The Scriptnotes Summer Superhero Spectacular

We’re doing a live episode of Scriptnotes on Thursday, May 15th at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. It’s a benefit for the Writers Guild Foundation.

This time, we’re featuring some of the biggest names behind the biggest superhero movies.

Scheduled panelists include:

  • Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely (both Captain Americas, Thor: The Dark World, and the Narnia movies)

  • David Goyer (Batman vs. Superman, Man of Steel, Batman Begins, Blade, the upcoming Constantine)

  • Andrea Berloff (Conan The Legend, World Trade Center, Straight Outta Compton and Blood Father)

Marvel and DC together on stage! Swords vs. hammers! Umbrage vs. reason! Plus more special guests.

We’ll also be doing a live Three Page Challenge. Details will be announced next week, but this will be a new process (that is, we won’t be pulling from the backlog) and may involve listeners getting to choose which entries we discuss.

But there’s more!

We’re selling a limited number of tickets for an exclusive pre-show cocktail party co-hosted by Aline Brosh McKenna, where you can mingle with these guests and other favorites from our first 150 episodes.

Pre-show cocktails at 6:30pm. Show begins at 7:30pm.

All tickets go on sale Thursday, April 17th at 10am Pacific at the Writers Guild Foundation website.

Fountain for coders, or the joy of writing

Charles Forman, whose company OMGPOP developed Draw Something, is writing a screenplay in Fountain:

I don’t work at a bank. However, I’m sure that on the first day of orientation, they teach you how to use an application written in 1999 in Visual Basic. It hasn’t been updated since 2001, it doesn’t work very well, everyone hates it, but it’s the way it is, and if you trick it, you might be able to do what you want, or wait until it’s 5 PM. It’s probably exactly what it’s like to use Final Draft.

The joy of writing shouldn’t feel like working at a bank.

Forman offers a detailed look at writing in Fountain from the perspective of someone who’s written a lot of code. For his screenplay, he used both Slugline and Highland, but also built his own tools based on the libraries available on GitHub.

“How many scenes do I have?” It’s a pretty simple question. Normally, in order to do this, you have to go through the whole script and count the sluglines. I used Javascript to parse my Fountain script. I looped through the sluglines and counted them. Then I was curious about the unique locations. How many times did person A talk vs. person B? I generated some basic stats and spit it out in the console by creating a tool in 20 minutes.

He also built a tool that generates a word cloud based on a screenplay.

Here’s Big Fish:


Forman listens to the podcast, so he’s heard us discussing the possibilities of a new screenplay format. He argues that we already have it in Fountain.

Because Fountain is pretty flexible, you could add metadata for anything you might want to extend the screenplay with. In my case, I have included storyboards. You could add metadata for the song that is playing. You could add metadata about which characters are in the scene, if its not totally clear. You could add metadata about what the purpose of a scene is. You could add anything. If I could make a small ask to the Fountain team, I would love a specific way to insert metadata. I am using notes. I’m thinking about putting curly bracket objects inside of notes going forward.

This kind of thinking is why I’m so bullish Fountain: not just what it can do today, but what it can be repurposed for in the future.

The Crossover Episode

Scriptnotes: Ep. 139

John and Craig visit Ben Blacker’s Nerdist Writers Panel for a special crossover episode, recorded in front of a live audience on April 13, 2014.

writerspanellogoAs television gets more cinematic, what if feature writing was more like TV writing, with multiple writers together in a room? Would movies get better or worse? Could a Joss Whedon or a Vince Gilligan make movies the way they make television?

We have another live show coming up: May 15th, featuring writers from the biggest superhero movies and a live Three Page Challenge. Tickets go on sale Thursday.

This is a two part episode! You can hear the other half at Nerdist Writers Panel. Seach for “Nerdist Writers Panel” iTunes, or follow the links in the show notes.

Our thanks to Ben Blacker and the Nerdist empire for a great evening. If you’re not already listening to his podcast, subscribe.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

The Grimm side of marriage

This morning, I tweeted:

Grimm’s fairy tales offer uniformly terrible marriage advice: 1. Endure supernatural hardship 2. Marry the person who rescues you

My observation was based on my nightly reading of a copy of Grimm’s that I got at Barnes and Noble last week,1 not any statistical analysis. But it sure feels true.

If someone has the time this weekend, I’d be curious to know which of Grimm’s tales actually fit this pattern. The book is free through Project Gutenberg.

Obviously, fairy tales are simplifications of reality, so we can’t expect verisimilitude in them. But this pattern of marrying the first person who assists you seems an especially dangerous idea to instill in young women.

As I think about acquaintances with terrible boyfriends/husbands, almost invariably the girl came from a difficult background (abusive parents, poverty, illness), and this guy got them away from it.

But the fact that they rescued you once doesn’t mean they are the right person for you to build a life with. It doesn’t mean they’ll be a supportive spouse or a good parent. And it doesn’t mean that you’re right for them, either.

If the only requirement for marriage is saving you from peril, we should all marry firefighters.

  1. I’m reading one of those $20 made-for-Barnes versions, and it’s actually really nice.

Writing an album in two weeks

In an interview with Billboard, producer Patrick Leonard talks about writing “Like a Prayer” with Madonna.

I like to start really early in the day. She would come in about 11 and I would have the musical idea on whatever piece of gear I was using. I think it was just a Yamaha sequencer or something at the time. [...]

I would just put the track, the chord changes, some kind of drum beat, bass line — something simple — and say, “here’s the idea, here’s what I have for the day.” She would listen, then we would talk a little bit. Oftentimes I’d say, “here’s the verse, and here’s the chorus,” and she’d say, “no, it’s the other way around, switch ‘em.” So I’d switch ‘em. This thing is an hour old, it’s not etched in stone.

Then she would just start writing. She’d start writing lyrics and oftentimes there was an implied melody. She would start with that and deviate from it. Or if there was nothing but a chord change, she’d make up a melody. But, a lot of the time in my writing there’s a melody implied or I even have something in mind. But she certainly doesn’t need that.

She would write the lyrics in an hour, the same amount of time it took me to write the music (laughs). And then she’d sing it. We’d do some harmonies, she’d sing some harmony parts, and usually by three or four in the afternoon, she was gone.

That’s how “Like a Prayer” was written, and then the next day we wrote “Cherish,” and then the next day we wrote “Dear Jessie.” And that’s how it was. We wrote the album in less than two weeks.

This recap demonstrates something I’ve often found to be true: a large part of making art is showing up to work.

As a writer, yes, sometimes you get flashes of inspiration and genius, but if you sit around waiting for them, you’re unlikely to get much accomplished. Most screenplays are written a scene at a time.

One of the great things about writing with a partner is the ability to hold each other accountable. When working with Andrew Lippa on Big Fish, we had limited days — sometimes hours — to get stuff accomplished. So we buckled down and tackled items one-at-a-time. This song. This moment. This transition.

That’s how you finish things.

Assembling the billing block

Ben Schott answers all your questions about those uppercase names at the bottom of movie posters.

While it might look like a bar code of haphazardly packed type, it is in fact the product of detailed legal agreements and intense contract negotiation.

Note that the billing block is distinct from on-screen credits, whether opening titles or an end-crawl. And certain types of posters and ads may not require a billing block at all.