John August's Blog
Canadian screenwriter Ryan Knighton joins John and Craig to discuss how you sustain a career writing for Hollywood studios while living a flight away. Knighton’s first screenplay was the adaptation of his memoir about going blind. He’s since written for several studios, including a new project for Ridley Scott.
We also talk about general meetings, pitching, adapting true stories, and the Sundance screenwriting lab.
- Ryan Knighton, and on Twitter, Wikipedia, This American Life, The Moth and Reading Aloud with Nate Corddry
- Ryan’s books Cockeyed and Swing in the Hollow on Amazon
- What is a treatment? on screenwriting.io
- Ryan side-by-side with Chris O’Dowd
- The For Dummies series and Google AdWords for Dummies
- Lovage on Wikipedia
- Outro by Scriptnotes editor Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)
Writing for The New Yorker, Oliver Sacks recounts his interactions with monologist Spalding Gray:
Spalding had had occasional depressions, he said, for more than twenty years, and some of his physicians thought that he had a bipolar disorder. But these depressions, though severe, had yielded to talk therapy, or, sometimes, to treatment with lithium. His current state, he felt, was different. It had unprecedented depth and tenacity. He had to make a supreme effort of will to do things like ride his bicycle, which he had previously done spontaneously and with pleasure. He tried to converse with others, especially his children, but found it difficult. His ten-year-old son and his sixteen-year-old stepdaughter were distressed, feeling that their father had been “transformed” and was “no longer himself.”
Sacks traces Gray’s mental state to both a recent brain injury and a family history of depression. Gray described himself as a “failed suicide,” and was hospitalized several times.
He said that his mind was filled with fantasies of his mother, and of water, always water. All his suicidal fantasies, he said, related to drowning.
Why water, why drowning? I asked.
“Returning to the sea, our mother,” he said.
Anesthesia from surgery would lift his symptoms temporarily, but the darkness always returned. He would ultimately take his life.
On January 10, 2004, Spalding took his children to a movie. It was Tim Burton’s “Big Fish,” in which a dying father passes his fantastical stories on to his son before returning to the river, where he dies—and perhaps is reincarnated as his true self, a fish, making one of his tall tales come true.
That evening, Spalding left home, saying he was going to meet a friend. He did not leave a suicide note, as he had so often before. When inquiries were made, one man said he had seen him board the Staten Island Ferry.
I learned about Spalding Gray’s connection to Big Fish the day after his death. Daniel Wallace, who wrote the novel Big Fish, emailed me a link to an article about Gray’s disappearance and presumed suicide, which included the detail that Gray had just seen the movie.
At the time, Big Fish was in theaters, and we were in the middle of the awards season campaign. At press events and roundtables, journalists would occasionally inquire about Spalding Gray and his relationship to Big Fish.
What was I supposed to say? I had no insight on Spalding Gray’s mental state, so I stumbled around saying nothing, or as little as I could before getting back to safer questions.
But privately, I wondered: Was it all just a morbid coincidence? Was there a thematic correlation? Or could one reasonably claim that Big Fish killed Spalding Gray, as some web sites suggested?
Eleven years later, Sacks’s article finally offers the missing context. Gray’s suicidal thoughts had arisen years earlier, and despite the efforts of Gray, his family and his doctors, the impulse to drown himself ultimately won out.
It’s tempting to imagine Gray seeing himself in Edward Bloom; both are storytellers facing their own mortality.
It’s also a mistake.
Real people aren’t fictional characters. They don’t follow a plot. None of us wakes up in the morning with the aim of advancing our narrative or reinforcing our core themes. Instead, we simply live, pursuing our interests while adapting to the changing circumstances around us. It’s messy. It’s unwritten.
As Sacks makes clear, Gray killed himself after seeing Big Fish, but it wasn’t his first attempt, and the film wasn’t the cause in any meaningful sense.
Still, our story brains want the movie to be the cause. We want A to lead to B, post hoc ergo propter hoc, especially when there seems to be such thematic similarity between the two events. As a writer, it’s an instinct Gray no doubt understood.
Even Sacks, the famous neurologist, concludes his article with the detail of Big Fish. For all his discussion of the “delicate mutuality” between the frontal lobes and the subcortex, Sacks still looks for a narrative reason to answer the question, “why now?”
And maybe that’s the right choice.
One of the key points in Big Fish is that there’s often a middle ground between the facts and the fiction, an emotional truth that is more universal and ultimately more useful. Science tells us how things work, but stories tell us how things feel.
The truth of Spalding Gray’s connection to Big Fish exists in both the realms of fact and feeling. It’s important to understand the clinical realities of depression, and also to empathize with those affected. Eleven years later, this new account of Gray’s struggle has helped me do both.
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 194 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, on the last episode we promised that this would be a really big show this week. And we will not fulfill that promise.
Craig: No. Well, it is a big show because we have a lot to talk about and it’s all good stuff, but the big thing that we were really excited about we’re kind of pushing down and episode or two. Look, here’s the best news of all: I think people are going to listen to this episode. They’re going to go, whoa, you mean that’s a B for these guys? That’s an A plus for everybody else.
John: Absolutely. We’re going to raise the bar even higher for that episode that we pitched and promised but didn’t actually deliver this week.
Craig: Yeah. We will.
John: Yeah, we will, eventually. Last week on the show I told you about a special screening of Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder that’s happening this week and it’s happening this Saturday, the 25th, at 5pm. If you are a WGA member you can RSVP for it. And if you do, you will get to see me speak with Bruce Joel Rubin, the writer of both of those movies, at a Q&A between those two films. So, if you want to come see that and you’re a WGA member, there is a special link in the show notes you can follow for that and RSVP.
There’s a pretty good chance that they may open up some seats for everybody else who is not a WGA member, so if you follow me on Twitter, @johnaugust, I will let you know if it becomes available for everybody else. And that’s it for the news.
Craig: Nice viewing experience there at the Writers Guild Theater. And Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder, just not only two good movies, but just entertaining movies.
John: Absolutely. We didn’t do a special episode about Jacob’s Ladder, but we could do one.
Craig: We could.
John: And, of course, we have the episode about Ghost. You can go back to and listen if you want to get up to speed with your Ghost experience.
John: Craig, did you see in the news that the Writers Guild East added some new members?
Craig: I did. They went and organized, that’s our union term for bringing people in an employment situation under the fold of the union and under the fold of the union agreement. They organized writers at Gawker, the website notable for gawkery. Whatever they do over there.
John: Or for commenting on things in culture, I guess.
Craig: Yeah, they’re kind of a gossip — they’re a gossip website. I mean, let’s face it.
John: Gossipy, yeah.
Craig: Sort of a junkie gossip website. But that’s okay. Sometimes you’re in a junkie gossip mood.
Craig: And occasionally Gawker — in that Internet way they defy their own brand. Sometimes they do remarkable stuff actually. So, they kind of –
Craig: They hit extremes of god, and wow, very cool, as do we all. What’s interesting about this is that this is not audio visual and I think this may be the first time that anyone who does not do an audio visual job has been organized into the guild. I could be wrong, but I think this may be it.
John: So let’s talk about this, because we think of the Writers Guild representing film and TV writers and sort of people who make fiction stuff for screens is what I sort of think about. But we do have some journalists who are part of the Writers Guild. There’s a few little bits of things that are not what we think about as being Hollywood in the Writers Guild. And this is a new direction.
Craig: Yeah. So, the Writers Guild does represent some writers for news broadcasts in Los Angeles and back east, mostly back east. Some radio news as well. But it’s always been audio/visual. And whether it’s fiction or non-fiction.
This is new. Now, on the one hand, you know, I’m fine. Look, the East — the East is the East. One day I’ll do a whole thing about the East and how they drive me crazy. But there’s nothing to complain about here. I mean, I think anybody that works a writing job that can be afforded union protections, salary, minimums, credit protections, pension and health, those are good things. I hope they get all of those things. And since they are working as work-for-hire, it makes sense.
Is there a downside? No. It’s just that there’s no larger upside for the union. You know, when the union talks about organizing, the idea ultimately is that you should be organizing, there are two basic strategies. One strategy is organize massive quantities of workers so that you can use your total strength as leverage for individual contract negotiations. Like, SCIU.
John: Yeah, that service workers union is incredibly powerful and huge.
Craig: Enormous. And they have — if you said well what’s a service worker? Anybody from a janitor to a nurse. I mean, they’ve got — it’s just an enormous range of types of employees and types of work situations with god knows how many contracts. I mean, I can’t even imagine how many contracts they negotiate on a rolling basis.
The Writers Guild has always been the other kind which is to organize a specialized group of people who do something rare and because you essentially control the rare employees that people want, you have leverage to bargain on their behalf. And that’s SAG essential, the SAG/AFTRA version, definitely the DGA version, definitely the Writers Guild version.
The East seems to be kind of dabbling with this other version, which is fine. I don’t think they’ll ever accrue massive quantities in such a way that it would kind of sway industries, but it’s good for those writers. So, I guess the winners are those writers.
John: I would hope so. I definitely see what you’re saying though in terms of there’s the model of going really big and sort of getting as many people into the fold as possible, but you risk losing focus. And in the times where I’ve had conversations with Writers Guild members who are working in TV journalism, it is just such a different world that I worry sometimes that we’re not able to adequately represent their special needs and concerns. You know, on a daily basis they’re not facing the same kinds of things we’re facing.
So, the useful thing about having a guild be so focused on one specific thing is we can keep our eye on that ball and nothing gets sort of dropped. and I worry that in trying to get more people involved with the guild, you’re going to lose that kind of focus.
Craig: You’re right to be worried about that. The way that the West and East break things out, as you know, because you’re on the negotiating committee frequently, the West takes negotiation point on the big contract for film and television writers — the film and television writers making primetime TV shows, writing movies, and so on and so forth. Cable shows, too.
The East takes point on news contract negotiations primarily. They do have a culture of this on their end of things. It’s preferable, if you’re choice is I work at Gawker and my choice is no union or the Writers Guild East, no question. The Writers Guild East will — should be at least better for you.
But what would be better still would be joining a union that actually represents a lot of shops like Gawker. And that is not the WGAe. Nor, will it ever be.
John: Yeah. Being naïve, I don’t know that there is any union organization that really is representing these kinds of writers right now. And I think there’s a case to be made for — right now it’s Gawker, but there’s certainly companies that are making things that are more like what we normally do. So you look at BuzzFeed with the video stuff they’re doing. You look at Maker Studios or any of these places that are doing video design for the Internet, some of those places are in this murky middle where it’s very much more like our TV kind of model.
And when we do the big negotiations for the big contract, whenever we’re dealing with our major studio partners, the web stuff that they’re doing, that’s always a concern for sort of we want to be covered when we’re doing that. But these little indie shops, maybe you start covering more of those writers and getting them the pension, health, welfare, everything else they should have.
Craig: Yeah. The tricky part is you would probably need to create a separate contract. So, here in this case, they don’t even have a contract. What they’ve gotten essentially is approval from those writers to represent them. And now they’re going to negotiate a contract with the company. By the way, that may not work. I mean, that’s the other thing. But hopefully it does. I would be surprised if it didn’t.
For us on our end, when you look at something like BuzzFeed, it is a non-union shop. It’s a massive non-union shop. Most of this stuff out there now is non-union. Everybody’s been trained to work non-union. So, it’s harder and harder to organize those places. If we do organize them, we will need to create a new contract.
Craig: And what the Writers Guild is particularly good at is enforcing one contract that blankets one industry. What the Internet is really good at is defying that. So, you can’t find a contract that both BuzzFeed and Gawker and HuffPo, and some other major provider, that they’re all going to agree to the way that Fox, Sony… — Frankly, the situation that we have almost can’t ever happen again.
The situation we have with the studios, which is why I’m always keen to preserve it, I think, for as long as it’s preservable. But, you know, for the Gawker writers, I think this is a good thing. I hope it’s a good thing. And I hope that the Writers Guild East does a good job on their behalf.
John: Sounds good. So, for the bulk of our podcast today, we are going to be talking some follow up about the previous episode and the credits situation. So, we did a long podcast last week about how credit is determined for writing feature films. And so we had a bunch of questions from listeners who wanted to know more stuff, or had specific situations, so we’ll try to address those questions and concerns. We’re going to talk about Writer X, who is a mysterious figure who showed up on the scene to annoy Craig mostly.
Craig: [laughs] It’s true.
John: And we’ll talk about sort of the role of anonymity and sort of authority in that space. We’re going to look at this sort of weird email we got from somebody about this iFilm group and what appears to be sort of a really shady situation. And we don’t know anything too specific about his one company, but sort of general patterns to watch out for if someone says they are interested in your script. Well, let’s make sure they really are a real person. And, finally, we’re going to take a look at the GLAAD inclusion report, which is basically the gay and lesbian group that looks at media portrayals of gays, lesbians, and transgender people in movies and how they felt we did this year, or this past year in 2014, and how we could do better. So, we’ve got plenty of show this week.
Craig: So much show. Let’s dive in.
John: All right. So, let’s start with follow up on our credits episode. So, we’ll start with a really simple one. Somebody on Twitter wrote me to ask, “Being an arbiter seems like a lot of work. Do arbiters get paid?”
Craig: Yes. We get paid $400,000 per arbitration. [laughs]
John: Wouldn’t that be so wonderful?
Craig: It would be so wonderful.
John: Everyone would line up to do it.
Craig: I know. No, in fact, we get zero dollars.
John: Yes, we get zero dollars. So that’s another reason why it’s a huge commitment, because that’s money you’re not making doing your writing.
John: There has been discussion about should we have professional paid arbiters, and there’s logic for that and logic against that, and we won’t get into it, but it’s a source of great controversy.
Craig: Yeah, we’re basically — it’s the jury system. Essentially you’re a citizen of the United States, that comes with a bunch of benefits. One of the costs is you got to show up every now and then and do your part.
John: But jurors do get paid. Not much.
Craig: Well, in that case it’s not at all like the jury system. Scratch that. It’s so much worse. Not like the jury system was great anyway.
John: It’s the worst thing ever. And also like being a juror is not that much work. It’s tedious, but it’s not that much work. Being an arbiter is a lot of hard work. There’s a lot of reading involved and thinking.
Craig: I’ve clearly never been a juror.
Joe from — I just like saying Rancho Cucamonga — Rancho Cucamonga writes, “A script I co-wrote is tentatively going into production this summer and I fear the issue of credit is going to be a problem. This is a non-union, privately-funded indie movie, so I know I’m completely at the mercy of how the co-writer, who is also the movie’s director and executive producer, will assign credit. But I’m curious to know where I would stand if I were in the guild.” Good use of subjunctive.
“The script originated with the co-writer/director/executive producer as a simple log line and an extremely vague outline, about a dozen general plot points with virtually no details to any of them. I took it from there and fleshed out a more detailed outline. Then I came up with character names, their jobs, the settings, the subplots, all the supporting characters, and changed the ending. We worked off of that outline and we’re each happily sharing screenplay credit, but he made it pretty clear to me that he doesn’t think I should share story credit.
“He came up with the original idea and the structure, but I really came up with everything else. Should I share credit or is he right to claim that for himself?”
John: So, first, Joe, congratulations on your movie hopefully going into production. I hope it turns out really, really well. Your situation is sort of why you would love to have a Writers Guild contract for your movie, so that these things could be determined correctly and fairly. You have very little leverage in this situation, so you’re going to probably take the credit that you receive, which will be the shared screenplay credit and that’s how it’s going to be. And unfortunately that’s how it is for most of the film producing world.
Most of the film producing world doesn’t have the equivalent of our Writers Guild to figure out who the credited writer should be. And it is that sort of horse trading kind of nonsense that you’re experiencing right now. Craig, do you have any advice for Joe?
Craig: Well, no, because you’re right, and he’s acknowledging there’s really nothing he can do. I guess his question is “but is this right?” And, frankly, unless we read the material, we have no way of telling you if it’s right or not. I mean, what you’re saying is that you contributed to story. That in and of itself does not automatically qualify you for story credit. You would need to show per the Writers Guild arbitration a significant contribution to story.
And that, of course, is a term of art and interpretation.
John: So, let’s pretend that we are two of the three arbiters who receive this. Let’s pretend it goes to WGA arbitration. The kinds of things we’d be looking at when we’re determining story credit is we would be looking at written material. So, probably first piece of written material we’d get was this original sort of beat — whatever this co-writer/director came up with. And if it really is as vague as he says, and it’s 12 bullet points and a vague sort of premise of things.
You would look at this thing and if there really were no character names and there were no sort of details about who these people were and what was going on and sort of how the story progressed, maybe Joe could make a good case for sharing story credit. What would you be looking for for figuring out story credit?
Craig: Well, right off the bat he says he has a fleshed out outline that he did. So, now he has an outline. And outlines are by definition story material. They do not contribute to screenplay. They contribute solely to story. Sometimes I think to myself one of the ways you can determine what’s what is could this go in an outline, or would it need to be part of a screenplay. The fact that he invented a bunch of characters and a bunch of subplots, the fact that he changed the narrative, the basic narrative of the ending, these are all things that do contribute significantly to story.
From what he’s describing, if I believe everything he says, then of course, yes, he should share story credit. If he’s a little delusional, and it happens to the best of us, maybe not. But, given the situation that he’s in, I think there’s really no purpose in fighting over it. There are no residuals. It is at this point it’s essentially a question of vanity and fairness. Right? It’s both things.
Well, let’s discard vanity and let’s unfortunately just acknowledge that this is what happens. When you take the money to write a non-union project, you are in part taking money to absorb a certain systemic unfairness and this may be one of those.
John: So, our friend Howard Rodman would be upset with us if we didn’t mention the fact that there is an indie contract for the WGA. And in the future, if in this kind of scenario, you might look into whether that indie contract would be useful for you in the situation.
I cannot recall the details, whether arbitration is a thing you get with that indie contract or not, but it does give you certain protections down the road. It does give you the ability to have a little bit more control over your work than you might otherwise have. So, it would be something for a writer like Joe to look at in the future.
Craig: All right. What’s next?
John: Will Eisner’s Ghost writes, “The opening title sequence for Netflix’s Daredevil reads ‘Created by Drew Goddard.’ It seems strange for Goddard to take this credit when he’s simply adapting preexisting characters and preexisting plots. I’ve noticed very little in terms of actual content creation, but direct plot and character adaptation.
“Frank Darabont took a ‘Developed by’ credit when he put together The Walking Dead. And Dexter’s opening credits are ‘Developed for television by James Manos, Jr.,’ then ‘Based on the novel Darkly Dreaming Dexter by Jeff Lindsay.’ My question is that if enough of the creation of the plot and characters was done for Marvel comics as a work-for-hire, and then directly adapted by Netflix, might these comic book writers protest the WGA credits for Daredevil TV show? Even if they are not WGA writers and the work was done for another medium?”
Craig, what’s your take on this kind of credit situation?
Craig: Well, to be fair, I consider myself a feature film credits expert. I do not know much about television credits, so I can’t tell you exactly what the rules are that govern the created by credit versus the developed by credit, and how they do source material credits. What I can tell you is that the comic book writers of Daredevil have absolutely no standing to protest any WGA credits. They are not WGA members. They did not contribute material under a WGA contract to this television show.
The copyright for Daredevil is owned by Marvel. Marvel obviously made an agreement with Netflix. That agreement included a licensing of the material. And I presume a provision that the source material be acknowledged. But beyond that, no, the comic book writers unfortunately have no say. Just as, by the way, you and I have no say if they take — you know, we have some separated rights as part of our deal, which comic book writers don’t. But generally speaking when we write a movie for a studio, they get to do with it whatever they want, and we don’t really have much of a say at all.
John: Yeah. So, it is important, that distinction that all the rights to Daredevil, that is a copyright controlled by Marvel. And so when those writers who were writing stuff for Daredevil, everything they did, 100 percent of that gets owned by Marvel. And so when it comes time to make it into a TV show, that whole bundle of rights, it’s as if the author is Marvel, not that the author is the individual writers underneath that. And so Marvel gets to say what the source material is.
In terms of whether it should be created by or developed by, there are specific rules in the WGA contract about what that language is supposed to be, but it’s also a negotiated thing as well. And I’ve seen developed by on certain properties, and created by on other properties. And I cannot honestly tell you why some are one thing, and some are another thing.
I remember the old Lois & Clark TV show was the first time I saw the Developed by credit, but there’s been other cases where a similar kind of situation would have a Created by credit. So, I don’t know the specifics of Drew Goddard’s case.
Craig: All right. Well we did as best as we could with that, Will Eisner’s Ghost. We had something here from Jake. He says, “I began working on a project several years ago with a friend of mine. We did not get very far in the writing stage, just had a few of the basic plot points worked out, and some character notes. Since then, that friend and I had some problems and do not speak anymore.” Ooh, this is getting good.
John: I actually cut out one sentence here.
Craig: Oh really?
John: I cut out one sentence that talked about sort of like how the friend was really lazy.
Craig: [laughs] Well, I guess it’s back in, isn’t it? Cause the problem was laziness. Jake continues, “Recently, I’ve picked that project we were working on back up. I’ve made great progress.” Boy, do we get this all the time. “I’ve made great progress and I am currently past the outline and now actually on a first draft. I’m worried, though, that if this script gets produced he will have problems with not being involved anymore. I’m willing to negotiate some credit, I suppose, but don’t really know what those credits should be. Neither of us are WGA members yet, so this question isn’t so much about arbitration yet as it is about ethics. So, what do you think?”
Well, John, what do you think?
John: I think this is an incredibly common situation. And you are best served by having the conversation now if possible. You might be even better served by writing something else, because it could just be a really uncomfortable thing down the road.
I think it would be amazing if Jake actually ended up being the co-writer and director from the previous — the Joe from Rancho Cucamonga example. At one time I want to have like both sides of this conversation of the same thing.
Craig: That would be nice.
John: Like this guy says he should get story credit and he’s completely insane. This happens a lot where you’re sort of sitting around and you’re spitballing something and you’re like, yeah, let’s write this together, and then you kind of start, and you kind of stop.
I can think of at least a dozen examples of this happening among my friends. And in every circumstance the best situation would be to have the conversation right at the very start about how you’re going to do it and just write up an agreement between the two of you. No one ever does that, and so the next best solution I think would be to have the conversation now. The third best solution is to write something else or write something so different that it’s not recognizably the same idea. Craig, what’s your thought?
Craig: Well, I think that Jake is correct that it is about ethics, but what he’s leaving out is that it’s also about the law. Because he did in fact work on material with somebody else. They co-authored stuff. He may say that it’s some basic plot points and some character notes, but it’s stuff. That person owns the share of copyright on that stuff.
What Jake is doing now is creating a derivative work based on somebody else’s stuff. That is no bueno. If you go and you sell it, then what’s going to happen is your friend that you don’t talk with is going to get a lawyer and the lawyer is going to say, no, you actually can’t sell anything without us and we could scotch the whole thing, or hold you up for a bunch of money. Either way, you’ve wandered down a fairly treacherous path here, Jake.
And John is absolutely right. You must talk to him now and you must set an agreement now. And he should be included in some compensatory manner if you do sell it. But he also needs to kind of waive other interests in it. In other words, you want to be free and clear.
John: You do. And I’ve been in other situations where writing teams have broken up and what they’ll do is they’ll just sort of pick the projects and like each of them gets one of the two projects, or they’ll divide everything in half so that they don’t get weirdly entangled this way. Like the things that they were thinking about writing but they never really got started, they’ll make a list and actually divide those things up just to make things clear and safe and not crazy.
Since this was apparently the only thing you worked on with this person, you don’t have that ability to say like, hey, why don’t you take this idea and let me take this idea, and we’ll all call it even and be happy. You probably don’t have that, so you have that conversation and you say, hey look, do you remember that thing we were talking about writing? I think I have some really good ideas for it and I want to be able to do that. Are you cool with that? And if you are cool with that, can we just write something down agreeing on that? And the minute you say write something down, your friend’s barriers will go up. But, maybe you get through it.
Craig: Well I think then if I were Jake’s attorney I would say, listen, what we’re going for here is to get him to release all claims on this material. In order to release all claims on the material and to assign full and complete copyright to you, he’s going to need something in return, otherwise he’s a goof. So, what you promise in return is some percentage of any money that you make off of the project. And you can limit it in various ways, up to a certain amount, or so on and so forth, but that’s what a negotiation is.
Essentially what we’re talking about, Jake, is buying him out. And you don’t have to buy him out with money upfront. You can buy him out with a promise of some piece of money should you get anything. But you really can’t go forward without handling this now, because you are doing something that is both ethically wrong and legally untenable.
John: Yeah. I don’t know that he’s doing anything ethically wrong yet. I mean, I think thinking through and figuring out what something could be is a natural function of a writer. It’s trying to sell it or trying to represent it as your own would be ethically wrong.
Craig: Well yeah. Precisely. I mean, I guess that that’s — I’m presuming. Yeah, if he writes it and puts in a drawer, sure, no harm/no foul.
John: Danny writes, “I have a question regarding where ghostwriting fits within the credits system. Obviously the term implies that no credit will be given, but who makes that decision? Is the WGA cool with that practice? And I guess more broadly, how prevalent is ghostwriting within the industry?”
Craig: Well, that’s an interesting question. There isn’t a lot of ghostwriting the way we think of it in terms of novels and so forth where Pete Rose writes a book about playing for the Reds, but we know that he didn’t write it. [laughs] Some guy wrote it and took a bunch of money and just let Pete Rose say I wrote it.
Far more common in our industry is a bunch of people openly work on something and then one of them is assigned credit. There are times when individuals don’t want credit. I’ve worked on things where part of the deal was I don’t want credit for this. I’m not doing it for credit, it’s not the kind of movie that I think I should have my name on, or I deserve to have my name on. Or, I’ve done a job where I knew the people who I was rewriting briefly and I frankly just didn’t want to get into a thing with them, because I like them. So, in those cases you can say as a writer I’m requesting that I don’t receive credit, and the Writers Guild and the arbiters tend to honor this, unless it seems extraordinarily fishy, no problem.
There are pseudonyms where you can write something under a name that isn’t your own. Those are subject to some rules. For starters, you have the right to use a pseudonym if you make under I think it’s $250,000 for the project. If you make over that amount, you don’t have the right to use one. You have to ask. You have to ask the studio for permission. And we can understand why that exists, because sometimes they want to say “From the writer of so-and-so,” or they want to say award season voters, look, we got this guy to write this thing.
There are times, I have heard of situations where writers are paid to write something and then they do what we call farm it out. They turn around, they hand the job to somebody else who truly works in the ghostwriting way, writes the material. Then the writer who has been hired kind of does it a once over, or blesses it, and then sends it in as his or her own work.
I’ve heard of this. I’ve never actually seen it happen. There’s no concrete examples I’ve ever been shown of it happening. Personally, I find that notion to be odious, to the extreme. But I guess that would be the breadth of ghostwriting in our business.
John: Yeah, I was going to initially sort of dismiss this question altogether saying like ghostwriting doesn’t really exist. And it’s not a term you actually hear. Like ghostwriting is something you think about with books. It’s not a thing you think about with movies, partly because we have a whole credit system and there’s a reason why people are credited as writers.
But that last scenario you described is a real thing and whenever you hear about it happening you’re like, whoa, that’s crazy. And I actually haven’t heard about it for quite some time. But there was sort of a legend of an A-list screenwriter who apparently did have a team of people who wrote with him or all together and they would do a first pass and he would clean it up. And it always felt really, really weird and gross and fishy.
Craig: Well, it’s not a secret. It’s Ron Bass and he talked about it at length. Ron was a lawyer prior to becoming a screenwriter. And when he became screenwriter, he hired a lot of people as essentially interns, writing assistants, writing — I don’t know what you’d call them. And he would give them assignments and he would give them assignments on things that he was writing, but the idea being and now I’ll collect it and now I will run it through my typewriter and so when it comes out it’s my work.
And he was open about it and I think that in part was why it wasn’t unethical. Nobody that paid Ron Bass money didn’t know that this was part of how he worked. And for the time that he was working constantly in the business, people appreciated the work, so everything was fine.
It’s — I’ve heard of a couple of people though that do this quietly. And the idea is, okay, as writers we know it’s a little bit of feast or famine. Sometimes it’s frustrating when you hit one of those feast patches and you take a job and then somebody calls you up five days later and says I’ll give you twice as much for this. And you think, oh well, I would sort of — I could see myself writing that, but I can’t because I’m writing this. Oh, I know, I’ll take the money, [laughs], and I’ll turn around and I’ll pay some tiny pittance of it to desperate writers who want a shot. And they’ll understand it’s a ghostwriting situation. And then I’ll get all that money.
Well, great, except boo. That’s not cool. I mean, what we have is our name. We are representing that this is our work. And, frankly, if you do that, you’re going to sink your own ship pretty quickly.
Craig: I mean, it’s your reputation.
John: Yeah. It’s a different thing than I know writers who are sort of in that feast period who will be approached with something and say like I cannot do it, but I will oversee another writer doing something, and where they’re not coming in as — or basically they’ll team up with somebody to do it, like somebody who has a little bit more time on their plate. That I totally get. But what you’re describing, that sort of shady like someone else is actually doing it feels not only kind of unethical, but is actually probably in violation of the contract that they signed.
Craig: Oh, clearly.
John: Because the contract that they signed with whatever studio said that you will actually do this work. And for them to farm it out to somebody else is not going to be kosher.
Craig: 100 percent. It is a violation of your contract, both your legal contract, and your personal contract that you are going to do the work. When writers are supervising other writers, those writers are hired as the writers. They are participating writers. They are the ones who are up for credit. They’re acknowledged. Everything is above board. Essentially the screenwriter acts like a producer in that circumstance and that’s absolutely fine.
John: All right.
Craig: All right. We got one more here. Stephen Lancellotti writes, “I just listened to the credits podcast a week after IFC Midnight released a poster for my movie, The Harvest. I’m now curious, is my name supposed to be on the poster in the same font size as the director? Probably won’t make a stink about it, but just wanted to know for the future.” And we’ll include a link to the poster which makes a very big deal of — it says The Harvest, and then underneath a Film by John McNaughton. And then tiny type for everybody else.
Craig: If this is a Writers Guild movie, I don’t think that’s okay.
John: I don’t think it’s okay either. I think if you’re crediting the director in that larger type size, I think you have to credit the writer in the same size type. I think it’s a problem.
Craig: I think you do. I think you do. So, but the rules are arcane. There are all sorts of little twisty bitsies. You know, maybe if it’s a promotional thing, or if it’s prior to credits being fixed, or maybe if it’s home video as opposed — I don’t know all the ins and outs. But –
John: That’s what I was thinking, too. I think there might be a special case for home video versus theatrical.
John: But I think Stephen has a valid point. But he also has a movie, so congratulations on your movie existing in the world.
Craig: Yeah, for sure. You know, you can call up the guild and just ask them the question and they’ll walk you through it. I mean, I’ll tell you, if it wasn’t a guild gig, then all bets are off. They can do whatever they want.
John: Yeah. But you know, Craig, someone who might have the answer to this question because this person knows a lot about sort of how writing works is, well, I say it’s a he but it could be a woman. Because it’s Writer X. Writer X is a brand new person who has just shown up on the scene thanks to a blog post on the Final Draft website.
And this got tweeted at us on Thursday or Friday, and it’s just delightful.
John: So, I’m going to read just a little bit of it because we’ll read the sort of preamble and then we can get into a discussion about what Writer X is saying. So, this is me as Writer X. Okay?
John: “Hi, I’m Writer X. I’m a working screenwriter in Hollywood. Within the past five years I’ve been represented by two of the top talent agencies in town. I broke into the business with a spec. It got on the Black List and eventually became one of those elusive million dollar spec sales. Afterwards, I sold another spec, but that one only for half a million.”
John: “Still, it’s not a bad quote for someone just starting out. In addition to my spec sales, I’ve made successful pitches to two major studios. One of those pitches I did with an A-list director. We pitched it to the president of Universal Pictures. I’ve also nabbed several writing assignments with pretty much all the major studios and a number of A-list production companies. And I sold two TV pilots to two different networks.
“A-list actors and directors have been attached to my work. I’m collaborated with them.” It really does say I’m collaborated with them.
Craig: And I’m collaborated with them. [laughs] Wow.
John: “I’ve been in the homes of the rich and famous and seen some pretty crazy stuff. Guess what I was doing before I became a professional screenwriter? I was a dishwasher.”
John: Craig, I mean, I think we should maybe just stop doing the podcast because we’ve just been knocked off our perch.
Craig: We’ve been knocked off our perch. I mean, this person, what a life they lead. [laughs] It just sounds so awesome. I mean, they’re –
John: It does sound awesome.
Craig: They are collaborated with them. I love that “I’ve been in the homes of the rich and famous and seen some pretty crazy stuff.” This is so exciting. Who put this forth? Oh, Final Draft. Okay.
So, how did this get received on Twitter, John? [laughs]
John: I think people loved it. I think among all the screenwriters I talked with, everyone loved every bit of this.
Craig: Yeah. The –
John: But maybe for the wrong reason.
Craig: Right. There was I think a 100 percent consistent reaction of absolute disgust for so many reasons. I mean, to start with, the boasting tone of this is kind of excruciating. There is this kind of writing that people do when they’re talking to people who want to break into something where they really casually rattle off this long list of wonderful things that have happened to them, just incredible things, and then they end up by saying, “And by the way, I was just like you.” Ooh, good sales pitch.
John: Yeah, I mean, if we could have gotten Tom Cruise and his Magnolia character to do this introduction, that would have been fantastic. Because you can sort of see him with a little mic and just like talking a little bit hyper and energized and the boom, like I was a dishwasher. I was just like you.
Craig: Yeah. It’s pretty obnoxious. Well, it’s BS.
So, the first question is: is this person real? Or is this the marketing department? I honestly hope it’s just the marketing department inventing someone as a come on sales pitch because if it’s a real person, I’m embarrassed for that person. I’m embarrassed for them. And, frankly, I’m not angry at them because if they’re real, I feel like they’ve been hornswoggled and bamboozled. I blame Final Draft, because they must be getting compensated for this.
John: Yeah. I don’t understand the angle from anyone’s point of view.
John: And I was looking at this from Final Draft’s point of view, and like well is this all a marketing department thing? But if it is the marketing department, it’s just so odd because it’s not on their front page at all. And I guess people only know about it because it was in some release that Final Draft put out, or some email that Final Draft put out. But even the URL for it is really strange.
So, the actual URL to get you there, it’s FinalDraft/ –
Craig: Discover/Videos. Yeah, it’s under a videos thing, even though it’s not a video. Like they’ve really buried it.
John: It’s buried. And it’s in a folder for Final Draft Writer App for the iPad/meet Writer X.
Craig: It’s almost like they were like, you know what, we’re going to be viral man. I
John: Yeah, maybe they wanted people to discover this.
Craig: It’s a hidden thing. Yeah. Well, we discovered it. That’s the bad news.
John: We discovered it.
Craig: So, putting aside Writer X, if Writer X exists, I would urge you, Madam or Sir, to reconsider this. This isn’t what you should be doing with your time. It’s not, frankly, what professionals do. We really don’t talk that way, for good reason. It’s obnoxious. And if you’re taking money from Final Draft, I don’t understand why since you’ve sold a script for a million and then sold another thing for half a million, and you’ve nabbed several writing assignments with all of the major studios, and a number of A-list production companies. You seem to be doing great, so you don’t need this money.
So then the question is well what’s in this for Final Draft, why are they doing this? And it really comes down to the nature of this kind of pitch, which is very common and you’ll see it in real estate a lot where somebody who is just soaking in prosperity comes on your television set and says to you, you poor retch at home, “I used to be just like you, but then I discovered the secret. And If you share my secrets, you too will be rags to riches.”
And what’s so insidious about this is that they’re going to give you some baloney secrets. I mean, in this case one of them is apparently Writer X is going to tell us what screenwriters are supposed to wear.
Craig: That there’s these secret, what is it? The secret dress code?
John: The secret wardrobe?
Craig: A secret dress code of writers, which is insane.
John: I’ve written about the secret dress code and what I’ve always said before is the writer should be the worst dressed person in the room, but that’s one sentence. That’s not –
Craig: It’s also, it’s not a secret. [laughs] It’s just you’ve already put it out there for free.
So, they’ll give you all the — yeah, it’s the unspoken dress code. Guess what? It’s been spoken. And then how to decipher the Labyrinthine language in Hollywood. For example, “If a studio exec just reads your first draft and tells you the writing is great, you think that’s good, well it’s not.” Uh, sometimes it is. Sometimes they say the writing is great and then they make the movie because the writing is great.
“Are you familiar with the phrases too broad or character’s arc? Well, you will be.” Oh, lord.
So, they’re dolling out these things that are either stuff everybody already knows, or just things that aren’t true. But what’s behind all of it, of course, is, oh, and naturally you’ll want to write on Final Draft. I mean, you’ll want to spend the whatever it costs now, $150 or $200.
John: Yeah. So, there’s no sales pitch in any of this so far. And so it’s the promise of like this is the first of like a regular series of columns. I would be surprised if there’s a second column, but it’s mean to be that this is going to be a bunch of columns coming through. And maybe eventually there’s supposed to be like some sort of Final Draft sales message, or it’s just supposed to be content that’s getting you to the Final Draft site. Or lend some authority to the Final Draft site.
But it’s a weird, gross kind of authority, or it’s not even authority. It’s trying to trade anonymity for secret or sort of like, you know, insider knowledge that no one wants you to have. But we want you to have the information. There’s nothing — there’s no secret information to have.
Craig: There is no secret information to have, but that ruins the promise. That ruins the hook.
John: That’s true.
Craig: There’s this sect of evangelical Christianity called Prosperity Theology, which is all about preachers telling their congregation if you follow the bible the way I explain it, you’ll get rich. But not rich in spirit. [laughs] You’ll actually have money.
Craig: On TV, I’m a big infomercial nut, so I’m sure some people out there remember Tom Vu. Tom Vu was a bus boy, see, same thing, who made millions.
John: A bus boy!
Craig: He made millions starting from nothing in real estate. Went on to be sued by his former investors. And then there was Don Lapre, the high school dropout. “I’m a high school dropout who learned the secrets of making money and now I want to share them with you.” And he was arrested, charged with fraud, and committed suicide in jail, which I hope doesn’t happen to Writer X or Final Draft, but you know, when you’re kind of playing in the same field as those guys, you got to stop and ask what are you doing here. For those of you who come across this stuff, just continually ask why.
Why is this here? Why does any company that’s looking for money out of my wallet, why do they need me to believe that for instance there are places that screenwriters should hang out. No, there ain’t. Not one. There is no one special secret place where screenwriters go and money falls from the sky and your scripts get better. No. It’s all baloney, right?
So, rags to riches stories are scam bait, 100 percent of the time. Secrets I’ve learned and will now share with you, scam bait, 100 percent of the time.
John: Yeah. I bet you could just sort of build a regular expression matching pattern and sort of search the Internet for that and you would find that invariably that is a scammy sort of come on and proposition. Like any time that you see that phraseology used together, there’s something bad and dangerous around there.
I was thinking about this from the perspective of this guy/this woman who is writing this and sort of what made them say yes, because I don’t get it. Like if we’re taking this at his or her word, that all this true, this guy has a million and a half in his pocket and has these writing assignments, I mean, unless there’s an extra punch line is like “and then I lost it all to drugs,” then I’m interested. Then I’m intrigued. But that doesn’t seem to be the situation here. So, what is the appeal of writing this column? And why not write it under your own name or write it some place that’s not on the Final Draft website?
I just fundamentally don’t get it. And that’s a strange thing to me.
Craig: Well, it’s so safe to do this. You know, you and I have used our own name forever and we are really among the very few. Most writers just don’t want the unwanted attention of jerks and there are jerks out there.
John: Yeah, there are.
Craig: And a lot of writers are nervous that if they say things under their own name that there are going to be reprisals from studios and so forth, and you and I have just never — we’ve never had that problem. And I also feel like we made calculations early on that we frankly weren’t going to be saying anything that should get us into trouble with somebody. And if it did, that’s not somebody we want to work with.
Craig: Everybody, I think, has a desire somewhere in them to want to be the sage on the mountain dolling out brilliant advice so that everybody can gather around. Okay, so here’s a rule, [laughs] baseball has the 5-10 rule. The 5-10 rule says if you’ve been with the same team for five consecutive years and you’ve been a Major League player for ten years or more, then you can’t be traded without your consent. 5-10 rule.
I like a 5-10 rule. You can be the sage on the mountain after five credits, or ten years of steady work.
Craig: Until you get the five credits, or the ten years of steady work, please do not doll out advice like the sage on the mountain. And, by the way, when you finally do get that stuff, don’t actually be the sage on the mountain. You and I, I don’t think either one of us feels like gurus or anything. It’s ridiculous. We’re just guys trying to do this gig and help people. So, you know, don’t.
John: You know, well what’s weird is I looked at all of Writer X’s boasting, and Writer X has not gotten a movie made. And that is a fundamental sort of flaw there in the sense of, you know, you look at the 5-10 rule, like well Writer X has zero credits. And so in many ways it’s back to sort of everyone else who is just writing about how to be a screenwriter. It’s like, well, this is where you’re at so far. And I think, you know, if you and I were to sit down with this Writer X and talk with him or her about what that journey has been so far, I bet there really is some interesting stuff to learn about what it’s like being on the Black List, what it’s like having those initial meetings. The things you’ve learned and done.
But doing it under this veil of anonymity, like you’re suddenly Julia Phillips and like you’re writing a tell-all memoir about Hollywood is just crazy-pants.
Craig: It’s particular crazy-pants when you’re using it to humble-brag or brag-brag, unhumble-brag. You know, you and I, we don’t talk about how much money we make. We don’t talk about who bought our pitches. We don’t talk about who we sat in a room with. And we don’t talk about that stuff because it’s gross. It’s just gross.
How will that help anyone else? You know, the people that are baiting a hook are making you jealous of them so that you want to be like them so that you can spend money towards them and something, right? Well, we don’t want your money. We just want you to be you.
You don’t need Writer X. You don’t need Final Draft, now more than ever. You don’t need the secret place, the dress code. You don’t need anything other than your talent, your hard work, a unique point of view, a passion, that’s what’s real.
Sorry, no pill for your weight loss today.
John: No, I’m sorry.
I just wanted to close on this topic of anonymity because I look at some of the Twitter accounts I follow, and I’ll follow like Mystery Creative Executive or Anonymous Production Assistant, and I find those things really interesting because in some ways they’re telling truth about little specific things that happen in their life. And they’re not trying to give you advice, but they’re just like articulating what it’s like to be in that place.
And there are in some cases really good reasons for their anonymity, because if they told you more about who they were, they would lose their job. And so that I totally get. And there’s a long tradition of that sort of anonymity. Like, look at the Federalist papers. Like those Fathers of the American Revolution, they didn’t sign their names to all those little pamphlets, but they were trying to sort of rally people to a cause or to explain what it’s like and what their opinion was, and that’s a great, wonderful, protected thing.
I don’t feel this at all here. I don’t feel like there’s any sort of call to action other than sort of like, hey, look at me how great I am. There’s no sort of insight here that is worth my putting up with your anonymity there. Everything that this person said in that initial column, if I knew their name I’d think, well, you sound like kind of a jerk, and kind of like a boastful jerk.
And it’s not making me feel any better about the advice you’re giving. It’s just frustrating.
Craig: Yeah. That’s why they didn’t use their name. I mean, there’s nothing that this person said warrants anonymity. [laughs] Nothing. Right?
The only benefit that anonymity provides them, other than making them sound better than they are, is shielding them from direct vitriol. And shielding them from people calling them out directly and saying, what? For instance, I know this person and they didn’t do all that. Or, I know this person, and I don’t like their scripts. Or, I know this person, they’re cool, but what do they do — why are they telling people that there’s a dress code? There isn’t.
You know, and then it’s about you. You know, you and I are accountable for what we say. This woman or man — not so much. So, don’t listen to people that aren’t accountable. You can listen to them, but, you know, take it with a grain of salt, because they’re not accountable.
I mean, that’s why I love that Rachael Prior who used to be Mystery Brit Executive came out of the closet, so to speak, segue coming, and revealed that she was in fact Rachael Prior, an executive at Big Talk Productions, which is a very reputable British production company that’s co-run by Edgar Wright. It’s a real company and she’s a real person and they make real movies. And she finally said, you know what, I think it’s okay. I think I can actually just be me. So, I like that.
John: That’s been the new trend, is not anonymity, but actually like owning your words. A lovely idea.
Craig: How about that?
John: All right, next on the docket of things that will enrage Craig. This was an email we got from a woman named Esther who writes, “A friend reached out to be for advice after getting a real scammy looking email from someone claiming to want to buy his script. Apparently these are going around and a lot of young writers are paying to get the ‘special report’ so their script can be bought, only to realize it was a scam by a company that offers script coverage for dollars.”
And we’ll link to other people who are writing about this same situation. So, this is the email exchange that went back and forth. This writer received an email from James Cole. Do you want to be James Cole?
Craig: I’m be James Cole, sure. I have recently reviewed your film script and as head of development for iFilm, I am interested in acquiring your screenplay with a view to producing the film in the near future. iFilm is currently tasked to produce a number of films with our partners/investors. Please let me know if you would be interested in selling the rights and optioning your script.
John: So the friend got this email and said, sure, yeah maybe, I’m interested. Tell me more. And this is what the guy said.
Craig: Great. In that case we can escalate your script up to our investors, but we would need an independent FR script report attached to. If you get this professionally done by a script editor, we will arrange rights options which are negotiable around £25,000. If you’re unfamiliar with script editors, I can recommend some.
John: So, do you want to guess who he might recommend?
Craig: Well, I’m going to guess he’s going to recommend a company called Bentley Marks.
John: And so, Craig, you did some detective work on Bentley Marks. So what did you find out about Bentley Marks?
Craig: Well, to back up for a second, a bunch of people have gotten these letters, not just Esther’s friend. Apparently, this company iFilm sent a bunch of these letters to people whose scripts they found at various levels of success through festivals and websites that host these things. Some of the scripts were quite old. And so they all say, yeah, we want an FR script report. By the way, I guess it stands for Film Ready. There is no such thing.
But then the company says, but you know, we’re not going to give you this money and we won’t give you your lottery winnings from Nigeria unless you pay for the report. But, here, use this company Bentley Marx.
So, Bentley Marx, a company that I’ve never heard of, and for good reason, seems to be located in Dubai. But if you take a look at the registry information for their domain name, they are registered to a James Hore who is at 43 Berkeley Square, Mayfair, London.
If you look at iFilmGroup.com, their domain is registered to James Colby, 43 Berkeley Square, Mayfair London. Huh. What is 43 Berkeley Square? Is it some massive complex that could possibly hold two different companies? No, it’s a virtual office service. That address is sold by a company called West One business in the UK and the idea is you pay them a monthly fee and they host this address that looks like it’s a real place and then they just forward it to your personal home, this way your company looks real as opposed to something you’re doing out of your basement, or whatever they call a basement in London. I don’t know what they call it.
John: Or a basement in Dubai. Or wherever this is actually.
Craig: Precisely. And the funny thing is like Bentley Marks, they have an address in Dubai. It’s not really — they’re not — they’re registered to the same — they’re the same people! The point is this scam is obvious. Right? I mean, as far as I can tell, unless I’m missing something here, they troll the Internet for screenplays. They send an email to that person saying we might make this, but you got to pay this other company some money. I don’t know what it would be, $150 or so for notes. And that money goes right into their pocket. And if 20 people bite on this a month, and they’re charging even $100 a pop, well all right. Now we’ve got, what is that, $2,000 a month? Not bad.
John: Yeah, some money.
Craig: It’s some money. Point being, this is not at all cool. And I have no problem, if I’ve gotten wrong, iFilm, come on the show and explain yourselves. But this certainly sounds like baloney to me.
The actual iFilm Group website does feature some movies that they have either produced or going to produce. They are not what you would think of as mainstream releases. They do look very much like direct to video, B2C kind of movies. Let’s see if we can find some titles of what iFilm Group is working on these days. They’ve got Fatal Insomnia.
John: Yeah, that’s the worst kind of insomnia.
Craig: The worst kind. They have Dark Rage 2. I don’t know if they have Dark Rage 1. And they have Exorcism. And then one of the strangest titles of movies ever, Internal. It’s just called Internal. Uh, I don’t think that too many of you have caught Fatal Insomnia.
So this is rough. I hate seeing stuff like this. It’s just really, really lame and –
John: We often knock against people who are trying to scam young writers saying like I’ll teach you the secrets of writing or, you know, buy my book and stuff. But this is like you are representing yourself as somebody who is going to buy their script, which is sort of the fantasy for a lot of first time writers. Like someone wants to buy and produce my screenplay and make it into a movie. And then it ends up being one of these sort of scammy not really real companies.
That’s just a shame. And even the name iFilm, I just looked it up on Wikipedia. So, there was a company called iFilm, but it’s been defunct for quite a long time. So, they’re trading on sort of like half memory of like I kind of think I remember iFilm, sort of. And, yeah, there kind of was a company that became, it was like an MTV Network that became Spike. There was a history to that name, so it sounds kind of legit and kind of real, but this is not legit or real. And it feels bad.
Craig: Yeah, it’s also ridiculous on its face. A company is calling you and saying we’re interested in giving you £25,000 for the rights to your screenplay, but we need somebody else to tell us if it’s any good. What? How does that make any sense at all?
Craig: I honestly would be surprised, no, I take that back. I would not be surprised if somebody fell for this, because every year somebody falls for the Nigerian lottery scam. Every year.
John: Every year.
Craig: It doesn’t matter how ridiculous it seems. This just feels like a scam. And if we’ve gotten the facts wrong, happy to hear from the people at iFilm Group. But certainly on the face of it, it does feel like they’re doing something scammy and unethical and for shame.
John: Yeah. Craig, have you ever been scammed or has someone tried to do like a physical scam on you? Because last time I was in Paris for the first time, someone actually tried to do the gypsy ring scam/trick.
Craig: Oh really?
John: It was actually fascinating. And so it happened and it’s like, oh, that must be a thing. And so I went back to the hotel and Google and was like, oh, that’s a whole thing. And that guy did exactly that act. And so this is sort of what happened. I was jet lagged, so I was just walking around Paris early in the morning. And this guy said like, oh excuse me, sir, you dropped something. And I was like, no, I didn’t.
He’s like, no, here is a ring. And he had this little gold ring he’d found. And he’s like, oh here, just take it. I don’t want it. Like, no, no, you take it, it’s fine. And I was like I don’t want it, goodbye, thank you. Because I just sensed that something was wrong. But so on the Internet, I read sort of what the rest of that story goes, and essentially there’s a whole plot that sort of happens where they get you to take the ring and it’s like, oh, but we’ll split the money, or this — and it becomes this long conversation. And you essentially have to pay this person to go away.
And so the only solution to it is just to never touch the ring and to go away. And the ring itself, sometimes it starts as a pretty good ring that you can tell it’s actually pretty good, and then it’s sleight of handed to like a cheaper brass ring. Most of the time it’s just a brass ring and it’s a way to start them talking to you.
Other times it can result in pick-pocketing and other things, but it was fascinating to see this thing happening right in front of my face. And in some ways this email had the same kind of markers of this scammy thing about to happen.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah. I’ve never — that’s not happened to me. I think I just look mean. I look like a real problem. You know, [laughs] like –
John: Yeah, you do look like trouble. People cut a wide berth around you.
Craig: I kind of do. I look like trouble. I look like the kind of person whose not only going to not take the ring, but lose his mind and do something crazy. I’m just not worth it. I’m the kind of guy that’s not worth it. I just have that look. I have resty angry face.
John: [laughs] Our final big topic today, GLAAD released a report about the 2014 movies. And so GLAAD is the organization in the US that takes a look at media portrays of gay, lesbian, transgender people in films and in TV programs and tries to advocate for better inclusion and awareness of those issues.
And so for 2014 they looked at all of the releases by the major studios. There were 114 movies they looked at. And they do statistics year after year showing sort of like how many gay men are portrayed, how many lesbians, how many bisexuals. Sort of what the nature of those portrayals were. And in no year is it especially good. In some years there’s better portrayals versus worse portrayals.
This is the first year I sort of looked closer at it and they actually break it down by studio and they sort of articulate what exactly they are seeing and what the trends are that they are noticing.
So, I will send you to the report. I’m not going to sort of summarize it for you. But they had this interesting thing called the Vito Russo test, which was based on the Bechdel test which we talked about before on the podcast. So, the Bechdel test is a way of looking at how women are portrayed in films. And so it’s asking like three simple questions about sort of how a given movie is portraying its women and then you either pass or fail the Bechdel test.
The Vito Russo test is a similar kind of structure. And it’s pretty straightforward. So the film contains a character that is identifiably lesbian, gay, bisexual, and/or transgender. So, does it do that? If so, that character must not be solely or predominately defined by their sexual orientation or gender identity — i.e., they are comprised of the same sort of unique character traits commonly used to differentiate straight and non-transgender characters from one another.
So, it’s like if it’s a gay character, they can’t only be gay. They have to be some other function.
The LGBT character must be tied to the plot in such a way that their removal would have a significant effect, meaning they’re not there to simply provide colorful commentary, paint urban authentic, or perhaps most commonly set up a punch line. The character should matter, which is an interesting way of looking at inclusion and sort of inclusion that counts for something.
John: So we’ll send you to this report. They break it down by studio, which is kind of interesting, and within the studios, the sort of indie arms of some of those studios as well. So, Craig, what did you take from looking at this?
Craig: Well, the numbers are seemingly better than they used to be, I guess. I didn’t love the way they arranged the — I wish that the studio content had been broken out better, because you had to click on each individual studio and I just got tired of doing that.
But in general it seems like things are getting a bit better, not for transgender characters, but for gay men in particular seem to be — most of the inclusive films, let’s see, 17.5% of the big studio releases contain characters identified as either lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. That’s not a bad number.
Craig: You know, I mean if you’re sort of going by general population, I mean, the percentage of the population that’s gay is a very hard thing to pin down because of lying, [laughs] but 17.5% doesn’t seem terrible.
John: It doesn’t seem terrible. But if you actually look through the individual reports, you realize that they’re being very inclusive about who they’re sort of folding into that. So, like Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings movie counts as being gay because Ian McKellen is gay.
Craig: What? But that’s not — he’s not gay. We don’t know that. He never said anything about men or women in that movie.
John: Yeah. So honestly very minor gayness is enough sort of to count for this. So that’s a thing to keep in mind when you look at that number.
Craig: That’s strange.
John: It’s inflated.
Craig: It’s odd that they would inflate that number. You would think that it would be in their interest to be as accurate and parsimonious as possible with handing out that. Well, regardless, what’s interesting to me as a writer is maybe less the numbers than in the way the portrayals have occurred and how they have changed over time. Because it doesn’t help anybody if 80% of movies feature gay characters and it’s pejorative or negative portrayals.
There has been a remarkable evolution I think over the last ten years, some in the last three years. I just think the evolution of the portrayal of gay people in popular culture has just been moving so rapidly and in a very good way. In drama, traditionally being gay was associated with tragedy, being ill-fated or twisted somehow, or the fake lesbians to just make men happy, or the gay guy who was the girl’s best friend.
And interesting that the Vito Russo test sort of calls this point out that often homosexuality was considered remarkable and determinative in and of itself. That if you’re a gay character in a movie, that’s your character. Gay character. [laughs] Rather, meaning that has so much more significance than straight character. There’s no character that’s defined by their straightness. That I feel has been changing pretty dramatically, no pun intended. What do you think?
John: I think so, too. You know, you look at both in the dramas and the comedies, you see more characters who you can identify as being gay or lesbian, and it’s not being made a big deal of it, which is great. I think there’s a lag in feature films versus television. And I think television was faster because television moves faster. And television is usually much more reflective of the current state of culture and films by their long development process tend to be lagging a few years behind.
One of the real challenges though is that on television you’re seeing characters over a long period of time, so if a character is gay, you have more time to actually experience that and sort of see the richness of their life. In a film, you know, that third lieutenant could be gay, but if there’s no reason to actually know that, there’s no scene that’s going to get that to you, that information may never come out.
And so you’re going to be — gays sometimes are going to be less visible in feature films just because there’s no opportunity to actually see that they’re gay or to sort of identify them as being gay because there’s not a point to it.
John: Versus other minority portrayals, where you can visibly see like, oh, well there is a Pacific Islander and that person exists in the world. You can just spot that. And so sometimes it’s harder to spot gays in feature films because there is no scene in which they have the ability to identify as gay.
Craig: Yeah. If a gay character doesn’t have a love story in a movie, then you might not know, but I think an awareness now that there are certain non-romantic signifiers that we have all the time. Characters leave their home and there’s a wife who is a day player, has no line, waving goodbye.
Craig: There is a woman at work who has a photo on her desk of her and her husband. You know, these things I think are well worth considering as we kind of go through. And in a way it helps make the movie realer, because that’s the way life is now. It wasn’t that way ten years ago. It simply wasn’t. Now it’s different.
And movies should keep up with the world around them. So, that’s something that’s worth considering as we go through as writers. Comedy is a whole other area, because in comedy for so long, and really up to I would say just a couple of years ago even, gay was considered in and of itself funny. And I’m as guilty of that as anyone. Anybody that works in comedy, anybody, including gay comedians would find this inherent comedy in being gay, even if they were gay-friendly or gay positive.
The thing is, it’s not funny anymore. It’s just not. Now, there’s a question. Should it ever have been funny? That’s a hard question, because the thing about comedy is funny is what people laugh at. Funny doesn’t really have a morality to it. What has a morality is morality. Comedy kind of follows social mores.
So, you can watch the Friar Roasts from the ’70s, they’re on YouTube. And there will be race and gay humor in those that just make you wince. Forget not funny, you actually go, “Ooh, god.” All the people on the dais are going bananas. People in the audience going bananas. Roasts today, there is still a ton of race and gay humor, but it turns on bravery and defiance. In a weird way the joke of the race and the gay humor is, oh my god, look, they’re being bad on purpose, in front of each other, and in a way that sort of signifies how confident they are as people of color, as gay people, or as straight people around people of color, or gay people.
But I guarantee you in — I don’t know how long it’s going to be — maybe five years, maybe two, maybe 20, I don’t know, that too will one day make us all wince. I think that comedy basically echoes the world and it always will, which is one of the reason why comedies often don’t hold up, but comedians have to kind of go where the funny is.
John: Yeah, comedy so often it’s finding those moments of friction in the real world, like those things that are sort of you dare not really quite talk about, and like finding a way to talk about those things, but then the conversation moves on. And if you’re still trying to talk about that, like oh no, that’s not funny anymore, that’s just really uncomfortable and weird.
And so I agree with you. You look at some movies that were genuinely funny back in the day and there are moments that make you wince because it wasn’t political correctness or anything else, it’s just like that’s just not a thing that could be funny anymore.
Craig: Yeah. Exactly. Now, there are really interesting cases where I think you can look at something now and laugh at it in a different way. When Airplane! came out in 1980, Stephen Stucker who played the flamboyantly gay — I don’t know what you call it, the air traffic control tower guy, I don’t know what his actual — you know, they were all up there and the air traffic controller guy. And he was hysterical and everybody loved him. And they were laughing in part because, oh my god, that guy is so gay. Look, the gayest of gays. But when you watch him now, and Stephen by the way was a member of the Kentucky Fried Theater with David, and Jerry, and Jim, and had kind of come up with them, when you watch it now it’s still really funny, but you’re not laughing at him, you’re laughing with him. He’s just remarkably witty. The fact that he’s gay is so no longer what’s funny. What’s funny is specifically what he’s doing. It’s actually — I think there is a gay comic sensibility and it is as broad as straight comic sensibility, but there is this — it’s a subset. There’s a thing there. And he does it so brilliantly.
So, there are times where these portrayals can last and actually the way we find them funny changes. But there is the idea that, oh my god, I kissed a dude. No, that’s not funny anymore.
John: It really isn’t funny anymore. And rape culture is not funny anymore, either. That idea like, oh, you’re going to go to prison and you’re going to get raped. It’s like, ooh, man, that’s just really uncomfortable. So, both that gay panic and sort of gay rape panic are not funny anymore.
There was a period of time that Saturday Night Live went through, and I think Janeane Garofalo talked about it when she left the show, where like every episode there was some sort of like alien anal probe rape joke. And it was really weird and uncomfortable. And thank goodness we moved past that.
And now the joke would be trying to make that joke. I mean, like it would be — it’s lucky that you sort of get to a place where like you can comment on that as a joke type.
Recently they had a commercial where it was some sort of anti-depressant for parents when your kid is acting super, super gay. And it was right at that uncomfortable level of like, ooh, but like the commercial was making it really clear that like it’s not the kid’s fault. You just have to get over it.
Craig: Right. That worked.
John: That worked, because it was understanding what the pain was underneath there, and what the uncomfortable feeling was, and sort of leaning into it in the right way. So, I would argue that you’re never trying to — you can’t stop making jokes that involve gay people. You just have to find ways to sort of use them in comedy that is appropriate for today and also hopefully for the next five years. You don’t know what ten years is going to be.
Craig: And this is why comedy is hard, because sometimes go out on a ledge where you need to live as a comedian, and they fail. And when they fail, especially now in our culture now, everyone goes insane. And Patton Oswalt has spoken a lot about this on Twitter and elsewhere in his lengthy protracted war of words with Salon, which Salon tends to act like the Internet’s schoolmarm.
And his point was, you know, comedy is supposed to be dangerous and occasionally when you do it you’re going to miss. You know, you’re throwing knives, you will occasionally miss and hit something you weren’t supposed to hit, or hit it the wrong way. And that’s part of the gig. That’s part of the occupational hazard of being a comedian. But we do know that you have to — as comedians, the really good ones, they’re listening all the time, really carefully.
Louis C.K. does not do some of the material that he used to do, because it’s not funny anymore. You know, there was a time when all of America loved The Honeymooners, men and women loved The Honeymooners. And the catchphrase was Bang Zoom. The catchphrase was “I’m going to beat you, Alice.” That was the joke. It’s just not funny anymore. A lot of times white people will say, “Why is it that black people get to stand up in a comedy club and make fun of white people, but if white people stand up and make fun of black people, everybody goes crazy.”
Here’s why: it’s not funny, that’s why. It’s just not funny. Just go where the funny is and be aware that it changes. So, I hope that GLAAD, I like that they concentrate on general numbers, but I also like that they’re starting to look at context, because to me that’s really where things are going to change. And I think about it now. I never thought about it. Never, never, never, never. Ten years ago, I’ll be totally honest, I never thought about it whatsoever. Wasn’t a problem. I think about it all the time now, because it’s right to. It seems like what I ought to bed doing.
John: Yes. I think we all ought to be doing it as well. And we should also do our One Cool Things, because it’s been a long show so far. So, I will start with my One Cool Thing. This week is Rage Quitting, and it’s this article by Chi Luu, it’s looking at this new kind of term that’s sprung up in the last few years. Words like rage quitting, ugly crying, stress cooking, humble bragging, which we used earlier this podcast, angry cleaning. It’s that construction where you take two things and jam them together. And it’s a weird construction because the first word is almost always negative and the second word is an activity.
And so you get what it means, and so like you know rage quitting is a thing. I’m storming out of this job all of a sudden. Stress cooking, ugly crying, we get what these things mean. But they’re sort of a new way of forming things. And I just love when language finds ways to sort of create new terms for things. And concepts that can exist only because we’re jamming these two words together in this sort of accepted way of doing things.
Craig: Yeah. Hate watching, isn’t that one of them?
John: Hate watching, absolutely. The perfect thing. And so that first word is always negative, and you don’t talk about joy cooking. I think you could do that, but you don’t. It’s always a negative that leads into the verb. So I thought it was really fun. And the article also talks about some of the other sort of ways we create new terms, like adding holic to things, so like, you know, I’m a workaholic or whatever, adding holic as an idea.
A thon, so a podcastathon, we understand that it’s something that goes on for a long time.
Mc, as a sort of shortening down of things, or a cheap version of things, so like a McJob, not being a real thing. So, I just love when people are describing new words and especially when people are describing the way we create new words. So I will point you to this article.
Craig: I wish there was something called Workahol, where you could just –
John: I’m going to drink a fifth of Workahol.
Craig: Workahol. And I got so much done. I’m a workaholic, but I do get a lot done. My One Cool Thing was briefly alluded to way back in episode 150 by somebody who was writing in, but I’ve had some personal experience with it now so I thought I would mention it here on the show. It’s called Kano. And it’s for children. It’s a computer kit. And the idea is that your child can actually build their own computer. Don’t go crazy, it’s not quite your MacBook Pro, but it’s sort of like a Lego-ized version of a computer with circuit board, and a container, and connect ribbons and so forth.
And it comes with this wonderful little instructional guide that helps you put it all together. And it’s actually kind of cool. It runs on Raspberry Pi. And you can hook it up to your TV with an HDMI cable. And it’s got little games and things, but more importantly it also has the ability to instruct you on programming. You can learn to code. You can make games. It’s very cool.
And it’s a little pricey.
John: Did you build it or you just saw it in action?
Craig: I didn’t build it. My daughter built it. So, she’s ten, and she just sat down — she’s a self-starter. She just sat down and did it. She built it. She was super crazy excited. And when we hooked it up and we saw text scrolling as Raspberry Pi loaded up, she just jumped up and down for 30 seconds, which it took because this is not a fast computer. But she was so excited.
So, it’s great for kids who like building and like technology like my daughter does. And it’s a little pricey. It’s $150 at Amazon. But, I suspect maybe you might be able to find it a little cheaper if you went on eBay or something like that. It doesn’t need to necessarily be brand new.
If you have a kid who is into this sort of thing, it’s a nice place to look. So, that’s Kano. And their website is Kano.me.
John: Fantastic. That is our show for this week. So, if you would like to write to me or Craig with your thoughts on things, the place for those longer things like we read today is firstname.lastname@example.org. Little short things are great on Twitter. So, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.
If you follow me this week, I may be having an announcement about the Ghost special screening, if we open it up to the general public. Right now it’s only for Writers Guild people. But if you are Writers Guild and want to come, you should RSVP for that. We are on iTunes. So, you can search for us on Scriptnotes and you can leave us a review while you’re there. It’s fantastic if you would do that.
We also have an app. We have the Scriptnotes app. You can download that and listen to all the back episodes going all the way back to episode one. Scriptnotes.net is the place you sign up for all those back episodes. It’s $1.99 a month. And our show this week is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli who also did the outro this week, another great outro by Matthew Chilelli. And, Craig, I will see you next week.
Craig: See you next week, John.
- RSVP here for the April 25 WGAw screenings of Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder, featuring a Q+A with Bruce Joel Rubin moderated by John August, and follow John on Twitter where he will let you know if tickets are released for non-WGA members
- Gawker Media Editorial Staff Welcomed by WGAe
- Scriptnotes, 193: How writing credits work
- LA Times on Ron Bass and his in-house team
- The poster for The Harvest
- Meet Writer X
- The not-so-well-dressed screenwriter from johnaugust.com
- Tom Vu and Don Lapre on Wikipedia
- Stage32 discussion on iFilm Group
- The Paris Gold Ring Scam
- GLAAD’s 2015 Studio Responsibility Index
- More on Internet Neologisms: Rage Quitting is a Thing by Chi Luu
- Kano is a computer you build and code yourself
- Outro by Scriptnotes editor Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)
As hoped, the WGA screening series has opened up my Q&A with screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin to everyone. It’s free for everyone. Seating is first-come, but the theater is pretty large, so don’t feel like you have to get there an hour early.
This Saturday, April 25
5pm GHOST (followed by the Q&A)
8:30pm JACOB’S LADDER
Writers Guild Theater
135 S Doheny Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90211
WGA members should still RSVP to guarantee a seat.
Back in Episode 163, Craig and I did a beat-by-beat breakdown of Ghost. I’m really looking forward to the chance to talk about the movie with its screenwriter.
Danny Manus warns that screenwriters are unwittingly being drawn into cults:
To be honest, I’m not even sure the professionals themselves are aware of their Jim Jonesy behavior and what type of insulated, self-aggrandizing, arrogant dome of cynicism and power they are creating. So, in hopes that there is still time to save others from drinking the Kool-Aid, and as a public service to inform those unknowingly responsible, here are some ways to know if you’re leading a cult.
- You cast aspersions on outside computer programs or software your followers may use (…and then launch your own and charge for it).
- You advise your followers that they need to move closer to you, and can only truly be part of your world if they are living nearby in the same town.
- You create your own terminology for words and concepts that don’t require new terminology (or perhaps your own FONT because the font others use aren’t good enough for you?).
If he’s calling me a cult leader, he’s not altogether wrong.
By these standards, most popular podcasters are cult leaders.Sound of My Voice
Here’s the thing: I’m fascinated by cults. I read books about Jonestown. I watch movies like Martha Marcy May Marlene. I wrote a pilot for Fox about an apocalyptic cult in the Santa Ynez Valley.
I know cults, and podcasts are inherently kind of culty.
Week after week, you’re hearing the same voices talking in your head about the same topics. You begin to learn the hosts’ quirks, opinions and predilections. They feel like friends even though they’re strangers.1
Podcasts never abandon you. They are with you when you’re alone in the car, or riding the train, or washing dishes. They take you out of the tedium of the moment and engage you in something more interesting.
Podcasts offer secret knowledge. Anyone can watch The Daily Show, but to listen to a podcast you have to know it exists. You have to seek it out. You have a source of information almost no one else in the world does.
Some podcasts even provide a special wardrobe, say, a t-shirt.
Yet there are some significant barriers to podcasts becoming full-on cults.
For starters, listening to a podcast is a solo experience, while cults are inherently group activities. Social media can get you part of the way — but you’d want to do some live shows so your fans can interact with each other.
Second, the opt-out is way too easy. True cults have ways to punish apostasy. With podcasts, you can simply stop listening, or delete the show from your podcasting app. No one is going to know that you bailed.2Cult-like isn’t the same as cult
I don’t believe podcasters are cult leaders in the sense of Jim Jones. Manus is comparing the murder of 913 men, women and children to a few mean Facebook comments.
A podcast like Scriptnotes — or The Talk Show, or Serial, or the Slate Political Gabfest — does share some characteristics with a cult. It has charismatic leaders voicing an opinion. It singles out heroes and villains. Just like Apple and Android, a podcast can attract fans and fanatics.
Should podcasters be aware of the dangers of cult-like behavior? Absolutely. So should bloggers, tweeters, Viners and YouTubers. Any time you have a crowd, you have to consider responsible crowd management.
Those who spout off about how THERE ARE NO RULES – but then continue to tell you exactly what to believe and think and how to act and who to do business with – are either wildly hypocritical, or completely oblivious.
I don’t think Craig and I are hypocritical or oblivious. We’re mindful of our responsibility to both our audience and the industry, and always aim to be inclusive rather than isolationist. If we’re cult leaders, we suck at it.
But I guess that’s what a modern cult leader would say.
- Meeting people in person, I’ve experienced both sides of this asymmetric familiarity. It’s weird both ways.
- I’ve stopped listening to several of my friends’ podcasts. No, not yours. Another friend’s.
Our two major screenwriting apps have updates out this week, fixing minor bugs and annoyances.
Highland 1.8.6 fixes an issue where scene headers could get stuck on bold for some users. Highland offers application-wide preferences for whether scene headers should be double-spaced and/or bolded. Most screenwriters set it once and forget it.
Weekend Read 1.5.1 fixes a range of minor formating bugs reported by our users.
Both are available in their respective App Stores.
We already have a new build of Weekend Read in review with Apple to address a vulnerablity in the open-source AFNetworking code library. Despite the alarmist headlines (“1,500 iPhone apps have a serious flaw that hackers can easily exploit”), it’s highly unlikely users would ever encounter an issue within Weekend Read.
From Ars Technica:
To exploit the bug, attackers on a coffee shop Wi-Fi network or in another position to monitor the connection of a vulnerable device need only present it with a fraudulent secure sockets layer certificate.
The hypothetical coffee shop attacker could get access to network activity to and from Weekend Read — and only Weekend Read. What good would that be, exactly?
Theoretically, they could see that you are downloading the script for Looper from the For Your Consideration list.
That’ll make Rian Johnson happy. And I guess if you were sitting at Peets and you were downloading the top-secret screenplay for the next Avengers, someone could see that too. But I can guarantee you those scripts aren’t being emailed anywhere. And you probably shouldn’t be doing that on coffee-shop WiFi anyway.
Could you push a script into someone’s library? Like, fake an iCloud sync event so that a new script shows up?
That would be so hard but so cool.
It’s the new breaking-in strategy. Hacker wanna-be screenwriters hang around coffee shops and wait for movie execs to come in and then they secretly load their scripts into Weekend Read. It’s like the Blackhat List.
We should call Franklin Leonard. I think that’s a feature, not a bug.
Whichever it is, the AFNetwork issue will be closed in the next build.
This week, Craig and John discuss recent events that seem custom-designed to make Craig furious.
An anonymous screenwriter promises to tell you the secrets of Hollywood, including the unspoken dress code. A London-based film production company wants to buy your script — but they want you to pay for some notes first.
But it’s not all bad news. The WGA East has organized the writers at Gawker, so we talk about why and whether it’s a good idea. We also look at GLAAD’s latest report on LGBT representative in feature films.
- RSVP here for the April 25 WGAw screenings of Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder, featuring a Q+A with Bruce Joel Rubin moderated by John August, and follow John on Twitter where he will let you know if tickets are released for non-WGA members
- Gawker Media Editorial Staff Welcomed by WGAe
- Scriptnotes, 193: How writing credits work
- LA Times on Ron Bass and his in-house team
- The poster for The Harvest
- Meet Writer X
- The not-so-well-dressed screenwriter from johnaugust.com
- Tom Vu and Don Lapre on Wikipedia
- Stage32 discussion on iFilm Group
- The Paris Gold Ring Scam
- GLAAD’s 2015 Studio Responsibility Index
- More on Internet Neologisms: Rage Quitting is a Thing by Chi Luu
- Kano is a computer you build and code yourself
- Outro by Scriptnotes editor Matthew Chilelli (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 193 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, you and I both this week were working on rewrites. How did yours turn out?
Craig: So far so good. I made it to the end. And –
John: That’s always a good place to end?
Craig: Well, but, you know, I’m fond of saying that “The End” are the two biggest lies that we can tell ourselves as screenwriters. So, all I’ve really done is reach the end. So, now, Lindsay Doran has the whole draft. I will be spending next week with her going through everything. And then off it goes to Scott Frank and to Working Title and to Universal. So, you know, high hopes. High hopes. How about you?
John: Yeah, I was doing the paper edit this week. And so, I like to print out the script and sort of go through it page by page, really read it, you know, do all of that sort of noticing of typos and mistakes, and then things I could cut, things I could change. And then as I’m going through it, and then figuring out like these are the new scenes, this is what’s swapping out there. I will sort of write on the left-hand page the new stuff that goes in there. So I’m just now typing in those changes. But I feel good about it.
Craig: Well, listen, man. I would like [laughs] for our movies to be out at the same time. They’re both family movies, I believe.
John: Oh, the same weekend.
Craig: Yeah, they’re both family movies. So I think we should go head to head. It’ll be the ultimate Three Page Challenge. It would be a two-hour challenge.
John: That would be fantastic. It would be a two-hour challenge. Speaking of hours, did you buy yourself an Apple Watch this morning? We’re recording this on Friday. Did you buy an Apple Watch?
Craig: Yeah. [laughs] So I don’t –
John: Me too. I wasn’t planning to, but I did.
Craig: No, I was actually planning on not doing it. So I was planning on buying the Apple Watch. Then I checked some reviews and things. And The New York Times was very favorable. There was a pretty good in-depth review that someone else wrote that didn’t seem quite as favorable. And then I remembered that I don’t care about reviews. So then I just thought, “Oh, you know what, I guess maybe I’ll wait. I’ll wait, I’ll check it out. I’ll hear from my friends.” And then, suddenly, there I was at midnight tapping away like a monkey hitting a bar that –
Craig: Spits out cocaine-wrapped bacon. It should be bacon-wrapped cocaine.
John: Yeah, I guess so. Because it’s really hard — you could dust bacon with cocaine.
Craig: Oh, I like that.
John: But you can’t wrap it.
Craig: Yeah, I’m hitting the bar like a monkey –
John: Or like a tempura sort of thing. Like a cocaine in a tempura batter.
Craig: Yeah, like cocaine battered bacon. So there I am. And so, I did it. Now, which version did you get?
John: I got the cheapest one I could get or almost the cheapest. I got the larger size. I didn’t get the little teeny tiny one. But I got the larger one with the sport band, space gray throughout. So it was like $399.
Craig: Is that the Watch Sport? Is that that version or –
John: I think it’s Watch Sport, yeah.
Craig: Yeah. I went for a standard watch. So not the –
Craig: You know, the [laughs] absurd collector’s item. It just –
John: You went for steel rather than aluminum.
Craig: There you go. So I went for the standard watch, the larger size with the Milanese Loop.
John: Well, that should be a nice watch.
Craig: We’ll find out.
John: So mine is just to see what the watch is like. I haven’t worn a watch in 20 years, but this might be a watch I’ll wear. We’ll see.
Craig: I know. That’s the thing. I haven’t worn a watch either in 20 years. But, you know, I remember when I put my wedding ring on, I was like, “What the — what is this? I don’t wear jewelry. What am I, a gypsy? Now I’m wearing jewelry?” And –
John: And now it’s bizarre not to have my wedding ring on.
John: I was the same way.
Craig: It’s just, it fits, right? So it’s just there and you feel it all the time. And I know that the watch will be that way, too. The real question is, from the summaries that I was reading, the great blessing and curse of the Apple Watch is that it uses this Taptic Engine to notify you when things are happening. So, little taps on your wrists of different kinds. Like here’s a tap for email, here’s a tap for text, here’s a tap… — well, sometimes, you’re just getting a lot of texts and you don’t want to and it’s annoying. So, it’s about adjusting how you get notifications. I don’t want my phone tapping me on the wrist every time some Facebook thing happens or something, you know, so.
Craig: There’ll be a lot of customization.
John: A lot to learn.
Craig: Yeah, but it’s fun. And you and I are pretty hardcore dorks. So, it’ll be exciting.
John: Absolutely. One day, you’ll be able to like sit down in your fancy car and the car will recognize you that you’re in the car and will just start.
Craig: Well, yeah. I mean, it kind of already does that.
Craig: Yeah, my car does that [laughs] because –
John: Well, I mean, you have to have the key fob in your pocket to do that, correct?
Craig: Yes, I do have to have the key fob in my pocket.
John: And soon, it’ll be just your watch.
Craig: Yeah. But the nice thing about the Tesla is you don’t have to actually turn the car on. There’s no on button. You sit, you close the door, you put it in gear. You’re off. And there’s no gears, actually. You put it in mode.
John: All right, this podcast, this episode is in the education mode. Because this podcast, we’re going to be talking about screen credits. We’re going to be talking about how writing credits work. So this is going to be one of those really long in-depth episodes. I don’t really want to say long. I don’t know if it’s necessarily going to be long, but it’s certainly going to be in-depth. We talked about screen credits way back in episode 20. That was back when we had like five people listening to the show.
John: And it’s way back in the archives. And I’m sure everything we said in there was accurate. But my goal with this episode, and I think together we can do this, is that I want to have so much knowledge imparted that if you listen to this whole episode, you will understand more about screen credits than 90% of working screenwriters.
Craig: That’s exactly right.
John: Do you think we can do that?
Craig: I know we can do that. We are going to basically deliver the definitive walkthrough of credits, which I hope is not only listened to by members of the Writers Guild or prospective members of the Writers Guild, but also people who write about credits. Because, frankly, they often get a ton of stuff wrong.
So, we can really walk you through the whole shebang here, which is complicated but interesting in its own way so that whether you’re a fan of movies, or you’re a writer, or you write about movies, you will understand exactly what this credit arbitration thing is. How it actually works from top to bottom. You will be an expert when we’re done with you.
John: I hope so. And it was reports in the news this last week that sort of prompted this discussion. Because this last week in Deadline Hollywood Daily, there were articles about the arbitration process over the new Jurassic Park, Jurassic World is the movie.
John: And the final decision came down. And the final credits for Jurassic World when it opens in theaters will read Screenplay by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and, A-N-D, Colin Trevorrow & Derek Connolly. Story by Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver, based on characters created by Michael Crichton.
John: At the end of this episode, we will understand what that means and sort of how they got to this place. We will also understand why writers are sometimes frustrated and confused, and sort of unhappy about the writing credit determination process.
This is what Trevorrow said about this whole process. “I have spoken with Rick and Amanda several times over the past few days,” Trevorrow told Deadline. “Though we may not agree on specifics of the ruling, we share a disdain for the arbitration process and the ugliness that it often breeds. Our conversations ended in a spirit I’d like to think the Guild would support — that a credit should be equally shared. Jurassic World is a special film, and I’d rather acknowledge these writers as co-designers of this adventure than bitter enemies who must be avoided at parties. That kind of animosity isn’t in the spirit of our craft, or our organization. Though I remain a proud member of the WGA, I encourage my fellow members to work together to find alternate ways to evaluate our contributions.”
So that is Colin Trevorrow, one of the writers and the director of Jurassic World talking about it. And I think by the end of our podcast, we’ll have a better understanding of what he was going into and sort of what the reality is of getting your name up on that screen really involves.
Craig: Well, let’s begin by taking a close look at something he said here which isn’t quite specific enough. And in doing so, I’m going to kick a little bit of a hornet’s nest. Because the WGA or the Guild does not determine credits the way people –
Craig: Use those, huh? In fact, the WGA West or WGA East determines credits. So we have two unions, West and East. Now, a lot of people will immediately say why? And the answer is, don’t know, it was that way back in the ’40s when long distance was, you know, super expensive. It makes no sense now. That’s a whole other episode.
John: Wouldn’t the whole history, though, be that television was largely based out of New York and features were largely based out of Los Angeles and overtime that sort of changed. But that was — originally, they were very different beasts. Is that accurate in any sort of historical context?
Craig: No, kind of not really.
John: Yeah, I’m probably wrong.
Craig: Yeah, I mean a little bit, but no. I mean, it doesn’t matter. The truth is, it’s one of those things we live with now and in an age where we’re constantly revising the world around us to be better this has resisted revision for political reasons essentially. But it is important to understand here that in this case, the credit determination process was messy, from what I can see. It did contain a very strange inaccuracy. There was a second review of it. And it was conducted by the Writers Guild East.
Now, let’s talk about who determines credits and why it matters. So, the Writers Guild West or the Writers Guild East determines credits. Here’s the way the rules work. If a majority of participating writers on a project are West members, the West handles it. If a majority of the members on a project are East members, the East handles it. If there’s exactly the same number, tie goes to the West. The West handles it.
Well, aren’t the two unions governed by the same collective bargaining agreement? And aren’t they governed by the same Screen Credits Manual and guidelines? Absolutely. So what’s the big difference? Well, the Writers Guild West has well over 7,000 members. And more importantly, it has probably 50 or 60 attorneys working at the Guild. The credits department of The Writers Guild West handles the vast majority of arbitrations and most of the principals in that department, principal staff members, are attorneys. And they are very, very good at what they do.
Now, I’m not a Writers Guild East member, but I can tell you this. I believe, last I heard, a few years ago, they had one lawyer on their staff. Their staff is something like 20 to 30 people. They really don’t like when I say things like this. They get very, very fussy about it. And generally speaking, this is my opinion, if I could choose which guild would be managing my credit arbitration, I would really, really want the West to do it.
In this case, a very strange decision came down initially where there wasn’t a story credit. There almost had to be a story credit. It was by the rules. I couldn’t begin to explain what they did or how it worked out that way.
But important for you guys to know out there, the West handles most credit arbitrations, but there are cases where the East does. So, be aware of that. In this case, I don’t know who the participating writers were beyond the credited writers, but I believe Colin is an East Coast guy. I don’t know Rick and Amanda.
John: I believe Derek is as well.
Craig: Yeah. So that’s an East Coast team. If there were no other participating writers and except for Rick and Amanda, then I presume they must be East Coast because this was an East jurisdiction. So, that’s right off the bat. There’s a funky little thing.
John: Yes. So let’s talk about why determining credit matters and sort of why we have this system at all. So if we didn’t have the Writers Guild West or the Writers Guild East determining credits, how would we figure out who got screenplay credit?
Craig: Well, we don’t have to ask. We know, because in our inception as a union, we did not have credit protection. And so credits were determined by the companies. And in fact, that system still exists today for feature films that are not covered by the Writers Guild, most notably animated films. So when you go to see a Pixar movie, there are credits up there for writing. And those credits are at the sole determination of Pixar. And if they think you deserve it, you get it. And if they don’t, you don’t. If they love you, probably that would be good. If they do not love you, probably that would be bad.
Craig: Similarly, if you have an arrangement in your contract where you are set to receive a bonus should you get screen credit, it would obviously be in the company’s interest to not give you screen credit if it would cost them a lot of money. And, of course, there are issues of abuse where they could theoretically put, particularly in the case of writer-directors and writer-producers who just say, “Look, I want this credit for myself and we’re all chummy here. You know, just give it to me.” So that’s the major thing we’re avoiding.
And then there’s also the secondary thing that’s actually written into our collective bargaining agreement that says that the WGA is in the business of protecting the dignity of the credit. We want our credit to mean something. It is a special credit. It is not like other credits on a movie, other crew credits. It is both a credit that says I wrote this movie and it’s a credit that indicates proper authorship of a movie. Even though we don’t have copyright, there’s an implication of authorship there. So our credits mean something and we want to protect their dignity.
John: Absolutely. So, while we’ve often talked about on the show how filmmaking is an incredibly collaborative process. So, at every level, everyone involved in the film is helping to make that film possible. People who are writing the film, people who are directing the film have an interest in defining some authorship, defining that their work is the principal creative driving force behind this film existing.
And it’s one of the reasons why, you know, you might see 15 different companies listed in the visual effects in a very visual effects intensive movie. But you should hopefully only see one writing credit that reflects who the individual or the team that was principally responsible for this movie. Even if more than one writer wrote it, there’s been a determination of who is most responsible for this film. And that is the process that goes through arbitration.
Craig: That’s right. And our credit isn’t manipulable the way that a lot of crew credits are where you could say, “Well, here’s 100 people that worked on visual effects. But these people are artists, these people are supervisors, these people are producers. The person is the, you know, the ultimate, the visual effects master.” Writing is writing. And so we don’t have junior writers, senior writers or stuff like that. We just have writers. Did you author this movie or not?
Directors are shielded from this to almost exclusive extent because the job of directing a film is singular. We don’t direct. I mean, by the way, it used to be that they would have three or four directors on movies, but we’re talking about back to the ’20s and ’30s. In modern filmmaking, one director makes the film. You cannot successfully replace that director once, twice, three, or four times on any regular basis.
So you will not really, I mean, there are occasional times where directors are replaced. And there are director credit arbitrations. They’re exceedingly rare. But because of the nature of what we do comes before production, it’s obviously quite common.
John: So the crucial sort of third piece of that creative triumvirate is the producer. And producer credits have, as we talked about on the show before, proliferated. And so one of the things you will start to see increasingly in films these days is a credit after the person’s name saying PGA, Producers Guild of America.
And the Producers Guild attempted to do something like what the Writers Guild already had for writers’ credits. It’s basically to identify who are the producers who were principally involved with the actual creation of the film. And so that if there are 12 producers listed, the ones who have that PGA credit are the true principal producers behind it. And that same sense of authorship. They are the ones who deserve some creative ownership, some creative recognition for what they did for the film.
Craig: Right. They recognize that if you have 14 people that say producer, then the credit producer means absolutely nothing. The PGA is not an actual guild. It’s not a labor union. It’s a club. But they do a good job of their primary goal, which is protecting the dignity of that credit.
So the PGA comes up with their own rules as they wish. We can’t do that. Because we are a labor union, the Writers Guild derives all of its authority and jurisdiction from its collective bargaining agreement with the companies. And so while most writers in the union will never look beyond our Screen Credits Manual, which is the manual the union publishes for its writers and arbiters to list all the guidelines. In fact, all that stuff derives from our collective bargaining agreement. It’s in an area called Theatrical Schedule A, which sounds sexy. It is. It’s –
John: It’s such good reading.
Craig: 50 Shades of Schedule A.
John: I just love it.
Craig: Yeah, it’s pretty hot. So if you’re ever feeling randy.
John: Well, the fact that it comes from this collective bargaining agreement would explain why it actually feels so lawyerly when you go through it. So most writers will encounter these restrictions, these regulations, these, you know, they’re not even guidelines. They really are rules in something that’s called the Screen Credits Manual.
And that is when you are seeking credit on a film or if you are involved in arbitration either as an arbiter or someone seeking credit, you get the Screen Credits Manual. And it really lays out in very clear language exactly what the requirements are for different kinds of credits.
This is important for lots of reasons because this is how we’re going to determine the credit. And if we didn’t use those rules properly, writers would be up in arms. And writers would be not just disappointed, the way that Colin Trevorrow was disappointed, but might sue or might take actions that would potentially break the whole system.
Craig: Yeah, it’s unfortunate because there are things in the Credits Manual that are clear. There are other things that are as clear as mud. And it is. It all derives back to its origin as a legal document and a legal document that is the product of negotiation with companies and lawyers on both sides.
So a lot of times, writers will look at this stuff and think, “My guild is ridiculous. They’ve printed this impossible to understand booklet. And they’re so legalistic and they’re treating me like, you know, I’m in court, and they’re the judge. And it’s very off-putting and it’s very disconnecting.” But it’s not the Guild’s fault. They have no choice.
This was the devil’s bargain. We get to do final jurisdiction over credits but we get to do it within the framework of a large document drawn up by a lot of lawyers.
John: If it were nicer and squishier, it wouldn’t hold up in court.
Craig: It would not.
John: And then we would be in a real bad situation.
Craig: It would not hold up in court. And ,in fact, a number of writers have sued the Writers Guild because they felt that they were unhappy with the outcome of going through the credits process for one reason or another. And in the Writer Guild history — Writers Guild’s history — they have never lost. They have never lost one of these credit cases.
And they have never lost in no small part because the credit staff at the Writers Guild West, at the very least, is full of lawyers who specialize in this area of law. WGA credits [laughs], that’s their area. And they follow those rules. It can, at times, be distressing when your own guild seems to be applying rules to you with no sense of mercy or fairness or rationality. But that is the job they’re tasked with, unfortunately.
John: So before we get into the process of determining the credits, let’s make it clear what we’re talking about and what we’re not talking about. So you and I both have a lot of experience with screen credits for feature films. And that’s mostly what you and I have done. I’ve done some TV, we’ve done some other things, I’ve served as an arbiter in some TV situations.
But mostly what we’re talking about here is theatrical films. And that’s really our sort of bread and butter. That’s where we have the most experience with. And you’ve also served on the screen credits subcommittee for the WGA. You’ve had like a lot more intense first-person experience with how these rules are made, is that right?
Craig: That’s right. I am the co-chair. There are three of us along with — I’m the co-chair along with Robert King who currently is a television guy because he and his wife, Michelle, have created and run The Good Wife. But prior to that, he was a feature guy.
And it’s a joint committee for West and East. So our East co-chair is Stephen Schiff who wrote a number of fine films as well, a sequel to Wall Street being one of them, Deep End of the Ocean I think. Maybe the other –
John: Yeah, that sounds right.
Craig: Great guy. Awesome guy. Very, very smart. So we have this joint committee. And over the years we have been tasked to take a look at our rules, consider revisions, put those revisions to the membership to vote on. And happily, they have approved all of our proposals. And I think we have done a very good job of fixing some things that needed fixing.
I also, because of the fact that I serve on that committee, I get calls all the time. People call me all the time with their problems, complaints, questions and suggestions.
John: Yeah. I will confirm that behind the scenes Craig is a go-to person for questions about is this how things are supposed to work. And if things are working improperly, Craig is the person who can help steer people towards better answers.
John: The other thing I want to make clear that we’re not talking about is we’re not talking about copyright. So if you think back to the Gravity lawsuit, if you think back to other copyright claims, this is not copyright. This is… — copyright on feature films, the kinds of things we’re talking about, it’s the people who made the movie are going to own copyright. They are the people who are considered the authors of the film for copyright purposes.
So this is determining whose name shows up as written by or screenplay by or story by. We’ll get into specifically what those mean. It’s important for those writers because sometimes it is a form of compensation. It can influence what they are paid for the day the movie comes out, but it’s also a huge impact on what the residuals will be down the road.
So even though this is not copyright, it’s incredibly important, both creatively and professionally but also financially.
Craig: Yeah, you’re right. So we work on a work-for-hire basis. The screen credit is the as if version of your name on your book. And residuals are the as if version of getting royalties on your book. So we don’t have the legal copyright. But that’s so much of what credits are about are essentially compensating us for that and allowing us to have attribution which would be one of the moral rights that go along with copyright.
John: Great. Let’s walk our way through the process. And so let’s imagine a theoretical film that has gone into production, it is finishing production, maybe they’ve wrapped, or maybe they’re about to wrap. Let’s talk through the process and what the stages are of figuring out who should get credit on a given movie.
So Craig, start us out. What’s the first thing that’s going to happen?
Craig: Well, interestingly enough, the first thing that happens is the studio says, “This is what we think.” It begins with the studio. They get a chance to propose what they think the credits ought to be. They are restricted really only in one sense. They cannot propose credits that are essentially illegal or impossible.
For instance, there can be no more than three writers listed as credited for screenplay with a writing team counting as one writer. There can be no more than two writers credited for story by, again with writing teams counted as one writer. So they can’t propose something with three story bys and five screenplay bys.
So they report to the Writers Guild and they say, “Here it is.” And it’s a fixed form that is defined down to the letter in the collective bargaining agreement called the Notice of Tentative Writing Credits Theatrical.
Now, while this is going on, the companies do have a little bit of flexibility. You may, out there, have noticed that you went to go see a movie, and in the lobby saw a poster with some names on it for credit. And then months later, when the movie came out, the names were different.
Aha. Well, the companies are allowed to use their tentative writing credits for promotional purposes when they need to do things in advance. One of the rules that we have is that if they credit a director on something, they have to credit the writer. So if they put a poster out there and say, “From Jim Blue,” they need to also say, “Written by Alice White.” Well, they may not know the final credits, they’re allowed to use their temporary credits.
Once the credits are fixed and placed by the Guild, then those are the only ones they can use. So it’s all kicked off by the studio.
John: A tiny sidebar here. As we talk about those posters, those sort of teaser posters, it’s worth noting that the rules stipulate that the director’s name has to be equal to the writer’s name. So it has to be the same size, the same color.
John: The director’s name cannot be highlighted in a way that the writer’s name is not highlighted.
If you know this rule and you start looking at posters, you will notice some really interesting trends. So the teaser poster for Big Fish says “From the visionary mind of Director Tim Burton”. And so Tim Burton is big there and it’s in the blue sky and brown letters. And then it says, you know, “Based on a novel by Daniel Wallace, Screenplay by John August”. And our names are also in that same type size and they’re also in brown.
But our names are like on top of like some dirt. [laughs]
John: So it’s actually much harder to see our names. But technically they met every stipulation that we are the same font, the same size, same color.
Craig: Yeah. Sometimes, they will do things like that. Sometimes it’s a little embarrassing. When the promotional stuff for the second Hangover came out, they made a big deal about Todd Phillips’ name because he was so, he directed the first one, it’s his franchise. So his name was really big. So then suddenly my name and Scot Armstrong’s name were really big. And people were like, “Dude, who do you think you are?” [laughs] And I was just like, “It’s a rule. I didn’t ask for it. It’s a rule.”
So here’s what you get. The Writers Guild will receive this Notice of Tentative Writing Credits Theatrical and then send copies to the participating writers or their current agents if the participants so elect. And the sheet will list all of the participating writers that were involved, the title of the movie, the executive producer, producer and director, other production executives and their titles if they were participating writers.
And then here’s what we think the credit should be, here’s what a source material credit will be, like based on a novel by. And that’s basically the deal. And it kind of ends with this will become final unless a protest is communicated by this time. So that’s what the company thinks.
John: Let’s define what production executive means because that trips a lot of people up.
Craig: Yeah, yeah.
John: So production executive does not necessarily mean a studio employee. It means somebody who was involved in the production of this movie with a different title or a different sort of controlling interest. Producer is often one, but so is a director. There may have been cases where an editor or somebody else has a –
Craig: No, no.
John: That was production executive. No? Is it only producer and director?
Craig: Yeah, it’s defined and it’s basically defined as anybody that has a producing credit or anybody that has — and it’s an onscreen producing credit. Or anybody that has a directing credit. And it is strange that they call it a production executive because in the real modern world production executives are basically studio executives who never write on movies. Well, extremely rare, rare exception.
But it’s quite common for there to be writer-producers and writer-directors. And so their presence in this process will — well, you’ll see why it matters. But, yeah, the way that they define these things is, yeah. You got to be a director or producer.
John: So let’s say you are one of the writers of this theoretical movie and you receive a Notice of Tentative Writing Credits. So hopefully, it went to your agent, your lawyer, hopefully, it went to you. And you see this and you say, “Well, I don’t think that’s actually the appropriate credit for this film. I believe I deserve, for example, screenplay credit.” Or, “Something about this does not strike me as being right.” Or perhaps there was a writer whose name was left off the list of participating writers. This would be a time for me to say, “Something here is not correct.”
Craig: Yeah. Well, first of all, let’s hope that you actually get the damn thing. So that’s been an issue.
John: It has been.
Craig: They should be just emailing these things directly to us. I think now they can do that, but they still need to send copies to your agents or your managers. You need to make sure if you’re working on a movie that the Guild has your current representative information. Must have it.
I have spoken to writers who have suffered because they didn’t get the statement in time. And it is a disaster. So make sure, if you’re working on a movie, the Guild has your proper information. But, yeah, basically, you’re looking at this. And if you agree, great.
And by the way, if everybody agrees, guess what? Done.
Craig: If one person, one single person says, “I don’t like this,” all bets are off and now you go to arbitration. So like I said, any participating writer can ask for a protest. We should probably define who exactly is a participating writer. Aha.
John: So a participating writer is anybody who wrote on the movie, was paid to write on the movie, correct? Because if they were just, let’s say, somebody’s niece wrote one scene and they weren’t paid for it, they shouldn’t have been writing the movie anyway, but they would not be considered a participating writer, is that correct?
Craig: I don’t think — well, probably, because she’s not a professional. But if you are a professional writer and you do write literary material, in the absence of a contract, I think what happens is the Writers Guild will go back and say, “Okay, they’re a participating writer. But they must — ” you have to go pay them. You have to get a contract put together for them.
But the way it’s defined in our collective bargaining agreement, it says, “Contributed literary material or employed under a WGA contract” which means, by the way, somebody could be employed and not actually write anything, and then suddenly they’re a participating writer. But it’s an exceedingly rare circumstance.
Typically, all the participating writers are people that were paid under a contract to write on the movie. Sometimes, though, there is an argument about that and we’ll get to that in a second. But let’s say nobody protests but one of the participating writers happens to also be the director. Automatic arbitration.
John: Yeah. If one of the participating writers was a producer or director, it automatically kicks into arbitration.
John: And talk to me about the rationale behind why that is, that rule exists.
Craig: Well, the notion is that if you are a lowly writer — let’s say you’re just starting out, you’re 26 years old and the producer is a legend. And the producer comes to you at the end of the process and says, “By the way, you know what, I want credit on this movie.” “Uh, well, you didn’t write anything.” “Yeah, I want credit. I’ll tell you what, I’m going to put my name on there for credit and don’t arbitrate. Because if you arbitrate, I’m going to have to destroy you. I’m going to ruin you. Everywhere I go, I’m going to ruin your name.”
Well, that’s potentially quite horrible. And I wish I could say that there aren’t people that behave like that in Hollywood. But I think we all know that there are.
So the Guild’s solution quite elegantly is to say, “If anybody is in a producer or director position that is participating in this process, there is going to be an arbitration. Nobody has to make a choice. There’s no ability for anyone to say don’t do it. It’s happening no matter what.” So you will remove the potential for undue pressure –
Craig: From people with authority.
John: So going into these situations, if you are writing on a movie that has, you know, a writer-director or you wrote something and a writer-director came on board and re-wrote your script and it’s now going into production, you should know that will automatically trigger an arbitration.
John: And so the situation with Jurassic World, Colin Trevorrow was hired on to direct this movie.
John: He ended up re-writing the movie. That was always going to be an arbitration.
John: There was no way that could have avoided arbitration.
Craig: That is exactly right. So that was a necessary arbitration. An arbitration will occur if any of the writers protest. An arbitration will not occur if all the writers agree.
And by the way, the writers don’t have to agree necessarily with the studio. If none of the writers are directors or producers, they can agree amongst themselves. They can come up with their own agreement. It happens quite rarely but it is possible.
John: It’s happened to me probably on three or four different movies. So, you know, I try to always have open discussions with any writers involved in the movies I’ve worked on, to talk through those issues before we get to arbitration.
And in some cases, we have decided like, “Oh, this would be a fair way to split the credit.” And that’s great and we all agree and we sign off on that and that’s done.
In other cases, we’ve had that conversation and disagreed but it was actually incredibly collegial. And we explained very clearly where we were coming from, what we thought the credits should be, we disagreed, and we went to arbitration. But there were no bad, hurt feelings. It was actually a pretty happy process.
So I would just encourage people to try that discussion if it makes sense.
Craig: Now, in the cases where you guys agreed on things, did you still have to write statements for an arbitration because it was an automatic arbitration or –
John: In those cases, it was not an automatic arbitration. I do recall writing a letter saying, “I believe these credits should be this credit.” And we basically all sent that in at the same time.
Craig: Yeah. So that would have been an automatic. So sometimes, in the case of an automatic arbitration where everybody really does agree, they can all send in one joint statement. And we’ll get to participating writer statements.
But before we can get to that, first, we can’t get to an arbitration if there is a disagreement about who is supposed to be in the arbitration.
Craig: So what happens if somebody says, “I should be a writer and I’m not listed,” or somebody says, “That guy didn’t write anything. He shouldn’t be listed,” or if someone says, “Well, wait a second. She’s listed as the third writer but she was really the second writer,” or somebody says, “Hey, whoa, whoa, whoa, that guy is submitting that material? That material wasn’t before me,” all sorts of issues.
So there is a procedure in place called a pre-arbitration. It’s also at times known as a participating writer investigation when that is the focus of what it’s doing. And these are the things that a Writers Guild member, hopefully a seasoned, well-informed Writers Guild member under the careful watch of the staff makes a decision about what material should or should not be included in the arbitration, who is or is not a participating writer, is the project really an original or is it an adaptation of source material, what is the chronology of the material. All of these fussy, fussy questions will get hashed out before it even goes to arbitration.
John: Now, this is a unique situation and it doesn’t happen all the time. But this is really an investigation. And so they may actually call you in to say, “Can you talk us through what actually happened here? Can you explain what this is? Where did this come into existence?”
And so I’ve been in some of these situations where I have had to literally go in and talk in front of some people and they would ask me some questions. I wasn’t there opposite the other writer who was seeking credit, but there were things that needed to be figured out. And so I’ve had to physically go in and do these kind of things.
Craig: They were somewhat rare when you and I started. They are growing increasingly more common, because the way that studios develop movies now has gotten loosier and goosier.
It’s actually quite common for studios to purchase spec screenplays and repurpose them as sequels to things. And there are quite a number of notable examples. For instance, Ocean’s Twelve started as an original screenplay written by George Nolfi and was then repurposed.
Well, what do you do about that? Is that still an original or is it an adaptation? There are all sorts of things that need to be figured.
Sometimes, studios will purchase a screenplay from another company. They’ll buy a company. That company has screenplays but they weren’t Writers Guild screenplays. What happens to those? By the way, answer, those become source material not subject to Writers Guild credits.
But there’s all this stuff that needs to be figured out. And as companies get stranger and weirder about how they suck up material from the culture and spit it back out in the form of movies, these pre-arbitrations will become increasingly common.
John: So there’s a lot to figure out. Especially, studios now are doing these kind of bake-off competitions where they’ll hire two writers at the same time to work on different drafts of things –
John: Which to me just feels like a disaster waiting to happen. And yet the studios are banking like, “Well, one of those drafts we’ll shoot, or if there’s things we like in both of them, we’ll piece it together.” And God bless them, but that makes it very, very complicated. And this pre-arbitration hearing could become a very important part of the process of figuring out who deserves credit, when stuff happened, which characters originated in which draft.
Craig: Absolutely, absolutely. And to be clear, as we go through this section, as we walk you through this section, the Writers Guild has a duty of fair representation. That’s a fact of law. They have to represent all participating writers equally, even when one of them is the director or one of them is a producer, or one of them is new, or one of them wrote a spec, or one of them is a re-write, it doesn’t matter.
At times, writers will feel like they’re siding with one person or another. And that’s only because they are [laughs], because somebody has to be right, you know. This is where, unfortunately, people get really emotional and upset about this because nobody wants to lose. And when you think you’re getting jobbed, it’s a terrible feeling. But, alas, it’s a dirty job, someone’s got to do it.
John: So, Craig, as we come out of the pre-arbitration hearing, as we come out of the participating writer investigation, what information should be agreed upon? It’s basically these are the writers who participated in this draft, this is the order in which the scripts sort of come in. And at that point, do we start to impanel real arbiters?
Craig: Yeah. So now we know that we have a number of participating writers. There are no more participating writers than these and no fewer. These are they. We have a chronology for the work that they’ve done.
And each one of them gets a letter because everything’s done anonymously. We’ll get into the why of that. And we have material assigned for each one of them. So we know what material has been allowed and what material is no longer there.
And now, we reach out to three writers who will become the arbitration panel. Before the guild can select them, all the participating writers receive a list of all the screenwriters in the guild that are eligible to be arbiters. And the participating writers can red-pen through people they don’t want.
Why would you want to strike people’s names? You may have had a bad experience with some of them, some of them you may not like, some of them you –
John: Some of them you may know that they are just a dummy.
John: You may just realize like, “You are not a clever person and I would not want to trust your opinion.”
Craig: That’s right.
John: Now, keep in mind, you as the participating writer, you should be anonymous. They shouldn’t know which was your draft. So they shouldn’t be able to hold any personal bias against you. But in the Internet era, it’s very hard to have no idea of what a movie is or who might have been involved with it.
John: So there’s lots of reasons why you might want to, you know, not select certain people.
Craig: Correct. It’s virtually impossible at this point to presume anonymity.
The way the process is set up, the writers obviously are familiar with each other. But the writers will not know the identities of the arbiters. And that’s easy –
Craig: Because they’re not going to see them or address them.
The arbiters receive materials and all the participating writers are identified by letters. So there’s writer A, B, C, D and E. They don’t know the names of the people who have written them. But if they go on IMDb and there’s only writer A and writer B, they’re probably going to be able to figure it out.
Craig: The great hope is that they don’t do it. And certainly if they indicate at any point that they have, then they’re bounced. The double blind anonymity — arbiters don’t know each other, arbiters don’t know the participants, participants don’t know the arbiters, maybe triple blind, that has essentially been the cornerstone of the Writers Guild’s defense of itself.
Essentially, they’re saying, “We have fulfilled our duty of fair representation because the process excluded the possibility of some people being favored over others for any reason other than the material itself.”
John: So let’s talk about the requirements of an arbiter, because you and I both served as arbiters on screen credits decisions.
John: So to be an arbiter, you’re supposed to have been a member for five years, you should have had a minimum of three on-screen credits. So you should know what it is you’re talking about. You should have been through this system before. You should know what, you know, a movie looks like when it’s written down on a page. And you hopefully sort of have some exposure with what this whole process is.
Now I get the call to be an arbiter probably five times a year.
John: And I say yes maybe twice a year based on sort of like how busy I am. It’s a tremendous responsibility. And I will credit the guild as being very upfront about how much work it’s going to be and how many drafts there are to read, how complicated it is, how many writers there are on board. They will tell you the name of the project just so you would know, like, oh, I can’t do that because I know exactly who wrote. I know too much of the history of it.
John: Or like that was the thing I wanted — I was up for that job but I didn’t get it. Like, there would be really obvious situations where you should not be involved with it. But my instinct is to always say yes if I can say yes, because I know how incredibly important it is that smart and dedicated guild people take these arbitrations seriously.
Craig: No question. And so the struggle is always when they call and they say, “Well, there are seven participating writers, so seven drafts, plus a novel.” Oh, and you know you have a deadline and it’s just, you know — I try not to automatically say no to those. I have done a couple of those monsters. Generally, when they call me, I tend to get problem cases. [laughs] I’ve noticed.
Craig: They haven’t indicated this but I tend to get complicated ones. I tend to get big ones. And I often get comedies. So I don’t know if they’re doing that on purpose or not. It’s just the way it kind of comes.
Not everybody can be an arbiter. There’s three rules that govern this. One is, okay, you can be an arbiter if you’ve been a current member for five years, or you can be an arbiter if you have a minimum of three on-screen credits. So if you’ve gotten that in fewer than five years, Mazel tov.
And then the other issue is that of the three arbiters, two of them have to be what they call experienced arbiters. Meaning that two of the three have served on at least two other arbitration committees which you start –
John: Oh, I wasn’t aware of that. Wow.
Craig: Yeah. So there’s an interesting bottleneck there of experience. So in every arbitration, they can only put in one rookie. So every time — so once they put in one rookie, they’re like, “Okay, they can be a rookie one more time and then we get to use them as experienced.” But you can see how the pool of available arbiters is fairly compressed.
The Writers Guild struggles endlessly to find arbiters willing to do the work and willing to do it in the short amount of time we get. And the amount of time, that window has shrunk and shrunk and shrunk and shrunk and shrunk over time because post-production has taken longer and longer and longer and longer, there’s additional writing going on.
And then of course the studios are turning around. The release is incredibly quickly. And they’re saying, “My God, we need the credits because we got to do the — literally put the credits on the movie. We’ve got four days.” It can get really bad.
John: Yeah. And in television, just imagine everything is about 15 times faster.
John: So as tight as the schedules can be in features, television is nuts.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, the great boon for televisions is that in television the credits are often decided before the arbiters even get them, because in television when you work on staff everyone’s going to get a credit. It’s not the, you know, I would say that movies are like basically one episode television series. So, yeah, the credit is super important. [laughs] It matters. And if you don’t get it, you’re never getting it.
John: Yeah. So these arbiters and impaneled. They are receiving the scripts that are labeled writer A through writer F. Sometimes there will be multiple drafts given by a writer if the writer thinks it’s really important to show the progress from this thing or that thing or an idea that was taken out of a draft but then appears later on in a different writer’s script. There may be a reason why she wants to show that.
But the arbiter gets this big stack of scripts. The arbiter also gets a statement from each writer. And those statements can be long and detailed. Those statements can be short. But in that statement, the writer is laying out a case for why they believe the credit should read a certain way and hopefully making a good case based exclusively on the Screen Credits Manual why they believe that the credit should read a certain way.
Craig: This statement is essentially your only day in court as a participating writer.
Craig: It’s your one chance to express to the people deciding your fate why you feel the way you do. And so naturally this document becomes loaded with all sorts of emotion. And that’s unfortunate because this would be the last time you’d want to do that. This is when you want to be as rationale as possible. Since you and I are both arbiters, I assume you like I have read some terrible, terrible statements from writers.
John: Absolutely. And you read these statements which are basically just explaining the hardship that they faced and sort of what the struggle was to make the movie and how unfair things were. And it doesn’t matter because that doesn’t help me reach my decision in which my decision is based on the words on the page.
So the great statements that I really enjoy are the ones that very clearly explain why the writer is seeking the credit that she’s seeking and can provide some roadmap for how she gets to that decision. Will I get to the same decision? Maybe yes, maybe no. But I at least one want to be able to see what the writer is thinking as I’m going through this.
In some cases that statement may help elucidate something that I might have missed otherwise. And so as I’m writing my own statement I try to provide just that same kind of this is the roadmap that gets me to this decision, maybe you will want to follow the same map. And thank you so much for your service. I think any statement that doesn’t acknowledge the incredible amount of time that the arbiter is putting into this is a foolish statement.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah. Well, I would argue that the most foolish statement is the one where the writer has paid somebody to write it for them. This is a scourge and I’m sorry to say it exists. And if you are in the Writers Guild and you’ve heard of people doing this and they’ve had success, yes, much the same way that Post Hoc, Ergo Propter Hoc works in homeopathic medicine and so forth. It’s a disastrous idea and an enormous waste of money.
There are people out there who charge thousands of thousands of dollars to write a professional statement for you as you, analyzing all the material, making their case. These statements tend to be quite long which arbiters don’t like. But more importantly they’re the same. They’re the same. You’re getting ripped off.
So what will happen is for instance I did an arbitration recently. And when it was done and the decision had been rendered I then called the staff and said, “So I don’t know if you’re able to tell me but this particular statement smelled like a professional statement to me. It didn’t impact my decision one way or another. But it just smelled like it.”
And they said, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, we see that statement [laughs] with like various versions of it.” I mean basically these people — you know how it works. You know the way the world works, right?
John: Absolutely. I will say that as friends go into an arbitration situation they will invariably email me saying like, “Hey, can you share one of your statements with me?” And I will usually do that but I always caution them that each statement needs to individually, you know, reflect the needs of that project. And so I’ve written long ones for things that really, truly were complicated where I came on and off the projects several times. And like without some sort of map it could be very easy to forget sort of what happened along the way.
John: But I’ve also written like the two-page statement. I’ve written the half a page statement that basically says, “This is how I think it should end up. I thank you for your service. God speed.”
John: It really depends on the situation. So I would never urge people to write the long statement to spend, you know, six days writing a long statement because people will go crazy writing it.
Craig: Well, yeah, I mean, look a bad statement from you is always better than any professional statement. The arbiter will understand whether they realize the statement is a “professional” or not, they can feel a personal touch on a personal statement.
So I’m going to give my advice to people on general advice when they’re writing these statements what I think makes a good one. And then I guess by elimination what makes a bad one. Generally shorter is better. If you can keep it under four pages, you will be loved, you will be loved by your arbiter.
Avoid math. A lot of the guidelines refer to percentages. You will get screenplay credit if you hit 33% of a screenplay or 50% of a screenplay. Well, we actually don’t do math on our end. We’re kind of just 50% to I think a lot of us is half or more and 33% is a good amount, you know, I mean. So we’re not counting words or lines so don’t do it for us.
Don’t be a jerk. No matter how you feel about who rewrote you or who you rewrote, be polite and be professional about it. Don’t treat the arbiters like they can’t read. This is my biggest complaint about participating writer statements. They will go and on about some obvious point. And while I’m reading their statement I’m thinking, “Can’t I just read the screenplay? I’ll read it and I’ll know that. I don’t need your chart.” You know what I mean? Like I know how to read, I can do — yes there are certain things that it’s great that you track for me. But other things like a whole page about how this one thing is really just like this thing. It’s a scene, I’ll read it.
Context in small doses is helpful. It’s helpful although not determinative for to me to understand how you came on the job, what your task was, how you approach the writer’s material before you, how you may have been replaced. It doesn’t change necessarily what I’m reading but it can place it in some sort of meaningful context. It doesn’t matter that you’ve spent 12 months on it as opposed to another guy spending a week. But I think it’s at least interesting for the arbiter to understand some of that sort of thing.
And lastly just to remind people, they try this all the time and the guild has to bounce it back to them. You can’t send in recommendation letters, so the producer can’t send a letter saying, “Yeah, we’re backing this guy.” And other than that you’re free to write anything you want in your statement with one exception. You can’t breach anonymity. You can’t identify yourself and you can’t identify any of the other participating writers.
Craig: All right.
John: And as the arbiter you get all these scripts, you get these letters. I tend to — I go both ways. In some cases I’ve read all the letters first. In some cases I’ve read all the scripts first. Both ways make sense. If you read the letters first, you have a sense of what the individual writer thinks is important about that draft. But if you read all the scripts first, a lot of times I’ll end up with like, you know, well, this is what sort of makes sense to me and then you’ll sort of see which writers are completely insane and which writers are like, “Oh, I can see how they got to this place.”
Craig: Right. And that’s part of the shock of doing the job of being an arbiter is that you will read the scripts and then you’ll look back again at the statements. And someone who’s truly contributed nearly nothing to the final screenplay will have written a seven-page passionate creed about how they really wrote it all. And it’s scary but I understand it.
It’s not — that is not a schizophrenic delusion. That’s just part of being a writer. They’re inner world is rich and fulfilling and everybody else is just a bunch of words on paper. And so this is why sometimes I think people are shocked.
There are ways to process the work if you have a bunch of scripts. You can choose to read the final script first, that’s the shooting script and then go backwards or can start from the beginning. It doesn’t really matter. The only thing that matters is you read all of it.
And while you’re doing that you’re in touch with somebody who’s called a screen credit’s consultant. That’s not a staff member. That is another Writers Guild member. Often they are emeritus. They’ve been doing it for awhile, they may be retired, they may live somewhere else.
And their job really is to just — they’re not reading the material. They’re just there to advice you on the applicable rules. Because there’s all sorts of rules depending on what kind of project it is. So they’re there if you have any questions about things. And they’re also there to collect your decisions. Because once all three arbiters have rendered their decision, if it’s unanimous, that’s it. It’s done.
John: You’re done. Yeah. You’re almost done. Each of those arbiters is going to be asked to write up their decision. But it is done. There’s not going to be any further discussion.
Craig: Correct, as long as that decision is in fact a legal one. And so staff is — the screen credit’s consultant will then convey to staff, “Okay, awesome. All three of them on their own came up with the same decision.” Staff goes, “Yes, that is a legal decision.” And then off we go.
John: It’s a permissible decision. It meets the requirements of what a screen credit can be.
Craig: Permissible, perfect word. There may be a case where all three arbiters have three different versions of the credits. So the screen credit consultant will sort of kind of horse trade a little bit and say, “Well, how firm are you on that? Would you be at all? Could you entertain the idea of adjusting your decision to be more like this person or this person?”
What they’re trying to do is see if they can avoid a stalemate. A stalemate is kind of a disaster. It’s incredibly hard as I mentioned to get three people to do this. If all three of them disagree, they got to basically toss them and start again with three new arbiters which they don’t want to do.
John: No one wants to do that.
Craig: Nobody wants to do that. But on the other hand, they don’t want to force writers into making decision they don’t want to make. So they’re very gentle about this. They just say, “Okay, well, could you or would you consider this?” And if they say, “Absolutely not.” “Fine, no problem. We’ll do another panel.”
If there are two writers, two arbiters that agree and one that doesn’t then what we do is we have teleconference. All three arbiters get on the phone along with staff monitoring. The arbiters are identified to each other only as arbiter 1, 2 and 3. And they talk it out.
And the reason they talk it out is to see if they can actually achieve unanimity because two to one is sufficient. Two to one means, yeah, that’s the decision. But if you can be unanimous it frankly sits better with everybody. So it’s worth taking a look to see if you can get to unanimity.
And there have been times where, you know, the person standing there in the one slot has pointed out to the other two, “Hey, you know, you actually probably agree with me more than you agree with each other.” And so interesting things can happen there. But it’s a chance for arbiters to agree more closely than maybe they would have before.
John: And so the arbiter teleconference is a relative innovation or something that’s happened new. It’s the last six or seven years?
John: How long has that been around?
Craig: Yeah. It’s about probably coming up on five years. This is something that we cooked up in our committee and brought to the membership and they approved. And it’s been extraordinarily successful.
John: And it really is. Thank you Craig for doing it. Because it actually does make the process much better. Because there’ve been times, twice in this last few years, I’ve been in one of these teleconference situations and it’s great to hear what the other writer, arbiters are thinking and sort of why they reached their decision.
Sometimes I’ve been able to sort of persuade people over to my side. Sometimes we’ve ended up in the two-to-one, but I’ve at least understood why we got to this two-to-one. It wasn’t just like who could possibly think that that, you know, it should be shared story credit. Like it seems impossible to me. It helps you really understand why they got to that decision. So I think it’s a really good process.
Craig: It also comes with another benefit. The staff is on the phone listening. And it’s their opportunity to hear the arbiters talk and defend their own positions. And if they’re hearing that one of them is a dummy or is nuts, or is ideological in a prejudiced way then they know not to ask that person to arbitrate again. So it’s another nice side effect of that.
John: Yeah. Because otherwise they would have the written decision but that’s not necessarily clear about what the thinking was behind it. The written decision that each individual arbiter makes is very carefully constructed to be sort of unassailable. That like you’ve reached this decision based on exactly these points and nothing more is said.
You’re not talking about the nature of the project. You’re not talking about the history of things. You’re talking about how you reached your decision. And at times the Writers Guild staff will ask you to adjust something in your statement just so it’s absolutely clear that you understood what you were doing.
Craig: That’s right. The statement is your — I think that is the evidence of your good work as an arbiter. In your statement, you know, certainly this is how I do it. I cite the rules, I go carefully through story and screenplay. I go carefully through why I felt some writer deserved something or some writer did not.
Some no nos. You cannot refer to anything that one of the participating writers put in their statement because other participating writers can view your decision statement. And we need to keep those statements completely walled off.
I think as an arbiter you need to really make a clear judgment because participating writers can ask to see your statement. They don’t always have to but they can ask if they are contemplating a Policy Review Board.
Craig: Uh-oh. Policy Review Board, what’s that Craig? I’ll tell you people. A PRB, a Policy Review Board, is essentially an appeals. Well, wait a second, how would the guild ever manage to that because everybody that loses will want to appeal, right? Isn’t that what’s destroying our nation’s court system as we speak?
Yeah. Well, here’s the deal. The Policy Review Board is an appeals process. Three different writers are now on that Policy Review Board. They are the new judges. But here’s the deal, they can’t read any of the scripts. They’re not there to decide if the arbiters had good opinions or good judgment or good taste. All they’re there to do is determine if any procedural errors were made or misapplication of rules. That’s it.
John: Yeah. So unlike a court of law where an appeals court can examine the facts of the case, can examine sort of testimony and other things. In this case the appeals process is only about like did they follow the rules. And that’s it.
Craig: Yeah. That’s right. So, you know, if an arbiter writes something in their statement that’s seems fishy or strange and a participating writer asks for a PRB. Well, what will happen is the people at the PRB will call the arbiter and say, “Explain this. What did you mean by this?” And if they say something that’s wrong, the PRB will throw out the decision. It happens very, very, very rarely. Have you ever gotten called by a PRB as an arbiter?
Craig: I got called once.
John: You got once.
Craig: I’ve had PRBs before, you know, where they just go, “No.” One time I got called. It was a very, very complicated arbitration with so many bizzarities in it. I know it’s not a word but I don’t care. And but they did call and they just said, “We’re picking up this one line from your statement and we’d like you to explain it more.” And I did.
Craig: And I [laughs] very clearly remember I explained it. And then I heard one of them go, “Yeah, I knew that’s — it’s obvious that’s what he was going to…” It was like, “Duh.” But they had to do it, you know. And then the PRB was the, you know, the appeal was denied.
John: So in most cases a Policy Review Board will not happen. It did not happen in the Jurassic World decision. In most cases, the arbiter’s decision will come in, the arbiters will file their statements and then what is the document that the Writers Guild East or West will produce that says, “These are the credits.”
Craig: Well, they will send — first they will call. If you’re in an arbitration, the staff member assigned to your case will call you and say, “The arbitration has reached a decision. And the screen credits will be as follows.” And then you go, “Yay” or “Huh,” or “Nah.”
And then they send a letter to the studios and to you that confirms the precise wording with a bunch of legalese about how it has to be presented and so forth. And those are the credits, period, the end, forever.
The IMDb has a deal with the WGA. Once the WGA credits are confirmed, it’s also piped over to IMDb. And those become the official IMDb credits. And then we have working rules as writers that govern us. Once the credits become final, we have to abide by them, we can’t contradict them in public and the studios must abide by them as well.
John: Yeah. So, what are some take homes we should have from this whole discussion of screen credits? So, one thing we need to really sort focus in on the end is we’re determining written by credit. And written by credit is of course two different credits combined. There’s screenplay by credit, there’s story by credit. If a writer receives both of those things and there’s no other people who will get a portion of those things, they collapse and become written by credit. Those are the two basic areas that an arbitration will be determining. But every once in a while, there will be weird, fluky kind of things that will show up on screen. Adaptation by for example.
John: What are the other –
Craig: There are screen story by.
John: Screen story by.
Craig: Which is common. Adaptation by is extraordinarily uncommon and it also isn’t what it sounds like. It’s probably why it’s extraordinarily uncommon. Generally speaking, the credits that you’ll see are story by, screen story by, screenplay by, written by. Those are the various versions and various combinations.
John: Those are the permissible credits.
John: And in permissible credits, a writing team may share one of those slots or share one those credits. That’s why you see the ampersands. So, in the case of Jurassic World, you see two writing teams, you see they’re joined by ampersands then the word and, A-N-D, combining the two of them to indicate that there were two writing teams involved in a film.
So now as you look at any poster, you will be able to determine which people who are credited as writers were working as a team and which people are working solo. In some cases, you will find weird situations where a person was writing solo and then they joined a team and so they have multiple credits in strange ways. But generally, the ampersand is the indication that those people were a team from the start.
Craig: Yeah. And these things I would imagine most — most Writers Guild members probably know, surprisingly — surprising number of them don’t. The arcane stuff almost no writers know which is always shocking to me because that’s the stuff that’s you’re subject to. You kind of need to know. So, you know, an appeal to — oh, do you want to play stump the ump? Want to play stump the ump? Let’s stump the ump. All right, John.
John: Great, do it.
Craig: Okay. John August, we have a case of a remake, a 1978 film written by some guy, he’s dead now. And they come to you. You write a draft of this remake and then they go to a second guy and he writes a draft. Then there’s a third guy who comes along and says he actually wrote a treatment before the two of you. Who is A, B and C?
John: I will ask you a question first.
John: Was the movie originally produced under the Writers Guild contract?
Craig: It was.
John: If it was, then writer A is the person who wrote the first movie.
Craig: The dead guy is writer A. What did he win? What did he win?
John: I hope something.
Craig: Nothing. You know what you won?
John: I get nothing.
Craig: You won my goddamn respect, sir. [laughs]
John: I would say that the treatment — if the treatment guy can prove that he wrote that treatment beforehand, that treatment guy became writer B, is that correct?
Craig: The treatment guy became writer B, yes. And then the treatment guy is basically vying for a shared story credit with the dead guy, I believe.
Craig: If there’s going to be, you know, if he can show that he significantly changed the story. So, yeah, there are cases for instance, the remake of The Omen, sole screenplay went to the writer of the first Omen because they felt that the remake just didn’t change it enough. So anyway, see, these are the things you know. You’re smart.
I’m saying to our fellow writers out there, be smart like John August. Take a look at the book before you go into the movie. If you’re working on a project and you’re not the first writer, read the book. If you’re going into the project and you’re the first writer, and then somebody comes to replace you, read the book because it’s common. Right? Know what’s going on.
And similarly, if you do know what’s going on and you’re a smart writer, please do arbitrations. Serve as an arbiter. Let the guild know, if they haven’t called you, that you are volunteering, that you want to be an arbiter. But please, only do it if you’re smart and you’re rational and you know the rules.
John: The other take home I would like to urge our writers to keep in mind is if you’re going into a situation where there are preexisting materials, know that it could get bumpy down the road and I see so many people who they’re so excited to sign onto this movie and they’re going to get going and they were the person who wrote it in production and they’re like, “But what’s happening now? I was the person who wrote the movie, how could there be all this hubbub and Sturm und Drang?
Well, you weren’t the original writer. And those original writers, they feel the exact same thing you do. Like, “Well, I was the person who created that movie. You were just the person who delivered it over the finish line.” Very likely there’s going to be some issues down the road. And so as long as you go into it knowing that those could happen, that’s great. It doesn’t mean you need to change a single word of what you put on the page. You can’t — that’s never going to serve you well to try to change more things on the page. Just know that it could happen down the road so it does not blindside you. And you don’t feel like it’s some vast conspiracy against you. It’s the situation, it’s going to happen whenever there are multiple writers on a movie and the movie’s been in development for a while.
Craig: Yeah. I mean this is — this is our court system guys. You’re a fool to walk in a court not knowing how court works. And you’re a fool to walk into credit arbitration not understanding how credit arbitration works. It is an awkward, ungainly, overly legalistic, rigid, and occasionally infuriating system, but it’s probably the best system that we can offer ourselves at this stage of the game.
Craig: So learn it.
John: Whenever I read an article that’s like the Jurassic World decision, it’s always the filmmaker who feels incredibly frustrated by how this all happened. And they are wishing and pining for a better system, a more fair system, a more just system. The frustration is, I don’t know what that system would be and no one has ever been able to articulate what that more fair system would be.
There have been overtures towards, “Well, what if we had professional arbiters so you knew the quality of the people who were going to be doing the arbitration?” Certainly that’s an idea. There’s been a discussion of, “Well, maybe credits should reflect all of the writers who worked on a film to acknowledge that there were other writers before this.” That’s certainly a possibility as well. For each one of these suggestions, there are many negatives that come along with it too. Any proposed change to the system is going to have a whole host of problems as well. So this is where we’re at. And Craig is on the committee trying to make this work as well as it can work.
Craig: Yeah. There’s this thing that happens where people perceive a problem in some system. Their local schools, the way their town is governed, the Writers Guild. And they see something and they go, “Isn’t it obvious what to do? Just do this. Everyone would agree on this.”
Now, actually, finding things that everybody agrees on is extraordinarily difficult. And when it comes to credits, nearly impossible. Simple common sense changes that we made took months and months of diplomacy and discussion and negotiation. And people should also be aware, there are some things that we can’t change on our own. We have to renegotiate those with the companies if we want to change any term that’s in the collective bargaining agreement. Well, we have to ask them for it. And you know what they say? “No.” [laughs]
John: They’ll say no. They’ll just say no to spite us.
Craig: They will say no to spite –
John: Because the negotiation committee –
Craig: Absolutely, they — if you said to them, “Well, we want the right to give you guys some nice warm tea,” they’ll say, “No.”
John: Absolutely. It would be struck the very first day.
Craig: That’s right. You ask for it, you want it? No. Then the answer is no. It’s a –
John: Yeah. It’s absolutely no.
Craig. Yes. So, people have to understand, this may be the best we can do. Maybe it will get a little bit better. But it’s pretty much it is what it is. Again, just my personal bias, it’s not up to you. But I’d root for getting the Writers Guild West to run my arbitration.
John: Yeah. I’d also just, again, urge any smart writer who’s eligible to serve on an arbitration, serve on an arbitration. And Craig, I have a question for you. If a person has never been asked to serve on arbitration but they are otherwise eligible, can they reach out to the guild saying like, “Hey, I would love to do that?” Will they actually take an incoming call?
Craig: Yes. Absolutely. You just call up the credits department and they will check your eligibility and they will note your interest and they will put you in the hopper. They’re careful. They don’t want kooks, you know, and unfortunately, a lot of our members are nuts.
John: But if you are WGA member and you are — this podcast has encouraged you to try to do this. And you believe you’re eligible and you believe you could do a good job, call them and tell them that John and Craig urged you to do it because we really do want smart folks doing it.
Craig: [laughs] Only for smart. So, you really got to look in the mirror here people, really look in the mirror.
John: Yeah. We do. Maybe they’ll be emailing us to look through like previous people’s comments and things they sent in to make sure like, have they asked really stupid questions on the show?
Craig: Yeah. How many times in the last month did somebody call you stupid? More than two? Don’t call them.
John: Yeah, don’t call them.
Craig: Don’t call them.
John: I believe it’s time for One Cool Things.
Craig: All right.
John: My One Cool Thing is also WGA-related because it’s just sticking with the theme. The WGA redid the residuals site. Basically, if you’re a member and you sign in to check your residuals, it’s much better than it used to be. And I’m not quite sure when they updated the whole system. But you can finally sort things by individual movies, by studios, by total amounts of checks. And so I spent, you know, a good hour on it this week looking through stuff, making sure that everything had actually gotten paid out right.
And it’s really fascinating to see what percentage of really my income comes from it. Like, when you actually see your residuals totaled up you realize how incredibly grateful we should be that the residual system exists and that we are paid for our work in the time after we’ve, you know, delivered it.
Not surprisingly, the single film that’s paid me the most residuals is Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which was, you know, successful out in the theatre but also of course sells really well on home video. The least successful by far is my film, The Nines, which has, you know, made almost nothing in residuals. And yet, it still gets tallied up. And I’m just incredibly grateful to the people who built this new system and who keep the system up-to-date to make sure that we are paid accurately and quickly for our residuals.
Craig: Huh, I wonder which one — I guess we should — do you want to guess which ones of mine are the most? And I’m looking at it right now.
John: I’m going to say Hangover II is your most rewarding residual.
Craig: Okay. All right. I’m looking career view by project.
John: Had you seen this new whole thing?
Craig: Oh, yeah. Yeah. They sent me a beta of it. I just never actually thought to ask questions. So, no, you’re not right.
John: Oh, what is your most successful project?
Craig: Well, because here’s the thing. Remember, on Hangover II, I was splitting three ways.
John: Oh, that’s right. I forgot.
Craig: So, for me, it’s Identify Thief. Although I guess the total, if you’re looking at the total pie, Hangover II would probably be the biggest total pie. And then the lowest, well, poor RocketMan, it’s my first movie, RocketMan. You know, and it’s interesting, RocketMan came out actually — it was like pre-DVD era. So it wasn’t even out on DVD for a long time. It missed the boom. [laughs]
John: It missed the boom.
Craig: It missed the boom.
John: Just ranking through mine, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which obviously a successful movie, I’m also solo credit so I get 100% of that pie.
John: And Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, I share with the Wibberleys, and so that also did well, but I’m sharing it with the Wibberleys. Big Fish is a solo credit but it is not anywhere near the success of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Then we can down to Charlie’s Angels, Go, and the rest. Including my TV show, D.C. which only aired three episodes in the U.S., it aired all seven episodes overseas. And so I will tell you that I made a total of $23,000 in residuals on a horrible, disastrous fail of a TV show.
Craig: That’s cool.
John: So residuals do matter folks.
John: If you are a writer in WGA and you want to look up your residuals, I would say that the menu system to find this page is not the most straightforward. So we’ll have a link for this in the show notes. But if you’re on the WGA site, wga.org, it’s in residuals and then residuals look up is the page that we’re looking at now.
Craig: Yeah. Pretty cool.
John: Craig, do you have a One Cool Thing?
Craig: Yeah. What? [laughs]
Craig: Huh? Hmm? What? Huh? No.
John: Your One Cool Thing can be my One Cool Thing. Bruce Joel Rubin, we did a whole episode about Ghost.
John: And I’m going to host a WGA screening of Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder on, what’s the date? April 25th?
Craig: It’s April 25th. Yeah, right there.
John: Yeah, you’re looking at the same thing.
Craig: I’m looking at the same thing you are. Yeah.
John: On April 25th, I will be hosting a screening and a Q&A with Bruce Joel Rubin. We’ll be looking at two of his films, Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder. So if you’re a WGA member, you can RSVP for that now because it may very well sell out. If it doesn’t sell out, there’s a chance that they’ll open it to the public, which would be great too. So, if it looks like it’s going to be available for other people to come to, I’ll let you guys know on the podcast or on Twitter. But it should be really great and Bruce is really wonderful and smart. And especially after our discussion of Ghost, I’m looking forward to sitting down with him and really talking through everything terrific he did in that movie.
Craig: Great. Awesome.
John: It’s time for our boilerplate. Our outro this week is by Rajesh Naroth who has written some of our great outros. Thank you for that. If you have an outro you’d like to send in, you can send it to email@example.com. That’s also where you can send questions. We love to answer questions, so please send those through.
On Twitter, I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. You can find us on iTunes and we just love it when you give us ratings.
John: So if give us some stars, that would be awesome.
John: Just search for Scriptnotes. You and also search for Scriptnotes to find the Scriptnotes app which lets you download all the back episodes back to episode 1 or even episode 20 where we first talked through screen credits. So you can see what we did then and what we did now. We also have an Android app. You can search to the Android app store for that as well. Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel. It’s edited by Matthew Chilelli. And we will be back next week to talk through more stuff.
Craig: Oh, we got a –
John: Craig, thank you so much.
Craig: We got a good one next week.
John: Oh, it’s going to be really good.
Craig: We got a good one.
John: If next week’s works out the way I hope it works out –
John: I think it’s going to — it could easily be in the top ten.
Craig: That’s right.
John: Craig, have a great week.
Craig: You too.
- Scriptnotes, Ep 20: How credit arbitration works
- Jurassic World Script Credits Resolved; Helmer Colin Trevorrow Speaks On Arbitration Process on Deadline
- WGAw Screen Credits Manual
- Big Fish poster
- WGAw Credits Department contact information
- WGAw residuals look up
- RSVP here for the April 25 WGAw screenings of Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder, featuring a Q+A with Bruce Joel Rubin moderated by John August
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Rajesh Naroth (send us yours!)
Craig and John do a deep-dive into the world of screenwriting credits, explaining the entire process from the Notice of Tentative Writing Credits, to arbitration to review boards. The system can be confusing, but most produced screenwriters will find themselves facing it at some point, so it’s important to understand how it works.
- Scriptnotes, Ep 20: How credit arbitration works
- Jurassic World Script Credits Resolved; Helmer Colin Trevorrow Speaks On Arbitration Process on Deadline
- WGAw Screen Credits Manual
- Big Fish poster
- WGAw Credits Department contact information
- WGAw residuals look up
- RSVP here for the April 25 WGAw screenings of Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder, featuring a Q+A with Bruce Joel Rubin moderated by John August
- 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 Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today’s episode, we will talk about last week’s episode, follow-up on K.C. Scott’s This Is Working and what people had to say about it and what more we now know about K.C. Scott, also known as Kurt. We’re going to talk about craftsmanship. We will talk about camera direction. We will answer two listener questions.
But first, we have some news. We have things that happened in the town that we need to talk to.
Craig: Yeah. It’s been a busy, busy week. This is a jam-packed show, by the way.
John: It’s a lot of different things. But that’s sometimes a good mark of an episode. Lots of different things to talk about.
Craig: I think strap in, guys, because this one’s going to be cray cray.
John: I don’t know if this is going to be a long topic or a short topic. CAA lost several of their agents to United Talent Agency, UTA. And, Craig, does it matter?
Craig: For us? I mean, for feature writers, I would say not at all. Not at all. For television writers, possibly because, you know, in television they do all this packaging. But even then I’m not sure that the packaging of shows is exclusive to their clients. I don’t even know how that works. I mean, I find frankly that my interest in the who’s getting fired, who’s going where is essentially at a zero. It’s never been that high.
When Amy Pascal got fired and then there was the, “Who’s going to take over? And, oh, it’s Tom Rothman,” it was like everybody was talking about this at lunch. I couldn’t have cared less. Adam Goodman got fired. I don’t care. Somebody has replaced him. I don’t care. I’m just over here doing my job, you know.
John: Yeah, yeah. The only thing Craig does really care about when it comes time to talk about firing and agents is Craig wants to fire your agent.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah.
John: It’s really Craig’s favorite thing in the world to do.
Craig: [laughs] I mean, I am here for you at a very reasonable rate for $500. I’ll get on the phone and fire your agent for you.
John: You know, that’s actually kind of a great little sideline business.
John: Craig would do a fantastic job. He would just call up the person and say like, “You have this client? He’s not your client anymore.” The client doesn’t have to explain why. It’s just done, move on.
Craig: Yeah. The strategy is when they pick up the phone, you say, “Hi. So listen, I’m going to get right to it. I’m letting you go.” So, in the case if I were firing your agent for you, I’d call him up and say, “Hi. So just let me get right to it. John August is letting you go. You’re no longer his agent. Let me just briefly tell you why but the decision is final.” Now you’ve cut the — there’s no wind in their sails. They’ve got nothing. And the best part is if this becomes a real business, then they’ll know just because I’m calling them, they’ll know. [laughs]
John: [laughs] Absolutely. They will never return your calls.
Craig: Literally. It’s like give me $500, I will log a call to your agent and that will be all it takes. I won’t even say a word.
John: It’s all done.
John: I think Craig would need to have a little bit of a pre-interview where he was like — so his little checklist where he would just like you know he marks off, like, “Which are the reasons why we’re firing him? Okay, great. All done. All set.”
Craig: Great. Yeah. It’s a web form, honestly. Just fill up my web form. I don’t need to hear your sob stories about why. Just check off these things. And then, you know, when they give you a comment box but it’s like, “Okay, you can describe anything else you think we need to know but you have 200 characters.” We’re telling you we don’t care. That’s why we’re limiting you to 200 characters.
John: We’re telling you it doesn’t matter.
Craig: We’re telling you we’re not going to read it. But go ahead, if it makes you feel better.
John: We’re creating new businesses even as we speak. Franklin Leonard has The Black List, you’re basically The Dead List.
Craig: That’s right.
John: Just tell us which agent you want to fire, it’s done.
Craig: Yeah. I’m The Kill List.
John: So we initially recorded the podcast on a Thursday and right here on the podcast is where we talked about the death of Scripped.com which was just a breaking story at that point. That next day, on Friday, we recorded a whole interview with the co-owner of Scripped.com which became a special episode on Saturday. So most of what was in this portion of the podcast is no longer relevant.
But I wanted to save one little conversation Craig and I had about how you keep multiple backups of things even if you are doing stuff on your own computer. So this is a portion of what we talked about originally on the podcast on Thursday.
And I’m also probably a little too reliant on Dropbox. The other thing I would take sort of personally is that all of my stuff, you know, that I’m working on currently, you know, it’s on Dropbox. So granted Dropbox is both local and it’s in the cloud, but I probably rely a little bit too much on that.
Craig: Well, I’m glad you brought that up. First of all, I’m in the same boat. I have the scripts and because you and I got started around the same time, I would imagine we had the same technological issues. Because when I look back, for instance, at my initial work, you know, way, way back when. So like RocketMan, so that was the first movie I did. Well, when I look at the files for that, which I have, they are unopenable.
Craig: I’m looking at files like — and I think they were Final Draft 2 files that now show up as exec files. [laughs] The system has no idea what to do, even the Microsoft Word files are no longer openable. And we’re talking about like for instance this one that I’m looking at here was created November 1st, 1996. It’s gone, you know. However, because everybody now moves with this, we know, okay, if there’s a format change we kind of change our files along with the formats. I think we’ve probably gotten past that.
My worry is this Dropbox worry because like you, that’s how I do my work. I have everything locally but it’s synced to Dropbox. Well, I know if I go into Dropbox and I delete a file there, it deletes on my local drive. Well, let’s say there was a problem at Dropbox and instead of everything just going kaput, somebody went in and just started deleting stuff.
Craig: It’s gone, right?
Craig: Okay. So that brings me to my next point. Well, I’m going to put this out there for our listeners. How can I essentially double sync backup my stuff? Wouldn’t it be great if I could — on my hard drive, I’m writing something and it knows to sync it both with Dropbox and save with Google Drive, so I’m double backed.
John: Yeah. So in some future world in which this podcast has advertising, one of the very, very common advertisers who is always advertising on podcasts are services like Backblaze. And what they do is basically they make a copy of your hard drive and they store it in the cloud. That would take care of your situation in this case. So anything that’s ever on your hard drive is also in the cloud. You can download it back off the cloud.
Craig: By the way, how sick would it be if this was in fact our first ad? How insidious of us.
John: [laughs] It would be incredibly insidious.
Craig: It would be so insidious.
John: And we guarantee you it is not our first ad.
Craig: It’s not. We are not being paid for this. But it’s called Backblaze? Well, they should advertise with us because I’m going to go check them out now.
John: So if you’re listening to some of the tech podcasts, they’re a common sponsor. And there’s another company, or several other companies that do similar kinds of things. So that would be a solution for that type of scenario.
What I do realistically is I do backup from one hard drive to another hard drive. And I try to do that weekly, which isn’t really enough. But that would at least give you a snapshot of where you were at. And that’s been fine for sort of our stuff.
There’s also kind of lazy backup because sometimes I’m sending stuff to Stuart. And so in those emails back and forth to me and Stuart, that’s a way I could find some of those files. Again, nowhere close to perfect.
John: But, you know, helpful.
Craig: Helpful, yeah. Well, I used to have a Time Machine, you know, where you would save all of your stuff on that. They just never worked very well. I just found Apple’s Time Machine –
John: They would never work great for me either.
Craig: Yeah. So I don’t know if they’ve gotten better at that or if there’s some other solution. Because I think actually and, you know, buying some cheap-o external hard drive that’s — I mean, now you can get a terabyte for what, $20 or something stupid? And just having that and doing some kind of regular backup to that is probably a good idea.
Craig: But god, I mean –
John: Especially for the working folder, the thing you’re actually working on most commonly, that’s the one you really want to make sure you’re keeping a good clone of.
John: Now I wanted to also back up to what you were talking about with, you know, you have these old files, these old Final Draft files, these old Microsoft Word files that you can’t open. That was really one of the big motivations behind Fountain which is this plain text file format we have is that it is just text. So you will never get stuck with that with a Fountain file because you’ll always be able to open it. As long as there’s something that can open any text document, you know, you’ll be able to get to that stuff that’s in those files.
Craig: Can you get to it if you’re using Final Draft, John?
John: You could get to it using Final Draft. Final Draft can actually import Fountain just fine.
Craig: Oh, they can?
John: They didn’t mean to. It just happens that they can.
Craig: [laughs] But they’re hard at work to see if they can undo it.
John: I will say that the good folks at Final Draft who obviously we have had some disagreements, they have engaged on some level to Fountain. They really can kind of import it. It’s not a deliberate thing on their side but we sort of designed the format in a way that Final Draft could just get it also. So it is helpful on those fronts.
And I would say also Highland, the other app we make, we don’t ever advertise that we can open old Final Draft files. But if you have an old Final Draft file that you can’t get to open or even open in Final Draft, if you change the extension to FDR and throw it on Highland, Highland will take a sledgehammer to it and smash it and try to put it back together. And so that’s a thing you might also try with those very old files.
Craig: Even something from 1996?
John: Even something from 1996.
Craig: Wow. Okay.
John: Mr. Nima Yousefi, our coder, is very clever and he will smash things up and he will try to put it together.
Craig: He is clever. I’ve looked in his clever eyes.
Craig: I mean, that’s the thing. If I’m sitting here worrying about Dropbox and Google, you should definitely be worrying about anybody else. I mean, I can’t imagine Google in particular, I just don’t — essentially, it’s like when they talk about earthquake insurance in California.
So earthquake insurance in California is regulated because basically no insurance company wanted to ever give anybody an earthquake insurance in the States and you have to. And here’s what it is. It’s called the FAIR Plan. And the FAIR Plan is you pay a whole bunch of money every year and then if there’s an earthquake, they will take care of damage to your structure. But after you pay a 20% premium, that is 20% of the value of the home.
John: Yeah. It’s huge.
Craig: You know, and so what I was always told is, “You know, if the earthquake’s that bad, you got bigger problems than insurance. Like, basically everything is gone.”
John: Yeah. That’s what I was always told about, especially land in Los Angeles is that the land itself is what’s worth money, as to your point, the structure isn’t. So the structure will be destroyed but the land is still the land. And the earthquake is not going to destroy the land probably.
Craig: Probably. [laughs] Exactly. But it’s the same idea like –
John: Anyway, you’ll be dead. It will be totally fine.
Craig: You’ll be dead. But if Google goes down, I think it’s essentially Mad Max follows that. Yeah.
John: [laughs] By the way, how good is the new Mad Max trailer?
Craig: It’s actually concerning to me because I loved it. But what concerned me was, “Oh, no. Now this is the thing.” Like it’s how they keep figuring out in the food industry to jam more calories into a thing and more flavor into a thing. This is the most engineered — it’s crack. They made crack, right?
John: They made crack.
Craig: Like Guardians of the Galaxy, they’re, “Stop drinking coffee. We have this new thing called cocaine and you can freebase it. It’s freebasing cocaine.” And now Mad Max it’s like, “No, no, no. We mixed it with baking powder and we cooked it into a thing and now it’s crack.” It’s scary. I just worry that this is the thing everyone’s going to chase because that movie is going to open huge and it should. It should.
John: It should. So our good friend Kelly Marcel had some hand in it. I don’t know if she’ll ever want to come on the show and talk about what her involvement was. But it sounded just like madness to make it. It’s been in post for forever and I’m just so excited that it looks like it’s so good.
Craig: Well, I mean, I understand why it would have been in post forever. Everything looks like a processed shot. Processed shot, I sound like an old man. Everything looks like a VFX shot.
John: But it wasn’t effects. So that’s the whole magical thing about it. So like most of what you see, they actually did. So all those cars flipping and everything going nuts, that all actually really happened. So except where like the giant –
Craig: Well, yeah. No, that is happening.
John: Except for the giant storm.
John: Apparently, it’s like crazy real.
Craig: But everything looks like something needed to be done in post. In other words, yeah, we definitely shot that car doing that but there’s going to be things we have to paint out. Or the whole background world needs to be painted in. Or it just seemed like — I don’t know, it just seemed like there was a lot of work.
John: They were in Namibia for forever making that movie. So I was excited to see what they did.
Craig: Sick. It looks sick.
John: It looks so good. Our next bit of news news. So last week we recorded the episode and I almost mentioned it on the episode last week but I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to launch. So Writer Emergency Pack which was the little deck of cards for writers when you get in a jam and you sort of get stuck. It was a Kickstarter we did back at the end of last year. They’re now finally available in stores. So you can find them at WriterEmergency.com. You can find them at the John August Store. You can also find them on Amazon. So just search for Writer Emergency Pack and we are there on Amazon.
So I wrote a Kickstarter update where I talked through sort of the whole process of how you actually put things on the store in Amazon and how you ship things out because it was crazy. It took me three months to sort of put it all together. Like literally just clicking the buy button in the John August Store, there’s like six different companies involved to like make that transaction happen, which has just been nuts.
But it’s actually working. And people are buying them and people like them. So they are available and out there in the world. So if you missed the Kickstarter and you want one, you can now go get one for yourself.
Craig: Spectacular. If it’s on Amazon.com, can I get it through Fresh Delivery? Will it show up in the morning before I wake up?
John: I don’t think it will show up with Fresh Delivery. But you can get Prime Delivery.
Craig: Oh, okay.
John: So you can get that sort of sweet ass Prime Delivery even the next day delivery. So that’s pretty good.
Craig: Prime is gorgeous.
John: So, before, we were talking about like sort of stealth advertising and whether we want to do advertising. This is a perfect chance for us to test whether advertising will be annoying on this podcast if we were to add it.
So let me try to do this properly. Our practice sponsor this week is Writer Emergency Pack, an illustrated deck of useful ideas for writers to help you get unstuck. Last year, it was the most backed card project in Kickstarter history.
John: Now it’s available for anyone to buy. It makes a great gift for writers, which I suspect is pretty much anyone listening to this podcast.
You can find Writer Emergency Pack on Amazon. Just search for Writer Emergency. But we have a special offer for Scriptnotes listeners. Go to WriterEmergency.com and click the buy button to buy it on the John August Store. When you check out, use the special promo code Scriptnotes to save 10% on your order and help us figure out whether our listeners will actually use promo codes.
John: So our thanks to Writer Emergency Pack for helping to practice sponsor our show this week.
Craig: I mean, my character in the advertisements is going to be Golly Gee guy. [laughs]
John: Absolutely. I didn’t know that was possible. [laughs]
Craig: What? Save $10? No, I’m still on Backblaze over here. And we’re not getting paid for that at all.
John: So last week we talked about K.C. Scott’s script, This Is Working. And I just loved that conversation. I went back and listened to the episode. I was just delighted with it. Have you listened to it again?
Craig: I listened to it and I thought it was really good. And we did get a lot of really good feedback. People seemed to want this some more. They, you know, “Do it every week.” Well, no. Look, you can’t have your birthday every week, you know. This kind of thing or when we break down a whole movie, it’s actually work. And we have our own work. So –
John: And it’s a lot of work.
Craig: Yeah. We already have jobs. So that’s something that we will do not quite as frequently as many of you would hope. But I was really encouraged by all the positive feedback. And I thought it was particularly good to have Franklin on because it was nice that we had that other perspective, the non-screenwriter perspective.
John: Yeah. So we got a lot of great comments on Facebook and Twitter. So thank you all for sharing your thoughts.
It was also fun. A couple of people wrote in, like before the episode, saying like, “These are my thoughts.” Like one woman did her sort of breakdown analysis of where she thought the work was and her notes on it before the episode aired. And she was right on. So it was great to see that there was excitement and consensus about it.
So, yeah, I would love to do this again too. I think it’s not going to be a very often thing because it is a lot of work. But it was really a fun challenge.
And Kurt, K.C. Scott, was just fantastic. So I wanted to share a little bit more about the emails we had back and forth after the episode aired. So, a little more detail about Kurt.
He writes, “I’m married. We’re expecting our first child in August. I spent most of my career in progressive politics and now I do research for a labor union. I’ve been writing for a while, a mix of short fiction and sports blogging mostly until three years ago when I began writing feature length specs. TV is intriguing but my passion is film.”
And that was a question, like is he a TV person or is he a film person? And he says he’s a film person.
John: “As my screenwriter career goes, I’m willing to be patient but also aggressive, whether that means flying to LA for meetings or taking time off from my day job for assignments. With a child on the way, economic security means something to me. But both my wife and I are on-board with this, so whatever it takes, I’ll do it.
“As far as travel to LA goes, the good thing about my job is that I’m there once a month for work. We have an office in Commerce City, plus I get to bank Southwest miles, and I have a Southwest credit card, and buddies will put me up if I need to stay for a few days. I’m working every angle to cut costs, no choice really.”
Craig: Yeah. I like that. You definitely want to cut costs. People sometimes feel like they need to invest in a new place to make it seem real. It’s that syndrome of, “I’m starting a business, so I’m going to spend a ton of money to make that business look like a real business. And now, I just need customers.” Well, with screenwriting, you don’t need to spend anything. So if you have to come, if you have to travel to LA, you know, and you don’t have a lot of money or you have people that are relying on you, like a child on the way, then I just always advise to be as cheap as you can.
Just be cheap. Spend nothing. Spend as little as possible. There’s no value in — and by the way, no romance in being the person who is putting hotel rooms on credit cards because you want to feel better about yourself.
John: Yeah. What I loved about Kurt’s follow-up email there was that he’s both all in but he’s not sort of like all in. He’s not, you know, “Oh, I’m going to quit everything. I’m going to move to LA and start over, start fresh.”
John: You know, I think you have a moment where you can do that right after college, where like there’s really you have no commitments to anything. So like, “Well, why not? You got to start somewhere, why not start there.”
So here’s a guy who has a kid on the way. He has a pretty good job in Oakland. He’d love to become a screenwriter, but he’s doing exactly the right things. He’s sort of iterating. This wasn’t the first thing he wrote. He’s written a bunch. He’s sort of built up his experience he sort of has. By the time he shows up in LA, he’ll have some sort of screenwriting capital. He has stuff he can show. He has a plan for what he wants to do next.
But he’s also being smart. And he’s not like getting himself a fancy apartment on the west side. He’s like going to sleep on some couches, and take those meetings, and get stuff started. And I think that’s going to be a key to success for Kurt.
Craig: I have a question for you. So I actually was talking to a friend of the podcast, Mike Birbiglia, today, or as I call him, Mike Burorgaberbium. And he listened to that podcast and really enjoyed it. And he said, “I bet this guy’s phone is going to start ringing now.”
Now, I wasn’t sure because, you know, he’s got to rewrite his script and people are going to want to read the script, and eventually he’ll put it online at The Black List. But what do you think? Do you think his phone is going to start ringing?
John: Well, his phone would have literally started ringing because his phone number was on the cover page originally.
John: And I emailed him saying like, “Hey, do you really want your phone number there?” He’s like, “Yeah, maybe let’s take that off.”
John: So he sent a cleaner version that has his phone number off of it. But I hope that he would be getting some direct emails from folks who liked it and folks who want to pursue him. If I were a junior agent, not just in a big agency but really kind of any agency or a manager, I would say, “This guy seems like he sort of meets the criteria of like he’s a really good writer and he’s really smart and seems to get it.” These are the things you want if you’re an agent or a manager.
So I think a month from now, let’s follow up with him and see –
John: We’ll reach out to him and sort of what is happening next for him.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, I guess we’ll find out if anybody listens to this show.
John: Yeah. We’ll see. So the thing I appreciate I think most about Kurt’s work is that he had good craftsmanship. Like the work was good on the page, but he also seemed to be approaching it from the right perspective. And over the spring break, I read a book that kind of reminded me of the same idea. It’s this book called So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport, and I’ll have a link for it at the show notes.
But what I liked about it was he was reframing this argument about sort of, “What do you want to do with your life?” Rather than saying like, “Oh, you should follow your passion. Like there’s a dream job out there, you just have to find your dream job,” he said, “Instead, what you need to do is figure out what is it that you are good at by just doing it and seeing how it all sort of works out.” So saying like some people will make themselves miserable by switching from job to job or like they’ll get stuck in sort of the hard part of it and never realize there’s a place beyond that they’re trying to push to.
And what I liked about what Kurt was doing was he was at it every day and he was clearly focusing on getting the best things he can written and not trying to pursue screenwriting as a sort of lottery career, the sort of this dream of winning it. At no point in our conversations does Kurt ever bring up the idea of like, “Oh, you know what, I thought I’d write this script and sell it for a bunch of money and then be a screenwriter.” That’s never been part of the conversation.
Craig: No. I mean, he’s doing that thing that I talk about where you take your plan A and make a plan B, take your plan B, make a plan A. My guess is that he’s probably pretty darn good at his job. And even if that job is in terms of his long-term view, plan B, if his plan A is be a screenwriter, he’s probably made that plan B job as plan A.
He shows up on time, he does his work, he thinks, he applies himself, he has energy, he supports a family, helps support a family. And then he also does this, which is how I think it should be done. I love this advice about follow your passion being flawed.
It’s a little bit like saying, “Look, if you want to have a marriage that lasts your whole life, follow your passion. When you meet somebody and your heart is pounding and you’re sweating and you have that like rush, that chemical rush of just falling head over heels, that’s it, get married that day.” No. That’s not what love is. That’s just infatuation, right? Love is the product of the work. It’s the product of the commitment.
John: Yeah. Falling head over heels, that is, you know, lust and attraction. And it’s wonderful. And there’s a reason why we have so many great things written about that. But that’s not marriage.
John: Marriage is, you know, the getting up and doing it again every single day. And so figuring out how you can be good at being married is like how you can be good at being in any kind of career. It’s like how do you make the situation that you’re in as good as it can be. That doesn’t mean settling for a bad situation.
John: It means looking for what it is about the situation that you can work on it and sort of continuously kind of get better at.
John: And thinking back to sort of all of our friends who have become screenwriters and trying to find unifying themes, because so often the knock becomes, “Oh, well, you had this access, you had these sort of magical things that happened.” You know what, some of those things are true, and some of those things were luck, and some of those things were, you know, starting on, you know, second base.
But some of it is also just the constant practice. And when you sit down to write, that first 10 minutes for me is generally kind of awful. And then it’s like, “Oh my God, if I can push through to 15 minutes, then I’ll be done.” And then I’ve written an hour. It’s the same thing with finishing that first script, and then finishing the second script, and then finishing the third script.
No one that I know sold their first script. No one sold the first thing they ever wrote.
John: And if that is the standard, then people are going to start their career and be disappointed and look for reasons that aren’t their own reasons about why it didn’t happen.
In this book that I was talking about, the Cal Newport book, he talks about the difference between people who were in like a high school band and the people who — you know, like a high school rock band and the people who became big musical stars. And it tends to be people who were just disciplined about practicing.
They were looking at every day how can I get better. They were looking at like how can I have fun. They were looking at how can I do this really hard work and be better at it for having done the really hard work.
And I think that sometimes we don’t, especially in screenwriting, we never see that really hard work.
John: And so we just assume like, “Oh, it must have been easy for them.” And in most cases, it wasn’t easy at all.
Craig: That’s right. A lot of this is about shedding our romantic understanding of what success is, our romantic understanding of what it means to be a professional, and our romantic understanding of what passion is all about. What he says here is the better you get at something, the more it becomes a passion, a true passion.
When we are children, we fall in love with things and we do them for a month or two and then we stop. And you have a daughter, I’m sure you’ve seen her go through these phases where she becomes obsessed with something. And then –
John: Oh, yeah. Rainbow looms. Oh my God, like she could not get enough rainbow looms and making these little elastic bracelets. And then suddenly she never wants to look at it again.
Craig: That’s right. My son was obsessed with rocks for five months. I have a drawer full of these rocks. [laughs] But he don’t look at the rocks anymore. But that’s normal. That’s part of growing up.
What I see sometimes in a distressing way in people who are recent college graduates is that they’re still doing it. And the mistake that they’re making is they’re mistaking initial excitement and novelty and the romance of the what-can-be for something that’s real. What is real is the day-after-day work that exists when the novelty is long gone.
There is nothing new about writing a screenplay for you or for me in a sense. But because we are professionals and we practice and we try and get better, we are inspired to do better. There is something beyond the rush of the novelty. There is a true professional joy, I think. And that just requires commitment.
John: So I’m just speculating here. But I’m looking at sort of other people who work in our industry. So you look at agents. And so you’d never just become a talent agent. There’s a whole hierarchy you go through.
And so you start in the mail room, and you work your way up to a desk where you’re answering the phone for an agent, and then you might become a junior agent, and you might finally have clients of your own. That training ground, those initial steps are terrible. And they’re sort of deliberately terrible. And it is not to punish anybody, but just so you can actually see from the ground up this is how it all works, this is how it all fits together.
And so if somebody bails on it saying like, “I hated being in the mail room,” well, okay, you hated being in the mail room but that really wasn’t what you were trying to do anyway. That wasn’t what being an agent was. That was just the initial thing. And if you can push through it, if you can look for like what are the ways in being in the mail room that I can figure stuff out, you are the person who’s going to move ahead.
I remember having an internship at Universal, the summer between my two years at Stark Program, and I had the most boring job. I was the intern below three assistants to the head of physical production at Universal. And there was literally nothing for me to do but like file a couple of papers every day.
John: But one of the things I recognized I could do is there was this moment, like there were 10 minutes after lunch where my boss, Donna, was sort of in a happy place.
John: And so during that happy place, I’d go –
Craig: [laughs] You mean drunk?
John: [laughs] She was just sort of like sedated. Like there were like no crises for like just a little while.
Craig: Oh, I thought she just had like a three martini lunch or something.
John: Yeah. I’ve told you some great stories from that summer.
But one of the things I recognized is I’m filing all these papers and there’s all these budgets. At that time they were shooting Greedy and The Flintstones and a few other movies. And I was reading through all the budgets because the budgets are in front of me, I’m going to read them.
And if I saw things I didn’t understand, I could ask her like two questions. I could ask her those two questions. And if they were smart questions, she would say like, “Well, that was actually a good question.” Like she could see that I was actually paying attention and was moving forward. I was getting something out of this. And that helped me there and it got me a better internship at the end of the summer.
Craig: What’s interesting is that these other job paths in Hollywood will quickly burn out, I think, the dilettantes. You can say you want to be a filmmaker, you direct a film, you go through that exhaustion and that misery, you come out the other end, and you don’t want to do it anymore, I understand. And if you do, you do.
Working at an agency, working at a studio, there is that long military march through the ranks. But not so with screenwriting. It’s the one gig. It’s like the — I guess, acting, a little bit, too. Acting and screenwriting, you could just keep banging your head against that wall for a while.
John: But here’s where I think there is an opportunity for writers. And maybe this is part of the reason why television has gotten so much better. If you look at television, there is that system where you work your way up through. So, yes, you’ve gone off and you’ve written your own specs and people are hiring you based on material you’ve written before, but there’s also people who get hired on as writers’ assistants or get hired on as sort of the script coordinators, the ones who are like sort of around the writers all the time but are not actually being allowed to write the scripts.
And those are the jobs in which if you can show that you are a smart person, that you’re adding value, that you are getting your job and understanding how to push beyond past it, that’s a real opportunity.
I have friends who are on the fourth season of a TV show and they are remarkably capable. And because they’ve been capable, they’ve been given more and more responsibilities in terms of like not just being on the set, but like shadowing the director and getting to do things that a writer in their position wouldn’t normally get to do. Because they have not only done their job well, but they’ve recognized, “You know what, I see what this next thing is and I can ask those smart questions and I can be trusted to do those next things.”
Craig: We don’t have that in features, obviously.
Craig: But what’s interesting is you’re describing somebody that seems remarkably free of a sense of entitlement. And that is a lot of what the problem is. When we say chase your dream, when someone says, “I’m going to keep chasing my dream because it’s my dream and I believe in it and I know that it’s what I’m supposed to do,” what I hear is “I’m entitled to this. I’m entitled to it. I’m just going to keep chasing because I’m supposed to have it.”
Craig: You’re not supposed to have anything. You get what you earn. And there are remarkable stories of people with extraordinary talent who squander it because they’re just waiting for somebody to give them something. And of course there are people who have no talent who are also waiting.
And, you know, when you talk about that TV room, it sounds to me like none of those people got there and said, “Well, look, just privately, I’m smarter and better at this than the people that are my bosses. So, you know, I’m going to wait for them to realize that.” Okay. [laughs] Good luck. Good luck.
John: This all reminds me of like sort of the final thing that Cal Newport’s book points out called “The Law of Remarkability” which says, “For a project to succeed, it should be remarkable in two different ways. First, it must compel people who encounter it to remark about it to others. Second, it must be launched in a venue that supports such remarking.”
And this thing, it makes me think back to Kurt’s script because, you know, we’re talking about sort of in the preamble to it, we’re talking about how scripts get passed around and how the Black List formed. And that really is something like you need something that you think is so good that you comment on it to other people. And, you know, the network of Hollywood is set up in such a way that things can get passed around. There’s a venue for it.
So if Kurt was just writing his scripts in Oakland and never showed them to anyone, there would be nothing for anyone to remark about. There wouldn’t be any sort of venue for that to be happening in. So by sharing it with us, but also sharing it in screenwriting competitions or blcklst.com or other places, sending it out there in the world, it gives people a chance to talk about, “You know what? This is really good.”
Craig: Well, I like that second point. It must be launched in a venue that supports such remarking. And part of what that says to me is that the venue has to be authentic. It has to be valid and meaningful because in general in Hollywood and I think in every business, people remark on things that have been given some sort of imprimatur. Somebody that they trust has said, “I like this.”
So the Black List service essentially is that, right? It’s a venue that was designed to be trusted by the people that remark about things.
I think that what we do with our Three Page Challenge, we’re trusted I think. So hopefully, people will see our opinions as trustworthy. And it doesn’t mean they have to like what Kurt did. But what it means is that they’re going to take it seriously.
It’s also my problem with a lot of the contests and pitch fests and all the stuff that go on because what they’re doing is they’re selling themselves as a legitimate venue when they aren’t really compelling. You’ll see people say things like, “Well, you know, I was a quarter finalist at the, you know, blah blah blah contest.”
And I’ll think no one cares. No one cares if you win that contest. I think they care about Nicholl. I think they care about Austin, the, “Oh, I was selected as a top ten pitch at the pitch fest blah blah blah.” Nobody cares. No one cares.
And so, you know, the endless refrain of caveat emptor on this podcast, when people tell you, “Give us money because we’re going to offer you a legitimate venue that real professionals are watching,” almost always that’s not true. Because they watch very little. Frankly, if they watch even one venue, that’s more than most of their co-workers.
So I think the blcklst.com, Nicholl, Austin, that’s — I don’t know. Any other ones?
John: I don’t know if there’s any ones that are meaningful enough that I can recommend them.
Craig: There you go.
John: But this also reminds me of what your advice was to Malcolm Spellman and Tim Talbott when they came to with Balls Out. They were writing as The Robotard 8000. They came through with this crazy script.
And I think you recognized two things. First off, that it was remarkable enough that people would talk about it because it was just outrageous and it had a compelling thing, it had hooks to it that people could talk about which is great. Second, you said, “You know what? Put it up on the web. Put it up on the Internet. Let people see it and let people talk about it and let it get it out there in the world because it is, you know, special and remarkable.”
And so not to worry about selling this as a spec script but letting people see what this thing was. And so I think you had both of these instincts from the start.
Craig: Well, that one was an interesting case because I felt — I wasn’t thinking in terms of venue but trying to put it into context of what Cal Newport has written with his book. That seemed to me like they should create their own venue, that their whole, their entire aesthetic was, “We’re not like anything you’ve ever seen. We’re not called what you think, we don’t write what you think. So we’re going to create our own thing.”
And they did and the website that they made, so their own venue featured — is it Gamera? Was that the turtle? [laughs] It looks like it was a turtle.
John: Yeah, yeah.
Craig: It was like a huge monster turtle swinging on a gymnastics thing. It was so bizarre and just right. And then from there, they got picked up to the Black List, not the service, but the actual annual Black List. And they made the annual Black List. So that was the second level of legitimacy.
And curiously enough, we just did a reading of that script, Balls Out, for the Black List and it’s on a podcast that’s coming up. And so I did the narration. But really good actors read the parts including Paul Scheer and Jason Mantzoukas. So you should check that out. It came out really well, I thought.
John: Craig Mazin is recommending another podcast. So something unusual is happening –
Craig: I don’t know the name of it. [laughs] So I feel like I’m still okay.
John: Stuart will research the name and we’ll put a link in the show notes so you can find –
Craig: It’s going to be on a thing –
John: Craig’s narration for Balls Out. Do you get to say filthy words?
Craig: Oh, my God. There were a few of those where I just thought, “Well, if people complain, I’ll just say I was reading what I was handed.”
John: So Craig also wrote up some great bits of advice on the outline that I thought were terrific. So this is camera directions for screenwriters. Craig, talk us through what words screenwriters should be using if they’re using camera directions in their script.
Craig: Well, I thought this was only fair. I mean, here we are, we’re the guys saying, “Oh, ignore these people with their stupid rules. Like never put camera directions in scripts.” But it’s not fair. I don’t think for us to say, “No, no. Go ahead and do it,” if we don’t talk about how you should do it. And this all comes under the general title, “You can’t pan up.”
So I’ll see this in scripts all the time, “Pan up to find.” Okay, so let’s just talk about some of these terms and what they mean. None of them, the mistakes that you could make with this are going to ruin your screenplay. Don’t get me wrong. If you write a terrific script, nobody will care. But some of these things are just binary, they’re right or wrong.
So panning. You can’t pan up. A pan is essentially the camera version of shaking your head no. The camera is on a spot and it doesn’t go up or down. It hinges left and right. The opposite of that is tilting. You can tilt up and down. That’s the camera equivalent of nodding yes, right? So sometimes you want to tilt up or tilt down.
But just think about in your mind a head moving no or a head moving yes. Think about how that means the camera’s moving in relation to what’s in front of you. A lot of times, that’s not really what you want. What you really want to do is keep the camera pointing forward in a certain horizontal way, but moving the entire camera to the left or right or up or down.
So in that case, what you want to talk about is move right or move left. You can also say dolly right or dolly left if you want. And then for forward and backwards, you can say push in, pull out. By the way, dolly right and dolly left, those aren’t technically right either. You’re supposed to dolly forward and dolly back, and truck right and truck left. But trucking is a weird term that nobody uses really.
John: Yeah. No one ever says truck.
Craig: Right. So I think dolly is okay there. Sometimes I will see this mistake, people will say, “Zoom in on.” And I think, “Well, do you mean zoom in or do you mean push in?” So two very different things. John, I’m sure you know this.
John: Yeah, if you’re making a ’70s paranoia thriller, then yes, zooming in is absolutely correct. But rarely we call that a zoom. You know, there might be some case where you really want that effect of, you know, the zoom, or you want sort of the vertigo zoom. You know, if that really is appropriate to your moment, call it out. But that’s rarely — what’s called a dolly zoom, that’s often what that’s referred to.
Craig: Yeah. It’s a dolly zoom.
John: If that really is appropriate, that’s fine. Go and do it. But most cases, you know, you are moving in, you are, you know, revealing. A lot of these things I find in my own script, I will say, “Move to reveal.” That way, I’m not saying it has to be a dolly or a pan or whatever else. It’s just like the camera does something to show us something we did not see before.
Craig: Right. Yeah. You’re not there so you’re not sure if it’s going to be right or left or back or forth. But the point is move the camera to reveal something.
So when you’re pushing in, you’re moving the whole camera forward. And that means that everything in the screen starts to — you get closer to everything sort of at the same time.
A zoom is a lens. On a zoom, the camera doesn’t move at all. Instead, the camera operator is turning a lens and changing the focal length of the lenses they turn. So what happens is it’s almost like you’re blowing up the image. Rather than moving, you’re blowing it up.
So if you want to see an example of zoom in — Quentin Tarantino will still use them to ironic effect in Kill Bill when the Bride shows up to train with Pai Mei, he does lots of zooms on Pai Mei’s face because he’s — the whole thing, I mean, even the film has been treated so it’s supposed to look like it’s a ’70s karate movie. So that’s a zoom. You generally aren’t going to be zooming.
If you want the camera to go up or down without tilting, right, then you could talk about booming up or camera rises or crane up or crane down or boom down.
And then let’s talk about some angles. There are times when you want to be looking down on something and there are times when you want to be looking up at something. You can say we look down on or we look up at. Or you can also say high angle on, low angle. Low angle means you’re down low looking up. High angle, you’re up high looking down.
John: If you ever get confused just think a giant is high. What would a giant be looking at? A dwarf is low, what would a dwarf be looking up at? That’s the difference between high angle and low angle.
Again, you’re not likely to have to call these out very often. I mean, it would be a very specific case that really needs to be in the script if you’re going to be using either one of those.
Craig: Well, that brings me to the cardinal sin of camera direction. And the cardinal sin of camera direction in your screenplay is not, “Don’t use camera direction…” The cardinal sin — that’s my impression of these idiots. The cardinal sin of — “Give me money now.” The cardinal sin of camera direction is unmotivated camera direction.
Unmotivated camera direction is a bad thing to do when you’re making a movie, as a director, as a cinematographer, you don’t move the camera pointlessly. You want to move it for a reason, right? Okay, what’s your reason? Maybe your reason is just to create a feeling. Maybe your reason is to see something specific.
As a screenwriter, you want to make sure that if you’re calling out a specific camera move or angle, it’s for a purpose. Ask these questions, why does the camera need to move? Why do I have to see what it is showing me? What information do I learn from what it showing me? And through those, the answers to those questions, you will have intentional motivated camera direction.
John: Absolutely true. And I was thinking back to recent things I’ve written. And in Scary Stories there’s a moment where a character leaves the room and we stay behind the room. The camera turns around and very slowly creeps in on something. That’s the definition of intentionality. It’s like there’s nothing making us look over in that direction so the choice to do that makes it really clear something very big and unsettling is about to happen and be ready for it. That’s motivation. But so I have to write all that stuff into the script.
But in most cases, you’re not going to do that at all. And so it’s not going to matter to me whether something’s a two shot or a single shot or how we’re dollying or how we’re moving through these things.
Sometimes, you want to call out a general style for how things are supposed to feel. And so there’s moments in the script that definitely have a different feel. And I would talk about sort of like there were times I would say sort of very loose documentary style footage. That’s great, but rarely am I calling out stuff otherwise.
Craig: Yeah. So in the script I’m writing now, there are two characters who are scared to go somewhere. They’re scared to cross something. And they decide the only way they’re going to be able to do it is if they do it together. And so they sort of push themselves together and start walking slowly.
And then I call out a shot on their feet to see how close their feet are kind of and how trembly they are. You know, look, you can watch movies and see a shot like that and go, “Oh, you know what? It’s nice to occasionally look at the feet. That’s cool.” Not good enough. Why am I looking at feet? What am I learning from the feet? I need to know.
So unmotivated camera direction is just like unmotivated dialogue or action. Don’t talk to me if I don’t need to hear the words or they don’t mean a damn thing. And don’t show me something that doesn’t mean anything.
So that stuff needs to be built in. But if you have a moment where you know why you want to do it and you know what the audience is going to get out of it, here’s a sense of what the vocabulary is so you don’t write pan up.
John: Don’t write pan up. Never write pan up.
Craig: You can’t pan up.
John: So on the topics of the words on the page, Dave wrote in with question. He’s writing, “My protagonist is traveling from neighborhood to neighborhood. For my scene headings, should it be as generic as EXT. NEIGHBORHOOD — DAY and EXT. NEIGHBORHOOD- TODAY? Or do I need to be more specific?” Craig?
Craig: Well, you know, I think you need to be much more specific than that. First of all, there’s no such thing as neighborhood. Even if you were in one neighborhood, I wouldn’t write neighborhood. That means nothing.
Craig: That is a vanilla pudding description. So I want to know where he is. You need to define my space. EXT. BLANKETY..WILLIAMSTOWN — DAY , a da-da-da kind of place. Fine. He crosses out of Williamstown into EXT, da-da-da, a new kind of place. Here’s what it’s like.”
No, of course I need to know. Neighborhood is, that’s like EXT. BUILDING.
John: Absolutely. Or INT. ROOM.
Craig: Yeah. [laughs]
John: What is a room? I have no idea what a room is. So what Craig is pointing out is that you’d probably have both in your scene header something that encapsulates the idea of what the place is, so a name for like it’s Williamstown. And then the first time that you are there, you’re giving us a sense of flavor of what this thing feels like. The next time we see Williamstown, we’re like, “Oh, it’s that neighborhood.” But you have to be really specific in those scene headers so we know what it is we’re looking at.
John: You don’t want it over describe in the scene header. Don’t throw us 15 words in the scene header. But just give it a name so that once we — so that sticks in our head. And it may be a very good idea to make sure you’re not naming two different locations really similar things. So if you have Williamsport and Williamstown, we won’t be able to tell the difference.
Craig: Correct. Now, if you have a situation where your character is on a bus or a train and the ideas is they’re traveling rapidly through, you know, from place to place or it’s montagey, you can shorthand it because we’ll never know, we’re never going to be there.
Craig: So we don’t know the name and we don’t need to know the name and we could just say, you know Jim looks out of a train as it passes through, you know, urban blight, suburban blah, blah, gentrification, whatever. Describe, give me a flavor of it. So just think to yourself, some locations scout has to go out and figure this out. Where am I sending them? They need to know. You know, neighborhood 1 and neighborhood 2 tells nobody anything.
Craig: All right.
John: 100% agree. Next question, Brian writes, “I’ve written an animated pilot script and I’m wondering if I should denote anywhere in the script that it is in fact animated. I made the mistake at an early table read of not indicating this and most of the notes I received assumed it was live action. Like, ‘It would be impossible to make,’ or, ‘You can’t train a cobra to do that,’ et cetera.”
Craig: [laughs] You can’t train a cobra to speak.
John: “As my script is now getting in the hands of agents, producers and et cetera, I’m wondering if there’s anything I should add in the script itself to make it clear to the reader immediately that we’re talking about a cartoon to avoid any confusion?” What would you do Craig?
Craig: Very simply. Let’s say the title of this were, you know, John the Cobra, then I would say John the Cobra an animated pilot by Brian, right? Just put it right on the title page, put the word animated pilot and this way no one will even get to page one without knowing it’s animated. I mean, yes, for sure, I think you’ve got to just call it out.
John: I think you got to call it out too. But I’ve had this actually happen to me. There’s a project I wrote recently, you know, I say recently, three years ago, and people who read it were like, “Oh yeah, so this is animated, right?” “Like no, no, no, I really mean for this to be live action.” They’re like, “Oh.” And it’s like, “Oh, I really should have told you that before I had you spend, you know, 90 minutes reading the script.” So, that’s also a great case for whatever we’re going to call the intermediary page between the title page and the first page.
John: If you have something to talk about like this is the animation style that it’s going for, that’s the perfect place to do it.
Craig: Yeah, for sure. Yeah, but no, you need to make that clear. You can’t train a cobra to do that.
Craig: That cobra is having a discussion with a rat. [laughs] How do we do that?
John: But Craig, could you train cobra to fight polio?
Craig: No, but I’ll tell you what. You can train polio to fight glioblastoma multiforme and that is my One Cool Thing. Look, it’s like now Segue Man has gotten a sidekick? [laughs]
John: [laughs] Absolutely, Segue Boy.
Craig: I’m Segue Boy.
John: Transition Boy.
Craig: Yeah, I’m Transition Boy. My parents died in a fire.
John: Transition Boy started as Transition Girl but –
Craig: Yeah exactly, transition — no, then I’ll be Post Transition Girl. So I’m Transition Boy.
John: Transitioning Boy.
Craig: I’m Transitioned Boy. Anyway, so here’s my One Cool Thing. Polio, so here’s a crazy idea, take a disease that used to kill and paralyze millions of people and was finally eradicated by vaccines and use it to treat glioblastoma multiforme. Glioblastoma multiforme is pretty much the worst diagnosis you can get from a neurologist.
John: I don’t know what it is. So tell me what that is.
Craig: Glioblastoma multiforme is a kind of brain tumor. It is malignant, it is incredibly aggressive and it essentially becomes inoperable. And here’s why — it’s operable. It’s very operable, but pointlessly operable. Because what happens is they’ll go and they’ll take out as much of it as they can. But it’s impossible to get 100% of it. So they can literally remove 99% of this glioblastoma multiforme tumor and the tiny remaining cancer cells will just go bonkers again. It is incredibly aggressive.
And the deal with glioblastoma multiforme is that if you were diagnosed with this, you’re looking at anywhere from four months to four years. Nobody makes it past five years, period, the end. This is terminal. And it is super bad. And that’s with surgery and radiation and chemo. And the chemo, they say, will give you maybe two months. I mean, it’s the worst.
Well, so [laughs] a group of brilliant people have come up with this idea and it’s showing early promise. It’s not perfect yet but it’s showing early promise. What they’ve done is they have engineered poliovirus. They’ve taken poliovirus and they’ve genetically altered it. So, if you are afraid of genetically modified organisms, I’m so sorry, they’re wonderful. And they actually spliced it with some genetic code from the common cold. One of the things about polio is that it’s really good at replicating itself.
Well, this polio isn’t so good at replicating itself but what it does do is it attaches to these very specific receptors on the cancer cells themselves and starts to destroy the cancer cells without infecting healthy cells. It’s kind of brilliant. It is incredibly painstaking. They have to figure out exactly how much to put in. They have to surgically implant it in there. Then they’ve got to wait. And essentially what happens is the polio isn’t really killing the cancer cells because it’s a weakened poliovirus anyway. What the polio is doing is turning the cancer cells which normally exist like ninjas that the good guys can’t see and they’re basically shining a light on them, so that the immune system which normally cannot tell that the cancer cell is bad, now sees, “Oh my God, it’s polio”.
And it goes rushing in to kill the cancer cells and they’ve had some initial very positive results, not perfect yet by any stretch. But this could be a big deal as in they could, if this is refined, this could actually cure a number of — and it seems to have already cured a few people and this was an incurable disease so that’s just a remarkable breakthrough and I hope that it pays off in the way that they’re thinking it eventually will.
John: Yeah, I hope it works well. I just have this real flashback to Emma Thompson at the very start of I Am Legend. And it has one of the best intros to a movie I’ve ever seen. It’s basically this CNN interview with Emma Thompson and she’s like — so the interviewer says like, “So you’ve cured cancer?” It’s like, “Yes, we’ve cured cancer,” and then smash cut to the end of civilization and basically they genetically modified something that became the disease that killed everybody.
Craig: Well, this is where Hollywood makes me angry because it’s easy for us — that’s a great way to get into a movie and it is. The problem is that what is narratively convenient for us is actually damaging the credibility of really good science. Because in truth, that’s not what we should be scared of. What we should be scared of is glioblastoma multiforme, not these fascinating treatments to cure it.
So, yes, ever since War of the Worlds, I mean we’ve always dreaded the virus, you now.
Craig: Now, we dread vaccines, or at least some idiots do. Because we’ve been taught that science is messing with the primal forces of nature. Yeah, well, that’s how we got aspirin and that’s how we got Advil and that’s why don’t all die when we’re 40. So I’m entirely in favor of these things.
And by the way, if you read about this polio treatment of glioblastoma, you’ll see that it was subject to some of the most rigorous controls by the federal government. And they were really careful.
John: Oh, I could imagine why.
Craig: Yeah, they were really –
John: It’s polio.
Craig: It’s polio, you know, so they were really, really careful. And they did a spectacular job. So, here’s hoping.
John: Hurray. My One Cool Thing is the resolution of a lawsuit about Three’s Company and an Off-Broadway play called 3C which was a parody of Three’s Company or a very specific satire based around Three’s Company.
So what happened is a federal judge in New York, her name was Loretta A. Preska of the U.S. District Court, a rule that the play 3C did not violate the copyright of Three’s Company. So, it’s a complicated situation, so essentially there was this Off-Broadway production of this play called 3C and it was essentially a parody of Three’s Company.
And from what I understand, I never saw it but it was happening in the same time we were doing Big Fish, is — so basically all of the constructs of Three’s Company, so like the set and the basic characters and sort of what their situation was and played it as if they were all really real. So like what if Jack Tripper really were gay and were around all these sort of homophobic insults. And like what if all this leering and all the stuff this happened sort of around him.
And so it was a very pointed thing. And it got sort of mixed reviews. But it also got a lot of concern by the copyright holders. So it’s a company called DLT Entertainment owns the copyright, owns the rights to remake Three’s Company. And they said, “Uh-uh-uh.” And they filed a cease and desist.
And so this playwright was stuck in this weird situation where the play closed. And he couldn’t publish the play, he couldn’t find other stages for the play, he couldn’t do anything because there was this specter that this other company might come after him.
John: So, he went and sued them and basically this is the first rule and it says, you know what, this was fair use. This was a fair way to sort of take this existing property and, you know, satirize it the same way that an SNL sketch can satirize Scandal or any other sort of popular cultural thing. So, I thought it was really fascinating. I could feel for both sides of the situation as a person who might create the thing that gets parodied. Like, “Well, at what point do I have the opportunity to sort to say like, ‘You can’t do that, that’s my thing?'”
Craig: Well, pretty much no point. I mean, that’s fair use. It’s pretty clear about the parody exception and then the Supreme Court expanded that concept as well to include what it meant to parody public figures.
As somebody that did parody, you know, we wouldn’t have been able to do a thing if we didn’t have that fair us. I mean we were copying things down to – when and we did the — here’s how close we were. We, in Scary Movie 4, part of the parody was the movie Saw. So, we recreated the bathroom, the iconic bathroom from Saw. And we did it so well that when they went back I think and made another Saw, they used part of our set.
Because people buy sets back and forth from each other all the time. And I think we even had part of their set when we made ours. So the key is, is there any chance that people are going to confuse these two things? There’s no chance that people are going to go see the play that you just described and think, “Ah, this is Three’s Company but on stage.” No, it’s not. It’s clearly not. It’s clearly parody and I’m not surprised. I don’t like it when people try and get heavy-handed about copyright stuff because I do believe in copyright. And I do believe in the rights of intellectual property holders.
So, when they truly are bullies, I think it weakens the general cause because there are people out there who want everything to be free all the time, you know. And I’m not one of those people. So, I’m glad that this prevailed. I presume it’s going to stay this way because it just sounds like a classic case of fair use to me.
John: I agree. It sounds like fair use. But part of the reason why I want to bring it up is because if you were this playwright, you know, he was correct and was ultimately vindicated but this is two years where he has not had the ability to actually show his play to anybody.
John: And so just as a warning that if you’re going to walk into dangerous waters, you might ultimately be right. You might have the law on your side, that won’t necessarily help you for a period of time until you get those decisions back.
Craig: That’s right.
John: So, you know, he would much rather not have had to file a lawsuit and then be able to make other plays and he wasn’t be able to do that.
Craig: Yeah. And some of these cases, unfortunately the way the law is set up, it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission. What we found was that if you ask a company for the right to parody a product by let’s say, “Can we please use your logo to parody you?” And they say no, it starts to fall out of fair use because you’ve essentially demonstrated that you didn’t think it was fair use. So, you kind of just proceed like it is fair use.
And then they come after you and then you go, “Oh, what? Well, fair use.” And you usually win. But you’re right, this is the cost of doing business. And this is why in general, you’re better off with somebody big behind you when somebody big comes after you. Obviously, that isn’t always possible.
John: Yeah. So it was pro bono representation in this case. So thank you to whoever lawyers who stepped on his behalf.
John: That is our show this week. So you can respond to me or to Craig on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. We also have a Facebook page which we sometimes check and we actually looked at some of the things on Facebook this week. So you can find us at Facebook/Scriptnotes. We’re on iTunes. You can find us there, just search for Scriptnotes. That’s where you can subscribe and listen to all the episodes. You can also leave us a comment. We look at those comments as well. If you are on iTunes, you can download the Scriptnotes app that is available for iOS, for iPad and for iPhone. That’s where you can also get to all the back episodes of the show.
The service is called Scriptnotes.net. That gets you back to episode one, all the way back to the beginning of this very show where we didn’t know how to do any of this stuff.
John: Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel.
John: It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. It has an outro by a very talented listener, but we haven’t decided which one yet. So, if you are a listener who has an outro for our show, you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org and send us a link to it. And that’s also where you can send your questions, like the two questions we answered today.
John: If you would like to buy a Writer Emergency Pack, you can go to the email@example.com or just writeremergency.com and click the links there. The special code this week, and it’s actually good for this whole month, is Scriptnotes and that will give you 10% off your orders.
John: 10%. That’s savings.
Craig: It’s all that guy. 10%? Wow.
John: That’s unbelievable.
Craig: Tell me more.
John: And we will be back next week. Craig, thank you very much.
Craig: Thanks, John.
John: Okay, bye.
- The LA Times on the CAA to UTA exodus, and CAA’s resulting lawsuit
- Scriptnotes, 191: The Deal with Scripped.com
- Backblaze and CrashPlan online backup services
- Fountain is future proof
- Mad Max: Fury Road trailer
- Writer Emergency Packs are available now (use the code “scriptnotes” at checkout on the John August Store for 10% off through May 1st)
- Writer Emergency Kickstarter update on how online retail works
- Scriptnotes, 190: This Is Working
- So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport
- The Robotard 8000
- Announcing The Black List Table Reads
- Forbes on Duke’s Polio Virus Trial Against Glioblastoma
- Play Reimagining ‘Three’s Company’ Wins Case from The New York Times
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener JT Butler (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 191 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today is a very special Saturday episode of Scriptnotes.
John: Something sort of crazy happened. And we had talked about this on the normal episode that we were recording on Thursday, and then by Friday it had blown up into this whole new thing. So Craig, give us some back story.
Craig: Well, this is I guess our first installment of Scriptnotes Investigates. This is like our little 60 Minutes here. Scripped.com, which is a screenwriting — a webhosted screenwriting solution, went under and in going under it lost all of the screenplays that it was hosting. It’s a pretty bad situation and you and I gave it a few minutes because it seemed pretty bad.
But as the week progressed some things started emerging that made this a much bigger story. We found out who actually owned Scripped.com and we found out that they were kind of trying to hide the fact they owned Scripped.com. And a lot of just stuff started piling up, a lot of questions. And people were getting pretty angry.
So we reached out to the co-owner of the parent company of Scripped.com and surprisingly he agreed to appear on our show along with Guy Goldstein who owns and operates WriterDuet which is not affiliated with this mess particularly.
John: But also sort of entangled with it in a way which is important to suss out.
Craig: Right. He got like sideways entangled. And so they both agreed to come on the show and face the music. And so we asked some pretty tough questions respectfully. And I found them to be forthcoming. So here’s our recording of this interview. And this is — we thought maybe this would be half of a podcast. It’s the whole thing. We get into it. So sit back and enjoy our interview with John Rhodes, the co-owner of ScreenCraft and Scripped.com, and Guy Goldstein, owner and operator of WriterDuet.
Craig: Here’s what we know for those who aren’t already familiar. Scripped.com, that’s Scripped, S-C-R-I-P-P-E-D, was an online screenwriting solution. The idea is that instead of purchasing a standalone app for your computer like Final Draft or Fade In, you became a member of Scripped.com’s website. You’d write your scripts on their website using their hosted formatting software and then you would save your scripts to their site.
There are other services that use that kind of web and cloud-based solution, Celtx and WriterDuet come to mind. Scripped.com came in two flavors: free and a paid subscription. The paid subscription got you some extra features including, interestingly enough, automatic backups of your work.
On Wednesday of this week visitors to the Scripped.com website were told that not only was the service shut down but all quote, “Recent scripts and backups had been irreversibly deleted as a result of technical errors.” The scripts, they said, “No longer existed.”
Adding some confusion to crisis, the message also told users that Scripped.com had partnered with WriterDuet, a separate online and cloud-based screenwriting solution. However, WriterDuet was already free to use by anyone. The nature of the partnership was unclear and it seemed to be of no relevance for users whose scripts had been destroyed by Scripped.com.
Shortly thereafter, Scripped.com’s social media presence on Twitter and Facebook disappeared. And angry customers began to asks simple questions like, “How did this happen?” and “Who did it?” Specifically, “Who is Scripped.com anyway? Who’s in-charge?” And at first no one seemed to know.
On the Scripped.com About Page in their straight text listing of their corporate timeline it indicates that in late 2014 Scripped.com was sold to, “New owners.” It does not indicate who those new owners are. No one could find any published evidence on the Scripped.com site indicating who actually owned the business that just shut down and lost user data.
And then a user at Reddit Screenwriting noticed that there was a tracking link in a Scripped.com email that linked back to an analytics URL at the ScreenCraft.org domain. And it’s the kind of thing you wouldn’t notice unless you were looking for it. And in fact it was quickly scrubbed away from the email.
Now people were asking on Reddit and Twitter, “Was the company called ScreenCraft Media the actual owner of Scripped.com? Where they the responsible party? And if so, why were they attempting to erase evidence of this fact?”
Shortly after, ScreenCraft Media confirmed on Twitter that they are indeed the owners of Scripped.com. ScreenCraft apparently purchased Scripped.com in late 2014. But ScreenCraft themselves are not a screenwriting composition solution, they’re a screenwriting consulting company which among other things runs screenwriting contests as well as a paid screenplay consulting service offering notes for $500 and further consulting services running up to $2,500 per month.
In response to calls for transparency ScreenCraft tweeted a link to a statement. The statement cannot currently be found on either ScreenCraft.org or the Scripped.com websites but we’ll include a link in the show notes. Among other things it gives more detail about how the data loss occurred as well as the scope. While the Scripped.com shutdown announcement says, “Recent script content was lost,” the ScreenCraft statement confirms that “recent” means all of their hosted screenplay content dating back four years to 2011.
How many deleted screenplays are we talking about? The most recent customer base number on Scripped.com is quite old, so the number is likely to be much bigger by now. But as of 2010 Scripped.com had 65,000 registered users.
And we have a lot of questions. And I’m happy to say that we have the right people here to answer them. With us today, we have Guy Goldstein, the owner of WriterDuet, and John Rhodes, co-owner of ScreenCraft Media and by extension Scripped.com. I want thank you both for being here during what I know has got to be a particularly rough week. And Guy, I’m going to ask you to hang tight because we’re going to get to you in a bit. But I thought I’d start by asking John Rhodes. You heard my summary here at the top, did I get that right?
John Rhodes: I think you did. Yeah. By the way, thanks for having me here and giving us this platform to talk about it, get things cleared up because there are a lot of questions out there.
There are some things that are still not clear to me and that we’re still trying to get to the bottom of. I’m not sure about the number of users. That’s a lot higher than I’ve ever seen. We have a lot less than that using the site now and far fewer than that in the email list. So I’m not sure how many people actually are using the service. But that’s how — that’s essentially what happened.
ScreenCraft acquired Scripped.com about a few months ago. Let’s see, it was in December, toward the end of December 2014. And we were, you know, under contract not to announce the acquisition with the previous owners because they wanted it to be a concerted announcement. And so we’ve just been sitting on it and preparing to, you know, improve the community which we thought needed a lot of work.
And this has really blindsided us and caught us, you know, all as a really unfortunate and nasty surprise. And I just want to express very candidly how terrible I feel for all the writers that have lost creative work. And we’re doing everything we can to recover what is recoverable and move forward in the best way possible.
John: This is John. I actually had some exposure to Scripped many years ago because I talked to the guy, or actually I went up to San Francisco to meet a guy named Sunil Rajaraman. Was he the person who created it? Is that person you guys you bought it from? Or is that — has it been through other hands in between then?
John Rhodes: Yeah. As far as I know he is the — one of the owners whom I bought it from. There were a few people involved with the company. And, yeah, Ryan and Sunil were the previous owners. And I mean, all that’s public. We’re the owner since then.
I’m not totally clear on what happened before they got involved. I know at some point it was called Zhura and that they did a lot of development and fund raising, and then community building several years ago. But for the past couple of years it’s been very lightly maintained and the community engagement has waned significantly in terms of number of active monthly users.
Craig: So you guys take over, you buy it outright. You — I believe ScreenCraft is the sole owner of Scripped.com, correct?
John Rhodes: That’s correct. Yeah. ScreenCraft Media is the sole owner of Scripped.com.
Craig: Okay. So you purchased it outright in late 2014, you now on the site. And I think what you’re saying is that you were contractually not able to indicate on Scripped.com that you were the owner of the company, is that right?
John Rhodes: Yeah. We weren’t going to make any public announcement of the transfer without all parties agreeing beforehand. And so we were waiting for an opportune time when we had something to offer this great community. And I was in talks with Guy to, you know, somehow offer the Scripped community WriterDuet as a superior writing tool and, you know, just more advanced screenwriting platform.
You know those talks were continuing when this suddenly happened. And again, like I said, what exactly happened, we’re still getting to the bottom of. But it had to do with a poor transfer process, previous owners deleting backup images.
Craig: We’re going to get to the technical part in a bit.
John Rhodes: Sure.
Craig: But I want to ask the question that I think is the most salient and the one that seems to have people the most upset. In the immediate aftermath of the technical disaster, Scripped.com’s social media presence disappears. And there is what appears to be a pattern of facts that indicates that ScreenCraft Media is distancing itself from the actual ownership of this company, particularly the fact that that tracking link was removed but also no immediate explanation from the actual parent company about what happened. Is that accurate?
John Rhodes: Yeah. I have noticed some tweets about that and a comment on Reddit that someone pointed out to me. It’s unfortunate. I — very candidly, I think there’s two issues at stake and, you know, one is, how did this happen and then two, how was it handled.
Craig: Let’s talk about how it was handled. Because –
John Rhodes: Yeah. It was handled poorly and I want to take responsibility for all of my role in that.
My first impulse when I learned the extent of the loss was, you know, immediately damage control. How can I distance the ScreenCraft brand from, you know, this disaster. They’re two completely separate communities and have no public relation to each other at all. There’s been no formal announcement and I didn’t want it to, you know, have the blindside of losing their data and then also having the Scripped community suddenly realize that they were under new ownership.
But I quickly realized that distancing ScreenCraft from that was a mistake. And so, within several hours I wrote a second email to the entire community, introducing myself as the new owner and ScreenCraft Media as the new owner, and explaining what actually happened.
John: So can I just figure out, so you bought this Scripped.com but you really hadn’t done anything with it yet. Were you buying it for the URL? Like, what was the instinct behind buying this service which doesn’t sound like it had a lot of active — you say have users, had a community, it didn’t feel like people were using it that much or were they? Do you have a sense of how many people were using Scripped.com before it went belly up?
John Rhodes: It’s a good question and I don’t know exactly. The best indication I have is there was just over 100, you know, currently paying users. And there was a fair amount of, you know, regular traffic but not much. Definitely, you know, in the hundreds per day, not the thousands. It’s something that I don’t really know the answer to.
The reason to answer your second, your other question is, you know, why did ScreenCraft purchase it. We were approached by the sellers and they were ready to move on to other ventures. I think they had just, you know, realized that it wasn’t living up to the expectations that they wanted for it.
And I know this, you know, niche very well. I come from the, you know, creative screenplay development world. I’ve worked for top producers and top managers and top film distribution executives. And with my expertise and my very quick success with ScreenCraft as a contest platform and a consulting service, I had a strong sense that I could bring a lot of value to the users and improve their platform and offer them something that they weren’t getting with their current, you know, management that had moved on to other ventures.
Craig: I presume that you also — I mean, just as a business man, while I admire your desire to bring value to those users I presume you also perceived that they were going to bring value to you, otherwise why buy this company.
John Rhodes: Absolutely, yeah. I mean, I think the hope was that we were going to, you know, cultivate a thriving community of writers.
Craig: Who would then perhaps purchase your consulting services?
John Rhodes: Yeah. Maybe. I mean, I go into things, I mean, well, I would be in a very different industry if I was just interested in making money. I love working with creative people and I love working with writers and I’m a writer myself. And it looked like a good opportunity. The sellers were very motivated to move on. And –
Craig: I’m just a little hung up on this idea that you guys had some sort of contractual arrangement to not announce something that frankly must be, I assume if one corporation buys another there’s some sort of public filing that needs to occur, right? I mean, there’s something that’s inexorably public about that. It can’t be done secretly, right?
John Rhodes: No. I mean, companies can be bought and sold privately all the time.
Craig: Okay. So there was no requirement to disclose this. But on the other hand I find it interesting that there’s a service that offers itself to its customer base as a place for them to write and host screenplays. They privately sell it to another company whose job is to — I mean, whose primary service is selling notes and consulting. And now that consulting company now has access to all of these customers’ emails, some of their credit card information, and their screenplay material. And presumably you could look at any of it if you felt like it. And no one thought to disclose this to the customers. I find that fishy.
John Rhodes: Hmm, well, yeah, it could certainly be construed I guess in a fishy way. I’m not exactly sure, you know, what could be implied by that. I certainly know, you know, my motive was to recharge a community that had been waning. And then this is a, you know, niche and an audience that I know very well. The fact that Scripped.com, you know, crashed under my watch is a really tragic irony because I’ve dedicated, you know, the last few years of my life to building a community for writers and championing writers and protecting their creative work.
Craig: But at the same time, this community that you purchased, you purchased it but you don’t know how many people were using it, you don’t know how many screenplays you were hosting. How is it that you don’t even know the parameters of the data that you lost?
John Rhodes: Yeah. I mean, I know the general parameters but I don’t know the exact ones. We inherited, you know, a pretty archaic system. I wish — this is not my forte. You know I’m not a database manager. I’ve never done this before in my life. But I have to, you know, take responsibility for the fact that under my watch this disaster happened and a lot of people lost their creative work.
Craig: You have no idea of how many scripts were lost?
John Rhodes: I have no idea how many scripts were lost. No. Judging from the response, you know, we’ve gotten probably over 150 emails of people, you know, actively reaching out and asking about their screenplays.
And we have, you know, I have been in close communication with the previous owners who are much more expert. They created this whole platform and so they know how to navigate this very old, difficult system. And they have been able to recover an old hard drive from 2010 that has data from, you know, over five years ago.
John Rhodes: And so that’s the only thing that we’ve been able to recover up to this point. And the likelihood of finding anything else is looking very slim.
Craig: And the paid subscribers, people who were continually paying a monthly fee I think to Scripped, what happens to them, and their money that they paid, and anyone who has paid money to Scripped.com?
John Rhodes: So all people who have paid money to Scripped.com since I’ve owned it, dating back to December 2014, are getting all their money refunded. It’s a very small amount.
John Rhodes: I mean, the number of paying customers is barely 100.
Craig: And it was only, you know, three or four months worth of payments anyway.
John Rhodes: Exactly. Yeah.
Craig: Okay. I mean, just correct me if I’m wrong. What I’m hearing is that, yes, there was a concerted effort to disguise the fact that ScreenCraft Media owned Scripped.com and that you course-corrected either as a result of — I think what you’re saying is you self course-corrected, others might think that maybe you course-corrected as a result of being exposed as the owner. And we’ll leave it up to our listeners to judge.
John Rhodes: Yeah. I mean, what happened there is the first response I had was, you know, “Crap, how can I, you know, help this community and minimize the damage to my other business?” But I very quickly realized that was the wrong approach. And as soon as I started to see the blowback I, you know, decided to send everybody an email letting them know who was the current owner and expressing as best I could how this disaster happened.
Craig: That statement, I assume it’s a version of the statement that’s currently at — hosted by show-bizcentre.com.
John Rhodes: Yeah. That’s correct.
Craig: But that is not on your homepage, for instance, at ScreenCraft or — and it’s not available on Scripped.com at all.
John Rhodes: Right. Yeah. I, to be perfectly frank, still don’t know how to update the website, Scripped.com. So I’ve been relying on the previous owner to help me with any changes to that. So I would like to get the new version of that announcement up on Scripped.com. But for now it’s hosted where I could put it up the quickest, which is, you know, on my email server.
Craig: I mean, I’m just kind of puzzled. You guys bought a company five months ago. You don’t know how to update their homepage?
John Rhodes: Yeah. Do not know. We’ve been working — I mean the –
Craig: Well, who updated it to tell everybody that the scripts were gone?
John Rhodes: The previous owner. I reached out to him to have him help me.
Craig: But to update a, I’m just puzzled. I can do that, and I don’t know anything. I’m just puzzled by this. I don’t understand how you can buy a company and not have complete control over the domain and how to get on and change a homepage or add content.
John Rhodes: Yeah. It was mismanaged. And there’s no doubt about that. And I, you know, I want to take full responsibility for the fact that under my watch, these writers lost a lot of their creative work. And I feel — I really feel for them. I know what it’s like to lose work that you’ve, you know, put months, sometimes years, of work into.
Craig: All right. Well, John August, maybe you can kind of delve into the technical stuff here and figure out and maybe with John Rhodes help figure out exactly what went wrong and if it had to go wrong.
John: So what it sounds like — and so I remember talking to Sunil when he first launched this service and because we talked about sort of the idea of back in those days, it was even before there was Fountain, there was called Scrippets. And it was a way to sort of display screenwriting-like format on the web. And so the Scripped site was a very early attempt to sort of doing screenplay-like stuff on the web and it had all the frustrations of that. The web was not great at doing that back in 2010. Since that time, things have gone better and it’s more possible than it was before but it’s still frustrating.
When Craig, yesterday when you told me like, “Oh, this Scripped site went down,” I was amazed that it still existed because I just assumed that it had wandered off into the weeds of the Internet and was never to be seen again, because it’s really kind of old technologies, an old way of doing things.
And so to hear that, you know, it was challenging to update, to hear that it was challenging to sort of figure out how to get stuff put together, I can sort of see that. Because as a person who runs some companies myself, sometimes you will start on a project and you’ll just kind of — you’ll have great ideas for it when you start it, but it just kind of sits fallow for a while. So I know what that is.
The danger is that if you have people paying you every month for that, it’s — you have a responsibility to them. That’s the challenge. That’s why I think it’s great that we have Guy on the phone because Guy runs WriterDuet which is doing a similar kind of service but it’s the 2014/2015 version of that.
Guy, can you talk us through what WriterDuet is and, you know, how it’s like Scripped and how it’s not like Scripped?
Guy Goldstein: I think the main similarity is, you know, obviously it has a web-based version where you can write full screenplays. I’d say the biggest differences are it’s like you said, modern, it does real-time collaboration which is something that I think Scripped users had wanted probably. And Scripped tried to be collaborative, I know that. The other differences are probably just, you know, proper pagination, proper formatting, real production level, you know, revisions, and page coloring, and better — I’ve gotten a little blowback by saying this because it is a little crass to say, but better backups.
We let you, you know, backup automatically to Google Drive and Dropbox and your hard drive and you have all those things built in. I don’t want to talk up because I feel so bad about this whole thing but I, you know, hopefully it’s carrying out a vision that a lot of people have had for web-based screenwriting software for many years in the way that now actually works. And I hope could help a lot of people.
John: What strikes me as so different about a web-based solution though is you’re putting trust in somebody that you don’t have to when you’re dealing with a normal application. So, you know, we had Final Draft on the show before. And when Final Draft messes up, well, it’s just one app and it’s just messing up but you still have that document on your computer. When a web-based service messes up, it could potentially be lost everywhere.
And so you’re saying that, you know, with WriterDuet, people can initiate these things to have backups to their local hard drive, to Google Drive, so there’s some redundancy which is hopefully helpful. But if you, Guy, you know, died of a heart attack tomorrow, is there a real way to make sure that the service would still keep going? Like what kind of safeguards do you have in there?
Guy: The truth on that one is, God-willing I don’t die, so I’ll give that one first, but thank you for rooting for me. But it will continue to work. I don’t have to — I haven’t, you know, updated it today and it works fine. So that’s, you know, the minimum is there’s no reason it would suddenly stop working.
For anyone who has — you know, another thing it does differently is WriterDuet has a seamless offline mode in the Pro version as well as desktop software. And for that, that is, you know, paid obviously versus the online only is free. But with that, you know, you have a lot of advantages. You can keep working regardless, with all the backup solutions. It has Fountain backup. It has, you know, just plain text, essentially, with extra formatting as Final Draft, and Celtx backups as well.
I don’t know. To me, it’s not a perfect solution. I don’t want to die, but if I do, I will feel bad for everyone else as well, I guess, wherever I am. But I would love to have a better answer that if I die then it will keep working until I guess there’s a catastrophic problem. And then –
John: Until someone stops paying your server bills. And then what else is on –
Guy: Right. Right. That’s true. I mean, I have automatic credit cards. So I assume I’ll run some debt before then. But hopefully my mother would call them. I don’t plan on having a heart attack.
Craig: Well –
John: The future of screenwriting depends on Guy Goldstein’s mother –
John: Keeping it going.
Craig: Well, as a good Jewish boy, I can tell you that that’s probably actually fairly robust.
Guy: For the server.
Let me ask you this question, Guy, and I’ll direct this to you as well, John Rhodes. Here’s what you guys said happened. And by you guys, I mean, John Rhodes. “During the recent transfer of ownership, all backups were deleted by the previous owners. Unfortunately, the continuous backup process referenced a no longer accessible server data image. A routine server reboot caused a previously unknown rebuilding task in queue to re-image the server and delete all the current data. The backup images that should have been used during the triggered rebuild were blank. This resulted in a total loss of data on the server with no backup.”
Now, here’s what I’m struck by. Either that is a whole bunch of dust being blown in my face to confuse me or somebody over there, John, knows what they’re talking about. And if somebody knows enough to write that, I would think they would know enough to update the website at Scripped.com. There’s a real disconnect here that I can’t figure out.
I mean, frankly, the previous owners deleting their backups, they’re the previous owners, they don’t own that stuff. Wouldn’t you buy everything? I don’t understand. I don’t understand.
John Rhodes: Well, yeah. The simple answer is I, you know, I’m not a super technical person, I can learn, you know, the basics of things. I hired a consultant as soon as we discovered, you know, the problem that we handled — that we had on our hands. I went out to the people that knew something, to basically a forum developer and, you know, a server expert that I have worked with in the past and to the previous owners. And I asked them, “What happened? How can it be that all data has disappeared?” You know, “Are there no backups?”
And that’s when I learned that all the backups that had been linked to the current server had been deleted upon the transfer of ownership. And that’s also when I learned that what has been told to me was a previously unknown rebuilding task in queue that was somehow triggered. And that’s all I know.
I wish I could speak more to this technically. And maybe, you know, Guy — I’ve asked Guy for his opinion and consultation on this and he’s given me, you know, just his informal opinion, but he’s no server expert either.
Craig: Well, and he doesn’t own your company. I mean, it just strikes me — I’m sorry to say, it just strikes me that you own a company that purchased a hosting, a web hosting solution for people, and you — and apparently nobody around you really understood how that company worked at all. It just seems negligent.
John Rhodes: Yeah. I think ultimately it is. And I think that’s all there is to say about that.
Craig: Okay. All right.
John: So because we’re a screenwriting podcast, we often talk about sort of, you know, characters in crisis. And so I’d love to just sort of talk with you about when you found out something was wrong and sort of what the last, I don’t know, is it 48 hours, like what does that feel like? Because I know I’ve been in situations where things have gone south. And I remember sort of the stress of it and sort of the melting dread that sort of happens.
Can you talk to me about when you first realized that something was bad and where you were and the process of acknowledging that something is horribly amiss? What was the first clue that something was wrong? Was it an email you got?
John Rhodes: Well, so the site — I’ve had that site for a few months and it’s gone down a couple of times actually. Just spontaneously it has crashed and I’ve, you know, gotten an email or some notification where someone says, you know, “Hey, we can’t access the website.” And so I immediately reach out to the previous owners and say, “Hey, do you guys have any idea what, you know, could be wrong?” And they’re like, “Oh, yeah, no problem, it’s just this and this and this and this and this. And it’ll be back and running in no time.” And sure enough, you know, within less than an hour, it was back up. And that happened a couple of times.
And so when it happened this time, at first I was like, you know, “Crap, this unreliable, you know, website is down again.” So I reached out to the previous owner and he really graciously, you know, said, “Yeah, I’ll take a look at it.” And he said, “You know, there’s something a lot more serious going on.” And so, you know, I got some other people involved to take a look. And our worst fears were confirmed that the entire server had somehow been deleted and –
John Rhodes: Yeah. Yeah. Spontaneously. And that it had somehow been linked to a rebuilding task. And, again, this is beyond the scope of my knowledge. Maybe John August, you know, you can speak to this better.
John: Yeah, I’d actually love to jump in because, Craig, I know you’re really skeptical but this is actually the kind of thing that happens on servers all the time.
Craig: Oh, no, it definitely happened, there’s no, I’m not skeptical about that. I’m just — what I’m surprised by is that it didn’t — a lot of times things like this will happen when you’re doing something. And while you’re doing something, and asking the server to do something, you press the wrong button or you hit a thing or you have a theory that’s incorrect and through your actions a cascade of tragedy results.
John: Terrible events.
Craig: Yeah, exactly. But that’s what I’m kind of — this almost, what it sounds like from John Rhodes, is that the server just suddenly went “I’m going to do a thing, like a cron task or something.”
John: Rhodes Well, and now that’s how it’s been explained to me and if we discover anything different, you know, I want to be the first to know. This is something that I’m still, you know, trying to understand to the best of my technical ability.
Craig: Got it.
John: Yeah. My hunch is that in discovering what really happened, it was some effort to restart, like the site went down and you’re trying to restart it. In trying to restart it, a task kicks off and something very, very bad happens. And sometimes it’s literally just like there’s an extra slash put some place and it redirects to the wrong thing. That’s the danger of sort of all these online things is that they are so completely ephemeral. They can just, you know, you’re relying on those bits being there. And if you try to, you know, you could try to make a backup and accidentally, you know, delete all the backups in one moment. I can see it happening.
So I don’t have a doubt that it could spontaneously kind of happen because that’s why you do multiple redundant kind of backups in different places.
Craig: Right, yeah.
John Rhodes: And to answer your question, John, about how it feels, a character in, you know, some sort of moment of crisis, it’s I think the melting dread like you said is a good way to put it. I’ve lost documents that I’ve been working on in the past and screenplays and it’s really frustrating and all I can say is imagine that the weight of, you know, hundreds, potentially thousands of people were affected by the exact same event and then feeling responsible for that and it’s a pretty awful feeling.
Craig: We’re certainly pleased that you’re here now to kind of help us get to the bottom of this and I guess my — the one thing I have left to ask you guys about is what I was kind of struck by as strange. And that was on the Scripped.com initial notice it said, “Hey, if you — ” [laughs] and I couldn’t quite understand it, after saying all of our — we’ve lost all your stuff, it’s gone. What can I do now? “In order to honor our users, we partnered with WriterDuet, the industry’s most powerful screenwriting software, ” and then it explains what WriterDuet is and points out that it offers automatic backups to its cloud storage, Google Drive, Dropbox, and your hard drive.
Now, let me just say I’m a fan of WriterDuet and, you know, Guy, I’m a fan of yours, I think you’ve done a pretty great job with your service. And while John is correct, there is a little bit of an issue of you dropping dead or you’re mom going crazy, the fact is that you do allow multiple redundancies there for people and you make it easy for them so, you know, like John and I say like if Google goes down basically civilization is over anyway, your screenplay is not important. But what I don’t understand is this, it’s the strangest thing, like on the one hand “We’ve lost all your stuff ” on the other hand “Hey, we’ve partnered with somebody. ” What do you mean we? Who’s we? It’s gone, there’s no we left and anybody could go use WriterDuet anyway. So can you unwind this for us and explain the nature of your relationship with each other? Guy, why don’t you kick that off?
Guy: So, the one thing I want to say is I regret personally some of the stuff I said and did and I want to put that out in how I phrase this. But, you know, the goal was, let’s say that Scripped users ideally would have some form of personal backups, you know, PDF or something hopefully. And WriterDuet, like Highland, and I believe Fade In imports PDF files and should preserve formatting as much really possible. And with that, we kind of hoped, you know, it ‘s a similar experience in some ways to Scripped hopefully just an improved experience, so a lot of the people who were used to that web-based platform would find it a good transition.
I think our intention was better than some people may perceive it like we weren’t trying to make money off — I was not trying to go out and make money off this or whatever that was. I think we thought if you just say go away some people would have a worse situation then you tell them, “Sorry it’s gone, go here, and you might be able to do something.”
Craig: Sure, it’s the partnering word I think was the one that confused me and perhaps other people too because if they had said, “Look, what can you do now? Well you could go use WriterDuet,” that would work, but the partnering part is tricky and from what I understand, there was at least some attempt to partner here.
Guy: Yeah, and I should clarify one thing too and I don’t know how, well, the email that went out which is not what was on the front page exactly, there was one line I believe taken out which was the line where you did get a discount code for WriterDuet. And I don’t know if that was nice to do or not. We gave half off to anybody who had been on Scripped before so that was a little bit of the partnering aspect. [laughs] I’m not sure if that was a nice thing to do or rubbing it into people’s faces.
John Rhodes: Well, and Guy, I mean Guy also offered to give any of the full like lifetime paying members of Scripped an equal lifetime membership of WriterDuet which I thought was great, so yeah. Maybe partnership, you know, wasn’t the appropriate word in that instance but we thought that offering them some kind of a place to go if they had a backup of their screenplays was in order.
John: Now, Guy, had you had a conversation with John before this all happened about transitioning people from Scripped over to WriterDuet?
Guy: Yes. So, I mean, I’ve been looking at Scripped longer than John has. I knew it wasn’t — I mean, I’ve been looking at it for many years as a writer and just as an interest in technology long before I did WriterDuet. And so probably a year ago I had — or more than a year ago, I had reached out to the previous Scripped owners and they were very nice when we talked about possibilities back then. And for whatever reason nothing materialized.
I think I talked to him a number of times sort of before John and ScreenCraft were involved and at that point I knew John obviously. It may have been the people even mentioned ScreenCraft to them, I don’t remember. And that may have led them to contact him. I backed off I think at that point. I may have sent one more email just to see what’s going on but I sort of let them do their thing.
And then once John took it over, like we’ve know each other a long time and, you know, I think we’ll talk more about this, but we have obviously worked together in different things. And I made — the idea was always there, we thought that was probably — I thought that was probably the best end game for the Scripped screenwriting aspect. I didn’t — we didn’t have a deal in place. We didn’t have like a constant discussion about it. It was sort of neither of our, or it certainly wasn’t my priority at the time so I kind of was waiting I guess.
John: So, Guy, so you knew Scripped from beforehand, so I have a hunch that part of the reason why you didn’t seriously pursue buying it out is because you could make something much better than what they actually had. There was nothing there that was especially useful for you. Is that correct?
Guy: Yeah, the technology if I had bought it, I would literally have none of it. It would just be — the only reason I would have bought it, would be, you know, obviously, you get the users and you transition their data seamlessly ideally, obviously. I mean, we could have done that. And I guess the reason I maybe didn’t do it even forgetting the fact that it would have cost money or whatever, it was also just — I didn’t know how many people were super active on it and if I would be just transferring a lot of deadweight and I wasn’t sure it was worth it. And for whatever reason, Scripped wasn’t sure I was the right person for them and I guess it kind of — it was never a technology consideration. It was always just is it a good transition for the users or not?
Craig: Like the idea is what’s this brand worth? Is it — that kind of thing.
Guy: Yeah, yeah. I mean the Scripped domain name was worth more, you know, at the time certainly than WriterDuet and whether it is now I doubt, but –
Craig: I would say at this point it is not.
Guy: Okay. But, you know, I can’t say anything bad about that. It just sort of didn’t happen.
Craig: But the idea was that you guys would join forces and maybe transition ScreenCraft’s acquisition to your technology?
Guy: That was always probably how I saw the best result for everybody going. I don’t know if — I think John probably saw the same thing. I’m not going to say he did but –
Craig: And was ScreenCraft going to — was this a reciprocal thing? In other words were you merging with ScreenCraft or –
Guy: No, definitely not. So, that was never a consideration.
Guy: WriterDuet was always going to be its own thing. The question is, I mean, there were talks. It’s all vague because we never agreed, but there was the idea do I give some amount of money and that it’s mine or something like that or do I just, you know — honestly just take the users or something and let you keep the site, you know, different things were possibilities, I don’t know how it would’ve actually worked because it never got that far sadly.
Craig: But currently there is no business relationship or owner overlap between ScreenCraft and WriterDuet?
Guy: So, there’s currently nothing, like I don’t know — you probably could ask the question I can answer it about what has happened, and there’s been stuff in the past and there has been, you know, obviously you look at ScreenCraft and WriterDuet, we’ve supported each other for a long time and I’ve provided contest prizes and then they provide promotional stuff. And then just a close relationship. And I guess I know John for a long time.
Craig: But your — I mean that I understand, but you are two separate companies.
Guy: Two separate companies. No joint ownership.
Craig: Got it. Okay. Well, this is obviously incredibly unfortunate. John August, do you have any other questions for these guys?
John: No, I guess we don’t have a very good sense of how many people are hurt by this. We know that, you know, 150 people have contacted saying, “Hey, what’s the deal with my scripts?” We don’t know how many people were actively using the product when it went south. And in a general sense, people who are paying money on a monthly basis, you would expect them to be sort of active enough and they would really be losing something. But if it’s something you haven’t touched for years, and that script is lost, well that kind of feels like the Internet in a way.
So, I think my biggest concern is for those people who for whatever reason were actively using the product and they’ve now lost things. I think that the other thing I would want to talk about is just what lessons do we overall take as screenwriters from this incident happening? Because Craig, when you and I had our first conversation about this yesterday, when this was all brand new to us, we were talking about our own work practices because both of us write on apps just on our computers but we use Dropbox to sort of sync stuff. That could theoretically go south. There’s reasons why you want to have, even if it’s on your own computer, to have your own backup for things.
Craig: Yeah. We certainly on a personal level. Individually, we didn’t even think Dropbox was enough, right?
Craig: So, it’s a little shocking to hear that a company that offers a hosting service didn’t also think that they needed better mirroring and better backup, and in fact was providing a service that they — by your own admission, John Rhodes, didn’t even understand.
John Rhodes: Yeah, that’s true. And I think that’s, I mean, where the fundamental error started is, you know, taking over an organization and a technical platform that I didn’t have personal understanding of or anyone on my team who had the expertise to maintain it especially an older system that took a lot of hands-on maintenance and had some, you know, inherent problems baked in.
Craig: And you have a co-owner, correct?
John Rhodes: Yeah, yeah. I’m half of ScreenCraft. Cameron Cubbison is the other half and I can’t say enough good things about him as a reader and a note giver and he’s, you know, he’s worked for Sundance, and Lion’s Gate, and Paradigm Agency as a reader. And he’s just a really stellar person to work with, and Guy as well. I’ve admired WriterDuet and Guy for so long. And I think we’ve had a long standing rapport and we’ve really wanted to do something together.
And when this, you know, Scripped.com came to me I thought, “Well, it’d be a shame to see that site just shut down and disappear forever. There’s something there. People have used it for years. There’s some, you know, there’s some brand equity there and there’s clearly somewhat of a community still there. ” So I had really high hopes to take it on and make it something good. But we were completely blindsided. I mean if this hadn’t happened, you know, two days ago, I think we would just be soldiering on figuring out what the next thing is that we want to do with this and come out very soon with an announcement to the community letting them know that there’s new ownership and we have some new things to offer them.
Craig: All right. Well, with that I want to thank you both for coming on the show and specifically I want to thank you, John Rhodes, for being both as forthcoming as I think you could be and taking time away from what I suspect is a very busy and very trying day.
John Rhodes: There’s a lot of emails to attend to, that’s for sure.
John Rhodes: And I want to thank you both, too. I’ve been a longtime fan of your show. I wish it was under different circumstances that I was, you know, talking with you guys. But thank you for doing what you do and for bringing a lot of valuable information to screenwriters and calling bullshit, if I can say that, when you see it.
Craig: You can.
John Rhodes: This is HBO?
Craig: Yeah, essentially. Well, this episode is. Well, thank you both for coming on and obviously, John Rhodes, we hope that’s for the best here. If there is a best to be had, we hope for it for it. At least on behalf of the people that were actively using the Scripped service.
John Rhodes: As a cautionary tale, I think that’s the best that it can be right now.
Craig: All right. Well, thank you, gentlemen.
Guy: Thank you.
John: Thank you.
John Rhodes: Thank you, guys.
John: So, that was a much longer conversation that I expected we were going to have.
Craig: It was. I’m surprised by frankly one thing, I mean, I know that probably some people thought, “Oh, my God, it’s going to be Final Draft all over again,” [laughs] but that was different and it was different largely because the CEO of Final Draft was about one millionth as forthcoming as John Rhodes was. I mean, I was surprised by frankly how honest he was about everything. I mean, I kept saying things that I thought he would say “Well,” to and he kept saying, “No, that’s right. ” [laughs] And kind of shocking.
John: So the same week that we’re recording this has been the Indiana gay rights sort of debacle.
John: And the governor of Indiana who if you ever try to interview him he’s always like incredibly evasive. And he was the opposite of Pence. He was just — this guy was just talking about this is what happened, essentially saying like, “You know what? I screwed up a lot. And I bought this company. And we were going to do something with it, but we didn’t do anything with it. And then the servers went crazy and I don’t know what happened. ” And I think if he had a time machine, he would never have bought that company.
Craig: Well, yeah. And if he had a time machine, he might also want to go back and not do that interview because it’s a tricky thing when as the co-owner of a company, somebody says to you, “It seems like you were negligent. ” And you say, “Yeah.” That’s a little dangerous.
But, you know, we’ll see what happens here. The part that blew me away, honestly, and I think I, you know, in going through the episode and even as we were talking to them, I suspect I’m probably a little harsher on this than you. What blew me away was that these guys bought a company that provided a service. And from what I can tell, not only did they not know how that service ran, they didn’t have anybody there who knew how that service ran. And they still don’t have people that can even do things like change a webpage. That’s just befuddling to me almost to the point of disbelief.
John: I can see, though, how it happened. And because we were recording this with two guests online, I didn’t want to sort of argue with you with these guests in the room. But I think there’s an expectation of permanence that is maybe not warranted here.
If you are a person who signed up for this online service and hasn’t paid money for it for a while, and it just goes away, well, that’s the Internet. And I think that’s sort of the expectation of like that things should be around forever is not really true.
These are people who are using Facebook, or are using Google Wave or whatever. Like all that stuff does just sort of go away. So if the people who were actively paying money, I think they have a real legitimate beef with these people. The people who haven’t used this service in a year and it goes away, I’m less sympathetic to them.
Craig: I’m with you on that actually.
Craig: I’m not so concerned about the great — well, first of all, let’s be honest. You can’t go around thinking, “My God, this was a server full of 4,000 great American screenplays.” It wasn’t.
Craig: But for the people, and apparently, it’s in the hundreds, and this again, it’s shocking to me that the man who owns the company doesn’t know how many customers they have. It’s kind of crazy, but there were people that were paying month after month for a service. And part of what they were paying for was automatic backups.
There is an implied trust there. There’s a fiduciary responsibility there. And they failed dramatically, and they failed dramatically in part, it seems to me from what Mr. Rhodes was saying, because they were literally incompetent.
John: So Craig, you know, in your other life, you have run websites, you had your own website which is now shutdown which is fine. And there was never an expectation that — people weren’t paying money for that. You’ve been involved with other communities.
And if those other sort of online forums that you’ve participated in suddenly went away, the ones that were under your watch went away, what would you do? Like, do you have active backups of the other sort of online forums that I know you in?
Craig: Yes. It’s easier and easier with every year. And cheaper and cheaper to the point of free. I mean right now, Google Drive, I think. Oh, my God, Amazon now. What are they giving you? A terabyte for free or something crazy?
So forums are actually relatively easy to set up for an automatic backup. And then where the local location they backup to is in a folder that syncs with a cloud-based backup service. So now you have it in triplicate. It’s hosted where it’s hosted, it’s hosted locally, and then it’s hosted in a robust cloud solution like Dropbox, or Google, or Amazon, or one of these large storage companies.
This isn’t rocket science. And I’m not — I don’t own a company that charges money to people to host their information. I have no position of great trust here. And yet I can do this.
It’s just mindboggling to me how this happened. And the thing is I believe him. You know, there’s that old saying like, “I don’t know what’s worse, that you are lying to me or you’re not lying to me.” Because I believe what he said. I believe he has no idea what happened, nor does he know or anybody there know how to change the webpage. That’s actually kind of scarier.
So I mean, hat’s off. He was super nice and more forthcoming than I’d imagine anybody in his position has ever been before. So hat’s off there. But, yeesh.
John: Yeesh. As we were talking, I was trying to get him to talk about the moment that he realized that things were going south. Because I’ve had those in my own life. And I know you’ve had those in your own life, too.
For me, specifically, it was on my movie, The Nines. And there was a moment, we were about a week from being released. And like our little token release as it turned out. But we were a week from being in theaters. And we got sued by this giant, giant, giant company. And they had an objection to two shots they saw on the trailer. And they were going to get an injunction to keep us from coming out.
And it was all on me. I had to figure out like, “What do I do?” And it was to the degree there was fault, it was my fault. But it was also just one of those kind of crazy things.
It was honestly very much like a conversation you and I have had about spoofs. And like, “Are you allowed to spoof that thing? ” And it was coming down to whether we were allowed to spoof this thing and they were going to get an injunction. I just know what that feels like.
Craig: And it feels bad, yeah.
John: It feels bad. And as we were talking with him, I was imagining myself in his shoes and sort of what that felt like. And trying to be coherent on a podcast about this was a challenge. So I thought he did a great job on that level.
Craig: He did. And it’s why I think you and I make a good team because the shoes that I occupied firmly throughout that whole thing were the shoes of people that pay money, wrote a screenplay, and now it’s gone.
Craig: And they were specifically paying money because they were backing up the screenplay. That’s rough. To lose a screenplay to me is just horrifying.
The last thing I lost was in 1989. I was in college and I did not have a printer in my room. I had a Mac SC20. I had written a 15-page sociology paper. I saved it to a 3.5-inch floppy.
John: Oh, God.
Craig: Walked over to the computer lab in the math building where they had some printers, stuck it in there and nothing.
John: Oh, God.
Craig: Disk not recognized. The disk was bad. It was one of those things where it wrote it and that was fine. But the second it was ejected, it obviously gave up the ghost, and I had to start from scratch. And it was due the next day.
And I remember that feeling, and I never forgot that feeling. And it is, obviously, I fear that more than anything, you know?
John: Yeah, so it sort of feels like their server was that 3.5-inch floppy that got ejected improperly.
Craig: Well, that’s, you know –
John: That’s the rub.
Craig: When I’m looking at this explanation, I got to say I don’t think that John Rhodes is making stuff up when he says I don’t understand it, nor do I think the explanation that he’s offering isn’t the one that’s been offered to him. Somebody isn’t telling the whole story there.
It’s just like I don’t believe that some random cron task is just going to one day go, “Uh, you know what? Let’s just start wiping stuff.” Somebody must’ve been doing something.
John: One of the possibilities, though, is that this thing is so old, it could have been on a server that just, you know, they upgraded the server like literally the hosting company upgraded the server and that was the thing that sort of set off this chain of events.
Craig: I think they’re the hosting company, though.
John: No, but I guarantee you it’s not on one of their boxes. It’s –
Craig: Right. You think that they’re hosted somewhere else?
John: They’re hosted somewhere else. They’re hosted on Rackspace or one of these other giant providers. You never literally have your own box that has the whole thing on it. It’s at some service some place.
Craig: I’d love to know the answer to that because frankly, I wouldn’t put it past these guys just from the way they were talking about things. Because here’s the deal, it’s like if you were hosting with some large company, large companies –
John: You’d hope they’d have backups, yeah.
Craig: Well, here’s the thing. If the problem was, “Oh, we updated my MySQL, ” or “We updated our version of Pearl or whatever the hell it is, or PHP,” well, it’s not like some large company had neglected that for four years and then went, “Hey, everybody. Let’s go from version one to version eight. “
John: The danger is sometimes you are running such old software that you were deliberately delaying the upgrades of those kinds of PHP or whatever the thing was written in so that your thing won’t break. And so then things suddenly upgrade and things go south.
You know, we can probably so weirdly Nima Yousefi who’s our coder is friends with Sunil who created the original program. So I’m going to try to get some more information with Nima about what is actually really happening behind the scenes.
I’m trying to think what else we can offer or suggestions we can do to help. So if you are a person who has a script that is only in a PDF, one thing Guy mentioned is that WriterDuet can sort of import that PDF and do a pretty good job with it. Fade In can do it. Highland, that’s sort of what we made our money on doing that.
Today is Friday. I can knock down the price of Highland for this week, so I’ll knock it down to half. So if people are stuck in with a screenplay that they can’t get in, that’s a way they can at least try to sort of get that screenplay back into a format that they can use.
Craig: That’s very nice of you. That’s very nice of you. Yeah, because that used to be — you know, PDFs used to be a huge problem. Now, every now and then, you know, you get a situation where you’re hired to rewrite something and the writer prior to you has stormed off or has been ejected violently. And the company doesn’t have the actual screenwriting file, they just have a PDF.
That used to be a problem. They used to higher people to type it back in. But now, you know, like Fade In, it’s click, done. You know, and obviously, Highland was doing it before everybody else. So that’s great that that’s there. I mean, my advice, and it’s terrific that you’re offering that discount to people.
My advice is, look, if you’re going to — I understand the lure of the online subscription base notion. It’s the same lure of renting an apartment as opposed to buying a condo, right? You don’t necessarily want to lay out a whole bunch of money for Final Draft. You want to do dribs and drabs each month for five bucks, okay?
Eventually, by the way, you know you’re going to end up spending the same amount if not more. Fade In is only $50, so do the math on that. Highland is how much?
John: Highland is normally $40, so it’s $20 this week. So a lot less.
Craig: It’s $20 this week. Right. So look, there are options for you that are very good between $20 and $50 right now. And I would take a really close look at those.
I like WriterDuet. I think WriterDuet’s great function is if two people are collaborating in different places. I am less sanguine about the notion of a solo writer relying on a cloud-based technology. I would much rather be in total control of my work.
And this kind of is why because here’s the deal, as consumers, what do we see? A website that says, “Look at all the stuff we have. These are all of our features, automatic backups.” And who’s behind it? Well, occasionally, it’s a guy going, “I don’t understand this. I bought it from somebody else. I wasn’t even allowed to tell you I bought it, which I find fishy. And I don’t know what happened, and it’s all gone.”
John: Yeah. The advantage of using software on your own machine where it makes sense is that, I still use Final Draft 8 when I have to use Final Draft at all because I prefer Final Draft 8 to Final Draft 9. If it’s a cloud-based thing, it’s just going to keep updating it. So it’s just going to be whatever it is in the web that day. And if it gets broken that day, well, sorry, you can’t use it that day.
So it’s great that Guy seems to be young and healthy and isn’t going to keel over tomorrow. But if there were a bug in the program and suddenly Guy is not around anymore, that bug is going to be there forever. You may not be able to use the software that you want to use.
Craig: I’m with you. And I think as we generationally proceed as a technological society, people will become more and more comfortable with cloud-based solutions. That said, screenwriting is your art. And you know what? Maybe you should treat that a little more specially.
Craig: I think you should. I think it’s worth it.
John: I think it’s worth it, too. So I would say if you were writing it on a computer like a Chromebook or something that doesn’t have normal apps, that might be a reason why your leaning towards WriterDuet or one of the online only things or Google Docs or one of those kind of things.
But I would say there’s also the advantage of just plain text. You can always just write in plain text. And there’s nothing magical about screenwriting. Ultimately, you can convert that plain text to whatever it needs to be. Just be safe and you don’t need all the bells and whistles right there from the very start.
Craig: Yeah, I agree. And if it’s a question of spending $5 over 12 months or $20 or $40 now, think about spending the money now, controlling your software, controlling how you save. And then you don’t have to rely on somebody else’s promises to you about how they’re backing stuff up or where they’re backing it up to, or somebody’s credit card. Who the hell — I mean, that’s — the whole thing gets scary to me.
John: It is kind of scary.
John: Well, anyway, this was our weird special investigatory episode. So because we normally come out on Tuesdays, it’s weird for us to try to do this on Saturday. So we’re recording this now. We hope to get it turned around for Saturday, not Saturday. For Sunday.
John: I want to thank Stuart Friedel who doesn’t even yet know that I’m going to ask him to cut this together.
John: Oh, Stuart.
Craig: Hey, Stuart. Stuart, why is this night different from all other nights?
John: It’s the Seder. We will be back with a normal episode Tuesday that will be slightly shorter because we’ll cut some of this stuff out. But we will enjoy your company twice in one week which is kind of fun.
John: Great. Thank you, Craig.
Craig: Thanks, John.
John: Oh, we should say just normal boilerplate. Craig is @clmazin, I am @johnaugust. You can find Guy Goldstein and John Rhodes on Twitter probably also. But, you know, your choice whether you want to contact them.
If you have questions for us, longer things you want to say, it’s firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s where you would send those messages.
John: Craig, thank you so much.
Craig: Thank you, John.
Craig and John discuss backup plans, camera directions, and becoming so good they can’t ignore you. Plus we answer two listener questions about specificity in scene headers and how to indicate that a script is intended for animation.
This episode was actually recorded before 191, but through the magic of editing refers to things that hadn’t yet happened. You won’t be confused because you’re clever. You’ll be fine.
- The LA Times on the CAA to UTA exodus, and CAA’s resulting lawsuit
- Scriptnotes, 191: The Deal with Scripped.com
- Backblaze and CrashPlan online backup services
- Fountain is future proof
- Mad Max: Fury Road trailer
- Writer Emergency Packs are available now (use the code “scriptnotes” at checkout on the John August Store for 10% off through May 1st)
- Writer Emergency Kickstarter update on how online retail works
- Scriptnotes, 190: This Is Working
- So Good They Can’t Ignore You, by Cal Newport
- The Robotard 8000
- Announcing The Black List Table Reads
- Forbes on Duke’s Polio Virus Trial Against Glioblastoma
- Play Reimagining ‘Three’s Company’ Wins Case from The New York Times
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener JT Butler (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: Hey, I’m Craig Mazin.
John: And this is episode 190 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
190 episodes in, we are doing something for the very first time today. We are going to be looking at an entire screenplay.
Craig: Yeah. It’s a 111 Page Challenge.
John: It is. So this is a script called This Is Working. It’s by K.C. Scott. And back in episode 187, we looked at the first three pages of this script and we thought they were terrific. We also thought K.C. Scott was a woman. So we referred to K.C. Scott as a woman through the whole thing.
But he’s a guy. His name is Kurt. He lives in Oakland. His Twitter handle is @BlackSitcomDad. And I emailed him and asked him, “Hey, would you want to share with us your entire script so that we could talk about it on the air and talk about how a whole script works?”
So if I have done things properly, I have put this up the Friday before this episode aired so you guys could all read it and have this in your heads, as you’re listening to this podcast, so we could all discuss this script together.
Craig: And I know that there’s a fair chance that a lot of people will not have done their homework and will not have read it. But that’s okay, because I think we’re going to talk about some things that are specific to K.C.’s script but we’re also going to talk — I mean, does he like to be called K.C. or Kurt? I don’t know.
John: Let’s call him K.C.
Craig: Okay. I think we’re going to be talking about things that are specific to K.C.’s script. But we’re also going to be talking about things that are useful for anyone in terms of writing and what it means to make it in Hollywood and what do you do when you have a script and how do you approach fixing scripts. So it’s best if you’ve done your homework. If you haven’t, think about maybe reading the script and then listening to this in the car. But if you haven’t done your homework, don’t flip out.
John: Everything will be okay. And here to help us make everything even more okay is one of our very first guests on the show ever. This man created The Black List. Not the TV show, but the actual The Black List of like the best screenplays in Hollywood.
Craig: Yeah. The less profitable Black List. [laughs]
John: That’s it. The increasingly profitable blcklst.com.
John: He is also a former development executive, so he’s been on many sides of the table and read many, many scripts in his life. Franklin Leonard, welcome to the show.
Franklin Leonard: Hello everyone. Thank you, guys, for having me.
John: So Franklin joins us from New York City.
Craig: Did you hear, he sounded just like Bane there. “Hello, everyone. Hey, Batman.”
Franklin: I blame my microphone.
John: Yeah. So he’s recording on Skype on a little ear bud microphone. But we welcome him and welcome his opinions on this script. Because my hunch is that it was just the right script for us to have on the show, because there’s stuff that I thought was delightful about it, there’s also stuff that needed a lot of work and attention, and I think we can all learn a lot from this script.
Craig: I don’t plan on learning a damn thing.
John: Before we get started on the actual details of this script, I just want to talk through the kinds of people who read screenplays and sort of the different things that they’re looking for. Because, you know, we are readers looking at the script in the context of a podcast and trying to give advice to this writer. But there’s many different kinds of people in Hollywood who reads screenplays. And so let’s just quickly kind of go through who those kinds of people are.
So one place that a writer might want to read their script is an agency or a management company. In your guys’ experience, what are agents and managers looking for? If this script landed on their desk, what would they be looking for?
Franklin: I mean, look, I think with agents and managers, first and foremost, they’re running a business and their product is the writing talent that they represent. And so I think, you know, a critical calculation for them is can I sell this script, one. And two, is this script representative of the kind of work that can get this writer employed elsewhere, be it in film, in television. Like can I send this person into a room? Is this a script that if I send it out, people are going to be very excited about it and call me and say, “Hey, I have to meet with this person immediately, I have a project they would be perfect to write”?
I think that it’s a pretty clean calculus for them. Because even in cases where they’re just awed by the art of something, they are awed by knowing that other people will be as well and that that will eventually put money in their pocket.
Craig: Yeah. I agree with that. Let’s talk about the laziest agents and managers who I suspect probably comprise 90% of agents and managers. It’s just the way of the world and humans.
Lazy agents and managers will say, “Okay, do I know somebody that wants something like this?” “Can I sell this quickly?” “Do I know somebody that’s been asking for this sort of thing or buying this kind of thing?” “Is the topic hot?” They’re just thinking 10 feet ahead of them.
The best agents and managers are people who don’t worry about what the market is telling them that day but instead look at somebody and think, “I’m going to tell the market that this is where they should be.” And those are the agents and managers that are ideal. Granted they’re few and far between but every now and then, there’s this wonderful marriage between somebody who’s new and interesting and somebody who’s brave.
So if you are writing certain kinds of material, it’s okay to encounter the lazy agent because they’re a lazy dream come true. You’re writing a fighting robot movie, about vampires, and that’s what’s exciting at the moment. If you’re writing something like this script for instance, you are going to need somebody who believes in you and is willing to make the argument to people, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, but this is different,” and that’s good.
John: Now, Franklin, the original incarnation of The Black List, it’s a list of the best screenplays picked by the people who are reading a lot of screenplays, largely people who are running ,or, you know, junior executives at development companies, they’re at studios, they’re producers. What are they looking for? If this script landed on their desk, how would it get there, what would they be looking for as they’re flipping through pages?
Franklin: Yeah. I mean, typically, it would get there via an agent or manager who called and said, “I have a new client, this is what the script is, I’d love to send it to you, I’m really excited about it, will you read it? ” You know, as a sample. Or it will be sent as a spec, you know, sort of sent out on day and date released to a number of different production companies or studios saying, “We’re selling this script, read it tonight, and then if you’re interested, you can buy it tomorrow.”
There’s actually a lot of overlap I think between going out with scripts in those two ways because sometimes you’ll have scripts that are not likely to sell but will still be framed in terms for being sent to a producer or to a financier and say, “Hey, this is a really exciting piece of material, you should read it immediately,” in the hopes that someone will decide to buy it the next day or in the weeks immediately following.
John: Yeah, sometimes, scripts end up there because someone else likes it. And so, a junior executive of this company liked it, they talked to their friend over at this company. Said like, “Oh, have you read the script? You should read the script.” So that pass-around is also a crucial factor as well, isn’t it?
Franklin: That pass-around is actually, yeah. Thank you for mentioning that.
The pass-around is actually really critical and that’s actually responsible for the birth of The Black List. It was me realizing as a development executive that a lot of the best stuff I was getting was not coming from agents and managers who obviously had a vested financial interest in convincing me to read the script, and was coming from people, you know, who I was having breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks with, who when you sit down and say, “What have you read that’s good lately,” they’re going to tell you honestly the stuff they love, not necessarily the stuff that they think their boss is going to buy or that they think is going to make money.
And I think that ultimately The Black List ends up being, at the end of every year, you know, a snapshot of all of those conversations about the things that are sort of being most traded amongst development executives.
John: Cool. Now in blcklst.com which is the site where writers can put up their scripts and have professional coverage, they can also have people read their scripts, you know. People who are members of blcklst.com can download their scripts, read their scripts and see what is out there in the town.
John: What are your professional readers of blcklst.com looking for if they’re reading one of these scripts? If K.C. had put this on blcklst.com and paid the money to have it read, what would that reader be doing?
Franklin: Yeah. Our readers are actually told explicitly not to consider the commercial prospects of a script in their evaluation of it. There is a brief section where you can talk about the commercial prospects and the qualitative portion. But in terms of evaluating that quantitatively, they’re told point blank, “Do not consider that.” They are reading screenplays as samples and they’re told to rate them on a scale of 1 to 10 based on how likely and enthusiastically they would recommend it to a peer or superior in the business.
So the website really does sort of depart from that same core idea of the annual list which is forget the financial component of the business for a minute, just what are the things that you’re reading that you just have to tell someone about, which I actually think is sort of the nature of subjectivity in art, right? Like when you see something amazing, you kind of want to share it. And we’re trying to capture that with our readers as well.
John: Great. Well, before we get into the details of this script, just tell us our sort of snapshot opinions of this script that we read. This is K.C. Scott’s This Is Working. Sort of our first impressions and sort of the overall framework of what we want to talk about when we talk to K.C. about his script.
Craig, do you want to start?
Craig: Sure. Well, I loved it. I’ll just say flat out I loved it.
Here’s what I generally loved. I’m always saying to all the people that come and talk to us at our live events or write in when they say, “How do I get an agent? How do I get noticed?” Da-da-da-da-da. And I keep telling them, “Just express your unique voice. And if it’s interesting, they will come. If it is not, they won’t. But whatever you do, don’t copy because you won’t copy very well. And the people that are making the originals are here already.”
Well, K.C. has an original voice. K.C. is palpably intelligent and K.C. has also written a movie that is a character study that I haven’t seen before. It’s a character I literally have not seen before in this way, expressing this thing. It is arched. There is a tone to it that is reminiscent of — it’s kind of like an Oakland Wes Anderson. [laughs] I don’t know how else to describe it.
Franklin: I think that’s right. Yeah.
Craig: It’s easy to criticize the story and we can certainly get into it where it does get very kind of story-light and episodic. On the other hand, I could say the same for some Wes Anderson movies. There are times when you read a script and you think, “I’m not really sure this is going to bear that much criticism because I don’t think the person writing it would care,” in a good way, because they’ve expressed something that is true to them and unique.
So there are some areas here and there where I feel strongly that K.C. should make some changes and there are some areas where I want him to think and expand. However, in the whole, I thought this was terrific. And this is a script that I’m glad that this is our first one that we’re doing because I want people to read this script.
I think K.C. should be working in Hollywood right now. I think depending on the nature of K.C. and his temperament and what he wants to pursue, I think I could easily see him working on a TV show right now. And I could easily see him perhaps taking an assignment based on this work. This script itself would be an independent film.
So that’s my general snapshot-y vibe.
John: Yeah. I overlap a lot with you in terms of really liking the script, really loving the character who I thought was unique and new. And I think as we get into story, being frustrated at times that the story itself gets really familiar and not as special as the character he’s created. And I think he has the ability to create really great, unique, interesting moments, and I want to highlight some of these great moments as we start to get into them. The script is sort of existing in a no man’s land between — it feels like some really great single camera comedy, you know, TV characters are sort of like bumbling through a movie and not really quite able to take the reins of the movie that they’re in. I have some really specific concerns about the women in the movie and there’s some terrific insight, but sometimes the themes aren’t pushed quite enough.
I so much agree with you that I think K.C. should be working in Hollywood soon, and this script I think is going to be a great sample for him. But the better version of the script will be an even better version of showing what he can do.
Franklin, where did you come at with the script?
Franklin: I’m very similar. I think I’m probably a little bit more in John’s camp than I am in Craig’s. But there’s no question to me that K.C. has a voice. His voice is one that I very much enjoy. The characters, not only did I enjoy them, I identified with them in many ways which does say more about me than I think the script. And also there were lines that made me laugh out loud and for anyone that reads a lot of scripts, you know just how rare that is.
Craig: [laughs] Yeah. Me too.
Franklin: And there were a lot of lines that made me laugh out loud.
And I think Craig’s point about working in TV is a really good one. I can imagine K.C. writing for a TV show tomorrow and being valuable in a room, you know, whether it’s a show — for some reason, Brooklyn Nine-Nine kept coming up for me tonally. There was just very funny stuff that I could imagine him, if he can sort of dish out comedy like this on a consistent basis, he’s going to be an additive quantity to a writers’ room.
I actually felt like, you know, if it’s going to be Oakland Wes Anderson, and I think that’s an apt description, I actually wanted it to be a little bit more arched. I think that though the first three pages and really the first 30 odd pages set the tone nicely, I thought that tone receded somewhat in the back two-thirds of the script. And I would have liked to see more tone-setting with the script, so that I as a reader, producer, executive, agent, whatever, know exactly what I’m seeing on the screen rather than just this exceptional character work.
But I enjoyed it. I think it needs work. I think that it’s a good sample now that could be an exceptional sample pushed to where I think it can go.
Craig: And I would just add that the funny thing is that the less I like a script, generally the less I have to say about it. I could probably talk to K.C. about every single page and give him 12 notes on every single page. I don’t want K.C. to misunderstand me. I think that I could have him working on this for a long time and revise it for a long time to make it better for sure. There is a lot.
You can see that he is new. The generally scene craft isn’t happening yet. So you have scenes where — I call them ticker tape scenes where it’s just strips of dialogues. So if our folks are playing the home game, look at page five and six, they’ll see essentially just strips of dialogue.
That’s an indication that you haven’t really written a scene. You’ve written a conversation, which is fine for a sitcom, no-no for movie. Even if it’s a walk-and-talk , I need to feel — even if nothing is happening action-wise in the scene, I need it to be broken up so that you’re giving me something about them. I need to see changes and things happening with them. So there are scene work issues.
I have character issues actually outside of Byron who I think is really well-crafted. I have Amanda issues. But let’s get into all of it.
John: Yeah. Absolutely. Let’s start with the characters because I think that’s what we all responded to. And the Byron character who we first met in the Three Page Challenge is this kind of unique character that I haven’t seen before. And I’ve loved sort of hanging out with him.
So Byron is our hero of our story. He as a protagonist I would argue he doesn’t necessarily protagonate as much as I would love him to, you know, grow over the course of the story. But he is a guy who is a talented illustrator who we sort of had a hint of this in the three pages but this became his real character definition. There are women who tell him what to do and he’s sort of just come to accept that he just does what these women in his life tell him what to do.
It’s set up very ably in the very first scene about the waffles and that becomes a factor throughout the whole story. We see, you know, his progression from this company to leaving the company, to finding an apartment, to his relationship with his girlfriend, ultimately leading us to moving back in with his mom in a way that I didn’t necessarily love. But I loved him.
If I had concerns it was with Amanda who the movie plays almost like a two-hander. It’s not a romantic-comedy. It really — it’s supposed to I think be Byron’s story. But she is the other main character and she reminded me of the Ilana character on Broad City. I don’t know if you guys watch Broad City.
Franklin: [laughs] Yes.
John: And that she’s really verbal and really direct in ways that were wonderful and funny. And yet I had no belief that she existed before I saw her on page two.
John: And I didn’t have any good sense of who she was or sort of why she was in this, what her movie would be if it wasn’t this movie.
Craig: Mm-hmm. I agree with that. I think that Byron — well, first of all there’s a question, who is the actual protagonist of this movie? And I love scripts that make me wonder about that because I’m not sure if it’s Byron or Amanda.
Craig: And you can argue either way because, you know, Byron is passive. He is defined by his passivity which I love by the way because I love anybody that gives the middle finger to the rules. And it was fun to watch. It was fun to watch him refuse to change. [laughs] It was fun to watch him exist as this thing that could not be changed despite everybody’s desire for him to change. it was, I thought, a very touching and true portrait of somebody living with Asperger’s syndrome, you know, and possibly autism. He was so clearly socially off and yet had this brilliant focus and a certain savantism which I thought was wonderful.
I think John you put your finger on my issue with Amanda. I really enjoyed spending time with her. I need to know what the deal is. I don’t think K.C. can get away with what he’s gotten away with.
Byron we understand has a life and a past. We start to learn about his past. We learn about it from other people. We learn about it from him. Amanda was born on the planet on page 3. And I don’t know what has she had, other boyfriends, what went wrong, why is she doing this job, what’s her problem.
I mean, there’s wonderful movies about two damaged people finding each other and attempting to make something work and failing and succeeding and failing and succeeding. And I want that here. But Amanda is currently not a fully realized character in the way that she must be if this is going to work properly.
Franklin: Yes. I completely agree. I mean, she feels more device than character. And not to sort of invoke the Manic Pixie Dream Girl thing but I do think it’s relevant here like you see it oftentimes with scripts usually written by men about a woman who is meant to, you know, reawaken their perspective on the world and motivate them to do something.
But, I do sort of like that here Byron doesn’t become motivated. He sort of becomes motivated briefly and then decides not to be. But she does feel more device than person whereas Byron feels like a wholly-rounded individual.
And I feel like K.C. was also trying to pull this thing where Amanda doesn’t want to talk about her past. She doesn’t like — her past isn’t of interest to her and that’s why we don’t get to know anything about her. But I think that the character and the scripts suffer as a consequence.
John: I hundred percent agree. I wrote down Manic Pixie Dream Girl also. But weirdly there’s sort of second Manic Pixie Dream Girl which is Rosa who shows up.
John: We see her earlier on, then she shows up later on and she’s like much more literally like a pixie. She’s like the tiny little fire plug. And she serves that function as well.
A thing I enjoyed late in the story was Amanda ultimately becoming so frustrated by Byron’s passivity that she hates herself from becoming this monstrous thing that she’s sort of becoming, that have to boss him around. And so she’s been this person telling Byron to stand up for himself this whole time. And finally she becomes this woman who’s controlling him that she doesn’t want to become. I think that’s a really interesting idea.
And I haven’t seen that before in a movie or certainly not in a movie with these kind of characters. And it wasn’t until that I got to that moment in Amanda’s character that I really believe like, “Oh, yeah, maybe there’s a movie here.” And this isn’t just a very long pilot to a TV show.
Franklin: Yeah. It’s interesting you mentioned that because I didn’t see that coming either. And I think part of it is that we have this default assumption that, you know, our protagonist which I did interpret as Byron is the one who’s sort of morally right in the world. And so, you know, he’s dealing with his girlfriend who’s a little bit sort of demanding, he’s got this mother who’s really difficult that sort of bosses him around.
And they’re like, “Oh, this guy should sort of just be left to his own devices. He’s a good guy. He’ll figure it out.” And then the person who is supposed to be helping him figure it out is like, “No, you were insufferable. Get it together.” And that I did not see coming. And there is definitely something interesting there but I think it needs significantly further mined — it needs to be significantly more further mined in order to really work.
John: I want to get back to this idea of who’s the protagonist. Because the reason why obviously I identified Bryon as protagonist, he’s the first guy we see, we sort of see his struggle. We’re seeing things through his eyes. And Amanda sort of appears as an antagonist trying to cause him to change.
And the first change we see is when he decides to leave Jane and shows up at Amanda’s apartment. And that’s actually one of the moments I really loved is that like he doesn’t quite know why he’s there but he knows he needs to be there. That moment really worked for me. And I felt like, “Oh, and now our movie is starting. And now we’re going to start on this journey.”
And then we sort of spin our wheels for quite a long time. And ultimately it feels more like Amanda is the character who changes along the way.
Craig: Well, yeah, I think that it does feel like wheel spinning unless you kind of go along for the ride of that there’s a bait and switch here because Byron actually never does anything. Amanda does everything. She really does, I mean, it’s true that we start with Byron on page one but Amanda is seen on page two. And she’s already peaking at his drawing. And she essentially drives everything. She is the one that tells him what to do at work. She tells him to quit. She essentially draws his eye away from somebody else. She starts their business. She tells him what’s wrong with him. She argues with the real antagonist of the story I think which is Byron’s mother.
And ultimately we start to realize that the guy that we thought was the moral center is in fact a problem. And maybe he’s the antagonist. [laughs]
Franklin: I think if anything.
Craig: Yeah. I like stories that go ahead and play around with this stuff because if you can’t play around with it now when you’re writing your original screenplay, they’re never going to let you play around with it when they’re paying you. So you might as well do it now.
John: Let’s look at templates though. So, you know, obviously, the classic romantic comedy, when you look at When Harry Met Sally there you have two characters who, you know, are sort of entwined and they are each other’s protagonist and antagonist. Like they’re pushing each other towards places. And I honestly think this movie could go there.
As I was reading through it the first pass-through I really saw this more as like a Working Girl where I saw, you know, Byron being the Melanie Griffith character sort of like finally sort of coming into his own and standing up for what he believes and sort of showing what he was worth. So standing up to these people who are controlling him in his life. That ultimately doesn’t seem to be the movie that K.C. is interested in doing.
Or I sometimes wonder whether K.C.’s ability to just like write funny scenes and, you know, write these characters, he just sort of wrote them in this direction and we sort of ended up where we ended up.
You said, you know, Oakland Wes Anderson. I wrote down sort of Whit Stillman Comedy of Manners. And that these characters sort of existence in this slightly heightened world. I thought the advertising agency was arched in a way that felt more almost like that ABCs sitcom Better Off Ted. I didn’t sort of believe the universe of it.
Craig: All right. So there is the thing that K.C. I’m just going to insist on because that’s just wrong. There are things that are occasionally just wrong. So the ad agency is a big, big mistake. You have these characters that are pushed and we talked about this all the time in development if you are pushed you need something to push against.
First of all, his job is ridiculous, that’s not a real job. The fact that he thinks that people would want to see a hummingbird torn apart is insane.
Craig: So he’s mentally ill at that point in a way that I can’t get onboard with. He’s boss is ridiculous. The way the office runs is ridiculous. That’s starting to feel like Office Space. So like in Office Space, the office was ridiculous, our heroes were totally normal people struggling against this insanity. You can do one or the other.
And in this case I find that our characters are the kind of quirky, interesting ones. The work space must be grounded and real. It has to be and his job has to be real. And what’s his trying to do has to be real or this thing is just going to feel fake as F.
Franklin: See, I’m going to disagree actually. I just I think that it has to be more finally tuned if you’re going to do that. I think you can have a world where the environment is still eccentric and a bit skewed, it’s just that it’s a much, much higher tightrope. I think that that K.C. doesn’t really nail it.
But again, I mean, look there were things that amused me about it sort of coming out of the corporate world that actually didn’t feel that sort of crazy to me whether it’s the sort of yes men and women analysts, whether it’s sort of Pete, the guy who doesn’t really know how to run anything and is constantly asking his employees, “Okay, what should we do?”
Craig: Yeah, no, I’m on board with that. And I love the fact that he would site Steve Jobs all the time. That all felt real. What doesn’t feel real is that he’s 22 and also doing all that stuff. It’s the joke on a joke syndrome. At some point you start to feel like that’s not a real place. Everything is a goof, you know, even the details of the hummingbirds.
Franklin: Well, the hummingbird thing I just didn’t really see that at all honestly.
Craig: Yeah, you just need to –
Franklin: But the 22-year-old VP thing unfortunately that that doesn’t –
Craig: I didn’t. You know what, here’s the deal. Then that’s your one thing but then make him actually really brilliant. You can’t do the joke on a joke on a joke thing. You just can’t.
Franklin: You can’t have a 22-year-old who’s incompetent, who’s also, okay, that’s fair.
Craig: Citing Steve Jobs, who also asks everybody else what to do. Who also is talking about an insane actual campaign. You have to pick some places where you push against things otherwise there is nothing there.
John: Yeah, another example that came up a lot for me was Silicon Valley.
John: If you look at Silicon Valley you have heightened characters in a heightened world. But it’s very carefully balanced so that it doesn’t just feel completely crazy pants the entire time through.
And here K.C.’s ability to create some really unique and interesting moments between his two main characters I think it’s sometimes being undermined by this heightened world he’s created around himself.
The other challenge I really had with the workplace set up was having Jane be his boss but not his boss. That felt just too convenient and you can sort of hear the sound effect or the needle scratch as she walked into the room. It didn’t feel true to me. So I’m kind of fine having her be part of the universe. But the actual scene in which Amanda comes in and sort of saves the day and sort of does all the stuff and sort of makes everything possible felt way too movie and not nearly real enough.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, I actually when I saw that Jane was his boss I went, “Oh, okay. This could be good.” But really what I then wanted again was some, you know, when people are sort of spiraling out you need somebody in the middle going, “What the hell is going on here?” You know, “Who is this woman? Why is this? Who is this woman and why is she here? And why are you talking to her?”
And Byron, you know, you should be zeroing in on this. It’s insane. And yet the woman actually comes up, this Amanda woman comes up with something that’s undeniably good that Jane is forced to accept. But Jane seems also nuts.
John: Yeah. So an argument on Craig’s behalf that Amanda is really the protagonist of the script currently is that there are many scenes that involve Amanda and one of the other women that don’t involved Byron at all which is strange. And some of the scenes are actually delightful. So I’m not suggesting that we cut them.
But it’s just I think this weird thing where you have like there’s scenes between Amanda and Jane where they’re having these sort of really specific discussions and like these really cool power plays or between Amanda and Byron’s mother. And they’re fascinating and I haven’t seen them quite before. And that’s what I liked it so much. But it felt they would land for me so much better if I believed that Amanda existed before page three.
Craig: I totally agree. That’s why I actually prefer her to be the protagonist of the movie. That’s the thing. Amanda could be spectacular here, you know, if I just had a little bit more. And if I understood — I need to understand why somebody is in a circumstance that the typical person would find extraordinary.
She says she’s a freelancer but we kind of pick up that she’s not really working much at all. She clearly doesn’t have much money. She is the sort of person that insinuates herself really aggressively into other people’s conversations and lives. These have all the hallmarks of a personality disorder. And since we can see that Byron has all the hallmarks of a spectrum disorder, I’m in. I’m in. I just want to get more out about Amanda’s situation. I want to understand what’s going on here because where this could go ultimately is a really interesting anti-romance between damaged people and they’re damaged in a very modern way. [laughs]
Craig: I don’t know how else to put it.
Franklin: But it’s interesting on that modern question too, right, like there’s no scene where Rosa is like I Googled her, here is who she is.
Craig: Yeah. No, nobody ever Google’s Amanda. Exactly.
Franklin: Right. But it actually just occurred to me that no one — like this woman just appears and she just shows up and is in everyone’s lives all the time. And no one says, “Is she on Facebook like what’s the deal with her?”
And if you’re going to do something in that world and again in sort of a contemporary world especially in San Francisco I feel like you need to either have an excuse for why that question doesn’t come up like though she’s a coder she’s rabidly anti-social media and like scrubbed her Google history, or you need to like address it and move on. Or have it be something that motivates the plot, come to think of it.
Craig: Well, that’s right. Because when you have somebody, say, “Oh, yeah, I couldn’t find you anywhere.” “I scrubbed my social media history entirely.” “Oh, okay. Why?”
Craig: Well, if I wanted you to know why, I would put it on social media. But I’ve scrubbed my social media history, you see. It’s like there’s the mystery, you know. There’s got to be something going on here.
John: Yeah, but the minute we introduce that idea, you’re going to have to pay that off.
John: The minute the words are given to it.
Craig: That’s right.
John: But that could be great. And it could be lovely to see what that is. And clearly, if she is insinuating herself into his life at the restaurant, this is a pattern. This is something that she does before. And we should see her do it again over the course of this movie. We should see her sort of pick another Byron and change that other person’s life too. And that could be a great source of conflict.
I think my biggest frustration story-wise, I guess we’re really segueing into story and plot here, is I felt there wasn’t enough conflict between our main two characters. Once they sort of got their apartment, things are just kind of chugging along. And there’s little moments, but there’s not — I hate to use the word stakes, but it didn’t feel like there was a lot of challenges ahead. They lose their money because of the fight with the mom. But even that’s like not a very big deal.
A thing I think happens a lot of times with newer writers is they love their characters because who wouldn’t love Byron? And they don’t want to see their characters suffer. But your characters need to suffer. And it didn’t feel like K.C. was willing to put either of his, you know, two lead characters into quite enough of a predicament.
Franklin: Well, I mean, Byron is really never in a predicament, right? Like worst case scenario, even when he loses the money, we always believe that he can just go back to his mother who is wealthy and where his 30-something brothers still live. And Amanda, because we don’t know anything about her past, we don’t know whether there are any consequences to her being out but she seemed to be doing fine prior to her relationship with Byron. So, losing the money that she didn’t have isn’t really a loss either.
Craig: Yeah, that’s where the stakes are going to be. I mean, this is definitely what we would call a low stakes movie no matter what the stakes are going to be. I’m alone again or I failed again, or I’m not going to change, I’m going to be stuck in a sort of depressing route. This is how a lot of smaller movies, well, we’ll call them art movies. I don’t know, I think all movies are art movies regardless. This is a low stakes movie, and that’s okay.
I enjoyed the fact that these two people rushed headlong into an idiot hipster fantasy. Because I, you know, like a lot of rational people, I find those to be amusing. [laughs] And of course, there’s a certain amount of almost Schadenfreude as you watch the idiot hipster fantasy start to disintegrate. But then, you also see that they’re fighting for it. Now, these two people are suddenly fighting for something, which was touching.
But I completely agree that there is currently no price for failure because our punitive protagonist, Amanda, didn’t have a life before this and there is apparently no life after this. I don’t know anything about her. It’s the biggest thing that I think K.C. has to work on.
John: You know, we often talk about want versus need. And in the case of these two characters, I have a hard time articulating what either of them wants and/or needs.
Franklin: I was just going to say that.
John: I can sort of apply my own sense of need to like where these characters need to sort of grow up. But, you know, if this were a musical, Byron would have his I want song. It would probably be really, funny. And it would probably be sort of self-defeating in a really charming way. You know, Amanda clearly seems really driven, but I don’t actually have a good sense of what her end goal is. So it becomes frustrating along those lines.
I also want to circle back to Craig’s diagnosis that Byron is somewhere on the spectrum. I didn’t feel that at all. I felt what was so fascinating about Byron as a character is that he was, you know, a pushed version of where I think a lot of American men are these days. And they’re just sort of like these big man-babies. They sort of never really fully grow up and never take ownership of their lives. And he was just a sort of extreme example of that.
Where I did notice, I think, of what Craig’s describing is Byron’s voice changes sort of based on situations. He could be really, really articulate in some cases, but more often, he’s like he is in the first three pages where he’s just like sort of kind of mumbling his replies to things. And I didn’t necessarily believe that it was the same character page-to-page based on the words he was using.
Craig: It’s interesting. I mean, my diagnosis of him, which is, you know, anytime you diagnose a character, you’re just guessing. And who knows.
Franklin: Do you mean because they’re not real people?
Craig: Probably. [laughs] That’s probably what it’s about. I’m not sure that any of you are real people either, frankly, so I don’t really know. But he has an extraordinary artistic talent. He tends to fixate on details in front of him. He is easily overwhelmed by things. He vomits at the prospect of having to, you know, change his routine. He seems socially awkward in all phases. And everyone around him is accustomed to taking care of him.
Now, this brings up another question for me for K.C., which is just how much of a genius is this guy, because he’s attracting people left and right. He is considered special by almost everybody. This is another area where I think grounding the workplace could be of great value to K.C., because if I understand that this is a guy that has a history of generating money for a company and succeeding for a company, then all of his weirdnesses and strangenesses are worth it.
Then I would believe that it’s okay that he walks into a room and sells them on this ripped up hummingbird because you know what, he’s done this before and then he was the guy that redesigned the Diet Coke can. Whatever it is, I need to know that he’s valuable and a genius, because I’m not quite sure why everyone is fighting over this chubby, passive — [laughs]
Franklin: You mean chubby Basquiat, scruffy Colin Powell and big –
Craig: Right, exactly, exactly.
Franklin: And my favorite, big boned Drake?
Craig: Yeah. That one’s great, big boned Drake. I mean, all of that stuff is so smart. I mean, this is why I love K.C. because he’s so smart.
Craig: And there’s just this palpable intelligence coming off of this thing. All the things we’re talking about now are things you can either learn or just grind out or whatever. You know, you can’t teach smart.
Franklin: No, no. And I also like the callbacks on the description thing are hilarious.
Franklin: I also think that the question of his genius and sort of why the company has him on board actually solves another problem which is the stakes question and the want/need thing. Okay, this is just a guy who’s a savant and is sort of like he works at this company and the company is milking him dry and he doesn’t believe in it. And he just kind of wants to go paint.
Then we understand that like he’s not the kind of person who can actually make a decision that’s in his own best interest. He’s got this job, it’s a fine job. He’s, you know, he’s sort of valued, but what he really wants and needs is to be doing something that he cares about, but he lacks the ability to actually make the step to do it. That’s interesting to me.
As is the dynamic of this sort of, you know, this guy who everyone’s obsessed with because he does generate amazing work who then has to step away from that because he wants to choose his own path. That’s a much more interesting conflict for me. And it also creates the possibility of conflict in the second and third act as the company tries to get him back into the fold. Maybe Rosa is sent in to bring him back. Maybe his mother is somehow connected to bringing him back.
You know, you don’t want to make it too plot-heavy, but at least then your low stakes movie has real stakes about who is this person and what is he going to do with this life, and what is he going to do with his extraordinary talent.
John: If the movie is about his journey, if the movie is about the two characters’ journey, then I think you may want to steer away from that sort of plotting and really get back to the fundamental issue of like, you know, he refuses to change. And I love very late in the story she has a line, “You’re just this big squanderer of women’s lives.”
Franklin: That’s a great line. Yeah.
John: It’s a great line. It’s a great thematic summation of sort of the frustration everyone feels about him. And at the same time, I get him. I understand like maybe he just kind of wants to sit in this room and paint. And like everyone has all this pressure for him to do other stuff. It’s like, I don’t want to do that. And that’s kind of a great character too.
Craig: Well, the idea of the artistic squanderer of women’s lives is a — that’s a really interesting and time-tested motif. I’m thinking of the Scorsese segment of New York Stories and the notion of a tortured artist who burns through women until they inspire him, because he has to suffer to create. And of course, they are nothing more than fodder, although they don’t realize it at the time. And the cycle repeats.
There is something there. I mean, what we’re watching is essentially somebody saying, “I don’t want to be that. I’m different. I’m not going to be that for you.” But I don’t necessarily get the sense of what Jane does for Byron, because we don’t need — I mean, while Jane is clearly watching what he eats, I need to see that there’s a little more utility there for Byron.
John: Absolutely. I mean, Jane is using him as an asset. She’s watching an asset. And she may care about him the way you care about, you know, a pet but not as a boyfriend.
Craig: But I also want to know how that started too. In other words, if we’re getting to a place where Amanda’s saying, “I’m not going to be the next in this long list of people for you,” then I need to know how Jane fit into that list. Did Jane inspire him? Did she discover him? Was she the one that found him in a gallery and put him into a job? And he says, “She hired me,” but I don’t understand like what did she? How did that love affair begin? How did it go wrong?
It’s fun to watch somebody say, “I don’t want to end up like the two of you, but I feel like that’s exactly what you’re doing to me right now is pushing me in a place where I end up like her. And then, you just go on to the next one.” There is something really interesting there, but again, it really hinges on us getting why Amanda is different, because she is.
John: The last big story point I want to hit from my side is the lack of sex in the movie, because I felt like Byron was this weirdly asexual creature. And it felt weird that by the end of the movie, I’m not quite sure they ever had sex. And that feels strange for me for this kind of movie.
Franklin: I think they had sex –
John: It’s clearly R-rated.
Franklin: In between the two periods, like at the very end it just jumps forward and they’re all living in his mother’s house. They had sex in between those two periods.
Craig: Yeah. When he texts her and says, “Put your pants on,” I presume that this means at some point they’ve had sex. But, yeah, it was a weird choice. I noticed it, too, and I didn’t quite understand it. I didn’t also understand why you would have a scene where somebody goes, they have the crazy I have to kiss you thing and then they don’t have sex. That’s not how –
Franklin: Oh, no. They definitely have not had sex when he texts her to put her pants on because his mother asked directly about it.
Craig: Oh, really?
Franklin: And she –
Franklin: And she’s like, “I am amazing in bed but your son doesn’t know.”
Craig: Oh, that’s right. Yeah. So what is that?
John: Yeah, I don’t know what that is.
Franklin: I don’t know what it is either.
John: I don’t think it’s helping, because I think within Byron’s man-babyness, we don’t actually want him to seem like he is, you know, literally a special needs, you know, character. I mean, you don’t want to sort of make him so childlike that you’re like, “Okay, now everything is just weird and creepy.” You want him to be able to have something to him.
Franklin: Maybe this is a film set in the asexual movement.
Craig: Well, we would need to know that. I mean, that is a thing. I mean, that’s very modern. And we would need to know that. And that would have to be a thing. But that almost feels like it deserves its own movie. I mean, I agree with John. I found that very odd. I particularly found it odd when he came to her place and kissed her. And then she kissed him back. At that point, that’s the scene.
Craig: That’s where you have sex now.
Franklin: No, it’s when you go to a diner and talk, come on.
Craig: Well, but, right. I mean, the thing is it’s such a great cutaway to — like she says, “We need a break. Yes, are you hungry?” But they should , they kiss. It’s only been two days, they kiss and then they should have sex. We don’t have to watch it, there’s ways to do it.
John: Yeah, I would argue against it. We don’t necessarily have to have sex at that moment, but whatever the first moment they have sex is, that’s going to be a really good scene. And so to not give us that scene is crazy.
Craig: Well, that’s where adults have sex, I think. [laughs] But regardless, whatever, I think it would be really funny for them to have so that we hear them having sex and the next shot is then in a diner eating huge waffles. That’s a huge laugh. That’s a huge laugh, much bigger than the laugh now, because we would understand that not only — they’ve now satisfied both major desires. [laughs] And it would just be very funny.
Franklin: But I actually think you want to see these two characters, you know, not actually the actual intercourse, but I think you want to see what their dynamic is at this highly intimate moment between the two.
John: Yeah, that’s what I’m saying.
Craig: Sure. I mean, and you can play that out that way as well. But if we’re going to do a modern love affair, this is the — I mean, we talk about, I give this criticism all the time. So I’m sent comedy screenplays all the time and half of them, when I send back, I just say, “This is a ’90s script.” This is a 2016 script as far as I’m concerned. Like I got to give K.C. a ton of credit. This thing feels so right now. And so I really loved how that was working. And I’d love to see how the right now of their sexuality works. And this is really on point.
John: Yeah. So we’re not going to have time to get to all of our little page notes because I circled a whole bunch of little things, but I thought maybe we’d flip through pages and as we found stuff that we really loved or things to think about, we could just highlight and flag some of those moments. Sound good?
John: All right, from the very start. I flagged just “Jane’s car. Jane drives. Byron’s in the passenger seat, still drawing. They’re both dressed for work.” We’re still on page 1. A little bit more detail that shows us what dressed for work looks like. I just want a little bit better sense of who these characters were so I could picture them in my head. So, is he the kind of guy, like what does Byron dress like? If I saw an image of what he was like at the very start, I’d have a better, more concrete version of who Byron is.
Craig: Yeah, flipping. I mean, just a similar thing on page 2. When I meet Amanda, I need to know more that she’s white and 30.
Franklin: Well, that was actually another thing that I mentioned. And it was definitely something that I noticed immediately is that every single character is described in terms of their racial backgrounds. Which I think ended up having value down the line, but it was jarring the extent to which it was always parentheses white something. So even the waitress is white, perky.
Craig: Well, that was my fault. I asked for that.
John: That’s Craig’s fault.
Franklin: Well, there you go.
Craig: In the Three Page Challenge because he didn’t know — that was one of the few characters, well, I don’t know. It was all on Page 1 and 2. I kind of wanted to know, I mean because the waitress is talking about African-Americans and diabetes, I was like, “It’s a totally different vibe if she’s white. It’s a totally different vibe if she’s black.”
Franklin: Yeah, that’s true.
Craig: You know, I needed to know. I actually have no problem with this. I feel like this script was like racially true.
Craig: That it felt like a script where not — people weren’t theorizing about race or being like really weird about it, but they’re actually being a like race the way that people are in reality about it.
Franklin: Don’t tell Nellie Andreeva.
John: Oh no.
Craig: Oh, who’s — what, why?
John: There was a Deadline article this from Nellie Andreeva and everyone tweeted at it saying like, “Oh, you have to have Malcolm on to respond to it.
Craig: What was it about?
John: A thing I learned this week is sometimes the best response is just not to respond at all.
Craig: Oh yeah. Well, listen man, I had a guy call me a liar on something about I don’t know — don’t even get me started. [laughs]
John: Exactly. That’s why I’m not getting you started.
John: I want to get to page 6. There’s a moment where Amanda and Byron are both walking and she’s like, faster. Like I’m here at my coffee shop. And it was this moment of really false urgency. It sort of felt like they were on a bus and she’s getting off her stop, but there’s no reason why she needed to go in there right then. So, if you’re going to create a reason why the characters need to stop talking in that moment, I need to believe that reason. So it could be that she had a phone call scheduled at a certain time or there’s some reason why they couldn’t stand there forever. And I didn’t believe it the moment on page 6.
Craig: Yeah. That would be the ticker tape scene for sure –
John: Yeah. On page 7 is the first time we’re entering into the PET CORP conference room and I wrote “sitcom.” And just the way the dialogue played and sort of the pithy one liners back to things. Like I was suddenly in a sitcom and it wasn’t a sitcom I loved.
Craig: Yeah I agree, this is my whole tonal issue with PET CORP. And also, I would say to K.C., this is an area where you want to do a pass through of this thing where you don’t think like a writer. Now you say to yourself, “I’m directing the movie. Okay, I’m directing the movie.” Maybe you won’t, but think you are. Now, how visually do I want to do this? How do I want to make this interesting for people? I mean, you’re going to cut from a dead shot of Byron on the street, to a dead shot of a conference room?
No, no, no. Let’s be a little cinematic here. You could do it, it’s cool. Spend a little time. There’s other stuff to cut in the script anyway. So, you want to look at your transitions. This is just simple craftsmanship, how you get in and out of places. Every introduction of a place or a person needs to be its own mini movie. Really think that way about all this stuff.
Franklin: That advice about a pass, specifically focused on transitions and character introductions is incredibly good advice. Like every writer should take that time before showing their script to anyone.
John: Yes, on page 11, Amanda says, “This is how people get kidnapped on 24, no, thank you.” 24 is just a too dated reference. You know, I like her idea that she doesn’t want to come with them, but 24 felt just weirdly a time machine.
Franklin: Yeah, you could use a more dated reference and have it work weirdly or a contemporary one, but 24 is sort of in that valley where it’s just like the script was written while 24 was still on the air and you’ve, you know –
Craig: Yes. So, like Colin Powell will be acceptable forever and [laughs] Basquiat is acceptable forever. Actually, I frankly avoid current. If you can avoid current or near current references, you’re always better off.
Franklin: Drake will be around forever so it’s fine.
John: Drake is endless.
Craig: Just killer. That’s –
John: He’s the alpha and the omega. Page 16. Here is a moment that’s stutter stop, I had to read it a couple of times. So, Rosa is saying to Byron, “Actually, one of the directors had a conflict, so they bumped it up. The meeting starts in 90 minutes.” Byron pukes again. Amanda bursts through that back door. “There you are. You realize the meeting starts in two hours?”
John: So, Rosa had information that Amanda didn’t have. And so Amanda is saying old information but as an audience, we’re just confused. Like, when does the meeting start? Do I care when the meeting starts?
Craig: Yeah, I mean, I actually, what I wanted there was Rosa goes — so Byron says the meeting starts in two hours. Rosa says, “Actually one of the directors had a conflict, so they bumped it up. The meeting starts in 90 minutes.” He pukes, we laugh. Amanda burst through the back door. “There you are. You realize the meeting starts in an hour?” “What?” “Yeah, they called. They just bumped it up. One of the directors — ” [laughs] I mean like I want –
John: That’s escalation. Comedy.
Craig: Yeah, I want — and then he pukes again. I get that, you know. Yeah, you don’t want to kind of unsharpen your pencil there.
John: On page 17, Amanda asks, “Are you too young to have seen The Godfather?” Rosa says, “I’ve seen episodes…” That’s a great, great line. Amanda says, “For Christ’s sake.” No, no, no, don’t undercut the joke with a line back. That’s like, “I’ve seen episodes…” Let that be the joke and let’s move on.
John: And I think as you’re doing that pass for, you know, character introductions and for transitions, also do a pass through to say like what lines can I cut after jokes, so that we can keep moving on and that’ the kind of thing that you’re going to cut.
Craig: I’m a big fun of just penciling in reactions. You know so, “I’ve seen episodes…” Amanda stares at her. Wow. You know, anything.
Craig: Then I understand the rhythm of the scene and then, you know, she’s about to say something when, “I’m okay, Rosa, you should probably,” bwah or he pukes right then and there, whatever it is. But John is right, you don’t want to do that.
John: Yeah, on page 20, hopefully this scene will not exist anymore, but there’s a lot of numbers and prices. Numbers and prices if they’re in dialogue, it’s usually helpful to spell them out rather than have digits for them because that way you can actually control what is being said. And people just don’t make weird random choices for how they’re going to say things.
Craig: Yes, I mean, so, what we have here is essentially four, four-and-a-half pages where he’s doing something we’ve seen before. We have seen this scene before where somebody starts pitching something and it seems to be going south and then they pull it out with some little brilliant twist. And that’s great presuming that things are a little more grounded here in the office. It’s just too long. It can be compressed down for sure.
John: And we’ve also seen evidence of the script that Byron can write completely new scenes that are unlike anything we’ve seen before, so, why give us a scene that’s kind of like the scenes we’ve seen before?
Franklin: I also think that for moments like this, they need to not be super on the nose, but they need to talk about the theme of the movie.
Franklin: I mean I keep going back to the slide projector presentation in Mad Men and how this idea of nostalgia and the sort of longing for home becomes an undercurrent for all of Mad Men. And I feel like if you’re going to do something like this, like hummingbirds and all this stuffs feels very arbitrary. And the sort of Canadian Snowbird thing, just, it feels irrelevant. And it’s tacked on. And I love to see something that actually like talks about and that sort of elucidates who Byron is and then the reaction from Jane and Amanda, we can learn more about them as well.
Craig: That’s a really good point. There are times when you can be thematic and not on the nose. Let us figure it out or let us just — even if we don’t figure it out, just osmotically, we’ll start to sense that there’s something emerging here.
John: From Byron’s point of view, if the product is something about like taking control of your life or like, you know, you know, taking ownership of things, you know, there’s probably a way you can, you know, capture some aspect of what is the theme.
Craig: You could also like, if for instance, the problem is that that hummingbirds, we design this thing that has to move around but they don’t want to move around. They want to sit still. The hummingbird’s fine, it’s the thing that we designed around it that needs to change. You know what I mean?
Craig: Like somehow or another, he doesn’t even understand that he’s talking about [laughs] himself but he is. He’s making a plea to his girlfriend to leave him alone but in doing so — and then Amanda backs it up, and then Amanda comes later to kind of regret this philosophy. It’s that kind of vibe that I think could be really useful there. Yeah.
John: On page 26, Byron introduces his cousins. “Amanda, this is Jane and her cousins Grace, Faith, and Yunjue.”
John: “They threw in a Yunjue. Cool.”
Craig: So funny. I laughed at that.
John: It’s such a great line, I love that moment.
Craig: That killed me.
John: Then through the rest of the scene, though, those cousins stick around. Don’t call them cousin 1, 2 and 3 anymore –
John: Just say like, Jane, cousin one, Yunjue. Even if you put their names in parentheses, just so we could keep them straight.
Craig: Yeah, for sure.
John: Because the cousins never show up again. So I think in that level it’s fine to keep labeling them as cousins, but give them their specific name.
Craig: Yeah. On page, middle of page 27, Amanda has a long run and that felt not up to snuff for the other stuff that K.CK had done. It was a bit forced and I — and it had that kind of rambly, I’m going to give an impromptu speech. It felt written and so much of the other stuff didn’t. So, that one probably — it would be better if it were shorter. Amanda works really well when she gives little tiny bullets.
John: So here is a great tiny Amanda bullet on page 28. So, this is just Jane and Amanda having a conversation. “I do my best to make him see he has the tools to really do well for himself if he pulls it all together…” Amanda says, “Well, it’s obvious he adores you.” “Is it obvious?” “I mean. Sure.”
John: And so it was, I mean period, sure period. It’s so telling, and it’s so encapsulates where those two women are coming out at that moment.
John: So good.
Franklin: The other one that I have also is he and Jane are living together and does she have no idea that his mother is filthy, filthy rich?
John: Yeah. I guess it only comes up when he finally checks his bank balance and that’s when he explains that there is this trust. I actually like the discussion like, you know, “So you’re a trust fund kid.” It’s like, “No, no. I just — “
Craig: [laughs] Right. And he starts defining what it means to be a trust kid. There was something to — again, this is why I started to diagnose Byron because he is unaware that he has six hundred some odd thousand dollars to his name. And didn’t even know how to login to the site to see it. And that feels — that is such a specific choice to not even know. Forget like, “I’m uncomfortable with it. Yeah, it’s something like this but I don’t really know.” No, he has no clue. That is so infantilized and it should be maybe more of a red flag than it is, you know.
Craig: I mean it’s kind of shocking.
John: So here’s a great thematical speech that Jane gives. And I think it’s fun to look at the movie from Jane’s point of view, because clearly she’s puts a lot of time into Byron and sort of like keeping his shit together. Jane says on page 55, “Listen to me. There will always be someone to tell you that you’re special and quirky and deserve more than you have, and that if you burn your life to the ground, you’ll have something new and better in its place. But there are only so many of us who will tell you the truth, you’re a child, and there’s nothing rare or special about children.” It verges on being overwritten, but it’s such a clear statement of where she’s coming from and if I could feel those kind of moments from the other characters in the movie, there would really be something special here.
Franklin: I actually really liked that line. I actually didn’t think it was overwritten, because I sort of view Jane as like sort of type A. Like she’s been mentally preparing to have this, to give this speech to him through some significant part of their relationship, I feel like –
Franklin: And it’s also why, you know you’re also sort of surprised by the fact that, you know, not too much later, you’ve got Amanda basically being like, “Jane is right. You are a child and there is nothing very special about you,” because you’re setting up this idea again, that sort of Byron is this misunderstood guy who’s dealing with this woman who doesn’t treat him special and whatever and then you can completely invert that by the end of it and you’re like, this is a guy who basically moves his girlfriend into his mother’s house and that’s the end of the movie.
Craig: I half loved the speech and half had a huge problem. Love the front half because that is a great summation of what temptation is. The second half, I had a problem with because it essentially negates their relationship entirely. I have no idea why she’s interested in being with this guy, why she even has a problem, why she even tried to defend their relationship. She’s literally saying, “There’s nothing rare, special about you. Everybody is telling you you’re special and quirky and deserve more than you have, they’re all not right. You’re just…you’re nothing.”
And that’s a mistake. And this goes back to my point about why was Jane with him in the beginning? And why is Jane defending this? If Jane is kicking him out of the house before he can leave, I get this. If Jane is fighting to keep this relationship, then I want her to essentially articulate, “And you are special and quirky, but you don’t deserve more than you have. This is exactly what you deserve. This is the best you will ever get with me. And if you burn your life to the ground, you won’t have something new and better in its place.” Then I would get it. But this second part of it rang false for me.
John: I hear you there.
Franklin: That’s a good note.
John: Page 63, we go into a printing shop and we meet Emeka who’s going to show up in later scenes. But throughout this whole page, we don’t know and Emeka is an ambiguous enough name, I didn’t know if that’s a man or a woman. And it changes how you sort of read the scene. And so ultimately we’re going to learn that it’s a man, but that needed to be established right from the very start.
Craig: Wait, Emeka is a man?
Craig: Really? Oh.
Franklin: I think it technically is pronounced Emeka. I only know that because of Emeka Okafor, the basketball player.
Craig: Oh, Okafor. Great.
John: Okay. Except that, the reason I say Emeka if you actually look at how his name is spelled in the dialogue below, it shows up a couple different ways. There’s Emekea.
Franklin: Oh, that’s right.
Craig: Well, that may be a…that’s a typo I think.
John: Yeah, there’s a typo twice.
John: Anyway, just let us know that it’s a man because it helps us out a lot. Give us some visual description.
Craig: Now, this scene by the way, I remember thinking, “Okay, here’s a scene that needs to have a point,” and it’s not that it’s pointless right now, it’s halfway there. This is a place where I go, “Something’s wrong with Amanda.” And I want Byron to see [laughs] that something’s wrong with Amanda and I want Amanda finally at this point, an hour into the movie, to admit that she’s not just haha funny confrontational. She has a problem. There’s something wrong with her.
John: I think she got released from some sort of mental facility quite recently. I think there’s something — I think that she could be rapidly, you know, bipolar. It’s something that could be really fascinating and really wrong about her.
Craig: There’s something there. Yeah.
John: I would love to see — I’d also love to meet those character who knew her from before because it feels really strange like, why do you have no friends?
Craig: I know. [laughs] No friends. No family. No life.
Franklin: Yeah, she does have her own apartment, though.
Craig: I will tell you that if at the end of the movie it turns out that Amanda is his invisible friend and it’s a Shyamalan twist.
Craig: You wouldn’t have to rewrite much, I mean that’s…and that’s a bad sign.
Franklin: I actually thought that was where we were headed for a while –
Craig: A bad sign. A bad sign. Yeah.
John: I really love the moment on page 80, with Byron and Rosa. And Rosa showing up there and Rosa has this long speech, which is I kind of believed, which is basically like, you know, she’s just sort of fascinating and intrigued and she’s a little bit Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but I loved that character coming in at that moment. And if I really understood Byron and Amanda before then and believed them, her entering into the picture could be really fascinating. So I dug Rosa when she comes back in.
Craig: Yeah. This was good. And it was made plausible by the fact that she was high. So, they’re wasted and that works. This is one area where I want K.C. to really think carefully. When we watch Byron start to fall for Rosa, in the way that he fell for Amanda, the same way and then he kisses her, we all I think in the audience if we’re watching this movie go, “Oh, no. Oh no.” It’s not just that he’s just cheating on this girl. It’s that we realize that his interaction with Amanda isn’t special, that she thinks it is and it’s not.
He is that guy that falls in love every day. It’s like a twilight zone episode. It’s chilling and I think it’s traumatic and K.C. runs backwards from that conflict as fast as he can. And I think that’s a huge mistake because we want Byron be held accountable there and this is really cutting to it where Amanda has to suddenly realize, “Oh, no. I’m not special. This is just what he’s…” It’s like that moment in Glengarry Glen Ross, they just like salesmen. You know?
John: I mean, in many ways I think that’s pointing towards what it is like for these two characters is like Amanda interjecting herself into a situation. That’s what Amanda does, and so we need to see — we see her do it at the very start. We need to have a sense that she did it before then and she’s going to keep doing it.
Byron is the guy who whenever some woman will come in and sort of take care of him, he will gravitate towards that woman because that’s what he does. And that can be the question of the movie is like, “Can these two characters stay together when their basic natures will always try to pull themselves apart?”
Craig: Yeah, I mean, and similarly, just as you have Rosa coming in as Byron bait, is there somebody else that’s Amanda bait. I mean, that’s an interesting idea here. You want to — this is where, I mean, and I was like, “Okay, great.” It’s page 82 and this is where the conflict should begin to emerge. We should start hitting the bell because we’re entering into the final lap. But then K.C. backs away from it entirely and the balloon deflates and it’s the worst time in a script to do that.
John: Here is a possibility to consider. It’s like maybe Rosa can be sort of both of their projects. So essentially, pushing a little bit further than how it is currently in the script where Amanda sees Rosa having a problem. Like, she’s in a terrible relationship or whatever. And so, she intercedes and pulls her out of that relationship. And sort of brings her to the apartment. And then, of course, Rosa becomes this center and the focus for Byron. That might be an interesting way to sort of like, they both have a — there’s a love-triangle aspect there that could be great.
When we get back to Byron’s mother’s house, I just felt like the movie was trying to wrap itself up and didn’t kind of know what it was doing.
John: I mean, I don’t think going back to Byron’s mother’s house would be where we want to end up in the version of the movie that we think can happen.
Craig: I mean, I will say that I thought it was very brave. And for that reason, I liked it. It’s the kind of ending you talk about. Now, you go into a test screening, this ending will kill you.
Craig: But this isn’t a movie designed for test screenings clearly. And it’s shocking. I mean, in terms of like a writing sample, it’s the craziest like weird horror movie ending. So I kind of loved how brave it was. The problem I think is that we’re not quite sure what to think at the end and maybe that’s okay, but I wouldn’t necessarily dismantle this. There is something fascinating about it.
John: I think there is something fascinating about going back to the scene of the crime. Basically, like, how did Byron get to be so messed up and just see what that is is potentially great. And for him to make the choice to sort of go back into that place is great. But maybe then it’s shorter than where we actually are, because I feel like we’re back at that house for a long time and I didn’t necessarily believe how Amanda fits back in that. It just felt like a new little movie was starting and was like –
John: “Oh, but we’re kind of done with this movie.”
Franklin: I also didn’t understand the dynamic in that house. It just seemed so utterly preposterous to me that it felt either insufficiently described to be the scene of the crime. Like I don’t understand how Byron ends up as Byron having grown up in that house.
Craig: I agree. Yes, yes, and I think that that’s a mistake. I don’t think there should be siblings. I think that this feels like such mama’s boy story. And mama’s boys or mama’s boys because mama has one boy, not three or four or I think one of these is a girl. I can’t remember.
Franklin: I think it’s all boys.
Craig: Oh, they’re both boys?
John: I think it’s all boys.
Craig: Okay, yeah, so I thought that that was a mistake and I didn’t get anything from the siblings that mattered anyway. But I think part of what doesn’t work about the end is that it involves Amanda whom we don’t yet understand. But there is an interesting story of two — a woman coming to rescue a man-child. And then we start to realize, oh, she’s a woman-child. And they’re both children and then they both end up back with a mommy. [laughs]
John: Yeah, okay.
Craig: It’s kind of fascinating but I need to know where Amanda came from if I’m going to believe this ending.
John: I agree with you.
Franklin: I also think we need to know more about the mommy in that case, in that dynamic too. Because I think she is very much presented as a device right now as well.
Craig: But she’s hysterical –
Franklin: Oh, she’s amazing.
Craig: I’m sorry, the way that K.C. described her is wherever she sits it looks like a throne.
Craig: I saw her immediately. Like I didn’t need — I could draw you a picture of her.
Franklin: Totally agree.
John: Yeah, she’s doesn’t need to move quickly ever.
Craig: And the flowing, whatever the shawl.
Franklin: The shawl.
Craig: I mean, it’s like, “I got it.”
Franklin: Which Amanda actually specifically mentions.
Craig: I know [laughs] It’s so great. And I got to give K.C. a lot of credit. The scene between Amanda and the mom is a — here’s where K.C. just has a natural gift. K.C. understands what is said between what we say.
Craig: He’s really good at that. And that confrontation was very well done. It was the kind of thing that actors would love to do, because it’s tactics. John and I did the episode about conflict. This is a quiet, silent fist fight. And he really does it well. So that’s why I know that he can do this. The other, I mean, look, he picked a very whimsical, indie-flowing structure, la-la-la kind of thing to do here as a movie. So no one is going to buy this script and make it at a major studio, never in a million years, right? Somebody might fund this and make it as an independent which I think would be really cool. But we’ve always said on the podcast, the goal with scripts like this isn’t that somebody buys it and makes it at Warner Bros. The goal is somebody reads this and goes, “I want to represent you.”
Craig: “I want to hire for this. I want you to meet some people.” You tell me Franklin, and I know you can’t predict these things, but I think that other than the, yeah, the support we’re giving him here on the show that he would do very well on The Black List website.
Franklin: I think he would. I think that the script needs to — he needs to make all the adjustments that we’re talking about. Like, I think that, because even in these sort of indie free-flowing scripts, the best versions of them are ones that bring the level of sort of psychological study and focus that the scene between Amanda and Byron’s mother but they bring it to every single scene.
Franklin: Right? And that deliver the kind of like “every seat she sits on feels like a thrown” to every character introduction. And I think if he can bring that kind of quality work to all aspects of this script, the office space, how the third act evolves if we’re calling it a third act. Then yes, I think this is absolutely the kind of script that does well on The Black List. By the way, I think it’s the kind of script that done — the best version of it is the kind of script that people pay attention to.
Franklin: That people are quoting in offices like, “Oh, did you read that script? Oh, my good, the big boned Drake line is hilarious.”
Craig: [laughs] Right.
Franklin: Like these are things that you actually do. You sort of quote, you dialogue check this kind of work. I just don’t think it’s all the way there yet. And I actually think that K.C. is best served by going back and doing like a heavy — not a heavy rewrite but like a really focused scene-by-scene rewrite so that every scene is written at the quality that the best work is.
John: I agree.
John: Let’s talk about some specific advice for K.C. This script now exists in the world for lots of people to see. We’ve had this discussion. He’ll have some exposure, you know, people reading this script based our talking about this script. What would be our advice to him for what his next steps are? Craig, what do you think his next steps are in terms of pursuing a writing career? Right now he’s living up in Oakland, what do you tell him to do?
Craig: Well, we’ve kind of stepped in to his puddle here. I don’t think we can ignore what we just did. So if I were him, my next step would be to contact us and then ask us, “Can you help me with this?” And I would say, yeah. I would love for K.C. to come down and there are a couple of people that I think, you know, we could try and figure out if he could meet and might be interested in taking him on maybe a manager or if he doesn’t have an agent maybe find him an agent or have an agency read the script and maybe meet some people that might just give him some general advise. I’d love to know about him first what his situation is, I mean, his Twitter handle is BlackSitcomDad.
Franklin: Which by the way I loved and even just on the cover page alone I was like, “All right. I want to like this.
Craig: [laughs] So cool. But is he actually a father? Does he have a family? Are they situated in Oakland? What’s going on up there? What’s his job? How does he make his living? What’s his flexibility? All that stuff that we would need to find out. I would urge him to go on The Black — Franklin, can you just give him — can’t you give him like three free months?
Franklin: Yeah, I’m happy to hook him up with three free months and three free reads. But with one caveat, which is I do think it needs a rewrite.
Craig: Oh, yeah. No, for sure, yeah.
Franklin: I think for his benefit. And, you know, I’m uncomfortable saying this but it’s like, if you are an agent or a representative or manager or somebody listening to this podcast, you will read this script and there will — I think you will have a similar reaction to what we’ve already had. And you will definitely see the talent here. I think K.C. is probably — it is best for him if he does a rewrite on the script before he goes aggressively seeking that representation.
Craig: I totally agree. And I was really encouraged by the fact that he, you know, incorporated some of the notes that John and I had from the first three pages. I could see that happening. I do think he needs to rewrite as do we all, right? I mean, a first draft is a first draft.
Craig: I don’t know what draft this is here but it’s the first draft as far as I’m concerned. So, yes, a rewrite. But once he’s kind of gone through and gotten this a little more down the line towards polished, I think he should put it on The Black List. I think it will get some good attention there.
Franklin: And when he does, it would be for free. Here’s the other thing I’d say –
Franklin: And I think this is something that like is maybe a broader conversation. I’m sure you guys have discussed it before. It takes a heck of a lot of courage to allow someone to do this with your script.
Franklin: And I think it’s the kind of courage that you see reflected in the writing and the choice of subject matter. And I think it speaks incredibly well of his potential future to be a risk-taking writer, both in terms of his career and how he chooses to go about it. Which for me, as somebody who used to work on the sort of producing financier side and was once an agency assistant, it’s something that I think that all people working in the industry desperately want to see because those are the people that end up doing things that we all want to be associated with.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah, I agree. I mean, my enthusiasm for K.C. basically turns on this. It’s less about, “Oh, he’s written a script that is perfect or 80% of the way there.” My enthusiasm is based on what I see is a very high ceiling for him because I would much rather read a script like this which needs a lot of work but indicates inherent talent than I would a script that is just perfectly crafted and all the nuts and bolts are screwed in tightly and it’s whatever.
Franklin: Are you saying you don’t want to read another Taken rip-off?
Craig: I haven’t read any of them. [laughs]
Franklin: Congratulations. That in and of itself is an accomplishment.
John: Yeah, see, that’s a luxury that we have, Franklin. So we don’t have to read scripts.
Craig: Yeah, exactly. I mean, that’s the nice thing. And I would say that this is where like the lazy manager will go, “Well, if it were another Taken, I could sign…” right? But the smart manager will look at this guy and say, “Here is a diamond in the rough.” And those don’t come along very often. And we don’t know what will happen here. There’s a lot of diamonds in the rough that never turn into diamonds in the not rough.
John: So my question for K.C. and, you know, what I would talk about with him when I talk with him because I will talk with him at some point is we described him both as like, well he could get staffed on Brooklyn Nine-Nine or Blackish or he may be the Oakland Wes Anderson. And those are two different people. And you shouldn’t try to do both. I think if you try to do both, you’re going to not succeed in doing either one of those especially well.
If he perceives himself as a filmmaker, that’s awesome. And then this is a script that maybe gets into Sundance Labs. You have that whole route ahead of you. Trust me, I have done a lot of Sundance Labs. We would be delighted to have a script like this that has an interesting voice, has interesting things to dig into. That would be fantastic. And I can totally see that working.
I don’t staff TV shows and I certainly don’t staff half-hour shows. But I got to think that if you were reading through a lot of samples, if you read this sample, you’d be like, “Wow, this guy is kind of pretty good. And he might be a right person for our show. Now, does he have any real experience, you know, working in a room, doing all that stuff? Maybe not but I might have a meeting with this guy because he seems interesting, he seems good.”
And so, again, I’m not a person who’s staffing those half-hour shows but I have to think that these people love to read good voices, good characters, and I think he’s showing that here.
Craig: Yeah. I’m going to make an assumption that because his Twitter handle is BlackSitcomDad that he’s black and that is going to be something that he just has to prepare that Hollywood will naturally go, “Here are some black movies. Here are some black shows. Why don’t you do those?” Because that’s what they do. I mean, we talked about it with Malcolm.
I mean, Malcolm told the story — I don’t know if he told it on the podcast or he just told it to me, but early on in his career he had gotten his initial attention off of a script that wasn’t a “black script”. And he had general meetings and he came in and somebody said after the chitchat, they were like, “So, look, here’s the thing. We don’t really do black movies here.”
Craig: And he’s like, “But I also don’t do them. And so, what?” And so, yeah –
Franklin: My response to that would have been, “You don’t want to work with Will Smith? That’s cool. Okay, fine.”
Craig: [laughs] Well, yeah.
Franklin: Or Denzel or –
Craig: We are presuming that this individual, his mind was not expanded appropriately.
Craig: It’s something that K.C. has to be aware of. I think what’s interesting about this script is that he’s essentially saying, “I’m in my own peg over here. I’m a peg in this hole. It doesn’t fit in any of those holes,” right? But just be aware, that’s what they’re going to push him towards. And if that’s not what he wants, he just has to be really clear and firm to that because racist Hollywood [laughs] will do it every time. Set your watch.
Franklin: They will. Well, on the bright side though, I think that that peg, he’s not the only sort of peg in that hole, which is to say I think that the notion of the kind of work that African-Americans and people of color can do in Hollywood is expanding semi-rapidly. You look at something like Dear White People which is still a movie with, you know, themes about what it means to be African-American is very much in the sort of Wes Anderson tradition in terms of its design, its style of comedy and things like that.
So there’s a rising wave, I think, of change in that regard. But, yes, you will absolutely have to be very, very clear about what it is that you want to do and possibly turn down opportunities that are financially very lucrative because they could force you further into that, I don’t want to call it a ghetto, but –
Franklin: Yeah, a pigeonhole that is not representative at all of who you want to be as an artist.
Craig: And just to be clear, I’m not saying that K.C. is in the special place of a black writer who writes this kind of movie. I’m saying that he’s in the K.C. place. Like I think [laughs] K.C. has written a movie that’s a K.C. movie. I don’t know other people that write this. I don’t know [laughs], you know, it’s very, very specific to him, which I think is actually the — that’s the double-edged sword, right, is that it is unique to him. And so he automatically becomes very interesting. On the other hand, it’s unique to him, so people are like, “Well, but that isn’t a genre yet,” [laughs] you know?
Franklin: Right, no, but I mean, look, the default is, I mean, like you could literally have written Grand Budapest Hotel and walked into a room if you are African-American and there is a significant percentage of Hollywood executives there that would be like, “So we have this Tyrese movie. You want to write that.”
Craig: [laughs] We have the Tyrese biopic.
John: So good. So we’ve given K.C. some really specific advice but if you’re just a normal listener listening to this podcast who read the script, who listened to this conversation, what do we want the take-home for them to be? Like what should you gain from reading the script and hearing this discussion?
Craig: Well, for me, it’s to be creatively brave, to not over calculate and attempt to homogenize your script to whatever the world of rules are. I mean, clearly K.C. doesn’t give one sweet damn about what people are looking for in specs. And good for him because I think what “people” are looking for in specs isn’t what actual people in Hollywood are looking for in specs. If you are writing in a certain genre, then, sure. But K.C. has decided, has opted to be original and brave. And while he is far from perfect here and has all sorts of challenges to overcome with the script, guess what, so does everyone, including all the people that have followed the rules and calculated.
Everybody will have issues that need work, everybody. But K.C. has been brave. So I would just say to people out there, no matter what genre you’re working in, even if you are writing in the fighting robot or teenage vampire genre, be brave, because if you don’t stick out, even if you stick out with some of the crazier choices, you won’t stick out.
John: Franklin, what do you think our listeners should take with them from this discussion?
Franklin: A lot of that, although, I do think that, you know, the black Aspergers anti-romantic comedy is very much in vogue right now.
Craig: [laughs] There’s like a hundred of them.
Franklin: There’s so many. I really –
John: Everyone is trying make one.
Franklin: I really feel like, you know, that’s the new thing. But no, I think that’s right. I think it’s be creatively brave with the subject matter that you choose and how you choose to tell the story. I think the importance of voice, I think even within the subject matter, K.C. has moments, inconsistent moments where you can see that in any environment, he’s going to come up with a point of view on that material that is uniquely his and it is very much on display. And I think that that should be the goal of every writer because if anybody could do it, why should you be the one that does it?
And then lastly, I think it’s also the importance of craft and what Craig was talking about earlier, go back and look at your transitions, go back and look at your character introductions, go back and look at all of these sort of scenes of dialogue and make sure they’re as strong as your strongest scenes because, you know, any one of those three things is not going to get you all the way there. You can have all the craft in the world, but if you don’t have an interesting point of view and an interesting subject matter, you’re not going to get there. If you have an interesting point of view, but you don’t have interesting subject matter and you don’t focus on craft, you’re not going to get there. And if you have a great idea, congratulations, so does literally everyone else.
John: Yeah. I think my take home would be that we respond to original characters and we will follow those characters kind of anywhere. And so a lot of the script didn’t work. And I think we were pretty honest about the things that didn’t work for us in the script. But the reason why we’re so enthusiastic is because there was something really special underneath there. And you sense this writer had real talent and could write these characters doing anything, and could probably write many other movies and that was exciting for us and that’s why we spent 90 minutes going through all these details.
So again, I want to thank K.C. for being super brave and giving us this script to talk through. That was awesome.
Craig: Sure paid off for him, didn’t it?
John: I hope. It is time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is another podcast called Lexicon Valley. And one specific episode, which is all about Try And. And so in a sentence like I’m going to try and write three pages before lunch. So is that grammatically correct or incorrect? How does that feel to you guys?
Craig: You mean, in terms of a plan?
John: I’m going to try and write three pages before lunch.
Craig: Oh, you mean like try to as opposed to try and?
Craig: It’s fine. I mean it’s grammatically correct. I’m going to get to try and write three pages before lunch. But I prefer to. I like to try to.
Franklin: Yeah. I would assume that try to is correct because if you try to, that doesn’t mean you will. But if you try and, that’s suggesting that you both try and are successful.
John: Yeah. So this podcast sort of digs into the Try And. So the podcast overall talks about sort of quirks of language and sort of where words come from. But it turns out that try and actually is an older form, at least in current research, is an older form than try to. So in most cases, you can substitute try to for try and. But what’ weird about try and as a phrase is like, you can only do it with those two specific words. So you can’t say, “Tries and,”. You can’t put it in the past. You can’t put it in a gerund form, “I’m trying and,” you know, make something. it’s just a weird quirk of language.
And it’s one of those things, it’s sort of a marker of a native speaker versus a non-native speaker. You can’t really explain why it works a certain way in English. It just does work that way in English. And so basically, I want to give people permission to say try and if it makes sense to them, they don’t have to go the try to. But I can’t explain why.
Craig: Neat. Works for me.
John: Neat. So there’ll be a link to that. Craig, what’s your One Cool Thing?
Craig: My One Cool Thing today is a subreddit called WriteResearch. So we’ll put a link in, but it’s just the capital Write, capital Write, capital Research, all slammed together. And it’s fascinating what they’ve done here. There’s a guy named ParallaxBrew. That’s his Redditor handle.
John: That’s one of the most classic Redditor handles –
Craig: ParallaxBrew. And he’s the moderator. And the idea of WriteResearch is that it’s a Reddit where they have created a database as they of hard-to-find or exceptionally useful information for writers. In that database, they also interview professionals to gain insights into what they do and they allow users to request information on a profession or character trait.
So they’ve essentially built up this repository of research aimed directly for writers who are trying to essentially make their characters more believable. And because of the way Reddit works, their voting system has kind of curated it down, so they have sort of the best stuff there. They don’t do Wikipedia as a general link. And I’ve just sort of flipped through it and it’s fascinating. I mean they have all this stuff — I mean it’s just an amazing resource. And of course, it’s searchable. I just thought it was remarkable actually.
John: That’s great.
Craig: And I kind of wished I had known about it.
Franklin: Is it stuff like what it’s like to be a CIA agent or like what it’s like to be over 7 feet tall?
Craig: Well, I’ll just read a few of these things. Cults and cosmic, consciousness, religious vision in the American 1960s, cult, placing the Stockholm syndrome in perspective, victim, kidnapping. Then there’s job description, custodian, Sharp v. Baltimore Police Department, letter from Department of Justice to BPD.
Craig: Then they have things like self-awareness to being washed and socially desirable behavior, a field experiment on the effect to body wearing cameras on police, human reciprocity among the Jewish prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. K.C. should check this out because they have a ton of these things on personality disorders.
And then you have information requests, like for instance, here’s one. Request information about hobbyist light aircraft flight, request information about Al-Qaida, request information about working on a military nuclear launch site. [laughs] If all those three people are the same person, we have a problem. But hats off to ParallaxBrew and his other moderators for putting this thing together. It’s kind of crazy. It’s cool.
John: Franklin, do you have a One Cool Thing for us?
Franklin: Sort of. I have a one very cool thing, but the details of which I cannot reveal, but they will be revealed tomorrow if you’re listening to this on March 31st. And I know that’s April 1st but it is not an April Fool’s joke. So check us out on social media @theblcklst with the blcklst part has no vowels or me @franklinleonard on Twitter. Go to our website on April 1st. It’s a very cool thing. It’s something that we at The Black List are very excited about.
Craig is initially involved as are some other friends of the Scriptnotes podcast. And hopefully it will be something that everyone will be very excited about. And will provide hours upon hours upon hours of entertainment.
Craig: [laugh] It will be mirthful.
Franklin: It will be mirthful. I think that’s very well said.
John: Awesome. So Franklin, thank you so much for being our guest on this inaugural episode of we were calling this Full Script Challenge. I don’t even know what to call it. But this experiment in going through and entire script. If you are listening to the podcast for the very first time, you should probably subscribe to us. We’re on iTunes, just search for Scriptnotes. While you’re on iTunes, you can also search the App Store for the Scriptnotes app. That gives you access to all the back episodes dating back all the way to episode one. At Scriptnotes.net is where you can sign up for that premium feed that gives you bonus episodes and gives you access to the very ancient archives.
I am on Twitter, @johnaugust. Craig is on Twitter, @clmazin. K.C. Scott is on Twitter, @BlackSitcomDad. So you might want to tell him what you thought of his script. You should tell him only like nice things. Don’t be a jerk.
Craig: Just don’t be a jerk. I mean just, people are such jerks.
John: People are jerks. People are also really jerks when they like link you to something and like –
Craig: I know.
John: Someone wrote a really nasty review of Big Fish in Boston and then like just mentioned me in it. I was like, “Why would you do that?”
John: That’s a really — that’s a dick move.
Craig: Yeah, people send me this like, “Gee, look what I found. This lunatic is saying stuff about you. Gee, don’t send me that.” Thanks, I don’t need to — I’m not going to read it.
John: If you want to send us nice things, you can write to email@example.com.
John: That’s the place where you can send in your questions. Those are always lovely. If you have a Three Page Challenge, like how we found K.C. Scott’s script, just go to johnaugust.com/threepage. And that is where you can find a form to submit your Three Page Challenge.
Stuart Friedel is the person who read through all those Three Page Challenges and found K.C. Scott’s script. So our producer, Stuart Friedel, needs to get kudos for that.
Craig: You know what, let him out of his box today.
John: [laughs]For at least 20 minutes he’ll have some free yard time.
Craig: Yeah, give me some yard time.
John: Our show is edited by Matthew Chilelli who also did our outro this week. Thank you, Matthew. And we will be back with a normal episode next week.
Craig: Instead of this abnormal one.
John: Thank you guys so much.
Franklin: Bye, everyone.
John: All right.
- K.C. Scott’s This Is Working
- K.C. on Twitter, @BlackSitcomDad
- Scriptnotes, 187: The Coyote Could Stop Any Time featuring This Is Working’s Three Page Challenge
- Franklin Leonard on Wikipedia, Twitter, and on Scriptnotes episodes 60, 123 and 124
- Lexicon Valley episode 56 asks, Is “Try And” an Acceptable Substitute for “Try To”?
- Reddit’s r/writeresearch subreddit
- Follow @theblcklst on Twitter for tomorrow’s announcement
- Outro by Scriptnotes editor Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)
Craig and John talk with the owner of Scripped.com to investigate what happened when the online screenwriting site suddenly went down this week, erasing four years of screenwriters’ work. When things went south, why did he try to distance himself from the debacle, and what comes next? It’s a candid discussion — but far less uncomfortable than the Final Draft episode.
We’re also joined by the creator/owner of WriterDuet to discuss his role in all of this, and the precautions one takes when using online software.
Huge thanks to our guests and to Matthew and Stuart for their quick turnaround on this episode. We’ll also have a normal episode this Tuesday.
- John Rhodes’s letter to the Scripped community
- Fade In
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Rajesh Naroth (send us yours!)
The logistics behind getting Writer Emergency Pack available online were trickier than I had anticipated. I wrote an update to Kickstarter backers explaining what’s happening behind the scenes when you click the buy button.
Here it is in flowchart form:
Sales have been solid, bordering on brisk. My phone buzzes every time we sell a deck, which is of course the worst kind of Pavlovian conditioning.
I’ll switch the notifications off soon, but for now it’s useful to see the immediate impact of Amazon reviews and user tweets. And it’s oddly gratifying to see something we made out there in the world being purchased by strangers.
For the first time ever, John and Craig spend an entire episode on a full-length original screenplay, K.C. Scott’s THIS IS WORKING.
Black List founder Franklin Leonard joins us as we dig into this former Three Page Challenge entry, examining character, story and thematic issues. We get very specific about what’s working in the script now — but also what the movie may want to become. Plus we talk about the road ahead for this writer, and the choices he’s going to be facing.
Listeners are going to get a lot out of this episode — and even moreso if they read the script beforehand. So download the script and give it a read first if you have a chance. (Link below.)
This is a very different episode for us, so let us know what you think on Twitter and Facebook.
- K.C. Scott’s This Is Working
- K.C. on Twitter, @BlackSitcomDad
- Scriptnotes, 187: The Coyote Could Stop Any Time featuring This Is Working’s Three Page Challenge
- Franklin Leonard on Wikipedia, Twitter, and on Scriptnotes episodes 60, 123 and 124
- Lexicon Valley episode 56 asks, Is “Try And” an Acceptable Substitute for “Try To”?
- Reddit’s r/writeresearch subreddit
- Follow @theblcklst on Twitter for tomorrow’s announcement
- Outro by Scriptnotes editor Matthew Chilelli (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: Hello and welcome. My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is episode 189 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
I almost forgot the name of our podcast.
Craig: I noticed.
John: It was an odd gap.
Craig: You see, you’re focusing on that and I’m focusing on the fact that we had a chance to talk about episode 187. You know, 187, anyway, we didn’t do it.
Craig: We missed it.
John: Yeah, so many blown opportunities as we go back through the numerology of our podcast. There’s things we could have really dug into and we just didn’t. We didn’t even do a little “hehe” on episode 69.
Craig: We didn’t even do — and I had a chance two episodes ago to be gangsta and I failed, which is weird for me because I’m street.
John: Everyone knows you’ve gone hard.
Craig: I was born hard.
John: Yeah. I’m back in Los Angeles after two cold but wonderfully nice weeks in Boston. It is so nice to be back standing at my desk, looking at the Hollywood sign in the distance. It is a warm afternoon in Los Angeles. God, you know what? LA is pretty damn great.
Craig: I’ve never understood the people that hate LA. Everybody gets their opinion so I’m not telling them they’re wrong but for me, East Coast kid grew up in New York, the minute I got out of my car in Los Angeles for the first time in 1991, I was like, “Oh, man, why don’t I live here? This is great.” I mean, then there was a riot and also then there was really a bad earthquake. But, you know, there hasn’t been a riot or a major earthquake in a long time.
John: No, absolutely. So come to Los Angeles because, you know, we’re almost20 years without a riot.
Craig: [laughs] Come to Los Angeles, we’re due. [laughs]
John: You know that of course that you’re never actually due for a giant storm or a giant earthquake.
Craig: I know, it doesn’t work that way. Pass, pass. Yeah, we know. The probability is — well, it’s a little different for earthquakes because there is something to the notion that earthquakes occur after a build-up of unreleased friction.
Craig: And so over time the friction does build up and the odds do go up.
John: But it’s the misunderstanding of probability that I find incredibly frustrating. And actually being a good test for how I will interact with certain people in my life. And so, a little sidebar discussion about, this was a person who was brought in to help represent The Nines when we were trying to sell it at Sundance.
And so, I was having a conversation. We were at a dinner and we were talking about flipping a coin. And so I was talking about, like, you know, if you flipped a coin 99 times and it came up heads every time, how much money would you bet that the next one will be tails. He’s like, “Oh, I’ll bet every cent in the world because like it’s due to be the opposite thing.”
Craig: Stupid. He’s stupid.
John: And I realized like, “Oh, man, you’re the person who’s going to be representing this and now I’m really concerned.”
John: Because the answer is 50-50.
Craig: Of course.
John: The other acceptable answer I would take is that, “Well, it’s going to be the same thing that’s been in the last 99 times because for some reason it’s not a fairly balanced coin.”
Craig: Yeah, presuming –
John: There’s something else going on.
Craig: Presuming that it’s a fair coin, the odds do not change, past probability, post probability. I mean, when somebody says something like that, I have a desire to put my hand on their shoulder gently. Look them in the eye and say, “You’re a dummy.”
John: And how does that work out?
Craig: Well, I certainly am not — my life is uncluttered by excess people. [laughs]
John: [laughs] It’s uncluttered by ignorance.
Craig: Yeah. It’s uncluttered by all sort of — yeah, I have a blissful friendlessness.
John: [laughs] This is a good life to have.
John: So, as we are basking here in our warm Los Angeles weather, let us enjoy our lack of ignorance and try to enlighten some people who’ve written in with questions. We’ve had a huge mailbag full of questions that have come up. And so we’re going to try to plow through as many of those as we can. But we also have a lot of follow up because in our last episode we asked our listeners about the future of the show and we wanted to know what they thought we should do on two topics.
John: The first topic was we’d really love to do an episode that was about an entire script, like an unproduced script where we actually talk through sort of everything we saw. It would be a script that we’ll be able to publish so people can read the script and sort of read along with us and see, like, this is what’s working for us, what’s not working for us.
And so we asked our listeners how should we do that? What would be the good way to do that because we can’t just open the floodgates and have everything come in?
John: So the most consistent suggestion is a really good, simple suggestion. We should pick somebody who has a Three Page Challenge that we liked a lot and ask him or her to send in their scripts.
Craig: Yeah, that makes total sense to me.
John: I think it makes total sense. So let us decide on this episode right now that that will probably be what we’re going to do, so I don’t have a time frame for when we’ll do it but at some point we will go back to one of our previous Three Page Challenge people and ask him or her to send in their script and see if we can go through a whole script that way. And I think it would kind of feel like, you know, our episode on Raiders of the Lost Ark, our episode on Frozen, where we’ll just really dig in on sort of what is actually happening throughout the whole movie. And we can do some stuff specific on the page but really talk about, you know, how the storytelling is working.
Craig: Yeah, I actually think it’ll be surprisingly different from those episodes because those episodes are dissecting something that is complete and finished that’s the –
John: And also already really good.
Craig: And also already really good. I mean, this is the hard part of what we do is that what we do can always be changed. So a lot of our job is trying to figure out what should we and what should we not change, but when we discuss this script, it will be a lot like — I think it’ll actually be the best glimpse for our non-professional listeners at the life that you and I lead on our end of things when we turn scripts in.
Craig: This will be the kind of discussion that we have.
John: Yeah. And I just turned in a script this last week.
John: Thank you. But I can tell you from firsthand experience that you don’t necessarily know what people are going to see in the script that you have turned in. And so I think it’ll fall somewhere between one of our Three Page Challenges and when we look through a whole movie because we’re responding to, “This is what I got off of what I read, is this your intention?”
John: And it’s a very different thing than watching a final movie.
John: The other thing we asked in this last episode was this idea of advertising on the podcast and would it destroy the Scriptnotes that we have come to love?
John: Or would it be okay? And so we asked people to send in their thoughts on that. A lot of people wrote in with emails. People tweeted at us and a lot of people actually used our Facebook page for the first time ever.
Craig: Didn’t even know we had one.
John: We have a Facebook Page. We have about 70 comments in that thread there.
Craig: And what about our LinkedIn page and MySpace?
John: Oh, my lord.
Craig: No? What about our Geocities page?
John: Every once in awhile I get a LinkedIn friend request from someone who’s dead.
John: And that just tells me that it’s not actually the best service.
Craig: I think it’s amazing like LinkedIn can actually cross the great divide.
John: Mm-hmm. Granted that person was a powerful wizard and maybe he’s surviving in death as a lich.
Craig: Never, oh, a Lich or a, god forbid, a dracolich.
John: Oh, the absolute worst kind. But I think it would have to be a dragon first in order to become a dracolich.
John: I don’t know. I’m not saying.
Craig: [laughs] And? Your point?
John: My good friend the dragon who died.
Craig: I like that that was where it got too unrealistic for you.
John: [laughs] The dragon.
Craig: The wizard and the lich thing, that was okay.
John: That’s fine. So on the topic of advertising, people were surprisingly sanguine on us going and getting our cash.
John: So that was really interesting to me because there were a few people who said like, “No, no, don’t do that.” But I would say they were maybe 3% of people who responded were that and everyone else was like, “Yeah, fine, do it.”
John: And a lot of people, you know, had suggestions for if you do it, do it this way.
John: So I thought I’d pull out some of the ones that were just from email because the Facebook ones, anyone could read. But these were some people who wrote to us directly. So I thought we’d take some turns reading through what some folks wrote.
Craig: Great. Okay.
John: So Tom wrote, “I prefer not to hear ads from mattresses, glasses, or any of the other common podcast advertisers. I’d ideally like to hear ads that are relevant to the content like an ad for Fade In.
Craig: Yeah, okay. Yeah, that makes sense.
John: And I get that and at the same time, you know, you have to understand the people who are big enough advertisers to come in and do support show tend to be the, you know, the Warby Parkers and the Stamps.com. So I don’t know that we can promise those wouldn’t be those.
It gets weird with like the Fade Ins and sort of things that are too screenwritery because I worry that we’re endorsing something that, you know, we –
Craig: I agree. Yeah. I would say, I mean, I love Fade In and I personally endorse it but I don’t want the show to dribble into like, oh, screenwritery things. I mean, I don’t really have a great desire to advertise for mattresses. I have nothing to say about mattresses. My whole thing is that I’d love for us to talk about if we’re going to advertise something, talk about something that we have some connection to personally or out of interest that isn’t particularly screenwritery.
John: Yeah. Lord knows I love nerdy things. Lord knows Craig loves any bit of technology that is thrown in his direction.
Craig: Yup, exactly.
John: He loves it. So if it’s like a special pair of gloves just for Tesla owners –
Craig: Right, Tesla gloves.
John: That is what Craig –
Craig: Tesla gloves.
John: Tesla gloves.
Liam writes, “Acknowledge your brand. You’re not Serial. You have a fan base with a very particular set of interests and those don’t include saving time at the post office. Two, advertise companies you support. Nothing in podcasting makes me as uncomfortable as when Dan Savage just finishes telling you to shop at a local female-owned sex shop, then gives out a promo code for 10% off at Adam & Eve. And three, mix it up. There are a couple of podcasts that I’ve actually rewound when I missed the ad. The docu ads on Start-Up/Reply All, co-hosts competing to make an effective news item. I don’t know how this sentence works, but regardless, I get the point, don’t read the same script every week. Just improv.
So, I think those are three good points with the caveat on that first one that, you know, our interests and our fan base’s interests do expand beyond strictly screenwriting.
John: Yeah. And so when you and I first had the conversation about ads, I brought up the ones on Start-Up podcast and on Reply All in that they’re not obnoxious. They’re very clearly — they’re ads and they will tell you very clearly that they are ads. And yet like you don’t have this temptation to skip them because they’re interesting enough that you actually want to listen to them.
John: Finding a way to do that, I don’t know what that’s going to be for us if we end up doing it.
Craig: You know, you and I honestly, I do believe, could talk about anything.
Craig: As long as — that’s the thing, like we should pick, we have all these people that we could theoretically do ads for and if they’re interested in being on our show, then we can go through and say, “Yeah, we know how to talk about that. We could talk about that.”
Craig: You know, the interesting thing is I think Adam & Eve would be great, but the problem is –
Craig: I know the problem is that we do have kind of a rated PG show. I don’t know if it would fit this.
John: Yeah, so maybe we’d have to find a rated PG way to talk about Adam & Eve products.
Craig: Right, tushy plugs.
Craig: Do you guys like tushy plugs?
John: Everyone loves tushy plugs.
Craig: Tushy plugs, yes.
John: Dan writes, “Great idea to have advertising on the show. I’d been listening since episode 1 in real-time, not catch up. I’ve been hounding podcast advertising companies for months now asking about whether it would be possible to advertise on Scriptnotes. If you guys decide to do it, please let me know. I have industry-relevant products to share. I will be first in line.” So one guy wants to buy an ad.
Craig: I think that Dan should advertise on the show but the product should never be known as anything other than industry-relevant product.
John: I love that.
Craig: Like, John, do you have one specific industry-relevant product you use or do you sort of bounce between them?
John: I use only Pen brand pens.
Craig: Oh, well, let me tell you something. Have I got news for you. DORJ writes, “Scriptnotes is a good enough podcast to warrant a good minute or three of ads before I’d be sad,” I love that. “Savage Love has tons of ads and I still listen every week.” Well, thank you. That’s very nice of you to say. I don’t suspect that we will have tons of ads. I don’t even know if we’ll hit three minutes of ads or two minutes or — I think, you know, our intention is to not get in the way. And certainly if we start to do it, we will wade in softly.
John: Ryan writes, “I can’t imagine Craig saying, ‘And now a word from our sponsors,’ that would get old really quick and you would be the one handling it.” Like, basically, I would be the one handling it.
Craig: Ryan, you are so wrong. Ryan, in all your life, think of all the wrong things you’ve said, there’s a lot. There’s a lot. That is the wrongest. Ryan, do you not listen to the show? Do you not understand the percentage of my brain that is ham, pure ham, pure cured honey-baked ham? I would love to do this. It would be so much fun. The only reason that I’ve been resisting is just because I didn’t want to, you know, be a jerk. Ryan.
Let’s wrap up with Kelly. Kelly writes, “If you did go with advertising, you might consider a model like Slate Plus, one where you offer an advertising-free feed for your premium subscribers. If you decided to forego advertising, you might consider a tip jar approach with semi-annual reminder that exist for those who want to support without having to sign up or buy anything.” So, Slate Plus and we’ve been on the Slate podcast and we love all the Slate folks. So Slate Plus has this separate sort of feed where you can get all of their podcasts without the ads in them. And it’s lovely and I’m a Slate Plus member and so I support Slate by doing that. And I like that.
We looked into whether we could do that with the Scriptnotes premium feed and we basically couldn’t with how it’s currently set up. So basically, everyone would have to re-subscribe to a new feed which would be kind of a nightmare. So I’m not leaning towards that as a strong possibility but I definitely understand that instinct. So it’s certainly something to consider.
Craig: The good news for the premium subscribers is that they would still have access to the back catalog which will always be a benefit to that premium subscription. I personally don’t like tip jars. I don’t want to –
John: Nor do I.
Craig: I don’t want to put my hand out to anybody. It’s weird, you know. Because the problem with a tip jar is –
John: Because that feels like a Kickstarter, doesn’t it?
Craig: Well, it’s not so much that as that you’re going to say it once, nobody is going to do it. And then you’re going to feel this weird need to keep saying it. I think it’s nice that at the end of every show we say, “Hey, you want to give us a tip, go to iTunes. Give us the amount of stars that you think are appropriate. Give us a review.” That’s our tip.
John: That’s our tip.
Craig: That’s all we need. No money required.
John: So last week on the show we were also searching for a word. And the word we were looking for is something you brought up and I couldn’t think of the word for it and neither of us could think of a word for it. It’s when the mispronunciation of a word has become the default pronunciation of a word.
And so people wrote in with suggestions and a lot of people were writing, “Oh, you want shibboleth,” which is that sense of, you know, a word that defines insiders and outsiders. And that’s not really what we were looking for.
John: So I still feel like probably that word is out there. But people also wrote in with this great series of articles about the specific thing we were talking about which is Los Feliz. And so, that’s a neighborhood in Los Angeles. And it’s classically sort of mispronounced but there’s actually a long history behind its mispronunciation. So I will link to these two things in the show notes.
Marisa Gerber from the LA Times has an article about the progression of, it used to be Rancho Los Feliz and it’s named after a guy named Jose Vicente Feliz. So it wasn’t for the word “happy”. It was for a guy’s name.
Craig: But his name was Happy.
John: His name was Happy.
John: Yeah. Like Pharrell Williams, if you want to get back to the Blurred Lines Lawsuit.
Craig: It’s like the guy that invented the toilet was John Crapper.
Craig: That’s why it was called The Crapper.
John: We’ve talked before on the podcast about how the Smart & Final grocery store chain is named after a Mr. Smart and a Mr. Final.
Craig: That’s right which is insane.
John: Which is insane.
So the other link I’ll put in here about Los Feliz is this sort of a shibboleth kind of thing which is the suggestion that if you moved into the neighborhood or an adjacent neighborhood in the last five years, you would say, Los Feliz.
John: If you moved into the neighborhood 20 years ago, you would say, Los Feliz, so basically throw the accent on the Los rather than –
Craig: Oh, really?
John: Take the stress off of the other two. And then if you are trying to pronounce it in Spanish or you’re trying to re-Latinize the word which is an interesting sort of concept is to take a word that’s been sort of mid-Westernized and put it back to its Spanish, you would say, of course, Los Feliz
Craig: Los Feliz.
John: Los Feliz.
Craig: I’m a Los Feliz guy.
John: Yeah. You’re a Los or a Los Feliz?
Craig: No, I’m Los Feliz. Sorry, I’m a Los Feliz. So, I guess, I am. I’m the — I don’t know. I’m a newbie, right?
Craig: Los Feliz, yeah.
John: I suspect that it is the more common pronunciation. In one of the articles, I think it was the LA Times article they talked about Garrett Ono who’s a local news anchor, and if he’s debating on how to pronounce a word, he will call the City Hall of that city to ask like, “How do you say your word?”
John: It also reminded me of how in Big Fish we had a pronunciation expert and her trick was to call a small town library in that region and ask the librarian how to pronounce something because those women who are basically the librarians there tend to have a good handle on how people are actually talking.
Craig: You know, one day there aren’t going to be librarians.
Craig: And people will –
John: One day Google will take all of it.
Craig: Google will take them all. We have all these wonderful questions. We have a big bursting question bag, so why don’t we get into them and maybe, who knows, we might be able to get through all of them.
Craig: Let’s start with Paul.
John: All right.
Craig: Paul writes, “I was hired to adapt a novel into a screenplay based on my short film sample script. It’s going into production later this year and the producers and original author both loved my translation.” Translation I think he means adaptation. “My question is can I use the adapted script as a writing sample as well, crediting the based on original author on the title page of course?” What do you think, John?
John: Of course, you can.
Craig: Of course.
John: So, a writing sample is anything you wrote. And so if it’s based on something, that’s great too. So you’re saying it’s based on this thing. That’s absolutely valid and fair and, you know, half the writing samples in this town are probably adaptations.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, considering that frankly studios are looking for stuff that has some kind of built-in audience or proven IP track record, it would help, I think, in a weird way. So, yes, of course, you can use that as a writing sample.
John: And there certainly are cases where you cannot use that for certain competitions. There’s maybe other reasons why you can’t do that.
John: But for a writing sample, someone to say like, “Oh, can this person sling words on the page?” Absolutely valid.
Craig: No question.
John: Josha asks –
Craig: I think it’s Yasha.
John: Oh, okay. Yasha.
Craig: I would say Yasha.
John: We’ll say Yasha.
John: Yasha asks, “Is it cool to change the font on the title of the title page of your script or is that considered lame and unprofessional?”
Craig: I don’t think it’s lame or unprofessional. Lots of people do it. I don’t, personally. I’m kind of an old-school purist that way. But, yeah, people do that all the time.
John: Yeah, it’s absolutely fine and I would say, a good 20% of scripts you’re going to read that are actually really out there in Hollywood will do something like that. First time I probably ever did it was for Go and it’s probably because the word go is just so incredibly tiny.
Craig: It’s so tiny, yeah.
John: And so I needed to blow it up and I just blew it up but, you know, Courier didn’t look good at all. So I did sort of special little logo for it. And it was absolutely the right choice for Go. So don’t worry about it. Just change the title of it. Put everything else in Courier. Keep everything else normal and the same.
Craig: Yeah. And do avoid — it’s not in and of itself it’s lame or unprofessional but if you do it lamely and unprofessionally it will be. So avoid cheesy fonts, obviously comic sans, half-moon baloney like that.
John: Zapf chancery.
Craig: Zapf chancery, yeah, or any zapf dingbats would be particularly amusing. But, you know, also, just don’t get really obvious, you know. Because the truth is, it might come off a little cheese ball. Yeah, I’ll say this much: you can’t go wrong with Courier.
John: Courier is a good solid choice. I think Emoji would be –
John: That’s going to be the next spec trend.
Craig: That would be nice.
John: There was that trend towards having really filthy titles for spec scripts.
Craig: Yes, yes.
John: So I think 100% Emoji is going to be the way to go.
Craig: Yeah. There was a trend for filthy titles and then there was a trend for really long, complicated titles as if that meant the script would be good. I hate that. Anyway, Lee asks, “I am writing a thriller screenplay set in Mexico. Although the script is aimed at an English-speaking audience and most of the script is in English, for authenticity, some characters speak in Spanish. This would be subtitled for the final movie and is used sparingly. In writing the script dialogue, I give the Spanish-speaking character’s name, for example, Hernandez, then directly under that in parentheses, Spanish with subtitles. Then I write the dialogue in English. Is this the correct way to do this?”
John: I think that’s a fine way to do this. What I’d say, if you’re doing that a lot, it’s going to be a tremendous amount of waste of time and space to always say “In Spanish” underneath all these things. So you may want to, the first time you do that, if this character’s going to be doing that a lot, put it in italics. And so therefore, we’ll always remember that that’s going to be in Spanish if that becomes important. It may not really be that important. And we may just not need to remember that it’s all in Spanish.
Craig: I agree. If you have a character that never speaks English, always speaks a foreign language and will always be subtitled, you can indicate that in an action line before they start speaking. You know, Hernandez speaks Spanish. Note, all of his dialogue will be subtitled. And then you can put all of Hernandez’s dialogue in italics to sort of indicate to people or just don’t. It depends on how important it is for the vibe.
I mean, obviously, if in the scene Hernandez is saying something and someone’s looking at him and then turns to their partner and says, “What did she just say?” and then they translate, it’s important. Then we do need those italics.
John: Yeah. I was going to say exactly the same thing. So, you know, essentially, if characters are having their own conversation in their foreign language the whole time, don’t do anything fancy.
Craig: Yeah, exactly.
John: Next question. John asks, “What is a scene in a movie? The reason I ask is when I write a script it calls every setup, cinematography-wise, a scene heading. In other words, every time you change the position of the camera, it’s a new scene heading. But this isn’t — “
Craig: Oh know. [laughs]
John: A scene in the movie term analysis.
Craig: Oh know.
John: John is fundamental in his understandings here. “I think I have a very loose idea but I’m not fully in the picture and I’m wondering if you could clear this up because sometimes it’s a confusing point for me. Sorry if I come across as thick on this one, but there are probably a lot of people who would like the answer on this one. A brief definition of what a scene actually is. There could potentially be many scene headings in a scene, I think.”
Craig: Okay. Well, you know what, don’t appreciate the very polite way you ask the question.
Craig: You’re not thick, you just don’t know. And now you will. The way you’re doing it is wrong.
Craig: So the idea of setups, that is to say the camera changes position, we don’t have to indicate that at all. We can if we feel it’s important for the telling of the scene and the telling of the story, but we don’t have to. The slug line or the scene header, INT.BLAH, BLAH, BLAH.DAY, we do that essentially when we change our location, or if we stay in the same location but maybe jump ahead significantly in time. That’s pretty much how we use those. What do you –
John: Yeah, I think to encapsulate Craig’s description, a scene is a moment of story that is happening in one place in one time. And, really, in one place and one continuous time.
John: And so we use scene in a screenplay, usually it’s headed up by INT or EXT to indicate interior or exterior. And all of the stuff that’s in there doesn’t have to have its own scene header or slug line or anything to differentiate like these are the shots. Back in the very, very early days of screenwriting, very early days of movies, they would literally list every shot because it was really much more of a shot list kind of way to do things.
John: Now we only break those things out if it’s really important for the understanding of how the scene would play.
Craig: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Remember also, John, that the idea of the interior and the exterior indication is there for clarity for the reader and, of course then later on, for the production. It would be very unclear and confusing for the reader if you constantly did that every time you imagine the camera moving. And of course, it’s impossible to tell really when the camera position will change repeatedly through the course of say two people sitting across the table from each other.
Craig: Because, ultimately, you shoot both sides continuously and then edit them together later.
Craig: So that’s how that works.
John: In previous episodes, we’ve talked about the difference between a scene and a sequence. And a lot of times, what people refer to as a scene, they really mean as a sequence. It’s a collection of scenes that together accomplish some story point. And so it could be a person moving through the rooms of a house searching for something. And it’s a scene but it’s also a sequence. Really, it’s a collective group of little moments that are adding up to one bigger moment.
John: Another example that happens a lot is you have two sides of a phone conversation. Those would be kind of listed as two different scenes in your script, but they really are one moment. And so you’ll find, as you’re doing this, you will be talking about scenes in a way that doesn’t necessarily match exactly to what is there on the page.
Craig: Yeah. Sequences tend to involve a change in locations through continuous time.
Craig: Okay. So our next question — so, anyway, thanks, John. You’re not thick. Hopefully that sets that straight. Sam writes, “Over the last few years, several of my scripts have advanced in the major screenwriting contests including the semifinals and quarterfinals of Nicholl, the semifinals of Austin, and good marks on The Black List site.” Congrats.
“Despite this limited success, getting anybody else to actually read my scripts has been excruciatingly difficult. A smattering of managers and producers request my scripts after the contest season and sometimes I get a meeting or two that quickly leads nowhere. The others, I never hear back from even after a follow-up email a few months later. Cold queries, no success either. It’s not to say that I’ve been entirely without success. One manager danced around me for a while before suddenly dropping off the planet.” That’s dramatic.
“A producer I met through a personal connection wanted to option one script for a good sum of money and a contract was even drafted but the deal fell apart at the last moment. I try to network when I can. This usually gets a few reads here and there, but that’s about it. So my question is, how do I take the next step? I’ll obviously keep writing and improving. I’ll continue to submit to contests because it can’t hurt and I’m financially able to do so, but there has to be something else I can do to advance my career, right?”
John: I wanted to include this entire question is because that is honestly the experience of trying to sort of get your career started. It’s like there’s all these little things. It’s like, “Oh, well, that happened.” Or like, “This person wants to option my script.” Or “I now have a manager.” And you always think like, “Oh, I’ve managed to get this next level and then some things just dissipate.”
John: The experience Sam describes is incredibly common and incredibly frustrating. So I put it in there without having a great answer. But to really illustrate, like, this is sort of normal.
Craig: It is normal. And I’m sorry to say, Sam, I’m not sure there is anything else you can do. You’re on The Black List which does get your script read. Look, you have to be realistic about certain things. The semifinals of Nicholl, the quarterfinals of Nicholl is actually not that significant of an achievement in the eyes of the industry. That is to say in the eyes of people that are purchasing scripts or employing writers. It is a very real achievement, don’t get me wrong. It’s a very real achievement for you and it’s encouraging. It’s an indication that you have promise.
But on the other side of the aisle, they’re looking for finalists and even then, they’re looking for a couple of the finalists. The semifinals of Austin, likewise, doesn’t really mean much for them. Good marks in The Black List site is nice but, as we’ve often mentioned, it’s not about your average. It’s about that one person who would give you a 20 if they could.
Craig: So this is normal. It can be very frustrating, especially when you don’t have context. So when these little things emerge like a manager dancing around, maybe there is going to be a deal but it didn’t happen, you begin to think that you’re cursed. But in fact, you’re not cursed. That’s just the way it works for all of us. You know, for John and for me, if somebody says, “I love this script. I want to make this movie,” and we’ve been doing it long enough to go, “Uh-huh. We’ll see.” [laughs]
Craig: Because we know that that’s kind of just talk. And that most talk is just talk. That’s the deal. So when you’re starting out, you grab these things like, you know, like that piece of door in Titanic that you can stay afloat on. But they’re not real until they are. Sorry.
John: Yeah. So when you ask like, “Is there anything else I should be doing,” it’s like, well, there’s not any one specific thing other than everything because you don’t know what is the thing that’s going to actually lead you to that next step. And so, you say you get out there and network, which is great, and so we could — you know, different definitions of what networking is.
Going out and meeting other writers who are actually working is great, you know. Helping out your peers is great. And the only thing I’ll come back to which I said a thousand times on the podcast is that as I was first starting in screenwriting, the people who were most helpful for me were not those people who plucked me out of obscurity and said like, “Oh, you’re really talented.” It was all of my peers who were trying to do the same thing I was trying to do.
And so the degree to which you can find other people who are trying to make movies, that will be useful. So if that’s a thing you’re not working on right now, that might be something you can add to your workflow.
Craig: Yeah. I’ll only add this last little bit for me, Sam, that worrying will actually not make it any better. Being frustrated, which is a natural state, you can be frustrated and it’s okay to feel bad. But don’t think that through sheer effort of feeling that you will change things. In fact, they will happen as they will regardless of your worry and your concern and your nerves and your anxiety. That’s a hard thing to kind of wrap your head around because it implies you have no control. You don’t.
The only control that you exert on this process is the quality of the work on the page and the reaction of any individual reading it. So, keep writing. Just keep doing your best to express yourself uniquely. And what will be, will be.
John: Jennifer writes, “I was contacted by a producer who has the life rights of someone whom I would call an important historical activist. The producer got my name from the quarterfinals script placing at Nicholl. So even a quarterfinal placing has got me a little traction here and there, if you want to mention that to your listeners.” So, a good counterexample.
Craig: There you go.
John: “The story takes place in a highly conflicted area, an area that all governmental sites I could see say don’t travel there as an American. There are documented kidnappings of tourists in the region. Part of the research for the screenplay would most definitely require a trip to this region to feel out and/or view where this figure lived out his life. Writing a script without ‘walking in his shoes,’ so to speak, wouldn’t be an option. And I totally get that, nor would I want to write a script like this otherwise. I’m an American, I’m female, I’m blond and white. I would stick out.
“The fact that I’m a mom to two little kids isn’t helping me with the decision either. I’m by no means asking you to make a decision for me. But I’d really like to know your thoughts and suggestions for a situation like this.
“I’m not sure you’ve covered a topic about personal safety in screenwriting before, maybe because it’s not a necessary topic usually. My husband thinks this is funny and not because it could be a killer script and a killer opportunity for me. And of course, it takes place in one of the few places on earth that I shouldn’t travel as an American. He’s useless for advice, so I turn to you two.”
Craig: [laughs] Once again, Jennifer’s husband, you are useless for advice. God.
Craig: Being a husband is awesome.
Craig: So, fascinating question. This actually has come up for me before. Not in the context of a original script that I was writing but, believe it or not, for the third Hangover film. We situated a sequence or long stretch of scenes in Tijuana and we were not allowed to go. And we would have but the studio said, “No, we just can’t. The insurance basically won’t. [laughs] I mean, you can’t take Bradley Cooper to a town where there are kidnappings and we just can’t do it.” So we had to go to a wonderful town elsewhere that kind of doubled as it.
But I would be deeply concerned. I mean, look, first of all, I question the premise. I question the premise that you cannot write this script, at least initially, without going to this place. We live in a time where there is an incredible access to research material through the Internet and I just wonder if what you’re saying is true. You know, I’m going to be writing something for a miniseries that it’s situated in a place where there was a terrible disaster. And it’s dangerous to go there. And, you know, I might.
But it’s not politically dangerous. So there are ways to protect yourself. It’s hard to protect yourself against chaos. So, look, I mean, my advice personally, and this is just personal advice, hell no. You’re a mom to two kids? No.
John: Yeah. I think my advice to her as a parent is absolutely not, because there’s nothing — you’re not a journalist. You’re not a person who is responsible for reporting from the frontlines about an ongoing situation. And so I think journalists who are doing that work are putting themselves at risk for a very clear end goal.
As a person who may be writing a movie, your responsibility is to tell the story. And telling the story is telling about the characters. And I suspect you will be able to learn what you need to learn about the characters by doing firsthand research with people who knew this person, people who know what it’s like to be that kind of person. What you really need to find is like what is it like to be this historical figure. What is it like to be in that situation?
John: So, you know, you don’t have a time machine either. And so, if you were writing the movie Selma, is it incredibly important to speak to people who were involved in it? Yes. Is it important to build a time machine and travel back and walk across the bridge? Not as much. And if you were writing Braveheart, you don’t have the firsthand research to be able to do there.
So, I definitely understand the sensation and the need to see what things feel like and be in that place. When I write, I always try to travel to the place where I’m setting something. But there are limits to that. And you’re not going to be able to travel to Mars and it sounds like you’re not going to be able to travel to this place because it’s simply too dangerous. And so you need to be able to figure out how to create the experience of going to those places and the inner life of being in those places without risking your life and your family’s safety.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, look, I’m presuming that this is somebody that — someone else has been interested in it at some point. There will be a documentary. If not about this individual, at least about the place or about why that place is dangerous. There will be first person written accounts, which I find extraordinarily helpful. Those things will exist. And if they don’t exist, I guarantee you that somebody who has lived in this place and who knew this person is still alive and not living there. And you can call that person and talk to them.
John: Yeah. A project I did really recently, I was able to find people who I could email or actually just text. And as I got to a very specific question about, like, what would the brand of sandals be that this person is wearing, and I could text them and get an answer back in 30 seconds. And that was invaluable. And that came after a period of like sitting, you know, at a lunch and just asking them thousands of questions about sort of things that would seem really unimportant.
They kept asking me like, “Why do you want to know this stuff?” It’s like, because I don’t know what’s going to be important and I would just pull as much as I could in. And that’s the research you probably need to do more than anything else, is to figure out what it feels like to be in those situations, not what it literally feels like to be standing on that ground.
Craig: Yeah. So I think we’re in agreement there, Jennifer. Don’t go. God, I hope she hasn’t already gone.
John: This question is super old.
Craig: Oh, no.
John: It’s been sitting in the mail bag for a long time.
Craig: Oh, god, she’s probably sitting in a prison right now.
John: I hope not.
Craig: Oh, boy. Well, sorry, Jennifer’s husband, if we took too long there. Anthony writes, “My two-question part deals with race. I am a white guy.” Hey, Anthony, me too. “I’ve written a romantic comedy and my protagonist is a woman, Anna. I’ve decided that I want to make Anna black. There’s no particular reason for this change other than the fact that I don’t see many black female protagonists. First, I’m just going to ask the uncomfortable question. As part of the character description, do I write black, African-American, dark-skinned, or something altogether different?
“Second, since I’m explicitly calling out Anna as black and the love interest is white, what do I do with the five other smaller but very active characters? I don’t want to fall into the default white trap by not acknowledging their race but I also feel it might be overly specific by writing in race for every single character.” Well, what do you –
John: I think these are lovely questions.
Craig: Good questions.
John: So to answer the first question, I think you say African-American and you say it in that first bit of sentence description where you’re first describing the character. And just put it in there and let her be African-American. Is that what you do, Craig, too?
Craig: I don’t. I write black. I find African-American to be clinical sounding.
John: I’ve written black at times and I’ve written African-American at times. In this most recent script, I single out a character as African-American rather than black. Do whatever. It works.
Craig: Yeah. That’s a personal preference of mine. But I would not say dark-skinned.
Craig: I don’t know what that means.
John: I don’t know what that means either. And I think that’s a stopper. It’s like, wait –
Craig: Yeah, it’s like are you either a racist or are you super not racist? [laughs]
John: Yeah. Or you can do that sort of Rashida Jones problem where you’re like, how — yeah, what are we saying about — ?
Craig: Yeah. The truth is, when you say, “I’m going to ask the uncomfortable question,” it’s okay to be uncomfortable about race because it can be an uncomfortable topic in our country. It’s just not okay to exhibit that discomfort in your screenplay.
Craig: Just be comfortable and confident in what you write.
John: Absolutely. “Since I’m explicitly calling out Anna as black and the love interest white, what do I do with the other small active characters?” I think it goes back to what we talked about in this last episode where Craig wanted to know whether the waitress was white or black because it actually mattered in the scene.
John: I think, you know, if it matters, yes, single it out. And if it doesn’t matter, yes, there’s a danger of the default white trap, but if you’ve already made your protagonist black, I think we’re going to be reading the script with the assumption that some of these characters will be or won’t be different races. I think picking names that can tip the reader towards a certain assumption could be helpful to you as well. So we’re not going to assume that –
Craig: Yaakov is not black.
John: Exactly. He’s not black.
Craig: He’s Jewish. I think, though, in this case, that if you are writing an interracial romance, it’s not out of bounds to casually remark on the races of other characters because, and this may not be the case, but I suspect that race may be a topic in your movie. Now, it may not. Your movie just may simply posit a relationship between two people who happen to be different races and there’s no comment at all. Just as frequently, I would argue almost always there’s no comment in real life, in which case, it doesn’t matter.
You write the characters you want to write. I would just say if it matters to you that she’s black and he’s white, then you have to think, “Well, does it also matter then who her friends are, who his friends are, who the boss is, et cetera?” You have to think, “How important is race in my script?”
John: Yeah. And realistically, you’re probably picturing some of these characters as you’re writing them. And so as you’re writing them, if things come up where the race factors in, then yeah you’re going to need to identify it. If it doesn’t come up that the race factors in, then it’s a decision about, you know, what the overall movie feels like with those characters singled out or not singled out for the race.
Craig: You could always have a character say, “Well, as you know I’m black.” So [laughs] that’s good writing.
John: That’s good writing.
Craig: That’s good writing.
John: And so I was thinking about my own scripts. And so in Go, and this is sort of not secret knowledge because it’s been talked about before, Ronna’s character was originally described as 18, black and bleeding. So in our initial instinct to try to cast the role, we were looking for a black actress. And we didn’t find one that we really loved for that part. And so the producers awkwardly asked me to take out the word black so we could look at other actresses and we cast Sarah Polley and she’s magnificent.
Craig: She’s also like so not black. She’s the whitest white.
John: She’s maybe the whitest. She’s basically transparent.
Craig: She glows.
John: Yeah. And so in that case, changing the race had zero impact because her race was never acknowledged anywhere in the script.
John: Whereas the four guys who go to Vegas, Marcus has to be black because otherwise it doesn’t make sense because Tiny’s relationship with him is all predicated on race and sort of, you know, a white guy trying to act black. So there were incredibly important reasons why we needed to have Taye Diggs be black.
Craig: Well, which is good because Taye Diggs is black.
John: He’s an African-American man and just a damn sexy one. So he’s a –
Craig: He’s a hunk.
John: He’s a hunk. So there are cases where it makes sense and cases where it doesn’t make sense. But I didn’t single out everybody else’s race in a script because it wasn’t super important. And as we looked at casting the rest of the people in the movie, I had the luxury of being involved in the whole casting process, we looked at a wide sampling of people for everything.
Craig: Yeah, I think I mentioned before on the show that the characters of Jason Bateman’s coworker and the police detective who takes his case, I did not signify race in the script one way or the other. And so we ended up casting John Cho in one role and Morris Chestnut in another. So we didn’t fall into the default white trap.
John: Yeah. Rob writes, “I was listening to a recent episode with Aline Brosh McKenna,” oh Aline, “and really intrigued by one line of hers. Towards the end, she said, ‘Your movie’s got to be about something. They’ve got to be about something.'” So she repeated herself which is absolutely fair.
Craig: The way that that quote is written, it sounds like she’s from the ’30s. “Your movie is just got to be about something. They got to be about something, kid.”
John: “Does a movie need to have a clearly defined arc or theme? Does it need to be truly about something or one thing? I find myself enjoying movies much more when they do. But I don’t want to discredit more artistic and experimental ventures that are not.”
Craig: Say, that’s a great question. I’ll just do this all — I’m never going to stop.
John: [laughs]You know, your movie is going to be about something kind of no matter what. It doesn’t have to necessarily have some great giant thematic conclusion. But the fact that people have spent two hours in your movie, they’re going to take something from it. So it needs to be about something.
If it’s just a bunch of random stuff that happens and then it’s over, that’s not generally a recipe for a hugely successful viewing experience.
Craig: Yeah, I mean you’ll say, “I don’t want to discredit more artistic and experimental ventures that are not,” which I take umbrage with, sir. Umbrage! It is not more artistic to not have an arc or theme. It is not frankly even more experimental to not have an arc or theme. And frankly, for people who do make let’s just say movies that are targeted at a narrower audience and perhaps are more cinematically daring, I think that they would be the first person or people to say to you, “Hey, no, no, no. This movie is definitely about something.” It may not be immediately discernible to you. It may be a far more subtle expression of a something. But of course, it’s about something.
No, I totally agree with her. “Your movie just got to be about something. They got to be about something, sir.”
John: Even some of the most experimental movies, you know, like Under the Skin doesn’t seem to have conventional plot to it, but it’s definitely about something. And it’s really unsettling what it’s actually about, you know. Tree of Life, which is sort of deliberately meandery, it’s fundamentally about something even though it doesn’t arc in sort of normal ways. So yeah, I don’t think you can get away with your movie not being about something.
Craig: Yeah, that’s right.
Craig: It just doesn’t work that way. Par Dhonsi, the coolest name. Par Dhonsi in the UK. So Par, Par Dhonsi writes, “After a screenwriter has written a script, which he or she intends on directing, how do they go about creating a realistic budget for it? Does the script need to be broken down into tiny sections and depending on what is happening in the scene, you determine how much you think it will cost? I’d like to direct a short script I’ve written but I want to create a good standard product with a great story and visually aesthetically pleasing on screen rather than to half-ass it and create something that no one is proud of.” I don’t blame you Par Dhonsi.
“I don’t want to guess what it will cost.” [laughs] Nor should you. “And then midway in principal photography run out of cash, uh-oh.” I love how anyone who ends a question with uh-oh, is the coolest. I love Par Dhonsi. I don’t know if Par is a guy or a girl, but I’m in love with Par Dhonsi and may want to marry them.
John: [laughs] So yes, there is such a thing as breaking down a script. And it literally is called breaking down a script. And that is where you are going through scene by scene, moment by moment. You’re figuring out what things you need, how much time it would take to film that, what you need to film that, how many people you require on the set to do things. There’s a whole separate podcast that some AD out there can probably make about like, you know, film budgeting.
So in studio land, budgeting films is a science and an art. And there’s a whole structure for it. There is specialized software that helps these people break down scripts and put together schedules and budgets that can magically plug in union rates and all these other sort of specific things that are way beyond the ability for me and Craig to talk about.
But what you’re talking about, Par, is making your short film. And that is a lot more kind of — it’s not guess work, but it’s figuring out like, “Well, we have this amount of money, what do we do with this amount of money?” Rarely is it a case where you say like, “Let’s figure out how much this is going to cost and we’ll raise exactly that amount of money.” That’s unusual that it happens that way for a short film.
Craig: Yes. Although, if you’re going to go out and ask for money, you do want to have a budget because people that are investing want to know that you’re actually asking for the appropriate amount.
John is absolutely right. This isn’t something you do, just as we don’t ask the unit production manager, that’s what we call the person here in the US, or the line producer. We don’t ask them to write a script. They don’t ask us to budget the script. That’s what they do and there is so many moving pieces to a budget that you haven’t even thought of like craft services and what it costs to buy a parking lot for the crew. I mean there’s a million things. Even a tiny movie, a crew of seven people, you’re going to have costs you haven’t even anticipated.
You have to get somebody who knows what they’re doing to do this. If you are low on funds and you’re going the independent route, then you find somebody that does that. I mean there are people that do this in independent film and you look around in the UK and I think UK is kind of cool because my guess is that there are probably some public resources there they can steer you to the right person maybe more so than are here.
But absolutely, your instincts are correct. You do not want to guess and then midway through principal photography run out of cash. Uh-oh, is right. You want a professional to budget your script.
John: So I’ll ask Stuart to look up online and find some sample budgets for like little teeny tiny short films and some bigger things. We’ll see whether we can show examples of like what those budgets look like. Definitely, like, you know, I’ve made short films like the short film I made with Melissa McCarthy called God. That was just us kind of figuring it out. And so Dan Etheridge, who was my line producer, and I, we figured out how much it would cost. We, you know, we wrote a check and we were able to make the movie.
But I needed somebody with some experience to sort of talk me through like these are the realistic things we’re going to need to spend in order to do that stuff. This is back in the day. It’s like we shot on 35mm film. You had to pay for processing. There were like huge crazy things.
Some little short films you are literally just going to run out with your, you know, tiny camera and shoot them and you don’t need anything. Somewhere in between those might be an example of Matthew Chilelli, who edits our show, who just went off and made a short film.
And so he had a budget and he had to raise the money on Kickstarter. So he needed to actually show that like this is how much money I need to bring in order to make the movie that we’re trying to make. And, you know, that’s when you start to recognize what becomes incredibly expensive, like sometimes some locations become incredibly expensive or visual effects and what things are actually kind of nearly free.
John: And that doesn’t stop as you sort of scale up through, you know –
Craig: It never stops.
John: Your screenwriting career. Because what Craig did just this last couple of weeks was honestly largely budget-related wasn’t it when you were working on this big draft to a big movie to turn in, a lot of what you’re doing is sort of figuring out how to make this movie for a certain price.
Craig: Well, you’re sort of tasked with doing two things at once. You’ve got all these creative things that you need to fix with the movie. So all the normal movie stuff, what should these people be saying, how do we fix this story point? This character doesn’t sound right. This relationship blah, blah, blah. At the same time, somebody else will be saying to you, “Here’s the locations that we have, we can’t do this, and we can’t do this, and we can’t do this. It would be great if you could combine these two things into one thing. And is it possible to dadadadada?”
So you have to, as a screenwriter particularly working on studio films, you need to be able to have two completely different conversations with two completely different kinds of people. You have to be able to get on the phone and talk to an actor about their character and then an hour later, get on the phone with the head of physical production which is what we call the people that manage the budgeting and the actual purchasing and spending of money and talk about how you’re going to accomplish what you’re going to do within their framework.
Craig: One of the great things about going through the budget process, Par, is that a good line producer or budgeter will be able to save you, you know, you don’t have to but if you relocated this scene from here to a place like this, you could save an enormous amount of money and you might think, “Well, sure, I didn’t need it to be there. I just picked that because it seemed like a decent thing, but yeah, that would work perfectly fine.” That’s the kind of thing that really helps. So definitely go find yourself an expert.
John: Yeah. All right, our final question comes from Kathleen in Los Angeles. She writes, “I’m working on my first features script which is about two best friends during a vacation from college. I am debating whether to have it set during their Thanksgiving or Christmas break. Does it automatically end up in the genre of Christmas movies or can it just exist on its own that it happened to take place over Christmas? Would it be wiser for me to make it occur over Christmas or even put the word Christmas in the title? Are Christmas movie any more or less marketable than others? Do they have to be narrower or can it be a broader audience?”
Craig: That’s a really good question. There are movies that incidentally contain Christmas in them. But if you are writing a movie, just extracting here from your question, that is about two best friends during a break from college and it’s a Christmas break from college, it’s quite likely that a studio or a major distributor would want to think about it as being a Christmas movie and release it around Christmas time.
Very famously, The Ref, which is one of my favorite movies, written by Richard LaGravenese, directed by Ted Demme. It takes place over Christmas. It’s a kind of a retelling of Ransom of Red Chief. And it takes place over Christmas. It’s very centered around Christmas. And Disney released it in the summer. It was just bizarre. And it flopped, unfairly flopped. So yeah, are Christmas movies considered more or less marketable? They’re considered more marketable, I think, by studios because they understand the people are in a certain mood, just as horror movies feel like they fit the mood of Halloween.
They do have broader audiences but in the broadening of that audience, you have to be careful because Christmas does bring a certain family crowd and it’s a little more difficult to release something that is R or really focused towards adults that is set in a Christmas background. That’s my opinion.
John: So my first movie, Go, is set in the Christmas time, but it’s not a Christmas movie. And so sometimes it shows up in lists as like, you know, 15 best Christmas movies, but sort of as like as an asterisk because it doesn’t really feel like a Christmas movie.
I think sticking Christmas in the title puts it in the special bin in a way that may be helpful to your movie, but may not be helpful to your movie. So really look at it. If Christmas is not important to your plot, I wouldn’t try to single it out because it’s just going to feel frustrating. It’s the difference between National Lampoon’s Vacation and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation. It sticks it in that world of Christmas movies. And that’s not necessarily the happiest best place for you to put something if it’s something really great and original.
I sort of think about Hallmark Hall of Fame movies that sort of go in that Christmas bin.
Craig: Yeah. But there are wonderful Christmas movies.
John: Oh absolutely.
Craig: And, you know, I guess it’s interesting that you’re talking about — there is a Christmassy kind of theme, you know. So even for instance, Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a Thanksgiving movie which is essentially the same kind of thing.
Craig: It’s rated R, which a lot of people forget.
John: Oh yeah. I forgot.
Craig: But it is built around a very Christmassy kind of theme. So more important almost than the fact that your movie takes during Christmas break is, in the end of the movie, is there some kind of spirit of giving, spirit of love, that kind of vibe? Or is it off of that entirely? And if it’s off of that entirely, then I wouldn’t worry about this Christmas stuff. Put it where you want or put it in Christmas. It won’t matter, it will never feel like a Christmas movie.
Craig: Certainly, do not put the word Christmas in your title unless you are, A, Christmassy themed in both what we’re looking at and what the story is selling thematically, and, B, you want a family audience.
John: Yeah. I agree.
John: It is time for our One Cool Things.
John: My One Cool Thing is this Reddit thread I read this week about a guy who started to doubt whether his wife and his kids were who they said they were and whether they’re real and he got obsessed with his lamp. And then he woke up on the sidewalk with his teeth knocked out and basically he’d been punched out and had fallen unconscious. And he dreamed like years of his life or sort of imagined the years of his life.
Craig: It’s the Star Trek episode.
John: It is like the Star Trek episode. And so there is a Star Trek episode of The Next Generation called The Inner Light.
Craig: So great.
John: It was one of the best episodes of Star Trek.
Craig: Oh, so great.
John: You know, it also reminded me of parts of the movie I did called The Nines which is also that sense of unreality like what if this is all actually not real? And so I just recommend this Reddit thread because it’s a lot of people sharing their experiences of like those moments that felt like I lived my whole life and then I woke up and I was really missing those moments because they felt incredibly real and true to me.
Craig: I had this crazy dream once that I directed a movie. It was a spoof movie about superheroes but it was for Bob Weinstein and he just got really involved and meddled with it and it came out not very good. And it was so embarrassing, but then I woke up and it was okay.
John: That’s great. I’m really glad that, you know, you recognized that it didn’t actually happen.
Craig: It didn’t happen. Thank God, because if it had happened, what would I do?
John: Yeah, I know, because one of the first things you did is you IMDb’d yourself and you saw that, “Oh, that’s right. That’s not actually there.”
Craig: I had a dream that IMDb was a thing. It’s not. Thank God. But I had a dream that it was.
Craig: I had a dream.
John: So long ago.
Craig: Time gone by. I mean One Cool Thing. I got nothing.
John: Craig, you didn’t –
John: No One Cool Thing? You’ve gotten much better about always having your One Cool Things.
Craig: I know. But well, I just didn’t. You know what, here’s the deal. My wife and my daughter are away this week because it’s my daughter’s spring break so I’ve been waking up early and driving my son to school every morning. I am not meant to wake up at this time. I’m not meant to wake up at 6:30, period, the end, it’s wrong. I’m all weird and funny. I’ve actually written some awesome stuff this week because I feel like my brain was really plastic and gooey. I haven’t written as much as I normally do, but it’s really cool. So I might want to force myself into this weird sleepy state anyway.
But for things like One Cool Thing, my entire brain failed.
John: Don’t worry about it. Craig, you were a huge help on the podcast today. Thank you for reading all your questions. Thank you for all the people who wrote in with their questions. And thank you to everybody who wrote with suggestions about, you know, how to do a full script challenge, which we’re going to pick a new title for that because that’s not the real title for it. And suggestions about advertising. So we still don’t know what we’re going to do with advertising. But if we do it, we’ll try to make sure it doesn’t suck and doesn’t ruin the podcast.
Craig: Tushy plugs.
John: Tushy plugs, that’s what we’re going to sell.
Craig: [laughs] That’s my One Cool Thing.
John: As always, our show is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. You can tell Stuart and Matthew how good they are at their jobs. If you want to leave us a comment on iTunes, look for Scriptnotes, that is the place where you could leave a comment for them. You can also download the app there or in the Android app store. The app will connect you into Scriptnotes.net which is where you can get all the back episodes of the show.
Our outro this week is by Jon Spurney. If you have an outro you’d like to send to us, just send it to firstname.lastname@example.org, same place where you’d send questions like the ones we answered today. On Twitter, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. This episode comes out on Tuesday, but on Monday we would have done the first play test of this game. Craig, will you have been there or not have been there?
Craig: On Monday?
Craig: I don’t know. It depends because my wife’s coming home — what’s today? [laughs]
John: It’s all a blur for Craig Mazin.
Craig: My wife is coming home in a couple of days. And she’ll tell me.
Craig: [laughs] Trust me. Like who has that great question, my husband, Jennifer. He’s useless for advice. I’m also useless for scheduling.
John: So your wife and your daughter travelled to some dangerous location where they were not kidnapped, I hope.
Craig: Oh, it was so dangerous. Yes, you can’t imagine how dangerous. I mean, my God, there was a chance that the mimosa might come with quite enough orange juice.
John: Well, there’s a chance that I may see you on Monday night. But if not, I will talk to you next week on another episode of Scriptnotes. Thanks, Craig.
Craig: Yeah. Thank you.
- ‘Los Feliz': How you say it tells about you and L.A. from the LA Times
- How To Pronounce ‘Los Feliz’ from the Atwater Village Newbie blog
- Screenwriting.io on what constitutes a scene
- A sample short film budget
- u/temptotosssoon’s story of waking up and realizing he’d dreamt the past decade of his life on Reddit
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Jon Spurney (send us yours!)
On Tuesday’s episode of Scriptnotes, we’ll be looking at K.C. Scott’s original screenplay This Is Working, a former Three Page Challenge entry.
We just recorded the episode, and it’s already in my top ten.
Joined by special guest Franklin Leonard, Craig and I talk about character, story and thematic issues in ways we never could when only looking at just three pages. We get very specific about what’s working in the script now — but also what the movie may want to become. Plus we talk about the road ahead for this writer, and the choices he’s going to be facing.
I think listeners are going to get a lot out of this episode — and even moreso if they read the script beforehand. So download the script and give it a read this weekend if you have a chance.
We’ve also just added it to Weekend Read, at the top of the For Your Consideration list.
Take a look and see if you agree with our assessment on Tuesday’s show.
International airline pilots and/or crews
Tanker ship captains
Kimmy Schmidt (pre-2015)
Marquess of Queensberry
Dr. Bruce Banner
Most models of Terminator
John and Craig dig into the overstuffed mail bag to answer listener questions about scenes, stagnation, subtitles and script breakdowns. Plus we reveal the consensus opinions on whether we should have ads, and look at possibilities for the Full Script Challenge.
We also have a lengthy digression into probability and the proper way to pronounce Los Feliz.
- ‘Los Feliz': How you say it tells about you and L.A. from the LA Times
- How To Pronounce ‘Los Feliz’ from the Atwater Village Newbie blog
- Screenwriting.io on what constitutes a scene
- A sample short film budget
- u/temptotosssoon’s story of waking up and realizing he’d dreamt the past decade of his life on Reddit
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Jon Spurney (send us yours!)