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, can you feel it? It’s that time of year again.
Craig: It is my favorite time of year, John. My favorite time.
John: Because it’s WGA election season again.
Craig: Oh, so good.
John: Every year we get to pick new candidates for — not really new candidates — we get to pick new members to be on the Board of Directors for the Writers Guild.
Craig: We get to.
John: We get to. And for a very small percentage of our listenership are extraordinarily interested in it, and the rest of our listenership could kind of give a rat’s ass. But, I do want to talk about it because it’s important. And so it’s one of the things we’ll talk about today on the podcast.
And we’ll talk about actually a thing that is maybe a little bit more important and factors into more people’s lives, which is how to not be fat.
Craig: How to not be fat. For writers.
John: For writers, yeah. Really kind of for anybody. You can choose to not be fat and be an accountant, or an editor, or there’s many job which you can choose to not be fat. A sumo wrestler? This is not the podcast for you.
Craig: Right. That — we’ll be doing a future podcast called How to Be Fat.
John: And that’s just for sumo wrestlers. And we’ll give you fair warning that it’s not going to be for everyone.
John: Just like the career of screenwriting isn’t for everyone, the career of sumo wrestling is not for everyone. Did you ever see — there was a kid who really aspired to be a sumo wrestler, and he just wasn’t actually tall enough. And so he got essentially a silicon boob implant on the top of his head to give him enough height.
John: So, I swear this is real and I’ll try to find a link for it and put it in the show notes. This kid, he really wanted to be a sumo wrestler and he wasn’t tall enough. And so essentially they put in one of those expandable boob implants at the top of his head, like under the skin, between the skull and his hair line to raise up his head so he would be technically tall enough to compete in sumo.
Craig: But then unfortunately once the operation was complete he just spent all day feeling the top of his head.
John: Yeah. The things people will do. I mean, that’s crazy, but it’s crazier than like what many women in the 50’s will do to their faces.
Craig: Actually, I disagree. It is, in fact, crazier. He’s put a tit on the top of his head in order to be a sumo wrestler. First of all, sumo wrestling is a ridiculous sport. I know. I know, I’m going to get it from our sumo listening… — It’s really sumo wrestling is a legacy sport. It’s really done now I think mostly just to celebrate culture and tradition. It’s not actually really a good sport that anybody outside of Japan watches with any regularity.
I guess you could argue that — no, because baseball — people love baseball in Japan, and the Dominican Republic. It’s just a legacy sport. And this kid didn’t qualify for height, and this is a body size sport. Adding the head tit is not going to make him any better at sumo wrestling. He’s really just gaming the rules and he’s gonna get his ass kicked, I presume, because he’s just not tall enough.
And, also, he has a boob on his head which is insane. And I presume that, now that boob is there, that he’s going to spend the rest of his life as Tit Head.
John: Yeah. He could take the boob out if he needed to. He could have a head-breast reduction surgery.
Craig: It’s ridiculous. I mean, don’t get me wrong: I think that what a lot of women in their 50’s, and by the way, let’s be equal opportunity about this — men…
John: Oh yeah, do some crazy things too.
Craig: There’s a guy who’s reporting on the Olympics and my wife keeps…she insists I have to come in and see him every time because he’s so Botoxed up. But sometimes when they Botox you I guess they can’t hit the sides, they just get the front of your forehead. So he’s got this preternaturally smooth immovable forehead but every time he does move where his forehead would move, the sides wrinkle up. It’s kind of like Saran Wrap does when it’s over a nice chicken breast and then you squish it. It’s horrifying. Horrifying.
What are these people doing?
John: Which people? The people who are getting the Botox injections?
Craig: Right. I know what they’re doing. But why?
John: Because they see sometimes it actually works amazingly well and for some people it is fantastic. And god bless them if they want to look their best. But for other people it is just horrifying and they have some sort of mirror disease where they’re not actually seeing what’s in front of them.
John: It’s dysmorphia, in fact.
Craig: Dysmorphia. But here’s my point: I grant you that in some limited cases with limited amounts of treatment it can make you look better, objectively better. But, over time that’s a losing battle. There is a tipping point for all human beings where all it does is make you look freaky. And at some point I suspect these people just don’t understand that they have to stop now. And it must be really hard because if you’re the kind of person that’s not willing to put up with a few wrinkles, you’re not going to be able to put up with looking like the prune that we all become.
John: The most impressive, I don’t know if it was plastic surgery or other work I ever saw done is Jaclyn Smith, who is, you know, from the original Charlie’s Angels. She’s also in the Charlie’s Angels sequel.
And so I met her and I’m like, oh my…I’d heard about…I’m like, “Oh my god, you are stunningly beautiful and you are a woman of quite a significant age.” And you can’t, I mean, literally her face was just perfect. But then you shake her hand and you’re like, “Oh, this is an older woman’s hand. This is the hand of the actual person you are.”
John: They can’t do anything for your hands. That’s why you can wear gloves.
Craig: And now you’re a glove-wearing freak. [laughs] You know, I remember Bill Maher years ago had a great thing — he was talking about how everybody would always say Sophia Loren is still the sexiest woman on the planet. And he’s like, “No she’s not. She’s a grandma. You don’t French kiss grandma. Let’s stop pretending that this 70 year old woman is the sexiest woman on the planet.”
There’s a whole reason that sexy is about young. It’s not about being offensive to old people. It’s because you’re not procreative anymore. Sexuality is tied to procreation. I mean, that’s why it’s there. Granted, in some cases orientation makes that impossible, but ultimately that’s why it exists in the first place. And we all stop being procreative after a certain age, so why would an 80 year old person be sexy, or a 60 year old person? They’re not really sexy.
And anybody who tells you that 60 year olds are sexy, they’re just being nice.
John: [laughs] Maybe so.
Craig: Ah, look, you see? This is where…so Pam Ribon, a good writer and a friend of ours, friend of the podcast, did a whole thing about the podcast the other day about why women aren’t sending in as many things and are they really less interested. And she, [laughs], she described it to us as you’re the nice, nurturing one and I was the rich, cranky guy.
John: Yeah, I don’t actually want to challenge you too badly on stuff, but there’s times where, yeah…
Craig: You think so?
John: …I disagree with you.
Craig: Well, first of all, can I just say, I know we’re wildly off-track now; we’re turning into the Howard Stern Show. But why am I the rich cranky guy and you’re the nurturing guy, but you’re not the rich nurturing guy? You’re rich.
John: Oh, that’s an interesting point of view. Nurturing I get; I do have this tendency to sort of look for the bright side of situations and to help people along. And I will humor people with their idiotic questions sometimes. Rich is an interesting distinction.
Craig: Yeah, like I’m the bad banker from It’s a Wonderful Life or something like that, you know. But then she called me out for referring to one of our submissions, and it was submitted by a woman, as being “cute.” And that was sort of, in her mind, it was a bit pejorative when…
John: See, I don’t think “cute” is pejorative at all.
Craig: I don’t either.
John: Like Frankenweenie is cute. My upcoming movie Frankenweenie is cute.
Craig: It is cute. Those ads are really cute. Exactly. Yeah. I don’t think so. And then also women call guys “cute” when they like them.
John: Totally. And I was just having a conversation with Mike Su, who is a video game developer for iPhone and iOS devices. And we were talking about like the best selling iOS games. And I pointed out, like, “They’re all cute.” The winning titles — they’re cute. They have to have something cute. And they need to have sort of bubbly heads and big eyes and those are the ones that are top sellers.
Craig: No question.
John: There’s nothing wrong with cute.
Craig: So that’s my response. That’s my response. That’s my cranky response.
John: Let’s do some follow up.
John: Last week we talked about my concern that when you read reviews of movies, the screenwriter’s name seems to only be mentioned when it’s a negative review. And if it’s a positive review you’re not even going to her the screenwriter’s name.
John: And so I asked if anybody who is like a grad student in statistics, or is pursuing that, wanted to actually do a study.
Craig: You’re not going to tell me that somebody actually — somebody actually did this?
John: Someone stepped up.
Craig: You’re kidding me. Already?
John: Already. So, Tim from Hollywood stepped up. And so he’s volunteered to do sort of a small pilot study. So he’s going to do 50 recent movies, looking through their Rotten Tomatoes, just to see if there’s something there.
John: So it’s just a test run to see if there’s something interesting worth studying there. If the results come back that there’s probably nothing there, yeah.
Craig: Hey, that is, you know, we have good listeners.
John: We have great listeners. We have the best listeners.
Craig: Really. Thank you. That’s awesome.
John: We have 99,000 brilliant listeners. And 1,000 people we could do without. But most, the people who are listening right now, they’re the best listeners in the world.
Craig: The best.
John: Mark writes in. “I listen to the podcast every week.” Thank you, Mark. “Ever since Craig mentioned his wacky electronic cigarette a few podcasts back I’ve noticed an odd sound that, upon closer listening, sounds a lot like someone inhaling a fake cigarette. It is telling that the sound always occurs when you, John, is talking, not Craig.
“Exhibits A through D in this week’s podcast: At 34:37 there’s a long inhaling sound followed by Craig’s ‘Yeah,’ which sounds like a veiled, gauzy, non-carcinogenic exhaled water vapor. The sound recurs at 35:09, 35:21, and 35:37. Is Craig toking like nuts to get through the show? Is this not a drug-free podcast? Can I believe the clean label on iTunes or are we mired in the filth of the explicit section. Please discuss.”
Craig: [laughs] Now last week, if you all recall, I was desperately tired. And I listened back to the podcast, [laughs], and I sounded like a different person. I was really mellow. Not at all rich and cranky, which is not like me. And, yeah, I was definitely puffing on my electronic cigarette. Now I’m going to do it now, and so for our sleuthy listener who is bordering, frankly, on obsessive and scary, I’m going to — I’m going to provide you with the sound. And you may then match it up in your audio analysis booth, and make sure to say the words, “Wait. Stop. Enhance that.”
Okay, ready? [puffs] That was it.
John: Yeah, it’s pretty subtle.
Craig: Yeah, it’s very minor. Now if that was the sound you heard, in fact that was me attempting through the judicious use of an electronic cigarette to stay the F awake.
John: All right. That’s totally fair. But now, of course, I’m going to have Stuart sample that out and blow it up really big. And so whenever there’s an awkward pause, by that we’ll all know what’s really secretly going on.
Craig: When you say whenever there’s awkward pause you mean every time I finish saying something…
John: Yeah, before I get to a “Yeah.” When I’m thinking, like, “What will I say instead of ‘yeah?'” That’s what I’ll say.
Craig: Are you starting to hate me? [laughs]
John: Sort of. If this were a video podcast everyone would see that you have the electronic cigarette, but it’s in like one of those long cigarette holders, [laughs], so it’s extra fabulous that way.
Craig: That’s like, oh my god, Robot FDR.
John: Yeah. Or Miss Scarlet from Clue. That’s what I really picture you like.
John: Matthew writes about last week’s podcast, “Craig seems to be using the words critic and reviewer interchangeably and I think he’s blurring a useful distinction. To my mind, reviewers write about films the week they come out and are designed to help filmgoers decide whether to see a particular movie. Critics when they’re writing focus more on creative decisions made by filmmakers and the effects they achieve.”
Craig: Yeah, that’s fair.
John: Craig, do you think that’s a useful distinction?
Craig: Yeah. That is fair. I was using them interchangeably and technically that person is correct. There’s a world of film studies, essentially. And so critic in that sense would be analogous to literally critic, which is not a book reviewer. That’s somebody that analyzes literary works, novels, and so forth.
So, yes, that is a fair point to make. I was using them interchangeably. I was talking about reviewers. People who write true film criticism really don’t exhibit any of the flaws that I notice in our reviewing industry.
John: Yeah. And I think I was blurring those two things together as well. The problem I would say is that I have hard time pointing to who are really the film critics left these days. Because what we think about as the places where you would find film criticism, at least in the newspapers, that’s really more reviewing. And so there are times you have the people who are also reviewing movies will do in-depth pieces about a movement or a genre or sort of things that are happening in film. And that really feels like criticism as opposed to reviewing a movie that comes out this week.
Craig: Yeah. Film criticism kind of had a heyday, I think, the sera-sera. Now if you actually look in real film criticism, it has fallen prey to what much of modern literary criticism has fallen prey to. It’s really steeped in identity politics and sort of — it’s all post-modern. And academia is still swooning from Foucault and Derrida. And one day it will figure out how to pull its head out of that quicksand pit and start writing in a way that’s relevant to people outside of academia, I suppose.
But if there are really good, relevant film critics out there that you find interesting to read, we’d love to hear about them.
John: Yeah, please write in.
Heather wrote in and she asked, “My blog was optioned by a cable network.” Congratulations Heather.
John: “They bought certain stories they wanted to turn into a movie. I just received what I believe is called a script outline from the head of programming, and it is awful. When we were negotiating, he told me they wanted my voice, my vibe. Maybe he was just blowing smoke. My question is: would it be presumptuous and rude to offer to write a script outline free of charge for consideration? Or do I just accept that the material is now the network’s and cash the check when the project is complete?”
John: Tough call.
Craig: Yeah, well, there’s certainly nothing wrong with you trying to write something for them and saying, “Look, wouldn’t this be better?” But they’ve shown you their hand. This is what they want. If they’re giving it to you, maybe they’re giving it to you because they have to give it to you. I don’t know if you have any kind of approval written into your contract. I suspect you don’t. It’s not every day that somebody options or licenses a blog, and you probably didn’t have that much leverage I’m just guessing.
So, it may be that you’re just confronted with the age old lament of the novelist who licenses their book and then sees a terrible movie out of it.
John: I think she should go for it, because I think the money involved is probably pretty low. If you’re burning any bridges they’re not very big bridges, not very good bridges probably. So, I wouldn’t worry about them.
If this really was written by the network executive and not, like, they found a writer who did this, it may very well be that this person was trying to put together a pitch document to sort of show what they thought the movie was. And they’re not really a writer. And so maybe you really could step in and help that be the document that really shows what the potential of the movie is. So, I don’t think you’re risking much by trying. If it’s really that bad, step up.
Craig: That’s a better answer. I like your answer better. I agree.
John: Thanks. But we’ll keep yours just so people can compare and contrast.
Craig: Yeah. Well, I mean they should. They should see what a not-as-good answer sounds like.
John: Good. So, let’s move onto our main topics. This is the WGA election season. So every year we get to pick some new candidates for the Board of Directors. And every two years we also swap out our officers. Correct me when I make mistakes because you know this better than I do.
Craig: I shall.
John: But this is a cycle in which we’re not electing President and Secretary and Treasurer — that kind of stuff. We’re simply electing people to be on the Board of Directors. And it’s not as — I don’t want to say it’s not as crucial of an election, but it’s not as scary of an election, because this won’t be the people who are heading in to right away a new WGA contract.
John: So you want people who are going to be good stewards of the Guild, who are going to bring up the other topics that need to be talked about, but you don’t necessarily need your big guns on this one, because this is a building year rather than a fighting year.
Craig: Not exactly. I mean, the thing is even thought it’s what they call an “off election year,” the Board, there are 16 board members. And every year 8 of them are up for election. So, half of them are up for election along with the officers and half aren’t. This is one of those aren’t years, like you said, but they serve for two years. And two years from now I think our deal will be up and in advance, about a year in advance of our deal expiring nominating committees form, policy approach, all that stuff is formed.
I wish I could say that there’s any one year where it actually doesn’t matter. Every year actually kind of does matter if you’re looking at it in that context.
John: I would agree.
So this year I actually had the privilege of being on the nominating committee to help find these candidates. And so we met three different times and did interviews with all of these candidates, so I actually met I think all of these people who are running. And they’re all terrific.
So, I can talk a little bit about the nominating committee. I had the impression that we had to like, you know, give them our stamp of approval. It really was just a “you’re not a crazy person.” That’s basically our whole job was to make sure that no one who’s coming in the door was crazy, and hopefully get some really good people to run.
And so I took it upon myself to convince some people to come in and try, including Jordan Mechner and Barbara Turner, who are both great, great candidates. And I got to listen to what these people thought were concerns that the Guild to do a better job of addressing. We could help them sort of figure out how they might want to present themselves to WGA when they present in their candidate statement in the packet.
So, I thought we’d talk through just who the candidates are and give some quick impressions, if that sounds good to you.
Craig: Let’s do it.
John: I don’t want to pronounce her name wrong. It’s Katherine Fugate?
Craig: It’s Fugate. [pronounced Fu-jay]
John: Is it really Fu-jay?
Craig: Yeah. I think she’s, well, she’s from New Orleans and I think it’s some kind of Cajun/Frenchy kind of name.
John: Well I’m apologizing for mispronouncing her name. It’s so hard when it’s a name you’ve seen a zillion times written down but you’ve never had to say aloud.
Craig: Well you’d never get Fu-jay out of Fugate. Nobody would.
John: No one would. But I had one of those unpronounceable names, too, and it didn’t make it easier that everyone pronounced it wrong, too.
Craig: That’s true. That is true.
John: So Katherine is running again. David Goodman. Kathy Kiernan. David Shore. So these are all people who are currently serving on the board. They were elected in 2010 and they are running again. I have nothing particular to say about them.
Craig: Well, I’ve known Katherine for a long, long time. A very lovely, lovely woman. And I guess Pam is going to be angry with me, because I called her lovely. Sorry. She’s neither lovely nor cute. She’s formidable. [laughs] She’s a formidable, strong woman, and a screenwriter, and Katherine is very empathetic towards other writers as opposed to me. I’m, of course, cranky. She’s probably more…I mean, I hesitate to use really left and right; I mean, there’s generally people who are more moderate and want to try and seek a compromise to advance their goals. There are people that are a little more confrontational with the companies. She’s probably more confrontational than I am which is no surprise, most people are.
But she’s good. And she’s been around awhile. And I think sometimes just having served is valuable in and of itself. It means that you have a certain amount of understanding about what works and what doesn’t work. You’ve tried all the goofy crazy ideas. It’s a very common thing when people enter governance for the first time. They’re like, “Ugh, why don’t these idiots just do A, B, and C.” And then you get into the position and you realize, “Oh, because A is illegal, B is crazy, and C has been tried a million times and didn’t work.” There’s very few like, “Oh, why didn’t we think of that idea” when it comes to union governance. So it’s good to have people that have been around and have some institutional wisdom; so she’s one of them.
David Goodman, very nice guy. Family Guy writer, I think. He is really one of the few unreformed Patric Verrone guys left in there. He is all the way like what I consider to be part of a broken, proven-to-fail philosophy. So, I won’t be voting for him, but he’s a nice guy.
And who was the other one?
John: Kathy Kiernan and David Shore.
Craig: David Shore, I don’t know personally, but I hear great things about him. He is respected by almost everyone. And, I’m sorry, I missed the other name.
John: Kathy Kiernan.
Craig: Oh, Kathy Kiernan. So, Kathy Kiernan is actually a news writer. A lot of people don’t know that the Writers Guild West represents television and screenwriters, but it actually also represents a small amount of news writers, most of whom I think work for KCBS. And a small amount of news radio writers, I believe KNX. So we’re talking really a very small amount of people. Most news writers are represented by the Writers Guild America East. Most news radio people are represented by the East because that’s just the way it worked out.
Kathy’s very nice. Look, because we represent so few news radio writers, I’m always torn. Well, so much of what we do is about the 95% of the membership that we comprise, and not, I don’t know what it is, maybe like 50 news writers, but maybe fewer news radio writers. But, then again, it’s probably not a bad idea to have somebody like that there who is sort of representing the minority. So I think that’s a good thing.
John: That was really what I was looking at as we were interviewing these candidates, and I always have looked at it as I’ve gone through the book and sort of figured out who I was going to be voting for, is to try to get some balance between the different perspectives and what people are going to be able to bring to the table.
One of my big concerns is that feature screenwriters tend to be underrepresented in the Board. And feature screenwriter’s needs are in some ways unique and different than TV writers. It’s just the way, like daytime writer’s needs are unique. And so you want to make sure you have at least somebody on the Board who can bring that perspective, because if you don’t maybe that perspective is going to get overlooked altogether. And so finding the balance there is tricky. But I think we actually have some good candidates across the board for that.
There’s 8 other names here, so I don’t want to sort of go through each one of them because you won’t know a lot of these people.
Craig: I won’t.
John: I did want to single out Jordan Mechner who is a friend of mine who I asked to run. Jordan Mechner is best known as a video game designer. He did the original Prince of Persia. He did Karateka. I’ve worked with him as a screenwriter on a Fox pilot and we worked on Prince of Persia together. He’s fantastic.
And one of the reasons why I really wanted Jordan to run is that he comes from a background of actually owning intellectual property. And so as WGA members, the WGA represents employees. So we represent people who are hired to adapt things, or hired to create stuff for corporations. Jordan is from a world of creating stuff for himself and owning that intellectual property. And I think the way forward is going to be a balance between those entrepreneurial instincts of creating your own stuff, creating your comic books and graphic novels like he’s also done, and all that stuff that you own yourself that you are completely in control of, and working for other people.
And Jordan sort of balances that, and I think he brings some good perspective in sort of that part of the business.
Craig: Yeah. I think, having served on the Board, I will tell you that one of the things that happens pretty quickly is whatever you bring to it that you think qualifies you becomes subsumed a bit by what the tasks are that the union presents to you.
You may have a bunch of things that you think you’re good at or that you want to accomplish. The union says, “Yay, that’s great. But here’s what’s going on right now. And we need you to deal with this.” And so the most valuable trait is intelligence. And Jordan is very, very smart. So, on those grounds alone he’ll have my vote.
John: So here’s my advice to you: This next week you’ll be getting your packet if you’re a WGA member. If you’re not a WGA member you’ve probably fast-forwarded through this because this is not very interesting to you. But as you get your packet, I always like to look through and read the candidate’s statements. I kind of score them, because I’m a scorer. I like to rank them sort of one to ten. And then I look at sort of who’s endorsing them, who else I sort of agree with and sort of why they’re endorsing them, and make my decisions on that.
One of the things we talked about last year when we did this — god, that was a year ago, wasn’t it?
John: We’ve been doing this podcast a year. — Was that you don’t actually have to vote for 8 empty spots. You don’t have to vote for 8 people. So if there’s 6 people you really want to be in and you don’t really care about the other 2, you’re better off looking for 6.
Craig: That’s right. So that your sixth place guy doesn’t lose to your seventh place guy.
Craig: That’s called bulleting your votes. You can vote for one person if you want.
John: Yeah. Do it. So, enough on that. This is sort of our big meaty topic and this came up a couple of weeks ago. We said, “We should do a podcast about that,” and let’s do a podcast about that, is how to not be fat. Because screenwriters as a career, as a group, as a cohort, tend to be larger members of the Hollywood community.
Craig: [laughs] You’ve already blown it by saying fat. So you don’t have to think the euphemisms.
John: Yeah, I think we’re fatter. Past euphemisms. But here’s the thing is: I don’t want to say that most screenwriters are fat, because I don’t think that’s really true. Compared to, like, average Midwestern Americans, we’re not fat.
Like, if you took a screenwriter and put him on a plane and he got off in Ohio, he’d be one of the thinner people there.
Craig: Well, for some of them, sure. I mean, in general really what I’ve noticed when I’m around other screenwriters is it’s not so much that we’re an obese lot. I mean, this isn’t like going to a Walmart in Mississippi. It’s that we’re out of shape. We’re out of shape. Some of us are very fat. Some of us are just…
There are screenwriters who are skinny-fat, which is one of my favorite new terms. They’re not probably weight-wise overweight; they just have no muscle tone whatsoever. It’s as if they were sculpted from a goo.
Craig: And it makes sense, because our jobs are completely sedentary. And more than that, I think, they’re very internal. We prize and are rewarded for what goes on in our brain and not at all for what we do with our bodies. Not even one iota. So it’s only natural that taking care of our bodies would drop into second, or third, or fourth place on our list of things to do in a given day.
John: As we dig into this, I do want to stress that I understand how strange it seems to be getting advice on being fit from screenwriters. It’s like asking an actor for financial advice.
John: But, we’ve both been there. And you were a heavier person.
John: And I’ve managed to maintain relatively good health throughout my career, but it hasn’t always been easy and it hasn’t always been obvious what the best choices were. So, and I see people making bad choices. I get frustrated when I see people sort of reaching for a magic bullet. Like they’ll focus on one thing, like, “If I stop eating canned foods that will change everything because there’s like a chemical in cans that’s really bad for you so you shouldn’t eat canned foods.”
Craig: Oh god.
John: It’s like, yeah, you also shouldn’t eat chocolate donuts for breakfast. People who sort of over-fixate on one little thing and don’t look at the big picture of how not to get giant.
Craig: That’s a very LA phenomenon. Maybe it’s bigger than this. But I have noticed that there is a bizarre and completely misdirected obsession with food. So, I see people who are not in good shape or who are not taking care of themselves, but they become obsessed with trendy nonsense, gluten and so forth.
I mean, there’s a great article: some people legitimately have an issue with gluten. A lot of people just don’t, but they think they do or they say they do. There becomes an obsession with freshness, you know, organic as opposed to inorganic. I guarantee you if all you did all day was eat the “inorganic,” because all foods organic, but “inorganic” fruits and vegetables and lean meats and proteins you would be in better shape than somebody who ate nothing but pure, organic, gluten-free cupcakes, donuts, bread, cake.
John: And a similar situation, too, like vegetarianism or veganism. I was a vegetarian for seven years. I’m not a vegetarian now, but I’m much healthier for not being a vegetarian. And it’s because in fixating on that one thing, like, “Oh, I don’t eat meat, so therefore I can eat everything else,” I made horrible choices. I was eating ice cream rather than chicken, and that was never a good choice.
Craig: It’s just not a great idea. And you can be a very smart vegetarian, there’s no question about it. But we’re getting pretty smart. A funny thing happened about ten years, I would say about ten years ago. The diet industry had always concentrated on a certain way of approaching things and then along came this Atkins guy. And, boy, was he beaten up.
But it turns out he was right.
John: He was largely right.
Craig: He wasn’t completely right in the way maybe he was expressing it. And he got a little cuckoo about it. But the general theory there turned out to be right. So, what we know is in general — I’m not talking even about losing weight. I’m just talking about general, okay, you’re fine, you’re in shape, you’re in a good place. — Generally speaking, eating fewer processed carbohydrates, eating fewer simple carbohydrates, and eating more lean protein, and not being fat-phobic in terms of what you ingest — there are good fats, healthy fats — is a better way to eat than what you and I were taught in the ’70s with the food pyramid, which turns out to just be wrong.
Craig: But that doesn’t help you lose weight.
John: For the last 18 months I’ve been doing basically a slow carb diet. I’m a little reluctant to talk about it because it all started with this book I read called The 4-Hour Body by a guy named Tim Ferriss. And Tim Ferriss, he’s, I don’t know, he’s sort of the Ryan Lochte of book writers. And like Ryan Lochte, it’s like, wow Ryan Lochte, you’re a really good swimmer. Congratulations on being a really good swimmer. But I’m not sure I’d want to hang out with him. That’s the same way I kind of feel about Tim Ferriss is that what he’s saying actually works and makes sense, but that doesn’t mean — I’m not vouching for him as like “here is the go to guru that you should trust with everything in your life.”
But the 4-Hour Body, I’ve been on it for 18 months, and it works really, really well. I lost about ten pounds and it’s very easy to maintain. It takes the basic ideas of like an Atkins or a South Beach, which is largely what you’re describing, like you’re cutting out your simple carbohydrates and going for lean proteins. It does that with — it also cuts out dairy and it allows you to sort of have the longer burning carbs like beans so that you actually can stay full.
And it’s been the easiest thing I’ve ever done diet-wise, largely because of one extra exception it makes, is that you have one cheat day a week where you can just blow it out and you can eat anything you possibly would want to eat. And that’s been its savior, because when I’ve done South Beach or other kind of diety things, you just get so angry and crazy and you look at stuff, like I will never be able to eat a brownie again.
And on this it’s like, well, yeah, I can eat a brownie on Saturday. And, in fact, I can eat two brownies on Saturday, but I just won’t eat it the rest of the week. And it’s been a godsend. It’s been really easy. And you don’t have to count calories. You don’t have to worry about anything because you just say, like, “These are the things I can eat. For six days a week these are the things I eat. On the seventh day I rest and I can eat anything.”
Craig: Right. Well it’s important for me to point out that there’s two ways of approaching this depending on what group you’re in. If you are somebody that is trying to be more fit but you’re not obese, then I think there are reasonable approaches that are all essentially the same that are going to be good for you: Increasing your exercise level in some way that doesn’t make you crazy; and shifting gradually away from the simple carb/sugary way of eating to a more Atkins/South Beach/Ferriss kind of way, which is complex carbohydrates, proteins.
I mean, dairy for instance is a great thing to limit because, not so much because of the fat in dairy or the protein in dairy but because of the inevitable sugars that come along with dairy. But, that’s for people who aren’t obese.
For people who are obese I think, in my experience, there is a different approach that is required. And the reason why is we now know that fat makes you fatter. How? Fat cells actually release hormones. And the hormones that fat cells release stimulate your appetite and your hunger. You’re already in a bad place because you are likely eating a kind of sugar-heavy diet. And so your insulin levels are getting goofy and your blood sugar is going down which makes you hungry. That’s going on already. But, on top of that, there is this added level of what the fat that you already have accumulated is doing to your brain.
In order to get to a place where you can have some sort of reasonable diet that works, because here you’re saying, “Okay, I’ll lose ten pounds.” There are people who need to lose 100 pounds. There are people who need to lose 200 pounds. What do you do?
You could do Tim Ferriss for 12 years. It’s not going to do it for you. For those people there are basically two options. There’s surgery. Sorry, there’s two options I see as being reasonable.
John: All right.
Craig: There is surgery. And then there is what they call very low calorie diets, which have been shown to work and, in fact, it’s what I did. And it worked amazingly well. Surgery we all know about. I’m not going to go into it, although I’m not against it. But the very low calorie diet is pretty simple. You’re going to eat something like 850 calories a day, which is not a lot at all. And it is essentially going to comprise nothing more than lean proteins, a very small amount of complex carbohydrate, a very small amount of fruit, and that’s that. And the first week or two is going to be quite miserable. And then your body realizes that it’s got all this fat that it can burn and it burns it amazingly efficiently.
And once your body converts over into this fat-burning mode, because it’s nowhere near the calorie level it needs from food intake, you stop being hungry because you’re essentially eating yourself. And the fat loss is quite rapid. And I will say this: When it comes to losing weight for very heavy people, the only way to really maintain it is to get rid of it completely. Like you’ve got to go all the way. If you’re 300 pounds and you’re 5’11”, you can’t go down to 225 pounds and celebrate. You’re still overweight. The fat is still there playing tricks on your brain.
You’ve got to go down, down to 170, down to 175 or 180, whatever is right for you. And then you can start to…
By the way, at that point then exercise becomes a reality. Don’t tell 300-puond people that they have to go out and exercise. They can’t. You can’t. I mean, what do you weight, 170 pounds?
John: Yeah, exactly.
Craig: Okay. I’m pretty good at this.
So, if I said to you I need you to go out and exercise but for the next week I need you to strap on 130 pounds, for all of your exercise. Weightlifting, there’s 130 pounds on top of your body. Running, jogging, stretching, yoga, everything — 130 pounds. You wouldn’t last a minute. You can’t say to these people exercise. They can’t. No one can.
I mean, well, some people, like Olympic people. But my point is you’ve got to lose the weight to exercise. So when people say, “Well, you know, this guy needs to do a pushup” — you do a pushup with 130 pounds on top of your back. Good luck.
So, my advice is to think about a very low calorie diet. However, you have to do it under a doctor’s supervision.
John: You have to do it under a doctor’s supervision. And you had a doctor supervise when you did this?
Craig: Yes. Because it’s a fairly extreme thing to do. And there are some side effects that they know about. They’re certainly not universal. There’s a percentage, there’s an elevated risk of gallstones when you do something like this. And you have to watch your nutrition. You have take vitamins and you have to make sure that you supplement in that regard. And you need somebody taking your blood essentially every couple of weeks to make sure that something isn’t gong incredibly wrong. But, if you are doing this as part of a physician-monitored program, it’s quite extraordinary. What happens to your body on the outside is impressive. What happens on the inside is even more impressive.
Your blood pressure goes down. Your heart rate goes down. Your bad cholesterol goes down. Your good cholesterol goes up. Your triglycerides go down. Your liver enzymes — because a lot of people don’t know that we store fat and glycogen in our livers — your liver enzymes go down.
I mean, you can essentially create the same state in your liver that alcoholics create through overeating. It’s pretty remarkable. And when you look at our country and all the problems we have, health-wise, you can trace almost every single one of them — the chronic, widespread epidemic ones — back to weight.
John: You wouldn’t have nearly as many people on CPAP machines if weight was lower.
Craig: I mean, you’d have almost no one on CPAP machines. I mean, very few people have congenital throat structural sinus issues that require CPAP machines. Depression. Sleep apnea. Back problems. Joint problems. Anxiety. Sexual dysfunction. I mean, what else? Skin problems. So many of these issues you can track back to just being overweight.
And we, as screenwriters, I think just have to be really aware that our job is sitting and thinking, and that means if you are really overweight it’s time to get extreme about it. And if you’re not really overweight it’s time to exercise.
John: Yeah, so let’s talk about exercise because one of the challenges I think as screenwriters is we’re often working alone. If you haven’t exercised before, if you haven’t been to the gym it’s hard to start going to the gym. And that was the problem I really faced when I first moved out to Los Angeles is that I was going to USC and I knew that, okay, I should probably start working out because it’s the kind of thing a person should do when they’re in their early 20’s. But I didn’t sort of know how to do it.
And so fortunately I had friends who did work out. So I first started working out with my friend André Béraud, who worked out at the USC gym. Then I worked out with my friend Tom Hoffman at the YMCA gym on the west side. And that was crucial. I think working out with somebody was hugely helpful to me.
So, I could go to classes and stuff like that, but if you’re actually lifting weights or doing other stuff, having someone there to show up…it’s like having a writing partner. Having someone who you’re responsible for on a social level, showing up and actually doing the work was hugely helpful.
Later on, you know, as I had some money and my schedule got more busy, I had a real trainer. And that’s like kind of a friend you pay. But it was helpful. And because I knew I was paying for those sessions, I would show up and I would do what the trainer said so I would not get fat, or stay in shape.
Craig: Yeah, look, there are all sorts of ways to approach exercise. And I’m a very — my attitude is it’s all good. All exercise is good, at any level. Walking up the street for ten minutes is good. I will say that, right now, so I’m doing P90X. And P90X is a fairly intense — it’s a very intense program. I’m early on it. And I almost never get to the end of the session. I just fall apart.
But I know then, okay, that’s good. [laughs] If I’ve gotten to the place where I literally am just gasping…
John: You’ve actually done the work.
Craig: …and drenched in sweat. And can’t go any further. I’ve done a hell of a job that day. And so I just presume that it’s going to get easier and better, and that’s the key. When we start exercising there’s a tape that runs in our head. “I’m exercising now for the first time because I’m ugly/fat/slow/weak/lazy. I exercise and it hurts, it’s painful. I’m ungainly/awkward/weak/not very good at it/can’t finish it/not like the people on the tape/not like the people next to me in the gym/not like the people on TV.”
Let me feed that loop back into, “I’m no good/I’m lazy/I’m weak/I’m tired,” da, da, da. That’s the part that you’ve got to just sever. Your fine. You’re exercising. Congrats. You’ve already won. Gold star for you.
Yes, of course you’re going to be weak and ungainly and clumsy and in pain for awhile. And then you won’t be. And you will not be able to get to the won’t be until you get through the will be. Just like writing a script. [laughs] You’ve got to look at it that way. “Okay, page one. Big empty script. Oh god, this is gonna suck for awhile.” But you will get to a place where it’s flowing and it’s easy. And exercise leads to more exercise.
John: Yeah. And I do feel sometimes people in their diet, they try to take too — either they try to go too far and they try to get on something so crazy that they can’t possibly maintain. I see them doing the same kind of things with exercise. Like they haven’t exercised at all and suddenly they’re like, “I’m going to run ten miles today.” And like, well, that’s not going to work out well for anybody.
Craig: That’s right.
John: So that is one of the things you can sort of ease your way into. I mean, as far as diet, just start with breakfast. Just don’t eat a terrible breakfast. Don’t eat Eggo Waffles for breakfast. East scrambled eggs and black beans. That’s what I have for breakfast almost every morning. And everyone is like, “God, don’t you get bored of scrambled eggs and black beans?”
Yeah, well kind of. But it’s breakfast. Who cares? You’re going to be eating the same thing for breakfast most days in your life anyway. So rather than cereal you’re eating scrambled eggs and black beans. It’s fine.
If I’m in New York I’ll go to one of the deli places and have them make an egg white omelet with spinach and mushrooms. It’s good. It’s protein. It fills you up. And I don’t get that crazy hunger two hours later. The same thing with exercise. You’re doing the P90X which is awesome. And if you can keep it up for the time that you’re supposed to be doing it, that’s great. But if a person just wants to start like hiking at Runyon Canyon a couple times a week, that’s going to be a much better and more realistic start.
Craig: For sure. Yeah. Because I’m already kind of in shape. You know, I’ve been going to a trainer for awhile. I know what it means to work out. I know what it means to do pushups. I know what it means to weight train. But when I first started I was fat and I couldn’t do anything.
And right now where I am, it’s funny, because Todd Phillips did P90X. He’s the one that sort of said, “You should do this.” And he showed me a picture and I was like, “Oh my god,” look, because I’ve known the guy for awhile. And you don’t really see what’s going underneath people’s shirts. And he showed me a picture of what he looked like without his shirt on. I’m like, “Geez, look at that.” It’s amazing actually.
So, I started doing it. And every day I would just send him an email and say, “I can’t believe you did this. I can’t believe you did this for 90 days.” But he did do it for 90 days. And the point is he couldn’t, I mean, when he started he couldn’t believe it either. You just have to — so you’re always, you know, it’s like when we talked about Jiro and sushi. You’re not — oh, god, I can’t believe I don’t remember the name of the guy who just won the Decathlon. He’s the most in shape, fit guy in the world; we’re never going to be that guy. There’s always going to be someone more in shape than you, so relax, and just do what you can do.
John: Yeah. Be a better version of who you can be. And I think Todd Phillips is a good example because it’s a guy who doesn’t have to be in great shape. He’s not going to be an athlete. I’m not going to be an athlete. You just want to be in good enough shape so that you’re able to chase your kids around and not be tired walking up a hill.
Craig: Eh, he ain’t chasing kids around, but he’s chasing something around. [laughs]
John: [laughs] You’re always chasing something. I want to live for a really long time.
John: I don’t want to die. I want to live a super, super long time. I’d love to the singularity but if I don’t make it there I want to at least live to grandkids. And so this is helpful ways to get you closer to that.
Craig: Well, I’ll tell you, I don’t even want to live a long time. I want to live a normal time. I just want the quality of my life to be awesome while I’m here. And it’s very difficult to have a good quality of life when you’re fat and tired and grumpy and depressed. So, to me it’s all about quality as opposed to quantity.
John: Yeah. And one of the things I will stress about sort of the people who go gung-ho into something so hardcore and then — the danger of going so gung-ho into something is that when it doesn’t work, when it fails, you feel like a failure. And it just sets up that whole cycle again. So, making smaller changes that keep stacking up is going to be a better solution for most people.
What you said before about the medical weight loss, that I can see because you have somebody backing you up. You’re on this program. You’re clearly in or you’re out of this program. But for most people I think if you’re trying to lose 10 pounds or 15 pounds that you’ve stacked on in your 30’s, ramping up and sort of changing your life rather than trying to drop them all at once is going to be a better experience.
Craig: Totally. Yeah. Completely.
John: The last thing I want to get to is really a screenwriter problem, and also an editor problem, too. We are people who sit a tremendous amount of time in chairs looking at screens. And the old advice used to be you need to get a better chair. And I strongly suspect now the better advice is don’t get a better chair, just stand up. I think we’re going to keep getting data that show that sitting in chairs for long periods of time is terrible no matter what else you do.
And so screenwriting is one of those things were like, yes, sometimes you really do have to buckle down and maybe sit down and actually type. But when you’re not actually typing, stand up.
And so like I’m recording this podcast standing up. If you’re taking phone calls stand up. You can also just lean on the kitchen counter and do stuff or stick your laptop on the counter. Try to not be down in that chair so much because I think it slows your body down and it changes how your body works.
I’ve noticed I’ve slept much better since I’ve started standing up.
Craig: Yeah. That is good advice. My posture is awful. I do everything wrong in a chair. I slump. I slouch. I curve. And the only thing I can say is then I get up and I walk around and I stretch. But, you know, I should stand more, it’s true.
John: And get a dog. That will also help.
Craig: Yeah. I have a dog. She’s lovely.
John: Yeah, walking dogs is always good. Because it helps you work through second act problems.
Craig: Uh, I still maintain that a shower is the best thing you can do.
John: Showers are good too.
So, hey, are you ready for some One Cool Things?
John: How about I go first, Craig, because I actually know what mine is?
John: My One Cool Thing this week is the Jambox by Jawbone. And what this is is a really small little Bluetooth speaker. And it actually comes in two sizes. There’s a really small one that’s about the size of, I don’t know, two candy bars. And you can use it for both a speaker and as a speakerphone. I’ve actually never used the speakerphone function, but I find it to be great as travel speakers. And so if I’m in a hotel room in New York City and I want to listen to music, I can play music off my phone and it plays on the Jambox and it sounds actually good.
I used it this last week because I was meeting with a composer and I needed to play a bunch of songs for him. And it’s always like, “Oh, do you play it off your laptop?” It’s like, “No, this actually sounds much better.” So from my phone I can play the songs I wanted to play him and it worked really well.
For the house we ended up getting a bigger one that can plug in or we can sort of stick on the kitchen counter when we want to. And that’s what we listen to podcasts on a lot. And so as you’re cleaning the kitchen you fire it up, you listen to stuff, it sounds really good, and it’s always there when you need it. So I strongly recommend both of these. They’ve worked really great for us.
They’re rechargeable so you don’t have to keep them plugged in. And they’re terrific.
Craig: That sounds good. That will be my Cool Thing for the week, also.
John: Awesome. We’ll get to share.
Craig: I don’t have one.
John: Actually, there are two, there’s a bigger and smaller one, so you can pick which one you want to be your Cool Thing.
Craig: Bigger! Bigger.
John: Bigger. Always better.
And, Craig, I think we are now safely over 100,000, so I think next week will be the big acoustic set.
Craig: Yeah. I got new strings on the way. I’m going to restring my guitar so it sounds nice and bright and pleasant. And I’ve got a little thing so I can actually record the vocals and the guitar on two separate tracks into GarageBand so I can make it all nice and pretty.
John: It’s going to be amazing. So, everything we talked about on the podcast today is going to be on johnaugust.com with this podcast title.
Anything more Craig?
Craig: Mm. No. You know what I’m going to do? I’m going to eat a sandwich now. It’s made me hungry.
John: That’s good. I won’t — bread. I’ll eat bread tomorrow. We’re recording this on a Friday. And on Saturday…
Craig: Saturday you go crazy.
John:…I will pig out. But today, no bread.
Craig: No bread. I love it.
John: All right, thanks Craig.
Craig: You got it.