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: You are listening to Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Craig, a weird thing happened this last week. I thought I would share this anecdote, this story about a thing that happened this past week. It’s dinner time and we’re sitting down to eat some good dinner and we hear a helicopter overhead, which is not that unusual in Los Angeles. We have a lot of helicopters in Los Angeles because we have a lot of news copters, we have police helicopters. It’s pretty common to hear some helicopters.

Craig: Right.

John: But then I noticed this helicopter is persisting. It’s like, “Oh, well that’s kind of unusual.” While this is my most favorite time of year because of all the great stuff that happens this time of year, I don’t like that it gets dark so early, so it’s quite dark out. I notice that the helicopter’s light is going on. So they’re looking for something or someone in this area, so it’s a police helicopter, not a news helicopter.

We go out front and there’s two police cars out in front of our house. Well that’s not great news. If you’re a single person, you have the option of freaking out because you can just freak out that there’s a police helicopters overhead and there’s police cars out front. But when you have a young child, you’ve given up the right to freak out about things.

Craig: Yeah, because they’re going to mirror your anxiety.

John: Yeah. You have to just completely play it off like, “Oh, hey, how neat. There’s those policemen. Aren’t policemen great? Let’s talk about how wonderful policemen are while we’re locking the windows and locking the doors. Oh, you know what, I think I’m going to turn on the alarm now instead of late at night. Hey, that’s great. By the way, did we shut the gate? Yeah, everything seems to be pretty good.”

We’re trying to watch the police officers out front to see what’s going on and then I notice the helicopter overhead is circling around. The light just keeps going over the back of our house. They’re looking for something right here. This isn’t one of those things where they’re following somebody down the street. Literally something is happening right next to our house. It’s probably the house that’s under construction next door because houses that are under construction tend to invite problems because no one’s actually living there.

All this time I’m trying to keep really calm and not freak out the kid. Then I saw something that was actually kind of amazing. Police helicopters, the light is incredibly bright. It’s sort of like a second sun in the sky. Because it’s pretty low overhead, it’s casting these really cool shadows across the driveway. The silhouette of the trees is really cool. You see every little branch projected onto the driveway.

But what’s even cooler is helicopters, they have to circle a little bit and so the shadows of the tree branches keep sweeping across the driveway in this really, really cool way. It’s like one of those stop motion Vimeo things where they do those long exposure landscape things where you see all the stars going in circles across the sky.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’s like that but it’s happening right in front of you.

Craig: It’s Koyaanisqatsi in your front yard.

John: It’s basically that word I can’t say in my front yard.

Craig: [laughing] Right.

John: I bring my daughter over to see it. “Hey, this is really cool.” I can genuinely say this is a very cool moment that is happening despite the fact that there could be murders next door. By the way, I’m completely holding onto this idea. If you see the next movie I direct has helicopters that are projecting branches onto the ground, you’ll know where it came from. This was my Alan Ball plastic-bag-blowing-in-the-wind moment because it was just really, really beautiful.

Craig: [laughs] This is the moment you’ll bore thousands and thousands of people with.

John: Oh, completely.

Craig: [laughs]

John: People will be talking about it, reverentially at first and then they’ll just hate the moment.

Craig: Then they’ll realize, wait a second, [laughing] it was a plastic bag. That’s great.

Alright, so the helicopter is circling. What happened, murder?

John: That’s the thing about all police activity that happens in a city like Los Angeles is you never really know what happens. The next day we find out that it probably was a break-in, somebody trying to steal power tools next door. No one was hurt, nothing bad happened. It’s just one of those things where someone saw that there was a construction site, waited until it was shut down and then broke in to try to steal all the power tools.

Craig: You know, I used to live not too far from where you live so we would get the helicopters all the time. In fact, I was probably a mile or two away from where most of the bad things happened, which meant that the helicopter often was right over my house because they’re shining the light at the center point of their circle. I’m on the edge, I’m on the circumference of their circle.

I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced this, but sometimes they start talking to the people once they find them. Have you heard the helicopter guys talking?

John: I have yet to hear the helicopter people talking. That sounds great.

Craig: Yeah, yeah, they’ve got this massive loudspeaker on those helicopters. You just hear them giving very specific instructions. It’s so odd to just be sitting in your house and then you just hear this chopper noise and then, “The people on the roof, move to the ladder. No, the other way,” [laughing] this very casual conversation with the people on the roof.

I live in La Canada now, which is up against the mountains northwest of Pasadena. Our interesting thing was last night there was this amazing windstorm that brutalized Los Angeles. For whatever reason or function of geography, Pasadena and La Canada always get the worst of it. Last night was no exception. We had winds up to 95 miles an hour. My little thing for a movie is, I always like it when mundane things are slightly out of place because it’s more shocking, I think, than, I don’t know, just the sweeping shots of CGI devastation.

I’m driving back from my office — because we lost our power, I had to go to my office to work. I’m driving back on the highway and there’s a large oak tree in the highway just sitting there. Yeah, you don’t see that every day.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It was kind of cool.

John: When I was in Boy Scouts, there was one time we had a winter campout. It was really windy while we were up in the mountains but we drove back into Boulder and the traffic lights were down. The traffic lights had been knocked down or bent around themselves by this huge windstorm that happened while we were gone. It was very much like coming back into a post-apocalyptic scene.

We got home and there was no power at home. I’d come from a weekend of cooking over a campfire to building a campfire in the fireplace so we could actually have heat.

Craig: It doesn’t take much to remind how fragile our little grasp on civilization is.

John: It is. One thing I should say in reference to my earlier story about the police helicopter is there’s a danger that in telling that story I’m contributing to the fallacy of misleading vividness, which is that by telling you this story of this police action that happened next door, a listener in Topeka might thing, “Oh my god, I could never move to Los Angeles because it’s so dangerous because I just heard this story of this police thing that happened right next door to this guy whose podcast you’re listening to.”

That would be a mistake because if you actually stop and think about that story, it’s that the police you could say overreacted a bit to sending two police cars and a helicopter to potentially someone stealing power tools next door. It was really a very minor thing that I just had a very big reaction to and it felt very cinematic but it was really not that big of a deal.

Craig: That’s right, you don’t know. Maybe it was a murderer next door or maybe it’s just that the Los Angeles Police Department has this enormous arsenal of tools, so they bring the sledgehammer out for everything.

John: Yeah. While we were talking I actually looked up — Wolfram|Alpha is a really good place to go if you want to look up crime rates for places. The crime rate for Los Angeles I know had fallen a lot. The crime rate for Los Angeles is actually lower than the national average. It is lower than the California average. It is lower than Pasadena.

Craig: I believe that. You’d have to figure out which parts of Pasadena you’re talking about because there are parts of Pasadena that are pretty rough. But in general, one of the strange things about our culture is that — there was an interesting study I read a couple years ago: The violent crime rate in the United States has been dropping precipitously, I think, since the early ’90s and we are now back to levels that we haven’t seen since, I think, the ’50s or early ’60s.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yet at the same time the reportage of violent crime has skyrocketed. While we live in this relatively un-violent period of time, we tend to think we’re living in the most violent period of time.

John: Exactly.

Craig: But in fact, we don’t.

John: No, we don’t.

Craig: No, it’s pretty good out there.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Stop complaining.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: Yeah.

John: I thought we might start today by doing some follow-up on previous episodes.

Craig: Okay.

John: Our last episode was on residuals and there was one question which came up in the comments section which I thought was pretty good. Residuals: do they count towards maintaining your health insurance?

Craig: They do not, not for the Writers Guild. They do for the Directors Guild, and I think we mentioned this last time. The Directors Guild automatically lops off, I think, half of the residuals. It may be a little more complicated than that but let’s just say for the sake of argument roughly half. And they steer those residuals into the health fund. Thus, as a result of that, your residuals count as earned income towards qualification for health care.

The Writers Guild does not lop any of your residuals off for health care. The exchange that we make, however, is that our earned residuals do not qualify us towards health care, only writing income.

John: Yeah. If you write a movie which is produced and you are earning residuals for it but you don’t continue to write other movies, your health plan will run out.

Craig: That’s right.

John: You will stop being qualified for health insurance.

Craig: Yes, whereas in the Directors Guild — actually I directed a movie and all of my income was within one calendar year, so obviously I qualified for health insurance for the following year, but then I qualified again because the residuals the following year were enough to get me another year.

John: A weird loophole that happened for me was I’m not a member of the Directors Guild, but for a year I had Directors Guild health insurance which happened because maybe you remember a couple of years ago, Heroes was a TV show on NBC that was a huge success originally. After the first season of Heroes they decided they were going to do obviously a second season but they were also going to do these origin episodes.

They went to a couple filmmakers to say, “Hey, would you direct these one-off episodes of Heroes Origins that are creating new characters that could be folded into the universe?” A couple of us said yes, and so Kevin Smith was supposed to do an episode. I was supposed to do an episode. And they made a deal for us to do this.

Then the air went out of the Heroes balloon and they decided not to do it, but the money they paid me, for whatever reason, counted towards DGA. I ended up having Directors Guild health insurance for a year.

Craig: When you do, what no one tells you is that obviously you qualify for Writers Guild health insurance. Then this other health insurance becomes your secondary insurance.

What they don’t tell you, and you have to kind of figure out yourself is, that secondary insurance works, but every time you get something back from the Writers Guild, you have to then send that form to the Directors’ Guild so that they can process it. It’s the worst. It’s a full-time job. I was actually happy to not have secondary insurance. It was killing me.

John: Yeah, it was kind of a mess.

Craig: Yeah, it’s a mess.

John: Yeah, we should talk about health insurance sometime. That’d be a good thing to talk about.

Craig: The Writers Guild health insurance, like every health insurance system, is absurdly complicated and it’s not their fault. Frankly, the more complicated it is, it’s usually because the better it is.

We have an excellent health care system, but there are a lot of weird little ins and outs and things that people don’t know. You’re right, it would be — I mean, listen: god knows we risk boring everyone to death every time we delve really deeply into this stuff. But, why not?

John: I’ve actually had mostly good experiences with the WGA health insurance people. But I had one very bad experience where we were adding my daughter to our health insurance. The woman on the other end of the phone said, “No, I need the adoption papers.”

“Well, you don’t understand, I didn’t adopt my daughter.”

It was like, “No, you have to adopt your daughter.”

Craig: Huh?

John: It was this bizarre thing where she just couldn’t quite process what our family situation was. I was like, “I really need to talk to your supervisor right now.” It got all resolved.

Craig: Yeah, I mean, the question for you is, does the Writers Guild handle your specific situation relatively better or worse than, say, if you were with Aetna or an even more faceless massive bureaucracy. Because you obviously have a twist.

The other thing is that the same-sex couple rules are changing constantly, it seems to me, at least. They seem to be in flux, whereas, the traditional man/woman/kid situation is in stasis.

John: Yeah, I would say, overall, the WGA seems to be handling it as well as any place handles that stuff, so, I’m not particularly worried about it.

Another note follow up question here. We were talking about video games and getting union representation, WGA representation for video game writing. One of the readers wrote in and said, “Nobody in game development gives a rat’s ass about the writer. If anything, we’re viewed as an inconvenience to most game developers, a necessary evil, if you will. I predict you have something to say about that.”

Craig: I don’t really care if people in video game companies look down on writers. They can look down on anyone they want. The question is: Are those writers serving a role that makes it such that it’s hard to replace them if they all walk? If the answer is yes, then it doesn’t matter.

Unions aren’t about making people like you. They’re about protecting your job, setting some basic parameters for what you ought to be paid, and how you should be acknowledged for the work you do.

John: Yeah. Where would you start with the video game people? Would you try to go after everyone who works at the video game company, or just people who are doing, who are putting words on paper, or on a screen?

Craig: Well, this is one area where I tend to veer a little bit off from a lot of the more hard-line organizing folks at the Writers Guild. There is a tendency to want to overreach with these things and suggest that we should represent everybody that is, quote unquote, “contributing to story.”

The problem with that is, producers contribute to story, actors contribute to story, directors certainly contribute to story. Story isn’t the functional aspect when we’re talking about employment contracts.

The functional aspect is literary material. Who is putting their fingers on the keyboard, typing in words and printing them out? That is writing that we can represent, as far as I’m concerned. It’s provable, it creates literary material. Literary material is something you can take a look at and credit and assign authorship to.

I would say, if, let’s say, we were talking about organizing Bethesda, who are the people that are writing stuff down? Those are the writers.

John: I want to get on to our main topic today. Now, Craig, a question I get a lot, and sometimes at panels or forums or other things is: What books should I read if I want to become a good screenwriter? Are there any really good manuals or how-to guides for screenwriters?

I never have a good answer, because the short answer is that I don’t have one that I should say you should absolutely read. The longer answer sort of make me sounds like a jerk, because I end up sort of espousing too much opinion about other people who write books about screenwriting.

What do you say when people ask you that?

Craig: Well, I mean, look: Obviously, a big difference between you and me is I don’t care about sounding like a jerk. I just do it. I immediately go to answer number two.

I mean, okay, short answer number one. What book should I read? You can read any book you want. None of them will be as useful as reading screenplays and watching movies and thinking about story and then writing the script. That is the only basic instruction set that you need. And that works. The books are useless, I do believe.

John: Useless, though? I mean, I would — okay…

Craig: Useless. Because, look, we live in a time now where we have the Internet. Okay? If I need to know how long a script should be, if I need to know how it should be formatted, if I need to know what it’s supposed to look like, if I need to know how much description I should use and all. That stuff is out there, it’s on your website, it’s all over the place. There’s no need to buy anything.

John: But some stuff that you learn in books is not about…it’s not the simple answers to a question; it’s more — it gets you thinking a certain way about how to do stuff. If a book provides… I’m genuinely playing devil’s advocate here, because I do share a lot of opinions with you on this.

But I feel like there could be useful information in these books, and useful ways of thinking in these books for people who have never thought about story in a way before. It gets them really thinking about story, or thinking about how puzzle pieces might go together.

Craig: Yeah, I mean, it’s possible. I still don’t know if that is as instructive as reading the screenplay to a movie you thought you knew well and seeing, in a kind of reverse engineering way, how it came from a script. Because that’s all we’re really doing, is kind of pre-engineering a movie when we write a script.

Look: There are some basic instructional guides that aren’t harmful to you. Syd Field isn’t harmful, I don’t think, unless you somehow view it as a religious choice. I don’t think that Chris Vogler’s book is harmful.

John: You think it’s not harmful.

Craig: I don’t think it’s harmful. I just think it’s only harmful if people actually think that that’s the book that’s going to teach them how to be a screenwriter. It’s not. There is no such thing.

John: Okay. In research for this podcast, I looked up, and there are 2,123 books about screenwriting on Amazon. —

Craig: Oh, god.

John: — It’s really a small subset of them are the ones that I think we often hear or talk about here. Certainly Syd Field is the one we have to talk about first. Syd Field, his famous book is called Screenplay. I didn’t, I had to look it up, because we don’t, we just call it the Syd Field.

Syd Field is — if you’re going to read one book, you should probably read Syd Field, just because everyone else in this town has read Syd Field. People will talk in, sort of, Syd Field terms whether they’ve read the book or not. When people talk about Act I, Act II, Act III, mid-act, climax, worst of the worst, those are all kind of Syd Field’y terms.

Everyone’s going to talk those ways, whether you actually believe in them or not, development people will talk in those ways. By reading Syd Field, you’ll understand that everyone thinks that there’s a first act that ends at about page 30, that there’s a reversal that happens at about page 60, that there’s a second act break that happens at page 90, which is the worst of the worst, and then the movie resolves itself in the third act, which is the last 30 pages or so.

Everyone sort of uses that as a template for thinking about stuff, even though that’s not the way most movies actually happen. The danger is people use that as a template to try to shoehorn any given movie in to fit those beats and fit those page breaks and that idea that this is exactly how a movie has to work, as if there’s one magic formula, or that the architecture of screenwriting is quite literally architecture or engineering — that if you don’t do these things exactly perfect, the entire movie will fall down and collapse on itself.

Craig: Yeah, I remember when I was a kid in math class, that there were kids who wanted to understand basically why multiplication worked a certain way and grasp the concept behind it, and then there were kids that just wanted the 12-step algorithm, and just push it in one side and it comes out the other. It’s like a dumb box in between.

You can’t approach screenwriting that way. People who use these books to sort of try and reduce the process to something easy and controllable are failing. The only value, really, is what you’re saying, maybe plug into some common vocabulary and get a basic sense of the fundamental, most common shape of a screenplay.

Frankly, I would much prefer to see people go online and read a free public domain copy of Aristotle’s Poetics, which I think has more actual philosophical meat behind it about what the point and purpose of drama is, both good and bad.

John: I have to think about why there are so many people who aspire to be screenwriters and why there’s a market, apparently, for books about screenwriting. I think it’s because the form looks so different from everything else. The format scares people. Yet, it seems approachable in the way that everyone has seen a bunch of movies. Therefore — like, I get so frustrated when I hear people say, like, “Oh, I could never write a novel, but I think I could write a screenplay.”

Craig: Yeah.

John: As if it’s like, “Oh well, it’s just people talking.”

Craig: That’s exactly why they do this, because everybody thinks, “I can write a screenplay, I have a great idea for a screenplay. I just need a book to tell me how to do it, and then I’ll do it. But I’ve already done it in my head. I’ve already done this hard part, which is to come up with this great idea for a movie. Now, I just need to shove it through this process and the Screenwriting for Dummies will tell me about that. That’s just window dressing.”

No, that is the screenwriting. Your idea is useless. Useless. The screenwriting is everything. The process is the job.

That’s why I find these books to be, essentially… They are sold in bad faith by people who, quite frankly, were they better at screenwriting, would be screenwriting.

John: That is a source of frustration for me as I look through the people who are selling these books, is that most of them have no significant, or, really, any screenwriting credits whatsoever. They are aspiring screenwriters who probably have written some screenplays but have never actually made movies from their screenplays.

An exception: Blake Snyder, who has the Save the Cat books, which I’ve not read, but people seem to like a lot, has done. He unfortunately passed away. But he has two genuine credits to his name — just really makes him an exception to the rule.

Craig: Yeah, yeah.

John: Everyone else has zero.

Craig: That’s right. We used to just have the plague of wannabes and pompous professors who insisted that they would give us the key to all this stuff. Now, we have this new scourge, which are underemployed readers.

For those who don’t know, because there’s so many scripts in contention at studios and production companies, the executives and gatekeepers hire people to read them, evaluate them, and score them. There’s a whole shadow industry of people that read and rate scripts.

Many of those people, I think, quite a few of whom don’t even want to be screenwriters, they want to be executives. Many of those people, faced with underemployment or lack of employment, begin to sell that service to others as a screenwriting consultant. Now they’re leveraging thousands of dollars out of people by reading their scripts and giving them so-called expert coverage. It’s atrocious.

John: And frustrating. I guess I come back to a question of, you know, I went to a university, I went to a film school. I went there to learn how to make movies. I had screenwriting classes. They were genuinely helpful. I’ve been a guest lecturer at screenwriting classes. I’m trying to in my head differentiate what that is versus what my frustration is with the guys and experts.

Craig: John, I have it. It’s — look, I just did, yesterday or two days ago, I guest spoke at Howard Rodman’s class at USC. I came there in good faith. You go to these things in good faith. And I think that for well-credentialed, respected academic programs, they’re offered in good faith.

So much of this is not. So much of this is simply a scam. You can smell it from a mile away. The truth of the matter is, there’s not much value in me reading some random person’s script, then giving them advice, because, almost always, they just don’t have it.

I want to be clear, and so, by the way, that would be in bad faith, especially if I took money, obviously. It’s about me.

I want to be clear, because a lot of times, people who are aspiring to be screenwriters feel that people like you or me are saying this stuff because we’re trying to keep them out, or hide the truth from them. Quite the opposite. I want more and better screenwriters. I want many, many screenwriters, better than I am, to come and make better movies than I make. Books aren’t going to make that happen. Talent is going to make that happen.

I really, more than anything, I’m actually trying to be very prosocial about this and say, “Please, save your money.” Screenwriting is free. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that by spending $3,000 you’re going to exercise a control that you so desperately want to have. I want that control, too. I don’t have it either. None of us do. Sorry.

John: One thing that occurs to me as we’re talking: While I didn’t honestly read a lot of the screenwriting books growing up, I have read a ton of programming books, because I love making apps, I enjoyed programming since I was a kid. I’m not especially great at it. I can do it, if push comes to shove. But I have real blind spots towards it. It’s not something that comes very naturally to me.

I’ll teach myself a language. I’ll teach myself Perl or Ruby or try to teach myself Objective-C, which just doesn’t fit my head very well. I can buy as many books as I want to buy, but I am searching for that book that says, like, “Oh, this is the magic formula for how you make any app.” And it’s like I said, I guess I’m guilty of that, too, is that I want there to be an easy way that just makes it all simple and possible. And it’s not.

You look at actual real programmers, Nima Yousefi, who does the programming for our stuff now, it’s just — it’s good and it’s natural for him. It’s just the work. He didn’t get to be good at it by reading a bunch of books about it. He got good at it by doing a bunch of it.

Craig: Yeah, the fabled 10,000 hours of doing something, it really does. I empathize with anybody who, faced with writing their 1st screenplay, or their 3rd or their 12th, who is seeking to be recognized for their work. I empathize with the pain and the fear that they have. Certainly, I empathize with their psychological craving for some kind of secret trick, control, leverage point, anything. It is a terrible drowning feeling when you don’t know if you’re doing it right. You desperately want to do it right.

It is discouraging to say to people, “There is no lifeguard on duty. The only way you will survive this drowning is by swimming through it.” But, unfortunately, there is no lifeguard on duty. These books will not help you. These people who charge you money will bleed you dry.

Think about this for a second. You are, let’s say, somebody who has a modicum of talent. But you’re raw. You are craving some assistance, some help. You spend money on a professional script consultant. They read your script.

They have a choice, they can say to you, “This is very far off the mark, you need to go write two or three more scripts and really figure out what this is about. Then, spend your money with me.” Or, they may say, “You have no talent, stop.”

Or they may say, “Wow, there’s great potential here. Here’s a bunch of notes,” that by the way, anybody could have given you. “They’ll make your script better. You go work on that, then come back, I’ll read it again, or I’ll read your other script, or I’ll read your third script. You’re the one. If only you, three or four more of my amazing sessions at $1,000 a pop and you’ll make it.”

They’re always going to do that, because it’s a scam. It’s a scam. Don’t do it.

John: We should probably differentiate between a couple things we’re talking about, here. I would come down on the side of, if somebody wants to read a book, it’s a small cost to reading a book. It’s going to cost you, now, $10, $15, and it’s going to cost several hours of your time. There’s the danger that it’s going to lead you in a very bad direction. But everything is a danger that’s going to lead you in a bad direction. It’s not a bigger gamble than anything else.

I would come down on the side of, “Hey, if the book seems interesting, go ahead and read it.” That’s basically what I’ve done with Stuart now, is that, Stuart is, you know, a young aspiring writer. As people ask questions, like, “Hey, is this a good screenwriting book?”

I would say, “Hey, Stuart, read this book and write a review for the site.” That’s what we’re doing with that.

Craig: Good.

John: Seminars, I am opposed to seminars. I am opposed to seminars where the masterful instructor comes in and teaches you how to write a screenplay.

Craig: Mm-hmm, me, too, yeah.

John: Linda Seger’s known for them, Robert McKee is known for them.

Craig: Linda Seger. Linda Seger. Derek Haas was at some event and Linda Seeger was there speaking. She was peppering her speech with authoritative comments about how she assisted somebody who once wrote a Cagney and Lacey.

Good Lord. People are spending money? Why? Why? It’s crazy to me.

Listen, I completely agree with you on this. If all you lose is 80 bucks on six books, whoop-de-do. Go for it.

By the way, when it comes to… Look, there are books that I actually, I like recommending to people, because I don’t want to be a total jerk about it. I think, actually, rather than reading the Chris Vogler books, which are sort of a screenwriting view of Joseph Campbell’s work, just read Joseph Campbell.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: They’re wonderful books to read anyway, just to understand the commonalities of human narrative. But I would certainly say, before you start spending even money on books, you should read John’s site, you should check out, god, there’s just a whole bunch of sites out there.

John: You should also read screenplays.

Craig: Yeah.

John: That’s the thing you keep coming back to, is that, you need to read as many screenplays as you possibly can read. You need to read the great screenplays. You need to read the screenplays to the movies that you love to see how those movies were made.

But you also really need to read bad screenplays. People don’t take my word for this, but I was a reader for TriStar for a year, and for other places for six months before that. I read, and had to write coverage on 150 terrible screenplays. You learn so much about what never works by reading bad writing.

Craig: So true. Not just what doesn’t work, but also where it could have worked, but the writer wrote himself out of something good, because they overwrote or they underwrote. You know, good advice, read bad scripts.

I have a few, if people want to read them. [laughter]

John: I’m saying, fine on books if you find that helpful. Just make sure that you’re also reading scripts. No on seminars. No on paid script consultants.

Craig: Yes.

John: I just — if people can write in with comments if they’ve actually had a good experience where it has completely changed their…

Craig: They will. By the way, John, they will. They get so defensive. I’ve had lengthy arguments with people who are so defensive, but in the end.

John: I want to see one produced writer —

Craig: Thank you.

John: — who can show me where they paid a script consultant and that’s what got them where they are.

Craig: Thank you, thank you. It’s very dispiriting to have to argue with somebody about why they’re wasting their money. It’s a little bit like, arguing with people who spend money on psychics. At some point, you just throw up your hands and say, “Okay, you know what, go ahead. Go ahead, spend your money. I don’t care. it’s not my problem.”

John: That’s good.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Well, I think that’s it. I mean, is there anymore to say about gurus or experts?

Craig: Ptheh.

John: Ptheh. Ptheh basically summarizes Craig Mazin’s position on that.

Well, thank you, Craig.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: We’ll talk soon.

Craig: Very good.