Scriptnotes, Ep 298: How Characters Move — Transcript
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 298 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast, we’ll be looking at how characters move and how screenwriters can use character movement to their benefit. Then it’s another round of Three Page Challenge where we take a look at reader’s submissions and diagnosis what’s working and what could be improved. So, this is usually the spot where we have follow up, but there’s not really a lot of follow up. I mean, we’re in this weird place because we’re recording this on a Thursday, so all of our listeners are way ahead of us. They’re living in the future and we are far back in the past. So, by the time people are listening to this, we’ll have more insight into what’s happening with the WGA negotiation. The live show at the ArcLight will have already happened.
Craig: That’s right.
John: So whatever Craig said about me I don’t know yet, but you as listeners might possibly know if you were one of the 400 people in that theater.
Craig: Right. Like they may know as they’re listening to us have this discussion that you and I aren’t talking anymore. Like that’s it. They heard it. This is the last camaraderie we’ll ever have. By the way, the last time we had this whole you all are living in the future discussion, it was because of the presidential election.
John: Yeah, oh great. That turned out really well. So, that’s a good omen.
Craig: How do we get back to the past somehow?
John: Yeah. Some time travel would be good. I actually did a post about time travel today for the blog. I rarely write on the blog, but I did a post about time travel because I was working on a project a couple years ago for a studio and it never happened. I never actually fully wrote the whole thing. It fell apart for other reasons. But, in that time travel movie, it was – you’re traveling back and forth in time, but you’re always physically in the same place. And so you’d be in Los Angeles but it would be, you know, 20,000 years ago. But, that’s as much of a cheat as anything is. And so my sort of thing that keeps me up at night sometimes is if I were to travel back in time, and the time machine broke, or I was sort of set back in time like how Kyle Reese would be in the Terminator and landed someplace in the past, how would I know where I was and when I was if I didn’t have any of my stuff to tell me that.
John: And so I speculated a little bit in the blog post, but I really asked people to contribute their own thoughts for the best ways to figure out where and when you are if your time machine breaks down. And people have already had some good suggestions. That was just this morning and people had some good thoughts.
But, Craig, you’re a smart person. What would you do? How would you figure out when and where you are?
Craig: I suppose I would just follow what movies and television have told me to do, which is to either grab the nearest newspaper or ask somebody, “What year is it?”
John: Yeah. You seem like a crazy person then. In my head, I was always thinking back to there’s no one else around, or if there are people around, it is like a primitive civilization.
John: So like I can’t just go up to a person. I could go up to a person, but they wouldn’t speak my language most likely. So how would I–
Craig: You don’t.
John: Figure that stuff out?
Craig: No idea. None.
Craig: I mean, stars? I wouldn’t know.
John: So, apparently stars are useful because I don’t know if it’s the Big Dipper or Little Dipper, but you can actually chart to see where you are at in periods of tens of thousands of years based on what the Dipper looks like.
Craig: If you knew that–
John: If you knew that. Yeah. You got to know a lot. So, in my post I said like a biologist would be able to look around and see what was nearby. And then Nima, my friend, who is a biologist actually said like, “Well, that’s ridiculous. Because biologists don’t necessarily know what the ecology is of a place.” So it’s an ecologist rather than a biologist I needed.
Craig: Yeah. And even then, ecological periods are incredibly long. So, you might be able to say, “Well, I’m clearly between 8000 and 4000 BC. Well that’s not very useful.
John: Yeah. If there were trilobites running around then I would know that I’m back in a time, but I wouldn’t know where I am in that time.
Craig: You’d know you’re screwed. That’s the deal. You’re screwed.
John: You know who are really smart people? Are our listeners. So, if you have a good suggestion for me on how I can figure out when and where I am if my time machine breaks, I would welcome that.
Craig: You know what I’m going to do, what I always do in these hypothetical situations when I’m faced with very difficult odds and a challenging circumstance like arriving back in time at some unknown time and place, I just immediately give up. I curl up into a ball and I pray for death. Pray for the sweet release of death.
John: Yeah. You protect your internal organs from the predators coming after you.
Craig: Or just let them take me.
John: Or just let them take you. Yeah. Just jump off the cliff. Find a cliff that you can fall off of it.
Craig: Find a cliff. Leap. That’s it. Not realizing that five minutes later they would have picked me up. They would have found me. Or that I didn’t even go back in time.
John: They were looking for you the whole time.
Craig: Yeah. I didn’t go back in time at all. I was just having a mild stroke.
John: Yeah. It’s like the ending of The Mist where you think everything is at its absolute worst and then if you’d waited another 30 seconds everything would have been fine.
Craig: Oh, you wait – that by the way is a theory I’ve heard from people regarding our prior strikes. [laughs] We just needed to strike one more day and we would have gotten everything.
John: Everything you want.
Craig: Everything. I don’t know about that. Oh, dear.
John: I’m realizing at this moment we actually do have one piece of follow-up. In last week’s episode, we talked about – we did a bunch of follow up. And at the very end I said that if we were a podcast that had music, this would be the place where we played the music to close out the follow up. And so Jonathan Mann, a very talented composer, created a piece of music just for wrapping up follow up.
Craig: I know.
John: So, let’s take a listen.
Craig: [music plays] Well that sounds exciting. I think that will be fun. I’ve had enough of follow up. I think follow up is done. Follow up is done. [music ends]
John: Follow up is done. And now let’s get to our first topic. So, this is something Craig proposed. So, kick it off.
Craig: Well, I was thinking about this because I was watching something and there was a character who was so physical and was doing so much physically. And it occurred to me that one of the things that you and I like to do when we talk about crafty issues is pull out little things that maybe writers don’t think about as tools in their toolbox. We’re so textual and I think for a lot of people we tend to focus down on action and dialogue. And you and I have talked about the importance of place. And we’ve talked about the importance of sound. And we’ve talked about the importance of transitions. And nonverbal communication.
John: And hair styles. And wardrobe.
Craig: And hair and wardrobe. All these things are part of our palate. But when I don’t think we’ve talked about is physicality itself. Have you ever taken an acting class?
John: I’ve taken no acting classes.
Craig: I took an acting class when I was in college. And it was really instructive. And I took it because I was trying to write and I thought if I want to write things for actors I should probably have some sense of what the hell they go through. And the thing that surprised me the most about class number one was the fact that we spent the first ten minutes stretching, breathing. These are things that every actor is like, yeah, dumb-dumb, that’s what we do. Our bodies are an enormous part of our instrument.
And the first acting assignment we had, and I will never forget this, because it was mean and it was cruel. And it was exactly the kind of lesson you don’t forget. Our teacher said, “OK, first acting assignment, each of you, you’re going to sit in the chair and what I’d like you to do is perform sitting in a chair. And you have one minute to do whatever you’d like to perform sitting in a chair.” And each person, including myself, performed some sort of remarkable little mini drama while sitting in the chair.
Waiting nervously for somebody. Shooting up drugs. Crying. Remembering something terrible. Yeah. And then when we were done she goes, “OK, now it’s my turn.” And she sat in the chair and she sat there, believably, for a minute. And we were all like, gulp, because that’s a huge part of what you do.
And I never forgot that. So, I thought today we would talk about how we as writers can employ this and think about this while we’re writing. Whether it’s something we’re calling out specifically as we’re writing, or whether it’s something that we’re using to inform what we’re having our characters say as opposed to not say and so forth.
Do you do a lot of thinking about this sort of thing when you write?
John: I would say in general as I’m sort of looping through the scene, sort of in the pre-writing process where I’m seeing what the scene is like, that’s where I’m sort of doing the blocking for characters and figuring out where they are and sort of what they’re generally doing in the scene. And so some characters are not – they’re not running around. They’re standing there. They’re sitting there. I’m placing them within the mental set I’ve built for them. And because of where I’ve placed them, that will inform their choices definitely.
But I would say in general I don’t think a lot about this consciously. And so when you proposed the topic, I went back and sort of retroactively looked at the choices I have made in different movies and some of those were really helpful choices. So, I’m eager to sort of have the discussion about thinking through what character movements could be and when it’s helpful to call them out. Because I think a lot of time I’ve seen them in my head, but I haven’t bothered to describe them on the page.
Craig: Yeah. And that’s normal, because the truth is it’s not always something that is necessary. I will always be necessary for each individual actor to make a choice about their own physicality. And I’m talking about everything – how they stand, how they sit, how they walk, how they move through a space, all of that. But in key moments, it’s important for us to think about it. And you can kind of break these things down into two large categories. One is situational and one is I’ll say constitutional.
So, you think about a character like – you watched Breaking Bad, I presume.
John: I did not watch Breaking Bad. I’ve seen episodes, but I did not watch it as a whole series.
Craig: All right. Have you ever seen Giancarlo Esposito’s character, Gus Fring? Have you ever seen any of those?
John: Absolutely. And I perceive him to be a very active and physical character, even when he – if he’s listening to you, I think it’s a very active listening.
Craig: Right. So, he – that character – that actor, and the writers together have made a choice that this person is going to exercise total control over his physical self. He stands rigid. His posture when he sits is always perfect, to the point where it’s almost unnatural. When he talks to you, he tends to put his hands flat on the surface, palms down, evenly spaced. It’s a remarkable series of choices but it says so much about who he is, which is an intense control freak to the nth degree.
That is a kind of constitutional decision. This is who this guy is. But then there are these moments characters can respond to something and then how they respond physically can sometimes tell you so much. So, I guess, first we could about just motion. How actors are moving through a space and what it means for us as writers. These are simple things like how fast are they going, or how deliberate are they. Are they in control of their physical self at that moment? Are they clumsy or are they graceful?
They can also indicate things to us, I mean, the physicality of a character can indicate things. For instance, like I mentioned, posture. But there are also things like strength, general strength and weakness. You can tell when, and these are questions that actors will ask. And if they ask a writer, it’s good for you to know. Is this person weak? Are they physically weak? What does that mean for them? Do they have a disability? Sometimes a slight limp does this remarkable thing.
We know, for instance, watching No Country for Old Men, and you see Anton Chigurh, and that–
Craig: Odd limp. It’s the strangest thing. And it’s so important. So important to his character. 99% of writers will not really go there. But they should. It doesn’t mean you always want to do something like that, because it can quickly tilt into affectation. But when you’re creating a monster and then giving him a slight imperfection like that that almost harkens back to Frankenstein or something, it can be really interesting.
John: Absolutely. And I think if you’re calling this kind of detail out on each character, it loses its unique quality for the characters it’s actually important for.
John: And it can also feel like you’re setting something up that you don’t mean to be setting up. So you have to be really mindful of it, but for I think Anton Chigurh is a great example of a character whose menace is amplified by this perceived weakness.
Craig: Precisely. And there are also little behavioral ticks that all people have. If you – you know, we sometimes say if you want to learn dialogue, I mean, I do think there’s a certain innate talent for that. It’s a little musical. But we’ll say, listen to people right? And sometimes we’ll suggest record two people having a conversation, with their knowledge, of course. And then just listen to the rhythms and see how that works.
Similarly, just watch people with the sound off in your head. Watch their bodies. Watch what they do. Watch how they fidget. Do they bite their fingernails? Do they chew gum? Do they pull on their pants? What are those things that they do? Those little things sometimes tell us so much and the audience tends to enjoy learning these things, like little detectives who are spying on somebody. Because we’re watching a character on screen and while they’re talking they’re nervously fiddling with their shirttail. They feel – the audience feels a satisfaction. It’s a voyeuristic satisfaction. They know that that character isn’t really aware of it. Right? That’s what kind of an unconscious habit is.
So, we’re kind of titillated by the fact that we’re learning something about them that they don’t necessarily want us to know.
John: Absolutely. Well, I think what you’re talking about is you’re giving them a specific differentiation from all the other characters in the world. We often talk about that first moment where you introduce a character. So, they get their uppercase because it’s the first time they’re showing up in the script. And you can sometimes cheat a little bit and like give an extra line of description that isn’t really necessarily filmable, but it helps sort of anchor for the reader who that character is.
But sometimes a movement is a fantastic way, really what one of these constitutional movements, is a great way to sort of anchor that for the reader. Because you’re giving them something specific about, you know, in the case of the Breaking Bad character, how precise and measured he is. And sort of how he sits so ramrod straight.
That’s useful. And it’s a thing that actually can help inform the actor. Help the director understand the character’s role in the thing. But it helps the reader see that character in his or her head.
Craig: It also starts to help you as the writer cast. Even if that’s not the cast that you end up with, in your mind you’re saying this character has this kind of physicality. Who fits that? You know, I remember in that acting class I told you about in college, at the end of the semester we had to partner up with one other person in the class and perform a scene. And she assigned the scenes and the characters. And I got True West, which this other guy, and I was the hard ass brother. I was the tough brother.
John: All right.
Craig: Because she said, and you know, it’s so funny, she said, and she’s right, and this is why I’m not a good actor and why I can’t do it well, because I’m in my own head too much. She said, “You have this physicality you will not access, and I want you to access your own body. I want you to get in this guy’s face. I want you to intimidate him. I want you to be scary.” Which I don’t feel, in my head, but I have the kind of physicality – it’s not like I’m a super heavy built guy, but if I were a bad person I have the kind of body that helps that out. You know? Got some broad shoulders and sort of barrel-chesty.
And so as you’re thinking about the physicality of these characters, you also then start to think well who could play this and who does this physicality match up to? And a lot of times where that takes you, and this to me is maybe the most important aspect that I think about routinely is this kind of relational physicality. Two people are in a space, how is their physical presence impacting each other?
John: Classically, if you ever take a class in negotiations or sort of like interpersonal communication where you’re trying to convince somebody of something, there’s that process of mirroring where you sort of do back what they’re doing to you and then like you can sort of change the dynamic. Even like those sort of gross things about how to pick up women, they’re all about the interplay of space between you and the other person. And so how you put those two characters in the scene and how you sort of suggest that they’re going to be moving in the scene really will influence the dynamic.
If a character is approaching the other character, that can be read as they’re entering their space for a positive reason or they’re trying to control that person. And you have to make those decisions.
And just even that line of dialogue or the parenthetical honestly, like approaching, changes the read of that next line of dialogue.
Craig: Absolutely. And similarly you have a choice of how to respond. In this way you can have a fight without ever throwing a punch. Someone can lean in – you know, sometimes instead of saying he gets it – like I will read in scripts, “He gets in his face, or he gets in his comfort zone.” But to me that’s not very specific. I mean, if somebody, you know, juts his head in, these are things that people do to get into your space without just weirdly walking close to you and specific. And then how does the other person respond? Because if they don’t flinch, that tells me a lot, too. And then the other person maybe starts their – their performance starts to fall apart. Their performance of being strong.
And there are all these body language things that people just do traditionally and I think it’s good to think of about those things as well, even if you don’t spell them out. If in your mind your character is arms crossed and eyes down, it will affect how you have them say things.
Craig: So, in that sense it’s not always necessary to spell it out, but you should be thinking about it.
John: Well, the general rule for sort of everything we’re talking about in scene description for the scenes that we’re writing is you have to know what all the things are and be very judicious about the things you’re actually saying because screenwriting is an art of economy. So, you’re not saying 90% of what you know about the scene. You’re only saying that 10% that’s actually crucial for the understanding of the intention behind the dialogue and the intention behind the actions, the crucial actions that they’re taking in the scene.
So, you know, the scene may really not be about sort of where those two characters are or sort of like how they are physically interacting, but if it’s helpful for the reader to understand the intention and for the actors to understand the intention, you’ll make the choice about like, OK, I’m going to be very specific here. And, again, there’s always that worry like, oh, I’m directing from the page. Well, sometimes you’re actually just directing the reader’s attention to what’s important in the scene. Moments that might be lost if you hadn’t actually called them out.
Craig: Absolutely. And if you think about the comparison to dialogue as music, that there’s that rhythm and melody and the rests and the notes, then the equivalent comparison for physical motion is dancing. And I do think about these things like little dances at times. And that doesn’t mean to say that they have to be arch. But how people are leaning and moving back and coming together, whether it’s out of intimacy, or threat, or fear, frightened people are the most wonderful dancers in movies. It’s so much fun to watch them.
I remember another Coen Brothers example, Miller’s Crossing. What’s his name, The Schmatta, that’s what the character’s name is? When he’s begging for his life. “Look into your heart.” He’s so folded over and pathetic. It’s like they took his bones out or something. It’s really amazing to watch what servility looks like, and fear, and it’s similarly I’m always impressed by truly scary people in movies. Not fake, fighter, corny ones, but those live wires that are dangerous like Begbie in Trainspotting. I mean, Begbie, the character, what, he weighs like 120 pounds maybe. And he’s, what, 5’8”? And he’s absolutely terrifying because it looks like electricity is in him. And he leads from his, in surprising ways, like explosively from his neck. You know? And that’s amazing to me. It’s such a wonderful dance to watch.
John: Well, that idea of dance, I think, is a crucial reason why – and I’m curious what your take is on this, because I almost never have characters sitting down. I think it’s because of the dance aspect of that. So, even in situations where in the real world they might be sitting down, I’ll almost always put them up on their feet. And so now that I’ve said that, people will watch movies and TV shows and they’ll recognize like, oh, you know what, it’s really kind of weird how rarely people sit in movies and TV shows. But it’s because you want people on their feet. People pay more attention to people who are standing up. And it’s a strange thing. But if people are standing up then anything can happen. If people are sitting down, less can happen.
And the transition from being seated to standing up is a big change. And so you can do that, but you’re also sort of taking up time to do that.
Conversely, I think one of the reasons why people are often standing is then when you have somebody sit down, it really does change the dynamic. And sitting down can be a major power move to sort of say like, no, no, we’re not going to hurry. I’m going to sit down.
Or, like Hannibal Lecter, you have a character who is mostly sitting down and he’s eerily calm, which is, again, a powerful position.
Craig: Actually, I was thinking of him as standing. That’s interesting.
John: Well, sometimes he’s standing, leaning against the wall, but I think in a lot of those conversations he’s seated in the chair opposite Clarice.
Craig: Oh, is that right? Well, yeah, because the first time we meet him, not only is he standing in a Gus Fring ramrod way, but he’s floating in the middle of the space. By the way, as good of a time as any way to say rest in peace, Jonathan Demme. It’s very sad that he passed away.
John: 100%. Yeah.
Craig: But also an amazing example of what body control and defining a character by body movement is. But I agree with you, sitting is a fascinating choice. And this is where you know you’re talking to screenwriters, because anybody else would just say, what, they’re sitting, who cares. So to me sitting is always about negotiation, or intimacy. Or exhaustion, literally exhaustion. But when people are sitting across from each other, I think that there’s either a negotiation going on, which I think is very typical. We think of that as across the table, or an intimacy where two people are kind of together and sharing something quietly that is in a so-called safe space I guess is how I would put it.
But when one person is sitting and one person is standing, that’s always fascinating to me, too. Because then there are times when the seated person is the one in charge. Then there are times where the seated person is the one in trouble. And you’ll see that dynamic quite a bit.
John: I think back to Star Trek, and you look at the bridge of Star Trek and its different incarnations, and obviously the caption has his seat and in the Next Generation there were seats next to him, but it always – you could tell the actors never really wanted to sit there. They always wanted to be up. And even from the initial Star Trek, they found a reason for why Spock had to be standing to look into that little monitor thing. There’s no reason why that monitor thing couldn’t be like seat accessible, but I think they wanted him standing up because if he was sitting down he was sitting down. And the characters who were sitting down were kind of less important.
There’s a reason why Spock was standing, because he was the second most important person on the bridge and Chekov, Sulu, and Uhura, they were sitting down. And while we love them, they were not the driving force in the scene.
Craig: Yeah. When people are standing, there is a chance that one of them will attack the other one. Physically. Or there is a chance that one of them is going to kiss the other one, physically. And so that is exciting. There is – you’re absolutely right about that. And it is good advice I think to ask yourself, because I fall, and we all fall into this trap, ask yourself do they need to be sitting here? And if they don’t, what would be going on if they were standing? Because you also don’t want them to just stand dead, you know. And then this leads you down the path of what other kind of discussion could occur.
And this is the challenge of the screenwriting. I always feel like writing a script is a little bit like those old school printers that had to run through a color, then come back and do another color on top to get to the final colors, you know. So they’d do one color at a time. And oftentimes I feel like there’s only so many layers we can do at once. But, it’s a good exercise to go back through on a rewrite and ask yourself why are they sitting, should they be sitting, and how are they sitting, and if they’re not sitting and they’re standing, what can I do with their bodies? What can I think about with their bodies?
The more you give your actors to do physically, the more they will be able to be real. I don’t know how else to put it.
John: That’s absolutely true. All right, I think that’s a great discussion on some movement. Some physicality. So, if you have suggestions about physicality or movement, write in with those ideas.
Before we go, one last actually really concrete example I can think of, from The Crown, so the Netflix series, The Crown, a big sort of plot point is that Churchill doesn’t want to sit down. Churchill always wants to be standing to give his information to the Queen. And she makes him sit down at one point. And it is a very clear sort of power move. When I’m telling you what you have to do, and making you sit down, I’m taking away your agency. And it’s a really interesting moment.
Craig: Yeah. You know, we go through this – I mean, you and I, we’re getting older. Every now and then you tweak a little muscle or something. Even just being aware, body conscious, we are conscious of our own bodies. Ow. You know, if you have a scene where someone sits down and they just wince a little bit, that’s interesting. I’m already interested. They seem real.
John: Even as we’re recording this, I think you are sitting in your chair in Los Angeles. I am standing at my desk in Paris. It’s the difference between us.
Craig: That’s right. I am incredibly lazy. [laughs] So lazy. Slouched over. Basically I’m Charlie Kaufman’s character in Adaptation. I am. I’m just like – my posture – I’m the opposite of Gus Fring. I’m basically a comma.
John: I am some other Nicolas Cage character in some other movie.
Craig: Let’s go with The Bad Lieutenant. And…? Three Page Challenge time.
John: Perfect. So I just reached back and picked up my iPad to talk through our Three Page Challenges. So, as always, when we do a Three Page Challenge, we’ve invited listeners to write in with the first three pages of their script. So they have gone to johnaugust.com/threepage, all spelled out, they have read a little form. They have attached a PDF and said that it’s OK for us to talk about these on the air. And, in fact, if you would like to read along with us, we strongly recommend it. So, in the show notes for this show, or just go to johnaugust.com, you can download the PDFs and see what we are seeing, what we actually have in front of us.
So, if you feel like pausing the episode and downloading them, it really is good because we’re going to talk specifically this week about very specific things on the page that could be looked at for a rewrite.
And we also love to have a wonderful not us person to read aloud the descriptions. So, if you’re listening to this in your car you have a sense of what we’re talking about. So, we’ve had Jeff Probst, we’ve had Elizabeth Banks. This week–
Craig: So good.
John: We went international. And so it is Rebel Wilson who is going to be reading our summaries.
Craig: Oh yeah. Rebel.
John: Rebel. So, she was so generous. We tweeted at her last night and she did it right away. And she’s just the best. So, if you would like to hear more Rebel Wilson, she was on a previous episode. We’ll have a link in the show notes. She was actually on two episodes. So we had a normal clean episode, then we did a special dirty episode which is in the premium feed for subscribers. And the premium episode, if I recall correctly, involves a hat and diarrhea.
Craig: Yeah. Of course it does. Of course it does. By the way, now, so we’ve had Elizabeth Banks, Banksy, and we have Rebel, I feel like we should just keep rolling through the Pitch Perfect cast, you know?
Craig: I think that’s the only people that we should have doing these, other than Jeff Probst. We should just have Pitch – we should get Anna Kendrick. And we should roll through.
Craig: All right.
John: All right, let’s do our very first of these. And Rebel Wilson, if you will please introduce our first script so we can discuss it.
Rebel Wilson: OK. Hey guys, it’s Rebel Wilson here. OK, first up we have Alice by Ted Wilkes. Oh, I feel like the person at the table read that reads out all the stage directions. We open in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant where a toad and a cat are hard at work. We are in Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland reimagined as a sprawling metropolis with a Victorian twist. A perp races through the kitchen, chased by Rabbit White, aka, the white rabbit, now a hard-nosed bail bondsman.
In voiceover, Rabbit tells us why the perps always run, even though they know it’s pointless. Then, in the alley, Rabbit catches the perp as he’s about to climb over a fence. He cuffs him. As Rabbit muses on how things have changed in Wonderland, the perp reveals that he knows where she is, the one Rabbit is hung up on. Enraged, Rabbit knocks the perp out. At the WPD, Harry Mad Hatter Harrington, balding and fat, watches Rabbit. He confronts Rabbit about smoking inside the station and warns him about beating up suspects. And with that, that’s the bottom of page three.
John: And thank you Rebel Wilson. Craig, do you want to start us off?
Craig: Sure. So, this was a little challenging for me. There’s a choice that’s made here. And I understand it. There are times when you want to – your action description wants to be a character in and of itself. And there are times when you want to impart things to the reader quickly and efficiently so they kind of get it.
So, here we start in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant, and then we’re already a little meta because Ted Wilkes says, “Because that’s where chases always take place.” I haven’t seen a chase yet, but I guess I’m going to, which I don’t really love. Let the chase unfold. Let me actually watch the movie. But he says, “However, there’s something different about this one. We’re in Wonderland. The place where Lewis Carroll’s novella was set. However, it’s years after the hallucinations of Alice Liddell which gave birth to that narrative. Turns out that the place is actually a sprawling noir metropolis (with a Victorian twist) when you put the book down.”
Now you’re just pitching me the movie.
Craig: And that’s not what screenplays do. So much of what we want when we read a screenplay is to discover. And I understand at some point you may need to clarify. First, just lay it on me. And then let me discover it. And I think that choice is kind of infecting even the way the scene is working, because we have a film noir voiceover from the Rabbit who is clearly basically a film noir detective. Or in this case bail bondsman, which we know because he tells us in the action. “The white rabbit from the stories became a hard-nosed bail bondsman.” Again, before he’s even said a word. So we’re pitching. He has some voiceover and then they start to run.
And understand what’s going on here. And we see a lot of these in Hollywood. I mean, Travis Beecham wrote a spec called Killing on Carnival Row which was sort of like fairy creature world, you know, noir gumshoe. So this is Alice in Wonderland noir gumshoe. It’s a very similar sort of thing. But it seems to me that I kind of need to get one thing at once, like maybe just give me the white rabbit. And I think it’s Alice in Wonderland and he’s checking his thing, because he’s going to be late. And then he looks up and he sees somebody running by. And then he runs out after them, chases them down, catches them, and knocks their teeth out, which is a very similar thing to what’s happening here.
And then I discover, oh my god, Wonderland is not the way I remember it. But it seemed like I was getting too much before it happened. So, by the time I was done, and this is sort of just a global problem with these three pages, by the time I got to the end of the third page, I thought to myself I don’t need to see this movie. I think I get it.
John: Yeah, I felt like I got it, too. And I had a lot of the same objections you did in terms of it didn’t feel like it was presenting itself fairly. It didn’t feel like it was actually a screenplay. It felt more like a pitch document for the idea rather than the thing itself.
The idea of like combining two different genres together to make your own unique thing, that’s great. I have no issues with it. And, you know, an Alice in Wonderland noir drama, I’m fine with that. I think my concern is that it didn’t seem particularly interested in being a noir genre. I didn’t sense that this actually cared about the chase. It was just – the chase was just there to set up stuff. And I didn’t feel invested in the action, partly because let’s see, so we’re talking, you know, in the kitchen there’s a toad washing pots by the sink, and a cat is cutting onions in the corner.
But then we have this Perp, 40s, races through the kitchen. We never get any description of what the perp is. Is he human? I don’t know.
John: So, it wasn’t – yeah, I don’t think – if Ted had an answer for it, he wasn’t giving me the answer because it didn’t seem like it was important to him. And so I didn’t know whether to invest my attention on any one detail of all this.
So, the voiceover from the Rabbit, it feels like gumshoe voiceover, but it didn’t feel like specific to this world of a gumshoe voiceover. It felt like it could have been in a different movie and it could have been in a different movie. And that’s where the gears started to not fit very well for me. Is that we visually see that he is the White Rabbit, but nothing he’s actually saying or doing feels like Lewis Carroll’s world at all.
Craig: Yeah. You know, if you want to start with that classic noir vibe, and again, this is my theory of do one thing at once, so show me some dirty streets and some fog and the camera is moving through. And a dog is barking and there’s sounds of clatter and garbage cans. And we hear a voiceover. And the voiceover, I’m just reading from Ted’s pages here. The voiceover, we don’t see anyone. We just hear someone say, “They always run. They know that it’s pointless… I always get them. It’s just something to do with the nervous system. You see a threat coming your way and your feet start turning in the direction of the nearest exit…”
And now we move through a window and we arrive at an ashtray and a glass of scotch. And we hear, “… It’s the amygdala. The place where our brain gets all its emotional signals from. Once it kicks in, it just takes over and no matter what you were just thinking about, you’re not in control anymore.” And then a hand reaches in, takes a cigarette. And then you hear, “And that’s where I come in,” or something.
And then we reveal it’s a rabbit. You see, somehow or another we need one thing at a time. I’m also thinking about, I love Men in Black. Boy, that’s another movie we should deep dive into. And Men in Black, one of the things that I love the most, when I knew I was going to have a great time in that movie more than anything was after the chase scene where Will Smith chases down this purse snatcher. And the guy–
John: They race up through the Guggenheim and–
Craig: Right. And then that guy is doing things that you couldn’t really do. And then his eyelids do this weird blinking thing, like there’s eyelids inside of his eyelids. And then he jumps. And later Will Smith is saying, “Yeah, his eyelids were doing this weird thing.” And the cops are like, “You’re out of your mind.” And then in comes Tommy Lee Jones and he says, “They weren’t eyelids. They were gills. He was out of breath.”
And you go, whoa. This is cool. Right? Like he knows stuff. And they’re taking it seriously. They live in this world. It’s not cute. It’s not meta. It’s real to them.
This all felt like it was – it had that glaze of a pitch. There was like a weird meta thing sitting on it, so that I wasn’t really in a movie. I was just more getting hit with a lot of flash.
John: Yep. I agree with you. Let’s take a look at the words on the page and see if there’s things that screenwriters in general can look at here and learn from. So, a thing which bugs me a lot and I suspect bugs you, too, is when scene headers go more than one line. And so here we see, this is bottom of page one, EXT. DARK ALLEY, BEHIND THE CHINESE RESTAURANT, WONDERLAND – NIGHT, and the night breaks over to the next line. Don’t do that. I’ve never had a good outcome with multiline scene headers. Find a way to shrink that down. EXT. DARK ALLEY – NIGHT. Done.
Like I know we’re in Wonderland. You don’t have to keep calling it out every time.
John: If you’re going to keep the same Chinese restaurant kitchen opening, I would have gotten rid of the first scene header all together, because he’s repeating it in the second line. So, it just says, “It’s the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant because that’s where chases always take place.” That line bugs me less if I didn’t just see it in the scene header.
John: A general thing, but in screenplays, two dashes are the sort of punctuation dash. So one dash by itself just looks like a minus. This was inconsistent. So that would be helpful.
He’s got a voice like gravel in a mixing bowl. Sure. That worked for me. I could hear what that sounds like.
Craig: And it’s a little cheesy, but true to noir. That’s kind of how they talk.
John: That’s why I liked it. Bottom of page one, “Chiaroscuro light fills the alley as two shadows run up the wall, just about visible through the thick fog circling around the place.” Really close, just a little too long. So, you can get the Chiaroscuro and the fog, great, and the shadows running up the wall, but then it just went on too long.
But in general, I felt the noir vibe there. Great. Just little less would have helped me there.
Page two, there’s a semicolon that’s not really a semicolon. “The Perp CLATTERS against it; then tries to climb as fast as he can.”
Craig: Right. That should be a comma. Or take out the then.
John: And I share you concern with we are told that he’s a bail bondsman, but nothing we actually see him do really sells that idea. And so it looks like he’s just a cop arresting him. And even when we got to the station, I was really confused sort of what his relationship was with everybody there. It took me three times on the third page to really understand like, oh no, he doesn’t work there. He’s just returning this guy who ran away. So that was confusing to me as well.
Craig: Yeah. I agree. There is a disconcerting spelling error on the bottom of page two. “A rye smile from the Perp.” You want to say W-R-Y there. Not rye as in the drink. And the reason it’s a little disconcerting is because, look, mistakes happen, but I like it when my writers read. And it just – you don’t want to shake anyone’s confidence. You never want somebody to look at that and go, oh, this guy is just not well-read. Because I’m sure Ted is well-read. This is probably just a think-o instead of a typo. But you got to check these things. It’s really important. And that’s something a spell checker is not going to catch, obviously.
John: Top of page three, “Rabbit tees off on the Perp’s face.” I didn’t know what that meant. Did it mean slug him?
John: What does tees off mean?
Craig: Tees off means take a big swing at basically. Like a golf club. I was a little more confused by, “I’ll have a vowel please.” I didn’t quite get the joke there. Because the perp–
John: He’s got a vowel.
Craig: Yeah, well, the perp, the rabbit has caught him and the perp says, “I know where she is.” And the rabbit says, “What did you say?” And the perp says, “You’re the one they keep talking about. Hung up on that girl. What’s her name?” Now, that’s just not real. It’s forced exposition. It’s forced drama. That’s not the sort of thing that you would just calmly toss out. What is he trying to achieve exactly in this moment? He’s trying to get away from a guy? What is he doing? It seemed ill-motivated.
Then the perp says, “…A…”
And then the action says, “I’ll have a vowel please,” in italics. “Rabbit tees off on the perp’s face. Goodnight, Scumbag.”
I mean I understand the vowel, like I guess it’s a Wheel of Fortune thing. But what? I didn’t quite – I was confused.
John: Yeah. It didn’t work for me either. Let’s talk about this as a concept in general, because I got confused about the tone and sort of who the target audience was for this. Because it felt like a – I think there’s some F-words in there. I didn’t know who this movie was aimed at. And it could be OK to not necessarily have a perfect audience, but if this landed at my desk and I was a studio executive, I wouldn’t know what I was supposed to be doing with this. Because I wouldn’t know is this to our children’s division, or is this to – it felt expensive, but adult.
I didn’t know sort of who this was aimed at.
Craig: Yeah. This would really function best as a sample. Once you have a talking rabbit, any producer or reader or executive is immediately going to think, well, this is going to be expensive. And it will be. Well, if it’s going to be expensive then that means a lot of people have to come see it. This doesn’t seem – I mean, the whole gimmick here is we’re going to take something with an enormously wide appeal, the classic Alice in Wonderland story, and narrow it down, which is fine to be niche and cool. Just no one is going to spend the money to make it.
But, you know, OK, so maybe it’s mostly just for the writing, but then the writing has really got to be just wonderful.
John: Got to be great.
Craig: Yeah, it’s got to be great. And let’s take a look at the very last bit here between the Hatter and the Rabbit. And I get a little confused here because the Mad Hatter is a police officer. And I thought, OK, the Rabbit chasing somebody has a general connection to the traditional role of the Rabbit, because I assume partly here what we want to do is see, oh, there’s a dotted line – even if it’s thin – between the character we know and the character that’s being presented to us.
So the Rabbit runs a lot in Alice in Wonderland. And here he is running again. OK. It’s just a different kind of running. Interesting. But the Mad Hatter is not a cop in Alice in Wonderland. There’s nothing he does that’s cop like. And yet here he is. So, I start to wonder what exactly is the connection to Alice in Wonderland other than the names and maybe some of the clothing. Makes me a little worried.
John: It makes me worried, too. Have I ever talked about this on the podcast, that Go was originally an Alice in Wonderland story.
Craig: Oh, that’s interesting. No.
John: Yeah, so Go was originally conceived to be an Alice in Wonderland story. And so the yellow Miata which hits Ronna was supposed to be a white Volkswagen Rabbit. And so there was a bunch of things that if you kind of squint you can see that like, oh, this is a thing I was trying to do. But along the writing of it I was like, you know what, I’m trying to force people into these roles and they don’t naturally want to be in these roles. And so I gave up on that as a concept and the movie is much better for that.
I did feel like, you know, in this case the writer is trying to force these people into these zones. Granted, it’s only three pages, so maybe it does make more sense later on, but I share your concern that Hatter doesn’t feel like he any relationship to the Hatter I know from the stories.
Craig: Yeah. And like I said, you feel like, well, at some point he’s going to be talking to the caterpillar. And then there’s going to be the Queen. And, you know, Alice in Wonderland is not really something that hasn’t been imagined or reimagined I should say thoroughly many times before. It has. Many times before. So, that makes me just think, hmm, the gimmick may be a little played out here. This may feel a little, well, you just don’t want to feel like it’s homework to go through it.
So, I think that there’s some conceptual issues here and some character issues. But the most important thing I would say, Ted, is let’s just give you the benefit of the doubt. This works out great from here on. You really have to think about how you’re introducing us to the world. And how you’re introducing the audience. It can’t feel like a pitch. It will just never, ever work that way.
John: I agree. But you know who knows something about pitches? That would be Rebel Wilson. So let’s turn back to Rebel to talk us into our next Three Page Challenge.
Rebel: The second Three Page Challenge is called Black Leather Jackets by Gerald Decker. Nighttime in Arkansas. A man who looks like fat Elvis jumps off a semi and goes inside an Astro Burger. A character called Rambling Man, the only other customer in the restaurant, pops some pills and downs them with coffee. Elvis orders a Fatty Fat, a chocolate shake, and some fries. Rambling Man approaches Elvis and offers him a lift.
In the truck, Rambling Man asks Elvis on why he chose to be fat Elvis rather than one of the other incarnations. Before Elvis can answer, though, a ball of light shoots past and disappears over the horizon. The truck suddenly stalls and rolls to a stop. The two men exit.
The ball of light reappears and now lands in the middle of the road. It’s a saucer-shaped craft. Rambling Man laments how no one is going to believe him and how no one will believe Elvis either. The craft then opens up and three Nwabalans are, again, I don’t know whether I’m saying that correctly. Nwabalans. OK. I’m guessing kind of like alien creatures exit on Harley Davidsons. The lead alien reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small silver object. He tells Elvis he’s a sight for sore eyes. Elvis then says, “Why, thank you. Thank you very much.”
That was not a bad Elvis impersonation when I’ve never done one before. All right, OK, and then that’s the end of page three.
John: All right. So, this is by Gerald Decker and this is written in a way that’s different than a lot of the Three Page Challenges we look at, so I’m excited to see this.
So, most screenplays you read are going to have INT/EXT as scene headers, but you will come across some scripts that are sort of written in a continuous voice. Basically it’s just one continuous flow. And the slug lines or sort of scene header thing is just, you know, a general indication of when we’re inside and when we’re outside. Ultimately, if these movies go into production they get scene headers like everything else and it works out fine. But this one is written sort of like just one continuous flow.
And so it’s an interesting thing to look at if you are curious what that looks like on the page.
Craig: And it works for me. You know.
John: It works for me. Yeah. So, this one starts, “ONE NIGHT OUTSIDE THE ASTRO BURGER ON ROUTE 64 IN ARKANSAS,” which is essentially the scene header. “A semi drives away, leaving a man who looks suspiciously like ELVIS at the restaurant. This first paragraph brings up one of my biggest frustrations with how this was written is that there were just a lot of run-on sentences that I think hurt the read. It was actually harder to sort of get through and figure out what was really going on the sentences kept going on a lot.
But the flow of getting in from place to place, that actually worked kind of fine for me, despite the sort of strange style.
My overall general take on this is that I was certainly surprised by the things that were happening in the first three pages, but I didn’t have a tremendous amount of confidence that this was going to be a movie that I was excited to keep seeing. Because it was going through a lot of tropes really quickly. And I wasn’t convinced that I was going to be taken on a better journey than things I’ve seen before.
Craig: Yeah. So, what we’re talking about here is three pages in which Fat Elvis, who we presume is Fake Fat Elvis, turns out to be – it seems – real Fat Elvis. And real Fat Elvis does in fact have awareness and knowledge of aliens. And we’re meeting the aliens now. So, sort of a National Enquirer pastiche into a movie. And that can work. I feel like we’ve seen similar kinds of things. The territory of all of the crazy stories about Elvis are really true is something that has been mined. But I will say that Gerald has written something that is consistent.
The tone feels consistent. Which that is an indication that you can write. And something like this, the tone is very specific. And I felt at home with it the whole way through. It’s odd. But it’s odd in its own way. And it stays odd in its own way. And I could see it. I could see every single thing that happened, which I really liked.
When that happens, it’s so much easier to forgive things like, OK, you’ve capitalized the word Chewing in chewing gum in a parenthetical when you don’t start those things with capitalizations. You know, stuff like that. There were little mistakes like when they’re in the truck Ramblin, who is the name of the truck driver, Rambling Man, who is giving Elvis a ride says, “As Ramblin sings along, Elvis eats his Fatty Fat Burger and his skinny fries. RAMBLIN (Shouting over the music) So tell me.” Well, is he singing or is he shouting?
So, there are these things like this. And, you know, that’s fine. But I could see all of it, which I really enjoyed. When you look at page three, you’ll see that there’s actually an overdose of something that I generally love. I like to use white space on a page and I really like to break up my action lines. Sometimes the best way to get across a vibe, a feeling, a mood is to not write paragraphs of action, but single lines.
However, if you do it too much, then you start to get a little bored visually. I think you could probably combine lines like, “The three lights stop in a line, one next to the other. Behind the lights are three Harley-Davidson motorcycles. On top of the motorcycles are three dark FIGURES.” That could be one paragraph, right?
But, you know, I mean, the last line put a smile on my face. And I thought to myself, well, I don’t know where this goes, I think there’s a possibility that this script becomes something like a Buckaroo Banzai which is amazing and specific and bizarre. And it’s the kind of movie that doesn’t give a damn whether you like it or not, or understand it or not, because it understands itself. I love things like that.
Or maybe this sort of never gets there. But, there is real promise here and there’s an interesting love of – and an evident love of language. Elvis is drinking a shake that’s called a Fatty Fat while he eats Skinny Fries. It’s just fun. I mean, I feel like Gerald is in control of his pages here.
So, by and large I thought there was a lot of promising – there was promising execution if maybe the topic itself wasn’t the freshest thing.
John: I agree with you. A few moments of dialogue did not click for me. So I wanted to call them out. So, I’ll start at the end. On page three, Ramblin says, “You ready for this?” “I was born ready.” I did not understand this at all. I didn’t understand why Ramblin wasn’t freaking out more. This is where I think the character underwriting was hurting it. Because I just had no sense of who Ramblin was in this moment.
On page two, Ramblin says, “You see that?” Ramblin’s voice fades away as the ball light reappears. The line was too short to fade away. So, I think it called for a longer line. There’s more stuff happening. So, give us that longer line. Give us something that can actually fade away. Give us a dot-dot-dot to come out of it.
This is personal choice, but on page one Elvis looks over the menu selections. Yeah, give me a Fatty Fat. One of the chocolate shakes and some home fries. Waitress says, “We just have Skinny Fries.” It always kind of annoys me when a character speaks who hasn’t been called out yet. And so there was, you know, if he’s looking over the menu selection as the waitress sort of leans on the counter or taps on her pad, you know, let us see her first. Because then I think stuff is going to work out better. We understand sort of the scene around him as he’s talking to her.
I didn’t understand why Ramblin was giving him a lift. That seems like an obvious thing, but the timing of it all felt really weird. Like, did his fries come? Did they not come? Why is Ramblin giving him a lift?
John: So, all these things are helpful. The last thing I want to single out, and this is because a copy editing thing that Arlo Finch made me think of it. So bottom of page three, it says, “It is not human. This is a NWABALAN. His skin is deep blue, his eyes are huge.” And so it an “its” or is it a “his?” And so once you give even a non-human character a gender, stick with it, and don’t be switching back and forth.
Craig: Right. I think those are all very, very valid observations and Gerald would be wise to take all of those suggestions. Check also, you know, little things. Put periods at the end of sentences. The sound of the Allman Brothers’ Rambling Man plays, period. You know, if you don’t want to – I don’t care if you underline or italicize song names. All that stuff. None of that stuff matters.
John: An example of the Allman Brothers’ Rambling Man plays, that’s his running on sentence. So the Allman Brothers’ Rambling Man plays inside the cab at a deafening volume. So, that’s his style. And so, you know, his scene header is still a part of the same sentence.
Craig: Oh, I see. So, it’s inside the cab, at a deafening volume. OK. Yeah, so in cases like that, I like to do a dash-dash to let me know.
John: I agree.
Craig: And then a dash-dash back in. So, plays, dash-dash, then inside the cab, then dash-dash, at a deafening volume. Just to help connect people.
But that’s again, that’s not going to sink you one way or the other. Like I didn’t care that you were capitalizing the parenthetical. None of that stuff really matters. I mean, you know. I mean, fistful is not two words. It’s one word. Stuff like that. I don’t know. Whatever.
But I will say that when I meant it’s consistent at least to itself that this style of no INT/EXT and a kind of flowing, informal moving around felt quirky in the same way as the characters and the dialogue. It all felt very quirky.
Craig: So, you know, in that sense there’s an intelligence behind this which I think is important. I don’t know how it turns out. I hope it turns out well for Gerald’s sake. There is a mind at work here.
John: All right. Let’s go back one last time to Rebel Wilson to set up our third and final Three Page Challenge.
Rebel: Now the third Three Page Challenge here is called Thicker than Blood by Phillip Rogers. As a ’69 Mustang drives through the desert, Vince Sutter voiceovers complaining about how heroes in movies are always running off into the sunset without an explanation what happens to them afterwards. Vince we see is in rough shape, missing a finger. His passenger, a sharply dressed man named Kim is spooning a duffel bag in the backseat.
Banging comes from the trunk. At the side of the road, Vince opens the trunk to reveal a pissed-off and bound Nick. Nick was scared someone would kill him. After making him promise not to freak out, Vince tells Nick they stole $ 5 million from Cheung. Nick freaks out. Vince shuts Nick back into the trunk, declaring he’s not ready to come out just yet. They’re headed for the border. Vince says there is no plan B.
Kim suggests they stop and work on plan B, but Vince is worried that Nick’s girlfriend will soon realize he’s missing. Kim then tells Vince to not worry about the girlfriend. He took care of it. And that’s the end of the third page. All right, thanks guys. Thanks for letting me read this. It was fun. OK, bye.
John: Oh, bye.
Craig: Bye. God, she’s the best.
John: The best. Craig, start us off with Thicker than Blood.
Craig: Well, we have another voiceover beginner here. Now, I must admit that when I started it, every orifice puckered as I sensed the arrival of a Stuart Special, or perhaps a Jabangwe Jump. Is that what we call them?
Craig: The Jabangwe Jump?
John: I don’t think that is the situation.
Craig: It didn’t happen, so I was really thrilled about that. But then also kind of wondering why the hell I needed the voiceover at all. I’m not sure what it was giving us here.
Here’s the thing about these voiceovers. When you start with a voiceover. Voiceover is pompous. Now, sometimes pomposity is exactly called for, because you’re telling some sort of serious tale. So Lord of the Rings has this wonderful, I mean, Galadriel deserves pomposity. She’s the Queen of the Elves and she’s telling you a tale.
That’s not really what’s going on here. And the tone of it doesn’t have the kind of zippy devil-may-care feeling of say Ray Liotta’s voiceover in Goodfellas which is ping-ponging against lots of fun things and these wonderful images. Instead, it’s very ponderous. Very serious. Very philosophical. And then we get what is essentially a scene we’ve seen many times before. There’s a guy in a trunk. There was nothing particularly special about any of this. It all felt very generic to me. We have two characters in the car, Vince and Kim. Kim is a man. And Kim is asleep while Vince does his voiceover.
And they’re driving. And then there’s a banging from the trunk, which again, Goodfellas, and many, many other movies.
John: And Go.
Craig: And Go. And circa 1990-something. We’re now in 2017. Says, “BANGING comes from the trunk. Vince’s eyes dart to the rear view mirror. Kim shifts awake.” Kim: Sleeping beauty must have finally woke up.
No. That’s not what you do when you wake up. You don’t wake up and immediately speak a scripted line like that. That’s not human. That should be something either Vince says after Kim wakes himself up, but then I would be confused about who he is talking about. Or, Kim should wake up and just go, “Ahh,” right, because he’s hearing the banging and realizes why he’s just been woken up.
That’s such an alarm bell to me, because it means you’re not really writing people, you’re writing lines.
John: You know, I think I took this in a very different way, because I enjoyed this much more than you did. And I took the voiceover as sort of hanging a lantern on that this sort of a very classic scene. This is the moment we’ve seen in a lot of these stories before. And the Vince character was sort of aware that we’ve seen this scene in things before.
And so, you know, this is generally the kind of moment that happens later in the story, but we’re sort of starting here. And we’re going to be filling in sort of what got us to this point. I thought there was a kind of meta quality to it that didn’t come through for you. And I think we’re just seeing different movies here kind of.
Craig: Well, I understand. Here’s my problem. What he’s saying is in his voiceover, I don’t like it when movies end off with the good guys just riding off into the sunset. Essentially what happens to them next? We’re just supposed to assume everyone lives happily ever after.
Then the banging from the trunk. And the scene is there’s somebody in the trunk who is screaming and we know that Vince is hurt and the guy in the trunk is screaming. The guy is Nick. Nick had been taped. His mouth is taped. He’s freaking out. They’ve killed somebody. And they put the tape back on.
This doesn’t feel victorious at all. It doesn’t feel like the scene he just told us he doesn’t like to see. So, it doesn’t seem like they’re taking off on that at all. There was a clash there, so I just – I didn’t feel it.
John: I get that. The three pages end on a discussion between Kim and Vince. And right now it’s all done OS, sort of like as the car is driving away. I had real questions about whether it can sustain that long of an OS.
Craig: It can’t. The answer is it cannot. No. Nothing can.
John: You would shoot this on camera and then make a decision down the road where it juts out the car. But I actually liked the play between Kim and Vince here. So let’s just read this last couple lines here. I’ll be Kim. Kim says, “I really think there should be a plan B. What if we stop for a drink and come up with a plan B? Or– just– stop for a drink anyway?”
Craig: Can’t. The girlfriend’s gonna realize he’s gone soon.
John: Don’t worry about the girlfriend. I took care of it.
Craig: What d’you mean you took care of it?
John: I took care of it.
Craig: KIM! WHAT DID YOU DO?!?!
John: So, that was at least intriguing enough to me to make it clear that I had assumed that Vince was the person in control of the whole scene, because he was the person who had all the information. He was the person who was missing a finger, who was driving the car. So that got me curious enough that I’m going to read another ten pages of this script.
Now, am I going to love it? Is it going to set my world on fire? I don’t know. But all this felt confident and competent enough that I was really curious to read what was going to happen next.
Craig: Interesting. Yeah, you see, to me everything that I’ve seen and heard tells me we’re in the middle of a story, not at the end, which is why I was struggling with the voiceover.
And probably why you really can’t do what he says you’re going to do, because it’s not the end of their – the good guys aren’t just riding off into the sunset because they haven’t won because they’re still in the middle of something. Someone has been killed. Someone is in their trunk. One guy has been hurt. They need to come up with a plan B. They have a goal which is to cross the border, but they don’t know if they can do it or not. That just does not feel reflective.
But here’s the thing that I would love to see. If Kim is in control, I don’t actually know who is in control. It seems to me like this is more of a kind of Hangover vibe where it’s just buddies. But if they’ve killed someone, maybe one of them is a little more dangerous sounding than the other. They both just have that kind of bro patter going on here, which is fine. But one you have one guy basically implying I killed her, then that’s not a bro. That’s a killer.
So, am I supposed to be rooting for this guy? I have so many questions and I wanted it to be more specific and I wanted the characters to be drawn better. It’s well laid out. Believe me, it’s well laid out. Phillip did a good job of that. I think this VO should be tweaked, personally, or eliminated. And I think just whatever you can do to avoid what I would just call generic “we’re in trouble, bro” patter.
John: Yeah. I get that. But I’m curious sort of what happened on page four and page five. And where that’s going to go. Because I like that even by page three my assumptions about sort of what the power dynamic was was proven incorrect. So, that was exciting to me. But I will say, I agree with you that of the three of these things we read, this is the most classically put on the page. It looks the most like a normal screenplay.
John: And reads well. There’s very little here that I could object to. It’s Courier Prime. It looks beautiful. The italics look so nice.
Craig: [laughs] You know, take note, people. If you want to butter this guy up, Courier Prime.
Hey, I have a question for you. What do you – I have since abandoned the CONT’D for character lines. Do you still use it?
John: I use CONT’D, so we’re describing when a line of action interrupts – the next person speaking is the same character who spoke before. That’s what you’re describing?
John: So like Tom, intermediary line, and then Tom again. I still do the CONT’D in most situations. Because I won’t – I hate when Final Draft automatically does it, which is why we don’t do it in Highland. But I only will do it if I’m typing it myself. Because the automatic version is terrible because sometimes you have like three paragraphs in between, but then it’s a CONT’D? That’s ridiculous.
John: So I will do it if it’s like a line or two and it’s really one continuous thought and I’m using that intermediary line basically like a parenthetical. The reason why I find the CONT’D helpful is that sometimes literally as an actor is reading it they just won’t connect the dot, like, oh, I’m still talking. It just helps them see that. And I think the actor in the reader’s head, it just makes it clear that it’s the same character talking the whole time through.
So I still do use it.
Craig: Yeah. I can see that. I’ve basically just chucked it because I just got tired of looking at it. And, I don’t know, it just seemed a little archaic. In here it’s fine that it’s being used here by Phillip. However, when you get into off-screen stuff, for it to then be also attached to the off-screen, that just looks ugly. Kim (OS) (CONT’D). It’s not even continued because he’s not even on camera. I don’t know. That’s a picky thing, but it seems like Phillip is into formatting because he’s done a nice job here, so.
John: It is. So, I used to do cont’d as lower case. And I gave up on that. I really liked how lower case looked. It was like sort of less pushy. But I’ve given up on that, too.
I was going to say on Ted’s script, the first one we looked at, had or doesn’t have a CONT’D, and I found it jarring. Because I kept expecting – here’s what it is. Is if there’s two characters in a scene and they’re talking to each other, and the one character talks twice in a row, I will still put the dialogue in the other character’s mouth, because I’m not really looking for who is talking.
Craig: Oh, that’s interesting.
John: And so that’s where I think it’s really useful to do that.
Craig: Well, I’m screwing up there. But you know, I’ve planted my flag and I don’t like change.
John: But you are a single spacer now, aren’t you? Or are you a double spacer?
Craig: Oh yeah. No, no, I’ve been a single spacer for well over a decade now, sir.
John: Very, very nice.
All right. Those are our Three Page Challenges. So, thank you again to all three of our entrants here, people who wrote in with their three pages. And thank you to everybody else who has written in with three pages that we haven’t gotten to yet. Mostly thank you to Godwin Jabangwe, our producer, who has to read through all of them and pick ones that he thinks are going to be interesting for us to look at. So, again, you can read these PDFs. Just go to the links in the show notes, or at johnaugust.com.
If you want to submit your own three pages, it can be a feature script. It can be a pilot. Hell, I’ll probably even take a play if you want to send us three pages of a play. Send it in. You attach a PDF to the little button and send that through to us. And we’ll take a look at those in the future. But mostly thank you to Rebel Wilson. You’re the best.
Craig: She is the best.
John: I’m imagining hugging her right now.
John: It’s time for our One Cool Things. Craig, do you have a One Cool Thing?
Craig: I do. My One Cool Thing is a very tiny, tiny thing. And it’s only for people with mustachios, John.
John: Never me.
Craig: It is the Kent Saw Cut Handmade Mustachio Comb.
Craig: I know. I think it’s the 81T model. Yeah. I can’t explain how good it feels to comb your mustache. [laughs] It is the stupidest thing. I feel like – I’m doing it right now. I feel like some, I don’t know, like Poirot. Like look at me, I’m combing my mustache. But it feels really good.
John: So, Craig, I haven’t seen you for eight months now. So, you’ve shaved the whole beard and now it’s just a very long handle bar mustache?
Craig: No, no, no. I still have the beard. But the mustache is connected to the beard. I mean, the mustache is – you still have the sections of mustache, of beard rather.
John: But what happens if you use the comb on the beard part, rather than mustache part? Does it all fall apart?
Craig: It gets stuck. Gets stuck. Yeah. Because the mustache hair is very different than the other beard hair.
John: All right.
Craig: Have you – you’ve never – can you even grow a beard?
John: I can grow stubble, but nothing that you really want to – nothing that anybody wants to see.
Craig: No, and Mike doesn’t look like he can grow a beard.
John: Oh, he can grow a beard like tomorrow.
Craig: No way. Really?
John: Yeah. But he hates it.
Craig: Oh, well you know what, I get it, because it itches like crazy for a while, but then it stops and then it’s great. So anyway, there you go. For those of you with mustachios or perhaps those of you who aspire to a mustachio, the Handmade Kent.
John: Great. So, if we were a podcast that took ads, then that could be a podcast sponsor because it’s always like the razors and things.
Craig: I know. By the way, the great thing about this, I made it sound like it’s really expensive, like it’s a $ 98 mustache comb. I think it costs like five bucks. You can get a 12-pack on Amazon. I think it’s – I don’t know, it’s $ 0.12.
John: My One Cool Thing is actually a research paper that I read a couple weeks ago and loved and I just thought about it again because of stuff that came up in my life. It is titled A Large-Scale Analysis of Technical Support Scams. It was done by three researchers at Stony Brook University. And it’s interesting because I’ve heard of tech support scams and I’ve read articles about this, but this was actually a scientific research paper where they looked at sort of like how tech support scams worked. And they went to their ethics department to get permission to participate in this study, because they were having to record these conversations without people’s consent. And they just did a deep dive into sort of how tech support scams work.
And generally it’s people visit a website that they shouldn’t visit and it leads them to a page that says like your computer is infected. Contact this number. They call into a “tech support site” that gets these people to download software that then takes over their computer. And then they charge them the money to get free of it.
John: It’s Ransomware basically. I first learned about this because it happened to my mother-in-law.
Craig: Of course it did.
John: And it was horrible. And it preys on people who are not tech savvy. And so anyway it’s a really good paper, but I also really like the recommendations they make at the end of this, particularly about ways that browsers like Google Chrome or Safari could really help the situation by just giving people a panic switch. Basically like click this button and it will close all the tabs and wipe everything.
John: That would have saved everyone so much time and hassle. So, I recommend people check this out. It was also just fascinating to see sort of what a modern university paper looks like on a tech topic. So I’ll put a link to that in the show notes.
Craig: How great would it be if this paper were a scam?
John: Oh, wouldn’t that be great? Basically clicking the link in the show notes leads you to one of these devastating pages.
Craig: That would be amazing.
John: So my mom is – she’s not great with technology, but she can still do some basic things. And so when we had our weekly Facetime call, she’s like, oh, and can you take a look because something is wrong with my switchboard. I’m like, what switchboard. It’s like, oh, it’s what I use to look stuff up. And so switchboard.com was a site that people used to use to look up things a zillion years ago.
Craig: I’m going there right now.
John: If you go to it right now you will see that it comes in with a very scammy-looking like Click Here for a Survey kind of thing.
Craig: Oh, it’s this nonsense. Yeah.
John: Yeah. And so I said, mom, don’t do that. Just Google it. And so I was looking at her browser and right next to the Switchboard, that URL in the bookmarks little bar there was MapQuest. And she still uses MapQuest to like find directions to places.
Craig: Aw, that’s so cute.
John: I’m like, oh, that’s MapQuest.
Craig: Is she, that’s it, like the MapQuest Board of Directors, every day they have a meeting about your mom.
Craig: Like how do we retain our customer?
John: Absolutely. Nancy is crucial for our ongoing survival.
Craig: How is her health? [laughs]
John: Indeed. [laughs] They send her flowers every year for her birthday. Because they know all her personal information.
Craig: Of course.
John: They know exactly where she lives because she’s always getting directions from her house to someplace.
Craig: From MapQuest! Oh my god.
John: So anyway she wanted to keep MapQuest, but I got Google Maps on the toolbar right next to that, so she has another modern choice. And I showed her how to use it. And I’m like it’s just so much faster and better.
John: Once again, it’s all time machines. She’s living in a slightly different time period. That’s how I get – if I went back in time, I could check to see, go up to a person and ask, “Hey, how do you get directions to this place?” And if they said like, well, check MapQuest, then I’d know, oh OK, I’m in like–
Craig: It’s 2003.
John: I’m in like early 2000s.
Craig: Right. Exactly. And they’re like, I don’t know, why don’t you look it up on Excite. [laughs] I remember when Excite was the bomb, dude.
John: That was the best. Here, let me load up Netscape Navigator and we’ll take a look at where that stuff is.
Craig: Let me crank that sucker up and get on, jump on AltaVista and let you know what I think.
John: This last week I’ve been playing quite a fair amount of Star Craft, the original Star Craft, which they just made free. Blizzard made it free. And it’s still a really good game. There’s a few things that are annoying, but the basic dynamics of it still work very, very well.
Craig: You know what? I’ve been playing – I’ve been trying to play Zelda, the new one, Breath of the Wild.
John: Yeah. It’s beautiful.
Craig: Here’s the thing. I don’t like it. I don’t know what to do?
John: You don’t like it?
Craig: I don’t know what to do.
John: I’m sorry.
Craig: Like, if there were ever somebody that was supposed to like it, it’s me, because I’ve loved all of the Zelda games. I’ve played them all. And I love big sandbox environments. And I love all of – and I love quest-based adventuring.
John: It’s not working for you.
Craig: It’s tedious. I find it so tedious.
John: But, Craig, you can climb anything.
John: So slowly.
Craig: And for a short amount of time before your endurance runs out and then you just fall. Also, they have the most insane weapons mechanic in this. Basically every weapon you have, doesn’t matter what it is, doesn’t matter how special it is.
John: It breaks. Yeah.
Craig: Breaks. Like within, I don’t know, two encounters. So, you’re constantly picking up weapons and putting down weapons. I just – and you run around for days and you find nothing. [laughs] I’m so depressed.
John: Except for sadness.
Craig: I’m really depressed by it. I don’t know what to do. I’m supposed to like it, and I don’t.
John: I don’t have the new Nintendo, but Jordan Mechner came over to visit and he had the new Nintendo. And we were so excited to plug it in and play it on the big screen, but it requires more power than a Macintosh USB-C cable can give it. So, we couldn’t actually power it. So we had to play on the little screen. And so I enjoyed my ten minutes of playing on a little screen, but I could see how it would be frustrating. I think many, many weeks ago I talked about how I really wanted my daughter to play Portal 2 and I was bummed that it wasn’t available on PlayStation 4.
I don’t know why I didn’t think that actually available on Steam. So, she’s been playing on her MacBook.
Craig: There you go.
John: And you know what? It’s still a remarkably good game. And the voice acting in that game is just so top-notch.
Craig: Cake is a lie.
John: The cake is delicious. So, you never made it through the part where you got the cake? Oh, you should play that game again. Because the cake, when it actually comes, it’s the best chocolate cake. We were sitting there and I came to the piece of the best – the best chocolate cake.
Craig: Well, yeah, you don’t get chocolate cake in Zelda. But you can make a wide variety of foods which are the only way to restore your health, so you’re cooking a lot. I can’t, I mean–
John: Did you cook at all in Skyrim? I never cooked in Skyrim.
Craig: Not once. See, that’s the thing. It’s taken all the things that actually annoyed me about Skyrim and it’s only those things. And it doesn’t have all the awesome.
And again, I loved the Zelda games. I loved Twilight Princess. I mean, obviously Ocarina of Time. Everybody loves that. But I don’t – meh. Bummed out. I know everyone is going to tell me I’m wrong.
John: All right. That’s our show for this week. As always, it is produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Andres Cantor.
If you have an outro, you can send us a link to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also the place to send longer questions. But for short questions, we’re on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.
We’re on Facebook. You can search for Scriptnotes Podcast. You can find us on the iTunes Store, or whatever they’re calling iTunes by the time you’re listening to this. Just search for Scriptnotes. Leave us your review while you’re there, because at least for right now that helps us out a tremendous amount.
You can find the show notes and all the PDFs we talked about today at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find the transcripts, which I think are now back up to speed. And you can find all the back episodes of Scriptnotes at Scriptnotes.net, including the two episodes of Rebel Wilson which are definitely must listens.
Craig: Mm. For sure.
John: Craig, have a wonderful time in the past with the live show. I hope it will go/did go very well. And I will talk to you again next week.
Craig: See you soon, John. Bye.
John: See ya. Bye.
- Three Pages by Ted Wilkes
- Three Pages by Gerald Decker
- Three Pages by Phillip Rogers
- Kent Handmade Moustache Comb
- A Large-Scale Analysis of Technical Support Scams
- John August on Twitter
- Craig Mazin on Twitter
- John on Instagram
- Find past episodes
- Outro by Andres Cantor (send us yours!)