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. Craig, how are you?
Craig: I’m in pain.
John: Oh no, what’s happened?
Craig: I started doing P90X.
John: Oh no. That’s dangerous. That drug will kill you.
Craig: [laughs] It’s not something I could put in my little vaporizer pen, John. It’s a workout program and it’s… — I’m on day three. I’m in a lot of pain.
John: Yeah. So, I know friends who have done P90X. Essentially everyday you’re doing a workout that is sort of predetermined. And are following along with a video?
Craig: Yeah. You have DVDs and the incredibly super-annoying and incredibly fit trainer takes you through so many exercises. It’s a solid hour. You know you’re in trouble when the warm-up has you winded and sweaty. [laughs]
John: That’s not a good sign.
Craig: Yeah. But, you know, the first time I went through it, I’m like, okay, well, I kept up as best I could. And then I woke up the next day and everything hurt. And so then yesterday I was supposed to do day two. I got in about ten minutes, tweaked my groin, stopped. [laughs] Today, I’m going to do day three, which is not very groin-based, and I’m in even more pain.
So, this is going to be painful for a bit, but I’m going to stick with it.
John: I’m sorry to hear that. We could do a podcast about screenwriters exercising, because I do see a lot of screenwriters at the gym. Because I go to the gym at the hours that screenwriters and actors who are not currently on TV shows go to the gym, and so I see a lot of screenwriters. I see Dana Gould at the gym quite often. And so it’s nice to catch up with that.
Craig: You know, it’s actually a good idea. We should do a podcast just about general health for screenwriters because…
John: I was thinking that, too.
Craig: Yeah. As a group we are fat, and dying.
John: Mm-hmm. And you used to be heavier person, and you’re not a heavier person, which was a change since I’ve known you.
Craig: I like to use the word “fat.”
John: Okay. You were a fat person.
Craig: I was fat and now I’m not fat.
John: Which is a nice thing.
Craig: It is. It’s been awhile. It’s been a few years of being non-fat. I like it.
John: Yeah. I’ve never been fat but I’ve lost about 15 pounds over the last year and a half and it’s good.
Craig: Oh good. Yeah, it’s a good thing.
John: Let us get to our actual work of the podcast today. This week I thought we would talk about the WGA Screenwriters Survey, the results of which just came out this past week, and we would do Round 2 of the Three Page Challenge, which was that thing where we asked our listeners to write in with three pages of their script and we would possibly critique it. So, we did Round 1 which turned out pretty well, so we’re going to do Round 2.
John: First, some follow up. On the last podcast in my Cool Thing I talked about the Nexus 7, which is the Google Android device that’s roughly a small iPad. And I talked about it, but weirdly I didn’t talk about it for the actual reason I bought it which is to see whether it was actually any good for reading screenplays. So I thought I would do that in follow up right now.
It’s not bad. As a size it’s actually a pretty good size. It’s light enough that it’s easy to sort of hold onto. The screen is big enough that even though a PDF is sort of shrunk down it’s still fairly readable. So for that, I’d say it’s pretty good. Some of it is my unfamiliarity with the Android that I found it a little bit frustrating to get to PDFs on it.
My test for this was I went to my own site, johnaugust.com, and in the library I have scripts for — I have PDFs for a lot of the scripts I’ve written, like Go, and Big Fish, and other things. And so on the iPad you would tap on one of those and it would open up the PDF. And you can read it there or you can open it in iBooks or one of the other apps you have on your device.
On the Nexus 7, which may be true for all Android devices, you tap on it and nothing seems to happen. And it’s like, did I do something? Did I not do something? So I tapped on it again, and this little alert box came up saying, “You’re already downloading this. Do you want to download it again?”
John: So where I am downloading this too?
John: So it’s buried under many other layers of things, but you find there’s a little thing that looks like an application but it’s actually called Downloads. You open that up and, like, okay, there’s the Big Fish script I downloaded. You tap on it, it gives you two choices of things to open it up in, one of which is the Kindle app and one of which is the Easy PDF Reader, or like the Built-in PDF Reader something.
It’s okay. It’s fine. I thought I would try some of the other apps for it, the official Adobe app is better; it looks pretty good. The best one I found was like a $2 app. I’m the only person who ever paid for an app on Android apparently, but it’s a $2 app called Easy PDF that was actually pretty good and it had a nice-looking page flip. It was a little bit laggy, which is not ideal. But on the whole I found the size of it was actually pretty good.
And it made me think… — A couple podcasts ago I talked about there was a script that I was sent to read and they sent it to me on a locked iPad. And that was an expensive way to send a script. Obviously I messengered the iPad back. But these things are cheap enough that if you didn’t get them back you kind of maybe wouldn’t be out so much money.
So it might be an interesting way to send around scripts that you didn’t want anyone to copy because I feel like there’s probably a way to lock these things down very, very tight. Considering I couldn’t even figure out how to open something simple, I really wouldn’t have been able to figure out how to copy.
Craig: God, it’s amazing how they can’t get the little things right, isn’t it.
Craig: Well I have a little bit of follow up, too. A sharp-eared lexicographic, brilliant Twitter follower of mine pointed out that I missed use the word “bowdlerize,” which I guess means to sort of euphemistically refer to something that’s a little racy or naughty, when in fact the word I meant to use, or the word I ought to have used was “portmanteau.” And a portmanteau is when you combine two words into one, like cartridge and atomizer becoming cartomizer. So, sorry, it wasn’t bowdlerize, it was a portmanteau.
John: How very nice. It’s really interesting that a reader pointed out a word that you used incorrectly because I feel like I pretty much have nothing but gaffes on the show, some of which we edit out. In our very first podcast I used the word “dig-deeping” which will always live with us.
Craig: Yeah, that’s there forever.
John: Yeah, until we edit it out.
Craig: Mm-hmm. Yeah.
John: One more point of follow up, and this is not really…I can’t answer this but I wanted to sort of engage more speculation and discussion on it. We asked why aren’t there more female screenwriters, because in our first batch of the Three Page Challenge 12% of the submissions we got were from women which seemed really, really low. Because this wasn’t indicating that there was a systemic problem of hiring women writers, because these are mostly aspiring writers, so why weren’t more of these aspiring writers women? And that was the question I posited.
And so I’ve been talking to other writers, and especially women writers about that, and some people have written in. So here’s some feedback we got.
The first questions people asked: Well maybe podcast subscribers are disproportionately male? Craig?
Craig: Yeah. It doesn’t turn out that that’s the case. I mean, I did a little Google search, and not that much on the web for podcast demographics, but it looks like there was one decent study, pretty recent, 2012, that stated there is a slight male bias to podcast listening — I think they said it was 56% male, 44% women. Not enough to explain the 12% thing that we dealt with.
John: And so we don’t know what the demographics are of our podcast, and maybe they really are, maybe only 12% of our listeners really are women, which would help explain why we only got 12% of our submissions from women. But it doesn’t seem like podcasting overall is necessarily so male skewed.
Several female writers pointed out that although the female numbers in screenwriting are low, the female number in directors are incredibly low, just absurdly low. And that doesn’t actually help explain the female screenwriter thing, but it’s another point to consider.
Craig: Yeah. It’s not our point. That’s somebody else’s argument. That’s for the Directornotes podcast. I mean, I’m particularly curious about this one. Somebody else pointed out that the Nicholl Fellowship or the Nicholl Screenwriting Competition gets something like 20%, 25% rather, of submissions from women. The Writers Guild reports roughly something like 25% to 27% of working writers are women. So, there seems to be a general phenomenon of an imbalance that’s rooted in just interest. But we’re even below that.
John: And another listener took issue with the idea of interest. And so this is Faruk Ates, I’ve never actually said his name aloud, but he’s someone I’ve corresponded with before. He writes in to say, “What’s known so far from countless research on women in the workplace overall is that women or any other minority or demographic group are not innately ‘less interested’ in anything. The idea that women are less interested in screenwriting is really just an observation of the results, not a theory of the cause of this problem.”
Which I think is true. You can’t say, “Women are less interested in screenwriting.” That’s not actually addressing the issue. That’s just saying that they don’t want to be screenwriters. Well, then you have to ask, “Well why don’t they want to be screenwriters?”
Some of the speculation was that the kinds of movies that Hollywood is making tend to be sort of things aimed at teenage boys, and maybe that’s a reason why women aren’t aiming for a future in screenwriting because they see the kinds of movies that they would be writing are the kinds of movies for 13 year old boys. They’re seeing a lot Transformers movies and they don’t want to do that.
Craig: Yeah, I guess. I mean, that’s one theory. Another theory is that there are men writing The Notebook. And I’m not sure that that holds water.
John: I’m not sure it holds water either. So I’m saying, I don’t have any answers here. I’m basically throwing this out. I looked up on the Nicholl Fellowship website and their FAQ — they say that since the beginning of the competition, just over 30% of entries have been submitted by women. So, 30%, which his more than 25%, but it’s still low, it’s only 30%.
And another writer wrote anonymously to tell that at CAA he asked the question and his agent replied that they get 24% of submissions in terms of writers seeking representation come from women. So, again, that’s in that 20% to 30% range which we seem to be hearing a lot.
When I go to speak to screenwriting classes, my recollection of it is that it tends to be much more 50/50. But that may just be reflecting who they took into the program. Maybe they wanted a 50/50 split, so therefore they did that.
Craig: That’s right. Their admissions policies may skew to try and get to that 50/50. The only other basis of data I could draw on, and obviously it’s anecdotal, is when I go to a large conference like Austin for instance, there seems to be a lot of women there. I don’t notice any disparity. I look out in the audience, I don’t notice that the crowd is particularly male or particularly female. I certainly think I would notice something as skewed as a 70/30 or 75/25 split.
I mean, I understand what the commenters are saying to you. We’re not suggesting that our theory is correct. That’s the point, really; we we’re just making a guess because I’m not sure what else does explain it. I think sometimes people get very sensitive to the notion that a particular group might not be interested in something because it seemingly precludes bias or injustice.
And, I think, people sometimes go looking for bias and injustice. But there’s nothing wrong, frankly, with women on the whole being less interested in this. Nor does it delegitimize women who are. It’s just one of those things. There are a lot of things that women do that men simply aren’t interested and we don’t seem to have a problem with that.
John: The only exception I would take there is that the fact that there are, maybe 24% or 25% of screenwriters are women, does that maybe make it more challenging for a woman entering into the business? Because there are fewer women role models. There are fewer women writers to support each other in those things. Executives are working with fewer women so therefore their head isn’t already set up to think like, “Well we should hire a woman for this project.”
Craig: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, there could be a feedback loop where women perhaps have a sort of endemic lower interest level that leads to fewer women in the screenwriting workplace which leads to less supportive women or perhaps marginalization of women because minorities tend to be excluded. It’s just sort of a natural human impulse to kind of clump together and leave the ones that don’t fit in alone.
I guess, that’s possible.
John: Yeah. If you’re not seeing any examples of women screenwriters, maybe your head doesn’t go to the fact like, “I should be a screenwriter.” And that’s a possibility.
Craig: Yeah, that’s true. Because they don’t see… — I mean, the interesting thing is I’ve never, personally I’ve never been somebody that needs to see somebody like me doing a thing to think I could or should or might want to do that. But I know that other people do.
I can’t quite tell what’s going on. I don’t think it’s as simple as “Hollywood is sexist” and they’re essentially responsible for this 25% gap.
John: I think it’s more sophisticated than that, too. I agree.
John: And screenwriting was invented by women. I mean, screenwriting was originally a woman’s thing. And I don’t remember the name of the woman who typed up the first script, but if you look at a What Happens Next, a book I’ll link to in the show notes, the first screenwriters were women. It used to be that that was that job.
Craig: Yeah. And women don’t seem to be limited presence — don’t have any limited presence on book stands.
Craig: There are a ton of female novelists. I’ve never noticed a lack of them. It’s kind of a strange thing. There’s something about screenwriting that maybe just is not that interesting. I don’t know.
John: I have read articles though that talk about the lack of serious women — like if you actually look through all the reviews, the serious book reviews, women are hugely underrepresented in serous book reviews. So there may be some aspect of that, even in novel writing. Again, now I’m talking way outside of my experience and field.
What we can talk more about the Screenwriters Survey which was a survey done by the Writers Guild of active members asking them about recent projects they’ve worked on and then asking in pretty excruciating detail about the process and what things the writers encountered during that process.
And it was very much a survey of naming names and talking about who you submitted things to, what they asked for, and that. You and I both encouraged, on the podcast, we encourage our WGA member listeners to go and fill out the survey online. I participated in helping design the form, so I was really curious to see what the results of this were. And that got announced this last week.
Craig: Yeah. And it was pretty much what we were all expecting: Bad news. Pretty bad news. And you go through it — this is available, I think you can find it at the LA Times if you are not in the Writers Guild. It’s on the Writers Guild website if you’re a member.
John: We’ll find a link to it and put it in the show notes.
Craig: There you go. You know, so it was sort of the big headline. Screenwriters when they asked, “Would you say that the professional status of writers in the entertainment business has gotten much better, somewhat better, somewhat worse, much worse, or stayed about the same,” when you combined “somewhat worse” and “much worse” you end up — whether you’re asking about major studios or smaller studios, you end up with 72%.
John: Yeah. That’s a huge number.
Craig: That’s terrible.
John: And so what I thought was important about this survey is people’s first reaction is like, “Well duh,” because it’s confirming what people have always been talking about. But I think that’s really the point of the survey is that anecdotally we all talked about the fact that things seem to be worse for the writer. This was a way to put some real numbers to it, to say like is that just your experience or is that sort of everybody’s experience? And of the 541 responses, this was sort of the consensus experience.
The things that this was specifically asking about were:
Free rewrites, which is basically you’ve turned in your script and they ask you to do more work without paying you for another step.
Sweepstakes pitching, or bake-offs, which is where they bring in a bunch of writers and have them pitch their ideas on how to adapt a property and then pick the winner, or pick no winners.
Late payment, which is basically just not paying you for when they should be paying you.
Pre-writes, which is when you are asked to write up material before you are really commenced. And pre-writes could be some scene work, or it could be outlines, or it could be treatments or pitches. They’re asking you to do writing work without paying you for writing work.
And idea theft, which is an awful term, but that can sort of come into the discussion of pre-writes or also into these bake-offs where they’re basically asking for a bunch of writers to come in and share their ideas about how they would do stuff and then sort of cherry pick the best ideas and throw it into one project.
Craig: Yeah. And the numbers came back… — And by the way, I totally agree with you. It’s absolutely important — crucial — for us to do these kinds of things, because even if we all agree that our individual anecdotal understanding is correct and so if we all agree that our anecdotes are correct it must be correct, the studios will always say, “Show us some numbers; you’re just whining.”
We have to do this. We should do it again. I think the more we can show trends — it’s a very useful tool, so I’m very glad that the Guild did it. And like you, I helped them sort of phrase the questions and come up with the structure.
Just running down the numbers really quickly, free rewrites is basically at disaster level. You’re looking at nearly 90% at smaller studios, major studios 86%. That’s approaching universal. Sweepstakes pitching and bake-offs where you have to compete with god knows how many other writers to get a job, maybe. And maybe somebody gets them, maybe they don’t. Again, getting to near universal levels: Nearly 80% from major studios. At 80%, I think that’s right, yeah, for smaller studios.
John: And we should clarify: It doesn’t mean that 80% of studios were asking them to do that. It was that on 80% of the projects that writers were reporting about that had happened.
Craig: Yes. Basically, well, actually, not quite. What those numbers are saying is that the writer is saying this either frequently or occasionally happened to me this past year. So, writers are saying that either, I mean, in the case of free rewrites — 70% of writers said frequently at major studios they were asked for free work. Nearly 50% said frequently at major studios they were in bake-offs. Late payments — 40% of writers working for major studios said they were frequently paid late. Pre-writes — 37% at major studios said frequently required to do pre-writes. Another 28% said occasionally. So, we’re looking at 65% reporting pre-writes.
Then we get to this idea theft. That one I don’t get, but these other ones are huge problems.
John: Yeah. Another aspect of the report was looking at one-step deals. And one-step deals are a thing that is actually more quantifiable because they can look at contracts and say, “Did you have a one-step deal?”
A one-step deal means that the studio is hiring you to write a script. And they will pay you for one draft. And if they choose to have you do optional work after that point, those are optional, and they can pay you for another step, a rewrite, they can pay you for a polish, they can pay you for work down the road.
One-step deals have become increasingly common. They didn’t used to be common at all. The classic deal was always a draft and a step. So, you would write a draft, they would give you notes, you would do a rewrite. And that has seemingly disappeared and has become much less common. So this has some new statistics about that. And it’s fairly pervasive.
Craig: Well, you know, I was actually amazed that it wasn’t worse, because there are a number of studios that as a matter of policy only do one-step deals. What we got out of this was that at major studios 38% of screenwriters worked on projects with one step only. And 43% had two steps. Three or more steps guaranteed, 9%. I think those people just simple didn’t understand their contract because I’ve never heard of such a thing. I don’t know, have you ever gotten more than two guaranteed steps on a deal?
John: I don’t know that I have. There were definitely times where I’ve burned through five steps on a deal, but I really think those were optional steps.
Craig: Those were optional steps, exactly. I think people were confused. And then 4% said “don’t know,” which is always just dismaying to me that people are just so checked out they have no idea how many steps they were guaranteed. And at smaller studios the numbers were very similar.
John: My question though is that if people are confusing the three-step deal, they may have really been confused on the one-step deal as well, where they saw that they have a guaranteed draft and an optional rewrite, and they have may have said, “Oh, that’s not a one-step deal because there were two steps.”
I just worry that, you know, writers are not dumb people…
Craig: You’re right. I actually think that these numbers are too low. I think that the actual occurrence of one-step deals is higher than what we’re seeing here, and that’s something that we should — it’s a good idea. We should bring this up to the Guild and make sure that people actually check. And, frankly, the Guild should just be going their contracts and generating those statistics on their own rather than relying on reported numbers, because they do have the contracts for everything.
Yeah, but one-step deals are bad. We’ve talked about them before, why they’re bad. I think Billy Ray in his comments on this report did a fantastic job of summarizing why they’re bad. In short, the process of screenwriting is such that it does require more than one step to actually get the screenplay right. Writers who only have one step tend to write timidly because they’re nervous. Writers who only have one guaranteed step are far more susceptible to doing free work and essentially doing another step just to try and get it so that they don’t get fired, which is the point of the two steps.
And lastly, and most disconcertingly to me, and I think to the studios, writers who only have one guaranteed step are looking for their next job while they’re writing the script. It’s not a good practice.
John: Not healthy. Something that just occurred to me: Imagine if directors had the equivalent of a one-step deal. So, essentially, you’ll shoot your movie, you’ll show us a cut, and after that cut we will either give you notes or we will fire you and bring on somebody else to finish it.
Craig: Well, the truth is that is what they have. I mean, directors have — they get their contractual cut and then the studio, unless they have final cut — and very few do, and it’s sort of limited to the crème de la crème — they can be fired. In practice they rarely are because it’s very difficult to fire a director off of a movie just for procedural reasons and economic reasons. It’s not that they don’t want to; it’s that most other directors that they would want to be in there cutting are busy making movies.
Directing a movie takes a long time, right? It takes longer than it does to say write a draft of a screenplay. But I’m not sure there is an equivalent for directors other than maybe say, “You can shoot a week, and if we like what we see after that week we’ll keep you as a matter of course, but that’s the deal. We’re not really…”
Which, I guess, frankly, they could be fired at any point. It’s hard to analogize it. I mean, I think that what we do is specific. The fact of the matter is the industry isn’t stupid. It’s not like for 60 years the industry dumbly guaranteed two steps. They did it for a reason. And the fact that the industry has decided to migrate away from two to one suddenly, to save a buck theoretically, kind of flies in the face of the collective institutional wisdom of our business. And I think they should be thinking twice.
John: I agree.
So, let’s talk about what actually happens with the results of this screenwriters survey. Because one of the interesting things about this thing, because it was so specific and it was so asking questions about not just the studio but the individual people involved, is the WGA actually has a lot of data about which studios were particularly egregious, which people were particularly egregious, and has chosen not to share that information now at this point, but they can actually track year to year to see what’s changed, and are things consistent — are the studios and places that are consistently bad about these things?
And it will be interesting to see whether that information remains private or if there’s a reason to share that information at a certain point.
Craig: I think it’s a smart idea to keep it quiet for now. If I were running the Guild, and this is where a lot of people at the Writers Guild just clutched their hearts –
John: [laughs] Oh, they would not be happy.
Craig: They would not be happy. But I would agree with this. I think this is something where you go to a studio that has turned up with egregious numbers and you say, “We’re not going to publicize this, because we would like to seek a private resolution outside of the glare of the public eyes, where we’re not dealing with you having to mediate your own public shame and get defensive. We’re just saying, here’s the deal: you’ve got a year to make this better. If you don’t make it better in a year then we are going to go public.”
Craig: And I think that’s smart. It gives them a chance to quietly fix the problem. And if they fail then I think all bets are off. You have nothing to lose. You might as well hit them hard.
John: Yeah. We’ll see what happens.
John: Let’s get onto our Three Pages, because that’s going to be fun, and it’s actually a happy thing because these are all potential and there’s no guaranteed steps on these. There’s just three pages.
Craig: [laughs] That’s right. That’s about as happy it will get for the moment. There’s some good news among these pages, I think.
John: I think there is, too.
Craig: Which one would you like to start with?
John: Let’s start with Sarah Nerboso’s script.
Craig: Okay, and which one, I only have title pages. I only have a title page for Roundhouse Kicked to Hell.
John: Oh, so actually the PDF is labeled Sarah Nerboso.
Craig: Oh, well I printed it out. Is this the one with the comic book?
John: Comic books. You printed something out?
Craig: Yeah, yeah. Because when we’re recording the podcast I don’t want to like switch around on screen. It’s easier for me to just look while we’re recording. I find looking at the wave form on Garage Band is really comforting.
John: Oh, yeah, see I never look at that. I find that that’s actually my huge — my biggest source of distraction is looking at that and worrying about it, so I just don’t look at it.
Craig: Oh, I love it. It makes me feel like I’m actually talking.
So, this is the one that begins, “A desk covered with comic books,” correct?
John: That’s correct. So I wrote up a summary because I’m an organizer like that.
Craig: Do it.
John: So we start on a bunch of comic books about Awesome Girl, who’s the hero of these comic books, who is always with these different guys. So the titles are like Awesome Girl and the Sad Sack. Awesome Girl: The Gloom Wars. Awesome Girl: Girl of Dreams. Awesome Girl and the Shy Guy. And finally there’s Awesome Girl and the Brooder.
Then at an airport we meet the real life brooder, this guy, and Lia who is the real life Awesome Girl. And she is close to 30. He’s probably in his 20s. He is leaving on a flight. Lia teaches him a penguin dance, a silly penguin dance. He goes through security. The transition after that is a page turn, which feels very specific. We see her doing some sketching. And then as she’s leaving JFK she calls another guy named Laurence. And that’s as much as we get out of the first three pages.
Craig: Yeah. You know, it was cute. There’s some technical things to talk about right off the bat. The first half of the first page is all visuals of these comic books. And there’s quite bit of detail in the comic books, so I assume that it’s important to us, and it seems like there is interesting character information coming out of that. But it’s quite long. It may not seem long on the page, but if you were to actually sit in the movie theater and watch this camera slowly go across these comic books so that you could read the titles, it would be quite long.
So, in a case like that, if you feel that it is important, you might want to make the choice of saying UNDER CREDITS.
John: Absolutely. It felt like a title sequence to me.
Craig: Yeah. It felt like a title sequence. If you don’t say UNDER CREDITS, we are going to presume that you want the camera to linger over these things and have us watch them, and it will just be too long.
Craig: Without credits. It’s a funny thing: When credits are rolling we’re not paying attention to the credits, we’re paying attention to what’s underneath the credits, and yet we forgive that for being sort of long. [laughs] It’s just one of those things. So that was my first thought.
John: If you see the opening of the movie Hero with Dustin Hoffman, it’s an incredibly slow opening, and like why is this so slow? And it turns out that was originally supposed to… — They built a title sequence that went before it, but then the director had actually shot the things to have credits rolling over it and they didn’t change it. And so it just takes a long time for the movie to actually start because that was supposed to be credits going over it.
Craig: That’s exactly what we’re talking about. It’s funny how just the addition of words, names, somehow makes that all palatable. We understand that we’re supposed to be watching something that is meant to fill up time.
When we — so the idea of the scene between Lia and the Brooder is that Lia has apparently — well, I can tell you, because the Brooder just says it. He says, “Thank you.” She says, “For what?” And he says, “For everything. For the penguin dance,” that’s her cute little dance, “for the food fight in that stuffy restaurant. For the three times you pushed me in the fountain. For showing me how to really live, how to be free. It’s been amazing. You’ve been amazing.”
That’s not a particularly fun way to learn about all that sort of thing.
John: Yeah. I didn’t believe those words coming out of him. So if he was like reading something, or if this was like a speech kind of thing or a toast, I could believe it. But it didn’t feel like dialogue to me.
Craig: No. It’s not something people we would normally say naturally. Frankly, it’s something that somebody would interrupt. And it’s way too — well, when we say “on the nose,” this is what we mean; there’s not subtext to that whatsoever. It’s simply an expository expression of how his life has changed because of her. And then he leaves. And so part of the issue was is he — he doesn’t seem very broody anymore if he’s really saying essentially, “I used to be broody and now I’m not broody.” So, you might just as a technical point point out that, “the real life brooder, who no longer seems very broody,” just so we understand.
Because when I see “The real life Brooder holds the hands of the real life Awesome Girl,” I presume he’s broody, but he’s not anymore.
But, this is a bigger problem. I mean, the scene really is just a reportage of something that happened off camera before the movie started and that’s not very satisfying.
John: I think I liked the pages more than you did. To me, it felt like 500 Days of Summer. And Lia sort of felt like the manic pixie dream girl but sort of as the actual protagonist, where she was the center of the movie rather than the guy who fell in love with her.
I definitely wanted to read more. I really do agree with you about the first scene not really working. Some of the other specific problems I had with it — it has INT. AIRPORT, but later on we’re told that it’s JFK. If it’s JFK let it be JFK. And let us know where we are.
John: And I really wondered about, I thought that opening thing was opening titles. But to me that would probably be better off saved a little bit later on. You don’t have to start the movie with the opening titles. You might just start with a scene and then I could see that sequence becoming the title after he’s gotten on the plane or after something else has happened.
Because right now nothing kind of gets to happen in these first three pages because you’ve taken up half a page with just these illustrations.
Craig: Right. Right. I actually, I have to say, I agree with. Even the part you like, I like too. I like the concept of this woman who does these comic books and sort of presents herself as Awesome Girl, and I like what it’s setting up. I mean, there’s a promise here that this is: a woman who meets these guys who need rescuing or saving, and she rescues them and saves them and then they move on. And you can see the promise of sadness there, obviously. And, of course, the promise that she’s going to meet somebody that maybe can help her.
So that’s a lot packed in, and I like that that’s packed in. I just think that the scene between Lia and the Brooder is not a good scene because it’s a particularly uncreative way of getting this concept across. We’re going to get it probably more easily than the writer suspects we will get it. So I think some subtext there, smaller things. “Look at you, you’re smiling. You know, when I met you, you never smiled.”
You know what I mean? We can put pieces together. Let us put it together. We’ll get there. But it was a nice concept, at least, so I agree with you on that.
John: I’m curious to see if we took out the talking before the penguin dance, and she just teaches him the penguin dance and she makes him do it, and we didn’t really hear of any more of the talking there, it could even be stronger, so.
Craig: Yeah. I got the feeling that he had seen the penguin dance before.
Craig: But, yes, I agree.
John: One more. Our next script, let’s look at Austin Reynolds script which is the one that starts in a classroom.
Summary of this thing for people who are playing at home. — Oh, I should have prefaced this all by saying that links to these sets of three pages will be at johnaugust.com for this podcast, so if you want to look at the pages and read along with us, please read along with us.
This one starts in a classroom where a class is taking a quiz. And this is a high school, young high school, junior high. 13, so junior high-ish. The first question is “After reading Lord of the Flies, please explain in your own words the cause of Piggy’s death.”
We hear student’s voice over for the answers, and also the teacher’s voice over. When we get to Max Anders in the back row, he writes, “Piggy was a fat fuck.”
John: And see now this podcast won’t be clean because I had to say that. I was debating do I say the word or do I not say the word. But it won’t be clean this week.
Craig: It’s a great line. Love that.
John: He asks for the hall pass. Out in the hall he crosses paths with the principal who tells him to tuck in his shirt. Max later throws a trash can at the principal’s car, cracking the windshield. At the bottom of page 3 Max is in the back of a police car. He smiles at a pretty girl from his class.
John: How you doing over that, Craig?
Craig: I thought these pages were really good. I think this is a guy who knows how to write a screenplay. So, good craft here. There’s an interesting technique he’s using… — First of all, the introduction of Max I thought was sort of interesting. Everybody is working really hard on their scripts — on their scripts, on their essays — and then we get to this guy and he hasn’t even flipped it over. And he is, one would presume, just staring at her, and then finally goes down to the essay. “The teacher rolls her eyes and pulls out a magazine.” She’s obviously dealt with this kid many, many times before.
So we’re getting lots of information without talking, which I like. I thought it was interesting to hear what people were writing as they wrote. Maybe a little too much, a little too much dialogue there. You probably want to only do about three lines. Because if you’re in movie theater you’re not going to want to sit on each one of those people and listen to more than 10 seconds of them talking.
A little bit of a misstep here on the teacher. The teacher is reading her magazine and reading about Botox. There’s a typo here. And she’s reading about what Botox is. Everybody knows what Botox is. And, also, that just seemed like a clunky joke that was off tone.
But, interestingly, Max writes one little thing, heads for the door. I like that we don’t see what he wrote yet. This is good screenwriting. He writes something, then he asks to go to the bathroom. He’s a bit sassy about it. He leaves. Then we see what he wrote which is a laugh guaranteed.
Really good scene with the principal. I really liked the way that worked. Here’s this kid who’s obviously not in the bathroom now; he’s just looking out over the balcony, at a car. Has an interesting exchange with his principal. And the principal’s car is set up sort of casually without being too obvious. The next shot is the principal talking with the teacher and, one presumes in the background, a trash can from above lands and cracks through the principal’s windshield. That’s fun. You know, it’s just fun the way that he wrote it. I felt like I was watching a movie and not reading a script.
And then the last shot, he smiles at this girl who was in his class. She does not return the favor. And we can see that that bothers him. We learn a lot about who is, why he’s doing it. It seems like, “Oh, this is like a really cool kid who doesn’t care, and he’s breaking the principal’s car windshield, and in fact he’s a regular kid who’s just into a girl.” All that stuff is really good. I liked it a lot.
John: Wow. You liked it so much more than I did.
John: So, after these three pages, I would keep reading, but I was nervous, honestly, because the school felt very generic. I felt like I’d seen — it felt like a movie school to me. It didn’t feel like a specific thing. We’re just given, like, they’re in prep school, uniforms. The teacher starts with like really unimportant dialogue. And so it both says on the chalkboard, “Lord of the Flies quiz,” which why would you write that on the chalkboard when she also says something.
I didn’t need any of that information.
Craig: Right. That’s true.
John: I felt like the teacher doesn’t have a name. It’s okay if the teacher doesn’t have a name if she’s never going to appear again, but I felt she wasn’t specific. The girl that’s referenced later on, she’s not given a specific name, so we don’t know to pay attention to any specific girl in the class. You know, we could have just started with, “The students flipping over their pages, each writes with the fury of god pouring out their hands.”
We don’t need any of the back story setup on here. We don’t need this close-up on an essay question. “After reading Lord of the Flies, please explain in your own words the cause of Piggy’s death.” I didn’t buy a ticket to read. I don’t go to movies to read.
Craig: But don’t you need that to setup what he wrote, to set up his answer?
John: No. Because all I need to do, if we’re going to do this voice over technique, the first person to say like, “The central theme in Lord of the Flies is a direct correlation to…” And so the next kid says, “Piggy was not given the proper nurturing environment to…” So you’re setting up what that thing is.
I feel like the kid’s answers that we’re hearing voice-overed can setup the joke better than just sticking something on the chalkboard.
Craig: Well, I agree with you on the fact that she doesn’t need to write “Lord of the Flies Quiz” on the blackboard. That is unnecessary. And I agree that they are non-specific. I don’t know if that’s part of the tone of this. I mean, if it’s a movie about sort of an alienated kid, it may be that teacher and girl is part of the point.
I don’t agree on your setup — I don’t think the joke works unless you see the essay question, personally. But, yeah, I liked this more. So this guy is my friend and you’re mean to him.
John: No. No. And then I got confused with the geography of Max in the hallway and the principal. So he’s on the second floor hallway and somehow he’s able to see down and talk to the principal who is getting out of his car. So I just couldn’t figure out the geography of like how he is able to talk to the principal from where he’s at.
Craig: Well, he’s on a balcony.
John: Yeah. Okay, a balcony.
Craig: He’s on a balcony.
John: I don’t see that in a school. I just got confused.
Craig: Yeah. I know most schools don’t have balconies. That is true. And also I added in, [laughs] as I was describing the trash can, I added in “In the background.” That’s not here in the script. And clarity — it’s a funny thing when we write these screenplays. These kinds of clarity things may seem procedural or too kind of silly to spell out. In fact, they’re essential to the reader. When people get lost in geography it hurts what the important stuff is. Don’t skimp on that.
John: Yeah, if I have to read something twice, I may not read it twice, I may just skipping pages. And that’s death. You really want people to feel like they enjoy reading your scene description and your action. And they’re going to really pay attention. And if something is not clear, it’s not going to make sense.
Also movies, I think the whole slam on screenwriting as being so simplified and so stripped down and pasteurized, but movies happen at 24 frames per second. A person watching a movie doesn’t get to sort of like go back and look at something. They keep going forward.
So everything has to make sense the minute we experience it. And if there’s something meant to be ambiguous, well, make it clear to the reader and to the viewer that it’s okay that it’s ambiguous in this moment. That we’re going to come back to it. But if something is just ambiguous because you didn’t describe it very well, that’s a problem.
Craig: Yeah, that’s true. I mean, don’t give us an excuse to be confused. I agree. But I did like…
John: You liked it a lot more.
Craig: I liked the craft. And I thought that there was creativity and spark to this.
John Great. So a thumbs up. A mixed opinion. It would be one of those Siskel & Ebert things, where like the thumb is up and the thumb is down.
Craig: That’s fine. I’m glad we had one finally.
John: I don’t know if I’m really thumbs down. I’m just nervous about it.
Craig: That’s fair.
John: Our third and final entry in the Three Page Challenge this week is by Jesse Grce, I’m going to guess. His last name seems to be missing a vowel, but that’s fine. It’s G-R-C-E. I’d say Grce.
This one is called, this one actually has a title page attached, Roundhouse Kick to Hell: An Exorcist Road Trip Movie. So I think we kind of know the genre of it.
Craig: Mm-hmm. [laughs]
John: So here is how we start. Outside a very suburban house at night, we’re looking in through a window. We see a TV and Stephen Colbert’s program is playing on it. And Stephen Colbert is interviewing a priest who insists the antichrist is coming.
Meanwhile, in that same room, a man named Mr. Smith is scrambling to barricade his doors. He’s already bloody. From the TV we learn that the antichrist is supposed to be coming on Friday.
We cut to a super that says “Saturday. Six Days until Friday,” which I thought was funny. The same house, daylight, parked out front we see a 17-year-old boy named Andy who is in his Honda Civic. He’s dressed up for a date. He talks to a bobble headed Chuck Norris on the dash. His 9-year-old little sister Annabelle gets in the car and chastises him for his clothes and gives him advice about this date. On the end we reveal that Andy, that they actually live right across the street from where he is, so he drove across the street for this date, and that’s the end of our three pages.
Craig: Yup. So…
John: Should I start or do you want to start?
Craig: Go ahead.
John: I liked it. It was bouncy. But I’m nervous. I’m nervous in some of the same ways as the previous example. I worry that in three pages we’ve already seen him sort of drafting off two already cool things. So, the use of the Stephen Colbert in the intro, I actually kind of believe the Stephen Colbert dialogue. I didn’t necessarily believe Stephen Colbert was interviewing this guy.
But, I know, you’re borrowing cool from somebody else rather than creating your own cool. And the same thing happens on the second page with the Chuck Norris bobble head. Which I’m guessing Chuck Norris is a bigger deal overall because it gets referred to again, but I didn’t really believe this guy talking to a Chuck Norris bobble head.
And so using the Chuck Norris meme felt very — I don’t know — felt very risky. I didn’t feel like I was seeing anything new being done here. So I was nervous about sort of where this was going and whether it was going to really be a ride that I’m going to be happy taking.
John: I got confused at the start. As it’s described we’re looking in through a window and we see this TV, but we don’t ever describe like what room we’re actually looking into. I assume it’s a living room, but that’s not really clear. And it became very hard to separate out the action of what the guy inside was doing with what Stephen Colbert was talking about on the TV screen. So that action got kind of confusing.
Craig: No question. I don’t think I would even go for bouncy on this. I mean, first of all, on the Colbert thing — I didn’t even think the Colbert dialogue was right. It’s just not a really good idea. I understand why screenwriters will create fake newscasts, fake ESPN stuff, sometimes you’ll see — they’ll do like a fake Leno kind of thing. But Stephen Colbert, the whole point of Stephen Colbert is he writes, he does that. And he’s really good at it. This just feels like Ersatz Stephen Colbert. It’s off. It’s not quite right.
And partly it’s off for precisely the reason your mentioned: Stephen Colbert doesn’t interview people like this. They don’t speak like this when they’re being interviewed, and he doesn’t speak like that when he’s interviewing.
John: Because people who go on Stephen Colbert, they’re already in on the joke. And it didn’t seem like the other guy he was talking to, this Father Darius, was in on the joke which is…
Craig: Yeah. They’re either in on the joke or they’re so kind of weirdly clueless that they’re just kind of nerdy. That’s the whole point is, “Look how doofy and nerdy this person is so they don’t get it.” I mean, you see that on The Daily Show a lot. It just seemed wrong. It just seemed off.
You’re absolutely right that the geography makes no sense. We’re looking through a window. We’re outside a house looking through a window watching TV. We’re hearing what’s on the TV even though we’re outside, which I don’t get.
And then this guy we’re supposed to follow falls out the front door of the house and then we follow him as he moves from the front door, picks up a bundle of wood and tools, goes over to a basement window — so we’re moving around the outside of the house and yet we’re still watching this TV. It just does not work. We couldn’t be hearing it, either. It just doesn’t seem like a good idea.
If I were doing this, I would probably lose the Colbert idea entirely and have somebody interviewing a guy and maybe taking him seriously. And not trying to be funny about it. And while we’re on this TV inside the house, see somebody moving around, gathering stuff, and then we maybe hear a terrible sound and then we’re outside of the house and this guy falls out. But, you’ve got to think about how to stage that.
The super was “Saturday. Six days until Friday.” If you mean that as a joke I think you need two supers. You need super “Saturday,” and then underneath a second super, “Six Days until Friday.”
John: Agreed. That’s funnier.
Craig: Because that’s how you would do it. You would do one, fade it out, and then do the other. If you do it all in one line I don’t think anyone is going to laugh. I think they’re just going to think, yeah, we know.
John: The obviousness of it I thought was funny. But I agree that two, separating it into two supers will be funnier.
Craig: Yeah. I think that would make that work. You know, we’ve seen a million times somebody talking to somebody off-screen and then, “Oh, it’s not really a person it’s a dog,” or a Chuck Norris bobble head. If they’re not answering back, we know what’s coming. So this is a trope. I would just avoid it.
The Chuck Norris meme is, at this point, ancient. I think any meme older than three weeks is ancient. This one we’re on year four or five now. It’s just not…
John: And as a general point of discussion, a TV show can sometimes take a chance and use a meme because TV shows get made comparatively so quickly, and so it can be something that’s culturally relevant at the time. You’re really in dangerous territory trying to use a currently popular meme in a feature because features are so much longer down the road.
John: And things will be so out of date by the time you try to do this.
Craig: I agree. And then maybe my biggest issue with the pages is the character of Annabelle. She is 9 years old and the kind of gag with her is that she talks like a 25-year-old woman with R-rated language. And, you know, A, I’ve seen this before. I mean, Kick-Ass had a little bit of that vibe. But 9 is too young for that. It starts to push it down into absolutely impossible.
The idea of a 9-year-old dropping F-bombs can be funny, but when the 9-year-old is speaking with the kind of wisdom that adults don’t have, it gets weird. The tone starts to get really bizarre. You’re not sure if you’re watching a real story with real people or if it’s a goof. 9 is too young. I mean, if she were 12 or 13 this could possibly work. She’s so self-possessed and so smart, and speaks in such complete languages. She specified as wearing jeans and an H&M shirt. She just sounds like my 35 year old friends who live in Echo Park.
And I get that that’s the joke, it’s just too pushed I think for anything. So I was not… — I think there are multiple issues here.
John: I want to have a quick little discussion about scene headers, because something I noticed in this, and I’ve noticed it in a lot of other pages that we’ve looked at. This one starts with EXT. HOLLY’S HOUSE — NIGHT.
There’s a fairly well accepted convention in screenwriting that if you choose to, you don’t have to actually put the scene header on the very first thing on page one. And you can sometimes get away with not putting the slug line there. And it just sort of helps sort of ease you into it because the first thing I’m seeing is EXT. HOLLY’S HOUSE. Well who’s Holly? What’s this? What’s going on?
You’re allowed to sort of drift in and just sort of setup what the house is like. Set up that you’re in a suburban neighborhood. We settle on a house where we see these things. So if you choose not to put the first scene header, you can get away with that. Second thing I want to talk about is on page 2, INT. HONDA CIVIC — SAME. And this is something that Justin Marks brought up on Twitter. Justin Marks is a screenwriting colleague of ours. “SAME” I think is one of those really unhelpful words to be putting in a scene header.
And people can have different opinions on this. “SAME” is meant to be like, “This is happening the same time as the previous scene.” To me, as opposed to like, “we’ve moved to a different place in time.” I think DAY and NIGHT are awesome choices. And we’re going to assume it’s continuous with the previous scene unless you give us a good reason to assume it’s not continuous with the previous scene. SAME — I end up having to flip back pages to figure out, “Well, are we day or are we night?” I’m not a big fan of SAME.
Craig: I’ve never used SAME in my life. I mean, your first point is well taken. You can’t really say EXT. HOLLY’S HOUSE if we haven’t met Holly. That’s just a no-no. In the case of this where we don’t meet Holly in the scene anyway, it would just be EXT. HOUSE — NIGHT And then he describes what the house is like in his action stuff.
I’ve never not started a script with a slug line, but it’s not — I don’t see why it’s the end of the world to exclude it or include it. I just don’t think you can say EXT. HOLLY’S HOUSE if we haven’t met that character.
I’ve never used SAME either. I will use CONTINUOUS, as a matter of habit, but SAME is so weird.
John: SAME by itself. So, my suggestion for, if it’s otherwise unclear that this is happening the same day or later that day, what I’ll often do, and if you look through my scripts in the library, in brackets I’ll put LATER THAT DAY or LATER THAT NIGHT, to make it clear to the reader this is happening in the same world and this is what’s changed about the time. But DAY and NIGHT are really, really helpful for readers, and for production, and for everybody else. Let it be DAY or NIGHT.
You can get away with some MORNINGs. You can get away with some EVENINGs if it’s really important to your script, but DAY and NIGHT are your friends. Just like INT. and EXT.
Craig: I use MOMENTS LATER all the time. I feel like that’s a good one to sort of say there has been a time lapse, but it’s not a big one. So it’s sort of happening continuously but I’m explaining to you why they’re not in their bedroom anymore; they’re outside of the house. But, yes, I agree with that.
John: Well, great, so we have three examples of comedies all, I guess. A bit of a change from the previous. No one died in these.
Craig: Yeah. They’re all pretty light, I guess.
John: I don’t know if we really had consistent opinions on things to notice about the three of them, other than they were three screenplays.
Craig: I think we were consistent on Awesome Girl. I don’t think I liked the last one as much as you did. And I definitely liked the middle one more than you did.
John: Yup. But hopefully that was helpful to people who wrote in. Again, thank you to Austin, and Jesse, and Sarah for writing in and sharing their three page samples. That was brave of you. And so I hope this was helpful to you.
We will do this again at some point in the future, but I should say, we have plenty of samples so please don’t feel like you need to send in new three page samples, because we have almost 200 more to choose from. We have a lot.
Craig: A lot.
John: Craig, do you have a Cool Thing this week?
Craig: I do. I do. I have really Cool Thing. There’s a wonderful documentary that was briefly in movie theaters as documentaries usually are, but is now available on DVD or you can rent it or download it to own on iTunes, and it’s called Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Have you seen this documentary?
John: I have not. I’ve heard of it. So tell me about it.
Craig: It’s wonderful. It’s a documentary about an 83-year-old sushi chef in Japan. He has a very small restaurant that is actually underground. It appears to be on the first basement level of a large train station in Tokyo. And he is considered the best sushi chef in Japan. He has a 3 Michelin Star award. He’s the only sushi chef in the world that has every gotten a 3 Michelin Star for a restaurant.
And he’s kind of a national treasure in Japan. At one point in the documentary you learn that it takes at least a month to get a reservation to just have lunch there. And your meal will last probably 15 minutes. Aside from being tremendous food porn, they show just how lovingly he makes the sushi, really there are two reasons why I think this is a great documentary for screenwriters to watch.
The first is there’s a wonderful drama in it, a very quiet, subtle bit of drama about Jiro and his son. His son is in his fifties and his son has been working for Jiro his whole life. And you start to learn that the son kind of is in a tough spot. That he will always be there. That this was sort of selected for him. At one point he points out that in Japanese tradition the older son takes the place of the father and that’s what they do. And he sort of expresses forlornly at one point that he had dreams of being a race car driver, you know, in a very childlike way. But he’s going to be here every day.
And then they have Jiro at one point saying, “the important thing for my son is that he does the same thing every day for the rest of his life.”
Craig: So you get the sense that this guy in a weird way is trapped. But then what the documentary does very smoothly and adeptly is slowly start to reveal that the son is actually spectacularly good at this. And that while everyone who doesn’t really know the ins and outs of the situation will never give him credit. As another sushi chef says, “He’ll have to be twice as good as his father to ever be considered as good as his father.”
In some ways the movie kind of starts to imply he might even be better than his father already. And in the end they save this nice little moment where a food critic reveals that when he went back and looked at — because one of the deals with Michelin Stars is to get 3 stars which is very, very difficult to do, and that is it’s not like there’s 5 starts or 10, that’s the top, 3 stars, I think — you have to be incredibly consistent. So they don’t just show up one night and eat your food and go, “Wow, 3 stars.” They come back, and they come back, and they come back, and they come back.
And he went back and looked at all the times that the Michelin people had come to eat there and Jiro had never once made their sushi. It had always been the son.
Craig: And so you start to realize that the son is so important to this. But here’s the real thing about it that I loved and I think is great for screenwriters: Jiro and his son both repeatedly meditate on how their lives have been dedicated to perfecting an art. And they acknowledge that they will never be perfect. And so much of what they talk about is the humility of somebody always trying to be better. How talent is so important, but then everything else is about working incredibly hard day in and day out, not accepting failure, taking your time, being patient, and always, always, always trying to get better no matter what.
They talk about how the apprentices at this restaurant have to — they don’t get to make sushi until they’ve been there for 10 years. [laughs] 10 years. Then they get to make sushi.
Craig: And you start to realize just the level of dedication required to master something. And I just thought, you know, it struck a chord in me because like you I’ve been doing this for a long time and I suspect we feel the same about this: I don’t feel at all, ever, I never feel for a second that I’m even close to the end of my journey. I feel like if I wrote for another 100 years I would still be the same distance away from being the best I could be. And I care so much about trying to get better every day. And I just loved how this man defined his life by that pursuit and the honor of dedicating yourself to your craft.
So, Jiro Dreams of Sushi. Great way to spend an hour and thirty minutes.
My Cool Thing this week is actually a podcast, another podcast, but not about screenwriting. It’s The World in Words which is a PRI podcast. And we just started listening to it so there’s a zillion back episodes, and so it’s not the kind of thing where you need to catch up on this week’s thing. It’s not a news — there’s some news aspects to it but it’s mostly just how languages are working in the world today.
So sometimes it’s word history and word nerdery about how things came to be. But a lot of times it’s about how language is evolving. And so I think it’s something that screenwriters who have to use words on a daily basis, you might find fascinating.
Two of the recent episodes we listened to, one featured a piece on how IKEA chooses the names for its products which was fascinating. Because essentially for classic products they’ll use classic words. And so like all the rugs are named for places in Finland. All of the children’s toys are adjectives. And so there is a logic behind it. And so to us it just seems like those are just gibberish words they made up, but to them there actually is some meaning and there’s a structure to it that they’ve chosen to find.
The one I listened to yesterday was about earworms, which is those songs that get stuck in your head. And that’s always a phenomenon that most people have encountered. Here’s a trick by the way: If you ever get a song stuck in your head, and David Lee, the director taught me this one, is sing Why, Oh Why, Ohio, because that get stuck in your head, but just very briefly and will clear it out. It’s like a palette cleanser.
Craig: So you basically pit earworms against each other and have an earworm fight.
John: Exactly. And it will clear out the one you want to get rid of. They were talking to a neurologist who studied this and his conjecture, which it’s very hard to prove but it’s an interesting conjecture, is the reason why humans are attuned to getting songs stuck in your head is that for most of human history we haven’t had written language, and so what we’ve had is oral language, and our way of passing down stories and traditions and actually really important information has been to create songs or poems that have rhyme and meter and lent themselves to patterns that could get stuck in your head.
And so letting these patterns become sticky was actually hugely helpful for human development. And so part of the reason why we get Call Me Maybe stuck in our heads is somewhere back in the annals of history, or pre-history because it wasn’t written down, that was the same way that we used to talk about important information that would keep a tribe alive during times of famine.
So, overall I found the podcast to be really, really interesting, and smart, and worth listening to for anybody who’s interested about words and how words are used now.
Craig: When they were talking about IKEA did they mention the fact that sometimes these Swedish words end up like “turd jerker.” And so when I bring my kids to IKEA they just laugh at “fart berg” and “dork smack.”
John: I had a Jerker Desk for the longest time.
Craig: Yeah, you get a Jerker Desk. I mean, are they aware that that’s an issue?
John: [laughs] I missed that part, so I actually walked in as the IKEA conversation was happening. So I don’t know if they get into the specifics, like if there’s some trouble shooting to figure out whether certain words are going to make sense across all the languages in which IKEA products are sold.
But, it was really helpful. And in terms of thinking of systems of names, for the products that we’re working on here, “Apps for screenwriting,” we decided to pick names of streets that intersect Fountain. And so Fountain is the plain text markup language that we use for all of our apps. And it’s sort of the open public standard. And then the other apps we’re developing off it, like Highland, or Bronson, are all streets that intersect Fountain in Los Angeles. So that’s our system for how we’re names our apps.
Craig: So you’re never going to have an app named Jerker?
John: It’s fun to see that IKEA had the same instinct, but theirs had bigger countries to pick from.
Craig: Or what about an app named, like Jerker app, or, I think I bought a chair once at IKEA that was called Fartburglar.
John: That’s awesome.
Craig: Yeah. I got to look back at their catalog.
John: It’s got a built-in deodorizer and such.
Craig: Yeah, it was pretty cool. [laughs] Have you ever built an IKEA product and gotten all the way through without going, “Oh no!”
John: You’re missing something?
Craig: No, or I did it wrong and I have to undo a thing.
John: Yeah. And the most dangerous of course is the ones that have glue, because like, oh, can I actually break it apart?
Craig: I have never glued. I’ve never gotten an IKEA with glue.
John: Yeah. I used to build a lot of IKEA furniture. And the most impressive thing I built was this giant shelving unit which was in my house when I used to live of Gardner. And it was so big, and it involved some glue things, so I could never actually take this with me any place. And so Rawson Thurber ended up taking over my house there and for many years I’d come back and visit my giant IKEA thing that I’m sure he had to take out with a sledgehammer when he finally moved out.
Craig: Because you glued it. [laughs]
John: I glued it. I mean, it was glued. There was no two ways about it. And at the time I built that I had the Volkswagen Jetta, which was really popular at that time because it was a really cheap lease. And the remarkable thing about the Jetta was that if you folded down the backseat the trunk was just huge. And so I had this giant shelving unit flat-packed and actually fit it all in my car. And I used to spend weekends building IKEA stuff.
Craig: Yeah, you’re giving me a total ’90s flashback. I can remember driving my Ford Explorer to IKEA and loading it up with stuff. My wife and I were just like, wow, look, we don’t have to spend any money. We get rugs. Soap dispensers. Swedish disposable furniture.
John: I’m looking around the room. So, the only stuff I have in this room that’s from IKEA is I have a table that’s behind my desk which is four legs and a flat surface that I got at IKEA and that’s fine for that. That’s fine.
Craig: That’s the Teet-Snorter.
John: Yes it is. That’s really the motto of IKEA, by the way, is “For Now, It’s Fine.”
Craig: [laughs] Yeah, exactly. The motto for IKEA is “One Day You’ll Have Real Furniture.”
John: Yes. And so most of the furniture in our house now is real furniture, but like my daughter’s bed is a put together IKEA thing because she’s going to outgrow it. Why buy a fancy bed?
Craig: Absolutely. In fact, I remember having this argument with my wife. When it was time for Jack to move out of his crib into a big boy bed. And she was showing me catalog pictures. And I was like, “How about we get an IKEA piece of crap because he’ll be out of that thing in about three years?” And I was right.
John: You were right.
Craig: Again. 100% right rate.
Craig: Okay, I think we’ve officially run out of gas.
John: We’ve run out of gas. So, thank you Craig for another fun podcast.
Craig: Thank you, John.
John: And I’ll talk to you, soon.