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Updated: 34 min ago

Scriptnotes, Ep 225: Only haters hate rom-coms — Transcript

Fri, 11/27/2015 - 13:44

The original post for this episode can be found here.

Craig Mazin: Hi. This is Craig. If you’re in the car with your children or at home with your children, you may not want to play this episode too close to their delicate little ears. We’re going to be using some bad language, some R-rated language. John asked me to do this warning this time because he was concerned that usually when he does it, people think at first that I might have died, but I didn’t. I’m alive. Now get your kids out of the room.

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

Craig: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 225 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the podcast, we have Tess Morris, the writer of Man Up, and she’s here to talk with us about romantic comedies. And we’re so excited because we just saw her movie and it’s really great. And so everyone can see her movie but we can also talk about the thing that her movie is which is a romantic comedy and it’s not a shame to be a romantic comedy.

Craig, you just watched it so I know you have so many things you want to say to Tess.

Craig: Fresh in my mind, the tears have just dried on my freshly bearded cheeks.

John: Yeah, people might have a chance to see that beard on December 9th. We’re doing our live show in Los Angeles.

Craig: Segue Man.

John: Hi, I’m Segue Man. Natasha Leggero, Riki Lindhome, and Malcolm Spellman will be our guests for that show along with some other folks who are not quite confirmed yet, but who I think are going to be fantastic.

People have been writing in with questions, questions like is there a Three Page Challenge at this live Scriptnotes? No, there’s not. Do I need to reserve a specific seat? And my belief is that no, it is general admission. But the most important question is, where can I get a ticket? And the tickets are available at the Writers Guild Foundation website, They are $20. The proceeds benefit the great programs of the Writers Guild Foundation.

So you should come see us because as we’re recording this, we’re more than halfway sold out. So we might be sold out by the time you listen to this. You should probably pause the podcast right now and get yourself a ticket to the live show.

Craig: Fools, fools for waiting.

John: They are fools.

Craig: I mean do they not know that we’re the Jon Bon Jovis of podcasting?

John: Yeah. I mean the younger people might not even know what that reference is but, you know, they might think that is important.

Craig: Hey, kids. We’re the Jon Bon Jovis of podcasting. If that doesn’t motivate you, you’re right, we’re old.

John: Yeah, Wikipedia that. In the mail bag this week, a couple of questions came in about Amazon Storywriter. Do you know what Amazon Storywriter is?

Craig: Not only do I know what it is. I went and actually fiddled with it even though you suggested on Twitter that I never would, I already had, by that point.

John: Congratulations, Craig.

Craig: Thank you.

John: So what did you think of Amazon Storywriter? Or do you want to describe what it is for people?

Craig: Well, as far as I could tell, I mean I didn’t go in-depth, but it appears that Amazon has created their own screenwriting software. So it’s basically a word processor that formats automatically in our screenwriting format. All the standard stuff. It’s Courier. It’s got all of your basic elements. And it works pretty much like they all do, combination of tab and return.

And it’s free and it’s Cloud based so everything saves on their servers and then you can then very easily pipe it through to their Amazon Studio thing for submissions. Also, it does export to FDX which is the Final Draft format. This whole thing by the way, side note, Final Draft I believe, I believe that company is going to die. The format will survive and I hope that we eventually kill that format too because it’s nasty, but the format will survive.

Anyway, back to this. It actually worked quite nicely. I mean, it’s not fully featured in terms of revisions and production work and all the rest of it but it was quite elegant. It worked very nice. It was smooth, looked nice.

John: Yeah. So you say it uses tab and return but really it’s more like — it’s based on Fountain, which is the format that I co-created the syntax, so you’re just typing in plain text and it’s interpreting what you’re doing and figuring out what the different pieces and parts are. And that part actually worked reasonably well.

Craig: Wait, Amazon stole your shit?

John: Didn’t steal it. Actually, it’s a public format that we created called Fountain.

Craig: They don’t have to even acknowledge that they took it?

John: No, no. That’s what open source is. It’s like it’s out there in the world for the world to use. And so their implementation of it is actually pretty good except they left out some kind of important things like bolds or italics or centering.

Craig: Yeah, I noticed that I couldn’t bold slug lines, and also I couldn’t, like there’s no way to automatically set it. So for instance, I like to have two line breaks before a new scene header, and it didn’t seem like that was automatable.

John: Yeah, that’s not automatable yet. So it does some of the stuff that Highland does where you can throw a PDF at it and it will melt it down and bring it out as plain text so you can edit. So that’s kind of nice. It’s just trying to do a lot of things that Highland is trying to do or that Slugline is trying to do or really any of the other screenwriting apps are trying to do and it does an okay job with it. It’s all online. It’s free-ish.

I don’t really think that many people are going to use it in any meaningful capacity. Though I think you’re going to have a lot of people who write like two scenes in it and then never touch it again. That’s my hunch.

Craig: We’ll find out. I mean listen, you know, my whole thing is, I’m basically rooting for whoever Final Draft is playing against so if it doesn’t hurt anybody, I’m all for it. I mean I still think that there are better options. I get very squirmy about the Cloud based option. Just the idea that it’s only Cloud based, I know that you can export it and save it locally but I don’t like it so much.

John: Yeah, we’ll see what happens. Next bit of follow up in the mail bag is from Pam. And Pam writes, I have this one-woman crusade. It’s futile, but I persevere nonetheless. I would love if people would stop using the word dick derogatorily. My dad’s name is Dick. He’s an amazing, wonderful, caring man. One of the most important people in my life. Whenever I hear people using the word dick pejoratively, it hurts me on his behalf. You guys use it a lot especially this [laughs] — that’s the voice of Tess Morris breaking through, not even –

Craig: [Laughs] Tess, you’re not even on the show yet. You have to wait for your spot.

Tess Morris: I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

Craig: I’m glad you’re here.

Tess: Sorry.

John: It feels like it’s been increasing exponentially in film lately actually. Craig, what is your opinion of the word dick?

Tess: [Laughs].

Craig: It’s one of my favorite words. It’s weird but this whole thing is basically delusional except for this one moment of awesome clarity where she says, “I realize it’s futile.” Yes, Pam, it’s futile. The word dick exists simultaneously as both a pejorative for penis or a person who’s a penis-like person.

Tess: Thanks for clearing that up, Craig.

Craig: Right. Or it is short for Richard. Your dad’s name is Dick. I know a lot of guys named Dick and they’re cool guys. And I mean Dick Cook was a beloved executive at Disney. Everybody loves him still. And the thing is, if your dad, trust me when I tell you, whatever pain you’re feeling on his behalf, he’s heard it way worse, way worse. If he’s made it all the way to this stage of his life, I’m assuming that he’s at least middle age, if not older, and he’s still going by Dick, this is a hardened man. He’s going to be fine. He knows the world isn’t going to stop using the word dick. That’s crazy.

Tess: My dad’s called Richard.

John: Oh, yeah. And is he okay?

Tess: He’s fine. He’s absolutely fine. But also, I think one of my favorite quotes ever from a film is 37 Dicks from Clarks, you know. “Was it 36 dicks?” When he finds out how many dicks that his girlfriend –

John: Right.

Craig: Yeah.

Tess: Has and he just can’t get it out of his head, can he?

John: Yeah.

Tess: And it always makes me laugh.

Craig: I think that dick is a great counterbalance to some of the pejorative words that we toss on people that are related to female genitalia. Dick is our kind of cool balanced way of saying, no, no, no, if you’re called either male or female genitalia, we’re saying we don’t like you.

John: Yeah. Going back to Pam’s dad. I feel like –

Tess: [Laughs].

John: The challenge is how we –

Craig: You mean Dick?

Tess: You mean Dick.

John: Yes.

Tess: We don’t know Dick.

John: We don’t know him at all. And so Pam –

Craig: Some of us know him more than others.

John: Pam’s objection to us using the word dick pejoratively, well, it’s been used his entire life anatomically. And the anatomic thing is probably actually worse or sort of more annoying than pejoratively because I think when we’re saying dick, we’re saying like don’t be a dick.

Craig: Right.

Tess: It’s quite a British word I must say. I don’t hear it that much.

John: Oh, yeah? We use dick all the time.

Tess: Yeah, I hear it much more at home.

John: Craig and I are both Anglophiles. So we try to be British.

Craig: Right.

Tess: Where did it come from? I mean what is the dick?

John: I don’t know.

Tess: What is it? We should find out.

Craig: You know what I love is, in England, I love spotted dick. I mean I don’t love the actual food. I just love that it’s called spotted dick.

Tess: Yes. Yeah.

Craig: Sounds like a venereal disease. I love that.

Tess: Yeah, it’s a pudding or dessert as you call it.

Craig: It’s a pudding or dessert. Exactly. Like would you like some spotted dick? Absolutely not.

Tess: [Laughs].

Craig: Nobody, by the way nobody, I don’t care how much you love dick, if it’s got spots on it, you don’t, you just don’t. By the way, Pam’s realizing now this is backfired terribly. Look, Pam –

Tess: Pam’s regretting it.

Craig: It’s just funny. What are you going to do? Funny is funny. I’m sorry that you’re hurt. You need to get over this. You need to accept that this is the world and nobody is going after your dad. And I think if you talk to your dad about it, he would probably say, “Pam, I love you. You’re awesome. Thank you for caring about me but it will be okay. We’re good. We’re good.”

John: Yeah. Yeah.

Tess: I like that this is how we started though.

John: Yeah, this is very important, your introduction to the podcast was discussion over dick.

Tess: Thank you. My laugh about dicks.

John: Last week’s episode, we talked about Whiplash. And so we had a bunch of listeners writing in with different things. One of the questions was good and maybe you will have an opinion on this as well, Tess. We talked on the podcast about there was a scene that was around a big dining room table and how scenes around tables are actually much more difficult to film than you would think they would be because you have to match so many eye lines and angles that it actually just takes forever to do.

And so listeners wrote in to ask, what are other scenes that you think would be really easy to shoot but end up being like really difficult to shoot?

Tess: Ooh, that’s a good one.

John: Craig, do you have any thoughts about scenes that are deceptively difficult to shoot?

Craig: Yeah. I mean, you listed a couple of great ones. I mean the ones that are I think most deceptive are montages of any kind.

Tess: I was just about to say a montage, yeah.

Craig: Yeah, because a montage is like shooting 20 minutes. It’s basically the work equivalent of shooting 20 minutes of finished scenes for 30 or 40 seconds. And of course the stupidest, meaning the most work inefficient montage of all time, I still maintain was Allen’s flashback in Hangover 2 where he remembered all those events, but as they were all children so we had to film a montage twice but with children.

Tess: I think the easiest montage is probably the Rocky montages, though. I imagine that they were not stressful to film.

John: No. But I think looking back at your movie, Man Up , there’s one –

Tess: Two montages.

John: Yeah.

Tess: Montage, montage.

John: Yeah, montages.

Craig: Deux montage.

Tess: Montage.

John: Deux montage.

Craig: Deux montage.

Tess: [Laughs].

John: So I was thinking there’s a montage in which they’re bowling and that’s actually a fairly — and you’re shooting a scene, so it’s a bunch of different little setups.

Tess: Yeah.

John: But you’re all in one place. The really killer montages are things that look like it’s just two-eighths of a page on your script but you’re going to a whole bunch of different locations.

Tess: Yeah, we did that for the second one. The first one was the bowling one that we shot that the first week of filming as well and we just played loads of loud rock music and got Simon and Lake to, you know, get on down. But the one when she does the triathlon through the streets of SoHo, that was quite tricky.

Craig: And that one looks so, it’s just like, okay, she’s running down a street, she turns down an alley, swims through some bachelorette party girls, then asks a guy for his bike then bikes on over. It’s like, yeah, it goes by –

Tess: No.

John: That was probably two nights of filming.

Tess: That was, I think it was two nights, we had to obviously shoot — Lake had a stunt, well, also a funny story. The bit where Simon like legs her in the taxi with her, she’s our taxi driver, a stunt taxi driver actually crashed into the car in front of him during filming.

Craig: Wow.

Tess: So that delayed things slightly.

John: It does. So montages are a time suck. He goes to over the window is my example. So like you’re in a scene and then like characters just move around in a room. You’re like, oh, the characters are moving around the room, but you don’t realize until you actually need to film one of those things is that like once a character has moved over from this place to that place, all the other angles in the room have changed and, you know, you may be crossing a line. There’s complicated things that may have happened because those characters have shifted their position.

And it may be the right choice to have those characters move around, but it’s taking up extra time. That’s why you sort of, you know, instinctively love to have characters just like find a place and park.

Tess: Yeah.

John: Because it saves you time and geography problems.

Craig: Yeah. You’ll sometimes and this is something that DPs will, it’s fun watching DPs and first ADs fight because of course the first AD is like shoot it as fast as you can and the DP is like, “I want it to look great.” A lot of times for things like this, you know, you have a scene of people in a room, and that’s your master and then you start covering it, but if somebody moves and changes position, well you need to — now you need a new master, and new coverage. So what they’ll do is they’ll lay down some track and as the person moves, they’ll move the camera along the track and so they’re repositioning their master as they go and then they try and do on the opposite side the same thing so they can reposition their coverage as they go.

Sometimes it doesn’t work and then yeah, you’ve screwed yourself especially if somebody goes to the window and looks out the window.

Tess: Oh, no.

Craig: Oh my God, now you got to be outside looking up at them looking out and you got to see their POV, you got to be pointing it down. Ugh.

Tess: Talking of tracking in two shots. What nearly didn’t, well we did — our DP, he’s called Andrew Dunn. He’s incredible. If you look him up on IMDb, he’s just got the most brilliant, eclectic CV. And him and our director, Ben Palmer, knew that they wanted to shoot everything with two shot, absolutely everything so we got all those little comedy reactions that you really need obviously in a romantic comedy, but we nearly didn’t get Waterloo Station because it was so tricky to film there. And then our DP went down there with the director and just was like, “Okay, we can do this, but we’re going to do it at 3AM in the morning with 50 extras and we’ll have a tracking thing and we’ll just move with them the whole way through right up until she’s under the clock.” So otherwise it would have been like with — I think us and Bourne are the only two films to have shot in Waterloo Station.

Craig: I know, it’s actually amazing because when — it’s such a different scene.

Tess: What are you talking about? Bourne is very similar.

Craig: I mean, I just love the total — I mean — but it’s the same setting, and it actually looks different because it’s a different scene. I don’t know. It’s just a funny thing.

Tess: Well, he goes up all into the scene.

Well, he’s all angles. Like everything in that scene is all sniper angles. Like either it’s you’re looking up where the sniper is going to go or you’re looking down at the sniper and this thing is all eyes and misconnections and straight aheads and so.

Tess: We didn’t need a sniper. Yeah but I like that that might go down in sort of Wikipedia facts.

John: Absolutely.

Tess: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

John: The two movies shot there. The last thing that comes to mind for me that seems really simple but is actually really complicated or at least requires complicated decisions is anything with driving. So usually with driving, you have two choices. You can have a real car, or you can green screen it. And so green screening it saves you a lot of time because you can park it on a sound stage, and just shoot whatever angles you want to shoot and then just like put the windows in in post. And a lot of things do that these days and they do it so well that you don’t really notice.

Tess: Yeah, I mean nowadays you don’t know the difference, yeah.

John: It looks so much better.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So that’s often a good choice and sometimes it just means like not moving around. So the other choice is to put the car either on a trailer or really drive an actual car and mount the cameras to the car and that can look more realistic but it also limits your ability to move around in the car. The thing you also realize once you actually have to start putting cameras on actors in a cars is that there’s a limited number of ways that you can get both actors into a shot or to sort of cut back and forth between reactions. So that’s a reason why don’t you see movies that have a lot of time in the car.

Or you see rare exceptions of movies like that Tom Hardy movie which was entirely in the car.

Tess: In the car, yeah. I always think about Thelma and Louise, and I think about those driving shots because I always wanted to know how they did that. I’m sure there is a behind the scenes document.

John: But there’s a really good reason why they were driving a convertible.

Tess: Yes.

John: They could get shots –

Tess: Keeps it open, yeah. But it’s also very cool as well.

John: It’s very cool, yeah.

Craig: Yeah. Most of your road trip movies at some point or another, I mean, nowadays, you will do a lot of it with green screen. It saves you a ton money and time and effort. You can go so much faster. It’s brutal shooting processed cars where either they’re on a flat bed or you’re driving ahead of them and the actor is actually driving just because you got to do an entire take. You need a run of road. You have to have the cops shut it off. There’s noise. But, there’s nothing like it for the reality of getting in and driving and getting out, you know. So you build an enormous amount of time for those things and enormous expense beyond it. Driving, to me, is number one. The thing that seems the simplest and is the most annoying.

Tess: It’s almost like a movie is quite hard to make isn’t it?

John: Yeah, you think so. I think writers never quite appreciate.

Craig: Well, here’s another question that we got in from Brian from Syracuse. And he writes, “After following along with this week’s script to screen exercises involving Whiplash, and hearing you guys quickly discuss how both scenes really underline the dramatic arguments posed both in the micro sense of the individual scenes and in the macro sense of the entire film, I was wondering if it might be possible for you to elaborate a little more on the subject and maybe provide a couple of examples how these types of scenes pertain to your own films. Do you usually have the dramatic argument of the entire film and then look for a way to include a scene that specifically addresses or accentuates this argument/conflict?” Brian –

Tess: It’s a long question.

Craig: Yeah. But you know, like he put a lot of thought into that question. I appreciate it.

Tess: Yeah, it’s a good question.

John: I would say that in my experience, I won’t necessarily know what the dramatic question or argument of the film is as I’m starting to write it, but it’s there already. Like, it’s the reason why I’m writing the movie and it’s sort of central to the DNA of the movie. And so that if I’ve picked the right movie and I’m approaching it from the right way, that central question — that central theme kind of permeates every scene regardless. And so, if a scene isn’t about that central question, it’s just not going to last in the script, it won’t last in the movie.

Tess: Yeah. I would say, it usually takes me the first draft to find my axiom — my central axiom.

Craig: Good word.

Tess: Thank you. I know especially because I write mainly romantic comedies, you are sort of always wanting to look for the bigger question for your leads or your leading lady or leading man. So I think — yeah, at the moment, I’m writing something, I remember I got my axiom about two drafts in which was when is the right time to meet someone, is there a right time to meet someone, et cetera, et cetera. So yeah, I think mine comes about as I get into the — probably the same as you, really. I have to get into it a bit.

Craig: I think I’m a little different than you guys.

Tess: Of course, you are, Craig. You got to be different.

Craig: Yeah. Well, I mostly just ask what you two do and then I think, “Do the opposite.” I do try and start before I begin crafting scenes, I do need to know. It doesn’t have to stay this one. It can change and evolve. But I need to at least begin with some central question because I need to know that my character believes the opposite of that central question. And I need to start designing scenes — and he said, like, do you look for a way to include a scene that specifically addresses? Yeah. I try and design scenes to test the character and lead them towards the truth or punish them for –

And by the way, your movie does this beautifully. Like, every time — like, I always talk about two steps forward one step back. Your character moves towards something, the possibility of an entirely opposite way of living, and for a moment it’s working and then you punish them. This is exactly how I approach these things. So I do need to kind of know. And over time, the question might change and thus the scenes might change. It’s just hard for me to start unless I have something there to build off of.

Tess: I mean I have — I think with Man Up, because I wrote that on spec. And I really did know, probably from the very beginning, I knew what I wanted to say about life. But then I need to — what I have to do — Philip Seymour Hoffman had a really good quote which was that writers need to fill up and then they can kind of write. And I think I sort of — I have to take a few more years to fill up again, to write again, if that makes sense. Because I sort of put everything into one script. It’s not very financially a good thing to be.

John: That’s not a viable strategy.

Tess: Yes. It’s not a viable strategy.

John: I was watching a friend’s cut of his movie. And it was a very early cut and so it was a place where a lot of stuff was still fungible and could change. And this idea of stating your central dramatic question, that’s I think my underlying note for him was that I had never heard any of the characters articulate what the movie was about.

Tess: Yeah, But you sometimes think as well, I mean I’m so into that. But I do sometimes think as well that you have to — when you’re just starting your first draft, I think there’s also opportunities to not be so sort of like regimented with yourself as well. Because I think newer writers sometimes say to me, you know, “I know exactly what’s it about.” And I’m like, “Oh, you know exactly what it’s about and you haven’t even started to write it yet.” You know, like, I think sometimes, especially if you’re writing in a comedic sense as well, like it can suddenly jump up at you what you actually were trying to say within a scene and then you go, “Oh, great. Now, it is thematic. Hooray.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: I think it’s fair to say, “I know exactly what it’s about for now.”

Tess: Yes, that’s totally fair. Yeah. But then allow yourself the freedom to you know –

Craig: Always. Always.

John: I think what I’m trying to articulate is that it’s good that you know what it’s about. But if you’re not letting any of your characters speak to the theme –

Tess: Oh, yes.

John: Or speak to what it’s about or actually ask the question, or take actions that invite the question, then maybe you’re missing an opportunity.

Tess: Yeah. Sometimes I put the actual question in. But then you realize that you’ve put it maybe in the wrong scene or at the wrong time. And then you’ll get to the point where you go, oh actually now I can have them say that.

John: Yeah. We talked in the last episode about how sometimes you will overwrite a little bit knowing that you can always pull it back.

Tess: I overwrite so much.

John: But it’s very hard to sort of put stuff back in the movie if you didn’t actually shoot it. And so having a character state the central thematic question may be a really good idea. And if it becomes too obvious, you can always find a way to snip out but it’s going to be very hard to stick back it in.

Tess: We thought long and hard about whether he should actually — anyone should actually say the phrase, “Man up,” in Man Up. And then I went for it but I went with the man saying it to the woman rather than the way around. But it was a real sort of thing about do we actually say the title of the film?

John: So everyone clapped when –

Tess: Yeah, everyone cheered, like, “Yay — “

John: “He said the title.”

Craig: They did it. They know they’re in this movie.

Tess: They know they’re in the film acting.

Craig: Are you familiar with the Book of Mormon?

Tess: I haven’t seen it, you know. And I need to see it. I’m probably the only person in the world who hasn’t seen it.

John: I’m probably the only person in the world who has not seen Hamilton.

Craig: Well, I’m going to see Hamilton.

Tess: I’m obsessed with that.

Craig: Oh, it’s the greatest.

John: Man up.

Tess: But you haven’t seen it yet?

Craig: Man up is the –

Tess: Man Up the musical which I would like to do, obviously, next year because I think it could work really well as a musical.

Craig: You want to do Man Up as a musical?

Tess: I’d love to do it as a musical. Do you want to do it with me, Craig?

Craig: I don’t know. I like it as a movie. I don’t think –

Tess: Yeah. Give it five years.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Yeah. I don’t see — I don’t think it needs music.

Tess: No, that’s true. But I just like the idea of doing it. Come on, humor me.

Craig: Let’s just make a new musical.

Tess: That’s true. Okay.

John: There’s a dance fight in Man Up and that would work very well on the stage.

Tess: Exactly.

Craig: Yes.

Tess: And you know, it’s quite a chamber piece of a film, two-hander.

John: It’s a heightened chamber piece, and that’s a musical.

Tess: It is. Thank you.

John: Aaron writes, “I really appreciated your most recent episode discussing Whiplash. I totally agree about your take that Fletcher obviously offers Andrew the performance slot in order to embarrass and ruin him. But would Fletcher really put his reputation further on the line to ruin Andrew? Especially since Andrew was nowhere on the scene anymore, not at the conservatory, not playing clubs, nobody knew who Andrew was, and certainly nobody in the music community.

“He would be ruining a non-entity who already seemed to have given up. And yet Fletcher decides to get his revenge on this guy in a public performance at New York’s largest jazz festival in an ensemble he’s conducting. Sure Andrew would look terrible, but Fletcher is the person standing at the forefront of the crowd. He’s already lost his job, his reputation remains intact enough that he was asked to lead this ensemble performance, and now he’s out to give a crap performance. I just had trouble seeing him as that selfless in his vengeance. To sacrifice himself and his reputation in order to embarrass someone nobody knows.”

I thought that was a really interesting point. I never really thought about Fletcher’s choice to set up Andrew at the end. We’re spoiling the movie Whiplash for you.

Tess: Spoiler alert.

John: It is really an interesting idea that like Fletcher is going into this knowing he’s going to publicly embarrass himself, but he’s going to get a lot of blowback from that himself. If things go as disastrously as it seems like they’re going to go.

Tess; Yeah. I mean I don’t remember feeling — I remember just feeling so like I’d been dragged through a hedge backwards in a good way after I saw that film. You know what I mean, I don’t know what you guys said about it last week because I unfortunately haven’t listened yet, but I will listen obviously.

John: Leave the room immediately.

Tess: Leave the room immediately. No. But I mean, it’s so visceral the whole film. There are things that you can pick apart. I understand why he’s questioning that. But in my heart of hearts, it’s such a film about being bullying and this whole journey that actually because he is such a bully, I kind of do believe that that’s sort of part of his awful journey. Do you know what I mean?

Craig: Yeah. There’s no way — let me offer our listening audience some certainty. There is absolutely no way that the intention there was that the character of Fletcher rigged the whole thing to bring some great performance out of Andrew. He absolutely did that.

Tess: Yeah, exactly.

Craig: He did that to humiliate Andrew and punish him because he truly believed Andrew had cost him his job and he was a revengeful bad person. And you can tell because Simmons’ performance shows joy, true sadistic joy at ruining him.

Tess: Yeah. Exactly, yeah.

Craig: And then also shows absolute shock when Andrew comes back and starts doing what he’s doing. And then epiphany when Andrew becomes something. And that is not the performance of somebody who goes, “Good. This is what I wanted to happen.”

Tess: It’s so incredible that performance because you still like him. It’s bizarre, isn’t it?

John: Yeah. So I loved Aaron’s phrase of selfless vengeance. I just think that’s a great, you know — it honestly was circling back to the question of the central dramatic argument. Is there such a thing as selfless vengeance? Because Fletcher is not acting in his own best interest at the moment. Like vengeance is actually kind of never in your own best interest. A rational person would never probably seek vengeance.

Tess: Rare. Well, Craig is –

John: I mean, is vengeance only emotional or can vengeance be intellectual as well?

Tess: I think it can be intellectual. I think you can play the long game in terms of vengeance.

Craig: You see, what’s going on here, John, is that you have a full Jew and a half of a Jew.

Tess: Oh, God. Yeah. Exactly.

Craig: Both of us are like, no, no, long term vengeance is part of our culture.

Tess: It’s part of our life.

Craig: Yeah, exactly. It’s what our parents did to us. I think that vengeance is always selfish. It can be self-destructive, but it’s selfish.

Tess: I think in the creative sense it can be very liberating. You know, write who you know, not what you know. So you know, I think there are times when it can be incredibly helpful. But it shouldn’t be to your own detriment or anyone else’s detriment. You know, you should just be secretly vengeful.

Craig: Well, we all know as writers that it’s fun to write characters who are looking for vengeance. And we also know that characters who are obsessed with revenge either die in the fire of their own self-destruction or finally let it go. We all know that’s kind of that’s the deal.

Tess: Yeah, it’s the journey.

Craig: Yeah, that’s the journey. And I’m amazed all the time at how many times I will meet writers who behave in ways that they would never allow their characters to behave. It’s like they haven’t learned those lessons at all.

Tess: It’s bizarre behavior, but we are all weirdos, that’s the other problem isn’t it? Most writers are –

Craig: You have no idea.

Tess: We have issues. So we write about them and then we pretend that we’re okay afterwards.

Craig: We’re not.

John: So Tess Morris, tell us about your issues. Maybe that’s a good segue into –

Craig: Segue Man.

John: Talking about romantic comedies. So our special guest who’s not said a word yet in this whole episode –

Craig: Yeah, who’s just rolled over tradition, steam-rolled.

John: Is Tess Morris, she’s the writer of –

Tess: Hi, I’ve been here for a while, yeah.

John: She’s the writer of Man Up, a new romantic comedy which you can see on demand now everywhere.

Tess: Yes. In theaters this weekend, wider, this is my pro language that I’m using.

John: Yeah, nice.

Tess: Thank you. In about ten or 12 cities, I think, LA, Grand Rapids, which really excited me.

John: Grand Rapids, Michigan. Come on.

Tess: Houston, Dallas. Yeah, but on demand as well on your special iTunes box.

John: Fantastic.

Tess: To purchase.

John: This is a romantic comedy starring Lake Bell and Simon Pegg. And it is just delightful. So I saw it at the Austin Film Festival.

Tess: I was so excited that you sat behind me but I was also obviously really nervous. I was like, “Oh, shit. John August.”

John: It was really quite funny. And Craig just saw it through the magic of Internet connection.

Craig: But I knew that it was going to be good because my wife, Missy, went with you, John.

Tess: She did.

Craig: To see the movie and she loved it, loved it, loved it, and cried a lot.

Tess: She’s a big laugher. I loved her a lot.

Craig: Yes. She’s a big laugher, she’s a big crier. That’s why I married her, for the emotional extremes.

John: And the critics seemed to have laughed and cried in appropriate numbers. And it’s certified fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, so congratulations on that.

Tess: We are certified Fresh.

Craig: I don’t care about that. You know that I actually hate that.

John: Do you have questions for Tess about what it’s like to get reviews like that?

Craig: No. I have no interest. I don’t care. I hope that you choke on those reviews. No.

Tess: Oh, you know what, we only remember the bad ones as well.

Craig: Well, of course the only review that I care about is my review.

Tess: Exactly.

Craig: My review.

Tess: It’s the only one I care about for you, Craig, about Man Up, as well.

Craig: It’s the only one of my reviews that you care about is my review.

Tess: Yes, your own review.

Craig: Well, I loved it.

John: So Tess, as you were introducing this movie at the festival up on stage, you talked about how this was a romantic comedy and people shouldn’t talk shit about romantic comedies.

Tess: Yes, I did.

John: So tell us about romantic comedies and what do you even mean by romantic comedies?

Tess: Well, it’s interesting, isn’t it? Because ever since I wrote this film and it got made, I’ve become like the spokesperson for defending the whole entire genre. My big thing with it is that people sort of dismiss it so quickly. Like no other genre in the history of film. It’s quite a strange phenomenon that people are all, “I don’t like romantic comedies.” Or “Rom-coms are dead.” Or “Rom-coms are alive.” And et cetera, et cetera.

And I find that incredibly frustrating because there have been some brilliant ones in the last sort of 10 years or so. And I think also what happens is when they win awards, they’re suddenly not romantic comedies. So Silver Linings Playbook and As Good As It Gets and those kinds of, you know, brilliant movies.

I mean when you talk about romantic comedy, you’re just — you’re talking about something that has probably I’d say 72 percent — 68 percent comedy ,and the rest is romance. If you take your central love story out of the film and it falls apart, then you don’t have a romantic comedy, you know well you do have a romantic comedy on your hands rather. And I just adore them as a genre and I always have and I like all the ones, the hybrids. Like I love Romancing the Stone, the ones that are like the action rom-coms.

So I wonder if Long Kiss Goodnight is technically a rom-com? No, it’s not — her and Samuel L. Jackson, it’s not, that was a stretch. But yeah and I mean I love Sideways which is a rom-com between two men and I love Bridesmaids which is a rom-com between two women and Muriel’s Wedding. And I think like people sometimes forget that they’re watching one, and the art of a good one is that you don’t realize sometimes that you are as well. So yeah I’ve become sort of like this strange irritating person that constantly is like “I like rom-coms” and get annoyed when people you know say that they don’t.

Craig: I think you’re making a terrific point because I don’t — I personally love rom-coms, I mean and I really agree with your point that what we think of as romantic comedy is across almost every comedy genre. Identity Thief is a rom — it’s like an asexual rom-com, it’s like a platonic rom-com.

Tess: Yeah, yeah.

Craig: And I happen to love the genre and I miss it. I don’t know what went wrong exactly but and maybe we can figure out why –

Tess: I think I can tell you, yeah. I can tell you what went wrong actually.

Craig: Okay, what went wrong?

Tess: Well and it’s — and this is not me talking, this is me using the voice of Billy Mernit who’s a good, brilliant friend of mine and also wrote this book called “Writing the Romantic Comedy” which I’m addicted to and obsessed by because it’s the one book on screenwriting that I’ve read that just really inspired me and unlocked lots of structural points for me and thematic things. But I had a big chat with him about this. And he works for Universal actually, is a story editor, and he was saying that essentially what happened in the sort of late 90s, early ’00s, is that they had these huge hits with you know, the kind of Katherine Heigl set of vehicles and made loads of money, the studios made a ton of money.

But then they essentially killed the golden goose because they then started to make identical versions of those films, just probably like they do with most genres but for a longer time period with romantic comedies, which caused everyone to say the romantic comedy is dead which only really people started saying in the late ’90s early ’00s, before then, you know you didn’t really talk about it like that because they have such a rich history of movies that are romantic comedies. So I think there was just this you know, lazy time period where everyone started to say that and now people just resort back to that whenever there’s a new one they go, “Oh the rom-com is alive,” or something bombed at the box office, “It’s dead.” It’s like, give it a break.

John: Christopher Orr had an article called Why Are Romantic Comedies So Bad, and the sub-head is, the long decline from Katharine Hepburn to Katherine Heigl, which I thought was –

Tess: It’s a great — it’s click bait — it’s a great title, great headline, but it’s not true.

Craig: Good anger. Anger.

John: Anger. We like that.

Tess: Can you feel it?

Craig: Umbrage. Umbrage.

John: We’ve got dual umbrage in this episode.

Tess: Vengeance.

Craig: Vengeance will be ours.

John: But he actually raised some interesting points in terms of what has changed. And one of the points he brought up was that actors will sometimes do one romantic comedy and they’ll just stop –

Tess: Yes.

John: Because they don’t want to be pigeon-holed as doing that, so you look at Will Smith in Hitch, who was fantastic in Hitch.

Tess: He’s great in it. Yeah.

John: It’s a great romantic comedy and he will not do anymore of them. You look at Julia Roberts and she made her start in romantic comedy but didn’t want to keep doing that so they want to do serious roles and –

Tess: Although I read an interview with her recently that said if she read a good one for a woman who was whoever old Julia, lovely Julia is now, I’d happily write you one, because I love her. Yeah, I mean I don’t know whether that’s because they feel like they don’t have as much integrity. I mean comedy as a whole thing and you all know this, both of you from writing yourself, that it doesn’t ever get the kudos that any other line of craft does.

Craig: No. It’s crazy.

Tess: And I would argue that to write comedy is far harder that to write drama overall.

Craig: Because you’re right.

John: So, a theory I want to posit is that part of the reason why it’s looked down upon is because almost definitionally a romantic comedy is going to have one woman in it, and like one prominent actress who has a major role in the movie. And we sort of don’t want to write for women anymore — or we don’t want to make the movies for women anymore.

Tess: Yeah, but I mean It’s so weird because I’ve done so many interviews about Man Up and someone ask me the other day, “Oh is your character a hot mess?” And I was like, “Oh piss off, she’s not a hot mess. She is a messy person.”

Craig: Right.

Tess: Who’s just going through some stuff and I think –

John: And she’s literally a very messy person –

Tess: Yeah literally a messy person. And I think also like you could switch the roles in Man Up and very easily either/or could play you know man or female roles. I do worry when people sort of think that there aren’t still stories about sort of romance to tell, because especially in the modern world.

Craig: I actually feel like were telling romance in every genre now. Part of what’s happened is everything — it doesn’t matter what it is.

Tess: And actually it’s too much, yeah.

Craig: Yeah, like no matter what the genre is, even if it’s like a wrestling movie, there has to be some sort of love story.

Tess: Or a Marvel movie.

Craig: Yeah by the way exactly, superhero movies like Ironman has to have Gwyneth Paltrow in a romance story. And we put romance into everything.

Tess: You know what, someone said to me recently that Superman wasn’t about his love for Lois Lane, and I got so angry.

Craig: Right well from the start –

Tess: That’s all that the film is about.

Craig: By the way that’s all Superman is about like –

Tess: Exactly.

Craig: I’m going to get some more angry letters, I don’t like Superman. I like that relationship. And I think It’s a really good relationship story and I don’t care about his powers but –

Tess: But it’s not a rom-com to be fair.

Craig: No, It’s not a rom-com, but I do think that we actually are more interested now, it seems to me in writing comedies for women that we have been in a long, long time. There are really prominent female comediennes that are stars now, whether it’s Tina Fey or Melissa McCarthy –

Tess: Kristen Wiig, yeah.

Craig: We’re getting a lot of them and — but were not doing the traditional romantic comedies in the sense maybe there’s a vague feeling that they’re old fashioned but I disagree. I don’t think they — I think that they are old-fashioned only in the sense that movies used to be awesome and like I thought what Man Up reminded of is a good — a movie like the kind they used to make and that’s not to say stodgy or old but –

Tess: No, no I take that as a huge compliment because that’s what I — the screwball kind of element and the kind of classic structure and whenever I read the bad reviews which I obviously I always do. Whenever I read the ones that say “Oh God It’s just like so obvious,” I’m like, no, you’ve totally missed the point like we’re embracing all the tropes because that’s what any good genre film does, embraces them but then turns them into — gives them your own sort of angle on it. So –

John: Let’s talk about the tropes because I think that’s actually one of the things that people sort of single out romantic comedies for, it’s like “Oh these tropes,” and we sort of slam on these tropes. So let’s talk about tropes. The meet-cute, is that –

Tess: Yeah, yeah I mean like — I mean there’s technically you know, seven –

John: Oh my gosh, there’s seven tropes –

Tess: Well they’re not really tropes, actually that’s wrong they’re more like the beats of a rom-com.

Craig: Can I try? I don’t know them I just want to take a stab at it.

Tess: Do it.

Craig: Okay. I’m going to start with a woman who is single and vaguely unhappy with her life.

Tess: Can be a man as well. Woody Allen.

Craig: Correct, I’m just going with the — I’m going to do the female version.

Tess: Do it.

Craig: She has given up on — she’s tried to — she’s gone through bad relationships and is about to give up.

Tess: Correct.

Craig: There’s a meet-cute — so far so good — there’s a meet-cute where she or he runs into a person and they have sparks but they aren’t — the circumstances are such that they can’t just say fall in love. There are circumstantial things that are keeping them apart, obstacles.

Tess: All together. Yeah.

Craig: Good exactly. But they then start to — they go through a honeymoon phase where things are kind of exciting and they both think is it possible that this person, nah, we’re just friends, it couldn’t be, so they’re like kind of moving towards and away from each other out of fear because there’s a problem — the problem that they had in the beginning of the movie isn’t resolved. There’s a lie that one of them tells –

Tess: Correct.

Craig: They get caught in the lie, they break up, and in the breaking up they return back to the world they started in, but no longer find that world satisfying and then one of them goes running.

Tess: I would give you a B-minus.

Craig: Okay, the B — by the way B-minus is not a bad grade because I never — I mean, you know — what did I — tell me where I went wrong and tell me what I left out.

Tess: No you didn’t, It’s all there really, I mean essentially what you’re talking about in terms of the girl who’s single — I’ll talk about Billy Mernit’s beats because that’s how I write. And he talks about the chemical equation which is the thing that in all writing you’re looking for your leading characters, what they’re missing in their life, what they are not doing. So in Man Up she is not getting out there, she is not putting herself in a position to meet someone. She is closed down, shut down. Yeah, then you got your cute-meet. I mean, in the history of time cute-meets are the hardest things to find original ways for your two leads to meet each other.

And I always love it, I always try and think about how do — like say you said to me how did you meet your partner, and I said, well I stole his date from under the clock at Waterloo Station. If that’s going to make me laugh, then that’s a good cute-meet. And then what you’re talking about in terms of your — Billy calls it the sexy complication turning point.

Craig: That’s nice.

Tess: Which is your end of act one, which is when — really in a romantic comedy you’ve got to find emotional obstacles to keep your two leads together. And really at the end of act one, in lots off these films, they’re not the great examples of it, they could just walk away and the film could end. Sorry, I don’t fancy you anymore, bye.

Craig: Right.

Tess: So you have to find either a plot driven thing but obviously what’s much better is an emotional obstacle or thing –

John: So either literal handcuffs or emotional handcuffs.

Tess: Exactly. Very good analogy, John August. And then you keep them together all through to your midpoint which is in terms of romantic comedy, you want to, in the smack bang of your middle of act two, you want to send them in a different direction to where they thought they were going, emotionally speaking.

And then they kind of start liking each other, but then you’ve got to get into the end of act two, your swivel second act turning point where someone makes the wrong decision. Someone always makes the wrong decision in a romantic comedy. It can be both of them and actually in Man Up, both of them don’t Man Up at the end of act two. And then all is lost from there onwards and you just have no idea how you’re going to get these two people back together and then in — you know When Harry Met Sally kind of did the brilliant run.

Weirdly now when I think about it, probably if you wrote that montage into a script now, someone would go “Nah,” wouldn’t they?

Craig: Of course, they say nah to everything.

Tess: And then he has a flashback so all of the moments in the film. And then he realizes that he loves her and then he runs.

Craig: Right, someone’s always running. I got that right.

Tess: Yeah, but you know what, they can be running metaphorically, they can be actually running. In Man Up, he does do an actual run, but I tried to sort off find a unique way without spoiling it for him to do that run.

Craig: Yeah and you did.

Tess: So it wasn’t just traditional –

John: Well you were calling out the trope.

Craig: Right exactly, you’re acknowledging, oh this is where they run, so we’ll give you a little something like a present.

Tess: Yeah. I mean you know, were quite on the button with the beats in Man Up, but hopefully, and I was saying to John actually when I first got here, when I wasn’t actually here, when I was pretending not to be here. I really — I sort of like love the fact that we are unashamedly saying, here they all are, you know, that I have no sort of fear in admitting. And I also think when you watch it again and this is not a plug to watch it twice, but the second time around, it’s a very fast movie the first time you watch it. When you watch it again, you can relax a bit more and understand some of the — you know catch some more of the jokes and more of the humor. So I think the first time you watch it, you can be like “Oh my god what is happening?” It’s like one night of kind of you know craziness.

But yeah and I mean I love — I just get so bored and tired of people sort off saying — the amount of times I get emails going would you like to talk about defending the rom-com for this, this, this? And I’m like yes.

Craig: You know what? It’s like –

Tess: I will talk about it.

Craig: I mean, I feel like the movie is a great defense. And what you’re describing when you say –

Tess: That’s my exhibit A.

Craig: Exactly, thank you. If you said look, I have a collection of tropes, and the job is not to throw them out, the job is to execute them in fresh new ways –

Tess: Yeah and hide them.

Craig: Well that’s what we’re supposed to be doing anyway.

Tess: I know

Craig: All of us.

Tess: Exactly.

Craig: That’s the point. So to me, I loved how traditional it was, and proved that a traditional romantic comedy still works because in the end — you know Lindsay Doran has this great remark, she says that movies are about what we care about at the end of movies, is relationships. And if you watch a movie, no matter what that movie is, the last scene is almost always about the relationship even if the movie is about robots blowing each other up, the last scene is the boy and the girl, or the boy and his car, or something, and it’s about the relationship. And you know the last scene — she always points out the last scene of Dirty Dancing. Everybody thinks Dirty Dancing ends with –

Tess: Oh, let’s talk about that.

Craig: She — you know, everyone says, “Oh, how does Dirty Dancing end? With her leaping?” No it doesn’t. It ends with Jennifer Grey talking to her dad.

Tess: No. To her dad exactly.

Craig: The relationship.

Tess: When I’m wrong I say I’m wrong.

Craig: Right. And so what Lindsay says is, what’s interesting is, they make these movies for boys and men about robots exploding, but then they put in this little relationship thing at the end to sort of say, okay, but also, you like movies about relationships. She said, when we make movies so called for women, that are about relationships, we’ve kind of said you’re smart enough to know that what you’re here for is the relationship. That’s the part everyone cares about anyway. The exploding robots, meh.

Tess: Yeah.

Craig: You know what I mean? So romantic comedies are the purest form of that, I love that.

Tess: They are because like my favorite thing in the world, I love people, like even if I meet someone that I don’t like, and I’ll be able to use them at some point in my writings, so I’m like I’ll talk to you, even if you are dick. Dick. Dick. Dick. Dick. Dick. But like I sort of feel like — especially like when people sort of say, oh, you know Lake’s character in the film, because she is very, you know, it is very autobiographical. I’m not going to lie. But like — but she’s a person, not a woman, if that makes sense you know –

Craig: Yeah.

Tess: And I think that’s the key to sort of — I mean, I know lots of men that have seen Man Up, and I get random messages on Twitter all the time sort of going “God, I really love that film,” like you know, I really like this and I love Simon’s character in it, and Simon Pegg is so brilliant in it and actually very underrated actor, I think genuinely in terms of like his actual dramatic chops. I mean obviously he’s not underrated comedically, but he’s very vulnerable in the film, and he’s very, you know, effed up, and all those sort of things. I’ve already sworn. I don’t know why I did an “effed up” then. I could have just said it, couldn’t I?

Craig: Say it.

Tess: Yeah they’re two people and no one really wants to be on their own, do they, in life, whether you want to be in a relationship or just be with your friends or be with your family, you know, that’s what life is about for me, being with people.

John: So one thing that occurs to me though about the nature of a romantic comedy is that, the — you can have a central dramatic question that is about sort of like, can men and women be friends, you know what is the duty to think — you can have central dramatic questions that aren’t necessarily specifically about that relationship, but the fundamental plot question that the audience is going to expect to have answered is like, will this couple end up together?

And the answer in romantic-comedy generally is yes. And so the challenge of the screenwriter is like how do you believably keep them apart?

Tess: Yes. You know your ending already, so in life, in writing, you’ve got to be so full of questions, I mean, that is just a part of the job, do you know what I mean? So it always really fascinates me when people, with romantic-comedies, they don’t think they need that, they think they just need two people who are they/aren’t they — it’s like, no, you’ve got to have these huge, big emotional things that kind of are running through it.

Craig: That’s, I mean to me, all the differences that keep people apart that are circumstantial, I think of as MacGuffins, they are the glowing stuff in the briefcase in Pulp Fiction. I kind of don’t care about those things. I always care about the things that are internal to them, and their fears that are keeping them alone, or keeping them apart from this person, that if they only could take a risk with, things would go well. Why I think, to me, the joy of a romantic-comedy is not in wondering, will they/won’t they, because the answer is, they will.

Tess: It’s how they. It’s how they.

Craig: It’s really, it’s being reminded, this is why men should always go to romantic-comedies with their significant others, is because it’s reminding everybody of the joy of falling in love, and the value of falling in love, because over time, I mean, you know, John and I have both been in monogamous relationships for years and years and years and years.

Tess: All right, don’t rub it in.

Craig: Sorry, you can’t maintain a heightened level — and you talk about this in the movie, a heightened level of passion for all that time. If you did, your brain would explode, and you would be mentally ill. It’s just not possible.

Going to romantic-comedies, revives it, it makes you look at the person you’re with, and makes you remember the risks you took with them, and it also reminds you of the value of what you built together because in the end, when you watch a movie about somebody stopping the world from exploding, that’s never my job, but at the end of a romantic-comedy, when I see a man and woman come together and make an agreement to mush their lives together and build a thing, and I always love in romantic-comedies when they’re old couples too, like in yours, it reminds me that I did something really good.

Tess: Yeah.

Craig: That’s worth it, you know. I think that’s the value of the –

Tess: That’s the job, isn’t is? I mean actually, it’s funny because someone was asking me the other day whether they think that Nancy and Jack, the two leads in Man Up, stay together. And I actually said, “No.”

Craig: You’re terrible.

Tess: Well no, I said no because I feel like the film is actually about putting yourself out there and taking chances. That’s part of her mantras within the film, and it’s something that I struggle with myself, you know, I’ve been single on and off now for bloody years, and I go into a very closed in kind of environment and I don’t want to kind of like take any chances.

And I think the film for me, is trying to say to people like if you do something, enjoy it, and see where it goes, but don’t try and maybe over-analyze it and worry about, okay, is this the man I’m going to marry and is this my life I’m going to have? So I love that they get together in the end, obviously. I would always get them together at the end.

But strangely, with Annie Hall, when they are not together at the end of that, I actually love that film, but that’s the only thing I find slightly dissatisfying, although you know, arguably, from the beginning of the film, you know that they’re not very well suited.

Craig: Well, I mean that movie, you know, the original title of Annie Hall was Anhedonia.

Tess: Yes, good fact. Nice fact.

Craig: Thank you.

Tess: Fear of what?

Craig: Fear of pleasure.

Tess: Fear of pleasure. Exactly.

Craig: And so it really was a meditation on — definitely more Woody Allen in the –

Tess: Exactly and then it became her story, I mean you know.

Craig: That’s an existentialist movie, it’s in a weird way, people talk about it as a romantic-comedy. I don’t think it’s a romance at all. I think it’s actually an existential drama crisis movie.

Tess: Well, I think it is a romantic-comedy, but I think it’s fascinating that once the title changed to Annie Hall, you don’t really think about him as much in that film as you do about Diane Keaton. And I think that’s what turned it around, you know, he then probably hopefully realized, ah okay, this is actually much more about the breakdown of a relationship between two people that are a bit mismatched.

Craig: I do think that your characters, they get married, and they grow old together –

Tess: That’d be nice.

Craig: And then when one of them dies like at 92 –

Tess: Yes.

Craig: The other one just sits down in a chair and dies like 10 minutes later.

Tess: Like six months later? Oh, 10 minutes? I was going to give them a little bit longer.

Craig: Yes, because that was just the way it was going to be. I believe that. I believe it in my bones.

Tess: Well, I have to believe to write it. Otherwise –

Craig: Exactly. And I think by the way, that you’re going to have this.

Tess: Thanks, Craig. You know what though, I’m fine though, like I think that like being single, I keep an edge.

John: Yes, absolutely, you get more writing done when you’re single.

Tess: It keeps me writing, yes.

John: Here’s a question for both of you. Do we think that romantic-comedies are by their nature dual protagonist stories, or can you have a romantic-comedy that has a protagonist and just an antagonist who does not change? Do both characters have to change?

Tess: Well Trainwreck kind of did that recently.

John: Yes, so Bill Hader’s character just barely changes.

Tess: He clearly doesn’t change. I would argue, actually I would — I liked it as a film, but I would have quite liked him to have a little bit more of a sort of journey, to use that word.

Craig: Yes. I think that the best of them, I always feel like there’s one protagonist. The dual protagonist thing to borrow a Tess Morris thing, I always feel it’s like 68, you know, 32. In this movie, it’s Nancy who is the protagonist.

Tess: Yes, she’s — I mean it was originally much more her, actually, and then I turned it more into a two-hander and brought Jack’s character in a bit sooner.

Craig: So I’m going to argue against sort of that because if you look at what Nancy is actually doing, especially in the bar scene where she’s like getting him to actually stand up to his ex-wife and that like, he is a character that has the most growth. He does the most things over the course of a lot of the movie to change.

Tess: He does, yes.

Craig: So ultimately, she is the person who has to do something at the end. He is the guy who does the big romantic run at the end, so he fulfills that Harry function.

Tess: Well, it depends where they meet as well. With When Harry Met Sally, they meet in the first scene, you know. And they’re together, they’re in every pretty much every single scene together about bar five or six or whatever, and I think with Man Up, it’s Nancy’s story for the first 12, 13 minutes, and then it’s entirely both their sort of journeys, but obviously she has more, I think it begins with her. She is the catalyst for the things that happen in the film.

Craig: I also think that, I mean you’re right, there’s the quantity of change that happens for Simon’s character, for Jack, but the profundity of the change, and the resistance, he’s already somebody who feels he’s defined as passionate, somewhat plastic in that nature, he’s emotional, he’s honest, he’s free with his feelings, he just needs to get over something. She’s bottled up to me that it’s like it’s the — he can make 12 changes over the course of the movie, but for her to uncork is like the hardest thing because it’s so — see, my problem with the single protagonist, and this is another thing I actually think hurt romantic-comedies is that for a long time the model was one person meets another person, the main character is flawed and can’t see that this other person’s perfect for them.

And they continue to fail in front of that person until finally, they succeed, and that person is essentially fixed in place as a moral ideal that you’re just waiting for them to grow up enough to earn. And that’s not quite satisfying for me as a moviegoer.

Tess: All my favorite rom-coms I would say are dual protagonist, you know, As Good As It Gets, and Silver Linings, actually, which is a great example of like something that begins with Bradley Cooper’s character, and then she just comes along and changes his whole life. And there’s a great sort of sub — I read a thing recently about how in the first scene when he meets her, when he says to her, you know, I find you — you look nice, I’m just saying that, I’m trying to get back with my wife, it’s not that I’m trying to come on to you, and actually, that’s the moment he falls in love with her, the first time he sees her.

Craig: Right.

Tess: And then she just bowls in and they have that brilliant kind of Hepburn/Tracy-esque kind of sort of dialogue between each other. And then it becomes their film, like once they meet, it should become a dual thing.

Craig: Yes.

John: To wrap this up, so romantic-comedies, we’re saying they are not dead. We are saying that the things that people identify as being formulaic about them, are the tropes that are common to the genre, but you could say the same things about the tropes in any genre. And so we don’t slam on superhero movies for having those tropes and genres, I guess because they’re wildly successful.

Tess: Can you imagine if everyone got upset about set pieces in superhero movies.

Craig: How about like, how about the part where they discover their powers and don’t have control over them at first? How about the part where they make their suit for the first time. God.

Tess: I love it when they make their suit. I’m like, how are they going to make their suit?

Craig: Who cares? So boring, I’m so done.

Tess: Yes, sorry, John.

John: So we’re also saying that romantic-comedies are comedies which we are expecting to see one or two characters grow and change, but you can say that of course with any movie.

Tess: Any movie, yes.

Craig: Yes.

Tess: And I think sometimes when people really hate a genre, I’m suspicious of them as a person.

Craig: Me too.

Tess: I’m like, “You hate romantic-comedies? Have you got no joy in your life that you — ” I mean I get a bit like –

John: That’s why I think you actually need to question them on what they’re defining as romantic-comedy because I think what they really mean to say, like I hate Katherine Heigl movies. It’s like, well, that’s fair, it’s fair to hate Katherine Heigl movies.

Tess: That’s fine, yes. I mean, I had an argument with someone recently about How To Lose a Guy in Ten Days. They hated it like with a passion. I was like, you know what, dude, it’s fine. I quite enjoy that film when I’m a certain kind of mood, but this kind of like association that it’s a chick flick, that I’m going to sit there in my track suit bottoms, well, I don’t know what you call them. Do you call them track suit bottoms?

Craig: Sweat pants.

Tess: And eat a massive bag of Maltesers. Do you have Maltesers?

John: I have no idea what you’re saying.

Craig: Here it would be sweat pants and a pint of ice cream

Tess: Yes. Like don’t get me wrong, I love Bridget Jones, she’s a fantastic creation and always has been, but like we’re not all just doing that. I might do that when I watch Con Air, and that doesn’t mean, you know, it’s what is making you feel a certain thing, and I don’t know.

Craig: Also, why are we apologizing for things that are true? Like there are moments in movies when men are depressed and they do male depressed things.

Tess: Yes, and they’re allowed to do that.

Craig: They’re allowed to do it. Nobody goes, “Oh my god — “

Tess: Exactly. In Sideways, no one went, “Oh,” which is one of my all-time favorite films, no one said, you know, “Oh god, he was so unlikeable.” The whole point is that he’s brilliantly unlikeable, you know?

Craig: We just did a whole episode on how angry that gets me –

Tess: Did you?

Craig: Unlikeable. The worst note. I believe it’s the last episode that you didn’t listen to.

Tess: I would say it’s the worst note particularly when you’re talking about female stuff when they go, “She’s just not likeable enough as a woman.”

Craig: For all genders, even if we’re dealing with genderless aliens or androids, it’s the worst note.

Tess: Do you think they got that note in Marley and Me.

John: The dog’s not likeable enough?

Tess: The dog’s not likeable enough.

John: Can we see the dog smile a little bit more?

Craig: Yes, people are going to want it to die.

Tess: Yes.

John: Yeah. CG that smile in.

Craig: You know what that dog is?

Tess: What?

Craig: That dog’s a dick.

Tess: He’s a dick. [laughs]

John: It’s time for One Cool Things. Tess, we should have warned you about One Cool Things.

Tess: Oh shit.

John: So you could be the third to go. You could say something that’s cool about your time in Los Angeles, because you’ve been here for a couple of weeks. My One Cool Thing is a profile of Nick Bostrom who is a scientist and a philosopher. He writes a lot about AI and sort of doomsday scenarios. And so the profile I’m going to link to is in The New Yorker.

And the things he was talking about are really interesting, but I thought it actually more interesting as a character profile, so just sort of digging into sort of what it’s like to be that sort of scientist guy who’s warning you about doomsday. It’s the character who in movies would be played by — I’m trying to think who is –

Tess: Kevin Spacey?

John: Kevin Spacey, yes, somebody like that who would be like, you know, I told you this is going to happen, this is going to happen. But the actual character that they outlined here is actually really fascinating and I think worth looking at.

Tess: Liam Neeson may be more –

John: Liam Neeson might be — Jeff Goldblum would be –

Tess: Yes.

John: Goldblum is sort of the classic –

Tess: You didn’t stop to think whether you should.

John: Exactly, indeed, so be it Day After Tomorrow or Jurassic Park, he’s the guy who’s going to warn you about that. You’re playing god.

Tess: I’m with him. I’m with him.

John: What is so fascinating about this profile though is it goes into sort of this early decision to sort of like, you know, I am going to change my life completely. And sometimes we’ll see this in movies, but it’s so rare that you see this actually happening in real life where like you sort of have an epiphany and sort of like wrote like this is how my whole life is going to change and sort of did that.

And so a really interesting character profile, and also some good science in there as well.

Tess: Some good science.

John: Some good science. And if you like what they talk about in the fermi paradox stuff part of this, I’m also going to put a link in the show notes to this really great Wait But Why article on alien civilizations and what the fermi paradox is

Tess: Can you see my face? I’m just like what is he talking about?

John: Absolutely. It’s like you’re talking about crisps. I have no idea. And track suit bottoms?

Craig: Crisps. Crisps. I want Crisps. Look, you know what I think about all this. We’re living in a computer simulation.

Tess: Yes.

Craig: We’re not real either.

Tess: No.

Craig: End of discussion.

Tess: Thank you.

Craig: Did you say, “Thank you?”

Tess: Yes.

Craig: Like I had put you at ease with that horrible proposition.

Tess: I felt suddenly like really relaxed.

Craig: That’s the opposite of what I wanted. You were supposed to start gazing up –

Tess: No, because I’m worst case scenario person. It’s the way I live my whole life in a state of panic, so when someone just says like, well, it’s over, it’s going to end, I’m like, “Oh, okay. Well fine. Good.”

Craig: Great, yeah. I get take a nap now.

Tess: Yes, that’s good, excellent.

Craig: My One Cool Thing, I would have done it last week, but I did the whole blood brain barrier business last week, so this week, my One Cool Thing, how could it not be Fallout 4?

John: You’re enjoying it, Craig?

Craig: A little too much.

Tess: Is this a game?

Craig: It is a game, well done, Tess Morris.

Tess: Thank you.

Craig: Fallout 4 — everyone else knows what it is, so I will just say this, the crazy thing about Fallout 4 is that it is exactly the same as Fallout 3. I mean, with like one tiny change that’s actually kind of semi-fun, it’s the same damn game, and I don’t care, I love it.

Tess: Is it shooting?

Craig: It is shooting, but it’s mostly, it’s quest-based, so people — yes, so you have missions and you go on and you find things, and sometimes you have to kill people, sometimes you have to talk to people.

Tess: Like the Fall Guy, then?

Craig: Like the what?

Tess: The Fall Guy, the show that was on in the ’80s?

Craig: Not at all like the Fall Guy. Literally not anything like the — so think of the Fall Guy –

Tess: There’s no Jacuzzi that you jump in at the end with some ladies?

Craig: No. It takes place in post-apocalyptic Boston.

Tess: It’s nothing like the Fall Guy.

Craig: It’s more like Mad Max than The Fall Guy.

Craig: Thank you. It’s more like Mad Max. But I don’t know, whatever it does to me and my brain, because I love following storylines, I can literally feel the dopamine squirting out of my brain while I’m playing it. When I’m done, I can feel the lack of — I know I’m taking drugs, I know it. I know I’m smoking crack when I play this game. And it’s disrupted my sleep this week, but it’s been great.

Tess: It’s been great. Like MacGyver?

John: No.

Craig: Goddamn it.

Tess: Good storylines, though. My One Cool Thing, now I’ve had two minutes to think about it.

Craig: Is it either The Fall Guy or MacGyver?

Tess: It’s the A-Team.

Craig: It’s A-Team? I love that you watched all those.

Tess: Oh my god, of course. So my One Cool Thing, since I’ve been living here, I’m coming back because I love it so much, but I’ve had my little six weeks here, and I’ve been living in Los Feliz — you say Los Feliz?

Craig: You can say both, actually.

Tess: What would you say?

John: I say Los Feliz.

Tess: Los Feliz. Los Feliz.

Craig: You did it right.

Tess: Los Feliz!

Craig: Never that.

Tess: Never that? So I’ve been living there which I love because I can walk everywhere, because I’m British, I love to walk, so I’m like, brilliant. And I discovered the Vista Cinema since I’ve been here which I think is the coolest cinema I have ever been in. And it’s just at the bottom of Hillhurst and Sunset and I just — it’s like my dream cinema, I mean not only was True Romance, I think the opening sort of scene is filmed there, but it just has everything I need.

You do cinemas so well here when you have that kind of old-fashioned sort of like art deco-y kind of sort of thing. And I got quite drunk with a friend when we went to see Spectre, and we arrived so late, so we couldn’t sit together and we were like, oh, god, what’s going on?

And then they brought out some folding chairs for us.

Craig: Oh, how nice.

Tess: So we sat drunk at the back, and then realized it was two-and-a-half hours long. Let’s not even –

Craig: But you know you can walk out at the last half hour, and –

Tess: At one point, I did turn to my friend, I was like, should we go? And he said, I think we need to see it through, we just need to see it through. And I had sobered up by then, so it was fun, but anyway, I just love how there’s just one film on there, once a week, and it’s just got a beautiful atmosphere to it, and I just — if I could be in there every night, but the only thing is that they have only one film a week, that’s the only thing. So I can’t go every night, but I just love it.

Craig: You could go every Saturday night.

Tess: I was like a pig in shit when I was in there.

John: Fantastic.

Craig: What a great guest.

John: Tess Morris, thank you for joining us on the podcast this week.

Tess: Thank you. It’s on my bucket list now, I’ve done it. I’ve been on Scriptnotes.

John: So is it no longer on your bucket list?

Tess: I’ll just keep coming back. I’ll just keep annoying you.

John: The buckets confuse me.

Tess: Yes.

Craig: John can’t handle it.

Tess: His whole face just went, what, uh?

John: I’m so confused. My programming won’t allow for this.

Tess: I won’t allow for this.

Craig: Literally, you divided by zero, just froze. You can find us at, for show notes, where we talk about a lot of things we have discussed on the show today.

On Twitter, I am @johnaugust, Craig is @clmazin. Tess, are you on Twitter?

Tess: I am @thetessmorris.

John: She’s @thetessmorris on the Twitter. If you have questions like some of the ones we answered on the show today, you can write in to If you would like to listen to back episodes of this whole program that we’ve made, you can find us at, you can also find us through the app. There’s a Scriptnotes app on the applicable app stores.

While you’re in iTunes, you should subscribe to Scriptnotes because why not? It’s free. And you should leave us a comment which actually helps us a lot and helps other people find the show. So thank you for doing that.

You should come and join us on December 9th for our live show with our special guests. And if there’s still tickets, hooray. Well, or, I don’t know, but you should come to the live show on December 9th.

Last but not least, we have a few of the USB drives left of all the 200 back episodes of the show, so you can find those at the store at, and we will send you one with all 200 of the first episodes of Scriptnotes.

Our outro this week is by John Spurney, and it is a really good one. So John Spurney, thank you very much. We’re not even going to talk over it because it’s so good. And Craig and Tess, thank you so much.

Tess: Thank you.

Craig: Thanks, guys.


Only haters hate rom-coms

Tue, 11/24/2015 - 08:03

John and Craig talk romantic comedies with screenwriter Tess Morris, whose film Man Up is unapologetically part of the genre.

We discuss what distinguishes rom-coms from other comedies, and why they get singled out for disdain and death-of articles.

Also this week: Amazon Storywriter, overused dicks, and follow-up on Whiplash.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 224: Whiplash, on paper and on screen — Transcript

Fri, 11/20/2015 - 14:43

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: I am Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Scriptnotes, Episode 224, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

On last week’s episode I misidentified it as episode 232, and so some listeners thought I travelled through time and they’d missed episodes. And they’ve not missed anything. We are now back on track, we’re on the 224 train.

Craig: I feel like we lost a lot of work there. I mean, that’s 10 episodes that just disappeared.

John: Yeah, it’s like one of those things where — Heroes used to do this a lot, where they would jump back and forth in time and like sort of like whole timelines didn’t exist. And those were some really great episodes. I thought that the Shonda Rhimes episode we did was phenomenal. But I guess that’s just not in our timeline anymore.

Craig: It’s gone. You know, Melissa was a big fan of Lost. She watched all of Lost, every episode, all the way to the end. She loved the end, by the way. She’s one of those people that just cried and cried. She thought it was great. And you know, me, I don’t watch TV. So you know, every now and then, I’d walk by, I’m like, “What’s going on with Lost?” You know, I’d watch like five or six minutes of it. And I’d say, “What’s happening?” And she’d say, “It’s too complicated, you wouldn’t understand. They’re in a flash sideways.” And I was like, “That’s it. I’m going to go — I’m going to go play a video game. I’m out.” [laughs]

John: Yeah. I loved Lost. I loved just sort of all the weird twists and turns they took. And I think they got unfairly slammed for like, people said like, “Oh, they broke the rule, that they were not supposed to be in limbo and like this wasn’t limbo.” But the no limbo rule is really sort of for the initial, what the island was, not that any season couldn’t talk place at limbo and so the reveal that part of it was limbo, was not fair.

Craig: Oh, that’s all whirring and clicking noises to me. [laughs] That’s how I feel what’s going on. But you know what we should do?

John: What should we do?

Craig: We should get Damon Lindelof to come on our show.

John: We should absolutely do that. So that will be a goal for 2016.

Craig: I don’t even think — it’s not that much of a goal, I mean. We’ll just go –

John: Damon is actually a friend.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch.

Craig: Damon, get on the show. I’m just going to tell him, “Get on.”

John: Damon Lindelof listens to the show so I bet he would even be happy to be on the show.

Craig: Yeah. Let’s go. Actually, I love — I mean, he’s — talk about a great insight into what we do. He’s written a bunch of things about final episodes. When the last episode of Breaking Bad came out, he wrote this really interesting essay where he kind of put to bed his own weird relationship with the final episode of Lost and how it made people feel, and all the rest of that stuff. It would be really interesting to talk to him about that because he is a really smart guy, and he’s got such an interesting and familiar-to-me relationship with feedback and criticism and, you know, all that stuff. So we’re just going to order Damon to be on the show.

John: He will absolutely be on the show. I was talking with him about Season 2 of the Leftovers which I’ve really been enjoying. And he was warning me before it happened, like “Oh, and there’s this one thing that’s going to happen. It’s going to be like a big social media flashpoint,” and you know, the difference is I now can anticipate and see that coming and sort of try to be not even ahead of the story but sort of responsive to where I know the conversation is going to go and he was absolutely correct. And so when it happened and the next morning as people started having their think pieces about what happened on the previous night’s episode, he could be part of that conversation and not say dumb things.

Craig: Yeah. You know, he really loves to be part of that conversation and –

John: But he’s not on Twitter anymore. He’s very deliberately — he steps in when he needs to and steps out when he doesn’t want to.

Craig: I see. I see. Well, I mean, he’s a very interesting guy that way. He really is — I think he is interested in being an active participant in the discussion about his own work which I think is really interesting. It’s not — it’s like another job on top of your job and — now, I know that there are a lot of people that, well, they follow, you know, my new role which is just go somewhere for two weeks and come back and it’ll be fine. But he’s in there, you know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I like that he thinks about these things. He’s very — it’s an interesting thing. So, okay, we’re forcing Damon to do the show.

John: It has been decided. Today on the episode, we will be talking about two scenes from Whiplash, both how they function on the page and how they function on the screen, and why they are so wonderful. So this is sort of a follow-up to the episode we did with two scenes from Scott Frank. Actually, that’s I guess one scene we looked at from Scott Frank.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And people loved that episode where we really dug into what Scott was doing on the page and how it worked and why it worked. And so we’re going to be doing that with two scenes from Whiplash.

Craig: Great. And Damien Chazelle, by the way, also a super nice guy. And I believe I’m going to force him to be on the show as well.

John: Fantastic.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I got to interview Damien Chazelle for a film independent thing –

Craig: I remember that.

John: A year ago. And he was just the best. And in that conversation we talked about how those scenes shifted from what he wrote to shooting it to editing it. And we’re going to see some of the results of that in today’s episode.

Craig: You know what’s interesting is that, of the four of us, you, me, Damon, and Damien, three of us have something in common. One of us is not like the others.

John: Did you all go to Princeton?

Craig: No.

John: All right. I don’t know what that is.

Craig: Damien, Damon and I are all from New Jersey.

John: That’s amazing.

Craig: What a great state.

John: It is a great state, the undersung state.

Craig: Undersung. Although I’m sure some people will be like, “Yeah, well, I liked Whiplash.”

John: Yeah? No one else has done anything good out of New Jersey.

Craig: The other guys did Hangover 2 and Tomorrowland.

John: Yeah.

Craig: F them.

John: Yup.

Craig: F Jersey.

John: This is also a great moment for us to bring up the issue of Fs because this will be an episode where we are talking about scenes from Whiplash and there are some F words in it. So in the later half of this show, you may not want your kids in the car to be listening to the episode because they will hear J.K. Simmons say the F-word.

Craig: Yeah. If you’re in a car and it’s moving, unfortunately, you are going to have to push them out.

John: Yeah, that’s fine. I mean, that’s pretty much parenting. It’s knowing when to push your kids out of the car.

Craig: That’s the key.

John: We have actual news, so if you missed us at Austin because you were not in Austin for the Austin Film Festival and you were saying, “Oh no, why do we not get to see John and Craig live?” Well, if you live in Los Angeles, you will get to see us live. We are doing another Scriptnotes holiday show. It’s long-rumored, but it’s actually going to happen on December 9th. It will be in Hollywood, California across from the ArcLight.

Our guests for the show include Malcolm Spellman, Natasha Leggero, and Riki Lindhome from Another Period. They’re the co-creators of Another Period and they are phenomenal and funny. Malcolm Spellman was a previous guest. He is a producer on Empire and writer and an all-around funny person.

We may have some other guests too that we’ll be announcing soon. But it’s important that we announce this now because tickets go on sale on Tuesday, the day this episode comes out. So they are $20. As always, all proceeds benefit the Writers Guild Foundation and you can go to the Writers Guild Foundation website in order to purchase your tickets for this show. It has always sold out, so maybe don’t delay too long.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And talk to your friends and come to see us live and in person.

Craig: I think these will move pretty quickly. Malcolm is one of our more popular guests. Perhaps our most popular guest and — because he is one of the key writers on Empire, which is a big, big show, I think people are going to want to hear from him about that. And then, although I don’t know Riki Lindhome’s work, I do know Natasha Leggero as a stand-up comedian. She is incredibly funny. I mean, you may be familiar with her from some of the Comedy Central roasts, but that — I always feel like that doesn’t give people a true sense of who a comedian is. And her work is really, really good. She is just smart. She’s smart. I think she’s one of the funniest people out there. So I’m really excited to meet Natasha and Riki and talk about their show.

John: And you’ll probably even watch one episode of their show before this begins. That’s not a promise, but it’s a thing that other hosts might do.

Craig: I mean, if there’s like a summary somewhere? [laughs] No. No.

John: Because you’ll really get a good sense of the tone or what’s unique about it by reading a summary of the show.

Craig: [laughs] Isn’t it great when people ask questions and it’s so obvious they just read a summary. No, I will absolutely familiarize myself with the material. And frankly, it’s going to be — I’m looking forward to familiarizing myself with it, because I know at the very least that Natasha is super, super funny. And if she’s working with Riki, I can only imagine Riki is really, really talented, too. So I’m excited about that. I’m going to watch that. But yeah, you guys should pick up your tickets quickly. And you know, usually, we have some sort of extra pizazzle in there at some point.

John: Yeah. There’s some pizazzle coming, we just don’t want to quite announce it to the world yet.

Craig: Barack Obama.

John: Come one, you spoil everything.

Craig: Sorry.

John: We have follow up from our live show in Austin. In the live show we talked about Zola and whether the Zola movie could happen, how much of that Zola story was real. So if you don’t remember, that was the story of the Hooters waitress who goes on a wild trip to Tampa, I believe, and craziness ensues. And so we talked about sort of what was possibly real, what was not real, how much her Twitter account was just really good writing versus actual reality.

Well, Caitlin Dewey of the Washington Post did a long story on it and did some fact checking and found out that so many of the facts actually check out. And so I’ll put a link in the show notes to that. But basically, a lot of that happened. Nobody got shot in the face, no one died, but a lot of the other stuff happened. And, there’s some disagreements about sort of who did what, when, and where, and how. But most of those people are actually real people. And they — that was their life over a course of some chaotic weeks. And Caitlin also does more follow-up in sort of the parts that happened after Zola’s Twitter story about how Z and Jess and all that stuff resolved

Craig: If you recall from the Austin show, my instinct was, if you’re going to make a movie about this that it should be about the strange confluence of a viral news story with — in conjunction with what’s actually really happening. As I read this, I feel it even more because, you know — yeah. So apparently, she made up the part about somebody getting shot in the face. And that’s good because you don’t want murders. That’s difficult. But here’s what I look at, I see that Jessica is 20 years old. I see that she has a daughter, a baby. And I see –

John: And she’s lost custody of the baby already.

Craig: No surprise there, considering that she is engaging in prostitution. And a greater concern is that she appears to be getting trafficked. And then you read about this guy who’s just a bad, bad man. I mean, when you read these stories on the internet, it’s like “Oh, haha, Z. You crazy nut.” No. Z is also Rudy, also Akporode Uwedjojevwe. That’s right, Akporode Uwedjojevwe.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And he is an awful human being. He is a bad, bad man who deserves to go to prison, as far as I’m concerned, forever, because he is a human trafficker. And it’s not funny. None of this is — I mean the thing is, Zola’s story attracted everyone’s attention because it was so — it was written in such a breezy, funny, catty, confident style. This is not good. I hate that all of this happened. I hate that is happens at all. That’s where I’m fascinated by people’s casual like, “OMG, Zola’s so crazy.” And in fact, what’s going on, which is a series of terrible crimes. And somewhere down the line is a baby. I hate it. I just hate it. I hate that these things happen. And so I’m fascinated by how social media grabbed on to this and looked at it and decided to have fun with it, almost.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s not fun for me.

John: So someone on Twitter asked what we meant when I said “taking agency,” like we have a character who takes agency. What does that term even mean? And I answered back that the ability to take agency is the ability to have control over the outcomes of things, the ability to take actions which can propel you forward. And so often in stories you see characters who either don’t take agency or basically have no agency at all. They could not affect the outcome whatsoever, and it’s very frustrating to be in their stories.

I think one of the differences between the Twitter account of Zola and sort of how she told the story is that character that she described for herself seemed like she had a lot of agency, she could actually affect the outcomes. And so she’s the one who’s like creating the profiles and she’s doing all that stuff and when the decision to like — like let’s start trapping, she could do that. And so she would cast herself as a character in her story who could make some of these decisions. And some of these decisions were just to run away, but those were decisions she was able to make.

When you look at this actual real-life account, you see that both the Jessica character and Zola had probably less agency in that situation than would be believed. And that’s the difference between a protagonist that you want to watch in a movie and somebody you kind of shy away from because you see how desperate their real plight is.

Craig: Yeah. The term “agency” comes up all the time. And it’s something that is most salient when people are looking at stories and saying, “Well, wait a second, this character may be making decisions, they may be doing things, they’re not passive, but are they being creative? Are they being inventive? Are they the person that is kind of master-minding what’s going on? Are they — are they solving in their minds?” This is what we think of as agency. And you’re right, I think that Zola, a.k.a. Aziah Wells, definitely paints herself with more agency than she has. But, you see, this is what we’ve talked about before, it’s this curse of narrative.

When we read these things and we read her account, we’re like, oh, my god, this is an underdog woman who’s a stripper. But she doesn’t care, she’s proud of who she is. And so she’s going to go along and do something that’s perfectly legal and fine. And then things go bad and she keeps her head, she keeps her wits, and she comes out alive. That’s somebody I root for. There’s agency and narrative. And then there’s villains. And the villain is just like a villain, you know. and he’s a bad guy, and he ends up in jail. And there’s this woman who’s weak and doesn’t have any agency. And so we lose respect for her and we — and we gain respect for Zola because she’s not like that.

But in reality, crimes are being committed and there’s terrible victimhood here. And I — and it’s so — this is what I talk about when I — the narrative sickness that we have. We can’t seem to get past our narrative biases to see how much pain and misery is going on here. And this guy, I mean — ugh, god, you see the mug shot of this guy, you look in his eyes and you’re like, “Oh, yeah, you’re a bad guy. I can see it in your eyes. You got — you got bad guy eyes.”

John: He does very much. All right. So what we’re going to talk about in this week’s episode is Whiplash. And specifically, two scenes from Whiplash involve characters with — taking a lot agency but also conflict. And the backbone of any one of these stories that we want to tell is characters in conflict. And Whiplash is a very specific example because it’s just these two kind of sociopaths who have this really complicated relationship over the course of the movie. And the characters are — that you’ll be hearing repeatedly in the show — Miles Teller is the actor who plays Andrew and J.K. Simmons is Fletcher.

So the two scenes that I’m going to be playing for you guys, none of them involve actual drumming or sort of the meat of what this story is which is these intense sessions with a band. So the two scenes I want to focus on first is a family dinner, which is one of the few times where we see Andrew’s character outside of this elite music education school that he’s at. And the second one is a conversation that happens at a jazz club very late in the story, in sort of a third act.

So if you haven’t seen Whiplash at all, some of this won’t make a tremendous amount of sense, but you’ll probably be able to follow along with what’s going on because we’re really focusing on what is the writing on the page and how does that manifest on the screen.

Craig: So should we watch it now?

John: Yeah, let’s do it. So let’s take a look at the first scene from Whiplash. This is a family dinner scene. So this is Andrew coming home with his father played by Paul Reiser. And it is first starting off at a kitchen and then we’re moving to a dinner table scene where we have a big family around a dinner table. So we’re going to play the audio for it. You’ll get a sense of what’s happening here and then we’re going talk about both the scene at it’s written on the page and what it was actually shot like. So let’s take a listen to that first.

[Audio Playing]

Man: Yikes, what did you do to your hand? Is that from drumming?

Andrew: Yeah.

Father: So how’s it going with the studio band?

Andrew: Good. Yeah, I think he likes me more now.

Father: And his opinion means a lot to you, doesn’t it?

Andrew: Yeah.

Man: Want to grab the shakers?

Man: Jimbo, overcooked. I can barely chew this.

Man: He just left.

Woman: So how is the drumming going, Andy?

Andrew: Yeah. It’s going really well. I’m the new core drummer.

Group: Hey, yeah. Yay!

Man: Tom Brady!

Woman: Did you hear yet?

Father: No. What happened?

Man: Travis got named this year’s MVP

Father: That’s fantastic, Travis.

Woman: And Dustin] is heading up Model UN, soon to be Rhodes Scholar and who knows what all else. And Jim, teacher of the year. I mean, come on, the talent at this table, that is stunning. And Andy, with your drumming.

Man: It’s going okay, Andy?

Andrew: Yeah, I mean it’s going really, really well. Actually, I’m part of Shaffer’s top jazz orchestra which means it’s the best in the country. And I’m a core member so I’ll start playing in competitions and actually I just found out I’m the youngest person in the entire band.

Man: How do you know who wins in a music competition, isn’t it subjective?

Andrew: No.

Man: Does the studio get you a job?

Andrew: No. It’s not an actual studio. It’s just the name of the ensemble. But yeah, it’s a big step forward in my career.

Man: Well, I’m so glad you figured it out. It’s a nasty business I am sure. Oh, hey, are you going to tell them about your game last week? Living up to your title?

Man: I scored a 93-yard touchdown.

Man: School record, school record, school record.

Father: That’s great. That’s fantastic.

Andrew: It’s Division III. It’s Carlton Football, it’s not even Division II. It’s Division III.

Man: You got any friends, Andy?

Andrew: No.

Man: Oh, why is that?

Andrew: I don’t know. I just never really saw the use.

Man: Oh, who are you going to play with otherwise? Lennon and McCartney, they were school buddies, am I right?

Andrew: Charlie Parker didn’t know anybody until Joe Jones threw a cymbal at his head.

Man: So that’s your idea of success, son?

Andrew: I think being the greatest musician of the 20th Century is anybody’s idea of success.

Father: Dying, broke, and drunk, and full of heroine at the age of 34 is not exactly my idea of success.

Andrew: I’d rather die drunk, broke at 34, and have people at a dinner table talk about me than live to be rich and sober at 90 and nobody remember who I was.

Man: Ah, but your friends will remember you. That’s the point.

Andrew: None of us were friends with Charlie Parker. That’s the point.

Man: Travis and Dustin, they have plenty of friends and plenty of purpose.

Andrew: I’m sure they’ll make great school board presidents someday.

Man: Oh, that’s what this is all about. You think you’re better than us?

Andrew: You catch on quick. Are you in Model UN?

Man: I got a reply for you, Andrew. You think Carlton football is a joke? Come play with us.

Andrew: Four words you will never hear from the NFL.

Woman: Who wants dessert?

Father: And from Lincoln Center?

John: All right. So Craig, had you seen that scene since you saw the movie?

Craig: No.

John: No. So first impressions?

Craig: Well, it’s interesting. I love this movie. I remember not liking this particular scene that much. I loved certain parts of it. I remember thinking that there were some transitional bumps. So you know, what we have obviously is we have an insecure guy who is getting beaten up by one father at school. And now, he’s coming home and attempting to crow and build himself back up .And he’s struggling a little bit with his own father. And then with his uncle who is a dick. And so he becomes hostile.

But the — you know, there were some spots where — little transitional spots where I thought, “I’m not quite sure — I’m not sure why this conversation is flowing the way it did.” There are sections that were great and then there were a couple spots that I want to call out and sort of say, “Hmmm.” And I want to look at the pages because I’m wondering if that’s — if it’s different on the page.

John: Yeah. So let’s take a look at it. So if you want to read along with us, I will have these links in the show notes. Basically, there’s two PDFs. So this is the Whiplash dinner that we’re looking at. And so the scene starts on page 48, it’s actually scene 49. So INT. NEW JERSEY — JIM’S HOUSE — KITCHEN. EVENING. Jim grabs a platter from the stove, Andrew by his side. Jim asks, “How is it going in studio band?” Andrew says, “Good. I think he likes me more now.” Jim says, “His opinion means a lot to you, doesn’t it?” Jim looks at Andrew, almost accusatory. A moment. “Yeah? Grab the shakers please.”

So let’s look at what this little snippet of scene does because it feels like the kind of thing, like, “Oh, you could just take that out.”

Craig: No, you can’t.

John: No, you can’t. Because what this is setting up is that even though you have left the school, you have not left the school. And that this movie is about Andrew and Fletcher. And so the very first thing the father asks is, “How’s it going?” And Andrew answers, “Oh, other daddy likes me now.” And –

Craig: Right.

John: That’s crucially what this movie is about, is this really fucked up relationship between these two characters. And you have to remind the audience that even though we’re not in that physical space anymore, it’s still about that.

Craig: Yeah. The character of Andrew’s father, Jim, will become exposed as something of a weakling. And so you have a situation where a boy-man, Andrew, is looking at his own father and thinking, “You’re not special. You’re not strong. You’re not interesting. And in school, I have this other father who is strong and special and interesting but abusive.” And watching him ping pong between these two is remarkable. And so here, Jim is kind of — it’s interesting, he’s saying — when he says, “His opinion means a lot to you, doesn’t it?” And there’s that pause and then Andrew looks at him and says, “Yeah.” There’s — in the text, you see it says, “Jim looks at Andrew almost accusatory,” got it, “a moment. Then Andrew says, ‘Yeah.'”

But what could have gone in parenthesis in front of the “Yeah” is defiant, right? I’m glad, you don’t need it. You know, Damien is directing his own movie, he knows what’s going on here. But there is a defiance there which is “Yeah, not just his opinion means a lot to me. His opinion means more to me than yours.”

John: Yup.

Craig: And you get it. It’s all there, which is, this is what we’re going for. And you know, when you’re writing, you may ask yourself, “How much am I supposed to say?” Remember that sometimes what we have to say is “Yeah.” Real simple. Love it.

John: Yeah. So there are moments in this scene that’s to come where — which are very written. Where you definitely sense like, okay, you can sort of feel the writer’s hand there a bit. But so much of Whiplash is just responding to what it actually feels like to be in that moment. And “Yeah” was exactly the right thing to say there.

So let’s move into the dining room. So INT. JIM’S HOUSE — DINING ROOM. NIGHT. Seven people seated at the table. Jim and Andrew, Andrew’s Uncle Frank, Aunt Emma, and 18-year-old cousin Dustin. To Jim, “Jimbo, overcooked. I can barely chew this thing.” Jim laughs along. Andrew watches. There’s an undercurrent to the joking. The power dynamic between the brothers is clear. He just laughs.

So this is all we’re going to ever see of this family again. They’re never going to be around us again. And so I remember when I talked to Damien Chazelle about this scene at this Director’s Forum, I was like, “There must have been a lot of pressure to cut this scene.” He said, “Absolutely.” Because like it’s a lot of actors to suddenly bring in. It’s a whole new location. You’re shooting around a table which seems like “Oh, that should be really simple.” It’s actually really complicated to shoot around a table. It takes so long because you’re matching eye lines.

But he thought it was really important to see Andrew outside of the school and sort of have Andrew try to define and defend himself. And we’re about to move into that section.

Craig: Yeah. Well, first of all, you bring up this fascinating thing that people don’t know. And that is, what’s hard to shoot and what’s not? Shooting around a table is brutal. It’s absolutely brutal. And it is entirely about eye lines. So the eye lines are also angles. Every time somebody moves their head to look at somebody, that’s a new angle.

So you have Andrew in this point looking at his father, looking at his uncle, looking at his cousins. Those are all angles. You have his father looking at everybody, looking at his brother, looking at Andrew. Everyone is looking at everybody, it’s endless. Anyway, the point was very well directed, very well done. And it was all about the choices of who looks where and when. I love the way that Damien does this.

We need to learn something about Uncle Frank’s relationship with Jim. And all he gives us is, “This is overcooked.” But he’s like being jovial about it, “It’s overcooked. I can barely chew this.” And then his brother Jim, Andrew’s father, just sort of like sheepishly laughs. And then Uncle Frank says, “He just laughs.” And Jim keeps laughing. It’s the most — it’s the most wonderful alpha dog/beta dog moment and you get everything. And you know, and you can see in the scene, that Andrew is watching and he hates it. He hates it because his father is a beta dog and he doesn’t want to be one. He wants to be the ultimate alpha. This entire scene is about masculinity. Bad masculinity. It’s really fun.

John: I want to circle back to what you said about shooting around a table because we’ll put up links to these clips as well. We’ll put them on YouTube or some place so people can see them. And what you’ll notice now that we’ve said it is that when Travis comes into the scene, he doesn’t take a seat at the end of the table which would probably be the natural place for him to sit. Instead, he sits right beside his brother. It’s basically so you don’t have to establish a new eye line for everyone around that table to look at each other.

So Travis gets to share a two-shot with his brother and doesn’t have to have his own separate eye line for everything, for everyone to look at him down at the end of the table. That saved them probably eight hours of filming to have him sit in that chair rather that at the end of the table.

Craig: I’ll tell you what else it saved them, production design. Because if he’s sitting at the end of the table, I got to see the other part of that room. And then I got to dress it and what does that look like? Ugh. No, smart.

John: Because who is important in this scene? Well, Andrew is important in the scene. Like Andrew is the heart of everything in the scene. And so the only people who need really careful coverage are people who are going to spar with him directly. So his father is the second most important character in that scene because his father is this character we’re going to follow out through the rest of this movie.

The other guys, they’re not so important. All they’re there to do is to set up stuff for Andrew to hit back. And that is why we’re not getting into huge amounts of depth about who these other people are. The aunt is just a woman who says some lines and that’s how it should be. Because if the aunt talked about what she did in knitting today or sort of what this other thing that happened in the world is, it wouldn’t help us tell the story of Andrew.

Craig: Right. And just as we did with Scott Frank’s pages, let’s just keep note in our minds of how much has gone by here. We’re only about a half-a-page in and I know — I know how Andrew thinks about his father. I know that Andrew and his father are locked in a battle of wills that Andrew is winning. I know that Uncle Frank is the alpha dog to Jim. And I know that Andrew knows this and hates it.

John: And so let’s — first line from Aunt Emma, “And how’s your drumming going, Andy?” So first off, she’s saying Andy rather than Andrew. So she’s diminishing him. “Your drumming,” it’s like, oh, it feels like something a little kid does. So she’s not taking him seriously. So she’s trying to engage with him but she’s just, you know — you can very definitely see his reaction to what that is.

And actually, in the scene description he says, “Andrew put on the spot hesitates. But then excited, ‘Well, actually it’s going really well. I’m now the core drum,’ the door opens.” So he started to be able to define himself and then Travis walks in.

Craig: Right. Now, here is the little area where I got a little nervous. And even in the scene, I remember even watching the movie I felt this, which is like I’m feeling a little bit of a disconnect. I know what’s happening here. I know that they’re going to be basically diminishing what he does, “Oh, your little drumming thing.” You know?

But what I was nervous about was a disconnect from their attitude and what I think would be real. At least one of them would have some moderated opinion here. He’s going to the equivalent of the Berklee School for Music. That’s kind of what’s implied in the movie, it’s — or Juilliard. I mean, it’s the top of the top. He’s already achieved something fairly remarkable by going there. It seemed not to match up for me in terms of reality that every — I mean, even Aunt Emma would be like this. I would have much preferred Aunt Emma to pipe in and say, “Well, no, it’s a very good school.” And then Uncle Frank mows her down. But I got a little worried there.

John: So let’s — this will be a situation where we’ll look at the difference between what’s on the page and what is actually in the film or what made it through the cut. There was a little bit more, I think, along what you’re asking for there in the written pages. So — but also it was distinguished between like, if you are a violin prodigy at Juilliard, people are going to perceive you one way. Whereas, if you play drums, they’re going to perceive you a different way. And so I think, singling out the drumming is a useful way of thinking about it because we don’t think of drummers being musicians in the same way.

Craig: I guess, but he is — it’s jazz. Like, if he were trying to drum in a band, I totally get it. But jazz, everyone, I think, views jazz as the academic version of music. It’s the fanciest for drummers, I think, even more so than classical music, so I don’t know. It’s just felt a little — it just felt a little broad. Yeah, I thought it was a little broad.

John: So let’s take a look at Aunt Emma’s next block here. “And Dustin heading up the Model UN, soon to be Rhodes Scholar, who knows what? And Jim, teacher of the year. I mean, look at the talent at the table, it’s stunning. And Andrew, with his drumming.” And so she’s trying to include Andrew in the conversation about how remarkable everyone is and singled out Andrew as well but it’s not working. And you can definitely see Andrew’s reaction. And that’s Uncle Frank’s next line, “Yeah, you said that was going okay, Andy.” That sense of like, you know, “Oh, we didn’t forget about you. We are going to circle back to you.”

Craig: Right. And so here, we’re getting it. I mean this is — we now know what’s going on, which is Uncle Frank, alpha dog, is going to boast about his boys. Emma is going to boast about her boys. The boasting has been over the top, for me at least. [laughs] And it’s interesting, because — I don’t want to seem like I’m down on the scene because I love the other scene. I love this movie. But there was something a little pushed about the bragging. Where it goes, though, once we get past the push about the bragging, I got very, very happy.

John: Yeah. So this is the section that got cut out. And so I want to focus on this. So I’m looking at the bottom of page 50, top of page 51. Uncle Frank asks, “So does the studio help you get a job?” Andrew says, “It’s not that — the studio, it’s just the name of the ensemble. And yes, it’s a big step forward in my career.” So he does say that in the movie.

Craig: Right.

John: Uncle Frank says, “I’m just curious how you make your money as a drummer after graduating.” That’s a reasonable question, I think, for that uncle to ask. Andrew glances at his dad wondering if maybe he’ll chime in, in his defense. But no, dad stays meek and quiet. Aunt Emma, trying to be helpful, “I saw a TV commercial for credit reports where a young man was playing the drums. You could do that.”

Craig: I’m glad they cut that one out.

John: Yeah. “Yes. Or the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, but the credit reports gig is a wonderful backup.” And so this is the first time where he’s actually just being a dick in the scene. And that’s an important thing to remember is that you have to think about who your character is in that scene. And Andrew is a dick. And we’ve not had a chance to sort of see how much of a dick he is because he has always been out-dicked by Fletcher. And this is a chance to see him actually being the asshole that he kind of deeply is in his heart. And we have to have some new characters to show that with.

Craig: Yeah. He’s also internalizing what Fletcher has done to him. He is copying. He is copying his teacher’s voice. He is copying the cruelty in his teacher’s voice. Now, at this point it’s warranted. We’re actually rooting along with Andrew. And what’s interesting about this scene, my favorite part of the scene, is what’s going to come next which is when Andrew stops being rootable for. So at first I get it. Now, I understood why they cut the TV commercial line up because it made Aunt Emma too dumb. And it was too much in the direction of what I already thought was a little bit too much in the direction of.

But Andrew says in the script, “Yes, it’s a big step forward in my career.” They skipped a couple of lines. And Uncle Franks just goes, “Well, I’m glad you have it figured out. It’s a nasty business, I’m sure.” Then he says to Travis, “Okay. You got to tell them about your game last week.” It was really pushing pretty hard. I would have — I would have loved for one of the kids to sort of pipe in on their own, because again we got back to “I love bragging.” [laughs] “Kids, talk more about you.” It just felt a little — it felt a little broad again.

John: Yeah. Yet we need to be able to get to moments where we can reveal Andrew just like how much of a dick Andrew can be. And so we need to find a way to get to a place where Andrew feels pushed enough that at least to his way of thinking it’s reasonable to go after these doofuses and sort of point them out. So he’s saying, “He plays for Carlton. It’s Division III. It’s not even Division II.” So basically like — he’s essentially saying like, “How dare you compare what he’s doing to what I’m doing?” Or not even really compare what we’re doing together because like he’s playing at like the amateurs and I’m playing in the pros and the difference then.

Ultimately, where this is all going to is allowing Andrew to state the question which we’re going to see again in the follow-up scene is what is he actually doing this for? What is the goal of being in the school? And the Charlie Parker story is what he’s going to get to here.

Craig: Yeah. When he announces it’s Division III, that’s the moment where — and aim for these moments, folks, when you’re writing these conflicts via discussion conversation — that’s the drop your fork. So everything has been survivable barbs. When he says it’s Division III, that’s a flat out insult. He’s literally saying you play for a lame team. It’s not real football. Stop bragging. You suck. I’m good.

Now, interestingly, there’s a line that’s in the script that’s not in the movie. And I want it to be in the movie. So in the script, Andrew explains, “He plays for Carlton. It’s Division III. It’s not even Division II.” Then you see silence. Shock around table. Then Andrew says, “The tilapia is delicious by the way.” And Uncle Frank, in parenthesis, (I’ll get you back for that), “You got a lot of friends, Andy?” Now, this moment, the tilapia line is cut out, so –

John: I’m happy the tilapia line is cut out. You want the tilapia line back in?

Craig: I do. And here’s why. Because I need a moment for Uncle Frank — I need to see Uncle Frank get angry. I don’t see him get angry in the scene. I see him get angry here because Andrew is being a real snot. He’s trying to like say, “There, I just dropped a bomb. But now moving on, tilapia, everyone. I’m in control of this discussion.” And I want — and I want Uncle Frank to go, “No you’re not. No, I’m in control.”

John: The tilapia felt sitcom to me. It felt too punch line. There’s something about how specific the word tilapia is that it just — it made it too clear to me that Andrew knew he was being a dick. And that he was peacocking in front of everybody else where it wasn’t — I didn’t think he was quite ready to be at that place yet.

Craig: Well, I would say to you that the language there is not what I’m in love with. Let’s change — I mean, let’s rewrite, Damien. We can change that to whatever. What I’m in love with is the fact that he thinks he just got away with it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And that Uncle Frank, I need — the moment that I like the least in the scene is where Uncle Frank says, “You got a lot of friends, Andy?” It comes off as a non-sequitur. It doesn’t come off as mean. It doesn’t come off as revenge. It doesn’t come off as a challenge. It almost comes off as vaguely conversational and kind of odd. So I needed that moment where I saw Uncle Frank make a decision to go, “Okay. Let’s go.” And that is a specific response to what you just did.

John: Yeah. So from this moment on, this scene plays as if it’s a fight between Andrew and his uncle. Of course, it’s really about his father and of course the other, you know, cousins there as well will chime in. But it’s really about this sort of, like, Andrew when he sort of feels like he’s backed into a corner will come out stabbing and slashing. And that’s just the basic nature of him. And it’s important, I think, for us to see it at this point in the movie that he actually is this kind of character. And that, you know, the hard worker we saw earlier on has become a bit of a sociopath. And I think it’s an important sort of change to see

So when he talks about, you know, people know who Charlie Parker is because of all these things that happened. And that he’s not worried about dying broke, drunk, and full of heroine at 34. Like, that’s sort of his fantasy. And that’s an important thing for us as an audience to see. And it’s the kind of thing that in less capable hands, the character would just say it to somebody or would just say to the girlfriend or to somewhere else. But Damien has created a scene that gets him to say this. And I think that’s the important part of the scene.

Craig: Yeah. I love that this is a thesis statement about who I am and who I want to be that is presented in the guise of “I don’t want to be you. See, you, you people are all Division III. And I am going to be great. You’re all concentrating on Model UN and Division III. That’s fake and fake. I’m going to be real.” And it’s so much more interesting hearing someone articulate what their vision is for themself if it’s done in opposition to somebody else as opposed to just sharing a thought. I completely agree. I love that this is phrased in conflict.

And then a wonderful relationship thing happens here where Jim, his dad, chimes in in support of Uncle Frank and makes a point that frankly is important and valuable. This is where Damien, I think, does something brilliant because Andrew is sparing with Uncle Frank and making pretty good points. Points that, frankly, I agree with. Until Jim points out that Charlie Parker, Andrew’s hero, died broke, drunk, and full heroine at 34. And that’s true. And this is what we talk about a lot, that the argument of your movie has to be something that can actually be argued.

John: Yup.

Craig: And here’s the good argument right there.

John: Absolutely. You know, to be able to put those words in people’s mouths to really state what your thesis is is so crucial. Now, later on, on page 52, there’s stuff that got cut out here. And you could totally see why it got cut out here. So Andrew does say in the movie, “No. None of us were Charlie Parker’s friends. That’s the whole point.” And here’s what got cut out. “Well, there’s such a thing as feeling loved and included. I prefer to feel hated and cast out. It gives me purpose.” Jim says, “That’s ridiculous. You don’t mean that.”

But the movie does jump back in to say, “Travis and Dustin have plenty of friends. I’d say they have plenty of purpose.” So we cut out those three lines and I’m so happy that those lines got out because Andrew saying, “I prefer to feel hated and cast out. It gives me purpose.” I don’t believe that the character actually understands that yet or is able to articulate it in that way.

Craig: I agree. It is too revealing. It involves too much self-awareness. And in a strange way, if you’re aware enough to say that then you’re aware enough to change. Because actually, the truth is when Jim replies, “That’s ridiculous. You don’t mean that.” I agree with Jim. That is ridiculous and you don’t mean that. So I’m glad that that isn’t there. But I love this when Andrew says, “I’d rather die broke and drunk at 34 and have people at a dinner table somewhere talk about it than die rich and sober at 90 and have no one remember me.” That’s the movie. Right? He’s literally just told you, this is the argument of the movie.

And what’s wonderful about this movie and why I think it had an extended life beyond what you would expect from a small independent film is that that question is worth discussing. It’s the kind of thing people walk out of the movie theater, go somewhere, have a cup of coffee or drink, and debate it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because it’s actually worth debating. It’s really interesting. But it’s also where you start to see that Andrew, because he is saying it to his father and literally saying, “I’d rather be what I want to be than what you’re going to be.” It’s where Andrew starts to turn from “I’m making a point that you can all agree with” to “I’m becoming a bad person in front of you. I’m becoming cruel now.” And this is where it escalates.

John: Yup. Also very notable that the scene ends as filmed with Jim’s line, “And from Lincoln Center.” But the scene as written goes on quite a bit longer. So there’s an extra sixth-eighths of a page. It says, a moment of silence, Andrew looks at his dad, his dad just looks right back. A simmering anger in his eyes, Andrew turns to the others and slowly says, “In 1967, a scientist named Laszlo Polgar decides to prove talent isn’t about what you’re born with but about conditioning. He has three kids Susan, Sophia, and Judith and he gets them practicing chess for hours and hours before they could even talk. Fifteen years later, Susan and Sophia are the two top female players in the world. And Judith is on her way to entering the history books as the greatest female chess master of all time.” And so Andrew says this thing and — okay. But that wasn’t the scene we were just in. And I’m really glad that got cut out.

Craig: Yeah. It is the kind of thing that you probably don’t know until you know, you know. So we have the benefit of seeing the scene. And I think we all do this. There are times when we think, I know what to do here. I know how to drive this home. Because you put yourselves schizophrenically into each character as you write each line. And so I ping pong around as I’m moving through and I get back to Andrew and I can feel how frustrated he is at what his father just said. And I want him to deliver the killing blow.

John: Yup.

Craig: And what I think is wonderful that Damien found is that, in fact, the killing blow that should be delivered, the one that’s more dramatic is the one from Andrew’s father. That is, in fact, the moment where Andrew gets up and walks out. And we understand his relationship with that man is now essentially severed. That he’s — because what Jim had said to him is, “You can’t do it.” And what’s fascinating is that’s exactly what he’s hearing from Fletcher, “You can’t do it.” They’re both — they have both now found an agreement for different reasons. And so brilliant choice to end, “And from Lincoln Center?” because what leads into it is Andrew saying something very, very mean to Travis. Because Travis is actually being –

John: Yeah.

Craig: You know, I mean look, that was insulting and unnecessary. It wasn’t like Travis was tooting his own horn, his dad was doing it for him. And he says, “You think Carlton football is a joke? Come play with us.” And Andrew says, “Four words you will never hear from the NFL.”

John: And that’s a closer line. Like, the scene really can’t continue after that line. It does feel like that is the button on the end of the scene.

Craig: Well, it’s almost the button because you’re like, “Oh, yeah. He just dropped the mic.” And then his father walks over and drops a bigger mic. “And from Lincoln Center?” Like who is it that you think you are all of a sudden? You can say that you want to be great but you’re not. You’re just you right now.

John: Yeah. I did not actually connect the “And from Lincoln Center?” to the NFL as well as you did. And so it always felt like a bit of weird floater for me that the Lincoln Center line there. Particularly because there are cuts early on the scene to talk more about Lincoln Center.

Craig: Right.

John: And so it’s not the ideal out for the scene as it was finally staged. I could imagine an out which is something that Jim says. I agree it should be Jim’s last line there to cement what the conflict is, it’s going to keep going forward in the movie after this dinner table scene. But I just loved this scene.

Craig: Well, this is — by the way, this is what critics never understand. So let’s talk about the ticky tacky argument that must have gone on in the editing room. That last line I think is terrific because I think it’s really important for the character and I think it’s important for the relationship for Jim to point out “You aren’t great yet. And so maybe be a little less arrogant.” But the area that sets it up is buried in some stuff that isn’t working. So that stuff has to go. So you sometimes make a trade. And what was working so — what was working at 100 percent is now only working at 80 percent because you’re trying to get rid of something that was only working at 10 percent.

Well, down the line, someone watches this movie, and I say this all the time, they watch it with the belief that everything is intentional and it’s not. And they may go, “I don’t know. That scene just ended with, it could have been better. It just could have been better a line.” Well, ugh, you don’t understand. There are compromises, there must be compromises because not everything is going to work, and even the things that do work sometimes get a little reduced. I still love that line.

John: Yes, I do think though if Damien had known in shooting it that like he was going to be cutting out the other stuff, he would have found a way to make Jim’s last line work better because he would have also known it was the last line of the scene, so it was just feels like a bit of a weird floater to me. Or just some other moment of eye contact between them that could have just done the same job.

Craig: Right.

John: Yeah. Still a great scene. So let’s take a look at another one that involves our two main characters, our protagonist and antagonist, Andrew and Fletcher. And this is a quite late in the story. So Fletcher has been dismissed from the school. Andrew sees him at a jazz club. And so the video clip which we’ll link to will show sort of the whole sequence which is basically Andrew spotting Fletcher as Fletcher is finishing up a piano solo. It’s the first time, I think, we’ve seen Fletcher actually perform, as just not conduct, but actually perform, and they ultimately will get together and sit at a table and have a conversation.

So you will remember this conversation we see in the movie because it’s where Andrew asks the question, “Where is the line?” Basically asking the question going back to the Charlie Parker story, if someone hadn’t thrown that cymbal at his head, would he have become Charlie Parker? And that’s the thesis that — not just trying to state, it’s like without that cymbal being thrown at his head, he would never have pushed himself to become Charlie Parker that we know. Andrew asks the question, “Well, where is that line?” Where do you push too far that Charlie Parker just walks away?

And so let’s start listening at the end of the sort of a long monologue from Fletcher where he’s talking about this idea of Charlie Parker and his frustration with society.

Fletcher: There are no two words in the English language more harmful than “good job.”

Andrew: But is there a line? You know, maybe you go too far and you discouraged the next Charlie Parker from ever becoming Charlie Parker?

Fletcher: No, man, no because the next Charlie Parker would never be discouraged. The truth is, Andrew, I never really had a Charlie Parker. But I tried. I actually fucking tried, and that’s more than most people ever do. And I will never apologize for how I tried.

Andrew: See you later.

Fletcher: Hey, Andrew, listen, I have no idea how you’re going to take this, but the band I’m leading for JVC, the drummer is not cutting it. Do you understand what I’m saying?

Andrew: No.

Fletcher: I’m using the studio band play list. You know, Caravan, Whiplash. I need somebody who really knows those charts.

Andrew: What about Ryan Connolly?

Fletcher: All Connolly ever was to me was incentive for you.

Andrew: Tanner?

Fletcher: Tanner switched to pre-med. I guess he got discouraged. Hey, take the weekend to think about it.

John: Obviously the clip will show the whole sequence as we go through it, and there’s really great stuff in the head of this scene, but I really want to focus on the end of the scene and the discussion, the decision between the two characters, and the choices they’re having to make as they go through the end of the scene. So let’s take a look at, if you’re looking at the pages, at the top of page 88 is where we’re starting with Andrew’s question of, “But do you think there’s a line, you know, where you discourage the next Charlie Parker from becoming Charlie Parker?” This is, again, stating the thesis of the film. Fletcher says, “No, because the next Charlie Parker would never be discouraged.”

Andrew takes this in a moment, and here’s stuff that got cut. And again, I think it’s so useful to see what was on the page versus what was actually shot. Andrew used to ask, “And you, are you back to playing now?” Fletcher used to say, “Not really, here and there. The playing never interested me. I never wanted to be Charlie Parker. I wanted to be the man who made Charlie Parker. The kid who discovers some scrawny kid, pushed and prodded him, shaped him into something great, and then said to the world, check this out, the best mother fucking solo you ever heard.”

Andrew asks, “Where is Charlie Parker then? Sean Casey?” The name hits Fletcher. Fletcher looks at Andrew, who immediately regrets bringing the name up. Why? Because even after everything, the sight of Fletcher hurting affects him. There’s more stuff here. So basically we go through the whole Sean Casey of it all who’s the kid who committed suicide. We skip all that stuff out, and instead we just leave it with Fletcher reflecting on, “I never had my Charlie Parker,” like he doesn’t even say that he was trying to create it, not trying to be it, he makes it clear that he was trying to have a student who would be a Charlie Parker, and he never did.

And instead Damien just let’s — sort of the eye contact and the look between them tell more of that scene.

Craig: Yes. It’s really a very smart excision. First, of note is that in the dinner scene, we talked about this question, is it better to be great, or is it better to die you know, 90, and sober, and rich?

And that is a great argument worth having, and people had it. And then the gift of this movie is that it gives you another one. And it’s this one, which is must you forge greatness and fire, or is there a way to create greatness with love and support? And can in fact love and support backfire, can in fact forging someone in fire backfire? And great topic, and well worth debating. And the movie doesn’t answer the question for you which I think is terrific. In fact, Damien, I met Damien at a discussion that was moderated by Phil Lord and Chris Miller, and I think the topic was essentially ambiguity. What do we do about this, and how intentional is all the rest? It was a really interesting discussion.

So you have that, that’s a challenge there. And then the thing is, Fletcher has certainty. There is no debate in Fletcher’s mind. In his mind, it’s almost tautological, we would call this, begging the question in philosophy structuring your argument in support of an answer by assuming that the answer is part of the argument. But that’s the way he is. No. The next Charlie Parker would never be discouraged.

Now the rest of what happens here is understandable. We are always trying to guess how much the audience needs to get the point. And in this case, I think Damien wrote a lot of really interesting things to make us get this point that Fletcher was never about being supportive and teaching a group of kids to play some songs. He was always about finding that person who needed the cymbal thrown at his head, throwing the cymbal at his head, and creating the next great thing.

But the truth is, as good as the acting is in this moment, and as good as the dialogue is later on, all you needed was for Fletcher to go from the top of 88, “No, because the next Charlie Parker would never be discouraged,” all the way down to the bottom of 88. “The truth is, I don’t know if I ever had a Charlie Parker,” regret, “but I tried,” and that’s it. We get it. Perfect. Perfect cut.

John: Yeah, “I tried,” and “I will never apologize,” I think that’s the crucial thing, too, is that we should sort of back up and talk about sort of what information the characters have going into this. So Andrew testified against Fletcher basically, did agree that Fletcher had done bad things. There was an investigation and Andrew had cooperated with that investigation. Andrew knew that Fletcher had been let go from the school.

What Andrew doesn’t know is whether Fletcher knows that he was part of the process because he should have been kept out of it. So he has a lot of questions about Fletcher. Does Fletcher know what I did? And so the top half of that scene you’ll see there’s a little bit more of that sort of like probing. And what didn’t make it into the final cut was really more of those questions about sort of like what actually happened and sort of how much does this guy actually know about what my role in this was.

Most of that got dropped out of the actual cut, so that what it seems like this scene is doing is for these two characters, it’s like these two warriors who meet off the battlefield, and actually can have a conversation about like, “Oh, hey, remember that war?” to some degree, and that’s what the scene seems to be about.

What I think is so smart about it is that this is actually a misdirection yet again, because it seems like Fletcher is being totally honest about what he’s trying to do, and sort of like he’s sort of coming clean about sort of how he’s built and how he’s wired. But as we go into the next beat here, you see he wants something from Fletcher. And what it seems like he wants is, kid, you’re really good, please play in my band. So as written on the page, as we go outside, Andrew and Fletcher exit, they stand for a second, look at one another in awkward silence. Andrew says, “Nice seeing you.” Fletcher nods. Beat. Andrew turns, about to head off when, “Look, I don’t know how you’ll take this. The band I’m leading for JVC, our drummer isn’t cutting it. Do you understand?” “No.” “I’m using the studio band playlist, Whiplash, Caravan. I need a replacement who already knows those charts inside-out.” Andrew looks at him. You can’t be serious.

So it’s turning the tables where it seems like Fletcher is extending an olive branch, he’s saying, like, hey, you really are that good. He’s trying to put the past behind them, and more importantly, he’s validating Andrew who’s not had any validation as a musician for a long time here.

Craig: Yeah. Fletcher is a master of the mind game. And in this case, what Damien is doing is he’s having Fletcher mind game us in the audience as well. Because what Damien understands is we are connected to basic narrative understanding, and we believe we’re watching Rocky, and we believe Rocky needs to win at the end, even though of course, Rocky loses, but we need Rocky to at least make a good showing, right?

So Andrew has quit, he is done. I think his father is happy about this. And Fletcher gives him this speech that’s really just, well, it’s a discussion about his philosophy. They’re no longer teacher and student. There’s no power and balance. In fact, in a weird way, Andrew has the power because he’s come to watch this guy play. Assumingly he’s getting paid. And Fletcher says, “All I ever wanted was to find Charlie Parker.”

So now, they walk outside, and now Fletcher goes, hey, my drummer isn’t cutting it. Now, you and I both know as creative people that when someone comes to us and says, “Hey, my writer, they’re not cutting it,” there is a little dopamine blast that goes on in our brain, which goes, oh, so this is about me. Maybe I’m the one you want. And it’s very, very attractive.

So even though Andrew doesn’t quite understand it at first, when he gets it, you can see the dopamine, you can see that release. And then Damien’s really smart because Andrew says, “What about Ryan Connolly?” who was the drummer ahead of him — the seat ahead of him. And Fletcher says, “What about him? All he was was your incentive.” Like, I think, don’t you get it, idiot? You’re going to be my Charlie Parker. I think you could be my Charlie Parker. And it’s this juicy, juicy bait on the end of a hook. And Andrew just bites.

John: Yes, he does bite. So the relationship between these two characters is described as sort of like a really fucked up love story. And I think this is one of the scenes that’s sort of most fucked up about it where this is like, well, what about those other girls you were sleeping with? Like, oh, they didn’t mean anything to me. I was only thinking about you this whole time.

And that’s essentially what Fletcher is saying to Andrew is that these were just bait to sort of to get you to work harder. And that’s why they were never anything to you, they never meant anything to me. You are the only person who could possibly do this thing. And that’s incredibly attractive to this kid who really wants to be Charlie Parker. He really wants someone to tell him he is Charlie Parker, and that he’s not just good but he’s like once in a lifetime great. And so this is exactly what he needs to hear, exactly when he needs to hear it, and Fletcher knows it.

And so it’s interesting that Fletcher does say, “We’re rehearsing next Thursday, why don’t you take the weekend to think about it?” And in the script, on the page, Andrew thinks about it and says, “I don’t need to.” But this is a line that was scripted. I’m sure they shot it, but it’s good you shoot it because then you cannot use it. In this case, they did not use it. It lets the cut be the answer where you see, you know, you end the scene on a question mark, and then the far side of the cut is the answer which is basically like I’m so excited, I’m going to do this thing.

Craig: Yes. So on the other side of the cut we see Andrew opening his closet and pulling out his old drums. So we get his answer, we know his answer. What’s fascinating about Fletcher’s appeal here is that he doesn’t mean any of it. He’s lying. He is lying in order to set Andrew up, to punish Andrew, because he believes Andrew is the reason he got fired. He’s being vindictive, there is nothing about what he’s doing here that is true to any notion that Andrew could be the next great one. He doesn’t believe that at all, which sets up this remarkable ending, where Andrew becomes that, in spite of, and yet, also because of.

And that’s why the ending of the movie is so fascinating because it’s not like Fletcher’s plan really was to do that. It happened because Fletcher was awful, and this kid came out of that cruelty as great. And then, of course, the great question of the end of the movie is, what now?” Are they friends now? I don’t think so.

John: Oh, I don’t think so at all.

Craig: Yeah. I think that Andrew moves far beyond Fletcher, who returns to a life of obscurity, and that’s the greatest tragedy of all. But also, the question is, Andrew, who ends up in his moment of glory, playing all of his blood and sweat all over the place, what will happen to him? His father is shut out completely in a shot that is almost a direct lift of Diane Keaton having the door closed on her at the end of The Godfather. So his father is gone. He’s cut strings there. He’s gone far beyond Fletcher. He doesn’t need him anymore. Now what happens to this guy? Does he end up dead at 32? It’s a fascinating movie. And this scene is another great example like the Scott Frank scene of people fighting without fighting.

John: Exactly.

Craig: It’s terrific.

John: So we only focused on the end of the scene, but we’ll have the pages up for the whole scene, and the video for it. And I would strongly encourage people to look at both the scene as shot and the page, and really compare them in real time because what you’ll notice is that I think because Damien is the writer/director, he felt file with actors making huge changes to how they were saying those lines of dialogue as long as they were getting the effect across. And one of the most notable things I noticed was, tense changes, and so a lot of things that were written in the present tense in the script are spoken in the past tense in the movie, and it totally makes sense. It all tracks.

What you have to be really mindful of if you’re in production is if you have two characters who are speaking to each other, and you’re cutting those as singles, lines of dialogue might not make sense anymore because people are speaking in different tenses. So are they talking about a theoretical future, or are they talking about a thing that happened in the past? In many cases, especially J. K. Simmons has changed a lot of what those tenses are, and it totally works in the course of the movie, but you have to know your text really, really well as the writer and the director to feel comfortable with an actor making all those changes.

Craig: No question. And I think that he did that thing that some writers fail to do, which is transition successfully from the guy who wrote the script, to now I’m the guy directing the script. He treated the script the way he should, which I think was very respectfully, but also with flexibility. And he did a terrific job. I really enjoyed that movie.

John: Yes. So that was two sequences from Whiplash. Thank you, Damien Chazelle, for writing your great movie. We’ll have links in the show notes for the script pages, and also links out to the video clips so you can see what the scenes actually look like when they were shot. Craig, it’s time for One Cool Things. What is your One Cool Thing this week?

Craig: Well, today, my One Cool Thing is in my frequent category of neurological advances, but this one is amazing. This one actually could change a lot. So one of the problems with treating brain illness, whether it’s cancer or other kinds of disease, is that there’s something called the blood brain barrier, and the blood brain barrier is a mechanism that protects the brain from being affected by whatever the hell you throw into your body at any given moment.

Obviously, we know that some molecules go through the blood brain barrier, that’s why they work on us like you know, heroin, but a lot don’t. And this becomes very frustrating because a lot of pharmaceuticals are really big molecules, and they just don’t go through that barrier at all. So what ends up happening, when you’ve got something, for instance, a cancer in the brain, and you want to treat it with chemotherapy, you can’t because the chemo won’t get through the blood brain barrier.

So what these folks have done in Canada, led by a guy with the best name ever, Dr. Todd Mainprize.

John: Love it.

Craig: Yeah, if this works, Todd will get the main prize. So Todd Mainprize and his team in Toronto have come up with this remarkable concept where they introduce a particular chemical into the blood, and then they use ultrasound to expand that chemical as it’s moving through the blood brain barrier, and open up tiny little tears in the blood brain barrier that they can then get medicine through. And it’s really targeted, and it’s just kind of amazing.

And if it works, well, you’re going to see major reduction, I think, in terminal brain cancers. I think this could be truly amazing. And of course, when they try and take a cancer out of somebody’s brain, it’s invasive, you know. Sometimes the surgery itself is permanently debilitating. So I don’t know. I mean this is a crazy one, but it could work, it could really work and it would change the game. So very excited, congratulations Dr. Todd Mainprize. You have the main prize of today. You are my One Cool Thing.

John: Very cool. My One Cool Thing is called what3words, and it is a system for mapping the entire surface of the earth and providing coordinates that are actually described by three words. And so what they’ve done is essentially they’ve taken the entire surface of the earth and broke it into 57 trillion squares that are about three-meters by three-meters, and so that’s really quite small. But 57 trillion seems like a huge number, but it’s actually a number that could be described with a combination of any three words. And so the computer system is actually assigned a word to each of those squares on the surface of the earth, so you are able to then say like I am at alpha dog hypotenuse, and that is where I am. And it is really a fascinating system, and it makes sort of similar to like providing a URL or sort of a short code for any place in the real physical world, and it seems like a really ingenious system for doing that. So I’m going to link out to which will show you how they’re doing it, and provide interactive maps so you can actually figure out where you are, and what the words are for the place that you are currently at. So it really is quite clever and I’m surprised it hasn’t happened before now, but it seems very smart.

So our live show on December 9th will take place at Tides Vivid Snail. And literally you can download the app and put in Tides Vivid Snail and it will give you directions to that specific venue.

Craig: That’s so much better than like an address. So much better.

John: Yeah, and why this hasn’t happened before? I don’t know, but it seems like a really, really smart idea. So a friend of ours who works in mapping sent this through and it seems just like a very clever way to do things.

Craig: Brilliant.

John: What’s interesting is that three-meters by three-meters square is small enough that like our house has a bunch of different squares, and so like if I’m out in the office, that’s a different square than the kitchen is. And so it’s a really very specific thing.

Craig: Yeah, three-meters by three-meters, that’s basically 10 square feet. That’s amazing.

John: Yeah. And it’s fascinating that you could actually think about mapping all the surface of the earth to that, but of course you could. So we have the technology now to do that. So I’m excited by this as a possibility.

Craig: We got to figure out how to use this for D&D because we’re basically D&Ding the world now because it’s becoming a grid –

John: Absolutely. Everything is on a square grid. Our grid that we’ll play at on Sunday, it will be five-foot squares, but this is similar to that.

Craig: Similar. All right, very good, very cool.

John: All right. That is our show this week. Our outro this week is by Kim Atle. If you have an outro you would like us to use, please send us an email at with a link to your outro. is also the place to send question to us. We love to answer questions, and we’ll do so in a future episode. If you have short questions for me, or for Craig, I am on Twitter, @johnaugust, Craig is @clmazin. You can find our show on iTunes. We are just Scriptnotes. Search for Scriptnotes. That’s also where you’ll find the Scriptnotes app which lets you get to all the back episodes of Scriptnotes.

To register for the back episodes of Scriptnotes and to get special episodes like the Drew Goddard episode, just go to

A reminder that we have USB drives with all the back episodes as well, so you can get all 200 episodes of the show before now on USB drives shipped to your house, which is handy. Lots of people have been using those. A reminder that our live show is January 9th and you should get tickets. They will be at the Writers Guild Foundation website,, and we look forward to seeing so many of you there.

Craig: Excellent.

John: Great. Thanks for a fun episode.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: All right, bye.

Craig: Bye.


Whiplash, on paper and on screen

Tue, 11/17/2015 - 08:03

John and Craig take an in-depth look at two scenes in Damien Chazelle’s WHIPLASH to see how conflicts were structured — and what changed from script to shooting.

In follow-up, we discuss the myth vs. reality of Zola, and what we mean by a character having agency.

We’re having a live holiday show in Los Angeles! It’s December 9th in Hollywood, with special guests Riki Lindhome, Natasha Leggero and Malcolm Spellman. Tickets will sell out, so be sure to click the links below.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 223: Confusing, Unlikable and On-The-Nose — Transcript

Fri, 11/13/2015 - 14:09

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

Today on the show, we will talk about terrible notes screenwriters get and what happens when novelists attempt to adapt their own books.

Craig, welcome back to your home little set-up, your office. We are now on Skype, we don’t have to see each other in person anymore.

Craig: Yeah. Always awkward to look into the face of John August –

John: Yeah

Craig: To see his dead eyes, to hear the words and clicks as the babbage machine inside his dome calculates what to say next.

John: Yeah, Mathew has a whole special filter that takes that out when I record by Skype. But live, you know, there’s no way to really conceal it.

Craig: You can’t conceal the babbage.

John: There was enough bustling in that auditorium there that nobody really heard it.

Craig: No one except for me.

John: Yeah. How did you feel Austin went?

Craig: I thought Austin went great. It may be my favorite of all the Austins I’ve been to. And it started off on a weird foot because they had this storm and the airport got shut down. So you and I weirdly kind of got in under the wire and got out after the wire. I mean, compared to everybody else, we had the easiest travel of all time.

But I thought it went really, really well. You know, we had to do a little rejiggering on our live podcast because of the travel issues and other things. But we got two great guests regardless. I thought our Three Page Challenge went really well.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And then I enjoyed doing my seminar on story structure. That seemed to go really well. And it was just fun seeing people. It was a good group. Lots of old faces, some new faces. Oh, and our wives and husbands were with us.

John: Yeah, which was fun for the first time to have them there with us.

Craig: Here’s a question for you. I don’t know if this happened for you, but I was kind of hoping it would happen for me, and it did. And that is — just every now and then, the person that you’ve been spending your life with, you know, at this point now with Melissa it’s more than half of my life, it’s good for them to see you in like another context –

John: For sure.

Craig: And see people like, “Hey,” you know. It makes them kind of — I don’t know, just appreciate the other side.

John: There’s always this question in my head. It was whether Mike really believes I am where I say I am, or that if I’ve actually hidden my phone in some other city and I’m a spy living some other secret life. So it’s good for him to see like, “Oh, those places I talk about going, they are actually real and there are people on the other side of that conversation.”

Craig: I’m glad that I’m not the only one because, you know, the joke that Melissa and I always have is that there’s this recurring plot on Lifetime made-for-TV movies where a woman meets a man and he’s the man of her dreams, and he just seems so perfect, and then she starts to realize over time that he’s been drugging her every day and confusing her and having sex with her in her sleep. And then cheating on her, manipulating her, and stealing her money. And every now and then, she’s like, “Are you drugging me? Is this real or is this drugs?”

John: Yes.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So at least Melissa got to know for sure that it was drugs.

Craig: Yeah. Oh, it’s drugs. We didn’t –

John: 100 percent. It’s drugs from top to bottom.

Craig: We blindfolded Mike and Melissa and just brought them to a room that where we hastily scrawled Austin on the wall and then just kept them high as hell for a few days. It was great.

John: Yeah, it was a fun time.

Craig: [laughs]

John: So people have already listened to the live show that we did, that was last week’s episode. The Three Page Challenge we did, that is now up in the premium feed. So if you’re a premium subscriber to Scriptnotes, you can listen to our Three Page Challenge where we had three really interesting scripts to talk through and we got to talk with two of the writers of those scripts and about what they had done. So Kelly Marcel was our special guest for that.

Craig: Right.

John: If you are not a premium subscriber, this may be a good time for you to run over to and sign up for that. It’s $1.99 a month. You get access to all the back feed and episodes like the Scriptnotes live Three Page Challenge. And also an interview I did with Drew Goddard for the Writers Guild Foundation last week. And so that will be up in the feed by the time you hear this. So a good chance to catch up on things you may have missed.

Craig: Wonderful.

John: All right. Our future guest, Tess Morris, she’s a young woman we met at Austin this year. She’s a friend of Kelly Marcel. She was there with a movie called Man Up, which was having it’s, I guess, North American premier at Austin. But that film is actually going to be showing at Sundance Cinemas here in Los Angeles starting, I think, next week, when you listen to this podcast. And we are going to have her as a guest on the show. So if you would like to understand what we’re talking about, I would recommend you go out and see her movie. It stars Lake Bell and Simon Pegg. And that’s premiering in New York and Los Angeles I think next week. So just to give you a heads up that that’s a future topic, so if you want to know what we’re talking about, you should probably go see her movie, which is really good.

Craig: I think it’s safe to say that she’s delightful.

John: She is in fact delightful. She’s British and delightful. But delightful in a different way than Kelly Marcel.

Craig: Everyone is.

John: Yes. [laughs]

Craig: [laughs] That one is unique. No, Melissa kept saying about Tess, she just kept saying, “I’m sorry, but she is adorable.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: She is adorable. And the funny is you said she’s a young woman. She’s not that much younger than we are.

John: No.

Craig: But she seems like she is, like you want to adopt her and, you know, I keep saying like, “Come stay with us, you could be just our older daughter.”

John: It’s interesting because the character that Lake Bell plays in the movie is very clearly inspired by Tess. And it is a woman who is very immature in sort of fundamental things and makes a list about sort of like act like a grown up, and that seems to be a goal for Tess as well. And so, we could talk about being a grown-up, and especially romantic comedies, which is a thing that Tess has essentially written a thesis on about how romantic comedies function and what their function is in the cinema universe. So that’ll be a great conversation we’ll have with her, eventually. And it’ll make more sense if you see her movie first.

Craig: Word, word.

John: Another clip you may want to watch is online. It’s from Andrew Friedhof who just won the Nicholl Fellowship for his script. And he gave this really nice acceptance speech. So Robin Swicord introduced him. It was a nice acceptance speech. And at the end of it, he thanks you and me, which was just crazy.

Craig: It was. And it was very touching. And he seems, first of all, like the nicest person ever, you know. Sometimes you see somebody and they’re talking and you think, “I don’t know what it is exactly but they just seem so gentle and so kind and so nice.” And he said some very lovely things about you and me and the show. And it was very touching, you know. I mean, you know my whole thing these days is being grateful, and I’m very grateful for that. I’m grateful that we — and he’s Australian and, you know, his point was like, “Look, we’re all the way there on the other side of the world from Los Angeles.” And so, these things, like the show that we do, and there are a lot of other resources, obviously, are lifelines for people. And so it was very nice to hear, and it keeps me going week after week. I have no idea what keeps you going, some sort of blend of synthetic oil and jet fuel.

John: Absolutely. It’s a special formula that I’ve been working on for years. I mean, actually, through the power of radio, we don’t have to summarize what he said, we can actually just play a little clip. So let’s hear a little clip of what he said –

Craig: All right.

John: About us.

Andrew Friedhof: On the off chance they hear this, I’d like to thank John August and Craig Mazin. I consider myself a proud alumnus of Scriptnotes University, particularly for someone from overseas who doesn’t live in this area, obviously. So yeah, to actually have their advice, umbrage-filled advice, has been invaluable to me, so I really appreciate that.

John: So that was lovely. So Andrew, I connected with him on Twitter, so he’s in town for a little while longer doing a thousand meetings, he’s doing The Water Bottle Tour of Los Angeles, which we’ve described. And so we wish him lots of luck and congratulations on this success for him.

Craig: No question, it’s exciting. And you know, look, there’s a little side effect of the show that we do here, and that’s when we’re both old, I feel like there’ll just be a wave of screenwriters who will take care of us, who’ll bring us hot meals, you know, blankets.

John: I mostly just want people to be a little bit sad when I die. That’s really my only goal.

Craig: I don’t know if they will, because you’re not going to really die. You’re just going to, you know, stop working.

John: Yeah, that’s true. I’ll actually multiply. I’ll be some sort of underlying A.I. that’s just floating out there in the universe.

Craig: You’ll just keep getting parts replaced until people are like, “Yes, technically, it’s John August, but it’s not. There’s barely anything left of the original, of the one.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, this thing has been built up over centuries.

John: Yeah, because I’m Skynet basically.

Craig: [laughs] You become Skynet. Oh, I, on the other hand, will be dead. [laughs]

John: You’ll die in some like really embarrassing accident.

Craig: Yeah. I’ll die of explosive diarrhea –

John: Yeah.

Craig: In front of a crowd, yeah.

John: [laughs] That was good.

Craig: Yeah.

John: My last bit of follow-up is, a couple of weeks ago I talked about that I was thinking about doing NaNoWriMo, where you try to write a novel in the month of November? And I’m actually doing it. I had to start it while I was in Austin, but I’ve actually kept up my word count, and so if people want to stalk me and see how much I’m actually writing per day, I will put a link in the show notes to my official NaNoWriMo profile where you can see how much I am writing each day.

And it’s been really interesting, because you and I have both written some fiction, and I don’t know about you, but I find it challenging overall to switch gears and just be in pure prose the whole time.

Craig: It’s very challenging. You certainly feel like you have let go of that comforting structure, that — I mean, there’s just a rhythm to screenwriting, and it’s the rhythm of scenes more than anything.

John: Yeah.

Craig: A scene feels like a bite size accomplishable thing to do. It has its own beginning, middle, and end. Screenwriting is all about propulsive motion of some kind, emotional or narrative. And in novels, that is occasionally there, and sometimes it’s the last thing you want to do. You want to be reflective, you want to change the vibe completely. So it’s a far less structured form of writing, and that can be a little scary at times. I mean, I have no idea why you’re doing this. It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard. I don’t understand it. [laughs] Honestly, I hope it wins the Pulitzer.

John: Thank you. I’m not trying to write the Pulitzer book, but I’m enjoying what I’m writing.

One of the things I have noticed is that I’m looking at sort of what the feeling is, as the cursor is blinking. And a difference between screenwriting and writing prose is when you’re screenwriting it’s very clear what state you’re in. So am I in a line of action or in a line of dialogue? And your brain switches gears for like what you’re trying to do there. And in prose, you could sort of be in both. And so as I’m trying to express a character communicating some information, it’s like, “Oh, am I going to do that through dialogue or am I going to do that through a summary of sort of what the conversation was?” Am I going to step outside of the actual moment I’m in to fill in details about someone’s history or, you know, an anecdote that relates to that moment? It’s a very different set of states in writing prose fiction than writing screenwriting. Just on the level of what’s happening right underneath your cursor.

Craig: Yes. That’s absolutely true. I remembered thinking, when I was writing prose, that I also had this option to shift gears dramatically in terms of the way the story was being relayed to the reader. In film, you can’t, because you understand people are going to have to shoot this. Ultimately, it conforms to reality. When you’re writing prose, you can slip into a dream state at any moment. You can slip inside someone’s mind, you can slip inside a memory, and you can shift those gears tonally. In fact, you want to. You want to keep people on their toes a little bit. And there is the beautiful freedom of choice. And of course, the terrifying freedom of choice.

John: Yeah. It is. The switch of tenses is also a thing that you have to wrestle with when you first get used to it. Screenwriting is written entirely in the present tense, and that’s because everything you’re seeing on screen is happening right there at that moment. Most fiction is written in the third person singular. And it’s interesting, there’s that change of voice, that change of having to decide whether you are an omniscient narrator who knows everything about the characters, whether you’re limiting your perspective onto a certain character, whether you are invoking the second person to say you at times, in that sort of casual way, rather than saying one might notice, like you might see all those choices are interesting and you find yourself having to make them for the first time, and then having to decide, is that the right choice for the rest of the book I’m trying to write?

Craig: Yeah. It’s yet another thing that you can even switch. You know, Stephen King has this stylistic quirk that I kind of love where he’ll write traditional prose, third person, past tense. And then suddenly somebody will start thinking something, and now he’s in first person, present tense.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And he’ll slather a bunch of italics over it. And stuff like that is kind of fun, because you start to realize, “Oh, yeah, that’s right, the writing is the movie.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: There is no movie. This is it. So I might as well have some fun and break a bunch of rules, as long as — you know, as long as you know what you’re doing and it’s all intentional. It’s so much fun. I don’t know. I mean, one day, I have to get back to –

John: One day, you’ll finish your book.

Craig: One day, I’ll finish my book. And it’ll be probably around the time that all these Scriptnotes listeners have grown up, become wealthy, and are bringing me soup and blankets.

John: Yeah. But at least you’ll have something to do while you are waiting for your stories to begin.

Craig: But let’s not kid ourselves [laughs]. I am going to be playing Fallout 12.

John: That’s what you’ll do. 100 percent.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Or The Room Part 46.

Craig: Oh, I mean, well, just wait –

John: Just wait.

Craig: Just wait.

John: The last thing we need we need to do in our follow-up is talk about the death Melissa Mathison, so the screenwriter of E.T., Indian in the Cupboard, The Black Stallion. E.T. is one of those really seminal movies for me. It’s one of those things where I realized like, “Oh, this is a movie, and it’s making me feel things.” And that comes from her script.

Craig: Well, it’s a seminal movie for practically everyone, I think. And one of the reasons why is that it — and this is where, you know, when you get a great screenwriter with a great idea. And she did invent E.T. You can instruct culture about how you can look at a genre in a different way. And to say, “I’m going to make a family movie about a little boy who meets a friendly alien,” and make it really the “Jesus” story, make it the gospel frankly –

John: Yeah.

Craig: And to do it beautifully and touchingly, to present a family with a single mother, where that’s not kind of a thing that is a thing, it’s just that’s life –

John: Yeah.

Craig: To have kids that talk like actual kids. It was beautiful. And if that were all that Melissa had done, it would have been enough. But to have also done Black Stallion and Indian in the Cupboard and Kundun, just remarkable. I mean, the breadth of her career, the different kinds of stories she did, worked with — you know, repeatedly worked with the best directors. Her last work is an adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG which Spielberg, I think, is going to do. And that says something right there. You know, when arguably the best Hollywood director ever works with you in the early 1980s and then is working with you in the mid-2010s, you probably are pretty good. I mean, she was one of the best who ever did what we did. And it’s very sad because it’s untimely. I don’t know if they indicated what the cause of death of was, but she was in her 60s. It’s too early. I assume that it was some kind of illness, and it’s a shame. And everyone, certainly everyone who screenwrites needs to know her name. But everybody who loves movies needs to know her name.

John: Absolutely.

All right. Let’s switch gears and talk about studio notes. Or not even notes we get from studios but from other people who read our scripts. And the notes that drive us craziest because they are so unhelpful or unspecific. And we each have a list of some things that drive us crazy. Craig, why don’t you start?

Craig: Hey, I’m going to just zero in on the one.

John: All right.

Craig: That after all this time, this is the one that — it’s the only one of all the repetitive, useless, silly, boring, edge rubbing off notes that you get, and you’re going to get them. This is the one that sends me into advanced umbrage. And it’s this. “This character feels unlikeable.” Even as I say it, there is a rage building in me, a violence that I can barely repress. And the reason why is because a lot of notes that you get that are bad are — they’re what I call conforming notes.

“Please remove the things that are unique in your screenplay and push them more towards something I’ve seen already because it makes me feel safe. I simply can’t look past my own fear to the experience of the audience. It’s more important to me that I feel safe.” And I understand why those happen, and of course, part of my job is to not let bad things happen to the screenplay while making the other person feel safe. But this note — this note is just stupid, because it doesn’t even make you feel safe. It’s just wrong.

Not only can your character be unlikeable, people like your character to be unlikeable. They love unlikeable characters. The only thing they ever ask of us is that unlikeable characters at some point indicate that they are self-aware, that they know that they’re a little off. And that there is a hint in there, a thread that you can see can be pulled to lead to redeemability, to redemption. And that the character does, in fact, unfold into something of a likeable person. They don’t have to become a good person, but that you can see some humanity comes out. We love curmudgeons. We love the cranky drunks. We love the vulgarians and the addicts and the criminals and the cowards and the neurotics and the selfish. I mean, look back at Bad News Bears.

John: Oh, yeah.

Craig: I mean, I want to carry with me a poster of Bad News Bears. And the next time someone says, “Well, I think this character isn’t quite likeable,” I’m just going to unfold it, circle Walter Matthau’s face and then smoosh that into their face so that whatever the sharpie I used to circle Walter Matthau’s face makes a weird sharpie smudge on their face and they got to walk around all day. And every time someone says, “Well, what’s with the sharpie smudge?” They go, “Oh, yeah, I said that a character should be likeable.” And they’ll be like, “Really? What about Walter Matthau?” And they’ll say, “Yeah. That’s where I got this.”

John: So it’ll be sort of like Ash Wednesday where people have smears on their faces but it’ll be the sort of — it’s the Sharpie Tuesday.

Craig: It’s Umbrage Tuesday.

John: It’s Umbrage Tuesday. It’s a new holiday that we’re instituting in Hollywood.

Craig: By the way, how great is it that Andrew Friedhof actually mentioned umbrage in his Nicholl speech? [laughs]

John: [laughs] Yeah, I know. If you just patented that word, I mean, we could have made some money here but no.

Craig: So much money.

John: You gave it away for free.

Craig: As you know, I insist on losing money.

John: So let’s try to unpack likeability, because I think when a studio development executive or a producer says “unlikeable,” let’s take a look at what they’re actually trying to say. I think sometimes they’re trying to say that they worry that an audience will see this character, not relate to this character, and will not want to follow him or her on their story. And unlikeable tends to be a note that you get at a character’s — not first introduction but early on as a character is going. And they’re worried that the audience is not going to go on the ride with the character because of things they’re saying, things they’re doing, that they are not engaged in the right way. So sometimes it’s because they’re taking actions which are offensive. But sometimes it’s because they’re not giving you anything to hold on to.

Is that where you see people using the word unlikeable?

Craig: I think so. But it seems to me that it’s almost more of a knee-jerk thing of they think that audiences are simple and have only two positions on their dial which is “Aw” and “Ew.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: And that’s it. But that’s not true. In fact, “Ew,” contains an enormous amount of “Aw.” Take a look at Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets. He throws a dog down the garbage shoot. He’s homophobic. He’s racist. He’s mean. He’s cruel. He yells at children. And you love him because you can see under it “aw”.

So like I just said here, the character has self-awareness or a sense of redeemability. You see when he’s alone that he has a mental illness and that he’s struggling and you go, “Aw.” And we want that. We want it. And I just feel that sometimes — in truth, there is no redemption for this note. If you say to me — and I don’t get it a lot, but if you say, “Well, this character isn’t very likeable,” in my mind, you’re dead.

I don’t know how else to put it. You’re dead, because you have no risk in you. You have no interest in any kind of true complication to a person. Because the only people, I think, we are interested in in movies are the ones that have something about them that is unlikeable. I can go down movie by movie. You give me any movie, any character, I’m going to go, “Oh, there’s the thing that’s unlikeable about them.”

How much did you love Meryl Streep’s character in Doubt?

John: Oh, yeah. I understood where she was coming from. And that was the crucial distinction. If I understand what’s making them tick, I am fascinated and I like them even if I wouldn’t necessarily want to be in a room with them.

Craig: Right. Because there is also the implication that underneath the crust is something else. And then the question, why is the crust even there? You know, we want it. We want it. It’s just so weird. If anything, if I were in their position, I would give the note “This character is too likeable.”

This woman is just too — I like her so much. Why do I need to see her go through anything? Just leave her be, you know.

John: I think the other kind of unlikeability that people are confusing here is — so there’s how the reader/audience feels about the character. But it’s also how the characters within the universe respond to that character and how they’re responding to what he or she is doing.

So when you said Meryl Streep, I was thinking about Devil Wears Prada which is, again, an incredibly, on the surface, unlikeable character in the sense that like the people around her don’t like her. But because she’s functioning as a villain, that’s good. And that’s sort of what you’re going for.

Real life experience that I had, you know, for the last 15 years is the character of Will in Big Fish. So in the movie version that’s Billy Crudup’s character. And the notes I got from very early versions of the script and sort of all the way through the process is like, “We don’t like Will.” And it’s like, “Well, that’s fantastic because Will is basically me, so thank you for making me feel great about that.” I feel great about myself.

But I kept trying to unpack what people meant when they said that the character Will was unlikeable. And what they’re really saying is, “We really like Edward. And Will seems to be an obstacle to Edward. And that doesn’t make us feel happy. So something is wrong.” And what I was trying to communicate is like, “Well, they are serving as a protagonist-antagonist relationship. They’re going to push each other, and that is their function, and it’s what we’re trying to do.”

It wasn’t until we got to — in the musical version, we were in Chicago and we were still wrestling with this note, people said like, “We don’t like Will.” And we cast the most charismatic lovely actor you could imagine, Bobby Steggert. And people still would come to this note saying, “We don’t like Will.”

And ultimately what we discovered is people didn’t understand what was going on inside Will’s head. And that’s where we had to write a whole new song called Stranger which lets you actually — it give him an “I want” song that lets you sort of understand what it is he’s trying to do. And in writing that song and building the first act around that, suddenly all those “Will is unlikeable” notes started to go away. So I think a lot of times, when you’re hearing that likeability note, it’s that they’re confused about what the character is actually after or what the function of that character is in the story.

Craig: Right. And that’s how I get around it, usually. I mean, I think to myself, well, “I don’t want you to like anyone in my movie. I want you to hate them and love them both at the same time.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: And you know, there’s that line, Sondheim’s line from Into the Woods, “You’re not good, you’re not bad, you’re just nice.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: Nice is bad.

John: Nice is so bad.

Craig: We don’t want nice. I don’t want you to like anyone. And so you’re right, if they’re saying, “Well, I just don’t like him,” I think then part of the job is to say, “Here’s how I can make the audience engage with this person’s crustiness, with the bad part of them, with the part that’s kind of awful.” The “Ew” needs the “Aw,” you know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And you just got to figure out how to get it in there so that you are delighted by them. And we know. Here’s the thing, that’s why this note makes me crazy. We know from a hundred years of cinema that audiences love villains. They love villains. They love them, you know. Usually, it’s your favorite part, you know. I mean, I think back to seeing Superman as a kid, Donner’s Superman. I mean, Gene Hackman makes the movie. I hate him and I love him. He’s awesome, you know.

And I don’t know, this is the one note that sends me over the moon. And so if you are a notes giver, I want you to strike this. Strike it away. And if you encounter a character that you’re not liking but you’re also not deliciously hating, then give that note. Say, “I want to really not like and love this person.” I want “Ew” and “Aw.”

John: The other thing I want to urge note givers to do is you’re not allowed to ask for likeability and edgy at the same time. And I so often find I’ll be in a conversation, like, “Could we just make this edgier but also make the characters likeable?” And those are conflicting notes and you will have nothing but tears if you try to do both things simultaneously.

Craig: Yeah. Notes like that, they are a cry for help. I really do believe that.

John: [laughs]

Craig: They are. This person is no longer thinking about a movie. They’re just frightened to death. And Lindsay Doran used to run Sydney Pollack’s company. And she said that Sydney had this thing where Lindsay would say, “I want this character to be — I want to love him but I also want him to be edgy.” And Sydney would say, “So you want a close up with feet?”

John: [laughs]

Craig: And that’s it. It’s like you can’t.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You can’t have a close up with feet. But when I’m working with her –

John: You can frame it in kind of an impossible shot that would do it. Like if it was a yoga teacher, I could see what the close up would be.

Craig: [laughs] Exactly. And she we do this all the time to me. She would say something to me and I go, “That’s a close up with feet.” And you know what she would say that was amazing? She’d go, “I know but I want it.” And I would start to think, “Well –

John: If Lindsay wants it, you got to do it.

Craig: I wonder if there’s a way to make a close up with feet here. Or it would actually make me start thinking about how to be interesting and clever about certain things. But you know, she is not doing this, what you’re talking about. The edgy and likeable thing really is a cry for help.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Using the word edgy alone is a cry for help. It’s an indication that you’re drowning and maybe this business isn’t for you. I mean, one of the great episodes of The Simpsons was the Poochie episode.

John: Oh, just absolutely the best episode.

Craig: It’s seminal. It’s really important. And I mean that. It’s important for anyone to watch, to understand, how the kind of banal villain of Hollywood works. They want something that’s edgy. They want a paradigm shift. They want it to break the mold. And they want it to be out of the box.

They don’t know what any of these things mean. It’s ridiculous. Never. Never. Never ever say — don’t say edgy. There’s other words. There are better words that mean something. I don’t know what the hell edgy even means.

John: No one knows. The other thing I don’t know what it means is confusing. And so, this is a note I will get saying like “This section is confusing” or “I like it but it’s confusing.” And whenever they’re saying “It’s confusing,” I try to sort out whether they’re saying, “I am confused” or “I’m worried that a theoretical audience will be confused.” Because when you actually ask that question, you can suss out whether there’s something that they fundamentally didn’t get that I actually need as a writer to fix in there so they actually understand sort of what the intention is. Or are they just worried that the audience is so much stupider than they are that the audience won’t understand what something is going to be. And they want to dumb it down for the audience.

And what’s frustrating about the “It’s confusing” note is that confusion by itself is not a bad thing. If you look at the stories you love, at certain points in any story you’re going to be confused and your confusion leads to curiosity. And curiosity makes you lean into the movie and really care about what’s happening next. It makes you want to solve the problem. If everything is just completely straightforward and you sort of know what’s going to happen the whole time, there’s no point in watching the movie.

So the trick for the screenwriter is balancing confusion with, you know, clarity so that the audience and the reader feel like they know enough about what’s happening right now, but they’re really curios about how these things are going to resolve. And the answers to those questions are going to be hopefully rewarding. And that’s my frustration with confusion is that so often underneath that note is the desire to smooth out any possible wrinkles.

Craig: Well, you know, you said a lot of things that are very insightful here. And I think that what’s really underneath it and what really bothers me about this note, at least for me, is that there’s a hubris involved. Because you’re right. What you’re saying — you’re asking a first question which is, when you say “It is confusing” like that’s a fact, are you saying, “I am confused” or are you predicting that an audience member would be confused?

And furthermore, when you say this blithely, are you saying it in ignorance of the fact that this question is the one that we preoccupy ourselves almost the most with. The titration of information is the name of the game for screenwriting. What do I tell you? How much do I tell you? How much do I mislead? How much do I conceal? How much do I misdirect? We’re thinking about this all the time.

So yes, every now and then, we’re going to get it wrong. You and I see this when we see Three Page Challenges and we’ll often comment, “Well, we’ve crossed the line from mysterious into befuddling,” you know. And so mystery good, befuddling bad. And what is the factor that rules over everything? Intention. As long as you’re intending me to feel this, great. If you weren’t intending me to feel this, bad. That’s a great discussion.

When these people, when they wander in and they’re like, “Well, I read this part. It was confusing.” No. No, no, no. You don’t get to say it like that. Ever. Because you are discounting that there’s so much more calculation that went into this than you can imagine.

What you need to say is either, “I was confused, so let’s figure out how to match intention to result.” Or you need to say, “I am worried that an audience will be confused by this.” At which point, I often say things like, “I’ll tell you what, let’s put some things in here that are modular.” We know we can lift them if we need to so we’re not stuck with them. But if this section needs training wheels for people, here’s some training wheels. And if it doesn’t, we won’t have to use it, right? We’ll have the option. Because I’m thinking about that all the time. And the truth is I’ve never been to a test screening where at least, at some point, the audience was confused by something that I thought was going to be painfully obvious and thought something that I thought was going to be really mysterious was painfully obvious. It’s like you are always surprised at some point, so I get that.

But the hubris involved of just saying “It is confusing.” No, you are an idiot.

John: Yeah. It’s a state. And whether that state is internal to the person or inherent to the text. I think most development executives are comfortable talking about a character arc. And so when we talk about likeability, we talk about, you know, hopefully we go from this place where we see the character in this one state and they grow and become a better person at the end of the story.

Well, stories have an arc as well. And so there should be confusion. It should be murky and befuddling. And it should arrive at a point of clarity, hopefully, by the end. And so sometimes you can deflect some of those confusion notes with “This is the point. This is the journey of the story. This is how the mystery is unfolding.” And if you can do that and talk about it, usually with character intention, and make sure that it’s really clear what the characters are trying to do moment by moment. Some of that confusion goes away.

Oftentimes, I like to do what’s called a freeze frame where you just, like, look, stop a scene and like look at all the characters on the screen. And just point to each one and say, like, “What is that character trying to do?” And if you don’t know what the characters are trying to do, you do have a problem. That’s really a reason to stop and rethink what’s going on there. But if you understand what all the characters are trying to do, it’s okay that what’s going to happen next in the story is a little confusing. As long as you believe that the characters know what they’re attempting to do next.

Craig: Exactly. Exactly.

John: Oh, these notes. All these notes. This all ties in very well to an article that you flagged for us. This comes from Slate by Forrest Wickman called Against Subtlety. And do you want to summarize Forrest’s argument here?

Craig: Well, it’s a bit long. I guess we’ll zero in on the part that I found kind of cut to his thesis here. He was talking about, I guess, our evolution in our relationship with things that are subtle versus things that are on-the-nose. He says, you know, it was once true that saying that something was “on-the-nose” was actually kind of a good thing. It’s like, “Great, you nailed it.” [laughs]

So he says, “A reasonably as a decade ago, ‘on-the-nose’ typically meant something positive. Most dictionaries haven’t even added the new definition yet, keeping instead only the century-old meaning of ‘exactly right’ or ‘on target.’ Now, calling out the on-the-noseness is practically its own sport. We spot it in a callback to an eight-year-old episode of Mad Men, the title of an episode of Wayward Pines, the appearance of some portentous-seeming oranges in Breaking Bad, or even the lighting and staging of Nashville.

“And so we mock obvious symbolism. We cringe at message movies and melodrama and novels that too readily reveal what they mean. And we roll our eyes at too-clear subtextual signaling even when we sit down to watch wonderfully unsubtle programs on TV. If we no longer hold the high above the low, why do we still hold the subtle above the unsubtle?”

So he’s coming at this — and I understand there is kind of a thing where you think, “Well, if I got it then it couldn’t have been that interesting, so it’s bad.” [laughs] You know, I mean, whereas things that are — I guess, the average person’s cynical viewpoint of the fancy moviegoer is somebody that likes to sit in the movie that makes absolutely no damn sense whatsoever, and then walk out and go, “Yes. Yes. Intriguing. I think what he was trying to say…” And so he is kind of taking the other side of that.

John: Another way of looking at it is by fetishizing subtlety, we are encouraging filmmakers to sort of not actually be clear at times. Or just sort of actually not make the point. Like, if you made the point then you’ve missed you the point in a strange way.

Craig: Right.

John: And that is, I think, a dangerous thing to do. And it ties very well into this idea of confusion. And sort of, you know, you sort of leave with these muddled messes that sort of don’t quite arrive anywhere. And you say like, “Oh, it was very subtle.” It’s like, “Yeah, but we didn’t actually get anywhere.” And that can be a real challenge.

Craig: Well, I think that Mr. Wickman is making a slight mistake here in his essay and it’s a mistake of perspective. Because when he’s talking about “we,” I think what he means is we, the people who are critics, not reviewers, but engage in, you know, cinematic criticism of films or content. That we, on our side over here, are struggling with this. And I would respond that “you” on the other side over there are struggling with a lot of things. And that, in fact, audiences and writers understand that they have engaged in a contract whereby some things will be made clear.

Clumsy symbolism is a thing. We all know clumsy symbolism, but that doesn’t — the problem with clumsy symbolism isn’t that we hate being informed or that we hate that something is revealed to us. It’s that it’s bad. So the example that comes to mind, although he is a, you know, a giant of cinema, Martin Scorsese put that rat in at the end of The Departed and I think everybody went, “Well, yeah. Yes, he is a rat.” You know, that just felt hamfisted.

But no, I don’t think audiences sit down and do what he’s describing audiences do. I think that these people do it. And it’s certainly of no great help to the creator of something. Obviously, we are again trying to gauge and do math, and just as I said, we’re always doing the calculus of how much information. We’re always doing the calculus of, “Okay. Well, how much of this stuff should be really indicative or subtle? How much of it should be things that people can tease out with each other on Reddit like a puzzle if we engage in that at all?”

But I don’t think that we, creating-wise, have a problem. And I don’t think the audience has a problem. I think that this is a problem of people who engage in critical analysis, because so often I think their profession comes down to say something new. And if everyone gets it, well then it’s not very new. Therefore, it must not be good. That’s where the logical mistake is made.

John: What you were talking about before in our confusion discussion, about how sometimes you will write additional things that will be modular, that we cab hopefully take out in case people are not getting them. Some of those things are designed to be less subtle. So like, if things are so subtle that no one is actually understanding what the point was, that’s where you put that thing back in that makes it less subtle. And you and I have both been through test screenings where after the test screenings it’s like, “Crap, we’re going to have to put in a line of ADR dialogue over somebody’s back to actually spell something out because people are just not fundamentally getting it.” That something was too subtle or was too easy to miss and therefore people can’t actually understand it.

I think one of the challenges about movies overall is that movies keep playing forward at 24 frames per second. So when you’re reading a book, you can stop and go back and flip through a few more pages and really dig into sort of what’s going on, really how it’s feeling, like how it’s landing for you. Like, did you miss something? Movies keep chugging along. So if you’re sitting in a dark theater, it has to make sense the first time through. And because of that, sometimes things can’t be quite as subtle as they would be in a book. And that’s a fundamental nature of movies.

Craig: Yeah.

John: The other thing I wanted to look at is, this essay is titled “Against Subtlety.” And I think — I’ll try to find the link to it, but there’s also another Slate article about “Against Against.” So this whole form of an argument is when you title your article against something, you have to sort of stake a big claim about sort of “This is the way things are and this is not the way things should be,” which is actually sort of absurd. And so there’s a middle ground which is it has to make enough sense for the audience to understand what the intention was but not be so obvious that it feels like you were just beating them over the head with it. And finding that line is really challenging especially when it’s not one artistic voice behind things but it’s a committee. A bunch of people have to come to an agreement about what those lines are going to be.

Craig: And furthermore, the arbiter is a population. It’s not an individual. So you can make the argument that if you create a piece of art and two out of ten people understand it and eight don’t, that you shouldn’t change it because you made it for those two people. The thing is, for what we do, we don’t have that luxury because people have invested not our money, we’re not paying for it. Other people are paying for it and they don’t settle for that. They want eight out ten people to understand it. They would really like ten out of ten people to understand it. So you don’t have the luxury of tuning yourself to the smartest or the most puzzle-oriented audience member.

You know, he cites some reviews of Spielberg’s movies. And one after another, they were accused of being heavy-handed, so was Hitchcock, so was Kubrick. Kubrick, for God’s sake. So is Wilder for God’s sake. And then he talks about how Great Gatsby initially was. Apparently, here are some phrases applied to it by critics when it came out. “Painfully forced. Not strikingly subtle.” And even in 2013, New York Magazine disdained the book for being, “Full of low-hanging symbols.”

Well, you know, I would like to punch New York Magazine right through itself. They aren’t full of low-hanging symbols. You know why we think Great Gatsby is full of low-hanging symbols? Because it’s instructed to us as children. And the way it’s instructed to us in part is through symbology.

The fact of the matter is that you don’t need to know that the glasses of T.J. Eckleburg — I think that’s his name — represent the eyes of God. Because as you read the book, they impart a certain feeling to you. I think the last person that wanted his book torn apart like that would be Fitzgerald. And yet that’s what literary analysis does. And now, it turns around and blames people for not being subtle enough because they figured it out. I don’t blame crossword puzzle creators for writing a crossword puzzle that I can solve.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s just dumb. And furthermore, I don’t need to solve movies. I can just have a feeling. I’m okay giving myself in and giving myself into a book and just thinking how eerie it is that those glasses seem to be there staring down, staring down. That’s a feeling. I don’t need to go further with it to enjoy the book. And I would argue that for most people that put some kind of evocative symbolism in their work, they don’t want it to be interpreted like an English teacher would either.

John: I think you’re absolutely right. The last thing I would say about the difference between film and other arts is that we make movies for big giant screens. And so sometimes you put things on a big giant screen, those symbols look really huge. And so your perspective on what that is telling you, it’s going to be very different based on the context of how you’re seeing it. But we also have to make our movies so that they make sense on an airplane seatback.

And so because we don’t have full control over what the experience will be when you’re seeing this film, you may make some choices that are going to split the difference, hopefully, in a way that suits most people seeing your film. And I think where I often find that is in the sound mix, because the sound mix is where you’re going to make sure that people are able to hear those crucial things that have to be heard even if it makes things a little less realistic.

The color mix will be the same kind of situation where you’re doing your color timing to figure out what the look of your film is going to be. Well, if you are on a great screen, you could go really dark and people will still be able to figure stuff out. But if you try to take that exact same color timing and play it on, you know, a crappy TV, you will not be able to see anything. And so there’s reasons why subtlety may not be possible because of the technological limitations.

Craig: Yeah. And I think this is why critics who consume culture at a rate and quantity far beyond what it’s intended will gravitate towards things that other people find confounding. Simply because they are doing that thing in their minds, that Groucho thing. Why would I want to be a member of any club that would have me as a member? Why would I want to like any movie that I understand?

John: Yeah.

Craig: I get it. So therefore, how good could that be?

John: Couldn’t be good at all.

Craig: Right.

John: Let’s do our last topic today which is books and novelists who adapt their own books. So this came up because just last week while I was in Austin, I was on a long phone call with an author whose book I really think is great. So he and I were having a conversation about the possibility of trying to make it into a movie. And it was an interesting conversation because he has also written screenplays. And so he was excited to have me potentially be involved. But he also wanted to write the screenplay himself. And that is a challenging discussion.

But it ended up being a really good discussion because I got to talk through, I think, some of the real pros and some of the real cons of novelists trying to adapt their own books. And Craig and I haven’t rehearsed this at all so I’m really curious what he thinks about it.

There have been good examples recently of authors adapting their own work. And sometimes being spectacularly good. So I’m thinking of Gillian Flynn with Gone Girl. I love the book. She did a great job adapting that for Fincher. And Emma Donoghue just did that with Room, which is her book. She wrote a great screenplay for that. But you also have J.K. Rowling who didn’t adapt the Harry Potter books. Steve Kloves did those, and I thought did a great job adapting those books and making a whole cinematic universe for those. And now, she has come around and she’s doing The Beasts and Where to Find Them, and that’s her first screenplay screenplay.

So there’s definitely, from this author’s perspective who I was talking to on Friday, I can see why he might be really into the idea of like, “Oh, I’ll do it myself because I actually know the characters. I know the world. I know the universe. I can protect my work to some degree.” And I had to sort of make the counter arguments about they’re fundamentally different forms. And that his trying to hold on to things from the book was ultimately going to hurt it at as a movie.

Craig: Well, first of all I love that you said that we didn’t rehearse this implying we’ve ever rehearsed anything. [laughs] Maybe you do. I literally have never rehearsed anything in my life.

John: Well, we did not pre-discuss. We haven’t talked through like sort of what our different talking points will be on this.

Craig: This is true. As it turns out, I am very sympathetic to your point of view on this. It is interesting. Traditionally, authors would not adapt their own novels because not only because there was the concern that maybe they’re moving into an art form that doesn’t really belong to them or isn’t their second nature but studios in particular I thought were very suspicious of this. Because, you know, their whole attitude is it’s a movie, I don’t care about this book. Sometimes they love every part of the book. Sometimes they just like the idea of the book.

I’m in the middle of adapting a book now that’s going to be a very loose adaptation. The prior adaptation of a book I did was an extraordinary loose adaptation because that’s what everybody agreed was the right thing to do. And in those cases, it’s quite evident that the last thing you want is the novelist doing that and I would imagine the last thing the novelist would want to do would be to do that. But there are these interesting new novelists now and you list three of them. Is it Gillian?

John: It’s Gillian. I looked it up.

John: I thought –

John: Because I heard someone say it and it’s Gillian Flynn.

Craig: So Gillian Flynn, Emma Donoghue, and J.K Rowling. All three of them, well two of them have already proved it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I suspect that Joanne Rowling is going to do a good job. She is incredibly smart. I mean, just so obviously smart and more importantly, she understands an audience I think better than practically any other novelist I’ve ever read. I love her books and she just knows the audience so well. Steve Kloves and I think Michael Goldenberg did one of them. All those movies were brilliantly screen-written. They kind of curated those novels gorgeously and even though those films were I think quite, quite loyal, I mean extraordinarily loyal to the novels, the screenwriters managed to kind of get the best of both worlds. And I suspect that she’s — I don’t know her, I would love to — but I suspect that she’s a student. And, you know, she’s often said that Hermione is her. Well, if she’s Hermione, she’s going to be a real student. She’s going to sit down and talk to people. She’s going to read those screenplays again. I bet she’s going to spend some time with Mr. Kloves to talk about how he did it and I bet she does a great job because she knows that it’s different.

John: Yeah, so I think there’s definitely examples of writers who are great at doing both things and to those writers, I say full speed ahead, all credit.

The conversation I had with this writer was about his book and how there were certain characters. Here’s a great example. I asked how old is this main character and he said, “Well, it’s written for kids who are, you know, 10 to 12 so sort of in that range. Readers really want to relate to somebody who is about their age or just a little bit older so in that range. It could be up to 14.” And I said, “How old is the character?” Because in a screenplay, a character is going to be one age. That character is going to be one actor. We’re going to cast somebody in that role. And it’s not going to be the audience. It’s going to be one actual actor and so we need to know how old that boy is and that’s going to fundamentally change the nature of the universe around him.

I had to ask about sort of these characters who are in the second and third act and what is their actual relationship, are they the same person, are they different things, are they manifestations of one thing or another? And it’s really fun in the book, because it’s sort of ambiguous. But I said, “It’s not going to be ambiguous in the movie. They’re going to have to be one thing or two things. It’s a fundamental question that has to be answered. ” He’s like, “Yeah, well, we’ll have to get to that.” The challenge is that like all the things that were delightfully ambiguous in the book could not be delightfully ambiguous in the movie because movies are one fixed expression of the possibilities that the book lays out.

Craig: Yeah, you certainly put your finger on it there. I mean, we talked about it earlier, part of the fun of writing in prose is anything is possible. And one of the miseries but also comforts of screenwriting is almost nothing is possible because you have to shoot it. You have to shoot it and so your job is to try and make impossible things appear on screen in possible ways. And similarly, you’ll see, I think, novels, novels can wander.

John: Yeah.

Craig: They can be very lax. They can expand and collapse moments as they wish. This becomes harder to do in movies particularly as you’re getting towards the end.

John: Yeah.

Craig: When people simply need to go to the bathroom and they’re running out of patience because they aren’t reading this and then putting it down and calling someone on the phone. They are captive.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And so it is a different relationship that you have with them. It is an interesting thing and I think that there are probably — just as I would argue most screenwriters would make bad novelists, I would argue that most novelists would make bad screenwriters. There’s a reason we do what we do. And then of course there are those brilliant few, and hopefully you’re one of them, that can move between those two worlds. So, and I thought, you know, Gone Girl was a terrific example of how to do that.

John: Yeah, absolutely. And what she recognized in Gone Girl is that the essential conceit that she made the book where she had these alternating chapters and ultimately it broke and you sort of saw a revelation sort of at the midpoint. The movie was able to do that but it was only able to do that because it had built a very different rhythm going up to it and built enough goodwill in the audience that it was going to be able to make a huge change and have that be successful. And she had to build a really different engine to sort of get you through that huge shift that she’s made.

Emma Donoghue, you haven’t seen Room yet and I don’t want to spoil anything about it. Where I think — I mean, I think she really did a terrific adaptation. There are a few moments I quibbled with and I recognized that afterwards I think the reason why those didn’t work as well for me is because in the book version, you have full insight. You know what’s going on inside a character’s head and you recognize that the whole story ultimately becomes the boy’s perspective on sort of what the situation is and her misunderstanding, in some cases, of what the situation is. So when you see that in the movie though, you’re naturally going to be in a more third-person perspective. And so you’re seeing there are two scenes which I was watching and I didn’t understand why the characters were doing what they were doing. And I think I was sort of not supposed to because it’s really kind of in the boy’s point of view. And it was frustrating for the audience.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And frustrating for me. And that is a real limitation, I think, of sort of the medium. I don’t think it’s necessarily an easily solvable problem. I’m not saying a different screenwriter would have done a different or a better job of that, but it was a limitation that the form put on this story that wouldn’t have been there in the novel version.

Craig: Yeah, I think that adaptation is hard enough. When you’re self-adapting, the pitfalls are that many more and that deeper.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You just have to tread extremely carefully and you also in a weird way have to tread with great humility.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because the achievement of the novel does not guarantee the achievement of the screenplay in any way, shape, or form. You are essentially starting at esteemed zero.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So you just need to be aware of that.

John: If I could offer any thought for why a different screenwriter might not have hit that same trap is he or she would have maybe seen that like I’m not going to be able to communicate what’s really going on in the scene and therefore I can’t actually have this scene happen. I think you would have written through those sequences differently recognizing that the limitations you’re putting on yourself are going to make this scene which is probably really good in the book not actually make sense in this movie version.

Craig: Correct.

John: And again, it’s a challenge because that’s an incredibly successful popular book and the more popular a book is, the harder it is to change anything fundamental about the plot. And that is a real issue. Obviously, the Harry Potter books had to wrestle with that. Everyone knew every beat of those Harry Potter books. With Big Fish, no one had read that book and so I could change everything in that book and no one knew or cared. There was another book I was involved with where when I set it up, it was an obscure little book and then it became a much, much bigger book and it became clear that the things I thought I was going to need to change were not going to be possible to change because it was a bestseller and that’s a challenge.

Craig: No question. It’s really why I marvel actually at how good Kloves did. It’s kind of amazing because the books are enormous. And, you know, it’s funny, the first book wasn’t short. It wasn’t what I would call long. It was on the longer side for young adult fiction but then the books got bigger and bigger and bigger. By the time you got to the end, it was massive. And he just got it all, like he got everything you wanted. And you never felt cheated in any way. He understood that. And I think about this when I’m adapting things now. What I’m looking for are those moments when things change and the stuff in between them, you are going to have to compress and perhaps simplify. It’s the things that matter. Those are the things that you actually want to take all the time with. That’s why the book worked, you know.

John: Yeah, I think the biggest observation people have about the difference between the movies and the books is Ron’s character and something that is just dealing with sort of who you actually have in that role, and when you have a flesh and blood person in that part, he, to me, feels different in the movie than he does in the books. And I like them both but I think Kloves had to recognize this is who I have, these are the skills that this actor has, which are great, and I think that the character plays differently to me on screen than it does on the page. But they both work.

Craig: One thing that movies do better than anything is engage us emotionally. It’s a rare thing to read a book and start crying. It’s an incredibly common thing to see a movie and start crying.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I’ve cried at Adam Sandler movies. [laughs] I mean, on purpose. You know, they connect with us. So when you watch a Harry Potter film, Harry’s story occupies this enormous emotional space from who he is, how he was born, to what he must become, to the things he goes through. He is repeatedly tortured and tortured and tortured. And that is so effective that to then ask the audience to now look over here at this emotional space and this person’s internal life, “Isn’t this rough?” It is rough. It’s rough that Ron comes from a poor family and he’s on the bad end of a classist stick. It’s just not the same as your parents being murdered and you being the chosen one and have Voldemort having a piece of you in him and wanting to kill you and you having to actually let yourself die in order to save the world because you’re Jesus. It’s just not the same.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s not the same like, you know, the New Testament doesn’t really go into like what was going on with Mark at home, you know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But he was there. He was watching in the story that we cared about.

John: And therefore, we can only see Mark’s home story as it relates to Harry and so that’s why we’re not going to go home with Ron unless Harry is there.

Craig: And it’s why Rosencrantz and Guildenstern is so much fun because you can say, “Well, what if that was all of the emotional space?” You know. And I love stories like that where you just go sideways and you go, “Well, what if this was the story?”

John: Yeah.

Craig: And it’s funny, it’s actually something I’m trying to do right now on another thing and I love that but you have to understand if you’ve written a novel where three people have their own beautifully articulated emotional spaces, it’s going to be hard for an audience to actually split their attention that way. Our emotional tension is almost always focused on one person or one relationship.

John: Yup, I agree.

All right. Let’s talk through our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing, god, we’ve talked a lot about books today but mine is a book. It is Bartleby, the Scrivener which is a Herman Melville book which I read while I was in Austin. It’s super short, like you can read it in one sitting. It’s 99 cents on Kindle but totally worth reading. And the very basic plot summary is you have a lawyer on Wall Street who has scriveners who are people who are copyists, who make copies of contracts. And he hires this one guy who ultimately just refuses to work and yet the lawyer can’t quite fire him or can’t quite get him to leave his office. And that’s the entire plot of the story and yet it’s just delightful and delightfully well-written.

And the reason I heard about is because Slate did a thing where they took Bartleby, the Scrivener and they have the whole text, although I think it’s challenging to read the whole text in one long webpage. But they did essentially like a director’s commentary or like a filmmaker’s commentary on it. And so they have all these little footnotes and sidebars on the edge to talk through the different criticism and the different things that are actually happening in the story because it’s a short enough text that you can actually like really look at it from a bunch of different perspectives and sort of like what is this story even about because it’s deliberately ambiguous. And so, it was just a great example of trying to take something that doesn’t want to have a director’s commentary and put one on there so you can look at both the text and the surrounding information simultaneously. So I will link to both Bartleby, the Scrivener and the version of it that Andrew Kahn did for Slate where you can see all the notes about it.

Craig: I will check that out. What else could my One Cool Thing be but The Room Three.

John: So I did not even know this existed until I saw it here on the outline.

Craig: Very excited. So The Room was a One Cool Thing. The Room Two was a One Cool Thing. And now The Room Three is a One Cool Thing. For those of you who are not initiated, The Room series is a game for iOS or Android and it is essentially a mysterious occult themed puzzle game. The controls are just as simple as touching. There’s no moving around really and you are solving a series of beautifully rendered, creepy, awesome puzzles. You’re always in a room. You’re always interacting with some bizarre object that moves and opens and unfolds and transforms and it’s just beautiful. And they’ve done it again. And each one has been a little bit bigger than the one before it and they are so smart. I think it’s Fireproof is the name of the developer and they are so smart because they understand that you don’t need that much new. You just need to re-experience it and to get back into that vibe. It’s wonderful. Play it with your headphones on and volume way up. I love it. I mean, I got it on Wednesday, I’m already 60 percent of the way done and I’m bummed out because it’s going to be over soon. Yeah, but it’s great.

John: So pretty much anything with Room in it is recommended. So we love The Room the game. I loved Room the movie. Of course the other movie, The Room is a classic.

Craig: “You’re tearing me apart, Lisa.”

John: And Craig, the four of us need to do a locked room puzzle because we’ve never done one of those and I suspect you’re terrifically good at those.

Craig: Well, I’d like to think I’m really, really good at them but I’m okay at them. You know, I’ve done now three and I’ve gotten out of one out of them. So I usually go with Megan Amram who everybody should be familiar with. She wrote on Parks and Rec. She now writes on Silicon Valley and she also has a book out about science, Science… For Her! I think is sort of a parody –

John: I have the book.

Craig: Yeah, it’s great. She is amazing. And David Kwong, my favorite magician, and Chris Miller of Lord and Miller. So we go with a bunch people, Melisa goes, and they’re great. They’re so much fun but, you know, they’re hard.

John: They’re hard.

Craig: They’re hard. We did get out of one of them in almost record time. I felt good about that.

John: Very nice. And that concludes our episode of Scriptnotes. So if you would like to subscribe to Scriptnotes, please go over to iTunes and click subscribe and while you’re there leave a comment. It helps other people find our show which is lovely. Show notes for this episode and all episodes are at or /scriptnotes, that’ll work fine. is where you go for all those back episodes, all the way back to episode one plus bonus episodes like the live Three Page Challenge we did in Austin and the Drew Goddard episode. If you would like to send us a note, Twitter is the best place for short messages, I am @johnaugust, Craig is @clmazin. For longer messages, write into Our outro this week is by Matthew Chilelli who also edited the show. Thank you, Matthew. Our show is produced, as always, by Stuart Friedel. And that is it. Craig, thank you again.

Craig: Thanks, John.


Confusing, Unlikable and On-The-Nose

Tue, 11/10/2015 - 08:03

John and Craig look at some of the least helpful notes screenwriters receive, and strategies for dealing with them.

Then it’s a look at novelists who adapt their own books into screenplays, and the pros and cons involved.

In the premium feed over at, you’ll find two bonus episodes: the live Three Page Challenge from Austin 2015, and my interview with The Martian screenwriter Drew Goddard for the Writers Guild Foundation.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 222: Live from Austin 2015 — Transcript

Fri, 11/06/2015 - 13:27

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hey, this is John. So today’s episode of Scriptnotes was recorded live at the Austin Film Festival. There are enough bad words, you probably don’t want to listen to it in the car with your kids or at work if you work at some place that doesn’t like to have occasional swearing.

Our thanks to the Austin Film Festival for having us there. It was tremendously fun. And we look forward to seeing you next year.

Craig Mazin: Hello and welcome. Thank you, everyone. Thank you. This is a real church crowd. Yeah. All right.

John: My name is John August.

Craig: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and –

Audience: Things that are interesting to screenwriters.

John: Really well done. So a few of you may have listened to the podcast before. Can I see a show of hands of who’s actually heard of the Scriptnotes podcast? Oh, that’s a lot of you.

Craig: That’s a softball to use. You’re just –

John: Yeah.

Craig: Looking for praise now.

John: Yeah, we are. Basically, we’re looking for t-shirts out there in the crowd. Some of you might not know what the podcast is like. So Craig, what do we do on a weekly basis?

Craig: John carefully prepares a bunch of topics. He talks to his staff about how to produce the show. He lets me know what time the show will happen. I am five minutes late. I don’t know what we’re doing.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I talk too much.

John: Oh, no. You talk just the right amount, Craig. So what are we doing today? I’m going to put you on the spot.

Craig: Today, I know what we’re doing.

John: All right. Tell us what we’re going to do today.

Craig: Because it’s special.

John: All right.

Craig: Well, we have two great guests today. We have Nicole Perlman who wrote Guardians of the Galaxy. Little movie. And we also have Steve Zissis, star of HBO’s Togetherness and writer and creator thereof. And those of you who are looking in the book, the guest list has changed a bit because of flights and whatever. I think, frankly, it has improved.

John: Tornadoes, yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Floods.

Craig: We’re also going to be –

John: Acts of God in a church.

Craig: Acts of — we should be safe here.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Well, not me.

John: Listeners at home — and I realize that we’re actually in a historic sanctuary at St. David’s Episcopal Church. And so we are looking over a crowd that’s like maybe, I don’t know, 2,000 people.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And they’re all in pews.

Craig: It’s a mega church.

John: We have this little, you know, satellite room, too.

Craig: Yeah, it’s a mega church.

John: Thank you for being here in this church with us.

Craig: Yeah. And we’re also, today, going to be doing this little feature that we started kind of recently where we take three different stories from the news — current stories from the news and ask, and we’ll have our guests who are in, how would we make a movie out of this. So we’ll be doing that with you guys today.

John: Hooray.

Craig: Hooray.

John: So this will be really fun. So this is probably my seventh Austin Film Festival. You’ve been here a bunch of times, Craig.

Craig: I think this is my fourth or fifth.

John: Yeah. So we love the Austin Film Festival. And yesterday as I arrived, I had maybe not the best start. So I wanted to talk through sort of what happened going from the plane — actually, going from the escalator to the baggage claim. I managed to make a series of faux pas that I feel if I would share them it will make me seem human and relatable.

Craig: Let me just point out, he’s not human.

John: No.

Craig: But he will seem human and relatable.

John: Yeah. So I want you to sympathize with my plight here. So I get down off the escalator and there’s a guy there waiting — maybe you’re out here in the crowd right now — with a big blank sheet of paper and said, “Mr. August, would you draw us a sketch from like, from one of your movies?” I’m like, “I didn’t illustrate any of these movies.” And so like, you know, “Sketch us something from like Frankenweenie or something from Corpse Bride.”

I’m eager to please people. I’m a teacher pleaser. And so I was like, “You know what, I’ll try something. I’ll give it a shot. Like, I’ve never drawn anything from these movies, but sure.” Tim Burton won’t mind if I draw one of his creations.

Craig: And did that guy’s face just go, “Uhh?”

John: No, no. He was really pushing me. And so I was trying to decide whether I was being punked or like to see like how badly I could draw Sparky from Frankenweenie. So I ended up drawing the female dog from Frankenweenie. And like the ball being pushed underneath the fence, and it was like a charming little scene, but completely the wrong thing to draw.

So I’m drawing this thing and I signed it, whatever, and I signed another autograph. And then people started to think like, “Oh, that must be a famous person.” So random people started to like try take photos with me as if I was a famous person. And they have no idea who I am in their photos.

That’s by far the better part of what happened.

Craig: This is what he thought would make him sound human and relatable.

John: No. No, no, no. No, wait. Because the whole thing is about to flip.

Craig: Okay.

John: So as I’m waiting for my bag in baggage claim, there’s a guy who I recognized who was on the flight. I was like, “Is that an actor? I can’t picture him.” But he seems familiar, and he’s wearing sunglasses. And there was a limousine driver who was meeting him there. And so I was like, “He’s somebody famous. Who is that person?”

And then I could see the driver’s little card that he would hold up. And it was flipped over and it said “Raimi.” I’m like, “That’s Sam Raimi.” And so I’m like, “Oh, I should say something to Sam Raimi because we have mutual friends. I mean, like Laura Ziskin and other folks.

And so I finally, like, sort of screw up my courage and say, like, “Hey, Sam. Sam, it’s John. It’s John August.” And he just completely stone faces me. Like does not acknowledge me whatsoever, like I’m just a crazy stalker person. So I became that stalkery person who sort of wanted to, like, get his attention.

So this other nice guy who might be in the audience here today said, “That’s not Sam Raimi.” It wasn’t Sam Raimi. It was Sam Raimi’s brother apparently. And so –

Craig: You met Ted Raimi?

John: Ted Raimi is here.

Craig: Ted Raimi I would have thought would have been like, “No. But let’s talk.”

John: No.

Craig: You know –

John: Ted Raimi shut down.

Craig: Wow.

John: And so this is no slam on Ted Raimi. This is no slam on Sam Raimi who wasn’t even here to defend himself. It’s just this is a situation at trying to get my bag, I managed to humiliate myself kind of twice. So the tornadoes in Austin have been, like, really a highlight after that point.

Craig: I’m really sorry that that happened.

John: Oh, thank you, Craig.

Craig: I care about you.

John: Thanks. That’s nice to hear.

We’re going to try something very new and very different that we’ve never done before. So back on our 100th episode of the show, we did this thing where underneath the people’s seats, there was a golden ticket hidden. And if you have that golden –

Craig: Don’t go looking.

John: Or, maybe go looking but you won’t find anything.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Underneath one seat, there was a golden ticket and that person won a very special prize. So today, we’re going to try doing a raffle of a very special prize. So as you guys came in, each of you should have gotten a little raffle ticket, hopefully most of you. And –

Craig: Did you throw your raffle ticket out? You ate it? What did you do?

John: You ate it? Yeah. It wasn’t edible, no. I guess it technically is edible, just not really good.

Craig: Not tasty.

John: Not tasty.

So this is Annie Hayes, everyone. Annie Hayes is our Austin Stuart. Say hi to Annie Hayes. So Annie Hayes is helping us out.

Craig Mazin, will you pick one ticket from there?

Craig: Yes. Oh, so many. Okay, I got it.

John: All right.

Craig: I have it.

John: So let’s read the number and see if it matches up to anybody here.

Craig: Six. Good. So far so good. Two. One. I think everybody started with 621. Zero. One. Zero.

Amanda Murad: Oh, that’s me.

Craig: Yay.

John: Come on up.

Craig: Let’s see. I’m going to hold on, I’m going to figure out what your name is. It’s Amanda.

Amanda: Amanda.

Craig: Amanda Murad.

Amanda: Murad.

Craig: Murad.

Amanda: Close.

Craig: I thought it was Norad for a second.

John: That would be cool.

Craig: Yup.

John: But Murad’s great too.

Amanda: Okay.

Craig: No, no. It’s not that cool.

John: So are you a screenwriter?

Amanda: I am a screenwriter.

John: And do you live in the Austin area or are you just here for this conference?

Amanda: Just here for the conference. I live in LA.

John: Oh, holy cow.

Craig: Great.

Amanda: Yeah.

John: Is this your first time in the Austin Film Festival?

Amanda: It is.

John: And how is it so far?

Amanda: It is really fun.

Craig: It just got awesome.

Amanda: It just got way more awesome.

John: What are you writing right now?

Amanda: I am working on my second pilot.

Craig: Great.

John: And have you only done TV stuff so far? Have you written a feature? What else have you written?

Amanda: I’ve written one feature. But I have two pilots and a play.

John: Cool. That’s awesome. In these envelopes, they’re marked A, B, and C, there are three different items. And I want you to pick which envelope you would like to open.

Amanda: Whose fate am I deciding in this decision?

John: Your own fate.

Craig: I like her sense of nervousness and caution though, I have to say.

John: Yes. She’s not just blindly rushing in.

Craig: Yeah. She’s not like, “Okay.” No. She’s like, “Okay.” So A, B, or C?

Amanda: Okay. The letter A is usually pretty good to me.

John: All right. Great.

Amanda: A.

John: A. So take this envelope but don’t open it yet.

Amanda: Okay.

John: And we are going to open up one other envelope. So I want a vote from the crowd. Which of these other two envelopes should I open up?

Audience: B.

John: Everybody who wants me to open up envelope C, raise your hand.

Craig: C.

John: Yeah. All right. We’re going to open up envelope C. Open up envelope C, Craig.

Craig: Okay. All right.

John: Let’s see what’s inside.

Craig: See, he gives me stuff to do and everything, keeps me involved. Okay. Oh, this was the good one.

John: Yeah, this was the good one.

Craig: This was the best one.

John: All right. Yeah, it’s a really good one.

Craig: Just let her have it. [laughs]

John: Maybe we should.

Craig: No, because she’s so normal. I mean we had like a chance of getting a total freak. Not that — I mean, there’s at least one of you in here who’s –

John: Yeah. So there’s a thing which I was going to do with all this but apparently, you chose so well or the audience chose for you. Maybe it’s the audience who chose for you.

Craig: You know what? The audience chose this for you.

John: That’s really the audience choice.

Amanda: Thank you, guys, so much.

John: So what this card says is, “John and Craig will read your script.” If you would like to.

Amanda: Yes.

John: Great.

Amanda: Yes.

Craig: And we’ll talk about it on the show. And you can come on the show.

Amanda: Yes. Yes.

Craig: Great. Or you can have a t-shirt.

John: Yeah.

Amanda: I’m going to pick C.

John: All right. Well done.

Craig: C.

Amanda: The letter A has failed me.

John: Yeah. Amanda, at whatever point you feel like you have a script that you want to send in, just send it in to Stuart at ask@johnaugust. I’ll remind him that you were the one who won this competition and the audience won it for you, really.

Amanda: I will be sure to thank you all in my email.

John: And we look forward to receiving it.

Amanda: All right. Thank you, guys.

John: Amanda, thanks so much.

Craig: Envelope B was money, by the way.

John: Yeah, exactly.

So the idea behind that was the Monty Hall problem which is essentially we were going to open up one thing and then she would decide whether she wanted to keep or switch and it involved math and statistics and probability.

Craig: These guys messed it up.

John: No. You guys did a nice thing. You did this all for her.

Craig: They did. Yeah, they did.

John: They did.

Let us get to our very first guest of the podcast.

Craig: Great.

John: Nicole Perlman is the writer of Guardians of the Galaxy. And she’s writing a bunch of other stuff right now and we cannot wait to talk with her. She was a guest way back when, right when that movie came out. And let’s welcome Nicole Perlman up to talk to us again.

Craig: Nicole Perlman.

Nicole Perlman: Thank you.

John: Nicole Perlman, you were on the show before. You had just written Guardians of the Galaxy which was a giant, giant hit. What has changed in your life since we’ve talked to you last, in writing?

Nicole: I’ve descended into heroin use and I’ve lost all my friends and family. [laughs]

Craig: God, I know how that goes.

Nicole: Yeah. Totally. No, it’s been good. It’s been really crazy. It’s been so crazy that I sort of fled to San Francisco. I was like, “Oh, too much stuff. Too much good. Must run north.” So no, it’s been very good. Lots of projects. I’m doing Captain Marvel –

John: Great.

Craig: Awesome.

Nicole: With Meg LeFauve. So that has been cool. We’re really in the early stages but we’re having a lot of fun. And I’m doing a project for Fox, an adaptation of Hugh Howey’s Wool Trilogy, and that has been very cool.

That guy, by the way, really knows how to live. He wrote a best-selling novel and he’s like, “I’m going to go build a boat and sail around the world. See you.” And he like checked out. So that’s what he’s doing which is really cool.

John: I mean you’re checking out to some degree.

Nicole: Totally.

John: Like you’re keeping out of the rat race.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: And so what really prompted the decision? Was it just you had enough stuff on your plate that you actually could leave and –

Nicole: Yes. That was it.

John: That’s the response?

Nicole: And also, people just kept asking me to be on their podcasts and it was just –

John: Yeah, it was such a huge drag.

Nicole: It was a huge drag.

Craig: It’s the worst.

John: Yeah, I mean, Craig, I tell you, you got to back off a little bit.

Craig: I mean, I don’t know what those podcasts are because I don’t listen to podcasts. But I know what it’s like.

Nicole: No, it’s good. It’s probably just for like a year. I’m in LA every week for work but I felt like I could just do it. I spend less time commuting by flying in and out than I did when I was in LA in my car, which is kind of crazy.

John: That’s actually scary, yeah.

Nicole: It’s true though, yeah.

John: So talk to us about — obviously, you can’t give us any character details or really plot details about Captain Marvel.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: But what is it like writing with another writer? Is this the first time you’ve had a writing partner on something?

Nicole: It’s not the first time. I’m working with another writing partner on a spec, my first spec in a long time. So that is another experience. It’s been really good.

Meg and I are really, really just starting out. And she comes from a Pixar background so she’s really used to collaborating. So I think we’re still feeling it out a little bit. The being on the phone part, I’m very meek on the phone when other people are talking. I’m very respectful. I’m just, like, “No, no. You go ahead. No, no. You go ahead.” You know, and –

Craig: You got to lean in, girl.

Nicole: You got to be like, [roars], “Listen to me.” So I think that is — because that goes over really well, too.

John: Yeah, it does.

Craig: I don’t think that’s a good idea, actually. I don’t want you to do that.

John: But you need to get a Groot voice is really what you have to do.

Nicole: A Groot voice for sure. For sure.

John: Simple things.

Nicole: But Meg is wonderful and so she’s really good about character. And I think she comes from a non-genre background and so there’s a little bit of me being like, “Oh, you know, so there’s this history of this type of character, you know, we don’t want to do that because it’s been done that way.” And she’s like, “But we want to have this with character and integrity.” I’m like, “What? Integrity? What? What’s that?” So she’s great. And I think that we balance each other out in a good way. But again, it’s early days yet.

John: So one of the challenges would seem to be that you have to come to a consensus between the two of you about what it is you want to do and how you want this movie to work and how you want the character the work. But also then you have to be able to pitch in a unified sense to Marvel. And Craig sort of loves Kevin Feige or sort of really admires Kevin Feige.

Craig: I do.

John: And so that must be a challenge of like how you want to do your work and also fit into this greater picture. Do you have to be mindful of everything else that’s happening in the Marvel Universe to do your one story?

Nicole: Well, you know, without giving away anything that would get me, you know, excommunicated, basically Kevin and his group of brain trust people go and figure out where we fit in and then have let us know where we fit in. And so Meg and I gave them a list of questions, very long and epic questions and then potential answers to those questions. And they, you know, returned from their mountain top retreat which they [laughs] went to and then returned from and said they –

Craig: Handed you tablets.

Nicole: Pretty much. Pretty much. And so that’s what we’re working with now. And we’re also really in the phase of reading through massive packets of information, you know, which is always fun.

John: Cool.

Craig: I love that you’re writing a spec at the same time you’re doing all this other stuff.

Nicole: Yes.

Craig: In the wake of the success that you’ve had and all of the stuff that they’re now asking you to do, how do you manage to carve these spaces out and keep these things separate? Because you’re working on, you said, Captain Marvel and a spec and –

Nicole: The Hugh Howey Wool.

Craig: The Wool.

Nicole: Yeah. And I just sold a sequel to a movie that was my favorite movie from childhood but I can’t talk about it yet, so that’s going on. And then I’m also doing a virtual reality project with Steven Spielberg.

Craig: That’s five.

Nicole: And then I’m also doing a comic book –

Craig: I’m sorry, with who?

Nicole: Nobody. Nobody. Just a real, you know, up and coming –

Craig: So that’s five things.

Nicole: Yeah. And then a comic book series, too.

Craig: Six things.

Nicole: Yeah.

Craig: So I’ll ask my question again. I mean, how do you keep it all — I mean, do you just push a few things off?

Nicole: Well, honestly, it’s just because — and I’m sure you guys have experienced this — that things go into holding patterns. And especially with Marvel, the movie doesn’t come out for three-and-a-half years, so it’s got a lot of long pauses in between submissions of stuff. So with that and with the other projects, too, there’s a long waiting period.

The people who’ve made me wait the longest are the Marvel publishing people. And that’s like a 20-page thing. You send them and like months go by and then they’re like, “Good work.” “Okay.”

Craig: So in a situation like yours, you’re almost kind of hoping that they’ll take time.

Nicole: Right, exactly. So it’s okay. I think the more projects you have to fill the empty spaces, the less fear, that existential dread of like, “What’s happened to my projects?” You know, they just take a while and so that helps.

Craig: Yeah, because all of your eggs aren’t in that basket. But then there is that sense of being overwhelmed.

Nicole: Yes.

Craig: Do you have that?

Nicole: All the time. All the time.

Craig: Right now?

Nicole: I’m just veering between sheer panic and like different kinds of panic. Like panic of like “I have nothing going on. My career is going to crash.” And “Oh my, god. I’m going to be overwhelmed and die and never get anything done.” So, yes.

Craig: Sounds just like me.

Nicole: I’m really happy all the time.

Craig: Right. Of course. So what do you do to deal with that?

Nicole: I moved to San Francisco.

Craig: Of course, yes. Yes, of course.

John: So I want to get back to the idea of writing a spec. And so what was it? It was an idea that was just burning that demanded to be written? What was the –

Nicole: What it was, was that I’m doing a lot of big, fantastical, world-building projects and I wanted to do something that was contained, low-budget, very character-driven, just a cast of three or four people, and possibly something that would be able to, you know, produce or direct.

My writing partner is a writer/director and so we wanted to do something that was manageable. Which of course my representatives were like, “You realize you’re not going to get paid anything for that.” And I’m like, “Yeah. But get excited about it. Like, you know, get so excited about this guys.” And they’re like, “Yeah. Mm-hmm. That’s great.” So it’s basically what we’re doing in spare time to remind me that I am a writer [laughs] and not a cog in the machine.

John: Yeah, it’s the Joss Whedon do a smaller thing in between the two giant projects.

Nicole: Exactly. Exactly, yeah.

John: Cool. So Scott Neustadter was supposed to be joining us here up on the panel. And Scott Neustadter couldn’t be here because the airport is completely shut down. So like one of many panels who’s not going to be here today. Luckily, Steve Zissis has agreed to fill in. This is Steve Zissis –

Craig: Upgrade.

John: Who is the co-creator of Togetherness. Steve Zissis, come up here.

Steve Zissis: So what’s the processional hymn?

Craig: I’m Jewish. And this is not Greek Orthodox at all. At all. Like the two of us — actually, three of us. And he –

John: I’m good. I’m good. The android faith alone –

Craig: Fucking white privileged man.

John: Yeah. It’s so good.

Craig: I’m good.

John: I’m good.

Steve: What are you?

John: I’m sort of, like, random protestant.

Steve: Oh, random protestant.

Nicole: Random protestant.

Craig: Yes. Yes.

John: Culturally. Steve, thank you so much for filling in.

Steve: Of course.

John: But thank you also for you great TV show, Togetherness.

Steve: Thank you.

John: Tell us how that came to be because this is an HBO show. It was an idea that you sparked with a Duplass brother and is now going into its second season.

Steve: It started, I guess, with Jay Duplass and I fooling around in his backhouse trying to do something creative together. And –

John: It sounds terrible.

Steve: Yeah. We just wanted to do something creative. And at first we started recreating ’80s soap opera scenes from like YouTube clips. And then Jay and I would act them out and we would record them. We didn’t really have a goal in mind.

Craig: How high were you guys? [laughs]

Steve: We just stole someone’s lithium. But then that just started snowballing into something, like, “Okay, we need to do something more structured.” And then we really borrowed upon our own lives and created a relationship show that was very autobiographical.

I was waiting tables at the time. And I would get off of work and stay on the phone with Jay because he was on the graveyard shift with his newborn child. So we would work out the story and the season arc for the first season during the graveyard shift, basically, on the phone.

Craig: Amazing.

Steve: And that’s how it started.

John: So by that point, you were thinking about this as probably a half-hour for cable and it’s going to revolve around these central characters, this family, this guy who’s moving in. You had all those dynamics sort of figured out early on.

Steve: Actually, initially, it was just going to center around the Alex character who was my character. But then when we went to HBO, they were like, “We love it. We really want to work with you. But we’re looking for relationship shows that could be a four-hander.” And we were like, “Yeah. Yeah. We could do that.”

We went back to the drawing board and — I mean, it was tough because we had built something centered around one character. So we were panicked for a little bit. But ultimately, HBO was right.

Craig: Well, I love moments like this because you never — we just did this show last week about William Goldman’s Nobody Knows Anything, which is not nobody knows anything but nobody knows anything. You never know.

So these people hand down these edicts sometimes and our first reaction is, “You know, goddamn. I mean, sure go ahead and turn it into whatever you want. It’s not something that we bled over the graveyard shift while he’s up with his kid and I’m slaving away waiting tables. No, no. Your whim is my command.”

But then sometimes they’re right. And I love that you guys did it. Because the truth is, what was the worst that happened? You tried and it didn’t work, right? But it does work. It’s amazing.

Steve: And HBO in general is really — they’re pretty hands off with notes. I mean, once they sort of, you know, tap you, they want you to do your thing. And they’ve been pretty hands off since then, actually.

John: So when did you actually start writing? So had you written anything before you went in to meet with HBO?

Steve: So we wrote the initial pilot called Alexander the Great which was centered around my character. And then they said, “Let’s go back to the drawing board.” And then it took us about four months to come up with the pilot for Togetherness. We went in and shot that. And then, you know, I was still waiting tables and rubbing rabbits’ feet. And we got the green light for this first season.

John: Great. So you turned in this pilot script. They said yes. They blessed you to go shoot a pilot. But then there’s that long waiting process, you know, whether it’s a show that they’re going to actually want to put on the air.

Steve: Yeah. And we had had the first season sort of arced out. We didn’t write the first season until after we got the green light.

Craig: And then the panic of success set in and you realized, “Oh my, god.” I mean, were you overwhelmed by the thought that you had to do the thing that took you four months again and again and again and again?

Steve: All I remember is calling my mom and crying. And I remember the last day at the restaurant, my last shift, I was so happy. There was such a weight lifted off of me. But I was trying to contain my joy because I didn’t want my fellow friends that I’ve been like slaving with in hell to look at me.

Craig: You’re nice.

Steve: Yeah.

Craig: You’re nice.

Steve: You know, I didn’t want to –

Craig: Right.

Steve: So then I got home and, you know, exploded.

Craig: Oh. It’s such –

Steve: Literally.

Craig: And then — [laughs]

Steve: I exploded.

Craig: I exploded.

Steve: Like the blimp that was released from — .

Craig: Well, we’ll be getting to that.

Nicole: Yes, they will.

Craig: I see you’ve done your homework. You were mostly following the career path of an actor. Is that correct?

Steve: Yeah.

Craig: Prior to Togetherness? Had you done a lot of writing before that? This was kind of the first stab at it.

Steve: The only real writing I had been doing is the countless improvisational –

Craig: He’s an improvisational master, by the way.

Steve: Which I know isn’t really writing.

Craig: Master of improvisation.

Steve: But Jay, Mark, and I had been doing really highly improvised independent films since, like, the early 2000s, even in 1999. And then it just sort of evolved out of that style.

Craig: For your show, I get the sense that it’s not quite like the Curb Your Enthusiasm model where you’re scripting it but you’re almost scripting your own improv. That’s kind of the sense I get from it.

Steve: Well, like Curb and I think, like, the show like The League, they go in with just an outline.

Craig: Right.

Steve: But our show is completely scripted, really tight, really structured. But we just find that, like, the golden nuggets in the scenes and oftentimes the funniest jokes are the ones that are found in the moment. Even the emotional scenes, not just the comedic scenes. Like we talk about it like, sort of like setting up like lightning rods, and then just creating the perfect conditions for lighting to strike.

Craig: Right.

Steve: You don’t always get gold and there’s a lot of trial and error. But if you’re patient, you will.

John: Now, on a show like Togetherness, do you have — obviously you don’t have act breaks, but do you have a template in your head of like over the course of an episode these are the kinds of things that need to happen. We need to be able to take a character from this place to this place. We need to like hit certain milestones. Did you and Jay figure out sort of what the show is like, you know, structurally?

Steve: Yeah. We had a good sense of where the first two seasons were going to be in terms of a story arc and character arc. And then now, we’re preparing to write season three. And for the first time, we’re having to really — we sort of have an open map. We can create our own map at this point. So we’re finding new things now with season three, because the first two seasons were sort of already mapped out in our heads. So now, we’re writing a new map.

Craig: It’s such a great cast, too. I mean, everybody –

Steve: Thank you.

Craig: Everybody is spectacular. You know, the first time I saw the show — I tuned because you know I don’t watch anything. You guys know that. But I watched the show because I’m friends with Amanda Peet and she was in a movie I did and her husband and everything. And so I wanted to see it and there was something about it.

I was one of your first Twitter followers. Because you just — well, there was something, like, you know, I don’t know why I’m attracted to sort of schlumpy side stacks. Yes. Something about you. Something about ethnic, sad men — [laughs]

Like that face right there. It’s like, it’s all I want, like that. Like, look at me moving towards it. [laughs]

No, I mean, honestly, you’re the best. I mean it’s a great show. I’m just so glad that you — I love stories like yours but we don’t hear them a lot. Now, what we do, in a way we celebrate them, I think, sometimes more than we should because a lot of people who are waitering, they’re like, “Fuck it, man. Steve did it. I’m next.” Probably not. Probably not. It’s incredibly rare. So it’s so exciting that it happened, that the incredibly rare thing happened to you.

Steve: And I grew up with Mark and Jay back in New Orleans. We’re all from New Orleans. We all went to the same high school. And we all sort of came across this method of filmmaking sort of by accident. Out of necessity, really, because, you know, we were all broke. [laughs] So, you know, this whole John Cassavetes style, we could say that it was our intention from the beginning but it actually wasn’t. Like Jay and Mark’s first attempt to make a feature film was a complete disaster. It was a failure.

Craig: Because they were trying to make a real –

Steve: They were trying to make something big. They were trying to emulate the Coen Brothers. They failed miserably. They borrowed $100,000 from their father who was like a very successful lawyer in New Orleans. And they squandered — like it was a complete failure. [laughs]

Craig: Was he angry?

Steve: No, not at all. Because he’s –

Craig: Cool dad.

Steve: Yeah. He’s a great guy and so supportive.

Craig: I would be pissed off. My kid blows $100,000, I’m pissed.

Steve: But then after those failures and those failed attempts that they started to find their own voice and style just sort of out of necessity, which is cool.

Craig: And you were part of that from the start.

Steve: Yeah. I did their first experimental films. I did shorts with them. And I loved sort of the improv style of their way.

Craig: Right.

Steve: It just fits with me well.

Craig: Yeah, excellent.

Steve: Thank you.

John: So because we have two of you up here, we want to talk through this feature we usually do called, “How would this be a movie?” And I asked on Twitter for people for suggestions. I’m like, “What should we talk about for how to make into a movie?” And the three best suggestions we got were Zola. People who’ve done their homework, Zola is sort of amazing. So I want to talk through sort of what that is.

We’re going to talk about Zola, we’re going to talk about the rogue blimp, and we’re going to talk about George Bell, The Lonely Death of George Bell. And try to figure out how to make these into a movie or a TV series. Or if someone approaches you with this idea, how do you run with it?

So let’s get some back story on Zola. Actually, I took notes because I’m the preparer. So Zola, if you don’t know is –

Craig: I don’t need notes. I could do this just fine.

John: Just –

Craig: No, no.

John: No, it’s fine. I’ll –

Craig: No, no. I’m done.

John: Just for everybody else, Craig. They might need it.

Craig: Yeah.

Steve: We’ll just ‘prov it.

John: What was the white boyfriend’s name?

Craig: Jarrett.

John: Oh, he’s got it. All right, so for people who –

Craig: I don’t drop mics because it’s not good for the microphone.

John: Yeah. So for people who’ve missed out on the story so far, Zola is a Twitter account. And basically, she had like this epic tweet of like 174 tweets that detailed this wild experience she had in March. And you read this and it is amazing and sort of tweet by tweet sort of going through this long saga of what happened.

Her name is Zola. She meets this girl named Jess at a Hooters. They strike up a friendship. They talk about hoeing. And they exchanged phone numbers. And Zola agrees to go on this trip.

Craig: Just to dance.

John: Just to dance.

Craig: She’s not a hoe.

John: She’s not a hoe. She’s a dancer.

Craig: And she doesn’t know that the other girl is a hoe either.

John: True.

Craig: She knows she’s a dancer. That’s it.

John: Yeah, but –

Craig: She’s not out there trapping –

Nicole: She didn’t seem that surprised though. She’s like, “Oh, yeah.”

Craig: Right.

John: She doesn’t seem that surprised because even early on they were talking about hoeing. So like –

Craig: There was some hoe talk.

John: Yeah. Even not if profession, it’s — they’re sex worker adjacent, if nothing else.

Craig: I ain’t touching that one.

John: All right.

Craig: I’ve gotten in trouble before.

John: So the characters we have are Zola. We have Jess. We have the black pimp whose name is eventually revealed to be Z something.

Craig: Z.

John: Z something. We have Jarrett and Jarrett’s fiancée who shows up every once in a while and is a complete character of mystery. But you guys looked through these tweets and someone approaches you with this, you know, Nicole Perlman, what is a movie you spin out of there? What’s interesting to you as a movie out of the Zola story?

Nicole: Nobody would ever give me [laughs] this project to adapt. I was impressed at her excitement and her enthusiasm about this and she was like, “And then, and then, oh no but wait, oh no, but wait,” you know. And that part was great but I actually kind of lost the thread a little bit, I was just like ah — so I’m going to be lame about it. But I kind of loved the idea of them talking about hoeing like they were farmers, you know. They’re just hoeing and –

John: Yeah. [laughs]

Nicole: That was the twist like –

Craig: I think we’re going to pass on you.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I don’t think that that’s –

Nicole: All right, that wasn’t mine –

Craig: But thanks for coming in.

Nicole: That’s okay, that’s okay.

John: Craig, if someone approached you with that story, do you tell the story as just that? Because it felt like a Magic Mike kind of like road trip sort of, like Magic Mike XXL which is –

Craig: Right.

John: Just following a series of events and perspective.

Craig: Well, it’s so crazy that if you try and tell it, it’s just going to seem like you told it again because the story that she lays out is in bananas. The one way to think about it is, like I was thinking about how sad it was. I mean, the woman that is the actual hoe and she’s getting beaten up and snatched and a man gets shot in the face. This is terrible.

And yet, we’re all reading and everyone’s like, “Oh, my god, you got to read what Zola wrote.” Like that’s an interesting movie to me is that somebody types up something like that and it becomes viral. Meanwhile, the people that are in that have no idea and they’re out there somewhere –

John: Yeah.

Craig: And going through something real. That could be kind of interesting because the nature of these viral things, there’s something really creepy about how it separates us from the real. Someone died. That guy murdered someone.

John: Yes, shot them in the face.

Craig: And they beat that woman up.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Plus the hoeing.

Steve: Is the Twitter account verified?

John: Yeah, the Twitter account is not verified, so let’s talk about that possibility.

Steve: Okay. I’m not sure about the movie, you guys would be better for that. But I think at the end, there should be voice over throughout, we should see the little emoticons on the screen, the tweets, and at the end of the film, there should be a 72-year-old grandmother in Ohio –

Craig: [laughs] Right. Catfishing everyone.

Steve: That has catfished the whole thing.

Craig: Right.

Nicole: That would be amazing. That would be so great.

Craig: That’s pretty great. That’s pretty great. And like her grandson is there in the background playing “Grandma, almost done.”

John: So we’ve talked about this on the podcast before, who was the writer who pretended to be much younger than she was and was Felicity. Was that Riley Weston?

Craig: Riley Weston.

John: Riley Weston. So it would be fascinating if it were a Riley Weston situation where somebody is basically spitting a giant yarn for what all this is. It has such a feeling of truth though. I also had the question about whether all those tweets were written in advance or was she writing them one by one.

Nicole: I think she was writing them all in one stream of consciousness.

Craig: I think so too, yeah.

John: But it’s so hard to, I mean I have such a hard time fitting everything I want to say into one tweet. So to be able to stretch that out over –

Craig: She just got to that character limit, hit return and kept going, you know, I can hear the clacking of her nails on the laptop. And she’s like “Bam, ding ding ding ding.”

John: Yeah. And yet it had a structure to it. She just kind of knew where to start and she knew — she was very good about reminding you, this person you saw before, like I didn’t know his name, but now, I know his name was Z, and it was brilliantly done to me.

Steve: Yes. And just when the energy started to wane, she said, “Only four more tweets till the end.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: I know like she actually knew.

Steve: Yeah.

Craig: You think that there’s — you think grandma –

Steve: It’s a 72-year-old grandmother. That just graduated from the Iowa writing program.

Craig: Nothing good comes out of that.

John: Nothing good possibly can.

Craig: All right, all right. That’s pretty solid.

John: Right. Let’s talk about rogue blimp. So for people who are listening to this, way after the fact, there was a giant blimp, actually particularly an aerostat that was designed for East Coast defense. Basically it wasn’t a camera, but it had a like long range radar for detecting incoming missiles that could hit the East Coast. It broke free of its mooring and all hell sort of broke loose. And so it ended up dragging a cable behind it that did not have power and did other things. This is the sort of a little more in your wheelhouse.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: And a producer comes to you and is like, Nicole –

Craig: [laughs] She’s written a ton of blimp movies.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: Yeah, indeed.

Nicole: A whole sub-genre.

Craig: Like another one. I can do more than blimps. [laughs]

Nicole: Dammit, I’m so pigeon-holed.

John: What kind of movie is the blimp movie to you?

Nicole: It seemed like a wacky sort of like two guys think they’re going to get in the Goodyear blimp but they choose the wrong blimp and then they cut it free. And then because of that they end up almost starting World War III because they keep — I don’t know, but I could see it with the whole cruise missiles with blimps, by the way. I was like that’s how we detect incoming cruise missiles, is with a blimp? You know, that just seems really shoddy. [laughs] I was really disappointed in the Department of Defense. I was like, guys, seriously.

And also the whole Google blimps. Somebody has to get something mixed up with the Google blimp. And I thought it would be fun if they — If they took off on the sort of the like cross country trip in this NSA blimp not realizing it wasn’t the Goodyear blimp and causing a whole bunch of problems with the DOD thinking there was some sort of terrorist attack.

John: Steve, what kind of movie do you make out of the blimp?

Steve: Well when I saw NORAD, it made me think of the 80s movie WarGames.

Nicole: Yes, totally.

Steve: So like tonally I think WarGames would be a [laughs] good match. But I think it should be about the guy that was holding on to the blimp, you know, by the line there. And what happened to him the day before.

John: Yeah, so it’s sort of like Up but bigger.

Steve: Why did he — yeah, like Up. Exactly. Why did his grip — why did he lose his grip?

John: I see the campaign for Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and she’s — who’s carrying in the balloons and like it’s sort of like that, but it looks — you need to never let go.

Craig: Never let — that’s the tagline.

John: Never let go. Craig Mazin, what movie would you make out of the blimp?

Craig: You know what, I think you could make a really good Pixar kind of movie about a blimp. Because I love the fact that it seems so anachronistic. And I like the idea that this blimp has been there for so long and he’s just blimping along protecting America and we don’t know. And he just follows orders and he just never doesn’t do his job. And then they come in they’re like, “Oh, you know, we’re replacing blimps, we’re replacing it all, you’re done.” And he’s so depressed. And he basically pulls himself away to just go. And then he kind of goes on this journey that may — helps him find his purpose again and he meets other things that float.

I mean there’s, you know, like dandelions and –

John: There’s a cloud.

Craig: A cloud, you know. But the blimp finds his, you know — it’s basically, he’s committing suicide is what he’s doing but, you know — so it’s — I think he could — I don’t know –

Nicole: It’s really heartwarming.

Steve: I think for sure, at the end credits, there should be a Led Zeppelin song.

Nicole: Ah.

Craig: Nah. No, no. Yay. [laughs]

John: It’s improv. Only good ideas — yes and…

Craig: Yes and.

John: The other –

Craig: Yes and no.

John: Yes and. Another possibility is a — the Michael Bay version is essentially it’s stealth because essentially like the death blimp sort of goes out there and you cannot possibly stop it. And so like if it has a sentience, if it has a thing it’s trying to do. There’s something also kind of like slow motion zombie about it because it’s not fast, it just like — it’s a path of destruction, it’s like the tornadoes this morning. It’s just that it’s going to move through in a straight line.

Craig: So even more blimps start coming and they just keep coming.

John: Yeah. Absolutely.

Nicole: It’s kind of like that — what is it, Rubber with the one about the tire?

John: Oh yeah the tire, yeah.

Nicole: It’s just like this rabid tire that’s running over people. It’s just like that. It’s like the cable very slowly dragging and causing devastation. It would be like, “No,” and it just keeps coming.

Craig: [laughs] It’s a little low stakes. It just — shoot the — just takes the –

Nicole: You just step to the side –

Craig: Just shoot the blimp — yeah.

Nicole: One foot.

Craig: It’s a blimp.

John: Yeah. But the fact that it just keeps coming. And they had to shoot it down. That’s actually the funniest thing. It’s like –

Craig: They do. Use a shotgun.

John: They use a shotgun to shoot a blimp.

Craig: But by the way — I’m sorry but if that’s Pixar and they shoot him at the end and he deflates. You’re going to feel, like that will kill you.

John: It’s Old Yeller. It totally is.

Craig: It’s freaking Old Yeller, but then somebody finds him and inflates him again. You see what I’m saying? It’s like, let’s go make that, guys. Somebody just steal it. I mean, it’s gold.

John: All right. Another option, you have the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, one of those gets loose and you have to go after that thing and shoot that thing down and that’s pretty good. So Underdog gets loose, and you have to shoot down Underdog.

Craig: Underdog.

John: Yeah. That’s how I would do it. Or Snoopy. One of them would do it.

Let’s get to our third possibility which is, well maybe there’s a comedy but it’s The Lonely Death of George Bell. This is a New York Times story.

Craig: Hehe. Hahahahaha.

John: Hahahaha. Written by N. R. Kleinfield. And it talks through the death of this man, George Bell, who was found in his apartment, he’d been dead for about a week. He was a giant, obese, he was a hoarder, everything was sort of awful and he had no –

Craig: Otherwise, good.

John: All of it was great –

Craig: Yeah, yeah. Otherwise, good.

John: He had no next of kin and so he talks through this, how does the city and the state have to deal with people who have no next of kin and sort of what that whole process was. It was a fascinating look at sort of the different layers of bureaucracy that sort of happen to settle out the estate and deal with the body.

Craig: And a lot of people do die alone and disconnected and they don’t even — like they were having trouble even just identifying him even though he was — everyone was like, “Oh yeah, that’s George Bell.” They had to find some — it took them forever to even match up an x-ray to know that it was really him.

John: Yeah. And it wasn’t a remarkable case –

Craig: No, just a guy.

John: The journalist picked this one situation, but like it’s a very common situation. So what kind of movie? You do sad well. So what kind of movie do you make out of George Bell?

Steve: I was — It was a great article. I was really — I immediately thought of It’s a Wonderful Life when I was reading this, for a bunch of reasons. The main character’s name was George Bell instead of Bailey. And then also, if you’re reading the article where unclaimed bodies go, is a place called Potter’s Field which is where the evil Mr. Potter, you know, his area became — but I was thinking, you know, It’s a Wonderful Life is about George Bailey learning about the lives he touched while he was alive. But in this article, you could study the lives that this man touched by his death, which I find it really interesting like the workers who were sifting through his apartment and his other relatives that were getting like — they weren’t hardly relatives, but they were getting some of his money through his death. It’d be interesting to examine how the death of someone can bring people’s lives together and unify people in a way that is unexpected.

John: Nicole, what kind of a movie do you make out of Bell?

Nicole: I mean it’s going to be a sad movie no matter what I think, but if it’s one of those movies that makes you feel better about your own life [laughs] or rather it gives you a more insightful look into what makes a life worth living. I thought that the heartbreaking thing was the lost relationship, the woman that he loved, and he left in his will, and she still cared for him and how he had withdrawn it. And I think that there’s something really interesting about how objects reflect choices that we make in our lives sometimes. And the whole investigation into who this man was, trying to piece together who he was based on objects left behind. And that was really interesting because it, you know, was definitely a memento mori, but it was also a — it was like a case study of every object represented — I almost saw it more as like a mini-series, almost like a Serial kind of thing. But, you know, each object represented a choice that he made to either connect or disconnect and leading to the final disconnection with the one person who still loved him, you know. And what else do you have to live for, you know.

Craig: I love that part. So in the story, he’s left money to people and they have to find these people. Some of those people are dead, one of them is this woman who we find out he was engaged to. The woman’s mother told her daughter, you have to get a prenup, and the guy said, “I’m not signing any prenup,” and he left. And they never spoke again except for occasional cards. And the woman always felt like that was the path she should have gone. And then by the time they find her, she’s also dead, and she kind of ended up in a bad way. And you know what I was thinking was, just because — my whole thing about these stories is, at some point, obviously we need to find the uplift and the redemption or else it’s kind of brutal.

And I love the characters of these people that go into your apartment and start investigating from your stuff. And I thought what if a man dies alone in an apartment in New York, and a woman dies alone in an apartment in Florida. And you have a guy in New York — or probably a woman in New York looking through the stuff and a guy in that apartment in Florida looking through the stuff. And they find things that are related to each other, and they have to call each other to help, and they fall in love.

John: Oh, Softie Craig.

Craig: Well, I mean because they’re — it’s like The Notebook except with different people, you know, and just like –

They’re both like — well, the point — I mean — because I love — there was one guy they talked to who was like, “Yeah, I’m probably going to end up like George, like his buddy.” He’s like, “Yeah, I’ll probably die alone, too.” And here are two people that are like, this could be me, you know, and almost have given up, and then through this they — and so their love happen, you know. It was like there was some George and whatever her name was, you know. I’ll give her a name, Evelyn.

John: As I was reading through this, I looked at it more as a world in which you could set a story, rather than looking at George Bell because it felt like the people who were the investigators, that was a fascinating job and that fascinating job could take you into lots of really interesting places. So you could have the comedy version where — or the romantic comedy where people meet this — sort of meet-cute over death. But you also have lots of good thriller options. So you discover like — it looks like it was just a guy who died, there actually is a much more complicated situation. And once you start digging around, you yourself get in danger. So that’s the thriller way to take it.

With all these three scenarios, this one has characters and has a world which is great, but doesn’t really have a story. It doesn’t have a story driver. It doesn’t have like present day story drive, so we have to find a way to make the story drive take place. The blimp one has a lot of sort of like present day stakes, but there’s no characters, whatsoever, so we have to create a whole new characters.

Craig: Except for the blimp.

John: Except for the blimp. If the blimp is anthropomorphic and can talk. If the blimp can sing, well…

Craig: “Well, I guess they don’t want me no more.”

John: Yeah.

Nicole: Plush toy potential.

John: Yeah

Nicole: Inflatables.

Craig: Actually, you know who’d be a great voice for the blimp?

John: Josh Gad. Oh Steve Zissis.

Craig: A great voice for the blimp. He would, because he can bring sadness but then he can bring joy.

John: I like it — I like it so much.

Nicole: He can lift your hearts.

John: How do you feel about — ?

Craig: Look, look, that’s blimp. That’s it. That’s the blimp face. We should totally do this.

John: Zemeckis. Motion Capture. Steve Zissis. Done.

Craig: Wait, hold on.

Steve: Or it could be Andy Serkis being the blimp.

Craig: Yes, yes. Andy Serkis. He does the voice and he does the blimp.

John: That’s nice. I think Andy Serkis would be delighted to have someone else do the voice because it’s going to work out really, really well.

Steve: Sure.

John: And then the first one has characters and plot and there’s so much but it feels like it’s so already made. I mean it’s Spring Breaker 2 or like my first movie, Go. It has that same aspect of like all this stuff just happening.

Craig: It also has that thing that a lot of real life stories have which is that they’re incredibly episodic and then and then and then and then and then and then and you know what happens at the end? This.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And you’re like, okay, but that actually is a great example of a story that if you just took and tried to narrativize without re-contextualizing anything, people would go, “Why did I watch that?”

John: Although I would push back on that. Zola herself has a lot of agency in the story so Zola is the one who’s like taking photos of the girl and putting it on the back page.

Craig: I know. So who are we rooting for?

John: Yeah. It’s a real question.

Craig: There — I mean Zola literally starts — Zola starts out great like, “I’m not — I’m just a dancer and that’s fine.” And then she’s like, “Oh no, this guy is trying to hoe us. That’s no good.” And this girl is scared and says, “Please, you know, we just got to do this.” And Zola is like, “Well, okay, if we’re going to do this, we might as well do it right. I’m now going to make a whole bunch of money. I’m going to pimp you.” Who are we — ?

John: Yeah, it’s Risky Business though. I think what’s fascinating is that –

Craig: Well –

John: If you would — well, if you take — I think Zola is part of the reason why she’s so fascinating is because she is a woman in that situation. She is taking control and ownership of –

Craig: Another human being.

John: Yes.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yes.

Craig: Not good.

John: [Crosstalk] another human being.

Craig: Like she’s sex trafficking a person.

John: I also love that she will just run at the first sign of danger.

Craig: Right.

John: Anything goes, she’s out of there.

Craig: That was the other thing. Yeah. So this poor woman gets snatched up. What does Zola do? Runs. Does she call the police?

John: No.

Craig: No, just runs.

John: Yeah. So people who listened to the show before know that we’ve had a really good track record of the things we discuss on what would — would this be a movie. They always get kind of picked up. At least one of the three things gets picked up and so maybe an audience poll, of these three movies, which one do you think Matt and Ben are going to try to make into a movie first?

Craig: Right.

John: Because it’s usually them. Sometimes it’s DiCaprio, but usually it’s Matt and Ben.

Craig: Usually it’s Matt and Ben.

John: All right. So can I get by applause, who thinks the Zola movie will happen? Okay, by applause, who thinks the blimp movie will happen? And who thinks the George Bell movie will happen?

Craig: People love death. They love death.

John: They love death and uplifts. Yeah.

Craig: And there’s tragedy and it’s good. It’s Greek tragedy.

Steve: Yeah.

John: It’s good Greek tragedy. This is the time in the podcast where we open it up to questions which we can’t normally do because we’re usually recording this on Skype and there’s no one else in the room. But at this point, we would love to hear your questions.

So there’s not a microphone out there, so you’re going to just raise your hand to ask your question. I will repeat back the question and then we’ll answer it. So if anyone has a question, raise your hand. You have a question right there in the first row.

Craig: So the question is that, so this woman knew about the George Bell story, wanted to write the George Bell story. I assume you contacted the author of the story to try and get the rights, and the author said, “No,” and then sold the rights to somebody bigger.

So John Lee Hancock is here. He’s an excellent, excellent director and filmmaker. And John Lee and I tried to get the rights to a story and we failed, we got beaten out by Brad Pitt. It’s hard. The truth is that the people who write these things, they kind of go where they want to go. It’s tough, you know.

John: So let’s talk about what her options are. So I would say if there are things that are so appealing about that movie for you, you might be able to find different real life details or basically a fictional version that can get you to those places because the stuff we talked about with the George Bell movie, it doesn’t necessarily need to be George Bell.

There were things that were interesting about his specific case, but there were also just things that are interesting about that world and that world is –

Craig: I’d even go a step further. There’s actually nothing specific to his story that — I mean, well, the thing about the woman is great, you know. But you can invent a lot using — no, you can’t? Okay.

You know, and the other thing to remember is that the rights are granted on cycles. They are not in perpetuity usually. So they give people 18 months and if nothing happens in 18 months, a lot of times there’s an option to renew and sometimes they don’t and the rights become available, so stay on top of it. You know, that’s the best you can do, but it happens to everyone. And it’s not just, “I’m a little girl and I’m nobody.” Everybody has to deal with this. It’s one of those things.

John: John Lee should direct that movie. Wouldn’t he do a great job?

Craig: He does a great job all the time with all movies. Yeah. Thank you.

John: Thank you, John Lee. Another question from the audience. Anything you want to ask us. Such a quiet group. Right here. So I’m going to repeat the question. Question is, is anything happening with Challenger that someone might see down the line?

Nicole: Yes, this is the project, this is the zombie project that will not die and I’m glad because it’s my favorite but it keeps coming back from the dead and every time I’m sure it’s dead, it keeps coming back.

So yes, it’s been re-optioned, we have financing from E 1 but again this whole, it all really depends on casting. There’s like four people who could play the part and so if we get one of those four people, hooray. If not, it will die again until somebody else wants to option it.

John: I don’t even know what the project is so this is a script that you wrote?

Nicole: This is a script I wrote a million years — I wrote this script in college actually and it was a love letter to Richard Fineman because he was my childhood crush when I was in high school which is why I had no dates until college. But I really, really loved Richard Fineman. And so I wrote a screenplay about his investigation into the Challenger shuttle disaster and it was my golden ticket kind of, you know, my Willy Wonka ticket in a sense that that was what got me meetings and I won a bunch of contests and got my first job off of that as a sample.

And so it was this project that had, one day it’s like a hair raising story of lots of crazy experiences with directors and actors and it hit financing like five times. So it’s funny every time I get a new financier, I’m like, “Great, awesome, yay. We’ll see. That would be so great if it happens.”

But yes, I love that project. I’ve rewritten it a million times. We’ll see what happens.

John: I remember it now because you talked about it on the podcast the very first time.

Nicole: Yeah.

John: Great. Another question from the audience. Right here.

Craig: It’s a big question.

John: I’ll try to recap it. So what is the intellectual property at the heart of a movie and related, sort of what do we really mean when we’re talking about sort of what a movie is or what the fundamental idea of a movie is?

Craig: Well, I guess we’ll limit it first to screenplay, you know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because once the movie is made, that’s the intellectual property. So intellectual property is unique expression in fixed form movie, fixed form done so that works, right?

Screenplay, that’s the intellectual property. It’s the unique expression in fixed form. Courts interpret this. That’s why judges sometimes go, yeah, no. We know that ideas aren’t intellectual property so the blimp idea is just an idea, right, plus it’s not written down. It’s not in fixed form.

If you write a screenplay, that contains dialogue but it also contains scenes that you’ve written, characters that you’ve described so everything that is evidenced by the text in your screenplay is in large part your intellectual property. It’s just the concept, the basic idea of it that isn’t.

So more is protectable than you think. In fact, that’s why so many of these cases fail because eventually somebody goes, “Well, show me what you have and let me see what you have.”

John: So arbitration which we talked about on the show is the WGA process for figuring out who deserves the writing credit on a script when there were multiple writers. And that’s not copyright. That’s literally looking at sort of the copyright is owned by whoever is making the movie.

The arbiter’s job is to figure out, of the things that constitute this screenplay, who did what and sort of whether that person did enough that it actually should count as being her movie or it should be shared credit. And that is a difficult thing. That’s why it’s a good thing overall that we are having screenwriters look at that stuff because it’s a hard thing to judge.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And when you see those weird copyright cases or those things where like, “Oh, this person stole my movie,” they’ll often be — those cases will often be brought in really weird venues because it won’t be sort of in Los Angeles, it will be in like some weird Texas court because they have a better track record of getting those things to happen there.

Craig: But they never –

John: But they don’t actually work. Yeah.

Craig: Yeah, but you’re protected. I mean — great example. Okay, so the question is, you write an in-depth outline for a movie and then somebody else takes that outline and writes a script. Have they infringed on your copyright? Essentially is what you’re asking. The answer is absolutely, no question.

One of the things that copyright gives you is the right to make derivative works which means other people do not have the right to make derivative works unless you license and grant them that permission. So the screenplay that is taken from an outline is a derivative work of that outline.

So this is why when we sell screenplays to the studios, they buy everything. They never leave anything out. They want to own everything. The last thing they want is for you to then go, “Oh, by the way, I’m writing another screenplay that you don’t own this derivative of my treatment that somehow you didn’t buy stupid, haha,” right? Okay.

So yes, that is a treatment and outline in fixed form is protectable copyright. That is intellectual property for sure.

John: Great. Question right back there. Nicole Perlman is a great person to answer that question.

Nicole: I don’t know if I could answer it particularly because I didn’t write samples of different genres. When I was starting out, I kind of got a lot of work from my Challenger sample, got me a lot of biopic, space, aviation, technology work and then randomly an Argentinean tango movie with Sandra Bullock. [laughs] Which did not get made. I can’t imagine why.

So yeah, I would say that it can help you having a brand. I think that if maybe it’s not your strength, definitely try other things and if you might find that you — and I personally — I’m writing Marvel movies and big fantastical science fiction and fantasy kind of things and I’m also interested in space, technology, aviation as well at the same time so — which drives my representatives crazy, but I think it’s a — I think you write what you want to write and what you love and don’t really — if you have a great idea for romantic comedy, write the romantic comedy and then maybe people who are looking for romantic comedy wouldn’t have thought of you because they thought you only did, you know, thrillers so I’d say whatever is your best idea that’s most on fire at this stage in your career, write that, and don’t worry about it.

Craig: Have you sold a screenplay yet or — ?

Audience Member: No.

Craig: Then think of it this way, you don’t even have a brand yet because the brand thing is really just, “Well, we bought something from him so now we’re going to put him on a list for things like that.” So at this point, you’re free, free, free, and by the way, you’ll be free later too.

I mean the nice thing about writing is you can write yourself in and out of trouble. So yeah, now write that great script. There’s no need to worry about pigeon-holing.

John: We have time for one more question. Which question will be — right here.

Craig: That’s a good Zissis question because I feel like your character is a bit of a reluctant hero in Togetherness. I mean it’s not a movie, it’s — but I look at that season, that first season.

Steve: Yeah, in terms of the first season, Amanda Peet’s character is kind of like the catalyst. She’s the kick in the pants of my character that gets him going on a trajectory. But after that, after she does do that, I am on a mission to, you know, transform and pursue my acting goals and et cetera.

Craig: So there’s this tension that happens with the reluctant protagonist where we’re actually waiting for them. You know, a lot of times reluctant protagonists will take on some job begrudgingly just to go back to what they had. It’s very common. Shrek I think just wants to get his swamp back. He’s a pretty reluctant protagonist, right? But then they are transformed.

I think that’s the key for the reluctant protagonist is that we’re waiting for somebody to light that spark. They don’t really — they’re reluctant because they’re afraid, it’s probably a better word, the fearful — and I think all protagonists are afraid, on some level.

I mean your character, definitely, you can feel it. He’s just scared, you know, and then Amanda comes along and she forces you but then — and I love the dramatic irony of what it also does between the two of you which is great, you know, but that’s — that would be my short answer.

John: So what we’re describing with Steve’s show is a show where you have, you know, multiple characters who are functioning as each other’s protagonist and antagonist. They’re causing each other to change. Classically what we are often talking about with movies is you have one character taking a trip that they’re only going to take once.

And so I can’t think of a lot of movies where I’ve been willing to watch a character just never engage and like finally at the end engaged. That doesn’t tend to be a really successful paradigm. So you as the writer have to find a reason to get them engaged with your story so whether that’s burning down their house, so they can’t go back to their original ways, or taking that one thing that actually means something to them which is what Shrek ultimately does.

You are forcing them into because you’re creating a situation where they have to change. Go back to sort of those Pixar story rules, like every day is the same except one day and that’s usually the day that your movie is taking place.

Steve: I think it happens a lot with the lovable loser archetype actually now that I’m thinking about it. If you think about a lot of Bill Murray type movies, he’s usually in that role like Stripes where he is that reluctant — reluctant guy.

Craig: Groundhog Day, he’s just refusing to change, refusing, refusing, refusing to the point where he just, he would prefer to kill himself than change which is the sort of ultimate reluctant hero but again, there’s Andie MacDowell transforming him.

And so I love that you said that that because that’s the answer to every reluctant hero is a relationship that changes them. That’s why we go to movies. It’s for that. I think all heroes in a weird way are reluctant. I mean I don’t like heroes that wake up in the morning and go, “Time to kick ass, let’s go.” Jerry Bruckheimer loves that.

I wrote a movie for Jerry once and the first note I got back was, “He doesn’t seem like a hero on page one.” I’m like, why would — who wants to beep, that’s the movie, beep, hero, hero, hero, hero, credits.

John: Things blow up.

Craig: Yeah. Boom. That is not me.

John: But think about George Bell. Like George Bell is like a reluctant hero who never actually sort of kicks out of gear but there’s a version of George Bell where like he’s in that situation.

Craig: Right.

John: And something kicks him out of that life.

Craig: Okay, so –

John: And he’s a Shrek.

Craig: So have you seen the movie Marty, classic Paddy Chayefsky screenplay, 1955? Ernest Borgnine won an Oscar for it, beautiful movie, and it’s one of those old movies that honestly is not old.

And it’s a very simple story of a butcher who’s not a particularly good-looking guy and he’s lonely and he lives with his mom who harangues him, and he’s resigned and then he meets this woman. And stuff happens and there’s a transformation but it’s a difficult transformation. There’s a price to pay for leaving your shell, you know. You should come to this, I’m doing this structure talk tomorrow, I don’t know if you’re available, this is all I talk about — okay, good. You’ll hear it again but like, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. It will be a lot –

John: Okay, very quickly because we’re running out of time. I forgot to do One Cool Things. So One Cool Thing is a tradition in the show. My One Cool Thing is actually a little thing I used for filming this last week. It is called a Glif. It comes right here in Austin, Texas. It was a Kickstarter, so Craig’s favorite thing in the world.

It is a little device for holding your phone, being able to mount it on tripod which is tremendously useful when you want to shoot photos or video with your phone because the iPhone is a really great camera these days and so it’s a little mount for your phone so you can attach it to a tripod. That’s my One Cool Thing, the Glif.

Craig: Fantastic. Nicole, what is your One Cool Thing?

Nicole: I was in London last week and I went to the Cosmonauts Exhibit at the London Science Museum and it was amazing and the Russians had some great stories and I highly recommend you guys all look into Cosmonauts. They are fantastic.

John: Great. Steve, do you have One Cool Thing?

Steve: I was just going to recommend an animated film called The Man Who Planted Trees. That’s old but you can get it on Netflix. It’s one of the greatest pieces of animation ever.

Craig: Is it American, Japanese, or?

Steve: It’s, it was a Canadian animator and it’s narrated by Christopher Plummer.

Craig: Awesome. Well, my One Cool Thing is an update on an old One Cool Thing called Thync. I don’t know if you guys listened to the show. A while ago, I found this product that you stuck on your head and it sent electrical impulses into your head in an attempt to calm you down or perk you up and I thought, “You know, this sounds cool.”

And then every now and then on Twitter, someone will be like, “Have you done it? Have you done it?” I’m like, “No.” So I did it, kind of works. It kind of works. You definitely feel it and it allows you — you have an app that sort of is Bluetooth connected to this ridiculous thing and as you move the dial up and down, you can feel it. And if you move it too high, it hurts and you feel your scalp contracting, it’s bad.

So, but there’s this calm lady on your iPhone going, “Find your sweet spot,” and you’re like, “My head, my head, my head, my head, fuck” but then you get, and it actually did. I felt spacey. I don’t know if that’s calm, but I felt spacey.

Nicole: It’s like electroshock therapy.

Steve: I’m thinking of the last scene of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest right now. Craig, we might need to smother you with a pillow.

Craig: Pillow me. Yes, give me the L’amour treatment, I need it. Yeah, it’s time.

John: Excellent. So glad we actually got to shock you, Craig and actually — and attach you –

Craig: Shocking myself.

John: It’s so good.

Nicole: Can we get access to that? Can we just shock you whenever we want?

John: I think –

Craig: No.

John: We’ll build an app for that and soon everyone will be able to zap Craig.

Craig: Shock Craig.

John: Yeah. Nicole and Steve, thank you so much for being our guests.

Craig: Thank you, guys.

Steve: Thank you.

Nicole: Thank you.

John: We need to thank the Austin Film Festival for having us. It’s a huge pleasure to do this every year. Thank you guys for being an incredibly good audience. We need to thank Annie Haze who’s our assistant this week. So thank you very much. Guys, thank you so very much.

Craig: Thanks, guys.


Live from Austin 2015

Tue, 11/03/2015 - 08:03

Craig and John return to the Austin Film Festival for a supersize live show with guests Nicole Perlman and Steve Zissis.

We talk with Nicole about what’s changed in her life after the breakout success of Guardians of the Galaxy, and how she juggles multiple projects.

Steve Zissis tells us how he transitioned from waiter to co-creator of HBO’s Togetherness, and the unusual origin of the show.

Then all four of us play How Would This Be a Movie, looking at #Zola’s adventure, the runaway blimp and the lonely death of George Bell.

Plus audience questions!

Our thanks to the Austin Film Festival for hosting us, and our terrific audience.

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 221: Nobody Knows Anything (including what this quote means) — Transcript

Wed, 10/28/2015 - 16:54

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

Today on the program, we’re going to be looking at one of the most quoted and misapplied statements in Hollywood. That little chestnut, “Nobody knows anything.” We’ll also be looking at zombie cars, film school, and the question of whether screenwriters are gaming the system. Craig Mazin, are you ready for this big show?

Craig: Let’s put this way. I filled up my umbrage tank on the way in [laughs], so

John: I’ve got a bit of umbrage in my tank too, so I think it’s going to be an umbrage-filled podcast.

Craig: Here we go.

John: Yeah, so we should get right to it.

Craig: Buckle in.

John: A little bit of follow up and news about events ahead. At the Austin Film Festival, we’re doing our two live shows. We’re so excited. Andrea Berloff will not be joining us for the live Scriptnotes. She’s not going to be able to travel in to Austin. But instead Nicole Perlman who was our guest who talked about Guardians of the Galaxy and she’s phenomenal, so you should come see us and see Nicole Perlman and Scott Neustadter and other wonderful special guests at our live show.

Craig: Correctamundo.

John: Second off, on our last episode we talked about writers’ rooms and this trend towards hiring multiple screenwriters to work simultaneously in a room to break ideas for big franchises. And we talked about a couple of different properties that were trying to do this. We had a writer write in who is actually part of one of these big rooms. And so she didn’t want to say which room specifically she was in or she didn’t want us to say which room specifically she was in.

So I generalized out some of the things she said. But she actually had a really positive experience with it and thought it was a good thing. So I want to put this more or less in her own words, but considering I am just a man and she is a woman, we thought it might be better to have a woman read this aloud. And I could think of no person who’s better qualified to talk about Hollywood than Karina Longworth, the host of You Must Remember This. And after all Craig has often been a guest on her podcast.

Craig: Yes.

John: Being Louis B. Mayer, so this is just payback for all that. So this is Karina Longworth reading the words of this screenwriter who is still anonymous.

Karina Longworth: I actually think the room was really smart and effective. It was certainly the most fun I’ve ever had in my career sitting around with a bunch of extremely smart writers. We spent the first couple of days learning all about the history of the project then spent subsequent days talking generally about mythology and interesting places one could take the franchise. We set out to tell a long-form story as opposed to get trapped in the typical formula of any big franchise sequel, blow more stuff up. The goal was for each of us to come up with a sequel, spinoff or prequel, enough to fill out the slate for at least the next 10 years. We weren’t therefore in competition with each other. All of the movies could get made if the studio found them viable.

We all went away to our lone wolf feature writing holes and came back and pitched our movies to the group. Some people asked for notes and others didn’t. It was amazingly valuable to have feedback from a bunch of people who write for a living, even if the feedback was just a round of applause from people who know what the hell they’re doing. But in no way were those stories broken as a group. It was no different than what we all do after we finish our treatments. We give them to our friends to tell us whether we’re crazy or not. Only in this case our friends happen to be getting paid really well.

It was a completely writer-driven process to an extent that I’ve never witnessed in studio development. The result was a bunch of movies that together form a cohesive narrative but also stand alone. If they pull off what we architected and what the intention is at present, then I think they will have pulled off something very novel and worthy indeed. Writers are very, very smart. Give us authority and autonomy and put us in a situation where we’re not competing or begging for scraps, and we can literally deliver you a franchise.

John: So, that was a very glowing perspective on what it’s like to be in that writer’s room. So it sounded like she had actually a really good experience.

Craig: Well, not only was it a glowing perspective, but it also is different than the story we’ve been told.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So when we did our podcast, our last podcast, we were keying off of an article. I think it was the Hollywood Reporter. And this isn’t what they said. I mean, factually, they seem to have gotten it completely wrong because what this writer is describing is essentially, exactly what’s going on with the Monster franchise over at Universal. And in our podcast last week I think we both said that that sounded like they were doing it the right way. And in this situation it sounds like they’re also doing it the right way. There’s nothing wrong with — and I would imagine it’s essentially necessary, if you are planning on writing multiple movies around the same shared universe, you need to coordinate. It sounds like they’re coordinating.

What it doesn’t sound like they did was the thing that we were most concerned about which was breaking individual stories together as a group. So I’m really glad that she wrote in to share her experience and also particularly glad that the studio in question seems to have opted to go about this the right way.

John: Yeah. So we don’t know specifically what the property was or what the thing that she’s working on. So I’m guessing it’s not the Monster movie properties, since we know all the writers who were involved in that. But, in a general sense, it does feel like, you know, each of these writers is coming up with an idea and it sounded like they were getting paid for a treatment. I’m not clear that they’re getting paid for a treatment. They were at least pitching something. It’s not clear that they were turning in any written material. Where it could be — let’s take, let’s say this was He-Man or something. If you were trying to build out the He-Man Universe, where I could see there being problems with this down the road is, you know, two different writing teams have a way to use a certain character or a certain beat that’s in that mythology, well, who gets to do that. And if they both write up this thing that involves some aspect of that mythology, that could still get kind of murky down the road. So

Craig: Yeah.

John: It doesn’t absolve everyone of all the problems that could possibly happen down the road but it does sound like a much better process than what I had envisioned.

Craig: I think that the job of traffic cop rests with the person who’s overseeing — for instance, at Universal, Chris Morgan

John: Yeah.

Craig: Who is our friend and a screenwriter is along with Alex Kurtzman they are the traffic cops. And so, they can’t I don’t think run into a situation where two people are both grabbing at the same bit of mythology, because their job is to say, “Sorry, you can’t. That one is doing that one.” You have to have somebody like that. I think at Marvel that’s Kevin Feige. You need somebody or it’s chaos.

John: Yep, and where this wouldn’t work especially well is if there’s no underlying material in a strange way, like, if you just said like, we want to do a bunch of movies that are set in space and you had a bunch of people trying to do that where there was no fundamental underlying piece of IP, then it gets sort of especially difficult because just the potential overlaps between those things and characters you didn’t really control — I could just imagine that being a bigger mess in some ways than if it were based on an existing piece of property.

Craig: It would never happen.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You can’t. If you opted to try and invent a shared universe from whole cloth, which is insane, you would still need them to create some genesis piece of material, a bible, you know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: That everyone could reference. Otherwise, I don’t even know what they would be buying anyway and they certainly wouldn’t be committing the resources to, you know, make many, many movies.

John: Absolutely. All right, let’s get to today’s topics. The first thing is something that somebody tweeted at me this week and it was in response to something I tweeted. I’m not even sure what my initial tweet was, but someone wrote back, “Oh, like William Goldman said, ‘Nobody knows anything,'” and I just bristled a bit because “nobody knows anything” has been one of those chestnuts that gets trotted out at any moment whenever something surprising happens. It’s like, “Oh, Hollywood, nobody knows anything.”

And I was frustrated because I wasn’t quite sure the context of the original quote. And so, I actually did some research this week and I pulled up William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade. So William Goldman is of course a legendary screenwriter, everything from Butch Cassidy to Princess Bride. Has worked, you know, throughout Hollywood. But the book in question is from 1983. It is Adventures in the Screen Trade. And so I got the book on Kindle and I did a word search to figure out where does he actually say, “Nobody knows anything.” And he says it a couple of different times in the book.

But the way William Goldman is actually using that phrase is so different than how people are trying to use that phrase whenever they’re tweeting it at me or when I see it quoted in an article. And so I wanted to look at what the original intention was behind that quotation and how we might steer ourselves back towards that quotation.

Now, Craig, as we mentioned before, you’ve been on Karina Longworth’s podcast

Craig: Yeah.

John: Being the voice of Louis B. Mayer. So I’m wondering if I could invoke your skills to be William Goldman and read this first little quote aloud.

Craig: Well, I won’t do it in the Louis voice because that’s

John: I think it’s probably appropriate.

Craig: She has the exclusive rights to it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I’ll just read it on my own bland voice. Although William Goldman, I did have the pleasure meeting him a year or so ago. And he has this wonderful voice actually. He’s very patrician kind of — it’s very — he seems like — he’s Jewish but he seems like a WASP. It’s that fascinating — who else had that? There’s a little bit of a — well, anyway, it doesn’t matter. The point is he has a great voice. I’ll do my best here.

This is from Adventures in the Screen Trade “Nobody Knows Anything.” “Not one person in the entire motion picture field knows for certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and if you’re lucky, an educated one. They don’t know when the movie is finished. B.J. Thomas’ people after the first sneak of Butch were upset about their clients getting involved with the song Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head. One of them was heard to say more than once, ‘B.J. really hurt himself with this one.’ They don’t know when the movie is starting to shoot either. David Brown, Zanuck’s partner has said, ‘We didn’t know whether Jaws would work but we didn’t have any doubts about The Island, it had to be a smash. Everything worked. The screenplay worked. Every actor we sent it too said yes. I didn’t know until a few days after we opened and I was in a bookstore and I ran into Lew Wasserman and I said, ‘How are we doing?’ And he said, ‘David, they don’t want to see the picture.’ They don’t want to see the picture may be the most chilling phrase in the industry.

“Now, if the best around don’t know at sneaks and they don’t know during shooting, you better believe that executives don’t know when they’re trying to give a thumbs up or down. They’re trying to predict public taste three years ahead and it’s just not possible. Obviously, I’m asking you to take my word on this. And there’s no reason really that you should because pictures such as Raiders of the Lost Ark probably come to mind, which I grant was an unusual film. Why did Paramount say yes? Because nobody knows anything. And why did all the other studios say no? Because nobody knows anything. And why did Universal, the mightiest studio of all, pass on Star Wars, a decision that just may cost them and all the sequels and spinoffs and toy money and book money and video game money totaled over a billion dollars…” it’s a little bit more than that William “…because nobody, nobody, not now, not ever knows the least goddamn thing about what is or isn’t going to work at the box office.”

John: Uh-huh. Well done, Craig, and well done William Goldman. So I want to focus on what this isn’t saying. So this isn’t saying that decision makers are ignorant, that they know nothing. It’s not saying they don’t have taste. It’s not saying they don’t have experience. They truly do have the wisdom of crowds. They have sneak previews. They have all of these things. They have experience. They have, you know, their own taste. They have crowds. But they don’t have perfect knowledge of the future. And you instinctually did exactly the right thing was emphasizing the word no is that, you know, William Goldman is saying like you may have very good reasons to believe something but you can’t know with certainty what the future will hold. And anyone who does tell you they know with certainty what the future will hold is lying because you cannot predict all these things.

And so, what I get so frustrated about is they’ll use nobody knows anything as excuse for, “Well, why don’t we just try something wild because nobody knows what’s going to work.” Well, people actually may have really good sense of what’s going to work but they can’t predict things perfectly.

Craig: That’s exactly right. It’s a little bit like that exchange where someone says, “You think blah, blah, blah…” and someone says, “I don’t think, I know.” That means something, right? It means that it’s not in the realm of opinion, it’s a fact.

John: Yes.

Craig: What Goldman is saying is that essentially all this stuff boils down to opinions so you can’t know it and therefore you have to make your peace with an uncertain world.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And so, of course, people are going to make mistakes but they’re not mistakes at the time. They’re only mistakes in retrospect. That’s the thing. You just don’t know. And he even — it’s interesting, he even italicizes the word know. There’s no — so we actually know that this is what he means. We don’t think this. We know that.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: We know he doesn’t mean nobody knows anything. He means nobody knows anything.

John: Exactly. So there’s one other place in the book where he goes back to this nobody-knows-anything idea. And this is where he’s talking about studio heads and studio executives. And what’s so fascinating to me is that this book is written in 1983 and every place I sort of pulled stuff out, it’s like, wow, that feels so incredibly true. I mean, Star Wars is a billion-dollar franchise which is just so funny to think about it, you know.

Craig: [laughs]

John: I don’t know if it’s necessarily a trillion-dollar franchise but we know it’s still an incredibly big deal

Craig: It may end up.

John: All these years later.

Craig: Yeah. All right. So here’s another passage from Adventures in the Screen Trade. “As stated, the knowledge of their eventual decapitation is central to the life of the studio executive. And as also stated, when that happens, they will go indie prod which is both easier and more lucrative. So, why do the executives care at all if their movies succeed? Because there is a giant caveat involved. The better they’ve done as executives, the longer their lifespan, the fatter the deal they can strike for themselves when they’re canned. None of the Heaven’s Gate group at UA got rich when they were told to get lost. So it’s essential to the studio executive to be at least, for a time, successful. And since nobody knows anything and since the studio heads today haven’t got a lot of faith in their creative instincts since they’ve never been creative, they turn for salvation to the one thing that got them where they are: stars.”

John: And again, this is 1983 he’s writing this and yet everything he’s saying is completely true today.

Craig: Yep.

John: When he says, “Go indie prod,” what he’s basically meaning is when you get canned as the executive of whatever studio, you get a deal at that studio to make movies. And so, when Amy Pascal leaves the leadership of Columbia Sony Pictures, she gets a big deal at Columbia Pictures to make movies for Columbia Pictures. And she gets to make a bunch of movies there and she will get a good deal there because she had a lot of success running Sony Pictures. That’s the way it’s always been and it seems to be the way that things are going to continue to be because that’s how this business works.

And so, you look at the studio executives, the studio heads, they are the decision makers. And so, as they’re making decisions, they are weighing a bunch of different factors. So if she doesn’t know how things are going to work, she’s going to attempt to stack the deck in her favor in a couple of different ways. Goldman says “stars”. So if you’re making a movie with Jennifer Lawrence, that’s more likely to be a hit than a movie with Zooey Deschanel.

Craig: Right.

John: It’s going to cost you more. But the odds of success are higher because Jennifer Lawrence is a true star.

Craig: Yep.

John: A genre, a movie in a popular genre is more likely to be a success than a movie in a less popular genre. So making a western right now is incredibly risky. Making a superhero movie right now is much less risky. Even if the superhero movie is a lot more expensive than that western would be, it’s still less risky.

And the flip side of this is really the defense. If you’ve make a superhero movie with Jennifer Lawrence and it bombs, you have a real good plausible deniability like — I don’t know how this failed, but this was a pretty good bet. Like, I wasn’t going crazy here. This seemed like a reasonable bet. The chance to keep your job a little bit longer hopefully, but also to explain why you made this movie in the first place.

Craig: Yeah, he’s making this fascinating point about the motivation of studio executives that frankly I had never really considered and I’ve read this book but I think when I read it I didn’t have as clear of an understanding of the landscape as I do now just as the result of experience. And that is, this notion that they’re not trying to succeed because they want the studio to do well. They’re trying to succeed so that when they eventually get pushed out, they land on a comfier mattress, that’s kind of fascinating. It makes a ton of sense.

John: Yeah, I don’t know that it’s a conscious decision for them at all times. But I think it is the reality. I think, you could ask any studio executive, anyone who’s running a studio, “How long do you think you’ll be in this job?” And at some point, deep down, they do know that they’re not going to be there forever. And so they’re looking at sort of like, you run a studio for a set number of years and then you stop running that studio. It’s like there’s just a term-limit to it and you will move on. And there’s an expiration date sort of built in to that job.

Craig: I’m not going to ask any of them that question.

John: [laughs]

Craig: [laughs] I don’t think that’s a conversation that I want to have.

John: Next time you’re sitting down with a head of one of the studios, you just say, “Oh, by the way, how much longer do you think you’re going to be here?”

Craig: Yeah. Donna, you’ve been here for a while.

John: You really have been here for a while. Things seem to be going really well, Donna, right now.

Craig: I know. Right.

John: But how many bad things do you think would happen before you have to

Craig: I mean, you’re going to get fired, so I’m just wondering like, how long do you think is going to take you? That would be awkward.

John: Don’t ask that question.

Craig: No. I don’t think that that’s going to go well for you. I really don’t. And there’s actually — this is a — not to steal your Segue Man job, but there’s a really nice segue here to our next topic.

John: Let’s go for it.

Craig: The idea that studio executives are looking for security leads us to this next topic. An article that I read at about — well, it’s called the Zombie Mobile. And we’ll include a link in the show notes of course. And it’s essentially a story of the crossover, the crossover which is that thing that’s not a sedan. It’s not an SUV. It’s that sneaker mobile kind of thing. And what the author Adrian Hanft does is he depicts, it looks like about 50 of these cars and they look exactly alike.

John: Exactly. If you’re looking at the graphic, he has all the different brands of these cars but in white and with like the hub caps sort of marked out. And you really could not tell them apart, one from the next.

Craig: It’s truly madness. I mean, when you look at it you feel like this can’t be real. But it’s real. And he goes into why this happened. And so I’m going to read a little excerpt from his article that I think is pertinent to a question that we’re constantly asking about studios and the movies that studios make.

He says, “People think they want a huge variety of options. But variety cripples our ability to make easy decisions. Car companies give the illusion of variety while keeping the actual categories very basic. This is why you only get five color options instead of choosing from a Pantone book. Deciding between red and white is easy compared to deciding between fire red or cherry red. Car companies understand that in order for you to make a purchase, they can’t overwhelm you with options. There are millions of combinations of vehicles, brands, and options but by breaking the selection down into bite-size mini decisions, salesmen are able to overcome our indecisiveness. Broad categories (car, truck, van) funnel customers towards making a purchase.”

What he goes on to say is the crossover became such a massive success because it even removed that choice. You didn’t have to decide between car, truck, van. They’re going to give you something that was car-truck-van. And they were all going to look alike basically because that’s kind of what everybody wanted.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And the same thing goes for us I think in the studio system. People say, “Well, why do studios keep churning out the same kind of movie?” Because that’s kind of what the audience wants. The audience struggles going for movies that force them to make tricky decisions. They need to know what it is before they go to it.

John: Yeah. Barry Schwartz’s book, The Paradox of Choice, sort of laid out this, you know, this idea sort of most recently in sort of in a biggest way about sort of how whenever you force somebody to make a decision, they sort of freeze and they don’t want to make a decision. And so by taking away their choices and not letting them make their decisions, you can get them to do something much more easily and much more quickly. And, to some degree, I think that’s true and when you look at the movies that stand out, they are sort of the oddballs and they take a lot more work and subtlety and skill to market and get any sort of breakout success because they were such oddballs. And the reasons why we see such a reliable template for making some of our big blockbuster movies is because people are familiar with it. They know what that is and they’re not going to be challenged by what they’re about to see.

Craig: Yeah, I think the idea of illusion of choice is really important because the audience or the marketplace, they do struggle with choice. But they hate the idea of no choice. So you have to make them feel like they’re getting a choice without actually forcing them to go through the pain of a choice. And so we have genres. And so we have movie stars that help kind of eliminate choice. When you talk to the regular American moviegoer, you get yourself out of Hollywood for a few days and just talk to people or you’re on vacation somewhere, they don’t refer to movies the way we do. They talk about, “Oh, that’s a Brad Pitt movie”. That’s it. “That’s a Brad Pitt movie.” That’s the genre: Brad Pitt movie.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It doesn’t matter. Everything else. All the — your fancy choices and things, it doesn’t matter. They don’t know who directs anything. They certainly don’t know who writes anything. If you asked people what movie directors do you know, you’d hear Steven Spielberg and maybe Martin Scorsese.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Nobody really cares about that stuff. So stars became incredibly important because they’re visible and they help them make choices. And then genres, “Oh, my god, that’s a funny movie. Oh, it’s like a physical comedy. Oh, yeah, it’s a horror movie. Oh, yeah, it’s a thriller. Oh, that’s a spy movie.” So interestingly, if I were to sit and talk about this article with, say, some of the fine people that run marketing departments in Hollywood. What I would say to them is this. You don’t necessarily have to be worried about material that doesn’t fit into a conforming box. As long as you think you can sell it like it does. In fact, I think the best situation is to offer something that’s familiar and comforting to the audience with marketing. And then once they’re there, because it was familiar and comforting, give them something that’s different so that they don’t walk out going, “Oh, yeah, well, it was the same old thing.”

John: Yeah. I’ve had similar conversations a couple of times recently about properties that I was trying to get involved with. And it was that question of balancing expectations versus what you’re actually going to deliver them. And so people think they’re going to come in and get this kind of movie. And they are but it’s actually differentiated by quality in a weird way. It’s like, you know, what’s our secret sauce? Oh, it’s actually a really good movie. It’s actually a really good version of that. And so, somebody comes in expecting like, “Oh, it’ll be okay.” And then like, “Oh, it’s actually surprisingly good,” well, that’s an extra kind of bonus. And I’ve had to have those conversations about like, I think you market it like it’s this. And so someone will say like, “Oh, well, I know, the script seemed like it’s really complicated.” It’s like, “Yes, but you know what, that’s the experience of watching the movie.

Craig: Right.

John: The experience of what you’re actually going to see in the trailer is actually much more sort of it’s these beats, it’s the simpler version of what that is. So the movie I wrote for myself, it definitely falls into a genre. And so the movie does some unusual and interesting things, but I think from the trailer, you would see the simpler version. Even a thing I turned in recently, there was concern that it would be confused as a different kind of movie. And so I wrote up the trailer saying, like, no, I think you sell it like this. I think you sell it like this genre of movie which it largely is but you don’t even discuss these other story points or don’t even bring them into the idea of the trailer because it’s just not important for your experience. If you’re a person who likes this genre of movie, you’re going to like this movie regardless.

Craig: Yeah, this is really important. And I think the good marketers understand that because, of course, now marketers are involved in what movies get green lit. The question shouldn’t be, “Does this movie having now watched it fit into a comfortable category for an audience?” The question should be, “Can I market this as a comfortable category?”

John: Yeah.

Craig: The fascinating thing is that most people ascribe the word “cowardly” to the studios who continue to pump out the expected how many more superhero movies can we get. How many more of this can we get? How many more of that? They’re just cowards. They’re just playing it safe. No. I think actually studios are willing to take all sorts of risks. It’s the audience that’s the coward. And I understand why.

Going to the movies ain’t cheap. And you know the easiest thing in the world to do? Stay home. So people are afraid to risk two hours of their life and maybe 50 bucks when all is said and done between you and your date to see a movie that they kind of don’t know that they want because they’ve never had before.

John: So let’s tie together our studio executive and our ticket buyer. So our studio executive three years in advance is trying to figure out what ticket-buyer wants to see. Ticket-buyer is saying like, “You know, which movie do I want to see tonight?” So they’re going to cost me the same amount of money to see Steve Jobs or to see Goosebumps. I don’t know that I’ll like Steve Jobs. Goosebumps, I’m not sure I’ll like it either, but I think I know what Goosebumps is. So maybe I’ll go see Goosebumps.”

Craig: Right.

John: And it’s a conservative decision but it’s a reasonable decision for the ticket buyer. And so the studio executive has to weigh these decisions but three years in advance and not even knowing what the movie is going to look like or what the marketing materials for that movie are going to look like.

Craig: That’s absolutely right.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s hard because we — are brains aren’t correct. I may say, “Well, I generally don’t like biopics and I don’t really care about computers. I do like horror movies and I like funny movies and I like Jack Black.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: “I’m going to see Goosebumps.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: The problem is that’s actually not a rational decision because even if I stipulate all those things, I still just might not love Goosebumps because Goosebumps is its own experience, separate from everything else. And I might love Steve Jobs. That’s really what marketing and what the studios are constantly struggling with is the irrationality and safety of the audience.

John: Well, doesn’t it make some sense though in terms of loss aversion — so, I’m not saying that loss aversion is a reasonable strategy. But it’s a very well-understood strategy. It’s that you’re more worried about hating something than you are getting joy about maybe I’m going to love this thing. I don’t think people — and I don’t mean to slam Goosebumps as a movie. I’m sorry I picked that as an example, but I don’t think you’re going to Goosebumps saying like, “I think this is going to be the best movie ever and I think it’s going to change my life.” I think you’re going to Goosebumps maybe saying like, “Oh, I think that’ll be an enjoyable way to spend, you know, 90 minutes.” Whereas the Steve Jobs decision is like, “You know, I might love it but I might also really hate it. And it’s not just my decision, it’s like whoever I’m taking on a date to see this movie, what is he or she going to think.” And so there’s a whole psychological aspect of that that is challenging.

Craig: Yeah.

John: There’s a part of the article where he talks about a wind tunnel. And wind tunnels are incredibly important for designing cars. And when you’re looking at how you’re going to build the car, ultimately the wind tunnel is going to influence the shape of the car greatly. He says, “There are only two directions you can go in the wind tunnel. You can either get blown away or move towards the wind. Take comfort of the feeling of resistance. It means you’re headed in the right direction. If you aren’t feeling wind resistance, you might be going in the wrong direction in the wind tunnel. Savor the feeling of the wind on your skin. Your heroes face the same winds and overcame similar rejections. Eventually, the headwinds produce lift and launch their work skyward.” So talking about the Wright Brothers. It’s essentially, you know, sort of trying to make a plea for — go to the thing that’s making you a little uncomfortable, go towards the thing which you’re not sure you’re going to love. It’s going to spark more interest in you ultimately than the thing that is really safe. And that’s really easy to say but hard to do on a daily basis.

Craig: It’s a wonderful sentiment and I’m certainly all for individual bravery and culture choice. However, it will not happen. It will not happen at least on a mass scale ever, because humans on a mass scale are fairly predictable and we have a lot of data here.

John: Yeah.

Craig: There’s a theory that they used to talk about in the old days with network television and when you had three channels. And it was called the least objectionable programming theory, LOP. And the idea was you didn’t have to be the best show on at 8:30, you just had to be the LOP. If people didn’t like the other two more than they didn’t like you, they’d watch you.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And so your job is to basically just be bland and inoffensive and not stick out at all and they would turn away from those other things and come to you. And I think a little bit of that goes on in movies but I would continually push this point that it’s okay to market things on a LOP basis and then deliver something better, because unlike television, when they bought their ticket, they’re in.

John: That’s absolutely true.

Craig: And then the game has changed. The game is not, well, just keep watching it week after week. The game is now, “Don’t walk out of the theatre until it’s over.” And then when it’s over, go home and start tweeting about it. That’s the name of the game. Two very different goals.

John: Craig, I have a question for you. Do you think LOP still makes as much sense in the age of, you know, infinite channels and infinite programs?

Craig: No, I think it’s over.

John: I don’t think it does at all. I think that’s really an outdated concept. I think it actually still does hold true in movies because you’re making a decision about how you’re spending these two hours of your time and it’s a zero sum game to some degree. You’re not going to be able to watch two movies that night. But with TV, you can easily graze. You can find the thing that most interests you. And so, this paradox of choice isn’t quite as much of a problem. It’s just, you know, there’s not enough time in the day to watch all the things you might be interested in watching but that’s a lovely problem to have.

Craig: Yeah, LOP is great for a situation where you’re trying to get enormous numbers to come to your choice and your competition is maybe two other choices, which was very typical for the networks in the ’70s and ’80s. MOP, not Michael Oates Palmer but the most objectionable programming theory, I think makes a lot of sense for TV today because everything is so fragmented that what you’re trying to get is you don’t mind getting a tiny audience. You just want them to be fervent

John: Yes.

Craig: And you want them there week after week. So in fact, sometimes, the stuff that works best now on television is the stuff that’s the most stick-outable, and the strangest, and the weirdest, and the most hooky. It’s a very different vibe.

But for movies, when two or three major motion pictures are slugging it out to capture the eyeballs of mainstream movie-going America, not the movies but the marketing, I think, the marketing has to feel like that movie is the least objectionable.

John: Yeah. To try to wrap a bow around these two topics, getting back to nobody knows anything, I just want to stress the idea that William Goldman is not saying we might as well just have a bunch of monkeys throwing darts at a dartboard. That’s not what he’s pushing towards. He’s just saying that you can do all of these tests and surveys, you could look at what people say they really want, you could try to find the least objectionable program and do all these things that seem like really smart choices and you still don’t know that that’s going to be a path to success.

So I think he’s actually saying, you do all those things because those are reasonable, smart things to do. But don’t mistake the doing of those tests for what is really going to happen in true life because you just don’t know that. You can’t predict that.

Craig: You don’t know.

John: You don’t know me.

Craig: You don’t know me.

John: Our next topic, this is actually a short one. It could be a whole podcast by itself but it’s based on something that happened to me this week.

So I went to USC for film school and some USC film students started up this program, which is a very smart program called Dinner For Eight. And what they do is they invite an alum and eight current film students and we just have dinner someplace and we talk over stuff. This is a no-pressure dinner. You’re talking through what their life is like and they’re asking you questions and you’re asking them questions.

And I really took advantage of the chance to ask them questions because I’m always fascinated by why people go to film schools. And it’s something we’ve talked about on the podcast before. Because I can list good reasons to go to film schools, you can list good reasons not to go to film schools. But I was curious what people in film school right now thought about their decision. These were all grad students who were in their second or third year of grad school, and whether they thought it was worth it.

And so, around my table, they tended to think it was worth it, which I think is sort of a self-selecting group probably. But I asked them why they thought it was worth it. And here are some of the things they said.

Context. So, they were learning about screenwriting or filmmaking in context of the actual business that they were in right now. So, it wasn’t learning it from a book, it wasn’t learning it from one person. They had a bunch of people around them making movies. And they were making movies all the time, which was good and useful.

The collaboration, just that they got to work on either shooting movies or they were writing their stuff and they had people constantly there to sort of give them feedback on what they’re doing. Their professors, they had their peer group.

Acceleration. A couple of them said that they felt like they’d been writing for a while but it wasn’t until they were sort of like forced to sit down and constantly be delivering stuff that they really felt that sort of rocket ship take off, which could also be imagined if you like were staffed on a TV show, that sense of like, “No, no, you really have to do it now. There’s no excuses.” They described it similarly as being like good for people who were sort of stalled overall.

And so, a couple of these people had written before and they’ve been trying to do it for a while and they just couldn’t sort of get all the pieces to fit together. And sometimes, it was a skill thing they lacked but more often, it was a psychological thing. And they’re like, there wasn’t a gun to their head to do it, and so with a gun to their head to do it, they were actually delivering stuff.

I asked them how much they were actually writing in a semester. They said they were generally writing two bigger things in a semester. So they might be working on a feature and a TV pilot. That’s a lot. That’s a lot to be working on. But they also said that writing a bunch of little things, a lot of little small class assignments, was getting them sort of more fluid and more fluent.

So, it was interesting to hear this group of young writers, mostly writers, talking about their perspective on why they thought film school was working out well for them.

Craig: I always wonder, it’s really interesting, I always wonder what film school would have done to me. I don’t know if film school would have been good for me at all, you know. I mean, because I think about me, you know.

John: I think about you, too. So I think about you and John Glickman is a person we both know.

Craig: Yeah.

John: John Glickman runs MGM right now, but John Glickman was in my film school class. And I remember being in an elevator, we were going to I think it was our law class. And I was in the elevator with John Glickman and we held the door because Joe Roth got in the elevator. And Joe Roth at that point, he had already left Disney. He’d been running Disney and he just started Revolution, I think was his company.

Craig: The initial name of it was Caravan, then it became

John: Caravan. It was just

Craig: Then it became Spyglass, then it became Revolution.

John: So it was just Caravan at that point.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So, Joe Roth of Caravan gets in the elevator and John Glickman says, “Oh, hey, Joe. My name is John Glickman. I think the movies you’re making are really great. I really want to work for you. And these are the things I’m working on. This is what I’ve done.” And by the time he got out of the elevator, John Glickman had a job working at Caravan.

Craig: [laughs]

John: I can envision a young Craig Mazin in film school being similarly driven and plucky and smart and being able to get himself well-situated really soon. But I wonder if you would have become a writer or if you would have become a studio mogul.

Craig: Right. Well, it’s interesting because John Glickman did, in fact, go to work for Joe Roth and Roger Birnbaum at Caravan, stayed with them when they turned into Spyglass. Then when Revolution happened, I think Joe did Revolution and John and Roger went over to MGM. And then Roger kind of retired, I think, out of that. And John’s still at MGM.

John: Yeah.

Craig: He really actually has only had that job that he got in the elevator, which is crazy.

John: I was right there when he got it.

Craig: I don’t know, you know, it’s a really good question. I don’t know. And by the way, great segue into our next topic because our next topic sort of posits what would have happened with you and with me.

Somebody on Twitter tipped me off to this podcast between a guy named Ashley Scott Meyers and his guest, Gordy Hoffman. Ashley Scott Meyers runs a website. He’s a screenwriter and he also runs a website called I’m not sure what it’s about. Oh, yeah, of course, it’s about selling your screenplay.

And, you know, the usual offer of script consultant, money, you know. You know how I feel about that. [laughs] Not good.

John: Not best.

Craig: I don’t feel good. But he also has podcasts that he does and he interviews people for it. And he himself is, in terms of his screenwriting, well, you’ll see he describes himself essentially as a B-movie writer.

Gordy Hoffman is a screenwriter and he also runs the BlueCat screenwriting contest. Have you heard of that, the BlueCat screenwriting competition?

John: I’ve heard of the BlueCat screenwriting competition mostly from tweets saying like, “Hey, should I enter the BlueCat screenwriting competition?” And I say, “I don’t know what that is.” But I sort of do know what it is just because people have tweeted me the question of should I enter the competition.

Craig: Yeah. It ain’t the Nicholls, but it’s a thing where you, again, pay money [laughs] to submit your script to a competition. And then there’s a prize, I think, of $3,000 or $4,000 or something like that. Also, he is the late Philip Seymour Hoffman’s brother. So they have this conversation and suddenly, the topic turned to you and me. [laughs] And I’m going to read you some things and we’ll see what you think.

I mean, they start off debating this question of whether the oft-repeated advice, “Just write a great script,” is actually good advice. And Ashley says, “Look, I’ve spent my career writing B movies and I think that’s a great place for screenwriters to start out in. If you want to write a studio film, those scripts have to be great.” This is his words. “But there are some terrific opportunities for people in genre movies.”

And Gordy Hoffman says, “I don’t know. Can you raise a family on that income? How does writing a movie that’s not good, that’s product, how does that build a career?” And then Ashley says, well, you know, in the B movies that he, I guess, in that world that he’s in, you can make $30,000 to $60,000 — I think he meant doing one of those movies or maybe in a year, I’m not sure.

And then Gordy Hoffman starts talking about you and me.

John: Ah.

Craig: And here’s what he says. He says, “When you look at John August and Craig Mazin’s point of view, they’ve made money in the studio system. My whole thing is I want to help you write a classic movie. Those are two different things. Gaming the system to make a ton of money is one thing, but ultimately, it’s my belief that if you want to get money as a writer and you don’t care if nobody likes your movie, some people are like, that’s exactly what I want. But I don’t want Craig Mazin’s job. [laughs] I don’t want to do that. If I chase a gratifying body of work, I’m still probably going to make some money.”

“What gets confusing is the John August/Craig Mazin podcast, it’s not really about writing an emotionally compelling, great culture-shifting movie, it’s about making money as a screenwriter. The fact is, that’s not what I ever talk about. That’s not what BlueCat is about. I’m just going to make good things. Chasing writing the best movie might in the long run be better for your career and your bank account.”

John: So it sounds like he’s disagreeing with Ashley Scott Meyers who says that like, “No, no, no, write B movies because — well, write B movies, I guess.” And Hoffman is saying, “No, you should write a great movie.” Am I fair in sort of there are two different opinions there?

Craig: Yeah. It seems like what Gordy is saying, aside from [laughs] he’s editorializing about you and me, is that in fact you will ultimately make more money if you do write something great.

John: So I’m trying to think about this in terms of the context of what we have said on the podcast and sort of what we are extolling. And the degree to which screenwriters are gaming the system to write movies that either I guess don’t get made or aren’t trying to be good versus the alternative, I’m not quite clear on what his perspective is here.

Craig: No, you aren’t because you’re a good person. You know, here’s the difference between you and me. A good person sees something that is deserving of vomit and says, “I don’t understand. Those words don’t fit together. I’m puzzled. I will take a nap.” The bad person says, “I am filled with rage [laughs] because I can see the bad conscience behind this.”

Putting aside how insulting it is, it’s also just stupid and wrong. There is no gaming the system to make a ton of money. There’s no such thing. Does not work. I don’t know what it would be. If there were a way to game this system to make money, then many, many more people would be gaming the system to make money.

John: Well, let’s talk about gaming the system because there are some examples of screenwriters who you feel like they just took that rewrite for the money and they had no interest in actually delivering a quality movie. I will say, in general, those people do not have long-lived careers or they eventually get called out for it and then they have to go back and start writing good movies.

Craig: Well, see, that’s exactly right. But then, that’s not really gaming the system. That’s making a mistake. Somebody says, “Here, I have a job for you,” and you say, “Well, I don’t care about it. I like making money. I’m not going to write anything good here,” then you’re right, you will not last. And so you didn’t game the system.

In fact, the system gamed you. There is no gaming the system. And they are talking about people that have, you know, long-running careers. That’s insane. Now, Gordy, his one writing credit I think is a movie called Love Liza, which he’s certainly very fond of. He speaks of it in a very fond way. I don’t think it meets his criteria of a culture-shifting classic film. But I haven’t seen it. I just

John: But I would say, it doesn’t seem like he’s describing it like a B-movie like Ashley Scott Meyers is describing his own movies.

Craig: No, no, no, no.

John: Not a bit.

Craig: No. He’s describing it as a big work. And he talks about how people still write him letters about it. I mean, he’s sort of saying, “I wrote something that’s important that people really like. That’s better than those things that those guys are writing because that’s just about making money.”

And my response is, we actually care about what we do, it’s just that you maybe not like those kinds of movies.

John: Oh, yeah.

Craig: That doesn’t mean we don’t. We do. We like what we are doing. It’s, oh my god, people might have different taste. I’m not sure I would like Love Liza. I haven’t seen it but it doesn’t look like my cup of tea.

So I’m not going to say, “Well, obviously, that guy was just trying to game some system.” That’s crazy. Similarly, I get confused by people who think that they understand our motivations for writing based on what they see on IMDb and not based on all the things we’ve written that haven’t gotten made.

But that aside, what I do know for sure is this. I know, as opposed to nobody knows anything, I know that this podcast is in fact [laughs] about, among other things, writing emotionally compelling, great culture-shifting movies. I’m hoping to God that some of our listeners do great work. Does this really sound like a podcast about how to make money?

And creepily enough, we’re the ones doing this for free and this guy is charging writers money to send him scripts. So, huh?

John: Hmm.

Craig: Huh. Well, moving on.

John: [laughs]

Craig: They continue their argument. What Ashley says is, “Well, you know, when I set out ” he’s pushing back on that, “When I set out to write B movies, I have high hopes. I try and make it as good as possible. But my main point is that I have accepted that I’m not a gloriously gifted writer. I have succeeded and sold a bunch of scripts because I’m pragmatic. Most people listening to this are probably in that boat. The chance of getting to the John August/Craig Mazin level is rare and there’s a certain amount of luck.”

Well, I was feeling really good there for a second.

John: Yeah. And I’m agreeing with some of what he’s saying there. There’s a certain amount of luck, absolutely. And I think we’ve said that many times on the podcast is that some stuff just happens because it happens. And you have to be in the right place to be lucky. But things could go very differently for anyone in this business.

Craig: Yeah. And I like his point, by the way — first of all, I think it’s an incredibly grown-up and brave thing to say “I’m not a gloriously gifted writer.” And he’s right. Most people aren’t. Most people trying to be screenwriters aren’t gloriously gifted because this isn’t Lake Wobegon where all the children are above average, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: So his argument is, “Hey, there’s this other area of screenwriting that may not be quite so, you know, golden city shining on the hill, but it’s something for people that maybe aren’t good enough to play in the major leagues.” It’s an interesting point. Gordy gets all upset.

He does not like the idea of luck at all. He says, “People that are successful, like Ron Howard, they don’t have a plan B,” which I thought was a fascinating choice, Ron Howard.

John: Yeah, Ron Howard, like he got to direct his first movie but he was already a successful actor when that all happened. He was a kid actor who was growing into being a grown-up actor.

Craig: Oh, yeah, all Ron Howard had going for him was being Opie and then being Richie on Happy Days. That’s it. Other than that

John: That’s it. No, he had no plan B.

Craig: You know what his plan B was? Living off of the money he had made. [laughs] That’s a pretty good plan B. He then refers to Ben Affleck and says, “That guy had some duds. Now he’s a huge success and in the middle of three tent poles,” which I think maybe he also thinks is part of the gaming the system. And I can’t tell. At this point, I’m confused by his point of view. But he’s saying, basically, take responsibility for your career.

And then, so at this point, I’m like, I think I’m rooting for Ashley here. [laughs] But then

John: [laughs] Craig, frankly, you’re rooting for the tidal wave, I can tell.

Craig: Well, I always end up rooting for the meteor. So then Ashley says, “Well, listening to the John August/Craig Mazin podcast, there wasn’t a lot of struggle in their career. Craig Mazin went to Princeton. But he was in the right place at the right time. He sold some scripts.” [laughs]

John: Aww, Craig. I’m sorry for you because I know there was some struggle in there.

Craig: Well

John: Yeah, I mean, you

Craig: Come on.

John: I guess, how do you define the outer boundaries of struggle? I mean, how bad do things have to be to be a struggle? That’s actually a good thematic question for a play on Broadway, or actually, Off-Broadway.

Craig: Yeah, feels Off-Broadway. [laughs]

John: [laughs] It feels more Off-Broadway, obviously.

Craig: I just love the description of the birth of my career. It’s so awesome because like, went to Princeton, right place and right time, sold some scripts.

So here’s what happened, I go to Princeton where I don’t study writing or movies [laughs] or screenwriting or anything. I graduate with nothing. I drive to Los Angeles. I happened to walk out on the right street corner where in my hand is a script suddenly. And a guy is like, “Hey, you got a script? I’m buying.” And I go, “Yeah, here.” “Great, kid. Come with me.” It’s insane. Why would anyone think that?

John: What’s fascinating, Craig, is I remember it more like a Coen brother set up in a thing where like you accidentally got in the wrong car and there’s like a whole trunkful of money, except instead of a trunkful of money there was a script, and then you like accidentally drove up to some place that wanted your script. And it became a whole caper kind of thing.

My story is similar and sort of plausible in that same way where I came out here and I went to USC for film school. And I think I was genuinely lucky to be here at a time where the industry was growing and there were spots for more people and I got a job as an assistant and worked my way up. And I did very classic boring things where friends would read my scripts and pass them along. And I eventually got into rooms, and got hired to write scripts for people.

And whenever I talk to people about my origin story, I try to make it really clear, like that’s my origin story but that won’t be your origin story because all the variables will be different, both because it’s a different time, because you’re a different person, because everything just generally changes. But I would say, the broad strokes of how I got my career started are probably the broad strokes of how most screenwriters got their career started.

Craig: Yeah. You know, lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude. There’s an interesting study about the components of happiness. And one of the major components of happiness is expressing gratitude. And it’s hard when you don’t believe in God and you don’t have a system of religion to contextualize gratitude and yet it’s also not that hard really.

John: I don’t think it’s not hard at all.

Craig: Yeah. I mean it’s only — I guess I should say, it’s not hard, it’s just not as obvious.

John: Okay.

Craig: So I’ve been thinking a lot about — and I try and be grateful and I try and express gratitude and feel gratitude in those moments. And I think that everybody that embarks on a path will have some aspects of circumstance at the time for which they ought to be grateful. And you’re right, there were aspects of the time that we began for which we should both be grateful. And, there are other things that, you know, were hard.

John: Yeah.

Craig: That is true, I think, for everybody. Everybody will have their advantages and disadvantages. Why people keep harping on this Princeton thing, I have no idea. I wish to God it had something for me, something, anything. I wasn’t hired by people who went to Princeton. [laughs] There wasn’t a network of people who all went to Princeton.

John: I think honestly, what’s helped underscore that is like, you know, he went to Princeton and you won’t believe who his roommate was. And I think that is what sort of gets Princeton stuck in the back at people’s mind.

Craig: There’s struggle by the way. [laughs]

John: There is struggle. Yeah, he did struggle. He had to live with Ted Cruz for a semester.

Craig: No, two. A whole year.

John: Oh, a whole year, I’m sorry.

Craig: Freshmen years, stuck in a room with that jerk. And, by the way just a political aside. Apparently, George W. Bush was speaking at some sort of Republican fundraiser for his brother. And he went out of his way to say Ted Cruz is dangerous and I don’t like that guy. And it was

John: Yeah, when George Bush is saying that, that is something remarkable.

Craig: Well, they said specifically that what shocked everybody was that W is like of all the things that he is known for, and there’s quite a few, one of them he doesn’t do that. He never ever bad mouths people like that, you know, at least within the Republican Party. Like he’s such a, you know, like he learned from his dad, you don’t do it. And they’re like, well, anyway, that’s what Ted Cruz does. He shakes everybody out of there.

So these guys kind of back and forth about and so Ashley is taking the position that luck matters. Gordy is taking the position that luck doesn’t matter. And then Ashley says the following. He says, “Would Craig has stuck it out for 10 or 15 years grinding it out?” And I think he means like it weren’t working. “And John August has all these technical skills, creating software, would he have stuck it out? He’d probably be running some sort of tech company. They’re smart and hardworking, so other opportunities would have come their way.”

And then he says, “The most successful screenwriters I’ve interviewed, there wasn’t a lot of struggle in their stories. They took off pretty simply.” I don’t think that he’s — that this word means what he thinks it means.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Struggle doesn’t mean failure. And success does not mean the absence of struggle. We have talked a lot about how you don’t really break in. You get a job. At which point, the gun now goes into your mouth. And you are typing in fear. And then you try and get another job and another. And the entire time, everything is conspiring to get rid of you. You are like a contagion in a body with an immune system. So you are being beset upon by your competition, by agents, by studio executives and producers and directors, all of whom know that they don’t have to care about you so they’re not going to because they already have to care about a bunch of other people they wish they didn’t have to care about. You never stop struggling. You never stop. If you stop — there’s no stopping. You know when you stop struggling, the day you say, I don’t need to struggle anymore, period, when you need to, that’s when you stop. Otherwise, you need to and you have to keep struggling.

John: Yeah. I think this idea of struggle fascinating because it’s really two different things we’re talking about. We want to talk about how writing is difficult, screenwriting is difficult in its own special way. The opportunity to get your writing in the hands of people who want to actually make it into a movie and then actually get that movie made, that is all incredibly difficult. So that is struggle, that is labor, that is difficult and it’s painful.

But I think they want to use struggle to be all the times it doesn’t work. And there’s a sense if you didn’t go through all the times where it didn’t work, then you didn’t really, I don’t know, you sort of don’t deserve it in a way or that — and its’ not true. That weird sense of like, art is an art unless you had to like cut your ear off to some degree or if you had

Craig: Yeah, art must require some sort of brutal pain and also, luck is hugely important because it seems like the people that succeed somehow got hit by a leprechaun’s magic shillelagh and just sort of coasted into millions of dollars and worldwide box office and packed movie theatres. And everybody else, it’s just as good, didn’t get by the shillelagh, so they’re struggling.

John: Yeah. I think we’re going to call our next podcast Struggling Gratitude because I think they’re wonderful, really amorphous concepts that are so key to what we’re really talking about because I think gratitude really plays into that sense of luck. And acknowledging that things could have gone so many different ways and we’re very lucky and fortunate to have, you know, ended up in this specific place and this specific set of circumstances that things worked out so well and to acknowledge that things could have worked out very, very differently in any of our lives.

And so, you know, to be thankful for our health and to be thankful for our families and for all the things in our life that are going so well and simultaneously to acknowledge that not everyone is going to have those things and it doesn’t make one person better or worse than the other person.

But I worry that, you know, glamorizing the struggle is ultimately a self-defeating kind of prophecy. It’s a sense of like how people in depression sometimes don’t recognize that they’re in depression because they literally can’t see that they’re in depression. And so romanticizing struggle is not necessarily the — it could have its own sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.

Craig: It’s not even a useful word.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I just prefer work.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Just work. Work, you know. And by the way, I will say that when all is said and done, with this exchange, I will — I have to give the fight to Ashley. I think that ultimately, he was making an interesting point and a valuable point about what you do when — forget the world of luck — the marketplace is telling you repeatedly over time we’re not going to put your work in a category of say this. Your work is in this category. And he’s being very, I think, responsible and pragmatic in saying, that’s not a death sentence.

John: Yeah. I want to actually sort of validate both of their experiences in the sense of Ashley who is self-identifying as writing these B movies, that he’s actually found a way to make that profitable for him. And he seems happy. Or at least, you know, he’s declaring himself content with sort of how he’s being labeled there which is great.

Simultaneously, if your objective is to write a kind of movie that is difficult to get made and, you know, artistically challenging and you like that artistic challenge, which many great movies come from that — I don’t want to say struggle — but come from that place. That’s wonderful too and that’s why I think we’re lucky to live in a film ecosystem where there’s now ways to make those movies.

So I don’t want to sort of denigrate either of their experiences in doing this or even that they can talk to us about, you know, how they perceive our experiences. I just think they’re perceiving our experiences very differently than how we perceive them.

Craig: Well, yeah, that’s a nice way of saying that.

John: Again, I’m being too nice.

Craig: They’re completely wrong is what you just said.

John: [laughs]

Craig: I think your perspective of your own experience is slightly more valuable than their perspective of your experience. I think that it’s not a bad operating principle to say the following. There are a lot of different ways to pursue the career of screenwriter. And if somebody pursues it honestly and with passion and vigor, then that’s good.

John: I agree.

Craig: I would never say to Gordy Hoffman, “Enjoy making your navel-gazing mumblecore,” because that’s not fair. It’s just a broad caricature and it implies motivations that I simply can’t say are true. It’s just mean. And I don’t know why he would feel the need to denigrate an entire swath of screenwriters who oftentimes work in certain kinds of movies and then suddenly make something else. I mean look, God knows, the best script I’ve ever written has not been produced. I’m looking at it. It’s on my desk. [laughs]

I love it. And I’ve heard wonderful things about it. And it is very — I think it’s very emotionally compelling. And I think it could be a culture-shifting movie. I don’t know if it’s going to get made, you know. This is the way of the world. It’s just the thing. But I try and like the way Ashley says, I try and make it as good as possible, no matter what it is. And you and I have said before, if we wanted to game a system to make a lot of money, we are in the wrong job.

John: For sure.

Craig: We should be in finance.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Yeah, no question.

John: All right. Let’s go to our One Cool Things for the week. Mine is a very simple series of books designed for preschoolers. It’s called Tessy and Tab. And so we got these when my daughter was two years old, three years old. She got them when she’s four and five also. But it’s called Tessy and Tab. Tessy is a duck, Tab is a Kangaroo. They are preschool age. They do sort of standard preschool kind of things. They kind of flip out on each other. They love to play in the park. The sentences in there are super, super simple. They’re designed for a parent to read with a kid, but ultimately for a kid to be able to figure out how to kind of read for themselves.

It’s not phonics, it’s all sight words. So it’s not going to really just teach your kid how to read, but for my daughter, they became sort of her go-to books for just like picking up to read at any point at any time. They are also really, really thin, so you can like shove 10 of them in a backpack and go through them.

What’s smart about Tessy and Tab, originally when they first came out, they were — they would come every two weeks in the mail. And so kids love getting mail. It’s like, oh, you’re opening this thing. And so that’s a whole special thing for them. The company kind of went under. It came back. And now they send you 60 of them all at once. And so if you were to get this box, I would recommend you sort of hide it away and give it to — you know, make a special envelope and like give it to a kid like every couple of days or on a set schedule because if you have young kids, they’re going to want to read the same book over and over again. You don’t want to strangle this book because you just can’t read it anymore. So it’s a great way to sort of swap in what the book is that you’re reading with your little kid on a daily basis.

So Tessy and Tab, there’ll be a link in the show notes. But they’re just really good and they’re the one thing that my daughter from two years old through six years old still continued to love.

Craig: Wonderful. Wonderful. Well, my One Cool Thing, I have a couple of cool things this week, but they’re thematically linked. They’re both puzzles. This first is an easy one, BuzzFeed has a new crossword puzzle. I think it’s a daily actually from what I can tell. And it’s really good. The puzzles are constructed really well. They’re not too easy. They’re not crazy hard. There’s, you know, a touch of challenge to them. I would put them sort of like midweek New York Times level, sort of Wednesday-ish.

But what’s interesting about them is that they don’t have the editorial constraints of the New York Times. The New York Times famously has this — I can’t remember the exact name of the test. But the idea is would the clue and answer be something that you’d be comfortable reading to your grandmother at breakfast? BuzzFeed has no such restraint, whatsoever. And so they have like some pretty racy things and obviously, because it’s BuzzFeed, a lot of very modern, current language. So it’s a nice change of pace from The New York Times if you’re a crossword puzzler.

The other one is this site called That’s And it’s a company called Puzzle Baron or something like that. And it’s just one kind of puzzle that I love, that I always have loved. And it’s the logic puzzle where you are told six or seven facts about an arrangement of things and you have to deduce who ate what sandwich with what drink, you know, that kind of thing. Have you done these puzzles before?

John: I do. And Clue is a variation on those, but they are really fun. And there’s only really one way that everything could work out.

Craig: Exactly. There’s only one. So they are designed and I do them on the challenging setting where sometimes for a big puzzle, you get like four clues. And I’ve learned all these extra tricks that I didn’t know. And it’s such a great way to pass 20 minutes without feeling like you’ve totally wasted your time It’s a little brain sharpener. So I like them a lot. Give them a try. and it’s free.

John: Our special thanks to Karina Longworth for providing the voice of the anonymous writer in our first segment. You should really check out her podcast, which is amazing, called You Must Remember This. It’s on iTunes, but we’ll also have a link in the show notes. So thank you, Karina.

Our show, as always, is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. If you have a question for us, you should write it to us at is also where you’ll find the show notes to all the things we talked about on the program today. We are on iTunes. We love it when you leave us a review there because it helps other people find the show. So thank you everyone who leaves those reviews. If you have a short question for Craig or for me, find us on Twitter. Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust.

Our outro this week, in the spirit of Halloween, I thought we’d end on something really disturbing. So our outro is something Stuart found. It comes from Pokémon Red and Green, specifically a location within that game called Lavender Town. Do you know about Lavender town?

Craig: [laughs] I’m going to ask my son because he’ll know.

John: So according to urban legend, this really disturbing theme song caused Japanese children to commit suicide which is back in 1996.

Craig: [laughs] I don’t know why I’m laughing. I mean, no, it didn’t, that’s why I’m laughing.

John: So here’s a quote from what they say on the site. During the first two days of release of Pokémon Red and Green in Japan back in February 27th 1996, a peak of deaths occurred in the age group 10 to 15. The children were usually found dead through suicide usually by hanging or jumping from heights. However, some were more odd. A few cases recorded children who had begun sawing off their limbs, others sticking their faces inside the oven and choked themselves on their own fists, shoving their arms down their throats.

Craig: Oh, yes, shoving their arms down. Yeah, no, that’s — you see that. You see people doing that.

John: So anyway, the music you’re hearing underneath this is actually that theme music.

Craig: [laughs]

John: And it’s disturbingly — well, it’s familiar. So I leave you on this.

Craig: Don’t choke on your fist.

John: And have a happy Halloween and we will see you at the Austin Film Festival.

Craig: Bye, guys.


Nobody Knows Anything (including what this quote means)

Tue, 10/27/2015 - 08:03

Craig and John get to the bottom of William Goldman’s famous quotation about Hollywood, which is so often misapplied. Then it’s a discussion of zombie cars, wind-tunnels, blockbusters, and the paradox of choice.

Finally, we look at the intersection of luck and talent behind a screenwriter’s career, and why struggle isn’t a useful yardstick for much of anything.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Formatting a montage in Highland using Forced Action

Sat, 10/24/2015 - 17:42

A friend was writing a montage today and couldn’t figure out how to get quite the formatting he wanted in Highland:

If I’m moving quickly in a sequence I’ll frequently write IN THE GARAGE or BACK OUTSIDE or instead of a whole slug line. I want action to go on the next line, with no blank line in between.

The problem is, it’s interpreting this as a character name, and formats it as such, and the action beneath it as dialogue.

He wrote something like this: In Fountain syntax, that looks like three blocks of dialogue, so Highland was giving him this:


B.A. works on the van.


Hannibal and Murdock rig the gatling gun.


Face works on his old man makeup.

Fortunately, Fountain has ways to override defaults. In this case, the easiest way to get his desired format would be to force those intermediary sluglines (“IN THE GARAGE,” “OUT BACK,” etc.) to be treated as action.

To do that, start each of them with an exclamation point. That keeps Highland from interpreting the uppercase lines as character names, leaving the lines neatly stacked up, just like my friend wanted.

In most cases, you’ll never need to do this, because you’ll generally want the blank line after the “IN THE GARAGE” or “OUT BACK.” Leaving a little more white space on the page helps the reader understand that you’re moving between multiple locations.

Here’s an example from Ted Griffin’s Ocean 11 screenplay:

And during the above rant by Benedict, we view...


now empty, Livingston’s monitors still displaying the masked men in the vault.


navigating the streets of Las Vegas.


tailing the van, security goons piled into each, and maybe we NOTICE (or maybe not) the Rolls-Royce tailing them.


pacing in Benedict’s suite, biting her nails, debating whether to blow the whistle on Danny. ON TV: a newscast of the contentious aftermath of the prize fight.


bound and unarmed, unconscious to the activity within the vault.


opened and unmanned.


listens -- the line has gone dead. He hangs up.

The forced action trick can be useful in other cases where you want to override default behavior.

Perhaps you have a time bomb, and you’re using ellipses to indicate the countdown. You write:

Highland reads that third tick as a forced scene header, because it starts with a single period. But you can force it back to action with an exclamation point:

Both Highland and Fountain are sophisticated enough to catch most edge cases, but we’re always finding new situations in which writers are trying to do something that doesn’t quite match expected behavior. And that’s okay! The screenplay format is a set of shared assumptions, not a straightjacket. If you really need to include something unusual, do it.1

You can find all of the possible forced elements in the Syntax section of, most of which are supported by the popular apps. (Forced Action wasn’t part of the original spec, so some early apps haven’t included it yet.)

As always, you can find Highland on the Mac App Store.

  1. Both Fountain and Highland support extended character sets, including emoji. Final Draft doesn’t.

Scriptnotes, Ep 220: Writers Rooms, Taxes, and Fat Hamlet — Transcript

Thu, 10/22/2015 - 15:15

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

Today on the show we are going to be talking about how and why studios are employing multiple writers to work on some of their biggest features, and what that means for those screenwriters involved.

We’re going to be looking at taxes that writers face in the City of Los Angeles. And we’ll be asking the question is Hamlet fat. And to what degree does the writer’s intent even matter.

Three very different topics.

Craig: No, they’re all related somehow. Segue Man will connect them.

John: I will try my very, very best. You will also get a chance to see me being Segue Man live and in person. I’m going to be doing a show with Drew Goddard for the Writers Guild Foundation. That’s Wednesday October 28 at 7:30pm. It’s at the Writers Guild headquarters. Not the big theater, but just the headquarters. So, small little room. There are still a few tickets left. It’s a $20 ticket. It’s a $15 ticket if you’re a WGA member or a student. And so there will be a link in the show notes for that. Drew Goddard, of course, wrote The Martian. He did Cabin in the Woods. He’s done a tremendous amount of TV. And he’s just a great, smart screenwriter. So I’m looking forward to that conversation.

If you’d like to see me talk with him, come join us on a Wednesday night in Los Angeles.

Craig: That sounds like it would be something well worth seeing. That room is called the Multipurpose Room.

John: Yeah. Doesn’t it sound just like Cafetorium in your elementary school?

Craig: Well, yeah, because the Writers Guild is as close to a government institution as you can get without being a government institution. So they do things like have the multipurpose room. And the multipurpose room is in and of itself maybe the worst room in Los Angeles, because it’s this brutally bare box. And, yet, inside that room awesome things happen all the time. This will certainly be one of them. And it doesn’t have a ton of space.

What’s nice about the multipurpose room, worst room in Los Angeles, is because it’s small, you can hear everybody really, really well. Usually you guys will get microphones, so there’s no question about that. And when it comes time for Q&A, because it’s not some massive audience, almost everyone will get their question answered.

John: Yeah. That’s a nice thing about it. It’s also small enough that if I’m sitting in the little director’s chair, I can see everybody in the entire room. And so it just feels much more intimate than really even the things in Austin feel like, which is a segue.

Craig: Segue Man.

John: Because just days later we will be in Austin for the Austin Film Festival. We’re going to be doing two live Scriptnotes shows there. We’re going to be doing a normal live Scriptnotes panel. We have Scott Neustadter, we have Andrea Berloff. We have a third guest which is yet to be confirmed. It can even be confirmed while we’re taping the show, because if he would just text you back we would know the answer to that.

If you are coming to Austin and to see us, you do need a badge or ticket or whatever else is required for the Austin Film Festival because these are Austin Film Festival events. So people have asked about that. It’s like, nope, it’s really part of the badge or ticket to come see these things. But there’s not a special ticket on top of that.

Craig: No. No. If you have a general entry, then you can go to any of the — I mean, almost any of the panels. There are a few special ones like where they serve food or something like that. Those are different. But I’m doing another panel on structure, on theme, and character, and structure, and some people have asked on Twitter if that’s going to be recorded, or it’s something we’re going to put on the show, and the answer is no. That you actually have to go to the Austin Screenwriting Conference/Film Festival thing to see this.

If you are going to Austin and you –

John: That’s because it’s a special performance piece that Craig can only do live.

Craig: I can only do it live.

John: He actually requires everyone to surrender their phones before they enter into the space so nothing can leave. You’re allowed to take notes, but only one piece of paper. So –

Craig: You know, I mean, here’s the thing. In all seriousness the reason that I don’t want to record it or anything is because I honestly believe it’s valuable. And I noticed that Jim Hart, the screenwriter Jim Hart, he’s doing a similar panel on the same topic. I don’t know what his insights are. But he’s got a whole like website thing now that’s — I think you can pay money for. It’s called the Hart Chart.

I would never do that because you know the way I am. I don’t like charts. And I don’t like –

John: Well you also don’t like making money.

Craig: I don’t.

John: You’re an anti-capitalist. You’re essentially the Bernie Sanders of this show.

Craig: I’m the Bernie Sanders of Screenwriting.

John: You are angry in a way that does feel like –

Craig: Right. And there’s umbrage. I’m Jewish. I’m angry.

John: Holy cow. I’ve just figured it all out.

Craig: I’m from Brooklyn. Yeah, no, I’m young Bernie Sanders. “I mean, what is going on?” So my whole thing is I want people — I consider it to be something special, not because I thought of it, but it’s special because it’s the result of 20 years of thinking about these things. And also because unlike all the other structure things out there which are really about this happens now, then this happens now, this is all about from the writer’s point of view. You have to create something. What is the order you go in? Idea. Character. Theme. How do they interact and how can use that to actually build something, rather than use some system to analyze movies that are already in existence.

So, if you are going to Austin, you should go to that. And obviously you want to go to the live Scriptnotes podcast. And you want to go to the Three Page Challenge. The good people, Erin Halligan, who runs the Austin Screenwriting Conference, was nice enough to rejigger the schedule slightly so that the live podcast is no longer competing with the Saving Mr. Banks panel.

John: Yeah. Which is very nice of her. And I should say the live podcast means that we will be live in Austin and there will be an audience there. That episode will come out Tuesday, just like a normal episode will.

Craig: Live on tape.

John: Exactly. But you’ll actually experience some special things if you’re there live in person because we will inevitably have to cut some things out of the show because of slander.

Craig: [laughs] There will inevitably be slander.

John: Particularly if that third guest makes it on to the show.

Craig: Oh yeah.

John: Oh yes.

Craig: Oh yeah.

John: So, in the show notes at you’ll see our whole schedule for Austin, the things that we’re going to be doing. I guess I’m also on a dual protagonist panel, just like I randomly got assigned to that. And that should be fun. I’m moderating that one.

Craig: Neat.

John: So, come see us if you’re in Austin and you want to hang out with us.

Next up on the Workflowy of things to follow up on is something you put there about an odd French ruling about plagiarism.

Craig: Yeah. This came through just today I believe. You know, we talk about these cases all the time where people say, “You stole my movie,” and nobody ever wins. Well, here’s a situation where someone won. But it’s unique. The person who was complaining was not some guy or some girl. It was the somewhat legendary filmmaker John Carpenter. And the person that he was going after was none other than Luc Besson.

So, here’s what happens. Luc Besson has a company that puts out movies. I guess the company is called Europa Corp. I presume it’s a French based company because Luc is French. And it seems like Europa Corp puts out like genre fare that’s not Luc Besson stuff. And they put out a movie called Lockout which was a science-fiction/action movie where Guy Pearce is a hero, an ex-con tasked with rescuing the president’s daughter from a prison in space.

Apparently not a success. Nonetheless, a bunch of people in reviewing the film noted that it was essentially kind of a rip-off of John Carpenter’s Escape from a City series, Escape from New York, Escape from LA. That the character of the ex-con having to go rescue a president or a president’s daughter was remarkably close to what Carpenter had done in those movies. And Carpenter sued.

Now, where this is fascinating is that a French court ruled in his favor and we’ll include a note in the show notes, so you can read the summary of their judgment, but essentially they said, yeah, a lot of these story points are really similar. And so, yeah, we’re going to go ahead and order Europa Corp to pay 20,000 Euros to John Carpenter, 10,000 Euros to the screenwriting team of John Carpenter and Nick Castle. And then 50,000 Euros to the rights owner of the movie, who I think in this case — I don’t know who the studio was. Which is fascinating.

So, the French court seems to be following a different standard than we follow here. What’s doubly fascinating is that the French court ruled on behalf of Americans against a French company. From the summary description I would say this: I don’t know enough of the details to argue in favor or against this ruling. All I can say is if courts in the United States spoke in similar ways, everybody would be suing everybody a lot.

John: I think you’re right. This definitely felt like the broad strokes of the idea were similar enough that you could say, oh yeah, they definitely feel like the same basic plot points are being hit in both things. Of course, one is in space and one is a broken down Los Angeles. But I can’t imagine this happening in the US and this being the outcome.

The other thing I was thinking about is like I don’t know how much it costs to sue somebody in French court, but that’s not a lot of money to be winning. It’s hard to say that was worth it, because I have a hard time believing that it didn’t cost that much money to even bring the lawsuit.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, you’re looking at a sum total of 80,000 Euros, which is something like $140,000. I’m guessing given whatever the exchange rate is now. And, no, that’s probably not that good compared to the fees, unless they also got legal fees paid for.

What’s interesting is that most of the stuff they’re talking about in their decision are things that we would probably call ideas. Also, I don’t know what kind of defense was mounted here. My guess is that in the United States there would be an effort to show that the John Carpenter movies had borrowed quite liberally from movies before in terms of the idea of ex-cons on missions to save people is not new to John Carpenter. I suppose –

John: The Dirty Dozen.

Craig: Right. Exactly. Dirty Dozen comes to mind immediately. And there are others. And what they didn’t say was that there were lines of dialogue. I mean, there are specific situations that feel, like for instance they said in both movies the hero manages undetected to get inside the place where the hostage is being held after a flight in a glider/space shuttle.

John: Those are very different things.

Craig: Yeah, what? It’s crazy. I mean, what? That’s not the same.

John: To me what’s most fascinating about this result is that so often when we’re talking about copyright infringement or sort of like, you know, what is acceptable borrowing, versus you’re ripping somebody off, it’s always like this one movie was produced and this other movie never happened. And so you’re comparing a potential, an idea for a movie that was never shot, and a finished film.

It’s so weird to have two finished films that both come out. You can like look at the finished products side by side and say like, oh, these are the things that one took from the other. I can’t think of other examples of that.

Craig: There is one fascinating case. I’m not sure we’ve ever talked about it on the show. It’s almost worth its own episode. And it’s not a copyright case. It’s a case of a movie being redone and both movies being issued. I don’t know of any other example like this other than The Exorcist IV. I think it was IV.

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: So it was originally done by Paul Schrader. Paul Schrader wrote a script, shot a movie. Finished the movie. The studio said we don’t like this. Let’s redo a bunch of it. Let’s fire Paul Schrader and let’s hire –

John: Renny Harlin, wasn’t it?

Craig: Thank you. Renny Harlin. Exactly. Let’s recast certain parts, not change the characters, just put different actors in. Let’s rewrite some of it, but let’s keep some of it, and shoot a bunch of stuff and release that as a different movie.

There are two of the same and yet different movies and it’s fascinating to compare them.

John: Those occasions are so unusual that like they become notable for that. And sort of the what if this happened, well, this is the one example of that happening.

The other thing if we’re going to talk about obscure legal cases, I don’t know all the background, but I’d be willing to do the research on it, is Whoopi Goldberg and I think it’s T. Rex, where she was like essentially forced to do this movie based on a contract, and she didn’t want to be in the movie, and they basically held her to her contract and required her to be in this movie, which is great. I just love that these bizarre things happen.

And so when you are forcing an actor to be in a movie they have no desire to be in, what the outcomes of that are.

Craig: I, in the back of my head, have this memory of that the cherry on top of the bizarro sundae of T. Rex was that the studio took out one of those For Your Consideration ads, but I could be wrong. But in the back of my mind I feel like there may have been a For Your Consideration Whoopi Goldberg in T. Rex. We’ll see if I’m crazy. That might be drugs.

John: I have some real-time follow up. The movie is actually called Theodore Rex, not T. Rex, and the artwork is about as amazing as you could possibly picture.

Craig: Is it Whoopi back to back with — ?

John: Side by side with her sort of puppet man T. Rex.

Craig: It was like The Dinosaurs show kind of like.

John: Very much like The Dinosaurs show. He’s wearing a hoodie. So, he may be starting a tech company. I’m not quite sure what the plot of the movie was. But she’s a cop, so.

Craig: Well, of course.

John: In an alternate futuristic society, a touch female detective is paired with a talking dinosaur to find the killer of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals, leading them to a mad scientist bent on creating a new Armageddon.

Craig: [laughs] Well, that’s not a great idea for a movie.

John: No, but Armin Mueller-Stahl is also in it. So, there’s some good people. George Newbern. I wondered why there weren’t more George Newbern movies, and this might be one of the reasons.

Craig: I found the tag line.

John: Tell me.

Craig: The world’s toughest cop is getting a brand new partner. He’s a real blast, from the past.

John: Come on. The movie writes itself.

Craig: It. Writes. Itself.

John: The other example I can think of, and I don’t think it was quite as acrimonious of a situation, there was an Ed Norton movie, a heist movie that he was sort of forced to be in, based on I think it was a Primal Fear contract that he’d done. So Primal Fear is how we first were introduced to Edward Norton. Such a great movie.

Craig: The best. I love that movie.

John: And my recollection of it is, and so I will probably get all the facts wrong, is that Paramount had a two-picture deal with him, basically when they cast him in Primal Fear. And they held him to it to be in this heist movie, which as I recall was actually a pretty good heist movie, and he was the villain in it. But he had no desire to be in the movie.

Craig: I’m so like all wrapped up in Theodore Rex right now. It was written and directed by a guy named Jonathan Betuel. It was the last thing he did. And when I look at stuff, so it’s an interesting career. He actually has a writing credit on The Last Starfighter.

John: Great movie.

Craig: Which is amazing. Everybody loves The Last Starfighter. And I’m just checking to see if he’s cowriter — no, he’s the sole writer of The Last Starfighter, which everybody loves. Then he wrote a movie called My Science Project, which he also directed. And that was in 1985.

Then he does a couple of episodes of TV. And then in 1995 he writes and directs Theodore Rex. And that’s it. You rarely see that. Usually, there’s some little dribs and drabs of something afterwards, or people kind of find a different angle in the business. I almost feel like he must have been like, you know what, that’s it. I’m done. You’re not getting rid of me. I’m walking away.

John: Mic drop.

Craig: It must have been a terrible, terrible experience for him, too.

John: Yeah. That’s another great potential episode that we’ll probably never actually do is the people who just walked away. And the people who made one or two great movies and just like, you know what, this is just not a thing I want to do and I’m going to go off and do a completely different thing.

Craig: Well, I mean, Bob Gale, right? This is my IMDb typing as I go. Bob Gale wrote Back to the Future. And there wasn’t much after that. And, by the way, it wasn’t like that was his first thing. He also wrote 1941, which was a Spielberg movie. He wrote Used Cars, which was maybe Zemeckis’s first movie. He wrote Back to the Future, and sequels. He also did an episode of Amazing Stories. Remember the Spielberg anthology series?

John: Yeah. Trespass in ’92, I see.

Craig: Yeah, Trespass actually is a cool movie. But not really, no, most of it like episodes of TV and most of his credits are like the contractual characters by credits that go with all the Back to the Future stuff. He just never — maybe because he was like, you know what, I just wrote the best movie. I’m good.

John: Done.

On the topic of writing and writing new and different things, this is the end of October and I’m strongly considering, well, November — there’s a lot of pressure in November. So, there’s the pressure to get a flu shot. I already got my flu shot.

Craig: Good for you.

John: There’s the pressure to grow a mustache, to acknowledge men’s cancers.

Craig: Can you even do that?

John: I cannot even do — I can’t grow a mustache. You can grow a mustache, couldn’t you?

Craig: I could grow a mustache in like a minute.

John: [laughs]

Craig: I’m shaving right now. [laughs]

John: I’m incapable of growing a mustache. That’s the sound we hear, because it’s not the e-smoking anymore. It’s shaving.

Craig: No, it’s my hair growing.

John: Oh, okay. That’s good.

Craig: It’s my facial hair growing. I could totally grow a mustache. I just don’t want to because I don’t like it.

John: So the other things we do in November, of course, is figure out a new way to cook your Thanksgiving turkey. That’s really an end of November task. The other thing November is good for is writing a novel. So, there’s NaNoWriMo, which is National Novel Writing Month. And I’m strongly considering actually just doing it this year.

Craig: Wow.

John: And there’s an idea I have that is not a movie idea, or at least it’s not an idea that wants to exist first as a movie. And so I’m thinking about actually doing it this year and hitting my word counts and writing a book.

Craig: That’s crazy.

John: It’s crazy. And honestly there’s real work that might knock that into the realm of impossibility, but I’m seriously thinking about it. So if I do decide to do the book, on the site I will let everybody know and I will certainly post my progress.

Do you remember a long time ago on the site I had this little thing that could fill in like progress on something? It was like a CSS thing. And you used to use that as well.

Craig: Sure.

John: And maybe I’ll make the new version of that, so people can see how far I’ve gotten and which days I’ve hit my goals or not hit my goals.

Craig: That’s amazing. I have this little secret novel that I’ve been writing at — even glaciers move quicker. Because, you know, I’m working on other stuff. And then when I do finally come around to it, I’m so conscious of the fact that people will read this. It’s not like, oh, and this becomes this. No, this is it. So, get it right, you know? I’m far too fastidious, I think.

John: So we’ll see if I end up doing this. Our friend, Derek Haas, is the only person I know who consistently writes both books, and movies, and TV. And, in fact, in November there’s a book launch party that we’ll both be at.

Craig: Correct.

John: To celebrate his most recent novel. And he’s able to hit those pages and he gets up at like five in the morning and writes his book. And I don’t know that I’ll ever have those work ethics, but I might try it for November.

Craig: Derek, we like to say, he’s that guy who sits down and goes, “You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to write a novel.” And then he just starts writing. There’s a beautiful, carefree nature to him. I wish I had it. Like I feel like those are the people when it’s time for bed, they get into bed and they go, great, good night. And they close their eyes and they’re immediately dreaming. I wish I were that.

John: Yeah. Wouldn’t that be so wonderful?

Craig: I’m not that.

John: I have a hard time picturing Craig Mazin’s schedule because you will be online at just bizarre hours. And then if I do though email you at eight in the morning, you’re right back there again.

Craig: Well, there are times when my schedule makes no sense to me, to my own body. I can’t predict the way my brain works. Right now I’m in the middle of a little bit of craziness. So, sometimes there is that adrenaline, and I make the mistake of thinking every time this adrenaline is awesome. I’m going to be like this forever.

John: You’re invincible.

Craig: I’m invincible! Uh, King Kong does have something on me. When I finish this little crazy thing, I will almost certainly fall asleep for a week, and also get depressed.

John: Yeah. Those things happen.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Finally, last bit of follow up here. If you are listening to our show through not the official Scriptnotes app, but through any other app, you may notice that we actually have chapter breaks. And my favorite podcast client, which is called Overcast, now finally tracks those chapter breaks. So if you hate our follow up, and never want to hear our follow up again, you can skip forward right to the place where we start talking about our first topic, our second topic, our third topic. Also really good if you just want to zoom in on one thing we talk about.

So, if you’re using Overcast, I would check out the chapter marks because Stuart actually puts them in every week. And way back to the first episode we have chapter marks for every single episode. So, check those out if you haven’t and check out Overcast if you’ve not. It’s really a terrific app for iOS, for listening to podcasts. They also switched to a model now which it’s free, the whole app is free, and if you want to support them, just an in-app purchase, you can support them for a month or for 12 months. And it’s basically pay what you want. And it’s a great app. So I paid the most I could.

Craig: You are a lovely person. I just might download that. That sounds good.

John: It’s a good app.

Craig: And I guess in other podcast news, just because I know people really want to know, yes, Louis B. Mayer will be returning for a third episode of You Must Remember This by Karina Longworth.

John: I cannot wait.

Craig: Just keep that in mind, folks. Louis is coming pack, with a vengeance.

John: Yeah. I think you have some choice words as I recall what Louis Mayer needs to say down the road. So, good.

All right, let’s get to our topics for the week. First one is writer’s rooms. So this actually comes from a question that a listener sent in. This is Vic Digital, which I doubt is his real name, but he wrote in as Vic Digital.

Craig: I wish it were his real name. I wonder if it’s like Dig-i-tal.

John: That’s what it actually kind of looks like.

Craig: Vic Dig-i-tal.

John: Yeah. He writes, “Over the last few months I’ve been seeing lots of what look like non-standard processes for developing scripts, specifically genre scripts. You’ve got the situation with the Transformers movies, where Robert Kirkman, Akiva Goldsman, and a bunch of others got together to map out the next ten years of Transformers movies. You’ve got the Star Wars Story Council, or whatever it’s called, and all the stories that need to pass through that, be they movie, or TV, or novel/comic, or even sticker book.

“You have stuff like the next Wolverine movie where I know they’re seemingly working on it since the last movie came out, but you see comments from Hugh Jackman talking about how they’re working on the script and whoever has great ideas.

“I see this a lot with sequels to big movies where the existence of it is heavily dependent on the stars’ involvement. There are a few other recent examples that aren’t popping into my head at the moment where the stars were talking about the development of the script and his influence on it.

“Anyway, for each of these, what does the actual development writing process look like if you’re the writer who finally comes to work on it? Does it resemble a typical writing process? Or are you guys horrified to discover what these other writers might be forced to do? Are the writers just at the whim of all these other powerful forces? And is it a straight adaptation, more like a rewrite? How do stars get involved in the process?”

So, I want to take this as a jumping off point to talk about something we’ve all kind of noticed, this trends towards especially big tent pole movies, bringing in a bunch of writers at the start. Not necessarily writing together, but being in a room together to sort of break story together. And the way that we tend to — a lot of times you will see the actors involved in the process early on in the development, especially of sequels.

So we could take through his notes, but also I want to link to an article by Rebecca Ford from the Hollywood Reporter which gave some good examples of the kinds of situations that writers are encountering and the complications for the Writers Guild when what does it mean if you’re a writer employed on a project, but you’re not actually writing, so therefore there’s not going to be an expectation of credit.

Craig: What a mess. There are so many complications and problems with this. Let’s talk about the easy ones which are essentially the kind of legal contractual ones. The way our credits work, we do limit how many people can be credited on a movie so that you don’t end up with Written By and then 12 names. So, written by nobody really. Written by everybody. And also the Writers Guild I think has an investment in the notion that what we do is unique and it authorial, and therefore in its best form it is the expression of vision.

Sometimes the vision is a shared vision of one or two or three people, but we’re not in the business of sitting 60 people down in a room to cobble things together like Frankenstein.

So, when people do gather together and start breaking stories together, the issue is they’re not an MBA legal writing team. A writing team at maximum can be three people. So, they’re running into these issues down the line there. And to be clear, not everybody is doing this in a way that’s problematic. For instance, over at Universal where Chris Morgan and Alex Kurtzman are overseeing their Monsters Universe thing, they are seemingly doing it correctly.

They have each movie that they’re contemplating has a writer. They do gather everybody together so that they all can coordinate, so that the narratives have some intertextuality. And they don’t break each other’s movies, but individuals are writing individual movies. And that seems fair.

You have situations that are not new, but regrettable, where a studio will hire simultaneous writers to kind of compete against each other. I’m not a big fan of that for a billion reasons. But, in the end, again, individual writers are being hired and writing and their work can be evaluate individually for the purpose of some credit down the line.

John: Although it becomes increasingly challenging. So look at the two Warner Bros. examples. So, both Wonder Woman and Aquaman had multiple writers writing simultaneously. And so if ideas are showing up in both of those scripts simultaneously, how do you credit those things? If I were the person who had to do an arbitration on that, I would be at a loss.

Craig: It’s very difficult. The guild has encountered situations where they’re asking arbiters to figure out what to do with simultaneous screenplays. Traditionally, everything is chronological. So, you write first, you’re writer A. I write second, I’m writer B, and so on. They have had situations where they’ve had writer A1, A2, and A3. And chronology now is no longer an issue. And if there’s overlap, basically everybody gets credit for it. And who knows, because that’s only fair. It’s like, well, they all wrote the same damn thing and that’s in the movie, so each one of them is credited for it.

It’s a mess. What happens all the time is the desires of the marketplace are completely dismissive of our, we’ll call it ideology, our desires for what we think are ideal situations. So they think, yeah, screw it, this is great. If one writer is smart, maybe five writers will be five times as smart. We’ll put them all in a room together and they’ll figure out Transformers together. It’s just — putting the complications aside — from a creative point of view I don’t get it. If I were running a studio, I would not do that ever.

I think that is a recipe for down the middle, edges rubbed off, group think. I hate it. I hate it.

John: So, let’s talk about some other scenarios and the pros and cons of that. I wonder whether the James Cameron Avatar movies were a precursor to sort of what this is. So, the development of the Avatar sequels, Cameron oversaw essentially a writer’s room of very smart writers and they were talking through the whole world and all the movies kind of simultaneously. And then they were each assigned a movie to write. This feels like a situation that’s more analogous to what we think about as normal television, where you have a showrunner, who in this case is an incredibly powerful writer himself and director, James Cameron, and he is building out the universe of what he wants this thing to be and then assigning writers to do stuff.

That feels more like what we described with the Chris Morgan thing, where each of those writers is individually responsible, but they’re also responsible for making their thing fit with the other people’s scripts.

The Transformers thing feels much more challenging because it’s honestly — it’s kind of like the bake off situations we talked about on the show before, where you’re bringing in a bunch of writers to pitch on an idea and then you’re going to hire one of those people to do something. The difference being we always say like, “Oh, wouldn’t it be great if they paid those writers for all the time they’re doing coming up with those ideas?” Well, in this case they are, but then they’re ultimately hiring one person to do it.

And I was talking with a writer just last week who was going in on one of these situations. It was a one-day writer’s discussion about a project and then at the end of the day they were — the next week they were going to pick one of the people who was in that room to rewrite the script.

Craig: That’s horrendous.

John: It does seem incredibly, I don’t know, it feels incredibly abusive. It feels — it just feels weird. And so a writer might go in on that because they want to have a relationship with that production company. They want a chance at doing that project. So, those writers were going in, they were getting paid, but they weren’t getting paid much, and they weren’t getting paid as writers. They were getting paid essentially as independent contractors for a day’s work.

Craig: My objection, I mean, look, there are circumstances about this where you’d say, well, this is great. Look, there are bake offs, everybody goes in, they pitch all their stuff, they don’t get paid. This is like that, but they get paid. So why is this bad?

It’s bad because they’re getting paid and then their stuff is being mulched into a slurry of a story that someone else is going to write. If you are being hired for your story, you write your story. We’re not supposed to go in there and be cogs. And the last thing in the world I would ever want, forget as a writer, as somebody on the other side of the table, would be to bring together a group of eight writers, sit them around a table, let them know — let them know — that they are now on a reality show where there’s going to be one person standing at the end. And then listen to them engage creatively how in god’s name would that not just be creative blood sport where the — it’s just terrible. It’s stupid. It’s counterproductive. I’ve said this before, I would much rather see a movie that has mistakes that are consistent with the right things than a movie that’s just 100 different people’s right choices that have nothing to do with each other. It’s bad, bad moviemaking. And I don’t like The Transformers movies, not because — I’m just not a fan of robots hitting each other. It’s not my thing.

But, why? Why do they feel the need? The Transformers seems like the last movie you need this for. Just have somebody who really cares and has passion for — and you know, oh, Marvel gets this. You know, Marvel gets it. That’s a very powerful company. Kevin Feige is a powerful guy. They have big meetings with lots of people who all have ideas. But then they turn to one filmmaker and they say make me your movie, please.

One. Not 100. You will never get, never in a million years would you get The Avengers if you sat 12 people in a room and had them all grasping for money. It’s sick.

I don’t know if I’m coming across quite clearly here. [laughs]

John: I think you’re being very internally consistent, because you’ve often praised sort of Kevin Feige and the Marvel model. And Kevin Feige is essentially the showrunner. And so even though he has incredibly strong kind of showrunner directors, you look at Joss Whedon for god’s sake, coming in and doing those things. Famously on Avengers 2, they didn’t agree on some things and Feige wins. I mean, he ultimately is the person steering the ship for the entire Marvel universe and that becomes an important thing.

I want to go back to the point about round tables. I don’t do very many round tables. I think you do a few more. But there’s I think only one case where we’ve both been in the same round table. And it was a useful round table on a script that was going to go into production. And afterwards, you ended up working on it. But that wasn’t an audition for you to sort of go in and do that. You were able to sort of help them get through one specific thing and were a godsend to them, but that wasn’t a job audition for you.

Craig: No. No. Typically when you have those things, they are — the idea of a round table is you’re not the writer of the movie. You’re not being hired to write the movie. We’re asking you to read this and give us your thoughts and opinions. So basically we’re paying you a little money to be development executives because either we’ve expressed our perspective and we found that we need some more perspective, or there are things that everyone suspects writers would just be better at figuring out.

There are times when after a round table has concluded, the director and the studio say, “You know, maybe instead of whoever just wrote this last draft, we should have one of the people in the room execute some of the things we really liked that came out of that room.

And almost always it’s execute something you said, you know, as opposed to execute something that everybody else said. But it’s rare, and there’s absolutely no expectation, in fact, that may have been the only time that happened to me. Most of the time, you’re going in and just, you know.

John: And most of the time I’m doing it as a favor to the writer, if the writer is still involved on the project, to the director if I have a relationship with the director, or to the people involved in making the movie because you’re trying to make the best movie possible here.

Craig: Right.

John: Before we segue to the talk of actors and sort of how actors have control over things, and sometimes don’t have control over things, we should talk about what’s different with features and TV, because we had a whole episode about how features are different. In television, there are writer’s rooms. Almost all television is written with a writer’s room. And so even though an individual writer goes off and writes a given episode, the story is broken and figured out in a room generally.

The reason why the credits don’t become so complicated is you’re making 10 or 13 or 22 episodes of the show and the reality is you are kind of figuring out like who should get credit for a given script. And it’s kind of assigned. It can be controversial at times who gets assigned the credit, but I know friends who work on shows that are essentially written as a room and they just kind of go through the order and say like this episode was written by writer A and this episode was written by writer B, when in fact they all worked on every episode.

But they can do that because they’re making a whole bunch of episodes of this TV series, versus making one movie every three or four years.

Craig: No question. Every now and then somebody will say, “You know what would make the feature film credit rules a lot simpler, if you just used the TV model.” And I always just say that’s the stupidest possible suggestion. The TV model is predicated on the notion that everyone gets a credit. Everybody. Films are one episode TV series, so no, not everyone, in fact, almost no one will get credit, especially if a lot of people have written on it. It’s an entirely different situation. Credits for films are much higher stakes situations.

Residuals are calculated in a very different way and generally will produce more income for feature writers than they do for writers of episodic television, at least these days. It’s why when somebody says, “Well, we’re just doing what they do in TV,” I just want to say, well, you’re stupid. Because it’s not TV.

John: It’s not TV at all.

Craig: It’s not.

John: Let’s also talk about actors, because this point about I guess Hugh Jackman being interviewed about the Wolverine sequel, it’s not a new thing that actors, especially the star of a movie, particularly the star of a sequel of a movie has the ability to greatly influence the development process of that movie. And that’s not a new thing whatsoever.

I think what’s new is that Hugh Jackman is getting interviewed all the time, and so people will ask him questions about how the Wolverine movie is going, and he gets to answer. But I can tell very honestly having worked on the Charlie’s Angels movies, having worked on other big movies with big movie stars, they’re a part of it, and they’re going to be a part of it, and they always have been part of it. Because they are looking at what they’re going to do in the movie. They’re looking at their brand. They’re looking at what’s exciting for them.

And they’re not necessarily the best qualified people to be talking about story, but they’re going to be part of the process of figuring out how this movie is going to work and play. And part of the reason why A-list screenwriters get paid A-list screenwriter money is because they’re able to have those conversations with big movie stars and make the movie stars feel heard, but also get the movie to happen.

Craig: Yeah. There are times when it’s very understandable. If you’re coming in and someone has been playing a character for five movies, it’s not possible that you understand that character better than they do. It’s just not possible. And you must listen to them. Not only have they lived that character five times, but they’ve also been through wars you haven’t been through, and seen things that didn’t work, and they have shot scenes that ended up being cut. They know stuff.

The best actors on — let’s put that example aside — and let’s talk about a typical movie. I think the best and smartest actors are the ones who are confident enough to express their opinions and then listen to opinions and trust their creative team to some extent. And it’s nerve-racking because if it fails they are the ones 50 feet tall being embarrassed. And I get that completely. Sometimes I feel like the movie business is a little bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy in terms of what we’ll call good directors.

Good directors tend to make good movies because they’re good directors and also because all the other crap that everybody else is constantly dealing with, they deal with just a little bit less of it. It’s a lot harder to sit down with Martin Scorsese and say, “I don’t think you get it. I’m not doing what you want me to do.” Mostly I think actors in a very relieved kind of way can say to Martin Scorsese or to Woody Allen or to David O. Russell or these directors that keep coming up over and over in Oscar season. I’m here for you. Tell me what to do. I think you will make me shine.

John: And looking at it from — I’m sympathetic when I look at it from the actor’s point of view, because if they’re a star, they may have some control over — or they can control what movie they want to make, which movie they choose to make. They can hopefully influence the script to a degree, which they feel like they can deliver a performance that they’ll be happy with. During production, they’re there, they’re present in the moment, so they know what they’re doing. They can’t necessarily know how the scene is going to ultimately feel. But then they’re just — they’re done and they have no more control over anything after that point.

They can’t control the edit. They can’t control almost anything else about the movie. So, if they’re a little over-freaking out about the script at the start, it’s because that’s maybe the only opportunity they’re going to have to defend the things that they are important.

Craig: I’m with you. I sympathize tremendously. It can be frustrating when you’re dealing with an actor who is maybe less confident, who is focusing on the wrong things, and it happens from time to time. It’s a natural thing in Hollywood for people who do a particular job to start to look at other people doing that job and ask why are they getting a thing I don’t get. So directors look at another director and go, “Why does that guy have final cut? Why don’t I have final cut?”

Writers say, “Well wait a second, why don’t I have a bungalow and a production deal when they have a bungalow and a production deal?” And actors will say, “Well why does that A-list actor get to have the story conferences and do their own draft and all the rest of it, and I don’t? Maybe I should. Maybe I’m doing this wrong.”

It’s a toxic thing that goes on. I think sometimes everybody — writers, directors, actors — all start to push beyond their comfort zones because they feel they’re supposed to.

John: Absolutely. If you see the A-list movie star of your movie star is getting involved in these decisions you feel like, well wait, I should be speaking up my opinions on these things, too, and then it goes down the line. And when you have movies that have many stars in them, it can be incredibly challenging to balance all of those competing viewpoints. And thus Charlie’s Angels was a challenging movie to make because you have a lot of people with a lot of strong opinions.

Craig: As you go on in your career, if you can last, you begin to accrue the benefits of your time in the war, because studios want a producer that everybody looks up to as being authoritative. They want a writer that everybody feels confident in and relaxed by. They want a director that is a sure hand. And they want actors who know how to do all of it, not only the show up on time, know your lines, deliver a great performance that’s attuned for camera, but then play the game of selling the movie. Everybody is desperate for the pro who is going to put everybody else at ease, because the deal with our business is at any given point there’s somebody on the rise who’s fame and position is a little beyond their experience level.

And that’s when we start to get into trouble.

John: I agree. The last point I would like to make about these writer’s rooms is there is an analogous situation in feature animation. So you look at how Disney features are made, how Pixar features are made, and there’s a bunch of people looking at story all simultaneously. And some of those movies are fantastic and they really benefitted from a lot of story brains focusing on really every beat. And so while there may be one or two credited writers, there’s a lot of people who are in the trenches every day really figuring out story.

What I would point to as being a crucial difference between live action features and animated features is animated features are entirely iteration. And so you are going through the process multiple times. You’re making the movie every day. And so you are seeing — well we’ve tried this cut, now we’re going to try this cut. What if we changed this thing? You’re going through scratch reels. You’re going through storyboards. And because it’s a process of continuous iteration, you can invite all those voices in and really benefit from all the eyes and all of the brains you’re applying to it.

Making a feature is not that way. And the times we’ve tried to make features that way it has not gone especially well. Features are a thing you ultimately shoot once, and then you go through multiple edits, but that shooting happens once. And so you have to approach it with one blueprint, one plan for how you’re going to do it.

Craig: It is an inherently risky proposition and I think a lot of what we’re seeing now with these group rooms is a misguided attempt to mitigate the risk.

John: I agree.

Craig: In fact, it is the risk that gives you the opportunity for magic and great success. And when you mitigate, you are definitely lowering your chance of disaster and you’re also, I think, muting — seriously muting — your chance to make something that breaks through.

John: Cool. All right, our second topic is taxes. So, death and taxes are sort of the –

Craig: Segue Man.

John: Segue Man, we’re never supposed to talk about. But taxes are a thing that just this week I’ve encountered two people in my life who have been hit with these weird tax situations. And it’s an LA city tax. And so in general this is not like state or federal income. It’s a special thing that’s happening — people who have income that is either writer income, or other income that is not as an employee.

So, I’m going to put up a couple of different links for people to go through. First is an LA Weekly article that sort of talks about it and writers who like made $500 in freelance being hit with like a $30,000 tax bill.

Craig: Geez. God.

John: A Reddit thread that goes through it. And some information about AB63 which is often the notification you’re getting that you owe this money. So, the short version of this is that if you are a screenwriter working on a studio feature, that many is being paid to you, you are being paid as an employee. You’re relatively well protected from most of the figures of this tax, although there could be a home based business tax which will kick into, which is so complicated I don’t want to get into it.

But what my friends were being faced with was essentially they had some 1099 income for some freelance writing. So not feature writing, but writing for a magazine, or writing just a little thing, or doing coverage. And essentially if you do not file a specific piece of paperwork saying that you are a business and that your income will be below a certain thing, they can penalize you and charge you fees and fines for not having filed this paperwork.

And so I don’t have much more to — we could talk about sort of the frustrations of it, but I’m going to encourage people to follow through these links if you are in the City of Los Angeles and you are earning income and you are not paying a business tax on it, be mindful that you may be expected to pay a tax on it. And if you get a notification that you’re supposed to be paying a business tax on it, take it seriously because it’s not like jury summons where you just kind of ignore it. Apparently it gets much, much worse if you just ignore it.

Craig: I admit that I am aware of this problem but I don’t live in Los Angeles. And so I live in La Cańada, which is its own city, and my office is in Pasadena, which is not in Los Angeles. This is the weirdest thing, this tax. It erupted like ten years ago, as I recall.

John: Yeah. There’s a slightly different thing, so I think what you’re thinking about ten years ago was essentially the City of Los Angeles was coming after screenwriters saying like you are a home-based business and therefore you have to file home-based business tax. And I was trying to find if I had blogged about it, and I guess I hadn’t, but I was really up in arms about it because I was like that’s just crazy. So you’re essentially saying that if I made the exact same money but I was working on the Paramount lot, versus working a block off the Paramount lot, I wouldn’t have to pay the tax.

And they’re like, yes, it’s because you’re a home-based business. It’s like, no, I’m not. I’m a writer who is working at home. And they’re like, oh, that’s a home-based business. It became — so the Writers Guild got involved in that situation. And ultimately to cut the story short, I ended up having to pay taxes for a few back years because of that, because it was better to pay that than to keep arguing and fighting about it.

Craig: Could you have told them, oh, I don’t write in my house. I go to Starbucks and I do it.

John: That is what is fascinating. And so my belief is that my business manager actually — she does check where am I writing certain things. So if I’m writing a movie and I’m actually writing the movie in New York and being paid for writing this movie that is shooting in New York, I’m not paying that tax on the income I’m receiving in New York because that’s not LA-based income.

Craig: This is the part of government that makes me…argh.

John: I sort of suspected this would kick up Craig’s instincts on this topic.

Craig: All my libertarianism, my latent libertarianism starts to jump out.

John: What I find fascinating and frustrating is that weird murky definition of like are you an employee, or are you a business is such a strange question, especially in 2015, in the age of Uber, in the age of a freelance economy, that every person is a business and so therefore we’re going to start taxing every person like they’re a business when the difference between W2 income and 1099 income shouldn’t be that big a factor.

Right about this point, all of the international listeners have skipped forward with the chapter markers set up, because like I have no idea what these taxes mean. But essentially a person internationally should know that taxes in the US, there are federal income taxes, there are state income taxes, so the State of California, and some cities have income taxes. LA does not have a city income tax. And this feels like a weird way that LA is trying to do an income tax without having to call it an income tax. And yet it hits people really strangely because it hits both people who are making a good amount of money like feature screenwriters, but people who are not making very much money at all, it hits them kind of unfairly as well.

Craig: Stupid.

John: Stupid. I don’t know if have anything more to say other than just venting frustration and umbrage.

Craig: Yeah. Good. I like it when you — I mean, that is a pathetic excuse for umbrage, what you just did. I mean, your voice didn’t raise.

John: Not a bit.

Craig: There was no — your blood pressure didn’t rise. Your creepy 30 beats per minute heartrate –

John: [laughs]

Craig: Never went up.

John: I’m not Spock. This is not my pon farr moment.

Craig: Exactly.

John: This is just expressing frustration rather than — a great thing.

What I will say is that I don’t perceive the WGA becoming deeply involved in this because it tends to be targeting writers who are not writing under contract for a studio. So, therefore it’s not as much their issue. But I would say that most aspiring screenwriters are probably doing writing for other people, or are doing other jobs, even if it’s just teaching at a class, or teaching a class for somebody, they’ll have some of this income and just be mindful of what the possible ramifications of that are.

Craig: Done.

John: Done. Last, this will be so simple to figure out. Is Hamlet fat?

Craig: [laughs] I read this article. It’s really interesting. There is a throwaway line in Hamlet where he is referred to as fat. And obviously we — all of us who have seen the many, many multiple versions of Hamlet, if you say to somebody, “Tell me what Hamlet looks like?” you’re going to say, well, probably like Laurence Olivier, you know? He looks slender and he looks like he’s dithering about what to do. He might have tuberculosis as people often did.

But there is a moment where –

John: It’s during the sword fight at the end when Gertrude says –

Craig: Queen Gertrude says, “He’s fat and scant of breath.”

John: Yes.

Craig: So, the question is, is Hamlet fat? Well, they go through this whole thing and it’s, well, which text are you looking at because there were multiple versions of Hamlet. And what does fat mean. How does Shakespeare normally use fat? And by the time they’re all done, they’re sort of like, yeah, he probably, I mean, he was a little fat.

John: Yeah. So the article we’re referring to is by Isaac Butler. It ran in Slate. And, listen, we’re not a podcast about Shakespeare. What I found fascinating about the question of is Hamlet fat is that sense that the author of a piece gets to decide ultimately who should portray that character and how that character should be portrayed.

And so you and I write features and television, but we write things that are going to shoot exactly once. And so ultimately an actor is cast in that role and if that actor does not meet what the text describes, we may need to make some changes because there’s reality. We know who that actor is and it has to make sense.

And so often some of the last work we are doing on a script is tailoring it to the person they put in that role. And we may have opinions about what that role should be and who that character should be played by, but ultimately a person is cast and it’s our responsibility to match what our eyes are telling us.

Compare that to a play, or to any musical, or anything that’s written from the past, if you’re staging a new version of that, it’s going to be a different actor every time. And you have to be mindful of the fact that the author’s original intention may not be what we’re seeing there. So, you’ll have dramaturgs argue about what this thing meant and what the author’s intent was, but ultimately you’re free to do whatever you want to do and feature directors can make radically different choices.

Craig: Nobody I think is subjected to more reinterpretation than Shakespeare because he is essentially the proto playwright for, well, probably some Greeks, but you know, for most people I would say he is the proto playwright. So, he’s constantly being reinterpreted. In fact, if you mount any production of Shakespeare that is really true to the text, it feels boring and almost like a wasted opportunity at this point.

What’s interesting is that the text says, “He’s fat,” and nobody who was interpreting Hamlet all along in the 20th century took that to heart. Because I think it’s hard for people to look at an overweight character as somehow this tortured soul like Hamlet, which of course is not true to life. If anything, the opposite is true. Overweight people suffer more, I think. And their internal life and their minds are as vibrant as anyone. So, it’s a bias. It’s just a flat out — just a bias.

John: But what’s fascinating, ever since I first heard this article discussed and then I actually read the article, as I think through my recollection of Hamlet and sort of like what Hamlet needs to do in the course of the play, sticking a heavy 27-year-old actor in that part in some ways makes a lot more sense to me, because the way that he is sort of stuck in his head, and the way that people are treating him, even Ophelia falling for him, it doesn’t feel like she’s falling for him because he’s hot. It’s his brain that’s actually attracting her. It’s essentially his doom that is sort of attractive to her.

So, I found it really kind of interesting to think through the whole story with those changes. And often that’s kind of a screenwriter’s job, isn’t it, is to imagine the world with one thing changed and what the ramifications are of that change. And so putting a few pounds on Hamlet does give you some different opportunities.

Craig: Without question. And as we progress through our evolution of narrative understanding, our interest in narrative cutting closer to what is real seems to be increasing. We want to see things that are true to the world around us, whether it’s actors that aren’t just white or aren’t just traditionally beautiful or aren’t just thin. And so I think it’s a good thing for us to start asking those questions all the time about everything.

It’s also good for the audience. I think it’s what they want. I mean, there will always, always be a desire for idealized perfection on screen. People will always want to see beautiful people doing very big romantic things on screen because ultimately we’re not that far off from where we were back in the days of the Greeks when gods would come down and start doing this stuff.

You know, we look at Brad Pitt on a screen. We’ve elevated him essentially to a demigod. Not spiritually speaking, but that’s kind of the place he’s occupying for us. Not surprisingly, he does really well when he’s playing Achilles, actually.

You know, so we’re getting better and our interests are getting a little more broad in that regard.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So I think it’s good. I like this sort of thing. I like the fact that people might have been wrong all along about Hamlet. I think it would be cool. And the article does cite that there have been some actors who aren’t traditional skinny that have played Hamlet.

John: Yeah. There’s the Paul Giamatti’s who have done it, which is great. I also look at — you look at Lena Dunham and if you took the text of Girls and didn’t have Lena Dunham in that place, and you cast a standard CW pretty actress in that part, it wouldn’t be the same show. And who she is and what she looks like is a fundamental aspect of what that is. And even when it’s not in the text, it’s informing the way the characters in the world treat her. And I think that becomes an important aspect of it.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Another thing I think about is the movie School of Rock, Jack Black is sort of iconically great in the central role in School of Rock. They’re making the Broadway version of that. And they cast Alex Brightman from Big Fish in that part. And so it’s that challenging thing where you say like, well, he’s not playing Jack Black. He’s Alex Brightman. He’s doing his own thing. And yet it was determined that they wanted him to be sort of Jack Black size. So he actually is heavier now so that he is more reminiscent of our perception of what Jack Black was like in that movie. And that’s an interesting thing. And I’ll be curious if down the road, that musical is going to be huge, but a year from now or when Alex leaves the show and another person comes in, will they always have the requirement that that actor has to be heavier? Or will we eventually get to the point where you realize that wasn’t important at all.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, you know, they kept changing through the actors on that, and it became less and less important over time that it be so iconically the same way that we saw it from the movie.

Craig: Yeah. They’ll run into that, I assume, at some point when they’re doing the umpteenth version of Book of Mormon that Elder Cunningham won’t necessarily have to be zaftig. It’s interesting. I don’t know necessarily why they felt that the lead in School of Rock the musical had to be heavy. I mean, it’s interesting. Maybe they did it to avoid the criticism that they didn’t have somebody — I mean, part of the problem with the world now is everybody is in fear. We live in fear of being accused of something. So, sometimes these decisions are made in weird ways that are a little calculated. That’s actually a really interesting thing that they asked him to gain weight for that.

John: I was thinking back to Big Fish when we did it with Norbert Leo Butz. And so I had the luxury of seeing a bunch of different actors play that role. So we had Hugh Jackman. We had other actors along the ways different people playing that role. And that was incredibly helpful as an author to see what is the character and what is what the actor is bringing to the character.

Ultimately, because Norbert Leo Butz was the Broadway version of it, that does sort of solidify in mind like, oh, that’s what that is supposed to be. And then after we’ve closed, and I’ve seen regional productions, and the Boston version I was there, just people are fundamentally different. And they bring different things to the role. And it’s been really fascinating to see the inherent aspects of the person come through and what that character is and sort of how does that change our perception of the character and the story based on who we cast in those parts.

Same thing happens like with the Will character and many productions are even much more multi-ethnic than the Broadway version. And if you break the essential belief system that these are all people who are biologically related, how does that change your perception of the story?

Craig: Right.

John: It’s been fun to see.

Craig: You can start to see why people panic so much when they’re casting a movie, because that’s your shot.

John: Yep. That’s such a great point, because in a movie you’re casting it exactly once. In everything — a play or musical, you are — every time is a different assembly of unique elements.

Craig: Correct.

John: Cool. It’s time for some One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is a brand new show called Computer Show by Adam Lisagor, the incredibly talented director and star of many great online videos and other things, commercials. Computer Show is set in 1983. It is very much like the Computer Chronicles on PBS, if you remember that. Except that it is these hosts are interviewing people who are running modern companies. So, they’ll interview the guy who created Reddit or other sort of VC entrepreneurs. And they are completely clueless about what they’re talking about.

And so it’s incredibly deadpan in a very great Adam Lisagor way. So I will include a link to several episodes of that. It’s just terrific and Adam is so smart.

Craig: That sounds like something I would like.

John: You would like it.

Craig: I would. My One Cool Thing, of course, is Tesla Autopilot.

John: I honestly don’t know what this is, so tell me all about it.

Craig: So the most recent generation of Tesla Model S automobiles came with all these sensors built in. And initially the only functionality was basically what you can get in a lot of modern cars. For instance, the adaptive cruise control. So if you set your cruise control in a lot of modern cars it will read ahead and slow down if it detects that it’s creeping up on a car. Stuff like that.

Or when you get too close to a curb it goes boop, boop, boop. Nothing special. But, just this week, Tesla released a major revision of its software which is unique to Tesla. Only they can really do this. It’s spectacular. It’s like you get a whole new car. And they turned on a whole bunch of functionality. And now the car has autopilot. I can get onto a freeway and I’m in my lane, I pull twice on the little cruise control stick, and it drives itself.

So, now it is adjusting its speed and also moving the steering wheel and following the lane.

John: Wow.

Craig: If I want to change a lane, I hit the lane change signal, and it goes, oh, you would like to go to the left lane. It checks, yep, good, moves into the left lane, and then stays in that lane. Now, it’s in beta, and they say keep your hands on the wheel just in case, but I tried it and it’s so creepy and good at what it does. And I know for sure that within — I’m going to say within 10 to 20 years, no one will be steering their car.

John: I concur with you that that will happen. And I’ll also be fascinated to see whether learning how to drive a non-super automatic car will be just like a, I don’t know, will it seem like a vintage thing, or will it still be a mark of distinction that you still know how to drive? I’ll be curious what the future is like for that.

My question about the autopilot in its current form, so it does not have your navigation information in, so it’s only if you’re already on the freeway, then you can hit this button and it will engage. And that you will disengage that when it comes time to exit the freeway, correct?

Craig: Yes. Exactly right. So if you press on the brake. So it’s braking for you and accelerating for you, but if you press on the brake, or move the steering wheel yourself, it goes, okay, you’re back in control now. It’s academic to look ahead and see that, yes, they will integrate the navigation into it. They’re going to integrate reading stop lights and stop signs into it. It’s just inevitable.

This is the first step toward it, but it’s inevitable.

John: It’s going to be great.

Craig: Yeah.

John: All right. That is our show this week. So our outro this week comes from Matthew Chilelli. If you have an outro, please send it to us. You can write in at and send us a link.

Our show is edited by Matthew Chilelli and produced by Stuart Friedel. A reminder that we have transcripts for every single episode of the show. So if you go to and search for Scriptnotes, you can find every back episode.

If you would like to listen to the back episodes, you can find them at It’s $1.99 a month for a subscription there. It gives you access to the whole back catalog and the ability to use our apps to get back to those episodes. So that’s at

A reminder that I will be talking with Drew Goddard on October 28 at the WGA. So if you want to come to see that you should get tickets. There’s a link in the show notes. The show notes are always at

Short questions are great on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Longer questions, write in to

Next week will be a normal week, and then we’ll be in Austin. And the Austin episode should be up a normal time on Tuesday after that. Craig, thank you so much for a fun show.

Craig: Thank you, John. See you next time. Bye.

John: Bye.


Apprenticeship 101

Wed, 10/21/2015 - 11:46

Jana Kinsman worked as an apprentice beekeeper and goat-tender, but a lot of her advice applies well to anyone in their first job:

This isn’t your chance to prove yourself in a grandiose way. Your mentor isn’t expecting you to suddenly make their lives easier, they’re not looking for a hero or someone to throw themselves over the puddle where they’re about to walk.

This is not your opportunity to change their system or their workspace or their routine. I’ve worked with many mentors whose way of doing things was an absolute trainwreck. Inefficiencies galore, messes, unfinished projects EVERYWHERE. But it was never my responsibility to point it out to them.

When I started working in Hollywood — first as a reader, later as an assistant — I didn’t know what I was doing. I observed and tried to figure out what needed to be done, and asked as many questions as I needed to.

I quietly watched how my bosses worked, not because I wanted to become them, but because I wanted to understand how they made decisions, and how they fit into the bigger picture of the industry.

Kinsman concurs:

I tell people that some of the most valuable things I learned from working with mentors have been examples of how I don’t want to do things. It’s not about forcing yourself into thinking your mentor is a flawless human with a perfect way of doing things, it’s seeing their flaws and their inefficient systems and accepting them for who they are.

Often times this will give you a chance to put yourself in their shoes and look at your own future realistically: If you were doing what they were doing for as long as they’ve been doing it, would you be perfect?

You eventually realize that everyone is doing the best they can, just like you. The difference is experience, and the only way to get it is to do the work.

Writers Rooms, Taxes, and Fat Hamlet

Tue, 10/20/2015 - 08:03

John and Craig discuss the trend of hiring multiple writers to work concurrently on tentpole features. Can movies be written like television, and should they?

Then it’s a look at tax bills that LA-based writers may find themselves facing, and why you shouldn’t be afraid of a portly Hamlet.

Also this week, a strange French plagiarism case, and John considers writing a book in November.

Reminder that John is interviewing Drew Goddard for a special Writers Guild Foundation event on October 28th. Tickets available through the link below.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 219: The One Where Aline’s Show Debuts — Transcript

Fri, 10/16/2015 - 13:21

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hey this is John. So today’s show we have a clip from a movie that has some strong words in it. Not the F-word, but other words. So, if you’re driving with kids in the car, that is a warning. That is going to be our third segment of the show today.

Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 219 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the show we are going to be talking to Aline Brosh McKenna, our favorite podcast guest, our most repeated podcast guest. She is here to tell us about the launch of her show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which she discussed way back on the Christmas episode last year. She’s the best.

Are you excited, Craig?

Craig: Well, she is and will always be our living Joan Rivers.

John: Yes. So, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a show with Rachel Bloom, that debuts — it debuted yesterday if you’re listening to this on Tuesday.

Craig: Ooh, exciting.

John: But we recorded this before it came out, so who knows. Maybe things went crazily wrong. But they didn’t, because the show is great. We’re also going to be talking about Indian screenwriters who have gone on strike and what that means and sort of what they can look forward to. And we’re going to be looking at three pages from this aspiring writer who I think, you know, we’ll see if he has a career ahead of him. His name is Scott Frank. And we’re going to be taking a look at these three pages he wrote and also a scene he shot that was in a movie he shot that people love. And it’s a good look at sort of how the conflict on the page between two characters in a scene with dialogue can translate into a movie and sort of what you look for in writing on the page.

Craig: That is exactly right. And this should be an excellent show. I have a good feeling about this show. We have Aline, so you know we’re — I mean, she’s about to come and we’re going to have a ton of bizarre mixed metaphors and analogies.

We have some interesting follow up stuff that we’re about to get to. And then I’m really excited to sort of tear this scene apart in a good way and really analyze bit by bit how these things happen. Because, you know, it’s been a while since we’ve really gotten super crafty, so.

John: Yeah, this will be a crafty episode.

Craig: Crafty crafty.

John: So, let’s start with the follow up. The t-shirts for Scriptnotes are now out in the world. And so as I was going to see — I saw Sicario and The Martian over the weekend. I was walking from the restaurant back to go see The Martian and I saw one of the purple Scriptnotes shirts out in the wild, like a guy on Sunset Boulevard was wearing it.

And so he saw my double take and he goes, “Hey John.” I’m like, hey. I was just so surprised to see the t-shirt out there in the world. So, if you are out there in the world wearing a Scriptnotes t-shirt, that is fantastic. If you want to #Scriptnotes or #ScriptnotesTee on Instagram or Twitter, that’s also fun and fine.

If you are overseas, it’s a chance that you’ve not gotten your shirts yet. If you’re in the US, it’s more likely that you’ve gotten your shirts. They all went out last Friday, so a week ago as we’re recording this. So, people should be having them in their hands ready to wear.

Craig: Spectacular. It is fun to see those shirts around. I do occasionally see them. If you are walking around with a shirt and John crosses your path, you too can have a conversation with John that begins and ends with, “Hey John. Hey.”

John: I think there’s going to be a lot of those in Austin.

Craig: [laughs]

John: Speaking of Austin, the Austin Film Festival is coming up very soon. There will be two Scriptnotes sessions. There’s going to be a live Scriptnotes show on the Friday and there’s going to be a Three Page Challenge on Saturday. We were able to use our collective muscle to move the Saving Mr. Banks conversation between Kelly Marcel and John Lee Hancock, so it’s not at the same time as Scriptnotes anymore.

So you can go to both the live Scriptnotes show and to Kelly and John’s discussion and be happy.

Craig: As well you should. Yes. There was a little bit of a — I don’t want to call it an uproar, because it was about four people. But those four people were very upset, so we took care of them.

John: Yeah. We took care of those folks. So come join us for all those things if you’d like to. I don’t know our venues yet. I don’t know anything more about our shows, but I’m excited to be going to Austin and performing those shows with Craig and folks.

Craig: I think they said that we’re doing the live podcast in a church.

John: Yeah. And so the church last year, Craig wasn’t there last year. The church is a lovely venue, except last year we were seated on the — so, there’s pews, but we were seated on the floor. We weren’t up on risers. And it was actually very hard to see. So, I will do my best to make sure that we are up high enough so you can actually see us in that church.

Craig: No one wants to see us. They listen to us. It’s a podcast, for god’s sake.

John: Absolutely. Really what you can do is you can just put your blinders on and just pretend — like listen to it live before everyone else can.

Craig: Really what we’re saying is fly to Austin so you have slightly better audio.

John: That’s really what we’re going for. Actually, maybe worse audio, because now that Craig has a good microphone, we’re all set.

Craig: Great point.

John: Another bit of follow up. So, a couple episodes ago we talked about how would this be a movie, and one of the things we brought up was the French train heroes, so basically these three Americans who were on a train in France and they ended like taking down this guy who was shooting at the train. And they were hailed as heroes.

A weird bit of follow up that happened this last week is Spencer Stone, one of the three guys, ended up getting stabbed repeatedly in Sacramento. And there was video of it. It was just a really strange incident.

So, it wasn’t related to the French train attacks directly, but we were really wondering as we were talking about the French train possible movie, well, what would the second act be? How do you structure that? And maybe that’s a possibility of how you would think about what the second and third acts of that movie would be is basically what happens after that.

If that big incident happened in the first act, what is the life like for those guys moving forward? And as those 15 minutes start ticking down, interesting to think about sort of what happens when this heroic person goes home and whether that becomes a factor in other things of his life.

Craig: Yeah. It’s a little reminiscent of the Chris Kyle story, who was murdered here in the United States by an unhinged friend. This guy seems to have been stabbed in sort of just a random incident of guys out at night. And maybe getting into an argument or a fight or something.

He’s going to be okay from what I understand. It doesn’t feel — I mean, if I had passed on this movie initially and then someone came back to me and said, “Well what about now?” I’d say it’s still a pass.

John: Yeah. I think it’s still a pass, too. And I don’t want to sort of make light of the real plight of what happened to this one true guy, Spencer Stone, by saying like, oh, well, it changes the plot of the story. Obviously we’re talking about sort of a fictional movie about maybe some fictional people. But I think it was an interesting way to think about sort of what happens next, if you structured this kind of story with the big dramatic train incident happening at the start. What is the ongoing story of these three young men?

Craig: Indeed. Indeed.

John: Indeed. You have a bit of follow up here about Craig and Ezra and Marissa. I don’t even know what this.

Craig: I know, isn’t this is exciting? So, I have the craziest. A couple of nights ago, Chris Morgan and I went to the guild to speak to a group that was sort of a hybrid group of Writers Guild members and members of the Universal Emerging Writers Program, which essentially it’s designed to promote diverse writers, African American, Latino, Asian American, LGBT, the whole — the usuals, right?

John: Yes.

Craig: You know, like okay, these are the folks. And it was interesting because they expanded that beyond just the people who had gone through the program to Writers Guild members in general. And I’m not sure exactly how they expanded it, but it was by far the most diverse room I’ve ever seen in the guild, ever. I mean, it was actually really encouraging.

And so we had this really nice talk about stuff and then afterwards Chris and I went over to Canter’s, because I haven’t been to Canter’s in — you know, I used to live around the corner from Canter’s. It’s been like 12 years.

John: I’m going to pause you for a second, because people who don’t live in Los Angeles have no idea what you’re talking about.

Craig: Oh, Canter’s. Canter’s Deli is an institution. It’s been around since the — I’m guessing the 20’s? 30’s?

John: It feels like 20’s.

Craig: Yeah. It’s an old, old building in the old Jewish district of Los Angeles, which isn’t really — eh, it’s kind of still Jewish.

John: It’s Jewish and Ethiopian in a weird way.

Craig: Right. It’s Jewthiopian. But it is an old school deli. And it is unchanged. And it’s just a neighborhood institution. And I used to go there all the time. It was the closest thing that I could find to sort of New York Jewish comfort food.

And it is New York Jewish comfort food. It’s just in LA. So I’m sitting there and Chris and I are chatting, and then he gets up to go to the restroom. And this guy comes over to my table, young man, nice guy, millennial mustache. I love the millennial mustache.

John: It’s fun.

Craig: He introduces himself. His name is Ezra. And he says, “I’m sorry to bother you. Is your name, Craig?


“Are you Craig Mazin?”


“I’m a fan of Scriptnotes.” And he’s super nice. He’s wearing a Mets hat, which I don’t like, and I tell him –

John: No, not a bit.

Craig: We talk about that for a bit. And then he says, “By the way, my girlfriend is sitting over there. Her name is Marissa. Her family owns Canter’s.”

John: Crazy.

Craig: And I was like, what? This is awesome! So I just went over and sat down with Marissa. Her mother is Jackie Canter. And we talked about Canter’s. It was the craziest — it’s like the coolest thing to meet nice people. I feel like all of our listeners are super nice. They are dating people that own classic restaurants, which is a huge plus for me because Jackie did send over some free black and white cookies and rugelach to Chris and to me.

John: Aw. That’s very nice. My similar kind of Scriptnotes adjacent story is a friend of mine was talking about he went to his barber who is in the Valley, I believe, and they were talking. And it turned out the barber said he was really tired because he has to stay up late after his shift because he’s a screenwriter and he wants to work at night. And he said like, “Have you ever heard the show Scriptnotes?” And he was a big fan of the Scriptnotes show.

Craig: Wow.

John: So I just love that we have barbers in the Valley who listen to the show as well. If you are that barber in the Valley, hi, hello.

Craig: Yeah, well, you know what? Ezra, I just want to say thank you for coming over. You were an incredibly nice guy. I loved how much of a fan you were. And thank you for interesting me to your wonderful girlfriend, who should become your wife, Marissa. Because, let’s face it, Canter’s.

John: So when I saw this on the Workflowy, the outline of the show, I was like — so I was thinking is this Ezra Miller? I’m trying to think who is an actress who could be the Marissa. I was thinking too much is really what I was thinking.

Craig: It turns out to be a very simple but beautiful story.

John: A similar simple but beautiful story is really the Aline Brosh McKenna story, who is our first and — she was our first guest. She’s our first guest on the episode today. She’s first in our hearts. Let us welcome Aline Brosh McKenna.

Aline Brosh McKenna: I’m very happy to be here.

John: So, Aline, we are recording this on Saturday, but on Monday your show, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, debuts.

Aline: It does.

John: And people are listening to this on Tuesday. So, it’s this weird state of being both before and after the moment. So, tell us about what you’re feeling right now, two days before your show premieres?

Aline: Well, I’m feeling quite after about the pilot, because we started shooting it a year ago. And we finished it around Christmas of last year.

John: You were actually on the Christmas episode and we talked about your pilot.

Aline: So, at what point in the grieving was I there?

John: It was pre-grieving. So, at this point you were like, “Oh, we’re a Showtime show and everyone loves us.”

Aline: Yeah. I think they did love us before they set us free. I think I’ve talked about the fact that the pilot sort of hung around for a while, got picked up by the CW. It was a shock to us how quickly it happened. We didn’t know we were going to be on the fall schedule. So we geared up very quickly. And the pilot we did a little tszuj on the pilot. We added some material and we edited out some profanity. And I’m excited that people are going to get to see it, considering how close it came to living on a shelf, or in a bin, in some garbage.

Craig: And so now you have this interesting thing. You ever see that — sometimes I’ll notice in a movie when I can tell when they’ve done a pickup or a reshoot because a bunch of times come by and the actor looks slightly different. With all the time in between, does everything still feel like, okay, from episode one to two does it still feel like, oh yeah, it’s still the same person, it’s still the same vibe?

Aline: Well we had a lot of the same crew come back, so we had a lot of people who were familiar with everybody’s look. And then one character was completely recast, so we didn’t have to worry about that. And there was one set, which is quite important to the series, but you only see it once in the pilot. And we were able to completely rebuild that. And that’s one that we use a lot.

So, I think you’d have to be a pretty fine careful student of the pilot to see the differences.

Craig: It’s the only way I’ll watch TV, just so you know. [laughs]

Aline: With a microscope.

Craig: With a microscope and a checklist.

John: Now, Craig doesn’t watch any TV, so the real question is going to be whether Craig actually watches your show. So far the critics have said that he should watch your show. This is Brian Lowry of Variety writing, “One of the fall’s most promising hours, full of infectious energy.”

Willa Paskin at Slate writes, “Charming, ambitious, utterly singular show.”

And there’s also a New York Times article which I’ll link to, because you guys have done a ton of press on this show. You’re actually one of the shows that people are singling out as being sort of groundbreaking and unique and something people are excited about.

Aline: Again, all the more gratifying. We’re very grateful. But all the more gratifying considering how close we came to being garbage.

John: I was at an event a couple of weeks ago and I was talking with an executive who works, I think, at CBS, and she was saying how much she loved your show and how excited she was. It’s so complicated, but CBS and Showtime are related, and so is CW. And so I said like, “I’m so happy and excited for Aline and for Rachel, but I’m also hoping that — I’m both hoping for their back nine and I hope that they don’t have to do the back nine,” because I’m just trying to think how will you possibly survive 22 episodes of your show.”

Because, you’re shooting what episode right now?

Aline: We are just in the middle of seven.

John: Great. And so you are only a third of the way through it. You must be exhausted already.

Aline: Well, I’m not thinking about it, because we don’t have our back nine order. They ordered five extra scripts. But we’re just kind of chugging through these first 13. You know, and it is what everybody says it is in terms of the workload is quite intense. But it’s been so fun. And it’s been such an interesting different kind of job for me. I’ve really enjoyed it. So, you know, as tiring as it is, I really don’t dwell on that. I’ve really enjoyed it.

Craig: I would love to know how you guys — I mean, look, any TV show is a difficult march. But how do you continually create new songs that rapidly and that frequently?

Aline: It’s, yeah, I mean, it’s quite something. We, Rachel and I, had thought about this show in quite a lot of detail when we thought we were a Showtime show. So, we had a bunch of stuff backlogged and that helped us. And when we started we hired — Rachel did the music on the pilot with her friend, Jack Dolgen, who now writes on the show and writes additional music.

But we hired this guy, Adam Schlesinger, who is halfway to an EGOT, among other things. He was in the Fountains of Wayne.

Craig: I love Fountains of Wayne.

Aline: He composed a Broadway show. He’s written a lot of comedy songs, including Broadway’s Not Just for Gays Anymore. And we picked him up at the beginning of this, when we got picked up. And he has been writing with Rachel, and with Jack. And they kick out the songs very quickly.

It’s funny. That has not been as much of an inhibiting factor. Sometimes we switch out the song that we want to do in a given episode, because while the songs are kind of standalone pieces in a way, they have to fit emotionally into the show. So, if the show gets rewritten, sometimes the songs change.

But Rachel and Adam, once they have an idea for a song, either separately or together, and then Jack as well, we’re able to kind of cook through those once they know what they are.

John: I have friends who write on other network shows, and they will get studio notes and network notes, and they’ll have to quickly scramble to incorporate those notes. And it seems like it must be an incredibly bigger challenge when you have so many other pieces that are depending on it. So, you have — not only you have Rachel being so busy, but you have the writing of the episode, you have the writing of the songs, you have the choreography. You have so many things dependent. So to try to make a simple, what seems like a simple change, would be incredibly difficult for your show.

Have they been mindful of how challenging that gets?

Aline: We hand the demos in as soon as we get them. And the songs — we try and get the songs with the lyrics into the script. Sometimes we’re behind. But conceptually they know where we are, song-wise, most of the time. And most of their notes reside in the storytelling, in the traditional aspects of the show. So, they’ve been tremendously cooperative. And I think people also people are real fans of the music, so they’re very excited to get those demos. And I think that is the funnest part of the show, for everybody who works on the show, including the crew. It’s just always fun when we have a day when we’re doing a video and there’s music and dance on the set. Sort of everybody wants to come down and participate. Those are fun days.

John: Talk to us about the writing. As you are figuring out an episode, there is a written document you’re turning in that is sort of for approval. Is that an outline? What does it look like? And how long is that?

Aline: Well this is new to me, because in features I try to avoid written outlines, because I find that people get bogged down and you end up in outline cul-de-sac. But in TV there’s really no other way to do it.

So we do two documents. We do a short document, which is like sort of a pre-outline, which is a couple of pages. We send that in. And then we get notes on that. And then we do a fuller outline. And then we try and make that as detailed as possible, so that when the writers go off to script they have a really detailed roadmap.

But I have found that I don’t mind the outlines as much when I know I’m in production. I think in movies what I never liked about those outlines is they just seem like it’s so theoretical. It’s so many steps to get to before you get to your job. Whereas in TV you know you’re making these things, so they seem like just necessary consensus builders, because not only do the networks need them, but every department needs them to sort of anticipate who is coming up casting wise, costume wise, art direction wise, and in all departments.

Craig: That’s the other edge of this brutal scheduling sword. I mean, they can pour notes on you and they can ask for outlines and all the rest. But the train is moving. So, their ability to influence things is limited as well. You’re right, in features, you turn an outline in and you could argue about that outline for a year if you feel like it. You can’t do that, for you.

And obviously the outline helps you — I’m going to use a phrase that I think fits you. It allows you to impose your creative will upon others. So, you’re in charge of this room now of writers, yes?

Aline: Yes.

Craig: What is that like coming from our world where you are in charge of your room, which is you, to now being in charge of all these people and now you have to be accountable for yourself, but you also have to be accountable for what they’re doing? It’s a huge transition.

Aline: Yeah. I mean, I’ve loved it, because I’ve always struggled against the isolation and the claustrophobia of screenwriting. It’s always been a challenge for me. And it’s why I did TV early in my career.

We really have a lot fun. Our staff is six women and three men. And then we have two consultants. I have to say, it’s really fun to be writing in a room with smart people who are kicking in ideas and jokes. And it’s much more social. I really have enjoyed that. And I have enjoyed collaborating with all of the departments.

It is, you know, one of the things about — I’m definitely busier, but I’m definitely — I’m less stressed. And my husband has been noticing this. I think a lot of the stress that I experience as a screenwriter, obviously your days are not as grueling. As a screenwriter, the stress for me was always trying to get your, you know, it sounds pretentious, but getting your vision up on screen when it has to be mediated through a director. If you’re not directing yourself, you know, it has to be interpreted through a director or producer. And you’re not really the person making the decisions.

I think I have found that enormously more stressful in my life, because I am a very direct person. And so being a screenwriter, communicating when something is being made, there’s a lot of indirectness built in. And it really, if you have access as a screenwriter, it’s by virtue of the relationships you had, or you’ve built. But as a showrunner, your access is a natural part of the process. So, I feel like I’ve traded in some of my leisure hours for a more directly satisfying process.

Craig: Good answer, Aline. Good answer.

John: I was having breakfast with a showrunner on Friday, and he was at the end of his 10-episode season. And so he was now in the editing room. And so it was such a change for him because this whole time through he’s been in the writing room, and then suddenly when you’re in production you’re doing all of these jobs at once.

Aline: Yeah.

John: And so now he was really relieved to just like, “I could focus on doing one thing rather than three things.” What is your favorite part of this process right now? Are you enjoying the cutting room, or the writer’s room? What do you like?

Aline: That’s a really good way to describe which is, you know, there’s a writer’s room happening, there’s a production in progress, and there’s a post-department in progress. And all those things are happening at the same time. And I can’t speak for other people who do this job, but for me it’s about finding ways to empower other people to help you do this job. And I have amazing people who work with me who are very, very able to cover me on set, and can also cover me in post as needed.

I have found that the writer’s room is the beating heart of the show. If the scripts don’t work, nothing else works. And I think everybody knows that, especially on a show like this that has a very specific voice. And so I spend most of my time in the writer’s room, even when I’m rewriting. Some showrunners when they rewrite they go out of the room and do it themselves. I rewrite in the room with people, so that I get their input.

My biggest challenge, which is somewhat unique to our show, is that Rachel who is, you know, the show is not my voice or her voice, it’s our voice. And she’s full time in the production department. I mean, she’s in probably 80% of the scenes, 85% of the scenes. So trying to get Rachel’s viewpoint/involvement/writing style, all of those things inculcated into the scripts at every point is our biggest kind of institutional challenge.

John: So that it feels like it comes from one brain, even though it’s coming from both of your brains simultaneously. And since she’s on set, it’s sort of like Lena Dunham being on set. She can see whether this is not a choice that makes sense for the show, and call you in when she needs help on that kind of stuff, too.

Aline: Well, you know, the good thing is — I’ve never collaborated with an actor who was also writing with me. Obviously that’s an unusual situation. But I never worry about if there’s someone on set who understands the intention of these scenes, because she always understands the intention of these scenes. And if she doesn’t, she and I can huddle pretty quickly. So that’s really wonderful to have an actor who is your partner in that way. And we really love that. But we were laughing yesterday that when the show got picked up we thought, oh, we’re going to spend so much time together. Isn’t that going to be fun? And yesterday was a rare moment where we were walking across the stages together. And it was after the writer’s room had closed. And it was during a turnaround in the shooting where she was getting changed. We suddenly had 15 minutes together, which it felt like — you know, we always feel like we’re lovers sneaking around trying to find an extra moment together.

She’s shooting most of the time. So particularly when we’re on location, we actually don’t get to see each other as much as we would like. Ironically.

John: So the show will have debuted yesterday. What will your phone calls be like on Tuesday morning? Have they given you any sense of sort of what the expectations are? What you need to be able to do? Because it feels like you’re in this kind of nice spot, where people really like your show, but you’re also sort of the underdog. You’re like a well-regarded underdog going into the situation. So you just have to sort of clear the bar and get people to come back.

Aline: Well, you know, one of the things that’s been nice is I’ve been doing the other job, being a screenwriter, for many years. And I’m new to this job, so every day is a new thing for me. A lot of the people I work with have more experience than I do, so I’m often asking them like, “Now what happens?”

In terms of the reception of the show, I mean, obviously we hope people love it. I don’t have a lot of expectations. I mean, whatever you’re doing when a movie is coming out and you’re looking at tracking, which I try not to do too much anyway with a movie. But with a TV show, I mean, I don’t see why or how I could worry about that. There’s virtually nothing I can do.

My Facebook page is not going to help drive people to the show. So I’m not thinking about ratings and those things. I will be thinking — on Monday I will be thinking, okay, what do we start shooting this week. That’s what I’ll be thinking

Craig: Good for you. That’s the way to be. You know, because the truth is the world will do what the world will do. You know, for movies, our stuff is done by the time the release comes around. There is no possible creative impact that obsessing over tracking and box office can have on the movie itself. Not the case for television. And if you’re sitting there spazzing over numbers, I could see where it starts to get in your head and maybe influence how you’re doing it.

You know, I agree with John. I feel like my sense is this show — I don’t understand exactly what the parameters are for success and failure, but I know there is a breadth there. And clearly they like the show, because they’ve given you this extra vote of confidence. And it’s different, you know. I would be surprised — honestly would be surprised if — look, I mean, obviously if the ratings come in early and they’re terrific, then all’s good to go.

But if they come in and they’re not like over the moon, so what, they’re going to give you time. I do believe that.

Aline: Yeah. It’s an unusual show and so it might take people a little while. I mean, one of the funny things is I don’t have any of the familiar screenwriting excuses. For starters, their marketing has been phenomenal.

John: They really have done a great job.

Aline: So I cannot blame the marketing. And the other thing is it’s been a really interesting experience because this network in particular for whatever reason is extraordinarily supportive of women. They have a tremendous number of female showrunners. And they have shows with female content. And they’re so considerate of women that it never comes up. You know, that’s how kind of pervasive it is that no one is ever saying to me, talking to me about the women’s audience or girls, or their perspective. They’re just treating you like you’re making a show.

Craig: Right.

Aline: They don’t look down at the audience. You’re not ever gaming that point of view. They just want you to make a good show. And it never comes up. You know, we do jokes about female-driven stuff frequently. And it’s not even part of the conversation. So that’s also been a really wonderful experience.

I didn’t plan on doing television. And I think you guys, I’m sure, have been on conversations with me over beers where I’ve talked about why I wouldn’t do it, but now I think we’re in a time where you just go where the satisfying work is. And it doesn’t really matter what the format is. I feel like even the word television in a way is sort of a misnomer now because people are watching it in so many different formats.

You know, for me this has been one of the best experiences because I never made a decision to do any of it.

Craig: Right. It just sort of happened. I love that.

Aline: Yeah.

John: And you were ready for it. I know you have to go, but thank you for joining us for this segment. Because you’re Aline Brosh McKenna, you’re allowed to do one thing out of sequence if you’d like to. So, if you have a One Cool Thing or anything you want to share with our audience, you can do your One Cool Thing midway show.

Aline: Well, I do want to do a One Cool Thing. Thank you for asking me. I’ve worked on movie crews and they’re amazing. And you guys, I know, feel the way I do that crews are incredible. And I so admire what they do. But I’d never seen a television crew in process and they jam. I mean, they’re working so fast. We’re shooting so many pages a day. And I just am so impressed –

John: How many pages do you shoot in a day?

Aline: Seven or eight.

John: Yeah, that’s a lot.

Craig: Yeesh.

Aline: And I’m just so impressed with everybody, just sort of the alacrity, and they’re on top of it. And they’re moving quickly and they’re anticipating stuff. And the crew has really blown me away. And I wanted to give a particular shout out to — we have a person who is to Rachel what Tony Hale is to Julia Louis-Dreyfus on Veep.

John: Bag man?

Aline: Yeah. We have — and her name is Bola. And she’s fantastic. I mean, she gets Rachel everywhere she needs to be and anticipates her every need. And she’s a huge Scriptnotes fan –

Craig: Yay.

Aline: And she geeked out when she met me because she’s seen all the episodes and she was excited. So my One Cool Thing is the Crazy Ex-Girlfriend crew, with a shout out to Bola.

John: Fantastic.

Craig: Nice. Nice.

John: Aline, congratulations, good luck, we’re so happy to have you with your new show.

Aline: Thanks guys.

John: And everybody tune in, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, on the CW in the US. If you are overseas, you should find a way to pirate it so you can watch it yourself.

Aline: It’s on Hulu the next day, I believe.

John: Oh great.

Aline: Yeah. And I think it’s also –

Craig: Do not pirate it. It will be available. It will be available.

John: What I will say is that so often these shows are put up online so people can see them for free. And clever Internet users can find a way to see promotional episodes.

Aline: Well, here’s the other thing. It’s on free TV. It’s a network. So you don’t you have to pay to see it the first time. You can pay to see it the second time if you want.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: It’s free!

John: And you should buy all the products that are advertised on the show to support the show and tell them that you’re buying this brand of whatever because of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Aline: You know what? Particularly Hyundai. Hyundai was our first product placement. They were the first people to come to the table. And we have a big shout out to them in the show, obviously.

John: We’re you able to form a rhyme with Hyundai in a song?

Aline: No. They’ve not made it into a song. But let it be known that if we find the right advertiser with deep enough pockets…

John: It’s a good day for Hyundai.

Aline: There will be a song.

John: Fantastic.

Aline: All right. Thank you, guys. I miss you guys. All right, bye.

John: Bye.

Craig: We miss you too, Aline.

John: And that was Aline Brosh McKenna.

Craig: Ugh, I’m exhausted.

John: A national treasure.

Craig: I’m exhausted.

John: Similarly exhausting is the process of making a movie, and especially a Bollywood epic. And this last week there was news that the makers of Bollywood films were going on strike. There is a sort of general strike against Bollywood, but writers were a particular focus in this issue. And, Craig, you put this on the list, so tell me what you know about the Indian writer’s strike.

Craig: Well, this is really bigger than an Indian actor’s strike. This appears to be an Indian movie business strike. So you have directors, actors, music directors, cinematographers, all other technicians, junior artists, screenwriters, lyricists currently on strike, meaning everyone.

We are more familiar with the terms of writer’s deals and what it means to be a writer working under various jurisdictions. So, Anjum Rajabali is the — this is an interesting title — convenor of the Film Minimum Basic Contract. So, they have a union of some kind. I don’t know what labor law is like in India. I suspect quite a bit different than here.

They have something, it just seems to be either very week in areas, or completely disregarded and contravened by the behavior of the companies. Now, interestingly, it’s been a while since we’ve talked about, but the United States is unique among all nations when it comes to copyright. We have work-for-hire law, which says that somebody can commission a unique work from someone and the commissioner can own the copyright entirely. And the person who actually creates the work has no copyright.

No other country has it the way we do. Every other country is protected by the moral rights of authors, including India. And yet they’re still getting around this stuff, which is amazing. So, what it boils down to is that Indian writers don’t have essentially any of the creative rights we have here. They keep copyright, but it is essentially –

John: Worthless.

Craig: Worthless. It’s stripped down. They don’t get any royalties, because apparently they’re forced to sign them over, or something ridiculous like that, or waive them, which this gentleman argues is illegal. They don’t have any creative rights when it comes to credits. And they’re not guaranteed any credit at all. And this is — and this is amazing to me — they’re not guaranteed credit on screen for work that they share copyright in by law. That’s remarkable and incredibly abusive.

And I just think that those of us here in the United States who work in the intellectual property industry of all sorts should be watching this carefully and supporting the Indian filmmakers and Indian crafts people who are involved in making because it’s an enormous film industry there. Massive. And it is just remarkably exploitative, if this is correct. And I have no reason to think it’s not.

John: Yeah, so we will link to the article in the Times of India that talks through what’s going on there. And I can’t pretend that I understand very much about how the Indian film economy works, much less how the labor market in the Indian film economy really works. To me it was just interesting to see and to be reminded of the fact that things are different here and things that are sometimes annoying here, well, they could be much worse. And this a situation where things are much worse, where you have a film industry which is obviously incredibly vibrant and actually very productive, but it’s not necessarily productive in ways that are beneficial to people who do what I do for a living. And that is a real challenge.

So, I mostly read this as a, wow, let’s make sure we don’t slide back from the things we’ve already gained here. And look for like what are the possibilities of the things that do work here, how to spread those out to other places around the world.

Craig: No question. It’s a nice reminder of what we have. And all too often I will hear people in our union in their zeal to improve things denigrate what we have to the point of dismissiveness, first world problem whining, et cetera. And here is somebody saying, you know, even — he’s literally saying even the Writers Guild had to strike to get to their enviable position.

So he calls our position currently enviable. And it is.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And it’s a remarkable thing. It’s good to be reminded of it.

John: Yeah. As listeners who are listening overseas, there are Writers Guilds in other nations, but they’re often more guilds of artisans, and they’re more sort of about the craft of things and promoting the craft of things, rather than a true labor organization the way that the Writers Guild of America is.

They may not be able to do any of the protections that something like the Writers Guild can, because they’re just not set up that way. And we could probably point you to which ever episode that Craig really talked through part of why it’s different in the US because of the nature of copyright law and work-for-hire, which seems like an abusive thing, but it allows for writers to be covered in labor unions, which would not be possible if copyright were something that we held onto individually. If we were not employees of a corporation, we couldn’t get some of the things we do get.

Craig: That’s correct. And it’s interesting, the Indian situation is remarkable. They have 23 separate unions covering workers in their movie business. And I don’t know exactly how the definition of union there. But I’m just going to say presumably it’s similar. But of those 23 unions, there is one what they call the mother body, FWICE, the Federation of Western India Cine Employees.

So, there is some kind of overarching body that we don’t have here that is coordinating this massive inter-union strike. All 23 unions are on strike. This is precisely the kind of thing that calls for a strike. And I’ve always said the only strike worth taking is the one that you have to take because the only thing worse than it is the alternative, which is essentially death. Union death.

To me, if they don’t get this, they are effectively union dead.

John: So, what this massive union reminded me more of than anything else here is IOTSE, which is the union which covers many of the trades in the film industry. And they cover some things which are writing. They cover some animation writing. They cover things that many of our listeners may be involved with. And especially because we have many listeners who also work below the line. And certainly happy that there is IOTSE protection for so many of those job. But the IOTSE protection for crafts like screenwriting and animation writing, they’re not as strong as what the Writers Guild is able to provide for those writing services. And I hope that in the zeal to get all Indian film people paid fairly and treated better, and that the creative rights of the writers, directors, lyricists are at least given more than lip service. So, I’ll be curious to see how this shakes out.

And I’m not sure I will necessarily understand how it shakes out because I won’t have a great picture of what it is like right now.

Craig: Right. Well, we’ll follow it. And I think once there is a resolution of some kind, hopefully that resolution will make it clear what’s changed. And by looking at what’s changed, we’ll probably have a decent sense of what it was and what it is now.

John: Great. So, I’m so excited for this next section, because this is something Craig has recommended. This is actually something you talked through way back when. You had a site called Artful Writer, which if you try to visit right now you’ll get redirected because the page has gone away. But through the wonders of Internet archive, Craig was able to find what he wrote about this scene. And the scene is written by Mr. Scott Frank, who we know from Out of Sight. This movie is The Lookout. But he is a screenwriter’s screenwriter. And he is known for writing amazing scripts, but also helping to write a lot of other movies you’ve seen out there in the world.

And this was a scene that you picked out of his movie, The Lookout, and I’d love for everyone to sort of read along with us, but we’re also going to play the clip from the actual finished movie. So it’s not going to be one of those classic Three Page Challenges where you have to download the PDF and read along at home, although that link we’ll be there. We can actually listen to this scene.

But first, I think Craig should set it up, because I watched it without any setup and I was a little bit confused.

Craig: Sure. So, The Lookout is essentially a movie about a young many who has a promising future ahead of him. He comes from a wealthy family. And he gets into a terrible car accident. And as a result, he suffers lasting brain injury which is impairing him. It’s not impairing him physically as much as it has disrupted his ability to concentrate, his memory, and to some extent it has damaged his personality. He is a bit of a broken guy.

He actually has to live with another gentleman who is in the same kind of rehabilitation, or I guess you would call it adult monitoring program that he’s in. And this other guy is blind, so that’s his issue. So, you have a blind man and a brain-injured man, both living in an apartment together, kind of helping each other, and looking out for each other.

But The Lookout is not about that. The Lookout is about the fact that this young guy, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and remarkably the character’s name is Chris Pratt.

John: Yeah. I found that hilarious.

Craig: Isn’t that wild? This movie came out, I want to say, gosh, 2005 maybe, something like that. 2007. So, in 2007 nobody knew about Chris Pratt. [laughs] And so Scott Frank wrote a movie with a character named Chris Pratt. So Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays Chris Pratt. And Chris Pratt is at a bar. His job is he’s the night caretaker at a bank, at a small branch in a rural bank.

And he meets up with an old guy he sort of knew from high school, but doesn’t quite know, and his memory is not working very well. And this guy realizes that Chris works as the night watchman at this bank and slowly starts to pull him into a plan where the bank is going to be robbed, Chris will be the lookout, and he will get a share of the money.

And at this point in the movie, Chris who wasn’t necessarily interested in this has kind of fallen for a bit of a baited hook. The bad guy’s girlfriend is a woman played by Isla Fisher and her name is Luvlee, Luvlee Lemons. And she just thinks Chris is the best. She’s falling for him, and he can’t believe it. And, in fact, she’s come back to the apartment that he shares with Jeff Daniels, who plays the blind gentleman named Lewis. And she has just had sex with him and everything is pretty great.

John: With Chris Pratt. With the Joseph Gordon-Levitt character.

Craig: Correct. She’s just had sex with Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He thinks everything is wonderful. And that’s all really all that Lewis, Jeff Daniel’s character, knows is that something is up. And that’s pretty much it.

John: All right. So let me do some descriptive storytelling for people who are listening to this clip, but not watching the clip. So this clip is going to have Isla Fisher and Jeff Daniels. Jeff Daniels is mostly in shadow. Isla Fisher at the start of the scene is at the refrigerator. Then she comes over and sits across from Jeff Daniels as they have their conversation. There are moments at which we cut away and you’ll hear the audio shift. And that’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt listening in the other room to this conversation that’s happening in the main room.

But everything else is just these two characters talking, which is why I think it’s a good scene for our radio theater of Scriptnotes. So, let’s take a listen to the clip.


Luvlee, I presume. I recognize the perfume. Can I offer you some pie? It’s not homemade, but it’s decent.


No, thank you.


Gotta watch your figure I imagine, your line of work. Nice name, by the way -- Luvlee Lemons.


I don’t dance any more. I was never very good at it.


Please tell me you’re not waving your hand in front of my face.


Oh, sorry. Have you been blind your whole life?


Most of it. Yeah.


How’d it happen?


I looked at the sun too long.


Wow. You hear about that...


Let me ask you a question, what’s your real name?


Why? You gonna Google me?


I did, what would I find?


Probably nothing.


And what happens if I Google Gary?


How’d you meet Chris?


Center put us together few years ago.


And now he’s your best friend.


He’s a good friend.


Maybe your only friend, huh?


Hey, Luvlee? That thing I said about the sun? It’s a lie. Total bullshit.




I was about your age, some buddies and me wanted to make money, so we started a meth lab --


You blew yourself up?


Do I look like I blew myself up? No, I didn’t blow myself up. This was a while back, before meth was fashionable, so, unfortunately, it wasn’t yet known that if you work in an unventilated room, the fumes can, and in fact do, blind you. Something which probably could have been avoided if I had just stopped and bothered to ask a simple question: What am I doing here?


That is a sad story. I’m sorry. If it’s true --


Tell me, what are y’all cookin’, sweetheart? Why are you here?


The same reason you are. Chris Pratt.


Sweet. Course not quite as sweet as meeting in a bar. Or giving somebody a cellphone.


Gary wants to help Chris.


I bet he does.


Do you know Gary?


I’ve known lots of Gary’s. A few Luvlee’s, too.




Meaning something tells me that you really don’t believe you’re gonna to be invited to the next Pratt Thanksgiving.


I could be.


(Laughs) Sometimes I wake up and think I can see until I walk into a door. No, the Luvlee Lemmons of this world do not end up with Chris Pratt.


Thank you, asshole.


Sad but true. But, that brings me back to that original question, Luvlee. So tonight, in the dark, I’m going to help you out and ask it again: what are you doing here?

John: All right. And that’s our scene. So, if you want to read along with the script, which is very much like the scene, but there are a few changes in dialogue, you can. That’s also in the show notes, There’s a link there for the YouTube if you want to watch the YouTube and see sort of how it was shot.

So, Craig, talk us through what you see in the scene. How you think it’s working and what got you excited about this scene.

Craig: Well, to me the scene is really valuable as an instructive tool. We are always looking for examples of good scenes to show to people. Most of the time, what ends up happening is we show them exciting scenes. But exciting scenes are capable of hiding certain deficiencies because they’re full of fun. It’s a little bit like on a cooking show, it’s one thing to say, “Look at this. I made this remarkably complicated soufflé,” versus, “I made you a scrambled egg, but man, it’s a great scrambled egg.” Right?

So, what I loved about this scene was it was paired down to almost the barest minimum you can have in a scene. There is literally I think one or two lines that occur while Luvlee Lemons is walking into the room, but then she sits down and that’s it. It’s just two people sitting, they barely move, and it’s just talking. And, yet, I think it’s a great example of conflict and of what I would call scene harmony.

People will say sometimes, you know, it would be good if your writing were a little tighter. And it’s hard to understand what the hell that means. And what I think it means is that things are serving more than one purpose at a time. So sometimes I think about scenes as moving on three different axes. There’s whatever is going on inside the main character, there is whatever is going on between two characters or two or more characters, and then there is whatever is going on in the world.

And there are wonderful scenes that have only one of those things, but the best scenes to me have all three working together and affecting and impacting each other and kind of unfolding like a little puzzle. So I really thought that there was just some wonderful stuff going on here, and I would love to — I mean, I would literally go through this bit by bit and talk about what I love.

John: Great. Let me restate your three things just to make sure that I understand them and maybe anchor them more in people’s minds. So, in any scene, let’s say this is a scene with two characters, you’re looking at what is the inner state of that character, you’re looking at what are they trying to do, what’s driving them, both in the immediate term, but also longer term. So that’s one level of what you’re looking at.

Second level you’re looking at what is the conversation, what is the external thing that they’re showing. So, in this case, it is the ball that they are hitting back and forth. It is their conversation. And so it’s the nature — the scene is really just them talking. So, what words are they choosing, how are they responding to what each other character is saying? How are they both alive and present in that scene, pushing back and forth?

And that third thing is what else is happening in the world. What is the nature — it’s all the scene description, really. It’s the non-dialogue part of this story, which is what is the setting, what are the other sounds, who else is observing this. How does the situation present itself? What is the movement? All those other things that you’re seeing in the scene that aren’t part of the dialogue itself.

Are those these axes you’re looking at?

Craig: Yeah. Essentially we’re talking about internal, interpersonal, external.

So, the external ones are the easiest ones. A car crashes into your car. Things happen. Gun shots ring out somewhere. We tend to focus most of our work on the interpersonal. Scenes tend to be mostly about relationships and how people are, like you say, ping-ponging off each other. But there are some wonderful scenes where people are alone and realize the thing.

All of your good revelation moments generally are internal, but we understand them.

The fun of thinking about scenes this way is that you start to focus in on a really important question when you’re writing a scene, every scene, scene after scene after scene. At least one of these states — an internal state, an interpersonal state, an external state — at least one of them must be different at the end of my scene. Or this scene is not a scene. And it doesn’t belong in my movie.

And that’s where we talk — when you and I talk about intention and purpose, this is where the intention and purpose starts to happen. The changing state. What has changed inside of you? Nothing? Fine. What has changed between you and her? Nothing? Fine.

What has just changed in the world? There are times when you can get all three working kind of nicely. And I love that.

John: Yeah. Do you want to talk about Scott Frank’s intention as the author as we start this scene, or what the two character’s intention is? Because I think they’re both really interesting things to look at. I mean, Scott Frank has a checklist of things he sort of needs this scene to accomplish narratively and why it needs to fit into the story.

But we can also look at sort of what each of these characters is trying to do over the course of the scene.

Craig: Well, I think it’s actually a great question to ask. And here’s the nice part and the good news for everybody else. Scott does not have complicated intentions here. Your intentions really never should be that complicated.

Here’s what he’s hoping to accomplish with this scene. He wants Luvlee to be confronted by somebody quite a bit wiser and smarter than the dupe. And he wants that person to start making her feel guilty, because she is guiltable. Whereas her boyfriend, the bad guy, and poor Chris Pratt doesn’t know that that’s her boyfriend because he’s a little brain damaged — her boyfriend is not guiltable. Her boyfriend is just a bad guy.

She’s being used here, too, and so he’s — that’s what he’s trying to accomplish. It’s not Lewis is going to become the superhero of this movie to try and stop her. It’s entirely about having her character have a moment where she’s caught and needs to start contemplating a big choice. Am I going to follow through with this plan, or am I actually going to start honor the legitimate feelings I’m having for this dupe I’m supposed to be duping.

John: Great. So that is a goal for Scott Frank with his character. So it’s a change he’s trying to effect in Luvlee’s character.

Craig: Correct.

John: And as much of a change he’s trying to effect, he’s trying to raise the audience’s question about sort of what her real motivations are and whether it’s possible to shift those motivations.

Craig: Exactly correct. And that’s key. Because in this moment, he is essentially creating an expectation for a resolvable drama. It’s a question of will she or won’t she. Is she going to do the right thing or the wrong thing? Does she really love him? Does she not really love him? Is she redeemable? Is she not redeemable? What is going to happen to the lookout?

And it all comes out of this scene. But what I find so wonderful about the way Scott has written this is that he took it upon himself to entertain us the entire time. And his entertainment revolves around revealing information about a character, the dreaded backstory, the dreaded exposition, that normally we’re trying to hide and bury. Here, actually works in service of his greater intention.

John: Yeah, the backstory he’s trying to reveal here is that issue of like how he became blind, which is one of those sort of like origin stories that weirdly is not so important in the movie as I recall. It never really comes back around. But it helps to explain how he recognizes the kinds of people that she is and that Gary is. That he’s been around those types of people before.

Craig: That’s correct. Suddenly his character starts to come into view as somebody that is more than we thought. He seemed like an avuncular, nice, blind fellow who out of brotherly love was helping this poor kid. And yet now we realize perhaps he sees more than we thought, no pun intended. And his revelation of this puts her in an interesting spot. Her response to it is what starts to make us learn about her.

So I want to talk about this interesting little moment here. The way this begins, she’s coming into the kitchen after post-coital to get something to eat. And it’s dark. And he startles her by saying, “Luvlee, I presume.” And he’s sitting at the table, but in the dark, because he doesn’t need lights.

And she sees him and he says to her this kind of nice — I call this Colombo stuff, like I’m going to lure you in by just being a nice guy. I recognize the perfume. Can I offer you some pie? It’s not homemade, but it’s very nice.

And then he says, “Got to watch your figure, I imagine, your line of work. Nice name by the way, Luvlee Lemons.” This is the first time anyone in the movie has mentioned that she’s a stripper. Or that she was a stripper. Oh, this is how he recognizes the perfume. He’s seen her before, sort of, like he’s been around. He knows that she’s a dancer, even though he can’t see.

And she admits it now very casually. And I love this. And this is when I talk about subtext and dialogue, a lot of times new writers struggle. They have a response. This guy has just picked at this little scab, this thing that she thought was hidden away. And he’s right away in a very pleasant, unassuming manner just gone, oh, I noticed you have this little scab here. Let me pick at it.

Of course, if we put ourselves in the point of view of a character hearing that, we immediately get defensive. And we want that person to be defensive. But in reality, if you think about the way you are with people, when someone puts you on the defensive, if you are a certain kind of person, a capable person, the first thing you do is immediately attempt to mask that you are defensive, because you understand inherently, but to show that is to show weakness.

John: So her line back to that is, “I don’t dance anymore. I was never very good at it.” It’s a way of throwing away a reaction to it. Just like, oh, that doesn’t bother me at all.

Craig: Exactly. Oh yeah, no, that’s right. Yeah. I was a stripper. I wasn’t very good at it. See, I can play the casual game, too. But already now, and for those of you who write three pages and send them in, think about how much we have learned in a half a page. An enormous amount, not just about who she was as a person, but about who she is now as a person.

And, then, there’s some comedy, which is great. She waves her hand in front of his face. This was a big laugh in the theater because she starts moving her hand in front of his face and he says, “Please tell me you’re not waving your hand in front of my face.” Big laugh. And it’s funny. But also why is she doing that? And you learn something else about her character now. She’s not willing to take it on faith that he really is blind.

What a fascinating thing to reveal about somebody, because now just casually — and by the way I do believe that when we’re in an audience we don’t necessarily pick it up overtly, but it seeps into us that she is suspicious. And who is suspicious of a blind man? Maybe somebody who is a little bit of a con-artist themselves.

John: Absolutely. The other thing which this is doing is showing that sort of third axis you talked about, which is what is the actual situation giving you. And so this is the setting, this is — it’s what it’s really like to be in that space. And she’s not convinced he’s blind. He’s already sitting in the dark. And so she’s doing a very natural human reaction which is is he really seeing me and he gets to hit that ball right back to her.

Craig: Right. And notice that at this point we don’t necessarily know what Lewis’s goal is. But, as every scene is a little mini-movie, the protagonist of the scene has a goal. The goal, the intention, is what is driving everything in the scene. It is driving his point of view. Everything he says. How he responds. And for the performer, how they are going to play the part.

He has a goal right now. We don’t yet know what it is. So then she says, “Have you been blind your whole life?” And it’s a perfectly bland question. And you might think, well why is she just asking a bland question right now?

What I get off of it is that this is a smart person. I notice that the way she answered his stripper question. She’s playing dumb. She’s playing innocent ingénue, because that’s the safest move. And he says, “Most of it.” And she says, “How did it happen?” And he says, “I looked at the sun too long.” And she says, “Wow, you hear about that.”

Now, another big laugh. When she says, “Wow, you hear about that,” here’s what he doesn’t say, “Uh, I think you know that I didn’t go blind by looking at the sun too long.” He lets it go. Instead he says, “Let me ask you a question. What’s your real name?”

Now I love this. So, again, playing at home, for your Three Page Challenge, and by the way, Scott cheated. It’s actually 3.5 pages, but fine. We’re at the top of page two. And by the top of page two I now know that she is a not trusting person. She is crafty enough to hide her defensiveness. I know that she used to be a stripper. I know that she likes to play dumb to avoid being held accountable. And I also know that he notices that she’s doing it and is going to move right by it, because he’s now interested in upping the ante. He’s chasing something and he feels like he can get her.

We are watching a fight, whether we know it or not. This is good as karate as far as I’m concerned.

John: So the next phase here is the “let me ask you a question, what’s your real name? Why, you going to Google me? If I did, what would I find? Probably nothing.” Here you’re making clear what is the intention of the scene, that Lewis actually is approaching the scene with some agenda, which is to try to figure out who she really is. And she is deflecting these questions. She’s answering a question with a question, which is a very classic technique to sort of avoid answering anything.

I think our expectation is that he’s going to keep asking her questions when in fact he doesn’t really care about the answers to those questions. He mostly wants to demonstrate that he’s on to her.

Craig: Right. Great point. So, what is the value of demonstrating that you know you’re on to somebody? You start to see what his real purpose is. He doesn’t really care, because he already — I mean, he doesn’t really care what she’s up to, because he knows it’s no good. He already knows it. He knew it before she walked in the room.

What he wants to do is make her know that he knows it, and make her start to question whether she wants to go through it. Whatever it is, he will not know at the end of this discussion what these two are doing. So, she again continues to play dumb. And he says, “If I did what would I find?” “Probably nothing.”

And that is a poor me. You know, like I’m no, you know, I’m no good. Now she’s trying a little sympathy. And he doesn’t pick it up. And he says, “And what happens if I Google Gary?” That’s the bad buy. That’s the boyfriend. And she goes, “I don’t know.”

“How’d you meet Chris?” Great. Great.

Now, I mention this because a lot of times when I read screenplays by new writers, or seasoned writers, arguments become very much to the point. And oftentimes in life they are very much to the point. It’s a rare thing to have a fight with your wife that goes like this. They don’t. But then again, fights with your wife, fights with your husband, they’re fairly mundane and low stakes. Or if they’re high stakes, they’re between two reasonable people who are not trying to entertain anyone with a narrative.

These two people are dancing. So much fun to watch.

John: I want to talk a little bit about just the words on the page, because this is basically just a two-hander, just dialogue conversation. But Scott is breaking up the page with these interjections.

So, Lewis asks, “And what happens if I Google Gary.” In the scene description, “She shrugs, hums ‘I don’t know.'” So this is a case where there’s sort of dialogue being put in the scene description, but it’s basically helping us show what it is that she’s trying to avoid saying, the I don’t know.

And also just keeping us from being just a solid gutter of dialogue on the page.

Craig: Right. Exactly. And the shrug and the hum as an action does help us understand a little bit better as we’re reading it. This is let’s say we have not seen the movie. We’re thinking about making the movie. It helps us get a little bit more of what she’s really doing there with this clear change.

Now, another wonderful moment here.

“How’d you meet Chris?” Nine out of ten writers would say, “Why are you changing the subject, Luvlee?” Because that feels fun. But I love that Lewis just answers it. Because he’s better than she is at this. He has no problem being a little patient here. Sometimes in chess you move your piece backwards. Great. This is jujitsu.

You know, there’s times to punch, there are times to feint. A lot of writers forget about the feinting part. So he answers. “Center put us together a few years ago.” She says, “And now he’s your best friend.” Lewis says, “He’s a good friend.” And she says, “Maybe your only friend?”

Now, by the way, this is now at the 1.5 page mark. Let us review. She used to be a stripper. She is suspicious. She knows something about con men or at least has that instinct in her. Lewis is insightfully determining that she’s up to something, he’s not sure what. And he’s not going to let her off. She tries to play dumb. It doesn’t work.

She tries to get sympathy. It doesn’t work. She tries to change the subject. It doesn’t work because he lets her change the subject which takes the power away from it. So now she’s going to stick it to him. This is the first moment where she jabs back and lets him know don’t think that this is going to be that easy.

And so what is his response, John?

John: “Hey Luvlee, that thing about the sun, it was a total lie, total bullshit.” So this is, okay, you’re going to hit me with this, then I’m going to lay down a few more of my cards here on the table. And it’s a change that we’re seeing here. Now I want to acknowledge that I am not as much of a fan of this middle section of the scene as I think you are. And I think there is a way this could have been taken out and we could have gotten a slightly better through line on this.

But I do like it more on the page than I liked it staged in that what Scott chooses here on the page, that may be your only friend, I could imagine a line reading of that where the energy really shifted dramatically in that scene. As filmed, I didn’t feel that shift as much I felt the possibility of that shift here on the page.

I think the transition from the earning “that may be your only friend,” and then getting to how he’s getting to “Hey Luvlee,” I really see the possibilities here on the page. I didn’t see it actually performed as much as it was cut together.

Craig: Look, I do love the scene as it is, but I understand what you’re saying. This is where the craft of screenwriting can be frustrating. Because, let’s put it this way, the person who staged and shot the scene is the same guy that wrote the scene.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: So now imagine what it’s like when you write the scene and somebody else — I mean, the way that things are imagined are often so different, for those of who write them, or those of us reading the writing than they are from what we see. And there will always be those things.

But I do love how Lewis — so on the page she says, “Maybe your only friend?” He doesn’t answer that. Finally leans forward. Okay, I was waiting for you to show that you had a stinger. You did. Thank you. Now let’s talk real. Let’s get to it.

We’ve been dancing, feinting, and jabbing for a page and a half. You’ve now finally admitted that we’re in a fight and that you’re capable. Fine. Here we go.

So he says I’m going to now tell you the story of — he tells her the story of how he went blind. And what’s fascinating is we were not expecting this at all. We had no idea how he went blind. In fact, I remember watching the movie thinking I just assumed that he was blind. I didn’t know that there was a moment he became blind. And, in fact, when he said I stared at the sun too long, I presumed that was just his snarky way of saying I was born blind, duh.

But, no, and now he tells this story. And the story that he tells says that he went blind because he was one of the people cooking meth back before cooking meth was fashionable, and back before people knew what they were doing cooking meth. And he did not know that working with those chemicals in an unventilated room could blind you.

And he says something which probably could have been avoided had I just stopped and bothered to ask a simple question: what am I doing here. Mm-hmm. And at last, right, he reveals his goal. Not only does he reveal it — so, I just love the synchronicity. I love the harmony. What is happening here?

We have learned something that is a fact about our character, his back story. We have learned something about his internal life. Suddenly, this guy has become a different guy to us. He is not just a nice sweet blind man who is worried about his friend. He’s a criminal. Once a criminal, always a criminal. He’s a bad guy, too, in his own way.

And we now know why he’s blind and we have a certain appreciation for the tragedy and drama of that. We now know why he’s protective of Chris, somebody who is innocent and not a criminal and yet on the verge of becoming one. And we now know why he sees her for what she is.

And we also get all of that to change their relationship, which has been changing throughout to something very, very different.

John: So, he is telling this story about himself, but he’s putting her into the place of the story. He’s saying, like, you know, I did these criminal things and I should have stopped to ask myself what am I doing here. And that the I pronoun is really meant to be for her. Like what is she doing here? And that she should be asking herself that same question. It’s a way of very classically you tell a story about yourself hoping that the other person will see themselves in the story that you’re telling.

And it’s a smart move for Lewis to do that I largely believe, because he’s able to sell it as if it’s answering her question about how he became blind, but it’s moving forward his agenda with her.

Craig: That’s exactly right. And his — as his tactics have shifted, we arrive at this fascinating one, because the initial tactic was to be gentle, and then it was to be snarky, and then it was to be challenging. And now it’s to be empathetic. When he tells her this story, he’s revealing something of himself almost in trade. What he’s saying is I’m you. Don’t think of me as not you. I’m actually in the thieves guild, too.

So, pay attention now. You’re not getting hectored and lectured by a do-gooder. I’m trying to save you here. Then her response to that is, “What a sad story, if it’s true.” He hasn’t gotten her –

John: Yeah. So, once that story, if it’s true, that feels like a recall to “maybe your only friend.” It’s her finding backbone again. My — if I have an issue with Luvlee in this scene overall, it’s that she’s being asked to play dumb and smart simultaneously. And so I look at her lines at the bottom of page two, when he says, “It was a lie. Total bullshit.” She goes, “Oh…” “We started to make money.” She asks, “You blew yourself up?”

And, again, it’s hard to separate myself from the performance that I saw before I read the page, but it seemed like an earnest question, like she’s asking with a sort of baby doll voice, “You blew yourself up,” as if she really believed it. Whereas that doesn’t seem to track with the intelligence that I saw with “maybe your only friend,” or at least what her intention was with “maybe your only friend.” Does that make sense?

Craig: It does. The way I got it, I mean, when I watched the movie and the scene again, is that this is her move. Every character has a move, and this move has worked for her a thousand times, a million times. This is someone who has stolen a lot of money and manipulated a lot of hearts while she has lived a sad life. She’s probably also lost quite a few bites in her day.

And she is a stripper and she is using her body and she is using her wiles to survive. And she can’t help but presume that her best shot, her right hook, is going to be the one that will take this guy down. And so she’s going to keep going back to it, like a fighter with a bad habit who can’t believe it’s not working.

So, you know, you can look at her kind of choosing to do the same thing and expecting different results as a flaw in the execution, but you can also look at it as a flaw in her character, which is the way I do. That she can’t stop. But when she says, “What a sad story, if it’s true,” you’re right. That is her coming back to, okay, let me drop that tactic, it’s not working. Let me try a different one.

And also let me reveal that my initial suspicion of you, waving the hand in front of your face, hasn’t gone away. I don’t know — I’m not willing to let you in yet, give you the credibility to make me feel something that I’m probably already feeling. And this is when Lewis finally just says, “We’ve arrived.” We’re at page 2.5 now. “Tell me, what are you all cooking, sweetheart? Why are you here?”

And this is also just craft now, folks. He’s cooked food. She’s going to eat the food. He’s already eating the food. He’s a meth cook. What are you all cooking up here? Subtle. It’s not a big deal. It just makes things feel like a piece, which I like.

John: Yeah. It’s rhyming. It’s rhyming a word literally. I mean, it’s rhyming an idea. And using that to make it clear that there’s intention behind the words that Lewis is choosing.

Craig: Correct. And so we enter act three. Because I really think of that — that’s like let’s talk about the scene like a movie, act one presumes, and we get into act two when Lewis says, “Let me ask you a question. What’s your real name?” That’s the beginning of act two. The end of act two is, “Tell me, what are you all cooking?” Now we begin the climax.

She is now in full struggle mode. She’s losing. And she’s going to just start now throwing wild punches. “Same reason you are. Chris Pratt.”

He says, “Sweet. Of course, not quite as sweet as meeting at a bar, or giving someone a cellphone.” He knows things. She’s squirming.

Now she just says, “Gary wants to help Chris.” That’s out of nowhere. That was a mistake, right? Like you know how, I don’t know if you ever looked at the chess column in a newspaper where they analyze a game, or a bridge column. They report the moves. And when they get to a move that’s a mistake, they put a question mark next to it. This gets a question mark next to it. She made a mistake. And he’s got her now. And he says, “I’ve known lots of Garys. A few Luvlees, too.” [laughs] It’s so good.

She says, “Meaning?” But it’s over. And he says, “Meaning that something tells me you don’t really believe that you’re going to be invited to the next Pratt Thanksgiving.” Ow. Right? Just like, look, you’re a stripper. You expect me to buy this bullshit that the wealthy Pratt family is going to welcome brain-damaged Chris’s new stripper girl into the house? You don’t believe that. You don’t think anyone would ever believe that. That’s not what you’re up to here at all. This is about Gary. What are you doing?

And she says, “Well I could be.” And he says, just in case you didn’t get it, “Sometimes I wake up, I think I can see, until I walk into a door. The Luvlee Lemons of the world don’t end up with Chris Pratt.”

And she says, “Well thank you, asshole.” That’s it, right? She’s, okay, I’ve lost. I’m not going to give you the satisfaction of admitting I lost. I’m just going to revert back to hurt girl and I’m going to stick with my lie.

And so now he has a problem. Because she’s pulled the rip cord and she’s exiting. And this is a great thing to think about when you’re writing arguments. When we have arguments with people, we’re in three states. We are pressing. We are sparring. Or we’re retreating. An argument is going well when you’re pressing. It means you’ve got them on the ropes and you’re just hitting them, right? Sparring means you’re in that ping pong zone. You guys are going back and forth. It’s an even match. Retreating is when you know this is not going well for you.

And when we are losing an argument, everyone has a strong instinct to say something that will get them out of it. They’re trying to run away now. So this is when people say things like, “I don’t know what you want from me.” Or, “What do you want from me?” Or –

John: “Let’s agree to disagree.” Yeah, the closers. Yeah.

Craig: Get me out of this. What makes this stop? And the problem is it’s effective. The person who has been pressing suddenly now knows they’re getting out of the ring now. Or the bell is about to ring and the round is about to end. I need to just throw the punch, the only punch that I have left. And so here, at the very top of page four, he says, “Sad but true, but it takes me back to that original question, Luvlee. So tonight, in the dark, let me help you out. Help you out. And ask it again: what are you doing here?”

And she has no response. At which point he gets up and says, “There’s some killer chicken salad in the fridge. My secret is the apples. Gives it a nice texture.” He’s like, all right. That was it. I’ve got nothing left for you.

But we get that his goal has been achieved to some extent. We can see it in her face. He’s planted the seed now. And it’s not a seed of you’re a bad person. And it’s not a seed of stop what you’re doing, or tell me what you’re doing. It’s a seed of using guilt to make her reconsider whatever the hell it is.

John: Yep. So, let’s talk about the differences between the scene we’re reading on the page and the scene as staged. And so one of the big differences is that in the scene in the film itself, we cut away to see Chris Pratt is listening to some part of the conversation. And so that is not reflected in these pages. So he’s overhearing some of this, which definitely changes the nature of our audience focus, because we’re always going to be sympathetic to our hero, and sort of what our hero knows. And it changes how Chris is perceiving both this girl and his roommate.

And so it really shifts the nature of the scene to insert that cutaway. It takes away from the sparring match to a certain degree. It’s like every time you cut away to an audience member in a boxing match. Like, well, you’re not in the boxing match to some degree. And it does change the nature of this conflict, because a scene about two people is now a scene about three people.

That’s one thing I noticed. I don’t know at what point during the process the decision to include Chris in that shot occurred.

The other thing I want to take a look at is if you’re watching the scene on YouTube, the conversation between the two of them, once they’re seated at the table, is very much the tennis match. It’s very much I hit the ball, you hit the ball, I hit the ball, you hit the ball. And doesn’t change a lot over the nature of the argument. There’s no — while there’s some pauses, the film itself doesn’t reset itself for some of those other moments and shifts along the way. So it’s a very straightforward way of covering this, which may be the best choice for it. But you can imagine a director taking other ways to sort of visualize what the shifts are in the conversation.

Craig: I agree with you. I suspect that the cutaways to Chris were something that they worked out maybe as they were planning how to shoot that. Because they needed to know that they were going to be in his room and shooting him listening. But it’s not on the page here, so I suspect it was a later decision. It’s an interesting one. And it’s also interesting and brave that Scott has this scene dialed in as carefully as he does, and yet is okay with losing some of the words, even in the audio, to really focus on Chris and how this is sinking in.

But it is an interesting choice and I actually think it pays off well, because we want to know that he also is starting to be concerned. And we want to know that this can set up conflict between him and Lewis.

It’s only interesting for Luvlee to do the right thing if she knows that she can get away with it. And so seeing Chris make a choice to believe her puts her and us in a more interesting dramatic state of mind.

The execution of the scene editorially, you’re correct, is very much about competing singles. You know, it’s funny, I remember talking with Scott. It was actually during the process when he was editing A Walk Among the Tombstones. And he said that he kind of had this big epiphany moment in post where he made a concerted effort along with his editor to reduce cuts and try and stay in takes as long as he could, especially in moments like this. And there are some excellent moments.

Another really, really good movie I think, A Walk Among the Tombstones, if you haven’t seen it. Some really good interesting conversations in that movie. And, yes, I agree that when we cut the audience will not necessarily make the conscious calculation that you’re cheating, but it starts to sink in. We know that the rhythm is being manufactured rather than actually being played. It’s a huge thing in comedy.

I mean, one of the great rules of comedy I learned from David Zucker is if you’re going to do a physical gag and it’s a thing where something happens that causes someone to get hurt, it must be in one. You cannot show the thing that’s going to cause them to be hurt and then cut to them being hurt. You’ve lost the credit for rigging the gag.

And similarly here, I do think that there are a couple of spots where it would have been better had it been in one long shot, to see that the two of them actually have that rhythm. Of course, who knows? See, the thing is –

John: Yeah, we don’t see the footage. And we don’t know what the actual day was like and sort of what the –

Craig: Exactly.

John: This may have absolutely been the best version of this scene with what they had, and that’s totally great. And there may be reasons why these were the performances that really landed. And so I can’t sort of second guess what that is.

Just in the hypothetical version, I love that you were talking about the physicality of her, and her stripper body, because I think that’s a real potential that her nature is — it would actually help sell some of those lines I had an issue with. If her nature is just to go to her baby doll voice and sort of use her body and then — I would love to see the moment of recognition where she goes, oh shit, I can’t do this because he’s blind. He can’t see my tits. So this is not — I need to stop doing this thing.

That is a potential, but that only can play if you have a little bit wider shots to sort of see what that is.

Craig: Yeah. One of the things that I wish I could round up movie reviewers and force them to sit and watch movies be painstakingly created, I wish they could see this. There are times when for whatever reason you can’t do what you want. It’s not that you didn’t know. It’s that you could do it. One of the things that comes up all the time when you’re shooting is well how will we cut this. Will it cut together? But, you’re also — when you’re doing takes you’re thinking where do I get the scissors in here? And can I get the scissors in? And do I need to get the scissors in?

Some of the most valuable direction that I’ve seen directors give actors is, “Great. Let’s do this again. And now let’s do it faster.” Because if there is a rhythm to this that is at the tempo I want, I won’t need to cut. But sometimes they flub a line. Stuff happens. This is life. So, I would have been fascinated to have been there that day.

But for people that are writing scenes, what’s so fantastic about this is that it really does focus everything down to — it’s as if Scott has pulled away every easy trick available. There are no guns. There’s no chasing. No one is entering or exiting once it begins. There’s literally barely light. It’s just two people and it’s entirely about the internal and the interpersonal.

And then at the end it is creating an external. It is creating this state that is going to either occur or not. And we know there is going to be a choice in this movie that’s coming down the line.

So, so well done and really worth studying.

John: Yeah, I think Scott Frank has a career ahead of him if he keeps writing at this level. We should all be so lucky.

So, Craig, thank you for that suggestion. I think it really is great to look at some finished — we’ve done episodes where we’ve looked at finished movies and we’ve talked through Raiders and Ghost, but this is great to look at sort of the words on the page, the scene, and be able to really focus in on just one specific moment.

I think it’s now time for our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is actually just a simple thing you can do if you’re ever traveling overseas. You will tend to have a little bit of extra money in whatever native currency as you head back to the US, or head back to your home country. A great thing to spend that on is iTunes gift cards. And the reason why you may want to do that is there will often be situations where you want to watch something that is not available in your home country.

So, for instance, we love to watch Downton Abbey. And we love to watch it when it comes out in the UK, not when it comes out here. Because we have some iTunes gift cards from the UK, we’re able to set up a British iTunes account and use those to fund it. And so we’re able to spend that money to watch Downton Abbey. Sometimes even a movie will be available on iTunes UK and not be available here. And so we spend that iTunes money to do that.

So, really useful if you’re traveling to — if you’re an American traveling to the UK, traveling to France if you love French movies, or Spain, to spend that leftover $25 you have to buy an iTunes gift card.

If you are traveling from overseas to the US, by all means do the same thing because it’s a way to get some of those shows like very soon Crazy Ex-Girlfriend before you might be able to see them in your home country.

Craig: Fantastic. Well, my One Cool Thing this week is a One Old Cool Thing. It’s Games Magazine. First of all, it’s a magazine. My wife gets Bon Appetit. She loves Bon Appetit. She has actually a very cool thing. They have like a club of people in my town that get together on a particular like one day out of the month and each one is assigned a thing from Bon Appetit magazine. And I actually think Bon Appetit is great. But other than that print magazine, everything else is gone except for Games.

Games Magazine has been around forever. It was around when I was a kid. And David Kwong, my favorite magician, and I — who we’re constantly doing puzzles together — he said you’ve got to just get Games Magazine again, because they have really good puzzles. And they do.

So, I love that I can still support a good old paper magazine that shows up at your house once a month. I forgot the fun of a surprise subscription. You know, when it comes in the mail it’s like, oh my god, I got Games Magazine. So, that’s my One Cool Thing this week, Games Magazine.

John: Fantastic. So, you’ll see links to the things we talked about on the show at our show notes at or /Scriptnotes. Both will get you there. We are on iTunes. So, if you’re listening to the show through the website, better that you go to iTunes and actually subscribe, that way we get credit for you subscribing and other people can find the show.

We have an app for Android and for iOS. You can find that in their respective app stores. Through those and through you can access all the back catalogue, so you can listen back to episode one, or to the Christmas show where Aline first talked about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend with Rachel Bloom.

If you would like to send us a question, you can write short things on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Longer questions, write in to

If you have a t-shirt that’s on its way, give it an extra few days. And if it has not shown up then write into, and that’s what Stuart checks to make sure people have actually gotten t-shirts in right.

Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth, who has written many of our great outros. If you have an outro for us, just write into and send us a link to wherever you have it on SoundCloud or wherever and we will put it in the hopper. So thank you for everyone who has sent in those great outros. And that is our show this week. Thanks Craig.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: Bye.

Craig: Bye.


What went right and what could have gone better with Writer Emergency Pack

Thu, 10/15/2015 - 13:33

This week is the one year anniversary of Writer Emergency Pack. I wrote about it at our newly-redesigned site:

It was a test deck, full of typos and formatting errors, but it felt like something worth pursuing.

I showed the prototype to screenwriter friends, soliciting their feedback. I took several decks to the Austin Film Festival, passing them around during the live Scriptnotes session.

On November 3rd, we launched our Kickstarter campaign for Writer Emergency Pack. Within an hour, we were fully funded. Within days, it was clear we were onto something big.

We ended up with 5,714 backers, making us the most-backed card project in Kickstarter history.1

I originally wrote up the blog post as a look-how-far-we’ve-come retrospective, charting how in 12 months we went from an idea to shipping thousands of decks to writers and schools around the world. Basically, “Hooray for us!”

But writing is a process of discovery, and sometimes it forces you to question your central thesis.

Yes, things went well. But they could have gone better.

It’s easy to imagine an alternate history in which Writer Emergency Pack reached a bigger post-Kickstarter audience through better marketing and retail partnerships:

Every time I’m in a bookstore, I see a spot where Writer Emergency Pack would fit. Sometimes it’s on a shelf near the writing books. Other times, it’s near the register. But we’re not there, because we simply haven’t committed the time and resources to figuring it out.

We’ve had conversations with some smart retail folks, and even a tentative discussion with a potential publisher/distributor. But we’ve never gotten past talking.

The good thing about missed opportunities is that most of them are still out there. We can improve our marketing, retail and international distribution. The question is how. I’ve outlined some of what we’re thinking, but I’d encourage you to offer your own suggestions.

More than anything, I’d recommend writing up honest recaps of how things are going in your life. The process is cathartic and useful.

So often, we’re presenting sanitized versions of events in Christmas letters, or context-less status updates on Facebook. Writing up the longer version helps make sense of recent history, and offers suggestions for where you want to head next. Even if you never share what you write, putting words to these thoughts helps focus your attention in useful ways.

You can take a look at my full write-up on Writer Emergency Pack here.

  1. Oh, yeah: Exploding Kittens. That happened later.

The One Where Aline’s Show Debuts

Tue, 10/13/2015 - 08:03

Aline Brosh McKenna joins us to talk through the launch of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and what she’s learned since she introduced us to the show nearly a year ago. Brian Lowry of Variety raves that it is “one of the fall’s most promising hours.” We’re not surprised at all.

Then it’s a look at three pages from writer-director Scott Frank’s THE LOOKOUT, examining how a two-character dialogue scene works both on paper and on the screen.

Also this week: Indian screenwriters go on strike, Craig goes to Canters, and a French train hero gets stabbed in the second act.

If you got your new Scriptnotes shirt, show the world with the hashtag #scriptnotes or #scripnotesT.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

Scriptnotes, Ep 218: Features are different — Transcript

Thu, 10/08/2015 - 12:12

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

So last week we talked about the business of screenwriting a lot. And it was sort of inadvertently one of those all business episodes, so this week is going to be all about the craft of screenwriting.

We are going to talk about how writing features is much different than writing television. And how those differences start at inception. We’ll also be looking at a couple of new Three Page Challenges.

But first and most importantly, Craig, you did not kill the entire party at the last Dungeons & Dragons game. So I am thankful to you.

Craig: Well, it was an effort, actually, to not kill all of you. You know, the thing for a dungeon master is you want to make sure that the party experiences the thrill of danger and the very real possibility of death without going overboard and just wiping the floor with them.

John: Yes.

Craig: So, that’s a funny thing. I don’t want anyone to actually die-die by the end of the session, but I do want you to maybe almost die, or at least a couple of you almost die. And that’s exactly what happened. I got it just right. It was a very exciting one. And I can’t wait for our next session, because I got some good stuff planned for you.

John: I’m excited to do it. So I was looking through the dungeon master’s guide last night because that’s a thing I do before I try to fall asleep. I noticed there’s a page buried deep in the dungeon master’s guide which suggests another way that you can play the game in which characters have what’s called a plot point. And players can spend their plot point in order to change an aspect of the story, which would be a fascinating way to play the game.

So, at a certain point we could say like I’m going to spend my plot point in order to find a secret door that takes us into that room.

Craig: My guess is that as clever as you guys are, your plot points would likely break the game.

John: Indeed. The danger of six screenwriters playing Dungeons & Dragons.

Craig: Yeah. Yeah. And smart ones. And the real challenge for me is that one of our players is not a — well, he is — I think he does some writing, and he’s involved in Hollywood. I believe he does a lot of coverage and stuff. And he is a very well-seasoned dungeon master.

John: Yes.

Craig: He knows the rules inside and out. So, I have the ultimate table lawyer constantly checking on me. So, it’s good. I actually feel like I’ve held up okay under his withering attacks.

John: You’re discussing Kevin Walsh, who I actually saw at a WGA function just this past weekend. The day after our near total party kill, I saw Kevin at a screening of Black Mass. And I did a Q&A right after Black Mass. And I had a chance to talk to Mark Mallouk, one of the film’s screenwriters, about the journey to the screen of that.

And so as I’m trying to do more often, whenever I talk to screenwriters in that capacity, I record it. And so if you are a Scriptnotes Premium Subscriber, you can actually hear the audio from that session. It’s in the premium feed. So there’s a bonus episode for all the folks who are generous enough to pay us $2 a month.

Craig: How thoughtful of you.

John: We’re headed off to Austin. We’re going to also be doing a bunch of screenings for Academy Award consideration things. So, we’ll try to do more of those over the next few months, because they’re really fun, and we’re already having the conversation so why not record it.

Craig: Exactly. And I’m glad you mentioned Austin, because it’s creeping up really, really fast. I guess we’re officially in October now as you folks are listening to this. And Austin is just four weeks away. So if you haven’t already arranged to be there and you want to be there, do it now.

And I’m not sure if they’ve got the whole schedule up yet, but I do know for sure that both our live Scriptnotes and the live Three Page Challenge will not be at ungodly hours like 9AM. I think they’re at reasonable hours.

John: Yeah. You can sleep off your hangover and come in and see us.

Craig: Exactly.

John: Scriptnotes will be on the first day. And so we will have a live Scriptnotes with special guests and it should be really fun. And then the live Three Page Challenge, we are going to be selecting from a group of finalists at the Austin Film Festival and be going through those pages with those people in the audience. And then coming up on stage to talk us through what we just talked through. So, that should be a fun time. It’s the third year we’ve done that. And it should be a good time.

Craig: Excellent.

John: Cool. Some corrections from last week. You had one about Rachael Prior.

Craig: Yes. There’s something in the back of my head saying — I don’t know if she’s — I called her a development executive at Big Talk. She’s actually the head of development at Big Talk and also a producer there. So I didn’t want to shortchange her on her full nobility and title.

John: Fantastic. A development executive I guess would cover it, but it is not actually as specific as you’d want to be.

Craig: No, it makes it sound like she’s working for the person that she actually is.

John: That’s true. That’s a good way to describe it. Also, as I was looking through stuff this past week, there was a new review up for the Scriptnotes app. So, in the iOS App Store there’s a Scriptnotes app which allows people to listen to all of the back episodes. And a guy named Paul Horne left a comment that says, “Ridiculous format for an app. It’s an all-premium app. You must have the premium subscription. But there’s no way to subscribe within the app, so you’re on your own. What a stupid company.”

Craig: Hmm.

John: And Paul Horne is right. Well, not about us being a stupid company, but he’s right about it being frustrating that within the app there’s no way to actually subscribe to the premium feed. It’s because of the weird way that Apple works within app purchases. And Libsyn who actually makes the app, and it’s all their stuff.

So, yes, as a person who makes apps for iOS, we could theoretically make our own app that would be much better than it. It’s just a matter of time and resources. And we just don’t have the bandwidth to do it. So, I’m sorry. I am frustrated as you are. But if you want to subscribe to the premium feed, it’s just There’s a clunky website for which you can enter in your detail information. But once you do and sign up for an account, you can get to the premium feed through the apps, or any other way you’d like to listen to those back episodes.

Craig: That sounds great. Am I — do I have an account? [laughs] I should probably check and see.

John: You should probably check and see on that.

Craig: I should probably check and see.

John: If I dig through the website carefully enough I could either check whether you’re a subscriber, or maybe even give you as one of the podcast hosts a free premium subscription.

Craig: Ooh.

John: But I’m not even sure I can do that. It’s like that’s how old and janky the website is.

Craig: So you actually pay $2 a month?

John: I do just to make sure that it actually comes through and updates properly.

Craig: Well, if you do it, I should do it. That would be strange. I’m going to do it. You know what? I’m going to give us $2 — I’m going to give you, let’s face it — I don’t get any of this.

John: Yeah, unfortunately you’re actually giving Libsyn more of those dollars, because we split the money with Libsyn. So, it’s all crazy.

Craig: Good, I’ll give you a buck.

John: All right. Let’s talk about writing features, because this last week I had the pleasure of going in and talking to my friend Dara’s writing class. So, Dara teaches a small group of writers from USC. And she is mostly a television writer and she wanted me to come in and talk about breaking features and sort of like what it’s like to go in and figure out how you’re going to break story on a whole feature because it’s not just sort of two pilots back to back. It’s a very different beast.

Previously on the podcast we’ve talked about, you know, are people feature writers, are they TV writers. We’ve, I think, strongly urged that anyone who is aspiring to have a career in Hollywood should be thinking about writing both, because both are valid. And a person who can write a feature probably also can write TV, and vice versa. But they are very different things. And I think we’ve never actually discussed what is so different about features than writing a one-hour drama for television.

So, that is our big topic du jour.

Craig: It’s an excellent one. I think that on first blush people might think, well, the difference is that television has episodes and a movie is just a movie. But there are certain narrative implications that go along with that. And there are character implications. And I do think that while it would be great if you could do both, there are some people that are particularly well suited to one kind of storytelling or another.

John: Yeah. And, well, before we get into what’s different about the nature of stories between these two things, let’s talk about what might be different about your personality as a writer that might make you gravitate towards one or the other. Do you like being all by yourself and having complete control over everything? That is more of a screenwriter mentality, because you are a person who gets to go off in his or her little room and write the screenplay. And, yes, you have to deal with producers and executives and other people along the way, but the writing process is sort of your process.

In television, that’s not the case. In television you’re having to work with other writers and you’re having to sit in rooms and figure out what story is and that can be fantastic for many people and many people thrive in that environment. But it’s worth knowing what you are good at and what you are not good at. And maybe you won’t figure that out until you’ve actually tried.

Craig: Yeah. I think also if you’re the kind of writer that gets very excited by the new, by beginnings, and by endings and conclusions, then you would probably want to consider features more strongly than television. But if you would prefer to kind of live within a space, and have that familiarity, and write versions and variations, then, yeah, I would think television would be the path for you.

John: Absolutely. And there’s a problem solving quality I think to doing one-hour dramas, particularly one-dramas that have a procedural aspect which can be very rewarding. Like if you are person who likes to make crossword puzzles, it’s that challenge of how you’re going to fit all of this within the restrictions of both what you can say, how much time you have, what your act breaks have to be. Some people will love that and thrive in that. And that can be a great situation for many people.

Most feature people who try to do their first TV job become very frustrated when they’re first attempting to do a television pilot.

Craig: Yeah, I mean, obviously there’s more television now than not that is commercial-free. But for people that are writing network or commercial-supported cable, I mean there’s that issue of just breaking your story and stopping it and starting it again.

John: So let’s start at the inception of story and what kinds of things are different approaching a feature versus approaching television. First is repeatability. So, movies I think are fundamentally stories that can happen just once. A movie can be expressed as this is the time when this thing happened. It’s about events that occur once. It is a change that happens to a character just one time.

So, in television, you might have a one-time setup. You might have the plane crash on Lost that gets the whole series started, but you begin Lost with the idea of what is daily life going to be like on that island and that is the question of the series. The question of the series is also are they ultimately going to leave the island. But week to week it is about the interaction of those people on the island.

In movies there’s not that sense of repeatability. Or you don’t start with that idea of repeatability. There are movie franchises. So we have Fast & Furious 7, but each of those is considered its own movie and it really was thought of as its own movie. And there’s not this underlying desire from inception to create something that can regenerate itself, that can keep growing into more and more stories. It’s not a machine that keeps spitting out more ways to race cars.

Craig: Well, it’s interesting because when we talk about this, we’re talking about what makes these things attractive from the start to us. And when we think about what becomes an attractive movie idea, we’re thinking about an idea that burns itself upon completion. It is a resolvable idea. It’s a circle, you know. We begin here and then we end in our narrative circle.

In television, the ideas that excite everybody are the ones that do seem inherently endlessly productive. So, what is the story of Cheers? It’s the story of people who show up at a bar where they find camaraderie in a way they don’t anywhere else. There’s nothing about that that suggests movie.

John: At all.

Craig: And everything that suggests this never-ending pool of generation for television.

John: Yeah, I mean, Cheers or Lost or many of the things we’re talking about, they are characters in a place. And every week you’re coming back to see those characters in that place and the adventures they will have in that place.

Contrast that — we talked in previous episodes about Pixar story rules. Emma Coats had this list of really smart things that Pixar talks about when they talk about story. This is her rule number four: “Once upon a time there was blank. Every day blank. One day, blank. Because of that blank, because of that blank, until finally blank.” So, filling in those blanks is what makes it a movie.

And inherent in sort of how she’s structuring that is there is a change. You’ve started in a certain kind of world that worked a certain kind of way, but then one day something changed and because of that change, nothing could ever be the way it was again. And that is a movie story. And television — things ultimately are back to somewhat like they were before. In movies, ideally, they are not.

Craig: Yeah. The focus of a film narrative, a feature film narrative is once upon a time there was blank, until finally blank. And that word finally says a lot. In television, they’re really concentrating on every day blank. So, movies are about shattering the everyday in such a way that it cannot it be returned to. And a new normal is created at the end. And we understand that the dramatic flaw has been cured and the hero is solved. Every day of the rest of their life after the movie should probably be quite boring and stable.

John: Yes. And if there’s a sequel, then you are going to reignite that flame. But there’s an expectation that a new normal has been reached at the end of your movie journey. And the character is different for it, but the character has come to a new place of rest. And that is not the experience of television at all.

Craig: No, in television, the normal is what is interesting. So, if you watch — I mean, procedurals do this the best, every week the district attorney sits down with his associates and says we have to win a trial. That’s our normal. And that’s what we do each week. There are serializable things that can happen over the course of a television series, but even when you look at those you’ll see in soap operatic fashion that those changes are just as undoable as they are doable.

So, in a movie, let’s say a woman is in love with a guy and he doesn’t know she exists. And that’s her normal life, until one day, right, a thing happens. And that destroys the normal fabric until such time as she either ends up with this guy or comes to some other resting place that is satisfying for her. Done.

In the serialized things that happens across episodic television, people get married, they get unmarried, they break up, they don’t break up. I mean, look at Friends. Every single one of them was in love with one of the other ones of them at some point. They mixed and matched and they got married and unmarried and together and not together, because the point was it can’t end. It’s not supposed to ever end. Which is why, by the way, the last episodes of television are incredibly hard to pull off. They are fighting the nature of television in the way that a lot of movie sequels are fighting the nature of movies, which is why sequels are hard to pull off.

John: in the outline you have this described as the difference between life-changing and life-living. And I think that’s a very smart way of making the distinction. Movies are about life-changing events in these character’s lives. Television is about these characters living their daily lives. And in living their daily lives, there are ups and downs, there are peaks and valleys, there are big things that could happen to them. But it is just their daily life. It’s their ongoing story, rather than the one epic that took them from this place to that place.

Craig: Which is why, I think, narrative television in the last 10 or 15 years has done such a remarkable job, because in the embracing of the narrative of the everyday, they have found a way to connect to common experiences we all have in nice, subtle, interesting, realistic ways. Somebody spends an entire episode dealing with a thing in a way that is not meant to be buttoned up or solved. And that very closely mirrors our experience of life.

The truth is that for all of us living on this planet, most of us never actually have a movie moment in our lives. Every now and then you do. But those are special.

John: Yeah. You may have five movie moments in your entire life. And you could look at — even if you take a very famous person and you’re trying to make a biopic about them, you are going to pick sort of those few movie moments, or you’re going to try to decide what is the movie story to tell of this person’s life, because their daily life was a lot of ordinary. And if they’re an extraordinary person, their ordinary life is probably kind of too ordinary for a movie.

Craig: Yeah. It’s one of the reasons that when we do biopics we tend to gravitate feature wise towards people that die young, because it is an end. And what isn’t quite as satisfying is a biopic about somebody who just keeps on living. And then they live some more. And then more.

There was a little bit of that feeling, you know, I got that feeling when I was watching J. Edgar Hoover.

John: Yeah.

Craig: He just kept living.

John: Yeah. I honestly had that frustration with Theory of Everything. I think that Stephen Hawking is still alive, but I didn’t like that he was still alive in the movie, because you end up with a sort of two little title cards at the end that says sort of what people are like now, and then you’re just — you keep going.

Craig: Great example. Because you could make a fantastic television series about the life of Stephen Hawking because it is ongoing. And there are these things that happen all the time with him. And there’s also the progression of his disease, which frankly is more interesting, I would think, in sort of presented in a way that’s realistic.

Now, Turing, on the other hand, he died young. And so that’s a movie.

John: Yep.

Craig: It’s one of those funny things. Harder to do. I always struggle with — and it’s not fair, in a way, but I struggle with biopics where people just keep on living.

Now, sometimes the end of a narrative isn’t about death, but about a rebirth. So, for instance, What’s Love Got to Do with it is one of my favorite movies.

John: I was going to bring that up as well.

Craig: Love it.

John: I mean, it’s such a — and one of the rare examples of like they found the right place to end the movie on a highlight and just brilliantly done.

Craig: Right. Because the movie moment of her life, so she had a movie moment by being discovered. She had a movie moment by becoming famous with this man. She had a movie moment by suffering through domestic violence. She had a movie moment by breaking free of him. And then she had a movie moment of becoming a star all on her own. And when she does, we’re done. We’re good. The rest — Tina Turner is still alive. Nothing interesting is happening with her right now that deserves a movie. That’s why that was a movie.

John: I agree. In my conversation with Mark Mallouk about Black Mass, we were discussing Whitey Bulger who was a fascinating character, but as he was writing the story he just disappeared. He was just a dot-dot-dot. And there was no sense — the movie had a sense of closure. And his script had a sense of closure, but not really closure.

And so as they had a director attached and as they were starting to think about production suddenly he got the email that, oh, they found Whitey Bulger and he was living in Santa Monica, which was in 2011. And suddenly he had a very different ending for his movie. And that was in a weird way his capture made it a movie. And it provided a closure to it in a way that was absolutely necessary.

Craig: No question.

John: And there had been talk about trying to do that same — to adapt that same book into a series, and you could imagine what that series was. It could have been a great sort of limited series for HBO or Showtime. But it’s harder to imagine it as a movie without that sort of framing.

Craig: Movies end.

John: Movies end.

Craig: And television doesn’t. I mean, even when you talk about television with a built-in end, when I think about some of the limited series, when I look at those I think it’s just a super long movie. But proper television is meant to go as long as the creators feel like doing it. They could have done another 12 seasons of Mad Men, another 15 of Sopranos. They could have done MAS*H forever. Obviously they have to gauge the interest of the audience as the years go on. And they have to gauge if creatively there’s any juice left in it.

But without an ending, you don’t really have a movie, or some kind of limited run.

John: Agreed. Let’s talk about what else is different — size. So, movies are about extraordinary events. And often those extraordinary events are huge events. So, obviously if you’re doing a movie like San Andreas, you’re going to have the earthquake once and that’s going to be the fundamental thing that changes everybody’s life.

But in movies that don’t have that sort of big scale event, where there’s no alien invasion, it is a life-changing event for the main characters that you’re facing. It’s the day — I think we go back to the way it was before. In 12 Years a Slave, you follow Solomon Northup’s kidnapping, his ordeal, and his liberation. So there was more to his life. You could have picked it up at different points, but the movie wanted to be about his journey, about his effort to get home.

He had a very clear want and desire which was to be reunited with his family. And so once he was reunited with his family, that’s the end of the movie. And there’s no more movie to make at that point.

Even When Harry Met Sally, you know, it’s about two characters who have sort of an extraordinary first meeting where they both confess their true feelings about what they think relationships can be, and once that premise is established the movie version of that has to be them getting together or finally not ever being able to get together. It’s not set up in a television way. You couldn’t extend that out in a repeatable way across 22 episodes of a season.

Craig: Correct. There’s really no fun in watching television characters burn through a relationship or consummate a relationship. When they do it, they’re usually doing it I think because they feel like the status quo that they’ve established to that point is getting a little stale. So they’re not actually beginning or ending things. They’re creating a new status quo that they can then continue with for another five years.

So this is why characters get divorced, or get married, or fall in love, or fall out of love. Not the case in movies. Size wise, I think a movie is capable of expanding or contracting to any size, because it’s really about the depth of focus. How deep are you going to drill down into something?

Episodic television I think does not handle size well, because there is an exhaustion that occurs. And I think a little bit of that happened with Lost. The massivity of what they were proposing and the fact that it continued to be massive at some point became unwieldy. And it started to collapse in on itself. So, you can say, well, science fiction episodes can get big in a sense, but that’s just a trick of effects. I mean, Star Trek was not big in terms of scope of drama. It was as episodic as anything. It might as well have been a western in that regard. Or The Twilight Zone in that regard.

And a lot of the episodes do fit into those patterns. Television, I think, is less adaptable to huge swings of large events.

John: I think there’s a suspension of disbelief that happens with a movie where you can say like, oh, well this happens once. I can see that happening. But when you’re on your 5th season of 24 and Jack Bauer has to save the day from nuclear Armageddon yet again, that becomes a real challenge. And it feels like it violates the contract you made with your audience that like it can’t just keep happening again and again.

Heroes is another example of a show that burned so bright out of the gate and when it came time to try to repeat what it was doing, you weren’t up for it. It achieved this giant scale and really smart storytelling, and you didn’t want to see it do that same thing again.

Craig: Yeah. It starts to struggle under its own bigness. And actually an interesting exercise is to look at the difference between the way Star Trek episodes are structured and their narrative nature compared to Star Trek movies. So, one of my favorite Star Trek movies is First Contact. And so that’s about the Borg, the evil alien race, incapable of defeating humanity in the future, has decided to go into the past to our — well, sort of near future us now — to destroy the earth or actually destroy the ship that’s going to go faster than the speed of light for the first time, because that’s what essentially kicks us off and creates our connection to the rest of the galaxy and makes Star Trek possible. That feels very big. And very endable. There’s an end in sight from the conception of it, which is are they going to do this or not.

Star Trek episodes don’t really work that way. It’s a good way to kind of make the comparison.

John: As we talk about scale, I also want to stress that movies can be small and quiet, but still have a scale to them. So, a movie from this last year, End of the Tour, which I just loved, the story of David Foster Wallace and the journalist interviewing him, from the David Foster Wallace’s character perspective, this isn’t sort of the day that everything changed. It was sort of every day for him. But for the journalist interviewing him, the Jesse Eisenberg character, this was a fundamentally important shift in his life.

And so even though the move didn’t have earthquakes and rocket ships, it was incredibly important to this character, and it had stakes for that character in ways that television wouldn’t have.

Craig: Boy, it’s just amazing to consider this. It’s a simple thing, and it may seem a little morbid, and it may seem a little cynical, but I think it’s true — you don’t make that movie if David Foster Wallace doesn’t commit suicide. There’s no end.

John: That’s probably true. I mean, I think the whole movie becomes framed in a very different light. And if you go into the movie knowing that David Foster Wallace is still alive, and has an opinion about the movie you’re about to sit down and see, it does feel very, very different. You’re right.

Craig: It’s one of those things. You need some kind of end. And, again, I don’t want to harp on death as the only kind of ending, because there are lots of endings and lots of rebirths. But something has to break there permanently.

John: Well, I think when we talk about life and death, even if it’s not literally death, it has to be this sense that there are — that the lead characters could fail and there would be horrible consequences for their failure. And that’s movies.

In television, you sort of as an audience don’t believe that these lead characters are going to do, or that their failure could be so devastating. That’s one of the reasons why Game of Thrones I think is so shocking to watch is because we don’t expect to have our television characters killed off suddenly and for seemingly no reason.

Craig: Yeah. They do a great job of shaking us out of our, what I’ll call, soap opera complacency. And yet, nonetheless, it is a soap opera. I mean no disrespect to the show by that term. I think most episodic drama is soap opera. I love Game of Thrones. I think it’s the best soap opera ever made. It’s right up there with The Sopranos, which was also a soap opera.

But, yeah, they’re willing to kill characters as The Sopranos did, by the way. But also there is an ongoing process there. Now, it will be fascinating to see how it all lands, because we now know for sure that they’ve run out of books, so they’re now moving past George R. Martin. He himself, I think by his own account, is two books away from the end. So they’re now heading into what would be the penultimate book. I don’t know how many seasons that will cover, one or more. But at some point it will need to come to a landing. And at that point, there will start to take on — the show will start to take on some movie narrative aspects, inevitably. There will be permanent changes. Things will happen that will seem somewhat un-Game of Thrones like in their permanence.

John: Which I’m excited to see how that pans out. Let’s talk about characters and the choices the characters make in movies versus in television shows. In movies, you see characters making big, bold, and sort of irrevocable choices. I’m going to fight the world heavyweight champion. They’re stating their goals probably really clearly and boldly and in way that you can actually see in the trailer. And that is what they’re going for. So you’re making the contract with the audience that like this thing that I say I’m going to do, you’re going to see me try to do that.

In television, characters might pine for somebody. They might want a better life. But there’s not that expectation that we’re going to see them do that and become that over the course of watching that show. It’s informing what kind of character they are, but not necessarily what they’re doing on a daily or weekly basis. And it’s very rare that you’re going to see characters in television essentially burn down the house, like basically destroy the place of safety that they have in order to move onto their new world. And in movies you see that quite often. That’s what you end up doing at the end of your first act often is burning your whole previous life behind you, so you can move forward into this next phase of your life.

Craig: Yeah, interestingly, television characters are often punished for attempting to be different. They try and change. And they are punished for it, or they come to an understanding that they were better off the way they were. So, television has trouble with change. Television does much better with situations.

John: They do.

Craig: And by television I don’t mean the series that have ends, but rather television that’s meant to go on and on. So, characters will say, “I’m quitting my job and I’m changing my life,” and at the end the lesson is don’t do that.

John: Exactly.

Craig: Because we have to do another episode next week. And that’s not our show.

John: In many half hour comedies you will see a lead character make a fundamental choice that would change and upset everything. And by the end of the episode they’re back to where they are before. And that is the nature of television and we’ve come to sort of accept that.

So let’s say you have an idea for something, and you’re not quite sure if it’s a feature idea or a television series idea. And let’s run through some ways to try to suss out whether we think this is a TV idea or movie idea. So, these aren’t hard and fast rules, but just some frameworks for thinking about like which way you should take this idea.

Craig: Okay.

John: For starter, the simple one, length. Is this a story that wants to be told within about two hours, because then it’s a feature. If there’s not a real way to tell the story you want to tell within two hours, it’s not a feature idea, and maybe it’s a TV idea.

Craig: Yeah. And you can now take advantage of this middle ground. So the thing that I’m writing for HBO is far too big to be a movie, but it’s a really long movie. So it’s a six-episode movie. And those are interesting. I like that world that now exists. It used to exist, and then it went away for a long time. Now it’s back.

But, yes, you have to ask yourself is this something that I can encompass within two hours or so. And then the flip side of that is — is this something that would actually be most enjoyable on an ongoing basis? Because it feels that way length wise, that’s where you want to go.

John: Yeah. Is what’s interesting about this idea the world and to some degree the characters, or is it the specific plot and story that you have in your head? If it’s the world, more likely what you’re describing is a TV show and if it is the specific plot and the incidents that happen in your story right now, that is probably a movie.

So an example would be I had this idea for a crime thriller set in Alaska. And I knew basically how the police and sheriffs and everything works in Alaska is so different than how we have it in the lower 48 states. And I loved that world. I thought it was really fascinating. But mostly I loved the world. I loved sort of the strange way it all worked. And I had an idea for like what the plot would be with the pilot, but I also felt like this feels repeatable. This feels like a thing that could be down week after week.

And so I pitched and I set it up at ABC and we shot the pilot. And that was a pilot I wrote called Alaska. And it didn’t go forward, but that was very much a TV idea. It was repeatable.

The feature version of that idea was a Christopher Nolan movie called Insomnia. And that was a very specific crime story that kind of happened to take place in Alaska. His story was very specifically a movie and the setting was just an interesting place to set the story.

Craig: I think that’s a great instinct that you had to think about world versus incident. I’m a huge fan of Northern Exposure, one of my favorite shows, and that was absolutely about the world. Certainly there were characters and certainly there were events that occurred, that’s what the episodes were about individually. But the enjoyment of the show, the reason you kept coming back week after week was to go back to that place. We are all constantly going back to the Cheers bar when we return for another week of television. There is a familiarity that we wish to reengage with.

And movies are the opposite. Movies are entirely about destroying familiarity and jostling you out of that. And then creating something new at the end. So, that was a smart call. And interestingly Alaska movies don’t — you struggle with Alaska movies. I mean, Mystery Alaska was another one that was kind of tough. Because Alaska does feel like it’s about the place and about exploring it over time.

John: Yep. Something I’ll call trailer-ability, is like is there a way to tell what is unique and interesting about your specific story in like a 90-second trailer. Or is it something that is more like a long slice that you’d have to really see a TV show to sort of — to understand what it is.

The details of your story, could those fit into a 90-second trailer? Or do you need to actually have a full season for that to make sense?

The same with Lost, the plane crash in Lost could be in a trailer. And you can sort of get ideas from it, but you couldn’t really get a sense of what the show of Lost was going to be like in a 90-second trailer. It was just beyond the scope of what you could imagine sitting in the theater and watching up on a screen.

Craig: In part because there was no designed end game, but you could absolutely have decided at the point of conception to not make Lost as a television show, but to make it as a movie. And you could have made a great trailer, the promise being “and this ends.” You’ll find out.

When you look at a show like The Sopranos, the promotional materials were basically saying you’ve never seen a mob family like this before. And, look, it’s mobsters dealing with the existential dread of everyday life. Well, if I saw that in a movie theater as a trailer I’d think, okay, and then what happens? What’s the thing? Why is this a movie?

John: Yeah.

Craig: So, you’re absolutely right. There’s a good test there right off the bat. Can you feel the entirety of the trailer in your head? And if you can’t, you might be dealing with a television show.

John: This is actually a note that you will hear if you ever go in to pitch a TV show. They will ask, “What is episode 12?” And by that they’re saying like once you’ve burned through this initial sort of set up of your world, what is a normal episode of your show going to be like? And that is a real criteria for whether this is a TV show idea or if it’s just an interesting pilot that doesn’t actually have sustainability.

So, if you have a real sense of what episode 12 is like, that’s probably a TV show. If you don’t, then maybe what you’re really describing is a feature and you need to think about it as a feature.

Craig: Yeah. The shows that I truly love manage to make me feel like they were all designed intentionally from the start, even though they weren’t. I know for a fact that when Vince Gilligan and his writer’s room were making the first season of Breaking Bad, they had no idea what was going to happen in season five. Maybe they had some vague senses of it, but certainly not moment to moment.

There were characters that came around in season three that they had no clue that they were going to invent. But it all feels of a piece. What they did know was that at the very least, they knew how to extend this out as far as a year.

And if you can extend it out as far as a year and then end your year on some kind of cliffhanger that promises more gasoline in the tank for your engine, then you’re in good shape.

John: Yep. Does your story want to keep coming back to the same sets? If your story mostly takes place in certain locations and you feel like you would be back seeing those same places a lot, that feels more television. And if your story is a road trip — you’re someplace new every scene, that does not feel like television. Not just for the logistics of production, but also for kind of audience expectation. There’s a familiarity about coming back to the same places with the same characters repeatedly over the course of time. Even shows like Mad Men, shows like The Sopranos, great shows. They do go back to their sets. And that’s an expectation in television that’s natural. And so if you find your story keeps wanting to go back to familiar locations, that’s probably a television idea.

Craig: It’s either a television idea, or it’s a small independent film.

John: Yes.

Craig: And small movies can live within very confined areas as long as narratively they feel like a movie. But you’re absolutely right, for television, we’re desperate for the familiar. There’s no reason that the guys in The Sopranos needed to always meet in the backroom of the Bada Bing, or in the back room of the deli store. But we crave it, because that is what television is promising us. It’s promising us more verisimilitude than movies. It’s promising us the small but meaningful dramatic quests of the every day. And for all of us moving through every day, we have a house, we have a hangout, we have an office. That’s our deal. We’re creatures of habit.

John: My final criteria is how many characters do you need to tell your story? And if you have a bunch of characters in your world, that’s probably television. If you have a very small number of characters, that is more likely a feature. And so, yes, we can think of features that have tremendous numbers of characters. You can think of the Godfathers where there is a bunch of people you need to keep track of, but in general you have more people on television and you’re going to have more minor characters who are going to resurface.

More often in television you’re not going to be locked to a character’s point of view, so you’ll be able to see things from multiple character’s point of view. You’ll be able to wander off with that woman and see what she’s doing during her day and not always be focused on your one main lead guy. That’s television and that’s our expectation of television. In features, you tend to have smaller, more focused character sets. And generally as you’re crafting a feature, you find yourself combining characters down so that there are not more speaking parts than you absolutely need.

Craig: Yeah. There are always exceptions, of course. Big epics can expand to include more characters, but often need to be more than one movie. You have the Richard Curtis model, where you’re doing a Triptych, or you’re following four or five different characters in their own mini stories. But those are all like little short films connected to each other and then interrelated in some way. Actually some film student somewhere should do a paper on the similarities between Richard Curtis films and Quentin Tarantino films, which are remarkably similar in this regard, that they tend to create — Tarantino intends to encompass lots of small mini movies in one movie, as does Richard Curtis.

But, again, done in such a way that they don’t cross. If they’re all mingling together, if you have 12 people moving in and out altogether, all following the same plot, very difficult to do in a feature film.

John: Agreed. Compare the difference between Office Space and The Office. And The Office is a television show with a lot of characters. Office Space also is set in an office, has characters, but it’s narrowing down to fewer people because that’s what the feature can actually focus on.

All right, let’s talk about some properties that actually cross the divide. Properties that are both features and television and talk about sort of what happens when things do cross that divide. An example, Mission: Impossible. Mission: Impossible was a TV show. It was a procedural. It was on every week. Every week they would get a case. This message would self-destruct. And people loved that show, and then it was off the air for many years. It came back as the Tom Cruise franchise. And it did most of the things we just talked about, which movies need to do. They focused on many fewer characters. Rather than being the team, it’s really a Tom Cruise movie. He’s very much the focus.

The scale got much, much bigger. It was a once and a lifetime thing for him. Even each time it feels like this is the one he could die in. The scale was increased greatly.

Craig: Yeah. Same thing with the James Bond series. Same thing with the Fast & Furious series. You could argue that certain long-running movie franchises are actually massive television shows that have one episode every three years, or every two years, because that’s kind of the way it feels. Especially with Bond. Bond has been going the longest of all of them. And I’m a big Bond fan, so I’ve seen all of them. And putting aside the oddity of the casting changes and just suspending your disbelief, they’re just — each one is just an awesome episode.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Those are interesting hybrids.

John: So, with Charlie’s Angles, Charlie’s Angels was a very successful TV show. When it came time to make it into a feature, we really had to think about sort of what does this want to be on the big screen. And how do we tell a story that feels like it is Charlie’s Angels, but is also a movie version of what Charlie’s Angels would be.

And one of the things we came to is like, well, they work for this mysterious boss. This should be the closest they ever come to finding out who their boss is, that their boss is in danger, that they’re saving their father/their boss, the king. That they’re doing things that they would never have been able to do before. And we literally blow up the talent agency. So we sort of see the iconic home. The home was destroyed. It can never be made back the same way.

Those are things you do in the movie version of Charlie’s Angels that you would never do in the TV show version of Charlie’s Angels.

Craig: Right. But you could have then considered that the pilot episode of one of these new mega series that comes out once every two years, and –

John: That was absolutely the goal until — as I described it during the initial press for the first Charlie’s Angels, I said like, “I really think of this as a pilot that, you know, for a TV show that takes four years between episodes and costs $100 million.”

Craig: There you go.

John: And so the second episode should have been that episode that was like so much better than the pilot, where we sort of fixed all the problems. And instead it was a not good episode of the show, and the show got canceled.

Craig: That’s why these are so rare. Because one bad episode early on could be enough. In fact, if you look at the history of Fast & Furious, after the third one they were kind of in a wobbly place. Vin Diesel wasn’t in the second one, or the third one, and so they didn’t seem like it was going to be one of those television series. It seemed more like it was just going to be what it is.

They brought him back and revitalized it and got the series back on track. There are movies out there that continue on in this series like fashion a lot of times right under our noses like The Transporter. You know, another Robert Kamen joint.

John: Nicely done. Let’s talk about examples of shows that have done the opposite thing. So, the Sarah Connor Chronicles. This is taking The Terminator, and what we loved about The Terminator is like, well, what if we looked at Sarah Connor and sort of what daily life is like. And so her daily life is incredibly heightened. What Josh Friedman was so smart to do is really look at like what is it like to live under this threat of constant death, where there’s always going to be someone out there trying to kill you. How do you establish a normal life in that situation? So, that’s the fundamental question of the TV series, Sarah Connor Chronicles. Which I loved. Which got canceled way too soon.

And also The Muppets, the new Muppets that’s on right now. Yes, there was the Muppet TV show before, but this really feels more to me like the Muppet movies. And if you took those characters from the Muppet movies which were always having some great adventure and instead you put them in an incredibly familiar locked down TV environment where they’re talking directly to camera and uses all the conventions of The Office or Parks & Recreation, what would that feel like.

And so it’s designed to not be the one time that this thing happened. It’s meant to be like The Larry Sanders Show. It’s everyday life.

Craig: It can be a tricky affair, because when we see a movie, sometimes what we have fallen in love with it is not translatable to television. And we’re just not as interested in the more mundane or drawn out or existential aspects of that idea. That said, occasionally it works brilliantly. Perhaps the best example is MAS*H.

John: Yep.

Craig: MASH, the movie, is wonderful. MASH, the series, not really like the movie, but made all the right changes it needed to to be a fantastic television show.

John: Yeah, you look at MAS*H, the movie, and it had Altman’s huge cast and sort of those kinds of questions that were very appropriate for both an Altman film, but could translate nicely to a TV series. But they had to translate. They had to really think about sort of what the show was going to be like with a laugh track, with standing sets, on a weekly basis. And they made very smart choices that were right for the time.

Craig: We should throw Altman into that term paper on Tarantino and Curtis.

John: Yep. It’s sort of the, you know, when you have giant casts and each character has the ability to take the narrative reins, what happens?

Craig: Right.

John: All right. Let’s see what happens with these Three Page Challenges. If this is your first time listening to a Three Page Challenge, what we do is every once and a while we open up the mailbag and look at three pages of scripts that people have sent through. They’re not sending their whole scripts. They’re only sending these three pages.

And if you would like to read along with us, go to the show notes at, look for this episode. And you can open up the PDFs and read along with us as we take a look at what these writers have sent in.

If you’d like to send in your own pages, go to, all spelled out, and there are instructions for how you do that and a little form you attach your PDF to.

So, let’s start with Dan Mauer. Is it Mauer or Mauer?

Craig: It looks like it’s Mauer.

John: Maurer. All right. Dan on the cover page says that he is a 2015 Austin Film Festival Three Page Challenge submission. Please note that I will be attending AFF. So, perhaps we will meet Dan there and be able to talk more about his pages.

Craig: All right.

John: Do you want to synopsize this?

Craig: Sure. So we open in a cellar at night. There’s just a little bit of light coming from an old kerosene lantern. And we hear the sound “Tap…Tap, Clang…” sort of a metallic sound. Door creaks open. It’s clearly bad weather outside and the distant wail of a police siren. And in comes a boy, a 12-year-old boy, named Billy. He’s in snow boots. He steps over to the lantern and revitalizes the lantern by pumping. It’s some kind of pump-operated lantern.

John: Coleman lanterns do that.

Craig: There you go. And he hears maybe a footstep. And we see a super, by the way. This is January 1975. And by moving the light around he discovers a dead body. A body of a boy. And then he realizes he’s not alone in the room. There’s another boy in the room. And that boy’s name is Tommy. And tommy whispers to Billy, “I didn’t do nothing wrong.”

Billy looks back at the body. Tommy is also 12, by the way. Looks at the body. And then makes the connection that perhaps Tommy did in fact do something wrong. And this his fault. And under all of this, the continuing mysterious noise, “tap…tap…clang…clang.”

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: And that’s the bottom of our three pages. My initial reaction to this is I am interested and intrigued by these boys in the body in the basement. It was a lot of shoe leather to sort of get through for where I got at the end of these three pages. I felt like I could have gotten there faster for what his was.

And there were a few specific things that sort of stuck out for me. The reveal of the super, January 1975, fine for us to do that. But if you’re going to call that out at a specific moment, it needs to be really a revelation that needs to be a very specific time and reason why you’re showing that title right when you’re showing it. And there really wasn’t for me. It was, “Billy grabs the lantern, stands, and holds out the light. Exposed beams, pipes and dusty floorboards hover over head. SUPER: ‘January, 1975′”. There wasn’t an incident that told me, like, oh, this is why it’s important for me to know this is 1975 versus a different time. That sort of stuck out.

There were some choices on sort of how we’re — just some word choices that sort of stuck out for me. “Billy looks around, his lantern pushing back the darkness only a small dim circle at a time.” The circle frustrated me a little bit because while lantern light would cast a circle, that’s not the force that’s pushing forward. It’s like you only see the circle looking down. The geography threw me off a little bit in that description.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Craig, what is your first opinion of this?

Craig: Well, overall I thought it was really well done. I liked Dan’s general use of language. It was incredibly evocative. I could draw the room for you. I felt and heard everything. I could almost imagine colors and things and palettes. So, what was happening was a really good use of cinematic writing. I enjoyed the sound aspects in particular.

Some things to consider. I agree on the super. I’m not sure why we didn’t see it at the top. It does emerge oddly there on the page. Obviously it’s not something that’s determinative. It will be done in post, but for the reader, everything should be intentional. The introduction of Billy, the first kid, says, “REVEAL BILLY STONE, 12, fair-haired, open-faced. A young boy eager to leave childhood behind, if only he knew how.” No.

John: No.

Craig: No.

John: That’s unplayable. It doesn’t help us.

Craig: No, he’s fair-haired and open-faced. He could be scared. He could be realizing he’s completely in over his head. I’d love to see how cold he is in his face. I think cold is a great thing to be evocative about on film. I love that he’s well-dressed for the snow, but wears only one knit glove. That’s a great little detail. And that he’s cut on his hand. He sees that.

A little odd that he’s looking at that now. Maybe if it were clearer that he is using the lantern specifically to look at his hand. It seems almost like he just happens to go, “Oh, and by the way, audience, here’s my cut hand.”

So, a little something to think about there. There is, story-wise, I’m certainly intrigued. I want to know what Tommy did. I want to know what Tommy’s problem is. I want to know what’s down in the hole. I want to know what’s making the noise.

I did get a little confused about some direction. When Billy discovers the body he looks toward the hole, trips over something, staggers, and then sees — we see — a balled up gym sock, tattered underwear, wadded up jeans, a child’s barefoot, young dead fingers reaching from beneath loose soil. Cool.

“Billy panics, steps back and trips over a shard of concrete.” That’s the second trip. “He drops the lantern and goes down hard. The light hits the ground, revealing the bloodied and disfigured face of a DEAD BOY.” I was a little confused. Like, wait a second, if the fingers are reaching from beneath loose soil, where’s the head, where’s the face, where are the feet. I got a little confused about how that worked.

John: Yeah. I did, too.

Craig: But certainly the introduction of Tommy is really cool. The third page is the one where things get a little flabby. Once Tommy says, “I didn’t do nothing wrong, Billy,” you could just as easily have Billy look at the body and go, “No,” and then clang, clang, clang, clang. You could remove a lot of page three.

John: I think you could, too. Let’s take a look at the description of Tommy Schneider. “TOMMY SCHNEIDER, 12. He’s fragile; damaged goods. Stringy red hair, blotchy freckles, and an oddly shrunken ear complete the picture of a kid no mother could love.” A kid no mother could love? I don’t know what that is. I don’t know what that means.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, if he’s creepy or, again, I’m not a huge fan of these kinds of baroque character descriptions anyway, but if you’re going to do it, give me something that I think a kid could play.

John: Yeah. Fragile and damaged goods I think are both useful. Joined by semicolon, damaged goods doesn’t help me with fragile. And so if you wanted to put that damaged goods after the shrunken ear, sure. I mean, there’s that sense of he’s a fundamentally broken kid. I totally get and understand that.

Like you, I got confused by the geography within the space. Circling back to the 1975 of it all, until I got to the 1975 I wasn’t sure if we were in present day or like in a western, because there’s nothing here — the kerosene lantern made me think like, well, this is a long time ago. But I didn’t really know. So, putting that 1975 up earlier would probably help me just get a sense of place and time and sort of who these kids would be. I sort of have a 1975 kid template that would have been really helpful to apply at the start.

Craig: Yeah, I had the same confusion from the lantern. I thought maybe we were in the 1800s or something.

John: Yeah. So I guess on the whole I would say interested, intrigued. I think we can do the stuff that these pages do faster. But I’m curious to read page four.

Craig: Yeah, for sure. And I really think that Dan’s got a good control over his writing and good control over the — I can tell that he watched this scene before he wrote. And that’s absolutely crucial. So I thought he did a really good job and is very promising.

John: Cool. All right, next up, let’s look at Kate Jeffrey’s pages. This is Into the Bazaar. Bazaar like a shopping bazaar. Not a strange place, although it could be strange.

We open on the streets of New York where the sun is low. We follow a delivery boy on a bike as he zooms by. Honks as he’s racing through traffic. He’s in a fancy neighborhood and arrives outside a brownstone on a quiet block. He rings the buzzer. Buzz. Buzz. And then we’re inside the apartment where a small girl, Jane, 14, hears the buzzer.

She sitting on the bed. There’s an untouched glass of chocolate milk on the bedside table. In the living room at the same time, Eleanor, 38, is laying on a chaise lounge. She’s wealthy and dying. There’s an empty container of pills and a glass of water. She hears the buzzer but she does not respond to it.

Jane, he daughter apparently, shows up. Asks he if she drank the chocolate milk and apparently has not drank the chocolate milk. We stay with them as Eleanor dies. She has apparently taken all the pills and she dies there in the scene.

Jane calls a man and we hear on the other end the man answering, yes. And it is her father. And the father is saying, “For Heaven’s sake, speak up.” The daughter, Jane, asks, “Can you come home? Mom has…”

And the father says, “Sorry, hun, I gotta go. Ask you mother.”

And that is the bottom of page three.

Craig: Right. So, I can sense you were struggling to synopsize this because in part it’s written in a way that defies synopsis, which is not a good sign. Here are the good signs. Again, I liked a lot of the language. And I could see what was going on. And I think that Kate has made this really remarkable choice right off the bat to present this suicide in such a, well, in such a bizarre manner. And so I really like that.

But let’s talk about where Kate is kind of getting in her own way here. First off, we have the first half of the first page is not about Jane, the daughter, or Eleanor, the mother. The first half is about the delivery boy. And, in fact, it’s presented as if the delivery boy is going to be the hero of our movie. Even has an interaction with an old man crossing the street. The old man gets a line. And then the delivery boy arrives and is buzzing and waiting, and buzzing and waiting, and buzzing and waiting.

Well, I’m not sure any of that is necessary at all, unless the delivery boy becomes a real character, in which case don’t call him delivery boy.

John: That was my first instinct, too. It’s a red flag the delivery boy doesn’t have an age, so you call him a boy. But is he actually a boy or is he a young man. Is he a delivery guy? Like, there’s no detail provided for him, and yet we’re spending the first half of our first page following him through the city is frustrating.

Craig: It was frustrating. I think that timewise Kate has set us in New York at evening sunset — already to go down, so actually it’s not evening, it’s more like whatever you would call dusk.

Then Eleanor seems to have this expectation that Jane would be asleep by now. That doesn’t quite add up.

John: Yep.

Craig: So –

John: Well, so I took this to mean that the mother has drugged the chocolate milk, and so that Jane is supposed to be dead, too.

Craig: Okay, well, so then I start to draw some conclusions, including that one. So let’s talk about, again, Kate kind of getting in her own way a little bit here, because she’s got some really cool stuff and she just needs to button up a few things.

When we meet Jane, she is 14 years old, and she’s in a room with an expected array of teddy bears and decorative pillows, which is, you know, an array of teddy bears for a 14-year-old girl is actually not expected. So, I wasn’t quite sure if that was meant to be ironic or informative. If it is, call it out as being unexpected. Don’t call it expected.

And then there’s this chocolate milk. Jane also looking at a doll. Again, is she 14 or is she nine? What’s going on here? I like the buzzing. By the way, if you cut the delivery boy out entirely and there was this buzzing, that would be fine, too.

Now we go to Eleanor. Now, here’s what it says, “ELEANOR (38), lies on a chaise lounge. Wealthy and dying. Her silk robes splay open, revealing a lace nightgown, and her graying auburn hair is fanned around her head.” At this point at the end of page one, Kate I guarantee you 99.8% of writers will think, oh, I see, Eleanor has cancer. Because that’s pretty much what that means.

“She stares up at an ornate chandelier. An empty container of pills and a pessimistic glass of water sit on a wooden coffee table next to her.” Now, I loved “pessimistic glass of water,” by the way. It was great. I did not like empty container of pills. Pills are not easily viewed as empty. Pill containers — the pill containers we all know are those orange plastic things and they’re kind of hard to see. And usually they’re covered by labels and you can’t see what’s in them at all.

If it were spilled over. If we saw some better indication. If we saw her finishing the last of them. Something. You’ve got to give us a little bit more so we’re not completely lost. Because really it took me a while until at the bottom of page two Kate says, with Eleanor having been interrupted by Jane, “An awkward silence. How embarrassing to be walked in on during your suicide.” Well, that’s not — that’s cheating.

I need to know it’s a suicide from what I’ve seen, not from you telling me. So that was one.

“You didn’t drink your chocolate milk I made you” is another one where I think people are going to have to wonder did she really drug her kid. How did she do that? Why didn’t the girl drink the chocolate milk? Why is a 14-year-old girl — why would she think that a 14-year-old girl would want to drink chocolate milk? Is this girl mentally disabled? Is she — she seems regressive to me. She doesn’t seem like a 14-year-old girl.

Then, on page three, the most curious of things. Jane appears to understand that Eleanor has killed herself and is dying. “Jane stares at Eleanor. Then nods. It’s a moment of honesty, and Jane appreciates it. She watches, frozen, as her mother slips away. Eleanor’s alert eyes rove her daughter’s face once more before closing. Jane’s stoic demeanor lasts only a second longer before crumbling.” So, the implication is Jane understands that Eleanor has killed herself. Jane understands her mother is dying. Eleanor understands that Jane understands all this. Jane is attempting to be stoic during it, which is fascinating to me, and really interesting, but also that’s such a puzzling thing that for anything else to be puzzling around it creates confusion.

John: Yep.

Craig: And then, of course, once her mother dies, she then begins to behave the way somebody would normally, without a puzzling circumstance. She calls her father, desperate for help, and can’t speak. And finally when asking him to speak the father says, “I don’t know what’s going on. Go ask your mother.” Because he has no idea that anything important is going on.

That in and of itself tells me that this was not something that was expected or normal or anything that Jane should have been anticipating. So, I have so many logic questions about what’s happened in these first three. And yet, I have to say, I am emboldened because there’s a lot of beauty inherent in what Kate’s doing here.

So, just got to work on making some of these choices to help us appreciate what she’s doing.

John: Yes, I am like you admiring sort of the choices that she’s made in terms of setting up the story and setting up this mother killing herself so early in the story and sort of what the life is like for Jane. But I had to keep rereading character’s ages because I kept thinking like, wait, no, something is wrong. Like the wrong number got typed. Because “A small girl looks up at the noise. She is JANE (14), brown hair, pale and plain.” Well, you’re going to say she’s a girl, okay, and she’s 14, that’s the upper edge of what I would say is a girl, but fine.

But then all of the stuff with her room and all the animals, the stuffed animals, it felt so little girlie, that for you not to hang a lantern on it and let us know like, no really, this is really what it’s like. There’s something about this girl that it is unusual for her to have this stuff is important. Because otherwise I feel like I made a mistake.

Similarly, “ELEANOR (38), lies on a chaise lounge. Wealthy and dying.” An 88-year-old woman, wealthy and dying on a chaise lounge, I sort of get what that is. And then “her silk robe splays open, revealing a lace nightgown, and her graying auburn hair is fanned around her head. The graying hair and the 38 didn’t all track with me, too.

I just was having a hard time picturing who this woman was and what age I was supposed to think. And I knew that she probably was her mother based on those ages, but it all — the pieces weren’t connecting right for me as I was going through that.

Craig: Yeah, that gray hair was why I thought cancer. I just think like, okay, if you’re 38, you’re still relatively young. You’re lying there dying. You have medicine near you. And your hair is gray? You’re sick. You’re not committing suicide.

John: So Craig likes “pessimistic glass of water.” I hate pessimistic glass of water.

Craig: I loved it. I just loved it.

John: A glass of water can’t be pessimistic. I mean, a glass of water can be ominous, but like pessimistic is a personality trait that a glass of water I don’t think can have.

Craig: I know. But I just liked — I don’t know, it seemed evocative. Look, it’s ridiculous and poetic. Obviously glasses of water can’t be ominous or pessimistic or anything. They’re just glasses of water. But there was something about it that made me think, well, the glass of water is pessimistic because she’s –

John: The glass of water is pessimistic because like, oh, no, no, I’m not going to be tasty for you. I’m not going to be –

Craig: No, it’s just more like I thought that it was a good way to imply — the whole mood was pessimistic. You know, like Eleanor had just given up. I liked personally. It’s not the kind of thing, by the way, that is going to help you sink or swim.

John: No.

Craig: Do it rarely.

John: Another issue I had on page one, I think we’re advocating cutting all of this bike messenger running through the city because it’s not helping us here, but I want to call out, “The chaos of the deep city mellows as he gradually makes his way to the upper echelons of New York. The fancy hood.” Echelons doesn’t mean that. Echelons is actually a class of society. Echelons isn’t a location, it is a social stratus. And so I sort of get what she’s going for her, but like it was enough to bump me, that echelons isn’t the word she’s looking for here.

I’m trying to imagine ways in which we could do some of the same things that she’s doing here and even better land these ideas. If we see Eleanor place the glass of chocolate milk and then leave the room and then start to do things with pills, that’s incredibly ominous and evocative. If we see the moments before this has all happened. To come in so late to all these things, I just think we’re missing out on characters making choices. Like all the choices have been made before we came upon the scene.

Craig: Yeah, I agree. And if there is — look, the pages are strongly implying that Jane is not a developmentally appropriate 14-year-old girl. That she can’t even speak when she calls her father. She has trouble. She’s so frustrated by her inability to speak that she stomps her foot. This all seems off. If that’s the case, let us know. Let us know clearly and right off the bat.

In terms of the chocolate milk, I would probably have her just bring it in.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Just bring the chocolate milk in and put it down next to her mother, so that when her mother sees it she goes, “Oh no. You were supposed to drink that. You were supposed to be asleep.” Let me know what’s going on. Little bits because, look, I love mystery. But we’ve talked about this before. There’s a fine line between mysterious and what the hell is going on. And the second you cross into what the hell is going on-ville, well you’ve lost me. You don’t get any credit for your wonderful mystery. So, this feels like something that would — Kate would actually benefit strongly I think from listening to the script being read by other people because she would then see like, okay, this is the actual information that’s coming out.

Forget the script. Here’s what people will actually see and hear. And it will help her.

John: Agree.

Craig: All right. We’ve got one more here.

John: One more.

Craig: This is a script written by Sehaj Sethi. And, by the way, I checked because I was curious. Sehaj may be a man or a woman. It is a unisex name. So we don’t know. But the title of Sehaj’s script is C.A.S.S.P.R. And that’s an anagram — C.A.S.S.P.R.

Okay, so we open, it is outside the orbit around Kepler 438B. And hovering lifeless in space is the long, slender Archimedes, a space ship. And Kepler 438B looms in the not so far distance. It could be earth’s pale rocky twin.

Inside the Archimedes space ship we see that there’s been some kind of problem. There’s nobody in view. But everything is a wreck. Things are broken and shattered and sparking.

Then we go — that’s the main deck. Then we go to the crew quarters, same deal. Bedlam. Illuminated by one lone reading light that’s been left on. And then into the kitchen. Again, same deal. Everything is smashed and tumbled all over the place. And here is where we meet Akash, a slender Indian man, mid-40s. He’s unconscious with a thick gash on his forehead. And then he comes to and looks around bewildered.

We then go to the engine room. Alarms blaring. And similarly, there is a woman here named Monica, late 30s, muscular and opposing, picks herself up. She, too, has been injured. A big bruise on her head. She turns the warning off and we see that the engine has been stalled. Akash is at the main deck trying to restart the ship and failing. Monica stumbles in. And the two of them have a conversation about her sprained ankle. And in that conversation, by looking at each other’s badges, they identify each other. Akash is a biologist, Monica is an engineer. But neither one of them remember anything.

That’s what it says, “I don’t remember anything.” They’re identifying their own jobs based on what they’re wearing. At that point, Monica asks about the nature of the ship. He says navigation isn’t working. She looks outside at Kepler 438B and asks, “Are we here for that?”

Akash says, “We’re just out of orbit. I’d say so.”

She says, “It’s just like earth.”

And he says, “Probably why we’re here. Second chances.”

And those are our first three pages of C.A.S.S.P.R. by Sehaj Sethi.

John: Yeah. I enjoyed these pages very much. I was very curious to read page four and see what was going on. So, this idea of characters waking up not knowing who they are is a trope. We’ve seen it in other films before. We’ve probably even seen it in other space films. I still like it. It is an interesting way to begin because we as the audience have the same amount of information as the characters. And we are trying to find out about the world and the situation as the characters are trying to find out about the world and their situation.

I thought the writing on the page was nice. Archimedes is described as “a space ship with more curves than angles. A metal salamander…The enormous curve of Kepler 438b looms in the not-so-far distance. It could be Earth’s pale, rocky twin.” It felt confident about sort of its ability to describe what was going on.

Where I lost a little faith in our sci-fi of it all is as we come upon Monica. And so she picks herself up, she looks around completely confused. “In front of her is a control panel with a flashing green button. She presses it. The geyser of steam stops, as does the alarm.” That felt so, so too easy and so, you know, sort of early Star Trek where there’s like steam shooting out of a little pipe someplace that it made me not trust some of the sci-fi of it all.

I wanted a more specific kind of confused, because as I read this I was like, well, she’s confused at sort of what happened. But for her not to really understand at all what’s going on, I think that was an opportunity for her to really not know what she should do or what is the appropriate action to take. Because once we actually get to the two characters being together and talking about — and figuring out I’m a biologist, you’re this, that is interesting. And that’s the kind of stuff I love about the genre.

Craig: Yeah. I’m a little less happy about these than you. Let’s just start with some simple stylistic things. The very first slug line says, “EXT. OUTSIDE ORBIT OF KEPLER 438B.” That’s not really an exterior. Your exterior is space. And particularly I think since your first visual is the Archimedes, the space ship, and it is described well, just say space because then you get to the enormous curve of Kepler — and I would capitalize Kepler 438B looms in the not-so-far distance. So we understand, okay, there’s our ship, and there’s a planet.

Fine. Now, we have this — we go through the wreck of the ship and we meet Akash. And that’s all fine. Now, I’m going to note, he presses a hand to his gash and looks around utterly bewildered. Utterly bewildered. Now we go into the engine where Monica groans. Akash also groaned. But she groans exactly in the same way and then she is completely confused. Utterly bewildered. Completely confused.

So, basically I’m seeing the same damn thing twice. No Bueno. Do not like. So, you’re going to come up with another thing. If somebody is waking up slowly and looking around, utterly confused, fine. The next person should wake up with a start in a complete panic and start punching at the air. Like give me a completely different dynamic. I want to have separation.

Also, we do have a little bit of the default white issue here. Akash is a slender Indian man. Monica is late 30s. Well, I’m guessing that means white? Don’t know. So, it’s a thing. Generally speaking, if we’re going to be calling out ethnicities, let’s call them out.

I totally agree with you on this flashing green button. And it’s a bit worse than you’re stating. Because there’s a flashing green button that she casually presses that apparently is the stop steam and alarm button. But the screen on the panel is a bright yellow warning blinking that says Engine Stalled. What is this, a ’78 Chevy? [laughs] This is a space ship. There’s no “engine stalled.” What? Engine? Stalled?

Then in the next scene, Akash is looking at the computer bank and it says, “Flashing, navigation system failure,” which again I assume this is just running on Windows ’95 or something. It just feels so fundamental and boring and not cool. It’s just not cool.

Now, I like the fact that they’re both identifying each other in terms of who they are by their badge. Then Akash says, “You don’t remember.”

And she says, “I don’t remember anything. You?”

And he shakes his head. I have a big problem with this. What do you mean you don’t remember anything? Yes you do. You remember how to press a button. You remembered to go to the bridge. You remembered to check the thing. You remembered some basic things.

So, what is it, is it like I remember — I don’t remember — and they remember their names. So, define remember. I don’t know what happened. I was just, blah, blah, blah, and then where is everybody? I think that there would be natural questions that people would be asking of each other in this moment of panic.

I almost laughed in a bad way when she comes in. This is the first time they’ve seen each other. She stumbles into this room, which she apparently remembered to go to. And then Akash helps her and she says, “It’s my ankle.” [laughs] And he says, “Looks like a bad sprain.”

You know, if I woke up on a spaceship that was completely wrecked and dead and everyone was gone, and I couldn’t remember anything, you know, the sprained ankle wouldn’t be necessarily the first thing coming out of my mouth. It just doesn’t seem like it’s super-duper important.

Lastly, and again, this is all about what would people realistically say in these moments, or at least what would we buy dramatically. She looks out at the planet and says, “Are we here for that?” And he says, “I would say so.” And she says, “It’s just like earth,” apparently another thing she remembers. And he says, “Probably why we’re here. Second chances.”

Well, I mean, that was pretty poetic for a guy that just woke up on a wrecked ship. I mean, people don’t stop and get all thematic and poetic in moments of crisis.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So there was a lot about this that just rang false.

John: So, let’s talk about the possibilities here, because I agree with your complaints on really all of those specifics. Where I think I was excited by was the possibility of what was here. So, let’s get the script a little closer to what it can be. Let’s look at the doubling of the action. So, I agree that you can’t have characters — you shouldn’t introduce two different characters responding in the same way to the same situation. That’s not going to be fascinating. And so we need to see behavior that would let us know that this person is confused and not sure what they should be doing or where to even start and where to begin.

I think there is dialogue to be done, but I would be fascinated to see these three pages if they didn’t have any dialogue at all, and we just had to see only through actions, characters trying to figure out what was going on and trying to figure out how to shut off that warning. And that question of like once they get it shut off, wait, should I have shut off that warning? What’s actually happening?

Craig: Right.

John: Once we get to the dialogue, the crucial question should be how much are the characters assuming that the other person is in the same situation? Basically, how are they interacting with each other, assuming the other person actually does know what’s going on?

Craig: Right.

John: And so if I have amnesia, I’m going to assume that you don’t have amnesia and you’re going to tell me who I am. And then you’re both in the same boat. And then it becomes an opportunity to talk about like, well, what do you remember? What do you know? And I think it is reasonable to assume that there is some body of knowledge, some common corpus that they both kind of have a sense. They knew how to get around the ship. They knew how to do some basic things. He knew that her ankle was sprained and not broken.

But, something fundamentally bigger is happening here. And that might be more than three pages worth of time, but that is I think what the possibility is of meeting these two characters.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, you’re talking about priorities. Characters have to follow priorities. And the priorities have to be priorities that are recognizable to us as sensible. So, if I were rewriting this, I would start with Monica. I would have her come to in the middle of this mess.

I would have her be utterly confused about what’s gone on. I would have her be competent enough to do something interesting to shut off the alarm and the steam as long as I understood that she wasn’t just quieting the alarm because it was a nuisance, but rather she was stopping something bad from happening.

Then the next thing I would have her do is make her wade through the ship. I would have her experience the wreckage of the ship through her eyes, rather than the blank narrative of an unmoored camera. And then I would have her move into the room, see some guy hunkered over this thing. He’s the only one alive. And she pulls out here gun and says move away from there, because she’s paranoid that this is the guy that did all of this. And he’s like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.”

And she goes, “Who are you?”

And he goes, “I don’t — my name is Akash. I think I’m a biologist.” You know? And they start off like who are you, I don’t know, you’re hurt. Sit down.

You’ve got to create dynamics. There’s got to be a sense of struggle and conflict and interaction. This was just like, hey, ankle, yeah. Who are you? What’s my name? Ooh, look at the planet.

John: Yeah, what you’re describing is because these pages right now introduce the characters on the same level, we have no sense of who we should be rooting for or what their equivalent power struggle would be, or what natural conflict should be there.

If we stuck with Monica until she meets this other person, our allegiance will always be to Monica. And that is going to be interesting. And if we only meet Akash through Monica, or you could do it the other way around, we’re going to stick with the person we know first. And that’s just sort of how we relate to characters and stories.

Craig: And how I think we want to absorb information. We want to experience information with our characters and through our characters. We don’t want to experience all of it and then have them wake up and move through and ask questions of things that we’ve already seen. And we just don’t want it to be so flat.

These two people seems almost lobotomized by their injuries. They’re preternaturally calm.

John: Yeah. And that could be fascinating. And, I mean, perhaps that is actually to some degree a deliberate choice that is being made here. But you’ve got to call that out if that’s the case. And you’ve got to have that sort of dumb struck quality really being brought to the surface.

Craig: Yeah. Like if you had this weird conversation where these two people were behaving so curiously and you were like, “Well this is a bad movie,” and then one of them turns around and goes, “Oh…” And one of them sees the other one turn around and says, “Oh, you’re hurt.” And then we pan down and we see that they’ve got a gash in their side and there’s robotics in there. We’d go, oh…

John: Oh…yeah, that’s fascinating.

Craig: Oh, that makes sense, right?

John: It would be great if they were robots. Or, I mean, the simpler version is just like there’s a head injury that we’re not aware of until the other character points it out. It’s like, “Oh my god, you have like a horrible…” That gash in the head which is written on the first part, if that was actually hidden away, that would be great.

Craig: I’m actually looking through your head. That can’t be good. I’m a biologist. I know for a fact that that’s not good.

But you just can’t have both characters inexplicably being so flat and there’s just no spark between these two. There’s no fun. I’m not enjoying the interactions here.

John: In all of our Three Page Challenges, I don’t think you’ve ever so successfully talked me out of liking three pages.

Craig: [laughs] I’m so sorry. I feel bad.

John: You shouldn’t feel bad at all. And none of our three writers who were so brave to send in their pages should feel bad, because we are obviously pointing out things we would love to see improved. But on the whole, these are some of the better pages we’ve looked at. There certainly there was a lot to sort of like here.

We didn’t talk about sort of paragraph length and sort of flow on the page, but in all these cases it was easy to get through the pages and there were no sort of stoppers, except for the little things we singled out.

Craig: Yep.

John: And Stuart always wants me to remind listeners that as he goes through every submission into the Three Page Challenge, he really deliberately does pick for us things he thinks are interesting for us to talk about on the show, but also some of the better ones. And so these really are some of the better ones that come into the account. So, thank you to everyone who writes in, but especially these three writers for letting us talking about their pages.

Craig: Indeed. And we hope that we were helpful to all three of you.

John: Wonderful. It is time for One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is A24 Pictures, which is a movie label that I see — I see the banner in front of certain movies, and I didn’t really know what it was until I read this piece by David Ehrlich writing for Slate in which talks about the tiny little production and distribution arm and the movies they’ve released. So those are Mississippi Grind, Ex Machina, Under the Skin, Spring Breakers.

And on the show we often talk about the frustration that there are only teeny tiny movies and giant $200 billion movies. And A24 is a production company and releasing arm that is aiming to make some of those smart movies that are between those two poles. And so I thought it was a great article. I’ll put that article in the show notes, but also just I want to see more companies like A24, like STX, like Annapurna that are trying to make interesting movies and finding ways to release them both theatrically and in some cases on demand at the same time.

Craig: And they have had some success. I mean, Ex Machina did really well.

John: Yeah. It was a great movie.

Craig: I enjoyed it.

John: And the movies that aren’t sort of big studio blockbusters, they’re able to find ways for those to actually make money and that’s important, too.

Craig: Indeed. My One Cool Thing is a soundtrack album that you can all buy now. It was released this week, this past week. And it is the Broadway Cast Recording of Hamilton by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It’s spectacular. I’m going to see the show in the end of the year. I’m going to be in New York at the end of the year. I’m going to see the show there. I can’t wait.

What I love about it is, well first of all, I happen to be a huge fan of Alexander Hamilton, the man, and his work and his philosophy. Can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten into arguments about people about why I think Thomas Jefferson is why overrated. But regardless, topic for another podcast. What I think is fascinating about what Miranda did was he basically delivered a hip hop opera. And what I love is that it encapsulates the very best of what hip hop can do in ways that no other musical form can. It’s so smart. It’s lyrically so aggressive and so ambitious and brilliant.

And it’s also hip hop without the parts of hip hop that I think are so bad. It’s not the hip hop of celebrating violence. It’s misogynistic hip hop. It’s old school hip hop done right. And about a guy that deserves his story to be told.

Just wonderful. I mean, up and down, every single song. All the performances, amazing. I can’t wait to see the show. And for those of you who aren’t going to be in New York, and a really hard ticket to get, just go ahead and buy the album. It’s not that expensive and you can listen to it in your car. And you’ll get the story.

John: Cool. Yeah, I’ve held off on buying the soundtrack because I do want to see the show and there are times in which I’ve listened to the cast album beforehand and then when I see the show I’m sort of frustrated that things aren’t matching my expectations, or that I sort of knew too much. So, I’m going to try to get to New York to see it soon enough that I’m going to hold off, I think, listening to it until I’ve actually seen the show.

Craig: Well, I’ll just start singing it to you when you least expect it.

John: Ugh, that’s so dangerous. Our show as always is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth. Thank you, Rajesh. You’ve written so many wonderful outros for us.

Craig: Yeah, he’s very good.

John: He’s prolific. If you have an outro for our show, you can write into and send us a link to your outro. But if you have a question, that’s also a great place to write your longer questions. We answer them on the air pretty frequently. For short questions, Twitter is best. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. We’re also on Facebook. We check that occasionally, but not as often as Twitter.

Our bonus episode that I mentioned, the interview with Mark Mallouk from Black Mass, that is on the premium feed. If you’d like to subscribe to the premium feed, go to and that’s $1.99 a month. And you can get that and all the back episodes, including the dirty episode.

We have our show up in iTunes. So, if you want to subscribe to the normal feed, just got to iTunes and click subscribe. That is really helpful. You can find the Three Page Challenges that we talked about and other things in our show notes for the episode,

And that’s our show. Craig, thank you so much.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: Bye.


Switching from Final Draft to Highland

Thu, 10/08/2015 - 11:33

The Other Sam Cooke writes about switching from Final Draft to Highland:

After about 10 months of using the application, I can honestly say that Highland is not merely an affordable screenwriting application; it’s actually my favorite screenwriting application.

Cooke likes that he can write on the go using any plain-text editor (he prefers Editorial). When he’s back on his Mac, Highland stays out of his way and lets him focus on the words:

Most screenwriting apps, like Final Draft, have you build a document that looks like [the finished version] as you go along. So I constantly have to hit Tab a certain number of times, or Enter a certain number of times, or type in a little shortcut throughout the writing process to get my script to look like that, and because it requires such constant attention, I find myself devoting too much thought to the formatting of my document.

It’s not particularly difficult to learn Final Draft, and I imagine plenty of people don’t find it as distracting as I do, but I feel like formatting should be an after-the-fact concern. I don’t want to have to think about it while I’m creating.

One other advantage Cooke cites: Final Draft is $250, while Highland is $30 on the Mac App Store.

The Martian, or Making Things Going Wrong Well

Tue, 10/06/2015 - 14:32

Next month, I’ll be chatting with Drew Goddard, screenwriter of The Martian, for a Writers Guild Foundation event.

One of the things I want to talk about is how cleverly The Martian sets expectations and then defeats them in surprising ways. The film is marketed as a story of survival and ingenuity, but on a screenwriting level it’s a series of carefully-structured hopes denied.

As The Bitter Script Reader points out:

A good rule of thumb in film is that if we’re explained a plan in painstaking detail, […] things will not go to plan. The way things NEED to happen is laid out for us so that when we’re in the thick of it, we’ll have that “oh shit!” reaction as things come apart.

On today’s Scriptnotes, Craig and I talk about on why this kind of constant denial engine — and the life-or-death stakes it helps feed — makes The Martian a movie idea rather than a TV idea. It’s a journey this character can only take once. And it’s Goddard and Scott’s terrific execution that makes it such an enjoyable ride.

If you want to join me for the conversation with Goddard, tickets are available now.