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 Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. How are you, Craig?
Craig: I’m good. It’s funny, I’ve been… Ever since you said last time that we have — what was it, 65,000?
John: A lot of listeners, yeah.
Craig: So, there must have been some weird tipping point because suddenly now I’m having that weird thing where people that I don’t know mention the podcast. So I went to the premiere of Ted this week, a very funny movie with Mark Wahlberg and Seth MacFarlane as his foul-mouthed living teddy bear.
John: I love the outdoor campaign for Ted, just to interrupt your story completely.
Craig: It’s great. Yeah, I know, they’ve done a great job. And it is; there’s a ton of laughs in that movie. It’s pretty sick and funny.
And when you go to a premiere you go to like a will call thing and you give somebody your license and they look up your name and give you your tickets. And the guy looked at the thing, and he gave me tickets, and he said, “Oh, hey, I love the podcast.” And I was, like, “Wha — oh!” [laughs] Because, you know, people are listening to it. And it’s strange because the only people I’ve ever heard from up until this point are people I know.
And then I was posting on Facebook with an old high school friend of mine who lives somewhere, not here, and one of her friends in the little comment thread said, “Hey, are you the podcast guy?” So it’s happening, John.
John: I was at the Trader Joe’s in Hollywood and we were checking out, and it’s pretty common — like it’s the Trader Joe’s in Hollywood so there’s gonna be some screenwriters working there.
John: So the guy who’s checking us out, I was talking to him a bit, he was like, “Hey, are you John August?” And what I could tell was it wasn’t he just recognized me — because I have kind of a common face, like a lot of people sort of look like me — but he actually recognized my voice from the podcast.
Craig: It’s wild. It’s funny — I was saying to a friend, 16 years of screenwriting and a bunch of movies, and no one knows who the hell I am. Six months of a podcast, [laughs] and people are saying hi to me. It’s just… — I mean a podcast of all things. Not to run our podcast down, I mean it’s cool. But, strange.
John: So, before we got on the air we talked: I’m actually fairly sick right now so people who follow me on Twitter know that I got diagnosed with viral sinusitis, which is basically an infection sort of in your head. It takes like seven to 10 days to heal. So I’m on day six of it and I feel better, but not great. So, I may have you do some more of the heavy lifting in terms of question answering today.
Craig: Happy to do so.
John: But I thought we would answer four questions.
Craig: Yeah, we have four questions. Before we get to those, you have to watch that you don’t get a secondary bacterial infection, John.
John: Yes, I know. It’s a huge concern.
Craig: It’s a huge concern. I’m concerned. But it’s not — you don’t have terminal viral sinusitis.
John: No, there’s no such thing as terminal viral sinusitis.
Craig: Not yet. You could be the first one.
John: Not yet.
The weird thing about getting sick, of course, is I’ve been playing a lot of Plague Inc., the iPad game where you try to design to plague to destroy the world.
John: And so I’m playing this game while feeling sick which is not a healthy combination of…
Craig: Real smart.
John: …action. And you start to believe in causation in ways that you shouldn’t believe it.
Craig: Yeah. No, it’s just a sinus problem.
John: Let’s power through this. So, start with some follow up. A couple weeks ago we talked about how Amazon Studios had brought in Clive Barker on this project, Zombies vs. Gladiators. And so we got an email from Clive Barker’s manager to make a correction. So, Clive Barker’s manager listens to us…
John: …which is kind of interesting. “Clive, whom I manage,” he says. “Clive, whom I manage, is not attached to direct this project. He’s merely attached to rewrite/reimagine it. I’m not sure if you read someplace online that he’s directing, but that’s inaccurate information if that was out there.”
Craig: Oh, okay. So then they did mention the writer.
John: They did, because he’s going to be the writer now.
Craig: Where did you pick that up? Was that from Amazon itself?
John: I think I may have hallucinated it, or honestly it may have been that someone else had blogged about it and added in the writer-director Clive Barker, and therefore I took it as that.
Craig: You know, John, 65,000 people rely on us the way they rely on Jeff Daniels on Newsroom.
John: That’s why I’m making a for-the-record correction. And I should probably flog myself and make everyone feel guilty.
Craig: I’m sorry, Amazon.
John: Sorry Amazon.
Oh, by the way, Amazon announced that they’re doing four TV series.
Craig: Oh, uh…
John: We’ll see if they really are doing four TV series. They made a press release, so that’s something.
Craig: Well, they’ve certainly accomplished that. I do feel bad because I like to, you know, when I get worked up and pissed off, I hate wasting it on things that aren’t…
John: I don’t know that you fully wasted it. I mean, they did not mention the actual people who came up with the idea who had worked on it up until that point.
Craig: Hey, great point.
John: Because it’s like when they make a Variety announcement that someone was brought in, really more a Nikki Finke announcement that someone is brought in to rewrite a project, but they don’t mention like whose project it was originally. That’s kind of lame.
Craig: All right. I feel better. Thank you.
John: Yeah. A follow up on verbs which was a topic from last podcast. Christina in San Francisco wrote in to recommend a booked called English Verb Classes and Alterations — I’m sorry. Alternations. God, I have to get it right — which I looked through the preview on Amazon, it’s kind of an expensive book, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to order it. I looked at the preview and it’s very hard core, but it gets into some of the really specific esoterica I was talking about.
And an alternation helps explain sort of why some verbs can do some functions and can’t do other functions. Here’s a good example I found from just skimming through it. So, here’s two sentences:
Bill pounded the metal. This metal won’t pound.
That second one doesn’t work.
John: No. But, listen to this:
Bill pounded the metal flat. This metal won’t pound flat.
That does make sense.
Craig: It does. Now do I need a book for that? [laughs] Do I need to read this book?
John: No, it’s one of those things, as you are a speaker of English you do that naturally. It’s only when you stop to think about like well why does adding the word flat make that sentence possible?
John: It’s a strange thing. It speaks to the idea that there’s probably underlying concept beneath our language that are influencing why certain sentences make sense and certain sentences don’t make sense.
Craig: Yes. No question. Grammar…and you know, there’s the whole… — Actually, I should have mentioned it last time. So, Noam Chomsky, who’s more famous now for saying absurd things about politics, was initially famous for his work as a linguist, and he was really the first person to revolutionize the notion that grammar is innate to humans and that in all cultures, no matter how isolated, their language follows a certain rigorous grammar that includes elements that are common to all languages.
John: As an example, a language will either be subject, verb, object, or subject, object, verb.
John: There’s certain ways it can work. And it’s going to work one way. It’s going to work consistently one way.
Craig: That’s right. And this became, essentially this became an object of faith for the linguistic community. But, a few months ago I read an interesting article, I’ll dig it up and put the link on, where basically there’s a guy challenging it. And he’s challenging it based on his understanding of a very isolated tribe in Brazil, which is pretty much where all the world’s isolated tribes live now, and his argument was: no, actually their language does not follow this, and the presumptions are incorrect.
That in and of itself seems like a mild debate between scientists. But what’s really fascinating is how viscous it’s gotten. That the way academics circle the wagons when their orthodoxy is challenged is remarkable. Remarkable. I’m going to dig this link up. It was a really cool read because it wasn’t about the theory. It was about people being jerks, which I love.
John: It is fascinating that academics can get so worked up about something so seemingly unimportant and esoteric. When you consider that, look at physics — we have Newtonian physics and then we have Quantum mechanics. And they are basically both right. Newtonian physics takes care of most things and most situations. And you can’t use Quantum mechanics and do a lot of everyday things. So, it’s good that we can recognize the value in both things.
Craig: Yeah. But what’s cool is that, and you see this is the hard sciences, they don’t really — it’s not like, I mean, there was, even early on, some objection to Einstein, but really what happened was people went, “What? That’s crazy. Let’s test it. Oh, it’s true.” It’s the sociologies, the kind of interpretive sciences — sociology, psychology, linguistics — where suddenly it just becomes emotional and protective and weird.
John: Part of it may be that something like linguistics or psychology, you really are building castles in the air. And so if someone challenges the foundation of what you’ve done, everything collapses.
John: So, with the hard sciences, well, they’re hard for a reason. Like, you can actually test them. There are ways to measure these things. And it’s very different than the soft sciences.
John: Let us move to screenwriting now, a completely different topic we could talk about in a podcast for example. We have four questions and you’ve been generous enough to offer to read these questions to us this week.
Craig: I’ll do the reading. I’ll do the reading.
So, question number one comes from Z in Los Angeles. Z. And he writes, “My writing partner and I got several meetings from a comedy spec, and one production company with a producer with big credits, we sat down with the creative executive. He said he loved our style and wanted to find something to work on together. He told us that his boss had a couple of ideas and gave us a sparse one line description of each. We liked one. He asked us to come back and pitch our take on it. Two weeks later we did that.
“He loved our angle, characters, ideas, but here’s the bad part: He tells us it would have to be done on spec for no money, but they can get the script read anywhere in town. As hungry, unproduced writers, it’s good enough for us. We go off and write the script, it turns out great.” So he did it.
“Now we’re jazzed, our manager is confident, the exec is psyched; creative executive has his boss, the producer, read it. Here we go. We’re told he thinks it’s funny but he doesn’t love it so he doesn’t want to send it out. Creative executive apologizes and expresses his regret. We’re bummed, of course, but then we were crushed to find out that it’s not ours. Hubba, what?!” That’s what Z wrote. He actually wrote “Hubba what?”
“And we can’t send it out as our next spec to the other places we took meetings. Can that be right? Where does his idea stop and his idea start? Our manager is wishy-washy about it…” There’s a shock. That’s my editorializing. “…and advises us to move on to our next spec.” Wow. What a genius manager you have.
“My partner thinks, screw ‘em, let’s just roll the dice and send it out. Thoughts? Frustrated as hell. Z in Los Angeles.”
John: Yeah, so several issues kind of bundled up in one big package of misery in this.
John: First is writing that script on spec for this big producer with a lot of producer credits.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, it does happen. And it’s not illegal. Typically these production companies aren’t signatory to the Writers Guild, the studios that employ you are. It’s not technically illegal. The whole point of writing something on spec like this in concert with a producer is that it gives you an enormous amount of leverage when you do go to the studios. You now have a piece of material they will either want or not want, but if they do want it they have to buy that. They’re not buying conjecture, like a pitch.
If you’re not a big shot screenwriter it’s a great way to sort of take away all the guesswork on their part. They don’t have to worry if you can do it or not. It’s material, and it’s original material, so it’s exciting.
I would say the bad part is this, but this is insane. I mean, I don’t know about you John, but I think his partner’s right. They wrote a script. It’s absolutely theirs. They own it lock, stock, and barrel. Ideas are not possessions. Adios producer. See you later.
John: The producer had no written piece of material that preceded theirs. There’s no underlying story. There was a one-line sentence.
John: And I think they can make a very good case for this is all theirs. Now, there’s the aspect of this is a big producer that you’re going to piss off by doing this. But, guess what? He wasn’t helping you anyway.
John: If he didn’t like the script he’s not going to be doing something for you next week.
Craig: That’s right.
John: Making one enemy isn’t going to be a problem.
Craig: That’s right. And, look, my whole feeling is there’s a — when you write something speculatively with a producer involved there is a contract. And the contract is, “I’m doing a lot of work here speculatively, you don’t have the ability to stop me from mining it if you don’t like it. I am actually — I have taken full control of this project as the writer from you.” So, the truth is, they can’t stop you. The worst they could do, I suppose, is if you did sell it, go to the studio and say, “I want to get kissed in on this thing because I ‘developed’ it.” And then that’s really for the studio to decide. But, frankly, the studio could also tell them to piss off.
Craig: I think the biggest tragedy in this is not that the producer and the producer’s creative executive failed to kind of uphold their end of the deal, because that’s just lions doing what lions do. The biggest disaster in this is that your manager — your manager, who you pay to represent and advocate for you — has actually advised you to literally throw the script away. That is shocking to me. And embarrassing, frankly. Embarrassing.
John: Yeah. It’s a manager who doesn’t want to blow his relationship with this producer at the sake of these clients. So he’ll throw you under the bus rather than risk angering this producer.
Craig: Absolutely. And, of course, the biggest laugh of all is that this manager’s relationship with this producer apparently isn’t productive enough to get this script to go out with that producer. I mean, it’s just a disaster.
These people, these managers, it’s like, guys, it’s embarrassing. You should be ashamed of yourself for giving that advice. Outrageous.
John: A good manager, and there are some good managers, would have stepped in earlier on and made sure it wasn’t going to happen this way.
Craig: Of course. Or just say to the producer, look…
John: Now, I do want to raise the stakes on this and imagine a worse scenario. Here’s my worst scenario: Imagine that creative executive had been pitching those same kinds of ideas to a couple different writers and had actually been developing the same spec idea with several different writers. And that this week another script is going to go out but this producer has said, “Oh yes, this is the take I like, and that’s when they go out on the town.”
Craig: It could happen.
John: It could totally happen.
Craig: Absolutely. In fact, your point is the exact evidence required when you’re asking, “Well, can we take this spec out on our own.” And the answer is yes, because frankly the producer could do exactly what you said. They could have 12 people write spec screenplays based on this non-possessable item of an idea.
Meaning, all of those writers own their individual scripts. It’s no different than you and I living in two adjacent apartments both working on a script of our own based on the same idea. We can do that.
Craig: And then it’s, okay, whatever, the best script wins. Of course, Z, you take that script out. It’s yours. You did it. Screw your manager. He’s crazy, crazy to advise you to move on. It’s outrageous.
John: The other reason to go out with this script as a spec situation is that people will read it because they might say, “This might be something we want to buy.” And in reading it they will read your good writing and they will consider you for future things.
John: So you don’t want to stick this on a shelf where no one can read it if it is as good as you think it is. And maybe it’s not. Maybe we’re being too optimistic. But you want people to see it.
Craig: Right. Maybe it stinks. Look, if it stinks it stinks. But then, exactly, if you believe in it and you don’t think it stinks, you send it out. If you think, “Oh, well, maybe they’re right and it stinks, then don’t send it out.” By the way, ask your manager, say, “Before we go crazy here, are you really just telling us this because you know it stinks and you don’t want to send it out because it stinks?” That’s fair. But then of course you really need to insist that they be honest from the jump with you and not make up baloney ideas.
The other bit of advice I would give to you, Z, is that in the future if you’re going to go out on a limb and write something on spec like this in concert with a producer, you must get the producer onboard at the very beginning. And you deserve that. You’re going to put in work and effort. You are now in a privileged position to demand that the producer hear your take, listen to what you have to say, sign on and agree that they’re gonna go and push this.
John: My other frustration is sort of just working practices. If this producer really has the credits that Z is implying, a big producer with some big names, they have the discretionary fund that could easily pay for this. And they should.
Craig: Well, you know, the funny thing is some of these guys out there are big names with big credits, but those deals are gone. So, they had a deal with discretionary funding. There are so few of those now. So they have all the appearance of being able to have a discretionary fund, but they don’t actually have one.
John: Yeah. They have their own money. They could do it. I just think it’s wrong.
Craig: Yeah. I agree. I totally agree.
John: Spec work in general: if it’s your thing it’s your thing. And that’s why I believe in writing specs that are actually generally yours. Specs that are somebody else’s, it’s just a bad…
Craig: Yeah, look, I worked on a script on spec with Michael Shamberg, and Stacey Sher, and Carla Shamberg. And I did it because I thought that the idea that we had and the story we were telling was of the sort where if I went and pitched it maybe I could sell it, but frankly it was so outside of the realm of what I normally do that I was just more comfortable on my own taking the time to spec it and not having the pressure of employment and just writing.
It was entirely my decision. It wasn’t something they asked me to do. If anybody demanded that I spec something I would just say, “Go, go away. I don’t like you anymore.”
Question 2. Do you want to read that?
Craig: Question 2. Justin writes, “A friend of mine was recently working as a PA for a major studio. While working he discovered another PA had sold some movie ideas to a studio for something around,” [laughs], “something around $2,500 to $5,000. How does someone go about selling a premise and does the WGA have any say in these kinds of transactions?”
Um, I don’t believe that the WGA has a minimum that covers a premise. A premise, in fact, or a movie idea isn’t really something that normally people buy, because as I just mentioned it’s not intellectual property that you can defend or own. I think the lowest level of literary material that the Writers Guild covers and recognizes as actually protectable material is a treatment or story. And the minimum for a treatment or story is much more than $2,500 to $5,000.
So, I’m guessing your PA sold it to a non-guild studio or something?
John: Yeah. I don’t even know… — I included this question because I just don’t think it’s real. I think the other PA was sort of making stuff up or spreading an old wives tale, because you don’t just like buy an idea for something, because there’s not enough there to actually buy. I mean, you’re sort of buying someone. It’s like I’ll pay you some money so you won’t write this yourself and I’ll have someone else I write it, I guess, but it doesn’t really make sense.
It’s the kind of thing that you would assume happens a lot if you were outside the industry. It’s like, “Oh, I have a great idea and Hollywood is going to buy my idea.” It doesn’t really happen that way.
John: That somehow this business works.
Craig: I agree. This feels like a Penthouse form letter. You know, it’s interesting but…
John: “A friend of mine recently…” Exactly.
Craig: “I never thought this would happen to me. But I was coming up…”
John: “One day I was working as a PA…”
Craig: Yeah. Exactly.
John: Next question.
Craig: Question number 3. Lou writes, “When I see a moment of divine intervention in a movie, like a randomly found item that moves the plot forward or an unlocked car with the keys in it just when the protagonist needs one, I usually buy it. I think we’ve all had at least one unexplained moment in our lives that has been just short of miraculous. However, if the writer layers on more than two of these moments of divine intervention the story takes a precipitous plunge in credibility for me. When you’re writing, how do you determine whether or not you should deploy one of these magic moments? And do you have a method to gauge if the act of divine intervention that you’re writing is just too far-fetched?”
John: That’s a good question.
Craig: Thoughtful question.
John: So, to me, it comes down to coincidence. And there’s coincidences that are good. There are coincidences that start the actual premise of your whole movie.
John: Like two people happen to have the same name, or that this couple that could have met but that didn’t meet. That’s a coincidence. And you’re always going to buy that coincidence if it’s the whole premise of the movie. But if there’s too many coincidences it just feels like, well, these characters are not in charge of the movie; some sort of external god force is in charge of this movie. And you stop believing it. You stop believing in the consequences of people’s actions because another coincidence will get them out of it.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, essentially I think Lou has his own answer. You pretty much get one of those. I always feel like there’s one big conceit to a movie, one big buy-in that people make that makes the story special, but not too. And when it comes to something like this, like a moment of shocking coincidence or shocking intervention, you get one. I think you get one that’s sort of noticeable. More than one, you start to feel, like you said, that the screenwriter is just moving pieces around conveniently to avoid good storytelling.
Interestingly, a shocking coincidence is good storytelling because it reinjects into the audience’s experience, our understanding of life being chaotic, and that’s great. But the fact is if you have two chaotic moments that transform the plot, you’re actually now going the other way; now you’re implying that it’s not chaotic at all, in fact, it’s all rigged.
So, it’s wonderful in Boogie Nights when that guy comes into the donut shop and has a weird gun battle and gets blown away. And the character who desperately needs money to get out of porn and start his business has suddenly a bag of money there and no one around to see him take it. And he takes it. And that’s shocking, and cool.
And then there’s actually an interesting coincidence tied to it where as he’s walking out you see a car driving buy that his porn producer is in with Heather Graham and all the rest, but that’s okay, it was sort of like, because that didn’t warp the story. That was just style.
But more than one of those, I think you’ve got a problem.
John: The other thing to keep in mind is that coincidences or like acts of fate shouldn’t always benefit the protagonist. Every once and awhile they should benefit the villain. And so there’s nothing I love more in a fight when the hero seems to be winning and then the bad guy gets lucky. Let the bad guy get lucky every once and awhile. That’s surprising.
Craig: Yeah. That’s a great point. So when you say, when Lou asks do you have a method of gauging if the divine intervention that you’re writing is just too far-fetched, the answer is: How does it make you feel? How would it make you feel in the audience? It’s not a question of far-fetched. It could be enormously far-fetched, like that bag of money just happening to be there because there’s a random gun battle. But how does it make you feel? Does it give you a little buzz from the kind of insanity of the moment, or does it make you feel like, “Oh, this movie is baloney?”
John: The other thing I would keep in mind is take a look at what the time horizon is in your movie. So, if you’re a movie that is taking place in pretty real time, you’re not, in your daily life a lot of coincidences aren’t going to stack up. If your movie is taking place over 20 years there’s a better chance that the moments we’re going to see are going to be those moments of coincidence, where things do occur.
So, if we’re checking in with a character every five years, we’re probably going to be checking with those characters at moments where things aren’t happening, where they are bumping back into somebody that they haven’t seen for awhile. So, you make it a little extra bump if your movie is taking place over a longer period of time.
Craig: That’s a great point.
John: Craig, I’ve pitched you my take for Hangover III, haven’t I?
Craig: No, I’d love to hear it.
John: So in case you throw out all the work you’ve done so far, I really think the next Hangover should take place over about 50 years.
John: So rather than, just throw out the whole conceit of like it happens all in sort of one long swoop, and just tracks them all the way to their death bed.
Craig: Hmm. Well, that’s not what we’re doing.
Craig: [laughs] But I will say that there is one sort of, well, I’m not going to say anything.
John: You don’t need to say anything. In the last movie you did go back to Zach Galifianakis’s early life which was a fun conceit.
Craig: Yes. There was, well sort of, I mean…
John: You saw how he saw himself in the moment.
Craig: Yeah, he sees the world…
John: Like you were going back to an earlier point in time, sort of sticking a kid version of him in the present.
Craig: That’s right. That’s exactly right. We have one more question and this is from Richard. And he writes, “I happen to have the same first and last name of an existing successful screenwriter.” I wonder if his last name is LaGravenese?
John: It’s not. That would be a really exotic name. That would be a coincidence. Because that’s an unusual name.
Craig: That would be crazy. That would be bad screenwriting if that happened. “I don’t want to cause any confusion, and have thought about using an alias on my screenplays. Is this acceptable? How would I go about doing that? I don’t want to legally change my name?” Well, don’t people just normally use a middle initial at that point or their middle name?
John: Yeah, that’s a good bet. So, if his name was, if it’s Richard Smith, there’s another famous Richard Smith, you could go by R.C. Smith and that works fine.
You’re allowed to do whatever you want to do in terms of a pen name or an alias. You don’t have to legally change your name. I did legally change my name before I started working. That’s just because I had a really unpronounceable last name that was frustrating for everybody involved, including me, but that’s not obligatory by any means. So, pick a name for me, too.
Craig: I think you have to, I mean, in fact our MBA regulates pseudonyms. You can’t actually — you’re not free to use a pseudonym. If you make more than, I think it’s $225,000 on a project you don’t have the right unilaterally to opt for a pseudonym. The company has to agree to it. And the reason that’s there is because when they pay big name writers lots of money they want to be able to say, “From the writer of blah, blah, blah.”
And so whatever name you sign on your contract needs to be the name you put on the movie. But if it is, so obviously you changed your name officially. That’s easy, that’s done. If you use a middle initial or your full middle name to separate yourself from another Richard Jones or Richard Smith, that would work, because you are using your name; it’s just a different format of the name.
John: But Craig’s point though is you can pick, you can choose what name you’re going to do, but once you pick your name you have to stick with your name. That’s a regulated thing. So, if you decide you want to use the name R.C. Smith, as you’re doing your contracts, you contracts will be done as R.C. Smith.
Craig: Right. You just have to make sure that R.C. Smith comports with whatever is on your driver’s license. Otherwise you do have to change your…
John: Oh, I don’t actually think that’s accurate.
Craig: I think so.
John: The Wibberleys get away with.
Craig: Well, but the Wibberleys, they had to get permission for that.
Craig: Yeah. Because the thing is when you’re signing a contract, what goes along with that is whatever that tax form is to prove that you’re a US citizen and what your name and Social Security number is. You can’t just make up your own name and then use that.
John: But, Craig, couldn’t a provision in the contract say that writer will be credited as?
Craig: Yes, absolutely. And then in that case — that’s my point. In other words you could say the writer will be credited this way, and really for the studio I think the only thing that matters to them is that the way you’re asking for credit would easily be associated with you.
Craig: So the Wibberleys, okay, great, so if we want to say, “From the writer’s of Charlie’s Angels 2 comes some other movie,” then we know that people will get that the Wibberleys means them.
But, if you were writing a script and you were just a little embarrassed by the job and you wanted your name to be John Public on it, no. They’re not gonna give you that.
John: Yeah. And that has happened.
John: Speaking of, “From the writer of,” Aline Brosh McKenna who will be our guest on the live version of the podcast in Austin, “from the writer of” always gets checked with her but they never actually use her name. So it’s always “from the writer of The Devil Wears Prada,” but they never actually say her name. It’s Aline.
Craig: Yeah, that’s marketing for you. You know, they are distributing the information that is relevant to the audience and not anything else. It’s easier to… — I mean, “From Steven Spielberg” actually tells you more as an audience member than, “From the director of ET, and Close Encounters, and Raiders of the Lost Ark,” blah, blah, blah. But if you have that one credit that sort of connotes something of marketing value they’ll just say that. Yeah.
Those were our questions. Do you have a Cool Thing?
John: Those are the four questions. Now, so I do have a Cool Thing, but you have a teaser for your Cool Thing.
Craig: Well, I actually have a, I realize that I do have a Cool Thing and I have a teaser for a thing that’s just a thing.
John: Well you go first with your Cool Thing.
Craig: Well my Cool Thing was, I was turned onto this by Phil Hay, fine screenwriter.
John: A very good man.
Craig: And a good man. And Phil and I are both great baseball fans. And he found this book which I’ve started reading called The Baseball Codes. And if you’re a baseball fan you will love this book. It’s basically an investigation and an illumination of all the unwritten rules in baseball. Baseball is the most legal of sports. The rulebook is enormous and dense and full of arcane nonsense.
But, what’s so cool about baseball is that there’s other rules that are just important to the people playing and managing the game that are not in the book at all, that are not in the rulebook at all, but they are sort of about the honor of the game.
For instance, if you are a hotshot rookie and you’re doing really well, someone’s gonna plunk you. And that happened this year with Cole Hamels just threw at Bryce Harper, who’s an amazing rookie and an amazing talent. And pretty much said, yeah, you know, he knows the deal. And that’s the deal. It’s like, “Welcome to the big leagues rook. I’m gonna hit you now with a 92-mph hard ball.”
But there are also little tiny things, like there are rules that are designed to be honorable when you are way ahead in the game. If you’re winning by a lot you don’t swing at a 3-0 pitch. If you’re winning by a lot you don’t score, you don’t try and score on a close play at home. You hold up at third.
Then there are little things like if you’re a left-handed batter and you’re in the dugout that’s to the left of home plate, don’t cross in front of the catcher on your way to take your position in the batter’s box. Just little weird things. And there’s so many of them. And it’s fun because people don’t understand why, for instance, in baseball teams will get into the sort of bean ball thing where pitchers keep hitting other hitters and then charging the mount and bench-clearing brawls. It’s actually all very highly orchestrated Kabuki theater. And this book is a great insight into what’s actually going on.
John: And the idea is that these are all informal rules that have been passed down culturally throughout teams and this is writing them all down.
Craig: Exactly. And sort of explaining them. And also talking about how they change because it opens with… There’s a very famous — you can put a link up to this — one of the most famous brawls of all time in baseball, Robin Ventura was playing for the White Sox. Nolan Ryan in his final year of pitching for the Rangers plunks Robin Ventura. Hits him.
Robin Ventura starts to move towards first because that’s what happens when you get hit by a pitch, you take your base. Then turns, throws his helmet down, and charges the mound. As he gets to the mound, sort of like you could see him saying, “Why did you throw at me?” Nolan Ryan grabs him, puts him in a headlock and starts upper-cutting his head repeatedly.
Craig: The benches clear. It’s a massive brawl. And all we see as baseball fans is the fun drama of this young kid running out to the mound and getting absolutely schooled by this old man who’s teaching him the old ways like, “This is how you fight kid.” But in reality, when you read this book, what’s so cool is they explain how this had been going on for years between these two teams. That Nolan Ryan was playing old style baseball where if a batter got too close to the inside part of the plate he would brush them back or hit them because that was his, which has stopped happening in part because of the way college players started using aluminum bats which meant that the inside owning the — being able to reach that outside part of the plate wasn’t as big of a deal. In fact, it was better to back off the inside part of the plate.
So, new pitchers weren’t as obsessed with owning the inside part of the plate the way Nolan Ryan was. Nolan Ryan had been hitting people for a long, long time. He was kind of a jerk about it. The whole team had a meeting before that game and basically said as a team in the locker room, “If he hits any one of us, whoever he hits, you run out there and we all go get this guy because we’re sick of him pushing us around.”
So poor Robin Ventura was the one that got hit [laughs] and he had to run out there and just kind of… but when he ran out he didn’t run out with the intention of hitting Nolan Ryan. And in that hesitation Nolan Ryan took the opening and just grabbed him and started pounding him.
And so what looks like this great story about old guy beating up brash youngster really now turns into old jerk being even jerkier towards a guy that really had to charge the mound.
John: Team player, yeah.
Craig: Team player. Because if you don’t, I mean, enjoy the rest of the season on that squad, you know? So, even if you don’t like baseball but you like sociology you may enjoy this book. Baseball Codes.
John: Sounds good. Nice.
Craig: What’s your…
John: So my One Cool Thing, I was back last week in Colorado where I grew up, and my father who has passed away was a pretty significant photographer. Not like a fancy photographer, but he took a lot of pictures, and specifically took a lot of slides. And, slides are wonderful but slides are very hard to look at. It’s hard to sort of see, “Oh, this is a slide for this.” So, we knew we needed to scan slides but we have like 1,000 slides. More than 1,000 slides. And it’s going to be a lot of work.
So what we have been doing over the last couple years whenever we have a lot of stuff to scan, we have negatives to scan, photos to scan, we use a place called ScanCafe, which is a terrible name for a business because it sounds like, “Oh, it’s a little café, you go in and you scan and you get some coffee.”
Craig: Yeah. It’s awful.
John: So what the service does is you go on the website. You tell them how many slides, how many negatives, how many prints you have to scan. They say great. They send you this receipt. You stick everything in a box, stick the label on it, and ship it off to them.
They take all of the negatives, all the slides, all the photos, clean them, scan them, and then send them back to you. They either put it on a website that you can download them off a website, or if you have a ton like we do they actually stick it on a hard drive and send you the hard drive back. So it makes dealing with a lot of old photos just remarkably better.
So, it’s not inexpensive. There’s a price per slide, or per photo, but it just creates so much more sanity. And it’s so much easier to share these slides which were otherwise going to be locked away for another few decades with the rest of my dad’s family.
Craig: Yeah, there’s a cool transition industry where basically it exists to move analog to digital, or even digital-but-in-the-wrong-format to purely-digital. There are services where you can ship out 1,000 CDs and they will send you back a hard drive with everything ready to just drop into iTunes or something like that.
But it’s not really a great long-term business strategy is it? [laughs] I mean, eventually everything gets converted and you’re done.
John: Yeah, but there’s always another thing to transition through. The other thing which we found which I don’t know, we haven’t looked whether ScanCafe does it or not: my parents at some point had made cassette tape interviews with their parents on history and sort of where they grew up and sort of like the history and background stuff, but they’ve never been transcribed. So we will need to find a place that can transcribe the cassette tape, or can take the cassette tapes and do them into audio format, and then we will send them to the same place that does the transcriptions for this podcast and get them types up, which will be really helpful.
Craig: That will be. And then I have one sort of — this isn’t a Cool Thing, this is just a goofy thing, but we had talked about me singing and music and all the rest, and so the next podcast, at the end, I will perform a song.
John: That’s great. You can play us out for next week.
Craig: I will play us out next week. It’s a short little song. Nice little song by John Prine. John Prine? Crine?
John: Sure. I bought it.
Craig: [laughs] Plant and Krauss did a cover of a John Prine song. We’ll go with Prine. So I’ll play us out next time.
John: Wonderful. So, Craig, thank you very much for your help getting through this. My voice is mostly here and hopefully by next week I’ll be at full speed.
Craig: I want letters demanding, I want people writing in saying, “Really Craig should be reading the questions.”
John: Really should be. And it’s good that we did this today. If we did this yesterday it would have been like you were doing a podcast with Brenda Vaccaro. So, this is a huge improvement.
Craig: Is that an option by the way? [laughs] Because if that is I will switch over. Brenda, if you’re out there, I’m avail. I’m totally avail. Feel better, John.
John: Thank you again for a fun podcast. Anything we talked about on this week’s podcast is going to be in the links for the show notes which are at johnaugust.com. And thank you very much for listening everyone.
Craig: Thanks guys.
John: All right, take care.