew. If you have an outro for our show, we love to have great musical compositions as outros, things that incorporate the [hums], but in clever new ways. Matthew writes a lot of them, but we also have great people who have written other ones for us. So, if you have one of those outros, just send us a link to email@example.com and we will get that into the queue.
For Craig Mazin, I’m John August. Guys, thank you so much. See you next week, Craig.
Craig: Bye John.
- John jumped off a bridge
- FAST Screenplay’s Jeff Bollow at TEDxDocklands
- Action Movies, Stop Taking Away Our Everyday Heroes on Wired
- NEDA’s Statistics on Males and Eating Disorders
- SAG-AFTRA Threatened To Sue Director Amy Berg Over ‘An Open Secret’ on Deadline
- Submit your Three Pages here
- Three Pages by Zach Kaplan
- Three Pages by RM Weatherly
- Three Pages by Olufemi S. Sowemimo
- The Fallen of World War II by Neil Halloran, and fallen.io
- The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History’s 100 Worst Atrocities by Matthew White
- CellarTracker for iOS
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Adrian Tanner (send us yours!)
Devin Faraci writes about the strange death of a certain character in Jurassic World (spoilers in the original article, but none here):
I would say it’s the most horrible death in the movie. It’s well-executed (oddly this could be the only set piece in the movie that is structured in a way to actually give weight and meaning to the action within it) but that execution only adds to how deeply disturbing it is. It’s possible that this is the most horrible death in the entire franchise, or at least that it is running neck and neck with the death of Richard Schiff in The Lost World. It’s gruesome and it’s painful and it’s protracted.
But, like, it’s a dinosaur movie! That’s what should happen, right? Sort of. Here’s what’s important to understand – and what Jurassic World does not understand – the deaths of your characters must be proportional, unless the unproportional nature of the death is, in and of itself, the point.
I saw Jurassic World over the weekend, and this one death also stuck out for me, because it didn’t feel deserved. Faraci tries to unpack what we mean by “deserved.”
Most often the character killed in these scenes brings about their own demise through their selfishness or cowardice. Evil characters also deserve it, and we find it truly satisfactory when they are destroyed – the bigger the bad guy, the more extravagant the death we want for them.
Death isn’t just for villains, obviously:
A good character can suffer a horrible death when saving other characters, or they can suffer a horrible death that is intended to illustrate just how bad the bad guy/monster really is. Predator is a great example of this, where characters we like get absolutely slaughtered. The key to all of these deaths, though, is that we feel something on some level. These aren’t slasher movie deaths, where the kids are glorified examples of background fodder getting offed – you will feel sad that the character died or proud that they stood their ground.
What makes this one death in Jurassic World so odd is that the character is neither hero nor villain. We’re not rooting for comeuppance, yet the sequence seems designed for exactly that — payback for a karmic debt owed.
I agree with Faraci that it feels like something got changed along the way. My hunch is that this death was originally intended for a villain — perhaps the same character, but with different scenes establishing gruesome-death-worthy motives — or that the sequence was originally designed to serve another purpose.
Or maybe it was always meant to be exactly how it plays in the movie, a giant WTF? On some level, I could respect that. The scene is noteworthy because it is so unexpected.
The movie I’m writing now has a considerable body count, so the question of who dies and how isn’t just theoretical.
Early deaths help establish the rules of the world. Late deaths create closure. It’s the middle deaths like this one in Jurassic World that are often the most challenging. Too mean-spirited, and you risk turning the audience against you. Too generic, and you’ve lessened the stakes for your hero.
Perhaps the key thing is that on-screen deaths should have an impact on the hero. When an established character dies just so the movie can kill someone, it feels hollow.
Daniel Wallace, who wrote the novel Big Fish, sent me the syllabus for the college writing class he’s teaching. I love the first week’s assignment:
Write a story as close to 100 words as possible, each and every word a single syllable.
Then write a story as close to 100 words as possible, a single syllable, but add this twist: no word can be used more than once.
For inspiration, he includes a link to 420 Characters.
From Wolverine to The Rock, male action heroes have literally gotten bigger over the last decade. Craig and John look at how that impacts story. Is there hope for the the ordinary man in an extraordinary situation? Will we ever get back to Kurt and Keanu?
Then it’s time for three new Three Page Challenges, with entries ranging from campus riots to suburban detectives.
- John jumped off a bridge
- FAST Screenplay’s Jeff Bollow at TEDxDocklands
- Action Movies, Stop Taking Away Our Everyday Heroes on Wired
- NEDA’s Statistics on Males and Eating Disorders
- SAG-AFTRA Threatened To Sue Director Amy Berg Over ‘An Open Secret’ on Deadline
- Submit your Three Pages here
- Three Pages by Zach Kaplan
- Three Pages by RM Weatherly
- Three Pages by Olufemi S. Sowemimo
- The Fallen of World War II by Neil Halloran, and fallen.io
- The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History’s 100 Worst Atrocities by Matthew White
- CellarTracker for iOS
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Adrian Tanner (send us yours!)
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 201 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, our communication can open up to a whole new frontier. I can now send you my heartbeat because I have an Apple Watch just like you.
Craig: I mean, let’s just run down the things we could do. We can send each other heartbeats. I can draw like a dick on my phone if I want –
Craig: And I can draw a boob and send it to you.
John: You can send an animated Emoji kind of thing.
Craig: Which I actually — that we could do I think to anybody.
John: I think it would just come through as a normal Emoji though. I don’t think it comes –
Craig: No, it does.
John: Through as the cool animation.
Craig: It does. It comes through.
John: Does it?
Craig: Yeah. Yeah. They can’t send us one but we can send anybody one of those.
John: Yeah, so it’s unilateral Emoji power.
Craig: Yeah, exactly. But the little like, “I’m going to draw something and blah, blah, blah,” you know, frankly, there’s no real utility in that. I don’t –
John: If I were a high school student, I would love it.
Craig: Yeah, sure.
John: I’d be drawing dicks and sending them around all the time.
Craig: Dicks and boobies everywhere.
John: That’s what it would be. So far, I’m enjoying it. You know, once I started treating it like a watch that could do extra things versus a tiny iPhone, I was much happier with it. But I found that that first hour I kept trying to do iPhone kind of things on it, it really is not an iPhone.
Craig: No, not at all. And that’s a very good observation. You just treat it like a watch. The truth of the matter is that 90% of the time, I’m just using it like a watch where I check the time. I like the fact that it — I don’t know what face you’re using, but the way I’ve got mine designed, I’ve got just a standard analog face. I’ve got a little digital time as well. I’ve got the date and day. And then at the bottom, a little summary of what the next event is coming up, you know, on my calendar.
John: I suspect you and I are both using the utility face.
Craig: I think I am using the utility face, yeah.
John: Yeah. Apparently, it’s the most common face used by Apple Watch users.
Craig: There you go.
John: But I use the same thing. And in my upper left corner I have little circles that fill in for my activity. And I enjoy that as a concept. I’ve been a little bit frustrated that I have a very hard time getting the move circle to fill in all the way. And I think my humblebrag for this will be that my heart rate is really, really low. My resting heart rate is really, really low. And so things that I think should count as movement, my heart rate doesn’t go up high enough that it doesn’t feel like I’m actually really working at it.
Craig: You know, I was wondering –
John: So that’s my only frustration.
Craig: The heart rate thing is a little, I don’t know. I’m a little suspicious of it. Well, actually, geez, god, my heart rate is ridiculously low, too. 61.
John: Yeah, I’m 60.
John: But maybe that’s because we’re so calm whenever we’re doing the podcast.
Craig: Because we don’t move, man. Let’s just face it. [laughs]
John: We don’t.
Craig: Just real lazy –
John: This podcast, we will not be moving whatsoever but we will be discussing some topics and doing a whole new kind of featuring segment which I thought up this week and I hope will be fun. This week, we’re going to take a look at three stories in the news and look at them from a screenwriter’s perspective saying, how would these be movies?
And so we’re going to look at the FIFA scandal. We will look at the Large Hadron Collider and we’re going to look at the situation with Laura Kipnis and the Title IX Investigations and sort of that whole issue of sexual conduct on campus.
So we’re not actually going to reach any conclusions about them as the actual news stories, but we’ll look at them as how do you make this into a movie, which is most of what screenwriters do is try to think about how something could be a movie.
Craig: Yeah. And that, actually, as an exercise, is very much like what we’re doing all the time when we sit down with producers or executives. At some point, someone will say something like, “Hey, you know, we’ve been thinking about making a movie about FIFA.” Or, “Hey, we’ve been thinking — you know, my boss, insert famous person here, is just obsessed with origami. How do we make an origami movie?” And you’re constantly being asked to take something and narrativize it. Well, let’s see how we do with these.
John: Yeah. So this will be our first experiment in narrativization with three news stories. And then we’re going to take a look at the advice of “follow your passion” or “do what you love” and to the degree with which that applies to writers and screenwriters but to the degree with which it could be damaging advice overall. So we will get into that. And Professor Craig has a bunch of stuff in the Workflowy for us to talk through about that.
So it should be a fun new kind of episode.
Craig: Well, we’ll see. I like to hold my applause.
John: You’re setting expectations low.
John: Craig Mazin specialty.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, it could be a disaster.
John: But it could be fun.
Craig: But, look, it’s free. [laughs]
Craig: You know, I mean, come on.
John: All right, let’s get into this. So we’re going to talk about each of these issues. We’ll sort of do a quick summary of what actually is happening, in case you’re listening to this six months after the fact and you don’t remember what the story was.
But then I want to take a look at this from — maybe spend the first little bit of it talking about like, well, what kind of movie in general are we talking about making, what’s the genre, what sort of general type of move would this be. Look at the characters, look at what the storyline might be, and also answer the real question like, “Would anybody make that movie?” So let’s start with FIFA.
John: So FIFA was a big scandal this last week. Do you want to summarize it? Should I summarize it? What do you think?
Craig: You know, there’s not that much to say. I mean, FIFA is the international organization that supervises football, you know, what the rest of the world calls football, soccer. And they control the World Cup. They also control what city gets the World Cup. And that’s a bit like the Olympics. Cities bid for it, they compete heavily for it because it’s good for your economy to have, you know. God knows how many people filing into your country to watch the World Cup.
And unfortunately, what that means is that there’s the opportunity and possibility of corruption because you have FIFA officials that are in possession of a decision. And lots of other countries want them to decide for them. So you could see how it’s like, “Oh, hey, take this briefcase of money.” “Oh, hey, why don’t you have a free whatever and give it to us?” And I think frankly, the rest of the world had resigned itself to FIFA’s steady, consistent corruption.
John: Until about 10 days ago when it suddenly changed.
Craig: It suddenly changed.
John: So what happened is this was in Zurich and a bunch of plain-clothed police officers came in and arrested and then later indicted a bunch of FIFA officials and other marketing officials for essentially kickbacks and bribes. This was all at the request of the U.S. Department of Justice. And so, it was suddenly, you know, sort of out in the open. And at the time, Sepp Blatter who runs FIFA, claimed the responsibility. He has the best name.
As we get into like the storytelling of it at all, like Sepp Blatter is just too impossibly great –
Craig: [laughs] Sepp Blatter, I mean, they’ve got to just put that into the new Star Wars movies.
John: That’s so good.
Craig: Darth Blatter? Come on.
John: [laughs] So he was initially sort of like not publicly part of the investigation, like he wasn’t sort of indicted in this first round. He won the election as Head of FIFA two days later. And then after another few days, he resigned from it because it was clear that he was going to be ensnared in the investigation. His words though were, “The mandate does not seem to be supported by everybody in the world of football,” in his hastily arranged news conference in Zurich. “FIFA needs a profound restructuring.”
Craig: Yeah, yeah. FIFA needs a restructuring, all right. I mean, good lord. I mean, we’re not supposed to comment on the news story itself. We just want to make a movie out of this somehow.
John: We do. And so as I was thinking about what kind of movie this would be, one of the details that came up which I found so fascinating is the structure of FIFA which tends I think to lend itself to some of this corruption is that each — it’s not even countries, but each sort of locality who has a team gets to have a vote on where the World Cup is being held.
And so you can have these tiny little island countries that have as much of a vote as Germany or France does on where these things are being held. And so because you have these little countries and one official of this little country having so much power in how this is being done, they’re very prone to bribery. And also, I found the possibility for that little guy from Bora Bora being ensnared in this whole thing potentially fascinating.
Craig: Yeah. That’s definitely one way to go is to just say, “Let’s take the villains of FIFA and let’s make an underdog movie here.” So, a little country wants the World Cup and they love soccer, and there’s no chance they’re ever going to get it, but they pick their aging soccer hero. They sort of say, “Hey, leave this charge and give our kids something to think of.” And he gets caught up and swept up. And then there’s probably a woman that he’s falling in love with. And he goes. And he basically gets screwed over by these evil guys. And so, he fights back.
And, you know, they end up playing the World Cup on big floating platforms in the Pacific Ocean because they’re French Polynesia or something.
John: So what you’re describing is sort of falling into the sports movie overall genre. So there’s things like there’s aspects of Cool Runnings. That Matt Damon, South African football movie, or rugby movie, which also involved Morgan Freeman as a backdrop for telling the larger story of Nelson Mandela. There’s definitely all of that stuff because you have this cinematic game that you can watch. There’s actually sport. There’s action happening right there.
The other way I was thinking about doing this was sort of the Coen Brothers comedy, which is that you have these larger than life characters doing this sort of absurd thing and taking money for, you know, soda contracts. And there’s some kind of great black comedy to be made about what that life is like.
Craig: Yeah, for sure. So we’re talking about genre here and in a weird way what happens is you start to go right to, well, what’s this about, you know. And in the first instance we have this broad comedy. And what it’s about is, you know, what most things are always about. The underdog wins.
And then a darker comedy or a Coen Brothers style comedy is really about the Byzantine Kafkaesque nature of the world. FIFA and its nonsense becomes a stand-in for, you know, the mythological maze that the hero would find himself in. And those can be fascinating and really funny. The collision of different nationalities you could see lending itself to some fun there as well.
You know, where of course the other way to go is to take it just head-on. And say, “Okay, well, let’s just deal with how can we make a political thriller about this.” There’s probably not any violence, but people have become accustomed to sort of the unwinding of international things if it’s done with some real drama.
There is an interesting theme here that I think could be explored in a movie like that. One thing that came out of this whole thing that I found fascinating was that in a time when most of the world, and particularly Europe where so much of football mania is centered, has lost its love for the United States. There was this remarkable outpouring of appreciation. It was like the old days where people went, “Here come the Yanks. Good for them. Finally, they’re going to come and clean this up. And hurray for them. And you know what, they may not love football the way we do, but they saved us. They’ve saved our beloved sport.” That’s interesting to me.
John: The kind of movie you’re describing makes me think of Syriana or Michael Clayton in that they’re taking it straight on. They’re sort of trying to peel back the layers and really looking at what’s happening underneath this thing.
And like they’re also dipping into what we consider the villain’s point of view at times. I think of the scene in Michael Clayton where she’s like hiding in the bathroom stall making a phone call. There’s some really great tension to be found there.
But I would also question whether, you know, there’s not obvious like people being murdered in the streets in this kind of movie. But if you look at the situation in Qatar, which Qatar was awarded the World Cup, and there’s real concerns that, you know, essentially the slave labor that’s going to be building the stadiums in Qatar would result in many, many deaths. So there’s ways you could probably frame this as a real human cost to this kind of corruption and scandal.
Craig: That’s right. And in doing so, you find why it matters to people. So the question is, forget who’s going to go see this, who’s going to make it, right? Because the who’s going to make it involves who’s going to go see it.
John: Of course.
Craig: And people that are going to be spending $30 million, $40 million or $50 million a movie, what they want to know is, well, what ultimately draws me to this if I don’t care about soccer or even if I do but I’ve read the story and I get it. And what draws people to all these things is some kind of human drama, whether it’s the simple comedy drama of the spirit of the underdog or if it’s something about a repressed underclass in the dark side of a happy sport. Something, we have to find that thing to connect through. I actually think that you could make a really interesting movie about this. My instinct, if I were running a studio, would not be to make the sunny comedy version because that feels a bit played out. And I think that this is too — frankly, it’s too interesting. The fun version of that is Cool Runnings where it’s about kind of a very minor sport and minor country. And the comedy is the fun part. My instinct here would be to go head on.
Craig: I would go head on and Syriana with this thing. I guess, ultimately, what I’d be trying to find in it is a path for America to become what it once was. Not the world’s policeman, but the world’s best example. And use that as the sort of joy at the end of this.
John: So what you’re describing I think could be a really cool movie. And it reminds me of Zero Dark Thirty. So Zero Dark Thirty, you’re trying to take on the assassination of Osama Bin Laden but, like, what is the actual human story you’re trying to tell within that? And so they decided to focus in on the single woman. We’re seeing this from her perspective as she’s trying to do this mission. So finding who that relatable U.S. person is or whose journey we’re going to follow and whose struggle we’re going to follow trying to make this happen could be great.
John: So let’s take a look at who some of these characters are we’re going to encounter. Obviously Sepp Blatter is just, come on, just phenomenal.
Craig: Sepp Blatter.
John: So we have Loretta Lynch who’s the U.S. Attorney General who is pushing this investigation.
John: She is certainly a possibility. But I have a hunch that there’s some other man or woman who really led the charge and said, “You know what, I think we can get them on RICO charges,” which is normally how you would bring down the Mafia. I think if you could frame this story in a way like the same kinds like, you know, The Untouchables or the same way you could sort of frame these Mafia stories, you might be able to frame it from — use that as a framework for what kind of a movie this is.
This is like the U.S. taking down the Mafia. That may be a way in to sort of both how we’re going to describe the movie internally, about what kind of movie we’re trying to make. But also you’re thinking about what kind of movie are you ultimately going to need to try to market when you put it out there in the world.
Craig: Yeah. And this is where you come up with these little moments that help people understand. And by the way, you’re exactly right. You can’t make Loretta Lynch, our U.S. Attorney General, the hero of the story because she’s simply too big and too public. It’s like making the President the hero. That was kind of my problem with, you know, the White House Down, Olympic Fallen movies because the President doesn’t punch people. He’s too big. He’s not real, you know. He’s not real to me.
John: Yeah, exactly. Unless you’re literally making Air Force One which like you so deliberately constrain it down. Like, well, it has to be the President.
John: But that’s not this movie.
Craig: It’s just not this movie. So you do want somebody that we feel accessible to, somebody that we can identify with. But there’s that moment where they’re in a room and the person is saying, “Here’s what I want to do. I want to bring them up on RICO charges.” And someone else says, “Okay, when you say them, let’s just run down who you’re talking about. These 17 countries, these following people, none of whom we have jurisdiction over, all of whom are bribing these people to not give us evidence, we can’t go here and we can’t go here. These people hate us, and these people hate us. And you want to bring them all down on a RICO charge within two months?” And the person says, “That’s right.”
And you start to get a sense of what this movie is about.
John: You know, the other movie this is reminding me of is Erin Brockovich because you might have an outsider who’s come in to say like, “This is what’s happening. This is what needs to be done.” So even if he or she doesn’t have the expertise to do exactly the thing that needs to be done, they have to convince someone who does have that power to do it. And the way they do that is the compelling human story of how we are getting to this place.
So then the issue becomes, how do you set up your competing themes of like whatever this individual journey is versus what FIFA is doing overall and what soccer is like. You know, how do you combine the ideas of like that kid playing soccer, your own kid playing soccer on the field and this giant sports machine that is corrupt and is employing slave labor in a faraway place. How do you make that all fit into one movie, that’s your struggle.
Craig: That is. And, you know, my instinct would be that the person involved here actually doesn’t understand soccer at all. They don’t play it, their kids don’t play it. They are as American as American gets, in fact, which is a part of their problem.
For instance, I could see a character who had been working in the state department for a while and working in an area where frankly every time they try to do something that “helped,” they hurt, which is kind of the story of the post 9/11 United States. Every time we try and fix things, we seem to make them worse.
And this person is consumed by this. And they seize upon this that the thing that no one is looking at. And they say, “Wait a second. If you pull the lid off of this, you start to see how many people are really being hurt, this is the kind of thing we should be doing. We shouldn’t necessarily be droning every time we have a problem. Maybe this is what we should be doing, going after the rich and corrupt who are, in the name of capitalism and a good show, are hurting a lot of people. That’s the way we used to be.”
And then it becomes about that person redeeming themselves and maybe giving us all a little bit of a glimpse of how we could be better.
John: Something you just touched on there is that by having this person be an outsider to the world of soccer and maybe even outside to the world of how FIFA works, by having your hero be that outsider, you give the movie and the audience a chance to learn with the hero how stuff fits together. And you also get the ability to teach the audience what is important and what is not important about this world you’re introducing them to, because you’re not going to need to teach them all the rules of soccer. That’s not going to be important to your movie.
John: But you’re going to be able to teach them how this bigger game works. And so, as I’m throwing out other examples of movies. You think of Moneyball. And Moneyball, it didn’t just teach you how to like hit the ball, it needed to talk to you through about sort of this is what trading is like. This is how you put a team together. This is the structure of this world. And having your hero be the outsider to this could be really, really useful.
Craig: Yeah. And as you mentioned, Moneyball, you were psychically connecting to something I was already thinking when you talked about how the audience goes in on this outsider path with their hero. And that is that you’re creating an opportunity for great relationship. Somebody that’s bought in to help you navigate that world. So you don’t know anything about soccer. And you don’t come from that world. And you have this idealistic view of what you can accomplish.
And they pair you with somebody that isn’t a crusader or government official but knows a whole bunch about soccer and the soccer world. That’s a great odd couple pairing. And watching those two people help each other, the cynic makes it clear to the idealist what they’re really up against. And the idealist reignites a little bit of a candle of hope in the cynic. That’s classic stuff. But you’re always looking to create characters that need other people. Or else, your movie is going to get super lonely.
John: Yeah. The thing we need to always remind ourselves is when you put all FIFA overweight there on the shelf and just look at it from whoever we pick as our hero, what is going to be her journey through this movie. And how are we going to find the moments of triumph and failure along the way. How are we going to get to that place where all hope is lost? Where do we get to that darkest night? And how are we going to structure the story so that character could have those moments, because that’s what would let it be a story about a person rather than a story about a scandal that we just sort of fundamentally don’t care about. That’s honestly the challenge with most of these movies that are based on real life events is trying to find a way that you can have — you can really chart a hero through this whole thing.
You look at what Aaron Sorkin did with The Social Network, which is still one of my favorite movies. It was so smart in creating a character in Mark Zuckerberg who wasn’t the real Mark Zuckerberg but allowed a character to have progress in the journey and to have these ups, these downs, and to really articulate the frustrations in really smart ways. That’s what you’re going to be able to find with this story is how do you find a character who it can be about them and not be about soccer?
Craig: Every movie ultimately must be about people. We simply don’t watch fictional movies, even dramatizations of real things for the events themselves. That’s why we watch documentaries. And even in documentaries, they make it about people. Otherwise, it’s a textbook. It’s just your history textbook on film. It’s a news reel.
Craig: You have to make it about people. That’s how we connect to everything. So Sorkin looks at Facebook. And he says, here’s a man that started Facebook. Facebook is so that you can make friends. This man doesn’t seem to have any friends. Good. Let me start there. That’s a good place to start. Really good place to start.
John: Yeah. Let’s go on to our next big news topic. This is only sort of halfway news because it’s existed for a while, but this last week they reignited some stuff and upped the energy on the things. We’re going to talk about The Large Hadron Collider. So for people who are not scientifically oriented, The Large Hadron Collider is this giant ring, this particle accelerator built on the border of France and Switzerland. It’s run by CERN, the organization for nuclear research in Europe.
There’s 10,000 scientists, it’s a tunnel 27 kilometers circumference. And what they’re looking for are supper symmetric particles. It’s really trying to understand the fabric of the universe. It’s trying to understand dark matter, trying to understand the very first moments after the Big Bang. It was incredibly expensive. It was incredibly controversial when it was getting made. There’s always been sort of this background worry about like well what if we sort of break something in the universe by trying to build this thing. So let’s just take a look at here’s The Large Hadron Collider. What is the movie there?
Craig: Well, you’ve got some possibilities. You could, again, let’s just start with the real easy one. Straight ahead, it’s a drama about whether we’re going to find this or not. I think that would probably be pretty boring.
John: I agree.
Craig: When we talk about movies where people are pursuing specific scientific breakthroughs The Imitation Game or Beautiful Mind, it’s really about the individuals and their interesting personal struggles whether it’s with being a homosexual at a time when it’s illegal or whether it’s having schizophrenia. In and of itself, this probably straight ahead will be — no one will care. So then of course, you go let’s fling ourselves the other way into science fiction, right? Okay. Science fiction tends to come in two flavors. It comes in the hopeful flavor or the be careful flavor. My guess is that this would probably fall under the be careful flavor of science fiction.
John: Do talk through both versions.
John: So let’s start with the pessimistic, but let’s also talk the optimistic version.
Craig: All right. So optimism, we’ve got this wonderful thing. And if we do it, perhaps, we get — I could see, well, geez, I don’t know how to make it optimistic, because the truth is what happen is you’re guessing about things like what do you, you know, do you find heaven?
John: I was going more towards Jodie Foster in Contact where essentially you, you know, by building this thing, you’re able to understand some fundamental mystery. And therefore either travel to a different place, have communication with the new species. I was also thinking back to in Star Trek lore there is the prime directive which is basically non-interference with other cultures. But The Federation will reach out when a civilization has reached a certain point. So in one of the movies, I guess this First Contact, Zefram Cochrane builds the first warp drive. And therefore The Federation reaches out and says, “Oh, hey, Earth. There’s other life out there.” And that’s how Earth joins The Federation.
So I think there’s a possibility for essentially by basically knocking on the door by building this particle accelerator thing, somehow, a higher civilization reaches out to us. The conflict of the movie is do you trust them, do you not trust them? Is it Escape from Witch Mountain? Like what is the — that’s not giving me sort of what the story is, but that might be the background for what it is. Like an optimistic future that’s there. Tomorrowland is a bit of that, too.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, Contact, I love Contact. And one of the things that Contact did was it posed a problem. It imposed a problem. It imposed a question. What do you do if you are contacted by someone else? But in this concept, we are doing the meddling. We are meddling with the ultimate stuff of the universe. And so it feels — my instinct is that when we meddle with things willy-nilly that if the result is something good, it’s less satisfying dramatically.
Craig: It’s as if we push the first domino that went all the way around through a Rube Goldberg device and gave us a nice cookie. When we push that domino, I want stuff to go bad. And then I want us to continue our Star Trek analogy here, it’s like Q. Q shows up in one episode. They say, “Oh, you know, we’ve got things figured out. We’re not scared anymore. We know what we’re doing.” He says, “Oh, really? You have no idea what’s out there?” And they’re like, “Yeah, we can deal with it. We’re cool. We’re the Enterprise.”
So he just flings them into deep, deep, deep space where they encounter the Borg for the first time. And they lose. And then he brings them back and says, “You see, stuff out there, it ain’t any good.” So I could see something here where when it works at first, it seems like they just did a thing. And there’s no problem. But then, some weird things start happening. A little bit like what was the Joel Schumacher movie where they would almost die?
John: I love Flatliners.
Craig: I love Flatliners. In Flatliners, same thing, they’re meddling with science. They’re trying to see how long they could be “dead” before they can be brought back to life. And as a result of their experiment, weird things start happening to them. They start witnessing people from their past, people that are interacting with them. And ultimately, it turns into kind of a supernatural morality tale about making peace with your past.
But I can see a similar kind of thing happening here where it’s almost as if Neo was a scientist and flipped a thing on and then starts to see The Matrix without anybody explaining to him what The Matrix is. Perhaps also they turned it on and it summons — it essentially draws attention to us. And bad people come.
John: Yes. And so, the version of bad people come could be the incredible $100 million, or at this point $400 million movie version. Or it could be something more like Primer, which is you know, again sort of experimenting with scientific things and the danger of sort of unleashing that but done on a very small scale.
I also want to throw out the option of like, well, what if it’s not a science fiction genre at all? So what is this as a romantic comedy? So I was thinking like what, you know, is there a way that we can take thematically the idea of like things coming together and clashing together and build a romantic comedy out of that? Like what is it like if these scientists fall in love? What could we do with this ring idea that this is sort of a giant tunnel and that there might be something really fun to do with using this as a backdrop rather than having it be the actual center of the story? What would that be?
Craig: Yeah. For instance, I could see a story where two scientists work on this project. And there’s something wrong between them. And they turn on the switch, they achieve success. And in achieving success, it becomes clear that they’ve caused a problem. And there’s going to be essentially there’s a certain amount of time that’s going to go by and then the universe will collapse.
They’ve got three days. And they’re the only two that know about it. They’re the only two that figured it out. Everybody else thinks it’s great. And so, you have this romantic comedy where everybody in the world is just going about their day, but two people know for sure the world is going to end in 72 hours.
And what do they do with that time? That would be very interesting. Of course, you’d probably not want to destroy the world at the end of the 72 hours. Perhaps they figure out a way. Perhaps one of them has to sacrifice himself or perhaps they can just fall in love. But there’s something really fun about the idea of two people, you know, because they’ve — I’ve seen this movie where there’s apocalyptic movies and the world is going to end and so people fall in love, but everybody is doing it. I kind of like that only two people know about it, and they’re like should we tell people? Why? What for if we can’t stop it?
John: Yeah. And there’s also that uncertainty principle maybe like essentially you don’t know what’s going to happen. So they know that there’s like a 50% chance that the world is going to end. So like, you know, there’s a 42.1% chance that the whole universe will implode in 48 hours. Do you tell people? Do you not tell people? That’s an interesting question because you could sort of ruin the world by telling them. But of course, you want people, you know. It’s an interesting ethical question.
What you’re describing is the high concept romantic comedy. I feel like there’s a low concept romantic comedy that could also be fun just because it’s a comedy set in a world I have not seen before. I’ve seen a lot of comedies set in higher education. I’ve seen comedies set in other work places, but it’s such a weirdly specific workplace that it’s locked down, it’s scientific. Everyone there is probably on Craig’s favorite thing, somewhere on the spectrum. And that could be really great.
And so to see the normal kind of bureaucracy happen but in a scientific way, and there’s always sort of weird safety protocols to be able to make those thematic observations about the difference between physics and chemistry, you know, and sort of like what that means for in a romantic sense or in sort of an emotional sense.
There could be some really interesting stuff to do there. So it doesn’t feel like a Nancy Meyers comedy. But I could see Nora Ephron making a great comedy set in this kind of world, or I could have imagined her making a comedy set in this kind of world where you have these characters who have really strongly held beliefs that are going to naturally come into conflict.
Craig: That’s also some nice thematic stuff there about people that are working on a project in which the pursuit of truth at any cost is the name of the game. And extending that theme to interpersonal relationships can be pretty interesting too.
John: Yeah. So if we get Marc Webb in there, Aline writes the script, sold.
John: Let’s talk about the reality though of trying to make this movie. So I can completely imagine, I’m sure there are at least a hundred spec scripts out there that involve a science fiction thriller, aliens arriving kind of thing, about the Hadron Collider –
John: It just has to be out there.
Craig: Yeah, I’m sure it is. Again, if I were running a studio, I would not make that movie. I don’t think it’s specific or interesting enough. It just feels like we’re taking a phrase from the news that maybe 2% of Americans know about and just trumping up yet another, you know, effects laden aliens getting angry at some people. I wouldn’t make that movie.
John: I agree with you. I wouldn’t make it. If I were a studio, I wouldn’t make this smaller, smarter, primer version because I wouldn’t know how to release it. But if I were a filmmaker who made that smaller, smarter Primer version and took it to Sundance, I could see that being a big hit at Sundance. I could see that the indie version thriller of that happening.
I think the romantic comedy version could sell with the right package. And that it would be a really good pitch or it would be a script. It wouldn’t be just like a, “Oh, we have this lark of an idea.” No, you would really need to pitch that whole thing through.
Craig: Yeah. And I’m not sure there’s enough there to really support it. I don’t love this one, you know, it just feels — you know, what you want to avoid — basically this is the problem is that everything ultimately gets narrowed through this lens of marketing.
Craig: While it’s annoying and perhaps creatively odious, it is realistic, because in the end, people are going to go, “Oh, it’s a comedy about two people falling in love and they are like super nerdy scientists. Okay, so it’s like The Big Bang Theory, but a movie.” And it’s going to be hard to make that feel special just on the basis of the fact that they’re working at the thing, you know. I don’t know, it’s a tough one.
John: It’s a tough one too. I think in some ways, the sharper version of your high concept like because super collider there’s an additional sort of world effect might help you out there too. And it might lend itself to like, “Oh, I can see what the casting is like on that.” You look at Pixels, the movie coming out, like that’s a really, really, really high concepts comedy pitch, but like if you say like, “Yes, I can see what that is, I can see what the trailer is, go for it,” I have a hunch that if you and/or Todd Phillips had an idea for a comedy set in the Large Hadron Collider and you can go in and pitch that and set that up, and people would be excited to try to make that.
Craig: Well, I mean to be honest, I think if Todd, forgive me, if Todd Phillips has a pitch about a blind squirrel and a bucket, they’re going to buy it, too, because everybody just believes in him and they have been richly rewarded for believing in him. But I suspect that if there is a — for instance, if you took the high concept comedy of two people, two rivals, scientific rivals who both arrive at the same conclusion, they’ve never agreed with each other ever. The one time they agree with each other, nobody else agrees with them and that is that they figured out that the world is going to end in three days, that’s interesting.
So in a way, I guess what I’m saying is the Hadron Collider part of it is probably a minor thing. If it’s going to be part of a romantic comedy, it’s a minor thing the way that where the man and the woman work is sort of a minor thing in a romantic comedy. Like what was it, The Wedding Planner?
John: That’s right.
Craig: She’s a wedding planner, I get that, haha, wedding planner, but she’s never married, well. But in the end, that’s not really — it’s not even that important. What’s important is the relationship she has with Matthew McConaughey. I think in What Women Want, Mel Gibson was an advertising guy, so there was a little bit of thing of like, ah-ha, he thinks he knows what women want because he’s in advertising, but doesn’t really know. Okay, fine. But once you get that out of the way, it comes down to the relationship.
John: Yeah, the upcoming movie with Bill Hader and Amy Schumer, he is like a sports doctors and she has to write a profile on him. That’s just the conceit to get you started. But that’s not going to be what the bulk of the movie is like. I would say, probably most romantic comedies, the essential premise is just there to get the first 30 pages going and does not become a very important part of the rest of the story.
Craig: No, because –
Craig: Not really an important part of romance. I mean what you do for your job, I mean, it’s just the way romance works. That may be how you meet somebody, maybe what initially attracts you to somebody. But after the first three or four dates and the first five fights, it’s not about any of that anymore. So in that case here, I think to the Hadron Collider would essentially act as a McGuffin for romance.
John: Yeah, I agree with you. All right, our third and final possible movie that we’ll talk through, this is all about the two articles and the articles written about the articles by and about Laura Kipnis and her situation, so challenging to talk through this and not getting lost in the weeds of the specific stories and specific allegations. But essentially, Laura Kipnis is a professor. She writes a story for the Chronicle of Higher Education, called Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe. That’s right, I should say academe, right?
Craig: Yeah, it’s academe.
John: Academe. So a little background, just one paragraph from this article so you get a flavor of what it is. “When I was in college, hooking up with professors was more or less part of the curriculum. Admittedly, I went to an art school, and mine was the lucky generation that came of age in that too-brief interregnum after the sexual revolution before AIDS turned sex into a crime scene replete with perpetrators and victims. Back when sex, even when not so great or when people got their feelings hurt, fell under the category of life experience. It’s not that I didn’t have my share of mistakes, or act stupidly and inchoately, but it was embarrassing, not traumatizing.”
And so in this article, she talks about the relationship between professors and students and how that used to be kind of common. And now that’s become criminalized or at least frowned upon, maybe sort of outlawed on campuses. And it has created some really terrible, awkward situations and has changed the nature of academe by its existence. So that was her initial article.
And then in the follow-up to that, she was investigated under Title IX complaints by her university. And so this is what sort of happened here. She writes that, “I wouldn’t be informed about the substance of the complaints until I met with the investigators. Apparently the idea was that they’d tell me the charges, and then, while I was collecting my wits, interrogate me about them. The term ‘kangaroo court’ came to mind. I wrote to ask for the charges in writing. The coordinator wrote back thanking me for my thoughtful questions.”
So essentially, from this initial article, one of the people who had accused a professor and the situation was sort of described vaguely in the original article had brought up charges against her saying that this was retaliation and it was just a giant mess.
John: So Craig, this is thrown on your lap saying like, you know, a producer says, Lindsay Doran says, “Hey, you know what, I think there might be a movie about either specifically this Laura Kipnis situation or the nature of sexual politics on campus and professors.” What do we do with this? What is the shape of this kind of movie?
Craig: [laughs] Run. Well –
Craig: You’ve got some choices here. And the first choice you have to make is, “Am I taking a position or not?” There are movies that are designed to thought provoke. They are carefully crafted to make you think. And there will be some villains, there will be some heroes. But everybody will be imperfect. And you will not feel good at the end of it, necessarily. And sometimes those movies are brilliant. And you’ve got Rashomon as the granddaddy, but there are just — there’s a long tradition in literature of what you’d call the nobody wins, nobody loses, everybody’s human. That’s certainly one way to go.
The other way to go is to take a position here. And the obvious position I think to take is that a professor who, by the way, seems to have been a longstanding well-established feminist is now somehow getting caught by a mob that perhaps she feels she might even be complicit in having created in the first place.
And so then you get into the human politics of what happens when disempowered people get power as a group, the trampling of individual rights and how we have to weigh individual rights against social justice. And it gets really messy.
Here’s my problem. My problem with this is that I don’t see where the dramatic victory is for anyone to make this into a movie because what makes this interesting is your unique perspective on it as a person. You may have a general tendency towards individual rights and liberties. You may have a general tendency towards social justice. And you may work very hard to try and balance both. I hope that you do like I do.
But it’s too intellectual, frankly. It doesn’t feel like a movie is the proper treatment of this. I feel like, frankly, the proper treatment of this is discussion in public space. Sometimes these things resist drama. I feel it would be a bit leaden and could turn into sort of a lecturey kind of vibe. So, you know, I’m a little worried about this one.
John: I’m worried about this one, too. My first instinct is that it feels like a play because it feels like you might want to actually do this with a limited number of characters in sort of an enclosed space with long scenes where you’re really digging and talking through those kind of things.
And as we’re talking — if you heard me typing — I was trying to find the name of this play that it reminds me of, which is a professor and a student who are having this relationship. And it’s unclear, it’s sort of deliberately unclear sort of where the boundaries of this relationship are. Actually, now that I think about there’s probably four plays that are sort of the same territory. There’s a Theresa Rebeck play is one of them, but there’s an older one I was thinking about, too.
A play might be a really good vehicle for talking through this. You talked about Rashomon. You know, in some ways, our TV series tend to be our Rashomon right now where you can revisit certain scenes and sort of see them from different perspectives.
What I also liked about what you should, though, is that mob mentality. And the degree to which this in some way is an intellectual zombie movie, where it’s like once the zombies are after you, there’s essentially nowhere to hide. There’s no safe place.
And I think it’s a really interesting commentary on the universe we live in right now where outrage is enough. And so the sort of presumption not of guilt, but that in her article Kipnis talks about this woman who was identified as a survivor rather than accuser and sort of what the boundary and the differences between, you know, being accused of something and that thing actually having existed.
And so whether a person could call themselves a survivor of a situation that you’re not even sure actually happened. So there’s all sorts of really interesting questions, really challenging to pit them as a movie, though.
Craig: I completely agree. I love the idea about a play, by the way. It does feel like a play. The problem with the movie is you’re right, your tendency is to say, “Well, this is a kind of a zombie movie. It’s about an intellectual mob.” But the problem is that when you say any intellectual group is a mob or any philosophical group is a mob, you have demonized them.
And the truth is I’m not sure that anybody wants to see people that are very upset about sexual assaults or abuse on campus be demonized. Because the truth is I think most people who are concerned about this do not move en masse as some sort of unthinking mob ready to burn down anybody that looks at them askance. What we tend to do when we make these movies is pick on ideologies that we have all socially decided are just Wrong with a capital W. So occasionally, somebody will make a movie about, say, McCarthyism. We’ve all decided that’s no good. So that will be a good intellectual zombie movie.
John: Or if we’re making a McCarthyism movie, we might make it, though, in a different context. So we might make The Crucible which is about McCarthyism.
John: But it can be about witches.
Craig: Right. So we all agree that the Salem witch trials were bad. [laughs] We all agree that McCarthyism is bad. Now, The Crucible was particularly relevant because of when it was written. And it was a clearly a commentary in something that was part of the culture. If you make a movie about the Red Scare now, you’re just being boring because it’s been done too well too many times. It is frankly no longer relevant.
If you made a movie today about how a lot of people in Germany got together and became Nazis and did terrible things, while I’m sure it would have value, but probably it’s too late. We’ve well established how that works. We’ve made those zombie movies already.
In this case, I don’t think that we can yet agree what the nature of this mob is if it even is a mob or if this is just the loud voices of certain people, for instance, in this case what’s happening to Professor Kipnis seems to be the result of one or two people making complaints that must be followed-up by law. Well, if that doesn’t quite qualify, you — I think the real villain is probably academic bureaucracy but it may also just be bureaucracy in general or maybe where the law fails to encompass common sense, but none of it feels like I want to watch a movie of it. I don’t want to see that unfolding cinematically.
John: Yeah. So thinking back to The Blind Side, and so you look at John Lee Hancock’s movie. What was interesting is late in the story sort of the NCAA challenge comes out. And so there ends up becoming an investigation. By the time that becomes an important part of the story, we already love all the characters because — and the story wasn’t fundamentally about that thing. So when that stuff comes out, when the investigation comes out, we have a strong rooting interest in one side and we believe what they are saying.
In this movie, and the reason why I still think I wonder if it’s a play rather than a movie which we might be more comfortable with the ambiguity is there’s going to be some central incident about whether this person was rightly or wrongly accused. And our expectation of the movie is like we want to have an answer for that. And we want to feel good about the answer for that. And I don’t know that we’re ever going to come to that place in this movie.
We talked about Erin Brockovich when we were talking about the FIFA scandal. And if Erin Brockovich, if we were ambiguous at the end about sort of whether she was right or whether she was wrong, that would not be a successful movie. That’s not the kind of movie we paid our $8.50 at that time to go see.
Craig: Yeah. You don’t want to watch a social crusader crusade against something that at the end the movie says, “Well, maybe that wasn’t so bad.” It’s not satisfying for you hero. The play that I was thinking of, when you said play, I immediately thought of — I don’t know if you ever saw Twilight: Los Angeles by Anna Deavere Smith.
John: I never saw it.
Craig: Oh, it’s so good. So Anna Deavere Smith is a playwright. But in this particular play, what she did was she interviewed dozens of people about the Los Angeles riots, the 1992 riots. And some of the people were public figures like Daryl Gates who was the Chief of Police at the time and some people were just, you know, people who were there watching on the corner. Reginald Denny, for instance, the guy, the poor guy who got dragged out of his truck and beaten nearly to death.
And what she did was she then performed their monologues, verbatim, as them. One woman. Fascinating. And you got such a remarkable understanding of how an event gets dispersed by all these completely different point of view. Totally dispersed. And you walk away thinking, anybody that tells you that they understand the LA riots is nuts because you can’t. And so I could easily see a play like that where you approach this thing and at the point of it all was, everybody who is sure, sure, sure of their point of view is nuts because you can’t really wrap your mind around something this complicated. It defies you.
John: So as you were talking, I was Googling, and I found the name of the play that I was thinking about, which is Oleanna. It’s a David Mamet play.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: It became a movie as well.
John: So that’s the power struggle between a university professor and his female student who accuses him of sexual exploitation. That’s one of the things underlying that. I think what’s potentially different about this as a story is the second level thing where it’s, you know, you aren’t even involved in this initial act, you’re not even trying to determine whether this sexual event happened, but rather even talking about it is creating the situation. And that someone’s hurt feelings is in some ways more important than academic freedom. A really interesting idea, but challenging to do as a movie.
Craig: It’s just not cinematic. That doesn’t mean it’s not worthy. It is worthy. Frankly, it’s too worthy. It’s too serious and too complicated to be portrayed cinematically. We use cinema just in a different way than that.
Craig: I would much — I think eventually, you could come to it. But right now, I think smart people need to debate this in good faith and not through fictionalization.
John: So I say, book or play for this right now. Movie, when it becomes a giant hit.
John: Concur. Let’s talk about your topic there, Craig. Do what you love. Do you love doing this podcast, Craig?
Craig: I do love doing this podcast. I do.
John: Aw, I do too.
Craig: I love doing this podcast. And notably, it is not my career.
John: Not a bit.
Craig: Yeah, there’s this interesting essay, I guess you call it essay, in Slate. I guess we’re sort of friends of Slate now, aren’t we?
John: We’re friends of Slate, yeah.
Craig: Yeah. And it’s called In The Name of Love. Elites embrace the “do what you love” mantra. But it devalues work and hurts workers. By Miya Tokumitsu. And what Miya says is that this mantra of do what you love disguises the fact that being able to choose a career primarily for personal reward is a privilege. It’s a sign of socioeconomic class. She says, “Even if a self-employed graphic designer had parents who could pay for art school and co-sign a lease for a slick Brooklyn apartment, she can bestow Do What You Love as career advice upon those covetous of her success.”
So what’s she’s saying is it’s a little bit of the you are born on third, you didn’t hit a triple. So when you’re born on third, why are you shouting down to the batter, hit a triple?
Craig: And there’s this other flipside of it, which is that most people do not do what they “love”. They do a job to support themselves and their family. They may be interested in their job. They may be good at their job. They may show great care and attention to their job. But do they love it? Probably not.
John: Are they even doing a job that anyone could love?
John: She points out like, you know, is anyone going to love washing diapers? No.
John: No one is going to love washing diapers.
Craig: No, no one is going to love washing diapers. So then the question is, well, is this whole do what you love thing devaluing the experience of those people? And the answer I think, frankly, is yes. I think that there is a very useful argument to say to people, not do what love, and love what you do. But whatever you do, also, find some time to do what you love. Don’t expect to be paid for that. Don’t expect that to be your career. It may be. It may very well be. But if you love singing, make sure you take some time in your life to sing. Do not think that if you don’t sing professionally, that you have somehow failed to chase your passion. You have not failed.
John: So way back in episode 192, I brought up this book called So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. And he was talking about the same sort of thing, but he was talking about it from the other perspective.
So Tokumitsu was writing about how this do what you love, follow your passion advice is impossible for a large swath of the population. Newport is looking at even the people who it could theoretically be possible for, it ends up becoming this trap of impossible expectations. So anyone who theoretically was born on third base who is not loving their work will just keep switching careers and switching careers and switching things like, “What am I doing wrong that I don’t love this thing that I’m doing?”
John: And Newport’s argument is that you can’t do what you love until you know how to do it. And that’s so much of loving something, loving the work has to be being good at it. And so the initial part of any new career is usually a grind. It’s usually terrible. And I certainly found that with writing, too. Like those first scripts to write were kind of brutal to write. But then I got much better at it and now I love being a screenwriter. But it doesn’t mean I necessarily love the process of writing.
Craig: Right. Well –
John: And I think we can create really unrealistic expectations by putting up a big banner saying to do what you love.
Craig: The problem is right there in the word love, which people simply misunderstand. You and I both have been married a long time. The excitement, the headiness, the intoxication that we felt when we first met our spouses, that’s not sustainable. If you sustain that overtime, you have some kind of mental problem. And [laughs] you won’t be able to live your life because, you know, falling in love really is a version of insanity. Love, proper love, is the result of the commitment. It’s a result of the long time, the agreement that you will be with someone. It becomes its own reward. And it is different, it is more complicated, and less dopaminergic, if I may, than –
John: I like you using those words.
Craig: Thank you. Than that instant love, right? That passion, that excitement. I don’t have intoxicating love for screenwriting. I have an old guy with his old wife love of screenwriting. And what I know about that is that that’s not about passion. It is about other things. It is about a compulsion to do a thing. It’s about a safety that I find in doing a thing. It’s about a certain kind of control over something, a working towards a mastery of something, even though you cannot attain it.
It’s also about an inherent will to power, which is a very Nietzschean term. It basically means I want to affect the world. I want to do something and change something out there, which is true, by the way, for everyone that does anything, even the diaper washers.
Craig: There is a wonderful video online, we’ll link to it in the show notes, of some men that are building a bridge in Switzerland. And this bridge is essentially going across this massive valley between these two communities. It’s a footbridge. It is 270 meters long. So for those of you who don’t know about meters –
John: We’ll say yards.
Craig: We’ll say yards [laughs], exactly. It’s nearly three football fields long. They had to build this thing — well, imagine, how are you going to build a footbridge over 300 yards of space hanging over thousands of feet into a gorge? Well, they just decided they would do it. Did they love what they did? I don’t know if they loved it, but they were compelled. And the work itself was its own reward. Some of those men did nothing but hammer boards into place. But they were part of it.
So I say to people, forget about doing what you love and loving what you do. Look at work as its own reward. There is an honor to labor and to service. There is an honor to earning a day’s pay and taking care of yourself and supporting other people. And remember this, if you do have creative passions or any passion for which no one is willing to give you money, then look at the work that you are paid for as an opportunity to create some freedom and some space for you to do those other things that you do love. Make your uncompensated passions possible.
John: Absolutely. So that means, you know, treating your day job as a day job that lets you have a night life and a chance to create, you know, amazing things that are not part of that work life. Some of the best writing I did early in my career was working a really mindless job at Universal filing papers. And I came home every night and had my brain free to write things. And that was exactly the right job for me at the time.
Craig: Look at J.K. Rowling who conceived of and wrote the Harry Potter series or at least the initial book while she was a single mom, unemployed, and trying to make ends meet on the dole, you know. And you don’t necessarily have the circumstances that you want when you’re creating things or when you are following your passion. And if no one had ever liked her book and no one had ever bought her book, she still would have — that would have been an exercising of a passion for her of a kind. And that is its own reward.
John: Agreed. Circling back to your, you know, why do we engage in artistic pursuit, quite early on in the podcast, you singled out Jiro Dreams of Sushi which is exactly that kind of sustained artistic pursuit over the course of decades to try to perfect something. And so does he love sushi, does he love fish? I don’t know. But he really values the work he’s doing. And that is his reward. He doesn’t want to call in sick any day. He doesn’t want to have anyone else run his restaurant because he is doing the thing that he does. And that is his life is trying to perfect the making and delivery of sushi.
So that’s another way to look at sort of the why you keep doing something even if it’s not necessarily financially valuable.
Craig: It’s hard for us sometimes to think that we’re going to go through life and we’re never going to be rich. We’re going to go through life and we’re never going to be famous. We’re going to go through life and we’ll never be the boss. Well, that is true for almost everyone. So the question is, how do you let go of that and find a different way to define your own happiness and satisfaction?
I would suggest that when you let go of that demand, you are probably that much more likely to achieve that demand. But you may not. And so I think that we have to stop telling each other, “Hey, man, you know what? I know you drive a cab but you really want to be a rock star, so quit.” We got to stop saying stupid crap like that. It’s just dumb. And frankly, it’s –
John: I agree.
Craig: It demeans people who do actually value and care for any job that they do. In my mind, if you work and you’re paid, you are an honorable person doing an honorable thing.
John: Cool. Craig, what is your One Cool Thing this week?
Craig: Oh, so I’m a little late to this. John, have you played or are you familiar with Telltale Games, their Game of Thrones mobile game?
John: I’m not familiar with the Game of Thrones game. I see it here in the Workflowy, so tell me about it.
Craig: So Telltale Games, I think they may also be the people behind The Walking Dead games. I’m not sure. I should –
John: Yeah. I know they do those.
Craig: Okay, great. So basically, they are story-based games. They come in episodes. They have released four episodes of a six-episode season. Each one takes about an hour to play through. And basically you’re following an episode of Game of Thrones that they have made with their own characters. And occasionally, you make context-based decisions. So people put you in a tough spot and you have to decide, am I going to punch this guy or am I going to try and create favor with him. So it’s all that sort of thing.
It’s done really well. I have to give them an enormous amount of credit. They pretty much got almost everything right. I love that they made a story-based game for a story-based property. I love that they created new events in the game that integrate into show events occasionally sort of the way that Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, you know, like it’s that kind of, “Okay, so we’re going to have a discussion.” Meanwhile, in the background, we see the pigeons flying out of the pie and we know that’s Joffrey’s wedding and he’s about to die.
John: That’s great.
Craig: But we’re over here in a different place. [laughs] So that part is great. There are some cameos from established characters. You’ll see Tyrion and Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen. But most of the characters are new characters that they’ve created. And they’re really good. They’re really good characters.
John: That’s great.
Craig: They’ve created a whole new house, House Forrester, that is in a really bad situation. There are shocking deaths, which is appropriate for Game of Thrones. Moral quandaries abound. But I think more than anything, the reason I love playing, and I’ve run out of episodes and I’m waiting for Episode 5 is they did such a good job of emotionally investing you in the heroes. They really beat the crap out of their heroes. And the villains are the worst. I mean, they’re actually worse, frankly, than like Joffrey. [laughs] They’re the worst.
John: [laughs] That’s great.
Craig: And you just desperately want to see them dead. So it gets so much right. A couple of things it doesn’t quite do great, occasionally, there’s fighting. Not frequently. I think three or four times an episode you’ll have to do a little fight. And the fighting is a QuickTime event-based fighting. You’re familiar with that concept in video games?
John: I hate those.
Craig: Yeah. So it’s like –
John: It’s Tempo-based, yeah.
Craig: It’s basically you watch something and then suddenly it tells you “Tap here,” “Swipe Here”. And you do it and then fine, whatever. But frankly, I’m not watching it for the fighting, so I don’t care about that.
Craig: The facial graphics kind of run the gamut from awesome like Jon Snow really looks like Jon Snow, to “Oh, no.” [laughs]
Craig: I got to say Tyrion, poor Peter Dinklage, he honestly looks like Peter Dinklage after a fire and his face was reconstructed by a –
John: Yeah, but from memory.
Craig: Yeah [laughs].
John: Like someone who met him once like trying to put his face back together.
Craig: From memory and they didn’t have good tools or an education.
Craig: It’s just his face is absolutely horrifying. He looks like Peter Dinklage wearing a Peter Dinklage mask. It’s just terrible. But I did want to cite, because we are screenwriters and we love writers out there, the people that I think are most responsible for the success of this game are the writers. And these are the ones that I found on the Internet, so forgive me if I left any names out.
Andrew Grant, Nicole Martinez, Meghan Thornton, Brad Kane, Dan Martin, John Dombrow, and Joshua Rubin. So, congratulations. You’ve all done an excellent job. I’m very excited to play the next episode. I think it’s 20 bucks to get all six, which is a lot of game play. Or you can get individuals ones I think for five bucks or something like that.
John: And do you play it on the computer or on the iPad?
John: Love it.
Craig: Love it.
John: And is this the Brad Kane that we know?
Craig: Do we know a Brad Kane?
John: Don’t we know the Brad Kane who’s the voice of A Whole New World?
Craig: Oh, my god. Is it? Is it that Brad Kane?
Craig: Well, I don’t know. It just says Brad Kane. But, yeah, you’re right. Bradley Caleb Kane. Well, how about that? I wonder if it is him.
John: Yeah. So let’s –
Craig: I mean, it’s kind of a common name but it might in fact be him. So if it is, awesome job, dude.
John: Yeah, the singing voice of Aladdin.
Craig: He was the singing voice of Aladdin and a screenwriter, yeah.
John: Yeah. My One Cool Thing is actually a blog post but also a series of discussions and one of those rare times where the comment thread is actually worth reading through. It’s a post by Tyler Cowen who’s looking at the question of, “If you traveled back into the past, what could you trade for present gain?” So essentially, if you were to have a time machine that you could go back in the past, what should you take with you from the past to bring to the present that would be valuable?
And which is sort of the inverse of a lot of these question. Usually it’s like, “Oh, if I could travel back in time with an iPhone, I would be like the richest person alive or I would have stock knowledge.” So what can you take from the past?
And one of the obvious choices like, “Oh, I’ll take a piece of art.” But then of course the problem becomes that piece of art wouldn’t exist in the timeline from the past. It wouldn’t have value, it can be perceived as a forgery.
John: It wouldn’t carbon date right. So there were a lot of really interesting ideas. Like honestly one of the best suggestions in there is just to go back and find an original edition of a comic book and put it and seal it and so therefore the reason why it’s pristine is because it’s actually new to you. But interesting thought. And as we were talking through all of these ideas about like, how would you make a movie out of that, this feels like one of those like, “Oh, is that a movie idea?” Like people who are traveling back and sort of trying to do arbitrage on things they could take from the past.
Craig: Right. So like not time cops but time robbers.
John: Yeah. Time bandits.
Craig: Time bandits. The thing that pops into my mind probably would be stock certificates, you know, like –
Craig: Like get a whole bunch of stock certificates, just buy a whole bunch of stock certificates in, I don’t know, Johnson & Johnson or something like that.
Craig: You know, those would have appreciated dramatically by the time I get back. I could certainly see that.
John: Yeah. But again, the challenge becomes, if there’s any question of authenticity, any sort of dating on things would be an issue. But that probably is not going to be an issue with stocks.
Craig: Well, no, they’re real, that’s the thing. I mean –
John: They are real but they wouldn’t be old enough is the issue. It’s like, I guess the artwork is the thing that you could really tell like this Grecian urn –
Craig: I don’t know.
John: It’s only like five days old rather than, you know, 5,000 years old.
Craig: I guess. But I don’t know, that’s an interesting — like they wouldn’t be weathered or something?
John: Exactly. I mean, or literally carbon dating would not show them right.
Craig: Oh, well, yeah, I doubt anybody would carbon date your stock certificates but –
John: Yeah, they wouldn’t. That’s too recent.
John: That’s a good thought.
Craig: Yeah, it’s something.
John: It’s something. It’s always something. That is our show for this week. If you would like to subscribe to this show, you should go to iTunes and click the subscribe button. And you should also leave us a comment. Maybe it’s a little rating, would be lovely because that helps people find our show.
John: While you’re on iTunes, you could get the Scriptnotes app which gives you access to all 200 and now one episodes of the show, dating all the way back to the very beginning. Scriptnotes.net is where you sign up for this service that gets you all the back episodes.
There will be USB drives with all 200 episodes on them. So if you are debating about where to save your money and spend it later on, next week or the week after, we’ll have details about where you can get those USB drives. Craig signed them.
John: Craig and I both signed them in a way.
John: You will see our thanks on every drive.
John: Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel.
John: And edited by Matthew Chilelli. I’m not sure who did the outro this week, but I bet it will be swell. You can find out who did the Outro by going to see the show notes which are at johnaugust.com. We have show notes and transcripts for every episode of the podcast.
If you would like to ask a question of Craig Mazin, you should write to him on Twitter. He’s @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. Longer questions, you can write into firstname.lastname@example.org. And that is our show. Craig, thank you so much.
Craig: Thank you, John.
John: All right, see you soon.
- A timeline on the FIFA scandal
- Large Hadron Collider turns on ‘data tap’, and the Large Hadron Collider on Wikipedia
- Star Trek’s Prime Directive and Zefram Cochrane on Wikipedia
- Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe by Laura Kipnis
- Title IX Investigation Opened Against Female Northwestern Professor Over Column, Tweet
- In the Name of Love
- “Carasc” Tibetan Bridge
- So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport
- Game of Thrones by Telltale Games
- Traveling back into the past to trade for present gain by Tyler Cowen
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Rajesh Naroth (send us yours!)
John and Craig look at three current news stories from a screenwriter’s perspective, discussing how each lends itself to becoming a movie.
Would FIFA’s Stepp Blatter make a better Coen Brothers hero or a Sorkin villain? Could the Large Hadron Collider lend itself to a romantic comedy? Is there even a movie to make about campus sexual politics and academic freedom?
Also discussed: the trap of “Do what you love.”
- A timeline on the FIFA scandal
- Large Hadron Collider turns on ‘data tap’, and the Large Hadron Collider on Wikipedia
- Star Trek’s Prime Directive and Zefram Cochrane on Wikipedia
- Sexual Paranoia Strikes Academe by Laura Kipnis
- Title IX Investigation Opened Against Female Northwestern Professor Over Column, Tweet
- In the Name of Love
- “Carasc” Tibetan Bridge
- So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport
- Game of Thrones by Telltale Games
- Traveling back into the past to trade for present gain by Tyler Cowen
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Rajesh Naroth (send us yours!)
The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is the 200th episode of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
We are here live, recording this episode for the whole world to listen to. I was thinking back that our very first live episode was in a pretty small room. That was in Austin, right? That was the first live show.
Craig: Yeah. I think so. That’s right.
John: Since then we’ve done shows in Austin, Los Angeles, New York City.
John: This time we’re doing it live for the entire world to hear at once.
Craig: Oh, my…
John: Yeah, I know. It’s daunting.
Craig: And we’re live streaming it, right?
John: Yeah, we are. There are 198 people as we recorded this show who are listening to this show as we are recording it.
Craig: And so while we talk, they can give us feedback in real-time –
Craig: So they can complain about me instantly.
John: Absolutely. Keith Vacario says, “Hello world.”
Craig: All right.
John: So that’s absolutely the kind of thing to do.
Craig: God, you know what the funny thing is, you know, we watch things like this all the time. But when you do it, suddenly you feel like you’re the first person to ever do it.
Craig: Like, “Oh, my god, I’m flying a plane in the air. Look at me.”
John: It’s amazing. We’ve landed on the moon.
John: And there’s no better person to be in the cockpit with us as we’re trying to attempt this moon landing than our own, very first guest, our Joan Rivers, Aline Brosh McKenna. Welcome Aline.
Aline Brosh McKenna: Yay! You had to say cockpit.
John: I had to say cockpit.
Aline: You had to work blue.
John: I had to work blue. I had to bring it back to phallic humor.
John: Aline Brosh McKenna, you were with us at our last live show. And at our last live show, you described this TV show that you were trying to make with Rachel Bloom. I’m so sorry it didn’t work out. But we’ll get in to all of that stuff. We’re going to talk about TV. We’re going to talk about whether the quality of a movie affects its long-term prospects at the box office.
John: And we’re going to answer a whole bunch of listener questions including the ones that people are typing right now –
Craig: Right now.
John: Into the little field.
Aline: Type, type, type, type, type.
Craig: Type your questions. This is it. This is your chance.
John: This is the show. Aline, when we saw you last you brought Rachel Bloom with you and she sang for us and she described the show called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend that was –
Aline: What month was that? It was Christmas, right?
John: It was the Christmas show.
Craig: Yeah, it was right before New Year’s.
Aline: Right. So what was happening at — do you want me to tell you the –
John: Tell the story.
Aline: Okay, so what happened at Christmas was we were feeling pretty good about the show’s chances. We had just delivered the cut. We were doing the show for Showtime and they’d been super encouraging. We had a great experience with Showtime. And they were kind of saying the things that you say when you want to take the girl to the prom. It seemed like they were really interested in doing it. And then in January, we kind of started to hear, well, in Christmas, we had thought we would already be hearing from them and we kind of didn’t. But we kind of thought, well, maybe he’s going to call us later.
Craig: Maybe they’re busy. Maybe they’re at church.
Aline: Yeah, they’re on vacation.
John: So, like, Showtime wasn’t ready to leave his wife.
Aline: Showtime was not showing up with the corsage. And, you know, I always say that in show business good news happens really quickly and the rest of it doesn’t. Anything that doesn’t happen quickly is basically bad news.
John: So when did you have a sense that things were not going to happen?
John: Oh, really?
Aline: So in January I started to feel like, “Hmm, this is taking an awfully long time,” and I just could tell, you know, having done this for a while, you can tell when there is that level of enthusiasm in phone calls and it kind of wasn’t there and we had had such a good experience with them that it was one of those breakups that was like everybody really liked each other. We’d had a great time.
Aline: They were really sad. We were really sad. It ended up not being a good fit for them kind of tonally and brand-wise. And it was kind of great and difficult because I understood where they were coming from because the show ended up being a little bit more sunny and upbeat than it had seemed on the page. On the page, it had seemed very edgy I think. And Rachel is sort of a pretty naturally cheery, upbeat, lovable person. And try though we did to squelch that, we failed.
John: You could not break her spirit.
Aline: And we could not. So what happened after that was that we all went to what I have now come to see as one of the stages of grief when you work on a TV show is we’re shopping it to other networks.
John: Now, this is about the time that I ran in to Rachel Bloom because she and I were randomly both flying to Boston. We were seated next to each other on a Virgin Atlantic plane to go to Boston. And so, I had not seen her since the live show. I was like, “Hey, Rachel, what’s up with your show?” And she was at exactly the stage of like, I guess, it is past denial to bargaining?
Aline: But having to run into a lot of people who’s like, they have a busted pilot. And you say, “What are you doing?” It’s like, “We’re waiting to hear from Epics.
Craig: Is that a thing? Is Epics a place?
John: It’s a real place.
Craig: What is that? [laughs]
Aline: So what you come to find out which I didn’t know because I actually haven’t worked in television that much is that so many people do programming.
Aline: And our joke with my friend Kate who is our executive at CBS is that we were right at the point when we were thinking someone was going to call and say, “You know what, Eggo is doing programming now and it’ll be on your toaster and you’ll be in the morning making your Eggo and there’ll be a TV show.”
Aline: And we would have been like, “We’re perfect for them. We’re perfect for toasters and waffles,” and you got to this place where, honestly, they were places that I had never heard of that were considering the show anyway.
John: So at this point, you have the show.
John: If you have the cut.
Aline: We have a pilot.
John: You have the cut.
Aline: We have a pilot and we have episode two and episode three written.
John: Oh, great. So, you are showing them this pilot that you’ve cut and it’s cut sort of for Showtime. They’re seeing that pilot and they’ve seen these two other scripts. They could theoretically come into the room with you if you guys wanted to talk.
John: But what was the conversation? Was it just your agent sending it out or were you doing — ?
Aline: They were sending the link and the scripts to people and we got a variety of reactions. And I guess it’s sort of like putting a movie in turnaround. We got a couple of instances where somebody liked it and then they would try and bump it up to someone else.
Craig: To the next level of approval.
Aline: Right. But TV is like — people are developing very specific products for their network and what they think is their brand. And so they don’t really, you know, it’s rare for shows to move. And so, you know, as –
John: And yet there are examples of like shows that did move and became giant breakout hits. CSI is I think the most classic example.
Aline: Was it shot though?
Craig: Who let CSI go?
Aline: No, it wasn’t. I don’t think it was shot though. I think it was a script.
John: I thought CSI was shot. I mean, I may be misremembering.
Craig: How can they let that go?
John: Isn’t that crazy?
Aline: Somebody should tell us right now live.
John: Absolutely. Someone who can do research live, tell us where CSI was actually shot for and who picked it up.
Craig: It’s about time these people paid us back.
Aline: There are a lot of instances of scripts being picked up by other networks but not that many of things being shot because people in TV in particular want to feel like they put their stamp on it.
Craig: So where did it end up?
Aline: So what happened was in the meantime while we were shopping it, I had gotten very into this show called Jane the Virgin.
Aline: On the CW because I had several friends and a bunch of them are our mutual friends who insisted that I should watch it and that it was great. And then I would love it. So I started watching Jane the Virgin and I was simultaneously obsessed with it and sort of broken-hearted because I felt like even though it’s not like our show, there’s something about it in spirit. I felt like it reminded me of our show.
Aline: So I called –
Craig: More wine?
Aline: Here is your half glass.
Craig: Thank you. Here is my half glass.
Aline: So I called our executive and I said, “You know, I know we’re only going to cable places but do you think there’s a possibility that we could send this to CW, what do you think?” So he sent it to CW. I’m going to make this story shorter. We sent it to the CW. They really liked it. We had a meeting.
Craig: CW is Warner Bros.
Aline: So CW is half CBS and half Warner Bros.
Craig: Got it.
Aline: It used to be UPN and the WB. They merged into The CW. They’ve recently gotten a lot of shows that are very popular and critically acclaimed. Two of them are superhero shows, Berlanti does –
John: Flash and Arrow.
Aline: Flash and Arrow.
Aline: And then they have Jane the Virgin which has done really well and won a Peabody and its lead won a Golden Globe.
Craig: Got it.
Aline: So they’re doing cool stuff. So they expressed interest in our show. They really liked it. They really dug it. The people there really kind of got what it was. We had a meeting with them and they said, “Can you do an expanded version of it?” So what we did was we took the existing pilot and we — in the script stage, not in the edit. You know, we just wrote what our scenes would be. And what I didn’t realize is that a network — how much longer — okay, so a cable half hour and a network hour, what do you think the time difference is?
Craig: A cable half hour, my guess is it’s probably like 26 minutes. And a network hour is like 43 minutes.
Aline: So the cable half hour is like, it can be 30, 31, even 32 minutes.
Craig: Oh, like a real half hour.
Aline: Yeah, a real half hour because they don’t have commercials.
Aline: And the network hours can be like anywhere from 41 to 44 minutes, something like that.
Craig: I wasn’t that far off.
John: You weren’t that far off, yeah.
Aline: So basically –
Craig: I barely know what TV is.
Aline: Right. So basically we had to add — we have to add about 10 minutes.
Craig: 10 minutes.
Aline: 10 minutes.
Craig: No big deal.
Aline: So it wasn’t double, which some people thought we were doubling the size of our script.
Craig: You know by the way the story about Game of Thrones? Not to interrupt.
Aline: Yeah, go ahead.
Craig: But I’m interrupting.
Craig: Dan and Dave did their first show and they were having this problem because they weren’t hitting their time, you know. Like they had, basically, they had done like, I don’t know, they had shot now like nine episodes and they just weren’t timing out. They needed more time. So they had to set aside a week where they just wrote extra scenes to put in for all of the shows.
Craig: And then they just shot a bunch of scenes of like people talking to pad out the shows, but in a weird way those scenes where it was like it’s just two people talking were some of the best scenes of the first season.
Aline: That people enjoyed the most.
Craig: Because it was just what people wanted to see.
Craig: They wanted to see two interesting people talking. But it’s like the whole timing thing is a fascinating thing.
Craig: I know that Derek and Chicago Fire, they are constantly dealing with the breaks and all that stuff.
Aline: Right. And so it’s a different format. It’s also a different format because you don’t break obviously on a cable half hour.
Aline: You don’t break. So we had to build in breaks. We did that. We lengthened it. And here is what happened which is funny, I think, and interesting for writers. So that was in April, we had that meeting. And they said, “We’re interested and can you expand it? And we are thinking about maybe you for off season development,” which I had never heard of before. And we were like, “Okay.” And they said, “But we don’t need to have the script back until later, until after we’ve finished with our development.” And so, Rachel and I had actually started working on something else and we sat down in my office and she goes, “You know what? Let’s just do it. Let’s just do the script. Let’s just expand the script and hand it in and just be done with it. We’ll know it’s done before we do something else.”
Craig: Smart girl.
Craig: Jewish. That’s a Jewish mind at work.
Craig: Are we going to be in trouble if we talk about Jewish people like that?
John: No, I think it’s absolutely fine.
Craig: Because we’re Jewish.
John: Yeah, you guys can talk about anything.
Aline: We can do that.
John: I’ll stay silent here.
Craig: John, what are your opinions about the Jews?
John: As a German I feel –
Aline: So we did it. We turned it in. And I think it showed them that there was a show there that had some viability that didn’t involve a ton of changes.
Aline: We had profanity in the Showtime show and we had some sexy stuff but we were able to pull it back pretty easily. And so, what ended up happening was we went from being like something they were going to consider offseason to midseason to a show they were putting on the fall schedule.
John: Which is, congratulations. So you are now a show on The CW fall schedule which is nuts.
Craig: It’s awesome.
Aline: And we’re going to be the lead in to Jane the Virgin –
Aline: Which is like a Cinderella story. I mean, it’s just like a happy thing for me because I am such an obsessed huge fan of that show.
Craig: Well, fantastic.
John: So, I think you’re allowed to say that you’ve sent me the link to see the show and it’s amazing. I just love it.
Craig: I’ve watched a bunch of it. Now, how did I watch a bunch of it?
Aline: You watched a — there’s like a six-minute trailer.
Craig: That’s what I watched.
Craig: I watched a six-minute trailer and it was –
John: So I watched the whole show and it’s just great.
Craig: Okay, I’m not surprised because I love her. I love you. I love musicals. But also, in watching that trailer it really reminded of that segment from 500 Days of Summer that Marc Webb shot –
Craig: Where Joseph Gordon-Levitt turns his problems and his joy into this outside Busby Berkeley dance number.
Aline: Oh, here’s the thing that I did not know which is that Marc Webb could go toe-to-toe with you on the musical theatre stuff.
Craig: Oh, I have no doubt.
Aline: He knows absolutely so much about musical theatre.
Craig: But is he having coffee with Seth Rudetsky this weekend? No. I am.
Aline: Well, he did, though, take us to Marie’s Crisis. Do you know what Marie’s Crisis is?
John: No, so therefore you’re much more knowledgeable.
Aline: OMG. So Marie’s Crisis is this bar in the Village.
Craig: I don’t live in the Village. It’s not fair.
Aline: Well, you go to New York.
Craig: I did meet him in the Village.
Aline: And they sing show tunes.
Craig: Well, that sounds pretty great. But I mean, I sing show tunes in my car.
John: Singing show tunes in a bar is –
Aline: But it’s a bar filled with people and there’s a piano in the middle and he sings show tunes.
Craig: So what you’re telling me is there’s a gay bar in the Village? Is that what you’re telling us? Is that the big news?
Aline: I’m telling you that Marc Webb goes there and took us there.
Craig: I would totally go there, by the way.
Aline: Yeah. You would love it.
Craig: By the way, Seth Rudetsky is, if you are in Los Angeles, I’ll just give Seth a plug.
Craig: He’s playing Largo Saturday evening. He’s doing his Seth Rudetsky Deconstructs –
Craig: Broadway songs at Largo.
Aline: Oh, wow.
Craig: So go check it out.
Aline: I love him.
Craig: I’m not going to be able to make it myself, so I’m just going to have a special one on one. By the way, I talk about Seth Rudetsky like the way other people might talk about Tom Cruise.
Aline: Yeah. Right. [laughs]
John: Absolutely. [laughs]
Craig: Nobody cares.
John: You’ve named him so often that –
Craig: Most people don’t even know who he is.
John: Like Seth Rudetsky is like a –
Aline: I think he’s great.
Craig: By the way, you want to know how cool I am? I know Seth Rudetsky and people are like, “Ah, is that your rabbi or — ?” [laughs]
John: So let’s do some real-time follow-up. Stuart Friedel sitting off at the corner.
John: Can you do a Google search through all the transcripts and see how often in johnaugust.com Seth Rudetsky shows up? For a person who’s actually not part of the show, I bet he shows up at least 10 times.
Craig: Stuart has leapt into action.
John: So –
John: You are going to be so busy.
Aline: So busy.
John: Oh, my god.
John: So because you were kind of late to this whole process –
John: You had to race to get a staff together, correct?
Aline: Yes, yes.
John: You had to have a staff that could also like write songs.
Aline: Well, I had another friend who got a show picked up and I called her. And I said, “So what writers are you [laughs ]meeting with?”
John: Oh, no. [laughs]
Aline: And she said, “Oh, we’re done.” Because she knew from, like, weeks that they were getting picked up. So she had already staffed. So we’ve been staffing which has actually been really fun. I’ve read great people and that’s been really interesting. We do have original songs. So we’re trying to get kind of into our season early because we’re going to write — and for the first 13, we’ll have like maybe 25 songs. And Rachel is our primary songwriter.
Aline: So, she’s the sort of the showrunner of the song staff. But she, you know, has a million ideas. So it’s fun. I mean, I think for people who listen to this show, what’s interesting is that when you’re a writer of a screenplay, you have a completely different role from being the showrunner or the executive producer of a television show. You really are a producer and writing is your sort of, I would say, your main, your core responsibility. But there’s a lot of production stuff.
And I can’t remember who said that producing is the stuff that writers do to procrastinate.
Aline: Like making phone calls and taking meetings.
Craig: Right. So now it’s like they’re paying you for it.
Aline: And now it’s like a huge part of your job is a lot of phone calls, meetings.
Aline: And meeting executives. We did have a –
Craig: You’re still going to have to write.
Aline: But we have a lot, a lot of writing to do. So I have people around us who really can help us, you know, get the logistics of the show going. We had an amazing, amazing line producer, Sarah Caplan, who did Lost and –
Aline: She’s British, though.
Craig: Oh, British Jewish. That’s barely Jewish.
Aline: So it’s interesting. She did Lost and she worked on thirtysomething. So she’s great. Anyway, we have a lot of people helping us. But it’s fun. You know, it’s a different role from being a screenwriter because as a screenwriter, your role is always mediated and mitigated through the director no matter how close you are. You’re really not the boss, unless you’re the producer, in which case you’re still not the boss.
John: Yeah. On the 100th episode which I just recut for like two episodes ago, we talked about this idea of like the screenwriter-plus. And we were talking about people like Simon Kinberg –
John: Who are sort of that screenwriter-plus. They are the person who’s essentially showrunning this idea of the movie.
John: And now you’re going to have that firsthand experience of showrunning an actual show.
John: And you will love it and it will also just drive you crazy.
Aline: Well, I know your experience. I remember your experience.
John: Yeah. So I’ve done a couple of these. And the one time we actually went to series, it was soul-crushing. But you are wiser and more mature and you have better people around you. So I think you’re going to flourish.
Craig: And you’re Jewish. I mean, I think it’s a huge thing.
Aline: [laughs] We keep going back to that.
Craig: I’ve got my own little series that I don’t, you know, I have yet to write anything. I still have to write the pilot. But if that happens, I would be in that position, along with our good friend and guest of the show, Carolyn Strauss.
Aline: Oh, right. Carolyn Strauss.
Craig: And, you know, I’m kind of looking forward to something like that. But it’s funny. Sometimes that, you know, even Simon who’s oftentimes the screenwriter-plus, there are probably jobs where he’s like, “No, I’m just the screenwriter.”
John: Yeah, absolutely.
Craig: It’s kind of a weird thing, you know. Like, “Oh, yeah, on this one, I’m just the — “
John: I’m just the words.
Craig: I’m just a guy.
Aline: Well, something –
Craig: Nobody really cares. [laughs]
Aline: Something that’s interesting is that, you know, we talk a lot about why there aren’t more female directors. And I think that if we shot a substantial amount of movies in Los Angeles, that that would change. Because if you look at, there are so many powerful, successful female showrunners –
Aline: And most of them shoot their shows in L.A.
Aline: Jenji is here, Shonda’s here.
Craig: Shonda’s here.
Aline: And, you know, you can have that, you know, whatever happens no matter how many hours — and I had been on the track to direct a movie which would have taken me to Eastern Europe for months at a time. And so even though my workload here might be difficult, I’ll still be able –
Craig: You’re here.
Aline: To be here. And I think if we –
Craig: They have that huge complex in Santa Clarita.
Craig: Your show is set in the Valley anyway.
Aline: Yeah. We’re going to shoot it –
Craig: Is that where you’re going to shoot it?
Aline: We’re not shooting in Santa Clarita, I think. But we are going to shoot in a place like that. Our show is set in West Covina. [laughs]
Craig: That’s right.
John: [sings] West Covina.
Aline: Which is like a –
Aline: Which is like a, you know, a sort of a sun-baked California suburb. Luckily, most of Southern California looks like that.
Aline: But I do think that if there were — it’s such a Shonda, just to keep it Jewy.
Craig: Oh, not Shonda Rhimes, but this is a different Shonda.
Aline: It’s such a Shonda –
Craig: That’s Yiddish for a sin.
Aline: That we don’t have more production here in L.A. where everybody is based. You would be –
Craig: I know. It’s a Shonda.
Aline: But wouldn’t you be? Yes.
John: Stuart did complete his research and found out how many mentions of Seth Rudetsky have occurred on the Scriptnotes podcast.
Stuart Friedel: Nine.
Craig: Well, now it’s up to like 20.
John: Exactly. We’ve mentioned Seth Rudetsky so many times.
Craig: Seth Rudetsky.
John: You’re basically his publicist.
Craig: Look, I would love that, you know. By the way, Seth Rudetsky [laughs] I’ll just say another thing. He has a show. It’s really, really funny, called Disaster. He’s trying to bring it to Broadway. It’s hysterical, hysterical.
John: Broadway –
Craig: I will, yes.
Aline: You’re an uber fan.
Craig: I’m a huge fan.
John: Let us –
Aline: Let’s move on.
John: Congratulate Aline on her amazing show.
Aline: Thank you very much.
Craig: Well done, Aline.
Aline: Thank you.
John: And we’ll put a link to the trailer in the show notes so that people can –
Aline: Thank you. [laughs]
John: Our next topic is something that Stuart found. Stuart found this thing. It was a subreddit, which is talking about the relationship between a film’s quality and its box office. And so what this guy did, it was a Reddit user named tcatron565 which is like a totally Reddit name.
Craig: Yes. It’s the perfect statistical mean of all Reddit names.
John: I’m sure. It’s a subreddit called DataIsBeautiful. And he looked at the wide releases in 2013 and figured out what percentage of their total gross came from their opening weekend. And then he charted that against their audience score from Rotten Tomatoes. So he’s basically saying like, how much money did this movie make on its opening weekend versus total.
John: And do people like the movie. And intuitively, I think all of us here would agree that like –
Aline: Big multiple.
John: Big multiple. And so it was interesting to look through this subreddit because they didn’t have the same lingo that we would have for it. They were talking about like –
Craig: I loved it, by the way.
John: Yeah, I really loved –
Craig: Because I was that dork from college. I thought it was great. I actually thought that guy did a great job because first of all he picked two interesting criteria. One was that he picked the audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes, not the critic ratings.
Craig: Which one would imagine probably is more relevant to determining how a movie resonates with an audience. And I also like the criteria of what percentage of the movie’s total box office was earned in the opening weekend because the theory is, okay, well, if a movie earns most of its money in its opening weekend, there was a big drop-off, it probably means there was bad word of mouth.
Now, that’s not perfectly good because there are some movies that have so much pent up demand and interest they’re always — like if a movie opens to $150 million, there’s no way it’s coming back next weekend and doing another $75 million. It’s not possible.
John: What’s interesting looking through this is that they didn’t have the lingo that we would have for what that was. So Aline said it right from the start. What was the multiplier?
John: Basically, what percentage of its total box office came from that opening weekend. So if you opened at $10 million but you made it to $100 million, you have a 10 times multiplier which is crazy.
Craig: That would be awesome.
John: That would be amazing.
John: Almost unprecedented.
Craig: Right. And whereas like a 2.5 — I mean, the standard really you’re looking for is a 3 multiplier, right? That’s sort of middle of the road. And that’s exactly what he found. Roughly the average was around 3.2 or 3.3 multiplier was average.
John: The other thing we would talk about is what was the drop-off from first week to second week.
John: And we would definitely weight that based on what kind of movie it is.
John: And so if a prestigious art film drops off 50% in its second week –
Craig: Probably bad.
John: But if something like, you know –
Craig: A horror movie.
John: A horror movie, totally expect that drop-off to be 50% or more –
Craig: Because –
John: Or a giant box office, you know, it made $100 million, it’s going to drop off hugely.
Craig: It has to drop off. And especially with real genre pictures that appeal to teens in particular, you’re always going to get that drop-off because teens are, as we know, they’re highly motivated to see movies opening weekend. So, horror movies, broad comedies, they tend to be really frontloaded just because the nature of the audience. It doesn’t necessarily mean when all is said and done that people didn’t like the movie.
But he did a really aggressive and thorough statistical analysis. He was talking about regression to the mean. He was talking about his R-values, his R-score. I mean, there’s all this like really good stuff in there. And buried in the thing, he sort of said, I was kind of surprised how loose the correlation was.
Craig: Now, alternately, there was a very similar study that was done and posted on The Black List blog, and we’ll throw that link into the show notes. And that one I wasn’t as much of a fan of because that one, it was the same thing. On one sense, it was what percentage drop-off was — or what percentage of your total box office was your opening weekend.
But the other one was they used the Metacritic score, which as far as I’m concerned, is irrelevant. And, you know, then they charted out all these things. As far as I could tell looking through the charts –
Aline: What were the conclusions of the first Reddit thing?
Craig: Well, the conclusions of the Reddit thing was that there was a loose, a very — here’s the thing. Statistics. You can say anything you want in statistics, but it’s all about but how robust is the correlation. So if you flip a coin twice, you could say, “Well, it looks like this coin is going to come up heads all the time but it’s a very loose correlation.” So he was saying there is a loose correlation between –
Aline: Between the “quality” of the movie.
Craig: Between the audience’s affection for a movie –
Aline: Perceived quality, yeah.
Craig: And the box office multiple.
John: Yeah. You had sent me a link this afternoon to the second thing which is on The Black List. And what I found interesting about it is because this guy broke out movies by sort of like their total box office tier, it was useful to look at, you know, a tiny little indie movie, like the multiplier factor is really huge. When you look at the giant box office behemoths, they will make a tremendous amount of their box office that first weekend just because –
Craig: Of course.
John: Of the nature of the kind of movie they are.
Aline: Right. So that –
John: So that tiering was useful for me.
Craig: The tiering was, I mean, it’s the kind of movie it is, and then also you have to remember, huge budget movies have massive marketing budgets behind them.
Craig: So of course they’re motivating an enormous part of the audience that might normally slip to week two. They’re showing up at week one because they’ve just been motivated. They’ve been bombarded. So it’s a little difficult to make this correlation. I think it’s fair to say that if people love a movie, it will have good word of mouth and it will do better. Duh, right?
Craig: There’s no big surprise there. I think it’s a mistake to try and equate good movie with, say, Metacritic score, or even with Rotten Tomatoes score because that’s a self-selecting audience anyway.
Aline: But I just think it’s interesting, you know, every weekend you have these postmortems where people try and figure out, and they’re doing it right now with Tomorrowland –
Aline: Trying to figure out was it this, was it that, is it original in content, is it not, is it… — And the truth is that, you know, it really goes back to the Goldman rule like, you know, we all do the best we can in a inexact science and you can’t really account for why certain things — you can account for a certain amount of these phenomena, but really, things break out because of a million reasons or don’t break out for a million reasons.
Craig: And Tomorrowland, correct me if I’m wrong, made mid-40s, right?
Craig: Made like $45 million. That’s good.
Craig: What happens now is people will say, “Well, it’s good but not good in light of its budget.” The audience doesn’t care about the budget.
Craig: The audience doesn’t care about your profit and loss sheet.
Craig: $45 million worth of tickets sold is good.
John: So the real conversation will be next Sunday or Monday as the second week comes through and everyone will take a look at like what was the drop-off, which will probably be a factor of what was the reception of the audience.
John: And the audience reception was mixed. And so that will be curious to see sort of how it plays out next week.
John: That’s the sort of normal conversation we would have. What’s so fascinating is to look at, you know, a person with a stats background who didn’t have any of our terminology trying to explain this phenomenon he was seeing.
Craig: It was interesting. There’s another thing that people forget sometimes when they do these analyses. And there are two movies come to mind, Austin Powers and Pitch Perfect. Movies that come out and kind of bomb in their own sort of way. And then find this life on video and –
Aline: And they’re also, I mean, they’re marketed. They have marketed themselves. I mean, Pitch Perfect had marketed itself for, you know, the months since it came out because people watched it over and over again. It caught on and that, so –
Aline: There was so much marketing that was beyond the marketing they were actually doing.
Aline: And so those movies have such built-in awareness.
Craig: If you just look at the point on the chart of how much money did Pitch Perfect 1 make at the box office. Austin Powers 2 made more in its opening weekend than Austin Powers 1 made its entire run.
Aline: Oh, I think that’s true of Pitch Perfect as well.
Craig: I’m sure it is. It has to be.
Craig: And so that’s really the lesson there is, well, box office isn’t necessarily the only test of success either, because some movies are discovered after. Office Space is the bomb of all bombs when it comes to theatrical release. And God only knows how many hundreds of millions of dollars –
Aline: Do you think if they made a sequel now people would go?
Craig: Oh, my god. If Mike Judge ever did it, and he won’t –
Craig: But if he ever did, it would be massive. No question.
Aline: That’s interesting.
John: I think that’s true as well. And it’s a thing we encountered with Big Fish because Big Fish was not a huge box office hit but it actually did so well in its afterlife that we continue to sort of get interested in doing more stuff with Big Fish because it did so well.
Craig: There you go.
John: And so that’s an example. Like that’s not a movie that lends itself to a natural sequel. There’s not a Big Fish 2 on the docks, but like it’s useful for things down the road.
Craig: Wasn’t Free Willy kind of in its own way a sequel? [laughs]
John: [laughs] Yeah, it really was.
John: It’s its own sort of unique thing.
Craig: It’s its own thing.
John: I think it’s time to open up for some questions.
Craig: How do we sound, Stuart? Stuart, I’m check –
John: Oh, we got a thumbs up from Stuart.
Craig: Stuart gave us a thumbs up.
John: We have two questions that came in early, so –
Aline: [makes noises] That’s my alien voice.
Craig: I know. [makes noise]
Aline: [makes noise]
Craig: What have we got? Live questions?
John: Well, we had two questions that came in before we started the show at all. So I was wondering if Aline might read the first question from Molly.
Aline: Okay, the question from Molly is –
John: Because it’s a question from a woman.
Aline: Hi, John and Craig and Stuart.
Craig: Stuart. If can’t get Stuart married off of this?
Aline: I’m writing a script that is an adaptation of the life of a former U.S. president. I strive for authenticity –
Craig: I hope it’s McKinley.
Aline: And historical accuracy. So I would like to use direct quotes from the president’s speeches, letters, and memoirs as dialogue. Is this an acceptable practice in biographical films or seen as unoriginal because the dialogue didn’t originate with me, or is it plagiarism? If it’s acceptable, do I somehow need to cite which lines are actually historical and not my own original creation? Looking forward to the show tonight, Molly.
Craig: That’s a really good question. I have an answer for you, Molly.
John: I do, too.
Craig: The answer in order is yes, no, no, yes, no, no. So, it’s absolutely acceptable. It is not plagiarism. It is part of public record. Presidents are public figures. Their speeches are absolutely reprintable in all ways, shapes, and forms. No, nobody would look at it as plagiarism. In fact, quite the opposite. Take an obvious example, if you were doing a movie about Lincoln, which of course has already been done, and you change the text to the Gettysburg Address, people would be angry.
Aline: But let me throw in a caveat.
Craig: Yes. What is your caveat?
Aline: With Selma –
John: I was going to say Selma.
Aline: They did not have the right to his speeches.
Craig: Okay. I think they did. Here’s my point. My feeling is that they would have had the right to those speeches but they could also be sued and have to battle over it. And then they have a movie about Martin Luther King that is being sued by the estate of Martin Luther King, which is bad press. But I actually think an argument could be made that as a public figure delivering a public speech, that is now part of the public record and is absolutely public domain.
Aline: But she had to paraphrase them and you don’t think that she — do you think she just didn’t want to take the risk?
Craig: I think the studio combined with the — I’m sure the screenwriter initially had that in there completely. You get into trouble there where it’s like, okay, if we’re making a movie about Martin Luther King and the family is like, “Boo, you’re exploiting,” oh, it’s a nightmare.
Craig: But if you’re making a movie about McKinley [laughs], I don’t know why I like to go to McKinley always –
John: You should.
Craig: Somebody should make a movie about Franklin Pierce. If you’re making a movie about Franklin Pierce, go for it. I mean, obviously, A, everything is in public domain now anyway because of the age. So always check, you know, if you’re making an old — if you’re doing one about Ford, you should be fine anyway, I think.
Aline: But do you think like in the way that Martin Luther King’s speeches are owned as intellectual property by his estate, like if you were doing a John F. Kennedy movie where he has a lot of famous speeches –
Craig: I don’t –
John: Here’s a question. Like if you took something from Profiles in Courage, John Kennedy’s book –
Craig: That’s different. That’s different. And by the way, of course John F. Kennedy did not write Profiles in Courage.
John: But his name is on it.
Craig: His name is on it. It was ghostwritten. But that’s a novel and that’s expression in fixed form. But if you do a movie about Kennedy and you have him stand up and say, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” –
John: Well, of course that’s fine.
Craig: Well, you say of course that’s fine but really –
Aline: But that’s –
Craig: But that’s what the King family was saying is it’s not fine.
John: That’s true.
Craig: And I think that’s about avoiding an unpleasant battle in public opinion, especially on something as sensitive as Martin Luther King and the legacy of the Civil Rights Movement. The last thing you want to be is like, “A white corporation going against the wishes of the family,” you know, like it just smells bad. It’s bad business.
John: So going back to Molly’s question though, she’s writing a movie about a president, which is awesome. Make the best presidential movie possible. If you think you need to use a lot of stuff from his speeches, then I worry that you’re not making the best possible presidential movie.
Craig: Or maybe there’s one speech or another.
Craig: I mean, let’s say she’s doing like Teddy, you know.
Craig: Teddy had some good speeches. But I guess even beyond that, regardless, you should write — this is the time where you get to do whatever you want. I mean, if the downside of being a screenwriter is that we’re not actually making a movie but we’re making a movie on paper, the upside is we can do whatever we want.
Down the road, some roomful of lawyers will give you advice on that stuff. But nobody will look down upon you for actually using the text of publicly delivered speeches by political figures.
Aline: And I’m assuming that Molly is going to be writing conversations with him and his spouse and his advisors. She wouldn’t have access to those anyway.
Craig: Right. Dramatize –
Aline: She’s going to be making that up. Especially, if they’re famous speeches, obviously people will know that she’s excerpting. But in general, she’s going to have to make up probably what consists of her dramatic writing, she’ll have to make up anyway.
John: Word. Craig, another question that came in before we started recording.
Craig: Yes. This one came from Cody Tannen-Barrup.
John: What a great name is that.
Craig: The best. Hyphenated, Tannen-Barrup. Hey, John and Craig. Thanks for everything you do. That’s weird, Cody didn’t thank Stuart.
Craig: But I guess that’s just –
Aline: Also, I wasn’t thanked.
Craig: And also Aline wasn’t thanked. [laughs] You’re welcome, Cody Tannen-Barrup. Question. I was asked by an agent to send him a script. I sent it two weeks ago. What’s the etiquette of following up? How long do I wait? Do I just expect that if he liked it he would get back to me, unless I should move on? Thanks. Cody from Northampton, Massachusetts. Sent from his iPad.
John: Aline, tell us, when should you follow up?
Aline: Well, this is a great question. I’m glad that we can share some of this. I’ve been doing this a long time. I have never gotten any better at the waiting to hear part.
John: I haven’t either.
Aline: I don’t know what it is.
Craig: You’re human. [laughs]
Aline: There’s something about the minute you press — it’s like the minute you press send, you go back into the document and you find a typo instantly.
Craig: By the way, isn’t that amazing?
Aline: You press send –
Aline: You go back in there and you’re like –
Craig: It’s sick.
Aline: Yeah. That’s I think –
John: In the old days when we used to print out scripts –
John: I would wait for the messenger to come and pick up the script and take it away. And then I would look through it, like, “No, typo.”
Craig: I know.
John: And now it’s a PDF.
Craig: I know.
Aline: It’s something, honestly, that I still work on when I hand in a script. My husband pretty much wants to get away from me. I have not gotten any better at this. In the beginning of your career, it’s so difficult and it’s so heartbreaking.
Craig: I mean, like we send a script in to some agent or whatever the hell we do, two weeks go by, maybe it’s slightly bad news. But when you’re trying to start your career and this is — well, one agent you know and the one person who showed you interest and now two weeks have gone by, it’s your whole world focused on that one return call.
Aline: But I think it’s fascinating. It’s sort of like, you know, when you’re driving and there’s a pedestrian in front of you, you’re like, “Move more quickly. I’m going to hit you. [laughs] What are you doing?”
Aline: And then when you’re the pedestrian, you’re going [makes noise].
Craig: Right. Yeah, easy car.
Aline: And it’s the same thing when someone –
Craig: I know.
Aline: Gives me a script to read. It’ll often sit in my inbox for a long time and I won’t respond or won’t read it. And it doesn’t mean I don’t like it or I didn’t it –
Craig: So what do –
Aline: Here’s the thing. You can’t read anything into the two weeks.
Craig: But what do we tell them? Like when should you write back?
John: So I think you should write back with — if you sent it on a Thursday or Friday, you should write back on Tuesday to make sure that they have it.
Aline: Oh, interesting. Interesting.
John: So I would give them a weekend, which counts as sort of one day. Otherwise, you give them like just, you know, a few days to make sure that –
Aline: I might give them a week.
Craig: It’s funny, like I’m actually a two-weeker guy.
Craig: Like I feel like email works. And so I would check in two weeks later. By the way, also you can always call the assistant.
Craig: Like for instance for that one, like four days later, give the assistant a buzz and say, “I’m so sorry to bother you — “
Aline: I just want to make sure.
Craig: “I just want to make sure it came through and then I will leave you alone, I promise.” And they’ll say, “Oh, yeah. It came through.” Then I would give it two weeks and then I would just drop a quick line.
John: So I had a conversation with my agent, David Kramer, about this and he said that it’s one of his great frustrations is when people don’t send the email back saying, “Got it.”
John: Just acknowledge that you received it.
John: Because it honestly reduces your stress load tremendously to say like, “Got it. Thanks.”
John: And so just this last week I had a situation where I sent something through and I expected like, well, it’s a long weekend, whatever. And then I get the email back today saying like, “Oh, because of Con, we didn’t send it through, so it’ll be like another week.” I’m like –
Craig: So frustrating.
John: Yeah. It’s like, oh my god, the whole time I was like –
Craig: It’s so frustrating.
John: I’m picturing all the bad news that possibly could’ve happened.
Craig: You know what the word for what you were doing was?
Craig: Because this is what my therapist tells me I do all the time.
John: I love that word.
Craig: You were catastrophizing.
Aline: Oh, and that’s what happens when you turn in a script, all you can do is picture them thinking, “Oh, my god. What do I do? How do I — what do I say to her?”
Craig: It’s catastrophizing. But not only does this draft not work, this person can’t ever work again in Hollywood or anywhere.
Craig: And should be punished publicly. [laughs]
John: This person –
Aline: And it’s funny because even –
John: This person is an impostor.
Craig: Yeah. [laughs]
John: The impostor has now been revealed.
Craig: At last we know the truth.
Aline: But you kind of build up a thing where “You know what, I feel pretty good about this one. I’m just going to hand this in and go to the Grove and I feel great.” And it takes anywhere between two minutes and 11 minutes to go into the spiral.
Craig: It breaks everyone.
Aline: So if it makes Cody feel any better, it happens to everyone. I would say after a couple of weeks, you can lob in. And I would probably, if John’s saying a Tuesday, I would say the end of the following week, I would say lob in an email saying, “Hey, just checking in. I wanted to make sure you got it. Would love to hear from you about it. Would love to talk about it with you.” If you don’t hear from them way soon after that, I think you can just take that as being French for no.
Craig: Well, you could. I mean, the truth is that sometimes it takes time, and especially if you are a flier. An agent is like, okay, a friend of a friend and you come, whatever. You send me your script.
Craig: It’s at the bottom of my pile.
Craig: So at some point, they’re going to pick it up.
Craig: And then you just have to be patient. And in your mind, essentially you have to remove yourself from that sicko equation of this is going to change my life. You just got to keep going on with your life and assume that that’s not going to change your life. And then if a wonderful thing comes crashing in, like the letter from Hogwarts inviting you and telling you you’re a wizard, then that’s great.
Aline: But the thing I would also say when you’re starting out is give your script to lots of people.
Aline: Give your script to a friend. Give your script to an agent. Give your friend who’s an assistant. And I always think of it as like you’re putting little paper boats into the Central Park reservoir.
Craig: I’ll tell you who I give my script to. Just the other day, one of the smart — here’s an unsung screenwriter — he’s sung. But one of my favorite people in this business and he’ll never come on the show because he’s like a weirdo shut-in and he’ll never listen to this, so I don’t have a problem [laughs] with saying –
John: So you can call him a weirdo shut-in and –
Craig: He’ll never know that I called him a weirdo shut-in. But Bob Gordon, do you know Bob Gordon?
John: I know Bob Gordon.
Craig: So smart. So Bob Gordon is probably most known for writing Galaxy Quest. Brilliant, brilliant guy. I met him in Nashville actually. And like you know when you meet someone, you’re like, “Oh my god, you’re like me [laughs], you know, but even weirder. This is great.” And I sent him my script and he had such a smart comment that was just so good and really –
John: Was it devastating?
Craig: No. That’s the thing. First I thought, well, because I really like to be open about these things, I thought, “Okay, well, if I took that on its face, it could theoretically be devastating to the structure of the story.” But then the more I thought about it, I thought, “No. You know what he’s getting at I can actually solve and it will make so many things better and I could do it in three pages at the start of the script.”
Craig: And it was so helpful that –
Aline: But, you know, you just –
Craig: This isn’t about praising Bob Gordon.
Aline: You put your little boats in the water, send them out, as many as you can.
Aline: And then try not to worry about them. And some of them will come in.
Craig: That’s what Seth Rudetsky would do.
John: [laughs] So a question from the feed.
John: Steve Bethers asks, “Craig, do you think Robert Mark Kamen is Writer X?”
John: Wouldn’t it be great if like these two threads came together? So Robert Mark Kamen was the unsung screenwriting hero that Craig brought up last week and Writer X was this screenwriter who — wouldn’t that be amazing? I think it’s impossible, amazing.
Craig: It would be shocking, obviously. It would shatter me in many ways.
Aline: Wow. Will Writer X ever be revealed?
John: I’m not sure there ever was a Writer X.
Craig: Writer X will never come back.
Aline: Do you think he’s not a real person?
Craig: No, I think Writer X was a real person. I think that –
John: Well, I think Writer X had no produced credits, so that was the issue.
Craig: Right. And so Final Draft was like, “Hey, Writer X, why don’t you do this and we’ll give you a hundred bucks.” I don’t know if they even paid him. But I think after the shellacking that occurred, Writer X probably will not appear again. No, I don’t think Robert Kamen is Writer X. At the risk of being a dick –
John: Isn’t that amazing?
Craig: I don’t think the writing was good enough to qualify as Kamen level.
Craig: Yeah. It was not Kamenesque.
John: All right. We’re going to scroll back through the feed and look for a new question. So if you have a question for us, put it in the feed and we’ll hit it. Stuart has one all highlighted.
Craig: Ooh, god, Stuart, you’re good.
John: We have a question here from G Red asking, “Aline, there was some discussion about dress codes in Hollywood for writers. ‘Don’t be the best-dressed person in the room.’ Is that true for women?”
Aline: Yeah, I remember hearing that and I giggled through that at the thought that Craig or John would be at all concerned about –
Aline: How they were dressed with respect to the others.
Craig: I think that was a Writer X thing in a weird way, wasn’t it?
Aline: It was a guy who’s saying that he shows up at meetings dressed in a suit and he feels more comfortable in a suit.
Aline: I mean, I will say for women that, you know, I remember when I very first came out here I had bought a lot of fancy clothes and suits. This was a long time ago.
Craig: Like Hilary Clinton suits?
Aline: Yeah, kind of. And my agent said to me, “You’re a writer, wear Converse.”
Aline: I think that dressing well in Hollywood is a little bit different from dressing fancy. You want to show that you have some — well, for a certain type of writer, it’s not –
Craig: [laughs] Meaning not me.
Aline: Terrible to show that you have some taste and that you’re cool and that you’re — you know, I think dressing fancy, dressing up, wearing heels, wearing a skirt, wearing a blazer, that’s not really what writers do.
Craig: Don’t dress like a suit. That’s basically –
Aline: Don’t dress like a suit, yeah.
Craig: You don’t want to be corporate.
Aline: You can be cool and people can see that you’re making an effort in how you look. But fancy is not really du jour for anybody.
John: On the podcast, I had discussed Wes Anderson. If Wes Anderson showed up for a meeting, you kind of want Wes Anderson dressed like Wes Anderson. So if you were a female writer, a female director, it would be appropriate to dress up kind of like the person who you kind of are.
Aline: I know more people whose thing is that they do something odd in the other direction. Like they always wear hoodies or they wear pajamas or, you know, writers are more known for doing that kind of thing –
Craig: There is a writer, I won’t say his name but everybody will probably figure out who it is when I say it, who’s constantly just doing these very contrived things with his clothes. He wears a mask. [laughs] He’ll put on a clown nose. It’s just –
John: I know who you’re talking about.
Craig: You know who I’m talking about. It’s ridic –
Aline: I do not.
Craig: I just mouthed it.
John: Mouthed it.
Aline: Right, right.
Craig: It’s ridiculous and it’s just insecure and dumb. I mean my whole thing about — this is one area where there’s definitely sexism going on for sure. For a guy, you know, I always feel like I have the confidence of thinking, it doesn’t what I’m wearing. I’m going to be wearing something sort of schlubby because that’s who I am. But if I can start talking impressively, nobody will give a damn what’s on my body. I do think that people are judgy about women. I actually think that it’s — a lot of a women are judgy about women with clothes, and that’s a bummer but it does — I think if what you’re saying is don’t look like a not-creative person –
Aline: That’s right.
Craig: But don’t also try and look like some contrived example of a creative person, you should be fine.
Aline: Yeah. I don’t — I think it’s just — it’s we live in a casual city and people dress casually.
Aline: And you can look cool. But it really isn’t a thing of dressing up. People don’t really wear suits, so you would look, you know, odd. That being said, there are some people who that’s their thing. Sam Raimi wears suits. Everybody knows that.
Craig: If it’s natural to them –
Aline: And if it’s — and if it’s your thing.
Craig: Paul Feig does it.
Aline: Yeah. Paul Feig is dressed –
Craig: Paul Feig directs in a suit.
Aline: Yeah, he is dressed to the nines all the time.
Craig: Which is crazy. That’s like taking a shower in a suit.
Aline: You’re right.
Craig: It’s nuts.
Aline: He’s dressed to the nines all the time.
Craig: Do you know who dresses great?
Craig: Sexy Craig. Oh yeah.
Aline: Sexy Craig. Sexy threads.
Craig: You like this velour? Yeah, it’s real velour, 100%.
Aline: This is from J.Crew.
Craig: That’s right.
John: We have a lot of speculation in the chat thread about who you were talking about when you mouthed off –
Craig: Oh, really? Who did they come up with?
John: Some of the things are fantastic. Carrot Top. Is it Nolan?
Aline: I read a great thing.
Craig: No, Nolan is a jacket and tie guy.
Aline: I read a great thing that somebody tweeted which is like, if you have a Carrot Top, shouldn’t your hair be green?
John: That’s a really good point. Wow.
Craig: Mind blown. Mind blown. Inception.
John: All right. Another question from Stuart from one of you listeners. Jason Bob Gardner II writes, can you break down the skill set difference or responsibilities between a showrunner for a show versus director of a feature film?
Aline: The showrunner for the show is the producer and the writer. So you’re doing really what a feature producer would do for a movie, you’re doing for every episode. And you’re the writer. And then you choose a director and the director figures out sort of how the thing is photographed.
Aline: If that makes sense.
John: I think that makes a lot of sense. A director is still incredibly important in television because that director is Marc Webb in your case, who did your pilot, is figuring out the vision for sort of how the shots go together, especially on a pilot. But even on a given episode, like how you are going to make that day’s work work, how you’re going to put this whole thing together.
Aline: You’re translating the visual — translating the script into the visuals, yeah.
Craig: And then editing that pilot together.
Craig: At least the first stab at it.
John: And the real difference, though, is that unlike a feature screenwriter, the showrunner has tremendous influence and power in sort of deciding what the final cut of something is going to be.
John: It’s hiring that director onboard.
Aline: It’s sort of like you’re in charge of the whole — and the whole is not the one episode. The whole is the series.
Craig: That’s right. The showrunner is going to be there later. So they have to be in charge of things like, you can say, “Well, as a director when you make a feature film, what are the characters wearing?” That’s your job. It’s not your job on television. It’s everyone’s job in television particularly the showrunner because the showrunner is stuck with that for when you’re gone.
Craig: In features, if a director is also the writer, then frankly they are kind of like a showrunner. In that regard, it’s very similar.
John: Yeah, they’re a showrunner who’s doing a pilot.
Craig: A showrunner doing a two-hour pilot. Exactly
Craig: So like, you know, Todd Phillips, basically is like a showrunner on his movies. He is the producer, he is the director, he is the writer or at least, you know a co-writer. And so –
Aline: And often, showrunners direct. I mean, Matt I directed the finale of Mad Men.
Aline: I mean what’s interesting for me is that I had a big adjustment to make in being a screenwriter because I am fairly sociable. I like to be around other people. I like to talk to other people. So especially for the first 10 years in my career, it was very difficult for me to deal with the being alone in a room. I’m also, and this will be a surprise to everyone, a bit bossy.
John: No, not true.
Aline: And so –
Aline: I enjoy — working on a TV show is fun because it’s rather gregarious, lots of people. You have a crew, a cast, a family, a set. You know, I like to make decisions and I’m comfortable with extending the writing decisions into the production decisions.
Craig: So bossy. Just –
Aline: Just a little bossy.
Craig: Who am I scared of more than you? Nobody.
Aline: That says more about you than me.
Craig: It does.
Craig: [laughs] Absolutely. Whatever you want me to say.
John: Chris Percal writes, as someone rushing to finish a TV spec for the Fellowships, how important is it to follow a showrunner’s format? Specifically, if the showrunner has a few formatting quirks that are atypical? Thanks.
So Aline, you must have read a bunch of scripts.
Aline: I couldn’t care less about it for a minute, I think.
Craig: Yeah, you know, if you’re — you have to stick to the structure of the show.
Craig: If you’re — if the show that you are mimicking or writing an episode of starts with a cold open every time –
Craig: You’ve got to do that.
Craig: If the show has a certain amount of breaks, you got to do that.
Aline: I will say this. I know how you guys often say, you know, the first 10 pages of a screenplay are really important, blah, blah, blah. Wow, the first 10 pages of your pilot that you’re submitting for consideration –
Aline: Couldn’t be more important because you don’t really have the time to read past and, you know, the people that I have read for staffing where I read the 10 pages and I’m like, “I’ve got to read this whole thing.” If you can do that, you stand out so much. You’ve got to grab people in the beginning.
Craig: So that’s more important than nailing the tiny little formatting, quirky, baloney, rules, baloney?
Aline: Also, do not save your good stuff for page 48.
John: Yeah. Right at the start. You must have read more in this last of couple of months than years.
Craig: What’s the state of writing out there? [laughs] Not good, huh?
Aline: Well, when you find somebody who can really do it, I think particularly for the beginning writers, it’s a bit like music. You know, I always love that thing when the first couple years of Idol where people would audition and Randy Jackson would say, “You know what, singing, not your thing man.”
Craig: It’s not for you.
Aline: It’s just not for you.
Craig: It’s not for you.
Aline: You know, what else you like you to do?
Craig: And he would say –
Aline: Remember, he would say, “What else do you like to do?”
Craig: “What else do you like to do? Do you have other hobbies?” And they’re like, “But all my friends tell me that I’m great.”
Aline: Right. And I think you can tell particularly with the emerging writers, right away, if they, you know, there’s a voice and a music. I mean the thing that really kills me and continues to kill me is, particularly in television, people writing things you cannot see.
Craig: I know.
Aline: She remembers the summer by the sea.
Craig: Makes. Me. Crazy.
Aline: But particularly like I feel like I will give more leeway to that in a screenplay where you’re setting a mood and maybe you write in a more of prosey style.
Aline: But when you’re writing a television episode –
Craig: I know.
Aline: If you want to tell me, she smells hyacinth and thinks of her Aunt Lou, I got nothing. There’s nothing I can see.
John: She’s throwing your script across the room.
Aline: Yeah. It’s tough.
Craig: And by the way, these are people that have agents, have managers.
Aline: Oh, yes.
Craig: Are represented.
Aline: Oh, yes.
Craig: And still you’re –
Aline: And also, it’s a taste thing. I’m sure there are scripts that I don’t respond to that other people pick up and think are great.
Craig: I actually, I think that I’m pretty good at telling the difference between my reaction to a script. If I read it and I think, “This is not my taste versus you are bad. You’re actually incompetent. This is not right. This chair only has three legs and you’ve forgotten the back is upside down. And I can see glue blobs.”
Craig: There’s a difference.
Craig: And it is, I got to say, it is amazing. And this should be encouraging for our listeners out there, following along live as we stream. There are a lot of bad, bad, bad writers who have agents. And you can take them out. And by the way, a lot of people think I’m one of them.
Aline: So I have a bunch of friends.
Craig: So you can take me out, too.
Aline: I have a bunch of friends who are writers because they were readers.
Aline: And they were reading a lot of the scripts and they thought, “Man.”
Craig: I could do better.
John: Yeah, but it’s that shit plus one thing that makes me so nervous.
Craig: I know.
John: It’s making a –
Craig: Terry Rossio’s crap plus one. Yeah.
Craig: So his crap plus one theory is that a lot of people look at Hollywood and they go –
Aline: Oh, right.
Craig: “Well, that’s a bunch of crap. All I have to do is plus one of that and I’ll be fine.”
Craig: But they don’t realize that –
Craig: The crap that you see eventually –
Craig: Has already been broken — like something started brilliant –
Craig: And then the process just destroyed it down to crap.
Aline: Right. But you can — it’s kind of glorious and interesting to see people who just have an ear and this is what they were put on Earth to do.
Craig: It’s fun. It’s great finding people like that.
Aline: And, you know, how much of it is learned and — but, you know, I have by and large enjoyed the process of reading. And I don’t think for a second about the format, is the short answer.
John: Great. One last question from Adam Alterburk. He writes, “Who decides when script is locked for production? And how does one handle the political side of this decision?” We’ve never talked about that.
Aline: That’s a great question.
Aline: What a good question.
Craig: Well, locking for production is something that you — if you are the writer now that’s sort of the production writer, and in fact I’m doing this right now for The Huntsman.
Craig: So I have to talk to the line producer, a woman named Sarah Bradshaw. And she and I coordinate. What I say is, “Look, I don’t — it doesn’t matter to me when I lock this. It doesn’t matter to me what we call the white draft. And it doesn’t matter to me what we call blue or if we should lock pages at this point or issue a whole new draft. What would make your life easier on your end?” And then she tells me and that’s what I do.
Craig: Because that’s not creative. That’s about a process. There are times when I’ll say, “Look, because of the way this last week went, we’ve just changed the second half of — there’s like every page, there’s a single asterisk gone and it’s super annoying. Why don’t we just not — why don’t we issue a whole new draft?” And then they’ll say yes or no. And that’s what we’ll do. And it’s as simple as that. You just coordinate with the line producer and get to know them. And it’s really important for you to be a master of your software.
Craig: So you know exactly how to do it and you know exactly know how to not screw them up. They have all experienced screenwriters who have screwed them up.
Craig: And it’s huge mess. And they don’t like that. So know how to work your stuff.
Aline: It’s also great to find somebody who knows how to do it, too.
Craig: That’s the best.
Aline: You know, somebody else who knows how to handle the program. But the one thing, I have worked with people who hate revised pages. I worked with a director and a producer who want to keep the script as white as possible. And so they want you to lock as late as possible so you don’t end up with a script that’s stuffed with confetti.
Craig: Sure. No, I get that. But, you know, at some point you have to be able to –
Aline: Of course.
Craig: To move around. And so what I’ll do like, for instance, I know that there are some things I have to write that are for what’s coming up in the next three weeks of shooting. Rather than just send one thing at a time which would create multiple revisions.
Craig: What I’m doing is I’m saying, “Okay, look, here’s the new stuff, not in a script. Take a look at it, let’s get it approved by the director and the studio.” And then if everybody approves, then I’ll just say, “Okay, here’s a bunch — an aggregated bunch of approved stuff. This is now our green draft.
John: So I’m going to talk people back through who have not been through production drafts to understand what we’re actually saying. When a script goes in production, it has a locked draft. Basically, all those page numbers are going to stay the same.
John: That is considered the white draft. And then if there are changes that are made to that script, they release it as colored pages. And those colored pages will fit into the script that was already released and locked. So if you have change something on page 56, and you’ve added a page between 56 and 57, that is page A56 or 56a depending on how your numbering system works.
John: And those pages will go in there. So it’s a way of like not reprinting the whole script every time, which is a really good thing. The issues and challenges become, when do you close that down? And most scripts that I’ve brought into production, it tends to be about like two weeks beforehand, it has pulled the trigger and suddenly like, okay, that’s the white draft and everything from that point forward.
John: But what Craig is saying is really smart too, is that if it is just a small change and it’s not going to shoot really soon, you hold back on releasing those pages so you can release it as a block so it’s much less confusing.
Aline: You just to be careful because sometimes there’s departments that are waiting for those pages for some reason.
Craig: Oh, that’s why to me, there’s a sort of like two levels. When I try and do this stuff. I mean I would do this like with the Hangovers, this is how Todd and I would do it. We wouldn’t — because we were changing stuff all the time. But we wouldn’t just like every five minutes, go — we made sure like, “Okay, who needs to know this?”
Craig: Here’s three pages that’s not script stuff. And it’s not like pulled from the script. It’s just a scene that we all now we’re going to be doing. Obviously, you never mess with scene numbers. That’s the one thing you can’t do. And then if everybody knows, then we can hold it and then we do an issue.
Aline: The funny thing about scene numbers, I know you guys have talked about this is that, people rush over to you and say, “Are you doing something to 56?” And you’re like, “What’s 56?”
Craig: What is 56?
Craig: How would I possibly know what 56 is? But they know — the crew –
Aline: Well, eventually you kind of learn.
Craig: Always knows.
Aline: Eventually –
Craig: I don’t.
Craig: I never once — I’ve gotten to the end of a movie and somebody’s like, “All we have left is 83a”
Craig: And I’m like, I still don’t know.
Aline: Yeah, once in while, there’s ones that become, you know, important or you know that scene is being revised.
Craig: I don’t have space in my brain. [laughs]
Aline: And in 27 Dresses, it was scene 69. And every time it came up –
Craig: How’d you remember that one, huh?
John: A question for you guys. I suspect you do the same thing. I always keep a printed out copy of the script so I will do like one last idiot check if I’m going to release pages to make sure they will actually fit in the real script. Do you keep a printout of your script or do you just trust that it’s going to work?
Craig: I don’t. What I do instead is I have the prior draft and the current one. So, for instance, if I’m working on, I don’t know, what’s the order, blue, yellow, pink?
Aline: Blue, pink.
Craig: Blue, pink, yellow. So I’ve got — let’s say I’m going to yellow. So I take my pink draft. I save it as. And now I got my pink draft on the left, I got my yellow draft on the right. And then when I’m done with my yellow changes, I just look back –
John: You’re looking at the PDF that you created out of it?
Craig: No, I’m looking at my screenwriting files.
John: And I would never trust that. I will always either create a PDF or literally print it just to make sure there’s no like –
Craig: That’s what a German would do.
Craig: That’s very German.
Aline: Brings it back around. There’s absolutely nothing worse than realizing that you’ve unlocked some page or not locked a page.
John: Oh god.
Aline: Or starred a page.
John: I’m not going to be able to sleep tonight, Aline.
Craig: Why would you do that? What’s wrong with you?
Aline: You’ve done five hours of work and not locked or unlocked or released or marked –
Craig: Stop talking. Please stop. Stop. [laughs]
John: I will have nightmares.
Aline: Because there’s no way you can go back and recapture all those keystrokes. That’s really — so when you’re doing –
Craig: I’m getting pee shivers.
Aline: When you’re doing production revisions, you have to turn on the part of your brain that is the librarian that can –
Aline: Sort of monitor what you’re doing.
Craig: Because my god, they will hate you. And also, it’s not just hatred. It’s a hatred plus you’re an outsider who doesn’t understand our world. It just makes screenwriters look worse in that — as screenwriters, we have to be able to operate the way the crew operates.
Craig: Or they won’t respect us.
Craig: They don’t really care that we, “I invented everything. None of you would be here without me.” They don’t care.
John: They don’t care at all.
Aline: But the first time you do the job — the first time you’re the job, the writer in production –
Aline: There’s a little bit of like, “So okay, listen, I was just still wondering. Guys, what do I…?” You have to sort of — I guess it’s like any job. Anybody who’s ever worked in production, you kind of fake it till you make it. You kind of use your, you know, your wits. I, you know, when I –
Aline: The first movie that I did that on, there was no Internet. Oh god, I can’t believe I said that. But I couldn’t Google like how do you lock that, unlock that, what did I do, what were you doing?
Craig: What year were you born? [laughs] The no Internet.
Aline: The first movie that I wrote when I was doing the production edits was ’99.
Craig: Oh, there was the Internet in ’99.
Aline: But I mean, we weren’t on there. Like you wouldn’t –
Aline: You weren’t going to Google and saying, “How do I lock this?”
Craig: No. That’s — oh that, yeah.
Aline: “Unlock this?” You know.
Craig: I mean my first production –
Aline: No, I feel like people now –
Craig: Was ’95.
John: Mine was ’98 for Go. Yeah.
Craig: Mine was ’95 for America’s favorite –
Craig: Classic RocketMan. And –
Aline: Well, I’d done TV stuff.
Aline: I have another Cool Thing. I have Two Cool Things.
Craig: You have Two Cool Things?
Aline: Yeah, I just realized another one.
Craig: That’s not my Cool Thing.
Aline: I just realized two things.
John: Okay. Start us off Aline.
Aline: With our two things?
John: Cool Things.
Aline: Okay. I realize one, there’s a diet thing that I haven’t discussed with you guys, which is this — and I would like to put the — if we could find the study, put it in the show notes. There is a study that shows that it matters when you eat. So you should eat within a 12-hour span. And they did a study with mice or rats where mice who ate all of their food, no matter how many calories they had, in a 12-hours span, never gained weight. And the mice who ate the exact same amount of calories over a 24-hour span, gained tons of weight.
Craig: But who’s eating over 24 hours?
Aline: Well, but a lot of people eat from 6 o’clock in the morning until midnight.
John: I’ve heard this general theory like you should only eat during –
Aline: So the general theory is you should eat from 7am to 7pm.
Craig: So explain why Spanish aren’t super fat.
Aline: They don’t start eating until — I don’t know.
Craig: They wake up, they eat breakfast.
Craig: Then they have like, they take a nap.
Aline: I am only –
Craig: Have a huge dinner. And then they eat dinner at like 11pm.
Aline: Well, I’m just reporting the fact. I’m just reporting the facts, ma’am.
Craig: And then they –
John: Twelve hours diet.
Aline: Twelve hours diet. And then the other thing is –
Craig: That sounds like baloney to me.
Aline: All right.
Craig: It smells.
Aline: I wanted to run it by you just to see how –
Craig: It smells.
Aline: How it went on the umbrage, because you know what? I want to tell you something. I totally believe it.
Craig: You believe it?
Aline: I totally believe it.
Craig: Something about it smells.
John: There’s science in mine as well. But go to yours.
Aline: Okay. So then the other thing is –
Craig: Mine is all about science.
Aline: So bone broth has gotten very trendy.
Craig: I’m sorry, bone broth?
Aline: Bone broth, do you know what this is?
John: Do you make broth out of bones?
Craig: Is it broth out of bones?
Aline: So if you guys lived in Brooklyn or in Silver Lake –
Craig: I was born in Brooklyn.
Aline: You would know what these things are. So bone broth has become very trendy.
John: Stuart Friedel is from Silver Lake.
Aline: It’s a — you know what bone broth is?
Stuart: I’ve heard of it.
Aline: Yeah. Bone broth is a soup that you make by boiling bones for hours and hours and hours.
Craig: Oh, god.
Aline: And people distill it and they make, you know — and Kobe Bryant drinks it and it’s trendy.
Craig: Oh, then it must be good.
Aline: And when you go to a butcher, you can have bone broth.
Craig: Yeah, it makes sense.
Aline: But bone broth is –
John: Somebody in the thing just said, Aline Broth McKenna. [laughs] Congratulations, Craig McDiarmid. You won the feed.
Aline: Well done. So, but bone broth is something that Korean people have been eating for centuries.
Aline: And we lived in Koreatown. And I found this place that makes authentic Korean bone broth.
Aline: And it’s awesome. It’s the only thing they serve.
Aline: And I love restaurants where it’s the only thing they serve.
Craig: We serve bone broth.
Aline: We serve bone broth. You go in. And you decide –
Craig: I’ll have the bone broth.
Aline: But you can have bone broth with flank, brisket, intestines, tripe and tongue or mixed. So you get a bowl with the bone broth and it’s supposedly one of the most nourishing things you can eat.
Craig: Oh, god.
Aline: And you choose the kind of meat. And then it’s unsalted. So you salt it and they bring you scallions and they bring you hot sauce and they bring you kimchi and rice.
Craig: Everything other than the bone broth there, sounds awesome.
Aline: It’s like a delicious beef soup. Anyway, it’s supposed to be –
Craig: If you boil bones long enough, you’ll get glue.
Aline: It’s supposed to be the most restorative wonderful thing. And I found this place in Korea that does it. It’s not a trendy place.
Craig: In Korea?
Aline: Did I say in Korea?
John: You said Korea.
Craig: Because that’s a whole –
Aline: Wow, the wine is kicking in.
John: 1.5 glasses of wine.
Craig: Well, there’s South Korea –
Aline: The wine is kicking in.
Craig: And there’s North Korea.
Aline: Anyway, it’s called –
Craig: They would love bone broth in North Korea.
Aline: I sent the link to myself so that I can remember the name of it, and it’s in Koreatown. And it’s called, for the eight people who are going to drive over there, oh good lord, where is it?
Aline: Where is it? It’s called Han Bat Sul Lung Tang.
John: Stuart will have that in the show notes. So everyone can like feast on bone broth there in Koreatown. Craig Mazin –
Aline: There’s also a line out the door.
Craig: I have a One Cool Thing that in many ways is just wonderfully oppositional to the nonsense we just heard about 12 hours and bone broth. This is a new Alzheimer’s treatment that they are working on in Australia. And it’s actually pretty remarkable and I have to say, very exciting because, I don’t know — do you guys have anybody with Alzheimer’s in your family?
Craig: It’s the worst.
Craig: It’s the worst. My aunt had it. It’s the worst. And it’s just a brutal, brutal disease. So Alzheimer’s happens basically because there are these proteins that start to gather in the brain that should be cleared up by glial cells and they’re not. And so they basically become like sticky, tangled bone broth in your brain that are kind of blocking transmissions and disrupting memory and ultimately destroying you as a person.
So what these guys in Australia are doing is they’re actually using this kind of ultrasound — so they’re — it’s not invasive. It’s not pharmacological. They’re actually ultrasounding your brain and it’s disrupting those tangles of proteins. And what they found in rats is that they were able to restore 75% — they had rats with memory problems. I don’t know how exactly they get rats to have Alzheimer’s but they just do.
John: [laughs] They try to do the crossword puzzle and they can’t.
Craig: They can’t.
John: They can’t do it.
Craig: So they pulled them out. So they had rats with Alzheimer’s, 75% of them regained all of their memory after this treatment, all of it.
Craig: Which is astonishing. So it was so promising that they’re already kind of moving towards human trials which is amazing. They think they’ll be able to get human trials going in 2017. If this sort of thing works, you and I –
Aline: Won’t have to worry about it.
Craig: And Stuart will not have to worry. I mean I’m kind of hoping that we can hit the singularity and just be put into –
John: Yeah. I would say that Alzheimer’s is way up there on my list of overall fears because the idea of not being able to, you know, be myself and sort of have my memories and have my own personality is terrifying to me.
Craig: It’s terrifying. And if there’s something as simple as this to solve it –
John: That would be great.
Craig: That would be awesome.
John: Great. My One Cool Thing is also about simplification and science. So it’s a article that was in FiveThirtyEight this week by Emily Oster called Everybody Calm Down About Breastfeeding. And Emily Oster, she is not a doctor. She is an economics professor. And she was looking at the data behind breastfeeding and sort of like the real study is to see like what is actually really going on behind the scenes when they’re doing the studies on breastfeeding.
And because we’ve always been told that like breastfeeding is awesome.
John: And I kind of believe breastfeeding is awesome. But I also had this sort of suspicion is like, but how are they really testing for that? And are they really taking care of all the other variables?
Craig: How do you measure awesome?
John: How do you measure awesome?
John: Because are you really like taking into account the age and background and economic setup –
Craig: Socioeconomic status.
John: Of all the people who are breastfeeding.
John: And she was able to do that. So she took a look at all the studies. And when you actually filter out for all that other stuff, you find that a lot of the advantages of breastfeeding aren’t quite so pronounced or aren’t –
Craig: They’re not boob-based. They’re sort of related to other issues.
Aline: They’re correlative?
John: They’re correlative, rather than causal. So I bring this up because, you know, I think breastfeeding is still awesome and I’m a fan of people who want to breastfeed, I think we need to make sure that we make it an option for any woman who wants to and sort of create structures for that.
Craig: And not demonize women who don’t.
John: Exactly. Not demonize families that don’t do that because, you know, we’re a two-dad family. And so we did not have breast milk.
Craig: [laughs] Try as you did.
John: But we know other two-dad families who did like, you know, they would have –
Craig: They would buy it.
John: They would buy it.
Craig: I told my wife to sell it. We had a freezer full of this. She would make me freeze every stupid extra bag. She made so much — my wife is not a big bosomed woman.
Craig: She makes so much milk.
Aline: Making milk has nothing to do with the size of your boobs.
Craig: Apparently, I did not know that. I just went like, big, you know, like a guy, big boob, big, lots of milk. No. She made so much milk. And so our freezer’s full. So I’m like we should sell this. And she was like, “No, I can’t sell it.” She was weird about it.
John: Yeah, she totally could have. But I think the question is, you know, we had other two-dad families who ended up like, you know, having breast milk frozen and like FedEx’d and every day they were using that stuff.
Craig: And it’s probably –
Aline: So I think a lot of us, you know –
John: But according to science, it’s actually not necessarily –
Craig: It’s not worth all that trouble.
Aline: A lot of this with parenting all these like, you know, strongly held beliefs that people have are just, you know, their talisman that they’re clinging to because it’s so scary and it’s so challenging emotionally. So people cling to things which are “we’re attachment pair, we’re not, we’re breastfeeding, we’re not…”
John: Right. Absolutely.
Aline: You know, it’s all sort of like things you tell yourself that is going to –
Craig: And then they go away.
Aline: It’s something that’s going to make you safe.
Craig: Like remember co-sleeping?
Craig: Co-sleeping, everybody had to co-sleep. So our baby, our first kid was born and we tried co-sleeping for two days. And we’re like, screw this. He’s sleeping, we’re not.
Craig: This is the worst.
Aline: And we just don’t have enough –
Craig: He doesn’t remember.
Aline: Of an emphasis on our culture in happy parents make happy babies.
Aline: And sort of do what works for you. And we cling to these things in a very anxiety-ridden, unrealistic way, punish each other. It’s the same thing with childbirth and natural child birth –
Aline: And not. And there’s so many judgments attached to it. Whatever works for you.
Aline: Whatever makes you a happy parent is what makes for a happy child.
Craig: I’m so with you on that. You know, we were like — I remember, we went to my son, our first kid was born at Cedars because we lived near here. And we went to this talk that the retired head of obstetric anesthesiology ran. He was no longer in practice, really old guy, he’s like 80 years old. And he was talking about epidurals and why and how, you know, why he thought it was a good idea. And this one woman raised her hand and she was very like and she said, “Well, I’ve heard from my friends that an epidural can prolong labor and I don’t want to prolong my labor because I don’t think it would be good for my baby.”
And he said, “Well, in my experience, actually, it shortens labor because when you’re in pain, you’re muscles tighten. When you’re not in pain, you’re relaxed, you relax and labor actually goes faster. Granted that’s only in my experience, I’ve never had a baby myself, but I have overseen the delivery of 70,000 babies.”
And that’s when I leaned back and went, “Okay, epidural.” [laughs] 70,000, that’s good enough.
Aline: You know, it’s funny my dad — but do you know there are some people who have like a very valid reason for not wanting that and that’s important to them.
Aline: And they should do that. When my parents were raising me and they didn’t have a lot of, you know, they were living in a country they weren’t born in. And I remember my dad went to a lecture that a parenting expert gave. And, you know, everyone asking these questions about should you do this, should you do that and do that.
And the guy said, “You know, what’s really important, the most important thing is to love your children.” And my father thought, “Well, I’m doing that.”
Craig: So what could go wrong?
John: I think it’s really good on the 200th episode of this show that we’ve brought all the way back down to really the crucial fundamental issue of what Scriptnotes is.
John: Vagina. Female health.
Craig: We’ve always been a gynecological podcast.
Craig: We have like a shadow gynecology podcast. We dress it up as screenwriting.
John: Yeah, but it’s really –
Craig: But we’ve always been about gynecological issues.
John: A pretense about that.
John: Two hundred episodes.
Aline: I can’t believe it.
Craig: John, congratulations.
Aline: How long ago did I start emailing you and saying, “What’s going to happen for the 200th?”
Craig: I know, I know. Aline was very excited.
John: Episode Four or five.
Aline: I was very excited. [laughs]
Craig: But I have to say, John, what an adventure we’ve been on. I mean, you know, I wouldn’t have foreseen this.
John: Not a bit.
Craig: I mean we — this is over — almost four years.
John: It’s crazy.
Craig: It’s insane.
Aline: And I know I think I’ve said this before, but when each of you said I’m doing this thing with the other guy, I thought, “Well, that would be interesting.” [laughs]
Craig: That’s not going to work. [laughs] Well, that’s kind of why it does work.
Aline: It does, yeah.
Craig: I think, I mean if we weren’t an odd couple, it would be very boring.
John: We’re both strong personalities, but very different personalities and –
Craig: Well, you know what I think one of the things that helps us, we are both strong personalities, but I decided very early on — I don’t even think I decided. I just did it. I decided to be the beta male. [laughs] I decided to be the beta podcast male because it’s just — it felt right.
John: If people are watching the Twitter feed, I posted a photo of Craig and Aline and Teddy who is our summer intern. And Teddy, the dog is the alpha dog even though he looks like the beta dog.
John: And it’s crucial to see dogs in their own environment having their own sort of space.
Craig: I’m totally the beta podcast guy. Now, what’s — how many people actually showed up for this?
John: Oh, we had a total of like 250 people in our –
Aline: Wow. Nice.
Craig: Oh, thank you, everyone. Thank you. That’s awesome.
John: That’s amazing. So that’s like a big full house. So thank you guys very much for listening.
Craig: And we can kind of cull some of these questions for another Q&A.
John: So we’re going to be saving the transcript of all the Q&A here.
John: So we’ll get back to some of those things.
John: Guys, thank you, guys, so much for listening.
Aline: It was fun. Thank you.
Craig: Thanks. And thank you, Stuart. Two hundred — and Stuart, have you been here for all 200?
Aline: Oh wow.
John: Stuart Friedel has been here from the very beginning.
Craig: Stuart just nodded.
Aline: And it was as if, yeah, it could have been grief. It could have been joy.
Craig: It was as if I had asked him do you like tuna fish. He just has one emotion which is mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
Aline: I like tuna fish.
Craig: [laughs] Yeah.
John: He does like tuna fish. Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel.
John: And is edited by Matthew Chilelli who also did the outro for this week’s show. Thank you, Matthew, and he did our intro and so much stuff for the show.
Craig: He’s the best.
John: If you have a question for me or for Craig, you can write to us @clmazin for Craig, @johnaugust for me. Longer questions, go to email@example.com. People who listen to the show know where we are.
John: We are on iTunes. We’re Scriptnotes. Look for us there. We have an app which is downloadable. You can find our show there.
John: It’s been two glasses of wine. It’s a lot.
Craig: John hit two glasses and has just fallen off –
Aline: Yeah, that’s it, it’s going off for a cliff.
Craig: Yeah, yeah.
John: Craig Mazin, thank you always. But Aline Brosh McKenna, thank you for coming by.
Craig: Aline. Thank you, Aline. You are our Joan Rivers, but alive.
Aline: I want to be Supergirl.
John: You could be our Supergirl. Did you watch the Supergirl trailer?
Aline: I did. It’s my friend Ali’s show.
Aline: I’m excited about it.
John: I’m excited for her, too. And I heard like negative buzz on it. And it was like — but the show is not for you. I mean like the show –
Aline: No, I think it looks like lots of fun. She’s adorable.
John: She’s adorable.
Aline: That actress is amazing. She’s the girl from Whiplash. Supergirl –
Craig: I have to recuse myself from discussing any issues regarding superheroes and gender. Thank you.
John: And thank you all for listening. Good night everyone.
Craig: Good night.
- Aline Brosh McKenna on episodes 60, 76, 100, 101, 119, 123, 124 152, 161, 175 and 180
- CW picks up Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Deadline, and the first-look trailer
- Jane the Virgin on CW
- Marie’s Crisis on Yelp
- Seth Rudetsky’s Deconstructions
- u/tcatron565’s Reddit post, 2013 Domestic Wide Releases Opening Weekend Out of Total Gross Over Audience Perception of Film from r/dataisbeautiful
- A Cliff or a Rolling Hill from the Black List blog
- Can You Copyright a Dream? on Politico
- Hear about Writer X on Scriptnotes, Episode 194
- The New York Times Magazine on A 12-Hour Window for a Healthy Weight
- EaterLA on Korean bone broth soups and where to get them in LA, and Han Bat Sul Lung Tang on Yelp
- Ultrasound Restores Memory to Mice with Alzheimer’s on Popular Science
- Everybody Calm Down About Breastfeeding on FiveThirtyEight
- Supergirl first-look trailer
- Intro and Outro by Scriptnotes editor Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)
As a screenwriter, I’m always looking for ticking clocks to increase the tension in a story. One of my favorite sub-tropes is the Automatic Gate.
No matter what you do, it’s going to shut, and you’re either in or you’re out.
At noon Friday LA time, Kickstarter’s automatic gate will slam shut on One Hit Kill. The backers will be inside, and the rest of the world will need to wait.
I think part of the appeal of Kickstarter is that it’s an Automatic Gate at heart. From the moment I launched the campaign, there was nothing I could do to speed up or slow down the closing gate. The deadline really is a deadline, and nothing can stop it.1
We’re more than triple funded, and will be shipping OHK to backers in September. Some will see it a lot sooner at playtests.2 Everyone else will need to wait.
If you want to get it on One Hit Kill, and you want it in September, now’s the last chance. The clock on the Kickstarter page is literally counting down.
In just a few hours, it’s One Hit Kill or squish.
- One of my favorite Automatic Gates comes in The Abyss, where (mild spoiler) Ed Harris’s ring does in fact stop the gate. But I couldn’t find a good gif for that.
- We’re always looking for great playtest venues, so by all means reach out if you have a spot.
Craig, John, and Aline record the 200th episode of Scriptnotes live with a worldwide audience listening in — and chiming in — as they discuss TV showrunning and whether quality really counts at the box office.
Then it’s time for listener questions, ranging from presidential plagiarism to locked drafts.
Hard to believe it’s been 200 episodes. We wouldn’t and couldn’t have done it without you. Thanks to all our listeners, both for the live feed and all the weeks that came before.
- Aline Brosh McKenna on episodes 60, 76, 100, 101, 119, 123, 124 152, 161, 175 and 180
- CW picks up Crazy Ex-Girlfriend on Deadline, and the first-look trailer
- Jane the Virgin on CW
- Marie’s Crisis on Yelp
- Seth Rudetsky’s Deconstructions
- u/tcatron565’s Reddit post, 2013 Domestic Wide Releases Opening Weekend Out of Total Gross Over Audience Perception of Film from r/dataisbeautiful
- A Cliff or a Rolling Hill from the Black List blog
- Can You Copyright a Dream? on Politico
- Hear about Writer X on Scriptnotes, Episode 194
- The New York Times Magazine on A 12-Hour Window for a Healthy Weight
- EaterLA on Korean bone broth soups and where to get them in LA, and Han Bat Sul Lung Tang on Yelp
- Ultrasound Restores Memory to Mice with Alzheimer’s on Popular Science
- Everybody Calm Down About Breastfeeding on FiveThirtyEight
- Supergirl first-look trailer
- Intro and Outro by Scriptnotes editor Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)
Most of the support emails we get are about problems. Something isn’t working right, or is confusing, and a customer needs help.
Roughly once a week, we’ll get a support email that is, well, supportive. So I thought I’d single two of them them out, both to thank the users who took the time to write them and encourage everyone to tell developers when things are great.
Nabeel wrote in about Weekend Read:
Hey just wanted to say I love your app. I read tons of screenplays and I was actually looking to re-download Final Draft Writer (what I bought an iPad for!) and your app also popped up alongside.
I took a look and it was apparent that you guys have provided a solution to a problem I never realized I had: I hate reading screenplays in iBooks on the iPad! Keep it up guys.
Btw, will you also provide a Mac version in the future?
Thank you, Nabeel!
We originally had plans for a Mac app called Weekend Read Assistant, which was designed to help load scripts onto your devices. With rise of iCloud Drive, that’s become much less necessary. You can simply drag scripts into the Weekend Read folder to automatically push them to all your devices.1
Sam wrote in about Highland:
I’m sure you get this suggestion a million times a day, but I’ll still add my voice to the mix: Highland is a phenomenal app, and I would love to see an iPad version. I love that I can use any text editor to write something up in Fountain, but: A. Highland is just beautiful, and B. If I could easily sync between an iPad and a Mac, I’d consider that pretty dandy.
Anyway, I know you probably hear that a lot, so I’ll at least leave you with this: you make a great app. A lot of stuff came up in my life that made me drift away from film for several years, but I’m finally coming back and trying to create something, and Highland has made it a real joy to re-immerse myself in doing creative work (and an affordable joy, at that).
Thanks for your wonderful app.
Thank you, Sam!
We actually have Highland for iPad. It’s on my device right now.
We’ve had a working prototype of the app for more than a year. But the distance between an app that functions and one we’d be happy to ship is much greater than you’d imagine.
A huge part of that is expectation. Does Highland for iPad need to be able to do everything the Mac version does? Should it print? Should it email from within the app? Where should its files live? Does it use iCloud Drive?
My least favorite thing about the otherwise-terrific Ulysses apps is how files often fall out of sync — and it’s a much simpler text-editing app than Highland.
I also wonder if there’s enough money to be made on an iPad app. It’s hard to get real dollar figures on categories within the App Store, but my hunch is that by the time you get into the teens and twenties of the top-grossing productivity apps for iPad, you’re not seeing any real income.
So instead of an iPad version of Highland, we’re working on the next Mac version. That’s what I’m typing this in right now. We have no ETA, but I think you’re going to love it.
In the meantime, if you love an app — one of ours or someone else’s — I’d encourage you to take the time to tell the developer. In our case, every support email gets Slacked to the whole team, and we love virtual high-fives.
We also get notices for every app review. Leaving a positive review for Highland or Weekend Read or Bronson Watermarker lets us know you’re enjoying the app, and lets other App Store users know the app has fans.
- Nima Yousefi will hate that I said “automatically” because the process of getting scripts to sync is witchcraft that nearly killed him.
B.J. Novak is all about lists. He asked me to write this one about issues I frequently see in scripts written by beginning screenwriters.
1. Starting with a concept rather than a character
We don’t want a movie about a lost relic. We want a movie about Indiana Jones.
2. Being too nice to the heroes
I’m glad you love them. Now make them do something and suffer.
3. Trying to adapt their favorite book
It will only end in tears, because the thing that makes the book so great is probably not what would make a great movie. Adaptation is more like transmutation. It’s arcana narrative distillery. It’s not a great place to start your screenwriting journey.
4. Stock scenes
Hitting the alarm clock. Complicated Starbucks orders. Harried mom making breakfast. Parents at the principal’s office. Guys watching the football game.
You may think a stock scene will help shorthand the hero or world, but it just makes the reader stop paying attention. Unless you’re presenting a clever parody/inversion of a stock scene, you’re better off doing anything else.
5. D&D scene description
“This small bedroom has a twin bed, a bookshelf and a desk. There are two lamps, both lit.”
6. Characters with confusingly similar names
Wait, was Lucy or Lisa the girl in the museum?
7. Shoe leather
You rarely need to walk characters into and out of a scene. Most scenes can just be the heart of the idea and done. No doors, no hellos, no goodbyes.
8. Starting off in Final Draft
This isn’t even because of my frustrations with Final Draft as an app. It’s more about process.
If you were writing a song, you wouldn’t sit down with Finale and start dragging in notes. You would use a guitar or piano and start figuring out a melody. You would futz around until you had something you thought was good, and then finally jot it down. You wouldn’t make tidy sheet music until you were ready to show it to someone.
Scenes are like songs. They shouldn’t be made pretty until they are good.
Full disclosure: My company makes Highland, which follows my theory that words should come first. But pen and paper are completely non-proprietary, and another great way to start.
Every month, my husband logs information from our utility bills into a spreadsheet. Comparing the past 12 months to the same 12 months in 2005, we used:
• 40% less water
• 46% less natural gas
• 75% less electricity (from the grid)
Bragging about efficiency plays into the worst stereotypes of California: smug, self-righteous and self-congratulatory. Yet conspicuous underconsumption has actual benefits, both to the individual and society. You’re showing what’s possible, and helping to nudge trend lines and public policy in the right direction.
So here’s how we did it. We didn’t do it all at once, and we didn’t do it all right. But if it helps provide some inspiration, it’s probably worth sharing.Electricity
Seven years ago, we added solar panels, which provide the bulk of our electricity. During daylight hours, we sell power back to the utility.
While battery technologies like Tesla’s Powerwall might one day become common, for now most residential solar works like ours. Beyond permit hassles when we first installed it, selling back to the grid has worked out well.
We’re paying less than a dollar a day for electricity, and that includes charging our primary car, a Nissan Leaf.
In addition to generating power, we’re also using less wherever possible. We have almost entirely LED lighting, including outdoor lights. Lighting only accounts for 14% of total residential electricity consumption, so while it’s important, it’s not the only thing to look at. For example, we got a variable-speed pool pump, which uses 80% less electricity than a single-speed version. With rebates, the new pump paid for itself in the first year.
In colder climates, thermostats are mostly for controlling heat, but they also regulate air conditioning in the summer. We switched to Nest thermostats, which include an Airwave feature that makes smarter use of the compressor coils.Water and Gas
We moved to a more-efficient hot water heater with a circulator pump, which gets hot water to the tap faster, sending less down the drain. We use solar to heat the pool.
Because we live in California, we’re always mindful of the drought. Our water use is down 25% from last year. We had already switched to native landscaping, so most of the savings this past year probably came from better sprinkler timers that use an iPhone app. (We have the Rachio.)
Could we push our consumption of water and power lower? Maybe, but to do so, we’d need to able to identify where we’re using utilities in a much more granular, real-time way.
We still don’t have a smart meter. We don’t have anything like Google Analytics for amps and gallons. Without that kind of information, it’s hard to know what areas are really worth our attention.
So we’re left guessing, and relying on other people’s experience. That’s mostly why I’m blogging what we’ve done. If you have suggestions for great ways to do more, hit me up on Twitter.
The original post for this episode can be found here.
Craig Mazin: Hello and welcome. My name is Craig Mazin.
John August: My name is John August.
Craig: And this is Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
John: Craig, you did a great job with that.
Craig: Well, I’ve heard it 198 times.
John: Yes. So it’s big episode 199. It’s near the bicentennial, I guess we’d call it?
John: You can call it centennial for things that aren’t years, so sure.
Craig: Yeah, no, it’s exciting. It would have been really embarrassing had I — I didn’t practice, I swear. I gave a talk about some general creative topics at this very interesting place called Bricksburg. Are you familiar with Bricksburg?
John: I’m not at all. Tell me what this is.
Craig: It’s the LEGO Movie headquarters.
John: Oh my gosh, that sounds amazing.
Craig: So they have all these artists and everybody and the woman who introduced me mentioned that I did the podcast with you and she said, “And this podcast about screenwriting,” and then there was this artist sitting there sort of to my left who just mouthed, “And things that are interesting to screenwriters.”
So, if she could get it, I’m pretty sure I could get it.
Craig: Nailed it.
John: You did a fantastic job. Yeah, I wanted to mix things up for this next to the 200th episode show. And so I threw this at you and you just caught that ball and you ran with it. So, well done, Craig Mazin.
Craig: Yeah, you know, my whole thing is I’m not a big planner, but I like saying yes to stuff.
John: Fantastic. Today on the show we are going to talk about ageism in Hollywood. We’re going to talk about unsung heroes. And finding your way out of the woods on a draft of your script.
But first we need to talk about the 200th episode which is coming up next week, which seems impossible.
Craig: I know. So, 200 episodes is a lot. And when I put it into years, that’s where I start to actually feel kind of shocked. Because I don’t –
John: We’ve been doing this a long time.
Craig: We’ve been doing it for over four years.
Craig: It doesn’t feel like that to me.
John: It doesn’t to me either.
Craig: But yet we have been. We’re going to hit like, what do you think we’re going to hit, like 10,000? [laughs] When do we stop?
John: I don’t know. The technologies will change. Things will move on. It was weird cutting last week’s episode, we did the centennial episode, and so I was recutting the 100th episode just popping in every once and awhile to offer some perspective. And it felt really recent, but it was 100 episodes ago, which is just crazy.
Craig: I know. I know. It’s just nuts. Well, it will be fun. So, where did end up on that? Are you going to do a Google Hangout kind of thing?
John: So, we’ll do something like a Google Hangout. So it will either be a Google Hangout officially, or it will be something through Mixlr, which is the live streaming thing we’ve done before. Regardless, whatever it is, we will announce a few days ahead of time, so follow us on Twitter and the website and we’ll tell you what we are doing for the live show. In fact, I might even cut it into this episode if we know what the details are. But it will be you and me and hopefully Aline. We’ll be hanging out. We’ll be here at our offices. And we will just do our show, but we’ll do it live for everyone to hear.
We’ll do it in the evening so it can be sort of after you’ve come home from work. You can listen to us and we’ll have Stuart or somebody else on hand so you can tweet in your questions and we can answer and be with you live in the room as we do it.
Craig: Maybe we can have a segment like maybe Stuart do stuff, and then people just send in things and he has to do them.
John: Yeah. That’s pretty much what daily life is like for Stuart. So, it would be good.
Craig: Excellent. Well, I’m looking forward to that.
John: I’m looking forward to it as well. So, let’s get onto today’s work. A bit of follow up here. This is just as we were about to start recording, Deadline had a story about Mr. Holmes. Did you see this?
Craig: I did see it. Not only did I see it. I even read the filing.
John: I read the filing, too. In a previous episode we talked about the Gravity lawsuit and this is Tess Gerritsen’s claim that the movie Gravity was really based on her book. This is similar, but different. This is a filing from the estate of Arthur Conan Doyle saying that the new Sherlock Holmes movie, Mr. Holmes, infringes upon the copyright in some of the later works of Arthur Conan Doyle.
And we’ll see what happens. Craig, what was your initial assessment based on reading through the filing?
Craig: Well, first of all, it’s sort of a fascinating thing. The idea here is that this new movie is based on a novel. The novel uses the character of Sherlock Holmes. It’s about Sherlock Holmes. But, I like most people, was under the impression that Sherlock Holmes at this point was entirely in the public domain.
It may actually be entirely in the public domain in England. So, what happens is copyright length is different from country to country. The United States has actually amended copyright length a number of times and always in favor of intellectual property rights holders.
So, I’m not sure what the situation is. But the deal is that the last ten Holmes works by Arthur Conan Doyle are not yet in public domain. The copyright has not lapsed. The copyright is controlled by the estate. It is intellectual property. What they’re alleging is that the screenwriter of the movie, who was the writer of the novel that the movie is based on, essentially infringed on the copyright of that protected stuff.
And so I looked through the complaint and I took a look at their areas of comparison and I must say I found their complaint formidable.
John: Interesting. I read it much more briefly than you did, so I sort of skimmed through those little sections where they talked about those things. It reminded me a bit of an arbitration claim. I don’t know if you felt the same way, too. It felt to me like an overwritten arbitration claim where they’re trying to say like, “Well, in this book, in this Arthur Conan Doyle short story he says this, and in the book he writes this.” And the movie is apparently similar, because they don’t officially have access to the movie yet, I don’t believe. So I think they’re claiming that it’s similar enough, that the same things infringe across this boundary between what the book was and what the movie was. Interesting that they didn’t go after the book when the book was published, because theoretically if the book infringed, they could have gone after the book.
John: They did not. The thing that gives me pause and makes me wonder if they’re going to have any success in this is that apparently they’ve tried to do the same sorts of things to other Sherlock Holmes works and have not succeeded. And they’ve had those cases thrown out.
So, I’ll be interested to see whether the fact that this is apparently focusing on a portion of the fictional character’s life that was written about in those last ten stories, who knows.
As a writer, I find it incredibly frustrating and challenging that really esoteric details about like, well, in the early Sherlock Holmes stories he doesn’t like dogs, and in the later Sherlock Holmes stories he likes dogs, so therefore this movie infringes upon our intellectual property. Well, you’re being impossible, people.
Craig: Yeah. That was not compelling. A couple of things. One, they don’t really need to see the movie. If the movie is based on the book, then the movie is part of an extension of rights from the book. So, there’s sort of an original sin they’re alleging there. And then all derivative works from that theoretically tainted work are now part of the whole tainted property.
I want to read very briefly two sections that they cite here. This is where I stopped and went, oh, that’s not good. So, first I’m going to read this very short paragraph from Arthur Conan Doyle’s story Blanched Soldier, which is one of the copyrighted stories.
“Perhaps I’ve invited this persecution since I have often had occasion to point out to him,” meaning Watson, “how superficial are his own accounts and to accuse him of pandering to popular taste instead of confining himself rigidly to facts and figures. Try it yourself, Holmes, he has retorted, and I am compelled to admit that having taken my pen in my hand, I do begin to realize that the matter must be presented in a way as may interest the reader.”
Okay, that was Conan Doyle. Now, this is what Cohen, I can’t remember his first name here, but Mr. Cohen, the author of the novel, this is what he wrote in the novel.
“During the years in which John was inclined to write about our many experiences together, I regarded his skillful if somewhat limited depictions as exceedingly overwrought. At times, I decried his pandering to popular tastes and asked that he be more mindful of facts and figures. In turn, my old friend and biographer urged me to write an account of my own. If you imagine I’ve done an injustice to our cases, I recall him saying on at least one occasion, I suggest you try it yourself, Sherlock. The results showed me that even a truthful account must be presented in a manner which should entertain the reader.”
That’s pretty close.
John: I agree. They’re talking about the same kind of thing. It’s not close enough that it feels like plagiarism to me, because he’s not using the same words. He’s expressing this overall same idea and the fact that it’s about the same underlying character could make that troubling.
The only way that it could be legally troubling is if you believe that this character and his work are still fully under copyright and that is a murky situation in the US and overseas and every other market.
Further complicating this is the claim in this lawsuit over the Sherlock Holmes trademark. And trademark is a completely separate legal creation where they’re trying to basically trademark the name Sherlock Holmes. I don’t know the degree to which they’re going to be successful in using the trademark defense of Sherlock Holmes as a thing.
But I can tell you that it is a real challenge that you run into sometimes as a person adapting things. Tarzan is a trademark. And it is really frustrating that the underlying works of Tarzan are public domain and yet you can’t say the word Tarzan.
Craig: Yeah. Trademark is a very murky area. I mean, to be honest, even this notion — I mean, you mentioned plagiarism. Plagiarism is a term of art. Obviously every court hopes for those slam dunk cases where it’s a simple case of cut and paste. But that’s rarely what goes on.
When, for instance, journalists uncover plagiarism, usually it is in the form of a slight rephrasing and really an intentional rephrasing of somebody else’s work. So, for here, for instance, the last line is, “I do begin to realize that the matter must be presented in such a way as my interest the reader.”
And Cohen writes, “The results showed me that even a truthful account must be presented in a manner which should entertain the reader.” He’s copying there, I believe. I’m not a judge; but I believe he’s copying the work here. The entire paragraph is about the same thing. It’s about Sherlock Holmes saying to his chronicler, “Won’t you please stop embellishing and stick to the facts.” And then the chronicler says, “Well, you try it sometime. It’s hard.” And then he says, “I did try it, and yeah, I realized that sometimes you got to glam it up.”
So, here was an area where what happens now is essentially a judge or jury, I don’t know how these things work.
John: A judge in New Mexico, of all places.
Craig: Oh, a judge in New Mexico is going to have to make a decision. And it’s a decision that will be informed by dramaturgical experts, I’m sure. And there’s going to be some brouhaha here. But this complaint, I will say, at the very least provides some concrete evidence, whereas the Gravity one was just — felt like it was throwing spaghetti against the wall and hoping bits of it stuck.
John: Yeah. So, we will follow this as it shakes its way through. I think the interesting take home for screenwriters is a character you might assume is in the public domain like Sherlock Holmes, because lord knows there’ve been a zillion versions of Sherlock Holmes, is not entirely in the public domain and that can come back to haunt you.
And in the case of this one paragraph that Craig is citing, this one paragraph might be enough to hang this whole weird lawsuit on.
Craig: It could. And I must say in conclusion here that I feel so bad for Bill Condon who is a very nice guy and a fantastic filmmaker and couldn’t have possibly known. I mean, you know, he was making a movie based on a book. And obviously then there’s this whole other process to make a movie. I can’t imagine that he knew that there was this landmine buried in there somewhere, or at least a potential landmine. But what happens in legal cases is that people get enjoined, which is one of the nastiest words in the English language.
Well, I’m suing this guy, but you were vaguely involved. I’m enjoining you. Now you’re getting sued, too. That sucks.
John: It does suck. I would also say beyond the legal decision that will come out of this, I think the greater/broader picture is looking at sort of what it is that’s happening with copyright in these days. So the fact that Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate can sue over this really honestly esoteric bit from this tiny slice of the Sherlock Holmes character that exists in still copyright-protected work is really troubling. And that this character who is 99% public domain can still stay 1% protected and that 1% can be something that can be financially beneficial to people who had nothing to do with the actual creation of the work.
John: That’s not the intention of copyright. And it is a very frustrating time to live in. And I think it could lead to some of the kinds of trollery we’ve seen in intellectual property in the computer sphere as well.
Craig: Yeah. I’m a pretty staunch supporter of intellectual property rights. And I’m not much of a copy-fighter at all. In this case, I agree, this feels cheap. It just feels cheap. I don’t like it. And they may win. Or win, you know, there will be a settlement. But, I don’t like it so much.
Here’s what I do like, though.
John: Tell me.
Craig: A little second bit of follow up for us, sort of follow up. I received a letter from a doctor, Dr. Ryan Dadasovich, M.D., who works at Yale New Haven Health, something or another. [laughs] Northeast Medical Group. And that’s in Connecticut. And he sent me this letter and said, “Craig, I know you’ve been taking umbrage for years. But I’m worried you were obtaining it illegally. Internet umbrage can be, quite frankly, dangerous. I’ve included a prescription you could fill at your local pharmacy, a safe and FDA-approved source. If questioned by the police or authorities for any reason you can show them your legal prescription. I think the XR formula will be most effective to sustain you. Good luck.”
And he did, in fact, give me a proper prescription. I get Umbrage XR 500mg. Take one a day. I get two refills, which is nice. I now have a piece of his — I don’t think I could do anything with this, but thank you Dr. Dadasovich. That’s super nice. Can you snort this? Is this snortable?
John: I’m sure you could. I think it would be incredibly dangerous. I think the thing I would question is whether in taking umbrage, Craig may have too much umbrage. And so really do you need to provide more supplements for Craig who takes umbrage relatively frequently on the show, or me who sometimes doesn’t take enough umbrage. So, it’s a question of like what is the proper amount of umbrage you need to have in your daily life, or in your daily diet.
Craig: Yeah, you know, obviously that’s different for people and I’ve built up quite a tolerance. I feel like Dr. Ryan is sort of like, hey man, whatever you need to get up on your feet and do your show. I’m like Judy Garland now. People are just shoving pills in my mouth. Go to bed, wake up, sing. Go to sleep. This is great.
John: It’s a good life.
Craig: Anyway, thank you Dr. Dadasovich.
John: That’s very, very nice of him to send that through. So, previously on the show, back when we did our dirty episode, which is sort of two-part episode, we had Rebel Wilson come on and she was just amazing. And she continues to be just amazing. And she was in this little movie that did some business called Pitch Perfect 2.
Craig: Just a touch of business.
John: Just a touch of business. Just, you know, a huge blockbuster. A sequel to blow off all sequels. So, congratulations to Rebel Wilson. But then you put in the show notes here about something I wasn’t even aware of, another article had come out. So, talk us through it.
Craig: So, apparently what happened is over in Australia there was a bit of brouhaha where the press figured out through their pressy ways that Rebel Wilson, who was according to IMDb is 29 years old, is not 29 years old. In fact, she’s 35 years old. And Rebel Wilson isn’t her name. Her actual name is Melanie Elizabeth Bownds. And that Rebel Wilson was not brought up by Bogan parents, meaning sort of Australian white trash parents, but in fact perfectly fine middle class parents that were not Bogans. And that it was all just sort of a made up thing.
And, you know, over here in America I think we all looked at each other and went, what, who cares. Like that’s what everyone does. We all know that Tom Cruise is Tom Mapother. Nobody cares. It doesn’t matter.
And lie about your age, I mean. So, women in Hollywood, particularly actors, are damned if they don’t lie about their age, and now apparently they’re damned if they do lie about their age. You know who lied about her age? Mae West. This is not new.
But what I found so interesting was Rebel’s response. So, she said, in response to the investigative journalism she wrote, “OMG, I’m actually a 100-year-old mermaid formally known as CC Chalice. Thanks shady Australian press for your tall poppy syndrome.” And tall poppy syndrome was something she discussed with us when she did our show. And sure enough, here’s the proof.
John: Yeah. I think what outrages me the most about the whole situation is that we’re calling it investigatory journalism, like there was some great secret being kept and hidden. There really wasn’t. And so I think it’s well known throughout town that Rebel, we knew her real age, and we knew sort of what that was. Entertainment Weekly had published her real age back I think when the first movie came out.
So, it’s not like there was some great secret. So, to portray it as like this big revelation about who this person is just crazy. I think it also speaks to this weird thing we’re insisting upon our celebrities these days is that they have to be 100% authentic, but also 100% untouchable gods that are completely incapable of being wrong in any way. So, it’s this weird bundle of expectations we put on our celebrities that I don’t think is at all justified. And certainly it’s not borne by history in terms of like what we do to create our movie star actors.
Craig: Yeah. It’s really stupid. I mean, this is — investigative journalism? It was neither investigative nor journalism. This is, I mean, truly file under who cares.
Maggie Gyllenhaal had a sort of an interesting parallel moment to this this week when she mentioned in an interview that she’s 37 years old and she was told recently that she was too old to play the lover of a man who was 55 years old. And when I read that, I’ll tell you, I had two reactions. My first reaction was, yup, I believe that. And my second reaction was, man, that’s awful.
And I just thought it was interesting that “yup I believe that” came so quickly, because it seemed, yup, I totally believe that that happened. I can hear it happening. It fits everything I see about casting in movies where aging male stars are constantly paired with women who frankly are their daughter’s ages. And now these people are going after Rebel Wilson.
Hey, here’s something to report. Want to report something? How about this. Rebel Wilson is a woman in her 30s who is completely convincing as a college student.
Craig: How about that?
John: So, this whole discussion made me think back to Riley Weston. I don’t know if you really remember Riley Weston.
Craig: Oh yeah. I do. I do.
John: That was back in 1998. She was a staff writer and an actress on the TV show Felicity. And I remember it very distinctly because I was doing my own TV show the same time this was all coming out.
So, Riley Weston, she was sort of hailed as this wunderkind for like being this great writer who could really speak with the voice of an 18-year-old because she was so young. And then it came out that she wasn’t that young at all. And she was actually in her 30s. And she just seemed really, really young.
So, in the show notes I’m going to link to two things that talk about it, her Wikipedia entry, but also this Entertainment Weekly article from ’98, and the URL for it is funny. It was Riley Weston Fooled Us All About Her Age. And they’re essentially taking umbrage for like how dare you make us think that you are younger than you were.
You know, in the case of someone who is a politician, someone who is running for office, someone who we have to rely on them telling the absolute god’s honest truth for us to trust them to do their job, I can see sort of how this could be a big deal. But I find myself going back in time to this 1998 Riley Weston thing and saying, “What were we doing? Why we running her out of town for allowing us to misbelieve her age?” And that is incredibly frustrating to me.
Craig: I mean, the one thing about Riley Weston that I recall is that she was kind of promoting herself via publicity. And, okay, when you sort of make a publicity point, a self-promotional point about something that turns out to be not true, I think there’s a fair reaction there to say, hey, you were using us, you know.
But in general, Hollywood is an illusion business. Our job, our industry, is to create entertaining and interesting lies. Charlie Sheen is Emilio Estevez’s brother. They are both Estevez. Nobody cares that he’s Charlie Sheen. Nobody cares that Martin Sheen is not Martin Estevez. It just doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. I don’t care what anyone’s real name is. I know what Elton John’s real name is, because I’m a dork, so I know it’s Reginald Dwight. But I don’t care.
John: What you’re talking about really is branding. And so both Elton John and Rebel Wilson and Charlie Sheen have chosen like this is what my — this is the person I want to present myself to the world is this person with this name. And that is a choice a person should be able to make. And so Rebel Wilson changing her name to Rebel Wilson, well that name fits the woman who came to talk on the show much better than whatever her born name was.
Just like John August fits me much better than my born name, which is German.
Craig: That’s right. Your name isn’t John — oh my god. Someone get the Australian press.
John: Ha-ha. They’ll correct everybody. But this last week I also encountered this actor. So we were both waiting for a meeting over at Sony and I knew him through a friend. And so we were talking and he was saying that he was going in for casting on something, I think Marc Cherry show, and Marc Cherry said like, “Wait, I didn’t know that was you.” And it’s because his agents had sent him in under like his — so he has a normal Anglo name, but his mother was Latina, and so they started using his mother’s Latina name to send him in for casting so he could get roles that were going to Latino actors. And he’s like, that’s crazy, that’s not my name. Nobody knows me when you send me in as this name.
But they’re trying to create an expectation. And they’re trying to essentially rebrand him so that he could get cast in those Latino roles. And that’s, again, it’s the illusion that we’re creating. It used to be back in the time of Rita Hayworth they were trying to de-Latinize somebody, and now we’re trying to Latinize them.
Craig: Right. Exactly. And this is what people do. Actors in particular, their stock and trade is to pretend to be somebody else. So, oh my god — I mean, this is the dumbest thing. I think it is tall poppy syndrome. I think this is absolutely just a general resentment of somebody that’s doing well. So, boo Australians, hooray Rebel Wilson. That’s what I say.
John: Two other examples that sort of came up that I wanted to talk through with you and to get your perspective on, sort of where you stand with them right now. First off, James Frey, and A Million Little Pieces. So, James Frey if you remember wrote this book which is supposedly a memoir of drug addiction that was a huge bestseller. It was supposed to become a movie and then it came out that some of the details in the book did not actually pan out. He had not been arrested for the things he said he’d been arrested for.
The book was ultimately pulled. It was moved from nonfiction to fiction. Lots of stuff happened. Craig, where do you land on a James Frey situation as a memoir theoretically?
Craig: Very scornful of James Frey. I think that the difference is this. When you create a piece and you present under the auspices of trust, and you say that this is a true story of my life, and I want you to learn from it and feel things about me because of it. And it turns out that you have invented it, that is just flat out manipulative lying.
That is different than changing your name because you like a different name. That’s different than changing your age because you want to try and get some parts. You’re not asking for public trust there, at all. You’re just doing something because it might help you get some jobs and you’re not hurting anyone.
When James Frey writes an account of his drug addiction and is trying to use it to inspire other people and then it turns out that he made it up, yeah, that’s hurting people and it’s violating public trust.
John: So, let us imagine a situation in which Rebel Wilson wrote a bestseller comedy thing, the same way that Lena Dunham would, same way that Tina Fey or Amy Poehler did, and she were claiming her Bogan parents and all that stuff. Would that push you through to the level of Rebel you betrayed us?
Craig: Yeah. If Rebel Wilson wrote a book and talked about — and it wasn’t about pure comedy — but rather talking about the hardships of growing up in poverty or with parents who didn’t fit into society and how that affected her as a child, absolutely, that would be a violation of trust. I can’t imagine she would ever do it.
John: Absolutely. And I think that what you’re talking to is sort of the social contract we make with celebrities, that it’s a different than the social contract we make with writers. And the social contract we make with writers where like we’re reading their books and they’re telling us their own personal story is that you’re going to tell us the truth. And that I’m going to invest in you to tell you the truth.
The social contract we make with celebrities is basically you are going to be great in this movie and you are going to perform this weird Kabuki thing we do at press junkets. And we are going to pretend like everything is happy and good because that’s sort of what we do. And that’s a reasonable deal we’ve made with celebrities that some celebrities are delighted to do, and some celebrities hate.
Some of the folks who do the Marvel movies hate doing that dance. I don’t know if you saw that really uncomfortable interview with Robert Downey, Jr.
Craig: I did.
John: Where he walked out. And like god bless you Robert Downey, Jr. I totally understand why you’re upset because that guy was breaking the contract of like what movie publicity is supposed to be doing. You don’t sit down to talk to Robert Downey, Jr. about Iron Man and then like let’s drag up terrible things from your past. That’s not the performance that’s happening there.
Craig: Yeah. You know, the press junket people I think 98% of them understand their function, which is to help sell a movie. So, they’re helping Robert Downey, Jr. sell a movie, and Robert Downey, Jr. is helping them sell clicks.
Craig: Occasionally 2% of them start to get this thought that maybe they’re Woodward or Bernstein, which they’re not. [laughs] Because they wouldn’t be at a press junket if they were. And then they go a little wonky and in a sense it’s very self-serving because suddenly they’re the story. But it never works for them.
Here’s the interesting thing. Robert Downey, Jr. is still famous. That guy has been forgotten already.
John: Yes. The last hypothetical I want to throw out to you to get your opinion on. So, there’s a friend who I went to college with and he is also a screenwriter, but he came to Hollywood later than I did, and so had another career and then he came to Hollywood. He looks younger than me. And he sort of comes off as younger as me, I think partly because he has a writing partner who is younger. And so they’re perceived as being a team and everyone thinks of him as being quite a lot younger.
And so when we talk to people, it’s never actually sort of officially said, but it’s sort of like implied like, hey, maybe don’t say we went to college together because that ages me up. And that was never said, but that was sort of kind of implied. So, I find myself saying like, “Oh, we went to the same college rather than we went to college together,” because that would automatically put him in his 40s and people don’t think he’s in his 40s at all.
Is that fair to allow people to misassume your age?
Craig: Yeah. I think so. If you — I mean, I’ve never had any perceived value attached to my age at any point. I’ve never thought that anybody would give a damn. And I still don’t think so. But, for people who do, if they prefer to be thought of as a certain age and people are thinking of them as that age, I don’t care.
I know there’s a very big time writer-director out there who lies about his age. And I know he lies about his age, for sure. I wouldn’t say anything. I don’t care. I don’t know why he does it. It’s kind of stupid. So, you know, I don’t necessarily respect non-actors who lie about their age, because I think that’s kind of ridiculous and narcissistic because they’re not trying to get parts. You know what I mean?
But whatever. I mean, there’s worse things to do. It doesn’t bother me.
John: I’ll close with one little example that happened at a lunch. This is many years ago. And I was talking to a producer and she described a project. And I was like, oh, that sounds really interesting. And she’s like, “Oh yeah, we’re looking for a younger writer for that.” I was 30 at the time. [laughs]
John: And really what she meant was she meant newer. She meant less expensive.
John: Cheaper. Cheaper is really what she meant. She meant like a baby writer. But the word she said was younger. And there was some degree to which that was true. And there is a degree to which being the young person in the room can be really helpful. It was very helpful for me when I was going out for meetings after Go because I was like, oh, I was the guy who could be hired to write these teenage things, or these younger things. I was a guy who could get a show set up at the WB at the time. So, my comparative youth was an advantage.
I’m always mindful of the fact that youth is one of the qualities that you can be bringing into any discussion that can be useful. Because when you don’t have experience, youth might be another useful thing to offer.
Craig: I’ve been in a race to get old my whole life. I like getting old.
John: Basically you want to get to the appropriate age for your level of crankiness and umbrage.
Craig: That’s right. I want to get to an appropriate age where I don’t have to wear pants. Yeah. I’m just running. I’m running towards a future where all food is soft and pants are loose.
John: It sounds like a wonderful future.
Craig: Yeah, I’m going to have a scooter.
John: Good stuff.
Craig: Ooh, I can’t wait.
John: You put the next topic on the list and it deals with a screenwriter who has been working for quite a long time, and so a good transition between ageism and a guy who’s flourishing and quite late into his career.
Craig: So, I thought we could have a new feature. I don’t know how frequently we can do it, but unsung screenwriting heroes of Hollywood. So, what if I told you that there was a director. And the director directed the following movies. Karate Kid. A Walk in the Clouds. Fifth Element. Transporter. And Taken. One director did all those movies. I’m thinking you would know that director. That would be kind of a big name.
John: Yes. And because I recognize those last three credits I would say like, wow, Luc Besson directed Karate Kid?
John: But I would say, yes, that is a very notable list of credits.
Craig: It’s Luc Besson-like. Well, one writer wrote all of those movies. Robert Kamen has been doing what we do since 1981. He wrote the movie Taps. Did you ever see Taps?
John: I saw Taps.
Craig: Yeah. So, he wrote the movie. That was his first credit in 1981. And then came The Karate Kid, which obviously was a seminal work. And then A Walk in the Clouds, Fifth Element, Transporter, Taken. And what is so remarkable about him, and I’ve never met him. I don’t know him. But I’m fascinated by his career because first of all the — his ability to be relevant is just remarkable.
It’s not only that he wrote Karate Kid back when you and I were teenagers and captured that time perfectly. But Taken is culturally relevant. So, this is somebody who has remained culturally relevant for decades. That is harder than it sounds.
John: I agree.
Craig: And he’s done it across genres. And I just find his career fascinating. And always, by the way, here’s another thing I love about this guy. He never drifted off into let’s call it kind of indie la-la ville. He’s still writing good genre popcorn theater-filling movies. I love that.
John: How did he come into your radar, Craig?
Craig: Well, you know, the truth is I — sometimes I go on a little click hole expedition. And for some reason I found myself fiddling about with The Fifth Element. I happen to love The Fifth Element. I’m just a big Fifth Element nut.
And when I was looking at the screenwriter’s name, I felt like, wait, wait, wait, wait, I feel like — that’s not the guy that wrote Karate Kid? That can’t be, because they’re totally different movies. And they were from different times. So then I went, and yup, it’s him. And then I looked at his list of credits and my jaw dropped. Just dropped. I couldn’t believe.
Robert Kamen is a name that everyone should know. They should know that name like they know Luc Besson or they know Steven Spielberg for that matter. He’s an incredibly influential filmmaker. And I do think of screenwriters as filmmakers. And so Robert Kamen, you are the inaugural unsung screenwriting hero of Hollywood.
John: I think it’s a great first choice because I kind of half recognized it. I recognize like, oh, I’ve seen that name, but I couldn’t tell you what the credits where. But I was trying to figure out like why don’t know his name better. And some theories, which I’d love to talk through with you.
First off, he doesn’t seem to work — he doesn’t seem to live and work in Hollywood. So, looking up the stuff I could find online, it seems like he lives in New York and in Sonoma where he owns a winery. So, he’s not in our circle, so we’re not seeing him sort of at the usual watering holes. So that might be part of it?
Craig: I think so. Sure. And I guess that when you write movies like he has, and god knows how many moves he’s written on that he doesn’t have credit on, that plus all the residuals from these things. Yeah, you own a winery. That sounds about right.
John: A second thing I was thinking about is because so many of his more recent credits have been with one director, you tend to sort of forget that he — you forget about him as an individual. So, you just lump him in with his director. And you don’t think about him as being an individual person.
The same way that a writer who might work with Ang Lee consistently, you don’t think about them as the individual writer. You think of them as being Ang Lee’s person. Is that possible?
Craig: Well, it is possible. And that’s something that for instance Ruth –
John: Ruth Jhabvala.
Craig: Exactly. Ruth Jhabvala kind of struggled in the shadow a little bit of Merchant Ivory. And maybe she liked being in the shadow. You know, not every writer particularly wants the spotlight or notoriety. And perhaps Mr. Kamen is that way. But I think it’s incumbent upon people who care about movies and filmmakers for them to know who is actually doing the work here. And so he deserves plenty of attention from those of us who care.
John: Very good. Next time we are over at your house playing D&D, I think we should get a bottle of his wine and drink it.
John: Done. Next topic is also your topic. And you have this listed on the outline as finding your new home, but it seems to me based on the things we have in here that it’s really talking about what happens when you kind of get lost with a script. Is that what I’m feeling?
Craig: Yeah. Well, it’s a little bit like when you’re homeless in your own project. So, there’s this thing that happens where you create a movie on paper. You write your screenplay. And that’s a home. You don’t hand it to somebody until you feel like, okay, this is whole and done, at least for now, and I’m safe with it.
And then you hand it to people, and they read it, and then there’s a collaboration that ensues. And you get notes and thoughts and things and you write a new draft. But in the writing of the new draft, you end up at a place and you’re not sure it’s right. The problem is though that you’ve drifted far enough away from your first script that you don’t feel like you could go back to that at all. You start to think that’s not right either.
So, suddenly I’m like a person that’s sold my house and bought a new one, but the new one is not built yet. I’m outside and it’s raining. And that’s a very scary feeling because essentially you begin to be lost in your own project and disconnected from your own movie. Have you ever felt that?
John: Oh my god, yes. And so I think maybe the reason you brought this up because you and I might both be at those kind of moments, or recently experienced that, where you turn in a draft and then you do the revisions. And most of the things you’re happy with, but it’s not your initial vision of what it was. And you’re not sure that some stuff is working, that some stuff is not working. You’re trying to make sure all the pieces fit together and they fit together in a real and meaningful way. And you don’t know how to feel about something.
Craig: Yeah. It’s a weird feeling to look at your own script and think, “I don’t know this. Who are you?” You know, it’s like waking up next to your wife or your husband and not recognizing their face. It’s distressing.
And so you’re right. It’s certainly — I feel it every time, by the way, I’m in a second draft. Every single time. Without fail.
And so I wanted to talk through some possible strategies for dealing with this feeling when it happens because it can be debilitating. So, first, the simplest of all things is take a break. And we have kind of an unparalleled ability as writers to take breaks without anyone knowing. You don’t have to call people and say I’m taking a week off. Take a week off. Just don’t think about it for an entire week. Don’t do anything related to it for an entire week. If you don’t want to write anything else, don’t write anything else for a week. Take a week off.
And then when you come back, hopefully some of the panic and concern has been flushed out and you can get a cleaner look at what you actually have.
The second thing that might help is to read it out loud, which we talk about all the time, but reading things out loud will start to snap things into view a little bit. Reading out loud reminds you that you will one day be on a set. And it will one day be a movie. And you may find that it’s actually working better than you think.
I also recommend at this point sharing it with a friend. And the friend is hopefully somebody that you think understands how to read your work and help you, which isn’t everybody. So, you have to kind of figure out who that friend is.
John: And you need to actually set up the expectation with that friend properly. I have a friend who sometimes reads my stuff and she will quite candidly ask, “Do you want me to tell you that it’s great, or do you want me to find the mistakes?” And those are equally valid things. And I think at this point you’re asking for the please tell me it’s great, and problems too, but mostly I need you to tell me that I’m not crazy and this is worth my time.
Craig: Well, and that brings me to this fourth strategy which is to actively seek praise. Praise, in general, is underrated. I think everybody that grows up in our business and the business of developing screenplays is trained by their higher ups to avoid praise and to instead drill down into what’s not working, because frankly in a bloodless sort of way that probably is the most efficient way to get towards fixes.
But, praise is really important because what praise does is it helps you, the writer, understand what is working. And what is working, frankly, is more likely to get to you to more is working stuff, than hearing about what isn’t working.
Craig: So, you want to seek praise. And there is nothing wrong with saying to somebody, listen, I want you to read the script and feel free to be honest with things that aren’t working, but I need you also to be vehement about the things that are working. That will help me. And when you give people permission to do that, they do it.
Craig: It’s very encouraging.
John: I was just on a phone call with a friend right before we started recording this and I was talking through this pilot that he wrote. And there were things that were great about it and things that weren’t great about it. And luckily, thank god, there were things that were great about it. And so I could say in a really very true, real way, “I love where this gets to. I love the tone you’re able to find. You were able to create this really unique special thing. I think you can find ways to do that throughout the whole rest of the script. And if you’re up for it, let’s talk through ways we can get more of what’s working so well there to be working throughout the rest of this.”
It ends up being a much better conversation when you can tell somebody you’re awesome. This part is great. And I think you can do this same kind of stuff for the whole script.
Craig: Right. Right. Exactly. When you get a series of “I don’t like this” you begin to feel stupid. You begin to feel like nothing you do is any good. And you also begin to extrapolate to say, oh, and they’re leaving out a bunch — they basically hate everything.
When people zero in on something and say this was wonderful, let me tell you why it was wonderful, let me tell you how it made me feel, that will embolden you to think about those moments and think about why those moments are working as opposed to other moments. It’s very important. Not many people do this instinctively.
And I would urge those of you who listen to us who are development executives, studio executive and producers, to really make this part of your deal. Not because you’re there to make writers feel good. But because you’re there to actually make the script better. Believe it or not, that will make the script better.
Craig: And in general, when you’re lost, you have to remind yourself that when you can’t see things, you can’t see them. And then you do see them. There is an impatience there. You think, well, if I really strain, I’ll see it. No. You’ll see it when you see it. Things are never as good as you think. And things are never as bad as you think. So, take heart in that. And remember that you’ve been out in the rain before. And then the new house is finished and you go inside.
John: I do encounter this experience on almost every second draft. And sort of a second draft ennui where there’s this real gap between what it was I initially set out to create and what I’m looking at on the page right now. And I’m trying to figure out what the movie wants to be next. And so the suggestions you’re offering I think are all really valid ways of getting you to think about the movie that it’s becoming, rather than the movie that it was.
And praise from smart people is part of it. Hearing it out loud is part of it. And it’s also reminding yourself what’s no longer there, but what is also new about this new draft and what is going to be exciting about this new pass.
And also you won’t know this until you’ve done a couple of these, but reminding yourself that this is the process. That feeling this way about your second draft is the same way you’re going to like want to kill yourself after you see the first cut of a movie.
It’s the same way that the first day of production will be overwhelming. Those are all just real things that are just part of the nature of the process. And to allow yourself to feel them.
In recent things I’ve been though, I’ve gotten a couple of those emails where just sort of I point out the problems, things like let’s fix these things. And I have to remind myself that they’re singling out these things because they’re small things they think they can address rather than spending 45 minutes to tell me all the stuff that they loved. But if, I don’t know, I just feel like great producers and great studio executives find the time to tell you what is terrific so that you can be inspired to do more stuff for them.
I know when I’m giving notes to somebody, I always try to look for those highlights of this is why this is worthwhile. This is why you should pay attention to the rest of my notes, because I really did read it, and I really did understand what you were going for in this moment. And this one really succeeded.
Craig: Yeah. If you tell people that this is something I like, then the writer is going to think to themselves, okay, there is — this person does get me. This isn’t a situation where there’s nothing I could write that would make them happy. There is something I write that makes them happy. What is that thing?
And a lot of times, I think everybody, writers and note-givers will sort of say let’s skip past the formalities of I like this, and I like this. I don’t need anyone to say, oh, I really like this, or I really like this. What I need them is to stop and go, no, this right here I loved. I loved this. I don’t need — hopefully there’s more than one, you know, but if you love something, you tell me because I need to know. Because that’s going to help me.
John: Craig, do you think that some of the reasons why they might be reluctant to tell you those things is because they know from experience that those things might get cut, those things might change, or their opinion might shift on those? Are they protecting themselves by not telling you that they love something?
Craig: Maybe. If there is a psychological resistance to it, I suspect it may be connected more to a fear that they will be demotivating you. They think, well, if I tell you that I loved something, you’ll just start to think that you’re great. And you don’t need my help and you don’t have to change anything. The writer that development executives and producers fear the most is the “I’m okay/you’re not okay” writer. The one who thinks that I wrote it, therefore it’s great. Screw you. So, they’re hesitant to tell you they loved something because they’re afraid that then you’ll say to them, well, the same person that wrote that thing you loved wrote this thing, and so you should just defer to me.
In fact, that’s just not how we work. And I think if they really put their minds to this, they’ll understand we’re not looking for empty praise. If you say, “I love this,” that means nothing to me. If you say, “I love this, now let me tell you why,” then it does, because now we are talking about the script. We’re talking about how the machine is working. And it’s very crucial for us to understand what is working. More crucial I think than not.
John: And the process of understanding what is working sometimes really is a process of interrogation, of really figuring out like what it is that’s not happening in the other person’s head that is happening in your head.
So, last Sunday before we were playing D&D, I was talking to Chris Morgan about this note that I got that I just fundamentally didn’t understand. And I started to sort of rehearse my sort of defense of the way things currently were in the script. And Chris, who has been through this rodeo so many times, said, “You know what? Just call the guy and just ask him what it really means and see if there’s something that’s sort of in the middle that could work out right.”
And so I had that conversation and it ended up being so much better than I had anticipated because it was literally just what I had on the page, partly because of trims I’d made to try to tighten stuff up, the intention had gotten lost in his read. And so it was a matter of restoring some things that could make the scene be about what I really mean the scene to be about, rather than what he was reading the scene to be about. And that can be useful.
Craig: Not only is it useful, but I think that is the stuff in which positive development relationships grow. They give us notes and then we leave and they go back to their office and think, “They’re not going to do any of that. And I’m still responsible for what they turn in.”
When you call and you say, “I don’t understand this. Let’s talk about this,” they think, oh good, you were listening. I’m happy to explain this.
John: That’s part of the reason why I think the screenwriter’s job is so unique and weird and different. Because I was trying to think about what the equivalent would be for a novelist. And so a novelist would have an editor and the two of them would have a discussion about this moment, this scene, this line. Sort of what’s going on in this section of the book. And they would have a relationship and a discussion, but ultimately the novelist is not bound to do whatever the editor says. It’s just, you know, this would be my suggestion, but take it or leave it.
It’s not a take it or leave it with screenwriting. That executive, that producer, that director ultimately can say yes or no and can make some changes that may not be the changes you want to make, or the thing can proceed to the next stage or not proceed to the next stage, or proceed with you or without you in ways that’s so different from other forms of fiction writing.
And that’s part of the reason why a person could be a terrific novelist but just not actually have the social skills to manage that relationship.
Craig: Social skills and psychic strength. You know, novelists are creating the end product and we’re not. And so part of what happens is you become incredibly aware that you have shifted your job description from creator to protector. Now, you have to figure out how to safeguard the stuff that matters the most through this gauntlet of other people’s opinions and other people’s authority.
And it is doable, but it is not doable perfectly. It’s simply not. And that’s even if you are the director and writer. Even if you’re the director, the budget will get you. Or the studio will get you. Or an actor will get you. Something — it will rain on the wrong day. Something is going to get you.
So, you can put aside your visions of purity and instead engage in that notion of how do I protect all the way through here. How do I keep as many of these eggs, you know, to carry them to full term? That’s kind of what’s going on.
John: Yeah. And the wisdom role that you have to make here is that in trying to protect my script, am I actually protecting the movie, or am I really just protecting my self-esteem? Am I protecting my ability to believe myself as being the guy who wrote this script which is so, so good, or am I really looking out for what the final product is and what’s going to make it to the screen?
And every one of those decisions is going to be tough. And so part of my discussion with Chris was I don’t know whether maybe the note is right and I’m just being stubborn and not seeing that the note is right. What do I do? And the answer was to have the conversation and in this one case it was the right choice to make.
Craig: Great. Well, I’m glad that that worked out.
John: Cool. Let’s get to our One Cool Things. Craig, talk us through it.
Craig: All right. I’m sort of continuing a theme here of One Cool Thing that will happen one day. I saw this trailer for a new game that I don’t know if it’s going to be a mobile app or desktop only. I’m not sure yet. My guess is mobile, as well as desktop. It’s called Oxenfree and it’s from a company called Night School Studio.
And it appears to be on the one hand kind of a straight up adventure puzzle kind of deal where some characters that it looks like they’re high school students are hanging out on some island as part of like a high school getaway bit and then crazy stuff happens. And from the trailer I kind of get the feeling that it’s going to be a little bit like sort of that standard puzzle thing of, okay, I’ve got to get my guy from here to there. What do I do? What do I press? And what do I move? But what’s so interesting about it is the dialogue is really good. I mean, it’s written in a way where you could tell they cared, that the characters are vibrant and the dialogue is on point. It’s well acted.
There’s also appears from the trailer to be an interesting dynamic to interactions where most of the characters are answering per a script, but occasionally you have choices where you can select what your answer is. And I assume that would influence how the people respond to you. Maybe not go so far as to influence how the game goes. I mean, this is the way video games are. They are trying to disguise the fact that you are on rails, but I really loved this trailer. I can’t wait to play this game.
So, hopefully it’s a cool thing.
John: It’s a gorgeous trailer. I clicked through the link when you put it in the show notes and it really is just terrific looking. And I agree that the dynamic, you know, Dragon Age and lots of other games have done that thing where you get to choose what your answer is back to things, but very cleverly like just having the little thought bubbles and you get to pick which little speech bubble you want to pick for your answer seems like a really clever dynamic.
So, I’m curious to see what this will become as well.
Craig: Excellent. And what about you?
John: My One Cool Thing is the TV show Silicon Valley, which I may have already harped about how much I love the show, but this last week’s episode, which by the time this airs will be two weeks ago, was particularly spectacular over this one moment that was so incredibly well crafted. And it was well set up throughout the run of the episode, but just so brilliantly done.
So, it’s two of the character, Dinesh and Gilfoyle are trying to figure out whether to tell this really annoying douchebag character that his son is actually going to kill him. And they make this SWOT board which is Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats for this very Silicon Valley way of trying to make a decision. And the cards they put up on there for Let Blaine Die are so hilarious. And the degree to which you have to pause the show to read them, I’m going to put a link in the show notes that shows you all the cards that are up on that board.
But it was such an incredibly well structured episode, but also that scene and that moment and every card that’s up on that board, and then within that scene, the structure of the scene, of like they could just let the guy walk out and that would be hilarious, but at just the right moment they reveal to this character that these guys are considering letting him, basically plotting murder, which was just geniusly handled.
Craig: Yeah. I love the show. Alec Berg, who is the head writer, kind of Mike Judge’s right hand man on that show is one of my best friends in the world. And so I’ve been kind of following along his Silicon Valley trials and tribulations. I mean, it’s a tough show to make. But, you know, that show — so the whole thing with the Let Blaine Die, and it kind of reminded me a little bit of the way last season’s finale was structured with the –
John: End to middle out.
Craig: Tip to tip. It’s very Alec. Alec with his former writing partner, I guess they still collaborate on some things, Berg, Schaffer, Mandel, they ran Seinfeld sort of in the latter series of its run. And Seinfeld was always — the episodes were kind of masterclasses in recursive plotting. You know, that in the end every episode was a callback to itself. That’s the kind of way they worked. And that the end would kind of go, oh look, the thing from the beginning is paying off. It’s a Rube Goldberg plot.
Craig: And then Alec and Jeff and Dave did Curb Your Enthusiasm and it’s the same deal. And now, Silicon Valley doesn’t always work that way, but in this case it did, and it was very Alec. It was just a very Alec thing. I loved it.
I particularly loved Dinesh and Gilfoyle, god, they’re just great. Those characters are awesome. So, Kumail Nanjiani and Martin Starr are just spectacular in those parts. I would honestly watch those two characters talking about anything for 12 hours. It would make me so happy. But my favorite character on the show has to be Jared.
John: He’s so good.
Craig: Zach Woods.
John: So, I mean, it’s a variation on a kind of character that we saw him do in the American version of The Office, and yet he is so needy and yet so sweet, and so trying to be the den mother to this group and yet keeps getting batted down in a way that’s just fantastic.
Craig: Yeah, like the character, so Zach Woods, this character that he’s playing, first of all, Jared isn’t even his name. The character’s actual name is Donald, but somebody called him Jared once and it stuck because he just felt like he didn’t want to disturb them.
So, Jared is the answer to this question. How nice can a person be? Jared is in fact I think what Jesus Christ would be like if he were alive and working in Silicon Valley. [laughs] That’s basically what he is. He’s Jesus. He’s awesome.
And when he’s — oh my god, his face. Ah, his face. I just want to hug him.
John: He does crushed so well.
Craig: Crushed and sort of hopeful also.
John: Absolutely. He’s a puppy who just got scolded but really thinks that maybe you’ll let him hop up on the lap.
Craig: Yeah. Silicon Valley is the best. If you’re not watching it, you’re stupid. Honestly, you’re just dumb.
John: That is our show this week. 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 that you would like to send in for us, you can send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Send us a link to the SoundCloud. It would be fantastic way to do it.
email@example.com is also a great place to send questions, those longer questions. Little short things we can answer on Twitter. I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.
We are on iTunes. So, if you’re listening to this show on the John August Blog, that’s fantastic, but it would also be great if you can subscribe to us on iTunes, because that helps people find the show.
John: Leave us a comment while you’re there. We got some really nice comments this last week, so thank you for those people who did that.
Craig: Oh good. Thanks.
John: We have an app. And that app is also found through the App Store. You can find it both in the Apple iOS App Store and on the Google Play Store. That lets you get to all of the back episodes as well. Back to episode one.
Next week we will back with a 200th episode. We will record it live in some capacity. It might be audio. It might be video. We might have Aline. We might not have Aline. But we will figure out how we’re going to do it. And you should follow us on Twitter and we will give you ample warning that we are going to be doing the show. It will be sometime in the evening, so it will be post-work. And you can hear us do the show live and read some questions. It should be fun.
The police in the background are coming to arrest Craig Mazin, so we should probably wrap it up.
Craig: You know, I did it again.
John: And we have promised at some point that we will do a bonus episode that is nothing but all the sirens that have come after Craig. Because at least I would say five minutes of every week’s episode has to be trimmed for sirens.
Craig: Trimmed for Sirens, title of my biography.
John: It’s going to be good. It fits really well with the umbrage theme.
Craig: Yeah. Absolutely.
John: Craig, thank you so much. Have a great week.
Craig: Thanks, John, you too. Bye.
- Follow @johnaugust and @clmazin for details on the 200th episode live stream
- Deadline on the Mr. Holmes lawsuit, and the filing itself
- How Hollywood Taught Rebel Wilson To Lie About Her Age
- Scriptnotes, 182: The One with Rebel Wilson and Dan Savage
- Maggie Gyllenhaal Was Told She Was ‘Too Old’ to Play 55-Year Old’s Lover
- Riley Weston on Wikipedia and Entertainment Weekly
- James Frey on Wikipedia
- Robert Mark Kamen on IMDb, and in Script Mag and Wine Searcher
- Oxenfree from Night School Studio
- Silicon Valley: Read every card on the Let Blaine Die SWOT board
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Travis Newton (send us yours!)