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.
John: Hooray, we did it right!
John: This is actually our second attempt to start the show.
Craig: You know, you could of course just record… — I mean, we have 50 versions of you doing that. They really should just put that on for us.
John: You know what? I think it should just be a simple copy and paste.
John: For now on Stuart will just copy and paste it and start because it’s the same every week.
Craig: And you’re really consistent with the way you do it.
John: I really am.
John: Today we’re going to talk about two different topics that have nothing to do with Comic-Con. First we’re going to talk about the mistakes that development executives often make with writers and see if we can offer some suggestion for improving those mistakes, or not making those mistakes. And second we’re going to do the first couple of scripts that came in for the script challenge.
So, this Three Page Challenge that we talked about at the end of last week’s podcast, we asked readers to send in three pages of their screenplay and we would look at it and talk about it on the air. And a bunch of people did, and so many people did. And so Stuart dutifully read all of them and suggested a couple that we could look at, and we’re going to look at three of them today.
Craig: Fantastic. And just because I know people are going to ask: are we going to do it again?
John: Yes. I think we will do it again if it’s fun.
John: So you have to listen through to the end of the podcast to see if we had a good time. And then if we had a good time, we’ll do it again.
Craig: We’ll do it again. Great.
John: A bit of housekeeping. On the last podcast you were going to play your guitar, but then you didn’t play your guitar because you offered your own kind of challenge, which to recap: If we were to cross over to 100,000 listeners you would play a guitar solo as our outro music. And weirdly this last week the numbers showed that we crossed over to 100,000, but I don’t think it was really an accurate number. And here’s why I think it was an inaccurate number.
This last week was the week that Apple released the podcast app for the iPhone. And the podcast app is controversial because its user interface is kind of terrible. Also, it tends to want to download a bunch of things that you’ve already downloaded before. So, people who are already subscribers to our show might suddenly find themselves with like 20 episodes of our show being downloaded to their phone. And so I think a lot of these greatly inflated numbers are because people who are already fans and subscribers to the show and have downloaded that file again even though they already listened to it. So, we’ll give it a few weeks and see how it sorts itself out.
Craig: And because I wasn’t ready anyway. And just to be clear, I’m actually a terrible guitarist, but it’s really more about singing a song. I mean, I can play guitar along with myself, but guitar solo sounds Eddie Van Halen-ish.
John: Oh yeah. That’s a good point.
Craig: I can’t do that.
John: So you’re going to give us an acoustic session.
Craig: There you go. It will be unplugged. Yeah.
John: Yes, there you go. Craig Mazin Unplugged.
John: And weirdly my Cool Thing for the end of the show is also about music. So, it’s all going to kind of fit together. Even though we don’t get the Craig Mazin singing experience.
Craig: Not yet. But if you get… — Friends can start listening to this thing, then finally the world will be rewarded with the thing it’s been waiting for the most.
John: That you never knew you wanted but now you can’t live without.
Also, in a bit of follow up, which is really kind of blog follow up so I’m not sure to what degree I’m allowed to talk about it on the podcast, but really it’s our rules.
Craig: Do it. There’s no rules here.
John: There’s no rules. So, AMC Theaters, which is one of the big theater chains in the nation, but Los Angeles and California has a lot of AMC Theaters, there is a lawsuit happening where some of the employees are suing AMC theaters saying they should be allowed to sit on the job if they’re selling tickets or ripping tickets and doing that kind of stuff.
And so it’s a class action lawsuit that we’ll see how it proceeds. And so I wrote about that on the blog and it got me… I sort of offhandedly mentioned that sitting is terrible for you and that I work at a standing desk. And so a lot of people wrote in to ask, “Oh, so what is your standing desk situation?” And so I thought I would talk a little bit about that if that’s okay.
Craig: Yeah. Go ahead. I mean, is there much to say other than that you’re standing at a desk?
John: I’m standing at a desk. And actually I do all the podcasts standing up and I’ve been doing that for a couple months, and it’s just better I think. Sitting is actually really bad for your body. It sort of… — Not only is it kind of bad for your back and you’re compressing your spine and stuff, someone how it slows down certain processes and your cholesterol gets weird. People should stand up more if they have the opportunity to stand up.
So my desk situation… — And I don’t want you to feel like they should do what I do, but it’s working well for me. I use this thing called an Anthro Cart. Anthro is a furniture company and they make a bunch of different kinds of desks. The one I have is I think the older version; it’s called the Adjusta. And I originally bought this desk because I’ve had horrible carpal tunnel problems. And I use a special weird keyboard that I’ve linked to before that has sort of vertical keys on it. And I need to set the typing surface really low so that it fits nice, so that my wrists are in the right position for typing on it.
The nice thing about the Adjusta desk is it can go really low but it can also go nice and high. And so when I’m standing up at the desk I can just literally raise the whole level of the front of the table up fairly high and just tilt my monitor up and it’s quite a comfortable service for working at, for typing at.
Craig: My working method is to curl up in a ball, as tightly as I can. And then I cry.
John: If they can just make a waterproof laptop and I can just work in the shower, that would be awesome.
John: Be nice and clean.
John: Clean things.
Craig: You know what’s so great is that all the people that sent in pages are like, “Get to my pages!”
John: We’re going to just keep stalling.
John: Let’s get on to our first question, which was submitted to you by a friend or colleague I think. And he said he was talking to executives and they had a question for us which is this: What mistakes do development execs constantly make with writers?
Craig: Yeah. There’s quite a few, I think. You want to start? I’ve got a litany.
John: I’ve got a litany, too. But I have actually kind of a list whereas you’re going to have to think of them.
Craig: True. Well why don’t you do your list and then I’ll fill in.
John: Yeah. That’s pretty much how this podcast works.
Craig: [laughs] Because I don’t really prepare.
John: Here’s the first mistake I’ve noticed: not giving immediate feedback and acknowledgement. So, when a writer turns in a script to you, sends you his script, you should immediately say, “Thank you. I got your script and I will read it in this period of time and get right back to you.” So that first email just to say, “It actually came in and I got it and I’m printing it out or I’m putting it on my Kindle,” is so crucial because for the writer we’ve been working on this for days, weeks, months. We just need to know that you actually have it, that the email went through.
Because I can’t tell you how many times that I’ve sent something through on like a Thursday and then on Friday I haven’t heard anything back and I’m like, “Do they actually have it for the weekend to read? Did they really get it? Do I need to call? Do I need to resend?” And I’m going through the weekend with this question. So, email back and say, “Great. I’m so excited. And I will get back to you on Monday.”
John: Then, when you say you’re going to get back on Monday, actually call back on Monday or email back on Monday. Or if you can’t get back with feedback on Monday, send an email that says, “I’m so sorry I can’t get back to you but I enjoyed it and I will get back to you with feedback really, really soon.”
Nothing is worse for a writer than uncertainty. We’d kind of rather hear that you didn’t like some things than to just be wondering, because we are our own worst enemies.
Craig: Yeah. It’s just simple courtesy. I mean, it’s not going to ruin anything if you act like a jerk, but if you don’t have to act like a jerk, why?
John: Yeah. Here’s a magnifying factor: If you have pushed, and pushed, and pushed, and pushed for the writer to turn in the script…don’t badger them for three weeks to turn in the script and then not get back to them for a week.
Craig: That is really annoying. And, again, this is sort of in the category of stuff that doesn’t ruin the development process because eventually they call you and then the development process begins. But I have…there’s one producer I will not mention in particular where they would do that check-in call constantly and then it would take sometimes three months for them to read the script.
Craig: Well, guys, leave me alone then.
Craig: By the way, I’m not one of those writers that blows through deadlines. I’m really good about it. I say this plane’s landing at 6:30pm, it lands at 6:30pm. Sometimes it lands at 6:25. I am really, really good. So it’s just annoying to me, frankly, to get those constant calls. And I know why they’re doing it because not all writers are good and they’re paranoid and freaked out and their boss is saying, “Don’t let people turn stuff in late,” and I get that. But then come on, [laughs] you know? I mean, at least hold up your end of the charade.
John: Yeah. There’s nothing wrong with a check-in call, particularly just so both sides are sort of synchronized in terms of when we think this is going to come in. There’s nothing wrong with a check-in call as long as it’s helpful and positive and doesn’t feel like I’m setting this big timer to go off.
John: But, come on, you can’t push a writer to turn something in and then not respond when they turn something in. It’s crazy.
Craig: It’s silly.
John: Then when you actually have the script and you’re ready to give feedback on the script, praise first. And I can’t tell you how often I’ll go into a meeting or go into something and they won’t tell me what they liked and what they loved. And like, yeah, I’m a grown up. I think I have a fairly thick skin as a writer, but come on, tell me what you liked first. Tell me what worked for you. Even if that’s just two minutes and then the next 90 minutes are going to be a lot of “this didn’t work,” give me some love first.
John: And then when you start to point out things that aren’t working, avoid speaking so broadly that I want to kill myself. Sometimes the first things out of your mouth will sound like you’re just talking about a completely different movie, like, “Well what if we did this, and this, and this, and this?” And in my head I’m just shutting down because I’m like, “You want to take this thing that I wrote which was set in the Middle Ages and move it to the future.” And I’m just like, and I’m all I’m doing is just seeing how much work that is going to be to do that and how everything I’ve done has been completely undone.
John: So even if that is sort of your agenda, why don’t you start on something smaller. Start on something that’s kind of achievable and move us to this bigger idea.
Craig: Or, look, sometimes you read a script and you think it’s all wrong.
Craig: And then, look, I’m a little less requiring of praise maybe than you are. I mean, I’m okay with it. I like it. It actually makes me a little uncomfortable sometimes, too many compliments, because I’m like, “Uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh. Get to the stuff we have to fix here.”
Craig: But it is annoying to me…when you talk about mistakes development executives make when they talk in a big sense about the things they don’t like without acknowledging it. Because sometimes I have had the experience with development executives where they’re saying, “Look, I think what we’d like to see out of this next draft is A, B, and C.” And they’re sort of saying casually, like, “You know, we’d love it if instead if he was a plumber, wouldn’t it be better if he were an electrician?” Except that they’re saying it like that, except what they’re saying is, “We think instead of a comedy it should be a drama.”
And you’re like, wait, don’t marry huge notes with casual tone. Go ahead and acknowledge it. Just say, “Listen, the truth is we actually think this script is far afield of where we want to be.” Just set the tone so at least then when we have the discussion I’m not deciphering that while you talk. I’m not on my own thinking, “Oh wait a second, um, they hate everything.” But I have to say that myself, in my head, putting it together from what they’re saying casually like, “La di da, di da.”
Don’t do that. If you really hate everything or if you — well, not hate. I mean, if you really think the script is just not where it should be story wise or character wise or tone, just be honest about it so at least you can contextualize what’s about to come next.
John: I would also stress that if this is something that you you’ve worked and developed with the writer and you think you’re so far afield, you’re going to have to at least take some of the blame for it being so far afield. If you come back and say, “Oh, I think you completely missed the mark, blah, blah, blah,” and this writer was actually doing what you guys agreed he was going to do, then you’re going to have to acknowledge that, “Okay, I think we took a wrong turn here.” And include yourself in that decision process.
Craig: Great point. Yes. That is very annoying when development executives divorce themselves from the very things that they input into the process, or that they ask for, or that they agreed to.
You know, I always make sure that we’re all on the same page before I start writing. I like to write outlines and I like to share the outlines with everybody specifically to avoid this. And it is very annoying. And look, to the development executives listening, here’s the upshot: you’re in control anyway. You want to fire us, you fire us; hire us, you hire us. Whatever.
The only thing that really I’m saying to you is I guess the most important step for you for your job is: you want us to do well right? Because you want the script to be good; that reflects well on you. That’s your gig. If you want the script to be good then you do have to acknowledge the partnership because if you don’t we start to hate you.
And it’s fair for us to start to hate you because you’re being a jerk about it. You know, if I come in and I turn a script in and people are like, “Well, you tried this thing here, and we don’t like it.” Okay, you’re right. But, if you ask me to do something and I do it and you’re like, “Why is this here?” Oh my god, now I hate you so much. [laughs] Because I didn’t want to do it in the first place, probably. I might have even warned you.
John: Next point I will get to is: criticize the work and don’t criticize the writer. And only twice I think in my career have I gotten the note back saying like, “We think you rushed through this,” or, “We think you did a bad job,” and basically said, like, “We thought you were unprofessional in this.”
Craig: Oh, wow.
John: And when I hear that, I can never work with this person again. And there is a development executive who is quite well respected throughout the industry, but somehow for some reason she said that. And because of that I never want to work with her again, because I think it was very inaccurate but it was also: who are you to say what my process was or what this is?
If you’re unhappy with the script, say you’re not happy with the script. But don’t say that I didn’t do my job.
John: Don’t say that, like, I shouldn’t get paid. That’s a pretty crazy thing to go to.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, ultimately it’s not the development person’s job to make that call anyway. If somebody really blows it they blow it. But you’re right. I guess my point would be this to the development executive saying things like that: It might make you feel good and you might believe that that’s true, and it might even be true in some cases, but it’s not going to actually get things to be better. So just… — Just like I tell screenwriters, getting notes is hard, and it’s emotional. Keep your eye on the job.
I would say the same thing to you guys who are development executives. Getting scripts back that you don’t like is emotional and painful. Keep your eye on the job.
John: Next thing I’ll point to is credit where the notes are coming from. So, if you as a development executive have this opinion, but you don’t even know what the next level up’s opinion is going to be, or there is just some disagreement there, use your best judgment about how you’re going to share that information.
So I think it’s perfectly fine for a development executive to say, “Listen. I get what you’re going for here, and I really do like this. Here’s the reason why my boss doesn’t like this and that’s going to be a problem. So let’s together figure out how we’re going to get this to a stage where he’s going to respond positively to this thing.”
I will always take uncomfortable honesty over sort of a mystery.
Craig: Yeah. It’s hard sometimes for them to do that I think though. Because look, ultimately who’s signing their check?
John: But the thing is we can always tell when somebody’s giving us a note that they themselves don’t believe at all.
Craig: Yeah, we can.
John: Because we’re going to be able to say…like, we will ask you three questions and you won’t be able to answer in a meaningful way. The illogic of what you’re saying will come through. And so as you’re giving notes, please before you sit down in the notes session with a writer, look through what your notes are and make sure they’re actually internally consistent, because it’s so tough to be the writer sitting on the couch giving these notes, recognizing these two things are at cross-purposes. And I’m going to point this out in the room and make everyone feel foolish, or I’m going to have to make the awkward call two days later for “classification” to point out you can’t do both of these two things you’re saying.
You can’t say, like, “We want the first act to be much funnier but we really want to feel the drama…” A lot of times you will get those things that are cross-purposes and it’s just not possible to implement them all.
Craig: Yeah, and you know, sometimes with those things I just sort of go, “Okay…” and I ignore one of them, you know? Because I feel like half the time really they’re struggling to figure out how to fix something and in the end it’s on our shoulders. Which leads me to one of my sort of pet peeves with development executives, and that’s when they try and fix it for you.
I do not want any development executive telling me how to fix it.
Craig: I want them to tell me what’s wrong. They are an audience. That’s the best version of…they are an audience proxy. And they should be, hopefully, very good at explaining why it’s wrong and a general direction of what they would prefer to see.
But I don’t want them telling me what to write because in the end they’re doing themselves a disservice. If they could write it, they should go ahead and write it. But they can’t. And that requires a little bit of humility, frankly, on the part of the development executive to say, “Look. I don’t like this way. We think a better way would be something like this. Please write something like that or do you have a better idea? Let us help you fix the problem.”
Craig: When you dictate to us it makes me insane because all you’re really doing is wasting your money and your time. No writer — no writer — can write something they don’t believe in well. So don’t make us do it.
John: To summarize that: Tell us what’s not working for you and why. But do not try to provide the “hows.” Don’t try to provide the “whens” and the “wheres.” Don’t tell us what the solution is. Tell us what’s not working for you. Because if you tell us the problem then we can ask questions that could help root out what’s really the problem.
Because very often the thing that’s happening in the second act or like, “I don’t feel like I’m connected to this character,” the problem isn’t right there. The problem was something earlier and we’re going to have to do some detective work to figure out why you’re not getting this thing that we think is so obvious to you.
John: I want to get to sort of specific pet peeves, because this is a thing that came out a lot in the Charlie’s Angels movies is that sometimes you’ll get a note and it’s like, “Why am I getting this note?” And if it’s just because it’s your personal pet peeve, or someone’s personal pet peeve, that’s okay to label it as that.
So Nancy Juvonen — who I love — who is a producer on the Charlie’s Angels movies, there was this scene in one of the, I think it was the first movie, where the girls are eating and it was important for the girls to be eating because we wanted to show that girls — that the Angels actually did eat. And ketchup drips on this one file and we wipe it off. And I think I had it in there because it helped, “drops on a photo,” and it was just an easy way for me to show the villain’s face. Just a way to sort of connect who it is that we’re talking about.
And she was sort of talking through, like, “Oh, do we really need to do that?” And I’m like, “Nancy, what’s the problem?” She was like, “I hate that moment where characters are messy and stuff spills on things.” She hates the Carl’s Jr. aspect of that.
Craig: Yeah, that’s just…
John: Well I said, “That’s fine.” I mean, she’s the producer of the movie. She gets one or two of those where it’s just like, she doesn’t like that, I’ll find another way to do it. And so rather than doing the big long dance over what it is and sort of how it all… — It’s like, you don’t like it. That’s okay. Especially if you’re the director. The director is always allowed to say, “I don’t like that. I don’t get it.”
Craig: The director is allowed to say it. That’s exactly what I was going to say. I don’t care if a producer has some weird hang up about the color blue, or people being messy, or singing, or anything. I don’t care. The director is going to make the movie.
So my point is if you have some weird fetish, you should do what we do which is shove it aside because you’re a big boy or a big girl, and you’re making a movie. You’re not exercising your own OCD. And it’s just not cool.
If the director doesn’t like it, they get a pass on it because they have to shoot it just like we get a pass when we have to write things. You can’t tell me that I have to write a certain way because I can’t. There’s some ways I just can’t write. I don’t like certain kinds of writing and I can’t do it, so I won’t. Hire somebody else to do that. But producers and development executives don’t get that pass. Sorry.
John: Yeah. I would agree on development executives. A producer, especially on something like Charlie’s Angels which was such a delicate balance of personalities and everything else, I felt like she totally got that right to do that one thing. If that’s the one thing she’s standing up for, awesome.
Craig: I guess. Give her the one.
John: Every movie’s going to be a little bit different. And there are movies that are really made by the producers and sort of aren’t made by the directors. And as a writer you recognize when those situations are happening and you…
Craig: Well, that’s true. That’s true. I mean, if you’re doing a Jerry Bruckheimer movie and Jerry has a real bug up his butt about a thing, Jerry is kind of a director of a lot of those movies in a weird way. But my sort of corollary for that for comedy is when a producer or development executive says, “I don’t think this line is very funny.” Well, are you funny?
Craig: Because so many people that I meet in Hollywood actually are funny. They’re not funny in the sense of “I can write a funny script” or “I can write a great line here” or “come up with a great idea or situation,” but they’re just generally funny people. They laugh at things that I find funny; they don’t laugh at things I don’t find funny. And they have an innate sense of rhythm, which is what comedy is all about.
But then I meet a lot of people who don’t, you know. And when those people start telling me what is and isn’t funny, and I think to myself: “You? You’re as funny as a toothache.” Well here’s the deal: No. Absolutely not. If I say, “You know what? It’s a marginal line,” or, “Oh, yeah, you’re right,” that’s my judgment. But if I say, “Nope, I believe in this.” And then the director says, “I believe in this.” Back off.
Because, listen, nobody bats 1.000 when it comes to comedy, but I cannot — you know, Bob Weinstein comes to mind — I can’t tell you how many times he and I would fight over something that would absolutely kill in the theater, I mean, just lay people out. And I would turn to him and he would be so angry, [laughs] because he was wrong, you know. But I’m like, “But the point is you’re not funny. That’s not a shameful thing, it’s just you’re not funny. I’m sorry. What can I tell you?”
You know, know your strengths. And if you’re not a funny person and you’re dealing with a comedy script, stick to the stuff that you think you’re strong at. And then let the funny people deal with the funny stuff.
Television makes it a little bit easier because they split their comedy development from the drama development as two separate groups. Movies are just one big pile. And so you get a person who should never be working on a comedy working on a comedy and there you are.
Craig: One last thing I wanted to mention that is annoying is sometimes development people will zero in on… — Let me put it this way: We who write screenplays understand that there are some levers you push that have huge ripple effects, and others that have none at all. That’s the way screenplays are constructed. But a lot of development executives don’t understand that.
They will zero in and obsess over this little thing that we all understand is minutia, essentially, in the web of the screenplay. And they will just go over it, and over it, and over it. And all you can think in your head is, “What is this person talking about? This is something that I could just change in a minute. It’s something that could change in the day. It’s something that editorially could go away, or if it works or it doesn’t work.” Don’t get caught up on some little bugaboo that makes you nuts.
Craig: Especially if it’s not pushing on the concept, the main character, the theme, the essence of the narrative. Just don’t go crazy. Lodge your complaint and move on.
John: Yeah. I agree. Far too often the whole meeting ends up being about this one little thing, and like that’s not the important thing at all.
Craig: Yeah. And then you walk out of there going, “That?! We just talked for an hour about that? Did this person see anything else, you know? I’ve built this whole thing…”
And sometimes… Here’s the most amazing thing about development executives — sorry guys. In success sometimes these things are even more annoying. I write a screenplay and everybody goes, “Wow, great job. You know what? You nailed it. We’re green-lighting the movie. And this actor is in. And this director is on. And you did it. You built a whole world for us and we’re gonna throw money into it and make it come to life. But, now let’s talk for an hour about how annoyed we are about the fact that in this one scene this one person says this stupid thing.”
Craig: Really?! And the rest of it just sort of blew by in a blur and we’re just gonna talk for an hour about that? Cut it out. That’s what I say. Cut it out.
John: So, some advice for development executives.
John: So this is now a podcast for screenwriters and development executives.
Craig: Development executives. And things that are interesting to development executives.
John: Sure. And one thing that might be interesting to development executives is the first three pages of a screenplay, because very rarely will they read past it unless they’re really, really intrigued.
John: So we had invited listeners to send in the first three pages, really any three pages of their screenplay. The ones we’re looking at today are the first three pages for the three samples.
And we got a lot of people wrote in, send in their scripts. And weirdly, like, right away, like within 20 minutes of the podcast going up we had like seven people had written in with their things. So, thank you everyone who sent them in. We have a bunch. We probably have plenty, but if people are still going to send some in, okay, send them in. We may get to it in a future podcast episode.
And I thought we’d start with one by — I may pronounce his name wrong — Ajay Bhai.
Craig: Okay. That’s the one that begins with “Fade In.”
John: So this one we don’t know the name of it because there wasn’t a title page, which is fine, we don’t need to know the name. But I wrote a little summary so people don’t have to — we’re not going to read his whole thing aloud because that would be awful to read it aloud. But I’ll give you a summary of what his script is about.
So, we open with a 6’5″ guy and he wakes up handcuffed naked to a railing outside a New York apartment. We don’t learn his name. The movie then cuts to 40 hours earlier just establishing NYC. We see some kids playing basketball. Both the kids say that they’re “Kevin Hayes,” and so evidently Kevin Hayes is an important basketball player, or like, a superstar.
We have a montage of short scenes with everyone talking about Kevin Hayes and a big game coming up. The last scene in this montage on page three is longer and it is set in an office, and there are two characters named Vijay and Ian. They’re talking about Kevin Hayes but they’re also talking about work. And that’s how much we get in the first three pages.
John: Craig, how did these three pages work for you?
Craig: Not well. Not well.
John: Yeah, not well for me either.
Craig: Yeah, I’ll just sort of run through my issues. I thought the opening was nice. I mean, it was very visual, and it was a little bit of a mystery. So there’s a man. He’s handcuffed outside. I was a little confused because I’m not quite sure how you can be handcuffed outside in New York and not have anybody notice, so that was a little odd. And perhaps I was a little confused. But, it says, it looks like he’s on the concrete outside a NYC apartment. So right away I was a little annoyed.
And by the way, if sometimes you’re doing things like putting people handcuffed outside the middle of New York, okay, but then explain it for me so I don’t stop and go, “What?”
John: Yeah. I’m sure there’s a way geographically that could work where he’s sort of hidden behind trash cans or something so people aren’t wandering by seeing him. But otherwise I’m thinking, “Why isn’t someone seeing him?”
Craig: It says he’s lying under a pile of garbage. But if he’s lying under a pile of garbage, his face is still exposed. We know his face is exposed. Generally speaking it’s very hard to be handcuffed outside with your face exposed in New York and not have somebody notice. Just an aside.
John: That’s a personal experience — the times that you woken up naked handcuffed in New York, everyone seeing you.
Craig: Yeah. They wake me up. I don’t just happen to wake up. 40 hours earlier is nice. You probably want to put a title on that so we know it’s 40 hours earlier and not just people reading the script. And then here’s the problem: The next page and a half is what I just call fake dialogue. The purpose of the next page and a half is to tell us, the audience, that Kevin Hayes, who I presume is the man that’s handcuffed, is super duper popular in New York.
The problem is, it belabors it. There are kids who are practicing and talking about being Kevin Hayes and arguing about being Kevin Hayes, which is a little annoying. Then we see the only shot you need which is Madison Square Garden and all these people walking around with Hayes. Then we go to a pizzeria where this guy is saying, “Limited time Kevin Hayes specials. Knicks win tomorrow get a free championship slice all week long.”
John: Impossible. No one has ever said that in the history of time.
Craig: No one has ever — no one talks like that. Certainly no one in New York talks like that. There are no such specials that exist in New York where literally using the bathroom costs you money. [laughs] Also just as a general thing: very popular athletes are not referred to by their first and last name over and over by everybody. Usually it’s just the last name. If you’re a Jordan fan, you’re a “Jordan fan.” If you’re a Pujols fan, you’re a “Pujols fan.” Everybody doesn’t keep repeating the name, first and last, over and over and over.
We get to, I thought Middle Eastern men cooking up falafels and then occasionally if they dropped Kevin and just said, “Hayes,” that might be nice.
John: Yeah. That would be nice.
Craig: Yeah, so okay, I get it. Everybody gets it. Even people that aren’t American or have just recently immigrated. Then we have an old lady — ugh, this just gets so broad — an old lady asks for two balls of yarn, one orange, one blue. Clerk says, “Another sweater for your grandson?” So I don’t know where we are. Now we’re in middle America and not New York. And she says, “My own Kevin Hayes jersey. They’re sold out everywhere.”
“She holds the balls in her hand, as if they were a balls of golden treasure.” So first of all, typos. Second of all, no — they’re just yarn. I mean, again, people have to be normal. And also she’s not going to knit herself her own Kevin Hayes jersey. And, no, they’re not sold out everywhere. There is not a single sports jersey that has ever been sold out. Ever.
Craig: And then this final scene where I presume we’re meeting our two main characters, Vijay and Ian, who work in an office. And there is a lot of very juvenile play acting pretending to be Kevin Hayes, which again, adults or even twenty-somethings simply don’t do. It’s the kind of thing you see the kids on Suite Life on Deck doing. But you don’t see young people, twenty-somethings or thirty-somethings in an office ever doing.
And, once again, every single person who mentions Kevin Hayes must say Kevin Hayes. [laughs] So, I didn’t like it.
John: I have a few additional points to yours.
I thought the opening was interesting. It was visual. And the way he’s revealing like you’re not quite sure what the situation is or what the tone is going to be. But like we leave the scene without any idea of what the tone is. And so like, well, what kind of movie are we in? There’s no dialogue being done in that. And so if this is a comedy, then that guy who presumably is Kevin Hayes needs to say something. Or he needs to respond to his situation somehow other than just like panic.
Because I don’t know what panic — is it a funny panic? It is an “Oh no, they’ve captured my wife” panic? I don’t know what kind of movie this is.
Craig: That’s a great point. Yeah. It felt almost like it started like Saw.
John: I agree with you on if you’re going to cut to an earlier time you have to show us that it’s an earlier time. You can’t just tell the reader that; it has to be shown to the audience.
I got really confused by the kids playing basketball. I had to reread it a couple of times because I thought, like, “Are they saying that their name is Kevin Hayes? Oh, no, they’re pretending that they’re Kevin Hayes but there was no setup for who that was.” If that scene came later in the montage I might get it a little better.
I also — some characters were named and some characters weren’t named. So, the old woman is Vespasian. Is she a character we’re going to see again? If she’s not a character we’re going to see again, don’t give her a name. Because every time I see a character with a name I assume it’s a person we’re going to see.
And then we finally get to the office, which like you, I guess that those characters are important people that we’re actually going to follow in the course of the story. But this is something that we talked about in the last podcast. It’s just “INT. OFFICE.” That tells me nothing. I have no idea what kind of workplace this is. And so if it’s meant to be a generic office, then just say “Generic Office” and give us, like, “The most pedestrian, ordinary cubicle farm you’ve ever seen.” Give us some sort of color so we know what kind of place this is, because “Office” doesn’t mean anything.
Craig: You would probably want to also do an exterior so that we understand are they working at a large corporate building, are they working in a loft, are they working in a small place, are they working in Brooklyn, are they Manhattan? Something so we know what’s going on.
But that’s a great point on tone. Because honestly the beginning I thought, “Oh, this is like Saw,” you know, a guy chained to a thing.
John: And, again, the writer doesn’t need to direct from the page, but give us sense of what’s important and what’s the montage. And so even if you put the “Cut To” in after his waking up and probably giving some sort of reaction line, “Cut To,” okay, now we’re going through a couple of short scenes. And then give us another “Cut To” before we get to the office. That will at least give us a sense of what the flow of this movie is and where we should put our relative weight of attention.
Craig: Mm-hmm. And know you’re world because when you’re writing a movie about a very specific thing that isn’t maybe something people are familiar with, like the way Special Forces teams move through the jungle, you’re allowed to kind of build your own world. Everybody knows how sports figures are discussed. Everybody. And I don’t care who you are.
John: Even I know that, and I can’t stand sports.
Craig: You know that. Exactly. LeBron James, probably the best player in the NBA. Now people will tweet back at me, but LeBron James gets ripped to shreds every day on ESPN by Stephen Smith and Skip Bayless and ding-a-lings like that.
Nobody, nobody is talked about the way this guy is. And it just seems so unreal that I’m already out. I’m out on page 3. The buy-in isn’t there.
John: By the way, if you’re going to talk about a sports figure, why haven’t we seen a TV talking about that? I mean, it feels like that’s the natural sort of cut, part of that montage to set up who this guy is. And I guess they’re trying to avoid showing you his face so you will be surprised that that was the guy who woke up buck naked. But it’s not a surprise.
Craig: Yeah. It’s not going to work.
John: Because you know what? We’ve seen movies before.
Craig: Exactly. We know it’s that guy. He’s six foot tall.
John: I don’t want to be completely negative. First off, Ajay, thank you for sending in the script. And I assume based on these first three pages that it’s some sort of sports comedy and that it’s going to be telling the story of that guy’s night and maybe it’s a Hangover kind of situation. It’s a promising enough idea, a major professional athlete going through some sort of spiral. I just think the scene work in setting up those first three pages can be a lot stronger.
Craig: Yeah. The tone of this comes off too juvenile for what the subject matter is.
John: Yeah. Even though like the Hangover movies, they’re kind of juvenile. I don’t mean to offend you at all. But they’re smarter and more specific than this.
Craig: I don’t think they’re juvenile. What I mean by juvenile is targeted towards an audience. In the Hangover movies, people behave, characters behave in juvenile ways, but the tone of the movie and the things that happen are pitched to people who are in their 20s, 30s, 40s.
Craig: And this movie feels like it’s pitched towards 10-year-olds, but it’s not supposed to be, I can tell.
John: Yeah. So pitch higher. If you’re going to have somebody waking up naked, it should feel like a grown up movie.
John: Let’s go on to the next script. This one actually has a name. It’s called Exposure. And it’s by J. Nicholas Smith.
Craig: No, no. It’s called “Exposusre.” Did you notice this? How do you have a typo of your title?
John: Where is that? On the first page?
Craig: On the front page. On the cover page. Do you see that?
John: Oh wow. I didn’t. Yeah.
Craig: I mean, look, I’m not a typo Nazi. But for the love of god, if you can’t get your title page right it shows a lack of regard for the reader that is astonishing to me. Just astonishing. Please, I mean look, I saw typos on all these things. Please, at the very least, spell your name right and spell your title right.
John: That’s the minimum we could ask.
John: I would say though, despite that typo which I completely ignored on the first page, I kind of quite enjoyed this. I’ll give a summary for readers so they can know what we’re talking about.
So the scene starts with blood on the snow. We crane up and we find a 17-year-old girl named Molly. She’s half-naked in a tree. She’s bleeding out. And she’s using the flash on her camera. It’s not clear if she’s trying to attract attention to herself or take photos, but we just see the flashing.
The next scene is one month earlier. There’s a super that tells us that, so thank you for giving us the super. We see Molly spying on her neighbor, Warren, and she’s using her same camera and she’s smoking a joint. They establish a bit about her neighborhood and her dog. The last scene of the three pages is Warren, the guys she’s spying on, a guy named John, and Molly’s father, Sam. They’re sitting by a fire, drinking beers, and smoking.
So, things to note: There’s no dialogue in these first three pages. It’s one of those just done visually sequences. I thought actually fairly nicely done. I enjoyed reading through every bit of it. J. Nicholas Smith does a good job of keeping scene description tight and short and like no line of action is more than three lines which is very helpful, because readers tend to skip anything that’s more than three lines. And if you see a paragraph you’re like, “Yeah, maybe I won’t read that paragraph,” but it’s two or three lines, “Yeah, sure, we’ll read that.”
John: There was good specificity. I like that. But some stuff got so specific that it was a little bit annoying. There’s a sequence on page two where she’s dealing with this red scarf and its red is way too important. It was a bit giant like underscore when she’s touching her red scarf.
But I like that he’s setting up a world, and I’d keep reading it. If I read to page three I would have read to page four.
Craig: I agree. I think the good news is that J. Nicholas Smith can write. So I like the way — I think there was good craft here. Certainly it’s not an easy thing to write the first three pages without dialogue. You’re forcing yourself to tell the story visually and I thought he did a pretty good job.
My issues: I was a little confused on the first page about where she was versus the camera and whether she was triggering the camera or whether the camera was on some sort of auto flash thing. I think part of it was that the Canon is nestled in the crook of a thick maple branch. “Its body, marked with bloody handprints…” And so just the word “Body” kind of through me off even though when you read it — it’s just one of those things where you have to read it twice which you don’t want.
John: No. You never want to read something twice.
Craig: Right. And then she’s bleeding out and the camera flashes, and that’s really good. I like that a lot. So the first page was exciting and had a tone. And what was nice is the second page maintained that tone even though, once again, we get a nice super of one month ago. And we see also that she’s on the roof, which I love. And I liked the way that it started with the leaves in the gutter, and then you find the legs, and you realize this girl is on the roof. I know so much about her already.
And I love the specificity of where she puts the joint and how she puts it away. And now I get she’s a voyeur. She sees this guy. And then, good lessons for screenwriters, this guy Warren Shaw, so our writer makes a choice here to demonstrate this character’s sensibility through a simple thing — not being able to leave the mailbox flag alone until it’s straight up and down. So it’s all these nice little things.
I kind of had the same issue that you had in the bedroom. I got a little confused about what was going on with the dog. I assume the red scarf is important, that’s why it’s in — that later on this red scarf will be a big deal. But the dog stuff got me a little confused. I wasn’t quite sure what was going on, why she was checking the time and rolling around.
It’s a fine line between keeping me interested by building a mystery and then confusing me. And that’s where it started to tip into confusing. The only last thing I would say was I was kind of thrown off by these Djarum Black Clove cigarettes, because John Hastings, who’s the character that pulls them out, pulls up in a truck with a six-pack of Bud Light, grubby jeans, and a sweatshirt flecked with paint, which to me — so his character introduction says blue color guy, but he’s pulling out the most effete cigarettes possible.
John: It feels like hipster cigarettes.
Craig: Right. Now, by the way, that may be a point. That may be something that’s interesting about him. But then I think the author needs to acknowledge that to me so that I don’t feel like, “What?” So if he says, “John improbably pulls out a pack of Djarum Black Clove cigarettes, the last thing you’d imagine him smoking.”
And then, finally, this is a big thing that I’ve been talking about a little bit on DoneDealPro. “Sam Gray, 48, wants to be a better father to Molly but doesn’t know how.” Don’t do that.
Craig: Please let me discover that Sam Gray wants to be a better father to Molly but doesn’t know how. Don’t tell me in this. You’re cheating.
John: Yeah. It’s cheating. So, it’s okay to give us something that’s not quite filmable, but don’t give us something that’s unfilmable that’s also about another character who’s not in the scene. Like, you can give us an action for him to play, but you can’t just talk about how he fits into the world.
John: If you wanted to give us something that says, like, “he’s a man that’s been kicked around his whole life,” or something like that is to me fine. But don’t establish important things about your entire relationship in your movie on one line of scene description.
Craig: Yeah. Don’t sum up what is obviously going to be an important central relationship in the screenplay with a line of action that the audience will never have access to, in no small part because by doing that you let yourself off the hook of having to do the work later through the scene work itself. And if you’re going to do the work through the scene work then it really isn’t important there. In fact, you’re just ruining the fun of us discovering that relationship. And if you’re not doing it, well then you’re blowing it. So either way it doesn’t work.
John: One thing I’m nervous about in this script is what the first line of dialogue is going to be, because you have two choices. Is the dialogue going to be really important because it’s the first thing that some character says? Or, maybe the better choice is that it’s something that is sort of thrown away and we don’t make a big deal of the fact that no one has spoken for three minutes.
Craig: That’s a really good point. I find that when you go two or three pages without dialogue because you’re being impressionistic or very visual, it’s a nice thing to ease the audience into dialogue. It’s a very jarring thing to go from this sort of silent, poetic way of revealing story to somebody blabbing. A one-word response might be a nice thing. You know? [laughs] Just something to slowly ease us back into the world of talking. Good point.
John: Or it could be the character of Molly might walk in on a conversation that’s already happening in the background and she actually gets something from the refrigerator, or just ease us into that world because otherwise it’s going to be too much of a big deal.
John: Too big of a spotlight.
Let’s go to our third and final one for this week. This is a script by Bryan DeGuire. Three pages by Bryan DeGuire, called Wasteland Vacation. And I did not look at the title of the script when I first read the pages and it would have been very helpful because it would have helped set the right expectation. But let me give you a summary of what happens in these three pages.
So we start in a post-apocalyptic Hellscape. We meet Dr. Robert Fleming, who’s a scientist, and Jeremiah, who’s 27. We don’t know much more about Jeremiah. Jeremiah drives off in a 2012 minivan. So this post-apocalyptic thing is sometimes way in the future. I think we are have a super that says 2068.
John: And so then Jeremiah drives off in this 2012 minivan and he honks the horn three times and travels back through time to present day suburbia which is very banal, but he thinks it’s beautiful.
John: And then we meet, the movie cuts to introduce us to Bob, in his forties, and he’s a life insurance salesman. And the script tells us that he will be our hero. We see him at work and then we see him at home with his bickering kids, Lucy and Max.
Craig: So I’m glad you brought up the point on the first set of pages about the basketball player about aligning the tone. Because in comedy there’s a non-comedy plot against which the comedy plays. And in this case it appears from the way that the first page was written, and I enjoyed the first page until Dr. Fleming started talking — but we’ll get to that — but the first half of the first page was evocative and it was certainly not funny.
It was quite serious. It felt like Book of Eli or Mad Max or something like that. And I just want to tie that in. When Jeremiah arrives in our time, he does so as a joke. There’s a mom… — So the minivan goes racing across the desert and Back to the Future style disappears with a honking, which I did not like, and then emerges in our time. But before it emerges there is a mom saying, “What do we always do before we cross? We do we always do? Look both ways.” It’s all clear. They take a walk. And then, zoom, this minivan appears out of nowhere, almost missing them, which is now sort of a slapsticky introduction.
And my issue is, look, when you’re doing these comedies with big science fiction conceits, that stuff has to be grounded. Keep that stuff grounded. Don’t be goofy-funny with that. You can be goofy-funny, you know, have him zip off into the future and have him emerge into our present and look around, like, “Oh my god,” and it’s kind of awesome. Then when we go to Bob, that’s okay, that’s a new jump, because Bob’s a funny guy so we can now be funny with him. And we’ll know that when he runs into Jeremiah and that plot there’s something to play against that’s real. Because if everything is funny, nothing matters. You got to keep that stuff grounded.
John: Yeah. I didn’t like the start as much as you did. And partly because I didn’t know that it was supposed to be a comedy to start, that I was reading it as if it was — I was trying to read it as real, like it was a real Hellscape. And it felt sloppy to me. It didn’t feel like it was doing a particularly good job of setting up what this world was like. Because it’s not really giving us — it says, “Flying over a desert hellscape. Scorched earth and human skulls.” But I’m not really feeling what that world is like, and apparently it’s important, but I’m not really noticing or caring.
And then when we get to the doctor, and once it becomes clear that this is going to be a Back to the Future kind of minivan, then I just sort of checked out for awhile.
Craig: Yeah. I understand what you mean. I kind of just read the first half and, okay, I get it. At least I understood what was going on. Then I felt that when the minivan showed up in our time I felt the kind of torque of tone fight going on. I was not helped by Dr. Fleming’s dialogue. “There will be many distractions but you must stay focused on the mission. This is our only chance to stop the apocalypse.”
There’s no subtext whatsoever. This man literally says exactly what he thinks. And he says it to somebody that already knows the information. So, this is not good craft. There’s a way… — We will fill in all sorts of gaps. He’s older. This guy’s younger. This guy’s deferential to him. We get that Fleming’s the boss. We get that Jeremiah is doing this. He says, “It’s time,” which is movie code for something important and dangerous is going to happen. They load this minivan up and then I think it sort of, you know, “It all comes down to you. You cannot fail.” Something like that. We’ll just get it.
It’s like, okay, they’re in the middle of an apocalypse. He’s going back in time. We’ll put it together. But this kind of over-expository radio play stuff is never good.
John: Yeah. And we don’t anything about the relationship between them. All we know is that it’s like a boss and employee, but if Jeremiah is the more important character because we’re going to see him in the present day, we should really come to it from his perspective rather than from the doctor’s perspective.
Craig: I think that’s a fair point.
John: So if the first person we see in future time is Jeremiah, and he carries us to the doctor, that helps establish the weight between the two of them better.
Craig: I agree. That’s a great point.
John: My other issue is with Bob and his introduction at the end.
John: I like the idea that the arrival into present day, either it should not be funny, it shouldn’t go for the joke, or if it does go for the joke then I feel like then you cut to the pre-title sequence or you do something else to make a clear divider so that when we get to Bob, the first thing that Bob has right now, he’s selling insurance, and the guy he’s sort of selling insurance to is talking about his mistress. It’s fine, but I’d rather Bob who’s our lead and our hero, get the first laugh.
It would be much better if our hero was the guy who owned the first joke rather than the guy who has to react to the first joke.
Craig: That’s right. Yes. For sure. Look, Bob is going to be Steve Carell, probably.
John: Yeah. That’s what I read.
Craig: I see these a lot. If Steve Carell is in a comedy about saving the world from Armageddon, set up the Armageddon reel and then cut to the silly mundanity of Steve Carell’s life in juxtaposition. But it has to be juxtaposed.
And, yes, he has to be the funny one. Once again we have an “INT. OFFICE.”
John: Yes. A generic interior office.
Craig: Yeah, so that’s helpful. I don’t know where it is. I don’t know what kind of office. How big? I don’t even know whose office it is, because Bob Miller, who is an insurance salesman, is selling insurance to a corporate executive. Are we in the corporate executive’s office? Are we in Bob’s office? Why is the corporate executive in Bob’s office? Why is he in the corporate executive’s office? No idea where they are or what’s going on until he looks down at the insurance brochure on his desk.
But, you know, you have to think always about how where people sit and what they look like, and how they’re dressed, and where they are. Setting, from our last podcast, can tell us so much about our characters And for comedy can add so much.
You know, when you have two people talking about a brochure, I would love for something else in that scene to be going on to just give it a little bit of life.
John: So, again, you don’t know what Bryan has in store for this movie, although I can kind of guess, and I think it’s going to be that these two guys are going to have to come together and stop the apocalypse. I would suggest to Bryan that he might want to do what I think we were just implying there, is set up the apocalypse, set up there’s a plan that you must do, smash cut to — have some line that takes us to, “You must go to the glorious past,” and then we see Bob who’s in the present day which is not glorious at all.
John: So as an audience we’ll know that these three things are going to be related, and then we’re going to go to the future time and see the minivan or whatever mechanism it is that sends him back in time. That would probably be more rewarding for the moviegoer.
Craig: Yes. Without question. And it would be nice if when we see Bob we connect Bob to the activity that is ultimately going to lead to the Armageddon, if it’s some sort of petty thing like littering or whatever.
And then we see Bob return home. He’s in an upscale Kansas neighborhood. I don’t know how I know it’s Kansas. And if it’s important that it’s Kansas, show me it’s Kansas. If it’s more important that it’s just middle America, clue me into middle America but give me a sense of it. Just give me a sense of geography in one way or another.
“When he walks into his house his kids are fighting.” And this is just simple dialogue stuff. His daughter says, “I told you not to delete 30 Rock from the DVR.” Max, her brother says, “Just watch it on Hulu.” Lucy says, “It’s the principle.” Bob says, “Cool it guys. It’s not the end of the world.” Okay, so we get what that line’s about. But “I told you not to delete 30 Rock from the DVR” is not really a line that one child says to another.
Craig: They would be more like, “Idiot, watch it on Hulu!” You know what I mean?
Craig: We don’t need to know the details of their fight. She could just hit him and he could say, “Just watch it on Hulu. Who cares? It’s the principle. Don’t touch the remote.”
John: And it’s better if they’re actually beating the crap out of each other rather than just arguing.
Craig: Yeah. Give the scene; we don’t need details that we don’t need. It’s more fun, frankly, to get an evocation of life in that house than the specifics of the DVR fight.
John: If two kids are — like — wrestling and he has to come in and break them up, it’s like, “Whoa, what happened, what happened?” It’s like, “He deleted my show. Just watch it on Hulu.”
Craig: “Oh my god.” And then he just walks out.
John: Has a reaction.
Craig: And he literally walks out of the room and let’s them go back to fighting because he’s given up; he doesn’t care — let them beat each other up. But that sort of thing is about building a scene that informs us. And these — listen, it’s great that people send in the first three pages because the first three pages should be beautifully crafted. They should be just jam-packed with stuff. All sorts of really good stuff about the characters, the tone, the world that the characters live in.
I want to get things from their clothes, their environment, their setting. I want to know — even the pace. Even the pacing. Everything gets set in these first three pages so you can’t be flabby or loose with it
John: So I want to thank, I should highlight, but I also want to end on saying Ajay, and Bryan, and J. Nicholas Smith, thank you so much for sending in your three pages. And if we were harsh at any points it’s because we love you and because we’re so very thankful that you were willing to share your three pages of script.
Craig: Yeah. For sure. You know what? I have to say, guys, John and I have both written pages worse than those. Guarantee you.
Craig: And it’s part of the deal. And the fact that you’re willing to be brave enough to go and do it speaks well to your chances. And hopefully we didn’t make too many of the same mistakes that we were telling the development executives to not make. [laughs].
John: Do you have a Cool Thing this week? Because I have a Cool Thing.
Craig: I do have a Cool Thing this week, but you go ahead and do your Cool Thing first.
John: So my Cool Thing this week is a book I just read this week, it’s for the iPad, so it’s through the iBook store, and it’s Hooktheory. And it’s one of the new iPad books that has built-in stuff. So it has little video clips built-in and little quizzes built-in.
And so the idea of the book is to talk through music theory in terms of how pop music is built. And a part of me bristles at the thought of me because I always rip on screenwriting theory books, because I find those frustrating, but with music I’m giving it a pass because music theory, there is actual logic behind music. There’s a reason why certain chord progressions are easy and certain chord progressions are really tough to make work. And there are reasons why you find stuff in between.
And since I’ve been working on the musical, I’ll often look over at the music department and they’re figuring out how to move from this key to this key. And they have a grammar and a way of talking about it that’s actually useful in daily life.
So what Hooktheory does is take a look at pop songs, mostly things of the last 10 or 20 years, and they’ll give you these little short 15 second snippets that will break down what the chords are and then how the melody fits into those chords. And by chords they’re not talking C, F, G, but they’re talking relative chords. So they’re teaching you sort of how relative chords work which is 1 through 7, and how you can compare sort of — and the natural ways that you can move from one chord to the next chord, and why certain things fit together really easily and certain things are harder. And it’s very good and proscriptive is saying, like, “Well, you can’t ever do this.” It’s saying these are choices that make it easier. And this is why if you go to this cadence chord you’re going to find it much easier to start your next phrase.
So it’s very, very smart. A really good use of the iPad because it’s the kind of thing that would be almost impossible to talk about in a meaningful way with a normal conventionally printed book. If you didn’t have those little examples right in front of you that you could play back through and see, it really wouldn’t make a lot of sense.
So I read through this and I found myself very intellectual satisfied because it answered a lot of those questions that I’ve always had about how music works. And also frustrated because I felt like this is stuff that I should have been taught in high school. This isn’t Music 101 stuff, but like once I knew how to play an instrument, once I knew how to play piano past a certain point, someone should have taught me how this stuff works, because a lot of things just make much more sense now.
And I’ve ranted before on music education and everyone always accuses me of hating trombones, and that’s not the case at all, but I just felt like this would be a great resource for anybody who is curious about how music works and wants to sort of see the inner workings of harmony.
Craig: Yeah. It is absolutely different than screenwriting books. Screenplays are of not fixed length and wildly variable length whereas most pop music songs are between three and five minutes long. And most pop music songs have verse/verse/chorus, verse/bridge/chorus, out. I mean, there’s a real rigid structure to those things and it’s beautiful.
There are some wonderful videos on YouTube where some guy on keyboards, and I think in one case a band, was just going through a very common core progression. One example is the U2 song With or Without You. [hums melody] Okay, now those are all notes, but there’s chords there. [hums again] And it keeps coming back to that same, I think it’s the diatonic or the tonic. But the point is I think it’s a four-chord progression. And that four-chord progression is used by, in these videos you will see, 80, 90 really familiar songs in different ways.
Craig: It’s astonishing. I mean, you would never think that I’m Going Down by Bruce Springsteen is the same as With or Without You, is the same as Glycerine by Bush, is the same as Don’t Stop Believing. It’s pretty remarkable.
John: Yeah. Where I come out on this is that it’s not, the book isn’t trying to teach you “here’s how you write a pop song.” It’s basically saying, “These are the components.” And it’s like teaching “these are nouns, these are verbs, these are adjectives. There’s reasons why these fit together in a certain way. And it doesn’t mean you have to absolutely do them in these ways, but if you are trying to do them in different ways you are going to find some things are really natural and some things are really, really hard to do.” So it was a good introduction.
Now, I do want to stress it’s not a 101; it’s like a 201. Because if you were to approach this book and you couldn’t visualize a scale and know what are sharps and what are flats in different scales, it would be a hard book to sort of embrace. And there were times where I had to either go to the piano or pull up a little piano keyboard on the iPad to figure out what stuff was.
But, it also makes good use of sort of the quiz function of the iBooks, is that it will give you an example and you have to figure out what chords could actually fit in these blanks.
Craig: I like that. Yeah, put the link up to that. I’m gonna get that. That sounds great.
John: It’s good. And so it’s called Hooktheory and they also have a website that it’s based on and so if you don’t have an iPad go to Hooktheory.com. You can see sort of the way they built it out. And it’s very, very smart. It uses a little flash player that you can drag in notes and see sort of how things fit together.
Craig: Well interestingly enough my Cool Thing of the week is also music-oriented mostly. It is an app called Audio Essentials. And the internet has been sort of littered with these so-called sound enhancers for laptops.
Laptops have really tiny speakers, obviously, and the smaller that laptops get the smaller the speaker gets. Speaker science is actually pretty amazing, the way that they create speakers and the way that they can… — Because, you know, initially speakers were all about size. When we were kids in the ’70s and ’80s the bigger the speaker the better it was because the woofer was huge and the tweeter could be really big. And then you had a mid-range guy in between the tweeter and the woofer, so you’re EQ, the whole spectral band was represented beautifully, and separated, and gorgeous, and great. But, of course, you know, people don’t really listen to these massive cabinet speakers anymore so much as listen to through headphones and these tiny laptop speakers.
This company Audio Essentials put this app out that what they propose, what they allege, is that it would make your laptop speakers sound super, super better. So, I downloaded it. And, guess what? It makes everything sound super, super better.
John: That’s great.
Craig: I don’t know how their doing it just through software manipulation alone. All I can say is that there is a separation of the stereo feel that you don’t get. They’re probably doing some version of “exciting.” Exciting is basically where the human ear responds to certain frequencies — frankly, we are excited by certain frequencies more than others which is why literally cymbals are exiting to us, you know. And poor drummers start to experience deafness at certain frequencies because of the cymbals.
But they’re probably pulling out certain frequencies and exciting them. I’m not sure exactly how they’re getting that stereo spread the way that they are, but it really sounds great. And for, I don’t know, whatever it is, $30, I feel like it honestly transformed the sound that’s coming out of my laptop to something that I actually like listening to now.
John: That’s great. Just this last week I had people over that needed to play some songs off the laptop. And I ended up running it through separate Bluetooth speakers because it sounds so bad on a laptop. So this might have been a good solution.
Craig: Give it a shot. See what you think.
John: Cool. Well, Craig, thank you so much. And I would say, and I hope you agree, that it was actually really quite fun going through these three pages, so I would be inclined to do that again in the future.
Craig: Yeah. It was great. And I will say this: For those of you who listened to that and went, “Oh no, oh no,” I’ve been doing a very similar thing like this on DoneDealPro. I do it when I can. It’s occasional because we’re busy.
But I read three pages about a half a year ago or a year ago I would say, and I loved them. And I hooked that writer up. I asked him to send me the entire script. I read it. I thought it was really, really good. I gave him suggestions on what to do for a next draft. He finished that draft. I hooked him up with a manager, he has a manager now. And he has an actor attached to another script that he’s writing.
And he’s a screenwriter now. He’s actually getting paid.
Craig: So it’s not all just being smashed in your kneecaps.
John: [laughs] Yes.
Craig: But mostly it is. [laughs]
John: I hope we weren’t smashing in kneecaps. We were pointing out what worked and giving opportunities for improvement.
Craig: But I will say, honestly, please, please spell check and watch the typos. When I write I check. I really proofread. I just don’t like sending in things — it just feels unprofessional to me frankly.
John: Don’t do that.
Craig, thank you so much.
Craig: Thank you, John, that was great.
John: All right, have a fun time, and I will see you next week.
Craig: See you next week.