Austin Live Show 2017 (AKA Too Many Scotts)

John and Craig talk with uber-screenwriter Scott Frank (Out of Sight, Get Shorty, Minority Report, Logan) about how his feature script Godless ended up as a miniseries at Netflix.

We then invite more guests up to discuss what movies can learn from the success of TV:

  • Guinevere Turner (American Psycho, Go Fish)
  • Scott Alexander (Ed Wood, The People v. O.J. Simpson,)
  • Tess Morris (Man Up, “You Had Us At Hello” podcast)
  • Lindsay Doran (producer of Stranger Than Fiction, Sense and Sensibility)

In our final segment, we’re joined by a new batch of writers to play “The Studio Has Notes.”

  • Dana Fox (How to Be Single, Ben and Kate)
  • Megan Amram (The Good Place, The Simpsons)
  • Oren Uziel (22 Jump Street, Shimmer Lake)
  • Jason Fuchs (Wonder Woman, Ice Age: Continental Drift)
  • Scott Rosenberg (High Fidelity, Beautiful Girls)

Can our lucky audience member pick out the one fake note among the five real ones? Can you?

Recorded live from the Driskill Ballroom at the 2017 Austin Film Festival.

Thanks to the Austin Film Festival for hosting us, and to a great audience. It’s one of our highlights each year.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

UPDATE 11-6-17: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

johnaugust.com

Scriptnotes, Ep 323: Austin Live Show 2017 (AKA Too Many Scotts) — Transcript

The original post for this episode can be found here.

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is the live show of Scriptnotes at Austin, 2017.

Craig: 2017. And I don’t know if any of you were at the show last year.

John: I was not.

Craig: And so you remember that. We’re also drunk again.

John: I’m not drunk.

Craig: I assume a number of you are also somewhat drunk again. Somewhat is the key. Now last year when we did the show, because John wasn’t here last year–

John: I was in Paris.

Craig: We had the benefit of my organizational skills. Which essentially amounted to nothing. We winged it. And it was great. John’s not a winger. So we have an actual agenda tonight.

John: There’s an agenda. This will be the largest Scriptnotes show. If you notice the chairs up here you might think, wow, are there going to be like seven guests?

Craig: No.

John: No.

Craig: No.

John: No. There will be a total of 13 writers on stage. We topped ourselves again.

Craig: I mean, look, you guys showed up. We’re going to deliver. That’s what we do.

John: So Craig, we’re in Austin, Texas, and one of the things I enjoy most about visiting Austin is I could be sweaty after a run and someone will be in the elevator and say like, “Hey, you’re John August.” I’m like, yeah, I’m a gross, sweaty John August. Thank you for saying hi. But I also love seeing so many Scriptnotes t-shirts.

Craig: So many.

John: In the wild. And some people have some deep cuts of Scriptnotes t-shirts. They’re back to like–

Craig: Old school.

John: The Camp Scriptnotes shirts, which didn’t sell a lot, but someone here has a Camp Scriptnotes shirt.

Craig: The originals. But we have some new ones coming out which, as you know, will accrue to my financial benefit not at all.

John: No, not at all.

Craig: But they will line John’s pockets. So you should definitely buy those.

John: So there’s one week left to buy Scriptnotes t-shirts. You can find the link either at johnaugust.com or just go to CottonBureau.com and we’re selling a bunch of shirts there. So there’s three different models. They’re great. There’s classic ones. There’s a Star Wars-ish one.

Craig: What’s the good one?

John: Is the Umbrage and Reason one. It’s really good. It sort of looks like Craig’s–

Craig: Kind of sort of obligatory, isn’t it?

John: So hopefully we’ll see some people wearing those next year. But we actually have something extra special for you tonight. Something that you cannot get anywhere else.

Craig: I don’t know what this is. I’m so excited.

John: Ha, see. Some organization. We’re going to be doing sort of a game show thing in our final segment tonight, and it’s always hard to pick how you’re going to find that special candidate. Do you remember at our 100th episode we picked a person? Do you remember how that person was chosen?

Craig: Maybe something under their seat?

John: Yeah, so I mean people could check under their seats. But that would be a mistake because it’s not underneath your seats.

Craig: But go ahead and do it. Just do it just to see, just to make sure. Nothing there.

John: At the homecoming show, remember how we picked the winner for that?

Craig: We had a homecoming show?

John: Yeah, two months ago. At the WGA Theater.

Craig: Oh, was that what that was called?

John: Yeah, that was called the Homecoming Show. He doesn’t listen to the show, so he doesn’t know.

Craig: No.

John: How did we pick the winner for that one? Do you remember?

Craig: There was a raffle ticket?

John: There was a raffle ticket, yeah.

Craig: OK, great.

John: So check your raffle ticket. No, there’s no raffle tickets. Instead, Craig, at the end of every episode we say for longer questions write in to ask@johnaugust.com, or for short things we’re on Twitter.

Craig: Right.

John: And you’re @clmazin. I’m @johnaugust. So if you would like to participate in our final segment thing, you need to tweet “Pick me” to @johnaugust. And the first person who tweets “Pick me” @johnaugust gets picked for this live show.

Craig: You mean right now?

John: Right now. Pull out your phones. Do this right now.

Craig: Do not tweet @clmazin. I will not look at it.

John: So in the third segment we’ll figure out who is first in my timeline and that person will be coming up to win something that no one else could possibly win. Now that everyone has tweeted, it’s time to get to the serious business of this podcast and bring up a writer who we’ve wanted to have on the show from maybe the first moment we recorded.

Craig: And who was it?

John: It was–

Craig: Scott Frank.

John: Walter Hill or somebody. No, it was Scott Frank.

Craig: Scott Frank.

John: Scott Frank, his credits – I could read them off the list, but you kind of all know them.

Craig: Let’s just say some of them, because they’re fun. There’s Dead Again.

John: Great movie.

Craig: You’ve seen Dead Again, right? Do you like Out of Sight? Do you like Minority Report?

John: Yeah, that’s good.

Craig: Do you hate dogs, so you like Marley & Me? All right.

John: I think I saw the name on a movie called Logan this last year. But you know he’s also directed. He directed a movie called The Lookout.

Craig: Loved Lookout.

John: He directed a movie called A Walk Among the Tombstones. But he also has a brand new show called Godless and we’re going to talk to him about all these things. Scott Frank, please come up here.

Craig: Come on up, Scott Frank.

John: How did you first get to know Craig Mazin? Oh you need a microphone, that helps.

Scott Frank: I met Craig in a gay bar.

Craig: I don’t know if it was a bar.

[laughs]

It was a club.

Scott Frank: It was a club.

John: Any place with dim lights and alcohol can be a bar.

Scott Frank: Craig, I lived in Pasadena for a very long time. And Craig lived in La Cañada, very close by.

Craig: Pasadena-adjacent.

Scott Frank: Pasadena-adjacent. Our offices were a block apart. And I think Craig invited me to a Writers Guild something. A meeting. And I remember thinking there were several representatives from the Writers Guild and a lot of writers from the San Gabriel Valley. And I remember thinking that guy is really smart.

Craig: Who was that guy?

Scott Frank: And then there was Craig.

John: The guy next to him was Craig Mazin.

Craig: Was that John Lee Hancock?

Scott Frank: That was John Lee Hancock. And we became instant friends ever since. Well, Craig became a friend with me. And then started stalking.

Craig: Years before that happened I, like all of you, went to go see Out of Sight, which was 1996?

Scott Frank: 1998.

Craig: ’98. Thank you. And so I was a screenwriter at the time in the sense that I was working as a screenwriter, but I really was just learning. And so when I went to go see Out of Sight I had the experience that I think a lot of screenwriters have when they watch Scott’s work on film which was just shame. General shame. But also a liberation because you can say, oh, well you know what, I don’t have to worry about fighting my way to the top of any heap, because there’s this guy at the top who will always just beat me back. So that’s actually quite freeing.

And I also remember thinking, because I saw it with Melissa, and I remember I said to her after, “There’s a movie where I really want to know the writer.” I mean, I appreciate what Steven Soderbergh did, it’s very, very cool, and I like the acting, but I want to know the writer. But, you know, how are you supposed to meet a writer? And this is in the nineties. There’s no real Internet connection. There’s no kind of this is going on.

And I just got lucky. I got lucky.

Scott Frank: You staged a fake WGA meeting. And I showed up at it.

Craig: Yeah, it was lucky, but it was also psychotic. I mean, it was a combination. Sometimes, maybe even more often than not, when you do meet your heroes you are devastated by how awful they are. And this was certainly no exception. But, over time, I came to see that there was great value in this man. Truly, he is a mentor. He is an angry dad to me. But he’s also a great dad to me. And a friend. And it’s just been the greatest thing. The greatest thing to know you.

Scott Frank: Aw.

John: Aw. So nice. So, Scott, I got to know your work as a screenwriter, and I think I first met you up at the Sundance Filmmakers Lab. And so you were one of the gracious hosts of the Sundance Filmmakers Lab. And you brought me up there and I was terrified and you were very nice and very generous. But I always basically thought of you as you’re the guy who can sort of write any movie. Like basically you’re the guy who they come to when they need a big thing done, whether it’s an original movie or to fix a lot of movies.

And so when you went off to do, now you’ve directed movies, which is awesome, but now you’re off doing a television program. Why? What’s changed? And what was the decision to like now is the time to go off and do Godless?

Scott Frank: Well Godless began life as a movie. In 2004 I’d written it. And for some reason most of the things I write seem to take quite a while to get made, and this one was no exception. And I’d written it in 2004 and my agent said to me before I wrote it, she said, “You know, no one anywhere is buying a Western.” And she said, “I’m worried you’re going to spend a lot of time writing the script and no one is going to be interested. Westerns don’t do well in the United States. They don’t travel well overseas. You know, Westerns are now Tom Selleck on TNT. It’s not movies.”

And so I said I have to write this script. I love this script. I’m going to do it. And I spent two years writing it, and she was right. No one wanted to buy it.

John: So even though it was you, even though you had a terrific reputation, because it wasn’t based on anything else, because there wasn’t another filmmaker, because it was a Western. Because essentially the genre you think there was no appetite for making—

Scott Frank: There’s no appetite.

Craig: I mean, wasn’t it briefly at Sony? Am I crazy?

Scott Frank: It almost got made several times. And I didn’t write it initially for me to direct. And I’d written it for Steven to direct. And Steven said, “Wow, I think this is the best script you’ve ever written. I fucking hate horses.” And I said, “But besides that, maybe you could do this.” And he said, “I really – I don’t know how to shoot them. I hear they’re really difficult. And I don’t want to do it.”

And I said, “You know, Clint Eastwood was allergic to horses. And he still – he did it.” And for some reason that didn’t help. And so then Sam Mendes was going to direct it. And we had a whole cast. And it was very expensive. Sam–

John: I’ve been there.

Scott Frank: Sam cut his fee to $ 10 million.

Craig: Oh. That’s super generous.

Scott Frank: Yes. And his then wife, Kate Winslet, who was going to be in it, cut her fee to $ 10 million.

Craig: Well these people are almost saint-like.

Scott Frank: Yes. Isn’t it awesome? And for some reason he didn’t understand why we couldn’t get the budget down to what it needed to be in order to get made. And various people flirted with it and were in and out of it after that. And then I made The Lookout. And then I said, “Hey, I’m going to direct it,” which made it even harder to get made.

Craig: Yes. So you said, “I’m going to direct it,” and Hollywood responded with a—

Scott Frank: Collective nothing.

Craig: Nothing. They just simply did not hear you say that.

Scott Frank: They said, “Who?” Yes. Nothing. So because The Lookout was such a giant hit.

Craig: Huge.

Scott Frank: Huge.

Craig: Massive.

Scott Frank: I think the people in this row, including the empty chairs, were the total people who saw it in the theater.

Craig: It made tens of dollars.

Scott Frank: It made tens of dollars. Thank you very much. So I went out and we tried to get it set up that way. And it was almost made. To be honest, we almost made it at Warner Bros. We almost made it a few places. But it couldn’t happen.

And then one day Steven Soderbergh said to me, because I kept him on as a producer, and he said to me, “Why don’t you do it yourself as a mini-series?” Because he had just done a couple of seasons on The Knick. And he said, “You should do this.” And he said, “Television is telling far more serious stories than movies are. And I think you should give it a try. And you should bring it to HBO. I’m very close with them at HBO.” He had done Liberace and The Knick and so on. Was doing his project Mosaic there at the time.

And so I had a meeting with HBO in NYC where I live now. And the meeting went – it was interesting because the head of HBO miniseries says to me, “Well what have you directed?” And I said–

Craig: We have the Internet. You just have to Wiki it.

Scott Frank: And so I told him what I had directed, and then he proceeded to tell me a long story about how they had just shut down a Western they were making, Lewis and Clark. And how–

Craig: So far so good.

Scott Frank: And how they had to fire the director. And so I took that as a not so subtle message as you’re concerned about me directing this movie, aren’t you, this miniseries? And for some reason, I’m helping, I’m consulting on a TV show at Netflix called A Series of Unfortunate Events. And two things happened while I was there. One, out of nowhere, HBO says we’d like to meet with you about Godless. And I said, “With me directing it, right?”

And they said “Yes.” And I met with somebody else, with the then head of HBO, who said we want to make this. We don’t care who is in it. We’d like to do a Western. We think there’s a big appetite for Westerns on television. And we’d really like to do this as a miniseries. And I said, “Great.”

And at the same time, the people at Netflix I’m working for, the head of their dramatic programming says to me, “I hear you wrote a Western.” All in the same day.

Craig: This is how it happens.

Scott Frank: This is after 14 fucking years.

Craig: You guys are wondering like how to succeed in Hollywood. You just have to have that day.

Scott Frank: That day. All you need was that Wednesday. And so I said, “Yes, I wrote a Western,” and she said, “Well, will you send it to me?” And I said, “Sure, I’ll send it to you.”

And less than 12 hours later I get two things. I get an offer from HBO that reneges on every single promise that they made. Basically, we’ll develop the six scripts with you and then we’ll see what casting we can get. And then we’ll decide and we’ll see if you as a director can attract anybody. And this is what we’ll pay you, and so on and so forth.

Netflix, also known as the de Medici family, sends me – they say – Cindy Holland, who is head of their dramatic, just sends me an email saying, “We’re going to make this next year at this time.” I hadn’t even expanded it into a miniseries. “We’re going to just do it. It’s going to be our first in-house miniseries.”

I then got an offer that was 12 times what the other offer was, promising everything, and we don’t care who is in it. Cast it with the best people you want. And so on and so forth.

Craig: So now you’ve got a dilemma.

Scott Frank: It’s tough.

Craig: What do you do?

John: It is tough. Your thought process is like, “Do I take the terrible deal for the people who are mean to me?”

Craig: Right. Don’t like me.

Scott Frank: It was a long, long, long, long minute.

Craig: Meanwhile, I’m the idiot that is writing a miniseries for HBO.

John: How is the HBO series going?

Scott Frank: How’s that going, Craig?

Craig: I thought it was going really well.

Scott Frank: All the people, or a couple of the people are no longer there. So it’s different for you, Craig. Anyway, we made the show at Netflix and they were tremendous. And it was the right thing to do as a miniseries, because in expanding it I realized that it was already too long as a movie, anyway. In fact, the screenplay makes up 3.5 of the episodes.

Craig: Well, you know, tomorrow if you have a chance in the afternoon, I’m going to be doing a little one-on-one with Scott where we’re going to walk through his process and you’re going to learn if you show up – and you’re smart to show up – to learn from him.

One thing that’s always been very freeing to me is knowing that every first draft you’ve ever written in, in this case with Godless the final draft that you’ve written of a feature, you said like – I think you said I’ve never submitted a first draft that was under 150 pages? Something like that? Right.

Scott Frank: He had to look at Lindsay, but yes.

Craig: Yes, Lindsay is like, yes, that was my problem that I had all the time.

Scott Frank: The shooting script for Get Shorty, which is a 97-minute movie, was 135 pages long.

John: Yikes.

Craig: I forgot about Get Shorty.

Scott Frank: The shooting script for Minority Report was 180 pages long. Cheated into 165 pages.

Craig: By the way, don’t bother cheating 180 into 165.

Scott Frank: Once you’re above 160. Out of Sight was 130. Most of them are around 135 pages.

Craig: Do you see what we mean when we talk about the stupidity of the rules all the time. And the conventional wisdom that gets put on you guys all the time. And here is arguably the most successful screenwriter working today and he never follows that rule ever. And never, ever did.

Scott Frank: Well, first of all you have to tell me. Is there a rule?

Craig: There is. There is. “Never write anything more than 120. Really it should be 107.”

John: Yeah, it should be 107. We are going to get into some feature rules right now. And I want to bring up some other feature folks to talk about features. Because like you had a great experience in television it sounds like, but you’ve done a couple features.

Scott Frank: One or two.

John: So let’s talk about that. I want to bring up some more amazing folks. I want to bring up Guinevere Turner. She’s the writer of American Psycho, The Notorious Bettie Page, and Go Fish. Scott Alexander wrote Ed Wood, The People vs. OJ Simpson, The People vs. Larry Flint. People vs. Everything. Man on the Moon. And Big Eyes. Scott Alexander.

Tess Morris wrote Man Up, but she also hosts a podcast you should listen to called “You Had Us At Hello.” The legend, Lindsay Doran, producer of Stranger than Fiction, Sense and Sensibility, Nanny McPhee, Dead Again, The Firm. Lindsay Doran.

Why I sort of wanted you guys all up here on the stage with us is to talk through a thing I’ve noticed, and you talking about doing Godless and sort of moving from doing a feature to doing a television show, I see so much amazing stuff happening in the one-hour space. And we just make these amazing shows. Have any of the lessons or the opportunities we’ve seen in one-hours and you’ve done some amazing television stuff, too. Are those translating back to features? Can we make better features based on how good we’ve gotten in our one-hours?

And I also wonder whether there’s any things we can learn structurally about what we’re able to do now in television that could help us make better dramatic features? Scott, talk to us about—

Craig: He looks super optimistic.

John: Because he seems so confused, I’m going to start with you. When you went on to do People vs. OJ Simpson did you have to learn a fundamentally different aspect of telling a story over multiple episodes?

Scott Alexander: Yeah. But that wasn’t your first question.

John: I know. But we’re going to get back to my first question.

Craig: Don’t question John August. Just answer his questions.

Scott Alexander: We went into OJ thinking we were writing a ten-hour movie. And we were thinking of it as episodes one, two, three are kind of the first act, and four, fix, six, seven are kind of the middle, second act. And then the rest is the third act. And then someone had to explain to us, it’s like, “Guys, no, you’re making ten one-hour movies. And each one needs to have a beginning, middle, and end, and needs to carry you into the next episode.”

And we said, “Oh.” And then we came up with this idea which was that every hour would have a high concept theme to it, which I don’t know if that’s how other TV writers work, but it was this thing we sort of stumbled onto, which was, “OK, this week is the Bronco. This week is Marcia and gender politics. This week is the jury.”

And so sort of like gave a talking point to every week’s episode. OJ was a – it was a great writing experience. I mean, we spent three years sort of being in charge of ten hours, which was a long time. It honestly broke us when we went back to features because after doing OJ our next job was to do the Patty Hearst kidnapping, also based on a Jeff Toobin book. And we just had no idea how to fit a story into a two-hour format anymore, or 2.5 hour, or even a three-hour format. And we left out half the book. And we still brought in a first draft at 207 pages.

Craig: That’s even long for Scott Frank.

Scott Frank: I’ve never broken 200. 199.

Scott Alexander: Oh, I once wrote a script that was 291 pages. A feature.

Craig: Why would you?

John: But why?

Craig: What failure of planning occurred there?

Scott Alexander: It was a biopic of the Marx Brothers who I love dearly, and we worked so hard on it. And what a waste. Years of my life.

Guinevere Turner: I love this page count shaming that’s happening.

Craig: Well, I mean, you’re asking people to see a movie about the Marx Brothers. It’s the length of the Shoah or whatever.

Scott Alexander: Brilliant Alexander plan.

Craig: Sorrow and pity. I mean, it’s insane.

Scott Frank: He’s got the biggest page count.

Lindsay Doran: I worked on something like that once. And the writer – and I said, “I can’t hand this in.” And she said, “Just tell them that all they have to do is read 120 pages, and if they don’t like it, they don’t have to read the rest.”

Scott Alexander: I don’t want to come off as obnoxious. But that’s an internal draft. Our sort of rule of thumb has been once it goes into the buyer, meaning the studio, it has to be under 150. So that’s a rule we’ve always tried to live by.

Craig: 150 is not admirable. That’s not a thing.

John: OK, Lindsay Doran, you ran a studio. You ran United Artists. And so—

Lindsay: You’re going to tell all these people that?

John: Well, you don’t have to do it right now.

Craig: It’s her fault.

Scott Frank: She made West Side Story.

John: Yeah. Let’s say, no, so let’s say you had a new studio. Do you think that the changes that have happened in one hours would be informing some of the choices you’re making as a studio head? Either the projects you’re doing or how you think the storytelling can happen on the page. Do you think there’s a change in what screenwriters can do based on what TV writers have been able to do in the last ten years?

Lindsay: Rightly or wrongly, I feel as though there’s been a shift from “never be boring” to “always be exciting.” Somebody I know who made a movie for Netflix said that he got one note the whole time which was, “Make sure something amazing happens in the first five minutes. That’s all we ask of you.” Does anything amazing happen in your first five minutes, Scott?

Tess Morris: First 150 pages.

Scott Frank: Yes.

Lindsay: So, I think there is a sense, whether it’s true or not—

Scott Frank: But wait, isn’t that just good writing?

Lindsay: Well, yeah, I would think so. But that idea of the slow build, you know, I wonder if you could write a fantastically elaborate, interesting first scene and it would be enough. Even if it was great. I wonder if people are going to say, “But wait, I want something really exciting to happen.” And you go, well how about this really exciting writing. And it’s like, “Well, yeah, but nobody gets killed and nobody gets betrayed and nobody gets pushed under a bus…”

Guinevere: But in and around this conversation is actually as writers how we now think, because we know that we may say, “Here’s my idea,” and someone will say, “Is that a back door pilot? Is that a series? Is that a feature?” That’s just a feature. And how features may or may not be devalued/haloed as this new rarified form. And/or how does that have legs in season five? And so it’s actually changed our brains and the way that we think about our own narratives. And this whole idea of legs and seasons—

Craig: It’s flipped things around, right?

Guinevere: I mean, is it good? Is it bad? It’s definitely stretched our muscles and made us think in different ways.

Tess: But if you think – I had a show that was a film idea originally, that then we turned into a six-part thing. But actually weirdly the structure of it still made sense because it was a romantic comedy, so we still had a very clear end point to everything that was happening. Like Catastrophe does it really well. I mean, really you could watch each series of Catastrophe as a very long romantic comedy movie. So it’s just our brains that have to change. I don’t think the audiences have to, maybe not.

Scott Frank: You’re not from around here, are you?

Tess: I’m not, Scott. No. I’m new in town.

Scott Frank: Yes you are.

Lindsay: From East Texas.

Scott Frank: Houston.

Scott Alexander: John, I think you’re asking a hopeful question with a bad answer.

John: The best kind, yeah.

Scott Alexander: Because as we all know, the mid-budget film, the mid-budget drama/dramedy that we all grew up on and love has been in trouble for years. I would think that the success of all the long form television has just made it harder because it sort of taught people that audiences will invest in that long term storytelling. They want to hang out with those characters for a period of time. And why would you want to invest $ 40 million to only hang out with them for an hour and fifty minutes.

Guinevere: But I would have watched The Breakfast Club for five seasons when I was a teenager.

Tess: Oh my god, yeah. Imagine Pretty in Pink every week. That would be amazing.

Craig: Well, but the point is you actually wouldn’t have to. If it happened now, that’s what it would be. Because they would not make The Breakfast Club as a feature. It wouldn’t make economic sense. They would simply say this could be so much better if we made six of these, or we made a season of different people in detention every season, because that’s—

Guinevere: Oh my god. I already love it. I totally want to make that.

John: I would argue that we actually are already doing sort of the giant version of this, is the Marvel movies, which are essentially a giant TV show—

Tess: They’re not like The Breakfast Club.

John: They’re not like The Breakfast Club. No they’re not.

Craig: But he’s not wrong. Because they are soap operas.

Tess: No, I know. They are.

Craig: And, look, the problem is that what’s happened now is in movie theaters we now have created the space for spectacle. So Marvel movies get away with soap opera because they’re spectacle soap opera. Soap opera soap opera really now is just for TV. But the viewing audience, one thing that we know because we are – even though we write, we are also viewing constantly – we know that watching things at home is so much more comfortable. We only watch what we want to. We don’t feel trapped. We certainly haven’t paid for the experience per that moment.

Tess: I do like the idea of Emilio Estevez like ripping his shirt off and it being Captain America underneath it, you know, that scene in Breakfast Club. You know, and actually it would be like a Marvel character underneath it.

Craig: You should go pitch that.

Tess: I’m not going to do that, Craig, but OK.

John: Well, Tess, I want to get back – your podcast is essentially about romantic comedies.

Tess: It’s very niche.

John: It’s very niche. So if you enjoy romantic comedies, or even if you’re just confused by romantic comedies, listen to her podcast. They really do break it down and talk about that as a form.

Tess: Very niche.

John: As a genre. But essentially romantic comedies have been usurped by series television, like we’re not making very many of them. Like you were able to make one, but very few of them are getting made. Is there anything that you see happening in television, from like Catastrophe, from anything else, that could get us back to a feature place of romantic comedies?

Tess: Netflix and chill is our last hope, I feel.

Craig: That means sex, right?

Tess: Yeah. But why is not like Hulu and hang?

Craig: Hulu is not sexy.

Tess: Hulu is sexy.

Craig: Oh, it is?

Tess: There’s sexy things, maybe not as—

Craig: I don’t know what sexy is. Everybody knows that.

John: I think I know why she thinks Hulu is sexy suddenly, but I’m not allowed to say.

Tess: All I know is that all the carbs I ate have kicked in suddenly and I feel quite slow.

Craig: You mean alcohol.

Tess: I think when we made the film that I wrote, Man Up, we released it in the cinemas and knowing what we know now we would not release it in the cinema again. We had a very small release here and we had a bigger one in the UK. But we would definitely now, like the next film that I’ve written for the same company we will probably take it straight to somewhere like Netflix.

Because you’re all fucking idiots, but people don’t go to the movies to see romantic comedies anymore.

Craig: You’re welcome.

Tess: And I don’t either.

Scott Frank: Thanks for coming to our country.

Tess: You’re welcome.

Craig: Still this lingering resentment about the Revolution.

Tess: I’ll stop when I swear first. Someone had to swear. But, no, I think that – I do actually believe that there is the event, like The Big Sick did incredibly well and it’s a great little movie – big movie. But that was packaged brilliantly and sold perfectly. And also was a really modern take on the genre. And was about something that is important right now. So, I think that is the way, if you’re going to get people in the cinema, you have to try and think bigger now.

Yes, Scott Frank, what would you like to ask me?

Scott Frank: Well, you can’t make a slate out of The Big Sick, which was a great movie, but—

Tess: No, but you could make a nice six-part recurring series about it. They could get divorced in the second one.

Scott Frank: But speaking about movies for a second, even if you make a movie – a drama – for $ 25 million at a movie studio, they’re still going to spend $ 30 million to sell it. So it’s still a $ 50 million proposition. And everybody was talking about Logan Lucky only making $ 10 million because he did this experimental thing and, you know, that was a failure. It actually is about what it would have made if it were at a studio. It was a $ 25 million movie. If they were at a studio they were all going to spend $ 35 million to market it with that cast. And they would have, you know, maybe they would have gotten more people in the movie theater, maybe not, but ultimately after you take away all the profits for the studio, they $ 10 million or $ 12 million that everybody who made the movie has to split, it wouldn’t be there anymore.

And if you think about who is going to movies right now, which is – thinking about – which is everything. It’s kids who are 13, 14, experiencing their first independence. That’s who supports most of the movies. You go to any mall on a weekend night and look who is there. Or it’s families taking their kids to see family movies. It’s not a lot of other adult or serious movies.

There’s certainly anomalous things we can all point to, but it doesn’t make economic sense if you’re a studio not to take the big swings.

Craig: Right. But we do have this – I mean, there’s some good news here, believe it or not.

Tess: Well, tell me the good news.

Craig: The good news is—

Lindsay: Craig Mazin, bearer of good news.

Craig: It doesn’t happen frequently, so listen up.

Lindsay: I know. I’m all agog.

Craig: You guys have a freedom that we did not have. So, I certainly didn’t, and I know Scott you couldn’t have had, and John you didn’t. When we started it was you write a movie, this is what a movie is. Or, you write a show which is on this network and that’s what that is. And it has the commercial breaks in it, see.

That’s it. You guys can write anything. It can be any amount of time. It can be any amount of episodes. It can be one long thing. Five little short things. Even amongst themselves, like so Dan and Dave who do Game of Thrones, the first season of Game of Thrones which is now, what, eight or nine years ago at this point I think, the first season they did all their shows, they shot them all, they edited the whole season together and then HBO came back and said, “You’re short. These episodes are too short. They need to be 55 minutes and blah-blah-blah seconds. And you’re short.”

So they had to go back and shoot some extra stuff to pad them out. Now, no one cares. They have episodes that are 48 minutes long. They have episodes that are 79 minutes long. You guys have a freedom we did not have. And that’s exceptional.

Tess: But just to finish my rom-com rant, though, is that the only issue, if anyone writes romantic comedy here, is that you really know the ending to most rom-coms and that is the fundamental issue with turning it into – with making it doable for TV. Is that you have to find ways to make people break up and make up many more times than you do in a film sort of structure. So that’s the only sort of problem with the rom-com.

Craig: So good news for everybody except the rom-com writers.

John: Guinevere, I want to ask about, so you’re doing a movie with Mary right now, Mary Harron, based on the Manson girls. And it feels – you’re doing it as a feature, but it feels like it could very easily be Netflix, it could be HBO, it could be some sort of television thing. Why a feature and why not a television thing?

Guinevere: So it’s a story about the women who killed for Charles Manson. Three of them went to prison. And to me it’s about this very specific point in their history, which is after the orgies and the sex and the cameras and the trial. And this real moment of time, five years where they spent – the three of them – in isolation in prison. And that, to me, only – that story needs to be told in that way.

John: So it’s sort of a one-time journey. It doesn’t want to sort of stretch out over longer things.

Guinevere: I mean, you could go second season, they get into the general population which is where my movie ends, but to me it’s a little bit corrupt, because I’m really talking about the mindset of these people and it has more to do with the moment in history and where women were and where prison was and where the media was with this story than the far-reaching things. So, I mean, if somebody came to me right now and said “We want to make six seasons of post-Manson, the ladies, how the ladies lived,” I don’t know. That’s the wheelhouse I lived in.

Scott Frank: That’s a romantic comedy.

John: That’s a good one.

Craig: I have a squeaky [unintelligible] romantic comedy would be something to behold.

John: Fantastic.

Scott Alexander: I’m so in.

John: Let me get a roundtable room going. So that’s one of the last things I want to talk about is there has been this move in features to sort of bring together rooms to sort of break features. And that’s a thing that we’re also taking from television where like, well, we have this piece of intellectual property. We have – we always say Slinky – but what does the Slinky movie want to be. They’ve done this with other big videogames. And they’ll put together a room-

Tess: Sorry, a Slinky?

John: A Slinky. A toy.

Craig: It’s a large coil that—

John: Yeah, that walks down stairs.

Craig: In Britain I believe it’s called the Coily or the—

Scott Frank: There really is a Slinky movie?

Craig: Stair Walker.

Scott Frank: I got to catch up. 120 pages.

John: A general take on feature writing rooms. Because I’ve never done one. I’ve done roundtables, and I think a lot of us have done roundtables, but this idea where we’re breaking the whole – we’re figuring out from the genesis of what this movie is as a team, as a group.

Craig: I wonder, what do you think about this phenomenon? You’ve been watching this happening, right?

Lindsay: Well, I actually just went to my first roundtable. I’d never been to one before this month, I think it was. So it is this odd thing. In family movies I do see it a lot, because I work on those a lot.

Guinevere: I’m sorry, because I’ve never been to a roundtable. Can anyone and all of you just tell us what does it look like?

Craig: Well, there’s two different things we’re talking about here. One is a roundtable which Lindsay is mentioning where a movie is about to go into production, or a movie has been shot and they’re contemplating reshoots, and they will have six or seven writers sit around and just discuss.

Tess: And eat.

Craig: And eat.

Lindsay: That had nothing to do with the roundtable that I went to, but that’s OK.

Craig: OK, so you had a different roundtable. So then there’s this other thing which is “We are contemplating making a movie. Let’s get a bunch of writers together to talk about what this movie should be.” That is the thing that is horrifying to me.

John: Yeah, so it’s more like breaking a season of television, but you’re breaking a feature out of it. Or sometimes you’re breaking three features and a TV series. So sometimes they’re month-long rooms. It’s such a very different way of working that we’re just not used to.

Scott Alexander: I mean, I’ll say I’ve never done either, ever. I think it’s the end of the world.

Guinevere: Anyway, back to Lindsay, please, because I’m so curious what you have to say.

Lindsay: No, I think it was very confusing. Really, I found it – it was like where is the person in this room with conviction. Because the whole point was to not have conviction.

Tess: I think it’s different in a comedy.

Scott Frank: The roundtable to me is so distressing conceptually because somebody – whoever that poor writer was – wrote a script and put thought into it. And then a bunch of people are just going to sit around for eight hours and get paid a daily rate and just block out lines—

Craig: Well, to be fair, most of the times when I do it—

Scott Frank: I wasn’t looking at you.

Craig: I know. I’m just telling you because you don’t do them.

Scott Frank: I was looking at Lindsay.

Craig: Don’t you dare. Usually the writer is there. So, you know, I did one for the Pirates of the Caribbean, what are they up to?

John: 19?

Tess: 40?

Craig: 70. All right. Pirates of the Caribbean, 70.

Scott Frank: That was the good one.

Craig: But Jeff Nathanson was there. He is the writer and he was there. And we just sort of – really what it came down to was, in some of these cases, the roundtables that are post-facto roundtables are kind of like writers are doing what maybe the development executives used to be able to do but don’t. So we’re just sort of saying, “Well what about – here’s some questions of things that maybe you can think about or help.”

But this other thing that’s happening which is develop a movie together. Dana and I – why isn’t Dana up here? I don’t understand.

John: She’s up in the next segment.

Craig: OK. So, anyway, the person that I will not mention is up in the next segment, were asked to do a roundtable at Disney to create a new story for a new movie. And the two of us freaked the F out. Because that to me is what you’re talking about. There’s no authority. There’s no voice. There’s no author. There’s no vision. There’s just a bunch of people now cobbling together a movie. Forget the economics of it, which are disastrous for writers. I just think creatively it’s – that I agree with you. End of times.

Scott Alexander: How does that get arbitrated?

Craig: I don’t know.

John: Horribly. Horribly.

Tess: That’s a whole other podcast.

Scott Alexander: How do they even? What do they even do?

Craig: I don’t know.

Tess: Don’t even ask that question.

John: It’s a genuine mess.

Craig: I legitimately don’t know.

John: So, as we wrap it up, I’ll say that in television where they have writer’s rooms, everyone is also a producer, so you have a credit because you’re a producer. There’s some other way that you’re acknowledged. And so when you’re running your shows, there’s a system, there’s a structure for that.

Craig: For multiple episodes. So somebody is going to get a credit sooner or later.

John: That doesn’t exist in features. And if this trend continues we’re going to have to figure out something, because it’s going to be weird. And all you guys will be in there, because we’ll all be retired by then.

We need to get to our next segment. This was an amazing discussion. Guys, thank you very much.

Craig: Thank you.

John: You can head down. We’ll bring up the next folks.

Craig: Fresh writers. More grist for the mill. Never stops.

John: A new thing to try.

Craig: Oh, we got a new thing. Oh, here we go. You guys know this was John’s idea, because I don’t have any.

John: It should be good. We’ll see. To do this, we need some new writers up here. We’re going to start with Dana Fox.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Dana Fox. Dana Fox is the writer of What Happens in Vegas, Couples Retreat, How to Be Single. She was the creator and showrunner of Ben and Kate. She’s directed New Girl. She’s awesome.

Craig: Stop apologizing. Just own your genius.

John: And a bunch of other movies.

Dana Fox: I’m not up here with Scott Frank.

Craig: None of us are.

John: And she’s a repeat Scriptnotes guest.

Dana: I love it.

Craig: One of our favorite Scriptnotes people.

Dana: Anytime you ask me I say yes.

John: Another repeat Scriptnotes guest, Megan Amram.

Craig: Megan Amram. Literally just noticed your shirt by the way. That’s the greatest shirt ever.

Dana: We’re wearing message shirts.

Craig: So Dana’s shirt says “Ask Me About My Feminist Agenda.” I did.

John: Yeah, we did.

Craig: Megan’s says “Zero million followers.”

Megan Amram: MY friend, Mo Welch, makes these shirts. They’re great. If you have less than a million followers, I highly recommend it.

Craig: Nobody here, that doesn’t apply to anybody.

John: So when we introduced you on the last live show, you were the writer-producer The Good Place, Transparent, Silicon Valley, Parks and Recreation. You’re the author of Science for Her. But now you’re also a writer on The Simpsons.

Megan: Yeah, it’s a pretty weird coincidence that I appeared with our friend Matt Selman on the show last time, who happens to show-run The Simpsons. And then I got a job really soon after that.

John: So I think the key here is if you want to get staffed on a show, be on an episode of Scriptnotes with the showrunner. That’s how you do it.

Megan: I owe John and – what’s your name?

Craig: I’m your cousin.

Megan: Oh, that’s, OK, Craig. I owe you both my life. So, I don’t know what you want to do with this segment.

Craig: I don’t think you need to go that far, but you owe us quite a bit. Quite a bit.

John: Our next writer, I’ve never pronounced your last name, so I’m going to try. Oren Uziel. Yes? Oren Uziel, writer of 22 Jump Street, Freaks of Nature, The God Particle. Oren, who I know mostly through roundtables. That’s how I’ve actually gotten to know you.

Oren Uziel: Yeah, I’m sorry.

John: No, it’s awesome. Jason Fuchs is here, though.

Craig: Fuchsy.

John: A writer whose credits include Wonder Woman, Ice Age: Continental Drift, and Pan.

Craig: And also…if you saw La La Land and you remember that douchebag screenwriter who talked about being really good at building worlds: Jason Fuchs.

Jason Fuchs: Sorry.

John: So this is the part of the show where we need to bring up the Twitter person who tweeted first. So, this could be you. This is somebody in the room. And so I’m going to go to my Twitter here.

Craig: Hey, Scott Rosenberg!

John: Scott Rosenberg is here. Come on up here.

Craig: What a weird attention grabbing—

Scott Rosenberg: Someone needed a beer. Apologize. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

John: Scott, don’t read this yet, but you’ll read it eventually.

Craig: Super attention-grabby. Super like look at me, I’m Scott Rosenberg.

Dana: He’s going to get a haircut during this podcast.

Craig: Some people have it. Some people don’t. He’s got it. He’s got it.

John: So the first person to tweet at me was John the Wizard. Where is John the Wizard?

Craig: John the Wizard.

John: Oh, holy shit. All right.

Dana: John the Wizard. John the Wizard.

John: Will you take that microphone there? This is the game show we are going to be playing here. So, all of us up on this stage have received at certain times notes from the studio. And five of these things we’re going to read aloud are actual notes that I received from the studio on my projects. The only, I promise to God, the only things I’ve changed are sometimes identifying character names. But everything you’re about to hear, except for one of them, is true.

Your job is going to be to identify which of these was not the true thing. What is so crazy is you are the person who came up to me and asked if I could sign your Writer Emergency Pack, is that correct?

John the Wizard: Yes. That’s correct.

John: The gift you’re going to get out of this, which is nuts—

Craig: Oh no.

John: Is the dark mode deck of the Writer Emergency Pack. The exclusive black edition of the Writer Emergency Pack, which no one has, and that was never sold.

Craig: You should be good at this, because you are a wizard, so let’s see.

John the Wizard: I mean, that’s referencing my D&D.

John: Craig, start us off.

Craig: Here’s the first one. I assume he’s going to listen to them all and then make your judgment.

John: And we may discuss a bit.

Craig: We may discuss a bit.

Scott Rosenberg: Can we just go back to the pros and cons of writers’ rooms? Because I’m totally confused.

Craig: This is not about you.

Scott Rosenberg: I keep staring at this thing over and over again. I don’t know what the fuck it means. I don’t know who Madden is.

Dana: No, don’t give it away.

Scott Rosenberg: Where’s Scott Frank?

Craig: Scott Rosenberg, you can’t just Scott Rosenberg all over this.

Scott Rosenberg: All right. Carry on.

John: Craig Mazin, read a note.

Craig: Can you believe this guy?

John: No, I can’t. I honestly can’t.

Jason: Do you want to switch with me?

Craig: God. Wasn’t enough that like—?

Scott Rosenberg: You’re not going to like that one more.

Craig: God, Scott Rosenberg. Not handsome enough. Not tall enough. Jesus Christ. OK, here we go. “The inherent fantasy fulfillment, especially for kids, makes this something we believe audiences will embrace and thoroughly enjoy. That said, the tone of the picture needs to be much edgier.” Possibly real. Possibly not.

John: Dana, go for it.

Dana: OK. “We like the pivot away from the misdirect and towards embracing Johnson’s role as a villain from the outset. But, as we move forward we’d like to make sure that we don’t lose his complexity and shift too far into his evil persona that it feels cartoonish.”

Craig: Ooh, so many clauses in that.

Megan: Word salad. Word salad.

Dana: It was really hard to read.

Craig: Multiple clause note.

John: Megan Amram, perform for us.

Jason: This is not good. This is not good at all.

Megan: “Can we discuss whether Mark and Kristen need to die? We don’t feel like the characters have earned the terrible things that befall them.”

Scott Rosenberg: That’s totally real.

Dana: The terrible things including death.

Craig: Right. Right.

Megan: One of the worst.

Craig: Things with an S. Right.

John: Oren?

Oren: All right, “We appreciate the early look and understand and respect that the creative process is still in motion and that there are outstanding notes the producers want to make before the draft we read is considered official.”

Craig: Wow, that’s just fucking sinister.

Dana: That’s too real.

Scott Rosenberg: That’s just they don’t want to pay for delivery yet. Right?

Dana: I’m just so surprised they actually put that on paper. That seems illegal.

Craig: That’s like fraud, right? It’s amazing.

John: All right, Jason.

Jason: “We would like to clarify and simplify the rules of time travel.” Sure. Sure. By the way, we’re halfway in, so far not a bad note. “Could Madden explain that only certain actions disrupt the time stream?”

Scott Rosenberg: See, that’s the one that I kept looking at over and he switched with me. I couldn’t understand it. What’s the time stream?

Megan: Yeah, that’s why you have to clarify the rules.

Dana: That’s why they have to clarify the rules.

Jason: According to the note. That’s what we’re doing.

Craig: I know this is crazy, when you walk in the middle of something to not understand it.

Jason: This is why you don’t get the bit.

Scott Rosenberg: I’m sorry, I’m a screenwriter. I thought we were talking about screenwriting stuff. This is why they’ve never invited me on whatever that thing is they have. That podcast. Never ever, by the way. 42 movies I’ve made. Never. Never once. Never had a dinner.

Craig: You’re that guy now? You’re the 42 movies made?

Scott Rosenberg: Not once. Never. Never.

Craig: 42 movies I made.

Scott Rosenberg: Koppelman, he knew me a minute, put me right on. “What are the aliens waiting for? Is it simply that it’s taken this long for them to amass a big enough force to try to take over Earth again? Or, is there a more specific “why now” reason that the alien invasion is finally happening again?”

John: Wow, that’s a lot.

Scott Rosenberg: I mean, duh.

John: I think we may need to read through them again. But general themes. Do they seem familiar? Have you encountered these notes before? I saw some nodding.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, my note I could summarize as make it nice but make it not nice. It’s just like these inherent contradictions, right? And yours seemed—

Dana: I truly had no idea what was happening with mine.

Craig: Basically yours was the same thing, like make him a villain but don’t make him too villainy.

Megan: Yeah. I had summarized this as do Mark and Kristen have to die. A pretty, you know, universal question you should ask yourself. I mean, everyone’s got a Mark, everyone’s got a Kristen. And you just have to think to yourself, did they earn the terrible things that befall them? So.

Oren: Mine is basically we enjoyed reading your script. Do we still have to pay you for it?

Dana: That one was the most familiar for me.

Craig: Familiar note.

John: Jason, back to yours.

Jason: Yeah. Mine is we paid you to write a script about time travel. Can you figure that out? No. Doesn’t make any sense.

Scott Rosenberg: I’m going to be super controversial. I’ve gotten the stupidest fucking notes in the world my entire career, and I’ve never once been less than grateful to be a person getting stupid fucking notes.

Dana: Shut up.

Scott Rosenberg: It’s just a fact. Honestly. And I’m the last guy to have any gravitas in this whole room. But honestly, like you take them, and they’re ridiculous, and they’re absurd.

Dana: Are you from Canada?

Scott Rosenberg: And I am from Canada.

Dana: Honestly.

Scott Rosenberg: By way of Boston. But, no, seriously, I remember the stupidest note I’ve ever gotten in my whole life was I wrote this crazy psychotic character and they were like, “We just found he was so irrational.” And I was like “Because he’s psychotic.” And they were like, “Well couldn’t his irrational psychosis just be a little bit more rational?” And I was like, “Wow, you are insane.” By the way, she is not in the business anymore that executive. But I just remember thinking like as I drove home thinking like how am I going to tackle this.

I was like, goddamn, god bless me that she’s actually paying me to do this and I actually – I’m sorry to like rain on the fun of the gag.

Craig: You should be.

Scott Rosenberg: But seriously, that’s my thing. Madden, where’s Madden?

Jason: You want Madden back?

Scott Rosenberg: But seriously, we’re all getting stupid notes. That’s the nature of the gig. But you know what, God bless us all for getting them.

Craig: That surely was helpful for you.

John: That was helpful. Scott, would you remind recapping what your actual note was so this gentleman can try to win? What was your actual note you got? What was the actual note that you read aloud?

Scott Rosenberg: I read it. I actually read it. You want me to read it again?

Craig: Just summarize it.

Scott Rosenberg: I actually didn’t understand it.

Craig: OK.

Jason: That’s the point of the game.

John: John the Wizard. Tell us where your head is at.

Craig: Do you have a sense?

John: Which one is the fake note?

John the Wizard: I’m seriously confused if it’s the last one or the third to last one. Both seem very confusing.

Craig: You think maybe it’s the Oren right here.

John: Do you want to hear them aloud again.

Craig: Again? Really? Just those two. Just those two.

John the Wizard: And I’ll take the audience, what they think.

Oren: “We appreciate the early look and understand and respect that the creative process is still in motion and that there are outstanding notes the producers want to make before the draft we read is considered official.”

John the Wizard: This is so confusing.

Oren: There’s so many words.

John: I can’t believe that’s real.

Oren: No commas.

John: Do you want Jason or Scott’s?

Jason: I also have no commas. “What are the aliens waiting for? Is it simply that it’s taken this long for them to amass a big enough force to try to take over earth again? Or is there a more specific “why now” reason that the alien invasion is finally happening again?” I think I’ve gotten that note on every single script I’ve written.

John the Wizard: I guess my problem at the end is the aliens, I would assume is referenced to a real–

Craig: Don’t dig in too deep here.

John the Wizard: No? Is it too much?

Craig: Just go with your gut.

John: Go with your gut.

John the Wizard: You sir.

John: Oren’s?

Craig: He has chosen Oren’s as the fake note.

John the Wizard: I’m going to choose Oren.

John: But up here, what do you guys think?

Dana: I think that’s definitely real.

Craig: I think it’s Jason’s.

Megan: I think mine might be fake.

Craig: I think Megan is fake.

Megan: Thank you so much.

John: Oren’s is completely real. Oren’s is 100% real. That was in a memo and it basically was what you describe. Like “Thank you for showing this producer pass early so we don’t have to pay you and we can still give notes.” So that’s a lovely thing. So your second choice is Scott?

John the Wizard: Yes.

John: You’re still wrong. Sorry.

John the Wizard: It’s not the first time so.

Jason: Does he get another guess?

John: It’s Jason’s.

Craig: It’s Jason’s.

John: Time travel.

Craig: Jason’s time travel thing seems so real.

Jason: Yeah, well, I sold it.

John: Why did it seem real to you?

Craig: Well, it seemed real because it was so stupid. I mean, you know, like every time you see a movie, or any time you’re writing any movie that involves anything slightly magic or slightly science fiction, the first thing they talk about – because they love to – is rules. They’re obsessed with the rules. What are the rules? No one actually cares about the rules.

I don’t know what the rules are in Lord of the Rings. People literally show up and fucking turn into ghosts and back again to regular people. And I don’t give a shit, because I don’t care. It’s awesome to watch. But they love talking about the rules.

Megan: I hate to be a Scott Rosenberg here, but I love the rules. I love like a scene where they just talk about the rules. There’s a scene in Arrival where he just narrates the rules and I loved it. You know, diverse. It’s a diverse panel.

Jason: I have to say these are all obviously dumb notes, and they’re better than any notes I’ve ever gotten on any project I’ve worked.

Oren: These are high level John August notes.

Jason: I mean, these are terrific notes. I was working on a project, I’m currently working on a project where a producer said to me, “What’s the tone of the movie?” We’re like two months in. And I said, well, you know, it’s kind of like a darker grounded Star Wars. And the gentleman I’m working with is Italian and he said, “I don’t like the Star Wars.”

Craig: Is he Italian or is he a cartoon Italian?

Jason: He is, in fact, both. And I said, you know, “Why don’t you like Star Wars?” And he said, “Where’s Earth?”

Craig: That’s awesome.

Jason: I swear to god. This is a week ago.

Craig: That’s an amazing critique of Star Wars.

Jason: Yeah, he said, “They never talk about Earth. They never go to Earth. Why is no Earth?” And I said, “Well, you know, it’s Star Wars. It’s in the stars.” And he said, “No, no, I get it. But you know…” he had an idea. He didn’t just have a problem. He had a solution. He said, “You know what’s a good film? You see the Battleship?” And I said, “Peter Berg’s Battleship?” And he said, “Yeah, si, si. They’re on Earth. And the soldiers on Earth and marines. Watch the film Battleship.”

And I said, “You want me to write this film – you’re going to pay me, you want me to make it more like Battleship than Star Wars?” And he said, “Watch Battleship again. You’ll see what I’m talking about.” And I literally called the studio. I said, “I can never speak to that human again.”

Craig: No. And then I assume he was like, “Now I got to go make the meatballs.”

Jason: These are terrific notes. I wish I had rule notes.

Scott Rosenberg: To me, the greatest notes story of all time is–

Jason: That was not the greatest notes story of all time?

Scott Rosenberg: No. No. No.

Megan: I’m going to let you finish.

Scott Rosenberg: That was the best rendered notes story of all time.

Jason: Fair.

Scott Rosenberg: The best performed notes story of all time.

Jason: I’ll take it.

Scott Rosenberg: But the great William Goldman story was, you know, William Goldman notoriously only lived in New York City and hated Los Angeles, like a sickness. And he would come out for five seconds and he did his version of Maverick. He wrote his draft of Maverick, and he flew out and they took him to Warner Bros. And he had the meetings with the guys at the time, there was probably Lorenzo and Robinov. And they came in and they gave him his notes and they said, “So we really like it. Everything you’ve done is wonderful. We just wish it was smarter and funnier.”

And Bill Goldman said, “So do I.” Which is like we never turn in what we don’t think is the best, right?

Dana: It also dovetails with things that have happened to you in test screenings, or notes you’ve gotten in test screenings.

Craig: Those are the best.

Dana: Yeah. I had one – they give you the little forms afterwards. You fill them out. And it said, “Was there anything about the movie you didn’t like?” And this person wrote, “The movie.”

Oren: That’s great.

Craig: Somebody, I can’t remember who, has one of those cards framed and under the what would you change and somebody had scrawled, “More boobs,” but they had spelled it B-E-E-W-B-B-S. The most tortured spelling of boobs possible, so you knew it was real. They really wanted to–

John: Nice. John the Wizard, thank you very much for playing. You get the deck anyway.

Craig: Thank you, John the Wizard.

John: We weren’t going to let you go away without the deck. Thank you to our amazing panel. You guys were great. Thank you for playing the game with us.

Craig: These people want to drink. I get the sense they want to drink. Let’s wrap this up.

John: Let’s wrap this up. Guys, thank you for an amazing show. We need to thank some of the special people here first.

Craig: Thank you folks.

John: A little talking here. We need to thank Megan McDonnell, our producer.

Craig: Megan McDonnell.

John: We need to thank all of our amazing panelists for coming up here. Thank you guys very much for playing. And we need to thank Colin and the amazing Austin Film Festival for having us here once again. Guys, thank you very much for having us back each year.

Craig: Thank you, Austin.

John: It’s so much fun to do the show. Thanks guys.

Craig: Thanks guys.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

johnaugust.com

2017 Austin Film Festival: Scott Frank

A 3-part series of reflections on observations made by top Hollywood writer.

One of the panels I attended at the recent Austin Film Festival featured Scott Frank. Moderated by Craig Mazin, Frank — whose screenwriting credits include Dead Again, Little Man Tate, Malice, Out of Sight, Minority Report, Marley & Me, and Logan — delved deep into his creative and writing process. I thumbed my way through copious notes on my iPhone notes app. Over the past few days, I’ve done a series of reflections based on comments made by Frank during the talk.

Scott Frank

Part 1: “The first paragraph of a screenplay can tell you if they can write.
The first five pages can tell you if they have a voice.”

Part 2: “It has to come from character. I’m always going back to the people.”

Part 3: “You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader.”

Twitter: @scottfrank.


2017 Austin Film Festival: Scott Frank 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

2017 Austin Film Festival: Scott Frank (Part 3)

Reflections on observations by Out of Sight and Minority Report screenwriter.

One of the panels I attended at the recent Austin Film Festival featured Scott Frank. Moderated by Craig Mazin, Frank — whose screenwriting credits include Dead Again, Little Man Tate, Malice, Out of Sight, Minority Report, Marley & Me, and Logan — delved deep into his creative and writing process. I thumbed my way through copious notes on my iPhone notes app. Over the past few days, I’ve done a series of reflections based on comments made by Frank during the talk.

Scott Frank

Today:

You can’t be a writer if you’re not a reader.
You’re using words in your script and reading books feeds that.
I read everything. Always learning how writers write.

It’s simple: Writers read.

Why?

It’s about words.

As Scott says, we use words in our writing. Reading exposes us to new ways to use words. As Rumer Godden wrote:

“A writer who has never explored words, who has never searched, seeded, sieved, sifted through his knowledge and memory… dictionaries, thesaurus, poems, favorite paragraphs, to find the right word, is like someone owning a gold mine who has never mined it.”

It’s about writing.

When we read, we take in how a writer writes. Whether conscious or unconscious, that can influence how we write.

It’s about the soul.

Creative expression is an outer exhibition of energy. Stories feed the soul and refuel our creativity.

Watch movies. Watch TV. But don’t forget: Read.

Words of wisdom from Scott Frank.

On November, his new series ‘Godless’ debuts on Netflix.

Jeff Daniels in ‘Godless’.

‘Godless’ website here.

Twitter: @scottfrank.


2017 Austin Film Festival: Scott Frank (Part 3) 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

2017 Austin Film Festival: Scott Frank (Part 2)

Reflections on observations by Out of Sight and Minority Report screenwriter.

One of the panels I attended at the Austin Film Festival featured Scott Frank. Moderated by Craig Mazin, Frank — whose screenwriting credits include Dead Again, Little Man Tate, Malice, Out of Sight, Minority Report, Marley & Me, and Logan — delved deep into his creative and writing process. I thumbed my way through copious notes on my iPhone notes app. Over the next several days, I’ll do a series of reflections based on comments made by Frank during the talk.

Scott Frank

Today:

It has to come from character. I’m always going back to the people.

Why character?
It’s about what makes a person a person.
What do they want?
What do they fear?

It’s the low grade fever of what your characters are about.

What is it that speaks to me?
Is this a character I like?

These are my hastily typed takes on what Scott was saying, so perhaps more paraphrased than actual quotes. However, during his talk, it was abundantly clear how critically important Scott believes working with characters is to crafting a story. Indeed, the references above are scattered throughout his comments as he kept returning to the subject again and again.

Those of you who have followed my blog for any time know that I promote character based screenwriting. My mantra:

“Start with character. End with character. Find the story in-between.”

Based on what I heard in Scott’s comments, I feel safe in saying I think he aligns with this perspective.

So what’s the big deal of working with characters?

Characters are Plot.

Their wants, needs, fears, personal histories, backstories, and destinies — especially the Protagonist — emerge as the backbone of the story’s structure.

Characters are Theme.

Whatever thematic point of a story is, it’s invariably tied to the emotional and psychological journey of the Protagonist and other key characters.

Characters are Dialogue.

Scott hit on this point a few times in his talk. For example, he said, “If I can write dialogue, I can hear the characters, and I know I can continue process.” His comment reminded me of the response the great playwright August Wilson gave when asked how he wrote such great dialogue: “I don’t. They do.” The ‘they’ in question were his characters.

In sum, characters are STORY. Everything you need to know is right there inhabited within and by your characters.

It has to come from character. I’m always going back to the people.

Great advice. Always lean into your characters. Always go back to the people who exist within your story universe.

More tomorrow from the 2017 Austin Film Festival panel featuring Scott Frank.

Here is a teaser for Scott’s Netflix series ‘Godless’ which he wrote and directed. The series debuts this on November 22.

‘Godless’ website here.

Twitter: @scottfrank.


2017 Austin Film Festival: Scott Frank (Part 2) 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

2017 Austin Film Festival: Scott Frank (Part 1)

Reflections on observations by Out of Sight and Minority Report screenwriter.

One of the panels I attended at the Austin Film Festival featured Scott Frank. Moderated by Craig Mazin, Frank — whose screenwriting credits include Dead Again, Little Man Tate, Malice, Out of Sight, Minority Report, Marley & Me, and Logan — delved deep into his creative and writing process. I thumbed my way through copious notes on my iPhone notes app. Over the next several days, I’ll do a series of reflections based on comments made by Frank during the talk.

Scott Frank

Today:

The first paragraph of a screenplay can tell you if they can write.
The first five pages can tell you if they have a voice.

Both of these are critical. And as Scott notes, both need to be apparent at the earliest stages of a script’s pages.

How can you tell if a writer can write from the first paragraph of a script?

They have a solid grasp of and love for the English language.
They know how to immediately set the tone and atmosphere of the piece.
They are smart enough to write something which is entertaining.
They are clever enough to exploit a narrative element which hooks the reader.
They embrace visual writing.
They engage the reader’s emotional life.

Bottom line, as per Scott Frank, they establish right up front that they are in control. They know the craft, they know this story universe, and they know how they want to tell the story.

All that in a first paragraph.

How can you tell if a writer has a voice from the first five script pages?

They create a consistent tone throughout the script’s opening.
They convey personality through both dialogue and scene description.
They match style to genre as an active reflection of the story’s feel.
They exhibit something distinctive in the interplay of moments and scenes.
They make a reader feel there is a real character telling the story.

From their words on the page, the writer exhibits a unique narrative voice, specific to this story, this writer, these pages.

All that in a script’s first five pages.

It’s a lot to ask. It also speaks to how important it is to accomplish both goals straightaway in a script. It not only can grab a reader’s attention and propel them into the story, it also creates a kind of mental lens through which one interprets and experiences the entire rest of the story.

When you know the writer can write… has a firm control of the story… has a distinctive voice… and that’s all established from the first paragraph through the first five pages…

That sets us up to look forward to the rest of the script with anticipation and hope that these pages we’re going through…

It’s a good read.

More tomorrow from the 2017 Austin Film Festival panel featuring Scott Frank.

Here is the trailer for Scott’s Netflix series ‘Godless’ which he wrote and directed. The series debuts this month.

Those of us in attendance at Scott’s Austin Film Festival panel got a sneak preview of a second ‘Godless’ trailer. The series looks great, really looking forward to watching it!

‘Godless’ website here.


2017 Austin Film Festival: Scott Frank (Part 1) 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