Scriptnotes, Ep 324: All of It Needs to Stop — 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 Episode 324 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today, it’s another round of How Would This Be a Movie, where we take a look at stories in the news and figure out how to make them into feature films.

Craig: Exciting.

John: Exciting. We’re back doing our normal show. I like our live shows, but it’s good to be back on Skype with you, not in the room.

Craig: Yeah. This is sort of like coming home to your own bed, right?

John: It is.

Craig: Sleep in our little jammies, and we get to be in our own bed. But it is fun to stray away and do those. And that live show, I have to say, was outstanding. If for no other reason than Jason Fuchs’ story about Star Wars and Battleship.

John: It was a fantastic episode. And if people have not listened to it yet and would like to download and listen to it now, we’ve actually put an updated version in the feed because there were some weird clips in it that basically somehow some of the cross fades got turned into blunt cuts. And so Matthew fixed it. So, Matthew, thank you for doing that. But it sounds delightful.

Craig: It was a really good one. And rather than list them all by name, we’ll just say thanks to the – how many – 12 people that were on the panel with us?

John: There were a lot of people. It was great. It was a good show. Just shows what some planning can do. Some planning. Some organization.

Craig: Well, you know, I don’t want to be a jerk, and as you know–

John: You don’t want to be a jerk.

Craig: Of course, I do actually both am and also want to be a jerk. Three people came up to me and said, “Love the show. Last year’s was better.”

John: Oh, OK. I heard the same thing from other people, so–

Craig: Listen, you know what? Some people like chaos. Some people like planning.

John: Absolutely. I mean, that’s why you have the grid of all the alignments and all the different possibilities.

Craig: Yes. All of my fans are chaotic neutral.

John: That makes sense. I got the lawful good.

Craig: No doubt.

John: Sewn up. Before we get into show today, Craig, you wanted to talk about predators, and not the Arnold Schwarzenegger-defeated kind.

Craig: No, no. and I guess this will – we’ll file this under chaotic evil. You know, we’ve all been absorbing an enormous amount of news about Hollywood, people that are inside of it. People that want to be inside of it. And also people that are outside of it and are just casual observers. And what we’re seeing is a cascade of people being accused very believably of terrible behavior, both sexual harassment, sexual assault. And it seems like every day brings a fresh delivery of some kind of predator.

Some of these people are people that we know and we’re shocked by. Some of them, I think, the folks that maybe get a little bit less coverage outside are people that maybe those of you at home don’t know and nonetheless have terrible things.

I was reading an account of a manager, for instance, who was recently accused by multiple people of rape, Cosby-style, drugging of drinks and then rape, and then threats afterwards to keep it quiet. So naturally I think a lot of people may be terrified of our business right now, and with good reason.

So I wanted to talk a little bit about some realities here. First of all, I believe that the great majority of people in the entertainment business are not violent, evil, manipulative human beings. What we’re seeing right now is an exposure of the many who are. And there are many. And I’m glad for it.

So, on the one hand, I don’t want people to be scared away. I specifically don’t want good people to be scared away. We need more good people. We need to increase our percentage of decent human beings in this business. On the other hand, I do think it’s important that we talk a little bit about what to be on the lookout for. Everybody has a sense, I think, of how to protect themselves against a predator. And yet, I think, some of these people are really sophisticated. So I wanted to just talk a little bit about what to look out for and how to protect yourself.

John: That sounds good. Because I think all of us have some training in sort of safety and awareness. You’re outside, you’re walking on the street. These are things to be watched for. But it’s a strange thing when you get invited into what seems like it should be a safe place to make sure that you’re actually safe.

Craig: Yeah. There’s a moment in the – I may have even mentioned it on the show already – a moment in the American remake, the Fincher remake of Girl with the Dragon Tattoo where Stellan Skarsgard’s character says, “It’s amazing how people are more afraid of being impolite than they are of being in pain.” And I think that’s sort of at the heart of a lot of this and that is what a lot of predators are relying on.

So, for starters, if you find yourself in a situation where you feel like things are going wrong, or heading towards a dangerous place, and the only thing that’s keeping you from extracting yourself from it or expressing that this is not at all the way you want things to go for yourself, the only thing in between that and what’s happening is a concern that you might be impolite, dispense with that concern. I don’t think anybody is going to get in trouble for expressing their need to feel safe.

So, right off the bat don’t worry so much about offending or being impolite. If you say something that is neutral and firm and dispassionate like, “I’m sorry, but this is uncomfortable for me and I don’t like the way this is proceeding. Can we please stop doing this, or this, or this?” The one thing you don’t have to worry about is offending someone. The only people that will be offended by that are people that were planning on doing something bad.

John: I agree with you. So that could be about the situation you’re in in terms of physically or sort of that there are not other people around, that you’re being pressured in some uncomfortable way. Extricate yourself from that situation and don’t be afraid to and don’t feel bad about it. You have the right to your own safety.

Craig: Absolutely. And you may find yourself in a situation where it’s not that someone is doing something that you are outwardly concerned about as much as you have a feeling about somebody. In that case, there’s actually no risk of being impolite because there’s nothing to actually say overtly. However, trust your instinct about this person. It’s not that you are always going to be right. You may, in fact, not be right, which is why – obviously you don’t want to end up in a situation where you’re constantly getting up in the middle of a meeting or interrupting in a phone call to say this feels like harassment, or there’s something about you and you sound rapey to me. That obviously won’t go very well.

But if you have a sense inside, listen to it really carefully. Let that guide you about how you’re going to interact with that other person in terms of being alone with them, etc. And most importantly talk to people and let them know this is how you feel. And ask them if there’s anything to support that concern. Because, look, there are some people that are just odd. We are a creative business. Some of us are odd. And we can sometimes misinterpret people as being creepy when maybe they’re on the spectrum, for instance. Right? But heed your concerns, that inner voice. Don’t push it away and definitely don’t start engaging in one-side bargaining with yourself that this is sort of what you have to deal with in order to get ahead. You actually don’t.

Nobody has to actually deal with this stuff to get ahead. That’s just the lie they put out there.

John: Absolutely agree with you. I think one thing that’s also important to remember is that some of the situations that come up could be prevented if we just had some better rules and structures and codes of conduct in place, not to sort of stop the predator, but to help the person who is vulnerable to it from getting into that situation. I think about things like a rule like “no meetings in hotel rooms.” Or rules about whether PAs are allowed to be in trailers or not allowed to be in trailers.

If you have a system where you set up some rules about what can happen and what can’t happen, those could protect people because it gives them a reason for saying why they’re not doing certain things. So I look at some of these things that have happened, you know, the recent incidents. If there were some structures in place there, I bet the people involved would feel more empowered not to have gone into those situations.

Craig: I completely agree. And it may sound odd to say that we need the kind of rules that govern, for instance, the way doctors deal with patients. But we have to acknowledge that there’s something about our business, film and television, particularly for people that want to be performers in front of the camera, but I think just as vitally for people that want to write or want to direct, there are so few jobs. The business is so glamorous. It is – well, it’s the dream of a lot of people.

And what this means is there is an enormous amount of desperation. There is a desperation to get a job and succeed in this business in a way that there is in almost no other business at all. And that desperation is the most fertile possible ground for predators to flourish in and to do what they do.

So, for instance, if you have a male doctor and he’s going to be doing some sort of physical exam on a 13-year-old girl, then there needs to be a female medical professional like a nurse in the room with him, or even another doctor if possible, so that there is no question or concern. It is for everyone’s protection. And I do feel like our business needs to acknowledge the amount of desperation. Acknowledge how vulnerable everybody is.

By the way, if you’re following along in the news, men and women – this is not just about women. We’ve seen an enormous amount of reports now from men who have been preyed upon. So, everybody is potentially a victim here. And if the business codified itself in such a way as to acknowledge that there is fertile ground for bad behavior, I think you’re right. We could actually avoid quite a bit of it.

John: I agree.

So, I also want to talk about – there’s kind of a spectrum of terrible things that are happening. And so right now we are talking about the predators who are doing these criminal acts – rape, and sexual assault, attempted rape. But at the other end of the range there’s just kind of boorish behavior in rooms. And people behaving stupidly. And that’s kind of more what we talked about with Daley and Dara when they were on the show was what do you do when it’s not, you know, a physical thing, but it’s kind of a constant small little cuts of things. They’re both big things, and they’re both important, and we need to be talking about all of it, because I worry about by only focusing on these big spotlight predators committing identifiable crimes we’re going to overlook I think a more pernicious problem that’s really out there which is this problem of sexual harassment, problem of gendered bullying that’s going on.

And I worry that that kind of stuff that’s going on could end up really costing us a generation of women and minority writers who sort of eventually they check out. They ask themselves, “Is it worth it? Am I actually any good at this? Maybe I should just leave, because everyone is sort of telling me that I’m good enough at this. Maybe they’re right.”

I’m worried that if we only focus on these big spotlight things, the things that have criminal charges and lawsuits, that we’re not going to be focusing on the stuff that I think is really more addressable by all of us. By writers.

Craig: I couldn’t agree more. I mean, the one thing you don’t want to do in the middle of a murder epidemic is ignore the stabbing epidemic, right? And you have people in the room now who perhaps would be subject to a statement like the following: “What? I’m not Harvey Weinstein. I’m not raping anybody. I’m just repeatedly saying things that demean you all the time.”

So, from our side of things, let’s say we’re talking about decent folks who are in these rooms, for starters if you feel like your work environment is demeaning to you, then you need to listen to that. There is a general – we’ve talked about this on the show before – a general motivation by the industry to demean writers in particular. All writers. Of any race, color, age, gender. Because it is I think, well, it’s good for them. It’s good for their power dynamic. They like keeping us down. Particularly in features.

So, when it’s happening, particularly if you’re a writer, since we’re a show for writers, one thing you need to be aware of is it may not always even be gendered. It may be vocational. But regardless of why it’s happening, when it’s happening I think it’s important to start reaching out to people that might also be feeling like you. Not everyone is the same. Some people are OK with some kinds of jokes, and some people aren’t. Some people go to a show where a comedian is sort of famous for being really dark and really on the edge of things and really transgressive and they love it. People of all walks of life.

And then there are people who would never go anywhere near that, because it just makes them feel bad, right? So you may not find that everybody is in agreement. You may be the person that thinks this is not good for me. That’s enough. And then you got to kind of figure out how to get yourself out of there and get to something else.

And I don’t mean to sound glib about that. I know that people are desperate for work. They’re desperate for jobs. But we have one trip around. And if you put yourself in a position where every day you feel terrible, I can assure you that two things are going to happen. One, you will not succeed at that job. It is not possible to succeed in a job where you feel emotionally devalued. And, two, it is going to have long-term effects on your desire to keep working anywhere. That whole business and craft will start to become tainted to you. Even I, as the straight white male, going through my Bob Weinstein experience, coming out the other end, felt about as demotivated and disinterested in writing as I have felt in my life. And for good reason. And I had to dig myself out of that with tremendous effort.

So, I should have stopped much, much, much, much earlier. And I guess that’s my advice to you. In the short term, it may seem like a grave cost. I believe in the long term it will have benefits. But, seek out allies. Even two. Even two people. That’s more serious than one. Two people saying we’ve got to change this culture is good.

John: Well, let’s talk about allies, because sometimes you’re not the person who is the focus of this bullying or whatever you want to call it. Sexual harassment. But if you see something, say something. And that may be saying to the person who is being harassed, like, “Hey, I saw that happen and that wasn’t cool. What can I do? Do you want to do anything?”

Don’t assume that there’s a logical next step. But just being there and sort of acknowledging that this is a thing that happened, that’s good. That’s helpful. And that lets that person know that not everybody around you is doing that same kind of stuff or supports that kind of stuff.

Write it down. If you see these things that happen, write it down, just so you have a contemporaneous record of what happened. And, also, I’m really curious. I’ve talked to some writers in rooms who have codes of conduct for their writing room. Basically, everyone agrees that these are the rules of the room. And sometimes it’s about “You can say anything, but don’t direct it towards a person. Like you can talk about a kind of person, but you can’t talk about that one person in the room.”

But if you are a writer on a show, and you have some sort of code of conduct or writer’s room rules, I’d love to see those. So if you feel like sending them into ask@johnaugust.com, we’d love to talk through them on a future episode.

Craig: That would be great. And I also – one last bit of advice. If you are contemplating joining any kind of joint writing situation, typically a television room, I think a smart question to ask is what kind of culture is in the room. And ask it without any implied judgment. Just say, “Look, I’m a certain kind of person. I tend to do better in a culture like this as opposed to a culture like this. What sort of culture is in your room?”

If you are somebody that needs a certain kind of culture and, well, they say, “Listen, we are really free-wheeling in here. We let it all out. We have no boundaries whatsoever,” then you may not want to work there. And if you do, I don’t think it’s necessarily going to be a big shock to you when you start to feel bad. They didn’t make a mistake. Nor did you. It was just a misfit.

John: Yes. I think that’s absolutely good advice. I will say that show that is so free-wheeling and anything goes, they may be making a mistake because there could be great writers who they are not getting because of their culture.

Craig: It’s true. It’s in comedy, really. We’re not talking about drama. There are comedies that live and die on their outrageousness. And what I don’t want to end up happening is ignoring the many women who are brilliant at being outrageous actually. I don’t want those outrageous shows to say, “You know what the easiest thing is let’s skip women and just stick with the dudes and we’ll be fine. And we can talk about whatever we want.” There are a lot of women that flourish in those situations. And what’s frustrating is I think that there can be a situation where things are outrageous and also not demeaning towards individuals in the room.

John: Exactly.

Craig: It’s doable. The one thing I will never make an excuse for is a free-wheeling room that starts to break down and demean individuals inside of that room. So I think that goes back to your code of conduct. And it’s really important.

John: Yeah. Put some guardrails on that.

Craig: Yeah.

John: All right. Let’s get to our big feature topic, which is How Would This Be a Movie. So, for people who have been listening to the show for a while, every once and a while we take a look at stories that are in the news and try to figure out like “Is there a movie there? And if there is a movie, how would you do the movie?”

So, some recent examples, some follow up on previous thing. We talked about this Danish submarine adventure.

Craig: Oh yeah.

John: And so the journalist he was with–

Craig: This guy needed some – what did you call them? Guardrails? He needed a lot of guardrails.

John: His name was Peter Madsen. He’s accused of murdering journalist Kim Wall on his privately built submarine. He continues to deny killing her, but he now says, yes, he did dismember her.

Craig: [laughs]

John: He says she died of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Craig: I’m sorry for laughing. It’s just this guy sounds like – he just sounds like Dr. Evil working his way through this really tortured confession where eventually he’s like, “OK, I ate a little bit of the head, but listen, hold on everyone. Don’t judge me.”

John: And so carbon monoxide poisoning, well, it’s his submarine. He did kill her. I mean, I guess he’s saying he didn’t intend to kill her. It was an accidental death, or like negligent homicide rather than just capital H Homicide.

Craig: I mean, look, when you are in a small enclosed space, and there is a carbon monoxide level high enough to kill one person, it’s fair to say it will also kill the other person, or that person will show some indications of carbon monoxide poisoning. But more importantly, John, if somebody were to suffer from some kind of carbon monoxide poisoning incident in your home, I presume your first instinct would not be to call 911. It would be to dismember that person and then bury them somewhere in the ocean.

John: Well, yeah. But to be fair, I’m not Danish. So it’s hard to say.

Craig: Great point.

John: Another international story we talked about was the French train bros. So these were three US service men who were on a train in France and stopped a terrorist from doing despicable things on this train. So, we talked about this. We knew that, I think last time we talked about this Clint Eastwood was attached to direct it. He did direct it. The movie is called The 15:17 to Paris. It’s written by Dorothy Blyskyl and you and I just coincidentally met her this week.

Craig: Yeah. There was a little WGA screenwriting outreach, which you were kind enough to run as a new board member, and you were brilliant at it. Thank you. And we met the very excellent Ms. Blyskyl, who is really new and maybe this will frustrate some of you out there. I think this is pretty much the first thing she ever wrote. And it’s like, great, now it’s a movie and Clint Eastwood is directing it. I personally love those stories. I always feel like those people – you know, when you have enough right at the jump to write something that people want to act in and produce and spend money on and direct, I think you’ve got the goods. So I’m really excited to see where Dorothy goes as she begins her journey here.

I’m pretty sure that you and I both agreed that that should be a movie, right?

John: Yeah. We agreed it should be a movie and it now is a movie. So that’s kind of awesome.

Craig: Exciting. And coming out, I believe, in February, right?

John: Yeah. So Dorothy is so new she hadn’t even been through the new member training. So this was her very first WGA meeting. And she got to hear all about the future of screenwriting. So that was good.

Craig: It was good. Sort of a happy thing. She also just mentioned that she felt at least that she was treated very well on that project. And I’ve heard that Clint Eastwood is very respectful to writers. So that’s good to see.

John: Good to see. All right, some new stuff. And so these are all pitches that came in from our listeners, except for the last one which you actually pitched this morning. So, the first story is about female inmates who battle wildfires in California. Essentially there are these conservation camps that are run by the Department of Corrections which inmates are on call 24/7 to fight fires. So, a fascinating fact is that inmates make up 14% of firefighters in California. And three of these 42 camps are for women. So this all comes from an NBC News video made by Matt Toder. Let’s take a listen.

[Video plays]

Reporter: California’s fire season has been particularly fierce this year. One solution is to use inmates to fight fires. Nestled in the posh hills of Malibu, California is Camp 13.

Female Voice: Camp 13 is an inmate firefighter camp where we are on call up to seven days a week. We can be called out at any time, day or night.

Female Voice: You get to save people’s houses and you get to help people. It’s really gratifying and empowering when you’re driving by and people are holding up signs saying thank you firefighters and they’re crying because you just saved their homes.

Reporter: Camp 13 is one of 42 conservation camps run by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. Inmates must volunteer for the program. And must pass physical evaluations. To be eligible, they also must have a record of good behavior and have been convicted of a nonviolent crime.

Female Voice: It’s definitely a challenge. When I saw actual live fire I got scared. I was like, “Oh my god, we’re actually in the fire.”

Female Voice: We’re the ones that carry the hose out. We’re the line of defense.

[Video ends]

John: Craig, what do you think of this as a movie topic?

Craig: I believe that by the time this episode airs this will have already been optioned to be developed into a movie. It’s the most movie-ish movie I can think of, frankly. I mean, particularly because you have a fascinating collision of something that is very current, a bunch of current things, and then something that is classically good in cinema.

So you have topics of incarceration, imprisonment, women inside the prison system. You have a discussion about nonviolent offenders. They must all be nonviolent offenders. I suspect that this connects also to things like drug policy and whether or not these people should be in prison at all. And you have just the general topic of humans who have struggled. My guess is almost all of them are lower or middle class people who have struggled. And now they have this chance at redemption, but maybe they shouldn’t have even had to been there in the first place. Maybe some of them do deserve to be there and what will this do for them and their character?

And all of that gets imposed on something incredibly movie-friendly which is fighting fires. Because your structure, your plot, you know it. You don’t have to reinvent that wheel. You know that they’re going to go through training. They’re going to go into prison. They’re going to meet each other. They’re going to have some trouble in prison. They’re going to be selected for this program. They’re going to go through training. There’s going to be a fire. It’s not going to go well for them. And they’re going to be questioning whether or not they should still be a part of this. And maybe one of them recommits a crime, whatever it is.

And then the third act there is a massive fire and they have to go. And they do brilliantly and maybe one of them dies. I mean, it’s got everything you need. All of it. It’s sort of like a make-your-own movie kit. I mean, surely somebody will make this into a movie.

John: I would be surprised if no one makes this into a movie. I want to focus on sort of the women that Matt talks to in this video, because it’s almost all done sort of first person, just people telling their own stories. And they’re really good. I liked all of those women so much. And they were so different. And they had sort of an emotional honesty which was really cool. And they’d actually been at this camp for a while, so you can imagine that there was an arc that they sort of went through where they’re mistrusting and sort of getting up to speed, but then they had a real pride in their work. And that was fantastic to see.

It reminds me a little bit of some of the stuff around WWII where you see like Swing Shift or where women are going into traditionally men’s things and finding a sense of empowerment by being trusted to do these incredibly important jobs. And maybe these women hadn’t been trusted enough and that’s what led them to this point. But I really – I got goosebumps listening to them.

Craig: I did, too. And I love their faces. They all had these great, great faces. And the general directive from studios is if you’re making movies now about groups of people you want to try and be as diverse as possible. Well, you don’t have to force it here. I mean, kind of in a weird way it almost felt like the prison system had cast these women. I mean, they were interviewing women from a particular firefighting, a DOC firefighting camp. So it’s not like they chose them for this report.

You had white women. You had black women. You had Asian women. You had Latina women. And you got the sense that what was uniting them, it was all separate – even gender wasn’t really uniting them. It certainly wasn’t race. It was their circumstance. And I think that that is beautiful. That you could tell that there was a sisterhood there of circumstance. And you have such a great opportunity to invent some amazing characters and some of them are mothers and they’re talking about their children and what this means for them when they get out.

One of them, her own mother was a firefighter. It’s just remarkable. Like that’s a great story right there. Your mom is a firefighter. You maybe felt like you were forced to follow in her footsteps. You rebelled. You had a difficult childhood. You got into trouble. You ended up in prison. And now what are you doing? Fighting fires and suddenly discovering that you’re good at it on your own terms.

Again, it’s sort of like the kit is right there. I think some movie studio would be nuts to not just immediately put this into development and make it, because it just feels so ready to go. And, by the way, this is one of those movies where when I see them I don’t mind predictable. I want predictable. The plot should be as predictable as possible. The characters should be surprising. Their circumstances should be surprising. I love that part.

John: I agree. And to me I think this is a mid-budget. Hidden Figures is really the template for how you make this movie. You cast people – some people you recognize. Some people who are unknowns. You make it with a good but interesting director. And from the trailer you probably have a pretty good sense of what’s going to happen in the movie and you’re really happy that the movie sort of follows that path. And I also like that it’s present day. It doesn’t have to have that shine of history and nostalgia. No, this is happening right now.

I think, you know, it’s a PG-13 movie and I think it works.

Craig: 100% somebody should make this immediatement.

John: All right. Second story we’re going to take a look at is a story by Beth Mole writing for Ars Technica. And so some dead bodies donated to research in the US end up in warehouses of horror.

Craig: Neat.

John: Neat. So here’s what happens is that people donate their bodies or their loved one’s bodies to science. And sometimes there’s a discount on funerals down the road, or they have the expectation that it’s going to be used for medical training for medical students. But this new study found that the whole business of human corpses and cadavers is really kind of messed up. And so a lot of times these bodies are used in ways that families never anticipated. Like they’re used to test impacts of different things on the body.

Craig: So great.

John: They’re cut up with chainsaws or they’re sold piece by piece, because sometimes bodies are worth more in pieces than they are as whole cadavers.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But a lot of times they’re also just kind of forgotten or left over and they’re stuck in piles in a warehouse. But the thing is it’s basically legal, so there’s not like law enforcement is going to come in and do something. Craig, what do we do with these dead bodies?

Craig: I don’t know. I mean, well, first of all just from a personal point of view, I would be the worst person to hire to write this movie because I have no problem with it. Because I don’t believe in God or the soul. So, I think that when you’re dead, the one person for sure in the world who does not care about what happens to that body is the person that used to live in it. They’re dead. So I kind of don’t care. I’ve actually never really, because I’m such a weirdo about that I guess, I don’t understand why people spend all this money on fancy funerals and cemeteries and burial plots. There’s this – I don’t know – thing, and people get really worked up about what happens to people’s bodies and stuff.

And I just remember when I was in high school and I was planning on being a doctor and I did a summer internship at the Mammoth County Medical Examiner’s Office, and I would – I’m 16 and I’m there helping out on autopsies. I wasn’t doing anything important, but of course, if you screw up on a dead body, well, not so bad.

Nothing, I think, teaches you more about what a useless chunk of meat we are when we’re dead than watching some autopsies. So, putting my weirdness aside, for anybody the problem with this movie is there are literally zero stakes.

John: Yep.

Craig: Stakes are the things that movie studios are primarily concerned with. If our hero fails, what happens? Obviously they keep pushing it towards the universe explodes, like that’s their ultimate – they love the universe exploding. They’ll settle for galaxies. Used to be the planet was fine. And way, way back when one person dying was a big deal.

But let’s say it never changes. What’s really at stake?

John: There’s really nothing at stake. And so what I find so interesting is it’s a really macabre setting. And so like you could envision some really gross stuff happening. So it’s a backdrop or it’s a place you go to in the course of another story. But I don’t think it’s really a story in and of itself.

I share your same sort of frustration with people’s fixation over bodies and funerals and all that stuff. It really is frustrating when you’re buying this really expensive casket to bury in the ground inside the concrete memorial. It’s like, oh my god, it’s just so much wasted time and money and energy. Especially families that really could use that money to do something else but–

Craig: I know.

John: That’s off-topic. Craig, well, a little on-topic. Craig, are you going to be cremated? What’s your plan?

Craig: Yeah. Whatever’s cheapest. Honestly. I’ve often thought about donating my body, so it really depends. I don’t think I have a specific donate my body thing, although my wife knows me well enough where it’s up to her. I’m assuming that I croak first. You know, she can do whatever she wants with the meat. I don’t really care. Literally. Anything.

I mean, she knows that if she wanted to she could just lacquer it, stick it on a pole, put it out in front for Halloween. I don’t care. Because I won’t be there. It’s not my problem. My watch is over at that point. But, yeah, cremate. Whatever’s cheapest, honestly. A nice home cremation.

John: A nice artisanal cremation?

Craig: Or just bury me in the backyard. I don’t care.

John: I’ve always been pro-cremation, but apparently it actually is a tremendous energy cost to do them.

Craig: Yeah, you know, there’s this wonderful – there’s like a strange sect of – not that strange to me – sect of Buddhism, I believe. And I think it’s Japanese. Where when – and very traditional – when people die, they’re asked to be – their bodies are just left in a field and they’re eaten by whatever animals come along.

John: Yep. Sounds good to me.

Craig: Yeah. The other one that I love is there’s a body farm. Did we ever talk about the body farm?

John: Oh, I don’t remember the body farm. Tell me about the body farm.

Craig: Body farm is – there are a bunch of them. Most of them are under the – I think all of them are under the auspices of some sort of law enforcement agency, like say the FBI. And they’re there to teach forensic investigators about dead bodies.

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: And the states of them. Because a lot of times what’s happening is they’re digging up corpses from murderers. And they’re trying to figure out, OK, how long has this person been dead? How did they die? And, you know, there are all sorts of things that you can learn, like at what stage are the larva that are feeding on the body. And what color is the body? And can you tell if a body was dismembered or was torn apart by animals?

So, yeah, I think that would be fun. [laughs] I think it would be fun if that were my purpose after I were gone.

John: Absolutely. For the study of maggots and their lifecycle.

Craig: Yeah, man. Whatever. Honestly, I would be OK if people ate me. I really don’t care. I really don’t.

John: I don’t care either.

All right, our final story is one that you found this morning and, Craig, talk us through what’s happening at Reed College.

Craig: Well, you know, you and I have been talking a bit about some of the things that have been going on on campuses across the country, and most notably we talked about what happened – was it at Evergreen or was it at Reed? Was it at Reed?

John: I think it might have been at Reed.

Craig: At Reed. Where Kim Peirce, the filmmaker who made Boys Don’t Cry, among other movies, was subject to horrendous treatment by students at Reed, not because they were homophobic/extreme right-wingers who were disgusted by her gender neutrality or her pro-trans work, but rather the opposite. They were far left and they didn’t think she was, I guess, far left enough. And they were terrible to her and insulting and crude and eventually she just left.

Well, one of the things that’s been going on at Reed College apparently is that there is a group of students, I think they’re called RAR, Reedies Against Racism, which seems like, yeah sure, you know. I’m against racism.

John: I don’t want to meet any pro-racists.

Craig: Yeah, like I’ll join that. That sounds good. Except what they do, because by the way, I can’t imagine there are too many racists at Reed. Like Reed which is known for being the most liberal college/university in the nation.

But what they’ve been doing is just occupying classrooms regularly, like maybe a dozen of them, and they just stand around the professor holding up signs in silent protest about whatever it is that they’re protesting about, which I think sometimes has to do with what’s going on in the class, and sometimes doesn’t. And it is a bit shocking. And what happened is they took over a classroom, a freshman year humanities classroom, and the teacher just stopped teaching because it was just overwhelming. And the protestors began talking to the students about why they were there and why they were doing what they were doing. And the freshman fought back. And it was quite invigorating.

Because what it really came down to was they were saying, “We’re here to learn. Can you please just let us learn? That’s why we came to college. We’re paying money so that this teacher can teach us. Get out. This isn’t your time. This is our time.”

And it was really fascinating to watch. There is some kind of war on campus thing to be done, the problem I see with it – and I’m curious to hear how you would address it is – how to tell a story like this without feeling like you’re just picking up some very clumsy left-wing or right-wing club and hitting people over the head with it.

John: I think it’s really tough to do this, but I read a script, a Sundance script, called Social Justice Warrior that Brett Weiner and Emma Fletcher did which is great and super, super funny and exactly sort of on point with this. And I remember thinking a lot about that sort of as this last year has happened and sort of as the world went crazy. Because it was such a great mocking of PC culture gone too far, which felt sort of weirdly irrelevant after Trump. Like, you know, the world was on fire in a different way, so why are you – it felt out of date already.

And so this reminded of like, oh that’s right, this thing still does happen. What I found the most fascinating about this article, so the one we’re talking about is by Chris Bodenner writing for The Atlantic, is that sense that RAR started probably with really good intentions. But good intentions, plus a charismatic leader, plus continued success can lead to some really weird places.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I recently reread Animal Farm and this reminded me of that where like, you know, we’re going to have a revolution and we’re going to take over the farm and it’s going to be better and it’s going be better for everybody and this is what we’re going to do. And inevitably it sort of becomes this weirdly oppressive, bullying system. Where, you know, they started going after the people who weren’t speaking up with them about racism. It’s like, well if you’re not speaking up with us then you’re against us.

Well, no, maybe I’m not speaking because I think you’re kind of idiots. But I’m too terrified to actually say that out loud.

So, I think that is the really interesting thing to approach. It might more be a play than a movie. There might be reasons why it works better in a situation where you can kind of close it in like on a stage rather than sort of breaking it out to a movie. But I thought there was a fascinating chart of you follow the person who has this idea and goes down this path and sort of leads this charge and kind of becomes the thing he or she was fighting against at the start.

Craig: Yeah. I think that’s great – and I love the fact that it was a comedy. I think comedy is a great tool for something like this because if you do it – I’m just speaking craft-wise. If you do it as drama, it is really hard to not be hitting people on the nose scenes and plot. So I agree with you. I think Animal Farm is a perfect analogy. By the way, it’s a book that for sure that the RAR folks would hate because it’s part of the white man canon.

There is an interesting thing about how the people on the right have routinely failed to acknowledge what happens if their position extends out too far. We see that in this country now where a number of people have taken their position out too far. And now there are Nazis marching around Charlottesville and elsewhere. And the people on what we’ll call the regular right just don’t seem to want to deal with it. And I think it’s really important for people on the left to be aware of what happens when they go too far to the left. Anything in those directions, you find that we’re all on a circle and the circle meets. And over on the far left and over on the far right, in the end what is the difference between Hitler and Stalin? Uh, not much.

John: They both become totalitarians.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I think I don’t want to make the comedy because I want Brett and Emma to be able to make their comedy. So I want to give them space to make theirs. I hope they do.

Craig: Fair.

John: I think I might go for the Sorkin-y kind of drama. I feel like there’s a way in which you can – you have really hyper-intelligent people who can talk in hyper-intelligent ways about why they’re doing the things they’re doing.

Craig: Right.

John: I think that’s really fascinating. And I wonder if there’s a way to sort of do Social Network of digging into what’s motivating these people and the degree to which they recognize what they’ve become as it is happening. And how little small things can snowball sort of beyond their control.

Craig: Yeah. It could be a very interesting 2017 version of The Paper Chase. Do you remember watching that show, which came from a movie? Where you do, you know, an eight or ten-episode season. And you’re following students as they move through. So you’re seeing different groups as they collide and people changing their opinions and changing sides. And you’re dealing with professors and it’s quite an extraordinary time. I mean, you have – in the article I believe there was a reference to a professor who at this point is just petrified. She’s petrified. And she’s black, or she’s mixed race. And she is gay. And she’s petrified about talking about any of the things that she wants to talk about like women and race and gender and politics because she’s afraid that she’s just going to step on some sort of landmine that people have buried there. Or, what a lot of professors are perceiving is the entire debate has been rigged for them to fail no matter what they do.

But that’s kind of the point is that they’re wrong. And they’re not good enough. And the do better – the favorite slogan, the one that you see on the signs over and over is Do Better. Meaning no matter what you’re doing now, you’re no good because you could do better. It is a fascinating time. And as somebody who is preparing to send his first child off to college fairly soon, I am extremely aware of it and concerned about that.

John: I think what’s also about making this kind of movie in 2017 is that generational shift and the sense that this generation is going to college approaches it much more like a consumer than like I’m just so lucky to have gotten in. They have an expectation of customer service that’s different than when you and I went to school. And so if things aren’t going the way they want them to go, they’re not sort of fighting necessarily the institution. They’re fighting for the things they want because they think they should get what they want.

That sounds sort of simplistic because of course there’s always been student protesting and I think student protesting often leads to some of the big protests throughout the United States. But it feels like a slightly different thing. A slightly more narcissistic than we had when we were in school or even in the ‘70s. So, I think it’s a different movie now and I think you could talk about some different things.

Craig: Yeah. There was an article I read about, John McWhorter, who I think is brilliant, linked to this article that another professor had written about some protests that happened at an event at Rutgers. And the entire panel was made up of academics and thinkers who are on the left. It was meant to be a panel about how to approach progressive policies as we move forward as a country. They were also protested terribly. It’s just like they weren’t left enough.

And one of the things that really I just kind of loved, but I was also really startled by, was one of the older people on the panel was a professor who had been really active as a student activist in the ‘60s and ‘70s. And he was listening to these protestors and he told them – and his whole thesis is what I want to do is win. What I want is for these progressive policies to be enacted. That’s the most important thing to me. And what he said to them was you are doing this and he said, “I have seen this movie before. I know how it ends. And how it ends is you achieve nothing.” And that was chilling and I think very accurate.

John: Yep.

All right, so let’s talk about these three potential movies. Of them, I think we have a clear winner of which one could and should get made. It’s the firefighter movie.

Craig: No question.

John: Second up is – do you think it’s Reed?

Craig: Yeah.

John: I think it’s Reed.

Craig: Because I think Reed could be maybe a TV show. I think it would be a really interesting TV show.

John: Yeah. And I don’t think we’re making the corpse movie, although like your body farm, I would take your body farm over that. Body Farm is a great title.

Craig: Well it’s a great title. I’m sure Joel Silver has that registered already.

John: Yes.

Craig: Among his many registered titles. I think that the dead body thing could be an interesting place to go if you needed a bizarre thing for some side characters to be doing. It’s a very Coen Brothers-y thing to imagine that you meet a couple of people and their day job is dealing with the corpse exchange business and it’s all business. That’s sort of fascinating and funny in a side trip way.

John: Oh yeah. That’s a way we didn’t get into. That’s just the backdrop of sort of a comedy or something else – a business comedy that the business is dead bodies.

Craig: Exactly. But it couldn’t be the main part of the story. It has to be a side thing. It’s just too gross.

John: I agree. Thank you to listeners who sent in these stories. So people have just been writing in to ask@johnaugust.com and saying, “Hey, how about this?” Or they’ll tweet at us and say, “Hey, how about this.?” I like that we’re getting people out there thinking like How Would This Be a Movie. So, let’s keep asking that question.

And now we’ll get to some actual listener questions.

Craig: All right.

John: First off we have Ben in the UK. He writes, “I’m from the UK, so I write in British English, but I’m wondering if there are moments where American English would be more widely understood. Specifically, I’ve written, ‘A trainer smashes the puddle into pieces.’ But I think trainer to describe a sports shoe is very British. It might mean something else to readers from say the US. I’ve tried sneaker, but it sounds false in context and too American. The setting is particularly English. I thought about getting more specific. ‘A battered Reebok Classic smashes the puddle apart.’ Which would kind of work fine here.

“But what about instances where I don’t want that kind of specificity?” So, Craig, let’s talk some British vs. American English and things he should be looking for.

Craig: I’m dealing with this right now, actually, because Chernobyl — I’m American obviously. And Chernobyl is going to be largely a cast of UK actors, with some Scandinavian actors as well. The story, of course, is a European story. So, the nice thing is because our production is based in London and one of my fellow EPs is British, they can kind of go, “OK, here’s some things that you don’t do.”

For instance, one that I had no idea of – saying, “I’m done.” If an American goes, “I’m done,” that means I’m finished. In England they don’t really say that that way for I am completed with something, or I’m out, or I’m not interested anymore. That’s almost more like I’m dead. So, we have to go through and kind of police some of that stuff.

If you’re British and you’re writing a movie about British things, then I think you’re fine to be British. And in action it’s OK. You can also do a version of your script for the readers. So if you know you’re going to be sending your screenplay to both British and American readers, I think it’s perfectly fine to change something like trainer to sneaker for the American readers. It may seem out of place to you, but I guarantee you very few Americans know that in the UK these kinds of shoes are not called sneakers. They’re called trainers. So I think it would be OK to kind of do two versions there. But also people are generally forgiving.

They kind of get it. The most important thing is that you’re not throwing stuff in there that’s super idiomatic. Or there’s just going to be no chance of people understanding it. But, I think people get – I mean, you and I, we’ve read Three Page Challenges that we’re like, oh, this person must be English. And we don’t freak out.

John: No, it’s absolutely fine. I ran into the same situation just this past week. So we are in previews – actually as people are listening to this, Big Fish will have just opened in London. And there’s a few words which we had to actually change to make sure that British audiences could understand. So, the word panhandler, like Craig what is a panhandler?

Craig: That’s a beggar.

John: Yeah. And that is a word that is common in the US and so the production had written to ask like, “Hey, is it OK if we substitute a different word for panhandler? Because we don’t know what that word means.” And so I asked on Twitter, like hey British friends, do you know what panhandler means? And they said that if they did it was only because they had watched it on American television. It just wasn’t a word that existed in their language.

Craig: Right.

John: And so beggar didn’t really work in context. It’s a line of dialogue, so it has to make sense. It’s part of a joke, so it has to make sense in context. So I went with homeless guy, which is just – everyone gets what that is and it doesn’t sort of jump out. But it does matter. So I would caution that like it matters in dialogue. If what Ben is describing is just an action line, he can say sneaker, he can say trainer, it doesn’t really matter. But I would change trainer to sneaker in a line of dialogue because that would be false for a British character.

Craig: Right. And that’s the thing. That’s what matters the most, because that’s what people are going to see. So, in Britain for instance the word “punter” means customer. If you have “punter” in your action description like, you know, “The bartender is busy filling drinks for the chatty punters,” that’s perfectly fine. But if you had an American referring to fellow bar patrons as punters, no. That’s right out.

John: That would not work at all.

Craig: No.

John: All right, let’s do one more question. This is an audio question, so we don’t even have to read it. Let’s listen.

Joe: I’m writing a crime thriller based in the ‘80s and ‘90s and I recently found a very old New York Times article on the topic. I emailed the author and we had a great Skype conversation, but I realize that I’m talking to a guy with over 30 years of journalism experience. My interview skills are just not as sharp as his. He’s recommended that I speak to three other stringer journalists, all with incredible resumes in global field work.

When I pitch them to have that first conversation, how can I best lure them in? To those people outside of the film industry, I’m just some guy who says he’s a screenwriter. I don’t even have an IMDb page. Can I offer them an executive producer credit if it ever becomes a movie? What exactly can I do to best appeal to them to have that first call? And any best practices once I have the call. Thanks.

John: Craig, can he offer them an executive producer credit?

Craig: [laughs] No. So, I was listening, Joe, I’m listening to your question and I’m like, this is a great question, totally reasonable, I have my answer. I’m feeling good about this. Then you got to the part where you’re like should I offer them an executive producer credit. And I literally jumped in my chair like it was a horror movie. Like a monster showed up.

For god’s sake, no, Joe. Here’s the situation. First of all, those aren’t your credits to offer anyway. You’re writing a screenplay, ideally you’re going to want to sell that screenplay to a movie studio, some kind of financing entity. And executive producer credits in feature films are typically reserved for people that are either running the kind of mini-major or who are part of the financing scheme of things. So, it’s not really yours to hand out.

But more importantly, it doesn’t matter if you have an IMDb page or not. Generally speaking, if you are coming to somebody and saying, “Listen, I’m writing a screenplay about blank. I am trying to do a good job. I hear that you did some great work and I would love to take 10 or 15 minutes of your time and talk to you,” people will be, generally speaking, happy to talk to you.

If they’re not, it means they didn’t want to talk to any screenwriter. They weren’t going to talk to John, they weren’t going to talk to me, they’re not going to talk to you. But there is actually no difference between you, Joe, or me or John, when it comes to just asking somebody if you can get 15 minutes to ask them questions about something they spent work on.

It’s flattering to people. They want you to get the story right. You can certainly say, “Listen,” and I have said this before, “I’m not necessarily in charge of the credits, but I will certainly advocate that you get a Special Thanks To, you know, in the credits somewhere. That’s the most of it.

John: 100% agree. So, I think what’s crucial about what Craig is talking about is that you’re asking for like 15, 20 minutes, like put that in the initial email. But I would also lead with the fact like, “Hey, I just got off the phone with whoever that first guy was you talked with who was so helpful giving me information about this. He recommended that I talk with you because you have so much more insight into how this one thing works.”

That provides context. It says like you’re not a crazy person. He can check back with that other person to confirm that you’re not a crazy person.

Craig: Right.

John: You’re only asking for 15 minutes. I think you’re going to get some yeses out of this. And hopefully get some good information.

Now, in terms of your interview skills, I would just stress like go in there with questions. Go in with things you’re curious to know, but then let it be a conversation. Because most of the really good stuff you get out of these is hearing people talk about their lives. Hearing them sort of lead the discussion in terms of what’s interesting and what’s fascinating.

Because that’s how you get beyond the 15 minutes because they like talking about themselves.

So, Joe, good luck. Get those interviews. Write your script.

Craig: Yeah, for sure.

John: All right. Let’s get to our One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is an interactive piece by Joel Eastwood and Erik Hinton for the Wall Street Journal, looking at the rhyme schemes in Hamilton.

So, Craig, we all love Hamilton. But what I loved about this page is they do a very great job of looking at sections of songs and figuring out how the rhyme schemes work inside that. Because it’s derived from a lot of modern hip hop and really sort of the last 20 years of hip hop, but really sort of systematically breaks down how the rhymes are working, the internal rhymes, the near rhymes.

It’s really great. And it sort of shows how sophisticated and how clever it is. And there’s a real logic to it. There’s a reason why those lines fit so nicely together. And it goes in and sort of looks at the Velcro that makes it all work.

So, I thought it was a really great piece about a show I already love.

Craig: Yeah, it’s wonderful. And the emergence of internal rhyming, you have to just tip your hat to hip hop. I mean, they elevated internal rhyming to a true art form. And what Lin-Manuel Miranda does in Hamilton is sort of the Holy Grail of it because it is both entertaining and it’s smart. It’s just really, really smart. It just feels so educated and so informed. He’s making references to history that you’d think like, geez, it would be really hard to do internal rhyming here, and he does it. And he moves the rhyming pattern around in unpredictable ways. It’s just fantastic. So, very, very cool article.

John: One nice thing I learned about internal rhymes from doing Big Fish is when they’re set up well they can also help you not only remember the lyric, but to hear when something goes wrong in the lyric. There’s a line in the first act where “He’ll be with me until he’s dead,” and that be-with-me-until-he’s-dead, the actress had flopped it in her head, so like “I’ll be with him until I’m dead or we’re dead.” And like, no, no, he’ll be with me. That internal rhyme helps the line stick. So, they’re very useful tools.

Craig: Yeah, for sure. I was extremely influenced by Miranda when I was working on my songs with Jeanine Tesori. And I was also influenced by Sondheim. I mean, he also gets credit. He definitely engaged in some remarkable internal rhyming. You listen to, in particular the songs from Into the Woods, sort of recently I was listening to this, I’m like, god, there’s so much going on in these lines internally that’s pretty complicated. And I love that.

John: Yep.

Craig: All right, well my One Cool Thing, is it cool? It’s like One Diverting Thing. This is one of those things where you’re bored, you’re sitting waiting. It’s an app called Tens. It’s a simple dice game. And the idea is you’ve got a grid. I think it’s a five-by-five grid. And you get random configurations of dice. Sometimes it’s a single die. Sometimes it’s three that are connected in an L-shape. And your job is to place them on the grid and in either a horizontal or vertical line have them add up to ten. And when they add up to ten, whoop, then those are gone.

And the goal is to hit a certain score before your grid is so cluttered that you can’t fit your new dice that are coming in into the grid. And it gets more and more complicated as you go. There are blocked out spaces you can’t put any dice onto. There are spaces that shift the die when they land on that space, all the way to the right, or all the way up. There are some spaces that destroy the die. So there is some strategy involved. But really it is just the prototypical sort of mindless time-waster that makes standing in line at the post office a little less horrifying.

John: So, Craig, the link you put in the show notes is to an article that says, “Tens, Sudoku-like Game has soft launched on iOS in the Philippines.” Do you know why that happens?

Craig: No. I don’t.

John: I do. I actually have the answer for you.

Craig: Why is that?

John: So as an app developer, I’ll tell you that when you submit things to the Mac or the iOS App Store, you can choose what territories you want to release in. And often a strategy has been you release in Australia or the Philippines or Brazil, Argentina, because they are markets that are big enough that you can actually see what’s working, but you can not sort of launch everywhere and especially not launch in the US or in Europe before the game is really ready.

So it passed the beta test, but you’re seeing what’s working. And if there’s in-app purchases, it’s a great place to test like what will people actually buy. How do I get them to go through it? So, sometimes you need it out there in the market to test it. And so you test it in places where it’s not as crucial.

Craig: Makes total sense. You’re looking for a place with a large population base, lots of smartphones, but culturally aren’t going to destroy you if maybe you stumble a little bit out of the gate.

John: It’s a way to test what your advertising strategy is going to be. Like what ads are you buying? What ads are going to be successful in getting people to click through and actually install the app. So that’s why you soft launch out in those markets.

Craig: I included this link only because typically when you find a link for an app like Tens, what you get – obviously that article is from a few months ago. It is now here. It’s everywhere. But you get the iTunes link which just hurdles you over to the iTunes app on your computer or on your phone. Then you don’t get any information about it really without launching another app.

John: I appreciate your thoroughness.

Craig: I knew you would.

John: All right. That is our show for this week. So our show is produced by Megan McDonnell, edited by Matthew Chilelli. Outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth.

Craig: Oh. By the way, can we – at some point does Rajesh Naroth just become our official composer?

John: Well, here’s the thing. So Matthew did the bulk of our original stuff, but now he’s in Japan and he’s not writing as many outros. Rajesh has stepped up. And Rajesh I think actually lives here in Southern California, so he’s local. He’s our local composer.

But if you have an outro you’d like us to play, send it in. We haven’t gotten any new outros for a while. So send it in to ask@johnaugust.com. Send us a link. That’s also the place to send questions like the ones we answered. We love it when people include voice memos that have their questions so that Megan doesn’t have to email you to say like, hey, would you mind recording that. Just record it the first time through.

On Twitter, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Look for us there.

You can actually look for me in London on Tuesday and Wednesday, so the day this comes out and the next day, because I’ll be there for the opening of Big Fish. So if you want to see me, I’ll be there. I’ll be in front of the theater, nervous.

You can find us on Apple Podcasts. Just search for Scriptnotes. While you’re there, leave us a review. That helps.

We have a Facebook page. We kind of update it every once and a while. Megan does post all of the episodes.

You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. You’ll also find the transcripts. They go up about a week after the episode airs. And all the back episodes are available at Scriptnotes.net. The first 300 episodes are also available on the USB drives at store.johnaugust.com.

Craig: So thorough.

John: Craig, it’s good to be back on Skype with you.

Craig: Good to be back on Skype. And the good news is you go to London, and then I go to London, again. So, let’s see how screwed up it gets. But, for now, ahhh.

John: For now, ahhh, so good. Take care.

Craig: Thanks man.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode 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

Scriptnotes, Ep 322: The Post-Weinstein Era — Transcript

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hey, this is John. So, today’s episode has some strong language. Standard warning. You know what, headphones might be appropriate. Also, on today’s episode we talk about some serious things including sexual assault. If you have been a victim of sexual assault, please know you are not alone. Consider contacting rainn.org, or call their national sexual assault hotline at 1-800-656-4673. Thanks.

Hello and welcome. My name is John August.

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is Episode 322 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the podcast we’ll be discussing sexual harassment and other despicable acts in the case of Harvey Weinstein.

Craig: You just said that so merrily, by the way. [laughs] Yay, today we’ll be learning how to bake a nice cake and sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein.

John: But we’ll also be looking at what should happen or might happen in the post-Weinstein era, Craig.

Craig: There may be some cause for optimism there.

John: To help us do that and have that conversation we’ll be joined by two amazing guests. First off, Daley Haggar is a writer whose credits include Cristela, Anger Management, Friends with Benefits, and Big Bang Theory. She also wrote a terrific article for Lenny entitled “Why I’m Snitching on Hollywood’s Sexism,” which you can actually listen to in the Scriptnotes feed. We recorded that half an hour ago.

Daley Haggar: Hello.

John: Welcome to the show, Daley.

Craig: Welcome, Daley.

Daley: Thank you.

John: And also Dara Resnik is a writer whose credits include I Love Dick, Shooter, Jane the Virgin, Castle, and Mistresses. She also co-wrote an article this last week with Gillian Boher for the Washington Post titled “Don’t be so sure Harvey Weinstein is going away for good.”

Dara, welcome to the show finally.

Dara Resnik: Thank you for having me. I feel like this is long overdue, so I’m thrilled to be here.

John: It’s very long overdue.

Dara: For a terrible reason.

John: No, a terrible thing has brought us all together.

Dara: It’s true.

John: So before we get into the meat of the episode, we have some news and some business, some podcast business. Craig, what is the most common request we get as we go to live shows and as people are coming up to us and saying, “Craig Mazin, when will you provide us with…”

Craig: With branded meat snacks.

John: Those are not things that we actually provide to our listeners. We provide quality entertainment once a week, but we also provide clothing.

Craig: T-shirts.

John: Yes.

Craig: It was either going to be some kind of meat snack or a t-shirt.

John: So I’m happy to announce that we actually do now finally have t-shirts available for purchase. They are on Cotton Bureau, just like last time, but they are new shirts. They are brand new shirts.

Craig: All right, so new designs.

John: New designs.

Craig: And they’re spectacular designs.

John: Let us talk through the designs and we can have like honest feedback from our guests. They can tell us which of these things they would actually want to wear.

Craig: Awesome.

John: So, the first t-shirt is Scriptnotes Classic. It is a typewriter with the word Scriptnotes on top of it. What’s different about it this time is it comes in a normal light mode and a dark mode, so it’s the same t-shirt, the same colors, but there’s a dark t-shirt and a light t-shirt. I think it’s fun.

Dara: I like that one. I would wear that one, but I have gotten a preview and I think there’s one I like more.

John: All right. The one I think she likes more is called Umbrage & Reason. And it says Umbrage & Reason on it. And it also says Scriptnotes on the arm.

Craig: Now which one of us is Reason?

John: I think I’m Reason.

Dara: Definitely. Yeah. It’s like not even a question.

Craig: See, I would have said umbrage is reason. But I get it. I get it.

John: Yeah. Unreasonable people could have umbrage.

Craig: Yeah, I think that’s more of a raving to me. Umbrage, to me, is always justified. You’ll be hearing some of it today.

John: I think so. Our third and final t-shirt is the Umbrage Strikes Back. It is a Star Wars homage. It features the Scriptnotes little typewriter surrounded by laurels that suggest a Star Wars type universe.

Craig: And because you’re using my catchphrase, what percentage of the monies will I get?

John: You will get the standard Craig Mazin cut of all proceeds coming into the podcast.

Craig: So zero again?

John: Zero again. Our t-shirts help pay for Matthew who cuts the show, for Megan our producer, for hosting, and for all the other things. So, guys, thank you for buying t-shirts. But they’re mostly there because people like t-shirts and it’s a pleasure to see them out in the wild. Even this last month in London I saw them out on the streets of London, which was terrific.

Craig: Yeah, it’s very, very cool. We do see them and I was at a restaurant, just like a lunch, and I was walking out and it was one of those little side streets where you have to kind of park far away from the restaurant. It was Little Dom’s. Do you know Little Dom’s?

Dara: Oh, I love Little Dom’s. I used to love the original, the Dominick’s.

Craig: Where was that?

Dara: It was on Beverly. It closed.

Craig: OK. But this one is in Silver Lake I guess.

Daley: Los Feliz, I think.

Craig: Los Feliz, thank you. Thank you, Daley. But you got to park on some far flung street. And so there’s just a guy jogging by, and I just glanced over and he was wearing a Scriptnotes t-shirt and I went, huh. And then I kept walking and he just sort of stopped like, wait, you’re the t-shirt guy. And we had a nice little chit-chat and then he just kept on running. It was very cool. They’re out there in the wild. It’s always nice to see them.

It reminds me that people do listen to the show. I know that John is fully aware that people listen to the show. But I forget. All the time.

John: Yeah. We will be seeing a bunch of our Scriptnotes t-shirts, I suspect, in Austin. This next week we’ll be there for – we have two live shows. We have extra special events. So, come see us this week in Austin if you’re there.

Craig: Yeah. For sure. We will have an excellent, excellent time. And definitely check out the live show that we’re doing on Friday night. Because that’s the one where John and I and some other writers go and drink a little bit too much. Not too, too much, but we probably go over our standard 1.5 drinks.

John: Yeah. We might get all the way up to two. That’s what I heard.

Craig: Which is crazy for me, you know, with my little Jewish liver.

Dara: Like thirsty in the morning hungover, but not like headache hungover?

Craig: Yeah, yeah, that’s my thing. I don’t really have headache hangover. I either have thirty in the morning hungover, or dead. Like dead all day. I can’t do it. Yeah, my liver doesn’t really—

Dara: Work?

Craig: It works, like in the sense that I’m not jaundiced all the time. But it cannot – like you’re German. You could probably drink an enormous amount.

John: I can. Yeah. I can drink an enormous amount.

Craig: But like, Dara, I’ll bet you cannot drink that much before you get crazy sick.

Dara: I can drink. I can hold my own. I think there are a lot of people who might be listening to this who would say, “I’ve seen Resnik hold her own.”

Craig: Really? So all this time I’ve been blaming it on being Jewish, and it’s just that I suck.

Dara: And I’m really Jewish, and smaller than you.

Craig: Yeah, oh no, for sure.

Dara: We should test this and see which one of us can—

Craig: No we shouldn’t, because I don’t want to lose. And then I’ll be dead. You were not listening.

Daley: This podcast is a drinking contest.

Craig: It would be an amazing drinking contest.

John: Yeah. We replaced your water with vodka and we’ll see how it is at the end of the show.

Craig: Blah.

John: Blah. Last bit of news. This is a segment we’ll call John’s WGA Corner, because I actually have a few things I need to talk about. First off–

Craig: WGA Corner! You just named that on your own. I’m coming up with a better name for that. Not today. I’ll think of one. Go ahead.

John: If you are a WGA member and you got an invite in your email box to come to an outreach lunch, please do. This last week I was happy to host a lunch for screenwriters where we talked through issues. And it was really great. And to just have 15 people around a table to talk about what’s really going on was a unique opportunity.

My question for you guys. I asked in the room how many of you have changed agents or managers in the last two years. What do you think the show of hands was? What percentage of people raised their hand?

Dara: I would say very few. I would say 5%.

Daley: Yeah.

Craig: I would go a little higher. I would say it actually probably – because it’s agents and managers. I would say it’s closer to a third.

John: It was more than 50%, approaching two-thirds.

Dara: Wow.

John: And so when you actually dig into why they switched agencies or managers, it’s really fascinating. So, that was a thing we wouldn’t have known about if people hadn’t come to these lunches.

So if you get an invite to come to one of these, please do. We’re talking to screenwriters first, but we’ll be talking to other writers in other categories down the road. So, if one of these things shows up in your email inbox, please do come, because it’s incredibly helpful to us.

Second off, if you are a writer who is working in comedy variety, so you’re writing for a show like Colbert, or Samantha Bee, the process of applying to get one of those jobs, you end up submitting a writing packet of your stuff, a submission packet. Daley, have you ever done that? You’ve written comedy before.

Daley: Many, many times.

John: So, a thing I was just naïve and didn’t understand is that I assumed it was just things you had already written, but they actually ask you to write specific things for that show. And I got sent a few of those things, the submission packet requests, and it was tremendous amount of work. And it felt like a lot of unpaid labor.

And so that’s a thing the WGA is looking at now. So, if you are a WGA member who has gotten one of these submission packet requests and it seems like, wow, that’s just a crazy amount of free work they’re asking for, send it in. There’s an email address called contracts@wga.org. And we’re just taking a look at that to make sure it’s all kosher and above board.

What were things that you saw when you were doing that?

Daley: So, I know some shows do or used to, sort of, used to have a policy to prevent against either accusations of theft or maybe just people doing free work, but like Letterman for instance, I applied a million years ago. They have you write top ten lists about old news. And I think same for shows like The Daily Show. Because there was a controversy with the Jimmy Kimmel Show when it first started. They were asking people to generate theoretical material for this brand new show. Which makes sense why they would ask that in a packet, but I think the WGA did end up getting involved. There was a little settlement. I got like $ 150 or something. And my packet was terrible. There’s no way I was getting a job there. But, you know, I did get—

Craig: So it was not worth $ 150?

Daley: It really wasn’t. [laughs] But I just remember it was kind of that same free labor issue.

John: Yeah, a writer I was talking to described it as like imagine you were trying to get staffed on CSI and they asked you like, OK, write an episode of CSI. It was crazy in the amount of work they were asking for. And so trying to find where that natural line is is really important.

Craig: In the arrangement, though, they’re not saying that they’re owning that work I assume, right?

John: No, so they’re not saying that they own the work that comes in. They’re signing some sort of thing, but the point being if you’re writing a specific bit for one show, it’s great that you own that thing, but you’re not going to be able to use that for anything else.

Craig: I agree. It’s a real issue. But then, of course, you have to figure out how it is exactly that these shows are going to figure out who to hire.

John: Yeah. I mean, what some shows have turned to doing is they look at sort of general packets and then they ask specific people to write these things. So it’s not an open call for everyone to submit these things. They’re asking – or they’re even paying.

Craig: Well that’s the thing. You could actually just give someone $ 5,000, satisfy the minimum basic agreement. Own the material, by the way. I mean, this is the part that blows my mind. If I were running one of these companies, no, I’m not going to throw $ 5,000 across the board to 100 people. No. But if I look at general packets and I narrow it down to 10 candidates, of course I’m going to spend the $ 50,000. And also if – and then I get to keep the work. It just doesn’t make any sense.

John: It doesn’t make any sense. And we’re talking about comedy variety people, but the issue of leave-behinds when you’re going to pitch a feature. The same type of thing where that is spec work you’re asking for people, and that can be really problematic, both for the writer and legally for the people who are asking for it.

So, again, if you are encountering these kind of situations, write in to contracts@wga.org. And we just want to keep an eye on it.

Dara: I actually think this is related to some of what we’re going to get into, which is a culture of respect for people in this business. And I think that’s pervasive in all ends.

John: I agree.

Craig: Amen.

John: So let’s get to the topic at hand. So, to recap, in case you’re listening to this a year later and trying to remember hey what happened, because like before the nuclear war.

Craig: But there’s still podcasts.

John: There’s still podcasts. Because, remember, we sell these USB drives that are indestructible.

Craig: Indestructible.

John: Yeah.

Craig: That’s not tempting fate at all.

John: No, not a bit.

So, Harvey Weinstein and his brother, Bob Weinstein, created Miramax. And then later the Weinstein Company. Together they produced hundreds of movies, everything from Sex, Lies, and Videotape, The Crying Game, Pulp Fiction, The English Patient, Shakespeare in Love, The King’s Speech. Plus, Scary Movie.

Craig: Yes. Scary Movie 3 and 4. I worked almost exclusively for Bob Weinstein for about seven years.

Dara: Wow.

Craig: So I have perspective.

John: You have perspective. October 5th, this past year, New York Times ran an article by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey entitled “Harvey Weinstein Paid Off Sexual Harassment Accusers for Decades.” So that one detailed – started talking about Ashley Judd, but other actors and employees who were working for him and encountered terrible, terrible things that he was doing.

A subsequent article by Rowan Farrow for The New Yorker extended the list of other bad things that had happened. Weinstein was fired. And that sort of catches us up to now. So, we were off the air for two weeks while this was all happening, but in some ways I think it was good that we have a little bit more distance and perspective. We’re not talking about current events, but sort of more what happened in general and what can happen next.

Craig: Well, who wants to dig in on this? I mean, you both did excellent work, I have to say, both the article and the essay were fantastic. And I kind of – I mean, I have my own things to say about the Weinstein situation, but I’m sort of fascinated to hear what you guys have to say.

Dara: Do you want to – this is like that Amy Schumer sketch where like the women look at each other and it’s like—

Daley: Totally.

Dara: I’ve got nothing to say. You go first. Do you want me to dig in or do you want to—

Daley: Yeah, you can go and I’ll—

Dara: I’ll dig in. I thought this was one of the best things to happen in a while, while being completely horrified. I was really floored and impressed with the number of people who came forward in such a short period of time. You know, when the Cosby case broke, that was sort of a slow trickle, which eventually became a flood. This was like dozens of people all coming out at one time. And as we saw, not just with the dozens of people, but then with the social media response and all of these people posting Me Too, Me Too, Me Too, and posting their experiences being assaulted and raped and harassed, there’s a safety in numbers with that.

And I think it’s making a dent. I don’t know how big a watershed moment this is. But I think we have changed some hearts and minds towards being allies for women and other marginalized voices.

John: Daley, did this take you by surprise? Like when this happened, what were your initial instincts?

Daley: The Harvey thing specifically? That did not surprise me, because of course we’ve all heard stories from guys, you know, about how abusive he was. But, yeah, I’m a little surprised just in the sense of there has always been this culture – I mean, I’ve never worked in the movie business, only TV. And there’s this real culture of, like, there’s a whole thing of the writers’ room, it’s sacred, and it’s a cone of silence, and all that stuff. And you’re not supposed to talk shit about the writers’ room, or even talk about anything that happens in it, because it is this sort of sacred, disgusting place.

[laughs]

But, you know, I’m glad for that reason that this did come out. The article I did, the Lenny piece, I had written months ago. So it was pre-Weinstein. And it just, very coincidentally, the intended publication date was right in the middle of this.

Dara: That’s crazy.

Daley: That helped it kind of get out.

Craig: That worked out.

Daley: Yeah, it really did. It was crazy.

Craig: That’s amazing.

John: Back up and talk about the sense that everybody knew. So, I would say that personally I knew that Harvey Weinstein was kind of a jerk and a monster, but I didn’t know that this thing was happening. I didn’t know that he was abusive to women in the ways that he was abusive to women.

You were around the Weinstein brothers more. What was your sense, Craig, of what was happening?

Craig: Well, you know again, I almost exclusively worked for Bob. I had probably six or seven encounters with Harvey over those years. And they were fairly limited. They were unpleasant. No shock there. I did not know at all that there was any kind of – I guess what you would call harassment or assault taking place. And, of course, rape.

What I knew was rumors I had heard. And the rumors I had heard were rumors of kind of a – I guess you’d call it quid pro quo arrangements, right, so that “Well you know this actor and this actor Harvey had a quid pro quo arrangement. They slept with him and he made them famous.” Now as it turns out, and I’m not going to bother repeating the names because it’s just rumor-mongering, one of those actors said, “No, that’s not true.” She was propositioned, but nothing came of it. And the other actress said not even that happened.

So, those rumors were incorrect. And I never heard anything about that. I’m kind of – I don’t know if you guys saw Scott Rosenberg’s piece that he did.

Dara: I thought it was really lovely.

Craig: It was amazing, but it also – I was like, my god, so the Weinsteins really – I mean, they hate each other. Obviously you can see that. Two scorpions in a small box. That company was very divided. So there was the Harvey side and the Bob side. And the Harvey side was trying to win Oscars and the Bob side was shlock. And, of course, being from Staten Island, I’m on the shlock boat.

So I’m reading this, Scott’s talking about how on the Harvey side there was parties and there was glamour and there was award shows and red carpets. And he was getting flown to these vacation spots. And I’m like, oh my god, on the Bob side it was just darkness and occasionally you would get, you know, like he would give you a Diet Coke. And then they actually changed that. I remember in the office – in the office – they took Diet Cokes and stuff out of the refrigerator and put in a vending machine for their own employees. I was about to say that’s how horrible they are.

Daley: Telling.

Craig: But I realize that the raping is probably slightly worse. So, anyway, the point is I did not know at all. That said, not – it certainly wasn’t one of those things where I’m like, oh my god, I can’t believe that person is that person. No. this seems, yeah, I can connect the dots here.

Dara: I heard rumors – I was a PA in New York in the late ‘90s and would hang out with other PAs. Some of the names of which I remember and some I don’t. And the conversation often turned towards “He’s a really bad guy and here’s some stuff I think might be happening, but I don’t really know.” And that was obviously confirmed.

John: Sarah Polley had a great piece this last week where she talked about going there with a publicist and the publicist says like I’m not going to leave you alone in a room with Harvey Weinstein.

Craig: They knew. The publicists knew.

John: So that publicist knew. And so the question of if you’re a person who knew, or like strongly suspected, what was your responsibility? Like what should that publicist had done? And what should any of these actors who were in these situations should have done. And that’s one of those sort of impossible to roll back time to figure out.

Dara: Well I think the issue with that is it places a lot of responsibility on the victims, and on friends of the victims, and ignores a much bigger issue of power structure and power dynamics. And the way that you have to weigh the cost of speaking every single time you do it.

I even tell my students – I teach at USC – and I’ll tell them, you know, you might hear a joke and you might think “I want to say something,” but you do have to consider what the cost of that is going to be in the long term and do you want to use your capital now, or do you want to use it later for a more “serious” offense. So I don’t know what the “responsibility” would be. It’s a much bigger conversation about power.

Daley: I also think it brings up the need for specific policies. I know we’re a free-wheeling business and we’re artists and we don’t teach all that corporate crap and HR, but I do think it’s not even that people who don’t stand up are bad people. I think it’s human nature to see – I’ve certainly seen things that were not good and let them just go by because most people aren’t confrontational. We’re not really programmed for that.

But, again, it’s why if there’s specific sort of procedures to follow, because going to HR we all know is kind of a joke right now in this industry. It gives at least a path for kind of doing the right thing, which may help.

I also think, just as far as the TV thing goes, having more women there. Like I have been at shows where it’s usually the youngest person there was getting harassed, in a couple of cases. I had women come to me and I was able to kind of run interference a little bit. But when you have one woman on a show alone–

Craig: Also not really your job. Right? You’re supposed to be there writing.

Daley: Right.

Craig: And now, I mean, I don’t know how to feel about say the assistants who knew what was going on and were essentially engaging in this charade. They knew perfectly well that when they said, “Oh yeah, come on up to Harvey’s room, we’re all going to be there,” they were not going to be there. And they knew that was the deal.

On the other hand, I know that place. I know those guys, and I know that business. And everybody was in fear. Everybody. That is a – it is an impossible situation. It makes you, well, it’s like he separates – both of those brothers – separate you from what is normal. And they separate you from what is humane. And then you’re just in another culture.

Dara: I think that that’s actually true, though, across Hollywood. And you guys are lucky, because you write features, and there’s a lot of this stuff that you get to avoid. It doesn’t mean that you don’t get exposed to it, but we’re in writers’ rooms. And I have definitely been in a structure where you start to normalize abusive behavior and go, oh it’s OK, it wasn’t that bad today.

Daley: Yep.

Dara: And people do operate in fear, because there’s always the unspoken and sometimes spoken thing in the room of, well, if you don’t want to do this job there’s a thousand people behind you who can do it and who I’ll trust to do it. So, if you want to keep your job, then you have to just suck this up. And for me I actually feel like my career and my life changed when I decided not to be afraid anymore. And I’ve walked off jobs for bad treatment. And, you know, you find another job. If we stop operating in fear then, you know, things change.

Craig: Well, I’m glad you brought that up because one thing that has blown me away is just how much braver so many of these people are than I am. And I was. You know, and it’s specifically around this issue, because I know what the time that I spent working for Bob did to me. And the therapy I had to go through and the toll it took on my body and my mind. And there was no sex involved at all. And so I think about these women, and I’m like “I don’t know if I would have gotten out of bed.” And when people say, well, why did they take so long to say something. Why did they go back to work? Why did they agree to be photographed with him?

Those are the most rational responses, because you’re trying to somehow maintain your sense of how the world functions. You’re a decent human being. Something terrible happened. Another person did a terrible thing to you. Well, obviously we – there’s a relationship there. No, there’s no relationship. You just don’t understand.

Dara: And, Daley mentioned HR. You know, I believe that there are situations in which HR can be helpful, not related to sexual harassment. I think they can be part of the problem. I went to HR once at a studio that I will not mention, because I wanted to tell them that a friend of mine was melting down. And their response was, when I told this executive to tell HR this, their response was, “Are you sure it’s not just a disgruntled girlfriend?” Oh boy.

Craig: You know, I think HR kind of gives it away by their name. That is the most – I mean, “human resources.” Why don’t you just say meat? Meat Department. They don’t give a damn.

Dara: Right. No.

Craig: They are there, essentially, I believe in corporate structures to protect the corporation from accusations and liability, right? Now, in a place like the Weinstein Company, especially when they were completely divorced from Disney, HR, are you kidding me? That person is also scared for their life. Everybody is absolutely, I mean, anyway.

John: So, let’s talk about, you know, there’s a power structure, but what sort of structures would we want to see in place that would help mitigate or at least make these situations less common? So, a suggestion from Sarah Schechter this last week was blanket rule no meetings in hotel rooms. Period. Stop that as a thing. That cannot happen. And if CAA and all the other agencies said like “We are not ever going to let our clients have meetings in hotel rooms, particularly not like first meetings,” done. And none of this – forget the gamesmanship of like “The assistant is going to be there.” No. Meetings should not take place in hotel rooms. A simple thing.

But I also wonder about general best practices for all of us. And so if we see something, what should we do? And it feels like it’s not our time to inject ourselves not knowing what the full situation is, but at least to talk to the person who is going through it, let them know that you saw it. Let them know that they’re not crazy. Document it, even if it’s not going to go into HR or something else. I find the contemporaneous documentation of things that have happened is so helpful, because then you can actually see like this is the thing that happened. It helps you process it emotionally, but also like you know this is a real thing that actually happened. You’re not crazy. You can’t be gaslighted. This happened at this moment.

And I feel like if we all took it upon ourselves to notice when these things are happening and write it down, some of this stuff could be at least brought to light.

Daley: I think another thing we need to be doing, again, this speaks more to the TV end of things, because there is a locus of power on a TV show. It’s the showrunner almost always. That person is almost always a writer. Which means that person is not necessarily a manager. And we need to be training showrunners. And, again, I know our industry resists this because we’re artists and we don’t need that. And he’s a genius. And what you have is these – especially if it’s a very popular show – you have a cult-like kind of atmosphere. It’s like what Craig was talking about. Just everyone is afraid.

Usually if women are being abused, men are also on some level being abused at those kind of places. So we need to be doing a better job selecting and then training showrunners to deal with this stuff. And letting them know it’s not OK, because in the case of the Lenny piece especially, we had a showrunner – I don’t think he was malicious, but he let things happen and then ultimately kind of put the blame on me. I mean–

John: They put the blame on you for being a distraction.

Daley: Right. And that was a literal quote, by the way.

John: So this thing that was being done to you was a distraction to the show, so therefore you had to go to the B room and be out of sight.

Daley: Right.

Craig: This I think goes right to the heart of what has to happen in our business. The reason that I think somebody like that feels OK to even think that, much less say it, is because the most important thing in our business is the show or the movie. We have elevated that to everything. That is why certain people who are just notorious bastards are almost celebrated for it.

I remember reading an article about Scott Rudin years ago. It was almost glowing in its detailing of how vicious he was to other human beings. Same, by the way, for Harvey. Bob has always floated under the radar, but just as bad. And we know others, right?

And what it comes down to is this: Hollywood as a business, from the top level, needs to say for the first time that human beings and the treatment of other human beings in a humane manner is more important than the movie or the TV show. Holy shit. What a revolution that would be. Because the truth is what they have to be able to say to that showrunner is we’re killing your show. How about that? This is actually more important is not being a total piece of shit to another human being.

That obviously covers sexual harassment. It obviously covers sexual assault. And it also covers bullying, which is so endemic in our business, because it is essentially – our business enables bullies.

Dara: The problem is those are gigantic corporations that operate in a capitalist society. And so unless it affects their bottom line, and there are quite a few lawsuits that are successful and take them for a whole bunch of money, I don’t think they’re going to change their practices.

That being said, I do think – and I said this in my Washington Post article with Gillian, I do think a lot of this is a reaction to Donald J. Trump being the president. I think–

Craig: Oh you had to use his middle initial.

Dara: I think that we saw him – we in Hollywood, which is mostly if not liberals, certainly open-minded thinkers is sort of necessary to being a creative person – we saw this guy who did all of these things and treated people so crappily get up there. And we said, you know what, screw it. We’re not going to let this happen here anymore. And that’s one of the reasons I have hope that this is – even if it’s not a watershed moment, a moment that makes a small dent in this issue.

Craig: I agree with you completely. And I do think that Trump is absolutely part and parcel with this, because people are looking at him and then they’re turning and they’re looking at Harvey and going, “Wait a second. You’re the same guy.”

Dara: Totally.

Craig: And they are the same guy. I do think we live in an era now where it is harder for corporations to get away with this stuff. I think corporations are starting to figure it out as well.

Disney let Miramax – well, they fired the Weinsteins away. And I remember when that happened. People were so confused. Why would they let these cash cow guys go? I suspect it was because at some point Disney realized, A, they – I’m just guessing here – were probably not financially appropriate. And, B, because this was going to inevitably tarnish – they’re Disney for god’s sakes. And they knew on some level these were bad dudes.

Jeffrey Katzenberg, who was at Disney at the time I believe, came out and said Bob was just abusive, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: I don’t think you can now get away with this stuff the way you used to. And the more these things happen, I hope the more they continue to happen. I’m not in favor of a culture of accusation. I’m not in favor of a culture of presumption of guilt. I truly am not.

Daley: I like due process.

Craig: Due process is a wonderful thing. However, when you have somebody like Harvey Weinstein with, what are we up to, 40 accusers, and he’s on tape admitting that he did it. And he’s also a known piece of shit. Then I’m OK with it. And I think we have some other ones in our business. And I think people need to basically tell those people your treatment of people will not be excused simply because your movie or your television show makes money.

Dara: And I think that goes back to also what John was asking about, responsibility. I mean, if I was going to say where the responsibility lies, I think it’s in uncommon allies. I mean, there’s a lot of sort of what you might name patriarchal white men in my midst who sort of knew that this was an issue in America and knew it was a problem and sort of had a heart about it and would think about it. But I think that the inundation of these stories has had a deep and lasting effect on them. And as it stands even this week I saw them – some of these guys in my life – speak up when they saw something crappy happening. And it was the first time I’d ever seen those guys speak up.

I’d seen them sort of ha-ha laugh along with everyone else. And instead they spoke out. And those are the kind of allies, you know, you can’t leave it to the people who are marginalized to speak up for themselves. You also need allies who are in power.

John: So, we talked about Trump, but let’s also talk about Mike Pence and sort of the Mike Pence rule, because I also worry that that’s a thing that could come out of this, a negative repercussion that could come out of this. It would be the sense that men being so paranoid about having women around that they just like, well, the safest thing to do is to keep all women away. And never be alone with a woman. And sort of like never allow situation – never mentor a woman.

And I do worry that that can have a chilling effect, too, where it’s like basically all of the phone calls that don’t happen, all of the “Let’s talk in a hallway” kind of things that don’t happen because they’re worried. There’s a paranoia about being alone with women. That hurts the women who are not having those conversations.

How do we address that? Did that make sense?

Daley: I’m not sure how we address it, but that’s definitely a fear I have, you know, especially on the TV side because the movie business and even in the TV business will never say, “Well we just can’t have any actresses.” But what they can do is discriminate on the writer front. And I know I had direct experiences and was told by people post-Friends lawsuit – I think everybody is familiar with that. The woman. And regardless of the merits of that particular suit, the attitude kind of coming down from that was, you know, women are trouble. It’s sometimes better just not to hire them. Or you’re lucky we hired you. We really don’t. We’re afraid to have women here. We just don’t want the trouble. You know, all of that stuff. I have no idea how we stop it other than kind of raising awareness about it, trying to get more women in the mix and more women.

You know, quality writers have the kind of power I think you were talking about. Like it’s not a corporate level power, but Hollywood does run on reputations and kind of who is the cool “in” writer we want. And if those people refuse to discriminate and refuse to work with people who do, my hope is that will help change things.

Craig: I’m with you on that. Look, I can’t necessarily speak to how to solve the writers’ room problem, because I don’t know that culture. But I will say that, to me, the greatest burden is on men not being assholes. It’s actually not hard. I have a woman that I’ve worked with for – I think we’re up to now I’d say six years. And her name is Jack Lesco. Jack is short for Jacqueline.

And she is like my editor. So she reads everything. I’ve talked about her on the show before. And she’s an integral part of my work life. She reads everything I write. She takes all the notes. She gives me comments. And she’s in my – my office is two rooms in Pasadena. I’m in one. She’s in the other. Door’s open between them. And we’re there every day together. And here’s the deal: if you are a decent person, I think you should be aware that in that situation you have an obligation to affirmatively not do shit that is going to be creepy.

Because here’s the thing. A lot of times, I think, people do things because they’re not thinking and it comes off creepy. And then it gets bad or worse. Sometimes they’re legitimately bad people. But how about just read the room. Read the situation. And put yourself in the shoes of another human being, which is what we’re supposed to do all the time as writers anyway, right?

This is a smaller, physically weaker person than you, who may have had – probably statistically has had – bad experiences with men before. How about you keep that in mind? It’s actually not hard if you’re just mindful about it. It’s not hard to be not a piece of shit. It’s Melissa Mazin’s rule of life. You don’t get credit for doing the right thing.

Dara: I would say it’s not hard for you to not be a piece of shit. I do believe that humans are primal creatures and that there is a certain amount of deep-seeded rage in all of us. And some of us learn how to listen to the better angels of our nature better than others. One of the things – I was trying to think of a response when you asked that question in terms of how do you avoid a culture in which now we just can’t have older mentors and such. I think, you know, right now they give you these sexual harassment seminars and they’re treated a little bit as a joke, which I think I also talk about in the Washington Post article.

And I think that there is something to really taking those workshops seriously, but not having them run by lawyers, which is what they usually are.

Daley: Yes.

Dara: Having them run by people who know – I mean, when I worked for Jill Soloway she brought people in to workshop with us and talk about issues of power. And really to talk to each other. People of different types and from different backgrounds. And I think it would really behoove every show and every corporation in this town to do something like that. Especially because women and people of color are going nowhere. I mean, I actually do believe that we are on the rise out here and people are going to have to learn—

Craig: You mean “Going nowhere” meaning they’re not disappearing, not that they’re not making progress.

Dara: Yeah, yeah. Sorry, that’s confusing, you’re right.

Craig: You’re here to stay.

Dara: I think women and people of color are here to stay. I think men have been telling stories for thousands of years, and some of those stories are getting boring. You guys tell wonderful stories. No offense.

Craig: Every now and then.

Dara: But it’s time for some new voices. And with 450 shows shooting, they need new minds and new backgrounds. And we all have to figure out how to respect each other and give each other much more dignity than we do now.

Craig: I just want to tell you. I am not always a good person at all.

Dara: No, I don’t actually think you are.

Daley: Oh, we know.

Dara: I was trying to be nice.

Craig: And, in fact, I have had, and it’s in part like I definitely had issues with – it’s never been with women. It’s always been with men, where I have mistreated men. Because in part you get into the cycle, especially when I was working with Weinstein, you get into the cycle of daddy hits you, and you turn around and you hit the guy below you. And it was bad.

I know that I have sinned. And I think it’s inevitable. We are, all of us, you know, imperfect. And you try and get better. The thing that I think men have to acknowledge is that we have the capacity to do more damage when we are imperfect. And I think a lot of men get very nervous about this thought. That somehow we’re being picked on.

Nah, you’re not really being picked on, dude. You’re just bigger and stronger. I don’t know what to tell you. It’s like, I’m just not as threatened by a large woman as I am by a large man, because I’m not rational. I could die. You know?

Dara: And I also think there’s something to taking responsibility, like you are, like Scott Rosenberg did. I mean, one thing I didn’t see that I wanted to see were more people in power with specific examples of “I did this.” I think they probably didn’t because they’re worried that they’re all going to get sued. But I would love to see that. I think that that’s a huge step going “I did this thing.”

John: Well I think what you’re describing is the difference between a narcissistic monster, like what we saw with Weinstein, and guys who aren’t overall bad guys but have done some shitty things. And sort of how do we – I mean, feel like you need a truth and reconciliation thing to sort of talk through like these are the things that happened and these are the things that can’t happen again in the future. And these are the paths that we’re going to take to sort of move forward.

So, talking about sort of in the writers’ room, because Craig and I are not in the writers’ room very often, what are situations that women encounter in the writers’ room that a man in the writers’ room might not be aware that they’re doing?

Dara: It’s complicated in a writers’ room because of that Friends case. That Friends case basically says that anything that happens in a writers’ room is creative. It’s creative fodder. So, it doesn’t matter if you’re talking about someone’s junk. It doesn’t matter if you’re sort of making fun of somebody or bullying, like a character or people in general. I couldn’t aim anything at you. I couldn’t comment on what you’re wearing or how you look.

But what ends up happening in those environments often is because you’re in this creative space where you’re talking sort of lewdly about people, it does often get aimed at somebody accidentally, sometimes intentionally. And engenders an environment sort of outside the room where you’re a little bit more comfortable I think saying things that might be inappropriate.

I will say one of the things that’s complicated for me is I actually believe in that ruling. I believe that in the writers’ room you need to be able to say insane, sometimes disgusting, things—

Daley: Yeah, me too.

Dara: In order to get to the creative juice. But sometimes it crosses a line and that’s where I think a workshop might come in.

John: Well let’s talk about process though. Because even if the content is it’s OK to say anything, I hear from a lot of women saying it’s hard to get heard. Or the talking over. Dana Fox was on the show and she talked about this sort of weird way you deliberately undercut what you’re about to say so that it doesn’t sound too aggressive or too judgy. I see you both nodding.

There’s a syndrome that women can end up falling into where they make it seem like they’re discounting themselves before they even pitch an idea out.

Daley: There’s a situation where women kind of fall into, and again, this isn’t sexism on a Weinstein level, but it is a type of sexism. We basically fall into like a Mother Pence role of being the moral arbiters of the room, which in a writers’ room as previously described is not welcome, because for the guys to say crazy things and be bad, and then the women end up sort of, if you try to make a point about a joke, well, that may not make sense in this context, you know, or maybe that’s a little harsh of a joke. You know, having that criticism taken as – and again, in a writers’ room it depends what you’re rank is. And there are all sorts of rules of etiquette for questioning a pitch, say. Or questioning someone’s riff in the room on say my boobs, which was a thing that happened a lot.

Craig: That’s not – yeah.

Daley: Yeah, that’s not really creative environment. That’s abusing the environment.

Dara: And that’s not under the Friends ruling. You would not be able to do that under the Friends ruling. You can talk about the character’s boobs, but you could not talk about the boobs of somebody in the room. I think I just want to keep saying boobs.

Craig: Boobs.

Daley: I know. I started. Sorry. But, yeah, and we don’t want to be that person who’s always kind of correcting and moralizing, which again is why it’s good when men sort of chime in on that if something bad is happening.

Dara: And I’ve been called the PC police by talking—

Daley: Yes, that’s it.

Dara: And not just talking about you know saying, “Hey, you can’t talk about Daley’s boobs.” Like I’ve been called the PC police by saying that I don’t think that that is something that that character would do because we’re trying to amp up who they are in the run of the series or whatever. And it’s like, “Oh, that’s just something that you’re saying because you feel like you need to speak for all women.”

Daley: Yeah, there’s a real like straw man kind of situation that happens all the time and it drives me nuts. Where a guy will think like his joke, like no one is laughing, or they cut the joke because it’s too un-PC. You know, well Norman Lear didn’t – you ain’t Norman Lear. Your joke just wasn’t funny. It didn’t work. That’s why it got cut. It also happened to be offensive. But, you know.

Dara: Also, Norman Lear was subverting the culture. Like it’s a whole other, yeah, ball of wax.

Craig: It’s very difficult to explain these subtle things to people who are unsubtle and dull. You know. And it’s frustrating when they try and use these arguments. I mean, the truth is, I think, that when I listen to these examples that it’s really either you get it or you don’t. Right? Like you can see the matrix or you can’t.

Dara: And I think part of what happens, too, when you’re called the PC police is the person in charge, or whoever it is that’s saying that, is not acknowledging that you’re coming from a trove of experience. That it’s not that you’re just trying to—

Craig: Grinding an ax.

Dara: You’re not just grinding an ax or trying to manage what’s happening. It’s that, “No, I’ve been assaulted in my life and I feel a responsibility as a culture creator to put images into the world that do not beget that for other women.” And that’s a visceral thing. Not an intellectual thing.

Craig: Right.

Daley: And partly I think these issues are, I’ve said it before, but they are partially solved by just having more women there. It doesn’t need to be 50% on every show. It doesn’t have to be some mandate. But just getting a few more women in there makes it — one, you have allies, and two, there’s a kind of related sexist problem in writer’s room. Have you guys ever heard the phrase penis phone?

Dara: No.

Craig: No.

Daley: Very bad Sports Illustrated gift with purchase. No, it’s a term – did not do well. Yeah, they recalled a lot of them.

Craig: What is the penis phone?

Daley: The penis phone is – and it’s a term and I’ve heard it used almost exclusively by men. And it’s a joke term. There will be a situation like this. We’ll be in a writer’s room. Maybe I’m the only woman there, or one of a couple of women. Guys are all, you know, it’s kind of an aggressive atmosphere, the pitching. And a woman will pitch a joke. And it just won’t be heard. And there’s psychological studies confirming this. When there’s a majority group of men, women’s voices literally can’t be heard.

And it’s not willful. I think it’s just part of group dynamics. Anyway, the woman’s joke will be ignored and then if you have an ally in the room who is a guy, he’ll repeat the joke. And hopefully give you credit. So say, “Hey, I liked Daley’s pitch” and repeat it. This is known as dialing in a joke on the penis phone.

Craig: That’s hysterical.

Daley: And the fact that it’s a term in use in multiple rooms shows that, OK, guys know this happens. You’re not totally innocent. Don’t let it happen. Listen.

Dara: I had a writing partner for many years who was my husband and who is a man. He used to work for John. He’s been spoken about in the show. Chad. And he acknowledged that it was happening. I would pitch something. No one would hear it. He’d pitch exactly the same thing, and they’d be like, “Oh, that’s a great idea.” It was insane. We were like our own sociological experiment.

John: You’re like you need a Remington Steele.

Dara: Totally.

John: You’re controlling behind the scenes.

Dara: And in terms of that thing that women do where they undercut their own pitch, what’s interesting is I’ve worked in rooms run by women. And in rooms run by women you can totally say that stuff and it doesn’t undercut you, because they know that that’s just part of the vernacular and that’s how our minds work. And you can say “This might be a dumb idea, but.” Or “Maybe we can harvest something out of this. I don’t know.”

You can’t say that in rooms run by men. And I tell my students that all the time. When they are discussing notes in my workshopping classes and they go this might be dumb, I go, no, start again. This is what I think. Because most of the time you aren’t going to have a woman running the thing and you’re going to need to know how to speak like that.

John: Wow. So we have a lot of listeners who are aspiring writers. And so I want to maybe wrap up this segment by talking about what advice we have for people who are aspiring to work in this industry given what’s been happening this last month. Has anything changed? Is there anything you would want to tell this writer who is considering packing up and moving to this town?

Daley: That’s a tough one. At least in terms of television, you know, you have to start with great material, which with luck won’t be read with like a gendered lens. You never know. But once you’re in the room, I mean, the advice I would give is still “Don’t be a dick. You’re the lowest man/woman on the totem pole. Use your sort of bandwidth to pitch concise, clear jokes that are jokes, where jokes are asked for. Because there will be moments in the script where it becomes clear we need a pitch here. Don’t be pitching on something that’s already in there that people like. That’s not your job as a staff writer, or future staff writer.” Even writer’s assistants, sometimes they’ll be encouraged to pitch.

And keep it fast. Keep it concise. And make sure it is a joke. That will go a long way to kind of giving you credibility.

Dara: I would tell the people who are coming to Hollywood nothing new that I wouldn’t have told them two weeks ago. I think that what the post-Harvey Weinstein era will be about is better leadership. And that they should change nothing about how they approach this. I think everybody should still come. I think this is still a town that is predominately made up of dreamers and creative weirdos and wonderful people. And you just have to hold those people super close. And hope that something is going to change within their run in the business, and hopefully in women my run in the business, that will make it so that this stuff happens a lot less than it does now.

Craig: That’s great to hear. Because the truth is I do worry. You know, we’ve talked about this before. Sometimes when we go through the annual WGA report on the numbers, it’s like, well, here’s another batch of terrible, terrible numbers. And we worry sometimes that what we’re transmitting out there is, “Hey ladies, hey black writers, hey Asian writers, don’t bother. Right? These numbers are terrible. Just stay home. Go do something else.” And, of course, perversely that will make it worse.

And I do think that, Daley, when you said more women in the room, it just sort of – all you have to do is just project yourself into your mind theater and, yep, I can see how that is fixing a whole lot of problems instantly. So, please, women do come. And as part of the encouragement I would say that certainly the discussion about sexual harassment/sexual assault has never been more prominent in our business than right now.

And, two, that over the last couple of years it has seemed that there has been an awakening. Doesn’t mean that they have fixed things, or that things are – well, I think things may be trending a little bit better. But certainly there has been an awakening. There is an awareness. And so I think while we are far from good, it’s not as bad as it was, I guess. That’s – damned by faint praise, but that’s kind of where I’m at.

John: I think you’re speaking to a sort of expectation also. If you come in expecting that it’s going to be terrible in these ways, you sort of normalize it for being terrible in these ways. And so you can’t be normalized that this kind of behavior is acceptable. So, notice it when it happens. Speak up when it’s appropriate. And just make sure you find your allies around you.

Daley: Yeah. Because when you do speak up, I kind of tried to make this point in the piece. If I had said something, I mean, maybe I would have gotten fired. But I got fired anyway because I couldn’t get jokes out, you know? So, yeah. Try – try a little gentle confrontation if something bad happens.

Dara: And I will say I think it is going to change piece by piece. On Monday night when I taught my USC screenwriting class, right before I went into the class I happened to see on my Facebook feed the response to the Me Too feed, which was “I believe you, I believe you, I believe you.” So I went in there already very emotional. And my students brought up that I had written this Washington Post article. And I sort of put workshopping aside and said let’s talk about what’s going on and how you guys feel about it.

And one student said, you know, she works for one of these bigger companies during the day and she said, “I just feel like in the end nothing is really going to change.” And I told her that I really thought that what happened over the last week has affected some people very deeply on an individual level. And I told them the parable of the starfish. Do you guys know the parable of the starfish?

Craig: It’s a good one.

John: Tell us.

Dara: It’s a really good one. A little boy is walking down the beach at sunrise and there are starfish way down deep into the distance who are going to die as the sun gets hot over the course of the day. So he’s going down the beach and he’s throwing these starfish back into the ocean. And an older, more experienced man, who knows much more about life comes up and says, “Little boy, what are you doing? Can’t you see there’s starfish as far as the eye can see? You can’t possibly make a difference.”

And the little boy thinks about that for a second and he picks up a starfish and he throws it in the water and he says, “I made a difference for that one.” And then I started to cry in class, which was probably really weird for them. But I believe that. I believe in that parable and I believe that moments like this make a difference for a few people. And in the end maybe a difference for a whole beach of starfish.

Craig: That is spot on and terrific. We’ve been doing this podcast for, how long John? Because I don’t pay attention.

John: 322 episodes.

Craig: Thank you, sir. And how many years is that? Six years. About six years. And the truth is, I mean, we started for all sorts of reasons, but for me it has always been part of my penance, not for necessarily being – look, I’m not a criminal.

Dara: Except for that one time.

Craig: There’s been a number of times. Never crimes, just you know. But it’s part of my penance because we have an obligation I think once we realize how it’s working in our heads. And we start to understand how fear and shame have kind of undone us. To then turn around, find other people that are like that, and help them.

It’s why we spend a lot of time talking about psychology on the show. And it’s why we spend a lot of time trying to just help. You know, so we know we’re picking up a starfish every now and then. And maybe one person, literally out of all the years, something special happens to them. But you got to try. Right? You got to try.

Dara: Nothing ever changed by saying nothing will ever change.

Daley: Totally.

Craig: We should get that on a t-shirt. And also Stop Being Dicks I think is pretty good t-shirt material.

Dara: I want that tattooed.

Craig: Yeah, it’s a real simple, good rule.

John: All right, it’s come time for our One Cool Things. We talk about one thing that we liked this last week. For me, it was an absolute godsend. So I was in London and I was working on a different project. And I saved a file and then I opened it the next day and it was gone. It was just an empty file. And it was a chapter for Arlo Finch. And I was panicked, because usually on my home computer I have Time Machine. So I’d go to Time Machine and I’d pull it back. But I was just on my laptop in a hotel room.

Then I discovered something that I did not know. Dropbox saves versions of everything you do.

Craig: Yes. Yes it does.

John: So if you go into the web version of Dropbox–

Craig: Yeah, it’s awesome.

John: There’s a little dot-dot-dot button. Click that and it goes Version History. And it will show all the saved versions.

Dara: Oh my god, you just changed my life.

Craig: It’s amazing. Because not only can you find the thing that maybe somehow you blew away by mistake, but you can also like do an archeological dig of shittiness. Like, “Wow, look how bad this scene was for a while. It’s all there.”

Dara: Until I figured it out.

Craig: It’s waiting.

John: Yeah, so Dropbox is amazing for a thousand reasons, but that was just a tremendous godsend that saved, you know, it saved a chapter. God bless Dropbox. So, yet another god bless Dropbox.

Craig: God bless Dropbox.

John: Dara, do you have one?

Dara: My One Cool Thing is sort of in the future and it’s related to a thing that happened this week. My One Cool Thing is that I’m running the Avengers Superheroes Half Marathon through Disneyland on November 12. This is a thing that I do. I like to combine my cosplay and my running.

Craig: Naturally.

Dara: Because that’s the thing.

Craig: Why would you not?

Dara: It’s so awesome. I’ve dressed as Woody from Toy Story.

Craig: That’s awesome.

Dara: I’ve dressed as a fairy. I’ve dressed as a princess. It’s wonderful.

Craig: And what about this time. Can you say?

Dara: This time I’m going to be Black Widow.

Daley: Nice.

Dara: Really, really excited about it. I’m going to run with her swords in my hands. But what I found out this week is that Disneyland is canceling all of its half marathons for 2018 and possibly indefinitely.

Craig: Why?

Dara: They are saying it’s because of all the construction for Star Wars Land.

Craig: It’s Rian Johnson’s fault.

Dara: But I’m not actually sure that’s it. There’s been rumblings that the City of Anaheim has had issues with the fact that tens of thousands of crazy people in costumes take over the town for a weekend. So I partially wanted to say it, because if anybody ever wanted to dress up and run 13.1 miles…

They have stops along the way where you take pictures with superheroes. And you run through the park at dawn. And it’s really cool. And there’s still entries.

Craig: So I get to wake up at dawn. I get to run 13 miles. I get to put on a costume. I cannot not want this more.

Dara: It’s my favorite thing in the world. I was more devastated than I should have been when I found out that they were canceling 2018 races.

Daley: I thought once about doing a 5K.

Craig: Yeah. And that was exhausting. Right? Just the thought of it.

Daley: Yeah. I started signing up and then I thought better.

Dara: I did a 5K while we were sitting here.

Craig: I actually did a negative 5K. And what about you? What’s your One Cool Thing?

Daley: My One Cool Thing is the CIA’s Twitter feed. Which normally would not be something you’d want to follow. It might be a little scary. But they’ve been posting, I believe her name is Lulu. I believe she’s a black lab. A dog who basically rejected/failed out of the CIA training, but there’s very funny, adorable pictures. It’s on their Twitter feed. Check it out. It’s funny.

Craig: My One Cool Thing this week, I just mentioned it to you guys before and you were like, “Oh, that should be your One Cool Thing.” And it’s frivolous but it’s so bizarre and weird. And it’s kind of old news, but I love it anyway. Somebody made this page called Rihanna Can’t Wink. So, Rihanna, the very famous pop star, occasionally likes to wink. It’s one of her things. It’s one of her affectations. So sometimes she winks in concert. Sometimes she winks in the music videos. Sometimes she winks on a commercial. And sometimes she winks on a talk show.

The thing is she can’t really wink. She does not understand or is not capable of the winking mechanism. The winking mechanism is one eye goes down and up. Blink. One eye. The other eye does nothing. She can’t get that other eye to not do things. Sometimes she blinks and just blinks. Sometimes one eye closes and the other one sort of moves halfway down. Sometimes she closes both and opens them in succession. And the person commenting on this is hysterical. So you just Google Rihanna Can’t Wink.

Of all the crimes in the world, that’s probably the most mild.

Dara: Maybe it shouldn’t be her move. I mean, if it’s a thing she can’t do, it should be out of the repertoire. She’s got a lot of other talents.

Craig: But here’s the thing. On the other hand like, you know what, go ahead.

Dara: You’re Rihanna. It’s fine.

Craig: Just keep not-winking winking, because you know what, you don’t care. I like it.

John: While you’re on YouTube, I would also steer you towards Mariah Carey dancing, Mariah Carey choreography. And there’s one specific video I’ll put a link to in the show notes that has Mariah Carey singing and there’s a bunch of men around her, but they basically just lift her up and move her, so she basically never moves herself.

Craig: That’s pretty great.

John: It’s a spectacular video.

Dara: I was watching her spectacular New Year’s Eve meltdown like in real time.

Craig: Oh, you were there.

Dara: I wasn’t there there, but I happened to be watching the TV at a big party where no one was paying attention. And I was like, guys, guys, something amazing is happening right now.

Craig: Yeah, you’re missing this. That was extraordinary.

Dara: It was great. Yeah, it was special.

John: That’s our show for this week. Our show is produced by Megan McDonnell. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli, who also did our spooky outro this week. It’s Halloween when this episode drops, or just about Halloween.

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 short questions, we’re on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Are you guys on Twitter?

Dara: I am. I’m @badassmomwriter.

Daley: I’m @d_haggar.

Craig: Not to play favorites, but Daley’s Twitter feed is hysterical.

Dara: She is. She’s pretty amazing.

Daley: Thank you.

Craig: If you like Megan Amram, you know, like play the Netflix game. If you like this, you would like this. If you like Megan Amram’s one-liners, you will love Daley Haggar’s one-liners. Very similar – it’s like surprise. Surprise, weren’t going to think of that one.

Dara: Daley and my friend Liz Hackett are often on the same—

Daley: She’s awesome.

Craig: Completely funny.

Dara: Yeah, Liz is special.

Craig: Yeah, Liz Hackett is hysterical.

Dara: As is Daley.

Craig: That’s another good one to follow, and she’s not even here. Why are we giving her help?

Dara: I’m basically her agent. Love you, Liz. Mean it.

Craig: Ridiculous.

John: We are on Facebook. Look for Scriptnotes Podcast. You can find us on Apple Podcasts at Scriptnotes. While you’re there, leave us a review. That helps people find the show and we read those sometimes. It’s very nice.

Craig: We do. John does.

John: I do. You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find transcripts going all the way back to episode one.

We have new USB drives with all the back episodes. Or actually the first 300 back episodes.

Craig: Are they the cool metal kinds?

John: The cool metal survivable kinds.

Craig: They look like little tiny suppositories.

John: But you should not use them as that.

Craig: No.

John: Off-label use.

Craig: I’m only pointing it out in case we are ever redefined as contraband.

John: Oh yes.

Craig: One could…

John: One could.

Craig: Theoretically.

Dara: I smell a Christopher Walken monologue.

Craig: You smell something.

John: If you do not want to have a physical object completely inside you, you can always subscribe to Scriptnotes.net. It’s $ 2 a month.

Craig: Better plan.

John: And you get all the back episodes and bonus episodes.

Craig: That’s a good pitch. $ 2 a month. No need to–

John: Put anything up your butt.

Craig: Secrete something inside of your person.

Dara: This is a little what a writers’ room is like, in case you’re wondering.

Daley: Totally.

Craig: We get that part.

Daley: Then someone would demonstrate it.

Craig: That’s the problem. See, we understand boundaries.

John: Dara Resnik, Daley Haggar, thank you so much for joining us on the show.

Craig: Thanks guys.

Dara: Thank you for having us.

Daley: Thank you.

John: Bye.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

johnaugust.com

Scriptnotes, Ep 321: Getting Stuff Written — Transcript

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August and this is Episode 321 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Last week, I was in London. This week, Craig is in London. We were literally flying through the air at the same time in opposite directions. But luckily, I found someone in the Pacific Time Zone to help us out.

Grant Faulkner joins us from Berkeley where he is Executive Director of the National Novel Writing Month, a.k.a. NaNoWriMo. He is a writer and novelist himself, but the reason I mostly wanted him on the show this week is his great new book about writing. Grant, welcome to the show.

Grant Faulkner: Thank you for having me, John. I’m really looking forward to talking creativity today.

John: So, I said you were in Berkeley. Is that actually accurate? Because last time I met you, you were in San Francisco.

Grant: I am in Berkeley, and the NaNoWriMo headquarters is in Berkeley as well.

John: Can you talk us through what NaNoWriMo is for folks who don’t know the program?

Grant: Yeah. NaNoWriMo is many, many things, but I won’t go into the whole hour-long description of it, which is really kind of what it requires. But just to go through the rudiments, it is a challenge to write 50,000 words in 30 days during the month of November. And so, it was developed really around the premise that everyone has a story to tell and that everyone’s story matters. But sometimes, so many people say, “I’m going to write my novel or my script some day,” you know, like that mythical “someday” when life is just easy and beautiful and you have money and a beautiful office and expanses of time.

But someday just rarely happens. In fact, I just read this in The New York Times, they did a survey and 81% of Americans say they want to write a book someday, but most of them of course don’t. And so, we exist to say “Make your creativity a priority for a month, in the month of November” and we want to ignite people’s creativity and help them realize their creative dreams.

John: So, I was aware of NaNoWriMo for a lot of years, and I’d never actually considered pursuing it until two years ago. I found myself at the end of October and realizing like, “Well, I don’t have a script that I have to write next, and I think I will actually just start writing a book and I will do that in November.”

So, I sat down at my computer. I was in Austin. I was there for the Austin Film Festival. And I started writing this book and it became Arlo Finch. So, my first book is actually a NaNoWriMo book.

Grant: Yeah.

John: Thank you to the program and also for the impetus. Most of our listeners are screenwriters. And so, 50,000 words, that doesn’t necessarily track to sort of what screenwriters do, but that’s sort of like — it’s a script. Maybe it’s sort of a script and a half. It’s a lot of words. So in order to hit 50,000 words, I think it’s 1,650 words per day that you’re supposed to be writing?

Grant: Yeah, 1,677 to be precise. And I was so impressed because you not only wrote Arlo Finch during NaNoWriMo, but you sold it, right?

John: So, that’s not entirely fair because I wrote about 15,000 words. I got nowhere near the 50,000 words.

Grant: Wow.

John: But I wrote the first six or seven chapters of it and that’s what actually became the book that we went out and sold. So, I sold Arlo Finch off the initial chapters, the outline for the whole book and that’s what’s got the whole thing started. So, it was a great sort of framework for getting me to sit down and actually just do the work of getting just started. So, I really, really enjoy it.

But since the time I did it, I talked to a lot of other people who have written during NaNoWriMo, and some of those people have sold books, but a lot of people just like, you know, actually sat down and like strung words together for the first time in a year. So I think you’re doing an incredible service to people who are curious about writing, who aspire to write, who wouldn’t otherwise have the motivation to do it.

Grant: Yeah. And it’s interesting to me because I think sometimes people think that NaNoWriMo is all about, you know, helping people not only write their novels but publish their novels, as if that’s always the end goal. And I’m really actually impressed by the number of people who sign up every year just to write a novel and to do it in a community of other writers. So, that whole notion of creativity for creativity’s sake I think is really valuable, even if your aspiration is to publish, just kind of keeping that notion, that sort of childlike approach, being playful with your words.

John: Absolutely. And I think the childlike focus comes into some of the other programs you guys do. You have the Young Writers Program which we help out with, with our Writer Emergency Packs but you’re in–

Grant: Yeah.

John: Like, 2,000 classrooms every year to sort of help young writers sort of get started in the process. There’s programs designed for really little kids and for middle grade kids. But I think it’s great that you’re sort of getting people thinking about writing as a thing you do even if you don’t intend to become a professional paid writer.

Grant: Yeah. And our Young Writers Program, what is remarkable about it for me, since I was a teen of course before NaNoWriMo was founded in 1999, and I’ll talk to 17-year-olds who have written five, six, seven novels during our Young Writers Program and they might have published some of them with a self-publishing company. And I never — when I was a teen, no one wrote novels. I was a geeky reader, writer and I wrote a long short story at most.

And so, I think like this year, we will have 80,000 teens sign up for our Young Writers Program and close to 350,000 writers for the NaNoWriMo main site. And then, with our Young Writers, we provide Common Core-aligned curriculum for teachers, free workbooks that can be downloaded. We send out novel writing kits and resources to 2,500 classrooms which include your Writer Emergency Pack which is actually good for any age of writer, I think. I like pulling out a card every once in a while.

So, yeah, our premise is just the world is a better place with more creators in it, and our approach to igniting people’s creativity is through writing.

John: So, for anybody who has questions about NaNoWriMo, they should go to nanowrimo.org and check out all the great work you do. But I want to focus today on the other great work you do which is this new book that I have in my hands. It’s a handsome little book called, Pep Talks for Writers — 52 Insights and Actions to Boost Your Creative Mojo. It’s published by Chronicle Books here in the US. It is about an inch thick. If you threw it at somebody, it would hurt them, which I think is a good measure for a book.

What was the impetus behind writing this?

Grant: Yeah. And for what I said earlier, one of the, you know, kind of breakthrough successes we have every year is when people find themselves as writers and creators during November and find themselves in our NaNoWriMo community. And they want to — they so often want to keep that creative momentum going all year long, but it can be really tough. I mean, you can’t do NaNoWriMo every month and I wouldn’t advise that. But I would like people to stay creative year-round and to finish those novels they wrote or just make creativity a priority in their lives.

And so, I wrote these 52 insights. The insights are really kind of short essays. Each essay is about two or three pages, I think. And then, each essay ends with an action that you can take within a one-week period. It’s not meant to be like a five-year plan or something like that. So, yeah, that was the purpose. And so, each essay is really just taking a different angle of creativity and help people reflect on being creative with their lives in a variety of different ways, whether it’s setting goals and deadlines to finish that novel or whether it’s going out in the world and practicing becoming a better observer, so just a range of topics.

John: Yeah. What I like about it so much is that so often these books are kind of “Yay, writing,” like, “Writing is fantastic. Writing is the best thing ever and just like follow these steps and you’ll be so happy.” And what I liked about your book is that, while I think overall it’s going towards a positive place, you’re really acknowledging some of the pitfalls and problems that sort of keep people from writing — either from starting to write or keep people from continuing to write. It’s a very challenging thing to sort of really dig in on. And even 20 years into this, I found myself nodding at a lot of the things that you point out about part of the reasons why it can kind of suck to write.

And so, I want to dig in to some of those today while I have you on the show to see sort of what insights you have and sort of what advice you can have to people no matter what they’re writing, be it a book, be it a short story, be it a screenplay, sort of get them through to that next step and that next draft.

So, if you’re ready, I just wanted to kind of dig in if we can.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Great.

Grant: That sounds great.

John: One thing you identify, something you call in one of the early chapters, “the Other Syndrome”, that writing is something that other people do. Like, can you talk to me about what you mean by other syndrome and I think we can probably tie it into something we’ve talked about in the podcast before, “Impostor Syndrome,” in a sense that I’m not really a writer. Where did that come from for you?

Grant: Yeah. I’ve never talked to anyone who didn’t struggle with this. “I am not a writer” is one way to put it or “I am not a real writer.” And so, I think, you know, for instance like me, I grew up in a small town in Iowa. And so, when I was growing up, real writers — they lived in New York City or Paris. They were adults. They just weren’t me. I didn’t have access to that writing world. And so, I think everybody can probably find a reason of how they feel other than what they determine a real writer is.

And I think if you don’t claim the “I am a writer” with some boldness, it will show with the words you write on the page. You won’t be able to write as bravely if you don’t claim it. If you say “I’m aspiring to write or be a writer. I want to be a writer –” I mean, the definition of being a writer is that you write. And I think the real part is even perhaps more inhibiting because I think what people mean by real is that they’ve been — you’re not a real writer until you’re published. And one publication can, you know, whatever, boost your confidence and make you feel like you are a real writer, it’s a really kind of flimsy and transitory feeling.

I find it like just kind of strange how I’ll wake up in the morning to write and open up my laptop and have a new assignment and I will just really struggle with those first words. It would be like the last thing I want to do is to write. Even though I’ve done it hundreds or thousands of times before and done it with success, each new project is like a totally new thing. And you can go back into all those sort of low moments of self-esteem or lack of belief in yourself no matter where you are in your writing journey.

John: Yeah. Let’s dig into psychologically why people have this sense that other people are writers but what I’m doing is not writing. And so, you were talking about growing up in a small town in Iowa. I think there is a sense that when we see writers portrayed in media, they’re always these people who live in big cities, off by themselves and who, like, they cloister themselves in their little rooms and they type these brilliant things and the editors love them. And if they do go out, it’s to mingle with other writers who wear little ascots. Like, it’s a very fancy kind of thing.

Grant: Exactly.

John: Writing is a really invisible process. It’s like just a person sitting there, doing something. You don’t see them on a daily basis. You don’t see people who are creative writers out there in the world so much. You might pass that person at the coffee shop who’s working, but like you’re not seeing them doing their work as much as you’re seeing an athlete practicing or playing the game.

Grant: Right.

John: You don’t see them the way you see musicians. Writing is just a thing that happens.

Grant: Yeah.

John: Last week on the podcast, we answered a question from a listener who asked like, “Is it okay to call myself a screenwriter versus an aspiring screenwriter?”

Grant: Exactly.

John: And I think our basic answer was a lot like what you said, is that identify yourself by the verb, not the noun. And if you are a person who writes, then you are a writer and that’s absolutely fair to say. And so, I think your idea of the “Other Syndrome” though also ties into I think we talked about it in the show before, which is the “Impostor Syndrome,” which is even when you’re doing it, even when you’re getting paid for it, you always have that sense of like “Oh, no. At some point, they’re going to figure out that I’m not really the person they should be trusting to do this work.”

I love that you included this quote that I’d never seen before. I’ll read the quote here. “I have written 11 books, but each time I think, ‘Uh oh, they’re going to find out that I’ve run a game on everybody. They’re going to find me out.’” It’s a quote by Maya Angelou. And so, here’s a woman who’s remarkably successful as a writer and yet she still says that each time she sets out to do a new project, she’s like, “This is the one they’re going to realize that I’m not that good, that I didn’t deserve that praise before.”

And in your book, you talked through some of the reasons why even really successful writers have that sense. Like, what do you think that is?

Grant: Per what you were saying earlier, I think one reason that people don’t feel like they’re writers or that they aren’t real writers is that they’re only reading the final draft of their favorite writers, right? The novels they love have been through, who knows, five or ten edits and had professional editors look at them. Whereas, like most of us are sitting with our rough draft and it’s so easy to see how it might not measure up to what we want it to be.

So, writing is so crazily difficult and challenging and I think that that flows into what Maya Angelou was saying as well is that it’s an activity of self-doubt. It has like so many masochistic components to it. The joy and the meaning one finds from the kind of painful exercises is just such a different type of joy than you might find in other activities. And so, I think a writer is just constantly wrestling with that self-doubt no matter where they are in their writing career.

And I think if you feel, depending on the degree that you feel the “Other Syndrome,’ I actually think there are whole different layers. I mean, I’ve done an exercise where I’ll write “I am a writer” in the middle of a circle and then draw concentric circles going out to the perimeter. And I think some people are on the out, like the very edge of the first concentric circle and some people are really close to that middle, I am a writer. And so, I’m imagining Maya Angelou might have been on that closer to the perimeter. So, her natural self-doubt as a writer might really rear an ugly head from time to time.

But, yeah, I think the thing is, is that publishing also doesn’t solve these things. Fame doesn’t solve these things. Awards don’t solve these things. As a writer, you’re always struggling with yourself and your ability to put the right words on the page.

John: You talk in your book about the inner editor and how the inner editor is that force inside you that is constantly pushing you and it can be pushing you in a good way or pushing you in a bad way. It’s like that coach who sort of calls you out on all your mistakes and good coaches can sort of push you to your best work and bad coaches can make you quit the team.

Grant: Yeah.

John: I think that’s an aspect of this “Impostor Syndrome” as well. You have this inner critic who is saying, “You are not good enough. Look at how brilliant that other writer’s work is and how bad your work is.” But of course, as you point out, you’re only comparing this crappy first thing you’ve written, this crappy first draft you’ve written to the finished masterpieces of that other thing. So, naturally, it’s not going to be as good.

Grant: Yeah.

John: You’re always thinking about the worst of your stuff versus the best of theirs.

Grant: Exactly. And we’re not even the best judge of our own stuff, you know. I mean, I think writers just because of that inner editor, which can be — your inner editor has its place and you might banish it during the first draft, but you need it later on because your inner editor wants you to succeed, but it can have a harsh voice. And I think sometimes writers — I mean, we internalize that inner editor and it helps us refine and revise our novels but it can also, you know, I think add to our self-doubt sometimes.

And so, you know, I think when you’re comparing your draft to a published author’s, your eyes probably aren’t the best at that point to judge it.

John: Absolutely. Let’s talk a little bit about process because the classic NaNoWriMo process is basically a quantity kind of goal. Like, you basically just like turn off your inner critic, like, don’t listen to that voice that says, “This isn’t good enough,” just like keep generating pages and go through it.

Do you find that that needs to switch at any point? Can people keep writing at that pace and that speed? There’s a screenwriter who’s out there today who does a lot of work who famously can write zillions and zillions and zillions of words and yet the people will call them out on quality. Do you find that people who go through NaNoWriMo process, what happens in those other 11 months? Like, what is the next step for them after all those words?

Grant: Yeah. We definitely — I think I do know one person in the world who did NaNoWriMo every month for an entire year. She wrote 12 novels, 50,000 words a month and she’s a rarity and we don’t advise people to do that. After NaNoWriMo is over — you know, 50,000 words, a lot of people aren’t finished to start. They might need to write another 25,000 or 50,000 words to finish. So, I recommend that they finish because I think there’s just something so rewarding about, you know, writing The End after writing a whole rough draft and then revise of course, you know, and revise, you know, multiple times.

So, sometimes I think people think that we think that you can write a novel in a month and publish it in a month and that’s certainly not the case.

John: Yeah. One of the numbers you point out in your book is that if you wrote just 250 words a day, you’d get to 80,000 words in a year. 80,000 words is a pretty good sized book.

Grant: It is.

John: That’s a book to be proud of. It may not be the best book ever, but it would be about an inch thick and that’s sort of a way to measure sort of what you’ve done. So, you know, consistency even at smaller amounts can be a huge help as well. But how do you then sort of reengage the inner critique, that inner editor, after you sort of try to ignore him or her during that initial process? Like, what’s the way of sort of inviting that creature back in?

Grant: Yeah. I think writing a rough draft and banishing the inner editor, it takes practice especially for someone like me because I wrote with an inner editor very present in my writing life until I discovered NaNoWriMo. So, I still — I write pretty slowly because my editor is always somewhere whispering in my ear, “You can refine that sentence a little bit more before going on.”

I think editing and revising takes a lot of practice. I think a lot of people — I’ll see writers revise for the first time and they’ll really kind of only revise on the sentence level. You know, they’ll brush up their grammar and stuff, and revision is such a deeper process. One of my favorite quotes about revision comes from the author, Karen Russell, who said that 90% of her rough draft doesn’t make it into her final draft. I mean, I think you have to open to totally, dramatically changing what you wrote in that first draft, you know, and I always advise people not to attach themselves too much to the plotline or whatever it is in that rough draft because it’s just going to change so much.

And I think Karen Russell is not an anomaly. Most writers I talk to or most novelists, so they say the same thing. The rough draft sometimes as a story just changes so dramatically. It’s barely recognizable. In fact, I just talked with a NaNoWriMo writer who, she did NaNoWriMo I think like 9 or 10 years ago and that 50,000 words that she wrote, she just published her book, but most of those words she said it was kind of a seed of the idea.

So, the rough draft, you’re really exploring. You’re really trying to take different pathways and not be too attached to them. You’re really just trying to open up and find your story. And if I can impart one more quote, I just heard of this as well, Barbara Kingsolver says she starts on negative page 100. So, she’s writing 100 pages just to get to the beginning, just to figure out what she’s really saying. I think the rough draft can even be like a kind of like planning stage. You know, it doesn’t get talked about like that, but, you know, call it zero draft. You can write a rough draft and then outline it afterwards and then, you know, almost write a whole new story.

So, yeah, there are so many different ways to go about it and even though we do have this framework for NaNoWriMo, NaNoWriMo is a creative experiment from its beginnings and I try to experiment with my own creative process every year because that was the gift that NaNoWriMo gave me. The reason I did it back in 2009 was because I felt like I was in a — my creative process was in a rut. And so, I just want to shake it up and it led me to, you know, take these risks on the page that I wouldn’t have ordinarily if I’ve been writing in my kind of ponderous, precious mode.

John: Let’s go back a little bit there because you went to a masters writing program, didn’t you?

Grant: Yeah. I did. Yeah.

John: So, talk us through it. So, a small town in Iowa, and then, what was the process that got you started as a writer and also that led you to NaNoWriMo?

Grant: Yeah. I think there was something in me that was kind of predetermined to be a writer. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t want to be a writer. So, even when I was going down other possible, you know, career paths, it was always an idea writing some way.

I went to a study abroad program when I was 20 and basically sat in France and read novels in cafes and said, “This is the life for me.” So, I decided to be a writer and never looked back, never had Plan B. And so, yeah, in my mid-20s, I went and got my masters at San Francisco State. But then, that’s when the writing got really tough. It was when I was in my 20s, I was totally broke and needed to make a living and I worked as a journalist and worked in corporate communications and then finally found my way to the National Writing Project which is a wonderful nonprofit in Berkeley dedicated to helping teachers teach writing better. And then, that led me to the NaNoWriMo board.

Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, invited me on and I’ve been here for six years. So, I feel blessed that I’ve managed to find a job in writing that speaks to — you know, I’m a very mission-driven person. So, I really love that this organization helps so many people become creators and, you know, it’s like I get to think of creativity and talk with people who are engaged in writing every day. So, I’m always learning something.

John: But, let’s circle back to this Masters of Creative Writing Program that you took at San Francisco State.

Grant: Yeah.

John: So, what was that like because that sounds like kind of the fantasy, like, “Well, of course, he’s a writer because he went to that amazing program.” So, what were you actually doing during your time there and what was the process of like dealing with other students in the program?

Grant: Yeah. I went there somewhat casually. A lot of people are very directed and they choose, you know, very prestigious writing programs, but I was living in San Francisco and I enjoyed my life and just wanted to stay here. And I was reading and writing every moment I could when I wasn’t working, and I just thought I should get a degree for it.

So, I wasn’t really driven purposefully. You know, I didn’t have grand visions of learning things, in particular. But I think the things that I learned were the value of developing a writing community. It provided that, and I think a writing community can serve you in so many different ways, whether it’s getting feedback from your peers and friends or whether you’re getting inspiration from them or wisdom from their experience or networking opportunities.

Some of the professors definitely introduced me to new ways to write, Robert Gluck in particular. He taught experimental fiction. But, yeah, I can’t say that I had — you know, I think a lot of people go to programs and they want to find this mentor who will love them and that mentor will then, you know, open every door in the world for them to get published. And I think that does happen but it’s very rare. And so, I think you have to really think — I mean, if I were going to go back and do it, I would really think about what do I want out of this. I wouldn’t be so casual.

John: One of the questions we get most often on the podcast is, “Should I go to film school?” And I think our answers tend to be very much what you describe is that film schools are a great place to be surrounded by people who are trying to do the same things you’re trying to do and get that community, but you can’t go into it expecting “I’m going to go through this program and suddenly I will have the success in this field,” especially in something as esoteric and strange as writing. It’s hard to anticipate that you’re going to be able to graduate from that program and suddenly, you know, all the gates will be open to you.

Grant: It’s really true and what’s interesting to me is the number of people who go to MFA programs and they don’t write now, and they’ll quit writing soon afterwards. And I’m always like, “Why did you do it? That was a huge investment of time and money.” And I think it speaks to like what really makes a writer or a screenwriter is that inner passion. It doesn’t matter whether you have a degree in it. It doesn’t matter if you’ve taken any classes in writing at all.

You know, in fact, Chris Baty who founded NaNoWriMo, he hadn’t taken any writing workshops or anything like that. And I think especially with the novel, I don’t know if this applies to scriptwriting so much, but I imagine it does to a large part, is that the best way to learn to write a novel is by writing one, you know. You can’t really read about how to write a novel or just listen to someone lecture on it. You have to experience it in tandem with a larger conversation around it and you can find the conversation in books and in writing communities like NaNoWriMo, of course.

John: One of the things you talked about quite a bit in the book is sort of the virtue of being a beginner and sort of like how to sort of remember what it’s like to be a beginner so that you can, you know, approach things with an openness and interactiveness. There’s a quote you used by Matsuo Basho, “Seek not to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought.” And which is basically a great way of expressing to sort of be able to retain that sense of openness and curiosity that you have as a beginner.

And I think that may have been one of the main reasons I wanted to do NaNoWriMo is because I’m really good at screenwriting. I sort of think I know how screenwriting works. I really didn’t know how writing books worked. And it was so thrilling to be a beginner again at something and I think part of the reason why I keep trying new things is that I’m sort of a dilettante and hopping in between things is because it’s so much more fun to explore something new than to sort of than to sort of keep trudging over the same terrain again and again.

Grant: Yeah. And I think the more you stay in one field and kind of specialize in it, the more your sort of expert rigidity just keeps getting more and more rigid. It’s even hard for me sometimes to go back to my beginning stages of why I wrote to begin with. And NaNoWriMo provides that in the sense of the community. I get to talk to a lot of beginning writers and they help me remember that sort of — you know, it’s just so strange. It’s like traveling to a new city that you’ve never been to before. You’re just experiencing the world in such freshness.

And I do think that we lose that kind of childlike appreciation of storytelling the longer that we write. And so, the more that we can do to go back and remind ourselves about it and you mentioned one — I mean, the one thing that I love is like learn something new. Like, when I started playing the guitar five years ago, it was such an interesting experience to be a total beginner in another art form. And so, I think people should like embrace that really as a new year’s resolution. Learn one thing new every year because it brings you back to that beginner’s mind, and then you can apply that to your writing.

John: Absolutely. One of the things, a truism that we hear again and again about writing, we hear about screenplays but I think even more so about books is to write what you know.

Grant: Yeah.

John: And I like what you were sort of going into about that idea because so often it will be brought up, and it will be sort of immediately dismissed because like, well, that’s stupid because I don’t know anything about, you know, space travel, but I love to write about space. And, you know, there’s so many examples that people writing things that they couldn’t possibly have firsthand knowledge of it, yet it really works.

Where I think you do a good job of sort of digging deeper is looking at what you’re really trying to get out with writing, what you know, which is sort of the emotional memory, the stuff underneath the experience that is so crucial about writing what you know. What things should people be looking for when someone says, “Write what you know”?

Grant: Yeah. I think “write what you know” is funny. That’s like one of the top three probably maxims of writing, right? Like, people are always saying, “Write what you know.” And I remember when I first heard that. I was like, “What does that mean?” You know, because, if I take it at its literal face value, I think that I have to write about only those things I’ve experienced in my life like my small town in Iowa. But it’s not really about that.

I think like just what you said, you should never limit yourself. Like, if I — I don’t know, if I want to write about aliens on another planet, if I want to write about a region I’ve never been to in the world which I’ve done, you know, if I want to write about characters, whatever they are, like neuroscientists, so, I don’t know any neuroscientists, but we should give ourselves that permission because it’s part of the reason we write is to see the world through people’s eyes and to explore the world in different ways.

And so, I like the method acting or method writing approach that you’re really applying your own personal emotional experience to the characters you’re creating. Actually, there’s a Shelley Winters quote where she says, “Act with your scars.” And so, you can apply your scars to any character. But I do think that, you know, that requires, like method acting, a lot of introspection and not just like tossing yourself into characters willy-nilly but really thinking about the purpose of what scar and what experience of that scar is appropriate for certain characters.

John: When I read writing that feels very real, when the characters seem like they have flesh and blood, I do think it’s because the author has invested a bit of him or herself into their experience. And so, that, you know, author has a very clear sense of that character’s inner emotional life because he or she is using some things from their own life to sort of proxy for it.

When I was doing the script for Big Fish, there’s a sequence at the end where Will is sort of going through the story of his father’s death and I knew this is going to be an incredibly emotional thing for the character but also for the audience watching it. And so, I would — this incredibly method writing where I would bring myself to tears and then start writing.

Grant: Yeah.

John: And it seems crazy and why would you do it that way, but I’m pretty sure the only reason why I got to those specific words and those images was because I was at that emotional state as I was writing it. And that’s a, you know, it was an incredibly valuable exercise for me is to sort of let myself feel those feelings and then let those characters express themselves while I was feeling those feelings. And, you know, I would just encourage people to try those things because really what’s the harm of trying those things? And there’s something sort of embarrassing about feeling strong emotions or to psych yourself up into a place. But you do it for other things. You’ll rev yourself up before giving a speech. You’ll do other things to sort of get you into the emotional state. Get yourself into the right emotional state for the writing that you’re doing.

And that’s really what we’re talking about in terms of write what you know. Write those feelings that you know. Use the things that are specific and unique to you to help create some specific and unique moments for your story.

Grant: Yeah, that’s a great point. I think the stories that I connect with most I think, I agree with you, the writer or the creator has done something that is just so personal. He or she has made themselves vulnerable in a way that, you know, they’ve gone deeper. And so, I really think vulnerability on the page is more important than any craft advice, you know, or craft tips that you might write with.

And that’s where — with Shelley Winters, like act with your scars, it’s really going deep, you know. Like, be willing to reveal your scars on the page and go there.

John: You also bring up the idea of using a pseudonym to sort of give yourself permission to write something that you yourself wouldn’t feel personally comfortable writing. So, J.K. Rowling with her Robert Galbraith books, like she basically created a whole other character who is the person who is writing those books. And it’s a nice way of like, you know, giving herself some arm’s distance so she felt safe to have this other guy be writing those books, but also so she could write herself more into it.

It seems like it’s sort of an impossible sort of, you know, double twist. But by creating somebody, a proxy for herself, she could, you know, more personally invest in what she was writing. Have you had any experience with that personally?

Grant: I have, yeah. I know some somewhat renowned writers who have written what with a pseudonym or through a persona and they’ve done it to be more vulnerable on the page. You know, to be more powerful and write more bravely. Like just that shield, I guess, that the persona gives them helps them do that.

I mean, I think really, in the end, every time we sit down to write, we’re doing it through a filter of some persona, you know. Like I might think I’m writing with my natural self, but I think like there are ways to shift that, you know. What is your natural self, really? I sometimes like to pretend I’m somebody else just to try to access a different voice.

John: For me, you know, John August is the person I became sort of when I was 21, so I ended up switching from my born last name to use my dad’s last, middle and full name.

Grant: Oh.

John: And so, like it really was a process like, well, John August is the person who could do this. But the other John maybe couldn’t do this, but John August could do this. Like I was literally a different person who could do these things that were, you know, terrifying to the other John.

Whether I had to legally change my name or not, I think if I had given myself a pen name or permission to do those things, it might have been easier. I feel like the people who write fanfiction and slash fiction and do all that amazing work in that space. I think some of the reason why they’re able to do so much and sometimes do such great work is because they are writing under not their real names. And so, they can expose themselves more, because there’s no way to trace it back to them.

Like, the fact that they are 17 years old and living in Missoula, Montana is not an issue because they are just some avatar on a forum and some name they made up. I think that may be one of the things that’s giving them permission to write as much as they’re writing.

Grant: Yeah. And I think in some ways it’s interesting. Going back to the beginning of our conversation, that statement I am a writer or I am a real writer. You know, do whatever it takes to do that. And if it takes using a pseudonym or a persona or an avatar, you know, that’s a perfectly legitimate way to claim that identity.

John: For NaNoWriMo, has fanfiction or slash fiction become an issue in terms of like the kinds of work that people are doing? Do you guys talk about that at all as an organization or as part of your mission statement?

Grant: Yeah. I mean, our premise is we want people to tell their stories and we don’t really care what those stories are. We don’t judge the quality or the topics of people’s stories. So we do get a lot of fanfic writers and I think that’s great, actually. I mean, in some ways, I think all writing is a variation of fanfiction. We’re all writing through the voices and the stories that we’ve experienced. I love the metaphor of Odysseus, you know, being handed down from one oral storyteller to the next. And that is a kind of process of fanfiction, too. We’re always building on the original story.

So I think fanfiction actually is a wonderful way to learn to write because you’re taking these known characters and known plot lines and then going crazy with them.

John: It takes the pressure off of like, oh, I have to create something brand new, or I couldn’t create something brand new, I can use these things that already exist out there in the world. And of course we’ve seen that like, yes, you can do that but if you do that well enough, you can basically change the characters’ names and suddenly you have “Fifty Shades of Grey,” you have one of the biggest books of all time.

So, you know, I think it’s a way of giving yourself permission to be creative that you might not feel that you’re entitled to otherwise.

Grant: Yeah. And it may be similar to using a pseudonym or a persona, maybe writing through this known world is a way to feel safe and express yourself, you know, and be vulnerable on the page.

John: In your section on writer’s block, you talk about throw-away writing or basically the writing you might do at the start of your day so that, you know, it takes the pressure off of things that you don’t expect they have to be good so that it can — you know, there’s less consequence for it. And I think fanfiction could be one of those examples.

You talk about some exercises like Ray Bradbury’s list of nouns. Can you describe that to us?

Grant: Yeah. Ray Bradbury, I think he was the one actually, like his phrase throw-away writing, I think that came from him maybe. He says that every writer needs to write — I can’t remember if he says every writer needs to write thousands or hundreds of thousands of throwaway words. But I think that that’s a good way to view it because you’re essentially practicing writing through those words.

And when he first started becoming a writer and just in that kind of moment of like, “What do I write about?” Maybe instead of going to write what I know, he did this approach, he wrote down 20 nouns and he just made a list and they were totally random. And then he would write these very tiny little essays, like 100 or 200 words which he called pensays. And he would write them about each noun.

And within that sort of meditation on these words, he would piece together, like kind of the interaction of his subconscious and these real words, a story. And that’s how he wrote many of his most famous novels and stories, including “Something Wicked This Way Comes.”

John: In the book you go through a list of like these are the nouns that were interesting to him and he sort of looks for the factions between them and that became the basis of the story.

I always find it real interesting when people describe writer’s block as if they like, “I have no idea what to write.” And so rarely in my life has that actually been a factor. It’s more the factor of like, “Man, I just really don’t feel like writing,” or, “I really don’t feel like writing this next thing.”

Grant: Yeah.

John: And I kind of wish everyone would agree on a different set of words for describing those two different phenomena because they’re not really the same thing.

Grant: Not at all.

John: So, often I know exactly what I want to write, what I need to write, what I’m compelled to write. It’s just like it’s just torture to actually sit down and get into that next thing. And yet, through books and through movies, we have sort of romanticized this kind of ritualistic idea of writer’s block where it’s like this shrine to which we sacrifice ourselves. And it’s just rarely like that in my daily experience, and yet, you know, we as writers still talk about it.

Grant: Yeah. I think shrine is the word. Too many people sort of worship at that shrine almost. They’ll go years without writing and claim it’s just because they have writer’s block. And I think even when sort of famous writers have had it, it’s been overly mythologized.

I oftentimes think it can be just an excuse. Or as you put it, it’s more like it refers to other things like “I don’t feel like writing today” or “I have too many things happening in my life to be creative.” And I think there are so many ways to get around it, whether you’re using Ray Bradbury’s list of nouns, or a photo, or any kind of prompt. There’s a million prompt books out there that you can buy.

But just putting down one sentence on the page, I’ve never experienced a moment when that one sentence didn’t lead to a second and a third sentence. Writing is largely about beginning and establishing or creating some creative momentum. And, you know, there are throwaway words — you know, Julia Cameron, she has the technique, morning notes, where she says it advises people just to sit down and write anything, wither it’s like a list of 20 nouns or like a diary journal or diary entry, or whatever it is. Just to put the pen on the paper, write a couple of pages, throw them away and then begin on your real writing.

So there’s just so many ways to start writing that I think I would just banish the notion of writer’s block from your mind.

John: You have an interesting notion of muse. And so we talked about like the muse comes and like the muse sort of whispers in your ear and tells you the brilliant things to write. And like the fear for a writer is that like, oh, the muse won’t show up today. But you described it as a very different thing. You described it sort of more as a group of tiny pixies.

Grant: [laughs] Yeah. Well, I think, you know, the classic notion of the muse comes from Greece where they’re — you know, if you go into a museum, you’ll see a lot of, especially with old paintings, these paintings with the muse, you know, strumming her harp near the writer. And the idea with the muse is like whispering the story into the writer.

I mean, I don’t think that’s really the way the muse works. I think too often we’re waiting for that thunderbolt of inspiration to strike from the sky. And at least in my life, that kind of huge moment of inspiration, it happens just so rarely there’s no way I could build a creative process around it.

And so, yeah, per your comment about pixies, I think just putting the words down on the page and focusing on them, and I call them like little sprites that are whispering to you. Yeah, you’ll find the inspiration more likely on the page than you will from the thunderbolt in the sky.

John: Yeah. For me, I find it’s the combined momentum of like “Those words fit well together, okay, the whole sentence works well together, okay, that thing he’s saying leads to this thing leads to that thing.” Eventually, you know, there’s flow that happens and it’s just the right things are stacking up in the right way. But to wait for some great muse to strike you with either amazing inspiration or exactly the right words to express those ideas is rarely sort of what the real experience is like.

And, yeah, again, it’s one of those things like writer’s block where we’ve romanticized it to the degree that there is like, you know, this profound lightning bolt that comes out of nowhere that tells you what to do. And maybe you’ll get a few of those in your life where things really do happen that way, where if you’re Kevin Williamson, suddenly you go off and like in three days you write Scream because you just had like this vision for what it’s going to be.

But most writing isn’t that way. And I think we need to sort of really focus on the day-to-day of what most writing is like.

Grant: Yeah. And, you know, back at when you were saying like our movies always present writer’s block and contribute to that mythology, growing up, I thought that that’s all that writers did. They sat there by their typewriter with a, you know, shot of Scotch and a cup of coffee and a bunch of cigarettes and they’re wadding up paper constantly and throwing it at the waste basket. But that, for me, is more a metaphor of experimenting on the page. That’s the way I would like to interpret it instead of writer’s block.

And the fact is even when you’re having those moments where like, I don’t feel like writing today, like you mentioned, I mean we all have those moments, but so many times we have to sit down and write. And the fact that we do it in those sort of bad moments, I mean the next day, I’m always like, “Woo, thank God I wrote yesterday.” My present self thanks my past self so much because now I can like sit down and edit these words no matter how crappy they are.

John: There’s a movie from 2015, Trumbo, which talks about sort of this writer’s process and sort of the blacklist and like there’s all these wonderful novel things. But I see the scenes of him like, you know, in the bathtub typing with his Scotch. And even if it’s true, it’s frustrating because I just feel like there’s going to be another generation of people watching that movie thinking like, “Oh, that’s what screenwriting is. It’s sitting in a bathtub being cruel to your family while you smoke and drink Scotch.”

And maybe two or three of those things are accurate for most screenwriters, but the bathtub thing, no, most writers are not in bathtubs their whole life.

Grant: [laughs] Yeah. I haven’t tried the writing in the bathtub. Maybe that’ll be my next book.

John: Yeah. Craig and I are both big advocates of the shower, so there’s the shower for those moments where like you can’t figure out what to write next.

Grant: Yeah.

John: Something about the shower drops your inhibitions and you start being able to make stuff happen.

Grant: I think if you’re looking for an a-ha moment, yeah, go to the shower. They haven’t done research on this, but I’m pretty sure more big ideas have come in the shower than anyplace else.

John: I’ll tell you that one of the things I found most interesting about writing prose after writing screenplays for so long is the process of writing a scene for me in a screenplay is I can just sort of sit quietly and sort of loop through the scenes so they can sort of see like, okay, this is what’s happening in the scene and I think it’s of course very rough blocks and then as they sort of keep looping through the scene, I could that, okay, like this is the personalities of people in the scene, they’re moving through the scene. There’s a few things from like this. And I can basically visualize it here as the whole scene because scenes are short, they are mostly about three minutes long. So I can visualize and hear what it’s like. And once I have that, I can sort of quickly scribble it down and then just do the better version of it.

What I found so fascinating about doing prose by comparison is like you can’t do that. A person’s buffer is not big enough to hold a whole chapter or even, you know, a page. And so I have to really tie it down to sort of like paragraph by paragraph. Like I can’t sort of build it all in my head and then put it on the paper. I actually have to create the whole thing on the paper sort of line by line. That’s been one of the biggest and most interesting changes and challenges I found switching over to prose fiction after doing screenplays for so long.

Grant: Yeah. Like the three-minute scene you’re writing, so much of the work of that is happening with the camera, right?

John: Mm-hmm. Absolutely.

Grant: And so in a novel like the — all the camera work has to happen on the page, is that right? Is that difference?

John: I think there’s a lot of it because screenplays are so minimalist, it’s just going to be like there’s a dialogue and enough scene description to let us feel what is specific and unique about that scene in those moments. So there’s such an economy to screenwriting, that to get to that prose section you have like, “Oh, I can use all the words I want. I can describe all the sentences, I can do all these things.” But it’s also all those words tend to be sort of necessary to do certain things. And so finding your way through that sentence that feels good and that it will feel good next to that next sentence and the sentence after that. Those things are just such different challenges than what I normally deal with as a screenwriter.

Grant: Yeah.

John: I mean a lot of you take scene description really seriously, so I will slave over those sentences for a long time. But, you know, books are basically entirely scene description, and that’s just a lot of words and a lot of really precise details to these words to make things make sense. That’s I think — to the degree to which my inner editor was kicking in as I was writing for Arlo Finch, was like I can’t use the word because I used that word two paragraphs ago. And so I’m going to find different words so that I’m not repeating myself. Those are the challenges that you just don’t face as a screenwriter.

Grant: Yeah. And I think what — as a novelist, too, you’ve got to find that right balance, you know. You got to keep the narrative moving or the suspension, the tension of it. So you just can’t go off too deeply into description, at least depending on what you’re writing, you know. It’s a tough balance to strike sometimes.

And I do things that’s being — like writing scripts is good for novelists. I think a lot of novelists have a tough time moving the action forward. And, you know, by writing a script, you’re just naturally more focused on keeping the story moving. And so going — you know, and I mean because novels in some ways, they don’t have any boundaries.

John: Yeah.

Grant: So you can go into backstory for 50 or 100 pages and some people — some writers like William Faulkner have been successful in that, but most of the time you’re not contributing to the suspense and tension of the forward moving narrative.

John: Agreed. I thought we’d wrap up this discussion of your book by talking about envy because you do a nice job describing it. You have a quote here. “Envy is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” And so I was looking that up online to see who the person was who said that and it turns that you can find baically that same quote with almost every other negative word stuck into the word of the place of envy. So a grudge or revenge. And so basically any negative emotion is sort of like that drinking of poison, but it’s really kind of what it feels like. I remember early in my career being really envious of David Benioff. And then I got to know him, and like he’s a great guy so I thought it was ridiculous for me to be envious of him.

And yet, I also do wonder if just a tiny bit of envy can be good motivation for a writer starting out. Like it’s somebody that helps convince them to sit down to work because if I’m not working, that other person is working because — do you feel that? Or is it only a negative thing?

Grant: Yeah. I think envy can be a real creativity killer. I think comparing yourself to another — you’re setting yourself up, you know, as I put it in the book. Like Jonathan Franzen was my version of your David Benioff, you know. And when I encountered him on Time Magazine as the great American novelist, you know, I did — I was deeply envious, but later I did sort of my — you know, I realized, okay, I’m projecting this on him. He doesn’t know who I am, for one. And no one is keeping score, you know. No matter if it’s Jonathan Franzen or one of my best friends down the street who’s a writer having more success, I would be the only one keeping score. So Jonathan Franzen might have 100 points, right? I have two. But no one else is keeping score, so it’s totally negative energy that I’m putting into the world and mostly on myself. I’m the one drinking the poison.

But I actually do agree with you. I think there is a type of envy that can be motivating and can make you work harder and strive for more and try to get, you know, better and practice more and more determined. I’m trying to remember the author. I think it was Harold Bloom, the literary critic that wrote a book called — where I took this idea of the anxiety of influence. And his working premise was that every generation of writers is competing against all of history. So everyone is in their way trying to rise to the top. And I think that can be a healthy type of envy, at least if you kind of keep it in balance.

John: Yeah. I can definitely see that. And you’re always — for me, it was that I was able to look at other writers like Kevin Williamson, you know, as I started off. I could look at them and sort of see like they have a template. I could use that as like a — I could imagine myself getting to their place because they existed and so I was grateful for them to have been out there.

And then sometimes when people are more at a peer level, I could look at sort of like, oh, David wants to go down on this path. Well, I’m going this path. I could ask myself, have I chosen the right path? And both cases, like, yeah, you know what I chose a good reasonable path. And, you know, I think it was useful to see that there are other people out there doing different things. And I could sort of compare what they were doing versus what I was doing, and eventually stopped worrying about whether they were having more fun than I was having.

Grant: Yeah. I gotta say, one of the main benefits of growing older as a writer is that my envy decreases. And, again, it goes back to I think some of what we said earlier. It’s like why did we get into this in the first place, you know? I mean I started writing, you know, for many different reasons especially when I was a kid. I just wanted to tell a story just for the sake of it. I didn’t get into writing to compare myself to other people and to try to one up them or do better. So again I say it is that beginner’s mind moment where I think you’ve got to go back and think about the source of your creativity and what you were — why you write and why, you know, why — because it’s a tough profession, right? Instead of like — and envy is not going to get you through the tough spots of your writing journey, you know. You’re — the source, the real reason you do it is the thing that’s going to keep you going. In the end, that’s what success is always for me. It’s not the number of books that I sell or publish. It’s about sitting down every day and making meaning of the world through my stories.

John: That’s a great place to leave that on. So on our podcast, every week, we give a One Cool Thing. So do you have a One Cool Thing you could share with us? Something you’ve liked. It could be a book, a movie, something out there that you want people to know about.

Grant: Yeah. There’s something because I’ve been so absorbed in my book and National Novel Writing Month that I’ve barely been doing anything else, so I haven’t gone to many movies or plays or listened to much new music lately. But I do want to mention I’ve been reading Leonard Cohen’s biography since he died about a year ago. And he’s influenced me a lot since I was very young. And part of the reason I’m reading it is that I decided that I’m the type of person who — I experienced a lot of different things that may be only mainly on the top surface level. And so one of the things I wanted to do more in life is go deeper.

And so this biography is called I’m Your Man. It was written just before he died or published maybe a year before. And I’m reading it and one quote that came out that I thought I’d share with people is form Leonard Cohen’s mentor and older poet called Irving Layton and he would say like, “Leonard, are you making sure you’re doing it wrong?” And I thought that that was like actually great. Like I think every once in a while artists and writers should think, maybe I should do the wrong thing here, not the right thing, because sometimes the wrong thing leads to a more interesting story.

So I’m just going to mention Leonard Cohen’s biography, I’m Your Man. And another reason I’m reading it actually is because I love his voice, like his singing voice, but also his poetic voice. And when I have a writing hero like that, I really like to sort of live in their voice. So sometimes when I’m writing something it’s almost like the persona of conversation we’re having. Like I might write something kind of through his voice.

John: Very cool. My One Cool Thing is called “The Last Invention of Man: How AI Might Take over the World.” It is by Max Tegmark from MIT. And so it’s not quite a short story. It’s not quite an article. It’s more sort of an imagination of sort of how a group of motivated people could use AI or the ability for AI to keep improving upon itself to, you know, becoming incredibly powerful. So I don’t agree with a lot of what’s in here and particularly like Tegmark speculates that one of the first things that this AI would do would be to basically generate a bunch of like really good CG movies and sort of basically take over Hollywood and take over the entertainment industry with computer-generated movies that made a lot of money to help fund all the rest of the innovation that they’re going to do.

I think he is underestimating sort of how challenging it is to do the creative work we’re doing and also how long the feedback cycle is to know sort of like whether that creative decision was the right one, that sort of propels you forward in time. But I still think it’s a really interesting thought experiment, so I’ll point people to “The Last Invention of Man” and you could tell what you think of that.

That is our show for this week. Grant, thank you so much for being on the episode. It was great to talk through with you. If people want to find your book, where should they buy your book?

Grant: Yeah. It’s in all the usual places. So, you know, online, you can go to your favorite online book retailer. I won’t recommend one. But it is published by Chronicle Books if you want to buy it there. And then yeah, it should be most bookstores I believe.

John: And if people want to do NaNoWriMo this year, what advice would you give them?

Grant: I would advise them to sign up on nanowrimo.org. I would advise them to tell themselves, I’m a writer. I would tell them to believe that you can write the 50,000 words in a month. And before you do so, though, have a strategy. Go on a time hunt and think about where you can find time in your days because that’s the number excuse I hear, I’m too busy. So all of us are too busy, but if you cut out social media, if you cut out some binge watching, if you don’t go a couple of dinner parties, if you wake up an hour early sometimes or write on your lunch break, you can write a novel in November and that’s a gift.

John: That’s awesome. All right. Our show is produced by Megan McDonnell. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth. If you have an outro for us to listen to, you can send us a link to ask@johnaugust.com. It’s also a place you can send longer questions. But short questions, I’m on Twitter, @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Grant, you’re on Twitter, are you not?

Grant: I am. @grantfaulkner. F-A-U-L-K-N-E-R. Some people spell it F-A-L-K. But F-A-U-L-K.

John: Fantastic. That’s also a place where you can tweet at him to tell him how much you liked him on the show and that you’d purchased his book. You can find us on Apple Podcast. Just search for Scriptnotes Podcast. Leave us your review. We’d love that. Craig just — he stays up every night just reading reviews. It’s the only thing that keeps him going. You can find the notes for this episode at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you find the transcripts that goes about a week after the episode airs. We have all the back episodes of Scriptnotes. Now available at scriptnotes.net. And the first 300 episodes on the Scriptnotes USB drive so that you can click a link in the show notes to get to those. Grant Faulkner, thank you so much for being on the podcast this week.

Grant: Thank you, John.

John: Good luck with your book. Good luck with the month of November which you now own. So it’s going to be busy for you.

Grant: I hope you’re going to write a novel with us again this year, John.

John: I’m not going to write a whole novel, but I’m going to finish the second Arlo Finch in November.

Grant: Cool.

John: So that’s my goal and mission.

Grant: Great. Well, thanks too much for having me.

John: Okay. Thanks, Grant. Bye.

Grant: Bye.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

johnaugust.com

Scriptnotes, Ep 320: Should You Give Up? — Transcript

The original post for this episode can be found here.

John August: Hey, this is John. So Craig and I recorded this episode almost a week ago. And a few things have happened since then. For starters, Harvey Weinstein. You know Craig has opinions about that so we’ll talk about that in a future episode.

Another thing that happened is that if you’re a screenwriter in the WGA West, you may have got an email from me and the WGA Board inviting you to a lunch to talk over screenwriter issues and this current state of the studio system.

There are five lunches conveniently located all over town, all happening this next month. So if you’ve got the email, please RSVP for one. I’ll be at two of the lunches, will even try to get Craig to come to one of them. So you can ask him in person for his Harvey Weinstein umbrage. Now, on with the episode.

Hello and welcome, my name is John August.

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is episode 320 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today’s episode consist entirely of listener questions. We’ll be talking about Bulgaria, Netflix and the quote-unquote, “growth mind set.”

Craig: Okay.

John: But I thought today, we’d start with the giant question we’ve never actually addressed. Craig, do you want to tackle this big question?

Craig: So we’re going to present to you this question as if somebody wrote it in, but really it’s an amalgam of the question we’ve been asked a million times. And it goes a little something like this:

“ Dear John and Craig, over the past few years I’ve written a couple of scripts, I think they’re pretty good. Some folks have read them but no one is busting down my door to make them.

“My question is, at what point do I throw in the towel and decide that maybe screenwriting isn’t going to work out for me. I always think back to my high school coach saying, ‘winners never quit and quitters never win.’ But that can’t be right, can’t it? At what point am I allowed to say, ‘enough’ and move on?”

Oof, heavy one.

John: Oh, this is a heavy one. And I think the question kind of underlying a lot of the conversations I have, you know throughout the time we’ve been doing this, even back when I first started answering questions on IMDb for, you know, about screenwriting. It’s like I’m doing this thing but it’s not really working or doesn’t seem to be working, can I stop doing it?

The first time actually I heard it’s actually asked of me were sort of like, you know, come back to me was we did a live show and I remember being at the WGA Theater and it’s afterwards that this guy came up and it’s like, “Hey, I just want to let you know that like I listened to your podcast says, that it be okay for me like to stop screenwriting?” And at first I was just like, “Oh that’s horrible.”

[laughs]

John: And he said no, no, no, it’s good. Like, you know, maybe realized that like screenwriting is not a thing I actually really want to do and I feel like talking about it but I don’t actually enjoy it. And he was happy and so it made me happy. And so I thought we’d dig into this sort of all of the issues bundled up here about, you know, this aspiration of screenwriting and when you’re allowed to give up that aspiration.

Craig: And in doing so, we are not just standing on but embracing, hugging this third rail especially in our culture today. David Zucker, his answer to this one is always when someone says, “Should I quit?” He should say, “Yes, you should quit.” And if you ignore that advice, you’re halfway there to making it. And that’s clever but it is essentially a spin on the kind of advice you get all the time which is non-advice, apologies to David.

Because really what people are saying is, you should definitely not quit if you’re going to make it, eventually. And if you do quit, we know for sure you’re not going to make it. So the real trick is can you tell if you’re going to make it or not? Well, no. Generally speaking, you can’t. However, I think that for a lot of people, they can probably tell if they’re not going to make it.

And so part of the trick here is to have a very honest self-appraisal of the work you’re doing and the kind of response it gets and ask yourself, “Okay, if this just landed in front of me in a mix of scripts that eventually got turned into movies, would it even feel like it belonged in the same world of these other scripts? Or do I have enough evidence that actually this is not something that I can do at that level?”

John: Yeah, there’s a quality of self-delusion, which is so crucial to you know any new endeavor. And so whether you’re doing a startup, you’re like you’re launching a new business, a new venture, you’re some sort of tech product that you’re going to put out there, there has to be some level of self-delusion where like, “I know there’s a way I can do this.”

And at a certain point, you have to sort of stop and assess like, “Am I just still doing this because of sort of the sunk cost fallacy, like, I’ve invested this much into it emotionally and sometimes financially that I just have to keep doing it? Or can I step back and take an honest assessment of this is how far I’ve gotten, this is not where I want to be.

The hardest I think to appreciate when you’re in the middle of something is the opportunity cost of the things you’re not doing because you keep trying to do this one thing.

Craig: Right.

John: And it’s one of the things where like, you know, if you are pursuing a career you don’t like, you’re just like, “Oh, but I could go off and do this other thing.” And okay, that’s great. You know, I can make that natural change. But with something like screenwriting, like, you might kind of like it. I mean, you might feel like it’s hard to sit down and write but like I feel like I’m doing something each time but all the time you’re spending trying to make it as a screenwriter or as an actor or a musician, there’s a lot of other careers which are so similar, that’s time could’ve been doing something else, something else you generally would enjoy and be good at.

I sat down for dinner this last week with CGP Grey who’s a great YouTuber and podcaster and he had a video out recently and one of the things he sort of touched on was this toxic idea of “follow your bliss” and basically, you know, that idea you should be delightfully happy doing whatever it is that you’re doing and it creates this system where you feel like, “Well, if I’m not doing the thing that I love most in the world, I’m a failure,” and this is sort of self-perpetuating cycle of like nothing will ever be good enough. And so–

Craig: Yeah.

John: It might be worth an assessment of like what is it that you actually enjoy? What are the sort of goals you have in your life and is screenwriting high on that list? Great, but if it’s not high on that list then maybe you do need to stop and really think about where you’re spending your hours of your day.

Craig: I agree. I have some practical advice for folks who are starting out or maybe are early on in their journey, and it’s to ask yourself a critical question. What is it that you are fantasizing about? If you’re fantasizing about being a writer, that is dangerous. What you should be fantasizing about is writing. The amount of times in any given year that I experienced, let’s just call it the nowness of being a screenwriter is very limited. Here and there we have a meeting where you’re a screenwriter or somebody who refers to you as a screenwriter or you get a call from somebody, but most of the time, the vast majority of the time, and I’m sure it’s the same for you, we’re writing.

It’s actually a life of action not of being a thing and I think that people think because of what they see which is the final product that you’re a thing. I am a writer. If your identity is invested in that, then it’s going to be very, very hard for you to, A, honestly asses your own work and, B, let it go if it’s not working. Because now you’ve entwined who you are with this imaginary position in the world. I don’t really feel like I have any position. What I do is write movies, but I don’t think about a position that I occupy. I think about the work I’m doing every day. So if you make it about the doing as opposed to the being, I think you’re already better off.

And the second thing I would suggest to people is that you remove any notion of romance from what it means to be a screenwriter. In reality, it is terribly unromantic. I would argue everything that we think of is being romantic, every occupation. If you actually do it, is not romantic. The joy you get from writing television scripts or movie scripts, day after day, week after week, year after year, decade after decade, is like the joy of being married for a long time which is something that you and I both know.

It is not the heady excitement of an early romance. It is not intoxication. It is that more subtle, calm satisfaction. It’s hard to describe, but it is not exciting in this fireworksy kind of way. And I think sometimes people are chasing that. If you’re comfortable with “I am writing and I don’t need it to be romantic, I just like writing” then you keep writing. And make sure that you’re supporting yourself or anyone that’s relying on you while you’re doing it however you need to, and then you’re fine and either it will or will not happen, but, for you, you’re writing and so you’re okay.

John: Craig, I think that noun versus verb distinction is crucial and when I see people who are so obsessed with the status or the image, the idea of themselves as a writer as opposed to the person who’s doing the writing, it’s very clear sort of where they’re at in their process. In talking about, though, that the verb is what it matters that the writing is what matters, I don’t want to, you know, have people give up on their business because writing is really hard and writing isn’t fun. It’s not fun. It is hard.

And so the day-to-day process of sitting down at the computer isn’t always a joy, and in fact it is often really difficult. Even the stuff that should be fun can be really difficult. So I’m here in London and we’re doing Big Fish and so we’re in the studio, we’re preparing to get to the stage and there are things you see as like, “Oh , I actually need to write something new here because that isn’t going to work the way we’re trying to do it now.” And so, you know, I’ll move from, like, being the writer or sitting at the table. I feel like, “Crap, I need to figure out how to write something here that’s going to make this all make sense.” And that’s — it’s pressure and it’s sort of exciting that’s also sort — it’s work and it’s not easy and so I don’t want anyone to decide like, “Well, I’m going to abandon this because I don’t like sitting down at the computer everyday to work.”

Craig: Right.

John: That’s probably most writers — most working writers you’re going to talk to are going to have similar experiences there.

Craig: Yeah, you don’t necessarily have a thrill when you start writing. However, if you can’t find a certain deep sense of, I don’t want to call it joy, but I think satisfaction is the right word.

John: Yeah.

Craig: If you can’t find the deep satisfaction once you’re going —

John: Yeah.

Craig: Then that’s a problem because I think that being a writer is a symptom of writing and a lot of people think that writing is a symptom of being a writer. I hear a lot of things like, “Well, I’m a writer so I have to write.”

No. No. No. I mean, look, if they killed my job tomorrow and I had to do something else, I wouldn’t eat a gun, you know? I would be bummed out because I do love writing on some sort of deep, non-romantic, satisfying level but it is not the only thing in the world. There are other things I love. There are other things you love. So it’s really about the process and finding your satisfaction with the process. No one can take that from you and in fact there are people that go to karaoke once a week without fail and they have the best time. They cannot sing at all. No one ever says, “You’re an idiot for enjoying that,” because they’re not. They’re enjoying it.

Maybe you love the process or, again, you find that deep satisfaction and you’re just not very good at it but it still gives you something good inside, keep doing it. The world will let you know one way or another if money is coming, but if it’s not and you’re enjoying it fine. If there is something else you can do that is as satisfying where you will be rewarded more, then it’s okay to go do that.

John: I completely agree. So there’s a bunch of little questions that came in that are about the same topics, so I thought we’d fold them into this discussion. Let’s start with Michael from LA who writes, “What’s your opinion on aspiring screenwriters who are not yet getting paid as a writer saying, quote, ‘I’m a writer or I’m a screenwriter,’ in conversation with a person not familiar with their occupation, without the aspiring modifiers/disclaimer?”

Craig, what do you think of aspiring writers saying I’m a screenwriter?

Craig: It’s a tough one. I remember never doing that. If somebody would say “What are you doing?” then I’d say, “Well, this is my job but I’m working on a screenplay.” I would say that because I felt like it was a little pretentious in the most specific form of that word like “I was pretending” in that sense. You know, you can say you’re a painter but if you’re just painting on your own and no one is asking you to paint anything for them, you’re kind of a painter, but not the way people think of painters.

And so it’s a little bit — I mean, look, in the end it really is all about intent. If you are humble and you acknowledge where you are and you’re not trying to impress somebody or put one over on them or puff yourself up, then it’s okay. But if you feel like you need to say this to impress other people or to impress yourself, then I think you have a noun-verb problem.

John: Yeah, the noun-verb is the great distinction there, so I would always say identify yourself by your day job and then you can talk about that you’re also writing and then it’s fine to sort of transition the conversation about the writing that you’re doing.

Craig: Yeah.

John: When I talk to people at conferences and stuff, I will often ask like what are you writing because I’ll assume like if they’re here they’re probably a screenwriter and like it’s a natural thing to start talking about the work rather than sort of like “What have you actually gotten produced?”

Craig: I remember when I was first out in Los Angeles. I was 21 and you remember the 21 parties, John, when you were 21 in Los Angeles?

John: Oh, yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Craig: You’d end up in like someone’s bad apartment, like, jammed onto their balcony. Everyone drinking cheap beer and everyone is 21 and everyone is just reeking of desperation. Everyone is trying to get into this business and we’re all feeling each other out and everything. It’s a weird time. And I met this guy, I was just chitchatting with him and, you know, I didn’t know what he did. I don’t know — he didn’t know what I did and then someone else came over and then they asked this guy, “So what do you do?” And he said, “I’m a successful screenwriter.”

And I mean, I couldn’t believe it and I thought “If he is a successful screenwriter, what’s wrong with him? How do you become a successful screenwriter if you’re so bad at words that you would think that would be a good answer to that question?” [laughs] So then later I looked him up and no, he wasn’t. And, you know, it took me a while to kind of get over the 21-year-old umbrage into the more mellow middle age umbrage which was — not even umbrage, more, honestly, pity. You’re scared, you’re insecure, and you’re desperate for people to know that once somebody paid you 10 grand to do something, but it’s not a good look.

John: No. Not a good look at all. Ryan has a question which is “I have one issue that grinds my ears. Several times Craig has talked about the potential success of aspiring screenwriters in terms of quote, ‘having it or not having it.’ I think this is a toxic idea. I think the skills that have made you and Craig successful screenwriters can be learned. This is the difference between the growth mindset that says that skills, traits, intelligence are not fixed but are instead subject to be learned through effort, experience and training versus the fixed mindset which suggest that skills and traits are innate, we are just born with them. Craig, do you want to tackle the growth mindset?

Craig: Yeah, I feel like Ryan is script-splaining to us here. [laughs] You know, he’s explaining to us why we’re successful like your theory of why you’re successful is not at all correct actually. Oh, John, you know, I’m so woke.

John: Yeah, I’m very woke. Yeah.

Craig: John, I’m so woke. Oh my god, I’m the wokest. Right, so Ryan, I think actually what you’re suggesting is the toxic idea. Now, this should not be shocking to you. You probably knew this was coming, but it’s okay that we disagree. Here’s where I think you’re going wrong. You’re kind of engaging in the either-or fallacy. You’re saying, “Look, it’s not that you have it or don’t have it. It’s then you — and that the skills, traits and talent aren’t fixed, instead you learn them through effort and experience in training.” And so it’s that or the fixed mindset, and what I say is you have to have both. This is the worst news of all really. I believe that, of course, there is an innate talent to any form of artistic expression. I can’t necessarily prove this to you other than to say that if you’ve ever sat in a class in 3rd grade and everyone is asked to draw a picture of a clown, one kid’s clown is going to be fricking awesome and then one kind’s clown is going to, and mine, is going to look like this pathetic collection of squiggles to the extent that people might wonder if perhaps this 9-year-old child had suffered a stroke in the middle of it, okay?

There is a talent to artistic expression. It is innate. It is not in of itself enough. And when it comes to writing which is something that is influenced repeatedly by an expanding vocabulary and an expanding philosophy and an expansion of your human experience, absolutely you begin to grow as a writer. Effort and training and learning lessons and falling down and getting up and avoiding pitfalls because you’ve fallen into the pits, all part of it. But writing apparently is the one area where people say, “Unlike athletes or painters or singers, you folks, you just — you can grind your way to this,” and no, not even remotely.

Why — John, do you think it’s because everyone can write something so is that the confusion?

John: I think that is, because if you look at the other examples you listed so a singer and athlete, there’s a physical quality to them that is different than other people. So, you know, singers may have these remarkable vocal abilities that could be sort of how they are born and this is the reason why singing can run in the families. There’s — if you look at, you know, athletes, sometimes if it’s a case like basketball like height is a true advantage.

Craig: Right.

John: But there’s also marathon runners or sprinters. They’re just built in a certain way that is incredibly helpful for the sport that they’re trying to do, but at no point are we ever expecting like, oh, that person is always going to be that fast. He doesn’t need coaching. He doesn’t need any sort of training. He doesn’t any sort of —

Craig: Right.

John: Practice to do that stuff like, in fact, all we do if we talk about athletes is practice and training. And so while, yes, I think, you know, the practice of writing and the constant feedback can improve a person’s writing, and I’ve seen it time and time again. There’s also a reality check of, like, there are some people who are not going to be fantastic writers, and that doesn’t mean we should give up on them or sort of, you know, move away from them but to acknowledge that like there are some people for whom writing comes naturally and they can become better. And these people for whom writing is really a struggle and they can get better, but they’re probably not going to ever get up to the level of the people who is really great for. One of the other–

Craig: Terrible. You know, it’s okay to say these things.

John: Yeah, one of the things that I think is interesting about screenwriting as opposed to writing novels or other works is that because screenwriting is just this intermediate step towards making a movie, it’s conceivable to be a person who is, like, pretty good at throwing things on the page that will ultimately become a movie. There’s a lot of sort of writer-directors who are kind of really directors who are not fantastic writers and they made stuff happen and so there’s — you see like a whole class of people who are moving into screenwriting not really with the goals of, you know, writing the best thing on the page possible but just do like “I want to make a movie” and that that weird transitional thing is what’s odd about the career that we’ve chosen.

Craig: Yeah, I think that there is a flipside to what Ryan is suggesting, and I find it a little troubling, and that is that if what he’s saying is true then to all the thousands of people that are working very, very hard to try and sell screenplays and become professional screenwriters, well, they’re just not working hard enough apparently or they haven’t taken the right class or they haven’t read the right book. The point is there’s a thing to do and when they do that thing then they too will be like you, John. I think that that’s a rough thing to say to those people, because I think they’re trying incredibly hard.

I think that there is an industry of people who want them to believe what Ryan is saying: that they’re one book away, they’re one seminar away and there are quite a lot of film schools that are peddling the same thing. But the fact is that you and I, both, and honestly, anyone that’s every read any screenplays has certainly come across a screenplay where you think, right, this person should not be doing this at all. And there is no version where someone can come along like Henry Higgins and get this Eliza Doolittle to suddenly be something that she wasn’t in the beginning, because it’s not about learning how to pronounce your Hs and not go “aw.” It’s talent. Talent is a thing. It’s okay.

People — it’s one of the best parts of life. I am fascinated when I meet people who have these talents for things. I mean, you and I both worked with musicians. When I sit with Jeanine Tesori and I watch what she does on the piano, and I watch how her mind works, and I watch how she is doing a different kind of — a different kind of writing in her mind with a different grammar and when she does these things, I just think what a gift that I get to be here and watch it because in a million years I couldn’t do it. And I’m a musical person, but she’s got something else and it was certainly there from the start. How could it not have been?

John: But saying that it was there from the start does not negate that she’s not spent years of doing this and–

Craig: Right.

John: Learning this and teaching herself, and so it is both but there was something there to start with, I fundamentally believe.

Craig: Absolutely. Absolutely.

John: A question from Nate in LA. He writes, I moved to LA two years ago. In that time, I’ve managed to form genuine friendships with a handful of professional writers whose work I respect and whose careers I admire. So my question is, is there a reasonable way to ask them to read my work? These people know that I hope to write for TV, but so far none of them have offered to read my scripts or pass them along to agents or managers. I don’t want to soil the friendships by asking them point blank to do this, but, at the same time, I realized it’s a business of who you know and I actually know people who are situated where I would like to be someday. Do you have any suggestions for tactful and non-friendship risking ways of asking them for help with my career, or should I just keep things casual and wait for it to happen organically?

Craig: Well, this is a good question. When you’re talking about writers — so most writers aren’t going to be able to hire you to write something because they’re writing things, you know, so it’s a slightly different thing than if you were to say, you know, ask somebody whose job is to hire people or represent writers and so on and so forth. I think if you’re going to ask a writer, one way you could always say is, “Hey, I would love for you to read this, but I know what that means and I know nobody wants to read anything and I respect that because I don’t either.”

“So I’ll tell you what? I’d love to give you five pages, and you are allowed to just — that’s it. I’m not going to bother you about it. I’m literally going to give you five pages and I will never mention it again. Either you are going to come back to me and say “I want to read the rest of it” or you are going to come back to me and say “I’m not — I don’t want to read the rest of it but here’s what I think about the five pages” or you’ll never mention it again or you’ll never read it. I’m okay with that, but would you be okay with that deal?” I think most people would say, “Yeah, I’d be okay with that.”

John: There’s an episode in the bonus episodes of scriptnotes.net where I sit down and talk to Drew Goddard and talk through sort of how he kind of got started and it sounds sort of like what Nate was doing. And so Drew had been working as a PA on films shooting in New Mexico. He moved to Los Angeles. He didn’t really know anybody, but sort of started sort of picking up friendships with people, started hosting game nights with other writers and eventually people started reading him and eventually said like, “Hey, why don’t you come in and we can see if we can get you staffed on this show.”

It organically did happen, but it felt like what was crucial was he was never pushing it. And I think Nate has a good sense of like not wanting to push it or ruin it, but at the same time you can’t sit back forever and like not–

Craig: Right.

John: You know, not put it out there as a thing that could happen. The way you described it, Craig, is a term we coined around the lunch table — you’re sort of doing a pre-traction where like in saying — you’re actually retracting it as you’re saying it like, you know, “I know this is really a bad idea but” — or “I know it’s weird for me to be putting this out there but if you would ever like to read something I’d love to hear your feedback on it.” That’s totally fine and fair and natural to do.

So Nate, I think you’re right in the right spot in terms of figuring out how much to push and how much to sit back.

Craig: Certainly the tenor of Nate’s question is a good sign.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So he seems to be aware of what other people might be thinking or feeling, which is it turns out as one of the talents of being a writer. And I would say also, Nate, that when you have a relationship with somebody that is based on more than you want something or they want something or what they do for a job or what you do for a job but rather you’ve worked on something together or you have helped them or anything, then in that context things are different, because most people are decent. I believe that. And most people want to help somebody, and if you’ve been a good guy then I think there is — you know, there is a reason that people might go, “Yeah, you know what? You’re a good guy. Sure. Sure.” Not always but I think, yeah, sure.

John: Sure.

Craig: Sure.

John: Do you want to take this last question from this batch? This is Chaz from Glasgow.

Craig: Right, so Chaz from Glasgow says, “I’ve recently started writing everyday for the first time in a number of years. I’ve got a degree in scriptwriting and filmmaking, but in the six years since I completed my course I’ve bouncing from job to job and can’t seem to hold one down. I also have a criminal record so I can’t enter the United States. But anyway” — this is a great transition. But anyway enough about that.

“Is there much of a point in continuing screenwriting with my limited experience and general F-ed upness? I can imagine why no studio would want anything to do with me.” Well, Chaz is in a little bit of a bind here. What do you think, John?

John: Chaz shouldn’t sell himself short in terms of like “No studio would want to deal with me.” I think some people might find it fascinating that you have a criminal record. But I think he raises a good point overall. It’s like, if he’s in Glasgow, it sounds like it’s going to be hard for him to travel to the US. If he’s serious about filmmaking, he needs to be looking for stuff he can do in Scotland and stuff he can do in Europe so that it’s actually a possible thing.

I would also just say though, if he’s writing every day and he seems to generally enjoy writing, write some things that are not movies so you can actually see those things come to light. Like, write a book. Write short stories. Write something else that’s not movies if you’re really concerned that movies or TV are not going to be a thing that’s going to be possible for you based on what’s happened in your life and the challenge of trying to get outside of Scotland.

Craig: Yeah. That’s all great advice. I mean, look, here’s the good news, Chaz, writing is writing, right? So, your script can enter the United States and a good script is a good script. People will want it. Here’s what concerns me a little bit. You say that you’ve been bouncing from job to job and can’t seem to hold one down. And it doesn’t sound like you’re saying you’re bouncing from screenwriting job to screenwriting job. You’re bouncing from regular job to regular job, and can’t seem to hold one down.

Now, there may be other things going on in your life here that are causing some distress or keeping you kind of on a stable path. As it turns out, the only way to be a consistent, successful writer is to live a very — well, just kind of a rigid life. It requires a certain stable, patterned, consistent nose to the grindstone, disciplined life. And if you have trouble living that way, it’s going to be difficult to be a screenwriter at the very least. There are other kinds of writing that can be done by people who aren’t quite as patterned and disciplined in their daily work. But screenwriting, a bit tougher. Because unlike novels where it’s just you and your mind and you go as you wish, in screenwriting, you’re constantly being held accountable to what will ultimately be a crew of many hundreds of people as well as a studio chockfull of employees and then, ultimately, audiences.

So, I’m not sure, based on what you’re saying here, that screenwriting is necessarily the most compatible thing for you. But if you’re really good at it, you should just keep doing it. That’s the thing. The only other thing I’d mention to you is you don’t say what the crime is, just that you have a criminal record. Some crimes are — you know, you’ve paid your debt to society, you have a record, people understand and they evaluate your script without putting it in the context of your past.

There are other crimes that are a little more difficult. There are certain crimes that people consider, I think rightly, to be horrible. And if you have committed one of those, then people may be very reluctant to get into business with you. The thing about show business is it’s a very public business. So they don’t necessarily want, you know, a murderer. I’m not suggesting that that’s what you’ve done, Chaz. But I think, Chaz, I think you know what I’m talking about, the kind of crimes I’m talking about. I think you get it. But, no, if you were involved in a breaking and entering 10 years ago, I don’t think that’s an issue.

John: I agree with you. Craig, I do want to push back about sort of like “Writers have to have a stable life so they can have sort of a steady way of getting those words done every week.” I feel like I know a fair number of writers who don’t have a particularly stable life, who are the sort of like catch-as-catch-canning and like they will bunker down and get a bunch of stuff done and then they’ll just sort of go off the reservation for some weeks.

And I would say, yes, it’s more challenging to be a screenwriter that way because people are kind of counting on you a little bit more. But there’s a lot of kind of not particularly stable people who do the kinds of jobs that we do. So, I would try and figure out sort of what percentage of the writers I know I would say like, “Oh, their life is really well put together.”

Craig: Well, maybe I’ll shape it a little bit here and I don’t know if this will bring you closer to where I’m thinking or not, but it’s not so much their lives have to be stable, in a sense that they have healthy, stable relationships with another person like a partner in their home, or that they’re well dressed, or that they don’t drink too much, none of that. What I’m really saying is the writing part of their life is somewhat stable, that they get the writing done.

John: Yeah. Okay. That’s fair. And probably more so in screenwriting than in like sort of the classic person who goes off and — the songwriter can have a very chaotic life because there’s not that expectation of like, every day, I have to generate like this many verses. That can be just you can get a bunch of stuff done and then not do it again for a year.

Craig: Right.

John: The screenwriting is — I guess because you’re going to be writing such long documents that if you are not able to actually sit down and finish a long document, it won’t ever happen.

Craig: Yeah. That’s kind of what I’m getting at.

John: Cool. All right, some other questions that came in that we might tackle.

Craig: All right.

John: Josh from Albuquerque writes, “I have a question regarding the Paramount Decree which has been discussed a few times in recent episodes. How can Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon act as producers, distributors, and exhibitors while major Hollywood studios cannot? I understand the simple legal answer is that they are not, quote-unquote, ‘theaters.’ However, could you see a time in the next decade when streaming services become so dominant that the Supreme Court rules as an antitrust sort of Netflix Decree, or is the current entertainment landscape so broad, from movies to TV, videogames, YouTube, that we’ll never see another monopolization like there was during the Golden Age?”

Craig: Well, Josh, I don’t think that this is going to happen with, say, an antitrust Netflix Decree kind of thing, and here’s why. The whole point of the Paramount Decree was there are a bunch of theaters in the United States, they are physical spaces. And if the studios own those theaters, then no other studio can really come into be because a studio requires a theater to show its product and all the theaters are owned by these companies. A theater can’t exist just by showing a new company’s films because there won’t be enough. So, essentially, it was an anti-competitive practice.

None of that really applies to the internet, because there is an unlimited distribution space. Netflix is incredibly popular because people like their shows and certainly, there are a number of large players out there, all of which are owned by multinational conglomerates. But, someone can come along and start showing other movies on their platform if they can afford to license them and distribute them, and there is no physical space that they’re being locked out of.

Where it gets a little dicey is if, say, Warner Bros. which owns HBO said, “The only place we’re ever going to put any Warner Bros. movies is on HBO.” Then you could say, “Well, HBO has an unfair advantage.” The problem though is that other movie studios are going to put all their movies on these other things and Warner Bros. is going to start losing money because other people want Warner Bros. movies on platforms other than HBO.

So it does seem like right now, the kind of vibe is that things get spread around. The original content on Netflix just being on Netflix I don’t think is enough, frankly, for an antitrust Netflix Decree.

John: Yeah. I think it’s worth stepping back and taking a look at — so the Paramount Decree, you had limited physical spaces where those movies could be shown and that kind of vertical integration made it impossible for some — for a movie to break in to those spaces.

If you look at sort of how FinCEN worked in television where studios could not own networks and so that there had to be some difference of relationship, that all broke down — there was a sense of, like, there was limited space out there because we were on the airwaves, and so there could only be a certain number of channels. That sort of all fell away as cable rose.

And Josh’s question points out like, you know, Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon act as producers, distributors, and exhibitors, well, really, so does Disney. I mean, Disney has its own channels that it’s putting stuff through. It’s already murkier than that. Where I think the interesting thing that’s going to happen down the road is the question of our antitrust laws, our ideas of monopolies just are from a very different era.

And so, if you look at the Amazons and sort of like how powerful they are and how much they can sort of use their incredible dominance in one area just to sort of move into another area into another area, that could become a factor as we look at media things down the road. But I don’t think it’s something that’s going to happen anytime soon.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, the test basically is not whether or not you’re a monopoly. Antitrust laws do not proscribe monopolies as far as I understand them. What they do is say “You cannot be anti-competitive.” So, if you’re a monopoly but you’re doing nothing to stifle the natural birth of new competition, I think you’re okay.

So, Microsoft, for instance, was a monopoly. They were the operating system monopoly, essentially. They vanquished Apple. And so, now, Windows was by far the dominant operating system. And that was okay until they created a new product that was a browser. And they weren’t the first browser. There was an incredibly popular browser out there called Mozilla which became Firefox and that was the dominant browser in the market. And then, Microsoft said, “You know what? Let’s leverage the monopoly we have on operating systems and force people — not really force them, but basically channel them towards our new browser called Explorer.” And that’s called bundling. And that got them into hot water.

If Amazon starts doing things like that or if Netflix starts doing things like that, then, yeah, definitely they’ll catch the eye of the Feds. Maybe not in this administration, but, you know, in a reasonable one. [laughs]

John: And the other thing to look for is classically in the US, antitrust concerns come over like whether prices are rising for consumers, and which seem to be a very natural way to sort of look at it. A weird thing that happened though is you look at Amazon’s dominance in e-books, and so, Amazon with the Kindle and controlling a vast percentage of the digital market there. When Apple came in with iBooks, really, it was Apple who was the one who got slammed by unfair —

Craig: Right.

John: — business practices because they cut deals with the publishers. Zooming out, it looks like the energy was misplaced by our regulators because you actually want competition and they were slammed for basically trying to create competition. So, that’s another kind of situation where I could see down the road these giant media companies jockeying for space, that kind of friction could happen.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, price-fixing is another big part of this sort of thing. But, I think, Josh, I think they’re kind of in safe — they’re in safe places right now.

We’ve got something here from Mike in London who writes, “I’m working on a script at the moment where there are lots of characters who feature more prominently later on in the film, but I also want to make sure that they are in earlier scenes. These earlier scenes include lots of people like weddings or other mass gatherings, but I find that putting them all in action lines pulls focus a little bit. There are only so many times I can write ‘Bob and Julie are also here. You’ll hear more about them later.’ And then, Bob and Julie are also present. So, for times like this, would it be acceptable to include some kind of note that simply says, ‘X character is present in scenes X, Y, and Z’? I just feel it would make it a little clearer.”

“Also, there are some specific notes I have regarding costumes and how they should deteriorate as the play goes on. Would something like this be okay to write in some kind of note section at the start of the script? I guess my questions both revolve around notes and whether it’s okay to include them or whether it steps on too many toes and I should just assume they’re unnecessary.”

John?

John: It’s a very good question and I’ve definitely been in a situation where there’s characters who become important later on but they would have been in earlier scenes. I don’t have sort of one great blanket answer for you. I would say most movies do not find that they need to do this kind of thing where there’s sort of a meta note outside of the script that sort of says like, “These characters are in these things.”

But, if what you’re trying to do, it is just really clunky and sort of like include them in every scene or like call them out in every scene, then I have done it in my own scripts. Like, a little sort of bracketed note to sort of say like, “This is a meta note. Like, these characters are in the next seven scenes or like they’re in all the scenes that take place here, but I’m not going to single them out each time.” I would never say the “I’m”. But like, “The viewer will see these people and they’re going to become important later on.” That’s entirely fair.

This thing about costumes deteriorating, my instinct would be to just clock it along the way so that three scenes in, have some reason to say that his thing has gotten worse.

Craig: Yeah.

John: That his jacket is falling apart. But I wouldn’t sort of bring it out because that does feel too much like you’re just having a sidebar with the wardrobe department.

Craig: Correct. You don’t want to feel like you are having sidebars really mostly because it’s taking people out of the world of the movie, and you’re trying to show them a movie with your words. I wonder how frequently these characters need to be in these scenes.

What’s catching me a little bit is that you’re saying they’re in these scenes, but they feature prominently later on. Well, what are they doing in these scenes exactly? If they’re just passing by in the background, then, I think it’s fair to just say, “In the first time, in the background we’ll see so and so. We will see them later or we’ll hear more about them later,” like you say, and then just not mention them again because if you’re not making a point of looking at them in these subsequent scenes, do they even need to be there at all?

If you are going to put the camera on them, then there should be a reason that the camera is on them. If they’re literally just moving like background artists — and I’m just kind of wondering if we’ll even notice them at all. So I would suggest to you that maybe for some of these areas, you may have a decision to make about whether you really need them there or not. And if you do and you want the camera on them, give me a purpose for that camera there.

Lastly, I would say the one thing you should never worry about is stepping on too many toes. It’s your script, step away.

John: Yeah. I think one of the things we’re hitting on here is that Mike is looking at his script as being the blueprint. And like, if this were a blueprint for building a building, you cannot leave out those incredibly important like rafters and girders. But this is still like a reading document. So, make sure that it reads naturally and cleanly.

And so, in doing so, you may leave out some details that will become important for the AD later on, but you have to have trust and faith that, like, those other professionals who are going to be working on actually making this movie, they’ll have those conversations and figure out like, “Oh, do we want those characters in that scene?”

Craig: Yeah.

John: And so, you don’t have to sort of worry about like everything being incredibly logic’d out at this stage.

Craig: Yeah, and you’re right. If you have this note that you think is important, save it, wait for the green light, then send it to the production staff.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: And then they’ll know.

John: Ben in Colorado writes, “A question for John. In the writing and editing Scriptnotes, Craig mentions the dangers of auteurism in modern filmmaking. As someone who’s worked successfully with one of the great modern auteurs in Tim Burton, what is your experience with auteurism as a very successful screenwriter?” And I would say you also have worked with some filmmakers who have a very distinct style, so like, you know, working on the Zucker brothers movies.

Craig: Right.

John: Like that’s a person who has a very distinct style.

Craig: Or Todd Phillips, same thing.

John: Todd Phillips, another great choice. I would say one of the remarkable advantages of coming in, working with somebody who has a very distinct style and a very distinct cannon of work is that you can come in with a sense of like “These are the things that are going to be interesting to him, and these are the things where I know he can sort of knock this stuff out of the park.” And so that is a great luxury to sort of come in with a set of expectations that you can sort of push beyond. And so, you know, the first time I’m sitting down to write I guess Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is the first new thing I’ve written for Tim, I can approach that meeting with like, “Okay, these are some things I think he’s going to really respond to just based on like all the other movies of his that I’ve seen.” And that is really, really helpful.

Auteursim as a general concept, for me, is just — it can be frustrating to see people write about auteurs as if everything they’ve done is entirely through their work and that there really were no other people involved in those things. That sense of like it’s just of this one sole creator behind stuff. And yet, I would say the process, at least for me working with Tim Burton movies, has been really great because you have a director who knows very much what he wants.

Craig: It feels sometimes that people confuse auteurism as it was originally imagined, meaning the director is the single creative authorship voice behind a movie with directors who have distinct styles.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Having a distinct style doesn’t necessarily make you an auteur, particularly when you’re a director that’s not writing at all. Now, if you’re a director that writes and directs your own material, I think you can start to make arguments about this. But if you have a distinct style, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re an auteur per se.

But in talking about directors who do have a specific style, I couldn’t agree more with John. There is such a relief, a burden lifted, when you’re sitting with a director whose style is unique to that person enough that when they say “That’s not going to work but this will” you don’t have to wonder if they’re right or not. They’re right because they’re making — because Todd Phillips is making a Todd Phillips movie and David Zucker is making a David Zucker movie.

There are directors that make all sorts of different kinds of movies and they don’t have this really clear distinct sharp style which is perfectly fine. Some of my favorite directors are like that. But then when they say, well, I’m not sure about this, I’m not sure about that, well, okay, let’s discuss it. But when somebody with a distinct style like Tim Burton says, “That is not — I don’t think that’s good for me at all,” there’s really no argument because what he’s saying is that’s not part of the Tim Burton thing. So then you’d be Tim Burton-splaining to Tim Burton which is just what’s the point, right? [laughs]

John: Yeah.

Craig: But then the greatest part is when they’re like, “Oh yeah, that’s going to work.” You think to yourself, “It’s going to work.”

John: One of the greatest moments in any pre-production I’ve done with Tim is I’ll go into his office and I’ll see like tacked upon on all the walls are watercolors of like different characters and the different stuff, the, you know, different sets. And it’s like, oh, okay, this has been processed through his brain. He knows how to do all this. This is going to be great. This is — there’s a plan for this. Like this is all making sense.

And I agree with you that sometimes you talk with an author who has a whole bunch different styles and those first, you know, three weeks of meetings with them is basically them figuring out sort of like what kind of movie they’re making in general.

Craig: Right.

John: And that’s great. That’s can be a part of the process, but, you know, when you have somebody who has a very distinctive voice and style, you can skip past along that and that’s incredibly helpful.

Craig: Yeah, I mean the flipside of course is that directors like that often as much as you love them and love working with them, you know that okay, well, this material — no, like you write things and you will, okay, the one person I know I cannot give this to is Tim Burton, he’ll hate it and it’s not at all what he does. Whereas I know some directors who I think “I bet you could probably direct anything assuming you wanted to, there’s nothing I would limit from you.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: And that’s — so I — you know, I never want to feel like I’m over praising the stylist, the unique stylist in any way that diminishes the other directors because I think I just — anybody that does a good job directing is a little miracle for me and so I’m just happy to know them all.

John: I agree. All right, last question comes from Andreas in Norway. He writes, “I’ve seen quite a lot of different takes about how a car chase is written especially in terms of formatting choices and the layout of the structure. For example, keeping the exterior to simply read ‘road’ and using terms of like ‘on a Land Rover’ or ‘on the Ford’ to shift the focus of the reader. I’d like to hear your guys’ takes on writing car chases.”

Craig: Yeah. I mean look — and car chases are like any other action sequence in that what you’re describing ultimately needs to be focused through the lens of humans making decisions and the world impacting them. So you’re making a chase and you’re trying to define it by what the character behind each wheel is thinking and doing. And then if a boulder rolls into the road, obviously you need to call that out as well. But “on the Land Rover,” “on the Ford,” “behind this,” “inside of this,” all that punchy kind of vibrant kinetic language I think is a perfectly good way to move around. You certainly don’t want to be languid. Your writing kind of needs to match the vibe of the score you would imagine playing under your scene.

John: One of the questions Andreas is trying to ask there is like, “Do I have to go INT/EXT for every time I go inside and outside of the car?” And that will kill you if you try to do that too much.

Craig: Oh god, the worst. The worst.

John: And so if every other line is a new INT or EXT, then people stop reading. So that’s where you use — getting down to single lines, getting to the “on the Ford”s. You know, let it feel like just the flow of what it would actually look like on the screen, but don’t get trapped inside of where we’re at in cars. It’s going to be intercut anyways. So just feel that energy as you’re writing the scene.

Craig: Well, that’s exactly the point. Look, the whole purpose of interior and exterior is not to satisfy some sort of format god in the sky. It’s there to help production understand what kind of lights are we using, because is it night or is it day, are we inside or are we outside, all that stuff, right? Once you establish the car chase, which is certainly going to occur in real time. You know, it’s not like — people don’t montage a car chase over the course of a day and a night. It would be kind of cool, I suppose, if they did. But typical car chase takes place in roughly real time in a movie. So once you establish “exterior,” so we’re not car chasing inside, which has happened for instance in the Blues Brothers, and what time of day it is, you’re done. You gave them the information they need. And now, what they really need to know is, “Okay, what car am I looking at and am I inside of it or outside of it while you’re describing things so that I get a sense of the geography and the movement?” Simple as that.

John: Yeah. I said the last thing was the last question, but in this setup, I said Bulgaria, so I wanted to get to this–

Craig: You promised us Bulgaria, John. So Peter in Bulgaria did write in to say, I’m a white male from Bulgaria, the poorest country in the EU. Am I a diverse writer?

Craig: [laughs] Yeah. I mean, look, this whole diverse writer thing, no, on one hand, if you’re talking about programs that are targeted to diverse writers in the United States, we’re not talking about white men from Bulgaria. That’s not to say that being in white man in Bulgaria is easy or that, frankly, being a human being anywhere isn’t easy because everybody’s got their own story and some people have it great and some people don’t. But specifically speaking for those programs, no. They’re not talking about white men from Bulgaria.

However, in the larger sense of things, obviously, your unique situation helps inform who you are and makes you interesting, certainly more interesting than a white male from Sherman Oaks, California. Lastly, I would say to you, Peter, don’t worry about that because the deal is this: people get wrapped up in this stuff and they forget that the reason that these programs exist is because the numbers are stark and clear. More white males are working at these jobs than not white males. So if you’re worried about the statistics, well, they’re still in your favor I guess is how I would put it as a white male. They’re still out of whack. I think people get really hung up on this stuff.

And I understand it, we’ve talked about it before from an emotional level. You never want to feel like you’re being judged for your race. Ironically, that’s exactly what’s going on regardless and that’s what some of these programs are trying to combat. So don’t get hung up on it, Peter in Bulgaria. The thing that you should be hung up on is writing something terrific. There is nothing that will stop a wonderful script, nothing. It continues to be, and I believe always has been, the single best way to get into the entertainment business.

John: Absolutely. Last bit is just actually follow-up. So in the previous episode, we talked about Exposition News as Craig called it. This is where you turn — there’s a cliché of turning on the TV to find it playing exactly the news story you needed at the moment. And so I was pretty sure that other shows had — or maybe said call it out as a thing and of course they did and of course our listeners are the best listeners. So they point to at least four examples of this being done. So we’re going to slice in at the end of the episode some examples of this. So, from Arrested Development, from Community, from The Simpsons, and from Shaun of the Dead. So you’ll hear snippets of how other shows have tackled that trope.

Craig: I think my favorite of them was the Arrested Development one because it was so awkward. [laughs] Loved it.

John: It goes on and on, yeah.

Craig: I just loved it.

John: All right, it’s time for our One Cool Things.

Craig: Yay.

John: My One Cool Thing is a thing that has actually been out for a while, but I had not known about it until I listened and clicked through a different story. So the BBC added Nigerian Pidgin as one of the languages that they have stories in on their website. And so, then I fell down a deep rabbit hole of like figuring out, like, what is Nigerian Pidgin.

And so, Nigerian Pidgin is a form of English but it’s not quite English, that’s spoken in that portion of Africa and linguists could argue whether it’s a Creole or a Pidgin because there are second generations that are speaking it. It’s still sort of this being formed kind of language. But it’s really fascinating, so I’ll put a link in the show notes to the BBC site for Pidgin.

And you can see the stories and like, you look at it, it’s like, “Oh, that’s English,” and then you’re like, “Wait, no, that’s not quite English.” You can sort of understand it, but some verbs are just working very differently. I thought it was fantastic and I thought it was, you know — as you read more about sort of like how they figured out how they were going to do it and how to sort of formalize and standardize some things that are still very nascent, just hats off to the BBC for this sort of new venture into Pidgin.

Craig: I love that word. I’ve always loved that word, Pidgin. When I was a kid, I had a little paperback book — I think I might have even gotten it from the Scholastic Book Club — that would teach you Hawaiian Pidgin. That was the first Pidgin I had heard about and the first time someone had said that to me, of course I thought it was pigeon like the bird. And in my mind still, it’s sort of pigeon like the bird.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And they–

John: Two different words.

Craig: And it eternally shall be.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Well, I have a related One Cool Thing. How odd. My One Cool Thing is a real-life Babel fish. So, if you’re a fan of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which you should be, then you know about Douglas Adams’ famous science fiction fantasy invention, the Babel fish, which solved this really annoying problem that Star Trek and other shows have solved by simply ignoring which is, why does everybody talk English across the galaxy? And his solution was this tiny little fish that you would stick in your ear and it would just automatically translate things back and forth. Wonderful.

Well, Google — you’ve heard of this small company — they have come up with these things — well, I mean, they kind of ripped them off from the Apple ear buds, you know, the new AirPod things where, okay, they’ve taken the headphone jack out of their new Pixel phone. But their little ear bud things connect to it and they flawlessly use Google Translate. So the idea is you hold your phone up, right, and someone is speaking in Spanish, your phone hears it, does a Google Translate on the fly and pipes that into your ear.

And as we have discussed before, Google Translate has sort of taken these huge leaps because of the new way that they’re processing it with the neural net. And right now, they have 40 different languages. It’s pretty bananas. And you can presume that if this works even okay, that means in 10 years, it’s going to be fricking awesome and everywhere, and then, then the world gets really interesting.

John: Yeah. That really will make a huge difference, because there definitely — like, you know, this last year, that I was living in Europe. You know, so in France, we can speak French and it was fine and it was easy. And then, you know, Germany, everybody speaks English okay. Even Athens, everyone speaks English. But then as we made our way out of central Greece and into the mountains, there were definitely some times where it’s like, wow, we were just having to communicate on really basic levels.

I remember going into a restaurant and trying to sort of start and they’re like, “No, no. Stop, stop, stop,” and then they hold up their phone and like they’re calling the one guy in town who can speak English, who then runs in and is like, “Oh, hi. Let me help you.” To be able to move past that I think will be fantastic. And there’s definitely, you know, amazing opportunities for letting people venture deeper into places where there’s not going to be anybody who could speak the same language.

Craig: I agree. I mean, that’s the key. It’s when we get rid of the language barrier finally, then a lot, I think, of the misery of separation begins to go away.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Not all of it, mind you.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, I still hear people speaking English and saying insanely awful things.

John: Yeah. Weirdly, on a daily basis we’re hearing that.

Craig: [laughs] Yeah, sometimes at the highest levels. But I think it would help a lot and it would — look, more communication is only a good thing, I think. So this is an exciting thing. And, you know, unfortunately, it looks like it is only available on their phone, which, mind you, could be a possible antitrust thing if it gets big enough. Like, no, it’s going to be everywhere, pal. So let’s see what happens.

John: That sounds very exciting. Before we wrap up, I want to make sure that we’ve drawn a good enough bow around the — the fundamental question of the episode is, should you give up? And I hope that in talking about that question, we have not sort of inspired people to, you know, give up on their dreams, but to maybe like set themselves free of this vision of like, “Oh, I have to be a screenwriter or I’m going to be unhappy in my life.”

It was interesting. This last week, I was here in London talking at the London Screenwriters’ Festival and they had this special coffee thing. And I spoke to a couple of people who were like, they just like the show. Like, they were Scriptnotes fans who like the show and they like listening to us talk about stuff, who was like, “Yeah, I have no aspiration of actually writing a screenplay.” And that’s fine, too. It’s okay to not be a screenwriter, I guess, is what I’ve come back to.

Craig: That’s exactly right. And it’s okay also to write screenplays without necessarily insisting upon yourself that they must sell. Those things are going to happen, or they’re not going to happen. And while you can help it with a certain amount of effort, at some point, the script is going to have to speak and do the work for you, right, once you’re done with it.

So if you can find joy in the writing, then do find joy in that writing. I don’t think you should ever define your life by any vocation, at all. I think that we are all so much more interesting than some dream we imagine. Remember, if you’re not yet a professional screenwriter, your understanding of what it means to be a professional screenwriter is a massive guess. It’s just a huge guess. Even if you sat with me or John or any other professional screenwriter every day for a year, all you’d really find out is what it’s like for us to be screenwriters.

John: Yeah.

Craig: But what we know is, because we talk to each other, we’re all special little snowflakes. So you don’t know what it’ll be like for you. And that is true for all these things. So dreams are great, but just remember that they are dreams. The real thing on the other side is something else. So don’t define yourself by some dream that you are imagining. Let that be a motivation for you, but not your definition.

John: That sounds great. All right, that’s our show for this week. Our show is produced by Megan McDonnell. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

John: Our outro this week comes from Rajesh Naroth. If you have an outro to send us, you can send that link to ask@johnaugust.com. That’s also the place you can send longer questions like the ones we answered today. For short questions, on Twitter, Craig is @clmazin, I’m @johnaugust. We’re on Facebook. Search for the Scriptnotes Podcast. You can find us on Apple Podcast, look for Scriptnotes. While you’re there, leave us a review. That helps us a lot.

You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find transcripts. We try to get them up about four days after the episode airs. You can find all the back episodes at scriptnotes.net and we now have the USB drives back in stock.

Craig: Yay.

John: So right before I came to London, Megan was busy, like, bundling them and putting labels on them, so they’re now back at the warehouse and they are shipping out to people. So if you want those first 300 episodes, you can get them now on your little USB drive.

Craig: Nice. Nice. Papa’s going to get a pair of brand new shoes. [laughs]

John: So looking forward to those shoes. They’re the fanciest shoes in the world.

Craig: Whoo.

John: Craig, thanks for a fun show.

Craig: Thank you, John. See you next time.

John: All right, bye.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

johnaugust.com

Scriptnotes, Ep 212 Rebroadcast: Diary of a First Time Director — Transcript

The original post for this episode can be found here. This episode originally aired August 25, 2015.

John August: Hey, this is John. So today’s episode is one from the vaults. Back in Episode 212, Craig and I sat down with Marielle Heller, who had just directed Diary of a Teenage Girl, which is terrific. So since the time we did this interview, she’s gone off and directed a couple episodes of television, but also a new movie starring Melissa McCarthy, so we can look for that in the future.

A little bit of housekeeping. So next week should be a normal episode with me and Craig. Then we’re going off and doing the Austin Film Festival, so if you’re coming to the Austin Film Festival, you should check out the Live Scriptnotes we’re doing, and then also the Live Three Page Challenge. If you’re going to be going to the Live Three Page Challenge, and want to submit your pages, make sure to go to ohnaugust.com/threepage and click the little tick box that says you’re going to be going to Austin, because we might invite you up on stage.

So thanks, enjoy this episode from the vaults. If you want to hear more back episodes, you can go to Scripnotes.net. For two bucks a month you can listen to all the back episodes. Thanks.

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

Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.

John: And this is episode 212 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today, we will be looking at how you get your first movie made, with special guest Mari Heller, writer and director of Diary of a Teenage Girl.

Mari Heller, welcome to our show.

Marielle Heller: I am so excited to be here.

Craig: Mari Heller. Here’s how she comes to us.

John: Right.

Craig: So Mike Birbiglia, standup comedian, filmmaker, occasional radio commentator —

Marielle: Yup.

Craig: I was in New York and he invited me to come to his house in hipsterton. I believe it’s in the hipsterton section of Brooklyn.

Marielle: [laughs] Yes. All of Brooklyn is sort of hipsterton. But, yes, North Hipsterton —

Craig: This was like North Hipsterton.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: But as the night was winding down he said, “By the way, you know who lives right on the other side of this wall in my duplex here in hipsterton is Jorma Taccone and Mari Heller.” And I was like, “Oh, that’s cool,” because, you know, as I’ve mentioned on the show [laughs] many, many times, I think MacGruber is one of the great American films and should be in the Library of Congress.

Marielle: I totally agree.

Craig: And it’s awesome. But I didn’t really know much about you.

Marielle: No.

Craig: I was just very excited about Jorma. And he said, “Well, you know, Jorma and Mari are big fans of the show.” I was like, “Wow, this is great.” You know, and he said, “And she’s a filmmaker. She’s got this movie coming out.” And I was like, “Uh-huh, well, great.”

Marielle: [laughs]

Craig: [laughs] I’m sure she does. Why don’t we get them both on the show? It’ll be terrific.

Marielle: But really, you just wanted to talk about MacGruber.

Craig: Mostly. I was like —

Marielle: Let’s be honest.

Craig: I had MacGruber in my eyes and I was really, really excited. Head back home to my hotel. And there is an email waiting for me from Dan Chariton, another friend of ours, who said, “Hey, weirdest thing. I was at the park. We’re having a little baby play day and Jorma Taccone and Mari Heller were there. And they were talking about how they’re big fans of the show.” And I was like, well this is…this is…

Marielle: It was weird.

Craig: It was weird.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: So then we started talking. And then I realized actually that the movie you had made was supposed to be pretty awesome. And I was like, well —

John: But did Craig run out and see the movie right away? No.

Craig: Well, no, no. I don’t do that.

Marielle: No. I know.

Craig: Let’s just be clear. I don’t do things like that.

John: But you have seen it now because we both watched it last night. And it is fantastic.

Craig: Well, so this is the thing. And this is what I want to say to you before we let you start talking. Because when we let you start talking, then you go and you go.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And we won’t stop you. It’s better than MacGruber.

Marielle: Ohh!

Craig: And I know — and I feel a little weird about saying it. And I know some people would be like, are you being sarcastic? I’m not being sarcastic. MacGruber is a great American film. This is better than MacGruber. And obviously it’s a very different film.

Marielle: Very different.

Craig: But you two together ring both sides my bell so great. I mean your kid is going to grow up to be an amazing filmmaker who really pleases — I mean just was blown away. So thank you, Mari Heller, for coming to talk to us on our show.

Marielle: Oh my God, I’m so happy. And there are so many other weird coincidences on the other side of all of those coincidences.

Craig: Okay, tell me.

Marielle: You just — well, Mike Birbiglia is the one who introduced me to your guys’ show. We moved next door to each other randomly. We knew Mike. We bought our place in New York and we’re in escrow, we were like — we didn’t even have the keys yet. And I happen to go into our agent’s office and an agent popped her head out, and was like, “Hey, I hear you’re moving to blah, blah, blah,” named our address.

And I was like, “How does she know this? We don’t even own the place yet.” And she was like, “I know who your next door neighbor is.” And we’re like, “Who?” She was like, “Mike Birbiglia.” And we were like, “Wait, we know Mike. He’s our buddy. We didn’t know him that well yet.” So we ended up moving in randomly, sharing a wall.

Craig: Sharing a wall.

Marielle: We’ve become such close friends with he and his wife. Like they are just some of our best friends now. They have a baby, we have a baby. It’s like — it’s amazing.

Craig: So when there is one screaming, crying on the side of the wall —

Marielle: Who cares?

John: Who cares?

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: I think it would actually be cool if you did care and you were constantly banging the wall.

John: [laughs]

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: And when your baby was crying, you’re like —

Marielle: You’re like, “Get over it.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: That’s a baby, ass.

Marielle: Exactly. Yeah, so that was random. And then he is the one who introduced me to your guys’ podcast and got me totally addicted. And we talk about it all the time.

Craig: Yeah.

Marielle: We talk about filmmaking. We talk about your podcast. We talk about — we watch movies together all the time. It’s this great little —

Craig: That’s awesome.

Marielle: We’re building a great little life in Brooklyn [laughs] together. And we have a little artistic —

Craig: You’re little kibbutz.

Marielle: Yeah, kibbutz, exactly.

John: Well, now that you’re here with us, I want to talk about your movie. And people who have not seen your movie, which is probably most of America because you’ve just come out —

Marielle: Yes.

John: I want to give a little bit of a back story on what this movie is so people know what the hell we’re talking about. So Diary of a Teenage Girl is a new movie out in theaters right now. It stars Bel Powley.

Marielle: Bel Powley.

John: Bel Powley as the titular 15-year-old Minnie living in 1976 San Francisco. And we have a clip from it. So we’re going to play a clip from the trailer so people know what we’re talking about.

Marielle: Awesome.

Craig: We can do that?

John: We can do that.

(Video Starts Playing)

Minnie Goetze: My name is Minnie Goetze. I’m recording this onto a cassette tape because my life has gotten really crazy of late. I had sex today.

Female: What? So happy. [laughs]

Minnie Goetze: If you’re listening to this without my permission, please stop now. Just stop.

Female: I’m going to kill you.

Minnie Goetze: This makes me officially an adult. Do I look different than I did yesterday?

Male: Hey.

Minnie Goetze: Hey. It feels so good to imagine that he might be thinking about me. I wonder if anybody loves me who I don’t know about.

Male: (Inaudible).

Minnie Goetze: I get distracted sometimes, overwhelmed by my all-consuming thoughts about sex and men.

Female: I don’t know what’s wrong with you. I think he’d be more into boys.

Male: What are you waiting for?

Female: You have a kind of power, you know. You just don’t know it yet.

(Video Ends)

John: So the film also stars Kristen Wiig who you just heard as Minnie’s mother. And Alexander SkarsgÂrd as the mother’s boyfriend with whom Minnie begins a very complicated affair which is really the bulk of this movie.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: The film debuted at Sundance this last year to —

Marielle: Yes.

John: Huge acclaim. It is 94% Rotten Tomatoes. It’s just crazy and it’s really, really good. So thank you very much for —

Marielle: Thank you.

John: Coming here to talk to us about it.

Marielle: Yeah. And I also went through the Sundance Screenwriters Lab and Directors Lab with the movie.

Craig: With Scott Frank.

Marielle: With Scott Frank was one — so that was another connection.

Craig: So that’s another one. So Scott cast you in Walk Among the Tombstones.

Marielle: And cast me in A Walk Among the Tombstones, which I largely was cut out. I did have a scene where I was sort of alive, almost like a ghost and then —

Craig: You were briefly alive.

Marielle: And then I got cut out.

Craig: He sends his love. So he was one of your advisors.

Marielle: He was.

Craig: And he said he just thinks the world of you and is just —

Marielle: And I feel the same about him, yeah. I texted him at some point when you guys were talking about him on the podcast. And I was like, “I just heard them talking about you on Scriptnotes.”

Craig: Oh, yeah. He’s like, he hates all the — you know how I hate podcasts?

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: He really hates podcasts.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

Marielle: I can imagine that about him. But that makes me love him even more. He’s a great guy.

Craig: Obviously I agree.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: Obviously I agree.

John: Talk to us about your movie. So where does this movie come from? So I know it’s based on a graphic novel. And did you find the graphic novel and that was the start? How did this movie come to be?

Marielle: This project has been like an eight-year total passion project for me and actually was the project that started me writing. I was a theater actor mostly. And I just read this book that my sister gave me. She gave it to me as a Christmas present. And I fell in love with it. And I had been thinking about writing. And I had wanted to write something for a while and the right thing hadn’t come along, I hadn’t had the idea that I felt like was the right thing.

And reading this graphic novel, I was so blown away by this character. She felt like the most honest depiction of what it really felt like to be a teenage girl. There’s a lot of movies and a lot of books about teenage boys and not a lot what it really feels like to be a teenage girl.

Anyway, I was so blown away by it. I actually closed the cover and called the publisher. Like Googled the name of the publisher, picked up the phone, and started rambling about, “I want to make this into something.” And I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t even have an agent at the time. So I was just trying to get the rights myself.

I got kind of shut down by [laughs] her agents at some point who were like, “Who are you? No.” And then just kept pestering and stalking the author and her agents until they eventually gave me the rights to it.

And first, I wrote it as a play, as a stage play. And then —

John: Did you end up performing it as a stage play?

Marielle: Yeah, we did the stage play in New York in 2010. I played the lead character. And I wrote it, produced it. I had other people direct it and I was in it. Kind of put it away for a little while and then started to think about it as a screenplay because meanwhile the project had sort of sparked me to writing. So over the course of the many years it took me to put the play up, I started writing screenplays, I started working with a writing partner.

We wrote a number of screenplays and kind of started getting work on, we wrote a couple of pilots and wrote a few screenplays, none of which got produced sadly. But, you know, we were like making our living as a writer. So I had gotten that bug and then I started thinking about this as a screenplay and started writing it. And somebody early on said, “This is going to be a really hard movie to make.”

John: Yeah. You set a very — you set a very low bar. So it’s a 15-year-old girl exploring her sexuality —

Marielle: Yes.

John: In period San Francisco.

Marielle: Yes.

John: Easy.

Craig: They do those all the time. That’s all Fox makes now.

John: Yeah. It’s 100% —

Marielle: Yeah, yeah.

John: They have a whole specialty label that it’s just those movies.

Marielle: I know. God, it’s like every other movie.

John: But what was it that sparked to you about this idea? Because we’re all too young to have actually lived —

Marielle: Yeah.

John: As a teenager in those times. And yet, there’s a specificity to what you’re trying to do with this experience.

Marielle: But I did grow up in the Bay Area. And the Bay Area has a really specific culture. And there was just something about this girl’s voice that felt really, really authentic. And I have this pet peeve about the way all teenagers but mostly teenage girls are depicted mostly in movies and TV where they’re always either — they’re just two-dimensional. They’re really quippy and they have like a perfect response for everything, which is just not how it felt to be a teenager to me.

I was really dramatic and everything felt like it was life or death. I was not able to cope with the world with everything rolling off my back and some little sarcastic response to everything that happened. It was actually a painful time of life for me. And I felt like this book kind of captured what that really felt like, even though it wasn’t my exact experiences. It was just, it captured what it felt like to be a girl starting to have sexual thoughts who doesn’t know what to do with them. And it just felt important for that reason.

Craig: Well, before we get into some of the interesting writing challenges that you had in the movie and how I think you sailed through them beautifully, let me just say I’m glad that you found writing and I’m glad that you found filmmaking because this is what you’re supposed to be doing. I’m sure that you were great on —

Marielle: Thanks, Craig.

Craig: I’m sure that you were a fine actor on stage. I’m sure. However, there’s like a billion of those people, right? There’s precious few people, honestly, who can do what you did. And what’s so interesting when I was watching the movie was every now and again — and, by the way, it’s not always when it’s the same writer and directors, because writer/directors can fall into traps as well.

But every now and then, I see a movie and I think it’s all of a piece. I don’t see the separation between the filmmaking and the writing and the writing and the directing and the acting and the dialogue. It’s all of a piece. It feels perfectly integrated. You did a spectacular job. I mean, you have such a good eye —

Marielle: Oh, thank you.

Craig: By the way. Just a remarkable eye. I mean, these are things that I don’t think anyone can teach. I know they try and teach these things but I think it’s a waste of time. You know how I feel about all that stuff.

I just love watching movies where I think, “Well, I couldn’t have done that in a million years. I don’t even know — why did she put the camera there? I don’t know. I’m glad she did. I would’ve never put the camera there.” So I just wanted to say right off the bat, you’re supposed to be doing this.

Marielle: [laughs]

Craig: So don’t do other things. Do this now, okay?

Marielle: I appreciate that. And this is what I want to do now.

Craig: Good.

Marielle: So —

Craig: Well, many people will be calling and offering you Transformers sequels but we’ll work on what —

Marielle: [laughs]

John: [laughs] We have a lot of creative advice for like sort of which projects to tackle next.

Marielle: I appreciate it.

John: Yeah. But that’ll be off air.

Marielle: Okay.

John: Talk to me about then moving from the play to moving to a screenplay. What were the writing changes that happened there? And then how did Sundance get involved? What were the next steps there?

Marielle: I sort of started from scratch when I started to think about it as a movie because obviously, it’s such a different — the play was sort of this distilled version of the story. It was five characters, it was a really intimate play. We performed it in the round. It was very theatrical. I thought the whole time when writing it, why does this have to be a play?

And I tried to write a version that couldn’t be a movie, that couldn’t be just a book, but that needed to be a play. And then had to basically toss all of that to start thinking of it, “Okay, now why does it have to be a movie? And what are the ways in which it’s inherently filmic? What are the ways in which it’s visual?”

It’s based on a graphic novel, so that sort of led to this animation. The graphic novel isn’t a traditional graphic novel. It’s not all comic book panels. It’s diary entries with full page illustrations and comic book sections. So it’s sort of a hybrid, so that kind of gave me the inspiration for the movie to be a bit of a hybrid and have mixed media all kind of playing with each other.

Yeah, and the world can be so much wider when you write it as a screenplay. You can have more than five people who speak.

Craig: Yes. Unless you’re the movie Ghost.

Marielle: Right, right. [laughs] I enjoyed that episode very much. Yeah, obviously I knew the material so inside and out after working on it as a play and I had written so many drafts of it as a play. So I had the material really already. It was all memorized also because I had played the character. But I really did kind of start from scratch when I started writing it as a screenplay.

And then going through the Screenwriters Lab was really key for me, too. It really changed a lot of things and kind of clarified — I was so clear about the story and all of the things that were important to me. But the ways that those were functioning the way I wanted them to be and the ways that I was failing at how I wanted it to function just became really clear.

John: Talk through the experience out of the Screenwriters Lab for you. So, you come into the lab with a finished screenplay.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: You’re sitting down with a bunch of advisors, you’re up on a mountain in Utah.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: What is the, I don’t know, psychological process of going through and talking with the different advisors about this thing you’re trying to make?

Marielle: I mean, it kind of breaks you down and sort of destroys you mentally in a really good way but I think forces you to learn how to take feedback. You sit down one-on-one with advisors who’ve read your script in a more detailed way than I’d ever have anyone read a script for me.

I was so used to having these really surface-level conversations with people who had done a really loose pass of reading the script and given me their first thoughts. And they would get the names wrong or they would miss whole sections when they were remembering how it had been. This was not like that. This is sitting down with people who are like, “On page 15, you have this moment where you,” and you’re like, “Oh, you are serious about this. Okay.”

John: Is that Susan Shilliday?

Marielle: [laughs] I did have a Susan Shilliday. But everybody there, everybody has read it in such a thoughtful way and is there just to help you make your movie the best it can be. There’s no second agenda there. It’s just to help you make your script as good as possible. But that doesn’t mean everybody agrees with each other, too. So you’ll have like a three-hour meeting with Scott Frank. You’ll sit down, he’ll give you all of his thoughts about the script. And you’ll leave going, “Okay, I know exactly how I’m going to rewrite.”

And then you’ll sit down with Dana Stevens and she’ll tell you something totally opposite. “Oh no, I loved that part, I hated this part. This is what I think about this.” And then you leave going, “Oh my god, now I have no idea what I’m going to do.”

Craig: That in and of itself is great training and you almost have to have a meta awareness of how this all works because we — I think we’re all sponges by nature. That’s how we do what we do. We can’t really talk about the world, describe the world, describe humans if we’re not absorbing the people around us.

Dangerously, however then, we absorb strong voices. Look, I’m writing a movie right now for Scott to direct and Lindsay Doran is the producer. They don’t always agree.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: But boy, they’re convincing when they’re talking. And what happens, you have to be really careful about is that feeling where suddenly you realize, “Where is my compass?”

Marielle: Exactly.

Craig: “Where is my vote? I’ve lost — “

Marielle: Exactly.

Craig: “I’ve lost my vote in here somehow.” And now I’m just kind of chasing. And then that’s a great time to step back and say, “Everyone, shut up.” [Laughs]

Marielle: Let me digest this. Let me figure out —

Craig: Now it’s my time.

Marielle: How it’s sitting.

Craig: Correct.

Marielle: And what they do so smartly at the Writers Lab is they don’t let you write.

Craig: That is a great thing because you have to absorb, absorb.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: And then you can’t write towards anyone, you go away. Because here’s the thing, you also learn a lesson there, which is, they can’t all be right.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: They can all be brilliant but they can’t all be right. They can only be right for the movie that they would make of your movie.

Marielle: Exactly. There isn’t really a right. All there is is who’s helping you get closer to what you want it to be.

Craig: Bingo.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: And unfortunately then what that means is the movie that you want it to be, your understanding of what it’s supposed to be, ultimately comes down to something that is inherent to you, is not teachable.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: Right? So there needs to be some core of substance there that people can work upon.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: They can’t make it for you. So —

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: I love the story because I love listening to people getting the disparate views and then synthesizing them through themselves.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: It’s the only way we get stuff done. Because you’ve gone through these iterations.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: I’m wondering, did you ever feel like writer Mari was having an argument with director Mari or vice versa? And how would those arguments be litigated? Or did it all feel like —

Marielle: I did feel like I had those moments mostly actually in production. Up until then, I was really much more in my writer place for so many years. And then I had this weird moment where I would be just sitting and talking with the actors and they’d go, “You know, could I change this line?” We did a lot of rehearsal, which not everybody gets to do on their movies. But I come from theater, I love rehearsal. I really wanted to rehearse with the actors. And I had great actors who wanted to rehearse.

But we would be sitting around and talking about a scene and, you know, maybe Alexander would say like, “I don’t know, the way this line is coming out of my mouth isn’t feeling quite right.” But what I loved about working with him and with Bell and with Kristen is they wouldn’t just change it. We would talk about it and I’d go, “Okay, let me rewrite that.” And I’d come back the next day with new pages based on their thoughts or their notes.

But sometimes they’d go, “Could I change this line in this?” And I’d go, “Yeah.” And then in my mind I’d go, “Wait, this is the final rewrite.” Whatever we’re deciding right now, I’ve done 85 drafts of this script over these many, many years. And it’s always felt fine to try something new and to shift something, “Yeah, let’s change that line,” because it was never a final choice.

Craig: Right.

Marielle: And then to suddenly be in production and to go, “Oh, wait, whatever choice we make right now, that’s the final rewrite.”

John: Yeah.

Marielle: That felt really scary all of a sudden. So I would have those moments where my writer-self and my director-self would kind of bump up against each other.

Craig: Yeah, I’m very familiar with that. You know, I don’t blame actors at all because they only see what you give them. They don’t see the mile behind it of stuff. And frankly, sometimes either they’re right because their perspective is new or it doesn’t matter, they have to say it.

Marielle: Totally.

Craig: And if it doesn’t come out right from their mouth —

Marielle: And their version of this character is maybe different than the version you had in your head, at least a little bit. Shade is different. And I had actors with great instincts. So often, if they came to me and said, “Something about this isn’t feeling right,” they were right.

Craig: Yeah. I think that you have to find some ego gratification in the sense that, look, I did this for all this time and now this person is coming and going, “Can I just change it?” and not think to yourself, “Oh, is it that easy? We’re just going to change it, la-la-la.” But to think what they’re asking to — their change only exists as a result of what I’ve done —

Marielle: Right. Right.

Craig: You know, and the current text around it.

Marielle: And what I grew to love about the way the actors were approaching it was they felt really protective of these characters because they had felt like they knew them based on all the work I had done. They felt like these were characters who they loved and they wanted to protect and they wanted to do right by. So if they wanted to make a change, it was because they were invested. And that was a good thing.

Craig: Right. They cared.

Marielle: They cared.

John: So you had many years to work on the writing of this.

Marielle: Yes.

John: How did you learn about directing? Because you seem to be a very quick study. It’s really, really well-directed. I mean on every level, on production design, on shot design, it’s all really smartly done and performances you get are astonishing. What was the process of learning how to direct?

Marielle: Well, I didn’t go to film school. I went to a theater school.

Craig: Good.

Marielle: [laughs].

Craig: Good. I’m telling you, good.

Marielle: Yeah. But as you said, my husband’s a director. And so I’ve been on a lot of sets and I’ve been around and honestly wasn’t that interested in directing for a long time.

Craig: Watching him you were just bored to death.

Marielle: No, no, I mean I was kind of like, “Okay, this is interesting,” and I enjoy being on set. But I was never eager to talk about like lenses with him or like how you were going to set up a stunt or anything like that. Mostly because I’m really character-based in the way that I get excited about things, too, and some of the technology felt like, “Well, this isn’t the thing that’s driving me.”

But as I started to imagine my movie being directed by somebody else, I was like, “Oh, no. I have to direct my movie. This is my movie.” So I just had to figure it out kind of. And I sort of used the Sundance Directors Lab as like my sort of film school.

John: So talk us through that because people might not be familiar with that part of it. So the screenwriters lab — were you the winter’s lab?

Marielle: Yeah.

John: Because you were up on a snowy mountain.

Marielle: Snowy mountain just in your head.

John: Just in your head, a bunch of writers.

Marielle: Yes.

John: It’s really small. Directors Lab is a much different experience.

Marielle: Directors Lab is like so physical. The Writers Lab is just this totally internal heady experience where you’re having one-on-one meetings. And then the Directors Lab is five weeks where you get a small cast, you get a small crew, you take the hardest scenes of your movie and you workshop them. And you shoot them.

And it’s almost like a reality show because you do like one day of prep, one day of shooting, one day of editing, and they limit your hours. So at 5 o’clock, someone knocks on your edit door and is like, “You’re done.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: That’s miserable.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: Yeah, but you probably learned a lot there. So which scenes did you pick to be the ones you wanted to — ?

Marielle: So —

John: They don’t say your hardest scenes, they say the ones that scare you the most.

Marielle: The ones that scare you the most. And these will only make sense if somebody’s seen my movie. But pick the scene where they do acid.

Craig: Right.

Marielle: Which was one of my hardest scenes through the writing process, [laughs] the shooting process. Every part of the process, that was a really, really difficult scene to nail because it’s a drug sequence. People have done drug sequences in movies forever. Sometimes they’re done really well, sometimes they’re done really poorly.

I didn’t want to do the same version that I’d seen before but it’s also a really critical turning point. And both of the characters have a major emotional moment that happens that has to be treated seriously, so you can’t just be laughing at them through the whole thing either like, “Ha-ha, they’re on drugs. Isn’t this hilarious?”

Craig: Right.

Marielle: You actually have to believe the emotional build that happens throughout the scene, too. So that was a really complicated one. That was the one I failed the most at when I was at the labs.

John: [laughs]

Marielle: I did a scene where they have a big fight in the car and she ends up going into this sort of fantasy sequence in the bath tub.

Craig: Right.

Marielle: And sinks down into the —

Craig: Yes.

Marielle: Into the —

Craig: Into the ocean.

Marielle: Yeah, yeah. So I did that sequence kind of trying to mesh a really realistic, difficult emotional scene with this sort of fantasy.

Craig: You shot even like the wide shot of her.

Marielle: I didn’t get the wide shot of her.

Craig: You didn’t get that one, right.

Marielle: But I did like in the bathtub and we did all of these practical effects and we did it in this really small way at the labs. That’s part of the fun thing about the Directors Lab, it teaches you how to do things really practically. And that was really good for me.

Craig: I was fascinated by the general, let’s call them the technicals of this movie. And there were a bunch of things that I watched over again just to watch and see. Like for instance, that one. I guess I saw it and the best of it is you don’t notice it. And then after it goes by, I think, “Wait, hold on, where did that ocean — “ I want to see like what’s the line there. And I watched it and so I can see what’s happening and I assume it’s a pool or something —

Marielle: It was a pool, yeah.

Craig: There was a big light. But I loved the way the light worked behind it.

Marielle: That was a pool with garbage bags lining it.

Craig: Yeah.

Marielle: And a giant light over it.

Craig: A big light.

Marielle: I mean it was —

Craig: It’s amazing how that works, right?

Marielle: And it was dirty. The pool got dirty and the particles ended up being like this beautiful —

Craig: Filter, right?

Marielle: It was amazing.

Craig: I mean first of all, I’m fascinated by the look of the movie because — did you shoot digital and then filter the hell out of it?

Marielle: No. We shot digitally but we shot anamorphic. And we shot with these beautiful lenses from the ‘60s.

Craig: Okay, so you shot —

Marielle: So we shot on the red epic —

Craig: Vintage lenses.

Marielle: But we shot with vintage lenses.

Craig: Fascinating. And then, but color-wise too, I mean it’s like —

Marielle: So this is a little tidbit I love. Brandon Trost who was our DP, shot movies like The Interview, Neighbors —

Craig: Wow.

Marielle: MacGruber.

John: So I was looking at his credits and I was like — it was such a great lesson to like not necessarily judge a person’s artistic abilities based on the things they had done before —

Marielle: Totally.

John: Because none of these things would ever suggest to me that he could do the DP for your movie.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: MacGruber was shot brilliantly.

John: Yes, but as a comedy.

Craig: Brilliantly.

Marielle: Brilliantly. And what’s really funny is I think Brandon sort of became the comedy DP because of MacGruber. But the whole reason that Jorma wanted him to do MacGruber was because he didn’t look like a comedy DP. He didn’t do this like blanket lighting, really bright —

Craig: Walmart lighting.

Marielle: He shot it like an action movie. And that’s what Jorma wanted for MacGruber. So he hired him because he was the anti-comedy DP.

Craig: Right.

Marielle: And then it ended up leading all of these people to be like, “I want that guy.” And so he’s done all of these comedies —

Craig: Yeah. This movie is going to change —

John: Oh, yeah.

Craig: That for him.

Marielle: The way people see him. I know.

Craig: Because, I mean it just was beautifully done. And then on your end of things and with your effects team, the way that the animation was integrated was really gorgeous and I loved how simple it was and —

John: Well, it looks simple. But I was watching this last night and thinking like, “Oh, she must have been so excited when she like wrapped production.” It’s like, “Oh, now we have to make an entire animated film on top of this movie.”

Marielle: Yeah.

John: I mean that was —

Marielle: We actually started the animation really early. That was the first element that I started. It was all done essentially by one animator, Sara, who’s an Icelandic animator who lives in New York who’s amazing. And she hand-drew everything.

So I brought her on creatively like a year before we started filming because I was like, “This is huge and I think we need to figure a lot of this out before we film.” Just so I could shoot based on what we needed for the animation. Some stuff we found later but a lot of things were planned out ahead of time. But also, she just had so much work to do with it.

Craig: There was a moment in the animation that I almost felt was like, “Is this rotoscoped?” And I couldn’t tell. When the guy is telling her you’re too intense and that, you know. And in animation, she’s holding the monster and just looks away and a tear. Was that rotoscoped or was that — ?

Marielle: The tear or the face?

Craig: Yeah, the face and the tear at that moment.

Marielle: The face was rotoscoped in that moment but not the tear.

Craig: Okay, but I knew the face were —

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: Because it was great.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: All right, so rotoscoping, for those of you playing at home, rotoscoping is when you take film, live action film, and then you — it’s a process where you draw over it. And there are a lot of good examples of rotoscoping in movies where it’s essentially they’re animating real live footage. So it has that funky look to it. But there was something about that moment where it’s like it had to be because it had to be real.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: You know? And god, that look away that she does there is nuts.

Marielle: That’s one of my favorite kind of plays between the animation and the live action, too, is that sequence because it kind of really — there’s something about it. She’s having this experience with a boy who’s kind of shaming her and making her feel really bad about herself sexually and then she’s imagining herself as this gross big monster stomping through the city.

That’s how you feel emotionally in that moment and it was just personifying that. That was one of the moments that I was happy with how it came out. And I thought you were going to bring up the moment in the acid trip where she kind of turns into a bird, because that’s another rotoscoping moment.

Craig: Yes, that was rotoscoped. Correct. It was rotoscope because it needed to be rotoscoped —

Marielle: Right.

Craig: Because it was on her.

Marielle: But it was rotoscoped in maybe a way that you wouldn’t even know. What we discovered when we were doing tests for that was that in order to get the movement of feathers, it’s really difficult to do that animation-wise in a way that felt really real. So we did all these tests and she realized, you know, this looks better if we have real feathers moving. So then our costume designer had to hand-sew a bird suit where she sewed every single feather on in a way that they could all move. And so it was the most difficult —

Craig: And then you rotoscoped on top of it.

Marielle: And then we rotoscoped on top of — every single feather got rotoscoped.

Craig: Wow.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: Wow, well that works.

John: So before you had rotoscoped those feathers, you actually had to raise the money to put this movie into production.

Marielle: Yes.

John: And that’s the thing I was sort of most curious about watching this last night because, as we talked about, it’s such a difficult movie to get made.

Marielle: Yes.

John: So you’re dealing not only with period, you’re dealing with a young girl. You’re dealing with a really, potentially uncomfortable — I mean this would now be statutory rape, so —

Marielle: It would have been then, too.

John: Okay.

Marielle: I mean age of consent was 18 at the time in San Francisco.

Craig: She’s 15?

Marielle: She’s 15 and having sex with a 35-year-old man.

John: Right. And in certain markets like in England, you have like a harder time getting released.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: Here it’s a rated R movie.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: So these are all things that a financier would look at and say like, “Well, what is the upside of making this movie?”

Marielle: Yeah.

John: Like basically you wrote a movie that has to be just like brilliantly perfect. And good luck and congratulations it is but —

Marielle: And a lot of it was going to ride on execution and tone because some people would read the script and would find it incredibly dark. And what I’m proud of with the movie is I actually think there’s a lot of humor in it and there’s a lot of lightness. It’s a tough subject matter but it hopefully doesn’t make you feel horrible about the world.

John: What were the conversations? So like who were you sending this to? Were you sending this to small production companies, like what were the — ?

Marielle: I was sending it to small production companies or people that I was hearing were excited to take risks, who were interested in interesting projects rather than — obviously this was not going to be a giant budget movie. So coming out of the labs, I felt really like I’m ready to make this movie.

Jorma already had a relationship with a commercial company called Caviar and we knew they were wanting to start making movies. So we sent them the script and they were the first people who came on financier-wise. And they were really just excited about the script and felt like this is a project that I want to get involved with.

But actually, the way that the process really went was I actually got the actors involved first. So I got Kristen Wiig involved before I had even really set up the money.

Craig: Which helped?

Marielle: Which helped. And it was a juicy part. It was something she could get excited about. And it was kind of a backdoor way of getting the movie made was sort of getting the actors involved and then getting the money to follow basically.

Craig: What was the budget for this film? I have a guess number.

Marielle: I can’t really talk about it.

Craig: Oh, you can’t?

Marielle: I think I’m not supposed to talk about it, yeah.

John: You never supposed to talk about with Sundance movies —

Craig: You’re not allowed to talk about it?

Marielle: No.

John: They’re never supposed talk about it because —

Marielle: Because it’s Sundance, it’s a Sony and like —

Craig: Oh, that’s right. You have to sell the movie. But it already sold.

Marielle: It’s sold but I’m still — I don’t know.

John: Yeah, you still don’t ever say.

Marielle: I’m still not supposed to say.

John: With The Nines I never say what the budget was.

Marielle: But I can tell you after.

Craig: Yeah, let’s see if I was close.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: But you can tell us about sort of the challenges of production because —

Marielle: It was a small budget. I will say that. It was a very small budget and we shot the whole movie in 24 days in San Francisco.

Craig: Wow. That’s remarkable.

John: But shooting in San Francisco, you know, is notoriously one of the worst places on earth to film.

Marielle: So apparently if I had gone to film school, I would have learned a lot of things that I was not supposed to do on my first movie. Not set it in a period, not have 38 locations, which is what I think we had, not shoot in San Francisco. What are the other big mistakes I made? But I didn’t go to film school, yeah —

John: But you also had a lot —

Craig: And no dogs.

Marielle: A cat.

Craig: Oh, you had the cat.

Marielle: I had a cat.

Craig: And the cat had to hiss on —

John: That was good luck.

Marielle: That just happened. That was my cat.

Craig: That cat nailed it.

John: Domino.

Marielle: I know.

Craig: Nailed it.

Marielle: I know.

John: You also had situations where you had to shoot night for night because you were in this apartment and windows were looking out of the whole city.

Marielle: Oh, everything had to be.

John: But that was all great production design and production value, you know, out of that.

Marielle: Yes.

John: How early did you have a production designer, art designer on to find all of those yellows you have in your movie?

Marielle: Our production designer, Jonah Markowitz, who is brilliant, came on four weeks, eight weeks?

John: Wow.

Marielle: But maybe I met him eight weeks before we went in and we only had four weeks to prep. It was crazy.

John: So —

Marielle: Yeah. I mean, on such a small budget, we had so many sets and they had to basically take an apartment that existed in San Francisco, which did have the bones that felt like a real ‘70s apartment. But every single thing you see in that movie, every piece of wallpaper, every piece of furniture, every rug, every little detail, they did. They painted, they, you know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And boy, does it look great.

Marielle: I know.

Craig: It reminds me because I mean, look, 1976, I was five. I can remember it

Marielle: We looked through a lot of our families’ pictures and kind of tried to really — because growing up in the Bay Area, there’s a specific vibe there. It’s different than Ohio in 1976 or New York in 1976. And so we really wanted to get that right of like, “There’s a lot of stuff from the ‘60s still hanging around. It’s not just the newest thing that came out in 1976.”

Craig: That’s right. That’s a mistake that people make —

Marielle: Definitely.

Craig: When it’s definitely like, “Look, everybody, it’s disco.” No, people actually don’t like — by the way, I had that tape recorder. I had it. I saw it and my heart just —

Marielle: Oh, I love that.

Craig: Exploded, with the stupid mic.

Marielle: Yeah. I mean, didn’t we all do that? Another thing I really related to about this character was being a kid who just makes projects out of anything.

Craig: Of course.

Marielle: You’re an artist. You’re always like recording things or recording yourself or pretending you have a radio show or —

Craig: Oh, my god. My sister and I —

Marielle: We didn’t know podcasts yet but —

Craig: My sister and I would record interviews with each other.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: It was insane. We would put on shows all the time.

Marielle: Totally.

Craig: Yeah.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: So what scenes did not make it into the movie? What stuff that you filmed isn’t in the movie we watched last night?

Marielle: There’s a whole story line where Pascal, who’s Chris Meloni’s character in the movie —

John: I had a hunch he had more.

Marielle: Sleeps with Minnie’s best friend, Kimmie.

John: Aha.

Craig: Mm-hmm.

Marielle: And Minnie finds out that they’ve been sleeping together. And has a huge breakup with her best friend, basically. So on top of everything else in her life kind of going really wrong —

Craig: I could see —

Marielle: She also has this breakup.

Craig: I knew why that’s there. That would make me really tense because I’m like, “Oh God, if that’s a problemó”

Marielle: Right. She has nobody.

Craig: But the truth is I also can see why you don’t need it.

John: So at what point did that storyline, you know —

Marielle: I cut it out in the edit, probably like, eight weeks in the edit, maybe more, where we had watched a number of cuts of the movie. And it was running a little long, but it was also kind of taking us off track emotionally. And I had fought to keep it in in the script.

Craig: Of course.

Marielle: There had been people who had suggested it going earlier and I wasn’t ready. And we shot it and I’m —

John: It was Scott Frank, wasn’t it? Scott Frank is the —

Marielle: No.

Craig: Well, it’s funny that mentioned, because Scott, I had a moment with Scott where he had shown me his draft of A Walk Among the Tombstones in script stage. And I said, “Look, here’s the storyline between Liam Neeson and Liam Neeson’s son that could probably just go.”

Marielle: Right.

Craig: And he’s like, “I know.” And he fought for it and he kept it and he shot it.

Marielle: Got cut out in the edit.

Craig: And the thing is there are times when people say, “You don’t need this.” And you fight for it. And you did need it.

John: Yes.

Marielle: Yes. And I totally had those moments.

Craig: Right. But then, there are those times where it’s like — and it just goes to show you can’t be perfect. That’s kind of why I love the way that you were able to sort of start making the movie before you made the movie. If everybody gets the chance to do that, because the truth is most people go and make the movie, they don’t have your experience at Sundance. So they can’t shoot the LSD scene —

Marielle: Right.

Craig: Three or four times. They just shoot your first bad version of it.

Marielle: Right. Exactly. And then, they go into the edit and they go, “What do I do?”

Craig: Pretty much.

Marielle: “This is not what I want it to be. This isn’t telling the story I needed to tell.”

Craig: I know.

Marielle: I also found it really helpful that I did a number of readings of the script, which Mike Birbiglia does those readings. There’s something about just hearing it out loud that I want to do for every movie I ever do also because you do just hear things and recognize problems when you hear — it’s so different than when you’re just writing something.

Craig: Every stage that gets it further away from text —

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: Is informative. The reading is informative. Watching them do it on set is informative, so you go, “Okay. This next take, let’s try something else.” Your first — watching your first cut is informative. And then as many times as you’ve seen the cut, watching it with other people, it’s like you’re seeing a different movie.

Marielle: Totally.

Craig: Every single time, you learn more.

Marielle: It’s true. Yeah. And I’m never going to get to have the experience of going to the Sundance Labs again with my movies, unfortunately. I wish I would, because you just learning as much as you possibly can before you’re shooting. Because shooting is so fast —

John: Yes.

Marielle: It happens so quickly.

Craig: And final.

Marielle: And it’s final. And there’s that weird feeling of this is final. I want to take as much time as I can before you get to that phase of getting to know all of your problems.

John: Yeah, I think sometimes people are afraid of doing the prep work because it’s like, “Oh, you know, I want to be bold. I want to make big bold choices.” But I find that, honestly, if you don’t do the prep, you’d end up sort of making way too safe of choices sometimes.

Marielle: I think that’s right.

John: You over cover things because like, “I don’t know how I am going to do this. I’m just going to shoot it a thousand different ways.” And you’ve lost that great shot you could have gotten because —

Marielle: Right.

John: You didn’t trust yourself.

Marielle: You don’t trust yourself to just, “Let’s get this as one big oner.”

John: Yeah.

Marielle: That’ll be so fun. And you if really know, if you’ve worked it out, you can trust that’ll work in my edit. I know this will work. And Sundance does that really well. They push you to take crazy chances —

John: Yes.

Marielle: When you’re shooting your scenes and to make mistakes.

Craig: Yeah, if you’re not prepared, you end up making other people’s choices.

John: Yeah.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: You end up making the AD’s choice or the DP’s choice —

Marielle: You get swayed by people on set. You get —

Craig: Absolutely.

Marielle: Swayed by your actors. You’re like, “Oh, look at that really funny thing the actor is doing. It doesn’t have to do with the original scene, but maybe that will be great.” And sometimes it might be great and sometimes it might take the scene totally off course.

Craig: Sabotage.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: They’re all trying to sabotage you.

Marielle: Or, “Oh, look at that cool lighting that just happened.”

Craig: Right

Marielle: “Maybe we should shoot the scene like this instead because of that cool lighting.” All of those things are problems that —

Craig: They all see their own movie, right?

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: And the actor’s movie is about their character.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: And the DP’s movie is about the look.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: And the AD’s movie is about getting out on time.

Marielle: Yes. [laughs]

Craig: Literally.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: Which is their job and they’re all important, but only you see all of it.

Marielle: Yeah. And the props department cares about that lighter. And whether that lighter gets used right —

Craig: Only about it.

Marielle: Yes. And you need everyone to care that much about their jobs in order to do a good a job, but you have to be the one who keeps it all together and doesn’t let yourself get —

Craig: Exactly.

Marielle: Swayed by all of those.

Craig: Because in the absence of your choices, they will fill in. Oh, my god, will they fill in.

Marielle: Yes, it’s so true.

Craig: And then, you’re at the mercy.

Marielle: It’s true.

John: So one of the biggest things in preparation you probably had to do is figuring out all of the sex scenes in the movie.

Marielle: Yes.

John: Because you have — there’s a tremendous number of sex scenes in the film.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: So many sex scenes.

Marielle: So many sex scenes.

John: So much sex.

Marielle: There’s a fair amount of — there’s a fair amount of boning.

John: I think there’s like 12.

Craig: 12, really?

John: I bet there’s 12.

Marielle: I don’t think there’s 12. I think there’s probably about six.

John: Six. All right.

Craig: Yes, that sounds like —

John: Or maybe sequences.

Marielle: Well, it depends on how you can —

John: Yes, exactly.

Marielle: We have a little montage. [laughs]

John: I’m accounting you to the little shots of the montage.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: But you had to think about sort of —

Craig: The thing in the bathroom doesn’t count as a sex scene for me —

Marielle: Right.

Craig: That was a transaction.

Marielle: Right. Right.

John: But within the sex scenes, you have to figure out sort of, obviously, where you’re at with the characters emotionally.

Marielle: Yes.

John: But also, where, as a movie you are with the nudity, where you’re at with the relationship.

Marielle: Yeah, it’s a really fine line to balance all of the amount — how much nudity you’re going to see, how much sex you’re going to see.

John: So what are the conversations you’re having internally? And then, what are the conversations you’re having with your crew and with your actors and sort of how you’re going to do all of this.

Marielle: Well, I kind of made rules for myself while I was writing about — I never wanted the nudity to feel exploitative and I never wanted it to feel gratuitous, but you can’t make a movie about coming of age and a girl’s sexuality without showing some nudity and having some sex scenes. So I sort of just laid out certain guidelines, which is like, the scenes where you see the most nudity are non-sexual situations. So she’s examining her body in the mirror. They have a big fight, where she’s almost totally naked. They’re not sexual. And then, the sex scenes tended to be therefore sort of where there’s less nudity, you see less. There’s more implied. There’s actual sex happening, but we also wanted the sex to be more truthful. And so it’s not like shot with quick cuts and really sexy angles. It’s much more straight on.

Craig: I was surprised by the lack of saxophone.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: [laughs]

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: Really shocked.

Marielle: Especially after seeing MacGruber. You’re like —

John: Yeah. [laughs]

Marielle: They love saxophone.

Craig: Oh, God, MacGruber. The sex scene in MacGruber. Sorry.

Marielle: The sex scene in MacGruber —

Craig: May be the greatest sex scene.

Marielle: Ruined sex

John: Yes.

Craig: It may be the greatest.

Marielle: So many people have said to Jorma like, “Wow, that sex scene really kind of ruined sex for me for a while.”

Craig: No, that sex scene —

Marielle: Enhanced sex for you?

Craig: Absolute — it’s like all —

Marielle: Oh, that’s a problem. That’s a problem, I think.

John: [laughs]

Craig: “Uh, uh, ohh, ooh, I’m going to shoot.”

Marielle: “I’m going to shoot.”

Craig: “I’m going to shoot.”

Marielle: Oh, God.

Craig: I say that to my wife all the time.

Marielle: There’s one shot in MacGruber where you can see Kristen during the sex scene as starting to laugh.

Craig: Yeah.

Marielle: And she has to turn her head away from the camera.

Craig: I know that, too. I know that well. Of course, because I’ve seen it many times.

Marielle: And it — but it was such a good take of Will, you couldn’t cut away from it. It was too important.

Craig: And I’m sorry to hijack this, because we’re going to talk to Jorma about all of this. But also the look on —

Marielle: Ryan Phillippe?

Craig: No. no, no.

Marielle: Val Kilmer?

Craig: No. His dead wife.

Marielle: Oh, Maya Rudolph.

Craig: It’s so weird because I’m like literally Minnie Riperton’s daughter. That’s how like the mind works sometimes. We’re you’re like the obvious name is gone. The trivia is there.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: Maya Rudolph is making this face when he’s having sex with her.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: And it’s like — it’s not disgust, but it’s almost disgust. She’s like looking down her nose. I think she’s into it. It’s hard to tell.

Marielle: So she was eight or nine months pregnant —

John: Pregnant, I know.

Marielle: While they filmed that.

John: She’s basically always pregnant. [laughs]

Marielle: Yes, she’s had four kids. [laughs] She was so pregnant shooting the grossest sex scene in a graveyard.

Craig: So great. So great.

Marielle: [laughs] And then they had to like digitally take out her belly. It was so ridiculous. And I was — we were all sitting there during that sex scene when that was being filmed, just being like, this baby, like what is this baby’s experience of this?

Craig: I know. The baby is like, “Why?”

Marielle: This is so insane.

Craig: She will always have that moment on film.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: Well, I think that you accomplished what you were setting out to do because the truth is I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie with that much nudity where there was no arousal whatsoever on my part. There was nothing arousing about any of it. And it wasn’t like it was off putting either.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: It was more — I was really invested entirely in what was going on emotionally with the characters.

Marielle: Well, hopefully, you’re more in her perspective.

John: Yes.

Marielle: I mean —

Craig: Yes, 100%.

Marielle: That was sort of the point. It was like, being in the teenage girls’ perspective more than being — we tend to see sex scenes from a male perspective. That’s how they tend to be shot.

Craig: Right.

Marielle: That’s how they tend to be written. And this was a movie that we were just trying the whole time to not be in the grown up perspective and to not be in the male perspective. We wanted to be in the teenage girl’s.

Craig: Well, let’s talk about this for a moment because you succeeded on that level. And you also managed to — because sometimes when I have seen scenes from the — they’re strictly from the female perspective, that sex is then automatically a problem. I don’t like this.

Marielle: Oh, no. No.

Craig: Or this is, you know — she does like it.

Marielle: This is a character who’s totally into it.

Craig: She really likes it. And so, I guess the larger question is, it seems to me that you very cannily avoided tropes just everywhere you could.

Marielle: Oh, good. Yeah.

Craig: However, there is a risk when your primary goal is let’s not do what other people have done because, of course, at the heart of every trope, there’s something that’s real that connects to people. That’s how they became tropes in the first place.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: So, did you ever worry that you were essentially wandering off the reservation to the extent where maybe people would not be able to recognize themselves in this character or —

Marielle: Well, the particular trope that teenage girl characters tend to fall into, which is that they don’t like sex and that the narrative that we’re given as teenage girls is like boys are going to want us to have sex with you and you’re going to have to decide when to give it up.

Craig: Right.

Marielle: But you’re not going to want it yourself. That particular trope is just not true.

Craig: Right.

Marielle: And so for me personally that always felt like something that —

Craig: That was an easy one to smash.

Marielle: It was like this isn’t truthful and when you’re a teenage girl and you’ve never seen that told in a truthful way, it’s actually really damaging because you think something’s wrong with you, if you think about sex. And the only examples you have in movies are like boys think about sex, girls don’t think about sex.

Craig: Right.

Marielle: So for me, that made me feel when I was young, like, maybe I’m a boy? Or like, maybe something’s wrong with me because I think about sex. And so that was like no question. This is a trope that needs to go. This is a teenage girl who thinks about sex and —

Craig: Right.

Marielle: Wants to have sex. But I did worry, I suppose, about the whole movie being so specific and so about this one time and place. And I thought, I hoped that the specificity of it would make people connect to it more. But I guess I did worry that it might be a movie for a small group of people.

Craig: Well, it is — I think you made a movie that I would show anyone. And by the way, this is a movie I would show my daughter, not yet. She’s 10.

Marielle: How old is she? No. Yeah, not yet.

Craig: But here’s the interesting thing. What this character does is it reminds me a lot of movies, if I were to translate it over to the boy zone, where there are movies about teenage boys who do outrageous things that I go, “Okay, I understand why you did those outrageous things, I understand the spirit of those. I share that spirit and that impulse. I don’t do those.”

Marielle: Right.

John: Yeah.

Marielle: You don’t have to act on all of those impulses —

Craig: Correct.

Marielle: In order to relate to them.

Craig: Exactly. And so —

Marielle: It’s like Into the Wild. Like I never ran away from entire my life but there’s something about the humanness of that impulse to like get — just to leave your whole life, your parents, everything you grew up with, all of the rules that you’ve been taught your entire life and throw them to the wind and to just like go out into the wilderness. I’d never do it but I relate to the impulse.

Craig: I related. You know, that’s the thing. Even when she was doing things that were dangerous, I’ve — one of the best choices in the movie is when she and her friend, after the bathroom scene, say we should not have done that.

Marielle: Right.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Because I needed that.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: I literally needed it or I was going to start —

Marielle: You need the remorse.

John: Yeah.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: I was going to start to lose her.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: You know, I needed it because she’s making terrible choices over and over and over.

Marielle: As most of us did when we were teenagers.

Craig: That’s what —

John: Yes.

Marielle: Even if they weren’t like that extreme, we all still probably made some pretty bad choices.

Craig: We all made some bad — well, this is the thing. Children, we tend to idealize children in movies, when in fact, children are the worst of us. I believe.

Marielle: Right. [laughs]

Craig: Basically, they are the worst of us. If children ran the world, it would just be flames and broken glass in the next five minutes. But we then doubly do it to girls.

Marielle: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Because we ask that our female characters are more moral.

John: Mm-hmm.

Marielle: We do. Particularly, teenage girls, we want them to be examples of how we wished teenage girls were. We don’t want to see what they truly are.

Craig: And, you know, so you don’t have a sister, do you?

John: I don’t.

Craig: So my sister is a year and half younger than I am. So when I was in high school, and we shared a bathroom. So when I was in high school, I would, you know — when I would go to the bathroom, she’s got her Seventeen Magazines all stacked up. So I would sit there flipping through Seventeen Magazine. And it would make me laugh because every Seventeen Magazine gave girls the following two messages. Here’s how to look as sexy as possible. Do not have sex.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: Well —

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: How can we expect any girl to not lose her mind?

Marielle: Exactly.

Craig: So I loved all — I mean I just thought that you managed to avoid tropes but at the same time, there was — it was also you made a new trope. I don’t know, it’s like weird way of saying it, but like, a new thing that’s true, a truism, that people just weren’t ready to talk about.

Marielle: Mm-hmm. Interesting.

Craig: Which is the way that female sexuality is so scrambled up at the age. Anyway, you did a fantastic job.

John: You did a fantastic job.

Marielle: Thank you.

John: Has the TV show Girls come up in any of the making of the movie, the discussion of the movie? Because I —

Marielle: Totally.

John: I look at this character and you can see a Hannah Horvath character if she was transported through, you know, time and space and put there, some of the same issues and struggles that she’s facing. And has that been a useful thing for you as a filmmaker or a frustrating thing when those comparisons come up?

Marielle: Well — oh, no, it’s been useful. I mean, I started working on this movie before Girls came out.

John: Yeah.

Marielle: But I remember when Girls came out kind of feeling like maybe this will help me because people will be a little more open to this conversation right now.

John: Yeah.

Marielle: And it felt like I was sort of cluing into, I don’t know, this bigger conversation happening in our society about female sexuality.

John: That there’s an audience, there’s an eagerness to talk about —

Marielle: Yeah.

John: Sexuality

Marielle: And it’s always nice to think when you’re writing something, I don’t think you can plan it this way, but when suddenly you recognize that there’s a bigger conversation that you’re sort of stepping into and becoming a part of and it has to just — the timing has to work out right. And it felt that way with this. It felt like, “Oh, we’re sort of becoming part of the conversation.”

Craig: I have to say, though, this is why I love that movies are still here and I know that television does great work in — and has done better work lately than ever before, but this is the kind of thing that a movie does best. Because when you have television and the characters must continue on, what ends up happening is a sort of ultimately a trivialization of these incredibly I’ll say traumatic and yet wonderful experiences that happen to us in our lives.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: This is what movies do best, is they focus in on those moments — the big change moment of your life. Television will ultimately have to trivialize it.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: Because they have to keep doing it over and over again.

Marielle: Well, television has to be about more mundane things in order to kind of keep us involved.

Craig: Correct.

Marielle: And it can’t — it can’t — if the stakes were that high all the time in TV, you’d get burned out.

Craig: You’d get burned out. I mean, you — and the fact is just by repetition of seeing a certain circumstance over and over and over, you’d become burned out. This is what movies do best. And there is a — you know, this moment when your childhood breaks apart and you slowly put yourself back together, movies will always do this better.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, it’s a terrific coming of age movie. And I honestly feel like everybody over the age of 15 [laughs] should see it.

Marielle: Thank you.

John: Can we talk about the nature of your role now after you made this movie? The movie comes out at Sundance, it sells.

Marielle: Yes.

John: But you were still on a treadmill for quite a long time to —

Marielle: Yes.

John: Make this movie out. So, you know, we are friends through friends and that’s why you’re here, but you were on Fresh Air with Terry Gross. You were —

Marielle: Yeah.

John: You were talking. And this is going to be continuing all the way through the award season. So, your job continues.

Marielle: Nobody talks about this. How long —

John: So let’s talk about this.

Marielle: The period of —

John: Let’s talk about this.

Marielle: Movie making is.

John: It’s a haul. Especially —

Marielle: It’s a halt.

John: When you have a January Sundance movie that’s coming out the next year.

Marielle: And when you are first time filmmaker and so it’s the little film that really needs that kind of word of mouth and it needs the hustle behind it in order to get it seen.

Craig: Yeah.

Marielle: So, yeah, we’ve done the festivals circuit, so we did Sundance. We got bought by Sony Pictures Classics there, which was amazing and so much more than I could have dreamed. Then, we went to Berlin. I should mention, I had a 5.5-week-old at Sundance.

Craig: God.

Marielle: And then he was eight weeks by the time we went to Berlin.

John: This is a human child.

Marielle: Human child.

John: Not a dog. This is a human child that she gave birth to.

Marielle: Yes, yes, yes, exactly.

Craig: And then let’s also point out then all of the pregnant time prior to that?

Marielle: Right, so I wrapped filming and got pregnant within about a month and then was pregnant all of post.

Craig: Wow.

Marielle: And then —

Craig: So you weren’t throwing up after you saw that first assembly because it was bad.

Marielle: Right. Who knows? Who knows why I was throwing up?

Craig: It may have been bad.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: It may have been the baby.

Marielle: It may have been the baby. It’s hard to know.

Craig: Either way, you’re puking.

Marielle: Yeah, I was puking, puking, puking. Exactly. Yeah, there was — I had, I had a meeting set with distributors for the day that I went into labor. It was all like, it was all pushed up to the limit.

Craig: That happened to me.

Marielle: Yeah, I know it’s a classic story.

Craig: Oh, yeah.

Marielle: So then we did the festival circuit. We did New Directors, New Films at MoMA which was a really cool festival. The movie has travelled to even more festivals than I’ve been able to go to because it’s gone to like Sydney and Seoul and it’s gone all over the world. And I’ve been able to go to a certain number of festivals. Bell has gone to a certain number of festivals, the lead actress from the movie. We’ve gone to some together. Alexander’s gone to some with us. So kind of through the fall we did the L.A Film Festival. We’ve done a ton of festivals. And then we sort of started the bigger press roll out. So we’ve been doing press in L.A. and Dallas, and San Francisco.

Craig: The movie is out in theaters now.

Marielle: It’s out in theaters now. We just expanded this weekend.

Craig: This weekend, okay, this past weekend.

Marielle: This past weekend, right. This comes out on Tuesday’s. I know you guys, I’m a really big fan. So at this point, I think were in about 30 cities.

Craig: Great.

Marielle: So it’s getting much wider.

John: So this is sort of the Whiplash plan where like it’s a very slow rollout.

Marielle: Right.

John: And there’s no video-on-demand. It’s strictly theatrical.

Marielle: It’s only theatrical and the hope is that word of mouth helps build, you know, helps to build an audience because it is such a small movie. It’s not going to be the type of movie that we blast everywhere all at the same time but build slowly.

Craig: I hope that you’re getting a lot of attention from people at our movie studios because I if were running a movie studio, I would be saying to you, “Please, please even these are the movies I’m making pick one and do it.”

Marielle: I got to say I am getting a lot of attention.

John: Good, that’s fantastic. I put you on a list this morning.

Marielle: You did?

John: I did.

Marielle: Thank you. It’s a funny time to be a female filmmaker. There’s a lot articles being written, a lot of conversations, the ACLU hearing that happened. There’s a lot of conversations about how underrepresented women are behind the camera. 9% of Hollywood movies are getting made by women. That number hasn’t changed in 30 years.

So right now in this moment, though, I think public opinion has started to shaming the studios into catching up and there’s this feeling of like, “Oh, we got to be doing more. We need to be hiring more women.” And kind of am getting one of the [laughs] —

John: Great.

Marielle: I’m getting to see the benefits of that.

Craig: I’m going to disagree with you slightly. I do think that they are right now making an aggressive effort.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: I do because I think they are embarrassed. I don’t think that’s why they’re calling you.

Marielle: Thank you.

Craig: I have to say, as one of the, it’s one of the unfortunate side effects of any kind of effort to improve diversity statistics is that then if they go up, there’s always that question are you —

Marielle: Of like did it happen because they were good or did it happen because they were just a girl?

Craig: Are you in here because affirmative action? Are you here because you’re a girl or you’re in here because of quota or whatever?

Marielle: Right.

Craig: And that sucks, it sucks all around, but I will say that in your case I truly believe that because, look, they just love money more than anything. They love money and I think they look at your movie and they look at you and I think this is an incredibly assured filmmaker with a voice and an eye and she writes. We can make money off of this person. That’s what I think it’s about.

Marielle: I think that’s probably true. I mean I feel I can tell the difference between the calls that are about people who truly love what I’ve done and the types of stories that I want tell and the people who are like what are the women? Who are the women? Who we’ve approved? Who do we put on this list? Let’s find a woman for this.

Craig: Just make sure that Mari is not like some European guy.

Marielle: Yeah, [laughs] exactly.

John: “That is a woman, right?”

Marielle: Like I did get a call, I think it’s okay for me to say this. There was that moment where the director of Wonder Woman fell out, there was like that one day scramble and my agents called and were like are you a huge Wonder Woman fan?

John: [laughs].

Marielle: Because your name is coming up and I was like, “Wow, they are really just pulling any woman that they can.” There’s just trying to find a woman director who they can — yeah. And I —

Craig: It was certainly there was — it appeared that there was like — there was that panic that day. Yes.

Marielle: For that one day, and now they have a wonderful woman involved and who probably should be and whatever but it was a funny moment where I was like, “I’m just getting this call because I’m a girl right now.”

Craig: Yeah, probably [laughs].

Marielle: Yeah, [laughs].

Craig: I think so [laughs]. That one, I’ll give you that.

Marielle: That one, yeah.

Craig: I’ll give you that.

John: I would step back and take a look at, you know, Colin Trevorrow coming off of Safety Not Guarantee jumping up to Jurassic World.

Marielle: Yes.

John: Like your movie and his movie, they’re similarly like really well done versions of tiny little indie movies.

Marielle: There, that’s a big conversations that’s happened out of Sundance is like why is it that the white male directors who come out of Sundance who make a million dollar movie get offered hundred million dollar franchises and the women very rarely. They might get their next movie is the $ 3 million movie. Why is that leap not happening?

Craig: Yeah.

John: Maybe, maybe break that pattern.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Well, in part, it will require you to want to make one of those movies.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: You know, Colin Trevorrow wanted to make Jurassic World. And so here’s my secret hope because as again, I love MacGruber. So you know the kind of movies — I mean I love this movie, I love MacGruber. I love lots of movies.

Marielle: It’s a great double feature [laughs].

Craig: It really is amazing. By the way, the best of all.

Marielle: Which one should go first?

John: I think the mashup version is really good.

Craig: The mashup would be great no. You have to Diary first, to get everybody really like, “Wow.” And then just hit them with MacGruber.

Marielle: Yeah, and just get — the laughter just leaves you.

Craig: Take these broken wings — okay, anyway, so we’ll have that episode. But I hope you that actually you can find a movie, you know, because they open up their big cabinet and they’re like look at the stuff we stuff we want to make.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: A lot of times what they want to make is horrendous. But sometimes in there there’s something great and I hope you find something that you can get a budget for and you can get a big movie with, and you can get all the toys to play with and that you want to do.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: Because that would be the best thing of all. I mean I really — this is what you should be doing, do this for sure.

Marielle: I want to. I mean I really did enjoy it and this, there was something about directing that just felt really natural to me because I am an actor and I love actors and I love working with actors and I loved — and being on set is just so fun. It’s so infectious like it’s just a great experience. It’s so stressful, it’s so hard [laughs]. The whole thing is so difficult but it’s also so great.

Craig: You did a fantastic job.

John: Hooray.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’s come time for One Cool Things. Craig, what is your One Cool Thing this week?

Craig: So, I actually have a One Cool Thing this week and I’m going to do it — while I’m talking about it, I’m going to do it.

John: Do it.

Craig: It’s so cool and actually weird and I got before I saw your movie, Mari, but it kind of flows into it. So this is called, VHS camcorder. And it’s like, I don’t know, four bucks or something. And so I’m going to do this, so it’s got this like little thing. And it basically turns video into like — into VHS and you can even change the — but it really actually does look like it. I mean it’s the weirdest thing.

John: So for people who are at home who can’t see this.

Craig: Put this up. Say hi.

Marielle: Hi.

John: There’s time code in the bottom and it very much feels like —

Craig: Now I sound like a crazy man. [laughs]

Marielle: Hello.

Craig: And there’s John.

John: And I’m here.

Craig: Hello and welcome to Scriptnotes and even though it says August 21, 2015, really?

Marielle: Does it look like the beginning of Elf?

Craig: It looks [laughs] do a head turn for me like you’re on Elf. Starring Mari Heller.

Marielle: Wait, wait. I have to be — I have to be on the phone.

Craig: Okay [laughs]. Okay, that’s perfect. Anyway, it’s a great app and it’s fun and it’s cheap. And I don’t know, for kids like I showed it to my kids, I’m like, “Look, this is what Daddy’s videos used to look like.” And they’re like, actually my son was like, “Wow, this is pretty cool.” Like because, you know, for them now everything is like add vinyl noise to my, you know, my electronic music track, so anyway that’s my One Cool Thing.

John: Very cool. My One Cool Thing is an article I just read this morning. It is called I’m Sorry I Didn’t Respond to Your Email, My Husband Coughed to Death Two Years Ago by Rachel Ward. And it’s a true story so she’s a producer for Morning Edition and it’s her talking through the last two years after her husband died. So she’s, you know, a young married woman.

Marielle: Oh my God.

John: Her husband died in a very sudden —

Craig: Literally coughed to death?

John: Yes.

Craig: Just like he started coughing —

John: And then died.

Craig: Just randomly?

John: Yeah. So, it goes into sort of what actually happened or to the degree to which they understand what actually happened. But on the podcast, previously, we talked about sort of how those moments of death that we see in movies and sort of the ambulance coming or the coroner like are never quite the way it is in real life. And so she talks through what that reality is, but also in a very smart way talks through what it’s like to have to introduce to yourself to new people as like, “I’m a widow.” Like it’s a strange thing.

Marielle: Yeah.

John: So what I’m bringing it up here is that she’s kind of actually kind of like a great movie character. You can very much envision sort of this is the start of a movie story and sort of what that is. So I thought it was just a really well written piece.

Marielle: It’s kind of like The Year of Magical Thinking.

John: Yeah it is, but a very, you know, young version of that which is so different. Also just fascinating to see it on Medium which is such a weird medium for it to be in because you’re used to this being like if it was a New Yorker article, you sort of know what that’s supposed to feel like but Medium where there’s like a comments like midway through and stuff. It’s an odd format for it but also very relevant at the time. Mari, do you have a One Cool Thing?

Marielle: I do, you guys I agonized over my One Cool Thing. I’m such a big fan of the show that I was like texting people being like I have to come up with a One Cool Thing. I don’t know that I came up with the best one but it’s a parenting thing and you guys do talk about parenting on here sometimes. I’m a parent of a young, young baby, 8 months and there is an app called Wonder Weeks that I have found to be really useful.

It kind of goes through the major cognitive leaps that a baby goes through, it’s really focused on brain development. And babies do tend to follow pretty clear patterns like between six and eight weeks this major leap happens to them, they learn to see patterns in the world or whatever it is.

At this point at four months, they’re able to understand the concept of something going inside of a cup and something coming out of that cup [laughs]. You know, these really kind of basic leaps but they — what happens is when a baby is going through a major leap, they tend to have a lot behavioral problems, their sleep gets disrupted because their brain is making this major leap and they’re figuring things out and they’re practicing when they should be sleeping, instead they’re like practicing things with their hands or their minds.

So it’s really helpful to know what those leaps are as you’re going along so that you can be a little patient and you can have some empathy for what your baby is going through and you can go, “Okay, this is just a normal leap they’re going through and in a week, it’s going to settle back down.”

Craig: Do they have that app for teenagers?

Marielle: They should. [laughs]

John: That would be awesome.

Craig: Because I would really like that.

Marielle: I don’t know if it’s as predictable with teenagers as it is with little babies. But yeah, I found it to be, to make me a more patient parent where I can look at this app and it has a whole calendar listing of where all the different leaps happen. It’s just, and it makes me kind of, it makes me empathize with him and what he’s going through and how much he’s growing and learning.

Craig: They don’t have the fear of the unknown.

Marielle: Yes.

Craig: So why is he shrieking all of a sudden for last three days?

Marielle: Right.

Craig: And usually people, the immediate thing that parents think is what did we feed him, what did we feed him?” He’s got — most kids are fine. You feed them whatever they want, they’re like goats. But that makes sense that they’re — that cognitively because think about it, it’s like it’s brain damage in reverse.

Marielle: Right.

Craig: I mean every time your brain changes, it’s traumatic.

Marielle: Right. And my kid just started scooting. So he’s just figured out how to move and it has totally flipped his brain out. I mean he’s so excited, but he can’t go to sleep because he’s like trying to scoot around everywhere and it’s —

Craig: Boys by the way are — they’re just so hyper.

Marielle: He’s so hyper. And he wakes up just bouncing off the wall, so excited because his body can suddenly do things that he’s clearly wanted to do for so long.

Craig: I’m so glad I didn’t have two boys. If I had had two boys, honestly, I would just — all right, I —

Marielle: Jorma and I were talking about that this morning. I was like, I have to say my biggest fear of us having a second kid is that I’d have another boy, and I’d just be this one lone woman in a house full of boys.

Craig: Yeah, in a house full of — yeah.

Marielle: It’s scary to me.

Craig: Yeah, especially during the teenage years. My daughter — I mean that’s other great cure for panic over what’s going through your baby’s mind is having your second baby, because then you’re like, whatever. It works out.

Marielle: It works out, I know.

Craig: I know what’s on the other side of this at the very least.

Marielle: I also just find it kind of interesting to understand what they’re going through and that babies do fall into such clear patterns and that almost every baby does kind of follow these patterns. It’s so crazy.

Craig: All those — you know the things that like this, this thing that the baby does, whatever they call it —

John: The Heisman?

Craig: They call it, yeah, the fencing maneuver, it’s like and then the startle thing, all babies do this.

Marielle: Yeah, that’s called like moray.

John: Yeah, reflex.

Marielle: Something reflex, right and it’s not moray, that’s when —

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah, but they think — they do that and no one can see because it’s a podcast. This is why I don’t listen to podcasts because you can’t see. Anyway, yeah, we’re all incredibly similar

Marielle: Well, and that one I heard the startle reflex is from when we were apes or when were — it’s evolution when we were having to hold on to our mother’s backs and the hair.

Craig: Wait, evolution, you believe in evolution? [laughs]

Marielle: No, no [laughs]. But that when that babies needed to hold on to their mother’s hair if they were falling, so they would do this in order to not fall off.

Craig: That would work with you though, you actually have incredible hair.

Marielle: My baby pulls on to my hair and uses it as ropes to lift himself up, yes.

Craig: I bet he does.

John: Good stuff. You can find that information about Wonder Weeks and VHS Camcorder apps and this article I talked about on our show notes on the show page, johnaugust.com. You can also find this on the iTunes store. We are at Scriptnotes, just look for us there, you can also find the app. Our outro this week is composed by a young composer named Jack Mazin.

Craig: Oh yes, my son has —

Marielle: How cool.

Craig: He’s been working — he’s starting to do like electronic music and stuff and this is one of his first compositions.

Marielle: That’s so cool.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah. Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Thank you, Matthew. And Mari Heller, thank you so much for coming and talking to us about directing.

Marielle: I want to keep going, I just don’t want this to ever be over. This is such an exciting moment for me.

Craig: We’ll have you back. I mean this isn’t the end. This isn’t the end.

Marielle: I’ll just come back when you have Jorma on to talk about MacGruber and I’ll just listen.

Craig: By the way, you have to be here. That would be great.

Marielle: Yeah.

Craig: And we should also put in the show notes just because it’s not like — there aren’t billboards out there, let’s put a link in for people to go get tickets to go see on Diary of a Teenage Girl.

John: Absolutely. So we’ll have a link to the website which will have all that information and to the trailer.

Craig: Great job, Mari. Mari, you were an excellent guest.

Marielle: I’m so happy.

John: Thanks.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

johnaugust.com

Scriptnotes, Ep 318: Writing Other Things — 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 Episode 318 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the podcast we won’t be talking much about screenwriting at all. Instead, we’re going to be looking at writing books and songs and other things with some advice for collaborating with folks outside of our normal expertise. To help us do that we have Aline Brosh McKenna back to join us. Welcome Aline.

Aline Brosh McKenna: I am back in black.

John: So Aline Brosh McKenna is the Joan Rivers of our podcast in the sense that she is a frequent visitor, but also special in a way that Joan Rivers was special to us all.

Craig: Yep.

Aline: Everyone tells me that all the time.

Craig: All day long.

John: Before we get into the meat of the episode we have some reminders. Craig and I will be at the Austin Film Festival at the end of October. We’re going to be doing a live show. We’re also going to be doing a live Three Page Challenge. So for the Three Page Challenge we’re doing at Austin, we have a special little checkbox you can mark if you are submitting a script to the Three Page Challenge that says I will be at Austin and will be in the audience.

So if you’re going to go to Austin and you would like us to consider your Three Page Challenge, you need to go to johnaugust.com/threepage. Attach your script like normal, but then also check the little box that says I will be at the Austin Film Festival.

And so our producer, Megan, will be going through those scripts and picking some great ones for us to talk about live on stage and to invite those screenwriters up on stage with us to discuss what they wrote.

Craig: And we’re pretty nice to them. I mean, we don’t soft pedal anything when we do those in Austin. I don’t think we are any more or less discriminating about our comments, but I don’t want anyone to think that we beat you up or humiliate you in front of anyone. That’s never happened. We’re very nice.

Aline: Have any of those turned into movies or sold screenplays?

John: So, yes. Some of the Three Page Challenges we have looked at have sort of moved up through the ranks. I don’t know if anything has actually been produced yet, but they’ve placed well on Black List things. They’ve gotten people started. So, every once and awhile we’ll get — actually, the last episode somebody wrote in saying the three pages we looked at were instrumental in the rewrite and so therefore they were thanking us for helping out down the road.

Aline: And have you guys ever thought of sending in three pages of your own to see how it went?

Craig: We did it.

John: Craig and I on an early episode we took a look at our first scripts.

Craig: The very first ones.

Aline: But I mean sending it in randomly.

Craig: [laughs]

John: Absolutely. The other one wouldn’t know that it was one of us.

Aline: I think you should just to see if it made it past your producer.

Craig: I think they will. I think they will. Yeah. Not to put down our pool of applicants, but yeah, I think we would make it through. I got to be honest with you.

Aline: I just found an old script from 2000. I mean, I went into the garage and I looked at the titles on the side and I was like, oh my god, I forgot that one. But I found an unsold spec from 2000. And the first 15 pages I was like this is pretty cute, and then it was just shame spiral.

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Have you gone back to redo any of your old scripts? Have you tried to dust anything off?

Aline: You know what? A producer called me like a couple months ago and wanted to some of my old stuff. So most of it wasn’t on a computer anywhere. So, I had to scan it. That was pretty funny. And it had my notes in it. And a couple of those were pretty good. Those were two that had sold and I don’t think he’s going to do anything with them, but you know when people ask me if I have anything, I point them towards things.

John: Well you were so busy writing new things, so tell us about the new things. First off, you have a new season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend happening.

Aline: Indeed.

John: This is season three. So when do we start to see the new episodes?

Aline: Friday, October 13. Friday the 13 we start airing.

Craig: Right around the corner.

Aline: So we’re midway through shooting the season and so I’m pretty tired. But yeah it’s exciting. I can make an announcement here.

John: We’re so excited.

Craig: Oh! God!

Aline: Your friend and our friend, John Gatins, is going to be appearing on our television program.

John: Is he playing a high school quarterback?

Aline: He is not. He is playing somebody really handsome and memorable. And someone sings a song about him.

Craig: Huh. OK.

John: That sounds great. So John Gatins was also in my movie The Nines. I don’t know if that was his last acting credit, but he’s a very talented screenwriter but also a person who can be put in front of a lens without breaking a camera.

Aline: Yes. He has another thing coming up that he’s acting in, but I’m not at liberty to disclose. But I think this is a burgeoning little area for him. I think we should all as we retire look towards these like cottage industries. This leads naturally to what we’re saying.

Craig: Yeah. There’s no surprise here. I mean, John Gatins is an A-list screenwriter who would at any given point swap out whatever he is working on as a screenwriter to do one day on a show with three lines. That’s a fact. He is a — I guess the most frustrated actor. He was an actor. He should have been an actor. He’s a pretty good actor, you know.

Aline: He still seems like a movie star.

Craig: He does. But the problem is he’s got skills. Like he’s got skills — his skill as a writer is extraordinary. His skill as an actor, forgive me John, is not extraordinary. It is good. But it’s not–

Aline: Well he was smart enough to figure that out.

Craig: Yeah. Yeah. But, man, he’s got the bug. You can tell.

John: All right. So we have Aline here not to talk about John Gatins, but to talk about and really to plug her new project. So this is Jane. This is a graphic novel that is the retelling of the story of Jane Eyre. How did this come to be? So first off, we should say — full disclosure — this book is available today as this podcast comes out.

Aline: September 19.

John: That should be the day this episode drops.

Aline: Great.

Craig: Drops.

John: September 19, they’re buying your book. Everybody who is listening to this podcast should pause and buy the book and then listen to the rest of this podcast so we can talk about this book.

Aline: Yes please.

John: What is it and how did it come to be?

Aline: So about six years ago I signed on to adapt a graphic novel called Rust, which I loved, which was published by a company named Archaia. And in adapting that graphic novel I kind of fell in love with graphic novels in general and started just devouring them. And I got infatuated with this artist named Ramón Pérez who did a book called Tale of Sand. And I had had an idea that I thought could be a movie but wasn’t necessarily a movie. And so I started talking to the folks at Archaia, including Stephen Christy who now runs their — Archaia was later bought by BOOM! And Stephen runs BOOM!’s movie department.

So I started talking to them about doing a book. And I really wanted to do it with Ramón. And I was always obsessed with the Bronte sisters’ novels as a kid, particularly Jane Eyre. And what I loved about Jane Eyre was the kind of sensual relationship that the books kind of in three parts, her growing up, her being with Rochester, and after Rochester. And I was always kind of infatuated with — and would go back and reread the Rochester section.

And I realized that was sort of my love template was the sort of remote kind of emotionally constipated difficult dark man. Love stories that I like. I think people who like Wuthering Heights are more into those stories where the love interest is like your sibling, like twinning. But I was always interested in men who were very other.

So I always wanted to do kind of an updated version of that. So I pitched that to Archaia and we got Ramón on board. And then–

John: Can I stop you for a second?

Aline: Yeah.

John: To talk about what a pitch is like to a comic book or a graphic novel house. So, how are you describing it? Was it sort of like going on a movie pitch? This is what it’s going to be and these are the beats of the story? What were you describing it as?

Aline: I don’t know if I can have the most representative experience, because I was working with Stephen and Archaia every single day. So Steve and I talked about it a ton and I wrote an outline for it and I gave it to him. Maybe I wrote like a five or ten-page outline that I gave to him. But, we were sort of dying to work together, so it was like — I think I had less of a screening process than you might normally have.

I will say that every single piece of it took forever. Sending in the outline. Them deciding to do the book. Finding Ramón. Getting Ramón. Making Ramón’s deal. Then waiting for him to be available, because he’s like one of the premier comic book illustrators and he’s always booked back to back to back.

So we had to wait for him, so in the meanwhile what we did was Ramón did a first series of drawings. And basically the book is like the sensual part of Jane Eyre, the Rochester part, in contemporary New York. And it’s a young girl who goes to be a nanny for a rich powerful man who is sort of Bruce Wayne like and gets pulled into his world. And at first it was going to be a little bit more genre spy and have more action in it. And so as we started working on it we thought, hey, this could be a movie. And so we sold it to Fox 2000 with Kinberg attached to produce it five years ago.

John: This is Simon Kinberg?

Aline: Simon Kinberg, yeah. So Simon Kinberg and Genre, his company, we pitched it around. Fox 2000 was the one who bought it. And I worked on it as a screenplay for maybe two years. And I had many different versions of it. As a movie, it was very hard to crack because as you guys know when you put any action intrigue thriller stuff into your script, it’s one of those things, it’s like dropping a tiny spore in a glass and then you come back a couple days later and it’s just covered in mold. Any little bit of action or intrigue that you build to — that you put in the beginning of a script really has to lead to something kind of monumental.

And that collision of that genre with the romance was always very difficult to calibrate. And at some point it seemed like the studio was looking for really just an updated version of Jane Eyre and I had wanted to add this overlay of kind of intrigue and corporate plotting. So, I developed it with them for a couple years. They had an option on the book. And then they fell out of option. And so Ramón and I started working on the book with three or four different drafts that I had written for Fox 2000, all of which were a little bit different.

John: So, to back up here, you have this idea for a book.

Aline: Yes.

John: And you make the deal for the book. But before you actually write the book you’re selling the rights to Fox 2000 and developing the screenplay and there’s still no book?

Aline: No, my god, we’re so far from a book. So we had sample drawings that I brought around with me and I met with everybody. And it’s actually, as you know, great to walk in holding something. So I had these beautiful drawings from Ramón. And so that was part of the sales pitch of it. And in working on the screenplay was sort of developing the book at the same time. And I was waiting for Ramón to be ready, also.

And so there was no book for a really long time and I think the studio started to believe there never was going to be a book. And I have never waited for a man more than I have waited for Ramón. I mean, I was like metaphorically waiting outside his doorstep for a very long time. And then he — when he finally turned his attention to it we kind of sat down, looked to what I had done with the screenplay, and then kind of formulated a story which was actually quite different from the screenplays. Because I had become convinced overtime that the kind of Hitchcocky plot needed to be very streamlined. And it could for a book.

And that’s what was great was like for a movie, especially in the moment that we’re in right now, you can’t really have — I mean, if you look at a lot of the Hitchcock movies they crescendo to a moment of great tension, but not action and not things blowing up, and not nuclear briefcases. And maybe you guys can think of one, but I can’t really think of a movie that has that sort of like Hitchcockian thriller thing but doesn’t build to a big genre — doesn’t then owe a third act where people are shooting each other in armor tanks.

Craig: Well, Get Out sort of I think is a kind of neo-Hitchcock kind of thing.

Aline: Yeah, horror. But that really is like, yeah for sure. And horror is definitely — like Get Out is horror but not very gory. But it’s a little bit more in the world of jump scares and Jane is a little bit more in the world of like Rebecca.

Craig: Right. Right.

Aline: Where it’s a romantic drama with thriller elements — suspicion, those kinds of things.

John: What you’re describing sounds more like what we do in television now, or what you do on limited run television, like a Netflix show can have that sustained build but doesn’t have the expectation of giant set pieces all the time.

Aline: Right. And so as a movie I started to understand why they were nervous about it and what was good about that was having explored that then when we got a chance to go full boar on the book we just were able to throw that aside and really go for the simplicity of the romance. There is an intrigue plot and there is a big twist in the book that I came up with after I saw the first schematic that Ramón did.

Ramón did a book that had partly finished art and then partly kind of sketches. And it’s really beautiful. I have it in my house. It’s gorgeous.

John: So, Aline, what were you actually writing? What was the document that you created that then Ramón would use as he went off to do art? Like what were you handing him?

Aline: Well, in our case because we had so many scripts we kind of started with that. And then he would do like a sketch book that was sort of taking certain bits and pieces of it and then I would respond to him with notes about the story. And then we had a couple of meetings where we went through and at that point you’re kind of — you’re kind of outside of text in a way because you’re in — you’re just in pictures, so you’re kind of making a silent movie in a way, like Ramón is.

You know, he’s really looking to boil down the pictures and it takes a while before you get back to the dialogue part. Because we were just talking about kind of purely visual storytelling. And this was — a lot of the stuff I did before I was working on the TV show. And a lot of what was driving me was before I did the TV show, I think I’ve talked about this here, I had really reached a point with movies where answering to directors is really challenging, especially when you’ve been doing it for twenty some years, and not having control over your finished product. Whether you love the director or don’t like the director, at the end of the day not having final say gets to be excruciating.

And so the book was someplace where Ramón and I were collaborating but his skills are different from mine. But I had final say over the story, so it was kind of like directing in a sense. But like sitting with your DP and they’re coming up with amazing visuals to translate the story. So there was a whole period time where it was really just pictures that were going back and forth. And I would look at the sequence.

And so because Ramón is so busy and because we had taken so long, Ramón finally gave me a pass that had all the images in it and kind of temped dialogue, you know, which you can imagine what that’s like. It was sort of temp dialogue. Some of which had been in the screenplay, but not a lot of it. Some from the beginning had. But then a bunch of it was just like stuff that had been slugged in there to kind of reflect what was happening.

So then I did two or three giant passes where I went through the book and I did dialogue. And what was funny is no one ever gave me a script. I kept asking them, “do you have all of the dialogue in one editable document?” And I probably could have had somebody do it. Instead, what I did was I kind of drew pictures and wrote notes and scribbled on it and drew bubbles. And so we ended up doing that all the way through two or three times to make sure that all the dialogue matched the action. And then there’s a little bit of, you know, at a certain point when we had this deadline Ramón had drawn some things and I wanted to tweak the story a little bit, but the art was already done. So it reminded me a lot of editing where you just got what you got, and then you’ve got to make it make sense, which is always kind of fun and challenging.

So we did a lot of passes through the dialogue once the images were all in there. And he’s very innovative in terms of the way he chooses to tell story. And it’s way, way sparer than a movie is. And there is some voiceover in there. You know, at the end really scrambling and getting drafts back was really fun, and the letterer is incredibly talented. It’s very beautiful. And the woman who did the color with Ramon is very talented. I can give you their names and their Twitter handles.

And so he’s a true artist in a sense that — as writers and directors like, yeah, you know, he’s an artist, she’s an artist. Meh. But like an artist-artist that you think of as a kid. You know, like somebody who picks up pen and ink and makes art. I think he’s a magician.

John: Let’s talk about your use of time. Because this was five years of your life. And so it wasn’t continuous, but it was a lot of your time. And every time there was a new draft there was more stuff to do. And I don’t know the economics of all it, but I’m 90% sure that this was not profitable to you in any useful way.

Aline: It was not, no.

John: But so why do it? Why — was it worth it?

Aline: I really wanted to have a finished product that I could hold in my hand that was mine. As I was saying, I just had had a lot of experiences with movies where I could kind of see my work in the movie if I squinted my eyes and didn’t look too closely and it had been changed so much by the time the movie got made and that’s a tough thing. So I really wanted to do something that I could have the final say over.

And then the other element of it was I always thought I was going to be a novelist as a kid. At a certain point it became clear to me that I was not really like a prose person, like a person who lives to sort of polish prose. And I remember being at a point thinking, god, what am I going to do if I want to be a writer but I’m not like somebody who wants to describe a forest for half a page.

So when I found graphic novels it was kind of similar to when I discovered movies. I mean, obviously I knew movies existed. But when I started looking at them as something I could do, it’s a format I really love because it’s also visual storytelling. But you don’t have to have a director tell you you can’t do what you want.

John: It sounds like you made it through the whole process without ever sort of hitting a graphic novel or comic book script. Because there is–

Aline: There is a more official format for graphic novels and I’m sure you can find samples of it. And they look like treatments and they’re very dense treatments and they’re like for a whole book they’re probably 60 pages. But because I had written multiple versions of the script we kind of started in conversation about that. And the other thing was it gave Ramón a lot more leeway.

And because I hadn’t written a lot of graphic novels, I wasn’t like panel six is this, panel nine is that, panel 12 is this. And I don’t think he would have enjoyed that. I think one of the reasons that he wanted to work with me was because there was a lot of room for him to invent in the storytelling and sort of come up with visual ways to translate the story beats.

John: Craig, you know, you’re going off now to do your TV show for HBO, and is there any part of your experience that is similar to Aline’s in the sense of like you want to do something that is actually just yours, that’s new territory? It’s not something that you’ve done before?

Craig: Well I suppose I would say that foolishly every time I start anything I think of it as mine. The difference here is that it’ll stay mine. And in movies they take it away. So, I just never learned the lesson. I don’t know how else really to write anything anyway unless I just think, well, this is mine. It’ll be mine as long as it’s mine.

But I think the major difference is going to come down the line. I mean, I have had the experience a number of times in movies where I have not worked like a typical screenwriter. You and I have talked about the Screenwriter Plus. So, I end up in editing rooms. And I end up in lots of meetings and talking about budget and planning and all the rest of it. So, I’ve had the experience there, but ultimately in film, yeah, at some point–

Aline: Yeah, I have, too. And I know John has, too. But when you’re in a room and you know somebody else can — you know, ultimately someone else has final say, you will really enjoy being in a situation where you’re the commander of the writing.

Craig: Yeah. Well, I’m definitely the commander of the writing. There’s no question about that. And I think the good news is that our little family that we’re putting together is pretty great. And we’re all very respectful of each other and I think we all want to hear from each other. And so I’m not really actually dwelling that much, frankly, on the specifics of the authority fact, you know? I’m just kind of going about trying to make the best thing I can with these people.

John: I got to visit Aline on set this season to watch them filming a musical number, which was fantastic. And there’s still glitter that I find in my shoes. And one of the things that really impressed me about it is you had sort of a quiet authority as we were sort of sitting in video village watching things. And you would sort of ask me a question or you would sort of make an observation and the director, you were totally respectful to the director and to the choreographer and to Rachel who is doing stuff, but you were mindful of things that they might not otherwise have seen.

And I think that can be a crucial role for a writer on any set, but particularly when it’s your thing. You have a vision of what the overall thing is you’re trying to achieve. I didn’t hear you saying do this, don’t do this, but you were sort of reminding people of what your priorities were.

Aline: The three of us have often talked about how strange it is that there isn’t an onset writer on every project. Because we know the story. We’ve imagined the world before anyone else. So the only reason to cast that person aside is an ego reason. I can’t see any other reason to do it. And the directors that I worked with that welcomed me into the process where I was that Screenwriter Plus were the most confident ones.

So, you know, and a TV show, it emanates from the writing. And that is a cultural — I actually found as a screenwriter I thought a lot more about, hey, how can I get my point across in a tactful way? And in TV you don’t really need to. You just are the person that they’ll go to to ask which pants should they be wearing and what source music should be playing. And what color should this character’s hair be? And you know all those things.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, the weirdness of the delineation in movies is such that they think that the writer is just responsible for whatever they consider to be writing. But the problem is what they consider to be writing is a very narrow view. It’s certainly an incomplete view. And in television, somehow magically, they all understand that writing encompasses everything. We don’t go into these things not thinking about all of this stuff. It is a bizarre business we work in because I think that for everybody else it comes down to questions of title.

Literally. I don’t know why they are so sheep-like in their need for titles and authority that is rigidly defined by titles. But it is why when you are making a television show if you’re the head person on that television show, you need to be called Executive Producer. That’s it. If you’re not, you’re not. Because they need it. It’s the weirdest thing.

And really it should just be writer like in charge.

Aline: Well, because it’s a military operation, you know. It is. And so in those situations they need to know and it really is for practical purposes. You know, on our show from the beginning Rachel and I and Erin Ehrlich, we had three executive producers, but I’m the showrunner which is an extra designation. And you need to have that also because if there’s multiple executive producers, really for all practical purposes, the people on the crew need to know who they can go to to get the fastest answer that won’t change. Because you waste money and time if you’re going to this person and then they change and then it changes and then it changes.

So, having one person who is answering that shirt should be blue; the watch should be black. He should have blond hair. You want to make that one person for practical purposes as much as anything else. And in television that’s the writer.

Craig: Yep.

Aline: And, you know, I just wanted to say movies are in a desperate place creatively right now. I mean, I’ve left my house to go to the movies I think four times this year. And I think one of them is Get Out. We’ve all seen Get Out. Kind of a cut above. And TV is so good right now because it belongs to writers. It’s run by writers. I firmly believe that. And through whatever accident of circumstance made that happen, I’m really hoping that the movie business learns from like if you let the people who create the stories manage the stories, your stuff will be better.

Craig: Although, I have to say if you look at the historical context of these things, you could also point to the ‘70s and say that in the ‘70s, at the height of auteurism, movies were vastly superior to television. There was still the same delineation. The directors were in charge of movies. Writers were in charge of television. And an enormous amount of television was horrendous. Nothing like what it is now.

It seems to me that one of the keys to all of this is what’s happening on the other side of the creative line between us — all of us, directors and writers — and the companies that are asking us to make things. In television right now, because of the multiplicity of formats and the delivery system, I think that the people on the other side are adventuresome and also craving content. They are content hungry. Which means people are getting a chance to try things. And on the movie side, on the other side of this line, the people making movies are frightened. They are very restricted in how much content they want. And they are very limited in the kind of content that they’re willing to pay for.

So, all of that is a squeeze down. It is tempting to say, well, if we put the writers in charge, as opposed to putting the directors in charge, everything would change in film. I think it’s just as easy for people to point to this weekend with It and say, well, there is a director who is in charge and a different person who wrote the script.

Mostly I wish I could just say to the people running the movie studios, the movie parts, the feature parts, that writers don’t need to be in charge of movies any more than directors need to be in charge of movies. Writers and directors together should be in charge of movies. At any given moment on a set, if they decide that the director needs to have the ultimate authority there in that moment. That’s fine. But it’s the philosophy of auteurism that’s the stupidest thing and I think does rot away at a lot of what would have been otherwise been good films.

John: I can definitely see that. And circling back to what Aline was saying about sort of having to have one person in charge, having a militaristic operation, I think the reason why we get to that point is that the stakes are so high. Time is limited. Money is limited. Someone has to make those decisions and there’s all this pressure on it. And I wonder if part of the reason why you wanted to go off and do this graphic novel is because there was no pressure. There were not stakes. It was just basically — for you it was kind of a lark. And if it turned out great, fantastic. If it didn’t turn out great, there’s no skin off your back.

And to me like the Big Fish musical was to some degree that, at least in the early stages. Once it became — we were headed to Broadway, then the stakes were incredibly high. But for years as we were developing that show, the stakes were just like, well, we wrote a song. Like we made a thing. That song was delightful. And it’s a thing that didn’t exist otherwise.

Some of the stuff I do with apps is a similar kind of thing where the stakes just aren’t as high. I don’t have to get somebody’s permission.

Aline: And also you get to derive that beginning, middle, and end of a process of a product, of having something you can hold in your hand. And, you know, the writer girl that I was at 12 years old would be super thrilled to see this graphic novel about Jane Eyre. And rather quite confused by the giant pile of unproduced scripts in my garage. So, you know, you don’t set out to generate a bunch of printed out pieces of paper. You generate to make things. And I think now more than ever people want to make things. And screenwriters who are in a more frustrating circumstance, kind of everyone I know is making some thing.

John: Yeah. We always talk to these aspiring writers who say like, oh, it’s so frustrating as I do these things, and we always try to remind them unlike an actor or unlike a director a writer can just go off and write something, which is fantastic. But I think sometimes we forget that lesson ourselves is that we end up sort of seeking permission to write the things or we might go off and spec our own thing down the road, but usually we’re busy enough writing the stuff for the studios and we’re sort of in that grind.

Aline: But Craig, same thing for you. Or Chernobyl was like, yeah, I’ll do this. And it was sort of a sideline during many years of doing busy screenwriting stuff.

Craig: No, no, not really.

Aline: No?

Craig: No.

Aline: I mean, not on a sideline, but it’s certainly not making you as much money as the other stuff.

Craig: Oh, no, financially it’s nothing at all like that. No. There’s no question about that. But the amount of time that I have devoted to it and the amount of time I’m going to devote to it will probably make it the thing that I have worked the longest and hardest on, actually. I mean, because it’s five scripts. They’re each 60 — well, the last one is a little bit longer. So, think of it as like basically three movies. So it’s three movies worth of scripts and then there’s, you know, all of the prep and then the production and the post. It’s going to be a lot. And then just an enormous amount of research, also.

The nice thing about writing some kinds of movies, and I did about two weeks of research for Identity Thief. You know, I’ve done years of research for this. So, no, this is a pretty serious endeavor for me.

Aline: Can I say you have one of the most eclectic, delightfully eclectic filmographies of anyone I know.

Craig: It’s about to get more. I’m about to achieve levels of, yeah, strange eclecticism. No one would…

Aline: IMDb head scratcher.

Craig: Yeah, I think that’s great.

Aline: Oh, I think it’s great, too. I mean, listen, a lot of the writers and directors that we love from like the ‘30s and ‘40s in particular, it’s like they did everything. They made every kind of movie. George Cukor. They made every kind of movie. William Wyler.

John: As I always say in interviews, my favorite genre of movies are movies that get made. So I will happily write anything that can possibly exist.

Craig: Pretty much. But I think that there is a nice thing that does happen after a while. If you do spend a lot of time doing what you are asked to do, and what you’re being paid well to do, then eventually you do arrive at a moment where you have the luxury of saying I’m going to spend a lot of time now on something that I’m not going to make a lot of money on, but I just care about. I couldn’t have done that before. I just, you know, this is where when people do talk a little bit about the economic realities of starting out in Hollywood now, I am incredibly sympathetic to people who are like, look, this whole business now seems to be designed to be a place where independently wealthy children can begin to work. Because–

Aline: Boy, I really agree with that.

Craig: You know, I couldn’t have done — I had nothing. I don’t think any of us came here with a big bunch of money. And so, you know, I’m certainly grateful to all — I think all of the things that you do prior to something were necessary for one reason or another to get you to what you’re doing at this moment, just as whatever you do now will be necessary for what comes next.

John: Yep. So one of the things I did this last year was just a lark. And so a friend of mine, Sam Davis, was the dance arrangement composer for Big Fish. And so he’s one of these people who can hear a melody and then make it a thousand different versions which is what you have to do for a Broadway musical because you have to be able to fit things to the choreography. It’s a really unique skill and he’s just remarkably good at it.

But he’s also a composer himself. And so I was having lunch with him and I said like, you know, Sam, we should just try to write a song together sometime. That would be really fun to do. And it wasn’t to like be part of anything else, it was just to have something to do.

So he sent me a folder on Dropbox with a bunch of little things he’d written, and just little snippets of melodies. And so if there’s anything here you want to do, take a shot at it. And so this last year I did that.

And so I want to talk through sort of this project I did, and you guys both heard the final version of this, but I don’t think you’ve heard any of how this all came to be. So, I’m going to play a couple little clips to hear what the original stuff sounded like.

So, this is what Sam originally sent me.

[Clip plays]

So that was the original melody he sent me. It’s a waltz. It’s lovely. It feels very emotional, but as I listened to that I felt like, oh, there’s words that can go with those plunking. Does that — Aline, you’re writing songs all the time now. Could you hear where words could go?

Aline: No. My version of songwriting is I get in the room with songwriters and I throw out a bunch of lines and I hope some of them get in so I can get five or ten percent of the songwriting. But I am no more capable of hearing a melody and writing words to it than a child.

John: Craig, you’ve done quite a bit of this recently, too. So, do you hear–?

Craig: Yeah, with Jeanine Tesori, the great, great, great Jeanine Tesori. Yeah, no, for sure. Well, it sounds like he’s not just playing an accompaniment there. He is giving you the melody. He’s giving you the vocals, which is actually a remarkable thing that these people — these musicians — can do.

So, you know, when you sing a song you would never play the melody along with the vocalist, right? You’re accompanying them. But they can just sort of adjust to play it. So, [hums], you can just hear it coming out. And you can hear the way the sentences would be structured. And then the little sort of wistful part as it kind of comes down and hits that funky little minor thing. Yeah. No for sure. It’s begging for it.

John: It’s begging for it. So, what I heard in that main melody was “I want … I want…” And so it felt like an I Want song to me. And so that was my sort of initial instinct is that this feels like it wants to be an I Want song. It probably needs to speed up a little bit, because it’s a little slow for an I Want song. But imagine the faster version of this. Like, OK, “I want … I want bop-bop-bop-bop.” And so like, well, I started with I Want and who is the character who wants something? What do I want to do?

So, a thing which occurred to me as we were auditioning people for Big Fish is that there aren’t a lot of great I Want songs for boys. In the Disney canon you have all the princess I Want songs, so you have “Part of Your World” and that aspirational kind of I Want song is really common for women, but not for boys. So, like, well I want the song with which a guy will audition for a prince role, for prince charming, in a Broadway show.

And so that was my inspiration. And so I said like, OK, well, what is that character — what does the prince — the aspirational prince kind of character like? And so I wrote out all the lyrics and sort of tried to match them to the melody, including a lot of stuff that wasn’t part of that main melody line. So I just had sort of blank stanzas to sort of get us up before we got to that melody.

And so I’ll talk through the next part of that. So I sent this long document through to Sam and he’s like I don’t know what to do with this. I can see where the chorus is, but I don’t know what to do with this. So the next thing I sent through is what I call the Snap Track. And so I just snapped along to the words to sort of give him a sense of like what the meter of it would be. So, we’ll take a listen to that.

[Clip plays — But at night I have dreams that seem more like a calling. Where this lonely apprentice can end this appalling excuse for a nothing life, common life, lesser life, not a life. I want to live. But dreams are for night, and nights are not long when you wake to bake before dawn].

So with that I wanted to give a sense that like, OK, there’s some triplets in there–

Aline: Wake to bake? Oh why, because it’s a baker? Got it. Got it. Because I only think of pot when you say that. Keep going. Ignore me.

John: So I wanted to be able to communicate to him like, OK, there’s triplets here, but we’re still sticking in three. But I didn’t want to sort of poison him with the music I heard in my head, because I definitely had my own melody, but I didn’t want that melody to bleed over to him. So that’s why I kept it snapping.

Craig, you probably — when you’re working with Jeanine, do you have that same situation?

Craig: We did a slightly different kind of thing. The basic way we would start is we would have a long discussion about what we wanted a song to be about. And we were working off of a script I had already written. So we had characters. We had situations. We had the general sense of it, but then we were like, OK, but let’s get to the meat of what this is really about and how this is going to work, particularly because two of the three songs we did are duets.

After we figure out what the song is really about, then I thought what would happen is Jeanine, being the Tony award-winning composer that she is, would write some brilliant music and then I would attempt to just clumsily put words in. But she was like, no, you send me words first. So I would write these poems.

Now, I have no melody or music, but I would kind of form a little bit of a melody in my head, but I would never sing it or anything like that for the same reason that you wouldn’t do it either. You don’t want to unduly get into the head of your composer.

So, I would write these poems basically, lyrical poems out of what the song would be, and then she would read those and then she would then send over kind of like a here’s a thing. And then she would fill in nonsense lyrics sometimes. You know, and da-da-das and just whatever. Just fake words and things like that.

And then by going back and forth, we would find the shape of the song, the A, and the B, and the C. And then I would start really dialing in on the lyrics. But sometimes I would write lyrics and I would send them to her and she’s like I don’t know if this fits. And I would say it does. Let me send it with stress. And so I wouldn’t do the snap thing. What I would do is I would just underline where the stresses were of the words on the beats and stuff. And then she would go, OK, I got it, I got it, I got.

Because sometimes it would get kind of complicated. You know, what we were doing. And she’s very — and thank god for this — she is a stickler about consistency and true rhyming. She’s like no half-rhymes, no slant rhymes. Full rhymes. And if you pull some sort of wordplay in the first verse, I want a similar version of that wordplay with new words in the second verse. She’s rough. But it forced me, it really forced me to concentrate and work as hard as I could to try and machine these things so that they’re nice and tight.

I loved it. I just loved the process of it.

John: I loved this process, too. What was so different about this than any of the stuff I did with Danny Elfman, because I have like seven songs with Danny Elfman, is in all those cases I wrote lyrics and they were in the script and then they went off and Danny just made the song. And so in some cases he would tweak the lyrics. In some cases he sort of left the lyrics as they were. But there was very little collaboration between us.

Like, you know, we might have a dinner where we talk over what the songs were basically about, but there was no sort of direct working together.

Aline: I think our show is different, because there are jokes, there are sketches. So a lot of the songs I have credit on were things where I came up with the joke and the title and a couple lines. So like the concept of it and sort of — but one time there’s a song in last season where I said to Rachel and Jack, oh, they could sing a song called something like “we should definitely not have sex right now.” I went to the bathroom, I went to get something to eat, I came back and they had written almost all of the song. That’s usually more of what happens.

And then when I hear it I’ll contribute some jokes. But I would never — I mean, with comedy songs it’s really — they’re very, very conceptual. They’re like sketches. And they have to have very clean games.

So, I don’t actually — I rarely set lyrics down to paper and send it to them.

John: But a crucial part of your process though is the demo. So once you have the idea of the song, you have to record a demo so that everyone can sort of sign off on it and so people can plan how they’re going to build the episode.

Aline: Yeah.

John: So what is the demo process like for–?

Aline: Adam, Jack, and Rachel, who are the songwriters, often sing their own demos into an iPhone. And then they send them to Adam, and Adam turns them into real demos with demo singers or often Adam. And what I love is Adam was in Fountains of Wayne, so we have numerous, numerous, numerous Adam demos for like Adam singing “Where’s the Bathroom?” which is a Tovah Feldshuh song, and Adam singing Rachel’s songs. And Adam singing everybody’s songs if he can’t get a demo singer in and we’re going really quickly.

And then we listen to the demos and I give notes on the demos. And a lot of times, you guys are more kind of it sounds like immersed in the technical. I refer to it as “I’m the monkey” and it has to make sense to the monkey. Because they’re much more steeped in music, so sometimes the jokes are abstruse or the lyrics are confusing. Or it needs to make sense to me. And then a lot of times my notes are like this needs to be a little bit more visceral, or this needs to be more joyful. Or its adjectival input.

John: Well that goes back to sort of what your discussion was with the artist for Jane, because you’re not drawing yourself. So you have to find a way — metaphors or similes to describe what it is you’re going for, because you don’t want to tell them how to do his job. It’s the same working with a composer. You find you end up describing a tone, a feeling. It’s in this world rather than that world.

Aline: Well, that’s actually a great thing for all writers to learn. It’s going to be applicable to what Craig is about to do. You know, I have multiple department heads. You have to describe what you want to someone and you don’t do what they do. So, you are going to say to the costume person, you know, we need something that looks like this, that evokes this. And they’re going to come back to you with choices. And part of being a good collaborator is letting people do what they’re great at and understanding what they’re great at. And sometimes when we have directors show up on our show, it makes me giggly that they get super camera talkie and they want to talk a lot about–

John: The crane?

Aline: Yes. And technical stuff. And that’s important and that’s wonderful. And I’m going to say that men do that a little bit more, because they want to show you that they know their lenses. It’s as important to be able to express what you’re trying to get emotionally and what’s the story you’re trying to tell. And that’s the same with songs and that’s the same with the book. That’s the same with, you know, if you’re trying to get a story across, it matters what color the mug is. But you don’t need to choose the mug. You need to be able to extract the salient detail and say to the person who is the artisan to say it’s important to me that it’s this.

And I think it’s good to collaborate on things that get made so that you have practice. So even if that’s just taking your iPhone and going to the yard with your friend and figuring out this needs to be blue. It doesn’t matter what color this is, but this needs to be that. And that’s really the key to — because a lot of what drowns artistic endeavors is unnecessary amounts of — confusing amounts of detail. So, you know, learning how to be really specific about what you want out of any process, a song, a book, a movie, a play, a bedtime story, is important. And learning how to communicate that is really important for writers.

John: Yeah. So for the case of this song, the case for “Rise,” what was great is we were able to finally record a real good true demo. So we got in–

Aline: When did you get the rise-rise pun baking idea?

John: Oh, the rise-rise pun came pretty early on. Actually–

Aline: How did it come to mind?

John: So I envisioned that this guy was a baker. So this kid was–

Aline: Why?

John: I’m not quite sure why baker was the initial sort of instinct behind it. So, I did envision like this is a guy who was toiling, but had sort of this fantastical notion of what it would be like to be a prince. And, again, you don’t see people aspiring to be princes. And this is about what it would be like to aspire to be a prince.

So, I saw him as like — I think originally he worked as a blacksmith, but then a baker felt better. And once I was in baker, then it’s like “Rise” became natural. And “Rise” felt like a very sing-able word for where he was going to.

Aline: Are you writing a play to go with this?

John: So I could write a play to go with this. And that’s what’s actually so interesting, so once we got the whole song together and once we recorded a demo, so we recorded a demo with a great Broadway guy named Curt Hansen who is in Wicked and could really do it. Like it was so surprising to hear the song. We only heard ourselves singing it poorly and like the aspirational notes we couldn’t quite get to, and this guy could actually belt it and sort of do the real good version of it.

Once we actually had it, then we had our sheet music, this is from the baker prince. So, eventually somewhere down the road it could become a thing, but I also just want it to be its own thing. I want it to have sort of value in and of itself. It’s a kind of song that people can download and sing or use for auditions. It felt good on those terms, too.

Aline: Can I ask you a question which I may already know the answer to and you can cut this out, but it is a same-sex love story thing possibly?

John: Not intended to be.

Aline: Because there’s not enough of those. There’s not enough of those that are in the genre of like longing wish-fulfillment romance. There seems to be more that are tragic, you know, tragic stories. And I think it would be awesome to have more fairytales about that.

One of my best friend’s husband is the same-sex Pasodoble Gay Games national champion.

John: Fantastic, yes.

Aline: And I’m waiting eagerly for the day that they have same-sex ballroom dancing on Dancing with the Stars. But having same-sex narratives in more kind of traditional “straight” genres I think is a great thing. And if that’s what that was, I’ve already bought my ticket.

John: Yeah. I think you and Craig both asked that question when I sent you the song months ago is like, oh, is this where it’s going to go to? And Rachel I think sort of fell in the same place, too.

Aline: Were we all stereotyping?

Craig: I think inside John’s — he goes, oh, yeah, you all thought that’s where this was going.

Aline: But I think, by the way, I think that could be a very important and compelling thing.

Craig: You know what? Here’s the thing. I don’t like those stories that much. I’m just going to say, because I haven’t had any–

Aline: Fairytale love stories?

Craig: I just find them so boring and cliché at this point. Now, granted, I’m older now. So children really do like them. But I like the tragic crazy stories. You know what’s a great song, to give Jeanine Tesori some credit, but she gets plenty of anyway, she’s a genius, is “I’m Changing my Major to Joan” from Fun Home.

Aline: Of course.

Craig: Which is a great same-sex love song that isn’t tragic. It’s joyous. But it’s not–

Aline: Well, “Keys,” forget it. “Keys.”

Craig: Well, “Keys,” that’s not a love song as much as like an aspirational kid seeing acceptance. But also an amazing song. But I don’t, like I don’t necessarily–

Aline: But I’m saying Frozen, Tangled, you know, I’m saying a fairytale. It’s just a genre that — one of the reasons you may perceive it as being a little tired is because it’s inhabited by the same types of characters all the time.

John: I think my other frustration, so people should go back and listen to our great episode with Jennifer Lee talking about Frozen because there was always such an instinct originally in Frozen that we have to have sort of classic love interests and Elsa has to be a villain and all these things. And once they actually figured out like, oh, it’s about sisters. Oh, they could actually build the whole thing out.

To me, it’s that we never see princess romances from the boy’s point of view. It’s always from the girl’s point of view.

Aline: Totally.

John: And so even if it remains sort of–

Aline: Hetero.

John: Mixed sex, hetero, then to see it from his point of view and sort of what it’s like — we don’t give young men good instruction on how to be noble heroes towards women.

Aline: Well, like the boy Cinderella stories tend to have a lot more genre, Harry Potter, Star Wars stuff going on, as opposed to romantic stakes.

Craig: But there are some. I mean, “Agony” is a great, great song written from the point of view.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: But it’s also a satire. It’s kind of making fun of those songs.

John: It’s spoofing the idea of those things. Yeah.

Craig: Right. It’s true. I think in the old days, in the old classic musicals you would have songs where men would sing these sort of moony love songs.

John: Oh, absolutely.

Aline: Well, Aladdin is–

John: “A Whole New World,” yes.

Aline: Right. But they tend to be a little bit more jaunty and adventure-based rather than romantic and yearning, although that has lots of stuff in it.

John: And it also becomes a duet though. And if it was just Aladdin’s solo, “let me share this whole new world with you,” it would be — it wouldn’t quite land the same way.

Craig: You know what else just came to mind is Andrew Lippa’s “The Moon and Me,” right? Which is a beautiful song and is the most non-traditional romance between a man and an orbiting celestial body. But it is a love song. And it is solo. It’s not a duet. And it’s gorgeous.

So, they’re there. I don’t like them that way. I like them non-traditional.

John: All right.

Craig: That’s my jam.

John: This might ultimately become that thing, but until then it is a song, so if people want to check it out you can look at the lyrics and there will be links to video things so you can see for it at johnaugust.com/rise. I’ll also put the full track at the end of this episode instead of an outro, so if you want to hear the whole thing you’ll know what we’re talking about.

Craig: It’s a good song.

John: Thank you.

Craig: You’re welcome.

John: So, let’s try to answer one or two listener questions while we have Aline here. Let’s start with a question from Niraj in Allahabad, India. He writes, “I’m an author based out of Allahabad and have been in discussions with a Hollywood production company for optioning the movie and TV writes for my historical fiction novel, Daggers of Treason.”

Craig: Daggers of Treason!

John: “While they’re offering 2% of the starting budget for theatrical releases, their stated rates for episodic serials is abysmally low. 1/5th of the WGA rates. Can you please guide me to how much a non-US or WGA author should expect for a 60-minute serial? And who would help me in procuring a fair deal? I understand I cannot become a WGA member being based in India but would appreciate your help. Regards, Niraj.”

So, where do we start here? I think one of the places we can start is we can be so frustrated with the WGA, but when you’re outside of the US and you look in, it’s like, oh, having the WGA to set minimums is a really nice thing.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, you don’t necessarily not have to have a WGA deal here, Niraj. So, the deal is if you’re writing in India but you’re working with a Hollywood company. Question number one is are they signatory to the Writers Guild or do they have a subsidiary that’s signatory to the Writers Guild? Still doesn’t mean that they have to employ you under a Writers Guild contract. However, what you can ask is that they employ you under the equivalent of a Writers Guild contract.

Now, all these things come down to leverage. How much do they want what you have and how much are they willing to spend on it? Sometimes I think companies will look to places that have burgeoning talent but aren’t covered by the WGA so that they can get better deals. And if these folks there are asking for more money, then suddenly it’s not as attractive a proposition. So you have to kind of gauge the interest level here.

Who can help you in procuring a fair deal? A lawyer. I don’t know where you live, oh, you said Allahabad. I don’t know Allahabad. I don’t know how large of a town that is. But I think if you reached out to a law firm in one of the many enormously large cities in India you will find an entertainment lawyer. India has a massive entertainment industry as we all know.

And the fact that you already have interest from a Hollywood production company I think would certainly mean that somebody would be willing to take your call and talk to you and perhaps represent you. Once that happens, that’s the person you’re going to be asking these questions of. That would be my first move.

Aline: Me too.

John: That’s a great idea. And the other place I might point you to is it could make sense for you to get an LA-based law firm to supervise the contract. You just need to figure out who has been doing this for other projects sort of like yours. And you end up paying them to do that work as well. But I wish you good luck with this.

The next question comes from Mack who writes, “I usually read my scripts on the screen in the screenwriting software, but I’ve heard the printing one’s script and reading it on the physical page offers a new perspective that may help with the rewriting process. So now my script is printed and ready for me to read, but before I undertake reading it for the 15th time I was hoping you could offer some insight on best practices for reading for rewrites.”

Aline, I saw you nodding, so you agree that people should print out scripts?

Aline: Yeah. I don’t do it as much as I used to. I think I’ve developed my skill at looking at a screen as critically as I do at a page, and in TV we’re just moving so quickly that having that extra paper step sometimes is a pain.

But, you know, get your pen out. It depends on what you’re reading it for. But sometimes if you just like change the size of the font on your screen or make it look a little bit different. If I’m proofreading, I read it backwards. Just anything that makes it look new to you. Reading it in a new environment sometimes will do it. There’s nothing for catching typos like sending it to someone. The second you send it for some reason you open it back up and you’ll find six typos.

But anything that makes it look fresh to your eyes is great. And then I would say reading it aloud with or to someone is a great way to go. And Simon Kinberg and I wrote a script together and when we were revising it would read it aloud. And it was really fun. That seems like one of the fun reasons to have a partner, to read it and scribble on it.

John: Craig, are you a printer? Do you print your scripts?

Craig: Yeah. I do. Usually by that point I have gone through them quite a bit, but my basic process once I get to that stage, I really am mostly looking for typos or things that jump out as reading a little weirdly. So I’m reading it aloud a lot as I’m going through and I don’t do the double-sided print thing because I want the blank back of a page on the left side to be there for notes or things that I need to remark on.

And when I do that I just dog ear it so I have a reference. Then I go back through and I make those changes. But, you know, I don’t think I would get too freaked out about this. Everybody has their own speed and their own way of doing things. I’m pretty sure that there are some wonderful writers that don’t print it out. Whatever works for you, Mack. Honestly. Whatever works for you.

Aline: One thing I really thought a lot about with writing in a TV environment as opposed to a film environment is sometimes I found, as a screenwriter, I would overly machine things because I had so much time with it. And so I would tinker with things to make them scan perfectly when actually they play better just the way they splurted out of you.

And in TV, especially when you’re writing comedy, if a room pitches a joke and it works, you don’t change a syllable. So it may not scan perfectly, it may not make sense perfectly, but that’s the comedy milieu in there. And so I find that screenwriters way more than TV writers, just because of time, just tend to overly machine their dialogue and sand off all the rough edges. And I like the idea of sometimes it’s the imperfect perfect thing. So, there’s a lot of like dithering and busy work that is really tempting to do when you’re getting ready to send a script out. And I think sometimes you can ruin things that are lovely because you’re trying to make them perfect.

John: Yeah. I would stress that if you’re going through to read, make sure you’re really reading. And that’s why I think printing is so helpful because you can’t actually fix things while you’re reading it. So, I like to print the script and I go to someplace new. I go outside. I sit at the table. And I’m flipping through the pages because I will see things I don’t see other places and things will occur to me that haven’t occurred while I’m cutting whole little short scenes because I just don’t need them anymore.

And if I were trying to do that on the screen, I feel like I might go through and like make a few little corrections right at that moment, then I wouldn’t be reading anymore. I’d really be writing. And that’s not what your goal is.

Aline: It’s a different mode.

John: Yeah, different mode. All right. Let’s change modes ourselves. It’s time for One Cool Thing. Craig, start us off.

Craig: Oh, I got a good one today if you like puzzles. Do you love puzzles, folks?

John: We all love puzzles.

Aline: Yeah, we’re all puzzlers.

John: After this podcast we’re going off to play games at Aline’s house.

Craig: Well, I’ll tell you, these are brutal but amazing. So there’s a gentleman named Mark Halpin and every Labor Day he puts out a puzzle pack. The puzzle pack consists of many, many individual puzzles. You solve all those individual puzzles, and then there is a meta puzzle that encompasses all of the answers you’ve pulled from the many, many puzzles. And so this Labor Day weekend, David Kwong and I eagerly downloaded this year’s puzzle package from Mark Halpin called When First We Practice to Deceive.

We have completed all of the individual puzzles except for the last one. We’re halfway through that one. They are really, really hard. And they are really, really good. They are super well done. Very complicated. Really, really just tricky. One of them has — one of them looks like it’s a word search. No it isn’t. I mean, it kind of is, but mostly it isn’t. And there’s about five different levels just to that puzzle alone to get to the answer of that puzzle.

So, Mark Halpin offers these for free, but there is a tip jar link on his page. If you do download these, I strongly urge you to chuck him some remuneration. He worked clearly extraordinarily hard on these. And we will put a link in the show notes for you. So, again, that’s Mark Halpin. And his puzzle pack this year is called When First We Practice to Deceive.

John: Very nice.

Aline: Very cool. My One Cool Thing — my favorite TV show right now is Insecure on HBO. And I’m obsessed with Issa and I’m obsessed with the show. And I watch it as it airs, or soon after. It’s the best romantic comedy I’ve seen in a long time, but it’s so much more than that. And I just love it. And it’s so great to have a TV show that I’m excited to watch. And so I think — and I have an ax to grind — but I think sometimes things that are created and written by women and deal with love and relationships don’t quite get the due that like a somber crime drama will get.

And I think Insecure is just an excellent show. And belongs up there in any critical appreciation of the best shows out there right now. So, I highly recommend that, and go to HBO to find it.

John: Cool. My One Cool Thing is a book by Jessica Abel called Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio. And so it’s done in a graphic novel format, or an illustrated book thing. It’s not fiction. It’s all real interviews that she did with the people behind This American Life, The Moth, Radio Lab, Planet Money, Snap Judgments, Serial, Invisibilia.

Aline: Whoa.

John: And so what’s clever is she recorded all these interviews, but then she built it out sort of in a graphic novel format. So she’s having these conversations with people, she’s inserting herself into it. And it’s a brilliant look at sort of how this kind of radio is made. And sort of both how reporters go out to find and really cast the people that they’re going to be interviewing, but then how the stories are found in the edit. And what the edit process is like, which is much more like really like your writer’s room than you would think.

So, they’re reading their scripts, they’re playing their tape, and they’re just digging in on story for hours and hours at a time.

Aline: Wow, that’s so cool.

John: It’s really great. So, I would recommend it to anybody who is interested in radio, but I also I thought there were interesting lessons about how storytelling works for the radio that I think most screenwriters would find fascinating.

Like one of the things about how they pitch these stories is it’s about blank, but what’s interesting is blank.

Aline: Right.

John: And so–

Aline: That’s almost a podcast cliché. It’s about bananas. Everything you didn’t know about bananas. Yeah.

John: So, you know, you have your topic, but then your actual hook is something that is not the topic.

Aline: Your take on it.

John: Yeah. And that’s–

Aline: Hey, before we go, I’m going to sign my book at Barnes & Noble at The Grove.

John: Fantastic, what day?

Aline: And also at Chevalier Bookstore on Larchmont. And the book signing at The Grove is on Sunday, September 24 at 5pm at Barnes & Noble at The Grove.

John: Fantastic. I will be in London so I won’t be attending that one, but I’m so excited to see you and–

Aline: Well then perhaps you can go to the book signing at Chevalier’s on October 1 at 5:30.

John: That sounds great. Hooray! So we’ll have links to–

Aline: Plug. Plug. Plug. Plug.

John: We will have links to Aline’s book and the events which you can go visit Aline and have her sign your book. Also in the show notes you’ll find a link to the song I wrote and we’ll put that on the outro for this week’s episode. Our show is produced by Megan McDonnell. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli.

If you have an outro, a traditional outro, you can send us a link to ask@johnaugust.com. That’s also the place where you send questions like the ones we answered today.

For short questions, we’re on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Aline is–?

Aline: @alinebmckenna.

John: Fantastic. She’s on Twitter finally.

We are on Facebook. Search for Scriptnotes Podcast. You can find us on Apple Podcasts at Scriptnotes. Just look for Scriptnotes and while you’re there leave us a comment or a review. That helps a lot.

You can find all the show notes at johnaugust.com. If you have a Three Page Challenge for Austin, remember that’s johnaugust.com/threepage.

Transcripts go up about a week after the episode airs. And you can find all the back episodes at Scriptnotes.net.

Aline, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Craig: Thanks Aline.

Aline: Cheers, you all. Cheers.

John: Cool. See you soon. Bye.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

johnaugust.com

Scriptnotes, Ep 319: Movies Dodged a Bullet — 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 Episode 319 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the show, it’s a new round of the Three Page Challenge, where we take a look at samples sent in by our listeners to see what’s working and what’s not. Then we answer perhaps the most important question of all, is how do we number our files.

But first there’s exciting news. This past Monday, or actually a week ago now that the podcast comes out, I got elected to the WGA board.

Craig: You didn’t just get elected, John. You got more votes than anyone, which actually does matter. It means that when you go into the boardroom as a new board member everybody is going to know that you’re for real. You’re the real deal, buddy. And I couldn’t be happier. Obviously I voted for you and endorsed you wholeheartedly. We are in desperate need of you on our board of our union.

And so I wish you the greatest of luck.

John: Well thank you very much. I want to thank everybody who voted. These elections are always sort of low turnout because they end up being sort of low turnout, but I’m really grateful to everybody who did go out and vote. Also, the other candidates are terrific. And so most of them will be joining me on the board this next year, so I’m looking forward to that.

So, by the time this episode comes out I will have been through my first WGA board meeting. I will have gone through the gauntlet and all of the hazing rituals. And will hopefully have come out the other side.

Craig: Yeah. The hazing rituals is really a hazing ritual and it never stops. The nature of the ritual is to bore you to death. I’m telling you, man, those board meetings, the homophone is appropriate.

John: Mm-hmm. I will post a link to two things that I have written about the WGA experience. First is on the site johnaugust.com there is a link now for WGA. So, if you are a WGA member who has something you need to tell me about what’s going on, that is a link you can click. Also on the blog I just did a post sort of outlining general objectives for what I hope to be able to look at these next two years. The short version is that there’s a lot of stuff that’s affecting writers on a day-to-day basis, and I want to look and see what we can do on just an enforcement basis. That’s not a negotiation. That’s not a big fight, but it’s just sort of getting people to honor the contract we already have.

Secondly, I want to be able to spend these two years looking at what’s down the road. And making sure that we’re prepared for big changes in the industry and the impact they could have on writers like you and me and the brand new writers who are just now joining the guild.

Craig: Music to my ears. We are always in a state of looking forward these days. I think this is a problem that our generation has far more than the generations that preceded us. The business basically was the business for many decades, but with the advent of technology it’s been a little nuts. So, we do have to look forward constantly. But even more important I think is that E-word you mentioned — enforcement. Because we have been locked in a cycle for a long time now where we fight very, very hard and occasionally even strike to get terms in our contract. And then we don’t really seem to do a fantastic job of enforcing those terms when they are violated by the companies.

So, excellent news. You know what? I do not regret voting for you as of this point.

John: As of yet. So join us next week to see how I’ve disappointed Craig.

Craig: The regret will kick in. And just the fact that you’re the cohost of this podcast will not save you.

John: No. Not a bit. I will take the full wrath and umbrage of Craig Mazin for my role in the WGA.

Craig: Gonna be good.

John: Revisiting past umbrage and confusion, MoviePass was something we’ve talked about twice on the show before. The first time it was sort of a head scratch and a “huh,” like how could this possibly work. And then in the second bit of follow up we said like, oh, I guess I can see sort of a way that it could work. And now there’s more follow up. So, for people who forget what MoviePass is, this is a service you sign up for for now $ 9.95 a month. You can see unlimited movies in the US. And that seems impossible. Like theatrical movies, in the movie theater.

It turns out it’s actually a credit card you are getting. With that credit card, when you buy your tickets, the money is refunded to you. So, we have more information. This week an interview by Rob Cain for Forbes, in which he talks to the CEO of MoviePass about sort of what the actual plan is.

And, Craig, I don’t know about your experience with this, but I felt like, oh you know what, I could see a way this could actually work for MoviePass. What’s your take on this new information?

Craig: Yeah. Now that I look at it, I do think, “OK, there’s a possibility here.” I mean, first and foremost what Mr. Lowe says, this is — what’s his first name?

John: Mitch.

Craig: Mitch Lowe. What Mitch Lowe says is that he expects that in time most users of MoviePass will settle into what they believe is a fairly predictable rate of usage, which is essentially one movie a month, or I guess he says a pattern of just over a movie ticket per month. Because, you know, you could do digital fractions of things. But so, OK, if the average cost of a ticket is $ 9 and he’s charging about $ 10 a month for MoviePass, he’s breaking even on that. That’s his expectation over time.

So you’d say, OK, well, fine, you broke even. But how do you make money? And the way he’s making money it seems is that he’s creating essentially a targeted advertisement platform, as far as I can tell.

John: Yeah. That seems to be part of it. I guess originally our concern was how do you make money if people are going to three movies per month and it’s costing you all that money and they’re only paying $ 9 a month. And I have some increased belief that he actually knows what he’s talking about because he comes from Netflix, he comes from Redbox, so he does have a lot of background in sort of customer behavior when it comes to movies.

And the case that he makes in this interview with Cain, he says that, “We found that at $ 40 per month, subscribers would attend an average of 3.8 times per month. At a higher price they would attend more frequently. At a lower price, a lot less. So at $ 9.95 a month we expect the average subscriber to settle into a pattern of just over one movie ticket per month.”

So he’s targeting sort of the reluctant moviegoers. And he describes it as basically bad movie insurance. So the people who don’t go to movies all that often, people might go once or twice or three times a year, there’s a fear of loss, of what if I buy a ticket and I don’t like the movie. Well this sort of psychologically gets them out of that fear because the ticket was essentially free for them for that month.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I can see in some ways it could increase movie-going if the people who are actually subscribing to MoviePass are in that sort of reluctant filmgoer mindset.

Craig: Yeah. He’s also talking about perhaps capturing a small commission on concession sales. Not quite sure how that works and we’ll see if the large movie theater chains want to go along with it. But what is interesting about what he’s doing is he’s capturing information that nobody else is capturing. The point of sale other than MoviePass is of course the movie theater ticket box office. There are some other ticket purchasing outfits out there, you know, if you buy online through Fandango or something like that. But I think a lot of people they go up to the box office window and they say I want a ticket and they sell you a ticket. And the theater isn’t collecting any information on you.

And so here he is going to collect an enormous amount of information on the kinds of people who go to certain kinds of movies and how frequently they go. And he’ll be able to sell that information to studios and say, by the way, here’s a group of people that are going many, many times to the movies each month. Here is a kind of movie that gets a lot of repeat business. Here’s this. Here’s that.

So, you know, I can see how this could work. It really is all based essentially on the guess that people will not overeat at an all-you-can-eat buffet.

John: Yeah. This was the most intriguing part of the whole article to me. “When we get to ten million subscribers, we’ll be able to generate $ 7 million in additional box office for an independent film. At that point, it makes sense for us to get into the distribution business.” And so circling back to our conversation about how theatrical exhibition works, movie theaters like Loews, like AMC, they cannot make movies themselves. That is part of the consent decree. They cannot become movie producers.

But this guy, MoviePass, he can totally make movies if he wants to make movies. And at a certain point if this is successful enough, if it becomes like a Netflix, it will make sense for them to make movies because they’ll have tremendous information about who could buy their movies and could offer discounts on their movies. I could see it becoming a thing.

Will it become a thing? I don’t know. But I can see a way that it could evolve into something that is good, and new, and exciting.

Craig: Yeah. If he gets to his 10 million subscribers and he wants to go ahead and get into the distribution business, at that point he will almost certainly face a gauntlet of legal challenges that will either be initiated by the government or by large movie chains lobbying the government. That will be a fight. No question about it. They’re going to want to–

John: Why do you think there will be a fight? Because he’s not an exhibitor. He’s just a distributor the same way that a studio is a distributor.

Craig: I think there is an argument to be made that he is selling movie tickets, and therefore is directly selling movie tickets to people through MoviePass and therefore he is kind of an exhibitor.

You know, like Paramount Pictures can’t sell you movie tickets that you then go and bring to a theater. That’s kind of part and parcel with the whole split up of the producers and the exhibitors.

It’s not to say that what I’m saying is determinative or that he won’t get there. There’s no question that if he’s thinking about it, it means plenty of lawyers have said we can make the argument that this will work. But it’s going to be a fight. The AMCs of the world are not going to lay down and let this guy start basically playing by rules that — new rules or not having to play by the rules that they played by.

So, you know, let’s see what happens. It will be interesting.

John: It will be interesting. I agree. Last bit of follow up, listener Matt wrote in to say, “I was wondering if you could elaborate more on Episode 315 in which you touched on how the music industry was crippled by the digital age, but movies did not suffer the same fate. Being a former musician, I know this better than most, but I was wondering if you could go into more detail on how exactly film managed to survive. I know the midrange movies took a big hit as DVD sales declined, but what else happened, and why?”

So I threw this on the outline without doing any additional research, so this is just going to be speculation and opinion.

Craig: We’ll wing it.

John: We’re totally winging this. Some things which occur to me that are different about movies versus music. Theatrical I’ll say is sort of like our live performance. And so the same way that recording artists took a giant hit when their songs became downloads rather than CDs that were purchased, and they were then making their money sort of going out on tour, our movies in movie theaters are sort of like being out on tour. They are that public performance where everyone is going to buy a ticket and see the thing live in front of them on the big screen.

And that’s been surprisingly resilient, even in the face of new challenges, because it’s a chance to get out of your house. It’s a chance to go on a date, or hang out with your friends. It’s an excuse to get together with people. So I think that has helped the movie business buck up a bit.

I think a difference between movies and music, which was important at the time but is much less important now, is that the files are huge. And so it was easier to schlep around music files. It was much harder to schlep around giant movie files. And so torrents made that easier, but still they were much bigger files and as bandwidth increased it became easier to send around giant movie files. But they weren’t happening as much as early.

Once you have those files, it’s harder to get them onto your TV. Clever people can always find a way to do that, or they’ll be willing to watch them on their laptops, but it’s harder to get them on the screen. And if you’re watching these movies overseas and it’s a western movie in English and you want to watch it with your subtitles, solutions have sort of come up for like how to pirate movies and slap on the subtitles, but it’s not easy. It’s not simple to do that. And I think that’s another thing that has slowed down some piracy of movies or at least let movies sort of get some — it gave them some time to get ahead of piracy.

Craig: Well that all sounds accurate to me. I would add on a couple of other things. When Napster happened, and started to change the way that people were paying — or in this case not paying — for audio, and for music, the radio business continued as it continues. You know, the radio business plays music for free. I’m talking about not the satellite subscription, sort of terrestrial radio. You listen to music for free and then they pump ads at you. And that’s how they make their money.

Well that’s exactly how broadcast television and a lot of cable television works. Right? So the difference being that that was how you got the product in television, broadcast television, and cable television. It’s not like you were going to a store to buy this product before it was running on television. You had to go to the television to get it in the first place, which meant you were getting the ads on you right off the bat.

If I buy an album, if I buy a whole bunch of albums and music that I want to listen to, I don’t have to go listen to the radio station to hear that music because I own it. And in fact that directional issue is I think a lot of why music suffered and the movie business didn’t.

In general, like you said, movies are like concerts, right? And then the DVDs are like the albums. Well, notice that in movies and in television the performance comes first. That is the main product. And then the album equivalent comes after. That’s something that the fans then buy afterwards because they want to see it or experience it again.

Not the case with music. In music, you buy it first. If you like it, then you go to the concert. So, if the first option is free, that’s what people are going to want. And in movies, they’re not free. The first option is you’ve got to go to the theater. And television a lot of times the first option is free, or there’s a monthly subscription that they’ve already gotten used to, going to HBO and so on and so forth. And then if they liked it, yeah, you know, most people who go and see a movie and they love that movie and they want to see it again, they would go — they were used to renting it. They would go to Blockbuster and rent it. So they’re in the pattern of paying for that. No big deal.

The excitement of short-circuiting the entire thing and getting something new for free by stealing it was, I think, the problem with the music business. Because the free part, the change part, happened at the front of the experience. Not at the middle or end of the experience the way it did in television and in movies.

John: I think you are hitting on a key point here. And if you look back historically, the movie business existed long before there was home video. So for many, many years there really was no way to watch Gone with the Wind if it wasn’t playing at the theater down the street. And yet the movie business was completely viable.

And so as home video arose, that was a whole bunch of new money. And it was fantastic. And we made a lot more stuff and it benefitted writers tremendously because residuals became a more meaningful thing. So the rise of digital downloads, legal and illegal downloads, did hit home video in a really hard way. But there was still a way for movies to make money. And that’s I think why they were able to survive.

When you look at music, yes, there had been that tradition of live performance, but we’d had recorded music for so long. It had been so expected that you go out and buy an album and that was your primary way of consuming music. That when that got disrupted the whole business model did collapse.

Craig: Yeah. It is fascinating. The other aspect of music that’s so interesting to me is that there isn’t a work-for-hire in the music business the way that there is in movies and television. So, part of the problem with the music business was that all the album sales, the first part of the experience, almost all of that money went to the companies. And then the — I mean, some money went to the artist, but a lot of it went to the companies. And then the performance, going out and touring, that was all about the artist.

But then they would have to send back money if the company promoted it and stuff like that. Or the company fronted them money for videos and so on and so forth. And so when you chop that thing in half, then I think for a moment maybe artists thought this is good because that side of the business, the album sales side, I was always getting screwed on anyway. But, you know, the performance side is going to be great and I’m still going to sell t-shirts and make my money.

Except that they kind of forgot that no one goes to a concert for an act they don’t know. And that all the promotion was coming from the companies and the album sales. So there was a symbiotic relationship that got really disrupted there. And so you do have this strange thing now where we have these acts, the most successful touring acts, are old. With rare exception.

You know, The Rolling Stones still, you know. It’s hard to break new bands that then make a ton of money on tour. At this point now, a lot of them are I guess manufactured bands that are literally created for the purpose of this sort of thing. But when I look at the list of the highest grossing concerts, I’m like, oh my god, everyone is old.

John: Yeah. I do think it’s worth going through the thought experiment of like what if there had been more bandwidth earlier. If a few variables had changed, I do think we would be in bigger trouble. I do think if there had been tremendous bandwidth and it had been easier to get pirated movies onto your TV, I think home video would have collapsed more fully, more quickly. I think the economics would have changed. I still think the theatrical experience would remain. I think all the doomsdayers are saying like, oh, your TV at home is going to be so great and people are going to want to stay home rather than go out and suffer through the movie theater experience. Those are old people. Those are old people who don’t want to be around teenagers. Teenagers want to get out of the house and movies are a good excuse for doing that.

Craig: Yep. As long as kids want to make out in a dark room, there will be movies.

John: And there will be a MoviePass or something like that to try to get them to do more of it.

Craig: Naughty children. Well, that probably — that should get us to our Three Page Challenge, don’t you think?

John: We absolutely should tackle these three pages.

Craig: What should we start with here?

John: Let’s start with Steven Wood, a script called This is Absurd. Now, if you want to read along the three pages as we go through them, you can find them on the show notes. Just go to johnaugust.com and look for this episode. We’ll also have them up in Weekend Read so if you’re on Weekend Read you can read along with us.

So here’s a synopsis for this first one. A dapper middle-aged gentleman works the front desk at a motel. He stands perfectly still, with his hands clasped. A single room key hangs on a peg behind him. Joey enters, tired. He waits to be greeted by the manager. He rings the bell, but still no acknowledgment. Finally, Joey speaks, only to be cut off by the manager.

The answers do not quite feel stock, but the conversation is disjointed and unnatural. The manager accepts Joey’s payment without knowing the amount and sends him to his room. Joey and Dale, with whom Joey arrived, share a smoke outside their room. Joey mentions that the manager didn’t even count the money.

In the dingy motel room, Dale clicks the TV to a new station. Joey warns that “They’re going to find the car.” Dale is not worried. He wiped it down for prints. He goes to the bathroom just as the news anchor announces these two men as fugitives.

Craig, do you want to start us off?

Craig: Sure. So we talk a lot about confusion versus mystery. I think these three pages do a very good job of creating mystery as opposed to confusion. The manager and the nature of this motel are a mystery. You and I don’t know what it is, but if it turned out that the manager is the devil that would make sense to me. If it turned out the manager was an alien that would make sense to me. If it turned out the manager was a robot that would make sense to me. There’s all sorts of possibilities about what’s going on here.

The way it plays out and the scene craft is quite good, I think. The first scene here between Joey and the manager. Mostly good because I think the manager is created really interestingly. It’s a smart thing to have the manager say nothing until the bell rings. It makes us wonder what was it about the bell. See, they’re all like little hints.

I also like the way it was set up visually. And the part I liked was it says, “A leather-bound ledger is atop the counter along with a fingerprint-free brass bell.” That’s interesting. It’s almost as if this motel has been waiting. It’s like it popped up out of nowhere and is just waiting for these two guys like a Venus fly trap or something.

So, I liked that. And the fact that Joey has to sign his name and his room number felt very, I don’t know, hell-like to me. So, all that was good.

If I have any criticisms, it’s that the introduction of Joey is kind of a whiff. So, the manager gets MAN in all capitals, Joey doesn’t get anything. The description of Joey is as follows: Joey. That’s it. That’s all I get. Joey. I don’t know his age, I don’t know his height, his appearance. I don’t know anything. Until it says he, I didn’t even know if Joey was a man or a woman.

So, that’s not good. I want to know more about Joey. Similarly, when Joey does enter through the front door, it says tired. He slams his forearms on the counter. I don’t think anybody has ever done that. I don’t know what that means. How do you slam your forearms on a counter? That’s a very odd motion.

John: Yeah. So I think it’s throwing your weight down on the counter. So I got what he was going for, but I had read it twice or three times.

Craig: Yeah. I wasn’t quite sure about that. And then following that it says, “Dale waits outside.” Um, who? Dale? Oh, OK. I don’t know who Dale is either. And also how do I see him. Is there a window? Is the door–

John: Glass?

Craig: Yeah. What’s going on here? So, the descriptions were really scant. Joey I don’t think is quite interacting with the manager the way I would expect somebody normal to. And it’s not that Joey has to be normal. But when you have a character in a scene who is so wildly abnormal, isn’t that the title of this? This is Abnormal?

John: Yeah. This is Absurd.

Craig: This is Absurd. So we have an absurd character in the manager, which means we in the audience sort of need to be anchored in a non-absurd character opposing him in this back and forth conflicted scene. And Joey doesn’t quite get there. I wasn’t really with him on this. But, you know, it wasn’t bad. The line that sort of stopped me was when Joey says, “I’m going to wait” — ”I’m gonna to wait,” so let’s fix those typos. “I’m gonna wait and let you finish with your little spiel so you can stop interrupting me.”

It didn’t really seem like the manager was, I don’t know, interrupting him that aggressively. They’ve done bad things, Joey and Dale, and now they’re in a deadly motel of some kind, where they will receive some sort of punishment. That’s my prediction. But overall good.

John: Yeah. I enjoyed it as well. So, I have exactly your same criticisms in the sense that the manager is so well described, the environment is so well described, and Joey is just nothing. He’s just a name. And so giving us some specificity on who he is so we can relate to him and relate to his experience interacting with this manager is crucial. So even if you don’t want to tip us off that Joey is a bad guy, just give us some sense of who he is so we can get a sense of what his voice is going to be as he starts talking.

I also agree with you that I felt — it’s not that the manager was too pushed, it’s just that Joey’s reaction to his being pushed didn’t seem reasonable. And I flagged the same moment at the end of page one that you did.

I think if I had a bigger concern is that I’ve seen The Twilight Zone. I’ve seen Tales from the Dark Side. I was thinking back to that sci-fi series, The Lost Room, that I liked a lot. The idea of a haunted motel is a bit stock. But it’s still delightful. And it harkens back to almost like an Edgar Allan Poe kind of sense of like “this is the place where your sins are going to be punished.“

I just needed — I wish I got a sense after these three pages that our screenwriter sort of knew the tropes and could push past the tropes, or could at least know that he had a plan for sort of going past those easy things. Because by the time I got to the end of page three I was like, “OK, yeah, they’re criminal on the run,” but I’m not confident that this is going to be the subversion of this kind of story I’ve seen a lot.

And an example of something of where I thought we were missing an opportunity is at the start of page three. We have our only exterior. So “EXT – MOTEL – OUTSIDE ROOM FIFTEEN — NIGHT. Dale and Joey take a few drags off a smoke before going inside.”

That action is great. So, that they’re sharing a cigarette is also great. But where are we? If we’re exterior someplace, we have to be someplace. And so is there a rain storm? Are we in a desert? Are we in the middle of a city? We’re nowhere. And I think it’s absolutely a valid choice to start in a place where you don’t have any sense of what’s outside this room, but once we are outside this room you’ve got to give us some environment. And that’s where I felt like, OK, we’re on a sound stage someplace in Toronto and it’s going to be one of those sort of incredibly teeny tiny budget things that doesn’t really add up to anything.

Craig: Unless these three pages are not the first three pages. You know, if — and I would imagine people would probably let us know, but if these aren’t the first three, because we’ve never said that people have to send the first three. If it were in the middle then, OK, I would understand why Joey isn’t described and why Dale isn’t described and why the general area isn’t described.

But, some other things to consider. And certainly if this is the first three, no question about what you’re saying. When they’re standing outside Dale and Joey take a few drags off a smoke before going inside. “He didn’t even count the money.” What’s Dale thinking? Does Dale even know what he’s talking about? I feel like I’m missing something there. It’s like Joey is presuming that Dale is watching the movie with us. He wasn’t in there. He didn’t even hear any of that.

So, what is Joey trying to impart to Dale there exactly?

John: There’s a sense of which this could be the end of a conversation. So if you wanted to signal that like this was the last part of a conversation you’d say like, “Yeah and it’s weird, he didn’t even count the money.” Crushes the cigarette. Goes in the room. Like the sense that this was the end of a longer thing. But I agree, it just hangs there in a weird way.

Craig: It’s sort of a naked line because there’s no action inspiring it. It’s unmotivated. So what you end up happening is — you have two actors and they’re out there and you say, “Action,” and they’re smoking, and then one says, “He didn’t even count the money.” And the other one looks at him. Shrugs. And then they both go inside. But then why did you say that? It will seem like an odd cut.

You can certainly do what you’re suggesting, which is you get there and they’re smoking and then Dale says, “Really?” And Joey says, “Yeah, he didn’t even count the money.” And then you go, OK, I get it. I’m at the end of a conversation.

Lastly, I want to point out that trope-wise the news anchor, the helpful expository news anchor working for Exposition News Nightly, needs to be driven from the planet, ejected into deep, deep space. The news anchor helpfully informs us, “The two men have been identified as Dale Shelton and Joseph Williams, both should be considered…”

You know what? No. First of all, news anchors, when was the last time you heard a local news anchor say, “Both should be considered armed and dangerous?” Oh please. So, anyway, there’s so many better ways of doing this. If this happens in the middle, then we don’t need to know. But if it doesn’t happen in the middle and I don’t think it does, I think these are the first three pages, then he says, OK, “You know they’re going to find the car, right?” “Who cares, I wiped it down.” Good. Not expository. Just intriguing. Fine.

And then show me casually one of them putting his clothing in the drawer and as he’s moving his underwear in there’s the gun. Or show me that he wipes his hair back and we see that there’s a blood stain. Show me something else that makes me go, OK, these guys are bad guys and they’ve done a bad thing. The news anchor has got to go.

John: It’s got to go. That to me is the new air vent. It’s just the convenient thing that’s there which would almost never happen in real life.

Craig: And also it’s amazing. Every time they turn on the news that’s what they’re always talking about.

John: Isn’t that great? Yeah.

Craig: How cool is that?

John: I’m sure there are shows that have hung a lantern on that idea of like that trope and so if people who are listening to the show can point me to things where they point out the absurdity of that, we will maybe run those on a future episode, because it has to be just called out.

Craig: Yeah. I think somewhere somebody must have done Exposition News Network, because… — All right. Well let’s see, which one should we do next?

John: Before we go on to the next one, there’s one last thing I want to signal. Five paragraphs in, “An awkward moment passes, no one speaks, Joey waits to be greeted by the Manager, who only stares, not making eye contact.”

So, that’s a lot of commas in a row. And there’s ways in which that could be great. It just wasn’t great for me there. So breaking that up into some sentences would help you out.

Craig: No question. And also they’re not used properly. “An awkward moment passes. Period. No one speaks. Period. Joey waits to be greeted by the manager, who only stares, not making eye contact.” Grammatically speaking, that’s how you would do that.

John: There’s no stylistic reason why those commas are helping him out there.

Craig: No. None at all. They just sort of mush up your sentence there.

John: Cool. Do you want to do the next one, Craig?

Craig: Sure. How to Make Friends by Elizabeth Boston. OK, so a beautifully lit garden party is filled with happy guests and Bon Voyage balloons. We follow a partygoer to the restroom. She knocks, but inside the restroom is Tula, 30, who politely calls back through the door and says, “It’s occupied.” After a second knock, she claims to be pooping but she is not.

She gets a text from her friend that says she’s running late, but that Tula should socialize. Instead, we see a quick montage of Tula killing time in the bathroom. Painting her toes. Plucking a stray hair. And then actually pooping.

We then cut to Pam and Katie, both 30, who are skipping arm-in-arm down the street a la the Laverne & Shirley opening, for those of you old enough to know what that is. And then we smash cut to reality. Oh, that’s not really what was happening. What’s really happening is Kate is super-duper drunk and attempting the Laverne & Shirley routine. She pukes. Then tells Pam that Pam will miss her when Katie is in New York.

Pam says they are late to her, meaning Pam’s, goodbye party. Katie kneels down near a sleeping homeless man to tie her shoelaces, but is actually doing it to steal money from his collection can.

And that is How to Make Friends. John, dig in.

John: I shall dig in. So, my guess after these three pages is that this is a story about the three women. So, it sort of looks like it’s a Tula story, but I believe that the weight is probably going to be shared between the three women, or at least Katie who is such a drunk in this thing, maybe she becomes more of a thing that is carried around through the course of the story. So maybe it’s more Katie and Tula.

I was frustrated because I was happy to see these women sort of having their individual moments, but it wasn’t adding up to a lot for me. And I didn’t feel like I was seeing anything remarkable that was intriguing me to read more down the road. And some of it was — I’m going to say that horrible word again — specificity. From the very start, “EXT. PHILADELPHIA STREET — NIGHT.” Night.

Then “EXT. BACKYARD PARTY — NIGHT.” So the Philadelphia Street gets no scene description at all. So it should just not be there if you’re not going to tell us anything about that Philadelphia Street, because a Philadelphia Street could be a giant boulevard. It could be a tiny back alley. It could be in a posh neighborhood. It could be somewhere else.

I just don’t know what this is. And so then we go to this backyard party. I still have no sense of where are we. Are we at some sort of row house? Are we at a mansion? You’ve got to anchor us in a place or anchor us with a character in those first shots so we can really see what’s happening.

Then we follow a partygoer toward the house. Well, partygoer, so I see the kind of shot we’re trying to describe here, which is where we’re sort of floating behind somebody who is leading us into the house to get to a place. But is that partygoer a man, a woman? Who are the people at this party? And without any of those details, I have a hard time getting into Tula’s point of view or any of these other women’s point of view, because I just don’t know what situation I’m in.

Craig: Mm. Yeah. I’m right there with you on this. I think that we appear to have a Girl’s Trip/Hangover-y sort of thing going on. This looks like three crazy characters who love to party. I know a little something about this. It’s not really breaking any ground. I want to talk a little bit about tone. We’ve got pooping on page one and we’ve got puking on page two. There is something that we call the cumulative effect in comedy. We know that certain transgressive things get big laughs. And sometimes pooping gets a big laugh. And sometimes puking gets a big laugh. But the more you do it, the more it sort of collects. And there is a cumulative effect.

It starts to make people angry. There’s a fine, fine line. And, granted, it’s different for different people. But to go one-two punch on page one and page two like that is signaling the wrong thing. I think it’s telling people you’re going to be in the toilet for a while.

John: Yeah. And I think it’s actually not a one-two punch, but it’s a two-three punch maybe? A number two and a number three punch?

Craig: Oh, wow.

John: What do you call — is vomit number three? Like in terms of bodily fluids being expelled?

Craig: Now this podcast has a cumulative effect.

John: It does. So, I think that’s a very important point that I never really sort of thought about before. But you look at Melissa McCarthy’s moment in Bridesmaids where she’s in the dress and she has diarrhea and uses the sink. I mean, it’s all those things on top of each other that make the diarrhea so funny. Because if she’s not in the big dress, if she’s not doing it in the sink, then it’s not funny. But it’s the specificity — I’m sorry, again — that makes it so funny. And it’s Melissa McCarthy and she’s amazing.

Anything that Melissa McCarthy does that involves a fluid is hysterical. Like her salad dressing sketch from Saturday Night Live is one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.

Craig: Amazing. It’s amazing. Well, that scene, you know, the other thing about that scene in Bridesmaids is it’s a set piece. So when we talk about comedic set pieces, what we’re talking about are extended sequences that are built around large comic actions. They are usually physical in nature. And they are motivated. So they’re carefully set up like little machines, like little Rube Goldberg machines, or like imagine one of those little Domino things. And then something flicks the Domino and then there is a cascade. And so it escalates into insanity.

The Hangover movies do this, of course. And most mainstream comedies will have the big set piece, or two, or three. That one is a good example. There really isn’t bathroom humor in that movie until you get to that point. So that set piece is motivated by Kristen Wiig’s character and her desire to one-up her competition to be the bride’s best friend. And who insists that everybody go to this Brazilian all-you-can-eat buffet. And they all get food poisoning. They are all now very, very sick. And we understand why. And it’s not like, oh, you’re very, very sick because you’re just kind of a pig that drinks too much. You’re very, very sick through no fault of your own and now it’s funny.

And then we watch it all kind of come apart. And what do they do? They’re brilliant. They put it in an all-white room. And everything is pristine. And then it all just goes to hell.

That’s a set piece. This is just casually I’m going to puke. And I’m going to poop. So it’s just, meh, look at me. I’m pooping. Ha-ha. And that’s — you know, you can do it. And you can do it once. Like if all that had happened here was, OK, she’s pooping, I’d go, oh, OK. I get it. It’s this kind of movie. But then one page later to have another thing like that right off the bat, it starts to make me think that this is just going to be dopey.

And unfortunately I’m kind of with you, nothing else really got me out of the dopey. What we’re dealing with aren’t really characters. We’re dealing with caricatures. So Tula is kind of just singing a little hip-hop to herself. Having some fun. Being sort of selfish. Not letting other people come into the bathroom.

And I’m not really sure frankly why she’s doing all this.

John: That was my frustration. If there’s a reason why she barricaded herself, because she just didn’t want to talk to these people because she was nervous around them, because she wanted to smoke a joint, because she just wanted some me time, I could get that. But I wasn’t getting that out of any of those reasons out of these scenes.

Craig: Yeah. She’s just sort of motivationlessly grooming herself. So, not really sure what the deal is there. I enjoyed the contrast between the kind of fantasy imagining of these two women, seeing themselves as Laverne and Shirley, and then, OK, here’s the reality, they’re not. Except I don’t know who they are. Also, whose dream is this? Because the two of them are in the dream. And then when we come out of the dream, not really the dream but the fantasy I guess, one of them is doing it and the other one isn’t.

So, that was sort of confusing to me. Also don’t know who they are. It takes a while for me to figure out that the party that Tula is at is supposed to be for Pam. And then you’ve got kind of a — Katie appears to be just, you know, train wreck. She is the train wreck. She is drunk. And she’s stealing money from homeless people. Wow.

John: So, the second half of these three pages, the stuff with Pam and Katie, it reminded me of Broad City, which I think is a phenomenal show. And it made me think more about sort of why Broad City works and sort of the central sort of premise of how those two characters work together. So you have Abbi and Ilana. Abbi is the wrecking ball who keeps knocking everything down and couldn’t care about offending anybody, but is completely obsessed with Ilana and sort of making Ilana happy. Ilana is mortified by everything and so she’s the one who like terrible things will always happen to. She’s the one who would have food poisoning and have to try to find a place to deal with it.

And you have to have those two competing interests — people who are aligned with each other, but are also going to push each other’s buttons. And maybe that can be — maybe Pam and Katie can have those similar dynamics, but we’re seeing them in a moment where we don’t have any sense of what their real relationship is, or sort of why they’re together.

And so stealing the money from the homeless man is like, “Oh, that’s shocking and transgressive,” but I don’t know anything about Katie or Pam to know why that moment should land or not land.

Craig: Well, right. And to confuse matters, Katie is really, really drunk. So like at the beginning of The Hangover, we see Bradley Cooper’s character, Phil, collecting money from his students. He’s a teacher and he’s collecting money for a class trip, which we then realize he’s just stealing to use in Vegas. He’s not drunk. He’s — we learn a lot about who is right there.

But she’s drunk here, so when she’s stealing the money from the homeless man’s tin can, I’m not even sure if she knows what she’s doing, so I’m not sure how I’m supposed to feel about it.

John: Yeah. Yeah.

Craig: I just want to be really clear for Elizabeth’s sake, I don’t have a problem with lowbrow humor. God knows I don’t. Just go ahead and check my IMDb page out. I love it. But there is a science to it. And I think we’ve all made all the mistakes that I think Elizabeth is making here. We’ve all made. But the problem is that she’s making all of them kind of in these three pages all at once.

We need clarity. We need specificity about who these characters are and what they want and what their problem is. And if we’re going to be transgressive, we have to set it up. We have to understand why. You have to let me know that I’m supposed to be learning something and I need to know what I’m learning. In a very annoying and craft-based way, comedy requires the most care and attention. Because it’s always a soufflé. Even the dumb ones are soufflés. In fact, the dumb ones are the most soufflé-ish of soufflés. The slightest little thing and it all just collapses. It’s science.

So you have to be scientific about it, and unfortunately these three pages, they have a lot of sloppiness in them. And so we’re not quite sure how to feel or think. And I agree with you, I think that they need to be reworked or people aren’t going to keep going.

John: Something I do want to highlight, “TULA ANDERS, Black, 30, with the outfit of a fifty year-old middle school teacher.” I like the outfit of a 50-year-old middle school teacher. Give me more like that. Let that inform what I’m going to see next, because I don’t have any action or dialogue from her that reinforces that idea of the good character description you gave me there.

So, reading that I think maybe she has tremendous social anxiety disorder. There’s something about her that would help explain why she’s barricaded herself in the bathroom. So I’d just say like maybe look for — find little details and build out from those to create your characters and you’ll maybe get to a good place.

Last little things I want to point out on the page. Let’s talk about the ellipsis, dot-dot-dot.

Craig: Oh.

John: It’s just three periods. There’s no spaces between the periods. And so they’re used all the time in screenwriting to sense a trailing off or connecting two things. So don’t be afraid to use them, but it needs to just literally be dot-dot-dot. So, in this case we have extra spaces between them. It looks weird. Please don’t do that.

The other thing you have to watch out for, on the Macintosh, sometimes the Mac will try to substitute the ellipsis character — which is like three dots really close together — don’t use that either. You just literally want period-period-period.

Craig: Yeah. The biggest issue I think with the same way that Elizabeth is doing the dot-dot-dot is that it just eats up a lot of space. And so we try and limit that. Just a suggestion, Elizabeth, for you if you do want to re-approach these pages and think about a different way of getting into them, you have the partygoer, Anonymous Partygoer approaching closed door, knocking. Maybe you should start with Tula. And start with presenting us with somebody. And so here is this 30-year-old woman, she’s black but she’s British, so that’s an interesting combination for Americans. But she’s got this frumpy, old way of dressing. So we’re kind of getting this interesting sense of who she is. And then she excuses herself to go to the bathroom and then shows us a totally different person inside that bathroom. Maybe that’s just a way to kind of be intentional about all of this, because right now it just sort of feels haphazard.

John: There’s nothing more relatable I can imagine than showing up at a party for a friend and that friend isn’t there and sort of how mortifying it is. Like, I don’t have any anchor at this party. I don’t know any of these people. And then I completely understand the instinct to just barricade yourself in a bathroom. Like that is a start that — and it doesn’t have to be a lot. Like you could just start on her face and then — or one of those sort of locked off cameras where you’re just moving through this party with her and she’s like “There’s no one here I know.” And then stop, and cut to in the bathroom locking the door, and she’s just going to bunker down until her friends get here.

That is a completely relatable experience and that tells me a lot about Tula that helps me so much in the scene that you have there.

Craig: Yeah. Yeah. You know, what’s interesting about that notion is that it’s actually short-circuited by the way Elizabeth has done this here. Because we start with Tula in the bathroom. She’s already decided not to come out. Then the phone says Pam, meaning Pam — this is the other thing. If Pam is sending the message, it’s weird to have the message say, Pam, be there in 10. Because now I’m thinking Tula’s name is Pam. But let’s put that aside.

Pam is telling her I’ll be there in ten minutes. Sorry. Got held up. So, she’d already decided to put herself in the bathroom. If she’s walking around this party, she clearly doesn’t know anybody, and then she gets a text, “Sorry, meant to be there. I’m running 30 minutes behind.” At that point I understand the panic and the “What do I do, what do I do.” So get out and socialize or go around and socialize. And Tula decides I know exactly what I’m going to do. The opposite of that. I’m going to lock myself in the bathroom.

Now I understand what’s going on. I just need motivations. Motivation.

John: Motivation is a crucial, crucial thing. All right, let’s get to our third and final Three Page Challenge. This is Shaker Heights by Dan Pavlik.

We start at a community pool, bustling with the excitement of a youth swim meet. RJ, 38, attempts to give his son, Hudson, 8, a pep talk as he gets ready for his race. RJ is not so good at pep talks and says things that would only make a kid more nervous. Rondell, the starter, who wears a sweet baby blue sweat suit, calls the swimmers to the pool. The other boys are wearing Speedos, besides Tyler, 8, who wears a full torso high tech suit. Hudson, meanwhile, wears trunks.

On the other side of the pool, RJ dismisses his son’s ability to Tyler’s dad, Stefan. It appears that they have placed bets on this race. The race begins. Tyler and Hudson are neck and neck, but Tyler barely pulls through for the win. RJ shouts in celebration. The pool goes silent seeing RJ celebrate his kid’s loss.

Hudson is disappointed. RJ tries to recover.

So, in reading this synopsis I would say I did not the first time reading through it know that they were betting on the race until quite late. Craig, what was your take on the betting or not betting?

Craig: I just found out that they were betting on the race from that summary. I didn’t see any — I mean, I didn’t understand the hustle line. But I also didn’t see any indication that these guys were betting. So I don’t get it.

John: All right. So, what did you get from these three pages?

Craig: Well, let’s start with some simple crafty, format-y stuff. And these pages are again by Dan Pavlik. So, Dan, I see you, and I see what you’re doing, which is expanding your dialogue lines to be way longer than a dialogue line should be. So there’s margins, right? Now, we can all fudge margins here and there. You know, if I’m writing dialogue and the whole thing spills over so that the fourth line of dialogue is the word “all” or “you,” OK, I’ll cheat the margins to pull that up. That’s no big deal. It’s not going to deform the script. It’s not going to make that paragraph look bizarre.

But here’s all one line: “Next up, event 32, boys 8 & under backstroke.” No. And to make it even worse, to shove that all in one line, you also used “8,” the number eight, for eight when generally the rule is ten and under you spell you out. And then you ampersanded the word “and.” What? We don’t do that.

John: Nope.

Craig: Just don’t do it. You can put “&” in dialogue if the person is referring to the title of something that has an ampersand in it. Other than that, nope.

John: Nope.

Craig: Just we don’t do it. So there’s some cheaty stuff going on here. And it carries throughout. I just saw a number of dialogue lines where I thought, “OK, these margins are way too loose.” But that aside, we start off — I can see the room, I can hear the room, which I like. And I have no problem with things like “A drone shot, high & wide shows a packed pool deck.” I’m fine, you know me. I think we’re allowed to direct things.

John: Yep.

Craig: And then we have this pep talk between a dad and a son. And it’s cute. I mean, we get the idea which is, OK, I’m nervous and I’m going to use my nervousness by telling you not to be nervous. And that I really don’t care if you win or you lose, but obviously I do or else I wouldn’t keep talking about it. And the kid seems to be well onto his own father and just like “Leave me alone, I want to go swim.”

So that was all fine. I was good with that. By the way, we have a couple of issues with default whiteness I noticed in two of these, where we mention that someone is black but we don’t mention when people are white. You know, if you want to mention race, mention race, but then mention race.

John: Yeah.

Craig: We have — and maybe an indication of something, I wasn’t quite sure on page two. There’s certain bits of description that I think are important, but then they kind of fell in between the “Is this important or is it not important” zone, and I need to know.

So, it says, “At the far side of the pool, we see RONDELL RI’CHARD (48). Rondell is a black man, wearing a sweet, baby blue sweatsuit.” OK, he is the race starter. He calls for the race to begin. Hudson, along with five other boys, step up to the edge of the pool. Next to Hudson is Tyler Kim, a wirey” — spelled wrong, I believe.

John: I looked it up. Yeah, that is incorrect.

Craig: Yep. Korean kid. Now here’s the part where I got, huh. Four of the boys wear baby blue Speedos. Tyler wears a full torso, high tech baby blue suit. Hudson wears regular swim trunks. So, on the one hand I get what’s happening here, which is that these other kids are advanced swimmers who are geared up and ready to go. And Hudson is wearing the wrong kind of bathing suit, so he’s not. But baby blue Speedos. So, are they on like a team that the guy that’s the starter is the coach of? Because he’s got the baby blue sweat suit? Or is that just random?

John: I agree with you. I was confused as well. It felt like they’re all on a team and he’s the guy competing against them. But that doesn’t actually make sense. So if it’s a meet, they’re not all going to be on the same team. So, that was just weird. I just feel like “baby blue” trickled in in places where it did not need to be there. It would also just make more sense — the point is that most of the kids are in Speedos, this one kid has an amazing full body suit, and the joke is that Hudson is in just regular swim trunks. That’s the point. Not the colors.

Craig: Correct. Exactly. So you want to just be clear. You don’t want to muddy these things up, because now I’m just confused about what I’m supposed to be paying attention to here. When we get across the pool, so the race is about to begin, and we go across to where Dad is, RJ. And he’s standing with Stefan, “a tall, athletically built Korean-American man.”

So we’re going to presume, I guess, that he is Tyler Kim’s dad, because Tyler is a wirey Korean kid. Interestingly Tyler is from Korea, whereas his dad is Korean-American, so we got to figure out what’s going on here. But RJ says to Stefan, “He doesn’t stand a chance.” Who doesn’t stand a chance? Is he talking about his own kid? Probably. But then tell me that he’s nervous. Tell me that he’s embarrassed.

Obviously he knows Stefan, right, because you wouldn’t just start saying that to some guy you don’t know. But then Stefan says, “The board shorts don’t fool me. He’s got the eye of the tiger.”

John: Can I pitch a fix here?

Craig: Please.

John: This is what I would say. So, first off my daughter competed in swim team last year, so I actually learned a lot about swim team, and I would say most of the details here feel kind of correct. Except for the board shorts. That would just not happen. It’s not a thing. Like a kid who competes on swim team is not going to be in board shorts, unless — and this would be your opportunity — if RJ’s line of dialogue here is like, “Man, I can’t believe I packed his board shorts rather than his Speedos. What an idiot I am.”

If he were to say something like that, it would take the curse off of the board shorts and make us believe that he’s an incompetent father. And then the overall joke that basically he’d been rooting against his son would make more sense in the end. That he’s basically trying to sabotage his son so that his son wouldn’t win this race.

Craig: Well, we’ll get to that part, because I really got confused about that. But I think you’re right. We need to explain this one way or the other. Either the dad forgot and screwed up, or the kid forgot and screwed up, or they’ve never done this before and this is his first time. And so they didn’t know. And he’s embarrassed.

But either way, the problem is his relationship with Stefan implies that they know each other, so it’s weird to have Stefan making comments like this as if he’s never met Hudson, the kid, before. And then RJ says, “My boy doesn’t possess the intensity gene.” So he’s sort of apologizing for him. And then Stefan says, “Maybe so, but at least this isn’t his first backstroke event ever.”

OK, now, so OK, I guess he has been doing this for a while, so then he shouldn’t have the board shorts. Why would he have the board shorts if he has done it before? And Stefan seems to be implying that his son, Tyler, has never done the backstroke before. And then RJ says, “Did you just hustle me?” So they did bet on it? But if they bet on it, then why would RJ bet on it because he says that his kid doesn’t stand a chance and he doesn’t possess the intensity gene. And he doesn’t.

So, I don’t understand what’s going on I guess is my point. And at the end when he roots — he’s happy that his son loses. Is it because he bet on Tyler?

John: Yes. He bet on Tyler. He bet against his own son in the race. That I think is meant to be the overall point of this scene. Like here’s a dad who bet against his own son in a race. And was trying to sabotage his son in the race. So I think if you read through what’s there, I think it supports that thesis. I just don’t think that it does the best job of supporting that thesis.

Craig: OK, if that’s what’s going on, first of all, “Did you just hustle me?” when Stefan says, “At least this isn’t his first backstroke event ever,” why is Stefan talking down his kid if RJ has bet on Tyler? Hustling him would mean talking Tyler up.

So I don’t understand exactly what’s going on. But regardless of that, if you’re going to do something in a script that is as extreme, and frankly interesting, as a father betting against his own kid, I need to see it happen. That’s the interesting part. Not this other nonsense.

Sorry, I don’t mean to be a jerk and say nonsense.

John: Yeah, I get it.

Craig: You know what I mean? That’s the moment I want to see. So the scene is you have these two guys and one of them is like I’ll put $ 30 on Tyler. And he’s like, you sure? He’s never done this before. I’m putting $ 30 on him, don’t worry. And then he’s going to win. And you’re like, OK, this guy is betting on, I don’t know, what? Don’t know. Then they walk out of the locker room or parents’ area into this school thing and the kid — and this guy who has just bet on Tyler walks up to his kid and says, “Listen, you can do it, blah, blah, blah. Go get him, Hudson. Oh, hey Tyler.” And you’re like, oh my god, whoa.

Right? There’s a way to do this that is exciting and pays something off and makes people gasp. This isn’t it.

John: I agree. So, I think what you’re describing is the scene as written right now, there’s probably not a version of like this is all happening in one real time thing that could do the best job of it. The way I would pitch for it is if they get up to the starting block and you’re starting to see that these guys have the conversation. You could do the flash cut back to like their betting in the parking lot, or some moment beforehand where they said like my kid is worse than your kid. My kid is going to tank. No, no, my kid is the worst. That could have been the thing basically before this thing started, so you’re recontextualizing what just happened and then you start the race is another way you could do it.

But I agree, it’s going to be challenging to — the fact that you got confused in these three pages and being able to go through this a couple times on the page, it’s probably not going to work especially well even if you shot it just like this.

Craig: No. This one definitely is not in the mystery zone. It’s not trying to be a mystery. It’s confusion.

John: Great. Let’s talk about an interesting choice that Dan has made with bold face. So bold face is a thing that exists in computers and you will see bold faced in scripts. Dan is choosing interesting things to bold face, like Lane Markers. Starting Blocks. Goggles. Sort of some random things seem to be boldfaced. I don’t think it works in this. I think it’s fine to sort of experiment with the form and bold face things that would not normally be boldfaced, but the choices he’s making here don’t seem to merit that.

Usually you’ll find in screenplays when boldfaced is used it’s because you got to really call out something to make sure that someone who is skimming does not miss this thing. Goggles does not deserve bold-facing, in my opinion.

Craig: I’m with you. In general if there are key props, I might put them in all caps. Boldface in action is for — I think I would probably just reserve it for some enormous reveal. Something that’s supposed to shock people. In dialogue, boldface always looks better onscreen, and then you print it out and you’re like, oh god. It just, you know, if I really need to emphasize something in dialogue, I’ll use italics or an underline, but almost never boldface.

John: A few other things that are just confusing for the read. Rondell Ri’chard wears a “sweet, baby blue sweatsuit.” I think it’s a “sweet baby blue sweatsuit.” I think it’s all one thing. Because breaking off that sweet just confusing the read.

In American English we put commas inside quotes, which is just how we do it here. If you’re British, don’t have to do that. But we do that here. So I see that on page two.

We tend to do uppercase for things like “the crowd cheers.” We tend to do uppercase for when we introduce groups of people as well. So like “the crowd.” It’s not the end of the world if you don’t do that, but just to know that it’s a convention.

And reaching back to our first Three Page Challenge, one of the arguments for those were not the first three pages is that the manager got uppercased but the other two guys walking in did not get uppercased. And they wouldn’t be uppercased if it was not their first scene. So that could be an argument that they actually had a scene before the three pages you sent through.

Craig: Correctamundo.

John: I would use PA Announcer (OS) rather than (OC). OC is off-camera, OS is off-screen. I just don’t use OC really at all and I just don’t see it being used at all. Do you use OC?

Craig: No, I use OS.

John: OS. I think OC just has kind of gone away. I think OC would kind of make sense just in the sense of the character is just past the eye line. Like one character is talking to an off-camera character, but OS is general purpose and is better used here I think.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, it’s not–

John: Not a big deal.

Craig: Not a big deal. But yeah, generally speaking I don’t see OC.

John: Last bit of grammar thing I’m going to point out. Page three, “We hear victorious shouts; YES, YES!” No. That’s not a semicolon. That’s a colon.

Craig: Sure is.

John: It is. Any time you use a semicolon your first question should be like is this really supposed to be a semicolon? And I would say 75% of the time the answer is no.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, basically unless you are using it to separate a series of items that include commas within the items, semicolons should be completely interchangeable with periods.

John: That is correct. So it’s a way of joining together two sentences that could exist separately but by fusing them together with a semicolon they ascribe meaning to each other, I guess.

Craig: Yeah. The sentence, I guess second independent clause, is in some way explaining or illuminating the first.

John: Yeah. And just the nature of what screenplays are, we’re not going to use that a lot.

Craig: No. I don’t think I’ve ever used a semicolon in a screenplay.

John: I know I’ve used one or two, but it’s just for very random small things like that. All right, those are our Three Page Challenges. Thank you, guys, for sending them in. You guys are incredibly brave to share these with us. We pick them because they have valuable lessons for hopefully our listeners at home, so you guys are awesome for doing that.

If you have three pages you would like to send in to have us look at on the air, you can go to johnaugust.com/threepage, and there’s a little form. And you attach a PDF and you click a button and it gets whisked away to Megan’s special little inbox where she looks through all of the Three Page Challenges. She read like 40 yesterday to help pick these. She’ll be reading even more because we’re going to do a live Three Page Challenge in Austin. So if you have three pages you would like us to look at at the Austin Film Festival and you will actually be there, there is a special little checkbox to say I will be at the Austin Film Festival. And if we choose your three pages, we may invite you up to talk about your three pages so we can actually ask, “Hey, are these actually the first three pages” or “Hhat happens to these characters after page three?”

Craig: And we’re nice. We’re not mean. And we will also — by the time this episode airs, so you’re listening to this now, and the Austin Film Festival has put up their official schedule. So you will see on that official schedule that I am doing some events in addition to the Three Page Challenge, but most notably John and I will be doing another live show. This will be on Friday night at 9pm.

Last year we did it Friday night at 10pm which was amazing because everybody was kind of toasted and was a good, fun time. But this year they moved it up to nine because I guess, well, what they said was it’s overlapping with some parties. And I think we actually impacted the attendance of some parties because this was a very popular event. They put it in the big, big ballroom at the Driskill Hotel. It was a great time. So please do make that a part of your schedule.

We will show up slightly inebriated. It will be a fun time. Last year the format was stand up and ask us questions. Because that’s why you’re here. And we had a great, great group of people. We had Tess Morris. We had Malcolm Spellman. We had Katie Dippold. We had a great group of people. And I expect that this year we will have a similarly fantastic group of people. I think we’ll have Megan Amram and Scott Frank and Dana Fox, or somebody. I don’t know. We’ll figure it out.

John: And you’ll have me. That will be a key change to the lineup, because I was not there last year. And there will probably be little bit more order. Just the nature of things.

Craig: There’s going to be an adult. It won’t be as much fun.

John: I’ll be the Ilana to your Abbi.

Craig: It will not be as much as last year, because dad will be there. But still it will be fun.

John: It should be a good time. All right, let’s get to one question here. This comes from Clive, which is apparently a fake name, in Los Angeles. He writes, “I have what is possibly the most boring question in the history of the show. What filing and or naming conventions do you use for your script files? And do you distinguish between drafts or major changes, polishes in your file names? I don’t mean for production revisions, but just for your own internal purposes. Also, how do you guys collate all your notes on a draft and file them so they make sense? I’ve been putting them in the same folder for whatever draft they were for, but it’s quickly become quite messy.”

Craig, I have known you for years, I have no idea how you number your files.

Craig: I’m pretty simple. The first draft is Draft 1. And then I work on that. And then when I send it in, I put the date in parenthesis along with the name, so then if there are some little notes before I’m sending in an official draft one, then it will Draft 1 with a new date. And then when the official one is designated, I’ll just say Official Draft 1. So, you know, I have multiple versions of it.

All the while, I’m generating PDFs, which I’m handing back and forth between myself and Jack Lesko, who is my editor. And so that’s roughly how I do it. And then I go to Draft 2. I don’t distinguish between drafts, polishes, rewrites. Everything is a draft. Draft 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Doesn’t matter to me. And in terms of notes, yeah, I mean, I don’t really write down a bunch of notes. I mean, they give you a bunch of notes, or in a meeting I’ll take notes of the notes. And then I just print it out and look at it.

But I don’t really collect the notes per se. I just do the thing. So I just have folders. You know, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven. That kind of thing.

John: Yeah. So on Dropbox, I have everything on Dropbox. I’ll have a folder for a project. So I’ll have a folder for Aladdin. In that folder I’ll have — once I start assembling a script, I’ll just give it a date. So whatever date I’m turning in that script — so whatever date I’m putting on the title page, that will be the number at the end of it. So it will say Aladdin 2.28.17, because I like dots in my dates, because I’m that guy. And that will be the draft.

And so that will the draft for both my Highland file and also for my PDF. I’ll use that same convention for numbering, for putting the date on things. And then everything for me is just the date on it. So the file just shows what the date would be on the title page of that script. I don’t say first draft, second draft, whatever draft. It’s just that–

Craig: Just the date.

John: Just the date.

Craig: I had to figure out a slightly new system because Chernobyl was in episodes. I’ve never written anything in episodes before. But I just made folders. Each episode got a folder. Episode One. Episode Two. And it worked out just fine.

It’s a little annoying, actually, because in movies we’re on the draft we’re on. So I just know like, OK, I’m on the second draft. I can live in that folder for a while and not have to worry about going in between folders. But to keep things neat for Chernobyl, I did divide it up by episode or else it would have gotten out of control.

And the other thing I do is when a movie goes into production, then there are other folders that get made. And then I’ll make a production draft folder. And that’s when you do get into your revisions and I’ll have a folder for casting, and a folder for storyboards, and a folder for this, and a folder for that.

John: Once we get into color revisions, then I will sort of label the script, like Blue Revisions, and stuff like that. Which is natural for this.

The other thing I’ll say is that there are going to be times where you’re cutting stuff out of your script, like there’s a scene that you want to hold on to that’s not part of it. What I used to do was create a separate scratch file of things that got cut out of it, so I could go back to those things if I needed them. In the new Highland, there’s bins. So there’s a place you can just drag stuff over and it will just keep it there. And so I just tend to use the bins that are sort of part of the file itself. And so I don’t ever lose those little pieces.

Craig: That’s smart. Yeah. In Fade In there is a function where you can also bin large chunks of stuff within the file without it showing. But I still will — just as force of habit, I’ll just make it, you know, cut–

John: Cut and paste. Yeah.

Craig: Command N for a new file. Paste. Save it as, you know, and just write a description of it. Maybe three or four times every project there will be three or four of those that get shoved off to the side.

John: Cool. All right, one of the most important questions of the history of Scriptnotes has been answered today.

Craig: Thank god.

John: It’s time for our One Cool Things. I have two One Cool Things. I’m going to cheat. The first is a book I am reading right now called Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney. It’s delightful and it’s one of those rare cases where I’m trying to read the book before everybody else in the world has read the book because I usually read things like a year or two late, and all the conversation has past. So, there’s going to be Slate Book Club stuff talking about this book and so I wanted to read it now.

It’s quite good. She’s an Irish author. It revolves around two college students in Dublin, Frances and Bobbi with an I. It’s their relationship with a married couple named Melissa and Nick. It’s good and it reminds me so much of my early 20s and how obsessed I was about studying very tiny interactions and my paranoia of what people were doing around me and my social status. It’s a very well observed thing.

And your early 20s are a fascinating time. I think this author really nails it, so I would recommend that. I’m only halfway through, though, so maybe it completely falls apart at the end and I’ll retract my observation.

Craig: That would be awesome.

John: A thing I have watched to the end is a short called Meet Cute. It is written by Ben Smith. It is directed by Ben Smith and Scriptnotes producer Megan McDonnell. And just this past week it went up online. It’s delightful. So I will send you to IndieWire where you can watch it. It stars Jon Bass and Juno Temple. And I don’t want to spoil what happens in it, but you think you know what’s going to happen and something very different happens. So it’s a quite well done little short film. So I recommend you guys take a look.

Craig: Well, you did two, so I don’t have to do any. Phew.

John: Craig escapes once again.

Craig: Yes.

John: Our show is produced by Megan McDonnell. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. 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 you can send questions like the one we answered today.

On Twitter, I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. We love to answer your little short questions on Twitter. So hit us up there. We are on Facebook. Just search for the Scriptnotes podcast. Megan actually kind of uses Facebook, so maybe she’ll answer questions there, too. Who knows?

You can find us Apple Podcasts at Scriptnotes. That’s also where you can leave a review for us. That’s always delightful. Helps people find the show.

Pretty soon we’re going to have actual information about who listens to episodes because they’re going to release all the download — beyond sort of downloads, they’ll have very specific granular information about who listens to shows all the way to the end. And we will know so much more about who tunes out halfway through the Three Page Challenges.

Craig: That’s going to be awesome. I love it. We can call them up and let them know we know.

John: That would be Mike. Mike does not listen to the Three Page Challenges.

Craig: I don’t think Melissa listens to any of these. You know what? Let’s find out. Let’s see if she does. Melissa, if you listen to the podcast, then I want you to say the word Umbrella to me really loudly and, if you do, I will do all of the laundry for a week.

John: That is a hell of a deal. That’s good. You’re betting on yourself, and that’s what I like.

Craig: I think I’m going to win.

John: You can find the show notes for this episode and all episodes at johnaugust.com. That’s also where you’ll find the Three Page Challenges we just did. You’ll find transcripts. Within a week of the show airing we’ll have the transcripts up.

We have all the back episodes at Scriptnotes.net. We used to have USB drives and we ran out of USB drives. We actually had to refund some money to people who bought USB drives and we didn’t have, so sorry about that. We’ve ordered more, but it could be a couple weeks before we get more of the first 300 episodes on USB drives. We’ll let you know when those are back available. But there will always be back episodes at Scriptnotes.net.

And, just this last week I was at your party and I was talking to a young writer/director, a woman who has been a guest on the show before but I don’t want to spoil who she is at this moment, but she said that after being a guest on our show she paid for the premium subscription and has gone back and started listening to key episodes and she loves the back episodes.

Craig: Fantastic.

John: So yet another person who is paying us $ 1.99 a month.

Craig: Paying you $ 1.99 a month.

John: Oh, me, us, it’s all the same.

Craig: No it’s not!

John: No it’s not.

Craig: I get nothing.

John: Craig, thanks for another fun show.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: Bye.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

johnaugust.com

Scriptnotes, Ep 317: Writing Other Things — 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 Episode 318 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the podcast we won’t be talking much about screenwriting at all. Instead, we’re going to be looking at writing books and songs and other things with some advice for collaborating with folks outside of our normal expertise. To help us do that we have Aline Brosh McKenna back to join us. Welcome Aline.

Aline Brosh McKenna: I am back in black.

John: So Aline Brosh McKenna is the Joan Rivers of our podcast in the sense that she is a frequent visitor, but also special in a way that Joan Rivers was special to us all.

Craig: Yep.

Aline: Everyone tells me that all the time.

Craig: All day long.

John: Before we get into the meat of the episode we have some reminders. Craig and I will be at the Austin Film Festival at the end of October. We’re going to be doing a live show. We’re also going to be doing a live Three Page Challenge. So for the Three Page Challenge we’re doing at Austin, we have a special little checkbox you can mark if you are submitting a script to the Three Page Challenge that says I will be at Austin and will be in the audience.

So if you’re going to go to Austin and you would like us to consider your Three Page Challenge, you need to go to johnaugust.com/threepage. Attach your script like normal, but then also check the little box that says I will be at the Austin Film Festival.

And so our producer, Megan, will be going through those scripts and picking some great ones for us to talk about live on stage and to invite those screenwriters up on stage with us to discuss what they wrote.

Craig: And we’re pretty nice to them. I mean, we don’t soft pedal anything when we do those in Austin. I don’t think we are any more or less discriminating about our comments, but I don’t want anyone to think that we beat you up or humiliate you in front of anyone. That’s never happened. We’re very nice.

Aline: Have any of those turned into movies or sold screenplays?

John: So, yes. Some of the Three Page Challenges we have looked at have sort of moved up through the ranks. I don’t know if anything has actually been produced yet, but they’ve placed well on Black List things. They’ve gotten people started. So, every once and awhile we’ll get — actually, the last episode somebody wrote in saying the three pages we looked at were instrumental in the rewrite and so therefore they were thanking us for helping out down the road.

Aline: And have you guys ever thought of sending in three pages of your own to see how it went?

Craig: We did it.

John: Craig and I on an early episode we took a look at our first scripts.

Craig: The very first ones.

Aline: But I mean sending it in randomly.

Craig: [laughs]

John: Absolutely. The other one wouldn’t know that it was one of us.

Aline: I think you should just to see if it made it past your producer.

Craig: I think they will. I think they will. Yeah. Not to put down our pool of applicants, but yeah, I think we would make it through. I got to be honest with you.

Aline: I just found an old script from 2000. I mean, I went into the garage and I looked at the titles on the side and I was like, oh my god, I forgot that one. But I found an unsold spec from 2000. And the first 15 pages I was like this is pretty cute, and then it was just shame spiral.

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Have you gone back to redo any of your old scripts? Have you tried to dust anything off?

Aline: You know what? A producer called me like a couple months ago and wanted to some of my old stuff. So most of it wasn’t on a computer anywhere. So, I had to scan it. That was pretty funny. And it had my notes in it. And a couple of those were pretty good. Those were two that had sold and I don’t think he’s going to do anything with them, but you know when people ask me if I have anything, I point them towards things.

John: Well you were so busy writing new things, so tell us about the new things. First off, you have a new season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend happening.

Aline: Indeed.

John: This is season three. So when do we start to see the new episodes?

Aline: Friday, October 13. Friday the 13 we start airing.

Craig: Right around the corner.

Aline: So we’re midway through shooting the season and so I’m pretty tired. But yeah it’s exciting. I can make an announcement here.

John: We’re so excited.

Craig: Oh! God!

Aline: Your friend and our friend, John Gatins, is going to be appearing on our television program.

John: Is he playing a high school quarterback?

Aline: He is not. He is playing somebody really handsome and memorable. And someone sings a song about him.

Craig: Huh. OK.

John: That sounds great. So John Gatins was also in my movie The Nines. I don’t know if that was his last acting credit, but he’s a very talented screenwriter but also a person who can be put in front of a lens without breaking a camera.

Aline: Yes. He has another thing coming up that he’s acting in, but I’m not at liberty to disclose. But I think this is a burgeoning little area for him. I think we should all as we retire look towards these like cottage industries. This leads naturally to what we’re saying.

Craig: Yeah. There’s no surprise here. I mean, John Gatins is an A-list screenwriter who would at any given point swap out whatever he is working on as a screenwriter to do one day on a show with three lines. That’s a fact. He is a — I guess the most frustrated actor. He was an actor. He should have been an actor. He’s a pretty good actor, you know.

Aline: He still seems like a movie star.

Craig: He does. But the problem is he’s got skills. Like he’s got skills — his skill as a writer is extraordinary. His skill as an actor, forgive me John, is not extraordinary. It is good. But it’s not–

Aline: Well he was smart enough to figure that out.

Craig: Yeah. Yeah. But, man, he’s got the bug. You can tell.

John: All right. So we have Aline here not to talk about John Gatins, but to talk about and really to plug her new project. So this is Jane. This is a graphic novel that is the retelling of the story of Jane Eyre. How did this come to be? So first off, we should say — full disclosure — this book is available today as this podcast comes out.

Aline: September 19.

John: That should be the day this episode drops.

Aline: Great.

Craig: Drops.

John: September 19, they’re buying your book. Everybody who is listening to this podcast should pause and buy the book and then listen to the rest of this podcast so we can talk about this book.

Aline: Yes please.

John: What is it and how did it come to be?

Aline: So about six years ago I signed on to adapt a graphic novel called Rust, which I loved, which was published by a company named Archaia. And in adapting that graphic novel I kind of fell in love with graphic novels in general and started just devouring them. And I got infatuated with this artist named Ramón Pérez who did a book called Tale of Sand. And I had had an idea that I thought could be a movie but wasn’t necessarily a movie. And so I started talking to the folks at Archaia, including Stephen Christy who now runs their — Archaia was later bought by BOOM! And Stephen runs BOOM!’s movie department.

So I started talking to them about doing a book. And I really wanted to do it with Ramón. And I was always obsessed with the Bronte sisters’ novels as a kid, particularly Jane Eyre. And what I loved about Jane Eyre was the kind of sensual relationship that the books kind of in three parts, her growing up, her being with Rochester, and after Rochester. And I was always kind of infatuated with — and would go back and reread the Rochester section.

And I realized that was sort of my love template was the sort of remote kind of emotionally constipated difficult dark man. Love stories that I like. I think people who like Wuthering Heights are more into those stories where the love interest is like your sibling, like twinning. But I was always interested in men who were very other.

So I always wanted to do kind of an updated version of that. So I pitched that to Archaia and we got Ramón on board. And then–

John: Can I stop you for a second?

Aline: Yeah.

John: To talk about what a pitch is like to a comic book or a graphic novel house. So, how are you describing it? Was it sort of like going on a movie pitch? This is what it’s going to be and these are the beats of the story? What were you describing it as?

Aline: I don’t know if I can have the most representative experience, because I was working with Stephen and Archaia every single day. So Steve and I talked about it a ton and I wrote an outline for it and I gave it to him. Maybe I wrote like a five or ten-page outline that I gave to him. But, we were sort of dying to work together, so it was like — I think I had less of a screening process than you might normally have.

I will say that every single piece of it took forever. Sending in the outline. Them deciding to do the book. Finding Ramón. Getting Ramón. Making Ramón’s deal. Then waiting for him to be available, because he’s like one of the premier comic book illustrators and he’s always booked back to back to back.

So we had to wait for him, so in the meanwhile what we did was Ramón did a first series of drawings. And basically the book is like the sensual part of Jane Eyre, the Rochester part, in contemporary New York. And it’s a young girl who goes to be a nanny for a rich powerful man who is sort of Bruce Wayne like and gets pulled into his world. And at first it was going to be a little bit more genre spy and have more action in it. And so as we started working on it we thought, hey, this could be a movie. And so we sold it to Fox 2000 with Kinberg attached to produce it five years ago.

John: This is Simon Kinberg?

Aline: Simon Kinberg, yeah. So Simon Kinberg and Genre, his company, we pitched it around. Fox 2000 was the one who bought it. And I worked on it as a screenplay for maybe two years. And I had many different versions of it. As a movie, it was very hard to crack because as you guys know when you put any action intrigue thriller stuff into your script, it’s one of those things, it’s like dropping a tiny spore in a glass and then you come back a couple days later and it’s just covered in mold. Any little bit of action or intrigue that you build to — that you put in the beginning of a script really has to lead to something kind of monumental.

And that collision of that genre with the romance was always very difficult to calibrate. And at some point it seemed like the studio was looking for really just an updated version of Jane Eyre and I had wanted to add this overlay of kind of intrigue and corporate plotting. So, I developed it with them for a couple years. They had an option on the book. And then they fell out of option. And so Ramón and I started working on the book with three or four different drafts that I had written for Fox 2000, all of which were a little bit different.

John: So, to back up here, you have this idea for a book.

Aline: Yes.

John: And you make the deal for the book. But before you actually write the book you’re selling the rights to Fox 2000 and developing the screenplay and there’s still no book?

Aline: No, my god, we’re so far from a book. So we had sample drawings that I brought around with me and I met with everybody. And it’s actually, as you know, great to walk in holding something. So I had these beautiful drawings from Ramón. And so that was part of the sales pitch of it. And in working on the screenplay was sort of developing the book at the same time. And I was waiting for Ramón to be ready, also.

And so there was no book for a really long time and I think the studio started to believe there never was going to be a book. And I have never waited for a man more than I have waited for Ramón. I mean, I was like metaphorically waiting outside his doorstep for a very long time. And then he — when he finally turned his attention to it we kind of sat down, looked to what I had done with the screenplay, and then kind of formulated a story which was actually quite different from the screenplays. Because I had become convinced overtime that the kind of Hitchcocky plot needed to be very streamlined. And it could for a book.

And that’s what was great was like for a movie, especially in the moment that we’re in right now, you can’t really have — I mean, if you look at a lot of the Hitchcock movies they crescendo to a moment of great tension, but not action and not things blowing up, and not nuclear briefcases. And maybe you guys can think of one, but I can’t really think of a movie that has that sort of like Hitchcockian thriller thing but doesn’t build to a big genre — doesn’t then owe a third act where people are shooting each other in armor tanks.

Craig: Well, Get Out sort of I think is a kind of neo-Hitchcock kind of thing.

Aline: Yeah, horror. But that really is like, yeah for sure. And horror is definitely — like Get Out is horror but not very gory. But it’s a little bit more in the world of jump scares and Jane is a little bit more in the world of like Rebecca.

Craig: Right. Right.

Aline: Where it’s a romantic drama with thriller elements — suspicion, those kinds of things.

John: What you’re describing sounds more like what we do in television now, or what you do on limited run television, like a Netflix show can have that sustained build but doesn’t have the expectation of giant set pieces all the time.

Aline: Right. And so as a movie I started to understand why they were nervous about it and what was good about that was having explored that then when we got a chance to go full boar on the book we just were able to throw that aside and really go for the simplicity of the romance. There is an intrigue plot and there is a big twist in the book that I came up with after I saw the first schematic that Ramón did.

Ramón did a book that had partly finished art and then partly kind of sketches. And it’s really beautiful. I have it in my house. It’s gorgeous.

John: So, Aline, what were you actually writing? What was the document that you created that then Ramón would use as he went off to do art? Like what were you handing him?

Aline: Well, in our case because we had so many scripts we kind of started with that. And then he would do like a sketch book that was sort of taking certain bits and pieces of it and then I would respond to him with notes about the story. And then we had a couple of meetings where we went through and at that point you’re kind of — you’re kind of outside of text in a way because you’re in — you’re just in pictures, so you’re kind of making a silent movie in a way, like Ramón is.

You know, he’s really looking to boil down the pictures and it takes a while before you get back to the dialogue part. Because we were just talking about kind of purely visual storytelling. And this was — a lot of the stuff I did before I was working on the TV show. And a lot of what was driving me was before I did the TV show, I think I’ve talked about this here, I had really reached a point with movies where answering to directors is really challenging, especially when you’ve been doing it for twenty some years, and not having control over your finished product. Whether you love the director or don’t like the director, at the end of the day not having final say gets to be excruciating.

And so the book was someplace where Ramón and I were collaborating but his skills are different from mine. But I had final say over the story, so it was kind of like directing in a sense. But like sitting with your DP and they’re coming up with amazing visuals to translate the story. So there was a whole period time where it was really just pictures that were going back and forth. And I would look at the sequence.

And so because Ramón is so busy and because we had taken so long, Ramón finally gave me a pass that had all the images in it and kind of temped dialogue, you know, which you can imagine what that’s like. It was sort of temp dialogue. Some of which had been in the screenplay, but not a lot of it. Some from the beginning had. But then a bunch of it was just like stuff that had been slugged in there to kind of reflect what was happening.

So then I did two or three giant passes where I went through the book and I did dialogue. And what was funny is no one ever gave me a script. I kept asking them, “do you have all of the dialogue in one editable document?” And I probably could have had somebody do it. Instead, what I did was I kind of drew pictures and wrote notes and scribbled on it and drew bubbles. And so we ended up doing that all the way through two or three times to make sure that all the dialogue matched the action. And then there’s a little bit of, you know, at a certain point when we had this deadline Ramón had drawn some things and I wanted to tweak the story a little bit, but the art was already done. So it reminded me a lot of editing where you just got what you got, and then you’ve got to make it make sense, which is always kind of fun and challenging.

So we did a lot of passes through the dialogue once the images were all in there. And he’s very innovative in terms of the way he chooses to tell story. And it’s way, way sparer than a movie is. And there is some voiceover in there. You know, at the end really scrambling and getting drafts back was really fun, and the letterer is incredibly talented. It’s very beautiful. And the woman who did the color with Ramon is very talented. I can give you their names and their Twitter handles.

And so he’s a true artist in a sense that — as writers and directors like, yeah, you know, he’s an artist, she’s an artist. Meh. But like an artist-artist that you think of as a kid. You know, like somebody who picks up pen and ink and makes art. I think he’s a magician.

John: Let’s talk about your use of time. Because this was five years of your life. And so it wasn’t continuous, but it was a lot of your time. And every time there was a new draft there was more stuff to do. And I don’t know the economics of all it, but I’m 90% sure that this was not profitable to you in any useful way.

Aline: It was not, no.

John: But so why do it? Why — was it worth it?

Aline: I really wanted to have a finished product that I could hold in my hand that was mine. As I was saying, I just had had a lot of experiences with movies where I could kind of see my work in the movie if I squinted my eyes and didn’t look too closely and it had been changed so much by the time the movie got made and that’s a tough thing. So I really wanted to do something that I could have the final say over.

And then the other element of it was I always thought I was going to be a novelist as a kid. At a certain point it became clear to me that I was not really like a prose person, like a person who lives to sort of polish prose. And I remember being at a point thinking, god, what am I going to do if I want to be a writer but I’m not like somebody who wants to describe a forest for half a page.

So when I found graphic novels it was kind of similar to when I discovered movies. I mean, obviously I knew movies existed. But when I started looking at them as something I could do, it’s a format I really love because it’s also visual storytelling. But you don’t have to have a director tell you you can’t do what you want.

John: It sounds like you made it through the whole process without ever sort of hitting a graphic novel or comic book script. Because there is–

Aline: There is a more official format for graphic novels and I’m sure you can find samples of it. And they look like treatments and they’re very dense treatments and they’re like for a whole book they’re probably 60 pages. But because I had written multiple versions of the script we kind of started in conversation about that. And the other thing was it gave Ramón a lot more leeway.

And because I hadn’t written a lot of graphic novels, I wasn’t like panel six is this, panel nine is that, panel 12 is this. And I don’t think he would have enjoyed that. I think one of the reasons that he wanted to work with me was because there was a lot of room for him to invent in the storytelling and sort of come up with visual ways to translate the story beats.

John: Craig, you know, you’re going off now to do your TV show for HBO, and is there any part of your experience that is similar to Aline’s in the sense of like you want to do something that is actually just yours, that’s new territory? It’s not something that you’ve done before?

Craig: Well I suppose I would say that foolishly every time I start anything I think of it as mine. The difference here is that it’ll stay mine. And in movies they take it away. So, I just never learned the lesson. I don’t know how else really to write anything anyway unless I just think, well, this is mine. It’ll be mine as long as it’s mine.

But I think the major difference is going to come down the line. I mean, I have had the experience a number of times in movies where I have not worked like a typical screenwriter. You and I have talked about the Screenwriter Plus. So, I end up in editing rooms. And I end up in lots of meetings and talking about budget and planning and all the rest of it. So, I’ve had the experience there, but ultimately in film, yeah, at some point–

Aline: Yeah, I have, too. And I know John has, too. But when you’re in a room and you know somebody else can — you know, ultimately someone else has final say, you will really enjoy being in a situation where you’re the commander of the writing.

Craig: Yeah. Well, I’m definitely the commander of the writing. There’s no question about that. And I think the good news is that our little family that we’re putting together is pretty great. And we’re all very respectful of each other and I think we all want to hear from each other. And so I’m not really actually dwelling that much, frankly, on the specifics of the authority fact, you know? I’m just kind of going about trying to make the best thing I can with these people.

John: I got to visit Aline on set this season to watch them filming a musical number, which was fantastic. And there’s still glitter that I find in my shoes. And one of the things that really impressed me about it is you had sort of a quiet authority as we were sort of sitting in video village watching things. And you would sort of ask me a question or you would sort of make an observation and the director, you were totally respectful to the director and to the choreographer and to Rachel who is doing stuff, but you were mindful of things that they might not otherwise have seen.

And I think that can be a crucial role for a writer on any set, but particularly when it’s your thing. You have a vision of what the overall thing is you’re trying to achieve. I didn’t hear you saying do this, don’t do this, but you were sort of reminding people of what your priorities were.

Aline: The three of us have often talked about how strange it is that there isn’t an onset writer on every project. Because we know the story. We’ve imagined the world before anyone else. So the only reason to cast that person aside is an ego reason. I can’t see any other reason to do it. And the directors that I worked with that welcomed me into the process where I was that Screenwriter Plus were the most confident ones.

So, you know, and a TV show, it emanates from the writing. And that is a cultural — I actually found as a screenwriter I thought a lot more about, hey, how can I get my point across in a tactful way? And in TV you don’t really need to. You just are the person that they’ll go to to ask which pants should they be wearing and what source music should be playing. And what color should this character’s hair be? And you know all those things.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, the weirdness of the delineation in movies is such that they think that the writer is just responsible for whatever they consider to be writing. But the problem is what they consider to be writing is a very narrow view. It’s certainly an incomplete view. And in television, somehow magically, they all understand that writing encompasses everything. We don’t go into these things not thinking about all of this stuff. It is a bizarre business we work in because I think that for everybody else it comes down to questions of title.

Literally. I don’t know why they are so sheep-like in their need for titles and authority that is rigidly defined by titles. But it is why when you are making a television show if you’re the head person on that television show, you need to be called Executive Producer. That’s it. If you’re not, you’re not. Because they need it. It’s the weirdest thing.

And really it should just be writer like in charge.

Aline: Well, because it’s a military operation, you know. It is. And so in those situations they need to know and it really is for practical purposes. You know, on our show from the beginning Rachel and I and Erin Ehrlich, we had three executive producers, but I’m the showrunner which is an extra designation. And you need to have that also because if there’s multiple executive producers, really for all practical purposes, the people on the crew need to know who they can go to to get the fastest answer that won’t change. Because you waste money and time if you’re going to this person and then they change and then it changes and then it changes.

So, having one person who is answering that shirt should be blue; the watch should be black. He should have blond hair. You want to make that one person for practical purposes as much as anything else. And in television that’s the writer.

Craig: Yep.

Aline: And, you know, I just wanted to say movies are in a desperate place creatively right now. I mean, I’ve left my house to go to the movies I think four times this year. And I think one of them is Get Out. We’ve all seen Get Out. Kind of a cut above. And TV is so good right now because it belongs to writers. It’s run by writers. I firmly believe that. And through whatever accident of circumstance made that happen, I’m really hoping that the movie business learns from like if you let the people who create the stories manage the stories, your stuff will be better.

Craig: Although, I have to say if you look at the historical context of these things, you could also point to the ‘70s and say that in the ‘70s, at the height of auteurism, movies were vastly superior to television. There was still the same delineation. The directors were in charge of movies. Writers were in charge of television. And an enormous amount of television was horrendous. Nothing like what it is now.

It seems to me that one of the keys to all of this is what’s happening on the other side of the creative line between us — all of us, directors and writers — and the companies that are asking us to make things. In television right now, because of the multiplicity of formats and the delivery system, I think that the people on the other side are adventuresome and also craving content. They are content hungry. Which means people are getting a chance to try things. And on the movie side, on the other side of this line, the people making movies are frightened. They are very restricted in how much content they want. And they are very limited in the kind of content that they’re willing to pay for.

So, all of that is a squeeze down. It is tempting to say, well, if we put the writers in charge, as opposed to putting the directors in charge, everything would change in film. I think it’s just as easy for people to point to this weekend with It and say, well, there is a director who is in charge and a different person who wrote the script.

Mostly I wish I could just say to the people running the movie studios, the movie parts, the feature parts, that writers don’t need to be in charge of movies any more than directors need to be in charge of movies. Writers and directors together should be in charge of movies. At any given moment on a set, if they decide that the director needs to have the ultimate authority there in that moment. That’s fine. But it’s the philosophy of auteurism that’s the stupidest thing and I think does rot away at a lot of what would have been otherwise been good films.

John: I can definitely see that. And circling back to what Aline was saying about sort of having to have one person in charge, having a militaristic operation, I think the reason why we get to that point is that the stakes are so high. Time is limited. Money is limited. Someone has to make those decisions and there’s all this pressure on it. And I wonder if part of the reason why you wanted to go off and do this graphic novel is because there was no pressure. There were not stakes. It was just basically — for you it was kind of a lark. And if it turned out great, fantastic. If it didn’t turn out great, there’s no skin off your back.

And to me like the Big Fish musical was to some degree that, at least in the early stages. Once it became — we were headed to Broadway, then the stakes were incredibly high. But for years as we were developing that show, the stakes were just like, well, we wrote a song. Like we made a thing. That song was delightful. And it’s a thing that didn’t exist otherwise.

Some of the stuff I do with apps is a similar kind of thing where the stakes just aren’t as high. I don’t have to get somebody’s permission.

Aline: And also you get to derive that beginning, middle, and end of a process of a product, of having something you can hold in your hand. And, you know, the writer girl that I was at 12 years old would be super thrilled to see this graphic novel about Jane Eyre. And rather quite confused by the giant pile of unproduced scripts in my garage. So, you know, you don’t set out to generate a bunch of printed out pieces of paper. You generate to make things. And I think now more than ever people want to make things. And screenwriters who are in a more frustrating circumstance, kind of everyone I know is making some thing.

John: Yeah. We always talk to these aspiring writers who say like, oh, it’s so frustrating as I do these things, and we always try to remind them unlike an actor or unlike a director a writer can just go off and write something, which is fantastic. But I think sometimes we forget that lesson ourselves is that we end up sort of seeking permission to write the things or we might go off and spec our own thing down the road, but usually we’re busy enough writing the stuff for the studios and we’re sort of in that grind.

Aline: But Craig, same thing for you. Or Chernobyl was like, yeah, I’ll do this. And it was sort of a sideline during many years of doing busy screenwriting stuff.

Craig: No, no, not really.

Aline: No?

Craig: No.

Aline: I mean, not on a sideline, but it’s certainly not making you as much money as the other stuff.

Craig: Oh, no, financially it’s nothing at all like that. No. There’s no question about that. But the amount of time that I have devoted to it and the amount of time I’m going to devote to it will probably make it the thing that I have worked the longest and hardest on, actually. I mean, because it’s five scripts. They’re each 60 — well, the last one is a little bit longer. So, think of it as like basically three movies. So it’s three movies worth of scripts and then there’s, you know, all of the prep and then the production and the post. It’s going to be a lot. And then just an enormous amount of research, also.

The nice thing about writing some kinds of movies, and I did about two weeks of research for Identity Thief. You know, I’ve done years of research for this. So, no, this is a pretty serious endeavor for me.

Aline: Can I say you have one of the most eclectic, delightfully eclectic filmographies of anyone I know.

Craig: It’s about to get more. I’m about to achieve levels of, yeah, strange eclecticism. No one would…

Aline: IMDb head scratcher.

Craig: Yeah, I think that’s great.

Aline: Oh, I think it’s great, too. I mean, listen, a lot of the writers and directors that we love from like the ‘30s and ‘40s in particular, it’s like they did everything. They made every kind of movie. George Cukor. They made every kind of movie. William Wyler.

John: As I always say in interviews, my favorite genre of movies are movies that get made. So I will happily write anything that can possibly exist.

Craig: Pretty much. But I think that there is a nice thing that does happen after a while. If you do spend a lot of time doing what you are asked to do, and what you’re being paid well to do, then eventually you do arrive at a moment where you have the luxury of saying I’m going to spend a lot of time now on something that I’m not going to make a lot of money on, but I just care about. I couldn’t have done that before. I just, you know, this is where when people do talk a little bit about the economic realities of starting out in Hollywood now, I am incredibly sympathetic to people who are like, look, this whole business now seems to be designed to be a place where independently wealthy children can begin to work. Because–

Aline: Boy, I really agree with that.

Craig: You know, I couldn’t have done — I had nothing. I don’t think any of us came here with a big bunch of money. And so, you know, I’m certainly grateful to all — I think all of the things that you do prior to something were necessary for one reason or another to get you to what you’re doing at this moment, just as whatever you do now will be necessary for what comes next.

John: Yep. So one of the things I did this last year was just a lark. And so a friend of mine, Sam Davis, was the dance arrangement composer for Big Fish. And so he’s one of these people who can hear a melody and then make it a thousand different versions which is what you have to do for a Broadway musical because you have to be able to fit things to the choreography. It’s a really unique skill and he’s just remarkably good at it.

But he’s also a composer himself. And so I was having lunch with him and I said like, you know, Sam, we should just try to write a song together sometime. That would be really fun to do. And it wasn’t to like be part of anything else, it was just to have something to do.

So he sent me a folder on Dropbox with a bunch of little things he’d written, and just little snippets of melodies. And so if there’s anything here you want to do, take a shot at it. And so this last year I did that.

And so I want to talk through sort of this project I did, and you guys both heard the final version of this, but I don’t think you’ve heard any of how this all came to be. So, I’m going to play a couple little clips to hear what the original stuff sounded like.

So, this is what Sam originally sent me.

[Clip plays]

So that was the original melody he sent me. It’s a waltz. It’s lovely. It feels very emotional, but as I listened to that I felt like, oh, there’s words that can go with those plunking. Does that — Aline, you’re writing songs all the time now. Could you hear where words could go?

Aline: No. My version of songwriting is I get in the room with songwriters and I throw out a bunch of lines and I hope some of them get in so I can get five or ten percent of the songwriting. But I am no more capable of hearing a melody and writing words to it than a child.

John: Craig, you’ve done quite a bit of this recently, too. So, do you hear–?

Craig: Yeah, with Jeanine Tesori, the great, great, great Jeanine Tesori. Yeah, no, for sure. Well, it sounds like he’s not just playing an accompaniment there. He is giving you the melody. He’s giving you the vocals, which is actually a remarkable thing that these people — these musicians — can do.

So, you know, when you sing a song you would never play the melody along with the vocalist, right? You’re accompanying them. But they can just sort of adjust to play it. So, [hums], you can just hear it coming out. And you can hear the way the sentences would be structured. And then the little sort of wistful part as it kind of comes down and hits that funky little minor thing. Yeah. No for sure. It’s begging for it.

John: It’s begging for it. So, what I heard in that main melody was “I want … I want…” And so it felt like an I Want song to me. And so that was my sort of initial instinct is that this feels like it wants to be an I Want song. It probably needs to speed up a little bit, because it’s a little slow for an I Want song. But imagine the faster version of this. Like, OK, “I want … I want bop-bop-bop-bop.” And so like, well, I started with I Want and who is the character who wants something? What do I want to do?

So, a thing which occurred to me as we were auditioning people for Big Fish is that there aren’t a lot of great I Want songs for boys. In the Disney canon you have all the princess I Want songs, so you have “Part of Your World” and that aspirational kind of I Want song is really common for women, but not for boys. So, like, well I want the song with which a guy will audition for a prince role, for prince charming, in a Broadway show.

And so that was my inspiration. And so I said like, OK, well, what is that character — what does the prince — the aspirational prince kind of character like? And so I wrote out all the lyrics and sort of tried to match them to the melody, including a lot of stuff that wasn’t part of that main melody line. So I just had sort of blank stanzas to sort of get us up before we got to that melody.

And so I’ll talk through the next part of that. So I sent this long document through to Sam and he’s like I don’t know what to do with this. I can see where the chorus is, but I don’t know what to do with this. So the next thing I sent through is what I call the Snap Track. And so I just snapped along to the words to sort of give him a sense of like what the meter of it would be. So, we’ll take a listen to that.

[Clip plays — But at night I have dreams that seem more like a calling. Where this lonely apprentice can end this appalling excuse for a nothing life, common life, lesser life, not a life. I want to live. But dreams are for night, and nights are not long when you wake to bake before dawn].

So with that I wanted to give a sense that like, OK, there’s some triplets in there–

Aline: Wake to bake? Oh why, because it’s a baker? Got it. Got it. Because I only think of pot when you say that. Keep going. Ignore me.

John: So I wanted to be able to communicate to him like, OK, there’s triplets here, but we’re still sticking in three. But I didn’t want to sort of poison him with the music I heard in my head, because I definitely had my own melody, but I didn’t want that melody to bleed over to him. So that’s why I kept it snapping.

Craig, you probably — when you’re working with Jeanine, do you have that same situation?

Craig: We did a slightly different kind of thing. The basic way we would start is we would have a long discussion about what we wanted a song to be about. And we were working off of a script I had already written. So we had characters. We had situations. We had the general sense of it, but then we were like, OK, but let’s get to the meat of what this is really about and how this is going to work, particularly because two of the three songs we did are duets.

After we figure out what the song is really about, then I thought what would happen is Jeanine, being the Tony award-winning composer that she is, would write some brilliant music and then I would attempt to just clumsily put words in. But she was like, no, you send me words first. So I would write these poems.

Now, I have no melody or music, but I would kind of form a little bit of a melody in my head, but I would never sing it or anything like that for the same reason that you wouldn’t do it either. You don’t want to unduly get into the head of your composer.

So, I would write these poems basically, lyrical poems out of what the song would be, and then she would read those and then she would then send over kind of like a here’s a thing. And then she would fill in nonsense lyrics sometimes. You know, and da-da-das and just whatever. Just fake words and things like that.

And then by going back and forth, we would find the shape of the song, the A, and the B, and the C. And then I would start really dialing in on the lyrics. But sometimes I would write lyrics and I would send them to her and she’s like I don’t know if this fits. And I would say it does. Let me send it with stress. And so I wouldn’t do the snap thing. What I would do is I would just underline where the stresses were of the words on the beats and stuff. And then she would go, OK, I got it, I got it, I got.

Because sometimes it would get kind of complicated. You know, what we were doing. And she’s very — and thank god for this — she is a stickler about consistency and true rhyming. She’s like no half-rhymes, no slant rhymes. Full rhymes. And if you pull some sort of wordplay in the first verse, I want a similar version of that wordplay with new words in the second verse. She’s rough. But it forced me, it really forced me to concentrate and work as hard as I could to try and machine these things so that they’re nice and tight.

I loved it. I just loved the process of it.

John: I loved this process, too. What was so different about this than any of the stuff I did with Danny Elfman, because I have like seven songs with Danny Elfman, is in all those cases I wrote lyrics and they were in the script and then they went off and Danny just made the song. And so in some cases he would tweak the lyrics. In some cases he sort of left the lyrics as they were. But there was very little collaboration between us.

Like, you know, we might have a dinner where we talk over what the songs were basically about, but there was no sort of direct working together.

Aline: I think our show is different, because there are jokes, there are sketches. So a lot of the songs I have credit on were things where I came up with the joke and the title and a couple lines. So like the concept of it and sort of — but one time there’s a song in last season where I said to Rachel and Jack, oh, they could sing a song called something like “we should definitely not have sex right now.” I went to the bathroom, I went to get something to eat, I came back and they had written almost all of the song. That’s usually more of what happens.

And then when I hear it I’ll contribute some jokes. But I would never — I mean, with comedy songs it’s really — they’re very, very conceptual. They’re like sketches. And they have to have very clean games.

So, I don’t actually — I rarely set lyrics down to paper and send it to them.

John: But a crucial part of your process though is the demo. So once you have the idea of the song, you have to record a demo so that everyone can sort of sign off on it and so people can plan how they’re going to build the episode.

Aline: Yeah.

John: So what is the demo process like for–?

Aline: Adam, Jack, and Rachel, who are the songwriters, often sing their own demos into an iPhone. And then they send them to Adam, and Adam turns them into real demos with demo singers or often Adam. And what I love is Adam was in Fountains of Wayne, so we have numerous, numerous, numerous Adam demos for like Adam singing “Where’s the Bathroom?” which is a Tovah Feldshuh song, and Adam singing Rachel’s songs. And Adam singing everybody’s songs if he can’t get a demo singer in and we’re going really quickly.

And then we listen to the demos and I give notes on the demos. And a lot of times, you guys are more kind of it sounds like immersed in the technical. I refer to it as “I’m the monkey” and it has to make sense to the monkey. Because they’re much more steeped in music, so sometimes the jokes are abstruse or the lyrics are confusing. Or it needs to make sense to me. And then a lot of times my notes are like this needs to be a little bit more visceral, or this needs to be more joyful. Or its adjectival input.

John: Well that goes back to sort of what your discussion was with the artist for Jane, because you’re not drawing yourself. So you have to find a way — metaphors or similes to describe what it is you’re going for, because you don’t want to tell them how to do his job. It’s the same working with a composer. You find you end up describing a tone, a feeling. It’s in this world rather than that world.

Aline: Well, that’s actually a great thing for all writers to learn. It’s going to be applicable to what Craig is about to do. You know, I have multiple department heads. You have to describe what you want to someone and you don’t do what they do. So, you are going to say to the costume person, you know, we need something that looks like this, that evokes this. And they’re going to come back to you with choices. And part of being a good collaborator is letting people do what they’re great at and understanding what they’re great at. And sometimes when we have directors show up on our show, it makes me giggly that they get super camera talkie and they want to talk a lot about–

John: The crane?

Aline: Yes. And technical stuff. And that’s important and that’s wonderful. And I’m going to say that men do that a little bit more, because they want to show you that they know their lenses. It’s as important to be able to express what you’re trying to get emotionally and what’s the story you’re trying to tell. And that’s the same with songs and that’s the same with the book. That’s the same with, you know, if you’re trying to get a story across, it matters what color the mug is. But you don’t need to choose the mug. You need to be able to extract the salient detail and say to the person who is the artisan to say it’s important to me that it’s this.

And I think it’s good to collaborate on things that get made so that you have practice. So even if that’s just taking your iPhone and going to the yard with your friend and figuring out this needs to be blue. It doesn’t matter what color this is, but this needs to be that. And that’s really the key to — because a lot of what drowns artistic endeavors is unnecessary amounts of — confusing amounts of detail. So, you know, learning how to be really specific about what you want out of any process, a song, a book, a movie, a play, a bedtime story, is important. And learning how to communicate that is really important for writers.

John: Yeah. So for the case of this song, the case for “Rise,” what was great is we were able to finally record a real good true demo. So we got in–

Aline: When did you get the rise-rise pun baking idea?

John: Oh, the rise-rise pun came pretty early on. Actually–

Aline: How did it come to mind?

John: So I envisioned that this guy was a baker. So this kid was–

Aline: Why?

John: I’m not quite sure why baker was the initial sort of instinct behind it. So, I did envision like this is a guy who was toiling, but had sort of this fantastical notion of what it would be like to be a prince. And, again, you don’t see people aspiring to be princes. And this is about what it would be like to aspire to be a prince.

So, I saw him as like — I think originally he worked as a blacksmith, but then a baker felt better. And once I was in baker, then it’s like “Rise” became natural. And “Rise” felt like a very sing-able word for where he was going to.

Aline: Are you writing a play to go with this?

John: So I could write a play to go with this. And that’s what’s actually so interesting, so once we got the whole song together and once we recorded a demo, so we recorded a demo with a great Broadway guy named Curt Hansen who is in Wicked and could really do it. Like it was so surprising to hear the song. We only heard ourselves singing it poorly and like the aspirational notes we couldn’t quite get to, and this guy could actually belt it and sort of do the real good version of it.

Once we actually had it, then we had our sheet music, this is from the baker prince. So, eventually somewhere down the road it could become a thing, but I also just want it to be its own thing. I want it to have sort of value in and of itself. It’s a kind of song that people can download and sing or use for auditions. It felt good on those terms, too.

Aline: Can I ask you a question which I may already know the answer to and you can cut this out, but it is a same-sex love story thing possibly?

John: Not intended to be.

Aline: Because there’s not enough of those. There’s not enough of those that are in the genre of like longing wish-fulfillment romance. There seems to be more that are tragic, you know, tragic stories. And I think it would be awesome to have more fairytales about that.

One of my best friend’s husband is the same-sex Pasodoble Gay Games national champion.

John: Fantastic, yes.

Aline: And I’m waiting eagerly for the day that they have same-sex ballroom dancing on Dancing with the Stars. But having same-sex narratives in more kind of traditional “straight” genres I think is a great thing. And if that’s what that was, I’ve already bought my ticket.

John: Yeah. I think you and Craig both asked that question when I sent you the song months ago is like, oh, is this where it’s going to go to? And Rachel I think sort of fell in the same place, too.

Aline: Were we all stereotyping?

Craig: I think inside John’s — he goes, oh, yeah, you all thought that’s where this was going.

Aline: But I think, by the way, I think that could be a very important and compelling thing.

Craig: You know what? Here’s the thing. I don’t like those stories that much. I’m just going to say, because I haven’t had any–

Aline: Fairytale love stories?

Craig: I just find them so boring and cliché at this point. Now, granted, I’m older now. So children really do like them. But I like the tragic crazy stories. You know what’s a great song, to give Jeanine Tesori some credit, but she gets plenty of anyway, she’s a genius, is “I’m Changing my Major to Joan” from Fun Home.

Aline: Of course.

Craig: Which is a great same-sex love song that isn’t tragic. It’s joyous. But it’s not–

Aline: Well, “Keys,” forget it. “Keys.”

Craig: Well, “Keys,” that’s not a love song as much as like an aspirational kid seeing acceptance. But also an amazing song. But I don’t, like I don’t necessarily–

Aline: But I’m saying Frozen, Tangled, you know, I’m saying a fairytale. It’s just a genre that — one of the reasons you may perceive it as being a little tired is because it’s inhabited by the same types of characters all the time.

John: I think my other frustration, so people should go back and listen to our great episode with Jennifer Lee talking about Frozen because there was always such an instinct originally in Frozen that we have to have sort of classic love interests and Elsa has to be a villain and all these things. And once they actually figured out like, oh, it’s about sisters. Oh, they could actually build the whole thing out.

To me, it’s that we never see princess romances from the boy’s point of view. It’s always from the girl’s point of view.

Aline: Totally.

John: And so even if it remains sort of–

Aline: Hetero.

John: Mixed sex, hetero, then to see it from his point of view and sort of what it’s like — we don’t give young men good instruction on how to be noble heroes towards women.

Aline: Well, like the boy Cinderella stories tend to have a lot more genre, Harry Potter, Star Wars stuff going on, as opposed to romantic stakes.

Craig: But there are some. I mean, “Agony” is a great, great song written from the point of view.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: But it’s also a satire. It’s kind of making fun of those songs.

John: It’s spoofing the idea of those things. Yeah.

Craig: Right. It’s true. I think in the old days, in the old classic musicals you would have songs where men would sing these sort of moony love songs.

John: Oh, absolutely.

Aline: Well, Aladdin is–

John: “A Whole New World,” yes.

Aline: Right. But they tend to be a little bit more jaunty and adventure-based rather than romantic and yearning, although that has lots of stuff in it.

John: And it also becomes a duet though. And if it was just Aladdin’s solo, “let me share this whole new world with you,” it would be — it wouldn’t quite land the same way.

Craig: You know what else just came to mind is Andrew Lippa’s “The Moon and Me,” right? Which is a beautiful song and is the most non-traditional romance between a man and an orbiting celestial body. But it is a love song. And it is solo. It’s not a duet. And it’s gorgeous.

So, they’re there. I don’t like them that way. I like them non-traditional.

John: All right.

Craig: That’s my jam.

John: This might ultimately become that thing, but until then it is a song, so if people want to check it out you can look at the lyrics and there will be links to video things so you can see for it at johnaugust.com/rise. I’ll also put the full track at the end of this episode instead of an outro, so if you want to hear the whole thing you’ll know what we’re talking about.

Craig: It’s a good song.

John: Thank you.

Craig: You’re welcome.

John: So, let’s try to answer one or two listener questions while we have Aline here. Let’s start with a question from Niraj in Allahabad, India. He writes, “I’m an author based out of Allahabad and have been in discussions with a Hollywood production company for optioning the movie and TV writes for my historical fiction novel, Daggers of Treason.”

Craig: Daggers of Treason!

John: “While they’re offering 2% of the starting budget for theatrical releases, their stated rates for episodic serials is abysmally low. 1/5th of the WGA rates. Can you please guide me to how much a non-US or WGA author should expect for a 60-minute serial? And who would help me in procuring a fair deal? I understand I cannot become a WGA member being based in India but would appreciate your help. Regards, Niraj.”

So, where do we start here? I think one of the places we can start is we can be so frustrated with the WGA, but when you’re outside of the US and you look in, it’s like, oh, having the WGA to set minimums is a really nice thing.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, you don’t necessarily not have to have a WGA deal here, Niraj. So, the deal is if you’re writing in India but you’re working with a Hollywood company. Question number one is are they signatory to the Writers Guild or do they have a subsidiary that’s signatory to the Writers Guild? Still doesn’t mean that they have to employ you under a Writers Guild contract. However, what you can ask is that they employ you under the equivalent of a Writers Guild contract.

Now, all these things come down to leverage. How much do they want what you have and how much are they willing to spend on it? Sometimes I think companies will look to places that have burgeoning talent but aren’t covered by the WGA so that they can get better deals. And if these folks there are asking for more money, then suddenly it’s not as attractive a proposition. So you have to kind of gauge the interest level here.

Who can help you in procuring a fair deal? A lawyer. I don’t know where you live, oh, you said Allahabad. I don’t know Allahabad. I don’t know how large of a town that is. But I think if you reached out to a law firm in one of the many enormously large cities in India you will find an entertainment lawyer. India has a massive entertainment industry as we all know.

And the fact that you already have interest from a Hollywood production company I think would certainly mean that somebody would be willing to take your call and talk to you and perhaps represent you. Once that happens, that’s the person you’re going to be asking these questions of. That would be my first move.

Aline: Me too.

John: That’s a great idea. And the other place I might point you to is it could make sense for you to get an LA-based law firm to supervise the contract. You just need to figure out who has been doing this for other projects sort of like yours. And you end up paying them to do that work as well. But I wish you good luck with this.

The next question comes from Mack who writes, “I usually read my scripts on the screen in the screenwriting software, but I’ve heard the printing one’s script and reading it on the physical page offers a new perspective that may help with the rewriting process. So now my script is printed and ready for me to read, but before I undertake reading it for the 15th time I was hoping you could offer some insight on best practices for reading for rewrites.”

Aline, I saw you nodding, so you agree that people should print out scripts?

Aline: Yeah. I don’t do it as much as I used to. I think I’ve developed my skill at looking at a screen as critically as I do at a page, and in TV we’re just moving so quickly that having that extra paper step sometimes is a pain.

But, you know, get your pen out. It depends on what you’re reading it for. But sometimes if you just like change the size of the font on your screen or make it look a little bit different. If I’m proofreading, I read it backwards. Just anything that makes it look new to you. Reading it in a new environment sometimes will do it. There’s nothing for catching typos like sending it to someone. The second you send it for some reason you open it back up and you’ll find six typos.

But anything that makes it look fresh to your eyes is great. And then I would say reading it aloud with or to someone is a great way to go. And Simon Kinberg and I wrote a script together and when we were revising it would read it aloud. And it was really fun. That seems like one of the fun reasons to have a partner, to read it and scribble on it.

John: Craig, are you a printer? Do you print your scripts?

Craig: Yeah. I do. Usually by that point I have gone through them quite a bit, but my basic process once I get to that stage, I really am mostly looking for typos or things that jump out as reading a little weirdly. So I’m reading it aloud a lot as I’m going through and I don’t do the double-sided print thing because I want the blank back of a page on the left side to be there for notes or things that I need to remark on.

And when I do that I just dog ear it so I have a reference. Then I go back through and I make those changes. But, you know, I don’t think I would get too freaked out about this. Everybody has their own speed and their own way of doing things. I’m pretty sure that there are some wonderful writers that don’t print it out. Whatever works for you, Mack. Honestly. Whatever works for you.

Aline: One thing I really thought a lot about with writing in a TV environment as opposed to a film environment is sometimes I found, as a screenwriter, I would overly machine things because I had so much time with it. And so I would tinker with things to make them scan perfectly when actually they play better just the way they splurted out of you.

And in TV, especially when you’re writing comedy, if a room pitches a joke and it works, you don’t change a syllable. So it may not scan perfectly, it may not make sense perfectly, but that’s the comedy milieu in there. And so I find that screenwriters way more than TV writers, just because of time, just tend to overly machine their dialogue and sand off all the rough edges. And I like the idea of sometimes it’s the imperfect perfect thing. So, there’s a lot of like dithering and busy work that is really tempting to do when you’re getting ready to send a script out. And I think sometimes you can ruin things that are lovely because you’re trying to make them perfect.

John: Yeah. I would stress that if you’re going through to read, make sure you’re really reading. And that’s why I think printing is so helpful because you can’t actually fix things while you’re reading it. So, I like to print the script and I go to someplace new. I go outside. I sit at the table. And I’m flipping through the pages because I will see things I don’t see other places and things will occur to me that haven’t occurred while I’m cutting whole little short scenes because I just don’t need them anymore.

And if I were trying to do that on the screen, I feel like I might go through and like make a few little corrections right at that moment, then I wouldn’t be reading anymore. I’d really be writing. And that’s not what your goal is.

Aline: It’s a different mode.

John: Yeah, different mode. All right. Let’s change modes ourselves. It’s time for One Cool Thing. Craig, start us off.

Craig: Oh, I got a good one today if you like puzzles. Do you love puzzles, folks?

John: We all love puzzles.

Aline: Yeah, we’re all puzzlers.

John: After this podcast we’re going off to play games at Aline’s house.

Craig: Well, I’ll tell you, these are brutal but amazing. So there’s a gentleman named Mark Halpin and every Labor Day he puts out a puzzle pack. The puzzle pack consists of many, many individual puzzles. You solve all those individual puzzles, and then there is a meta puzzle that encompasses all of the answers you’ve pulled from the many, many puzzles. And so this Labor Day weekend, David Kwong and I eagerly downloaded this year’s puzzle package from Mark Halpin called When First We Practice to Deceive.

We have completed all of the individual puzzles except for the last one. We’re halfway through that one. They are really, really hard. And they are really, really good. They are super well done. Very complicated. Really, really just tricky. One of them has — one of them looks like it’s a word search. No it isn’t. I mean, it kind of is, but mostly it isn’t. And there’s about five different levels just to that puzzle alone to get to the answer of that puzzle.

So, Mark Halpin offers these for free, but there is a tip jar link on his page. If you do download these, I strongly urge you to chuck him some remuneration. He worked clearly extraordinarily hard on these. And we will put a link in the show notes for you. So, again, that’s Mark Halpin. And his puzzle pack this year is called When First We Practice to Deceive.

John: Very nice.

Aline: Very cool. My One Cool Thing — my favorite TV show right now is Insecure on HBO. And I’m obsessed with Issa and I’m obsessed with the show. And I watch it as it airs, or soon after. It’s the best romantic comedy I’ve seen in a long time, but it’s so much more than that. And I just love it. And it’s so great to have a TV show that I’m excited to watch. And so I think — and I have an ax to grind — but I think sometimes things that are created and written by women and deal with love and relationships don’t quite get the due that like a somber crime drama will get.

And I think Insecure is just an excellent show. And belongs up there in any critical appreciation of the best shows out there right now. So, I highly recommend that, and go to HBO to find it.

John: Cool. My One Cool Thing is a book by Jessica Abel called Out on the Wire: The Storytelling Secrets of the New Masters of Radio. And so it’s done in a graphic novel format, or an illustrated book thing. It’s not fiction. It’s all real interviews that she did with the people behind This American Life, The Moth, Radio Lab, Planet Money, Snap Judgments, Serial, Invisibilia.

Aline: Whoa.

John: And so what’s clever is she recorded all these interviews, but then she built it out sort of in a graphic novel format. So she’s having these conversations with people, she’s inserting herself into it. And it’s a brilliant look at sort of how this kind of radio is made. And sort of both how reporters go out to find and really cast the people that they’re going to be interviewing, but then how the stories are found in the edit. And what the edit process is like, which is much more like really like your writer’s room than you would think.

So, they’re reading their scripts, they’re playing their tape, and they’re just digging in on story for hours and hours at a time.

Aline: Wow, that’s so cool.

John: It’s really great. So, I would recommend it to anybody who is interested in radio, but I also I thought there were interesting lessons about how storytelling works for the radio that I think most screenwriters would find fascinating.

Like one of the things about how they pitch these stories is it’s about blank, but what’s interesting is blank.

Aline: Right.

John: And so–

Aline: That’s almost a podcast cliché. It’s about bananas. Everything you didn’t know about bananas. Yeah.

John: So, you know, you have your topic, but then your actual hook is something that is not the topic.

Aline: Your take on it.

John: Yeah. And that’s–

Aline: Hey, before we go, I’m going to sign my book at Barnes & Noble at The Grove.

John: Fantastic, what day?

Aline: And also at Chevalier Bookstore on Larchmont. And the book signing at The Grove is on Sunday, September 24 at 5pm at Barnes & Noble at The Grove.

John: Fantastic. I will be in London so I won’t be attending that one, but I’m so excited to see you and–

Aline: Well then perhaps you can go to the book signing at Chevalier’s on October 1 at 5:30.

John: That sounds great. Hooray! So we’ll have links to–

Aline: Plug. Plug. Plug. Plug.

John: We will have links to Aline’s book and the events which you can go visit Aline and have her sign your book. Also in the show notes you’ll find a link to the song I wrote and we’ll put that on the outro for this week’s episode. Our show is produced by Megan McDonnell. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli.

If you have an outro, a traditional outro, you can send us a link to ask@johnaugust.com. That’s also the place where you send questions like the ones we answered today.

For short questions, we’re on Twitter. I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Aline is–?

Aline: @alinebmckenna.

John: Fantastic. She’s on Twitter finally.

We are on Facebook. Search for Scriptnotes Podcast. You can find us on Apple Podcasts at Scriptnotes. Just look for Scriptnotes and while you’re there leave us a comment or a review. That helps a lot.

You can find all the show notes at johnaugust.com. If you have a Three Page Challenge for Austin, remember that’s johnaugust.com/threepage.

Transcripts go up about a week after the episode airs. And you can find all the back episodes at Scriptnotes.net.

Aline, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Craig: Thanks Aline.

Aline: Cheers, you all. Cheers.

John: Cool. See you soon. Bye.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

johnaugust.com

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