‘How to Talk to Girls at Parties’ Teasers: They Must Be From California

How to Talk to Girls at Parties

Neil Gaiman‘s comic book How to Talk to Girl at Parties is a fun read. It’s also a very short read. If adapted faithfully, it’d probably be a great short film. The director behind Rabbit Hole and Hedwig and the Angry Inch, John Cameron Mitchell, had the freedom of adapting the story into a narrative feature film. He got to take the kernel of a story where he wanted to, and where he went with it looks like a blast.

Below, watch the How to Talk to Girls at Parties teasers.

Gaiman’s comic followed two teenage buddies going to a party in 1970s London. The longer they hang around the party, the weirder it gets. In the end, the boys discover they’re partying with aliens. Co-writers Mitchell and Philippa Goslet put a Romeo and Juliet spin on the story. Set in a day in the late 70s, Enn’s (Alex Sharp) punk rocker friends and Zan’s (Elle Fanning) alien family will fight to keep them apart.

Nicole Kidman, who looks wonderful in How to Talk to Girls at Parties, is the leader of the aliens. The film co-stars Ruth Wilson (The Affair) and Matt Lucas (Little Britain). Mitchell, Gaiman, and Fanning shared some of the first footage from the film on their Instagram accounts, just days before the movie premieres at the Cannes Film Festival.

       

Holy punking fuck! Take a leak at your first peek of HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS AT PARTIES A post shared by John Cameron Mitchell (@johncameronmitchell) on

 

It’s been simply too long since we’ve seen a John Cameron Mitchell film. It’s not easy these days getting movies like How to Talk to Girls at Parties produced, hence the unfortunate seven-year-old long wait after Rabbit Hole. Thankfully, it looks like Mitchell is back with what looks like a high-spirited and tender punk rocker-alien love story.

Here’s the synopsis:

John Cameron Mitchell, director of the acclaimed films Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Shortbus takes us to an exotic and unusual world: suburban London in the late 70s. Under the spell of the Sex Pistols, every teenager in the country wants to be a punk, including our hopeless hero Enn (Alex Sharp). Crashing local punk queen Boadicea’s party, Enn discovers every boy’s dream – gorgeous foreign exchange students. When he meets the enigmatic Zan (Elle Fanning), it’s love at first sight.

But these teens are, in fact, aliens from outer space, sent to Earth to prepare for a mysterious rite of passage. When their dark secret is revealed, the love-struck Enn must turn to Boadicea (Nicole Kidman) and her followers for help in order to save the girl he loves from certain death. When the punks take on the aliens, neither Enn’s nor Zan’s universe will ever be the same again.

How to Talk to Girls at Parties opens in theaters later this year.

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This Week In Trailers: Dear Coward on the Moon, Patti Cake$, Long Strange Trip, Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter, WHITNEY ‘Can I Be Me’

Green Band Trailer

Trailers are an under-appreciated art form insofar that many times they’re seen as vehicles for showing footage, explaining films away, or showing their hand about what moviegoers can expect. Foreign, domestic, independent, big budget: What better way to hone your skills as a thoughtful moviegoer than by deconstructing these little pieces of advertising? This week we take a look at a little indie that could, get to know a different kind of white rapper, start spinning like a dervish in the parking lot with other hippie chicks, stand with mouth agape at some schlocky sci-fi, and remember Whitney Houston through the eyes of the director who brought us Kurt & Courtney.

Patti Cake$ Trailer

Fuuuuuuuuuuuu….

Man, I love when I get goosebumps when I watch a sizzling trailer like this. Director Geremy Jasper needs to give alms to whatever and whoever put this together because it is tight. Not only do I get where things are going but the flow from one moment to the next is next to fluid. I was inspired, thrilled, excited, and consuming those pull-quotes like affirmations to what I’m feeling as this thing spooled to the end. I don’t know when it’s dropping or where it’s going but I’m in. Completely.

Dear Coward on the Moon Trailer

I just had to share.

I don’t know how I stumbled upon director Carol Brandt’s film but I’m glad I did. The usual polish and high production value of many trailers just doesn’t compare to the earnest vibes that are pouring from every scene we see here. I’m just so enamored by the level of care that was put into making this very tiny movie a lot bigger than it is. The sense of weight and space are fully represented by the moments that are allowed to breathe and stretch out before us. The minimalist music choice in the background is a nice compliment to the ever so soft narration that punctuates our ears every few seconds. I do not know which way the story will go but it matters little when you have a trailer that might as well be a beautiful portrait of how independent movies, the true independent movies, can still move and stir your soul.

Long Strange Trip Trailer

Never listened to one song.

So I think we all someone who is REALLY into The Grateful Dead. My only connection to the band is that I saw Pearl Jam at Soldier Field on July 11th, 1995. The Dead let PJ use their stage and Jerry Garcia would be dead within the month. Director Amir Bar-Lev has a lot of ground to cover, hopefully he’ll be able to answer whether the band is really any good versus good under the right circumstances, but this is a fascinating subculture that, from a sociological point of view, I’m kind of interested in dissecting. I don’t think there are any shattering insights that will bend space and time but this is certainly a documentary that many will appreciate.

WHITNEY ‘Can I Be Me’ Trailer

Crack is whack.

Director Nick Broomfield doesn’t seem to be doing anything more or less than what he did with Kurt & Courtney. It’s not a knock, it’s just saying that what we have here seems to be your run of the mill bio-pic that is going to end real tragically. I’m intrigued enough, though, by what’s here because of how much attention Houston manage to attract in the decades that she was a part of the cultural zeitgeist. The trailer is solid, too, so it has that going for it.

 

Rogue Warrior Trailer

I just kind of love that this exists out there.

Director Neil Johnson should be given all the kudos for making something that my 13 year-old self would have rented as a VHS way back in the day.

Nota bene: If you have any suggestions of trailers to possibly be included in this column, even have a trailer of your own to pitch, please let me know by sending me a note at Christopher_Stipp@yahoo.com or look me up via Twitter at @Stipp

In case you missed them, here are the other trailers we covered at /Film this week:

The post This Week In Trailers: Dear Coward on the Moon, Patti Cake$ , Long Strange Trip, Rogue Warrior: Robot Fighter, WHITNEY ‘Can I Be Me’ appeared first on /Film.


/Film

Scriptnotes, Ep 297: Free Agent Franchises — Transcript

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 297 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Today on the podcast, we’ll be looking at the future of James Bond, script-reading robots, and the realities of overhauling a movie in the editing room. But first, we have quite a bit of follow up.

Craig: So much follow up. Let us follow it up. Two weeks ago, Malcolm and I answered a listener question about ellipses in dialogue. And you’d think, John, that that would have gone smoothly. But, no, no.

John: No. There were pauses.

Craig: Yeah. And there was an issue. And the issue was raised by big shot movie director, former Scriptnotes guest, friend of the podcast, friend of me and you, Mari Heller. And this is what she wrote. “I totally disagree with Craig.” John, I’m tempted to just end the follow up there.

John: That basically does it. On any issue, she probably disagrees with you.

Craig: Probably. And I feel like it’s going to happen a lot. But no, she says, “I totally disagree with Craig. Craig said that actors don’t worry about the punctuation of a line and it won’t affect the rhythm of their performance. I just finished working on a movie with two wonderful actors, who had a lot of respect for the script. Often we would get into conversations about how the script was written and where the punctuation was guiding them. They took each clue laid out as a guide and tried, unless we decided to dismiss it, to follow the breadcrumbs that the script gave them.

“What’s more, when I got into the edit I realized the editor was also using the details of the script as a guide in creating her assembly. If a beat were indicated, or it was written that an actor hesitated or trailed off, she went to great lengths to find takes that matched the script. I believe when we write scripts all of our choices, like punctuation and parentheticals should be viewed as clues for our collaborators about the rhythms we intend.”

John: All right, Mari, thank you so much for writing back with us. First off, it sounded like you had a great experience with really dedicated actors and editors. I would say that your experience has not been classically my experience. But, Craig, I’d love to hear what you think.

Craig: I agree. I think this speaks very highly of Mari and her cast and her editor. More often, what I find is that people will come to me – this actually happens all the time – people will come to me and say, “There’s a mistake. There’s a problem.” “What?” “Blah, blah, blah says so and so’s name like they know them, but they haven’t yet met.” “Yes they have.” “No they haven’t.” “Yes, see, here. On this page.” “Oh, you know what? When we did it that day we did it a little differently, so they didn’t meet.” “OK, fine, I understand. However, the script is full of clues.” It’s full of them.

Editors, in particular, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve sat in an editing room and watched something and I’m like, well, why not just do it this way. And they’re like, “Ooh…” and I said, “You know, that’s the way it is in the huge binder next to your keyboard that has this clue book.”

So, the truth is what is Mari is describing is like writer heaven. People are actually paying attention. I guess what you and I were saying about punctuation is given the general state of affairs where people don’t, it’s probably not that much of a thing. But, yeah, ideally it would be.

John: Yeah. So, I do like your description of punctuation and parentheticals being the clues that you are leaving to the next people to touch your thing. And it’s great that she has the ability to not only direct this project, but also hire really smart people who are looking for those clues. So, congratulations once again Mari Heller.

Craig: Yep.

John: Yep. So I was there for the first part of that episode and we addressed a listener questioner about why there was so little non-penetrative sex in movies and TV. Basically where are the handies and blowies? And so while we were having that discussion we left out like one really obvious movie which was Moonlight, which features a very crucial handy there.

Craig: Yeah. It was a mistake.

John: We weren’t thinking clearly. We were recording this late. I was in London. I lost a microphone. But there is an obvious Oscar-winning movie that has a non-penetrative sex moment that the whole story hinges upon.

Craig: It’s an Academy Award-winning handy.

John: Yeah. It’s quite a good one. And just a few days later, like this is always the situation where like the minute you notice something you start to notice it everywhere. So, I was watching an episode from this season of The Americans and Keri Russell’s character receives oral sex in a way that I had not seen certainly on TV before, and it was actually completely on story and on point. So, I would like to once again congratulate The Americans on being a fantastic show. And just put a spotlight on my own ignorance to these acts that are in these shows that I’m just not seeing.

Craig: Yeah, you know, this is probably going to happen, right? We say that something doesn’t happen and then of course it happens. We just didn’t see it. We missed it. Or sometimes we do see it and then we just forget about it. Really, I’m arguing that we just end the podcast. We’re so close to 300. How great would it be if we just ended it at 299 and we’re like, Nah.

John: Yeah. There’s days I definitely think about that. Just going out in a blaze of glory.

Craig: Right. Exactly. 300 podcast episodes is like having 300 wins as a pitcher. That’s a big thing. I think that that gets us into the podcasting Hall of Fame automatically.

John: Yeah. I think it’s sports metaphors all over the place.

Craig: You’re always lost when I do this. It’s wonderful.

In a previous episode, John, we talked about movie clichés for expressing shock or bad news. Zack from New York writes, “I’m proud to say that I splashed water on my face today, possibly for the first time ever. I did not receive bad news or experience something terrifying. But I did take a 20-minute nap on my couch and woke up discombobulated. After staring at the wall for a few minutes, I went into the bathroom and threw water on my face. I think it half-worked. I’m awake enough to write this email, but still sort of discombobulated. However, I’m out of ideas.”

John: What I love about Zack’s email is that it’s so present tense. It’s right about this is the moment I’m experiencing right now. And I like that he thought of us first in that moment.

Craig: Right.

John: So I just want to salute Zack for writing in to ask@johnaugust.com to let us know that he splashed water on his face, which we had singled out as a movie cliché that no one does in actual life, but it seemed to sort of help Zack in this moment. So, again, just like with handies and blowies, we’re often wrong.

Craig: Oh, god, are we ever. Well, what about this whole situation with you and Lindelof?

John: Oh, it’s the worst. So, Damon Lindelof and I talked about the notion of idea debt and we thought like, oh, we’re being clever. But you know who else was clever? Chekhov.

Craig: [laughs] Yeah, he was pretty good–

John: A little writer. A little writer named Chekhov. So, this is what Chekhov wrote in 1888. So, for the record, that was before we recorded the podcast episode.

Craig: Just a little bit, yeah. Just a little before.

John: Chekhov wrote, “Subjects for five big stories and two novels swarm in my head. One of the novels was conceived a long time ago, so that several of the cast of characters have grown old without ever having been put down on paper. There is a regular army of people in my brain begging to be summoned forth, and only waiting for the word to be given. All I have written hither to is trash in comparison with what I would like to write.”

Craig: Yeah.

John: That’s Chekhov.

Craig: I mean, that is succinct. It’s beautifully said. He did really put you to shame there. And Damon. I think the both of you should feel bad.

John: We do feel a little bad. I want to also single out Jason who wrote in with that Chekhov quote to make us feel a little bad. But also I do want to thank everyone on Twitter who said that it was one of the best episodes they’d ever heard of the podcast. So, Craig, at some point–

Craig: I’m going to read it.

John: If you were to listen to it or read it–

Craig: I’m reading it.

John: You might enjoy that episode with Damon Lindelof. Finally, we often do segments about How Would This Be a Movie. So, in Episode 214 we did an episode about the French train bros. These were the three American tourists in 2015 who prevented a terrorist attack.

Craig: We’re calling them bros? [laughs]

John: Well they’re bros. They’re three guys traveling through France. They’re bros.

Craig: I guess. Sure.

John: They prevented a terrorist attack on a train from Brussels to Paris. They overpowered a guy who had an AK-47. So we said like, well, this could be a movie and Clint Eastwood agreed. So this last week it was announced that he is going to be making a movie based on the book The 1517 to Paris: The Trust Story of a Terrorist, a Train, and Three American Heroes, which was written by the eponymous American heroes, along with a guy named Jeffrey Stern. The screenplay version is going to be written by Dorothy Blyskal, and from what I looked up it seems like this is going to be her first screenwriting credit. So, congratulations Dorothy. You answered the question How Would This Be a Movie.

Craig: Yeah. And that’s one that people will see. You know, boy, I wish I could be on a Clint Eastwood set. I’ve just heard so many amazing things. You know, just the speed. We’ve all heard the stories. I wish I could see that. I’m not going to be able to.

John: Are you? Is there some sort of secret thing where you actually will be able to see that?

Craig: No, no, never going to be able to there. I’ll just be in my office reading about it. Well, that sounds exciting. I think that will be fun.

John: It will be fun.

Craig: You know what? I’ve had enough of follow up. I think follow up is done.

John: Follow up is done. So, if we were a podcast ahead, like musical interludes, then we would put the music here and then move on to the next thing.

Craig: Follow up is done. Yeah!

John: So the big feature topic which we obviously have to talk about this past week because everyone on Twitter wrote to us about it. And follows ScriptBook. Well, what is ScriptBook? Well, back in Episode 232, so it’s kind of follow up, we talked about ScriptBook and I actually remember this conversation. I remember the setting of this conversation because I was in Australia at the time and we were talking about this sort of ridiculous AI thing that would read through the scripts and figure out how successful this movie would be. Basically it had digested a bunch of screenplays and it was pitched towards financiers to help them figure out is this a movie to be investing your money into.

But this last week, someone else decided to use ScriptBook and it didn’t go as well.

Craig: Yeah. So, Franklin Leonard over at the Black List worked out some sort of deal with the ScriptBook people where he was offering to his customers an opportunity to get their analysis, the ScriptBook analysis of their script, in exchange for $ 100. And it did not go over well. You know, he put it out there. And seemingly put it out there in good faith. It certainly wasn’t anything he was requiring people to do. If they wanted to use the other parts of his service, which you and I generally quite like.

Boy, it just didn’t go well for him. I mean, certainly both you and I felt that ScriptBook was stupid, and fake, bordering on completely useless. And therein is the problem. Because there’s two ways of looking at it. One way is this is potentially useful for people. And the other way is this is absolutely useless.

If you believe the former, then you can see where, OK, he’s offering a product. You either like it or you don’t. But if you believe the latter, if you believe it’s truly useless, it starts to feel a little bit scammy. Like you’re selling me snake oil. And I personally do believe it is utter snake oil.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And a lot of other people seem to agree as well.

John: Absolutely. So, the minute sort of the word got out about it, you and I were on a long email thread with Franklin about it, but there were also threads on Reddit and there was a lot of sort of hubbub on the Internet about what this was and what it was doing. So, I think we should sort of spoil the punch line here by saying that Franklin has pulled the product, so it is no longer a thing that the Black List is offering, and so we will put a link in the show notes to his original explanation for what the product was and then his email out and sort of his letter about sort of why they were removing it and why he listened to the community and pulled it out of there.

So, I want to talk about two things, which is that question of like is this potentially useful. Like in a perfect world, if this were free, is this a thing you would want to exist in the world? And then the concern of like, well, is this a thing that we feel like screenwriters should be paying $ 100 for?

Let’s talk about in the perfect world where it’s free, Craig, did you see any value in the product?

Craig: No. None. Well, net zero value. Because where there may be little bits of possible potential usefulness in the free version of this, there’s also potential problems that it causes. And that really was the biggest issue for me. So, you know, some of the stuff you go, well, I guess the AI is saying that my predicted genre is half sport and half drama. It’s a sports-drama, but how did I not know that? Um, there’s a predicted MPAA rating, which again really what it comes down to is it’s telling you everybody knows what G is and everybody knows what R is. So, then somehow tell us if you’re PG or PG-13. Nobody in the world cares about that.

John: Yeah.

Craig: There is stuff about your character likeability. That to me is just dangerous. Because you might think, oh, my character is not likeable enough. Nobody – what – no, that’s not how it works at all.

Predicted target audience. Absolutely useless to you. The marketing department will tell you what the predicted audience is. And then there’s production budget. Potentially useful if you were maybe trying to produce this on your own. Or you were maybe considering to whom you ought to submit the work. And you know, OK, well these people are looking for movies in the $ 10 to $ 20 million range. Well, ScriptBook tells me that my script has a 46% chance of being in that range, which ultimately isn’t really very useful either. Because nobody is going to make a budget based on what ScriptBook guesses. They’re going to make a budget by breaking it down and making a budget.

John: Yeah. Exactly. So, in the show notes we’ll link to a file that the Black List put up which was a sample report for Fences, the Academy Award-nominated script from this past year. And so as you look through it, it’s a nicely presented report. It’s three or four pages long. It talks about rating, genre, the Script DNA, character sentiment, character likeability. I had concerns with all of these things for the reasons that Craig laid out.

Where I think this is actually interesting was there’s this grid where it shows movies that this is like. And I think the axes as they’re labeled are really unfortunate. So it says Audience Rating, in this case from 3 to 10. And creativity from 0 to 1. So looking at this you would say that well Fences is more creative than Hope Springs, or Sideways, but it’s less creative than The Iron Lady or The Verdict. And it’s also more creative than Beasts of the Southern Wild, which seems kind of remarkable.

Craig: Ugh.

John: So, that was troubling to me. And yet if I were to take away the lines and the axes and just say like this is a cluster of other movies that feel kind of like this, that I could actually see being somewhat useful. Because I would never think of Fences as being like Milk or like The Iron Lady, but in a way that the people who like Milk would probably also like Fences, or the Iron Lady, that actually seems to make some sense.

So that is reasonable to me. And I was actually a little bit impressed that the AI was able to match these up to some degree. Now, I would love to see it matching Identity Thief and seeing what are the movies around that and see if it actually has a good sense of what that is. I thought that was somewhat interesting. But I don’t think it’s $ 100 interesting for an aspiring screenwriter. I don’t know what an aspiring screenwriter who is putting a script up on the Black List gets out of knowing that it’s like these things. I don’t see how that’s actionable information.

Craig: It isn’t. And it’s also information that you as a human are layering your own insight upon. Because the truth is we don’t know – you can say, well, Fences is – I guess in a strange way Fences and Milk are somewhat related. Are they? Really? Well, they’re both dramas. They’re both about adults. They both take place in cities. They both have middle-aged men kind of at the center of it. But, are they really? I mean, I guess anybody could just – at that point you could just say any movie with people like that and go, oh, that’s interesting. I guess those movies are sort of like…

Fences and Sideways are nothing alike. Nothing, as far as I’m concerned.

John: But I would say they are both in terms of who they are appealing to, I think they’re actually more common than you might necessarily believe. Though the fact that it recognized that Fences was potentially an award movie seems interesting.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But again, we don’t know. We’re looking at exactly one example. So I don’t know how much to read into this. But I found that at least interesting. I put the T in there for Aline.

Craig: It is vaguely interesting. But anybody who just scrolls through a list of award movies, right, you have Fences. That’s based on a brilliant play. So you’re making an award movie. Just run through a list of award movies then, I guess. I mean, this is not – I don’t understand these metrics. So you have this creativity metric and, well, you could say Fences and Milk are equally creative sort of, I guess whatever that means. But apparently Raging Bull is less creative than Hope Springs. What?

John: I don’t know what that means.

Craig: Wait. The Usual Suspects is less creative than Malibu’s Most Wanted. That’s right. Let me say this again. That’s the Jamie Kennedy movie, I believe, where he’s – isn’t that right – where he plays a rapper?

John: I think it is. Yes. He’s a rapper.

Craig: The Usual Suspects – here are the movies that are less creative than Malibu’s Most Wanted: The Usual Suspects, Cool Hand Luke, Heat, Michael Clayton. [laughs] What? And The Avengers.

John: Yeah. The Avengers and Catwoman down there at the bottom there.

Craig: I’m sorry. Computer, you’re wrong. And Malibu’s Most Wanted shouldn’t be on this. It makes no sense.

John: It should not be on there at all.

Craig: I also don’t understand the vertical axis of Audience Rating. So, how do we have the audience rating exactly for Cool Hand Luke? What audience? I mean, the audience of over 30 years? Or then? Beasts of the Southern Wild less creative than The Blind Side. And, I mean, I don’t understand this.

John: I don’t understand it either. But here’s what I would say zooming way back. I mean, is it clear that there are AI things that can actually find patterns where we wouldn’t see patterns? Absolutely. Do I think this is a case where the kinds of patterns it is finding are going to be useful for the target audience of this service? No, I don’t. I just don’t think that sticking Milk and Fences close to each other on a graph is helping a writer. And a lot of people seem to feel the same way.

So, let’s segue to the scamminess of it all. Because you and I both know and like Franklin. He’s a smart, good guy who is not scammy. And so in our conversations with him, we wanted to sort of make it clear that this felt scammy, but we didn’t think he was scammy. And that we were concerned for him and for the brand because that’s not the way we want to see him out there in the world.

Craig: Well, yeah. And he did the thing that people so rarely, rarely do. He listened.

John: Yep.

Craig: He listened. I mean, Franklin is a humble guy. He’s a business man and he’s an aggressive business man, but he’s not afraid to say, OK, I made a mistake. And in this case what happened was it wasn’t about you or me. We hadn’t talked about his involvement with this on the air prior to his decision that he made to remove it. But he listened to writers on Twitter. He listened to writers on Reddit. Keith Calder, a good producer, who really went after it on Twitter I think made an impression. And he said, “OK, you know what, I’m not going to pretend that I didn’t like this. I did. And I thought people would like it and I think some people still could get use out of it. On the other hand, I hear you. So, we’re dumping it.”

And that’s a big boy grown up thing to do. And in today’s world, it is a rare thing. And so–

John: It is. Yeah.

Craig: I had a lot of respect for that. And, you know, again, you and I, we like the other part of what Franklin does, which now that we’ve gotten rid of this thing, that is what Franklin does. We like him. He’s our friend. And I think that his general service is a good one. So, it looks like we’re back to a good situation.

John: Which is a very good thing. All right, next topic is the battle for James Bond. So, this was – I’m going to link to an article from the New York Times by Brooks Barnes. I’m sorry, Craig.

Craig: You know, Brooks Barnes, I had to correct him the other day. He wrote an article about the strike and referred to the long strike of 1998, which did not exist.

John: Did not happen.

Craig: Oh, Brooks.

John: So I can’t verify that all the facts in this article are true, but I will say that in a general sense it raised an interesting issue of what happens when you have a franchise that is essentially a free agent. So, that’s James Bond. When you see a James Bond movie, the opening credits are United Artists, MGM/United Artists. But that’s not actually who releases it. And so for the past four James Bond movies they’ve been released by Sony. But that contract is up. And so now five different companies are competing for the right to make that next James Bond movie. The companies being Warners, Universal, 20th Century Fox, Sony, and Annapurna, which is the little small label that mostly does fancy award movies.

So, that’s kind of an interesting and unusual thing to happen in Hollywood is to have this franchise sort of up for grabs.

Craig: It is. And it’s sort of up for grabs, because the truth is they’re not really going to be making it. What they’re going to be doing is giving MGM/UA the money or a big chunk of the money to make the movie, and then they’re going to be advertising the movie and distributing the movie. And therein is the problem, because when you actually look at the way the deal has been structured, if we’re to believe what Brooks has said here, there’s not that much profit really coming back to you. In huge success, you’ll make a pretty good amount of money. You won’t make as much money as say they’re making off of Get Out, because your profit is capped. It’s seriously capped.

So what he describes as under the previous agreement, and I can’t imagine in a bidding war why the new agreement wouldn’t be even more favorable to the Bond folks than the previous one. But, in the previous one Sony paid half of the production costs. So, you pay half of what it costs to make the movie. That’s just to make the movie. And in return for that, you get one-quarter of certain profits, once costs are recouped. That’s probably the certain costs there for those things may involve taxes and insurance and things like that. And obviously, you know, you’re only getting your share of the ticket price and so forth.

John: It’s also unclear if Sony is releasing this internationally, like what distribution fee do they get to charge for their distribution services. The math behind this can be very, very complicated.

Craig: Extremely. Yeah.

John: So it’s not a matter of the film itself becoming profitable. They’re getting money in at every step of the process.

Craig: Well, they’re putting money in and they’re taking money out all the time. So, you’re right. For instance, they’ll say, well, we’re going to spend $ 60, $ 70, $ 80 million of the total marketing spend. We’re going to be accountable for that. So we’re spending $ 80 million. But we’re going to charge you $ 20 million in marketing fees. So it’s always this weird game. But in the end, here’s the truth: all these people want it because it’s kind of a sure thing. And there is the potential for many more movies. We live in an interesting time.

So, you say to a studio, “You have a choice. Roll the dice on a $ 20 million movie. It will either make $ 4 million, or it will make $ 120 million, but there won’t be another one. Or, make this movie. You will make $ 30 million off of it. And you can do five more of them. And each one will make you $ 30 million.” They’re going to go for that second deal all day long.

John: Yeah. I think so. And I think it’s as much about the psychology as the actual dollars coming in. So in think about it if you are the head of one of these studios. If you make the Bond movie and it just does OK, no one is going to call you an idiot for making the James Bond movie. It was a safe bet and everyone is going to acknowledge it was a safe bet.

Also, you are keeping the entire machinery of your studio engaged to do it. I mean, one of the weird things about a studio is you have these whole departments that have nothing to do unless you give them a movie to work on. And so a lot of times when studios are in crisis it’s because they actually don’t have a movie. And so they have these huge divisions that have nothing to actually do. So this is a thing to do. It’s a reason to keep all those people employed doing their jobs. Bond is one of those few kind of known brands that whether it’s a fantastic James Bond movie or a just an OK James Bond movie you know you’re going to clear a certain bar with it.

Craig: That’s correct. And you know that you’ll have the right to attach one of your other movies’ trailers to that, because studios can do that where they’re like, OK, if you run this movie you have to at least run our trailer with it. And you know that you’re going to be attracting a certain amount of talent which then if the relationship goes well you might be able to transition into a different movie, filmmakers. You’re keeping people close.

The difference with Bond is the people that control Bond are notoriously protective of it and really they do it. You actually don’t really do anything when, as a studio, other than you sell it and you distribute it. So you’re not really getting much back. It’s an interesting thing that all of these studios are so into it. I mean, it just goes to show you that they make more money and they make it more consistently than we know.

John: Absolutely true.

Craig: Because if they can make consistent money off of this arrangement, and they want to do it again, yeah.

John: Yeah. They’re doing OK.

Craig: They’re doing all right.

John: Let’s look at some of the other reasons why you don’t want to make the Bond movie or why you don’t want to chase it. It has a limited upside. So, you’re capped at sort of how much you can get out of it. Including you’re capped on this movie that you’re making, but down the road if like let’s say you reinvigorate the Bond franchise, well another studio could make the next movie. And it’s like you’ve helped them, but you’re getting nothing for having helped them. So, that’s a concern.

Craig: Yeah.

John: You have limited creative control because the Broccoli family controls it so tightly. Also, you’re weirdly forced to make it. Like, let’s say you get the script and got the director and you’re reading this and you’re like I don’t want to green light this. You have not choice basically. You have to green light this. That’s part of the deal you’re making right now. So these guys are pursuing the rights to Bond, but they’re not looking at a script right now. There is no script right now, I assume. They’re just talking about the idea of making a Bond movie. Maybe with Daniel Craig. Maybe not with Daniel Craig. So, it’s a mystery. And they’re on the hook to make it kind of no matter what happens.

And, finally, there’s an opportunity cost. So, if you’re making the Bond movie, that’s another movie you’re probably not making, either because you don’t have the resources to do it, you know, money wise, or there’s just not a slot in your schedule for another movie right now. Which for some of these studios is probably a good thing, because they’re just looking to do the minimum it takes to sort of keep them in their jobs.

Craig: Well, I think that the – you know, it’s so interesting when you talk to people that run studios, one of the things that I’ve heard from a number of them, and it’s very sad actually is that they never really have any moments of victory and joy because when they make these movies, and this is a perfectly good example, they run a spreadsheet and they go, “Well, we are expected to make between this amount and this amount in terms of profit.” The movie is made. It comes out. It either hits that target or it doesn’t. Maybe it exceeds it somewhat. Usually doesn’t.

So, let’s say they have predicted that the movie is going to be quite a success and it’s going to make them $ 80 million in profit. Two years later, someone says, “OK, yeah, you did it. Check. You did the thing we asked you to do.” There’s no dancing around. There’s no big “oh my god, it’s a huge hit, wow.” Because that implies that they are all just guessing. They’re not.

Unfortunately what also happens is if you miss that target on the low side, the studio bean counters and overlords will say, “Hmm, well, you’re going to have to make it up on one of these other ones.” So even when you exceed expectations, even that triumph is muted because really somebody is going to say, “Well, all right, you should bank that because one of these other ones might miss.” Either way, by the time we get to see the movies it’s like an afterthought for them, because they’ve already priced it and thought about it. And, in fact, they’re now worried about what’s coming out two years from now. And you never get to enjoy it.

John: I think if you’re a studio executive, maybe you’re trying to build a hand of three different kinds of suits. You want the guaranteed hits, like the things, you know, Fast & the Furious 9. And, yes, there’s already a spreadsheet for how much that is supposed to make, but you want to be able to hit that thing and hopefully exceed it. You want a couple of cards that are just like they could break out. They have low expectations but they have possible of a lot of upside. You want the Get Outs. The things that could become a Get Out.

And, finally, you want a few of those things that could win awards, because if you’re looking at whether you’re going to be able to reup your contract in a few years, I think you want to be able to show all three things. That you’ve done the expected hits, some surprise hits, and you’ve also gotten the studio some awards. And that’s a lot to try to manage.

Craig: Yeah. It is. And I don’t envy them. Honestly, I don’t. I know right now we’re in a bit of a contentious period between writers and the companies, but in terms of the people that I know and I work with, I don’t envy them their jobs. I’m sure they don’t envy me mine. I think everybody that isn’t a screenwriter is horrified by the thought of having to write a screenplay, and I don’t blame them.

But, that’s a difficult gig. And it’s scary. And there’s so much that’s not in your control. That’s the part that’s hardest for me to get my mind around, because you know at the very least we have this wonderful period where we’re in control. And it’s when we’re writing. They never really have that.

John: Yeah. It’s a strange part of their job is they seem to be the decision makers, and yet they don’t have ultimate control of the thing they’re trying to do.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Before we wrap this up, let’s take a look at some other franchises and just look and see where they fall on sort of this matrix, because the James Bond is like one of the most free-agenty kind of things out there. At least in terms of how MGM partners up with a different company every time.

But Terminator strikes me as a similar situation, because that was made by Carolco way back in the day. It keeps I think passing through different sort of financiers who own the rights to it, but it could end up different places.

Craig: It has a home now.

John: OK, where is it now?

Craig: It is at Skydance.

John: OK. Well, Skydance I would sort of count as sort of an MGM type situation where they’re a place with a lot of money, but they are not – they don’t have their own distribution deal.

Craig: Right.

John: They just distribute through somebody.

Craig: Right.

John: But Marvel for a while was sort of like the James Bond situation where they have a bunch of properties and some of them are at Paramount, some were at Fox, some were at Sony. Spider Man was at Sony. Ultimately they all ended up over at Disney, except for the X-Men universe at Fox, and for Spider Man at Sony. But even then they sort of reached back in and sort of reinvested in Spider Man. But for a while they were doing what James Bond was doing. They could move their movies from studio to studio.

Craig: They could. And then they got purchased by Disney. So, once Disney bought them, you can see there is just a general effort now to hold all of that in. And the only ones that are left straggling out there are the X-Men, so you have the X-Men part over at Fox, and you have Spider Man at Sony, which they are now co-producing. I don’t know how long that X-Men – I think the deal with the X-Men is they keep it if they keep making X-Men movies, or something like that. I read something like that.

John: That’s my understanding is like they’ll keep making X-Men movies because that’s how they keep their rights to.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Finally, Star Wars was for a while Lucas Film owned it, so Fox distributed it. But I think Lucas Film really owned the first three prequels that they made, and now of course Disney owns that whole franchise as well. So, again, sort of bringing it in house.

Craig: And Disney has been kind of brilliant about this, you know. They just buy the whole company, you know. So, you can negotiate with MGM/UA about the rights to distribute James Bond movies. But if you really want a James Bond movie, just buy MGM/UA. Right? The problem is that’s all they have. They have that. They have the Bond, right? And Bond is very narrow. It’s a fascinating franchise. I’m a huge Bond fan. I’ve seen them all. But it is a very narrow franchise. There I don’t believe there has ever been a Bond spinoff. The entire point is you have James Bond. And then you have a couple of villains that repeat every now and again. Your Blofelds. But there’s a new woman that comes in each time. She comes in, there’s sex, she leaves. Next movie. You know, you have a character like Felix Leiter who is a CIA buddy. No one has ever gone, you know what, now there’s a Bond universe where we’re going to have a movie just about Q and we’re going to have a movie just about Felix Leiter. I’m sure they brought it up at some point or another. But as far as I can tell, nobody on the Bond side of things seems interested in that. So–

John: I do remember speculation about Halle Berry’s character being spun off from her movie. Jinx, or whatever her name was.

Craig: Yeah.

John: There was talk of that, but none of that ever came to pass. And it does feel, I agree with you though. Like if another person were to come in and buy that whole franchise, if they bought out the Broccolis for some reason, you would see a universe being formed. Because we know a lot about that universe and it feels like there’s something more you could do with that if you had it.

Craig: Yeah, you know like if they had an extended Bond universe, you know the movie I would want to write?

John: Tell me.

Craig: I would want to write the movie of M. Young M.

John: Oh, yeah.

Craig: And how M is a spy and it is WWII. I would do a period piece. And sort of the early days of spying and the creation – the notion of why you create the Double O. There’s a great story to be told about why you decide as a person and as a government we need an agency where certain people are allowed to murder. Not shoot in self-defense, or be a soldier on the battlefield. Just kill someone. That is a fascinating question. Licensed to Kill.

John: Absolutely. I also think you look at some of the classic villains and, yes, they are people who are up to their own – they have their own plans and devices, but like there’s an Elon Musk-y kind of character who is sort of right on the border between a villain and a hero who could be a fascinating centerpiece to a movie. Who ends up doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. There’s something great about that kind of character as well.

Craig: And there is really room there. There’s room there. But for now–

John: For now it will be Bond. Our next topic was also suggested by many of our listeners. So, this past week there was a video put out by Nerd Writer on recutting Passengers. Basically proposing the question of what would happen if you did a major cut on the movie Passengers where you sort of limited it to Jennifer Lawrence’s point of view, at least for part of the movie, so she wakes up first. So essentially like she wakes up and Chris Pratt’s character is already walking around the space station. And you and she don’t know that he woke her up deliberately.

And, Craig, I don’t know. Have you seen the movie?

Craig: No. But I know the story of the movie. And so I understand the purpose of this change. I’m not really sure – I mean, it would be different.

John: It would be different.

Craig: I don’t know if the people’s primary objection to that – I mean, no matter how long you delay it, at some point you find out that he woke her up and then you’re asked to believe in their romance. And that seems to be the problematic part for people.

John: Absolutely. So, I think it’s an interesting idea. I enjoyed the movie, but I think my problems with the movie were sort of the problems of they had to work really hard to sort of keep Chris Pratt likeable, even though he was doing an unlikeable thing, and it sort of strained under that weight. So, this would be a way of addressing that. But I don’t want to actually get into so much the creative solution proposed here, and just talk about what would happen and what does happen when you are facing a movie and you have this idea for a massive restructuring after it’s already shot.

So, let’s say that you saw this movie before it came out and you were the studio executive, or you are the producer, or the director, and you say like, “I think I want to try this thing.” How would that actually come to pass and what are the realities of trying to implement a change like this?

Craig: Well, the first thing that has to happen is a general decision about the scope of the work. Because they’ll make a movie, they’ll test the movie, and then they will discuss – let’s just presume it doesn’t go well, OK? So, the question now is what are we talking about here. Do we need a couple more jokes in the movie? Do we need this one scene that would help improve that? Should we fix the ending? Or, do we have something fundamentally huge going on here and we need to do a lot of work? We need to do two weeks of shooting and shoot a lot and recast a couple of parts?

So, first triage.

John: Yeah, and a triage moment only happens if there really is a disastrous test screening. If people really just do not like this movie. And I don’t think that was the case with Passengers. My suspicion was, from people I’ve talked with, the movie tested pretty well and the movie was like pretty well and they were surprised by the reception it got, which wasn’t as strong as they’d hoped.

So, I think you would have to have that bad test screening. The studio panicked. The producer panicked. You have to have a director who is on board with making big changes, or a director you can replace.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Those are the only situations in which you’re able to do big things. But, you’re often doing small things. And so what I will say is that even after a good test screening, you are talking about recuts, reshoots, looking for things that aren’t working, finding your jokes. That happens all the time. And I’ve never worked on a movie that hasn’t had changes based on those early screenings and people’s reactions to them. So, but what’s not common, and you and I have both been in situations where they have done the big recut, that is sort of an emergency all hands on deck. You’re really talking about big brand new ideas. Like, what if we were to rethink how this all works?

Craig: Yeah. And I’ve done that. I’ve done that. And it’s hard. It’s hard because first of all it’s a rare thing for the people who are involved in the creation of the movie up to that point to continue to be involved. So, we have a huge problem here. We’re probably going to need a different director to come in and do this work. And we should bring a different writer in to come in and do this work, otherwise we’re at risk of repeating the same mistakes, plus there’s just a lot of emotions and defensiveness. And it’s understandable. It’s a mess.

So, when I come and do this, I sit – I watch the movie. And then inevitably after that there is a discussion of here are the things we just can’t do. We can’t change this. And we can’t change that. We have this much that we can change. How should we best do it? So, it is a very tricky puzzle. This is very Rubik’s Cubey. Figuring out how to fundamentally change a movie without touching a whole bunch of it. And it’s rarely perfectly successfully. It can make a huge difference. And it does. I mean, you can see it in test scores. They run the movie and they’re like, my god, look at the difference.

And I always think, well yeah, but there’s still something just – this movie is still just not right. It’s alive. Very tough to do.

John: Yeah. When I come into these situations, I always sort of start with like what is actually working. Are there moments of the movie that actually work that sort of suggest the movie it wants to be? And oftentimes it won’t be at the very start of the movie, it’ll be some moment in the middle where like, OK, just for a moment there you kind of found what the movie was. And it’s possible just through cutting and through moving stuff around, you’ll be able to find more of that movie and sort of get us to that place. But in general I find you want to let the movie be one thing rather than the three things.

When a movie is really not working, it’s trying to do too much at once, and it just loses its focus and its tone. It’s just not a consistent experience. So figuring out what that experience should be is really important.

The first Charlie’s Angels was notoriously a very chaotic production. It was chaotic in post as well. But I remember when I came back in on that movie, one of the first things I really worked on was the opening title sequence, which shouldn’t seem that important, but it was really helpful for setting the tone.

Craig: Oh yeah.

John: We’d shot all these scenes, but figuring out what it felt like and sort of what the right kind of goofy was. And so I was sitting with the editors working on do the wipes across and make it feel like the TV show in ways that are fun and right. And once we got that and sort of got that locked, we could sort of step back and say, OK, let’s look at the rest of our scenes and see how we can be a little bit more like that in our style, and that was really helpful.

But ultimately there were reshoots. There were simplifications of logic. They were getting rid of things that didn’t need to be there. Classically, World War Z is a movie that had a much, much bigger ending in its original form. This big assault on Moscow. And the movie did not want to be that. The movie ultimately wanted to be a more intimate movie with Brad Pitt and his family and his own survival. And so that was that whole new third act that Damon Lindelof and Drew Goddard had to figure out how to do.

Craig: And Chris McQuarrie.

John: Chris McQuarrie as well. So, it’s a bunch of hands on deck, really smart people. Looking at what’s there. Looking at what was great, which there was a lot that was great in the first two-thirds of World War Z. And finding a way to carry that through to the end, in that case incredibly successfully.

Craig: Yeah, you know, those situations are not – thank god – common. It is more common that what happens is – I did this recently. You watch a movie and everyone says, “Here are the things that we’re kind of getting back from the audience on some spots.” And I’ll say, yes, I had those same reactions myself. So that’s good news. It means everybody is kind of in agreement.

Maybe all we need to do here is add a line. You know, so two people are talking and maybe this person says something that just isn’t quite right. It’s causing confusion. So, let’s just have them record a new line and we’ll just be on the other person’s face. And it’s just one line and suddenly that all makes sense now.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: The disruption of experience through poor logic is so dangerous and happily, typically, easily fixable. My least favorite call is come and make the movie funnier with some lines. That’s not going to work.

John: Yeah, to try to joke it up. And that will never work.

Craig: No.

John: What I think you’re describing though when you’re adding in a loop line to sort of make something clear, is you talk about people being on the ride or off the ride. And it’s like when did they fall off the ride? And they fall off the ride, they fall off the – they stop believing in the movie when enough things just don’t add up for them. When they start getting confused and sort of confused and annoyed and then they just check out. And so if you can keep them from checking out, if you can keep them engaged, and curious about what’s happening next, you’re probably going to keep them at least somewhat of a fan throughout the rest of the movie.

It’s those moments often in a first act, early in the second act, when people kind of give up on your movie. And if you can keep them from giving up, you’re going to be able to make a lot of those things which weren’t working are suddenly going to feel a lot better.

Craig: Exactly. And this is somewhere where a new person coming in is of great help. Because when you’re there from the start and you’re making the movie, you have certain things that you believe. Making a movie is essentially making a million guesses. And you may make almost all the correct guesses, except for two. But, the audience is saying we don’t understand why she’s saying this now but before she said this. And you say, well, it’s because of blah, blah, blah. Right? And somebody else will say, “Well, I didn’t quite get that. I think maybe somebody should say that.” But the people who have been involved, sometimes their feeling is, “But that’s just so on the nose.” Because in their mind it’s in there already. And a new person can say, “It’s kind of not.” And so this is one area where I know it’s going to grate you, because it sounds like it’s on the nose, but for the audience it’s not going to feel – it’s going to actually be interesting, because they’re not getting what you have.

When you do these jobs, you’re actually – this is where being a feature writer feels great, because everybody is, I think, incredibly grateful to the writer who comes in at this point and helps.

John: 100 percent. So, let’s wrap this up by talking – go back to Passengers. And so let’s say this is an alternate history version of all this, where they saw the first cut of Passengers, and it wasn’t working. It was sort of like the final movie. And they said like, “You know what? We have this idea for a wild experiment.” What they would actually do next? And we live in a time of wonderful digital editors, so a lot of what the video suggests trying to do, you could actually just do. You could do that in your non-linear editor. I don’t say Avid anymore, because people yell at me when I say Avid.

You would actually chop it up and if there were things that didn’t make sense, you would put in little cards to explain what would happen in this moment. But it’s a day or two to sort of build that cut of the movie and sort of see what it feels like. And maybe it feels great. It certainly would change a lot of your experience of the movie. And then you would have to get buy-in. And that’s where I think they would have a hard time with this radical rethinking, because suddenly your two big movie stars you’re paying $ 20 million each, they’re not playing the same characters they signed on to in the movie. And they may love it. They may like it a lot more. But suddenly you’re going to be sending them out there in the world to promote this movie which wasn’t at all what they thought it was going to be. You may have already put out a teaser trailer that promised this romance, but the movie that you’re cutting sort of feels more like a thriller.

That can be a real problem as well. So, it’s not honestly as simple as just like, we’ll make the best movie. Make the most compelling movie. There may be reasons why you can’t do some of the things you want to do.

Craig: That is precisely why I get frustrated with things like this. Because there is an implication that we out here are just smarter than you. You dumb-dumbs couldn’t see, but we can.

Almost always, no offense to the people that make these videos, they are not thinking of something that we haven’t thought of. Almost always, it’s been thought of and tried and didn’t work with audiences, or it’s been thought of and tried and rejected by the very large number of competing powers.

John: Yeah.

Craig: The one thing that people don’t quite understand is it doesn’t matter if something is right. If the movie star, who is going to promote this movie, doesn’t like it. And you may say, “Well, hold on a second. Before we just surrender, can’t we…” And I just want to put my hand up and say, “You’re describing my life. You’re describing my career. That’s half of my job.”

Half of my job is to figure out what to do and get people to agree. The other half is to figure out what to do when the one person who we really need to agree doesn’t agree. Now what do I do? That’s the world we live in. This is collaborative. And some people have an enormous influence on the work.

Sometimes you wish they wouldn’t. But that’s the deal.

John: All right. Enough of recutting movies. Let’s go to our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing, I actually have two. I’m cheating. My first is a newsletter put out by Quinn Emmett, a friend of the show. It’s called Important, Not Important. And it’s just a weekly recap of the things you may have missed in the news, but also sort of other headlines. Sort of a little bit deeper than what you could get on Twitter.

I find it delightful. I’ve been reading it for months. We’ll put a link in the show notes to that.

The other thing I loved this week was this Brazilian artist named Butcher Billy. And what he does is he takes a serious of ‘80s pop songs and he reimagines them as Stephen King book covers. And so if you click through the link in the show notes, you’ll see what I mean. Like Careless Whisper or How Deep is Your Love. There is a Light Never Goes Out. It’s sort of like if you take those titles, they actually can be really good Stephen King books. And so he does the artwork for what that Stephen King book would be. And I just thought they were delightful.

So, I always love sort of reimagining things. I love the unsheets, the sort of make believe posters for movies that we’ve all seen and loved, so I thought this was delightful.

Craig: This is pretty great. I’m looking at it right now. That’s cool. Love the font.

My One Cool Thing is Pinball Arcade. Are you a pinball fan, John?

John: I’m not a big pinball fan. I’ve never been good enough at it to be a big fan, I guess.

Craig: Well, here’s your chance to get good. So, pinball is one of those things that actually they can simulate now brilliantly. So, you know, there’s an app and you can play lots of pinball games. But the cool part is that they’ve gone and licensed and recreated a whole bunch of real pinball games, including maybe the best pinball game ever made. Which was the Addams, Family, the pinball game–

John: I remember the Addams Family pinball. I have played that.

Craig: It’s great. And so it’s based on the movie from the ‘90s, which in and of itself was based on a television show, which itself was based on the cartoons. And it’s fantastic. I play the Addams Family pinball game every day. It’s so much fun.

By the way, John, do you know what?

John: Tell me what.

Craig: The Addams Family would actually be a pretty great movie for us to do a deep dive into. It’s so well done.

John: It’s so, so, so good. I just love The Addams Family. I love the second Addams Family almost more. The whole camp thing is fantastic.

Craig: Amazing. Amazing. In fact, maybe we should do the second Addams Family movie.

John: Maybe we should do Addams Family Vacation. And we sort of know Paul Rudnick on Twitter.

Craig: I know. You know what? We should get Paul Rudnick to come on the show and talk about it. Oh my god, is he brilliant.

John: He’s really good.

Craig: So good.

John: Circling back to the pinball game. I will say that one of the things I do love about real pinball games is they’re hot. The lights are actually hot. They have a warmth to them that I find just delightful. They smell a certain way. They have a heat. That is a good thing about real pinball machines.

So, I’m sure they cannot duplicate this quite as well digitally, but still.

Craig: They can’t. There’s actually a very interesting – so they’ve had pinball simulators for years and years and years. But the Addams Family only recently, because the rights situation was a nightmare. The game – they had to get clearances from the Addams’ estate. They had to get clearances from Paramount, which made the movie. They had to get clearances from Raul Julia’s estate and from Anjelica Huston. And from – just literally everybody whose voice was in it.

Then they had to go get clearances for the music that was in it. And they wanted to do everything correctly, you know. And they did. Finally they did. So now you can play it.

John: Fantastic.

All right, so I will not get to see you at the next Scriptnotes, because you are doing a live show. So you are doing a live show this coming Monday. This episode is out on a Tuesday. On this next Monday, you are recording a live show in Hollywood at the ArcLight. I’m so incredibly jealous for you to hang out with Dana Fox, and Rian Johnson.

Craig: A guy named Rian. Well, we have Rob McElhenney who is good.

John: Oh yeah. He’s good.

Craig: And then we have Rian Johnson who is whatever.

John: Just whatever. Delightful.

Craig: They can’t all be winners.

John: He’s a talented photographer.

Craig: [laughs] He’s a good photographer. So, those of you who are still looking for tickets, we have a few left. So, this is – I think it’s a 400-seat auditorium and we’re getting pretty close to 400 at this point. So you better rush.

If you go to HollywoodHeart.org/upcoming, then you can buy tickets. The event is May 1 at 7:30pm in Hollywood at the ArcLight. This is all for charity. Hollywood Heart is a wonderful charity that our friend John Gatins is very involved in. Oscar-nominated John Gatins. And the price of the ticket is $ 35. And we apologize if that seems a little steep, but again it goes entirely to Hollywood Heart.

Once again, I make nothing.

John: Yep. I don’t even make anything on this one.

Craig: Even you. [laughs]

John: Even I make nothing on this.

Craig: God, you’re so rich.

John: That’s our show for this week. So, as always, we are produced by Godwin Jabangwe. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Big thanks to both these guys because we recorded late this week and they killed themselves to get this out. So, thank you guys.

Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth. If you have an outro, you can send us a link to ask@johnaugust.com. That’s also the place where you can send longer questions. But for short questions, on Twitter Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust.

We’re on Facebook. Just search for Scriptnotes Podcast. You can find us on iTunes at Scriptnotes.

Craig, I think the word iTunes is going to go away. I think we’re going to stop saying iTunes.

Craig: Why?

John: Because I think they’re actually going to get rid of iTunes as a concept completely. My prediction is WWC, they’ll say like Goodbye iTunes. Because they actually got rid of iTunes Podcast and now it says Apple Podcasts. I think they’re just going to call it, I don’t know, Apple–

Craig: What are they going to call it?

John: Something else.

Craig: Whoa. Weird.

John: Whoa. But if you’re on iTunes, or whatever they call it next, just search for Scriptnotes. And while you’re there, leave us a comment.

You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find transcripts. And you can find all the back episodes at Scriptnotes.net.

Craig, thank you for a fun show. Have a great show on Monday. I will look forward to good reports.

Craig: Thank you, sir. We’ll do our best.

John: Cool. Thanks.

Craig: Bye.

Links:

johnaugust.com

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

Craig: Oh.

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.

John: Yeah.

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–

John: Absolutely.

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

John: Absolutely.

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?

John: 100%.

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.

John: Done.

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.

John: Yeah.

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

Craig: Yep.

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?

Craig: Yeah.

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?

Craig: Yep.

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.

John: Agreed.

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.

Craig: 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?

John: Mm-hmm.

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.

Craig: Right.

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?

Craig: Exactly.

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

Craig: Bye!

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.

John: Wow.

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.

Craig: Ransomware.

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.

Craig: Right.

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.

And so–

Craig: Switchboard?

John: Switchboard.com.

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.

John: Absolutely.

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.

Craig: Well…yeah.

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.

Craig: Slowly.

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 ask@johnaugust.com. 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.

Links:

johnaugust.com

First Trailer for Matt Heineman’s Syria Documentary ‘City of Ghosts’

City of Ghosts Trailer

«Our words are stronger than their weapons.» Amazon Studios has revealed the first official trailer for the documentary City of Ghosts, the follow-up to Cartel Land made by filmmaker Matthew Heineman. This doc takes a closer look at the Syrian war as told from the inside, following a group of anonymous journalists working to report on what’s really happening. Heineman is known for getting incredible footage and diving deep into the subject of his docs, and that’s definitely the case here. It’s describe as a «powerful cinematic experience that is sure to shake audiences to their core.» This premiered at Sundance this year, where I saw it, and it’s good but nowhere near as good as Cartel Land. This would also make a good double feature with the doc Last Men in Aleppo, as both films are important looks at the war in Syria. Watch the footage below. ›››

Continue reading First Trailer for Matt Heineman’s Syria Documentary ‘City of Ghosts’


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The Coen Brothers and the Craft of Storytelling

My one-week online class begins Monday, May 22nd.

I have two favorite contemporary filmmakers. In terms of mainstream commercial films, there is Pixar. For independent movies, there are the Coen brothers. Both are hugely successful in what they do, commercially and critically.

That’s why I’m thrilled to follow up the popular Pixar class I teach with a companion course: Coen Brothers and the Craft of Storytelling.

Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

In this 1-week online course, we will analyze most of the movies the Coen brothers have written and directed including such memorable films as Blood Simple, Raising Arizona, Fargo, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou, No Country for Old Men, and True Grit.

Through extensive analysis and discussion, we will dig into six narrative dynamics that appear throughout Coen brothers movies, and enable you to use them to workshop your own original story.

Let’s face it: The Coen brothers have created some of the most distinctive, entertaining movies in the last two decades. They return to certain themes, tropes, memes and talismans like this one: The Howling Fat Man.

We will look at that minutia because… well, it’s just fun. However our focus will be on larger principles that are more applicable to our own writing.

Here is the lecture schedule [all written by me]:

Lecture 1: The Coen Brothers’ Narrative Legacy
Lecture 2: Ordinary Character / Extraordinary Circumstance
Lecture 3: The Long Shadow of Authority Figures
Lecture 4: The Shiny Hope of Grand Schemes
Lecture 5: The Dynamism of Violence
Lecture 6: Morally Complicated Universe
Lecture 7: Unresolved Endings

Plus I will share 6 practical storytelling tips gleaned from Coen brothers movies.

The class includes:

Seven lectures written by Scott Myers
Six Coen brothers inspired storytelling tips
Daily forum Q&As
Workshop writing exercises with feedback
A 75-minute live teleconference between instructor and class members

Movies written by Joel and Ethan Coen have been nominated for 14 Academy Awards, winning 4 times, and nominated for the Cannes Film Festival Palm D’Or 7 times, winning once.

Like Pixar, the Coen brothers have carved their own path and have proven themselves to be master storytellers.

I am excited to share storytelling insights I have learned from studying Coen brothers movies in this exciting 1-week online class providing insights you can use to elevate your own writing.

Consider joining me beginning Monday, May 22 for Coen Brothers and the Craft of Storytelling, a great way to learn principles, dynamics and techniques apparent in the movies of these fine filmmakers to upgrade your own story-crafting abilities.

As the Dude might say, “That’s fuckin’ ingenious, if I understand it correctly. It’s a Swiss fuckin’ watch.”

Sign up now here.


The Coen Brothers and the Craft of Storytelling was originally published in Go Into The Story on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

Go Into The Story — Medium

Chris Cornell quote is an eerie reflection on what happens when an artist dies

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The sudden death of Chris Cornell has sent shockwaves among first-generation grunge fans and the younger ones who appreciated his later solo works or with the Audioslave super group.

Cornell, one of the most powerful, soulful, eclectic voices of his generation, wrote some eerily prophetic words about David Bowie’s death last year.

Musing for Rolling Stone on the meaning of art, Cornell seems to say that an artist’s work isn’t fully appreciated until their death: 

Formed in 1984, Cornell’s Soundgarden were among the architects of the Seattle-based grunge movement in the 1990s.  Read more…

More about David Bowie, Death, Chris Cornell, Chris Cornell Dead, and Entertainment
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