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Updated: 1 hour 17 min ago

Scriptnotes, Ep 198: Back to 100 — Transcript

Tue, 05/19/2015 - 15:54

The original post for this episode can be found here.

Present John: Hey this is John. I am traveling this week, and Craig is super busy, so we haven’t been able to find time to record an episode this week.

Longtime listeners know that I listen to a lot of podcasts, while Craig listens to exactly zero. Or one, if he listens to Scriptnotes, which I’m not convinced he does. So, Craig will have no idea that a lot of podcasts, like Planet Money, do episodes where they take old shows and record new stuff to provide updates on what’s happened since it first aired. So that’s what I want to do today. I’m going to be breaking in a few times during the show to fill in additional details about things that have happened.

Since we’re quickly approaching our 200th episode, I thought we’d travel back to our last centennial: episode 100, recorded live in front of an audience in July 2013.

This episode remains one my favorite experiences making Scriptnotes, because it was the first time we realized holy shit, actual people are listening to the show. Which reminds me, there is swearing in this episode, so parental guidance is recommended.

So let me set the scene. We’re in a giant warehouse space that used to be a yoga studio, but at the time was owned by The Academy, who used it for special events. If you know Hollywood, we’re right next to the Arclight theaters. In fact, that space is now the offices for BuzzFeed Motion Pictures, which in 2013 would have seemed insane.

We have about 250 people in the crowd, and because there was free alcohol, they’re especially enthusiastic.

As we start the episode, you’re going to hear theme music created by Matthew Chilleli. At the time, I’d never met him, but he’d later become the editor of the show — including the episode you’re listening to right now.

The announcer is a guy named Travis, who I found online. He’s great. Here’s a tip: if you ever need a voiceover for a project, Google Voiceover and you’ll find great freelancers. You Paypal them some money and they record whatever you want.

Craig had no idea there was going to be intro music, which was part of the fun.

Announcer: Live from Hollywood, California, it’s the 100th Episode of Scriptnotes.

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Scriptnotes, it’s a podcast about screenwriting and things that are inTEResting to screenwriters.

Thank you so much for being here. We’re live here in Hollywood at the Academy Lab Space Theatre. Thank you to the Academy for having us here. It’s kind of amazing.

Craig: Thank you. I’d like to thank the Academy. I will never say that again. Never have a chance, ever to ever say, I’d like to… — God, I’d like to thank the Academy. Let’s just do it a bunch of times. I — I — I’d like to thank the Academy.

John: I feel like we need to have Dennis Palumbo here to help talk you through the emotions you’re feeling right now.

Craig: It would be good.

John: Yeah. Specifically, I need to thank Greg Beal and Bettina Fisher for putting this together and their tremendous stuff.

Craig: Thank you.

John: Thank you so much — because Craig and I talked in a very general sense like, “Oh, you know we’re going to hit 100 episodes at some point.” And so then we actually looked at the calendar, it’s like, “Oh, it’s going to be some time in the end of July. We’ll both be in town and we could theoretically do a live event.” We sort of put it out in the universe in sort of a The Secret kind of way like maybe somebody will want us to do a live event. And it was the Academy. So this is amazing and thank you very much for having us here tonight.

Craig: It’s pretty awesome and that Nicholls Fellowship and Nicholls, you know that wonderful screenwriting, the one screenwriting contest that matters frankly.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Is sponsoring all the food and the wine and the beer. So…

John: Yeah. I think in some ways like we’re a fundraiser for them but they’re kind of fundraising for us and it’s kind of amazing. It’s an educational outreach. So thank you very much for this existing.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Craig, this is our hundredth episode.

Craig: One Hundred.

John: And it’s kind of remarkable. Do you have a favorite episode of the episodes we’ve recorded?

Craig: Well, I’m kind of partial to the one where I opened my heart up and bled all over the keyboard there…

John: The dark night of your soul.

Craig: The dark midnight of my soul.

John: After the terrible reviews.

Craig: Yeah. After the terrible…

John: Which of the two movies?

Craig: All of them.

John: Yeah. Right.

Craig: All of them. That was good. That felt good, actually.

John: It felt good. Yeah.

Craig: I actually got something out of the podcast for once which was nice.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I really liked, even though it was the one that we just did so it feels a little bit like a cheap, and I don’t know if you guys have heard podcast 99, but that’s the one we did with Dr. Dennis Palumbo and that was great.

John: That was great. And so that was our sort of psychotherapy for screenwriters and that was a… — It’s recent to you but we actually recorded it like three weeks ago and we knew, it was like, “God, that’s really good.” It was one of those situations where we’re actually live in a room like, “Wow, that’s going to be a good episode.”

Craig: Yeah.

John: So I’m happy that turned out really well.

Craig: But…

John: Yes.

Craig: Favorite podcast out of the one hundred?

John: Yeah.

Craig: Raiders.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Raiders.

John: The Raiders episode was probably my favorite too because it was the first time we were doing something just completely brand new. We were just focusing on one episode. And what I liked so much about Raiders is we could talk about the movie that we were watching but we could also look back at the transcript and see like, “This is the process they went through to make that movie that we loved so much.” And I thought tonight we could actually go back and do the transcripts of how this podcast came to be.

Craig: Because it’s as important as Raiders.

John: Yes. Maybe as seminal an event in film history. And so this afternoon I went through email archives and found the four emails between me and Craig Mazin about this podcast. So this is the entirety of the planning for the original Scriptnotes. So this is actually what happened.

So this is June 27, 2011, 1:17 pm, I wrote to Craig, “Subject: Podcasts. Do you listen to any? I had dismissed them as a fad but now I find myself listening to several, wondering if you would have any interest in doing a joint podcast on screenwriting?”

Craig: “I don’t. But then again, I didn’t read any blogs either and then I wrote one for five years. A podcast would solve my ‘I want to talk about screenwriting but I’m tired of writing about screenwriting’ problem, so, yes, count me in. What sort of thing were you thinking?”

John: This is at 3:04 pm, “I was thinking a weekly thing in which we would talk about the Issues of the Day for screenwriters and the film industry, loose, not edited. The first couple would probably be a cluster-fuck but we’d get better at it. Then we would go in with a mutually agreed list of things we want to discuss. Most of these podcasts seem to be done remotely on Google Talk or some such. I’ll have my guy Ryan,” — Ryan Nelson! — “look into them to see what would be involved. My guess is that at most you’d need headphones with attached mic to plug into your computer. Some of the best podcasts are the ones Dan Benjamin does on 5by5 [url]. This is the one he does with the John Gruber of Daring Fireball [url].”

Craig: I should mention I did not listen to any of them but 16 minutes later I wrote back, “Perfect. Sounds like it is easy and fun! And easy! And fun! At this age, that’s all I care about. I’ll check out the podcasts you cite below for inspiration.”

John: Yeah. It’s a lie. The first of many lies in our relationship over the course of making the show.

Craig: And you can see a theme emerging here at the beginning. He had the idea and then had all the details and I said, “Sure!”

John: Yeah. “Just tell me when to sign on.”

Craig: Yeah.

John: So that was the initial sort of a spark of the show and now we’re a hundred episodes later.

Craig: Amazing.

John: And tonight we get to talk about the same stuff that we’ve been talking about for hundred episodes which is screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Craig: To screenwriters.

John: Tonight we’re going to talk about…

Craig: Wait, wait, hold on.

John: What?

Craig: I have to say it’s really cool that you guys showed up. I really do. I mean, I have to say…

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s just cool. I’m a little verklempt because people really do enjoy the podcast and it’s great and I often tell people, “It’s just John and I. I always look at it as like we’re having a phone conversation for an hour each week.” But it’s great to see a little love reflected back and I really appreciate all the people, you guys bought tickets. I mean, granted, it was five dollars and so I’m not going to give you that much praise for it but still, you know, you parked, right?

John: Yeah. You drove to Hollywood.

Craig: You drove to Hollywood and you parked. Nice.

John: Ah! Nice.

Craig: And that’s the kind of ethic that we support.

John: [laughs]

Craig: So thank you guys. That’s great.

John: Craig, this is an honest conversation here. Did you ever consider bailing on the podcast?

Craig: Not once. No.

John: I did.

Craig: Oh.

John: Right around in the 50s.

Craig: Was it because of me? [laughs]

John: No. I just had sort of, getting tired of it.

Craig: I mean, here’s the truth. You know I’ll never bail on it because you make it so, so easy for us. So it it’s like I just show up and there is food in front of me and I eat it. I mean, you and Stuart. — Stuart is real. The guy here tonight who is playing Stuart, we have a different guy.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Where’s our Stuart?

John: No, it is a real Stuart?

Craig: Where’s the Stuart tonight that we have?

John: Stuart who’s here tonight. Can you raise your hand. There is he, here’s tonight’s Stuart.

Craig: Oh, that’s tonight’s Stuart.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s not, I mean, basically we’re like, okay, we just go, they have books of like we need a curly-haired ginger and then we get one.

Stuart does so much.

John: We hired Stuart from the Disney Channel. He’s actually one of the… — He was a kid actor who aged out and then that’s who we got.

Present John: So, Stuart Friedel is officially a real person. He’s my assistant and he also produces the show. And It’s strange that this sort of the “cult of Stuart” has arisen, really probably starting with this episode. Because people will hear his name and know that he works on the podcast. He has a sort of mythical quality that happened. He’s sort of our Snuffaluffagus, like is he a real person or is he not a real person. And it’s just weird that this sort of Stuart Friedel meme has occurred.

But people will recognize his name. Like, he was in New York and he was at a bar talking to some folks and he said his name was Stuart. It was like, “Oh wait — you’re not Stuart Friedel from Scriptnotes?” And he is Stuart Friedel from Scriptnotes. And that will probably haunt him for quite a long time.

I don’t have any plan on fixing his being haunted by Scriptnotes, but we’ve been talking about when do you actually have Stuart on the show as a real person who introduces himself and answers questions.

And that will probably come whenever it is time for Stuart to move on. He’s a writer himself; he’s written some really great scripts that are going to pull him out of this office pretty soon.

But whenever that happens, we will have him on for an exit interview, and we will talk through all the secrets of Stuart and Scriptnotes and how it all works.

So: Stuart Friedel, this is for you.

Craig: He aged out. Exactly and so we caught him before he went full Amanda Bynes and… [Audience: “Ohhhhh.”] — Oh, okay, well she’s crazy. It’s not my fault. Anyway, no, I’ve never thought about it, but please don’t leave me.

John: All right. I won’t. I won’t.

Craig: I can’t quit you.

John: We’re good. Actually, as I was putting together the music for tonight I put together a lot of sort of like the break up songs just to try to set up that idea that maybe this was going to be the end.

Craig: Oh.

John: It was actually the last episode of Scriptnotes, but it’s not now. So we’re good. Fine.

Tonight, we’re actually going to talk about some things that are interesting to screenwriters including something that Craig calls Screenwriter-Plus.

Craig: Yeah.

John: We’ll get into that.

Craig: Yep.

John: We’ll talk about that Slate article that literally everyone in the audience tweeted me saying like, “Hey, you should talk about this” Yeah. We know. We will talk about this.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So it’s Slate article about how…

Craig: It’s fun. There is like you get that tweet of, “I’m sure everyone’s mentioned this to you,” and that is the one you get 15,000 times.

John: Yeah.

Craig: “I’m sure everyone has mentioned.” Well then, if you’re sure…

John: Yeah. Well, so we will talk about that thing because that would be useful to talk about. Before we get into that though there is a little bit of housekeeping, because there’s always housekeeping on our show.

Craig: Always housekeeping.

John: There is always a little housekeeping.

We switched our server that the podcast is on. So if for some reason episode 99 did not show up properly in your feed or your device or your app or wherever you expect it to be, that’s probably because your system logged in at just exactly the wrong moment when Ryan was switching stuff over and so if that happens delete the thing that you have there and re-add it in iTunes or however you add it into your thing. It’ll be there; it will be magic.

The reason why we switched stuff up over is because there is some cool new stuff that’s coming next week that you’ll see that we had to go to a newer server to support. So, enjoy that.

Secondly, Craig, I have here something that you’re going to be so excited to see. This is the Golden Ticket. So, when we sent out the t-shirts we said, “Oh, you know what? There should be a Golden Ticket that’s provided with one t-shirt.” This was your idea, Craig.

Craig: I had one.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I had an idea.

John: It didn’t work out so well.

Craig: Here’s why…

John: All right.

Craig: So the idea was somebody would open up their t-shirt package and there would be this Thank You card that everybody got and then they would turn it over and it would have the special message just for them, there was one of them.

John: Yeah. It was handwritten.

Craig: Yeah. And Stuart and Ryan — it’s fair to say Stuart and Ryan, or not that guy, but the real Stuart and Ryan — they never sent it out.

John: Yeah. Okay. But let’s talk about why it never got sent out. So, Craig, there is this big box of the postcards that went in with t-shirts and so Craig is like, “Well, let’s do this” and so, “Okay. That’s a good idea.” It seemed like a good idea. This is when we were recording the Dennis Palumbo episode. And so we’d sign all these cards, it’s a lot of cards to sign. And so we did this one special card and Craig put it back in the box, so like, ah, I have no idea where it is in the box.

Craig: Right. That’s the point.

John: It should be the point. It’s magical and like you don’t know where it’s going to be.

Craig: Right.

John: But then finally like no one was writing in. So like I said, “Guys, look through the rest of the box,” and there it was.

Craig: Well…

John: Yeah. It’s kind of a bummer. What was the idea behind the golden ticket?

Craig: Well, the idea was you would get the golden ticket and on the back, well, here, I’ll read it.

John: Yeah. Well, it didn’t really quite say, but…

Craig: Oh, you’re right. Oh, yeah. “This is the golden ticket, email ‘Prairie’…”

John: Prairie was the magic word.

Craig: “…’Prairie’ to ask@johnaugust.com to tell us that you got it.” And then what we would tell you is, “John and I will read your script and we’ll talk to you about your script.” And we’ll, I mean, we’re not going to help you really. But we’ll give you feedback and stuff. You know.

John: Yeah. That would be nice.

Craig: Yeah. But it’s too bad. There is no…

John: I mean, would that have been a good thing? I mean, who would have been excited to get that? Yeah? Craig, I wish there was a way we could do that. I mean, we got to find another way to do that. I mean, whenever life sets challenges for me I usually think, “What would Oprah do?”

Craig: Oprah!

John: And it’s got me through so much.

Craig: What would Oprah do?

John: Well, you know what she would do? She would tell people to look underneath their chair; there might be something under one person’s chair.

Craig: Okay.

John: In the audience tonight.

Craig: So maybe they should look under their chairs.

John: Maybe everyone should look underneath their chairs.

Craig: Take a look under your chair.

John: Take a look under your chair. Take a feel under your chair.

Craig: Because one of you might have it. Look under your chairs.

John: Someone in this audience might have something that’s different than everyone else’s.

Craig: Someone has it. Anyone? Anyone? No?

Ya!

John: Oh my god! Come on up here and the audience can meet you.

Craig: Awesome!

John: What’s your name?

Matt Smith: My name is Matt Smith.

John: Matt Smith, I’m John August.

Matt: Hi, I met you in Chicago.

John: Oh, yeah! So, great.

Craig: What happened in Chicago?

John: We made a musical called Big Fish. You don’t really keep up with this…

Craig: Hey, hopefully you don’t have a script or anything like that. Do you?

John: Are you a writer?

Matt: Several.

Craig: Oh geez.

John: All right. So, do you have a script that you think would be appropriate for us to read?

Matt: Sure.

John: All right.

Matt: It’s like a pilot.

John: Oh pilots are great. We love.

Craig: It’s shorter than a screenplay!

John: [laughs] There’s a reason!

Matt: I could give you a short film if you want a short one.

Craig: What’s the shortest thing you got?

John: Yeah.

Matt: 130 pages.

John: So it’s a pilot?

Matt: Yeah.

John: I love a pilot.

Craig: Great! Awesome! Can we read it?

Matt: Sure.

Craig: Awesome.

John: So the guy who is playing Stuart is going to track you down later on. He’s going to give you a magic email address that you’ll email to and…

Matt: Awesome.

John: We’ll talk about it.

Matt: Thanks guys.

Craig: You just got Oprahed! Awesome.

John: All right. Thank you so much.

Craig: I’m glad that worked out.

Present John: So, a few weeks later, we read Matt’s script. And we didn’t record it as an episode; it didn’t feel like it wanted to be an episode, and he wasn’t ready to share his script with the world.

I kind of remember it — I think it was a pilot, it was a summer camp. And there were things we liked about it and things that really weren’t working about it. And that’s sort of the nature of all scripts.

A really valuable experience I think for Matt, but also for us. It was just a phone call that wasn’t recorded, but it became the template for how we would talk about an entire screenplay on the podcast, which — many episodes later, in episode 190, we looked at KC Scott’s This is Working. And that really kind of had its genesis in the Golden Ticket that was found underneath Matt Smith’s chair.

So next up, we have our first guest who truly was our first guest: Aline Brosh McKenna. She was our first guest on the episode way back when in a live show we did. She’s had the most apperances on the show to date; she probably always will. She’s the only person who Craig has given me permission to bring on the show if he’s not available to record.

We call her our Joan Rivers because, well, she is indispensable in that way.

John: I was terrified that was not going to work out. Yeah.

Craig: Some guy is going to be like, “Nah! It’s never me. I’m not looking. I won’t look under my seat.”

John: No. No. No.

– I’m really not just checking Twitter. This is where all my notes are here.

It’s time to get onto the real meat of our show. And our first guest, and when I say first guest she really is our first guest. She was our first guest at our live show –

Craig: She was.

John: — in Austin, Texas. This is the writer of Devil Wears Prada, 27 Dresses, the upcoming Cinderella. She is a friend of the show, a fan of the show. She’s kind of…

Craig: She’s our Joan Rivers.

John: She’s our Joan Rivers. This is Aline Brosh McKenna. Come on up.

Craig: Come on, Aline. Steps. You get yellow microphone.

John: Ooh!

Aline Brosh McKenna: You don’t have your wine.

Craig: Oh god.

Aline: Yeah.

John: We talked about this before we started, because the ideal amount of wine to have before recording a podcast is…

Craig: Between one and two glasses.

Aline: Craig said between one and two glasses. So this is the half.

Craig: Oh, that’s your, you’re onto your half

Aline: That’s my half. I’m on my half. I did it.

Craig: I did a full. I did one. That’s technically.

Aline: You did? Okay.

John: I did a little less than one. It’s a lot, so…

Aline: So I’m going to be way more entertaining.

John: Yeah.

Aline: Than both of you.

John: Let’s get to our first topic which is…

Aline: Yeah.

John: Craig suggested this topic which is what is called Screenwriter-Plus. So what is a Screenwriter-Plus? What are you talking about here?

Craig: Well, I’ve been thinking about this lately because as we talk to people about the way our business is changing it occurred to me that there’s been this kind of huge change and I’m not sure anyone is really specifically talking about it in nature and that is what I call screenwriter, the job of Screenwriter-Plus.

When I started in the business, and we all pretty much started at the same time, it was fairly common for feature film writers to write a screenplay and then turn it into the studio and the studio and the producer would talk to you about your screenplay and then one day they’d say, “Okay, we’re interested in making this. We’re going to go find a director and a movie star.” And then they found those people and those people would talk to you maybe briefly or not. Maybe they would have somebody else come in and do a little thing or not. And then they go make the movie.

And you would show up at the premiere. That was kind of a routine sort of thing, not always, but often. It is so different now and there is this new position, there is just like a new way of thinking about a screenwriter and that is a screenwriter who — and forget titles — don’t worry about producer, producer-director, screenwriter. Just screenwriter. A screenwriter who writes a screenplay works with the studio and the producer, works with the director, works with the actors, is there during prep, is there during shooting, is there during editing, is in meetings talking about marketing, essentially as involved as the director is and maybe even more so because they pre-date the director often.

And so I wanted to talk a little bit about what you guys think about, is that real? Is that something that’s definitely happening and if it is, is it something that you need to be doing as a screenwriter and if so how do you get into that sort of thing, particularly if you’re trying to break into the business?

Aline: Well, I think partly the reason that’s happened is because of television and because there is such an ascendancy of television, so people are used to writer-producers. So they’re used to writers performing those functions. And I also think it’s because there are just fewer jobs, they’re less likely to bring in multiple writers on movies now. They kind of want to get their money’s worth and towards the end your steps towards the end you’re getting paid less money and they’re like, “Oh, we have this guy and he’s around. We’ve already paid for him and he’ll do this and maybe he’ll come look at this and look at some footage and …”

So, I’ve definitely notice that. And also as we were talking about earlier, there are a lot more writers who have become producers, who really have become officially producers and produce their own stuff and produce other people’s stuff. So I’ve definitely noticed that, but I think it’s any time you’re in a position to really protect your own work and to have input, it’s a great thing whether you get the title or not.

John: When you said showrunners I immediately was thinking about the guys who are doing these jobs right now and Damon Lindelof comes in on a movie, he was a showrunner, he comes in like Kurtzman/Orci, they come from that TV background where the writer is responsible for the script but also for this is the whole package, this is the everything, this is the marketing, this is the running of the show. Simon Kinberg, who you worked with, is the same kind of guy who does just features but very much is that guy. You think of him as much as being the guy who sort of delivers the movie as much as the guy who is putting the words on the page.

Craig: Yeah. And there are guys like Chris McQuarrie who have really done almost only features but they do this kind of thing. There has also been an interesting change in the way writers and directors work with each other because there was a kind of a weird antipathy between the two camps when I first started in movies. It was, I mean, sometimes you had directors that were really imperious, sometimes you had directors that were really cool but they almost felt like it was part of their job to exclude the writer. It was like their peer group essentially pressured them to sort of say, “Well, if you have a writer on the set you’re a loser, you’re not a real director” That seems to have changed almost to the point of being obliterated and gone the other way where they want you there, which is great I think.

John: A writer can be the director’s best ally, because the writer is there remembering what the intention was behind things and can be someone to back you up. So if you have a great relationship with the director that’s an incredibly useful thing.

I was thinking back through sort of my own movies and there have been movies which I’ve been in that function, sort of that writer plus. My very first movie Go, I was there before we hired Doug, I was there for every frame shot in second unit, I was in the editing room the whole time through; that was very much that function.

And Charlie’s Angels was that, too. I was there before McG was there and I sort of came back in. And even though a zillion other writers worked on that movie I was the guy who sort of captured the vision of things around because I had a relationship with Drew to sort of steer through.

But the Tim Burton movies, not at all. The Tim Burton movies I’ve been the writer and I show up to give them the script and help in pre-production but I’m not there…

Craig: Well, that’s interesting because that’s almost a generational thing because that Tim Burton does sort of — he became powerful in the 90s when that was still going on but, you know, like so I worked with Todd Phillips. He’s not like that at all. Seth Gordon is not like that at all. Marc Forster is not like that at all. So it just…

Aline: I mean, it’s always been confusing to me because I don’t understand why everyone isn’t clamoring for a writer on the set. I always feel like don’t you want the guy who’s just going to sit in his trailer and then things happen, you’re on location or something is not working out with an actor, you have a costume change, whatever, don’t you want to be able to run to that guy and have them fix it and change it? Because there are situations where the director who has so much to do is trying to figure out how to figure out a new piece of dialogue to cover something. And I think it’s strange that it’s not the other way — that they’re not begging us to be on set.

Craig: Well, I feel like they are now in a weird way. I never understood it. A lot of screenwriters would sit around and talk about this. I remember Phil Robinson said once. He said something to me and I was like, “Oh, yeah, that’s a great point.” Like, okay, we can grouch about how we’re not there but I guess the director, they have their thing, whatever. He’s like, “There is a standby painter, there’s a guy who literally just stands there and if something has to be painted…”

Aline: In case there needs some painting. Yeah.

Craig: In case something needs to be painted. But there is not somebody to be there in case a line needs to be written? It’s kind of crazy. And it never made sense and I kept waiting around for somebody to make sense of it for me and it seemed like instead the business went, “Oh, yeah, oh, no, it doesn’t actually make sense.”

John: But we talked about sort of who the directors are and some of the generational shift that they may be more inclusive of the writer and I think to J.J. Abrams who is having those guys around all the time because he came up in the television world.

Aline: Well, he came up in both. I mean, I would say that the guys who do that come out of two things. One is TV and the other one is production rewrites. So the production rewrite guys, which is Simon, and J.J. was that guy too, and McQuarrie, you know, the kind of high end guys, they’re accustomed to being on a set, solving problems, really being there in the same way as a TV writer-producer. So those guys are really accustomed to solving problems in a production situation.

Not all writers know how to do that, really, and it’s something that I know you’ve talked about and worked on, you have to kind of be there and get that experience and if you’ve been in television or you’ve done production rewrites you’ve been on production, some of the other — if you — before you’ve done that — we’ve had this conversation before where writers don’t always know how to comport themselves.

Craig: Right.

Aline: And then there is this other kind of fascinating thing that I always think about which is there is this tremendous blind date that happens in the middle of your movie getting made which is you write a script and then it goes out to directors and it’s always like, “Well, I hope this goes okay.” Like you bring in a guy, you have a meeting, they say something. It’s like, “It sounds good. I don’t know. It seems okay.”

John: But it’s not even really a blind date though; it’s really an arranged marriage. Like, “This is good, this is going to work out. Right? This is going to work.”

Aline: Right. That’s true. A blind date implies choice.

John: Yeah.

Aline: Yeah.

Craig: You’re not going to throw acid on my face, right?

John: [laughs]

Craig: Something stupid like that.

Aline: Yeah. But it is this incredible thing where like it’s not just creatively what they want but it’s also how they like to work and do they want writers around? Is that something that they want? Every guy is different, guy or gal.

Craig: Well, that’s true. And I think also that if you’re writing comedy you will likely end up in a situation where you get some of that experience because there is a certain immediacy with comedy and a lot of comedy writers end up on set trying to make things work if things are going a little sideways.

But I guess that brings up the question for all these guys. Okay, you’re starting out and the old narrative is, write a screenplay and then someone gets attached and someone gets attached and then it goes into the black box and a movie comes out. But that’s probably not going to really — that’s not necessarily what you want to aspire to anymore. What you want to aspire to is be part of the filmmaking process. To that end, it doesn’t make sense to say to budding screenwriters and aspiring screenwriters, “Don’t be — don’t settle just for I’m writing a great script. Learn how movies are made because if you don’t you’ll never know the other half of the job.” It’s like you’re a plumber that works on stuff until they turn the water on, but…

Aline: Well, we’ve seen that a lot of times. We know people who just — they just don’t know what to do when they get on the set. They don’t know how to behave, they don’t know where to get the food, they don’t know where to sit, they don’t know how to act… And the other thing is, younger –

Craig: Food is…

Aline: — Yeah. It’s important to know where it is and not to put your hand in the cereal box.

John: No. Dump out.

Aline: Yeah. So…

Craig: That happens?

Aline: Oh, I’ve seen that.

John: Yeah.

Aline: But the other thing is younger people have access to production in a way that we did not.

Craig: Exactly.

Aline: I mean, those guys are all making movies. Everybody has made a movie; everybody is making a movie, everybody’s shooting a video. I mean, I’m working with a young woman now who shoots and produces and directs and does her own shorts; and so they have a lot more experience with production then I think we did when we were coming up and that’s great. You really have to understand how it’s made and also how to contribute, how to really make a contribution in a positive way to being part of the crew.

John: The general advice I would say for the aspiring writers who wonder sort of, “How do I become the Screenwriter Plus?” First you have to be a screenwriter, you have to be able to write generally to start, but you also have to really think of yourself as a filmmaker and so your function of filmmaking is to create that initial screenplay but to also be able to change and roll with it as things happen and so a lot of times the problem-solving you’re doing on the set isn’t because of a difficult actor, although a lot of times it’s the difficult actor. It’s because you lost a location or like suddenly we can’t make this thing work. So if we have this location versus this location, how do we make this scene work in this space?

Aline: I think it’s helpful to say, “It’s perfect. Just do it.”

John: Yeah. Don’t change the line.

Aline: I’m kidding.

Craig: Sometimes that actually works.

John: Sometimes you do. Sometimes that is the right answer but sometimes you need to be able to explain back and so I think I often credit you with saying this but I think you may not have been the first person that…

Craig: He is wrongly crediting you for a thing.

Aline: What did I say was brilliant?

John: The screenwriter is the only person who’s already seen the movie.

Aline: I don’t think I said that but I’ll pretend I did.

John: Okay, the useful thing to remember as a screenwriter is that you as a screenwriter have already seen the movie and the director and everybody else has not seen the movie because they didn’t write it, and they didn’t have that in their head and so sometimes they’ll make a choice that is not the right choice because they’re just still not quite getting the movie that’s in your head. And so if you could be there to help explain that in a very tactful way about what the intention was…

Aline: And also just you have custody of the story. It’s like Craig said, you know, there is all these like department heads and they have custody of certain parts of it and you have custody of the story.

I once had a director call me and he said, “I’m standing here on the set and there is a character in the scene. I don’t think he’s supposed to be here…”

John: [laughs]

Aline: “I think he’s supposed to have already gone home but I’m really tired.”

John: [laughs]

Aline: “And I can’t remember if this guy is supposed to be here or not.”

And I was like, “No. He’s drunk. He was walked home before that scene.”

He was like, “Thank you.” Just to have somebody around who actually knows, that’s all you have thought of.

John: It’s a call sheet mistake. Like his little number got put on the call sheet.

Aline: Right. But that’s why when I feel like a confident filmmaker is happy to have a writer there in charge of the story department to ask questions, but part of that is I think we need to acclimate directors and producers that we are going to behave in a helpful productive manner.

Craig: That’s right. And then ultimately the director is responsible for what’s going on to the film or the flash drive and because they’re responsible they have to have authority. You can’t have responsibility without authority. If you can figure out how to have a respectful relationship with that person and acknowledge that they have authority and accountability for what they’re doing you’ll be the greatest help to them.

One exercise that I would suggest is if you have some material, little something short that you want to shoot yourself, even if it’s just with your phone and you have somebody that you know who is also trying this, swap and see what it’s like to interpret somebody else’s work, and watch how many choices you make and watch how off you can be from what they thought it was supposed to be. Not necessarily bad, right, but start to understand what it’s like to be in those shoes.

And the more you can understand the nature of production, the psychological nature of production and also the procedural nature of production the more useful you will be to it and the more useful you’re to it the better chance you have to actually protect what matters.

Aline: Yeah. I also want to say those guys like J.J. and Alex, Bob and Simon, those guys are really as they produce stuff, even producing stuff that they didn’t write, they’re just invaluable on set because they’ve done the other job, too. So they understand how to communicate with writers. I mean, that’s why I’ve really enjoyed working with those guys who are producers but were writers first because I feel like they speak writer and I have such a good shorthand with them and they understand how to solve problems in a way that I understand. So I really love that. I think those guys are uniquely equipped to deal with the writing part of it is as producers.

John: Well, let’s get to next topic which is talking about the writing itself. And to join us on this topic I want to invite a gentleman who was one of my first assistants. He is a frequent suggester of material for our podcasts. He is the one who suggested 15 is the new 30 and which was a whole topic that we talked about. He’s also made some movies. He wrote and directed this movie called Dodgeball, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh. He has this movie called We’re the Millers which comes out really soon. So, maybe you should go see that movie.

Craig: Couple of weeks.

John: Couple of weeks. August 7th I believe. So maybe we can hype that. This is Rawson Marshall Thurber. Rawson get up here.

Present John: So I think I’ve talked about this on the podcast before, but Rawson Thurber was actually one of my very first assistants, way back in the day when I was doing a terrible TV show called DC for the WB network.

I hired Rawson — he was a Starkie, he was interning at William Morris in the mailroom there. And so I first met him, he was wearing this ill-fitting suit, and it was the last time I saw him in a suit. I guess I’ve seen him in suits for like his wedding and other things, but he’s not a suit wearer by nature.

So Rawson Thurber at this time of recording the episode, he had just directed We’re the Millers. We didn’t know then it was going to be a huge hit — it was a huge hit. And it really changed the trajectory of his directing career.

He had done some other movies beforehand, but this really put him on a lot bigger lists for bigger movies.

The one he’s directing now is Central Intelligence starring Dwayne Johnson and Kevin Heart. It’s shooting in Boston right now.

Rawson is always awesome.

Craig: Rawson! There he is. And Rawson for those of you who don’t know is the best-looking male screenwriter.

Aline: Yeah. There is a competition ongoing. There’s a calendar…

Craig: Well, we had a little chit-chat about it. There is a calendar. One question about the calendar, that we didn’t know, and you guys just mull this over, in sexy calendars is it supposed to get sexier as you go through the year? Is December better?

Aline: Well, there is this thing where there are lot of screenwriters who were…

[Audience member: Yes!]

Craig: Yes. She says yes.

Aline: Are there? Is it really…?

Craig: She says December is the hot one.

Aline: Is December hotter, is better than January? I don’t think so. But a lot of the good-looking screenwriters were actors.

Craig: Right, but he’s not.

Aline: And that disqualifies them. So that rockets Rawson right up there.

Craig: Right.

Rawson Marshall Thurber: Thank you. That’s so kind.

Craig: We don’t count, like, so he’s made a movie with Jennifer Aniston, she’s married to Justin Theroux. He’s a screenwriter…

Aline: Does not count.

John: Does not count.

Craig: But he’s an actor. Doesn’t count. That’s it. It’s not fair to us to include actors.

John: We have to be judged against your own cohort.

Craig: Right. And against his own cohort…

John: Also pretty good. What’s weird is that I think of Rawson as like this young child who came in to interview for an assistant job and you were working at the William Morris mailroom. You came in dressed in like a suit that did not fit you very well.

Rawson: No.

John: This is at Dick Wolf’s company and like you were on like a lunch break from William Morris and you kept being so insistent about like, “What my salary is going to be…?”

Rawson: Yeah. Yeah.

John: I think your dad had sort of drilled that into you, too, didn’t he?

Rawson: And gave me the suit. It was both of those things.

Craig: “Son, two bits of advice: wear my lucky suit and demand a salary over and over.”

Rawson: Yeah. I think I was just being paid so little at William Morris that I was like, “Look, if I’m going to leave I just, I want be able to it eat…”

John: Like that was it.

Rawson: It was really hunger. The hunger and shame. I think both of those things. The beats of a screenwriter.

John: There is no hunger but there is certainly some shame in the article that we’re going to be talking about from Slate. This is an article by Peter Suderman in which he argues that — I’m kind of reading of my phone here because that’s how I can read things — he argues that the reason movies feel formulaic these days is because there is a formula, a template, described by Blake Snyder in his 2005 book, Save the Cat.

This is a quote of what he said, “When Snyder published his book in 2005, it was as if an explosion ripped through Hollywood. The book offered something previous screenplay guru tomes didn’t. Instead of a broad overview of how a screen story fits together, his book broke down the three-act structure into a detailed beat sheet: 15 key story ‘beats’ — pivotal events that have to happen – and gave each of those beats a name and a screenplay page number. Given that each page of a screenplay is expected to equal a minute of film, this makes Snyder’s guide essentially a minute-to-minute movie formula.”

So before we start our discussion I want a show of hands of this audience, how many people have read Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat? It was a lot, I mean, this is common for aspiring screenwriters. Did any of you read it?

Craig: No!

Rawson: Never read it.

Aline: The explosion that ripped through Hollywood, I missed it when I was online shopping and eating pizza. I missed it.

Craig: Yeah. “Oh, did you hear there was an explosion that ripped through Hollywood the other day? Yeah, apparently now it’s a minute by minute break down.”

Aline: I totally missed it. I totally missed it.

John: Yeah. And so this article was on Slate. And a general rule I do follow is I never read the comments on articles but I figured like well, people are going to be responding. I’m curious how they’re going to be responding to this. And so the very first comment on this was from a guy name Shagbark and this is what Shagbark says. He says, “Also, other screenwriters including John August and Thomas Lennon, now quote Snyder’s numbers re. which page of the script each thing should happen on, without mentioning Snyder, as if they were universal truths instead of made-up numbers.”

Okay, first of all, fuck you Shagbark. To throw me in with this article saying like, “Oh John August got that thing from Blake Snyder…”

Aline: Anybody who’s a careful listener of this podcast knows that John August, who is the nicest person in the world, is secretly very angry.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s not really a secret. I’m famous for letting it out.

John: Yeah.

Aline: There is so much niceness over it that when it comes out, it’s a delight.

Craig: By the way, I’m Shagbark. You know that.

John: Oh yeah. You totally are Shagbark. Craig has been trolling me for the whole hundred episodes. So to say like, “Oh, John August said and took it from Blake Snyder.” I did not take it from Blake Snyder, I took it from like the fact that certain things tend to kind of happen at certain places.

Craig: Wait, wait are you saying maybe Blake Snyder took from something? Like the history of movies?

John: Maybe. Perhaps. Perhaps.

Craig: Or the history of storytelling, that either started 3000 years ago or in 2005?

John: I want to let our guests speak. [laughs]

Rawson: Thanks!

John: This is Rawson Thurber. So you’ve not read Blake Snyder’s book?

Rawson: I’ve not. No.

John: Are familiar with the book? Have you heard of this book?

Rawson: Only by title, until you sent me the article and I read the article, of course, and all the supplementary material, but I have not read the book.

John: Okay. And so what is your impression? Do you think there is a formula? Question: Are movies more formulaic than they have been or than they should be, is question A and if so, is there a formula?

Rawson: Well, I guess, I mean, I would say, are movies formulaic? I mean, yes and no. There are certain moves that need to happen in a three-act structure but, I mean, I feel like the article that — is it Peter, is that right? — that he wrote, I thought it was largely horse shit, frankly.

I think that it’s easy to kind of put all those touchstones and those beats retroactively back in and say like, “Look at Olympus Has Fallen, look at The Lone Ranger, look at all these things.” It’s really easy to do that and whether that’s right or wrong is one part of the article. The other piece that I thought was absolutely not true in my experience is that that is something that professionals in Hollywood are actively doing, which is fallacy and, I mean, I guess it makes a good article but it makes no sense. I’ve never ever in a meeting had anybody talk to me about any of these terms in any way like that.

Craig: Ever.

Rawson: Ever. Not even close.

Craig: Ever. Where do they make this? Is there some building where these people get together and say, “Let’s all agree that we don’t know shit and now let’s start assigning each other topics?”

John: Yes. It’s the new journalism. So really it’s a question of like whether it’s — if it’s journalism then you would actually interview a screenwriter to see if there was any basis of reality but it’s essentially an opinion piece based on sort of like one idea which is like a blog post…

Aline: Here is the thing. Here is the thing. There are tropes. There are tropes and there are things that reappear and there are people, you know, there are modes of storytelling that become fashionable and people adopt it but the idea that, I mean, when I looked at that I thought, I went to the 15 beats and I thought, “Oh maybe this will be helpful.”

Rawson: Yeah. I did the same thing.

Aline: Yeah. I was like, “Oh, maybe there is something good in here.” And you go and it’s like, it’s the same crap that everybody always says. And my feeling about those things is buy one book, buy Adventures in Screenwriting, buy Syd Field, buy this, buy one, take one class. There are sort of some basic principles and — look at Craig, he looks so horrified. There are some basic principles of storytelling that are good to sort of have run past you but the idea that anyone has — if it worked, people would do it.

Rawson: Of course.

Aline: If you could slavishly follow those things and they would work, they don’t. But I don’t think his contention that people are following it more and then it works, particularly he said it works better for male characters and then he said J.J’s whole canon is that and I really take exception to that because J.J. did Felicity and Alias and it has really nothing to do with that. No one consciously retrofits it. There are certain tropes of storytelling in the culture that will filter in; no one has ever consciously…

Craig: Yeah, there always have been. Narrative has, I mean, read Poetics. Aristotle talks about this stuff in Poetics. We might as well say that Poetics exploded through Hollywood in minus-2005, right.

Aline: “Oh, this protagonist.”

Craig: Right and apparently there needs to be a catharsis. Yes.

Aline: Whatever.

Craig: Yes. Storytelling — oh, we have a spider hanging out!

Sorry, I was distracted for a second.

Storytelling has a purpose and anything that has a purpose therefore will have a form to fit its function. This isn’t new and movies will vacillate in and around various different kinds of form to match their function, but I just want to be really clear for both the writer of this nonsense and anybody else that might have been susceptible to it. Nobody professionally in Hollywood, to echo what Rawson said, nobody talks about this book. I’ve never, no one has ever mentioned it to me and I mean anywhere, on any level, at any place. That’s how thorough that is. And anything inside of it that may be of some use to you is only of use to you in that regard. That it’s of use to you however it may do, but don’t think…

Aline: Good God, don’t mention it in a meeting.

Craig: Yeah. Oh, please because by the way that is literally like you might as well just stamp “rookie” on your head like, “Well, I read in Save the Cat…”

Rawson: I had one experience with Save the Cat, actually. There was an actor on a movie that I was directing who kept coming up to me, like about a week in he would come up and have these very strange ideas and questions about what we’re doing and where it was going. And I didn’t, you know, I would answer them and walk away sort of scratching my head. I didn’t quite understand like where this is all coming from. And he had an assistant named Jim, no Jimmy, and he would come up to me, the actor would come up to me and say, “You know, Jim was talking to me about” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah and it all sounded super suspicious to me and I’m like, “Okay, okay.”

And then one day at wrap, they were leaving and I said goodbye to the actor and Jim was driving home and I saw in the backseat of Jim’s Prius was Save the Cat. And I went — Oh, you’re fucking kidding me! Of course! So that’s my only experience with Save the Cat which…

Craig: It’s deeply frustrating.

John: And how was Nick Nolte other than that?

Rawson: [laughs] No. It wasn’t Nick.

Craig: I just want to say also, just one thing that makes me nuts about this.

Aline: Umbrage, umbrage, umbrage.

Craig: It’s happening.

John: You know we actually seeded the article in Slate this week specifically so that it would …

Craig: The sad thing is like I know that and it’s still working. The purpose of these articles really if you think about it is to go, “These screenwriters, these filmmakers are just, they’re just machinists. They’re building IKEA furniture, you guys. There’s nothing special about what they do.” It’s all like, “Let’s demystify their nonsense.”

You know, I’m not going to say that we’re all amazing Mozarts, we’re not. But go ahead, Peter whatever, pick up that book and you go just as a goof, as a goof, follow it and write a screenplay. I’d love to read it and see just how amazing this explosive affair is.

Aline: Well, when you do pick them up, like when you do pick up those books or when you look at that I always find it so inscrutable and difficult. It’s like, “Here the hero either transcends or does not transcend the gate which he does or does not pass at which point he does triumph or does not triumph with a sidekick or without one.” And I’m always like…

Craig: There. Done. Problem solved.

Rawson: Writes itself.

Craig: It writes itself.

Aline: I wish it gave me something to use. I always find it like, “Has he crossed the threshold of the mighty river?” I don’t know. She’s got a job at a magazine. I don’t know. Is that the mighty river? It might be. I’m not sure.

John: My frustration with it is really the false causation, it’s the sense that, “Here I’ve noticed a pattern and therefore because I’ve noticed a pattern everything — I’m magical.” So it’s like saying like, “Many pop songs have a structure of one, six, four, five and like therefore every pop song after that point is following my structure that I identified.” No, it’s not. That’s just how songs work.

Aline: That’s analysis.

John: Yes.

Craig: Yeah. It’s the difference between reading and writing.

John: And so the reason why I’m willing to say three-acts for a movie is because like movies have beginnings, middles and ends. They just do. The projector turns on at a certain point, it turns off at a certain point. Like there are phases of a movie and it’s useful to be able to talk about those phases with terminology, but everything else is just inventions.

There was one thing I — because my function in the podcast is to play devil’s advocate — there is one thing I will say devil’s advocate. He calls out the, which is kind of just thrown in, but he calls out the villain who gets himself caught deliberately.

Guys, we need to stop doing that. We just need to stop doing that. It’s become the air duct.

Aline: And he’s in a glass room.

John: Yes. Right. Exactly. So, like, you know, we’ve caught the bad guy but no, no he meant to be caught. No, uh-uh. Stop. I want a ten-year moratorium on that.

Craig: It was cool when Heath Ledger did it.

John: Yeah. It was, it was great, remember when he did that?

Craig: I do remember that. That was awesome.

Aline: But that’s what I was talking about like there are these tropes that kind of filter through where there was a whole thing for a while when there were cop movies where it was like they were partners but they were shadow images, mirror images of the same person and their lives are really similar but wasn’t. That was a huge thing and culminated in Face/Off. There are kind of vogues in storytelling.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, that’s normal. That book won’t even help you chase. And you know my whole thing is: never chase. You write what you write, I’ve said this a hundred times. The only thing interesting about you is what’s specific to you. That’s it. If you’re writing something, if you’re just chasing the market, there are 50 people ahead of you in line who just better writers because they’ve been it longer. So don’t that, that’s crazy. But this book won’t even help you do that. It’s useless.

John: Useless

Craig: Useless!

Rawson: I think what Aline is saying is right is that there are tropes at work and you’re saying there is always a beginning, middle and end and one of the ones in the list that made a lot of sense to me is the sort of Dark Night of the Soul at the end of the second act, right, where everything looks like it’s lost.

John: The worst of the worst.

Rawson: That’s right. So when John and I, we both went to USC and we had, I think, the same instructor and she talked a lot about the three-act structure and how it works typically and the big moves in it. And that’s been incredibly helpful to me in my career. And so I don’t think you shouldn’t pay attention to these things but it doesn’t mean that they’re gospel and they have to be followed lockstep. But I do think there is some value there but if you pin your hopes to it you’ll be working at Ralphs.

John: I was watching a movie on the plane…

Rawson: — Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

John: Good to be working at Ralphs.

Craig: Would have been great if like four people just stood up, “Fuck you. It’s a decent living.”

John: I will say there was a movie I watched on the plane as I was flying back from Europe this week and it was really well executed, like the performances were really great but like the movie just didn’t quite hold up right. And I did look at it and say like, “You know what, the problem here is that it’s kind of not doing the things that it needs to do. Like your hero, your protagonist, she’s just not actually changing that much; you’re not making things difficult enough for her. It’s never reaching a real crisis.”

And so those are the kind of things that this book would point out. And so if reading this book makes you think about story in that way that’s useful. But also a smart person reading your scripts who knows about movies would also say the same thing.

Craig: Yes. Agreed.

John: Let us go to One Cool Thing which has been a staple of the show I think since the beginning. I think we started…

Craig: For you it’s been a staple. For me it’s just a nightmare.

John: Yeah. Every once in a while Craig will remember and sometimes they’re good. But, Aline would you kick us off with a One Cool Thing?

Aline: I will. I found a thing that had been I believe on PBS and then I found it on iTunes and I read about it. I didn’t watch it when it was on PBS and I just watched it recently. It’s three one-hour episodes, it’s a documentary, and I gobbled it up and each episode seemed like five minutes to me and I was in tears through most of it. And it has a very bad title. It’s called Making: The Women who Made America, or Who Make America.

It’s not a good title but it’s called Making and it’s the documentary about the women’s movement and it is so well done. And the interviews are so good and it’s so well balanced. And they talked to Phyllis Schlafly and they talked to Gloria Steinem and it’s incredibly well done and if you have interest in that subject matter it just whizzes by and I loved it.

John: Cool. Rawson Thurber.

Rawson: Yeah. This is, you might not like this one, but my One Cool Thing is actually this podcast which I love dearly.

Aline: Oh my god. Oh, he’s not your boss anymore! You don’t have to suck up anymore.

Rawson: I know. I know. But sincerely, it’s the truth. Like what you guys do every week for the screenwriting community is amazing. I listen to it all the time; I know a lot of friends do. And it’s really, really cool.

Craig: Thank you.

Aline: Also you guys are really good-looking.

John: We’re built for audio podcasts.

Craig: Yeah. Faces for radio.

John: My One Cool Thing: So my go-to pen — I’m not actually like a person who like tries to have, like obsess about sort of things like, you know, light coming through a window at certain thing, but I hate a terrible pen. And so I like a good, cheap pen that I don’t care if I lose. So my go-to, cheap pen has been the Pilot G2.

[The crowd cheers]

Aline: Wow!

John: It’s a good pen.

Craig: Are you serious?

John: Yeah.

Rawson: Holy shit.

Craig: Oh my god.

Rawson: That was amazing.

Craig: I also…

John: Spontaneous love for the Pilot G2. It’s a really solid good pen and I love that pen. So wherever Stuart will like hand me a pen that’s not that I’m like, “Stuart, no.”

Rawson: Is it .05 or .07?

John: I like the .05 or the .07. Really the .05 is fine…

Rawson: That’s how I roll, too. The .05. I think I might have gotten that from you, the G2 .05.

John: It’s good. Well, this week…

Craig: They came out with the G3?

John: No. But Pilot has a new pen and it’s actually kind of an amazing pen. So it’s the Pilot Frixion.

Aline: It’s not a vibrator?

John: It’s not. Doesn’t it sound like it could be?

Craig: Aline has lost interest.

John: Although it has, Aline, it has a rubber component. So, here is the thing about the Pilot Frixion.

Aline: The Pilot Frottage.

John: Up until now you can only get them in Japan. You can now get them in the US on Amazon.

Craig: Or vibrating.

John: Yeah. You can get it on Amazon. They’re fairly cheap. If you lose one you’re not going to feel sad about it. They are erasable and like you would think like well an erasable pen would suck. All erasable pens have always sucked, right?

Craig: Yeah, like the kind in fourth grade.

John: Yeah.

Rawson: They were terrible.

Craig: Paper Mate or whatever.

Rawson: They were terrible.

John: They were terrible. So the way this pen works is it writes just like a normal gel pen and it’s not quite as awesome as the G2 but it’s really solid and good. It’s a good solid pen and it can erase. And so when you erase it, it’s actually, the little rubber tip — I know this sounds really pornographic — the rubber tip creates heat and the heat actually makes it go invisible.

Aline: This is like a John August bit. This is like somebody wrote a John August bit.

Craig: I could not write that perfect. That was really — that was good.

Aline: It heats up, it gets a little bigger.

John: It gets a little bigger. And so my daughter has become obsessed with it, too, now because…

Rawson: Oh Jesus. Good night folks. Good night.

John: Here is the thing, because it can erase and if you’re a kid you make mistakes and you erase. Although, if you stick it in the freezer the hidden text comes back!

Craig: I mean, you’re just, you’re doing this on purpose now. “Although, if you put it up your ass…”

John: Yeah.

Aline: “And on the surface of the moon it’s amazing.”

John: Yeah. It’s kind of great!

Craig: Frixion.

John: You got something better than that, Craig Mazin?

Craig: I have something so different than that.

Aline: I hope you have a vibrator.

Present John: So I want to point out that in episode 196, Craig’s One Cool Thing is the RocketBook Indiegogo project that is basically just the Frixion pen and a notebook.

So he is mocking me, and I’m just way ahead of the curve.

And for the record: I still like the Frixion pens. They’re not my most favorite go-to pen, but they’re still a solid pen; I would recommend them.

Craig: I have Two Cool Things.

John: Oh, yeah, he’s breaking the rules again.

Craig: Breaking the rules again, as always. So I don’t if you guys, on one of the podcasts we talked about our origin stories, like how we got started in the business because people often ask that question.

So tonight there are two people here, my first job, they gave me my first job in Los Angeles. It was 1992. I had just turned 21. Well, technically, my first job was temping at William Morris, typing their employee manual. And because some secretary had typed it, literally on a typewriter in the ’50s, and so I put it into Word Perfect.

But the next job I got was at this little ad agency and these two took a chance on this kid and, you know, I say all the time like luck — people overemphasize luck, chance favors the prepared and all that. And that’s true. But this was legitimately lucky that these were the people I met instead of total assholes because you there’s a lot of those, too.

And you can’t really replace what it means to be supported and valued by good human beings. So Nancy Fletcher and Julia Wayne could you please stand up?

Aline: Wow!

Craig: 21 years later. And also they would buy me lunch a lot which was really nice because I had no money. It’s great. So, you are my two. Oh, and also Julia and I, I’m not going to say what it was but she did something in front of me that is the funniest thing I’ve ever seen, ever. Nothing will ever be funnier. Sometimes when I’m sad I think about it and I still laugh again. So thank you for that.

John: Aw. I have a couple of special thank yous, too. Stuart Friedel, or the man playing Stuart Friedel, please stand up. This is the man who edits our podcasts and makes us sound coherent when we’re drunk. I also need to thank Ryan Nelson who I think is in the very back of the room.

Craig: Ryan!

John: Ryan Nelson. Oh Ryan is up here now. He is the actual Ryan Nelson who designs all our apps. Along with Nima Yousefi who is also up here.

Craig: Nima!

John: Where’s Nima? Nima, the magical elf, who is just this week a full-time employee at Quote-Unquote Films. So hooray!

I need to thank everyone here for coming to this thing. We really, really wondered whether anyone would show up.

Aline: Awesome. So awesome.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And you did and that was so cool and it really means a lot. I’ll get sort of verklempt and weepy. But since that won’t happen, because I won’t let myself get verklempt…

Craig: I’m not going to cry. I’m not going to cry.

John: I’m not going to cry. I’m not going to cry. I’m just going to thank you and we’re going to applaud and then we’re going to do some questions. So hooray!

Craig: Woo!

Present John So, that’s episode 100! Almost 100 episodes later, the podcast is largely the same, but some things have changed.

For starters, our audience has gotten a lot bigger. We were probably 15 thousand per week back then. Now we’re about 50 thousand. And that’s about three times as many — more than three times as many. And that’s great. So thank you for listening to the show.

Our audio has also improved. This was a live show, so it doesn’t really count, but if you listen to a normal episode of the show now versus episodes ten or twenty — oh, it’s a huge difference. Some of that is better microphones, but a lot of it is Matthew Chilleli, who has been editing and mixing the shows, and they’ve just gotten so much better. So thank you, Matthew.

The last thing that’s changed is really the nature of podcasts itself. As they’ve become more popular, you’ve started to see these marquee titles like StartUp or Serial that are bringing people into the world of podcasting.

But I think the form itself is also evolving. In the second hundred Scriptnotes, we tried some very different types of episodes. We’ve done those deep-dives episodes like 183, where we looked at Gravity, 129 where we sat down with the makers of Final Draft, and episode 190, where we took a look at KC Scott’s This is Working.

They’re very different kinds of shows than just me and Craig talking about stuff. But I think the show is really at its heart about me and Craig talking about stuff. So over the next hundred or howevermany more of these we do, it will mostly be those kinds of shows. But I still want to continue experimenting, trying some new things. And I hope you’ll join us for whatever it is that comes next.

As always, our show is produced by Stuart Friedel — the real Stuart Friedel. It’s edited by Matthew Chilleli, who also wrote our outro. You can find links to some of the things we talked about in our show notes at johnaugust.com, along with transcripts to every single episode of the show, including the 100th episode that we just listened to.

If you’re listening to us on the blog, do us a favor and please click over to iTunes and subscribe, and while you’re there, leave us a comment so other people can know we’re worth listening to.

Last week on the show, I mentioned that I have a Kickstarter up for a brand new game called One Hit Kill.

We’re all funded now! So thank you everybody who baked us on Kickstarter. If you would like a copy of the game before anyone else, you have about two weeks to get in on the Kickstarter and get your copy of the game now.

So head over to Kickstarter and search for One Hit Kill. You’ll get to see the video that Ryan Nelson put together, along with the music that Matthew Chilelli wrote, which is great. So take a look at that, and a listen.

If you have a question for me, find me on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust, Craig is @clmazin. Longer questions go to ask@johnaugust.com, and we will check the mailbag every once in a while for your questions there.

So for Craig Mazin, I’m John August. Thank you for listening to Scriptnotes, and we will see you next week.

Bye.

Links:

Back to 100

Tue, 05/19/2015 - 08:03

This week, we time-travel back to our first centennial, a live show in Hollywood with special guests Aline Brosh McKenna and Rawson Thurber. We discuss the rise of the “writer-plus,” the importance of early mentors, and the emails that outline the very origin of Scriptnotes.

Through the past 100 episodes, a lot has changed, so John provides updates on some topics, including how the Golden Ticket winner presaged the later full script challenge. So even if you listened to this episode 97 weeks ago, you’ll find something new.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 197: How do bad movies get made? — Transcript

Sun, 05/17/2015 - 14:40

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

Craig just opened up a Diet Coke. I could hear it. It sounded delicious.

Craig: It’s so good. I just read an interesting article somebody was writing about diet soda. Because, you know, ah, so good. Because, you know, it’s very –

John: Controversial?

Craig: Fashionable. I mean, is it controversial? I think people are trying to make it controversial but certainly fashionable is how I’d put it. Say, “Oh, god, aspartame in diet soda.” Yeah, actually, you know, one of the most studied substances in the human body is at this point aspartame and artificial sweeteners.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. The science is fairly clear like as clear as clear gets. And I know people are going tweet me and say, “Wah, wah, wah.” That’s what it’s going to sound like, “Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah.”

John: Yeah. That is, and we actually have a filter that we built through the email that whenever one of those comes in it just goes “Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah.”

Craig: Yeah, it’s like the Peanuts teacher.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah.

John: It’s just a trombone with a little mute in there.

Craig: Yeah.

John: You know, going back and forth.

Craig: Yeah, when people talk about, you know, how GMOs are bad for you. All I hear is wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Yeah, because it feels good, man.

John: But I will tell you that that Diet Coke while not necessarily bad for you –

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: Would be incredibly bad for me if I were to drink this right now. Because we’re recording this at 4:30 PM on a Friday. If I were to have a Diet Coke after 3 PM, I would have a panic attack.

Craig: Oh.

John: It would feel like a heart attack. And then I would convince myself that I was having a heart attack and I would be driven to the emergency room.

Craig: Mm-hmm. Of course, you might be having a heart attack.

John: That’s the thing.

Craig: [laughs]

John: I’m in my 40s now. It’s actually reasonable that I could be having a heart attack. But when I was in my 20s, when I was like 22 and this happened the very first time –

Craig: Yeah.

John: I’m like, “Oh, my god, I’m having a heart attack,” and so I went to the emergency room. And they’re like, “You’re not having a heart attack. But when this happens again, you still have to come back,” so.

Craig: Yeah. That’s the problem with panic attacks. They are very similar. You must be very sensitive to caffeine.

John: I am. So I can’t — after about 2:30 PM I should not have caffeine at all.

Craig: I love caffeine.

John: Oh, it’s good, good substance.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Today on the podcast, we are going to answer a single question. We’ll attempt to answer a single question, “How do bad movies get made?”

Craig: I would have no idea!

John: So that’s our sole topic for the day but we have some follow up to get into first. First off, last week we asked, “Hey, should we make more of those USB drives that have all the episodes of Scriptnotes on them like when we cross 200? Is that a thing we should do?” And the answer was a resounding yes. So at some point after the 200th episode, we will have USB drives for sale that will have the entirety of Scriptnotes on them so you can hold them for after, you know, Armageddon comes.

Craig: Yeah.

John: You could still hold on to Scriptnotes.

Craig: I don’t need one. But I can see why people would want one.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I’m gratified that they do.

John: Yeah, it’s nice.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Second bit of follow up. We asked in the last episode about a 200th episode kind of Google Hangout thing where we would attempt to do a live video feed for the show and there was an enthusiastic response for that and some suggestions. So we are thankful for everybody who suggested ways to do it or places to do it. We are sorting through that now but people can just generally anticipate for three weeks from now for episode 200, we will attempt to do some sort of live video thing. And so, we would attempt to do it at a time where at least people on the East Coast and West Coast of the United States are awake and could enjoy us talking about things, perhaps in a Google Hangout kind of situation.

Craig: That are interesting to screenwriters.

John: Yes. And we don’t know which guest we might have on that kind of show. A person who we need to have on the show very soon is Aline Brosh McKenna because her show just got picked up.

Craig: What? Wait, what show? What?

John: Yeah. You haven’t been following the news?

Craig: I don’t follow news.

John: So Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the show that she did with Rachel Bloom.

Craig: Yeah.

John: They did that for Showtime and it didn’t get picked up at Showtime. And so we’re like, well, that’s just terrible. And then suddenly, yesterday, we’re recording this on Friday, so Thursday, it was announced that the CW is picking it up.

Craig: Well, how about that. So it’s –

John: Yeah.

Craig: A second life. Well, that’s fantastic. We should definitely have — it’s been too long. We should have her on. There’s all sorts of people I want to have on the show. You know, I want to have Rian Johnson on the show. I want to have Chris Miller from Lord Miller. Not that — I love Phil Lord too but Chris said yeah, so.

John: Well, yeah, Chris Miller is just better than Phil Lord in almost every way.

Craig: Oh, don’t. Poor, Phil — Phil Lord is wonder.

John: Phil Lord is absolutely fine for being Phil Lord. But Chris Miller is Chris Miller.

Craig: Chris Miller is Chris Miller.

John: It’s like Derek Haas and Michael Brandt.

Craig: Oh.

John: Like, you know, they’re both lovely.

Craig: [laughs]

John: But –

Craig: Well, you see, you know, Derek is one of my best friends in the world. And so it’s not fair. I just don’t know Michael that well.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So, you know, it’s like, “What’s that name for the Baxter?”

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know they used to call the Baxter, the guy in the romantic comedy that has the girl but isn’t supposed to be with the girl. And her heroes –

John: Adult [woman role].

Craig: Yeah, and her hero is supposed to get the girl away from the Baxter, somehow Michael Brandt has become the Baxter. But actually Michael Brandt is very cool. Knows more about wine than anyone I’ve ever met.

John: Yes.

Craig: He’s a wine genius. I want Megan Amram to come on our show.

John: Oh, god, she’s so funny.

Craig: So funny. And you know what? I might as well just say, somebody that has agreed to be on our show and will be on our show is Katie Dippold who wrote The Heat and is writing the upcoming Ghostbusters re-jiggering.

John: Mm-hmm. Starring our best bud, Melissa McCarthy.

Craig: Starring our girl Melissa. And that’s pretty good.

John: Yeah, that’s pretty good.

Craig: Actually, right there, that’s a hell of a list.

John: While we’re talking fantasy list, I should just get it off the chest. I really would love to have Shonda Rhimes on the show. Shonda, I know from way back in film school. But Shonda is busy running a television empire. So at some point I would love to have her come on the show. So if somebody who is close to Shonda, might would just like nudge her and say, “By the way, John August who lives down the street would love to have you on the show.” I would love to have Shonda Rhimes on the show.

Craig: I don’t know anything about the Shonda-verse. I mean, I know her shows, but you know, I don’t — because I don’t watch TV, so I don’t know the Shonda verse. But certainly she is a titan of the industry and speaking of other showrunners that I do know that actually I could call up, Jenji Kohan.

John: Oh, my god, of course.

Craig: Who’s hysterical.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Should get her on the show.

John: Yeah. These are all great suggestions, Craig.

Craig: Oh, you know, who else we should get on the show?

John: Yes.

Craig: Glen Mazzara.

John: Yeah, and who was supposed to be on the show like about six months ago.

Craig: I know and is the best. There are so many people we have to get on the show.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I can’t believe we wasted an entire show on Ryan Knighton. [laughs]

John: [laughs] Ryan Knighton was fantastic.

Craig: He was.

John: Ryan Knighton who listens to the show the day it comes out.

Craig: I know. [laughs]

John: So right now he’s like, “Oh, yeah, screw you guys.”

Craig: Well, that’s — I did that for Ryan Knighton of course. Of course, we actually got a tweet back. I don’t know if you saw it from Chris O’Dowd. [laughs] Did you see that?

John: [laughs] Yes, Chris O’Dowd. But did Chris O’Dowd say that he looked nothing like him or agreed that he did look something like him?

Craig: He sort of just jumped into the fray in general to point out that somebody had said that Ryan Knighton and Chris O’Dowd were similar sort of from the nose down and I said, “Yes, they both have a jaw.” And Chris O’Dowd jumped into the fray to say that sometimes he even has two chins.

John: Well, that’s good. That’s an honest, true assessment of sometimes people’s physical realities.

Craig: [laughs] That was the most John August thing you’ve ever said.

John: [laughs]

Craig: [laughs] That was — if you guys want to know what it’s like if you take John August and boil him down to a delicious reduction –

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: It was that sentence.

John: All right, I’ll take it.

Craig: It was gorgeous.

John: The other thing I’m really known for is segues. Like talking about –

Craig: Oh, man.

John: Our 200 episodes and really our favorite episodes out of those 200. We asked last week what people’s favorite episodes were and we got just a shot-gun full of very different answers about what things were the best.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But they broke it down in sort of general categories. And so, some people love the craft episodes. Some people love our interviews. Some people love when we go deep on one movie. And there were, you know, a few other sort of recent hits which I think you would anticipate it if there’s a recency bias that people who listen to the show religiously, they’re going to think more about the ones they heard more recently than the ones from way back in the day.

Craig: Right.

John: But we will put together a list of some of our favorites and as we hit the 200, we will go through and highlight those as well.

Craig: I should mention that I did get a text from America’s favorite unpronounceable comedian Mike Birbiglia who said his vote for favorite episode for listener’s guide — is that — I don’t know. Is that what we’re calling it? Listener’s guide?

John: Yeah, listener’s guide.

Craig: Listener’s guide. The Conflict episode and the Directing episode.

John: Great.

Craig: He said Conflict episode is a three-peat for me. You should make a YouTube how-to video of it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Which I’m going to –

John: We’ll never do.

Craig: I’m just saying no to right now. [laughs]

John: [laughs]

Craig: Yeah, I’m going to say no, Mike Birbiglia.

John: That’s so much work.

Craig: No.

John: So, way back in the day I used to do these YouTube videos where it was like a screencast and I would start with a scene and sort of rewrite the scene and sort of talk through sort of why I was rewriting the scene like word by word, sentence by sentence. And people loved them. And I said like, “Oh, yeah, I’ll do more of them.” But the truth is they’re so incredibly exhausting to do that I just don’t know if I’ll ever get back to doing more of those.

Craig: I truly love the wonderful isolation tank of podcast DO.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, it’s just nice. I don’t have to worry about anything.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I don’t even have to wear clothing if I don’t want to.

John: Yeah, he’s been naked most of this time.

Craig: Well, I’m naked all of the time under my clothes.

John: Yeah, sometimes he’s smoking. We never quite know what Craig is doing in his office in Pasadena while we’re recording the show.

Craig: Occasionally I’m cleaning fish.

John: Yeah, that does happen. Occasionally a cleaning woman walks by and takes the fish cuts away.

Craig: Correct.

John: Correct. The only last bit of business before we get to the topic at hand, One Hit Kill, which is the game we are launching. By the time you listen to this podcast it very well might have launched. So we’re launching, we anticipate, on Tuesday, the 12th and if you are interested in card games or things that smash into other things you will probably enjoy this card game. So just go to onehitkillgame.com or search Kickstarter for us because hopefully by the time you’re listening to this, we are up there in the world for you to back and pledge. And Craig now is fully converted to the world –

Craig: No, no, no.

John: Of crowd funding.

Craig: No, no, no. I would love to be included in the “we” on that but I am not part of the “we”.

John: Oh, he’s not part of this thing at all.

Craig: Yeah, I can’t –

John: Oh, lord, no.

Craig: I claim zero credit.

John: Yes, so when I say “we” I mean the people who work for me and my side of the company.

Craig: On the other hand, I also claim zero blame.

John: Yeah, true.

Craig: Yeah.

John: That’s the lovely thing about being sort of not involved.

Craig: Not my fault. Not my fault.

John: Not your fault.

Craig: Boy, there is a segue softball for you. Not my fault.

John: Absolutely. Let’s talk about movies that don’t work out. So Nima Yousefi who works for me phrased this question at lunch, “Hey, why don’t you talk about why they make bad movies?” And I was like, well, you know what, we never really framed the conversation around that but that’s a totally valid question.

Craig: Yeah, from the mouth of babes.

John: Yes. So let’s talk about this issue. And I guess we have to start by defining our terms. What do we even mean by bad? And, you know, we could talk about movies that are just genuinely terrible. They get bad critical review. They get bad audience reviews or like the very low consensus in general of the quality of the movie. But often we talk about the movies being flops because they just didn’t connect at the box office.

So, when I say bad movie, Craig, which of those kind of categories are you thinking about?

Craig: I never think about the box office honestly because I’ve seen some wonderful movies that people just didn’t go to see at the box office. I’ve seen some massive box office hits that I just didn’t like.

John: Yeah.

Craig: When I — honestly, when I think about a bad movie and I have a very limited definition. I’ll stipulate that upfront. I think about a movie that I don’t like at all.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I just don’t like it. It was bad for me. That’s sort of a thing on the end. And there are movies that are seemingly bad for everyone.

John: Yeah. I think that’s really, I think, what we should probably try to focus on is like the movies that just like, “Well, that just didn’t work.”

Craig: Right.

John: Because there’s certainly movies that are tremendously successful that I just can’t ever watch and I just don’t like and I don’t get.

Craig: Right.

John: But clearly somebody really loved that movie. So you can’t sort of definitely say like, “Oh, that didn’t work.” But there’s many movies that just don’t work and you sometimes scratch your head, saying, like, “How did that movie happen?”

Today, let’s talk through how those movies happen.

Craig: How do things go wrong? And it’s true that sometimes through the lens of time we will see that things that weren’t working actually were working. They just weren’t working in the right time.

John: Yeah.

Craig: They were ahead of their time. And it seems like a crazy thing to say. It sounds pompous. And sometimes the movies that are ahead of their time are low-brow culture.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But they foreshadowed something and they may have been rough around the edges. They may have been startling or shocking. Did you see by the way, there’s this wonderful video out there on the Internet about the genius of the first follower? Have you seen this video?

John: No. Tell me this.

Craig: So, it’s a guy narrating a simple video of a crowd at some sort of outdoor music festival. And the video is just of this small area of the crowd, mostly people sitting on a lawn. And one guy is dancing like a lunatic, all by himself. He’s all alone and he’s the kind of person that people would look at go, “Wow, what a freak.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: This is the leader. He is the brave leader who does something on his own for the first time. He doesn’t care if other people are doing it with him. And after about a minute of this, one dude just comes running in out of nowhere and starts dancing along with that guy and learning his dance and dancing with him. And other people see this and the second guy sort of gesturing back at his friends like, “Come on.” And now three or four people come to dance with the guy.

Now there’s about five people dancing. Then about, now people see a group of people dancing. And so a bunch of people were like, “Oh, yeah, cool. People dancing, I like to be a part of a group of people dancing.” And within 30 seconds, it goes from two people to five people to ten people to what seems like everyone, like hundreds of people all doing this.

And the point that the guy made was the leader is an interesting person but it’s the first follower who is the bravest and the first follower who is the most important. Sometimes with movies, the leader comes out and gets crushed.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s the first follower that kind of reaps the reward. So in time we may look back at that first, that first crazy guy dancing on the lawn and go, “Actually, you’re good.”

John: You know, thinking back through my own movies, a movie that I’m not especially happy with is the second Charlie’s Angels. And I was at some screening some place about a completely different movie and this guy in the audience came up and said, “Hey, I just want to let you know, I really love Full Throttle.” I’m like, “Wow, really, you really love it?” He’s like, “Yeah. It was like so much of an improvement over the first movie.” I’m like, “You’re the only person on earth who thinks that.”

And he said — he basically was a first follower. He’s like, the way it kind of made no sense and it just kind of came jumping from thing to thing, I thought it was like really avant-garde and sort of just — he had his whole theory at that that was deliberate in a certain way.

Craig: [laughs]

John: And –

Craig: Yeah.

John: And so, in some ways, I do kind of — I get that and there might be things you just love about something that is not necessarily the inherent qualities that the even creators were attempting to do but you might love something for a certain reason and sometimes the movies that are not great end up having a great influence.

If you look at some of the Grindhouse classics you wouldn’t say that those are great movies but they’ve had –

Craig: Right.

John: A tremendous influence on Tarantino but also a lot of other filmmakers.

Craig: That’s a great example of the first follower. Tarantino will get knocked around a little bit by some people that say, “Well, you know, all the great moments that you love in Pulp Fiction have been cribbed from other movies.” Yeah, but he’s the first follower. He knew to crib those. Where other people were just laughing at them because, frankly, a lot of those moments are from movies that are bad.

John: Yeah.

Craig: They’re just not well done.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But he was the first follower.

John: It was their lack of artistry that made them sort of incredibly exciting and sort of incredibly –

Craig: Or maybe they had one wonderful moment and then a lot of junk.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know.

John: Sometimes a movie cannot work because it was ahead of its time. And sometimes a movie just happens to be behind its time. And like, you know, while you were shooting the movie like, well, this is really current and then by the time it comes out, well, this is clumsily outdated.

Craig: Right.

John: So things involving technology often don’t age well and sometimes that aging process happens before they’re even out in the movie theatres. Sometimes that’s, you know, about computer technology, about hackers, about sort of anything related to the Internet. The Sandra Bullock movie The Net, The Web, the whatever –

Craig: Right.

John: I remember that coming out and it’s like, “Oh, wow, this movie is at least six months too late. This is not at all sort of what this world is.” The other challenge can be like you’re — there was a fad and that fad has now passed and now you seem just incredibly laughably out of date because no one is doing the Lambada anymore or skateboarding is not about gleaning the cube anymore. There’s just reasons why that moment has passed and now you’re still trying to hit those notes.

Craig: Like, if you were, say, dumb enough to make some sort of compendium spoof movie, at the end, long past perhaps the end of that trend.

John: Well, that’s just ridiculously bad actually.

Craig: No one would do that.

John: No one would ever do that.

Craig: That would be stupid.

John: But let’s talk about those, you know, some movies are just inherently bad ideas. And some, you know, you wouldn’t necessarily know that at that time but there are some movies, you’ll just look at them, it’s like, well, that was just never going to work. I don’t understand why you really thought a movie about talking baloney was going to be the thing that people wanted to see or like, you know, a romantic comedy about talking baloney was something that people wanted to see. And yet somehow it made it through all of these levels. Maybe we can dig in to sort of why sometimes something that looks on its surface like a bad idea makes it through.

Craig: Well, it’s hard to know that it’s a bad idea occasionally.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Sometimes you’re hit with an idea as a member of the audience, right. You see a trailer. You see something. And you look and you go, “That’s just an inherently bad idea because I don’t even know what it is.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: For instance, why would I watch a movie about talking baloney? But every now and then something comes along like that and everybody just goes, “Yup, love that.”

John: Yep.

Craig: “That thing. I love the talking baloney movie.” Sharknado was like –

John: Yes.

Craig: You know, now granted Sharknado was a goof, you know. But sometimes there are ideas that are such outliers you can’t tell if they’re an outlier bad or an outlier good.

John: Yeah.

Craig: They are just off. And you will have to find out if it’s off good or off bad.

John: Yeah. You won’t know. And sometimes those ideas get forced into the universe because of, you know, reasons that aren’t completely clear from the trailer or from the movie you’re actually watching. So sometimes there’s an incredibly powerful person behind it or a group of people behind it who say like, “You know what? We somehow for some reason trust that this thing could breakthrough, this thing could work.” And that could be a really powerful director. It could be a powerful producer. It could be a studio head who says, like, “No, no, I really think that the world needs, you know, a talking baloney movie because it’s going to be like the talking dog movies, but people love food and therefore we’re just going to do it.”

Craig: Yeah.

John: And sometimes a charismatic person or a powerful person can push that movie into existence, hire the people to do it and that movie now exists even though it’s not a good idea maybe on a fundamental level.

Craig: I’ll give you an example from my career.

John: Right.

Craig: I seem to have a lot of them. Very early on I had a writing partner and we did our first movie. And as that movie was in post or something like that, our managers came to us and said, “Look, Dimension Films wants to make a movie with Marlon Wayans and we need ideas for Marlon Wayans. So come and sit down and just pitch us ideas for Marlon Wayans.” We said okay. And we were very young and, you know, had basically written one thing and got paid for it. We were trying to make career as a screenwriter. So important person saying important person wants a movie with important person, let’s go sit and come up with some ideas. So we sat there for an afternoon. We came up with a bunch of log lines for the kinds of comedies they were making then, character-driven Jim Carrey-ish comedies.

And we came in and we just pitched them all one after another. And they picked the weirdest one. [laughs] They just said, “That one.” And they all agreed. “That one. And we’re making it.”

John: And, Craig, was the “that one” because they could picture the poster? What was it that singled that one out?

Craig: I don’t know. So the idea was a man only has four of his five senses at any given time but the missing one keeps switching. So, at some point he’s blind. At some point he’s deaf. At some point he can’t speak. At some point he can’t feel. It was a very strange idea but they all just got excited. They thought, this is exactly what the world needs and we said, “Oh, okay.” And they’re like, “Here’s a bunch of money. Go start writing it and you need to write it now because he has a thing on a schedule and we’re going to shoot it,” and we did it. And they were like, “Great.” And then they made it

John: [laughs]

Craig: But I remember very clearly –

John: And then it won an Oscar, right?

Craig: It didn’t. It didn’t. I do remember I was walking with my writing partner Greg and we were talking about, we had, you know, gotten paid to do this and we were figuring out how to write the script and we were just discussing it on a walk. And then he turned to me and he goes, “You think they’ll ever make this?” And I said, “Never in a million years will they make this. This is just a dumb idea.”

John: [laughs]

Craig: Well, they did make it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And the whole time we were like, “Wait. At some point, someone’s going to stop this, right?” [laughs]

John: [laughs]

Craig: And the crazy thing is we got to the first test screening and I thought, “This is where it’ll stop.” And the test, it was through the roof. It scored great. The audience loved it. And I was still like, “But it’s not — “

John: But –

Craig: No one’s stopping this? [laughs]

John: [laughs]

Craig: And then eventually the audience stopped it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I don’t think we’ve ever talked about this on the show. But at some point in your career, you must have been pitched or been advised to pitch on Clipped over — a Brian Grazer project.

Craig: Yes.

John: A Brian Grazer project at Imagine.

Craig: Of course.

John: So this project, I’d kind of love for it to made at this point because I think almost every screenwriter I’ve ever met has had this brought up to him or her, which is a project that Brian Grazer initiated and I think some scripts have been written for it. And it involves a man who gets a paperclip stuck in his brain or like up his nose and like it touches his brain. And I think that’s the entire premise.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And I think it’s gone in a gazillion different directions but that’s the premise. And so, you’ll go into one of these general meetings and they’ll say like, “Oh, and we also have Clipped and like we’re really excited to make this movie.” And you’re like, “Well, but, tell me about it.” It’s like, a man gets a paperclip stuck up his brain. And it’s like, “Okay.”

Craig: Right. Rob Schneider is a Carrot.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. And that, there is this thing that happens where powerful people get an idea that they can’t let go of.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And everybody, at some point or another, has an idiosyncratic attraction to an idea that few others do. I do. We all do. But the difference is, if you run a big studio that’s making a lot of money for another big studio, you get to constantly impose your idiosyncratic obsession at everyone.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So when they have these meetings and they say, “Well, we have something we’re really excited about,” they’re not excited about it. They hate it. [laughs]

John: Yeah.

Craig: They just know that their boss is. And there have been movies — someone should make a list of these. Movies that seemingly everyone in the Writers Guild has been hired to work on at some point or another, like Stretch Armstrong is –

John: Yeah. Yesterday we were talking about Bob the Musical which really I think everyone has worked on.

Craig: Yeah. There’s a good list of movies that have done nothing but generate dues for the Writers Guild [laughs] and will never actually get made.

John: Well, I think Taylor Lautner at some point got like a big payday for doing Stretch Armstrong, which of course never happened.

Craig: Stretch Armstrong, at this point, the story that somebody should make is the story of trying to make Stretch Armstrong. The movie will refuse to be made at all times. And no matter how close you get, it will not be made. It’s a remarkable story.

John: Circling back to Lord and Miller, I think one of the things we need to blame them for whenever we get them on the show is –

Craig: Boo.

John: The tremendous success of The Lego Movie means that anybody who has like any piece of this like random IP can genuinely say like, “Well, look at The Lego Movie. They had nothing and then they made something amazing.” So, you know, Stretch Armstrong is at least a character.

Craig: Right. So then you want to say, “Actually, no, The Lego Movie had Batman.” [laughs]

John: That’s absolutely true.

Craig: Yeah. No, The Lego Movie had Batman and it had Abraham Lincoln. It had all sorts of cool stuff. But I imagine that Chris and Phil have no idea. When you are involved in the thing that people are copying, you generally aren’t the person that knows about it that much, you know. I mean, I got sent a bunch of Hangover-y type stuff, but when The Hangover was kind of doing its thing, everybody was basically like, “It’s Hangover but blank. It’s Hangover with this. It’s Hangover with that.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I don’t think Chris and Phil know [laughs] how much it’s Lego Movie is going on out there.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Which, by the way, is another reason why bad movies happen, because studios tend to play follow the leader.

John: So I want to talk about this IP thing because that becomes an issue as well, is that let’s say you have a big piece of property. Let’s say you’re Hasbro and you have a big piece of property and you say like, “You know what, I think there’s a movie here. Look at The Lego Movie. I will give you, studio, the opportunity to make this movie but the clock is ticking.”

Craig: Right.

John: And you and I have both encountered many situations where they say like, “Listen, we have to make this movie by this time or else we’ll lose the rights to X, Y, or Z.”

Craig: Yes.

John: And Battleship was apparently that situation by many accounts. They had this title that they really liked. They wanted to make a movie called Battleship and it got rushed. It got rushed to make that movie. Similar thing happened with Spider-Man. So Sony had the rights to make Spider-Man movies.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But they had to keep making Spider-Man movies. If they stopped making them for a period of time, the rights would revert back to Marvel. So that’s a trap often with IP is there’s a clock attached to it.

Craig: Yeah. There is this thing in economics called the Concorde Fallacy. When they were building the Concorde, they said, “Well, it makes sense because we’ve done the numbers and it’s going to cost $700 million to build this plane but we believe at that cost, we will be able to at least break even.” And everybody said okay. And they spent about $300 million and went, “All right, actually, it’s going to cost $1.4 billion and we’re never going to be able to make money on it.” And someone said, “Yeah, but what are we supposed to do? Just stop and just have nothing to show for our $300 million? Of course not. Let’s keep going and build it.”

John: And let’s keep going and build it sometimes had paid off incredibly well in the movie business. And classically, Titanic, hugely over budget.

Craig: Right.

John: And could have just been a complete whiff and a miss, and instead became, for the time, the biggest movie in history.

Craig: That’s right.

John: And Cameron beat himself again after that with Avatar. So sometimes, those crazy bets really do pay off. Again, another crazy bet was The Lord of the Rings Trilogy, like basically betting the entire studio on these three films working, and it worked. So sometimes those are good choices. In the case of Battleship, it didn’t work out well for most of these people.

Craig: And that, by the way, is another answer to Nima’s question. Why do bad movies happen? Because everybody’s hoping that it’ll work.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And everybody looks at history and goes, well, you know, Fox sold off international on Titanic to Paramount because they were afraid that they had a flop on their hands with Titanic. Well, they shouldn’t have done it. Fox also let George Lucas keep merchandising and sequel rights in order to have him put money in on the budget or however it worked on Star Wars because they were frightened of that project as well. Well, are we going to be brave like Star Wars and Titanic or are we going to be scared, you know?

Well, the problem is, if you act like your movie is a big hit, it will come back to bite you if it’s not, so you actually can’t say ahead of time, one way or the other, which of the narratives is the appropriate one.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You might as well cite no narratives. You might as well just admit you can’t predict it, don’t tell me about the outliers on either side, let’s just deal with what we have. But a lot of times people are kind of clinging to outlier hopes.

John: Well, it’s like they’re playing poker and they’re really hoping they can fill an inside straight. And rarely are they going to be able to fill that inside straight, but the cost of folding is so high. Essentially, you’re in for so much and if you try to cancel a movie — like you can, theoretically, like, you know what, we’re $20 million in this movie, we still have another eight weeks of shooting, it’s going to cost us so much money, we’re just going to pull the plug.

That’s happened. I can think maybe five times in my Hollywood experience have I seen a move just actually get the plug pulled on it because kind of worse than a flop is just like burning a bunch of money and having nothing to show for it.

Craig: Yeah. This is why gambling is addictive for so many people. It’s entirely about the rush of beating the odds. And frankly, the movie business is, in part, about the rush of beating the odds. The odds are stacked against you to be hired. The odds are stacked against your movie to be green-lit. The odds are stacked against your movie to do well.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So when you beat it, you’re now chasing that rush all the time. The other thing that studios have to deal with, and this is another reason why bad movies do get made, is they have a pipeline. And the pipeline is this big infrastructure of salaries and offices and materials that exist to put movies out into the world. If you don’t have movies to put out in the world, you’re paying all those people lots and lots of money for nothing.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So they must fill their pipeline. They must make a certain number of movies. And if they don’t, they have failed as executives. They failed. You can’t go to your board and say, “I actually only found three movies I liked, so we only made three.” No. You were tasked to make 15 movies. If you couldn’t find the other 13, it’s your fault. Much better to say, “I made 15 movies. These should have worked.” Better to swing more than to take pitches.

John: Absolutely. So, a couple of weeks ago, I went and saw a very early cut of a film that a friend of ours is directing. And it was a great early cut. It’s going to be a really good movie. But I didn’t know anything about the history of the film. So I was like, oh, who’s — because it was over at like one of the nearby studio lots and I said like, “Oh, who’s releasing this?” He’s like, “Oh, it’s actually this company that they’ve put out their own slate and they’re going to release it themselves.” I’m like, “That is fascinating. And that will probably end in tears.”

I hope it doesn’t end in tears but it’s so challenging to try to become a new studio because how are you going to hold all those talented people from movie to movie to movie to release this thing? It’s just an incredibly difficult job. And that’s why I have sympathy for studio executives because they are trying to make sure that they can keep everyone continuously employed and also still make the best movies at the same time. And those aren’t necessarily perfectly aligning goals.

Craig: Yeah. That’s right. Sometimes when you want something, you have to get into business with somebody and take a bunch of stuff you don’t want.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Which, of course, ironically, is the same model that the studios then turn around and foist upon the theaters.

John: Yeah.

Craig: If you want Avengers, you also have to take this stinker.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Well, if you want to be in business with Brad Pitt’s company or you want to be in business with Scott Rudin or you want to be in business with Neil Moritz, you’re hoping that you get, you know, their big awesome stuff, you might also get the other stuff. You never know. And you might need to take both to kind of make it all work. Sometimes movies will be made to keep people happy.

John: Yeah, absolutely. It keeps your relationship with a major actor happy. It keeps your relationship with a prolific producer happy. If you let this director direct this one film in hopes that she will also direct this other one. You basically make a twofer deal that, you know, we will do this one that we don’t genuinely believe in and you’ll get this other one.

And classically, some directors and some producers had put films where they basically say, “Over the course of my contract, I am allowed to come to you with a project and you can pass but I can still say, uh-uh, you’re making it for up to this budget.” And that has rarely ended well for the people involved.

Craig: Yeah. You know, a lot of the let’s say, we’ll call them privileges that people had are gone. The business has changed in such a way that these perks have disappeared because everybody got burned and because the corporate control has become that much more scrutinizing. The problem with things like put movies where you can say, “No, no. You have to make this movie,” is they have to make it. And I’ve found in my life in all aspects, forcing people to do something doesn’t work out in any situation, even if it’s good for them.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Unless they’re children, it doesn’t work. You want people to actually want to do something with you.

John: Absolutely. So we were talking before about some bad ideas that become movies. But sometimes you start with a really good idea. And sometimes even at the marketing or kind of deep within that movie you can see like, “There’s a good idea there but it didn’t work.” And so let’s talk about some of those things that happened to those good ideas that ended up resulting in bad movies.

So, start with the director. Sometimes just the wrong director was hired or a theoretically good director who just made weird choices that did not end up serving the film. And you and I both have been involved in projects where like, wow, with a different director, that could have worked out so much better than it did work out right here.

Craig: Yeah. This is the eternal lament of the screenwriter, if only for the director. And it’s a little unfair in the sense that when the director works out, we go, “See, they did what we told them to do in the script.”

John: Obvious.

Craig: And great. And when it doesn’t, “Ah, the director.” The truth is that all movies are impacted dramatically by so many of the director’s decisions. And when a movie works, you have to give the director an enormous amount of credit. And then when a movie fails, you have to give the director an enormous amount of blame. It’s a high-risk/high reward gig.

The mismatch of director and material, more often than not, is the thing that sinks a movie. They have a vision and the vision is competing with the material. They are trying to make a different movie. And what happens is everybody else is hanging on saying, “Well, the reason we hired you in the first place, the reason we’re spending all this money is because this feeling we had about a different vision. So we’ll just keep tugging you this way and the director will keep tugging that way.” And then you end up with this mush.

John: Yeah. You’re somewhere in the middle and that’s never where you want to end up.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So, almost as commonly as the director being the wrong person, it’s a star being the wrong person. And it’s not hard to think of examples of, “That was a great idea for a movie. That was not the person to star in this film.” And, you know, either that person was miscast in the sense of like you were making a comedy and that person is just inherently not funny. Or you don’t fundamentally believe the chemistry between these people that you’ve put up on screen together.

And that is terrible when it happens because you’ve wasted all of this time and money and energy on something that people just fundamentally don’t buy into.

Craig: Yeah. There’s two kinds of miscasting. There’s the kind where the director, again, simply doesn’t see a problem. They have a vision that is completely incompatible with the material and with the people now that they’ve placed in the position of performing the parts.

The other kind of miscasting is the studio forcing something. I’m not sure which one is more common. I can say this. I remember seeing a poster for The Truman Show before I knew anything about it and I thought, “So that’s miscast.” [laughs] Why is Peter Weir making that movie with that guy? It’s just miscast.

Awesome movie. My favorite Jim Carrey performance by far. Loved it. And it totally worked. Peter Weir is a master of casting, I would argue. His casting instincts are extraordinary. And he’s also cast people that I haven’t liked in other things and I’ve loved them in his movies. But then there are times where you go, “Why is that person in that movie?” That just feels like, “Well, it’s a movie star, so that’ll work, right?”

John: No.

Craig: No, it won’t.

John: No, it will not. It’s a real thing. And a good thought exercise is to imagine some of your favorite films and then imagine who their second choice was in that role, and it’s just not fundamentally the same movie. Indiana Jones, classically, it’s very hard to imagine that character not being Harrison Ford, of the films that we’ve seen him in.

And it doesn’t mean that he made the movie, you know, that movie was written and directed with, you know, incredible, intense care but there’s something right about him in that spot. And they were very smart in their casting to see him and say, “Oh, that is the guy who should do that.”

Craig: But he was not the first choice.

John: He was not the first choice. Wasn’t it Tom Selleck?

Craig: Tom Selleck.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. Tom Selleck couldn’t do it ultimately because they wouldn’t let him out, schedule-wise, for enough time from Magnum, P.I.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And, you know, that’s just –

John: And Tom Selleck would’ve been fine. He’s a talented actor, certainly. But I don’t think, you know, Raiders of the Lost Ark is the iconic movie with him in it.

Craig: You know, here’s the thing. Who knows?

John: Who knows?

Craig: Who knows?

John: We could be wrong.

Craig: You just don’t know. Like people start with an idea of who the star is and then the craziest things happen. You know, Jeff Conaway was supposed to be the start of Taxi.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, he got top billing and everything. Just didn’t work out that way.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Rob Lowe was supposed to be the star of The West Wing.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Or West Wing, sorry. And it just didn’t work out that way.

John: Yeah, but that’s the luxury of television. In television, you can go episode by episode and sort of see what’s working and you can change along the way. A feature is like a TV show that you shoot exactly one episode of.

Craig: That’s right.

John: And you won’t know. And the cameras will be put away and you’ll be out there in the world and you won’t know. So you won’t know if you’ve made Pretty Woman with Julia Roberts and you’ve created a huge star or you’ve made like a really creepy movie about a guy who hires a hooker but it’s trying to be funny.

Craig: Yeah. It’s sort of like the entertainment version of the nature and nurture situation. Television allows you to nurture something.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And you can impact it and affect it environmentally and change it as you need to. Movies are entirely about nature. I am putting some DNA together, clapping my hands, walking away. Hope to God I did it right [laughs] because that’s it. It is what it is.

John: But sometimes you can change things. And part of the way you change things is by, you know, editing the movie together, showing it to an audience and then making changes based on what the audience tells you. And I think you and I have both encountered suggestions from the audience that the studio will be very excited about that you know are like just the worst ideas imaginable.

And sometimes the studio will say yes because they want the audience to be happy and they’ll make choices that hurt the movie but might bump up the needle a tiny bit.

Craig: So, the idea of chasing a score was I think more prominent. In a strange way, I see it less and less now. You think you’d see it more and more. As studios become more corporate, they would adhere more to some kind of empirical evidence-based system of quality rather than trusting instincts. But the score has failed them so many times, so many times, that they are now smart enough, I think, to know score, shmore.

How did it play in the room? Let’s just feel the room. And then when people talk to us, let’s think about why they’re saying what they’re saying. Because they also have experienced where they didn’t do what the 25 people in the focus group said. “Oh, you should totally do this and this and this.” They listened, they heard the movie, they went back, they made the changes that they felt were right.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Came back to a new audience and it killed.

John: Yup. And so I don’t want to sort of denigrate all audience testing because it is a crucial part of sort of knowing what movie you actually made and how it plays to audiences. Seth Rogen camp I know is very well known for putting the video cameras in the theatre so they can actually go back to the tape and see, “Ah-ha, you thought this was funny but there’s actually no laugh. It’s not actually a joke.”

Craig: For comedy, I’m a huge believer on that and I know Todd Phillips does it for all of his movies. All the movies I did with David Zucker, we did it, because frankly, there’s a ton of debate in an editing room about, “No, people loved that.” “No, they didn’t.” “No, they didn’t.”

So all right, let’s go to the video tape. And then you can watch it. But the other great thing about watching that night vision video of the audience is you can see them getting bored, you can see them leaning forward because they’re into it. There are things that they do silently that are informative that you cannot see from the back of their heads.

John: Absolutely true.

Craig: So it’s really important to see and feel your movie with an audience. And you’re right, there are opportunities to “save a movie,” but only if the movie is savable. There’s a difference between this a good movie gone wrong and this is a bad movie.

John: Another framework I want to look at is sometimes a movie is mismarketed. And it’s not just that the trailer is wrong or the advertising is wrong, but literally, this was meant to be a tiny art film and now you’re trying to push it out to 2,000 screens and it cannot connect with that audience in that way. And I think we’ve all encountered films that got of pushed way beyond where they should have been and they suffered for it. They suffered from that expectation of like, “Oh, this was meant to be a giant crowd pleaser.” But no, it’s actually a movie that’s going to play really well at a festival. It was never designed to be going so big and so wide. You set this weird expectation by opening a certain way.

Craig: Yeah.

John: The same thing happens with the images you’re showing in your trailers, images you’re showing in commercials. If you’re selling something as, you know, a feel good comedy but it’s actually about suicide, you’re going to hit blowback and that’s going to hurt you down the road.

Craig: Yeah. I feel like there are two oppositional errors that occur with marketing. On the one hand, you have the filmmakers who feel a way about their movie and insist that the marketing reflect it. “I made a dark treatise blah, blah, blah. You’re trivializing it with this ridiculous ad. I need you to sell the movie I made.” And they do and everybody goes, nope. So that’s one kind. But the oppositional error to that is the marketing team says, “You know, our testing shows that blah, blah, blah in this segment and so forth, we’re going to sell this movie as a romantic comedy even though it’s not.”

And even putting aside the phenomenon of “I thought I was getting this, but I went to the movie and got that,” people don’t even go because they smell something wrong from the start. It seems synthetic. It seems like they’re forcing something that isn’t right. And these two kinds of errors occur all the time and it’s a discussion that frankly filmmakers and marketing executives need to have very early or else there’s trouble.

John: You will find that directors and screenwriters and the creative people on a movie don’t enjoy having this early marketing discussion because they feel like marketing is going to try to influence the movie they make. Well, they are to the degree that marketing is going to try to influence you to make a movie that they can actually market it.

And if they don’t understand how to market your film, you’re going to suffer down the road. So it’s eating your broccoli, go in and take that meeting and really talk through what it is you’re trying to do and what it’s trying to feel like. So you can be on something like the same page.

You know, when things work really well, sometimes, you know — this actually happened on Go — they cut a trailer that was actually really good. It helped inform us about our movie. It’s like, “Oh, I get what that movie feels like.” Actually, even better example is the first Charlie’s Angels because we were floundering and we were in a cut and we just didn’t know where we were. And then the good folks at Columbia or whatever trailer house they used, cut a really great trailer for it and like got us really excited. It’s like, “Oh, let’s make the movie that goes with that trailer.” And we knew that we had that movie in there? And that helped provide us some focus.

Craig: Yeah. There are unfortunately some movies that are wonderful and they are unsellable in a traditional way.

John: Yeah.

Craig: One of my favorite movies is The Princess Bride. It’s probably one of everyone’s favorite movie. In a world without The Princess Bride, it’s hard to sell the Princess Bride. And in fact, they really struggled. The Princess Bride in 1987 opened to a $4.5 million which is not that great. And it ended up making $30 million which in 1987 just wasn’t that great.

Now, that of course, retrospectively has become a beloved classic and I fear the day that they reboot it. But really hard to sell because ultimately what made The Princess Bride great was that gestalt of the experience. It was one of those movies where you just needed to kind of see it. Another movie that I love is Time Bandits. I think Time Bandits is brilliant. And Terry Gilliam in particular has made a career of unsellable great movies.

John: Yeah, 12 Monkeys, yeah.

Craig: Unsellable, great movie. Baron Munchausen, unsellable, great movie. Time Bandits, unsellable, great movie.

John: Yeah. You know, I remember seeing Time Bandits in the theater and I think it was just one of those summer movie series when I was a kid in school. And so I had no idea what it was. But it was like, “Wait, this is a movie that exists in the world?” It was just so crazy pants.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I loved it.

Craig: It was mind blowing to me. And it was just so — I still and I will always for the span of my life, the dwindling span of my life, I will never forget the feeling I had when the dwarves started pushing on that kid’s bedroom wall and the wall started moving –

John: Yeah.

Craig: And became this crazy hallway through time. My little brain went, “What?”

John: What? It was an acid trip before acid.

Craig: I was. I mean, God, Gilliam, what a genius.

John: Yeah.

Craig: What a genius.

John: So before we go too deep into the, “Oh, it’s actually a good movie,” let’s do sort of cycle back through and say like, “You know what, sometimes movies just are bad.”

Craig: Yeah.

John: And we have to acknowledge that there are movies that are just — they’re just not good. And they flop because they’re terrible. And the take home I want everyone to have is that while you’re making them, you probably didn’t know they were terrible. I would also want everyone to know that it takes just as much work to make a bad movie as a good movie, like sometimes even more work because whatever happened that caused that bad movie to exist in the world was probably really challenging and painful for the people involved.

No one showed up on the first day and said like, “Let’s make a terrible movie.” They really thought they were making something good. They thought they were swinging for the fences. They thought they were taking a brave dare, a risk that was going to pay off, and it didn’t.

And so we need to make sure that we don’t slam the bad movie so hard that no one tries to take any risks. And I kind of have a worry that’s what’s happening overall as an industry right now, is that we are making safer and safer bets, you know, expensive bets but safer bets on the films that will do okay kind of no matter what.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I don’t know if you feel the same way.

Craig: I do. I mean the fear of the bad movie isn’t a fear so much of just losing money, it’s a fear of how traumatic the process is in your attempt to save it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: When critics say this movie is lazy, that’s the stupidest thing any critic can say. The least lazy movies are the bad ones.

John: Yeah.

Craig: There is nothing easier than taking a very healthy baby home from the hospital. Well, there is a lot of things easier, but in the world of babies, healthy baby is the easiest baby. The hard baby is the one that’s sick because that one is stressful and requires resources and time and anxiety and sometimes cannot be saved and there’s terrible grief and you’re working crazy hours through while you’re also suffering and you’re thinking to yourself, I’m now working around the clock on something that can only be bad.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I’m trying to get it from, “Oh my god, that’s the worst thing ever to merely bad.”

John: Yeah. We’ve both had conversations where, you know, under the code of silence we say like, “I’m trying to bring this from like a D to a B-.”

Craig: Right.

John: And you know, there’s not an A to be found, but you’re trying to make it up to just a salvageable level where you can at least see the intention behind it. The good moments are highlighted and you’ve gotten through the bad moments as painlessly as possible.

Craig: Yes. There is a misconception among many people that study film, because they are consumers of completed products, that movies are excreted whole from a mind. This is not at all true ever. All movies are like cars that are being built while you’re driving them.

John: Yup.

Craig: All of them. And every good movie is a compendium both of intentional smart choices and unintentional happy accidents. Every bad movie similarly is a compendium of bad choices and bad accidents. And when you’re on one of those cars and you know basically now the idea is can we build this enough so that when we crash [laughs] we don’t die, we’re just trying to maybe get hurt –

John: Yeah.

Craig: It is absolutely brutal. So from the studio side of things, there is a tendency to give a certain kind of direction to all films in which you’re aiming for the middle.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Unfortunately, in your desire to avoid negative outcomes, you begin to create negative outcomes.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because pushing things towards the middle definitely can reduce the risk of a bad outlier but it also reduces the risk of a good outlier.

John: You look at, you know, Pirates of the Caribbean. You look at, you know, the choice to let Johnny Depp go in that crazy way with his character, that was a risky thing. And while you’re watching it, in dailies, you’re like this doesn’t make any sense. This is going to end poorly for everyone. And yet, it was just fantastic.

You look at The Matrix, and while you’re getting the dailies of The Matrix, you’re like, “What? What is this?” Like people just flying around on wires? This makes no sense. And even though you read the script, I’m sure you’re watching those dailies come in and saying like I don’t know what we’re going to do here.

And until you had a trailer or some sort of cut together piece to show like, “Oh, that’s what this feels like,” you were, you know, panicked, I’m sure.

Craig: Yeah. I mean very famously Disney executives saw the initial dailies from Pirates of the Caribbean and they saw an unrecognizable movie star with gold teeth in his mouth and he was sort of swishing about. And they went bananas. And essentially what they were told by a very powerful producer was, tough. Now, that paid off. Later on –

John: Yeah.

Craig: Johnny, they got dailies where Johnny Depp was in white face wearing a dead bird in his hat and they probably looked at each other and said, “Oh, let’s not freak out.” I mean [laughs] the last time we freaked out, we were totally wrong.

John: We have the same director.

Craig: Right.

John: We have the same actor.

Craig: Right.

John: We’ve got a big title. Everything’s going to be fine.

Craig: Well, that’s life, you know.

John: That’s life.

Craig: That’s life. I mean I guess one argument could be, “Hey, Goldman’s Law as true as ever. No one knows anything, so you might as well not worry about anything and just lean back and hope,” right? I mean I think most people in the movie business think they’re playing poker when really they’re playing roulette.

They think they have some kind of strategic edge, some way of — some predictable path to victory. Yeah, it’s basically a big wheel and a ball is bouncing around, for a lot of people. There are some filmmakers who seem to defy that. But most filmmakers have had at least one Waterloo.

John: Yeah, it’s going to happen. Craig, I thought that was a terrific analogy to end it on, that the roulette is the truth behind it. The question of why do bad movies get made? Because it’s ultimately kind of random. And there’s going to be wonderful successes but there’s going to be some disasters along the way.

Craig: There will be disasters along the way. Alas.

John: Alas. It is time for One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a YouTube video series, so Craig won’t watch it because he doesn’t like YouTube.

Craig: Oh, I love YouTube.

John: Oh, okay. But in the start of the program, you said you didn’t watch YouTube things.

Craig: I did?

John: Oh, you said you wouldn’t want to make a YouTube thing I guess.

Craig: Yeah, I know. I don’t want to — yeah, no, never.

John: Yeah. And I honestly would not want to make something as sophisticated as this thing. But God bless the people who do this. So it’s called Cash Course, so John Green who wrote The Fault in Our Stars is involved with the whole thing and behind it and bless you for doing this.

But the one I want to point people to because listeners to our show would be fascinated by this, I hope, is an explanation about copyright, exceptions, and fair use by Stan Muller. And it’s really well done. It’s animated and sort of talks through, you know, in course of a daily life, you’re going to violate copyrights so many times. In most cases, no one will ever come after you but they theoretically could. And so then it talks through what fair use is, the current state of how you can get away with fair use. And it’s just a really smart explanation of copyright and fair use.

But the whole series is great. And there are things about astronomy and world history and U.S. history. So I highly recommend it and I intend to stick my daughter in front of these videos at some point.

Craig: That’s great. You know, I’m a big copyright nerd, so I love that they’re doing that. And people tend to not understand a lot of that. There are so many misconceptions about how that all works. And one of the big misconceptions is that it’s binary like that is a violation or not a violation. Yeah, but then there are violations that have damages and violations that damage no one. And so at that point, there’s really, what’s the problem?

John: Yeah.

Craig: So there’s all sorts of interesting things about that. So great. Good recommendation. My One Cool Things is maybe a cool thing that may be happening. There is a rumor and it feels pretty good to me that at the next E3 convention, that’s the big video game convention, here in Los Angeles, I believe, there will be a 20 to 30-minute demo behind closed doors of the upcoming game, Fallout 4. Did you play the Fallout series, John?

John: I did play the Fallout series. I enjoy it.

Craig: It’s great. So Fallout is from Bethesda, the folks that also do The Elder Scrolls series. And this is basically, they are kind of the same game. Elder Scrolls is a quest based solo adventuring game that takes place in an epic fantasy setting. And Fallout is a quest based solo adventuring game that takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting, basically kind of the same thing. And they’re great if you love stories and narratives. It’s really, really addictive and fun. They tend to be huge games that are well crafted.

And it’s time, it feels like it’s time. So the release schedule from these two, they sort of alternate between them. Elder Scrolls 4 came out in 2006, Fallout 3 came out in 2008. Two years later, Fallout: New Vegas which was a very big expansion pack of Fallout 3. One year later, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Now, it’s been four years.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Now, during that four years, they did release their multiplayer online.

John: Yeah, The Elder Scrolls, the one where Rawson Thurber runs around and kills people.

Craig: Correct, exactly, but not right now because he’s directing a movie. But when he’s not directing a movie, Rawson runs around killing people in the world of Tamriel. But that’s kind of what they’ve been doing. So, I think I’ll say that was their kind of two-year thing because I do believe that came out in 2013, 2014.

John: But what if they’re doing nothing? What if they’re like sitting around and just like, you know, vaping this whole time?

Craig: It’s possible. I would be super angry. I’d just be so, so angry.

John: You owed me a game!

Craig: Well, you know, no, I feel like I — I mean [laughs] I remember when I got — when Skyrim came out, and I finally got it in the mail, I sat down, I put the CD in my Xbox and I went, “Ah, let’s begin.”

John: So good.

Craig: Let’s begin. This will be — I get to go away from my planet and go somewhere I would much rather be. [laughs]

John: [laughs] A post-apocalyptic wasteland? That’s a telling reveal into Craig’s soul.

Craig: Well, in Skyrim, it was a snowy, snowy fantasy wasteland –

John: Oh, that’s true.

Craig: Strewn with dragons. But yeah, my terrible post-apocalyptic wasteland awaits me. I think it’s time. I think they’re going to be announcing it. I’m hoping that — my guess is it will be probably Christmas or a little after Christmas.

John: Actually, before Christmas if they can possibly do it. But the triple A console games, they really do like to sell those for Christmas.

Craig: They try. They definitely try. So with Skyrim, they did release it on November 11, 2011, 11-11-11. What I’m scared is about is they’ll go yeah, that’s what we’re going to do so we’re just going to basically take another year and a half and I’m going to be sad.

John: So out of our 50,000 weekly listeners, I just have a feeling that somebody works at Bethesda. So if you are that person who works at Bethesda and you’re like, you know what, I want to whisper something to Craig’s ear or invite him to a secret closed demo in E3, I think you should write in to ask@august.com and let me forward to Craig because Craig never checks the email.

Craig: [laughs] I can’t check the email. You don’t give me the password.

John: We don’t give Craig the password. It would be so dangerous. I only forward him the really nice emails. And the really nice email from Bethesda saying, “Oh you know what, you should come check out the new thing we’re building.” That would be great.

Craig: Hey, it’s like we do have a podcast, people listen to us, right? So let me come see this thing.

John: Because lord knows that game they’re making will not be successful without –

Craig: No. Not with our 50,000 listeners. [laughs] It will never happen.

John: Meanwhile, I’m making a game that won’t even play the demo for yet.

Craig: I’ll play it. [laughs]

John: You’ll play it. I’m going to send you a link to the Kickstarter page after this so you can see what we did because it looks, it turned out really well.

Craig: The thing is like I have this discussion with my son all the time. And as I’m having it, I know that I’m just as bad if not worse. Like look, it’s better to like — if you’re really into Pokemon video game, it would be better for you to actually, like, let’s transition you to just like the cards and stuff so that it’s reading and not just video game stuff. But I also am guilty.

John: [laughs] Guilty.

Craig: Guilty.

John: Craig’s does read. I see him reading through his Dungeons and Dragons manuals at every session.

Craig: Oh yes.

John: He loves to read.

Craig: I do love reading that.

John: He also loves to read your comments on our podcasts, so if you would like to leave a comment about this show or any show, the great place to do it is to leave us a review on iTunes because we actually do look at those and those are terrific and they help other people find us. While you’re on iTunes, you can download the Scriptnotes app which just got updated, so it should not get frozen like midway through an episode anymore, which happened to some people, so sorry about that.

We also look at the comments on Facebook. And so people left some good suggestions on Facebook for things for our 200th and for USB drives, so thank you for that. The short little bits of nuggets for Craig, you can send to @clmazin on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust.

Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel as always.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’s edited by Matthew Chilelli who’s also busy doing the score for our video for this, so thank you Matthew for all your hard work. As we quickly approach our 200th episode, I would ask you who would you love to have be on the show as a guest? I can’t promise you it will happen on the 200th, but we talked about our thoughts, but if you have any thoughts for somebody you’d love to see come on the show, always let us know those.

And Craig, thank you so much for a fun episode.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: All right. Have a great weekend.

Craig: You too, bye.

John: Bye.

Links:

One Hit Kill is now on Kickstarter

Tue, 05/12/2015 - 12:24

Minutes ago, we launched the Kickstarter for One Hit Kill, our new card game of ridiculously overpowered weapons and monsters and cuddly rabbits.

After months of work and testing, we’re damn excited to show you what we’ve designed. We’ve been playing the game non-stop, and it’s time to release it into the world.

With your help, One Hit Kill might become your new favorite game. Please check it out!

How do bad movies get made?

Tue, 05/12/2015 - 08:03

Craig and John tackle a single topic: bad movies and how they happen. Having experienced the process first-hand, they report on how bad ideas make it to the screen, and how good ideas go wrong. There’s no single answer, but a range of patterns that end in terrible movies.

In follow-up, we talk about still-forming plans for the 200th episode, new USB drives, and favorite episodes.

John’s game One Hit Kill launches on Kickstarter this week. Check it out.

And if you work for Bethesda, Craig really wants you to make Fallout 4.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 196: The long and short of it — Transcript

Thu, 05/07/2015 - 10:41

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 196 of Scriptnotes. A podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the podcast we will talk about writing tight versus writing long, producer credits in US television, the trend of hiring multiple writers simultaneously, screenwriter’s dress code, the jealousy over other writers’ success, and several other questions related to previous episodes. Craig, it’s going to be a very, very big and busy show.

Craig: Yeah. You want to pray for traffic right now. You need time folks. You need to settle in now, calm down, relax. You’re in a safe place. We’re going to walk you through everything.

John: Absolutely. So, this is a great podcast to listen to as you’re driving to the West Side, or from the West Side. If you’re in New York City, maybe this is a great time for the subways to slow down a little bit. If you have a big chore in front of you, like a lot of dirty dishes, maybe dirty up some extra dishes. Make an extra big pot of chili because this is going to be a lot of stuff today.

Craig: Mm-hmm, this is a five-chili podcast.

John: [laughs] In follow up, last –

Craig: I don’t even know what means. What does five-chili mean? I don’t even know what that means.

John: A five-chili podcast, I mean, is that a hot podcast?

Craig: I guess. It’s like you have to make five pots of chili. It really makes no sense. But sometimes when I say things that are stupid, I like to just keep talking about it. [laughs]

John: Yeah. It’s always important to dwell on the things that make no sense at all.

Craig: Yeah!

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. So, what do we got today?

John: Last week on the show we had Ryan Knighton and he was fantastic. I loved that episode. And he talked about writing while Canadian. And people seemed to have a great response to that.

Craig: He’s a really intelligent guy. And he has this very interesting perspective on screenwriting because he’s an outsider. He’s an outsider because he’s Canadian. He’s an outsider because he’s a novelist. He’s an outsider because he’s blind. And he’s completely blind, by the way. Before we started the show, sometimes people say well they’re visually impaired, I can see some things. He actually smashed his head into the microphone. He’s that blind.

But he had all of these things that made him kind of an outsider and yet somehow through, oh my gosh, talent and hard work, he’s about as inside as it gets, writing a screenplay for Ridley Scott. And I feel like, frankly, everybody is an outsider until they’re an insider. And so I think that was part of it. But he was just particularly good at expressing what his perspective was and how it had changed over time. It was a great discussion.

And maybe my favorite part of it is that you and I got into a fight in front of him about what he looked like.

John: Yes. And so I want to sort of go back to that thing, because I said — we were talking about some project that he was involved with and someone had brought up Chris O’Dowd. And I said on the podcast, oh yes, I think Chris O’Dowd could play you in the movie. Or I said basically like you look kind of like Chris O’Dowd. And we threw it out to the listeners about whether our guest, Ryan Knighton, looks like Chris O’Dowd.

And the votes came back and I was wrong, apparently. He does not look like Chris O’Dowd.

Craig: No. He looks nothing like Chris O’Dowd. And it was interesting because usually when you say to somebody, oh, I think you look like so-and-so, they will either say, “Yeah, I get that,” or, “What?” But Ryan was like, “Oh, do I?” Because he hasn’t seen his own face in a really long time. So he might now look like Chris O’Dowd.

But, no, Ryan, you do not. I don’t know what –

John: I had a hunch I was going to lose this bet because Stuart Friedel was tasked with trying to find two photos to put in the show notes that would show how Chris O’Dowd and Ryan Knighton looked like each other. And he had a very hard time doing that.

So, he picked the two that looked the most alike. But he said, “You know what? You’re going to lose.” And I lost that bet.

Craig: Yeah, he just doesn’t look like Chris O’Dowd.

John: Scott wrote in and said, “As someone who is legally blind, though I am still able to use a computer and type, it was inspiring to listen to today’s podcast. One of my biggest fears is if I do lose all my sight completely, I wouldn’t be able to continue with my dream. That’s clearly not the case. Thank you. I listen to your podcast religiously, but not cultistly, and treat you and John like my film school.”

Craig: Ooh.

John: So, that was a very common email we got in. People loving that episode with Ryan Knighton. But I wanted to highlight that one because that last sentence, “I listen to your podcast and treat you and John like my film school.” So, it was written as if it was written to Craig, which is so strange because Craig never checks the email.

Craig: Yeah.

John: He doesn’t even have the password for the email.

Craig: I would if you let me.

John: It was so weird.

Craig: Yeah, you don’t — you keep me away from all that stuff. That is odd.

John: So I assume it was written towards Craig, not written towards Stuart, but maybe it was written towards Stuart. I don’t know.

Craig: Well, I don’t think anyone is treating you and Stuart like their film school.

John: Yeah, probably not.

Craig: I mean, listen, there’s something about me that either drives people away, or draws them in tight. I’m either the worst or best.

John: I think there may be like a daddy thing, honestly, where because daddy has strong opinions, you’re sort of like — you push back against daddy, but then you’re also sort of like, oh, but I love daddy. So, if daddy is on my side, I think you’re kind of the daddy of the podcast. If I’m the professor, you’re the father. And you give people stern talking’s to, but sometimes they love you for it.

Craig: I think of myself as the Oracle and you as the Architect.

John: Oh, great. Yes, so back to the Matrix.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah. Great.

We have some questions for our listeners. So, this is episode 196. We are approaching episode 200. And we are trying to figure out what is going to happen at 200 and what is going to happen beyond 200. So, spoiler alert, there is not going to be a live show with an audience like we traditionally have done for some other big events, and that’s all because of Craig. Craig does not want to do a live show with an audience because he has stage fright suddenly.

Craig: Well, I just, I don’t know. We’ve done a lot of them. And I get this kind of panic, a little bit of a panic, that we’ll do one and suddenly we won’t be the Jon Bon Jovi of podcasts anymore. And we’ll have half of an audience full of people that have been there before. And they’ll all be like, “Yeah, you know…it’s all right.”

John: They’ll want us to play our greatest hits. Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. So, I figured, oh, well, you know, if you don’t go away, how can they ever miss you. But, you had a really interesting idea because then Aline started yelling at me, which as you know, is an intense experience.

John: So, if you’re the Oracle and I’m the Architect, who is she in this? Is she Neo? Is she Trinity? Who is she in the Matrix analogy?

Craig: I think she’s the Merovingian.

John: Oh, wow. I don’t know what that is.

Craig: Oh, you didn’t see the sequels?

John: I did see the sequels. I just didn’t understand them.

Craig: [laughs] I actually understand them. It took me a long, long time, and I had to do a lot of reading. It’s actually kind of amazing. I don’t — the third movie just does not entertain me. The second movie is incredibly challenging and entertains me and actually has some remarkable things going on philosophically and in terms of what they’re suggesting.

I don’t know, one day we’ll have that discussion. But the Merovingian is the French guy in the restaurant who is very, very aggressive, but also French. And she’s French and aggressive.

John: That is Aline, because she’s French and she’s aggressive. Done.

Craig: Done. Right? Although she would probably want to be Monica Bellucci, his wife, because she’s super stylish. I’m still going with the Merovingian on that one.

Anyway, you had this really interesting idea that maybe what we should do for the 200th episode, since it deserves some kind of attention, is a Google Hangout where we basically — anyone can see it, right? So anywhere around the world people can just hang out with us while we do our show.

John: Yes. So I think that is what we will try to do, something like that. And so I’m throwing this out to listeners basically saying, help. So, if you are a person, a producer, who does those kind of things where everyone can sort of tune in and listen and watch a livestream happening, that is a thing we would be interested in doing. And we would be happy to come to a place and do that and perhaps bring in a guest and do that.

But we don’t want to sort of have an audience big situation. We just want to have us doing the show live there. And maybe be able to take some real-time questions and comments from listeners around the world.

So, I know it’s very possible to do it just with a standard Google Hangout. And worst comes to worst, we will just do that. But I have a hunch that someone who listens to us in the Los Angeles area probably has a setup that is kind of custom made for this. And if they would like us to use their facility, we would be delighted to use their facility.

And so it would be probably a nighttime kind of thing, so people could watch it after work. And sit back and watch us do our show.

Craig: That would be nice. I just don’t want to wear pants. I mean, that’s really the thing.

John: Well, it’s going to be from the waist up, so it’s all fine.

Craig: Good. That’s better than from the waist down.

John: Oy. That’s never a good podcast.

Now, if you have a suggestion for that, you can write in to ask@johnaugust.com, our standard email address, or on Facebook or Twitter. Just tell us that you are a person who knows how to do this thing.

I have two other questions for our listeners. First off, would you want a 200-episode USB drive? So, way back in the day when we hit 100 episodes, we put out a USB drive that had the first 100 episodes on it. And we updated those later on to 150. I’m not sure if people still want them. And so we haven’t been selling them for a while. If people are interested in a 200-episode USB drive, let us know.

So, again, you can tweet at us, you can let us know on Facebook. If there seems to be sufficient demand, we will make them. If there does not seem to be sufficient demand, we won’t make them at all.

Last question for you, this is something we talked about at lunch. If you had to pick your favorite episodes out of the 200 episodes of Scriptnotes, or basically like a beginner’s guide to Scriptnotes, what would those episodes be? Because there certainly are a lot of episodes. And I’m trying to put together a blog post about here are the top episodes of Scriptnotes. And it’s actually kind of challenging, because they’re all so very different.

The ones that keep getting brought up on Reddit are things like the Final Draft episode, or the more recent sort of investigatory episodes. But there’s also episode 99 about Psychotherapy for Screenwriters. There’s the Frozen episode. There’s Ghost. I don’t know which you would recommend as being the top episodes. But I would love our listeners to provide a listener’s guide. So, if you have ideas for that, email us, send us on Facebook, tweet us to let us know, and we’ll talk through those next week.

Craig: That’s a good plan. I like that plan.

John: Yeah. Just off the top of your head, are there ones that you’d want to single out for people to pay attention to?

Craig: Well, aside from the ones you mentioned, I think Raiders of the Lost Ark was our first in depth movie study. And I really enjoyed that one. Craft-wise, I thought our episode on conflict was really good. I’m trying to think of like one of the more oddball guests we’ve had, because we’ve had quite a few now at this point.

You know, I think the Lindsay Doran interview is great. The truth is that like everybody else I’m going to have some recency bias.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: So, I think that people should dig deep. Dig deep into the back catalog. Look for those B-sides. Find something cool back there.

John: Sounds good.

All right, let’s get to today’s work. The first question comes in from Danny who asks, “Do you always strive to write the tightest, most economical ‘perfect script,’ or do you ever purposely write extra?” Craig, what is your answer to Danny’s question?

Craig: Well, I’m not sure that this is advisable. I don’t know if what I do is right, but the answer is, yeah, I always strive to write the tightest, most economical, ‘perfect script’ while I’m doing it, knowing full well that there is no such thing as perfection or even close to perfection. I might be completely off by 180 degrees. I might think that I nailed it and other people might hate it. This is just the life of what it means to be a writer.

But I don’t ever turn a script in — this is just me — I never turn a script in that I haven’t really carefully tightened all the little tiny screws and bits-a-ma-bobs in. I really try and keep it tight. Yeah. So I do a lot of editing and a lot of careful work.

I don’t write — purposely write — extra ever. I will save things that I think, okay, I’m taking this out and putting it aside. And this may be why I work well with Lindsay because she is the most — I thought I was the most obsessive about these little tiny things. You know, laser cutting the edges. And she’s even more so like that. I mean, every period, comma, everything is discussed and tightened and made just so.

So, that’s my process. I don’t know if it’s right. It’s just that’s the way I do it.

John: Yeah. I’m very mindful about where I’m at in the process. And in those early drafts, which are just for myself, when I’m just first putting words on the paper, I will try to write something that feels like the final scene, but I won’t freak out about making every sentence the leanest possible sentence it could be, or I won’t stress out as like, oh you know what, I bet I could do that in two sentences rather than three. I will just try to get it down on the page. And I think it’s most important, you know, the scene that is written is better than the scene that is unwritten.

So, I want to make sure I get something down on the page that reflects the intention. I will go through before it’s a draft I show to anybody and try to make sure that I’ve gotten the scenes as tight as I can and I’ve taken out the scenes that just are never going to make it into the movie. And that’s one of those hard things that only comes with time where you recognize, you know what, this is a lovely scene. We could shoot this scene. It will never make it into the movie. And so sometimes I’ve had to cut a five-page sequence because I recognize this is never going to actually make it in there.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But there have been times, and even recently, where I’ve looked at stuff with that sort of really sharp editor’s eye and said, “Will this ultimately make it down through the process into the final cut of the movie?” And I can’t say with certainty that it would. But then my question is will this help the people who are trying to make this movie understand what the movie feels like? Will this help get the cast and the directors to take this movie seriously?

If the answer sometimes is yes, then I would be more inclined to leave that scene, that line, that moment in the movie in the script for right now, because it helps inform the kind of movie that we’re trying to make. It’s helping be part of the trailer for let’s make this into a movie. So, sometimes I’ll recognize that this might not survive, but it’s important to be in the draft for right now.

Do you ever do that?

Craig: Yeah, for sure. I mean, the distinction I make is this is good for the read, as opposed to this is good for the movie. There are times when something is good for the read. And there is value there, because a good read will get you to your movie. And a good read will also clarify your intentions and, as you said, fill in some of the blanks for people, even if it’s not required in the movie itself. And it may be cut in the editing room. It may be cut prior to shooting, but that’s one of those spots where you do have to acknowledge that while we are writing a movie, we’re limited. We’re limited. We just don’t have the tools that a movie has.

That’s why we don’t charge tickets to stand around and read screenplays. So, yeah, sometimes you want to keep something in there for the read. But I wonder if part of the difference between our techniques or work practices is just in the way we — you know how some people are auditory learners and blah, blah, blah. So, when you’re writing, do you find that your writing occurs while you’re writing, or is your writing occurring in your mind and then you write it?

John: I think it’s happening in both ways. I’ve described before on the show that essentially my process of doing a scene is just looping it, just visually looping it in my head and hearing the people talk, and figuring out, like filming the scene in my head, essentially. And then trying to get a version of that down on paper as quickly as possible. Then going through and finding the absolute best possible words to describe it.

So, it’s the looping. It’s the scribble. And then it’s the real writing. And obviously all of those phases are real writing, but we tend to think of writing as being that final phase where you’re picking which nouns and which verbs go in which order.

Craig: Well, I suppose my theory is no good, because that’s pretty much what I do, too. I mean, I play the scene in my head and I have people talking back and forth. I will start to edit dialogue in my head as I’m going. And then I start to write. And before I kind of say I’m done here, I do really read it through. And this is one area where I know you and I are different. I am a re-paver. I will go over it, and over it, and over it, and over it, and over, and over, and over. Then I move on.

I don’t feel comfortable moving on. I need — it’s like a security blanket. I need to know that if they had to shoot that tomorrow, there wouldn’t be a problem. So, it’s mental.

John: And because I write out of sequence, that’s not a huge factor for me. So, I don’t worry about that.

Craig: The thought of writing out of sequence makes my heart race.

John: But I want to circle back to this idea of how lean you can write, because there always is that option that you could take out that sentence. You could take out that parenthetical. If you really wanted to, if you looked at the final movie and you just wrote down here’s what the actors are literally doing, and here’s what they’re saying, that would be the screenplay of the movie.

It’s a representation on paper of what the movie is like, but it’s not a real plan for making that movie. And often the carefully written sentence description that is giving the feel of what that scene is like is as important as the lines of dialogue being spoken. And so I’m always very mindful of as I’m cutting, wow, I hope I’m not cutting meat and, worse, I hope I’m not cutting into the bone as I try to slice this thinner and thinner.

And as I’m trying to trim pages, as I’m trying to get the movie in its best fighting shape, I’m often mindful of like, wow, you know what would be better? If we just took out this whole scene, rather than trying to cut the scene down so short. I would be better writing around this problem than trying to just make a shorter version of this moment.

Craig: This is a constant inner battle. You don’t want to be the person who cuts nothing. Nor do you want to be the person who goes cut happy and starts to hurt your own movie. That’s almost scarier. This is where having a trusted partner is an enormous help, because when they are with you on the ride the whole way, whether you’re working very closely with a director, or working very closely with a producer, or those of you who write with writing partners, it’s baked into that situation.

Somebody can say, “Actually, we’ve hurt the movie. And so losing that hurt the movie, and we need to put that back.” And I’ve had those moments with Lindsay for sure. I sometimes get a little over zealous. And it’s interesting — somebody else defending your work and its worthiness of being in the movie is more compelling than you doing it to yourself, you know?

Because we are not objective, of course. I mean, it’s easy enough to fall down the trap of, well I read it, it’s good. If somebody else says, “You wrote it, and it’s good. Please put it back.” Maybe you should put it back. So, it’s good to have somebody like that along for the ride if possible.

John: There’s always this talk about you shouldn’t direct from the page, which we’ve dismissed many times. Of course you are trying to provide a vision for the movie. But I’d also say you shouldn’t try to control the Avid from the page. And if you are writing so tightly and so specifically that it literally feels like there’s exactly one way you could shoot this and no other way could possibly work for this, that may be a signal that you are writing a little close to the bone. And that you’re not giving enough space for this to exist in a scene, exist as a moment.

And there have been times where I’ve come into a scene and realized you are trying to park in too tight of a parking space and you’re not giving yourself the options of how you’re going to actually handle this moment.

Craig: Well, then, of course, reality will intrude. And so even if you’ve written the scene to be the tightest parking space of all time, hopefully you are still in communication and partnering with the production. And they’ll call you and they’ll say, “We got to change this. We can’t shoot it this way. But here’s what we have.” And then you go to work.

So, you’re right. There is a point of diminishing returns on fastidiousness. And you do have to be aware of that certainly, because ultimately the world will not conform to your micrometer-measured sentences. There’s going to be some confirmation to the world around you as you shoot.

John: A real world example that happened pretty recently. There’s a movie I wrote where I got these notes about tone and I realized what they were actually responding to was essentially I had edited it a little too tight. And there were moments of sort of scene description and sort of feeling that I had taken out just kind of for the economy of getting to the next thing. And without those it was feeling rushed.

I had taken out some of the painting of the world, a little bit of the feeling, the looseness, the suspense in some cases. And I needed to sort of put that back in. in some cases it was literally like adding a few more line breaks so that those — there was a little bit more air on the page.

And it’s so hard when you’ve looked at it a thousand times to recognize like, oh yeah, I actually do need that extra little bit of space there, because people are going to zip through this and not pay attention.

Craig: Yeah. You’ve become accustomed to your own material and it becomes part of your experience of the script to the point where you don’t need it anymore. It’s no longer a crutch for you. But everybody else needs it. Everybody else — they’re reading it for the first time, essentially.

John: I think it may have been Aline on the show who talked about you look at a joke a hundred times, like, wow, this joke is not funny anymore. It has to be cut. And then everyone else, like it’s funny for them because it’s the first time they’re seeing it. And that can be a real challenge, too.

Craig: Yeah. You’ve got to really be careful about that stuff. And, you know, as you’re going through — this is where, by the way, actual production experience is very helpful, and watching movies get edited is very helpful. Sometimes I will have discussions with producers or executives and they’ll say, “Well you know, we’re just wondering, do we need this line?” And I’ll say, I don’t know, but you’re there and you’re shooting. And it doesn’t require set up. It’s free. It’s essentially free.

So, where I take “do we need this” notes very much to heart is when it will actually impact the day. But if it’s not going to save any time, well, just do it. Why not? Unless people just don’t understand it, you know?

John: Yeah. There’s always that sense of, well, we could cut this. And they’re trying to point out like this is not absolutely essential. And so there’s this sense that anything that is not absolutely essential could be cut, and therefore maybe should be cut. And it’s a question always worth asking, but it’s never an automatic guarantee that you should cut those things.

A lot of times I’ll have moments, and I’ll know that in the back of my head like well that could disappear. And I’ll think through the editing math of like well if that moment, if that scene, if that line went away, would it be possible for everything to still make sense? And I’ll have a plan for it. But that doesn’t mean that the line should go away, because it could be incredibly integral to everything.

Certainly going back to our discussion of Ghost, there are so many scenes in Ghost that could go away, but that movie would be diminished if they went away.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And if they had cut those scenes during the writing process, the movie would not exist.

Craig: And then, of course, there were scenes that they did cut. And that’s the thing — sometimes I feel like when people are discussing a screenplay, the writer is there with the producer and the studio and the director, but there’s this fear of being humble. There’s a fear of admitting that we’re all guessing. But, it’s important to admit that right off the bat, because everyone who has made a movie has gone into that first screening and been shocked by something that worked, and shocked by something that didn’t.

Sometimes the biggest laugh in the movie is a line you didn’t even think was that good. It’s just –

John: Oh, 100 percent.

Craig: It’s the weirdest thing. So you have to kind of be humble enough to appreciate that there’s a chaotic factor to this that cannot be predetermined. It cannot be divined. So, if you’re on the fence, sometimes it’s good to skew in favor of inclusion.

John: It reminds me of the common thing said about when, I think it was Sony was buying Columbia Pictures, and the legend is always that one of the Sony execs pulled the Columbia exec aside and said, “By the way, we only want to make the hit movies.” And the similar thing for in making an individual movie is like the director saying, “Well, I only want to shoot the scenes that are going to be in the movie.” Or, “I only want to shoot the exact shots I need to make the movie.” But, of course, you don’t really know that. And so what you’re doing is your best guess about what things you’re going to want to have in the editing room to construct the final movie.

And so the writer is coming up with this material and hopefully shaping it in a way that if followed to the tee and really following his plan, you will have a good movie. But you won’t really know. And you won’t really know until you’re in your seventh cut of this film.

And so you’re trying to get the best material possible so you can have the best shot of making your film.

Craig: Yeah. That’s the great paradox of writing is that you have to write it like you’re shooting it, and that is all that will be shot, but at the same time you have to be flexible enough to change it.

John: Yes. Our next question comes from Michael in Liverpool who asks, “Can someone please explain why the TV show The Following has a list of producer credits the same length as my penis?” And I don’t know –

Craig: Does he give the length?

John: So he says that his penis is attached as a PNG, as a graphic, but that is not in fact true. There is no graphic attached.

Craig: Oh…

John: So we’ll have to assume that his penis is about 13 names long, which is how many names –

Craig: I think you need to read this question like you’re from Liverpool. The same length as my penis?

John: Can someone please explain…?

Craig: No, that was kind of Irish.

John: I’m not great with my British accent at all.

Craig: This is The Beatles thing. The same length as my penis? Uh, well, how long is his penis? Let’s find out in names.

John: In names. So, there are 13 names listed on this episode of The Following. And so I went through and I did my homework and I actually looked up on IMDb like who those people were. And so of those 13 names, nine of them are writers, which is not surprising because in US television, most of the names you see listed as a producer are high level writers. So, they are writers who are no longer at the entry level. They are no longer staff writers or story editors. They have moved up the ranks.

And when you move up the ranks in TV writing, you get a producer credit. And those producer credits escalate as you rise higher and higher on a show, or sort of moving show to show.

Way back in 2004 I wrote a blog post describing sort of TV credits. And so this was the hierarchy that I listed then, which is largely accurate. So, you’re looking at given TV show, you’re looking at the credits scroll by, one of the executive producers is almost always the creator of the show. And that creator of the show may also be the showrunner, the person who is most in charge of the show at the moment, but it may not be the case.

There could be other people listed as executive producers. Below that, co-executive producers. Below that, somewhere in that vicinity, a consulting producer, a supervising producer, a producer, then a co-producer. Then below that would be a story editor and a staff writer.

Now, sometimes those aren’t exactly accurate, but that’s a general sense of what that is. The other producer credits you might see are a line producer, or an associate producer. Those are almost always not writers. Those are usually the people who are responsible for the physical production or the editing. So, those are some of the names you’re going to see. And that’s absolutely true with the credits for The Following.

Because there are so many names, we’ll have a list in the show notes, but essentially of the 13 names listed, nine of them are writers. So the only ones who aren’t writers there, there’s a woman, Lauren Wagner, who based on her credits I think she runs Kevin Williamson’s production company. Kevin Williamson is the producer/creator of the show.

Kevin Bacon is Kevin Bacon. He’s the star of the show. He’s listed as a producer. There’s a man named Michael Stricks who is a production manager. And there is Marcos Siega who is a famous director, a big director who is the director of this TV show.

Everyone else there is a writer. So, what’s with all the producers? Well, there’s a bunch of writers. And so that’s employment. That’s great.

Craig: It’s essentially a symptom of the fact that television is written by a staff. So when you have a large group of employees working on something, somebody somewhere has to figure out what they’re going to be paid. And anytime you’re paying groups of people stuff, what immediately begins to happen is a codification of salaries and leveling. So, we’re not going to pay everybody ad hoc. Nor are we going to pay you more money than the person that’s your boss. So, eventually titles occur.

And it’s very much a military system here. I mean, just replace lieutenant and corporal and captain with consulting and supervising and co-executive. That’s kind of what’s going on.

In movies, that’s not the way we do it. There’s one writer working at a time. And so there isn’t a staffing system and a ranking system. Sometimes the writer that ends up with the credit for the movie, the writer that’s written it all, well she actually got paid half as much as the woman who kicked the whole thing off, who got paid more. So, the salaries are all over the place, and therefore in features the producers are typically not writers — sometimes they are — but typically not and they are more running the business and creative end of the company of the movie.

But here I think it’s probably about salary.

John: Yeah. It’s about salary, it’s about experience, and responsibility on the show.

Craig: Right.

John: And so the people who have been doing this for a long time, they’re going to rise up the ranks and they’ll have higher producer credits on a given show. And that is a way of reflecting that and a way of paying them for that.

Craig: Exactly.

John: So, Craig, in your last answer you said that features do not have multiple writers simultaneously, but now unfortunately that situation seems to be happening more and more. Jay writes in, “My writing partner and I are repped working writers in the studio system with about five years of credits on relatively big studio movies, sadly none yet produced. But more importantly we’re big fans of Scriptnotes and have been since the start.”

Craig: That is more important.

John: Jay, you’re awesome.

Craig: That’s the most important.

John: It is more important. Yes.

“We just saw this disturbing report that WB is hiring established screenwriters like Will Beall, Jeff Nichols, etc., to start writing first acts for their upcoming DC movies. That is pitting three writers against each other to work on the same outline and write competing versions of Aquaman’s act one, for instance. Do you see the industry as a whole moving in a similar direction with writer’s rooms? Paramount is setting one up for Transformers, for example. Is this a larger trend in bake offs?”

A related post to this is Kim Masters at the Hollywood Reporter wrote a long piece about DC and Warners and them trying to figure out how they’re going to do their movies. And so both Aquaman and Wonder Woman have this situation where there are multiple writers working simultaneously on things and it apparently is not always the happiest situation. Craig, what do you think?

Craig: Well, the Kim Masters piece in the Hollywood Reporter, I think, puts its finger exactly on the big difference between what they’re endeavoring to do with the DC properties and what Marvel does with the Marvel properties. And I understand that at Warner Bros they’re looking at the way Marvel does it. They probably see some version of kind of a writing room system. And which is, by the way, the way that movies used to be done way back in the day.

And they’re thinking, well, let’s just copy that. It’s working. And I understand that. But, the main difference is there is one authorial vision being imposed on all of those Marvel movies and that’s through Kevin Feige who runs Marvel. And Kevin Feige is renowned for not only doing his job well but being an extraordinarily educated Marvel-ologist. He was hired, I think, in small part because of his encyclopedic knowledge of what is a very large collection of characters and storylines that interweave and reboot and restart and have various versions.

So, he is imposing a singular vision. If you are going to hire multiple writers to work on one movie as a bake off situation, they must be guided by one creative authorial vision. They have to be, or you will just end up with a bunch of parts that don’t fit together. And I’m not even getting into the fact that I think this is just kind of bad for writers and bad for movies in general. I think it’s not going to works. Unless there is somebody that has Kevin Feige’s knowledge of Marvel but for DC, I don’t see how this works.

It’s tempting. I know why they do it. It’s tempting. It seems like, oh, well it will go faster. Instead of hiring three writers in succession, we’ll just hire them all at once. It just doesn’t work that way.

John: Yeah. If writing were the kind of thing where you could clearly tell like well this is the version that won, and therefore we are going to get behind her script and her vision and she will be the one to deliver it and praise everybody — this is the one — then I could maybe see it working. I could maybe see the consensus of rather than have a bunch of people pitch their takes, we will pay them money to write it up and we can look at their actual words and say like this is the person who has the vision for what this movie is.

We will support her 100 percent and go with her vision. But what this article says and what we know from our other conversations is that is not at all what happened. And it’s not what seems to be happening in the DC movies. And it’s never really happened anywhere else. You might say like, “Oh, we’re going to have these three versions,” and then you’re going to have a bunch of different opinions about what is the best of those three versions. And then you’re going to hire on a director who is going to have different opinions about what the best of those three versions is.

And so rather than having one writer pulled in a bunch of different ways, you’re going to have three writers pulled in a bunch of different ways and everyone is going to be extra confused.

Craig: Yeah. There’s this thing that happens when one writer writes all the way through. They will get some amount of it right. They will get some amount of it wrong. No one is perfect.

Consider Joss Whedon, for instance. Joss Whedon is I guess the other singular vision over there at Marvel who has had enormous influence obviously on the movies that he makes, but on the movies around him at the same time that are touching on his movie. Well, Joss Whedon doesn’t get everything right. Joss Whedon makes mistakes. I’m sure Joss Whedon would be the first person 20 years from now to look back at Avengers and say, “Well here’s a bunch of things I think I could have done better.”

But here’s the thing. They’re his mistakes. They are mistakes that are consistent in voice, tone, and vision with the stuff that works. When you’re looking at a movie that’s been cobbled together from three, or four, or five different writers, like a Frankenstein monster, the mistakes will be incredibly jarring because they have nothing to do with the stuff that’s working.

They won’t be consistent mistakes. They won’t be part of the same feeling. That’s where things start to come apart. And I’ll tell you, when you watch a movie and it has that cobbled feel, it’s hard to even say what exactly is putting itself between you and the movie, but something is. It’s like there’s a thing between you and it. It starts to take on an artificial hollow vibe.

So, for instance, I’m a big fan of Chris Nolan and his Batman films. I can look at each one of those Batman films and say well here’s something I just don’t like, but the mistake is consistent and it’s part of Nolan’s vision and so I am okay.

John: I get that. Thinking about other situations where multiple writers are working on a movie simultaneously, James Cameron is trying it right now for the Avatar sequels. And so he is essentially the showrunner and he has — I believe it’s three writers who are writing the movies with him/for him. I don’t quite know what is happening in that room. Josh Friedman is a friend, but I don’t know any sort of secret insights about what’s actually happening, but the goal is for them to work together and create something that is better than any one of them could do separately.

Is that possible? Maybe it’s possible, but they certainly have a very strong showrunner in James Cameron who is going to direct these movies and has the vision for what they’re supposed to be.

Craig: Right.

John: That’s a situation I believe would work, rather than three writers reporting to a committee of people who then have to figure out what is actually going to happen and what’s going to go on. That seems to be the challenge.

Craig: It seems like Warner Bros is leaning on Zack Snyder to be their singular overarching vision bringer. But he’s been making this most recent Superman vs. Batman movie. Well, if you’re directing a movie you can’t do this part, right. So, Kevin Feige can do this part while Joss Whedon is making Avengers. So, it seems like they’re missing a vital piece there if this is the way they’re going to go.

And if they don’t have that vital piece, and frankly I don’t know if — for better or worse, the DC universe does not really inspire the same kind of obsessive encyclopedic curiosity that the Marvel universe does, then I think they may want to consider — I’m talking like I run Warner Bros. Isn’t this great? They may want to consider kind of returning back to their original model which worked extraordinarily well with Batman and that is to say find a filmmaker with a singular vision and give them that thing. But, the problem from them is they want — everybody wants the shared universe. Everybody wants to do what Marvel is doing.

It may not be possible.

John: The other question will be whether the Star Wars universe and sort of what they’re trying to do and Kathleen Kennedy’s role in bringing together all the Star Wars movies, will that be possible. Now, in that case they don’t multiple writers working on one script at the same time, but they are trying to build the future of this whole universe, and there has to be considerable creative collaboration and creative consensus in what that world-building will be.

And whether that falls on her shoulders or someone else, somebody has to finally make those decisions. Someone has to be the Kevin Feige in those decisions. And that will be interesting to see how that shakes out.

Craig: No question. I think that it probably very much is Kathleen Kennedy. But they’re making I think the right choice of, for instance, okay, so J.J. really took this next movie and did it. And Rian Johnson is taking the movie after that and he’s going to do it. And they are allowing a vision. They’re allowing a singular voice. And we should also acknowledge that J.J. brought in Larry Kasdan. And Larry is, you know, kind of the great keeper of the flame of the Star Wars universe.

So, Larry and J.J. were that first one. Rian is going to be the second one. That’s the right way to go. I feel like that’s the way to do it. This kind of Frankenstein — and also, frankly, pitting three writers against each other is — any time I hear a studio say, “Well, we’re going to do a cut and paste version,” I just think, yup, you’re done. That’s it. Movie is bad. That’s it.

John: Yeah. You and I have both in situations where the cut and paste has ended up happening because there have been multiple writers employed over the course of time. So, someone is brought in to rewrite something, you and I have both rewritten somebody, and we’ve both been rewritten. And sometimes those movies turn out just fine.

And lord knows it can sometimes work out, but are any of those movies as amazing as they might have been with a single writer writing all the way through? I can’t think of any. That doesn’t mean that it could never happen. But it’s generally not the best sign when multiple writers have been working on a movie. That’s the reality.

Craig: At the very least, if multiple writers are working on a movie, one writer needs to be the one that does the final reconciliation. You can’t have non-writers doing their cut and paste. They simply won’t see the mistakes that — and screenplay mistakes ripple forth like tiny little seeds that blossom into awful things.

Sometimes you just can’t see them there in the script and then, kaboosh. So, you know, I’ve been in situations where I’ve looked at three drafts and I’ve done something, and then somebody else has come in, and then I come back and they’re like, “Look, we want to keep this and this.” And I’ll say, great, but I still need to incorporate it properly. I can’t just slap it in. There’s a craft to this. There’s an actual job, [laughs], writing. I know, it’s crazy. Crazy.

John: That’s crazy.

A simpler question. Adam writes in, “I’ve always been someone who for lack of a better term dresses up. I feel more comfortable in a sport coat and tie rather than a hoodie. I have nothing against sweat pants. It’s just how I roll. I treat every general or pitch like something in between a job interview and a first date. And looking back I’ve probably been the best dressed person in the room more often than not.

“I’m sure I’m overthinking it because it was only brought up after Craig made it clear that there isn’t a writer’s dress code. But do you think there is a subconscious message I’m sending out by not wearing a t-shirt and jeans? Does the writer in a bow tie come off as less authentically creatively than the writer in a graphic tee?”

Craig, what’s your thought?

Craig: Well, I mean, I wish it weren’t so, but maybe. I mean, you know, this is one of those things. We’re all taught not to judge a book by its cover, and then everybody goes around judging books by their cover. And particularly in Hollywood where the cover of the book is the most important part of the book to the people that spend money hiring writers. [laughs]

Yeah, if you show up really buttoned up in a jacket and nice pants and a bow tie, it may put other people a little bit ill at ease. Like nobody likes to be the worst dressed person in the room. The writer’s job in Hollywood is the one place where being the worst dressed person in the room kind of makes you cool. And that’s okay.

You know, that said, Adam, I feel like you walk in and if you just acknowledge and you’re like, “By the way, this is how roll. I just like bow ties.” No will care. I mean, whatever immediate impression they get from your bow tie, it will be obliterated by the things coming out of your mouth. So, as long as you yourself are not a non-creative seeming person, I wouldn’t worry about it.

I mean, just know that it’s there. It will be something you’ll overcome every time.

John: Yeah. I don’t even necessarily know that it’s an overcome. I think it’s just being aware of expectation. And I think in most cases the expectation is going to be, well, writers don’t dress very well. And so if you dress very well you are pushing against that expectation. And that could be to your benefit or to your detriment.

Let’s say you are a Wes Anderson type. Then you wearing a bow tie is fantastic. Because they are bringing you in, they want to meet with you because they have a perception of you are and it fits that kind of brand. And so if the things you write are movies that people would wear bow ties in, they’re delighted to see that.

If Wes Anderson showed up for a meeting and he was scruffy and wearing dirty jeans and looked like he hadn’t bathed in a while you would say, “Wait, that’s not the Wes Anderson I was expecting.” So, looking like the person that they are expecting could be useful to you. And so if that is a dressed up person and you are writing dressed up movies, that’s fantastic.

Now, if you’re writing dark and gritty crime thrillers, if you are writing big goofy dumb comedies, that may be a bit of a challenge and you’ll just have to figure out what that is when you’re in the room and how you play that.

But, I wouldn’t necessarily change how you dress. You just want to come in there confident. And if confident for you is dressing up some, go for it.

I think my biggest caution against dressing up for these things, and when you say first date or job interview, that makes me feel nervous. And it makes me feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, or that you’re a newbie. And that you are nervous about this whole thing. And that is not a position of strength to be coming into that room.

Craig: I agree. Well, hopefully that will help you pick out tomorrow’s sartorial selection. But now we have something about writers judging each other. This is a question from Bobby. He writes, “I have a question/concern regarding all the to do over This is Working. That was the all-script, all-page challenge that you and I did. It sounds like a great script, and I do believe you’re right in your assessment of K.C.’s talents.

“I am filled with vicarious joy, but also jealousy at hearing him get such praise on your show. Basically the thought that occurred to me as I was listening to you continue to praise him in your follow up episode was ‘why him?’ And I realized that gets to the fundamental rub of all Hollywood success stories. The answer essentially comes down to ‘just because.’

“I’m sure I’m not alone in feeling jealous that his pages were picked over mine. I’m sure I’m not alone in believing I’m every bit as talented. I hope this doesn’t come across as critical, and certainly don’t take it as pouting or childish. I recognize that I had as much chance being picked as K.C. did. And that’s really what I’m trying to get at here. It’s all a lottery. Maybe your podcast just changed K.C.’s life. I’d be surprised if it didn’t.

“But it could have just as easily been someone else. And I guess I’d like to get your general take on that sentiment.”

What do you think about that, John?

John: I think Bobby is largely right. I think it could have been him, or anyone else. And also that feeling of why him, why not me, that doesn’t go away either.

And I’ll tell you quite honestly as I look at success of other people, or I look at somebody getting that great book assignment, that will still come up in my heart of hearts, too. Where it’s like, but why did that person get that thing, and why didn’t I get that thing? That is a natural human emotion and it doesn’t ever go away.

What I think the lesson to take from this feeling, and from K.C. Scott, is that to some degree it is a lottery, but you don’t win the lottery without buying some tickets. And K.C. Scott took a big risk by putting himself out there and entering the Three-Page Challenge, but then also being willing to send in his script and not know how we were going to receive it. And really tell us more about his life and his own worries and thoughts about the future. Those were all sort of brave choices.

So, while it could be anybody, it’s more likely to happen to somebody who is brave and someone who is taking some chances. And so if there’s a lesson to take from this, it’s that fortune does favor the bold.

Craig: I come at this from a slightly different angle because I recognize that this is something that a lot of people feel. And I think you’re probably right; it’s one of those things if you feel it, you feel it, and then it’s all really about what meaning you assign to that feeling.

I have all sorts of mental problems. They’re all related –

John: But that’s well-established.

Craig: [laughs] And a lot of them are connected to my work. The guns that I have are almost always pointed back towards my own chest. I have never felt jealous of another writer. I don’t have it. And I don’t mean to come off like a saint, because I’m not. I just don’t have that. I’ve never been jealous. If I’ve gone for something and somebody else gets it I just think, huh, well, they must have done something better. [laughs] I don’t know, that’s just the way I am.

But I’m never jealous about other writers. I always feel good when good things happen to other writers because I just don’t have that bone. I wish I could tell you it’s because I’m enlightened. I think it’s just because I’m actually missing that chunk of neurons. I have other chunks of neurons that cause me all sorts of trouble. So, I guess really I’m not much of a help for you here, Bobby, other than to say on my side of it, it’s actually quite nice to not be burdened by this. If there’s a way for you to be less burdened by it, then all I would say is this: it’s not going to help you. And it’s not going to get you anywhere. And it’s not going to motivate you.

And so when you feel it, just recognize it for what it is which is a meaningless feeling. It doesn’t mean that those people are better than you. And it doesn’t mean that you’re better than them. It doesn’t mean that the world is specifically unfair to you. The world is pretty much generally unfair to everybody. So, that’s the only advice I can give you over here in the oddly, weirdly, non-jealous camp. I don’t know. I’m a weirdo that way, I guess.

John: I would say that I am genuinely happy when other writers who I know are able to succeed and get great projects. And I’m genuinely happy for them when these things happen. But there’s always a voice in my head that says, “Well, why didn’t I get that call?” And then some of those self-doubts creep back in. And it makes me wonder, well, is it because I am too expensive? Is it because I am the wrong person for this project? Is it because I have this relationship with this person?

What is it that made it so I did not get that call? And Bobby is describing a version of that call, like why did K.C. Scott get called up to have this spotlight put on him. Well, the answer is sort of that kind of random lottery in this case. It was literally Stuart read a bunch of Three-Page Challenges. He sent us the ones he thought were the best. And we said we agreed. And we said, yes, this is the thing.

But just as easily it could have not happened.

I think the thing to take from this is that, yes, there is an aspect to this that is like a lottery. And the good thing about that is you can buy a lottery ticket. And the game is not fixed before you start to play. You can increase your odds of winning this lottery by figuring out ways to just literally increase your odds. Take more swings at bat. Take more general meetings.

Do what Ryan Knighton did in this last episode and he takes like 20 general meetings in the course of a week. That is how you get lucky is by making situations where you can get lucky.

Craig: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

John: That’s the lesson here.

Craig: I think that’s right. And, you know, you’re making a good distinction, actually. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Okay, I just heard a friend got a job. I’m happy for them. I am also wondering why didn’t I get called for that.” Those two things are different and can be maintained simultaneously.

And when you ask yourself I wonder why I didn’t get called, that’s a useful question, because that question can lead to strategies, plans. Okay, what am I doing now that I could differently? Because obviously there is something I want that isn’t currently here. Let me actually exercise some thought and care and take some action and see if I can’t change my circumstances. That’s valuable.

The part of jealousy that’s not valuable is the part that doesn’t let you enjoy, truly enjoy, when something good happens to somebody else. Even if it was something that maybe you wanted for yourself, that’s the part where you are in a weird way robbing yourself of what I think is one of the great pleasures of life, which is celebrating somebody else’s good fortune with them.

I love that feeling. When Rian told me that he was going to be writing and directing the next Star Wars, I mean, my little heart just about exploded. I was so excited. I mean, I just didn’t know, you know, like, ah, it was just the best feeling ever. I felt like — in a weird way I felt like I was doing it now because it’s my friend, you know. [laughs] I was so happy. So, that’s the only thing, Bobby. Just make sure that you don’t kill that, you know.

But, it’s a good thing, I think, what John is saying, too. Then sort of step back and go, “Well gee, if this is something that I feel I ought to have but I don’t, what can I do to change those circumstances?”

John: Yeah. The other thing you can take from that is it is possible for a person in this situation to achieve this thing, so therefore it is possible for me to achieve that thing. And that is a great take home from K.C. Scott is that this is a person who wrote a good script, put it out there, and got a great response from it. And that is possible for anyone who can write a great script.

Craig: Correctamundo.

John: Great. Circling back to our discussions of arbitration, David writes, “I’m a WGA member who has gone through an arbitration a couple of times. So, I found the episode about arbitration especially fascinating. I was reading that Donna Langley was defending her decision to hire E.L. James’s husband to write 50 Shades Darker, the sequel to 50 Shades of Grey, because he had done some work on the first movie.

“But he didn’t get a credit. Only Kelly Marcel did. Was Donna Langley legally allowed to say that? Was it against WGA rules to publicize uncredited writers? Or does that only apply to writers themselves?”

Craig, what is the actual rules here? What are common best practices? Talk us through what is legitimate for an executive like Donna Langley to say about that situation.

Craig: It’s an interesting question, actually. I mean, on the writing side of things we have working rules, which are union rules. They govern our behavior as union members. And we are subject to union discipline if we break them. And union discipline is essentially, it could be a fine. As far as I know the union hasn’t disciplined anyone for anything in forever.

But, one of our working rules is that we would abide by the credits as put forth and that we wouldn’t publicize a different credit. So, if we wrote on something and we don’t get credit for it, we don’t do interviews where we say things like, “I deserve credit on that,” or “I wrote a lot of it,” etc.

Now, was Donna allowed to say that? Probably yes. I think that the — almost certainly yes. The way the contract works is that company is forbidden to publicize incorrect credits. Once the WGA determines credits, they can’t print up posters, take out ads in newspapers, put a different credit on the screen or on video or when it runs on TV.

But it’s a simple free speech issue. And individual is certainly allowed to say I hired somebody to do something. That’s — I don’t think in any way that Donna did anything wrong there. And in that circumstance I think it kind of was something she probably had to say. I think, I mean, it’s a tough spot. Right? You’re hiring the author’s husband. It feels like, on its face, it feels kind of like crazy nepotism. So, you kind of need to be able to say, “No, no, no, he’s actually a screenwriter, too. He was hired to write on the first movie.”

That’s a fact. I think that was fine for her to say. She didn’t say he deserved credit on it. She didn’t say he was the screenwriter. So, I think that’s fine.

In general, it’s not something that you see executives doing because, frankly, they have as much investment as we do in our system of credits.

John: I agree with your separation of facts from sort of general policy and practices.

So, you know, by rules they’re not allowed to stick his name on as a writer. That very clearly would be a violation. But facts are facts. And so you can’t just pretend that reality doesn’t exist and that he wasn’t hired. I think it’s a completely reasonable thing for her to say in this situation.

And people will ask me about a film that I’ve worked on that I’m not credited on, I will happily say, “Yes, I worked on that movie, but I never claimed I should have gotten credit.” Yet, all the same, you will see the situations, we talked about the situations on previous arbitrations where people have been very unhappy. And so you can’t go back through and enter into a time machine and un-say all the things you said about who you thought should have gotten credit on the movie.

You said that aloud and that was a thing that happened. And that’s why I think it’s important to be very, very mindful about the kinds of things you’re saying publicly about movies that have not yet had final credits because you don’t know what’s going to happen.

And so just treating everybody fairly and nicely, and being kind, is a general good rule.

Craig: Yeah. It’s one of those areas where restraint is a good policy. If you must, for extenuating circumstances, as was I think the case here with Donna, yeah sure. But, you know, otherwise if you don’t have to, don’t. You know, it just feels more professional to me, at least, that we not do that sort of thing.

John: So, our next question comes from John in London. He writes, “I don’t think my question has been covered yet on the show, but the longer I wonder about it, the more it feels like a time bomb. I’ve begun to write film criticism for a website here in the UK and I’m having a great time of it. I would love to eventually work in Hollywood as a screenwriter. And I have the slightest paranoia that some of the reviews I’ve written, some of which have been mildly scathing, but eventually make me someone that can’t be hired.

“What do you think about this? Have I been watching too many ’70s paranoid thrillers? Or is there cause for concern about publicly criticizing one’s work, and then having it come back to bit me?”

Craig: Good question. Well, I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest to you that you stop being scathing, just because I don’t really feel that that’s productive or helps anybody. Criticism is different than scathing. I don’t know what “mildly scathing” means. That’s an oxymoron. Regardless, film critics routinely overestimate their importance and impact on the business.

I actually think barely anyone would notice. It’s possible that if you wrote something and you sat down with the director that you wanted to direct your script, and you had destroyed that person, they would have something to say to you and rightly so because at this point you’d kind of be a hypocrite.

But, if you sat down with a studio, they don’t care that you gave their movies bad reviews. You know what they care about? If their movie bombed or not.

If you give a hit movie a bad review, it’s like you didn’t happen. If you give a bomb a bad review, it’s like you didn’t happen. [laughs] It kind of doesn’t matter, because the movie was going to bomb with you or without you. And the movie was going to be a hit with you or without you.

There is an interesting thing that happens with — it doesn’t happen frequently, but occasionally film critics will become screenwriters. Rod Lurie I believe was a film critic who became a screenwriter. Stephen Schiff, who I’ve mentioned before on the podcast, is an excellent screenwriter and he was a film critic for The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. So he was pretty high up on that food chain.

And I once asked him about it, and it was sort of a version of your question, John. And he said, “Maybe three or four months after I had left my job as a film critic and started my job as a screenwriter, it kind of all came to me in a rush that the entire time I was writing film reviews and critiquing films for The New Yorker and Vanity Fair I had no idea what I was talking about. None.” And he said occasionally he would see a lot of his old cohorts who were still writing reviews and it was the feeling that he suspects ex-smokers get when they see their friends huddled outside of a bar all puffing away.

You know, there’s this other thing on the other side that actually is, frankly, more rewarding. So, I’m thrilled that you want to work in Hollywood as a screenwriter. I think that’s spectacular. And I would suggest to you that you would be better served working on that now than spending too much time writing mildly scathing reviews of movies. I don’t think that’s going to help you achieve what I think you’re saying you want to achieve.

John: I agree with you, particularly because your name is going to be associated with a bunch of reviews of movies that aren’t especially good largely. I mean, yes, hopefully you’re reviewing lots of really good movies and you’re saying very smart, wonderful things about them. And maybe you can be a champion for some movies that otherwise would go unnoticed.

But more likely, you’re going to have to see some terrible movies and tell everybody that they’re terrible. And your instinct will be to use your clever words to describe their terribleness in a way that is rewarding to the audience for having read through what you’re writing. And that’s not going to serve you well down the road.

If people do find those reviews, they will be mildly annoyed by you when you try to sit down with them for a meeting. If you want to be a screenwriter, I think you’d be better off writing screenplays than writing reviews of other people’s movies. Just, you know, it’s great to watch movies. It’s great to watch movies to understand movies, but just like we’ve talked about before, writing a bunch of coverage on screenplays is a great way to learn about screenplays and then you have to stop because it will just burn a hole in your brain.

And I think being a film reviewer will ultimately burn that hole in your brain and hurt you as a screenwriter down the road.

Craig: I agree. Our next question is from Kirk who lives in Huntington Beach here in sunny California. And he says, “What are your thoughts on using sizzle reels in pitches? Specifically Ripomatic ones? I found this term online, so I don’t know if it’s something people actually say. If not, I’m referring to when one would edit together clips of existing movies/copyrighted footage.”

So, as an aside, yes, people do say Ripomatic. So, the idea is that you would find bits of movies that would be sort of like the thing you’d be doing in your movie. And then you edit it together to show them sort of what your scene might look like.

Kirk continues, “I have a professor who swears by them. He has actually worked in the industry. But he also says not to use recognizable people, for instance, movie stars, the people in all existing movies. I have watched a few online.” I think he means a few Ripomatics. “Including Rian Johnson’s for Looper. He used voiceover from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, the eventual star, but he used stuff from Se7en and we saw Brad Pitt very clearly.

“Is it better to use a variety of people, not just one actor as a stand in? Or is it okay to use one actor as the star of the sizzle reel? Or is it not wise to make or use a sizzle reel at all if I were to be pitching as a screenwriter and not a writer-director?”

John, what do you think about this?

John: I think sizzle reels are terrific for directors. Sizzle reels are a useful tool for a director to land a job or to convince people that as a writer-director that you should be hiring them to direct this movie. I don’t think writers should be making sizzle reels. I think writers should be writing scripts and that is where they should largely focus their time and energy.

But sizzle reels I think are good. I think they’re a useful way of describing to somebody what the movie is going to look like because words will fall apart. And people will see different things when you describe a movie. But if you show them what the movie could look like, that will get them excited and they will lean in and I think it will be a useful tool for you.

So, I strongly encourage sizzle reels. In terms of using one actor or multiple actors, it’s going to depend on what your project is. In most cases, I’ve found sizzle reels are much more useful to describe the world, what the movie feels like, rather than try to show a hero’s journey. Because frankly you’re going to be really Frankensteining something together to try to show this actor from different movies to try to make that feel like one movie.

What’s your thoughts, Craig?

Craig: Yeah, I mean this is not something screenwriters ever do. If you’re trying to sell yourself as a director, if you’re trying to get financing for a movie, sure. But we’re paid to create a movie through words only. That’s our gig. So, if we can’t pitch at using words only, then we have a problem. If we can’t provide some sample of our writing that is words only, we have a problem.

So, when you ask is it not wise to make or use a sizzle reel at all if I’m to be pitching as a screenwriter, my answer to you is it is not wise.

John: 100 percent agree. Now, there have been times where I’ve brought visual aids in, and that I think can be very, very useful. Like when we were pitching Prince of Persia, we brought in artwork that showed kind of what the world looked like. That was useful; it was something for them to — it was literally just like mounted on cardboard and showed what that thing looked like. Great. Terrific. Absolutely do that.

But if you’re having to stop and show a reel for something, then you have lost their interest in what you are pitching for your take. So, I would not recommend that.

Craig: Absolutely yes. Still photos, I mean, we did this with the movie that I’m doing with Lindsay. We had a collection of still photos that we submitted along to say, look, this is what certain things will look like. And that was very helpful. But no Ripomatics. No. And those are our questions. Those are the questions of the week.

John: There were a lot of questions, but we covered a wide range of topics. So, it’s almost time for One Cool Things. Before we get to One Cool Things, a few weeks back I had invited our listeners if they were in the Los Angeles area and wanted to join us for a play test of this new game we were trying, I would love them to come help play test it. And they did. They showed up. And they were wonderful. And we had a really good play test.

And we’re actually really close to being able to launch this game. So, the game is called One Hit Kill. It is a card game. It is fun. And if you want to see what the artwork looks like for it, even the people who came to the play test were testing some sort of generic artwork, so you can see what the real artwork looks like. We have a site now. It’s just onehitkillgame.com. And you can see what the cards look like. And it’s good. It’s fun.

And there’s also kind of a meta game happening on that site, so you can unlock additional cards. As we are recording this on a Thursday, no one has actually unlocked all the cards, so perhaps when this episode comes out on Tuesday someone unlocks it all on that day, I will know it just because of Scriptnotes and I will tweet my congratulations to you.

So, if you want to see this new game we’re about to launch, it’s called One Hit Kill and you can find it at onehitkillgame.com.

But now it’s time for the real One Cool Things. Craig, what is your One Cool Thing this week?

Craig: My One Cool Thing is called Rocketbook. This was tweeted to me by one of our listeners. It’s an Indiegogo campaign, so forgive me.

John: Ha-ha. I can’t forgive you for this, Craig.

Craig: I kind of can’t forgive myself. I can’t.

John: But tell us about it.

Craig: Well, it’s a sort of fascinating little product here. And their goal was $20,000. They have currently raised $669,000, so they’re doing pretty well. It looks like a standard school spiral notebook kind of deal. But it’s a bit more than that.

So, you take notes in it, and there are multiple pages. I think their typical one is like 50 sheets. And you take notes in class or wherever and then at the bottom of the page there are a bunch of icons. One of them is for Dropbox. One is for Evernote. One is for Google Drive. You know, stuff like that. And you can check which one of those you want your notes to go to. And then the idea is when you’re done, you use their app to take a picture of the double fold, you know, so you open up two pages at a time. Take a picture of those two pages at a time. It will read the pages, scan them, I think it OCRs them. It also sees which of the things you’ve checked off at the bottom. Sends the things to the various spots you want them to go.

And then in perhaps the niftiest little bit of all, if you use these particular kinds of pens called Friction pens by Pilot, you can erase the pages by microwaving the notebook. [laughs] I’ve stunned you, haven’t I?

John: Yes.

Craig: I’ve just put me you into like a –

John: You have not stunned me at all. You have stunned me in many ways, but I want you to finish. So, talk me through the pros and cons of this product.

Craig: Well, I think the number one pro is microwave! I’m microwaving my notebook. I love the fact that there are multiple selectable paths to upload things. So, I’m taking notes on one page because I know I want them to go into a Dropbox thing, but on this page I’m doing stuff on a project that I’m sharing with other people, so I put it in a shared box at Google Drive. That’s really cool.

The fact that I can erase it that easily, so I don’t have to use pencil, I use pen, and it erases that easily is brilliant.

The only con as far as I’m concerned is that you have to actually take pictures of the pages which is kind of a pain in the butt. If you do this regularly, it’s very manageable. If you have six weeks of notes, which is probably not advisable, then it would become a huge bummer.

But, you know, it doesn’t seem like it’s going to be that expensive. $65 gets you two of the Rocketbooks and a six-pack of the Friction pens. That’s pretty reasonable for a product like this. You know, in my mind I was thinking would this help my son because a lot of times the pages come out, they fall out of the binder, they go bye-bye in his room. So, I thought it was pretty cool. What do you think?

John: Great. So, I was fascinated by your choice of this because first off it’s Indiegogo, so it’s essentially Kickstarter. You’re recommending a Kickstarter project.

Craig: That’s right.

John: That’s fascinating. Second off, episode 100 of our show, we’re approaching 200, episode 100, what was my One Cool Thing? It was the Friction pens. And we were up on the stage in front of a live audience and you and Rawson made fun of me for the Friction pens.

Craig: Well, yeah, of course. The pens alone. Who cares?

John: Who cares? So these are the erasable pens. And so the reason why they’re erasable is it’s actually heat friction that erases them. So, yes, is it a clever idea to microwave the notebook to get rid of them, yes. But any notebook you microwave with a Friction pen on it will erase. So, that’s essentially nothing magical about the notebook.

Craig: I’m standing by Rawson and myself that you need both to be exciting.

John: So the microwave — I applaud them for using the microwave as a marketing hook.

Craig: Very clever.

John: I do salute them for that. So, this app that you point the camera at and it scans, that was another one of my One Cool Things. That was Scannable App from Evernote which does the same thing.

Craig: Oh really? Huh?

John: So, yes, that was a previous One Cool Thing, so we’ll have links to both of those there. It is a free app for Evernote that does the same situation. So, what is genuinely clever about what they seem to be doing is that you have multiple paths, so you can send it to Dropbox, whatever. So, I applaud them for that. But the $65, whatever that pledge tier is, any piece of people will work as well as the notebook. And the Friction pens you can get at Office Depot.

So, they’re making a lot of money on that. So, what you really essentially are paying for I think is the app, which has no small amount of engineering, so I applaud them for that, but I do find it fascinating that other previously dismissed things of mine packaged together are Craig’s One Cool Thing.

Craig: Well, I guess, you know what? You’re jealous. [laughs] That’s the deal. You’re just jealous.

John: That’s what it is. I’m deeply, deeply jealous.

Craig: All I can say is this. When you said it, nobody cared. When these guys said it, they got $670,000. There’s some magic in their pudding, man. They got a flavor in there. It’s like a special flavor. I don’t know.

John: I’m going to say that adding microwave to One Hit Kill will clearly be the thing that would push it over the top.

Craig: You could try. I’m just saying.

John: I should try.

Craig: You should try.

John: My One Cool Thing this week is the new trackpad on the 12-inch MacBook and on the 13-inch MacBook Pro. So, what is remarkable about the trackpad now is that it seems completely unremarkable. Like you click on it, it’s like, oh, it’s fine. Until you find out how it’s actually working. Have you seen how they actually do the trackpad now?

Craig: Yeah. It’s not moving at all. It’s just using this haptic thing so that it seems like it’s clicking. But it’s not clicking.

John: Yeah. It’s not clicking. It’s all an illusion. So, if you go into an Apple store and you go to one of their computers, if you were to turn it off, go to shut down and actually turn the power off, and you tapped on where the trackpad is, like it doesn’t click at all. But the minute you turn it on, it clicks. And it’s all an illusion. And so essentially there’s a little motor underneath it that is creating the vibration that really makes your finger think that it is clicking.

And so because it is all an illusion, it can also create the illusion that if you push harder on it, it has a second level of depth and it clicks down deeper. And it is remarkable how well it fools your finger into thinking that it’s done something that it has not done at all. So, I would just encourage you to try it out next time you’re at the Apple store because the first time I was at the Apple store and I was trying one I was like, oh, this must not be the new one because this doesn’t feel any different. But it was completely different.

Craig: I’m waiting on that one just because I’m looking for them to release a new cinema display that works with their USB 3.0 port. How are you — like for instance, right now, you have to plug in your microphone and you also have to plug in power. It wouldn’t work with this?

John: It really wouldn’t work with this. And so I was debating getting the 12-inch. I tried typing on it. I hated it. And people I know who have used it, they’ve said like, oh no, the typing is fine when you get used to it, but no one loves the keyboard on it. Or very few people love the keyboard.

So, my travel computer was an 11-inch MacBook Air. And it was just too small. The hard drive was too small. The screen was too small. And I was making do and I decided to stop making due. So, I ended up buying the 13-inch MacBook Pro and it’s great.

Craig: That’s what I use.

John: I’m happy with it. It’s heavier, but it’s fine. And the screen is delightful. And I got the new trackpad, so I’m delighted.

Craig: Yeah, that’s cool. All right. Awesome. That was a good show. Good show.

John: Good show. Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli who also did the outro this week.

If you have a question for me or for Craig, you can write to us on Twitter. I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.

Longer questions like the ones we answered this week, you should write into ask@johnaugust.com.

At johnaugust.com you will find the show notes for this episode and every episode. You will also find transcripts for every episode. So, thanks Stuart for getting those all edited because that is a huge part of his job every Thursday is getting those transcripts up.

Craig: Yeah.

John: If you are listening to this on the website, you should also go over to iTunes and subscribe, because that helps people find out about our podcast and sign up themselves. You should also leave us a comment, because we love comments, because we’re human being. You can also leave notes on Facebook for us or on Twitter. Specifically on Facebook we’d love to know your thoughts about, A, do you have a great venue for hosting our 200th episode where we can livestream it; should we do more USB drives; which are the best episodes we’ve ever done? Facebook can be a great place to tell us about that, or you can email us.

You can also find all of the back episodes at Scriptnotes.net. Some of my favorite episodes that you will find there are the bonus episodes, the ones that never got released to the main feed, especially like the Dirty Episode with Rebel Wilson.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Her story about the beret will make you never want to actually look at a beret the same way again.

Craig: Yeah, it was gorgeous.

John: It was gorgeously filthy.

Craig: Yes.

John: So, that was a fun one. So, if you’re a new subscriber to the premium feed and you haven’t listened to the Dirty show, maybe listen to the Dirty show.

Final plug for One Hit Kill. It’s at onehitkillgame.com if you want to see the artwork for that. And we will be back with you next week. Craig, have a good week.

Craig: You too, John.

John: See ya.

Craig: Bye.

Links:

The long and short of it

Tue, 05/05/2015 - 08:03

John and Craig dig into the listener mailbag and take questions on TV producer credits, jealousy over other writers’ success, writing tight vs writing long and plenty of other follow up.

It’s a jam packed episode worthy of a long commute.

We also have information on the card game we playtested in LA a few weeks back. It’s called One Hit Kill, and you can see some of the artwork and play our mini-game at onehitkillgame.com now.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Check out the game we’re making

Mon, 05/04/2015 - 13:49

Back in March, I put out a call for playtesters. They answered, and together we took over a game store on Wilshire for one night, working through the new card game we’re developing.

We had temp cards with no artwork — even the title of the game was omitted. Didn’t matter. The players dug it.

“Fun + fast. Catan meets Magic meets Uno.”

“Old-fashioned and modern at the same time.”

“If a mad scientist created a card game, this would be it.”

There’s still plenty more to do, but it’s time to start telling people about the game — including the name.

It’s called One Hit Kill. It’s a game full of ridiculously overpowered weapons, drawn from science fiction, myth and popular culture.

It has Krakens and Portals to Nowhere. There are Time Machines, Elven Bows and Railguns. Even Cthulhu’s Granddad makes an appearance.

You can check out some of the weapons and other cards at our prelaunch website: onehitkillgame.com

Sign in, and you’ll get a special URL to share with friends to unlock additional cards. (Yes, even the prelaunch is sort of a game. We can’t stop ourselves.)

The first person to unlock all the artwork will receive one of the numbered decks from the playtest.1

We anticipate launching One Hit Kill sometime next week. Follow us on our brand-new Twitter account for details: @onehitkillgame

Thanks again to our 30 brave playtesters. Excited to show the rest of the world what you helped shape.

  1. Yes, the system logs IPs, so spamming a bunch of fake email addresses isn’t going to win you anything.

Scriptnotes, Ep 195: Writing for Hollywood without living there — Transcript

Mon, 05/04/2015 - 09:45

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

Today, we are going to be talking about how to have a Hollywood career when you don’t live in Hollywood. And since that’s a topic Craig and I don’t really know anything about, we have a special guest with us here today.

Craig: Special guest.

John: Ryan Knighton is the author of books including Cockeyed and C’mon Papa: Dispatches from a Dad in the Dark. He’s written essays for Esquire, The New York Times, Salon.com, and The Globe and Mail. He’s also a screenwriter. In addition to the movie adaption of Cockeyed, he’s currently writing a feature for Ridley Scott.

Craig: For who?

John: Ridley Scott.

Craig: Never heard of him. No.

John: That talented director.

Craig: No.

John: He also teaches at Capilano University in Vancouver.

Craig: The Couve. Yeah.

John: Welcome, Ryan Knighton.

Ryan Knighton: Thank you. I think of it as like LA’s northernmost suburbs.

John: That’s a very good — very apt analogy.

Craig: Pretty much. Yeah, I mean, I’ve spent enough time there. I feel like it’s, by the way, great city. I actually love that city.

Ryan: Yeah, what about it?

Craig: I mean –

Ryan: Did I sound disparaging?

Craig: A touch. A little challenging, a little disbelieving. I hate to truck in stereotypes but Canadians in general are super nice. Sorry.

Ryan: Sorry. [laughs]

Craig: Sorry. How do you get the Canadian paparazzi off your lawn?

John: I don’t know.

Craig: You ask them to get off your lawn, please. The air is really clean. And it’s just beautiful. It’s a beautiful town. If you don’t like where you are, just ride your bike 10 minutes over a bridge and you’re in a different part. I love it. I just love Vancouver.

John: Yeah, why would you ever leave Vancouver, Ryan?

Ryan: For a career in Hollywood.

Craig: Ohh…

John: Oh, well that’s a perfect reason to have you on the podcast.

Craig: Yes, of course.

Ryan: Yeah.

John: So walk us through some back story. So you wrote these books and when did the bug to become a screenwriter kick in? Was that before you wrote the books? Has it always been there? What is your history with screenwriting and movies?

Ryan: Well, I was actually really a TV kid. I didn’t read a lot of books. And, you know, I grew up watching Three’s Company reruns basically. That was my education.

John: That’s great.

Ryan: So I’d never really had a plan of going into books but the long story is I lost my sight when I was in my late teens. So I’m actually a blind guy. And I went to university because of that. I was driving forklifts poorly when I was losing my sight.

Craig: Probably.

Ryan: Yeah.

Craig: I’m just guessing.

Ryan: Yeah. You’re supposed to pick up things with the forks. Not impale things with the forks.

Craig: [laughs] That’s a weird way to find out you’re going blind.

Ryan: It’s a weird way you find you’re going blind.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: Yeah. So I ended up going back to — well, not going back to. I end up going to university and, you know, I kind of got the bug for writing there and I started writing books and articles and things like that. And I had a great chain of mentors. And so TV was never and screenwriting was never really on my horizon. I wished it was — like I wanted to go into theater when I was a sighted guy. I’d done like improv but then when the blackouts started happening on stage, you know, my sight was going and I couldn’t get off stage.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: So, I never thought it was something I’d be able to, you know, participate in. But after I’d done my first memoir Cockeyed, you know, my lit-agent had tried to sell the film rights and nobody would buy it. And they said, you know, it’s very David Sedaris-y but, you know, it’s more like a sequence of essays than a story. But I just knew there was a bunch of stuff on the cutting room floor that actually was probably more in service of a movie than it was the book. So I just picked up the phone and called the film rights agent and I had sort of told them what other material I had. And he said, “Well, you know, it would help if you wrote a treatment.” And I said, “What’s a treatment?”

Craig: We’ve all been there by the way.

Ryan: You’ve been there?

Craig: Everybody that is asked to write a treatment goes, “Uh-huh”. And then they immediately run to somebody and go, “What the F is a treatment?”

Ryan: And that’s probably your first career choice.

Craig: Pretty much.

Ryan: It’s like if you didn’t ask that question, you would have no career, but it’s the people who say, “Okay, what’s a treatment?”

Craig: Yeah, yeah. “Can someone please help me?”

Ryan: Yeah.

Craig: It’s a weird word for what that is. Yeah.

Ryan: Yeah.

Craig: Tell us what a treatment is?

Ryan: Me?

Craig: Well, somebody — you’re the person now that’s going to answer the question for them.

Ryan: Well, it’s weird, like he sent me three and he said sort of imitate these. And my first thing was, “Oh, it’s in present tense. How weird? As a book writer, as a memoirist, I mean, why do you guys write in present tense?”

Craig: Right.

Ryan: So that was actually a strange thing to switch to. I actually had to really self-consciously work in present tense when I was writing whereas like teaching in the university now, all my students write in present tense. They have no past.

Craig: [laughs] It’s so strange.

Ryan: It’s a weird glitch in the culture now. I wonder if it’s — did you guys read The Hunger Games books?

John: Are they written in present tense?

Craig: Yeah, and it really threw me but I could also see how that probably helped them.

Craig: They were?

Ryan: Yeah, and it probably helped when it was time to adapt them because everything was just — and it was all present tense first person.

John: Yeah.

Ryan: Well, my theory has been that it’s arisen as in speech the way like has arisen to replace said. That you’ve switched from a print-based culture to a mediated culture where, you know, “said” is for print culture. You know, “This is what I said.” And now we say, “I was like this.” Like you’re performing it.

John: Mm-hmm.

Ryan: And sort of present tense is in that sort of more performance mode, right?

Craig: And there you were trying to engage in performance mode with your treatment.

Ryan: Yes.

John: Yes.

Ryan: So it made sense. And, you know, I imitated. And what I learned was just, you know, tell me the sort of the short barstool yarn of the story with its big moments. And I just tried my best and it was too long because I was writing books and it took me awhile to learn less is more and less is still more. And so I did that and nobody was interested still but that was interesting.

Craig: So far it’s going great.

Ryan: It was going great.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: And then he said, “Well, you know, you should maybe just take a crack at writing the script, adapt the book yourself.” And I said, “Great. How do I do that?” And he said I needed to get Final Draft and so I got that.

Craig: Which you don’t by the way. You don’t need Final Draft.

Ryan: Well, I didn’t know.

Craig: You know, we — you were lied to. [laughs]

Ryan: [laughs]

John: He just lied to you this whole time. [laughs]

Ryan: [laughs] It’s like I just learned this on this spot.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: I’ve been lied to for the last 10 years.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: So I got that and then he sent me three scripts and just said, “Read these and try and imitate the format.” And then I will be shameless here, I found both of your websites and I’m basically an alumni of your websites.

John: Holy cow.

Craig: Fantastic.

Ryan: That was my education in screenwriting.

Craig: I have a question for you. When you say, “They sent you these,” I mean, you’re learning about the format of screenwriting, how does format work? I assume you’re reading these in Braille.

Ryan: I don’t actually read Braille.

Craig: So what are you doing? How do you pick up the — ?

Ryan: I have a voice synthesizer that reads to me.

Craig: Okay.

Ryan: And it’s sort of like Stephen Hawking basically.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: And if you get this voice synthesizer as a blind though, the first thing you do is you write a little bit of soft core just because it’s really interesting to hear Stephen Hawking do smut.

Craig: So hot. [laughs] Right.

Ryan: It is as funny as you imagine.

Craig: Yeah. [laughs]

Ryan: And I hope a lot of people right now are really trying to do this.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: Yeah.

Craig: But how do you pick up the format from that?

Ryan: Well, the format, I mean, it reads to me. It’s case sensitive in voice.

Craig: I see.

Ryan: So I can hear when things are capitalized.

Craig: I see.

Ryan: And it tells me when I’m in the action line or if I’m in a dialogue line so I know where I am in terms of function.

Craig: How does it tell you then? Out of curiosity.

Ryan: Well, it’s just sort of key strokes, you know, I sort of figured out how my voice synthesizer interacts with the program.

Craig: I see. Got it.

Ryan: Or what it reads me. And mostly I just — I wrote action lines, you know, character names and dialogue. I never really wrote parentheticals. And afterwards I would just get somebody to proof it for me and tell me if I had actually accidentally written a dialogue line in an action line and fix it.

Craig: Makes sense.

Ryan: So I had to have somebody check it. But I just, I loved it. I loved writing it. And I thought, this is so awesome to see if I can go where I’m unwanted like if I can go down to Hollywood and convince somebody that you need blind people describing pictures to you –

Craig: [laughs] Right.

Ryan: That will be like the best ever.

Craig: What can’t you do after that?

Ryan: Exactly! I figured. I figured that is the most unwanted person in Hollywood so I’m going to try that.

Craig: I love it.

John: It strikes that writing, you know, both writing in just normal fiction and writing in screenwriting the visual challenges, the lack of being able to see everything else on the page would present issues just because of — or your visual buffer. Like you can’t look back up like three paragraphs what was there. You have to physically sort of scroll up there to hear it.

Ryan: Yes.

John: Like you can’t just glance at it. You have to have it read it back to you at that moment. So do you think you have a bigger overall buffer for what’s around the line that you’re currently writing because you can’t just look at it?

Ryan: I do. I do. I write straight. I just write directly straight ahead as long as I can without going back and rereading.

John: Okay.

Ryan: Because it is a chore. It goes up and it reads me line by line like whatever line my cursor is on, it reads that line and it stops reading at the end of a line; not at the end of the grammatical unit.

John: Okay.

Craig: Oh, I see.

Ryan: So it takes a while to get used to it. And I probably should have brought it with me. You could have heard it. You wouldn’t be able to understand it. It speaks so quickly.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: But it’s sort of like, you get so used to the voice that you can accelerate it and accelerate it and still process the voice whereas people who’ve never heard it before can’t process it.

Craig: It’s just something you train your mind to.

Ryan: Yes, yeah.

Craig: To do. I mean, it’s funny. I was playing this, I guess , what do you call, like, a thought experiment on the way over here where I thought, okay, if I lose my sight, how would that impact my screenwriting? I could see how it would impact my life in all sorts of ways but how would it impact my screenwriting. And, you know, the technical aspects you’re describing, the chores, they’re there. But it’s funny like in terms of imagination and screen, what screenwriting ultimately is at its core is so — it’s so internal.

Ryan: Yeah.

Craig: You know, it’s so mind’s eye based.

Ryan: It is. And actually that’s what I discovered was I found a form basically or a format where what you are doing is describing a picture to somebody who can’t see it.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: So it’s basically a blind format.

Craig: Yes.

Ryan: And, you know, but it put me on the other side of the table where I’m the one describing rather than being the one being told. And so I come at it from a very kind of empathetic ear to what it’s like to hear pictures being told that are paste inappropriately to how they’re actually unfolding. Like –

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: Action sequences that actually are quite slow. Or –

Craig: That’s interesting.

Ryan: You know, when a bus is barreling down at a character, you don’t want a rococo sentence about it.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: That’s not the feeling.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. And you’ve been at the mercy of poorly told visual paintings.

Ryan: Yes. Because my image of the world in my mind’s eye is mediated by other people’s language, and so, I’m really fickle.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: You want that specificity and clarity. That’s not to make people uncomfortable. Like if you meet me, don’t think I’m judging you.

John: [laughs]

Ryan: But, you know.

Craig: Oh, you are.

Ryan: But if the bus is coming at me, you know, don’t take your time.

Craig: Right, exactly. Yeah, yes.

Ryan: [laughs] In telling me that it’s coming.

Craig: Paint the story well.

Ryan: Yeah.

Craig: Paint the story well.

Ryan: Paint it well in its appropriate pace.

Craig: Well, if it weren’t hard enough for you as a screenwriter because you are blind, you also decided, “And I also don’t want to live in Hollywood. I think I want to stay here in Vancouver,” is that –

Ryan: Yeah.

Craig: So are there any other challenges by the way that we don’t know about?

Ryan: And I’m illiterate.

Craig: Narcoleptic perhaps or –

Ryan: I actually have never seen a movie, but — [laughs]

Craig: [laughs] Never seen a movie.

Ryan: Never seen a movie. No, well, I already had a life up there, right. I mean, I’ve been teaching at a university since I was in my 20s and, you know, it’s a good day job and I still like it, too. I only teach part time now. I have for years because I’m writing all the time. But I like to go back in the classroom and teach first or second year just basic writing or creative writing just to kind of check in with the 18 year olds –

Craig: Right.

Ryan: And see what they’re thinking about. And I also think it’s really useful once a year just to go in there and sort of reacquaint myself with the basics of things.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: Just to see if they’re still true. I think sometimes you develop habits that you think are truths and they’re not necessarily. So I like that once a year to go back in. So it’s one of the reasons I stay there. And then, you know, I have an 8-year-old daughter and she’s in school and my wife has her job up there.

Craig: Sure.

Ryan: And I’m Canadian. There is a culture. I do feel different down here. I couldn’t explain what it is but I do feel like a foreigner.

Craig: No, you absolutely are.

Ryan: Yeah, yeah, so it is true.

Craig: The word for you is alien actually.

Ryan: Oh, yeah.

John: Yeah, you’re an alien.

Craig: You are. But you’re legal.

Ryan: Okay. [laughs]

Craig: [laughs] You’re legal.

Ryan: So I stayed. I stayed up there.

John: Let’s figure out the history here. So the first script you’re writing is the adaption of your first book.

Ryan: Yeah, I adapted Cockeyed at the urging of my film rights agent because it means — I came out of the book world and for those that don’t know, you know, you have a lit agent in the book world who sells the rights to different countries for your book, your publishing rights. So Canada has a sale, US has a sale, they’re all separate. And then the film rights is something that’s usually handled by a subagent and they have the connections at the studios and the production companies to try and get somebody interested in it. So at his urging, I tried to spec, you know, adapt my memoir. And he submitted it to the Sundance Lab and I made it down to the final 25 for that and came down for a meeting with the lovely Sundance Institute people.

John: Yeah, they’re wonderful. And I’ve been an adviser and a mentor at Sundance for many, many sessions. So what was your experience dealing with Sundance and what was that process like for you?

Ryan: Well, it was amazing because it came down for the interview for the shortlist and I was expecting a lot of questions about like, “Oh, you know, how do you write? How do you put on your pants in the morning?”

John: Yeah.

Ryan: That’s what I’m used to. It’s like, “What do you see when you dream?”

Craig: [laughs]

Ryan: But they asked me just a lot of really nuts and bolts, kibbles and bits questions about story.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: And I realized, holy shit, I’m a writer and I don’t know much about story, particularly in the book world and coming out of academia, you know, you know a lot about rhetoric and genre theory and you don’t know the first thing about storytelling.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: And they asked me one really amazing question that sold me so well on the experience which was, you know, I was adapting my own memoir. I knew it wasn’t going to be the book anymore. It was going to be a different story because it’s a different beast when you’re doing a movie. I’d have to sacrifice certain things and drop certain plots and things.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: But the question they asked me was, “What do you think of sentimentality?” And it was such a strong question because in my memoir, basically, the story is, you know, I started losing my sight when I was in my teens and they said, “You could lose it completely within two years or five years or ten years, we don’t know. It could, you know, go really quick or it could just stop. But, you know, plan your future around that.”

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: And I was a working-class kid and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t have great grades in school and all that kind of stuff. And when I was telling this story in the book, I made one choice which was I didn’t want to tell the scene when I was diagnosed. It’s just sort of the medical porn of all those trauma memoirs.

Craig: Absolutely.

Ryan: And I just didn’t want it. So I think I captured it in like maybe a sentence like after my diagnosis. And that was it. And I moved on in the story to the things that really interested me. And I cannot tell you how many people when I went on tour with that book said how moved they were by the diagnosis scene.

Craig: That they filled in with their mind.

Ryan: What they filled in. And because the genre and the culture is so front loaded –

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: That we think we know the story before it even starts and we know it’s going to be a story about triumph of the human spirit. And the worst thing that happens to you when you go blind is you become inspirational. It’s just horrible.

Craig: Yeah, tragic really.

Ryan: And you can’t –

Craig: Because you just want to be a bastard, don’t you? [laughs]

Ryan: You just do. [laughs] Well, wouldn’t you? I mean, it’s sort of like –

Craig: I do every day.

Ryan: It’s like you become a –

Craig: I’m living the dream. [laughs]

Ryan: [laughs] It’s like you become a cartoon character. Now you can say anything.

Craig: Right, right.

Ryan: But anyways, that taught me something. And when I went into the Sundance interview and they asked me about sentimentality, I realized they understood that element in the culture that the culture is going to impose something on this that isn’t necessarily there.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: Or you’re going to be a sucker to it, too. I mean, just because you’re a blind guy doesn’t mean you’re immune to it.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: And they called me on it and I had dipped into it in parts of the script just because I didn’t know how else to handle it. And so I just substituted what the culture had sort of taught me to think about these stories. Nobody in the book world had said that to me.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: And I was just so impressed by their command.

Craig: It’s interesting. I really like the point you’re making about the difference, one of the differences, there’s many, between the world of we’ll call literary fiction and academic literary analysis and mainstream or even independent filmmaking that so much of the literary world is about deconstruction and undermining text and ripping the conventions apart and so much about what we do is to actually perfect some kind of narrative.

Ryan: That’s right.

Craig: Like a structured narrative, you know, it’s almost oppositional in its approach.

Ryan: It very much is.

Craig: You felt that jump when you –

Ryan: I totally felt that jump.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: Yeah.

John: I think it also speaks to the nature of present tense story telling versus this past tense which literally fiction tends to be told in the past tense where everything can be sort of looked at through a gauze of history and perspective and you can pause for a long time to figure out like what that moment actually was and what event versus screenwriting which has to keep chugging along at 24 frames per second. Like, it’s always about what’s happening right now.

Ryan: That’s right.

John: And the only way to encounter a moment or encounter an emotion is to find some way for it to be happening in the present tense and not to reflect back on something that happened before.

Ryan: I think in some ways I had a perfect storm of, you know, sort of collateral education for this which was — I mean, first of all, the only kind of pros I was doing be it for articles like I still do travel writing for magazines, you know, it’s like send the blind guy to the to the revolution in Cairo and see what happens. Right?

Craig: [laughs] Did they really do that?

Ryan: Yeah, it was awesome.

Craig: Oh my god. [laughs]

Ryan: It’s like I’m basically Forest Gump in the back of a CNN shot just looking for water.

Craig: [laughs] Oh my god. I want to read that.

Ryan: I just, I mean, I love that stuff. The thing that I like about non-fiction is non-fiction is really — it doesn’t matter if it’s magazine form or book form, long-form thinking. It’s really the art of omission. You have a finite amount of raw material to work with and it’s how you remove things to make the shape of a story emerge.

Craig: That’s right.

Ryan: And I think especially with memoirs and true stories which I do a lot of adapting of that I think an interesting life isn’t necessarily an interesting story.

Craig: That’s right.

Ryan: And accomplishment isn’t necessarily an interesting story. You know, that we think of those as like these big moments but sometimes there is no story that grows from that moment or grows up to that moment that gives it the kind of punch that it needs.

Craig: Absolutely. Yeah, I always feel like the stories about extraordinary people or ordinary people doing extraordinary things that you never get to the place where it becomes a movie until you figure out the ordinary thing that matters, you know.

Ryan: Oh, yeah.

Craig: And I was talking about it with John Lee Hancock. I remember he was looking at The Rookie to direct that. I don’t know if you ever –

Ryan: John Lee was one of the advisers at the Sundance Lab.

Craig: And he’s the best. And The Rookie is basically the story of a high school coach who had burned out as a Minor League baseball player early on from an injury. So there he was a baseball coach in Texas I think and Mike Rich I believe wrote the script. And he made a bet with his team that if they could, you know, win so many games or whatever that he would go try out again. Because the guy had pretty live arms still. And they did and he went and he tried out and he ended up pitching in the Majors for like a season and a half at the age of 38, you know, that was the thing.

Ryan: Oh, wow.

Craig: But John didn’t really know how to make that a movie until he understood that it was a story about a father and a son. And that really was what mattered that you have to find the ordinary thing under the extraordinary thing, you know. If you’re writing your own story, in a weird way, I would imagine that you’d have to kind of find the point of why does my life deserve to be a movie beyond the blindness.

Ryan: Yes. It’s true. It’s totally true. In fact, Cockeyed itself, I never think of as a book about blindness.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: I had a brilliant editor in New York and she, you know, that was my first lesson with non-fiction that it’s the art of omission. And my first draft was 120,000 words and she said — she phoned me and she said, “Okay, before we start editing this, I have one question for you. You have to answer it for me in one sentence and you can’t use the word blindness.” And she said, “What is your story — “

Craig: What is your story about? Right. [laughs]

Ryan: And she said, “And you can’t answer it now. You have a week and I’ll phone you.”

Craig: [laughs]

Ryan: “And when you figure out that sentence, it’s a razor. And with that razor we will cut away.”

Craig: Wow. Good for her.

Ryan: And it was hard. But I realized –

Craig: And what was your answer?

Ryan: My answer was that basically it’s a coming of age story about a young man who’s becoming a disabled man and he thinks it’s a contradiction.

Craig: I see.

Ryan: And it’s about masculinity.

Craig: Right. There we go. There we go.

Ryan: Right. And once you had that, it’s like, oh, it just — all the stories read differently.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: Right? Because you think they’re literally about something on the surface. And, you know, when you ask young writers, you know, “What’s your story about?” They tell you what happens which is a very different question –

Craig: Than what it’s about.

Ryan: Than what it’s about.

Craig: Which is the most — well, because now also, I read your book and I’m not reading it from the outside point of view of somebody that’s, say, learning about in a sense of curiosity, well, what’s it like living as somebody who’s blind? I’m reading a story about something that impacts me. This is also about me. I too am a man and if you’re a woman you’re reading about your brother or your father or your son.

Ryan: Yeah.

Craig: It’s relevant.

Ryan: Yeah.

Craig: Then that just is transformative. That question of what it’s about. I mean, we talk about it on the show all the time.

John: Yeah, it’s a thematic question. Like, what is this movie underneath all the plot, underneath all the characters, what is it actually asking and what is it trying to find an answer for?

Craig: Yeah, why does this need to exist essentially. Because if it’s just about what it seems to be about, there’ve already been movies about that, you know. [laughs]

Ryan: Yeah. Because then it becomes like Social Network is about Facebook.

Craig: Right. Exactly. Great example.

Ryan: And I think, you know it’s sort of — what I often say is that stories are a unit of measurement that we measure what we understand in beginnings, middles and ends. And you know when a story is over because it has understood something. Right? And it didn’t know it from the beginning.

Craig: Right?

Ryan: Right. And that’s that feeling of satisfaction at the end of the story. It’s not because the plot is over.

Craig: That’s right.

John: It’s because the machine doesn’t need to run anymore.

Craig: The plot is over because the machine doesn’t need to run anymore.

Ryan: That’s exactly it.

Craig: That’s what resolves the plot.

Ryan: And that was the first lesson from non-fiction that I took into screenwriting was that thing that the art of omission is really what you’re working with in screenwriting, especially when you’re adapting, is really about the art of omission.

Craig: Sure.

Ryan: And so that was one thing. And then the other side, I mean, I did a lot on radio and I’d done stuff with This American Life and The Moth and I learned a lot from working on that side of the media because, you know, when you’re telling a story on the radio, you’re telling it in a time-sensitive medium which is screenwriting as well. You’re telling a story that is going to unfold in time and you’re trying to replicate the effect in the reading of the script of what it would be like watching it in real time.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: And when you write for radio, you’re really sensitive to that. You’re really sensitive to how a story is unfolding and when it’s starting to flag and somebody is going to actually go and do the dishes. And if they came back, would they still be able follow what’s going on? So it was such a great training in the economy of storytelling because you don’t get that with books.

Craig: No, no. If anything, I just imagine books provide you with this remarkable luxury to expand and contract your focus as you wish.

Ryan: Yes.

Craig: It’s kind of the fun of books is that they do that.

Ryan: Yeah. And I love making fun of my novelist friends because I’m like, “Oh, there you guys go, just whenever you got a problem, just make some shit up”.

Craig: Yeah. [laughs]

Ryan: Adding to the pile.

Craig: That’s right.

Ryan: You know, what do I got to do? I’ve got to find something else to remove.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: That’s hard. Digging is harder.

Craig: You have a zero sum game of time.

John: So it was a hard adaptation. So, is the screenplay of Cockeyed similar to the books? In what ways is it different? Is it the same thematic question in the movie version versus the book version?

Ryan: It’s changed in iterations, I mean, when I came out of the Lab, Jodie Foster attached for a couple of years and we worked on it. And she said something to me that was so cutting. [laughs]

Craig: Really?

Ryan: Brutal.

Craig: Sweet Jodie Foster?

Ryan: And so instructive because it was so generously done. And she read the script and she said, “I’ll direct this if…” I hope, you know, I’m sure she’s fine with me saying. She said, “I’ll direct this if you’re willing to do a page one rewrite because I think there’s a big problem in the script.” And she said, “Basically, you’ve written an ensemble story because your character is the least interesting.”

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: Wow.

Ryan: And she said, “You have confused a guy going blind with a transformation of character.”

Craig: Wow.

Ryan: She said, “That’s like washing your hair. It was dirty. Now it’s clean. He’s sighted and now he’s not.” She said, “But the guy at the beginning and the end is still the same person in the script. And I think, you were just avoiding yourself by making the other character stronger.”

Craig: Man, you know, she doesn’t seem like the kind of person that would punch you that hard in the face, but boy, that’s — but she’s right.

Ryan: But she was right, which is so rare.

Craig: I haven’t read either the book or the script but I could tell you she’s right.

John: But I’ll tell you like almost any memoir adapted by its own person, it’s going to have that issue because –

Ryan: Yes.

John: How you find the inherent conflict and contradiction and how do you make yourself the villain of the story in some ways and that’s a real challenge.

Ryan: Yes. And it was sort like, you had to go back and think about who did you think you were going to be and how was it taken from you?

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: And when I had that, I’m like, “Oh, this is a different story now.” And so we rewrote it by taking away the ensemble, like my character wasn’t allowed to be omitted from any scenes just as a constraint to help that.

John: Yeah.

Ryan: And when that happened it became a different story. It became more of a love story about me and my wife and I’d followed her to South Korea because she went there to teach English and I was losing my sight and I went with her but she helped me pretend I could see for six months so I could keep a job.

Craig: Wow.

Ryan: And it was about how we crossed from lovers to caretaker and, you know, girlfriend to mom. And you know, it’s a bit like Lost in Translation in sort of the feel of it. And we ended up sort of amplifying that section to be really a lot of the movie.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Cool.

Ryan: So it changed quite a bit because of that but every time you rewrite something, you learn something different about it. I mean, I’ve written the book. I’ve written the script a few times now in different ways and it still changes.

Craig: And now, you’re writing a screenplay for Sir Ridley.

Ryan: I’ve been adapting something for his company that’s based on a New York Times story –

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: That’s sort of a big military thing.

Craig: Are you allowed to talk about what it is?

Ryan: I don’t think I can.

John: Well, that’s fine.

Craig: Well, you shouldn’t. We’ve never gotten anyone fired. We don’t want to start now.

John: So, Ryan, is this the first job you’ve been hired on to write for somebody else?

Ryan: No.

John: Or you’ve done other stuff for other people too?

Ryan: No, I’ve done — I adapted Proof of Heaven for Universal which was the brain surgeon who had the sort of [crosstalk] visions.

Craig: Yes.

Ryan: It’s actually going back to what Craig was saying about, you know, what is the story about. I don’t think that thing is about the afterlife. I think it’s actually about something quite different. I adapted that. I adapted a thing called Wings of Madness for Chris Wedge which was something he wanted to do as a live action, his first live action. But it’s a really difficult movie to get made because it’s set in like 1903 Paris which everybody is just running to make.

John: Absolutely. 100 percent.

Craig: I’m about to start, the next thing I’m doing is 1903 Russia so –

Ryan: Oh, really?

Craig: I’m going to take the same shovel of the face. So, you’re not alone. [laughs]

Ryan: So we were writing about Alberto Santos-Dumont who was this sort of crazy Brazilian guy who was basically racing the Wright Brothers to invent a flying –

Craig: Oh, I love that.

John: That’s great.

Ryan: But he was the guys who invented the flying balloon. And there’s pictures of him circling it around the Eiffel Tower because he was the first person to prove you could control a balloon in the sky. And he actually had a flying machine in Paris. He’s still the only man who’s ever had an urban flying machine and he used to fly it to Maximes and tether it to the gas lamp like a horse.

John: That’s awesome.

Craig: Wow.

Ryan: I know. It’s like, why it isn’t that a movie?

Craig: Plus the costumes. What a great time for clothing.

Ryan: Oh my god, and the science like the things you discover, I mean, you guys know this way better than I do. But when you get into the research on these things, it’s always the weird little stuff that you stumble on –

Craig: I know.

Ryan: That opens up the story in this just totally amazing way.

Craig: That’s so funny you say that because sometimes this is how you find out you’re a storyteller. I’ll do research for things. And I’ll sit down with somebody who’s an expert in the field and I’ll begin asking questions. And they tell me what they think I’m supposed to know. But the thing that I seize on always surprises them.

Ryan: Yeah.

Craig: They’re like, “Well, why is that important?”

Ryan: Yeah, yeah.

Craig: Because it’s dramatic. That’s why.

Ryan: Yeah.

Craig: But they don’t think that way

John: It’s also why you can’t have somebody else do your research for you. You always say like, “Oh, I’ll have a researcher who will go out and do stuff and pull stuff in.”

Craig: No. You got to do it.

John: It’s the process of like exploration.

John: I can’t imagine letting somebody else do that work. It’s sort of like, “Here, sift through the rock and let me know when you find the good thing.” And it’s like, “I don’t know what I’m even looking for.”

Craig: Right exactly.

John: So you definitely have to dig.

Craig: Yeah. No, no, you have to do it yourself. And actually one of the great — the process of writing oftentimes is miserable. But research, I just love that part.

John: I love it.

Craig: I love that part.

John: Because you can’t fail at research. There’s no –

Craig: I’ve finally figured out why I love it so much. Yeah, I’m always looking for things that I can’t possibly fail at.

Ryan: John, you didn’t do the research quite well enough.

John: Yeah, exactly.

Ryan: That’s so funny.

Craig: This is a cool, so whatever the — you can’t tell us what it’s about but I guess at this point now you’re — after your assignment at Universal, and this is an assignment. You’re now in the cadre of working writers, doing this working writer job.

Ryan: Yes.

Craig: But you still –

Ryan: I just became pensionable, I learned.

Craig: Oh, you’re a vested in our pension.

John: Congratulations.

Ryan: I’m a vested. I’m a vested.

Craig: Welcome.

Ryan: Thank you.

Craig: Welcome. It’s actually quite a good pension.

John: But I want to connect some dots before this.

Craig: Okay.

John: So you wrote this adaptation and Jodie Foster attached herself and you had done Sundance Labs. Is that what first started getting you meetings about other adaptation projects?

Ryan: Things went really quiet for a while. I actually had that feeling. Like from what I’d read and understood, I thought I’m going to come out of the Sundance Lab and like there’s going to be a line up at the door.

Craig: No.

Ryan: No.

Craig: There’s never a line.

Ryan: No, there’s no line. No. And I had a couple of calls but it was much quieter than I sort of thought it would be. And it was hard. It didn’t make my life any easier at that point it seemed. I mean, Jodie definitely helped. And it was sort of nice too when you’re working in this long development process people are like, “Oh, that must be such a drag, two years.” Well, actually, it’s so nice to have those two names together side by side and nothing that anybody can judge them by.

John: Yeah.

Ryan: It’s like you’re just working with Jodie and nobody can say they didn’t like it.

Craig: That’s right.

Ryan: But I didn’t have much happen for a while and then Anne Carey who is a producer in New York called my agent and had a book that she was interested in somebody adapting and she thought of me because I’d had a general meeting with her. I’d done a couple of general meetings, not many, like a couple in New York in the in the indie world and a couple down here. And it just was expensive to do that.

Craig: Yeah, because you’re flying.

Ryan: Going back to your question about not living here it’s like you have to fly in and do that. But Anne was one of the few generals I had and it really paid off. And she brought this book to me called Rodeo and Joliet which is a true story of vein of 50/50 and it was about a comedian who was diagnosed with terminal cancer when his wife was eight and a half months pregnant. And he had three months to live and he came home and decided not to tell her.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: Until he absolutely had to. And so he was going to go through some radical treatments and stuff. And he tried to keep it all from her until he had to absolutely say, “I’m going to die”. So, he pretended he was fine the whole time. He shaved his head and said he was doing a play. And it gets funny.

Craig: It’s that what you’ve done, John?

John: That’s what I did. Yeah, yeah.

Craig: Oh, no. I’m so sorry to hear that’s what’s happened to you.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: And soon I’ll be alone.

Ryan: But it was interesting.

Craig: It had to have ended well because he wrote a book.

Ryan: He survived and what I liked about it, it goes exactly to the about-ness question was I thought, “Oh, no, if I get any work, it’s going to be — people bring me your disease books and make them funnier.”

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: And I’m like, “I want to be that guy.”

Craig: You would be pegged as the disease of the week guy.

Ryan: But I read this book and I’m like, “I love this guy’s story because it’s not about what it should be about.” The dramatic question isn’t, “Is he going to live or die?” The dramatic question is, “How long can you keep it from her?” And you kind of want him to get away with it.

Craig: Right. It’s like a murder mystery almost.

Ryan: It’s like a ticking time bomb story, right?

Craig: Yeah. And it’s about marriage. And it’s about the dynamics of men and women –

Ryan: I just loved it.

Craig: Yeah, it’s great.

Ryan: And he was a comedian. And there was a thing I wanted to do which was, you know, because so much of his struggle was in his internal life, I said to Anne, I really want to stylize this in a way. And I had this thing like, for example, he doesn’t tell anybody he’s sick, so like, what are we going to do with that? And so I have this scene where he’s in an elevator and his head is shaved and these two women are talking and he just looks at them and they keep sort of looking at him sideways like, “Is he sick or is he — ?”

And he just says, “Cancer.” And they just carry on their conversations like he hasn’t spoken and then he’s like, “Cancer, cancer, cancer.”

Craig: [laughs]

Ryan: And he just really enjoys this moment. And then when he breaks out of the elevator and follows them out of the building it turns into Spring Time in New York and it’s a musical and he’s like, “Hey, everyone, I got cancer.”

Craig: Oh, that’s great.

Ryan: And I said, “If I can do a musical sequence of his fantasy of telling everybody and everybody is like –

Craig: “Great for Glenn.”

Ryan: I love it. And the banners drop like –

Craig: “Glenn has got the cancer!”

Ryan: If I can do that, I want to do this.

Craig: I love that.

Ryan: And they were just so game.

Craig: They should make that movie. That sounds like a great scene.

Ryan: I had such a great time in it. But that was the second one. And then –

John: So they paid you to write that movie and that became your second sample?

Ryan: And that one still circulates a lot as a sample.

John: Right.

Ryan: And they’re still trying to make it and Chris O’Dowd is attached as the lead.

John: Great. Oh, he’d be great.

Ryan: Yeah, he’s just so great.

John: Chris O’Dowd is sort of like you. You probably don’t know that he’s sort of like you but –

Ryan: He is?

John: He has physicality that’s actually very similar to yours.

Ryan: Really?

John: Yeah. So people who are listening at home –

Craig: No, he doesn’t. [laughs] I’m going to tell you right now that, no way. You think he looks like Chris O’Dowd?

John: Chris O’Dowd if he shaved his head.

Craig: No.

John: You don’t think so?

Craig: No.

John: All right.

Craig: We’re talking about the same Irish guy, right?

John: Same Irish guy. Yeah.

Craig: No.

John: Bridesmaids.

Craig: No, he’s lying to you. [laughs]

John: All right.

Craig: No. Look at these two sighted guys who can’t agree on what they see.

John: [laughs] Exactly. It’s a waste.

Craig: [laughs] What’s the point of seeing if they –

Ryan: What’s the point?

John: Absolutely, They can’t agree on who should play you.

Craig: What is the point?

John: What is the point?

Craig: It doesn’t even work. Vision is baloney.

Ryan: Is there a Google Glass out to help you guys see people the same way?

John: Absolutely.

Craig: It wouldn’t work well.

John: So, you need the Google Glass app that just like identifies like sort of who is –

Craig: [laughs]

John: Who’s crazy and who’s not crazy.

Craig: Well, you know, they have that thing online where you can upload a picture of you and it’ll tell you which –

John: Oh, yeah.

Craig: Movie star you look like. So –

Ryan: I have –

Craig: We could do that with him.

Ryan: I think John should build an App that’s called Consensus Vision.

John: 100 percent.

Ryan: We all just see the same thing.

Craig: He should not because it’s going to be rigged.

John: It would be totally rigged.

Craig: I won’t believe a damn thing that I see.

John: It’ll be absolutely true for everybody except for Craig’s questions about Chris O’Dowd.

Craig: You know what? In the show notes, I want a picture of Ryan and I want a picture of Chris O’Dowd. And I want people to feedback on this. That’s crazy.

John: Yeah, Stuart will do it and Stuart will find the two photos that are most identical.

Craig: I know. I know.

John: We’ll put some red glasses on Chris O’Dowd and people will –

Ryan: As a man who has not seen his face in 12 years, I’m really happy to hear I look like Chris O’Dowd although I don’t know what he looks like.

John: Yeah, it’s great.

Craig: He looks a bit like not you. [laughs] No, we’re going to find who he looks like.

John: We will figure it out.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So –

Ryan: So that was my second, my second.

John: That was your second and that sort of got the ball rolling. So, many of our listeners are listening to this podcast because they are screenwriters who do not live in Los Angeles and you are one of the few people we’ve had on the show who is a working — -

Ryan: I’m a three-legged unicorn.

John: Yes. You are a working screenwriter who does not live here. And we could think of a couple of other people like Gary Whitta doesn’t live here.

Craig: Justin Marks.

John: Justin Marks. People, but almost all the people –

Craig: Well, and I don’t count New York as not here.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because there are a ton of guys in New York.

Ryan: Well, that’s funny. When you go into generals, and people are like “Where do you live?” or “You don’t live here, do you?” And I say, “No.” And they say, “Oh, so you live in New York.”

Craig: Yes.

John: Yes.

Ryan: They assume, if you’re not living LA you live in New York. And now, they sometimes will say, “Are you in Austin?”

Craig: Yeah, there’s a few of those –

Ryan: Yeah.

Craig: But, yeah, because like Robert Rodriguez has his whole factory in Austin and New York has Richie LaGravenese and Tony Gilroy and –

John: And you’re dressed in black, so that also feels like New York dress.

Craig: You look New Yorky but the second you start talking, you’re Canadian.

John: Yes.

Ryan: Because I talk about my mum.

Craig: About your mum. [laughs]

Ryan: My mum. [laughs]

Craig: My mum. [laughs]

John: So we’re recording this on a Wednesday at 5 p.m. and we’re in a very specific time because you’re super busy because you came down here to do a bunch of meetings.

Ryan: Yeah.

John: So tell us what that process is like. How much ahead of time do you figure out that you need to come down? How many meetings do you jam in to one of these trips? What is it like?

Ryan: It’s funny because it’s sort of like a genre that I’ve invented over the past few years of like how I do meetings. Which is first of all, I don’t think you can do this if you live somewhere else unless you have representation in town.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: You absolutely have to have presentation in town.

Craig: Because they’re setting up all the meetings for you.

Ryan: They’re setting up meetings and also they kind of keep you as a virtual presence in your absence.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: So I’m managed at Mosaic and I’m repped at WME and I have, you know, all those people constantly circulating my stuff hopefully and keeping everybody sort of aware that my name is on the frontal lobe in case jobs come up. And you see this enough that, you know, somebody gets a book or something comes through the office that they get excited about and they think, “Okay, who is this good for?” They’re not going to think back two years to that one general they had.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: And sometimes you have to refresh with people. And so that’s part of what that team in town does for me is they keep me alive when I’m not here.

John: They literally keep you available.

Ryan: Yeah.

John: So literally there’s lists of writers who are available or actors who are available and you’re on the available list and they want to think of you as being available in a way that you could just go in for a meeting on something if it were interesting. And so, you have to be ready to come down here when those opportunities arise.

Ryan: That’s right. So if there’s something that’s super urgent like if it’s really time-sensitive then we’ll do it on the phone and that’s not great.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: Like I’ve done pitches, a lot of pitches on the phone which is just an absolutely horrible –

Craig: It’s the worst.

Ryan: It’s the worst. It’s just the worst. Especially –

Craig: There’s no — it’s so formalized, I mean, you want to feel them with you, you know.

Ryan: Yes.

Craig: It’s like in a weird ways you just want to feel that. And you can’t feel anything on a phone.

Ryan: It’s very hard to tell stories when you don’t know how people are really –

Craig: Yeah, exactly.

Ryan: Interacting with it and you just don’t get it on the phone.

Craig: And what by the way, out of curiosity, because you don’t have the visual element to tell you, what are you picking up on when you are with people in these meetings?

Ryan: That’s a good question.

Craig: Is there the buzz there?

Ryan: I actually often bring an assistant with me. And sometimes I will ask like tell him, like if you’re seeing like they are losing it, like they’re just rolling eyes with their — picking up BlackBerry’s.

Craig: Nudge me.

Ryan: Nudge me.

John: Yeah.

Ryan: And sort of like pick up the pace.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: Otherwise, I just go in to my own groove. I mean, I’ve done a lot of stuff with The Moth, with the storytelling which has been great training like –

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: Just telling somebody a story for 10 minutes is training on pitching, because you get a sense of sort of the pacing and how to set things up. And especially if you’re handling a story that has like 10 characters in it, you realize, I don’t need to tell every one of them.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: Who are the ones that matter? What are the moments that you can really pop, you can kind of sell a certain moment in the script that really feels like, “Oh, that’s what this story is really going to feel like.” And until you tell it, you don’t feel that. Like, you can’t write that out and feel it the same way as telling it.

Craig: That’s right.

Ryan: And the room, I still find this a very bizarre thing in this industry that, you know, you’re hiring a writer based on how they can tell you something.

John: Yeah, it’s a crazy way to do it.

Ryan: It is a crazy way to do it.

John: Yeah, yeah.

Ryan: But it’s benefited me because I like doing it.

John: Yeah. And you’re good at it. You’re good at talking.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, that’s the thing. And look, there are writers who are actually terrible at talking and they shy away from pitching, but they do — it’s a little harder for them because they have to go the route of just writing and saying, “Look, here’s a script.” And then when it’s time to get an assignment, someone will sit down with them and just sort of know beforehand from their representatives, not necessarily the best in a room but the work is great, you know.

Ryan: Right.

Craig: So there’s a certain amount of faith they have to operate on. But when you’re either relatively new or you’re kind of battling for stuff to have, you know, you could call it whatever you want to call it, the gift of gab or just a natural storytelling ability, but man, it’s useful.

Ryan: Yeah. And I think the danger too is over doing it like if you over-rehearse a pitch like that, it comes off as recitation.

Craig: Correct. And glib and contrived.

Ryan: Yeah.

Craig: You know, you don’t want to feel like you’re calculating anything. You want to just — I always say to people like, the best pitch is the one where if somebody walks out of a movie theater having just seen a great movie and says, “Let me tell what I just saw”.

Ryan: Yeah.

Craig: And that buzz is, you know, what it’s all about for me.

John: The best pitches also tend to feel like conversations –

Craig: They do.

John: Even though you’re doing almost all the talking, you are inviting them to come in and ask a question at the right moment or to nudge the story this way or that way. You’re seeing sort of how they’re engaging with the story. So it doesn’t feel like it’s just one long monologue.

Ryan: Yeah.

John: It feels like they are present in this moment as the story is being told.

Ryan: Part of the difficulty I find is that, you know, it’s not visual cue either. Like I seem to be surviving without the visual cues in a room unless I’m completely missing things, like what do I know. I mean, maybe people do or just people are walking out, I have no idea.

John: Rolling their eyes like, oh –

Ryan: I’m just talking to the empty room.

John: [laughs]

Craig: [laughs] Everyone just hates you.

Ryan: But you can feel like that thing when you walk in to a conference room like –

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: When I’m doing The Moth, it’s like if it’s in a theater and there’s people there that are ready to hear a story and they’re out for an evening.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: And you’ve got a microphone. There’s something that just sort of warms the room and readies it for a story. Whereas when you walk into conference room at 9 o’clock in the morning on the lot and people are still like drinking their coffee, and still trying to catch up on the morning email while they’re walking in, it is so hard to bring them up to temperature.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Ryan: And so I find those first two minutes that are not about the pitch so critical.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: Because it’s really the time you have to buffer them into your zone and get them into your sort of vibe more.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: And to answer your question, I mean, so that’s one thing is I need the people down here to kind of keep my presence going around. But I will start planning usually to come down about a month before I come down.

Craig: To give your guys time to –

Ryan: They need to get scripts out to people, to give them time to read them, to get back to them, and to think.

Craig: Set the appointments.

Ryan: And all of that stuff.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: And then, a month at least. And what I find is LA, I learned has a calendar that’s actually very short like, you know, you can’t come down in January because Sundance is on. You can’t come down in February because the Oscars are on. May and June, it’s Cannes, Cannes, Cannes.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: Summer.

Craig: Summer?

Ryan: Summer goes from June to forever, you know.

John: Yeah.

Ryan: Everyone is gone.

John: Yeah, they’re just gone.

Ryan: There gone until TIFF which is September.

Craig: And then it’s Christmas.

Ryan: You can’t come in September.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: So really, there is, like October and November are prime windows for me and March and April, those are usually my too busy windows for just doing generals. If I’m coming down just for general meetings, it’ll be those two times a year.

John: So within one of these trips down here, how many meetings will you try to get scheduled?

Ryan: So I will usually give my team about a week. Like I’ll give them a Monday to Friday.

John: Okay.

Ryan: Sometimes I’ll come in on the Monday because I find a lot of people have their staff meetings on Mondays.

John: Yeah.

Ryan: Like I learned over the years, I used to come in on a Sunday and I’d only have like two meetings on the Monday and it would be like kind of a waste.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: So I tend to fly in on the Monday and start Tuesday morning and then I leave Friday night.

Craig: In that span?

Ryan: In that span, five or six a day.

Craig: Whoa!

John: Wow!

Ryan: Yeah, I know.

John: That is more meetings I’ve ever heard of. That’s crazy.

Craig: That’s insane.

Ryan: Four days in a row. You get –

Craig: You’re like 20 to –

John: You’re a machine.

Craig: 24 meetings in a week?

Ryan: Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Craig: How do you even do that?

John: That’s superhuman. I mean, it’s great that you’re having somebody drive you.

Ryan: I’m Canadian.

John: You don’t have that [crosstalk].

Craig: You just have to be able to put up with an enormous amount of suffering.

Ryan: And no, I don’t want the other writers listening to this podcast and say, “Oh, so he’s the one hogging all — “

John: All the slots.

Craig: Well, I have to say that there is something, like if I’m an agent, I’m always looking for an angle, you know. So, here’s a guy like, look, he’s in Vancouver. He’s coming down here for a week.

John: Absolutely true.

Craig: We got Tuesday to Friday and it’s filling up because –

Ryan: This is what they say.

Craig: Because like Bill Morrow always said, “In Los Angeles, if you put a velvet rope in front of a garbage dump, people will start lining up.”

Ryan: [laughs]

Craig: It doesn’t matter. So if suddenly there’s a competition and it’s like –

Ryan: I am the garbage dump to this velvet rope.

Craig: In this analogy you are the garbage dump.

John: But what I have to say is also brilliant about that is like look how many times you’re at bat. I mean, you’re literally going into those rooms so often. And so even if like four out of those five meetings are not going to lead to anything, one of them will and that’s great.

Ryan: Well, you know, the first general I ever had was with a producer named Richard Gladstein.

Craig: Oh, yeah, sure.

John: Yeah.

Ryan: You know him from those days.

Craig: Yeah, back in the Miramax days.

Ryan: Miramax days.

Craig: What was it? It was FilmColony, right?

Ryan: FilmColony.

Craig: Yeah, FilmColony.

Ryan: And it was the first general I ever had. And I pitched him a story. It was the first time I kind of pitched a story to a producer and it was terrible. But Richard really liked my sample which was the adaptation of my memoir. It’s the only script I had. And I was working on trying to get a second one together because I knew it wasn’t enough to come down and say, “I adapted my own book.”

Craig: Right.

Ryan: You know, you got to show some other chops. So I was busy doing that. And anyway, he had a book that he was, you know, looking at having somebody adapt and I read it and I loved it and it was tonally just exactly what I wanted. It was sort of like True Romance told like Raising Arizona. And so he showed my sample to the director who was attached and the director was like, “I don’t see the connection.”

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: Like, you know, “The blind guy, this? I don’t get it.”

Craig: Right.

Ryan: So that was it. It was over. Two years later, Richard phones me and says, “Do you still like that book?” I’m like, “Oh, yeah, I still like that book.” He’s like, “Okay, I got money. I’ll hire you to do it.”

Craig: Wow.

Ryan: Two years later, I don’t know. I hadn’t spoken to him in two years.

Craig: That’s, wow. Richard is that kind of guy. He’s a real producer, you know.

Ryan: Yeah. And those kind of, like I’ve had really amazing luck with being connected with really amazing people when it comes to developing material and –

Craig: Well, you know my whole theory about luck is that in fact if you are talented and you seem to be, judging from everything, that really good people will find you, you know. It’s not only luck. I mean, there’s a connection between what you’re putting out and what you’re getting back.

John: I think there’s other advantages, too. It’s like, obviously, we talked about your experience with radio and talking to people.

Ryan: Yes.

John: That was a huge help. You’re also distinct and people remember you. There is no other person in your slot exactly. There’s like, you remember like, “Oh, that’s right. He was the talented writer who is also blind.”

Ryan: Yeah.

John: And that’s a useful thing. And that can be great. He remembers you from two years ago because you were great and you had a good approach on that. And also, oh, there’s one other sticky detail that’s always going to be there.

Ryan: Yeah.

John: And so, while that may be –

Craig: So the advice is everyone pretend to be blind. [laughs]

Ryan: Everybody gouge your eyes out, you know. [laughs] And Hollywood will bring you in –

John: Exactly.

Ryan: For your general.

Craig: Get to gouging folks.

Ryan: I think there’s two things. I mean, I think it’s true that if you want to try and do this living somewhere else, I also had the advantage that I came from other mediums. Like I had done books.

John: Yeah.

Ryan: I had done articles. There were things that people had read. Some people had recognized me from This American Life. It’s not like I came in to town cold from Vancouver.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: And just showed up with my one sample. And that was it.

Craig: Because otherwise you wouldn’t have agents at William Morris. You wouldn’t have representation in Los Angeles anyway.

Ryan: No.

Craig: Anyway, so –

Ryan: And prior to having them repping me. I mean, I had somebody in New York and he set me up on generals and at that time I might do two or three a day and it’s just blown out bigger since then.

Craig: Well, these guys will certainly, I mean, for those of you listening who aren’t in Hollywood or New York and you’re trying to play the game of, well, I don’t want to leave but I also want to do this, what Ryan is saying is kind of mission-critical here because any reasonable — I mean, look, like there’s four big agencies, right? Any one of them can fill anyone’s plate with meetings.

John: Yeah.

Craig: For sure, if you give them two weeks, they’ll make you go on 80 meetings.

Ryan: Yeah.

Craig: But in a weird way, it’s binary. Either you have that where it’s a buffet of meetings or you have nothing.

Ryan: Yeah.

Craig: Just wind whistling and tumbleweeds. So, you know, I’m glad that this point came out because we get this question all the time. And what’s behind the question is a certain — I want to have my cake and eat it, too. I don’t want to make a commitment but I also want to do this, so can I do this from Peoria? And, yeah, if you have an agent, if you have like a big-shot agent –

John: Yeah.

Craig: In Hollywood, yeah, you can do it from anywhere.

John: But Ryan’s life is much more difficult than it would be if he were living right here because then he could just easily go someplace. So I think he’s maximizing on sort of –

Craig: Yes.

John: Sort of the opposite goal of being out there.

Craig: There will always be that obstacle, yeah.

Ryan: Yes, that’s right.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: I mean, what I sort of decided was, I mean, there’s an expense too. I got to fly, you know.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: I got to stay in a hotel.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: I have to hire an assistant to fly with me.

Craig: And you can’t fly alone, yeah. You got this guy here.

Ryan: Oh, no, I go alone.

Craig: Oh, you fly alone?

Ryan: I do everything alone but when I get here I hire an assistant who drives me to all the meetings and sort of does my visual eyeballing of things.

Craig: Got it. Right.

Ryan: Kicks me under the table when I’m slow.

Craig: Table kicker.

Ryan: But the gain, like, that costs a lot, too.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: So, you know, if you live in Peoria and you want to try and do this and come in for meetings and all that kind of stuff, you are still spending a lot to come in and do this one week. And, you know, you might do 20 meetings of which you might not find –

Craig: Right.

Ryan: 10 of them were really that worth it in the end for you.

Craig: That’s right. And then there are times where you really want something that they’re discussing but you don’t get it.

Ryan: You don’t.

Craig: There are times when they’re saying, “Hey, here’s something we’d be interested in you doing,” and you’re like, “I don’t want to do it.”

Ryan: Or it is so general, it’s a general of the general and –

Craig: Right, yeah.

Ryan: You just feel like nothing concrete will ever come out of this.

Craig: And those are hard.

Ryan: And you realize, I drove an hour for this. This was another hour and now I’m going to drive an hour to another place, so that was three hours and I don’t think I probably should have done it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But you never know which one is going to be the one.

Ryan: You never know.

John: Yeah, yeah.

Craig: And you don’t even know at the time because it may seem like it was nothing. And then, you know, two years later –

John: But the other thing you’re, I think, helping our listeners understand is that you have to physically be in the room with these people –

Ryan: You do.

John: For them to understand –

Craig: At some point.

John: Who you are and what it is. So like, they will have already read your script or they already know that you’re a talented writer, but they want to see you and be able to talk with you about things and they want to be in the room with you. And that’s why you’re coming down here to do these meetings.

Ryan: And I will admit, at the beginning, I was skeptical. I didn’t understand it. And I said, I remember saying to one of my agents, like, “Can’t I just do a phone meeting? Like, I mean, for me it’s the same.”

John: Yeah.

Ryan: “Like I don’t see them anyways. What do I care?”

Craig: Right. [laughs] Ah, that’s awesome.

Ryan: It’s just for them, isn’t it? And does it have to be all about them? What about me?

Craig: [laughs] It’s so funny.

Ryan: But I came down and I realized, “Oh, wait, if I work with any of these people,” like I’ve done scripts where, you know, you’re working for a year with this person.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: And you work with them, never when it’s easy. Like it’s when things are difficult. And part of being in that room is, “Can I do a year with you? Are you open and collaborative? Do we have a good rapport? Is this going to be a good time together in the hard time?

Craig: Yeah. Which is exactly what they need to know from us.

Ryan: They need to know that.

Craig: Because unlike, you know, let’s say, we’re doing really well and we’re working on two projects a year or even three, that’s two or three different people a year, main people that we’re dealing with. Well, they have, I don’t know, 10, 12 things a year.

John: Yeah.

Craig: They have lots of writers, so they have way more experience with bad relationships in a weird way than we do, just by the numbers, just by the amount of swings at that plate.

Ryan: That’s true.

Craig: So I think that they need to look in the horse’s mouth and figure out, “Can I sit next to this person?”

John: Yeah, do I, yeah.

Craig: Can I trust them?

John: Trust is really what it comes down to.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: Yeah.

John: It’s very hard to trust — I was going to say, when you can’t see, but like –

Ryan: Yeah.

John: What’s not in front of you. And so that’s why you being in that room is important. Like, “Oh, this is an actual real person who can actually do this work.” And that’s crucial.

Ryan: Well, you understand, I mean, you come quickly to understand the economy of fear in town where, you know, when somebody gives you a job, what they’re doing is putting their job on the line in some respect.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: Like they’re saying, “I vouch for you, that you’re the one that we should go with. So if you don’t deliver, I’m going to pay with it too.”

Craig: They will. They are held accountable for — I would say it’s like the worst, as writers, if somebody broke into our house and held a gun to our head and said, “I have a script that I’ve written, put your name on it and then send it out.”

Ryan: Yeah.

Craig: That’s kind of what they’re lives are like.

Ryan: Yeah. And I feel like I sort of owe them at minimum the dedication to the craft that I would come down.

Craig: Yes, exactly.

Ryan: You know what I mean?

Craig: To show that level of commitment.

Ryan: Yeah. But, you know, you do the 20 meetings in the week or whatever and I think it’s also important for listeners who haven’t done generals to know you can’t just come in to those meetings and — it’s not like you walk in, they just put some stuff on the table and it’s like, “Here is this job and here is this job. And there’s this one. And, you know, what do you think of these?”

Craig: Wouldn’t that be nice?

Ryan: Sometimes they have something they might pitch you and you might realize after a while like, “Oh, I was pitched that last year.”

John: Yeah.

Ryan: But it’s also, you need to come down prepared with things to bring to them as well.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: And they might be nuggets of ideas. They might be better formed ideas. They might be fully-realized treatments. But you need to have a variety of things that you can pull out of our quiver at any given moment given what they’re interested in and what they’re looking for, right?

John: Absolutely.

Ryan: So if I’m going to fly down here and spend the money and do the grind of driving to six different meetings across town and let me tell you if you don’t live in LA you spend a lot of freaking time in a car. It’s like half the day is in the car, half the day is in a conference room.

Craig: That’s pretty much where people listening to this show, I think, is we’re just fulfilling people’s rush-hour needs.

John: Absolutely.

Ryan: [laughs]

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: But, you know, so you want to maximize the use of that time if you go through the rigmarole of setting up all those meetings with you agents. And when you get here by the way, many of them will just fall out.

Craig: Yeah, they just won’t even happen.

Ryan: They won’t happen. And then another one will get slotted in or one will get moved to try and get another one. And my team, when I am here, I know they are so busy. Well, their assistants are so busy, too.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: And I want to stress the assistants work so hard supporting me.

Craig: Well, they do all of it. You know, they do all of it.

Ryan: Because they piece it altogether, right?

Craig: And they also, they’re the ones that are on top because what happens is the network of assistants is what suspends the entire business.

Ryan: Totally.

Craig: It’s just, that’s the matrix that people don’t see. So you’re at a meeting, right? They know you’re in town and they know, “Okay, we need him over here at 3:00.”

Ryan: Yeah.

Craig: So if you let this go until 2:15, he’s never going to get there. So you need to be back from — you need your guy back from his early lunch like you promised. So they’re all working together to make this stuff happen. And truly, all of them, the unsung heroes.

Ryan: I’ve heard from friends of mine in town here who are writers that they think one of the advantages I do get in not living here is that there is a kind of novelty because you’re not always available.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: And that will get you a meeting that, for them, they might get and it changes, and it changes, and it changes, and it gets deferred for months maybe.

Craig: Right, because you can punt somebody to next week if they live around the corner but they can’t punt you. That’s kind of bad form.

Ryan: And also, because you’re not always here, there is a slight newness to you, you know, that you’re not in the scene. You’re not seen at events. You don’t cross paths with people, so, you know, you’re a bit of a Dodo bird.

Craig: Well, yeah, you know, it’s true that these people, you know, part of their DNA is to find something, to discover something. That’s part of their gig.

Ryan: Yeah.

Craig: In ways that isn’t necessarily what we do. They’re looking to find and exploit something essentially. Like capitalists. And to find you and exploit you. That’s part of the fun of tracking the new guy.

John: I just realized we’ve ruined you because –

Craig: Yeah, yeah.

John: Because people are going to be listening to this like, “Oh, he’s actually, you know, he’s sort of established. He has credits.”

Craig: He’s just a man. He can really — [laughs]

John: Absolutely. [laughs]

Craig: [laughs] That’s right.

John: I want to wrap up with one last sort of minor topic which is that you’re not American so you’re writing all this as a Canadian and are there tax and weird implications for writing in the US?

Ryan: Yes.

John: So, can you just walk us through quickly what that’s like?

Ryan: There’s sort of two different ways to go. I incorporated in Canada when I started sort of earning enough of a living off of it that I realized I had to do that. Some of the studios can be sticky about it. They don’t like to pay a foreign company. One studio in particular insisted that if they did pay my foreign company that I could not be covered by a WGA contract.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: Even though I’m a WGC member in Canada too, so we would have to go through that union instead which that wasn’t nice either.

Craig: No.

Ryan: So then they wanted to put me on what’s called an O1 visa which is like the, you know, what hockey players use to come and play here and get paid on foreign soil for doing work here. So, you know, it can be very complicated. Most of the time, I’d say 75% of the time, they’re fine to pay my Canadian company. I’m covered by WGA contract. I’m a foreign member. And in that case, I pay all my taxes up in Canada. They don’t withhold any here. If I do –

Craig: And so they don’t withhold here either for corporations.

Ryan: No.

Craig: And then you got to pay it yourself.

Ryan: But when I was on the O1 visa, they withheld taxes here.

Craig: Oh.

Ryan: Which were credited against my Canadian ones at the end of the year and that was just a nightmare because I was also paying Medicare here I don’t use. I was paying all sorts of stuff.

Craig: Right, because you got BC Health.

Ryan: I got that Canadian social –

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: My wife figured out the way to part the Red Sea of the lineups to the hospital, which don’t actually exist but –

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: The night I went in for the hospital, she figured out the way to get me to the front of the line which was, she walked me into the emergency room very quickly. I didn’t have my cane because that’s how quickly we got in the car and she said, “Quick, my husband has electrocuted himself and he’s blind.”

Craig: [laughs]

Ryan: And she meant them as separate facts.

Craig: [laughs]

Ryan: But you can imagine those doctors just came running –

Craig: Right.

Ryan: And like the guy that like lost his leg stepped out of the way like –

Craig: Yeah.

Ryan: “You got to help him.”

Craig: Like you’re blind, like your vision has been electrocuted.

Ryan: Yeah, like I shoved my eye in a wall socket.

Craig: Right.

Ryan: And they’re like, “Oh, wow!”

Craig: That’s a great triage trick.

John: Yeah.

Ryan: But that’s how you get up to the front of the line in a Canadian hospital is you try and do a mash-up of problems that they’ve never heard before.

Craig: Right. [laughs] That’s awesome. And everyone just goes, “Oh, sorry. I’m…sorry.” [laughs]

Ryan: Speaking to you taxes question because that, you know, everybody is so fascinated by taxes. On the other side, I will say, right now, because I’m Canadian and the exchange rate, I get a huge bump.

John: Yeah.

Ryan: So that’s one of the reasons it’s also like so attractive to work down here.

Craig: Yeah, it was not that way maybe 10 years ago or –

Ryan: Two years ago.

Craig: Two years it was like 1 to 1 basically.

Ryan: Two years ago I actually lost money working down here.

Craig: Canadian dollar was stronger than the US?

Ryan: It was above. It was.

Craig: Oh, that’s a national shame for us. We don’t like that sort of thing. We can’t handle that.

Ryan: No, I’m glad you guys rose up again like the phoenix from the ashes and kicked the ass of our dollar.

Craig: Because of the Loonie, I mean, we can’t let that — it’s called a loonie. We can’t let the loonie win.

Ryan: That’s right. I agree.

Craig: Yeah. The toonie can win.

Ryan: Please don’t let it win.

Craig: [laughs] Exactly. I don’t want it to win either. I make all my money down here.

John: I love me a toonie. It’s time for the end of our show and the One Cool Things. Craig –

Craig: Yes.

John: What is your One Cool Thing this week?

Craig: My One Cool Thing this week is, it’s not — I haven’t discovered anything particularly new but it’s growing in popularity. If you have, it’s probably mostly for kids I would say. If you have a son or daughter that’s a dork like me or my kids, when you love gaming, video gaming, just general nerdy pop-culture stuff like that, there’s this company called Loot Crate. Have you heard of Loot Crate?

John: I’ve heard of Loot Crate. Tell me.

Craig: Okay. It’s basically, it’s kind of a brilliant business. I think it’s like 12 bucks a month. So it’s a subscription-based thing. And once a month they send you a box. It’s not an actual crate but it’s a box and every kid loves getting a box. And you open it up and there’s just stuff in it. And all the stuff I feel like the business model is they go around to a bunch of people and they’re like, “Give us promotional items. We’ll shove them in a box. We’ll send them to kids and now kids have your stuff and are interested.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: So you get like interesting playing cards. Actually, this month, my son got a cool D&D t-shirt.

John: Nice.

Craig: And there’s little games and cool stuff. So anyway, Loot Crate, if your kids like any packages and they’re dorks like my kids, in a good way.

John: Yeah. I should send them Writer Emergency Packs, would that fit in a Loot Crate?

Craig: Totally. It would totally fit in a Loot Crate.

John: Totally.

Ryan: Loot Crate, that’s awesome.

Craig: Yeah, Loot Crate.

John: Loot Crate.

Craig: I mean, they may ask for quite the volume.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I don’t know how it works, but so I’m going to look into it at the very least so it’s lootcrate.com.

John: Very cool .

Craig: Yeah.

John: My One Cool Thing is actually a bunch of One Cool Things. This last week I had to do some optimization of Google AdWords and Google AdWords are those terrible ads that show up in search results. And so I needed to actually do that and I had no idea how to do it. And so I started looking for books on it and it’s like, “Oh, here’s advanced Google AdWords and stuff.” But it’s like, you know what, I really have no idea what I’m doing so I just went to the Google AdWords for Dummies books.

And I would say like over the course of the years, I’ve discovered that for most purposes, the For Dummies books should be your first place to look because they’re actually written for anybody who doesn’t really know what stuff is. And so if you go to any of the more of the advanced stuff right from the start, you’re going to miss out on the fundamental things.

So I think a weird sort of blanket recommendation to, if you’re at the bookstore, check out the For Dummies in whatever topic that you’re going to look up. For example, Ryan, you might want to check out like Electricity for Dummies. So the next time there’s an electrical incident. Hey. You can avoid that.

Craig: Do you, because I’m a big — I believe in what you’re saying. I do it all the time. I get the dummies guides. But sometimes I’ll get the Idiot’s Guide, too. It’s Coke and Pepsi, which one is better?

John: I don’t know consistently if they’re better. But I would say, my general recommendation is just swallow your pride and pick up the book with the goofy cover.

Craig: Right.

John: Because sometimes it actually has the best information. And I think it’s probably because it’s a big enough industry that they just actually have editors who like work really hard on finding the right people to write those books.

Ryan: I think dummies are just self-deprecating and idiots have Xs for eyes.

Craig: That’s the deal. That’s the difference.

Ryan: That’s the difference, yeah.

Craig: We should start our own thing like, you know, The Absolute Moron. Like, oh, if the Dummies books are too challenging –

John: Yeah, indeed. For people with incredibly low IQ.

Craig: Like, How Stupid Are You series.

John: That’s very good.

Craig: [laughs] All right. What about you, Ryan?

John: Ryan, we didn’t warn you about any of these things.

Craig: Yeah. You got a cool thing floating around your head.

John: Are there any things you’d like to endorse to our audience?

Ryan: Lovage?

John: Oh, what’s Lovage?

Ryan: I’m a big like food guy because like that’s sort of my way of seeing places. And Lovage is a kind of like a celery sort of basil herb that grows up in the mountains usually. But there are restaurants now that if you could find one that makes a Lovage sorbet.

Craig: Lovage.

Ryan: If you find them around, it’s amazing.

John: Nice.

Ryan: It’s like eating perfume that fell off the gods. It’s just insane.

Craig: Wow! I was not expecting that to be what Lovage was.

Ryan: I thought I would just completely do it.

John: Yeah, Lovage sounds like something that you use for –

Craig: When you started with Lovage, I got really interested.

John: Like pulling off skin or something.

Craig: Yeah, no, yeah, like frottage.

John: Oh, yeah.

Ryan: I figured this is the first sort of gardening endorsement on your show.

Craig: No question.

Ryan: Go grow some Lovage.

Craig: No question, Lovage.

John: 100 percent.

Craig: Well, that’s going to be a cool little Scriptnotes for us, Lovage.

John: Yeah, I think so.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Lettuce and Lovage. Ryan Knighton, thank you so much for being on the show this week.

Ryan: Thank you. I am just so happy I got to come here. And I have to say, like truly, I am like an alumni of your programs. And I can confirm to your listeners that there are people in lab coats around here.

Craig: Yes.

John: Very true. And there are of course cult members surrounding us. Because last week we learned that Scriptnotes is actually a cult.

Craig: Yeah, we were accused of being a cult.

John: Yeah, which is delightful.

Ryan: Yes, there’s the ATF.

John: They’re storming the compound as we speak.

Craig: Exactly, yeah.

John: So we’ll wrap it up. Our show, as always, is produced by Stuart Friedel. Our show is edited by Matthew Chilelli who also did the outro of this week. If you have a question for me or for Craig, you can write us at ask@johnaugust. Little short things are great on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Ryan Knighton, what are you on Twitter?

Ryan: I’m @ryanknighton. And it’s Knighton like K-N-I-G-H-T-O-N.

John: Very fantastic.

Ryan: Ryan Knighton.

Craig: I’m going to follow you moments from now.

John: And that’s going to be really good. And I told Craig that you’d be a fantastic guest and I was, of course, wrong. No, I was correct. [laughs]

Craig: John is right again.

John: I am right again.

Craig: And we like to end every show with a confirmation that once again John was right.

John: If you would like to tell us that I was right, leave us a comment on iTunes. And say what a great guest Ryan Knighton is. I’m sure you’ve been on a lot of other podcasts so they could probably actually search for you and find other podcasts you’ve done.

Ryan: Yeah. I think the most recent Nate Corddry.

John: Okay, great.

Ryan: Reading Allowed. Reading Allowed with Nate Corddry.

John: Very nice.

Ryan: That’s great.

John: Another good endorsement. While you’re on iTunes you can download the Scriptnotes app. We’re also on the Google App Store and you can subscribe at Scriptnotes.net to find all the very, very old back episodes dating back to episode one.

Ryan: The dusty ones.

John: The dusty ones, those old dusty ones. And that’s our show. Ryan Knighton, thank you again.

Craig: Thanks, Ryan.

Ryan: Thanks.

John: Cool.

Links:

Writing for Hollywood without living there

Tue, 04/28/2015 - 08:03

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.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Spalding Gray, depression, and the Big Fish connection

Fri, 04/24/2015 - 14:01

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.

Scriptnotes, Ep 194: Poking the bear — Transcript

Fri, 04/24/2015 - 13:40

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.

Craig: Word.

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.

John: Totally.

Craig: And occasionally Gawker — in that Internet way they defy their own brand. Sometimes they do remarkable stuff actually. So, they kind of –

John: Totally.

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.

John: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Yeah.

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.

John: Yeah.

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.

John: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Yeah.

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.

Craig: [laughs]

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?

Craig: 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.”

Craig: Aw.

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.”

Craig: Wow.

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

John: Yeah.

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.

John: Yeah.

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.

John: Yup.

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.

John: Sure.

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?

John: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Yeah.

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.

John: No.

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

John: Yes.

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 ask@johnaugust.com. 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.

John: Bye.

Links:

Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder at the WGA

Thu, 04/23/2015 - 15:47

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
(map)

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.

Podcaster as cult leader

Tue, 04/21/2015 - 17:46

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?).

While the first bullet point could apply to Marco Arment, I have a strong hunch that Manus is mostly referring to me and Craig Mazin, and our Scriptnotes podcast.

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.2

Cult-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.

Manus writes:

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.

  1. Meeting people in person, I’ve experienced both sides of this asymmetric familiarity. It’s weird both ways.
  2. I’ve stopped listening to several of my friends’ podcasts. No, not yours. Another friend’s.

Highland and Weekend Read get updates

Tue, 04/21/2015 - 14:32

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?

NIMA

Theoretically, they could see that you are downloading the script for Looper from the For Your Consideration list.

ME

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.

NIMA

True.

ME

Could you push a script into someone’s library? Like, fake an iCloud sync event so that a new script shows up?

NIMA

That would be so hard but so cool.

ME

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.

NIMA

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.

You can find more information about Highland and Weekend Read on their sites.

Poking the bear

Tue, 04/21/2015 - 08:03

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.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 193: How writing credits work — Transcript

Fri, 04/17/2015 - 13:05

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 –

John: Yeah.

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 –

John: Yeah.

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: Fantastic.

Craig: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Exactly.

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.

John: Yeah.

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.

John: Right.

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: Mode.

Craig: 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.

Craig: Right.

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.

Craig: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Right.

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 –

John: What?

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.

John: Yes.

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.

Craig: Yes.

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.

Craig: Yes.

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]

Craig: Right.

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.

John: 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.

Craig: Correct.

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 –

John: Agreed.

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.

Craig: Yup.

John: And so the situation with Jurassic World, Colin Trevorrow was hired on to direct this movie.

Craig: Right.

John: He ended up re-writing the movie. That was always going to be an arbitration.

Craig: Correct.

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.

John: Yup.

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 –

Craig: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

Craig: Yeah.

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 –

John: Yeah.

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.

John: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

Craig: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

John: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

John: Yup.

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.

Craig: Right.

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.”

Craig: Yeah.

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.

John: Yeah.

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?

Craig: Yes.

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.

John: Uh-oh.

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?

John: Never.

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.

John: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Correct.

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.

Craig: Yeah.

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.

John: Yeah.

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.

John: Yeah.

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: [laughs]

Craig: “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: Yes.

Craig: Okay.

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

Craig: Yeah.

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: Yeah.

Craig: God.

John: Craig, do you have a One Cool Thing?

Craig: Yeah. What? [laughs]

John: What?

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.

Craig: Yes.

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 ask@johnaugust.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.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So if give us some stars, that would be awesome.

Craig: Yeah.

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 –

Craig: Yeah.

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.

John: Bye.

Links:

How writing credits work

Tue, 04/14/2015 - 08:03

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.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 192: You can’t train a cobra to do that — Transcript

Fri, 04/10/2015 - 10:37

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is 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.

Craig: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Yeah.

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.

John: Yeah.

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.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s gone, right?

John: Yeah.

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.

Craig: No.

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.

John: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Yeah.

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.

John: Indeed.

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.

Craig: Sure.

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.

Craig: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Yeah!

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.

Craig: Good.

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.”

Craig: Right.

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.

Craig: Oh.

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.”

Craig: [laughs]

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 –

Craig: Yeah.

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.

Craig: No.

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.

Craig: No.

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.

Craig: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

Craig: Yeah.

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.

Craig: [laughs]

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.

John: No.

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.”

John: Yeah.

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.

John: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

John: Yeah.

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.

John: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

John: Never.

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.

John: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

Craig: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Indeed.

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.

Craig: [laughs]

John: Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel.

Craig: Yeah.

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 ask@johnaugust.com and send us a link to it. And that’s also where you can send your questions, like the two questions we answered today.

Craig: Yeah.

John: If you would like to buy a Writer Emergency Pack, you can go to the store@johnaugust.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.

Craig: 10%!

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.

Links:

Scriptnotes, Ep 191: The Deal with Scripped.com — Transcript

Wed, 04/08/2015 - 17:05

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.

Craig: Yeah.

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.

[Interview begins]

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

Craig: Right.

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 –

Craig: Right.

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.

Craig: Yes.

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 –

Craig: Spontaneously?

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.

Craig: Sure.

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.

Craig: Okay.

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?

John: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Yeah.

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.

[Interview ends]

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

John: Okay.

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.

John: [laughs]

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.

John: Yup.

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.

John: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I want to thank Stuart Friedel who doesn’t even yet know that I’m going to ask him to cut this together.

Craig: [laughs]

John: Oh, Stuart.

Craig: Hey, Stuart. Stuart, why is this night different from all other nights?

John: [laughs]

Craig: [laughs]

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.

Craig: Fantastic.

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 ask@johnaugust.com. It’s where you would send those messages.

Craig: Yup.

John: Craig, thank you so much.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: Bye.

Craig: Bye.

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