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: Craig, how is your groin?
Craig: [laughs] Why don’t you come over here and tell me?
John: Last week on the podcast you were talking about how you had started P90X and how you had pulled your groin doing that. Has it recovered?
Craig: Yeah. My groin completely recovered. Now I’m just super tired because I had one of those nights last night where I just couldn’t fall asleep. And, you know that terrible feeling when you know you have to wake up at say, 8, and it’s 3:30, and you’re like, oh god. And now you can’t fall asleep because you’re thinking about how you’re not going to get enough sleep. It was awful.
John: Yeah, so stress becomes panic becomes not being able to sleep. Yeah, it’s pretty awful. That often happens to me with travel whereas like I know that I have a meeting in the morning but I’m on a wrong time schedule anyway. And then I’m paranoid that my alarm won’t really go off because it’s my iPhone alarm and will it really ring if I have it set to vibrate? And it’s all those concerns.
Craig: Yeah, you know, I think traveling is what… — I was in Philadelphia this weekend for a wedding. And I always think, “Oh, it will be great, I’ll just fly east for two days.” And it just messes you up. It’s amazing how thoroughly it messes you up. And I know people do it all the time. Maybe they get used to it. I certainly don’t.
John: I was in New York for three days this last week, and I actually should start by apologizing to listeners because we are a day or two late on the podcast because we were both traveling and it was hard to find a time for us to both record this podcast. But I was there for a couple of days and what I’ve learned to do is that the minute I feel tired I just go to bed. And like I don’t try to stay up at all because when I get to New York usually I’m taking an afternoon flight that gets me there at like 10pm. And there’s that instinct like, “Oh, I’m not really that tired, I can do a little bit more work.”
But then it becomes like 2:30 in the morning and I can’t fall asleep. And that’s a bad, dangerous thing. That starts a bad cycle.
Craig: Yeah, I remember my plan when I went to Thailand was…because when you get to Thailand you’re awake, but when you land, I mean, you’ve been up for hours and hours and hours. It’s time for you to go to sleep but it’s maybe 11am. So, you just say, “All right, I’m just going to stay up. I’m just going to stay up, and stay up, and stay up, and stay up.”
And I remember walking like a zombie to a Starbucks in Bangkok, getting a coffee in a desperate attempt to stay up. Sort of falling asleep as I carried the coffee to the little area where you put your sugar and stuff in, dropping the coffee all over the floor. [laughs] It was tragic.
And it almost felt like they looked at me like, “Hmm, must have just gotten off a plane, because we see white people in here dropping coffee all the time.”
John: Yeah. Not a big deal for them.
John: My worst is always flying to Europe for whatever reason. Because I’ll sleep some on the plane, and I think like, “Oh, I slept once on a plane, I’m going to be just fine.” But it gets to be about 5pm, just as it starts to get dusky there where there’s like dinner plans, like, “Oh, we’ve got to rally to get to dinner.” “All I want to do is to be in bed. I’m starting to cry because I just want to be in bed.”
Craig: I know.
John: And I’m trying to stay up.
Craig: You know, that happened to me. I went to Ireland and I remember we had a dinner scheduled, and I literally just got up and walked out. [laughs] Couldn’t handle it. I had to go to bed.
John: So this last weekend was my birthday.
Craig: Oh, happy birthday.
John: Yeah, it was nice. And I got to celebrate my birthday twice in one weekend, because I had a birthday dinner that was Friday night that went into Saturday that was quite late. And then I got to fly back and have a second birthday dinner here. But then I went to bed at about like 9. And there’s something kind of luxurious about going to bed early on your birthday. It’s what I wanted to do most.
John: What I want to do most right now is some follow-up. So, on the last podcast we talked about the WGA Screenwriters Survey. And one of the things that came up was bake-offs, which is where you bring in a lot of writers to pitch how they would write a project for assignment. And somebody wrote in with a question, and I can’t find the actual email, so I’m going to say that it was Brian, but I’m just making up the name Brian. But his question was basically if bake-offs are the wrong way to pick a writer for an assignment, what’s the right way?
Craig: That’s a good question.
John: It’s actually a good question. And so bake-offs, there have always been bake-offs, there have always been things that are sort of like bake-off. And the very first job I got, How to Eat Fried Worms, was essentially a bake-off. They invited me and some really funny Simpsons writers to come in and talk about how they would adapt this book.
So we went through a couple rounds of meetings and ultimately I won the bake-off. We didn’t have the term bake-off then, but that’s really basically what it was. Since that time, when I go in for projects, usually fortunately I’m not in a bake-off situation. And I think the better way that you could wish this would happen is, “We have this great property. Who would be a really good writer for it? Let’s ask that really good writer if he or she has a good approach for how to do it.”
And you go to a writer and you say, “Hey, do you want to do this?” And the writer says, “Sure, I want to do this.” And you evaluate and say, “Oh, yeah, that’s the way we went to do it. This is the right writer, the right approach. We trust this person who will go and do it.”
That doesn’t often or always happen, but that’s sort of the fantasy.
Craig: Yeah. That’s a good way… — I mean, I think that for projects where the studio may not have that much money, so they aren’t necessarily going to the kind of writers, when you say, “Okay, well let’s find a really good writer that fits this project.” “Well that really good writer costs $1 million.” “We don’t have $1 million. We have $150,000.”
Well, you’re not going to go in and pitch on that. So, in those circumstances I’m okay with the notion of what happened with you on How to Eat Fried Worms. I think limiting it to a reasonable amount of writers is a good practice.
Frankly, I don’t even understand how it makes good business practice from their point of view to talk to 20 writers. It just seems exhausting. At some point how can you even tell who’s better, who’s number one as opposed to number two as opposed to number 14?
So, limit it to a reasonable amount of writers so that you don’t have 20 people out there beating their brains in to try and get this gig. Three or four, I suppose, seems like a good number. And as was the case with you, ask them how they would approach the movie. “What is their take?” as we say here in Hollywood. And that should be enough. Don’t have them write things. You know, just don’t create a lot of unused pointless labor so that you can make an over-informed decision that frankly is not very predictive of the quality of the screenplay anyway.
John: Yeah, you ran into that paradox of choice problem where the more people’s pitches you hear from the less likely you are to be happy with any one of them, because you’re starting to optimize and your instinct is to take the best of all those things.
You may be one of those people who loves the Cheesecake Factory menu where there’s like thousands of options, but you might actually be happier with the one or two things that are actually really, really good. So, yes, I would agree that sometimes on projects where you know you’re not going to be paying a lot of money for the script, you may be bringing in some newer writers, you may talk to two or three or four people for that.
But really you should be basing the decision on what they’ve already written, not on how fancy the pitch is going to be and how much pre-writing they’re going to do for you, because that’s not the best gauge of it. Ultimately you’re going to be trying to get a script out of this, not a good conversation with the guy who’s clever at pitching in the room.
Craig: Right. I think it indicates a general poverty of decision-making ability. You should be able to sort of narrow it down to three or four reasonable candidates, and then based on their discussions with you narrow it down to the person you want to write the script. I mean, having 20 people come in is… Who does that for anything else? You know?
I mean, hiring an architect or an interior decorator or, I don’t know. Who sees 20 people? It’s just crazy.
John: It’s crazy. And the other thing I’ll say is that if that one or two or three people that you’ve met with, you’re not happy with any of their approaches, move on. So, “Thank you very much, that’s not what we want to do,” and then you’re looking at the next person. That’s kind of okay.
It’s when you have eight people in parallel trying to pitch you this thing, that’s not good.
Craig: No, it’s lame.
John: So next we have a question from a guy named Ollie. And this is sort of more a psychological question. “I’m a 26-year-old UK screenwriter/director.” So he’s a writer/director in the UK. “I recently made a horror movie, an indie film we made for about $40,000. It ended up getting a limited theatrical release here in the UK. Yeah, yeah, that’s right. We got great reviews from genre magazines and a few genre bloggers and horror fans, but we got slaughtered in the major press. I could draw up a table with the good and bad comments from each critic and they pretty much cancel each other out. Given our success, now is the time I should be hammering out more screenplays, but when I sit down to write I find it almost impossible. I’m thinking about what The Guardian would say about this line, etc. How do you guys deal/feel with negative press over a film you’ve written? Do you pay attention to the things they say? Also, do you think it’s something I should have to worry about even going into future meetings, knowing the person may have seen some of it?”
Craig, what are your thoughts, because you’ve had movies that have not gotten good reviews?
Craig: Oh, I’m so happy that this guy asked this question. Well this isn’t going to endear me with many critics. I don’t care.
I do not care. I don’t write movies for critics. I write movies for audiences. My entire focus is on what the audience thinks of a film. We actually now have a somewhat objective audience-ometer in something called CinemaScore, which works like an exit poll. People leave the theater and there are people from the CinemaScore company that say, “What did you think of the movie? Give it an A+ all the way down to F.” And then they average out all the scores and they report the scores.
And I’m far more interested in that because I’m not writing movies for critics. I have a friend, Alec Berg, who we both know well, and he’s a terrific writer. He wrote on Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm and a lot of movies. And he had a great point. He said, “What if your job was to be a hamburger reviewer?” So every day for dinner you had a hamburger. Every single day. At some point your ability to judge what the general hamburger eating populace wants becomes incredibly distorted.
Movies are not intended… — No one is intended to see every single movie. Reviewers see every single movie. More to the point, they see them with other reviewers which changes the entire dynamic. I don’t dispute that there is some value to reviews for certain kinds of movies, but for other kinds of movies they’re essentially pointless.
The last thing in the world you want to do as any kind of artist is write towards a critic. Write instead with your attention toward your audience. There will always be critics. They are not going away. If everybody that created things became concerned about critics, critics would have nothing to criticize because nothing would get done. They are not your friend. And, frankly, they serve an incredibly questionable purpose in the relationship between the artist and the audience. So, believe me, I understand your pain. I’ve gotten my fair share of bad reviews. I’ve gotten bad reviews that I thought I deserved. I’ve gotten bad reviews I thought I didn’t deserve.
I’ve gotten good reviews I thought I didn’t deserve. If you feel like beating yourself up with those, go ahead and have a masochistic pity party with it. But beyond that, you need to put them in the box they belong in which is not relevant to your job, and your purpose.
John: One thing I would stress is that really look at what the function of reviews are. And reviews in general aren’t trying to further the art of movie making. They are really about: should I see this movie that comes out on Friday? And so the reviewer’s first audience is the person who might go to see a movie.
And what the person who is looking at the review really wants to know is, “Is this going to be worth my time and dollars to go see this move?” You are not that person. You are the person who made the movie. And so it’s unlikely that you’re going to find things that are particularly helpful for you in reading those reviews.
So, I wish I could say I was the person who is strong enough to never look through the reviews when one of my movies comes out. I do look at all the reviews. And, you know, I am secretly happy when I know that a movie that I’ve worked on is going to have good reviews. But, I can’t let that sort of drive my decision-making going forward. You know, it comes back to something we talked about on an earlier podcast is you should be writing the movie that you would spend $12 to $13 to go see on opening night.
That should be your whole focus. Not about what The Guardian is going to say about your movie. It’s about what would you say if you had the chance to go see that movie opening night. Think about that movie and don’t think about The Guardian’s review of that movie.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, I always tell, you know, when I have friends and they’re like, “Oh my god, I read this review. I’m so depressed.” And I always say: Have you ever had that experience where you see a movie and you just love it? You go with a friend and you just love it. And you walk out of the theater and you’re like, oh my god, that was great. I mean, it moved me, it touched me, it made me laugh. Whatever it was supposed to do it did it really effectively. And your friend you were seeing it goes, “I hated it; it was stupid.” Don’t you want to punch them in the face?
Well, sometimes that person is a reviewer. And I think now more than ever the mega phone of media has been demystified and de-romanticized to the point where volume is irrelevant, and we all get that. Your friend’s opinion is shared with you and you alone. Somebody else who writes for the The Guardian shares their opinion with the world, and then amusingly, one hundred to two hundred people review the reviewer in the comments section.
And everybody is reviewing everybody because you have to stand out in the cacophony of reviewing and meta reviewing. Snark and exaggeration sort of carry the day. Reviewers I think now more than ever are trying to entertain as opposed to actually review. They tend to engage in insane hyperbole.
I remember the very first movie I wrote, it was a movie for kids. And I guess somewhere in the press materials it referred to the fact that I, and my writing partner, graduated from Princeton, which we had just I think four years before that movie came out. And one reviewer said, “The writers, Craig Mazin and Greg Erb,” and then in parenthesis, “(who attended Princeton University and apparently never got over it).”
Craig: I don’t even know what that means. I mean, I would understand if the movie were some sort of pompous navel-gazing thing, or snobby, and you think, “Oh, these snobby Princeton guys obviously love their Princeton lives so much.”
It was a movie about an idiot. [laughs] It was a clumsy idiot who goes into space. It was for children. It didn’t even make sense. And it was so pointless. And then when you — god, I’m really not doing myself any favors here — but when you meet a lot of these reviewers you go, “Oooh, oh, you’re just lame. [laughs] You’re just a lame person.”
I also remember I was at Comic-Con like in 2000, I guess this was before Comic-Con turned into like mega Comic-Con. It was sort of just big Comic-Con. And there was a panel and Kevin Smith was on the panel. And this guy asked a question. He announced that he was Jeffrey Wells who is an internet film critic. And Kevin Smith heard and he goes, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, you’re Jeffrey Wells? Oh, interesting. You’ve written a lot of really mean stuff about me. But now that I get an eyeful of you, it doesn’t seem that bad.” [laughs]
And the room exploded. And the truth is, that’s kind of what it comes down to. It’s like, “Oh, you’re The Guardian reviewer? Oh, I wouldn’t want to have lunch with you. You’re lame.”
So, a lot of times it’s just like we blow these things up because people write about them and they attack us and they feel entitled to attack us. And it hurts. The pain is absolutely real. But you have to be able to parse that from your approach, or you’re dead. You will not write a second movie and you will certainly not get your revenge.
John: So one thing I’ve been considering doing for quite a long time, but as everyone knows I have a lot of irons in the fire, so it’s probably not the best use of my time. But I’ll describe it now because maybe someone else will want to do this: I have a theory, an operating theory, that the screenwriter’s name is mentioned about five times more often in a negative review than in a positive review.
That is to say: if a review is positive the screenwriter’s name generally goes unmentioned; if the review is negative the screenwriter’s name is much more often, much more likely to be mentioned. Now that anecdotally feels true to me, but I think the only way to really know if that’s true would be to do a systematic study of reviews over the last five years and really go through and just figure out, sort of the Rotten Tomatoes, positive versus negative. Go through each and every review and figure out whether the screenwriter’s name is mentioned.
That to me feels like the perfect kind of senior thesis or master’s thesis kind of thing for a statistics major to go through and see whether there really is a pattern there or if I’m just imagining there is this pattern. My hunch is that the screenwriter’s name is almost only mentioned in negative reviews.
Craig: I agree with you. And, in fact, I would take it one step further. I would be interested to see, to model the question in this way: When the screenwriter’s name is mentioned, is it mentioned negatively? Because I even see in positive reviews, they will say things like, “Such and such working from a so-so script by blah blah blah manages to somehow make a great movie.” [laughs]
I just feel like we’re only cited in the context of, “ugh, screenplay.”
John: Yeah. And so the example that you gave is very classically what you see when the screenwriter’s name is mentioned is that if the story is not working, well, that was the screenwriter’s fault. And somehow the critic has perfect insight into what really happened behind the scenes for why it is that way.
And so if everything works well, well, the director did a great job. If everything is a disaster, well, the screenplay was terrible. And it feeds into my other frustration that we tend to vote on screenwriting awards without ever seeing the script for the screenplay which is…
Craig: It’s ridiculous. I think movie critics are facing kind of an end of life, frankly. In the last couple of years it seems to me that if the primary function of the film reviewer as you point out is to advise moviegoers whether or not they ought to see a film, they’ve been replaced by Twitter.
People hear from their friends. And Facebook.
John: And they hear in real time. I will say that the one function that critics do perform that I think is actually an important function is to champion things that might otherwise go overlooked.
Craig: Correct. Yes.
John: And so there are cases where a movie really is fantastic and if it were not for important critics jumping up and down saying, “Everyone go see this movie,” we might not see this movie and that’s a very useful function. But that’s not the majority of the work they do.
Craig: Yeah. And even then I have to say I feel like that is going to go away, too, for them. Because there are still so many ways that people can promote things themselves. And, frankly, people respond to their friend’s sort of voluntary passions more than they do picking up the New York Times and reading what the reviewer there has to say about a particular movie.
That eventually even that function will go away. And you can see the commoditization of reviews already occurring, the whole Rotten Tomatoes/Metacritic phenomenon has essentially removed any of the individual value of any particular filmmaker and just boil them into a melting pot of averages.
John: The brand name of both the publication and the reviewer used to be an important gate-keeping function. That was a way into knowledge about whether that movie was good or bad. And now through aggregation it’s become less significant. And so you don’t really — you see a Rotten Tomatoes score but you don’t really know who those people are who liked it. You don’t know… — Like the person in the paper at Wichita has as much weight in some of those scales as the New York Times.
Craig: That’s right. That’s right. I really miss — I mean, I really miss what you and I had when we were growing up with Siskel & Ebert. Because aside from, “Well I really like that reviewer,” people will say. You like them when you agree with them, and when you disagree with them you don’t like them. That’s sort of normal. But I always liked Siskel & Ebert in the sense that they seem like movie fans as opposed to cinema fans or promoting a certain particular kind of film or being culturally snobbish.
I mean, Siskel famously thought that Saturday Night Fever was one of the greatest films ever made. And, by the way, I think he’s right. But what was so wonderful about that show was that they disagreed, passionately, sometimes violently. And that underscored, frankly, one of the important things to remember, and so I’ll say this again to the person writing in: For everyone that squats on your movie there’s somebody that believes in it and loves it.
And maybe you don’t read those, or you discount those, or they just don’t have a job at The Guardian. And maybe working at The Guardian is kind of something that’s going to skew people to like one kind of movie as opposed to another. But, don’t fall into the trap of magnifying the negativity in your mind.
John: I would agree.
And let me put that up here as an official offer. If you are, I would say, an undergrad statistics major but more likely a grad student who would be seriously interested in doing something like a research project about reviews, write in at firstname.lastname@example.org and talk to me about what you want to do. Because it’s the kind of thing that I think really would be great data to have, because it feels anecdotally true but I don’t know if it’s actually true.
And if it is anecdotally true, sorry, if it’s actually factually true, if there’s data to back up this idea that reviewers really are only mentioning the screenwriter’s name in negative context, or predominately in negative context, that’s worth talking about.
And I think that’s the kind of thing that you could share with reviewers and maybe effect some small change.
Craig: I love it.
John: Cool. Last question. This is from Ryan and Jessica in Santa Monica. “Dear John and Craig: A feature film we wrote is currently in preproduction. And the producers recently attached an actress with considerable clout in the TV world. The actress is a big fan of work; that’s really exciting to us. But what’s the best way to capitalize on this fact. We were thinking about specking her show or another show on the network she’s on. Any thoughts?”
Well, first off, congratulations. I’m glad that you have a movie in preproduction. I’m glad you have an actress that you like. Do not spec her show. That’s a terrible idea. This is an actress, and I’m not…I didn’t genericize her name. They didn’t tell me who the actress is. But it’s great that she’s on a TV show. It’s great that she’s in your movie. You trying to write something for her TV show is not going to be a happy outcome.
If you want to write something else for her, that’s great. Write her another movie. But if she’s an actress on a TV show who’s doing this movie, she probably wants to do movies. And so your trying to come on board he TV show is not going to be a great outcome and it looks like you’re muscling in on stuff that she already has. It’s just not happy and good.
So, don’t do that.
Craig: Yeah. I agree. There’s a phrase that comes to mind: Act like you’ve been there before. You know, you’re a movie writer. You just wrote a movie. She’s in the movie. Act like you’ve been there before. You don’t want to turn around and ask her if you can clean her house or maybe get a job as entry level writers on her staff of her show. And by the way, she doesn’t make the hiring decisions at all on her TV show. I can guarantee that. The showrunner does.
And the showrunner is not going to want to get jammed with people that are beholden to one particular actor on the show. That’s a recipe for disaster. Act like you’ve been there before. You’re confident. You wrote a movie. You like writing movies. Write another movie. If you really love her, write a movie for her.
I would definitely wait and see how well she does in the film you’re talking about, because you may not like her.
John: You might not.
Craig: You may not like her performance, you know?
John: So the only thread of an idea that’s in this question that I would say is maybe worth pursuing: If you are interested in doing television, the fact that you wrote this movie that this TV actress is in is sort of interesting to some TV people. So, as your agents start to setup meetings with TV stuff, as you’re pitching shows people can sort of remember, “Oh, they wrote the movie that that TV actress is in. They feel like they’re TV kind of people.” That may be a little bit helpful.
And so whatever the studio is and the network that that actress has a TV show on, that could be kind of helpful and useful. But specking her specific show is not going to help you at all. If you are trying to staff on things, first off writing specs of existing shows isn’t the big way that people get staffed these days. It tends to be through originals.
So, you wrote a feature script; that’s awesome. Write an original pilot for something that feels like the kind of show you want to do and let that be your sample. But just don’t try to get her involved with this. Let her be the actress in the movie that you wrote and don’t try to make more of it than that.
Craig: Do you think it would be okay if they, let’s say, they wanted to sort of do television and movies. And they had an interesting idea for their own television show and they thought she was great for it. That’s fair to bring to her, right?
John: But she’s already on a hit TV show.
Craig: That’s true. She can’t be on another show.
John: She can’t be on another show. I mean, here’s the thing: If that show went away. I don’t know, it’s going to be so dangerous trying to talk about an actress, but let’s say it was Marcia Cross who was on Desperate Housewives. Let’s say it was her. And so after things go really well with the movie, you have a good relationship with Marcia Cross, and you want to pitch a show that she’d be perfect for, that’s maybe something to consider.
But I wouldn’t do that until you’re movie is actually happening because otherwise you’re just, you’re making things more complicate than they should be.
Marcia Cross is awesome by the way. She’s so good. I love her to death. All the way from Melrose Place.
Craig: Melrose Place.
John: Craig, I think it’s about time for us to do our One Cool Things and we’ll save bigger topics for other weeks. Does that sound good?
John: But I should leave with one last bit of follow-up. It says, “Hello Mr. August.” Chris writes, “I just wanted to let you know, you and Mr. Mazin know, that thanks to his Cool Thing recommendation I tried and quite enjoyed PB2.”
Craig: Ah-ha. That’s my peanut butter powder, yes.
John: Yeah, the peanut butter powder. And now he’s not talking about Pottery Barn 2, an offshoot of Pottery Barn. Talking about a powderized Peanut Butter.
Craig: I think you’re thinking actually of CB2, Crate & Barrel.
John: Oh yeah. CB2. PB2. It’s crazy.
John: They’re all kind of related. They’re not quite flat-pack furniture, but sort of like it.
John: It relates to our IKEA conversation. “For now, it’s fine.”
Craig: That’s right. That’s right.
John: Who’s first with our Cool Things?
Craig: You know, you know that my entire approach to this podcast is to do as little as possible, so you have to make the decision. [laughs]
John: I will go first.
A couple weeks ago on the podcast I talked about sort of my writing setup and that my ideal writing setup would be somehow to have a waterproof computer so I could just write in the shower. Hearing the suggestion, Nima Yousefi, who works with me and is a fan and listener to the show, who just got a little flush in his cheeks to hear his name on the podcast, for my birthday he sent me this thing called Aqua Pad. And what it is is a pad of waterproof paper with a little suction cup on it that you can stick to your wall of your shower, and a little suction cup thing to hold a pencil. And you can jot down your notes while you’re in the shower.
And it just seems like, well, that’s absurd. But literally that same day I used it because for this project I need to figure out the names for the main characters. And I was like wrestling through with like, “What’s the wife’s name? Is she a Jen? Is she a….oh, she’s a Lisa!” And I’m like in the shower as this is happening. I’m like, “Lisa!” And so I wrote the names for all the five family members on that little pad, ripped it off, and here I am.
So thank you, Nima, for the Aqua Pad. And it’s actually, I mean, here’s the thing: Fortunately I have it stuck on a wall where like a person walking into the bathroom is not going to see it, because it does look kind of crazy. But it’s actually kind of useful. And waterproof paper, for those who don’t know, is kind of an under-appreciated miracle. You see it in film production because script supervisors will often do their…they’ll make a copy of their script on waterproof paper because if they’re outside in the rain or whatever, they can take their notes on the script with that.
And it’s this weirdly plasticized paper that you can only really write on with pencil. Like, you can’t write on it with a pen because pens are water-based. But you can write on it with a pencil, and now you can write on it in the shower.
So I’ll put a link in the show notes at johnaugust.com for this Aqua Pad thing which is probably a few bucks at Amazon.
Craig: There’s a whole world of shower products. And I always feel like all of them are ridiculous. I remember years ago I tried getting one of those shower mirrors so you could shave in the shower.
John: Those are the worst. They never work.
Craig: And there’s shower radios. And there’s shower this, and shower that. And in the end I realized I just like going into the shower with soap.
John: Yeah. I like to go to the shower with soap and a song in my heart. So…
Craig: Yeah. My Cool Thing is an app, as they often are, but this is one that I use every single day. And this is mostly useful for those of you who live in cities, but not exclusively American cities, because I know we have a lot of international listeners. And it’s an app called Inrix. I-N-R-I-X. Do you use this, John?
John: I don’t. I don’t know what it is.
Craig: Oh, John, you’ll be downloading it later, as soon as we’re done.
John: It does sound like some sort of drug you take for a venereal disease.
Craig: It is probably somewhere a drug you take for a venereal disease. But for the iPhone, and this is not going to help you with your venereal disease, it is on the surface a very simple thing. It’s a traffic app. So it’s like a traditional traffic app: It shows you a map and it shows you where the traffic is.
And you might think, well, I already have that. It’s actually in Maps on iPhone for instance, sort of a basic thing. And it will show you red is uh-oh and yellow is sort of sluggish and green is wide open.
Here’s what’s great about Inrix: First, you can put in addresses — your home, the airport, your work, whatever. And based on current traffic information it will give you two alternate routes and it will show you the approximate time you will be arriving.
This alone is worth a lot to me, because it settles me down. So there’s… — The worst thing in the world, especially in LA, is thinking, “Okay, I’ve got two ways I could go. They both look a little dicey. I’m not sure which way is best. I’ll just pick one. Oh god, I think I picked wrong.” [laughs]
Craig: And I would have been there by now if I’d gone the other way. That’s all gone with Inrix. They solve it for you. Sometimes, actually, what I love about it is it will — it has no problem — you know sometimes in your car it will be like, okay, avoid highways and you can force it to avoid highways. This thing will on its own decide you should probably get off the highway here because that part is crazy, and then get back on here.
I mean, they’re great.
John: So it’s basically serving the function I serve in the car when Mike asks me, “Take a look at Maps and see how bad the traffic is on the 405.”
Craig: Yes. However, this gets to the second wonderful part. I don’t know how other apps collect their traffic data. There are traffic reporting agencies in places and they use a system of cameras and sensors and things like that.
But here’s what’s awesome about Inrix: Inrix is also…every time you’re using it, it’s measuring you. So, you’re reporting back to the server. It knows where you are, and it knows how fast you’re going. And it knows what the speed limit is there.
So, it’s actually got an incredibly good system of up-to-date stuff. They aggregate a lot of data: The traditional camera-based data and sensor-based data and weather data and construction data. But they also just see how all their users are moving. And sometimes if you get somewhere and you’re like, “Whoa, this is a little slower than it says,” you click a button and it will start tracking you and update it based on you, which is spectacular.
And I have found by and large Inrix to be far more accurate than the sort of general Google Maps traffic thing. So, between the routing, and it will also update your route as you go. If something happens it will change it. I think it’s awesome.
John: That’s terrific.
Craig: Okay, and so the only downside is to get all that super awesome functionality you have to pay like a one-time fee of like $25. But, it’s tied to your — it’s a subscription. It’s not tied to the device but to your Apple ID for mine, because I use an iPhone. So it will work from device to device.
John: That sounds cool.
John: Some of that functionality is built into iOS 6 which is supposed to come out in September, but this is something that exists now and works and sometimes that’s worth a lot — the thing that actually exists rather than promise of future things.
I know iOS 6, I don’t think I’m breaking any NDAs here, because I think they talked about this publicly, it does gather data from all iPhones to figure out real-time traffic which is good, is smart.
Craig: But does it do the thing where it plans routes for you and then tells you when it thinks you’ll get there?
John: I don’t know that it does. It does turn-by-turn navigation now finally which is good. But, that’s great. I like that it exists. I like people using data for good rather than for evil.
Craig: Yeah, for once.
John: For once. And who knows? Maybe someone will write in who has a statistics background who can use the movie review data for good rather than for evil and see whether reviewers are actually mentioning the screenwriter’s name in positive ways that I’m just missing somehow, because I’m only looking for the bad reviews.
Craig: It would also be interesting for this hypothetical grad student to figure out how many movie reviews mention the screenwriter at all.
John: Totally. I think the fantasy I would have is that a person basically going through and creating a database that tracks every review: Was the screenwriter mentioned? Was the review positive or negative? Was the mention of the screenwriter positive or negative? And does a bunch of that, and with enough data that you press a button and it spits out your result of which percentage of reviews do which things.
Craig: That’s right.
John: I should say, and I obviously can’t talk about what specific movie it is, but one thing that people may not know about both the movie review process but also how movies are talked about and how they are covered, is press screenings actually happen sometimes significantly before a movie comes out. And one of the things that they do after they show — reviewers sometimes, but also editors of magazines and other long-lead press, lights come up and they say, “What did you think?”
And they will ask for like two to three sentences for a person, just their quick first impressions. And they’re like, oh, they’re just curious to know. But exactly what they say gets typed up in a memo that circulates between everyone at the studio. And so there’s this ongoing document that’s called the Reaction Memo.
So you always say that it was a surprise that somebody got good reviews or got bad reviews. Not it isn’t, because a lot of that stuff has been discussed for weeks and weeks ahead of time. So, studios tend to have a very good sense of what the critical reception will be for a movie long before it comes out.
Craig: Yes. That is correct.
John: Bit of trivia.
Craig, go to bed. Have a great night of sleep.
Craig: Yeah. I’m gonna go to bed. This is going to be great. And next week, I mean, should you say?
John: Yeah. Next week I think Craig is going to be breaking out his guitar because our numbers have come back over the 100,000 mark and they seem to be sort of reliably there. So I feel like our Cool Thing may be a song that Craig gets to play us out with.
Craig: Yeah. I’m going to be playing a song. It’s happening next week.
John: It’s gonna be great.
Craig: All right.
John: Craig, enjoy.