The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: Oh yeah? Well, I’m Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Scriptnotes, Episode 62. It’s a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. And, Craig, one thing that is interesting to a lot of screenwriters is the fact that this past week Disney bought this company called Lucasfilm, which apparently have some project that people like a lot. It’s called The Star Wars. And apparently it was worth $4.05 billion.
Craig: Is that the one with Captain Kirk?
John: That’s what it is! I couldn’t think of which property. It must be Captain Kirk. The one with that and there’s like Cylons in it, I think?
Craig: And when the things burst out of your chest?
John: That’s the one.
Craig: The aliens.
John: Right now there are so many people who are smashing their listening devices as we say this.
Craig: “Worst. Podcast. Ever.”
John: So, that’s something we’ll want to talk about. Also, I made my first ever video game called Karateka that comes out tomorrow which is exciting —
John: — And finally we’re going to answer some listener questions. So, let’s get to it.
A lot of people have been talking about the fact that Disney buying Lucasfilm means that Lucasfilm obviously controls Star Wars and that Disney controls the Star Wars franchise, the existing movies which Lucas owns — he owns the new three, and there’s some other thing about how he owns the earlier stuff.
But, those characters are worth a tremendous amount. Also, Indiana Jones, not the right to make new Indiana Jones movies, but that character they can do stuff with in other media, which is very useful. Of course, the reboot of Radioland Murders.
Craig: And Howard the Duck. [laughs]
John: And Willow. Willow you could actually maybe do something with, but…
Craig: I don’t think so. [laughs]
John: [laughs] But what’s also fascinating is, like, my daughter dressed up as a Jedi for Halloween and her little friend dressed up as Mickey Mouse. I’m like, “Wow, you’re both little Disney characters now,” which is so strange.
Craig: That’s right.
John: Leia is a Disney princess right now.
Craig: That’s right.
John: So, most of the talk I’ve seen has been about the fandom or about the business of it all, but I want to talk sort of what it means for screenwriters. Because I think while I’m sort of excited by what could happen, and also a little nervous about what could happen in terms of these franchises, I’m not sure having one more giant tent pole is going to be a great thing for many screenwriters who are listening to this podcast.
Craig: I think this is going to be a big boom for screenwriters actually.
John: Well fantastic. I would love to talk about that. Tell me why you think it might be a big boom?
Craig: A boom and a boon. I think both.
Look, let me start by saying that this is maybe the single best acquisition any entertainment company has ever pulled off in the history of Hollywood. I think every other studio’s jaw must have dropped when they saw this.
Craig: Because if any of them knew that Lucasfilm were even up for sale, I can’t imagine how you pass on it. The Star Wars universe, frankly, is the closest thing humanity has come to creating a new religion since the great world religions. It is beyond an obsession for a lot of people. And it continues to be an obsession for every generation.
I can’t think of any other movie from 1977 that my kids like as much as Star Wars. I think that the universe is so broad and the applications for the characters in the universe is so broad, are so broad, that we are going to — yes, we are going to certainly see tent pole movies. But I think we’re going to see shows. I think we’re going to see videogames. I think we’re going to see animated movies. I think we’re going to see… — Basically content is going to be written inside of this universe in every possible way. Disney will leave no stone unturned.
All those television shows are going to need to be written. All the movies. All of the videos. The stuff that they’re going to put online. There’s just going to be a ton of content that needs to be written for this. And Lucasfilm has been an incredible bottleneck. I mean, there was a big deal that Clone Wars, you know, that was a big deal that it even was allowed to happen. Well, you know, all bets are off. I think there’s going to be an enormous amount of material that needs to be written, hopefully as much of it as possible at a high level. But I do think a lot of people are going to be employed.
John: My devil’s advocate take on this is that I feel that the concentration of the corporation’s assets into just these couple of marquee properties means they’re going to take fewer risks on other new voices and new… — They’re not going to try to make other new IP. They’re not going to try to make the next Star Wars because they’re going to make Star Wars. And so I think it can limit the chance to reach out to new writers, to new directors, to new voices to try to do new things.
Disney is the company that actually made The Sixth Sense. And I don’t see Disney making The Sixth Sense now because they’re spending all of their resources making the Marvel movies, making the Muppets, making Star Wars, making these big franchises they have to support, between making the Pixar movies.
So, I feel like it’s going to stifle — it’s taking one more actual real buyer out of there for a writer who is working on his or her own material.
Craig: Well, that’s true, but I think we do have to acknowledge that they had already made that decision. Prior to purchasing Lucasfilm, Disney was essentially removing itself from that business that they used to be in of making The Sixth Sense, or non-branded live action movies. They just don’t seem to be interested in it. And when they dipped their toe into that pond with John Carter, it got bit off. So I think that they’re even less interested in doing that now. It’s a different… —
Disney is simply a different studio than the other studios. They operate in a completely different way. So, I don’t know if this is necessarily going to take away business that wasn’t there. I think it’s going to add business — it’s going to add employment; I don’t think their appetite has increased or decreased from its zero state for new IP.
John: I do concede that, that Disney wasn’t exactly lighting up the spec market as it was. They bought some spec this last week, but it felt like that was sort of a fluke situation. They’re not in the business of sort of acquiring new stuff.
And if you look systemically across all the film industry that is a bigger issue that goes beyond sort of one merger or one acquisition is everyone is trying to make these giant tent pole project movies, which creates both a bottleneck of all of our resources being devoted to these things. Those giant marquee properties tend to be the ones that have the worst cases of sort of writer abuse. And they’re buying fewer original things because they’re trying to make Spiderman 17.
Craig: Well, hopefully this doesn’t turn into a bad situation for writers. I tend to try and look at things in the aggregate. Will people be employed? We talk a lot about how it’s harder and harder to be a screenwriter these days, fewer and fewer job opportunities. And while I make my living working in non-branded stuff, you know, I’ve never — I don’t think I’ve ever worked on something that was “branded,” like a Marvel movie or anything like that.
John: The Hangover is almost its own brand now, but it didn’t start that way and doesn’t have brand extensions beyond just being movies.
Craig: Exactly. Hangover started as a $35 million guess that was original IP. So, I don’t make my living in that area, but there are a lot of people who love the Star Wars universe and who actually do aggressively want to write in the Star Wars universe. And it would be nice to see them put to work. And I can’t imagine there won’t be some kind of Tiffany Network primetime series.
Craig: Or perhaps a cable series? I don’t know. But if I were Disney right now I would sort of be thinking, “Let’s explore the edges of this thing.” There is no reason to just concentrate on making three more movies about Darth Vader as an old guy, or whatever. I mean, he’s dead now, but, [laughs], sorry, spoiler alert.
You know, old Luke. You could do that, but you could also do an entire series that’s just about Boba Fett. I mean, who knows what they’re going to do.
John: Yeah. I think you reboot Pinocchio with Darth Vader as Geppetto and R2-D2 as Pinocchio. Done.
Craig: Lock it. Done.
John: Lock it. Done. Sold.
The only reason I keep wanting to play the devil’s advocate here is that this kind of deal is one of the reasons why it’s very hard to make Star Wars now, is that this “let’s take a big, bold chance on making a whole new thing” is even more difficult now than it was when Lucas went out to make Star Wars. And if we’re concentrating all of our resources on rebooting these franchises and sort of squeezing all the dollars out of these franchises, we may not swing for the fences on these things again.
I would have loved John Carter to be a big hit and that could be the next Star Wars. It didn’t happen.
Craig: Yeah. We no longer live in a time where things like that can sneak up on us. The only exception really is James Cameron, who does not make movies that often but when he does, regardless of what you might have thought of his last movie, it was enormous.
Now, did it create the kind of perpetuating phenomenon that Star Wars did? I don’t think so.
John: Not a bit.
Craig: But it’s hard to sneak up on these things. Now it seems that fiction books kind of lead into that. So, the Harry Potter thing is an enormous — that is a Star Wars-esque phenomenon.
John: Absolutely. Harry Potter is the biggest of those. But Twilight to a lesser degree, Hunger Games to a lesser degree. Those build into that kind of level.
John: The Girl who Played with Fire series, yes, but because it was a one quadrant kind of movie they couldn’t generate the huge numbers that you could with a Star Wars.
Craig: Yeah. And I also want to point out before Star Wars there also wasn’t a Star Wars. Star Wars may be one of those 100 year flood kind of deals.
John: Black Swan. Yeah.
Craig: And at some point something is going to happen again, and it’s going to blow people’s minds, I think. But, there was never anything like it before. And we really haven’t seen anything like it since. Harry Potter is the closest you get.
John: I would agree. So, let’s get working on those things now. And so let’s create those things. But I feel like if your goal is to create that thing, you’re going to have to create that as a book series first, because I think it’s very hard to create that in a movie context with this environment. Unless you are one of those filmmakers who is just like, “Sure, let’s go for it; let’s roll the dice and give you all the money you want to do whatever you want to do.” And there are few filmmakers who still are those people.
Craig: Yeah. I think if Nolan had some amazing idea like that they would just let him do it.
John: Yeah. Peter Jackson to some degree. Tim Burton to some degree. They would say, “Yeah, sure, let’s try that.” But Lucas wasn’t any of those people when he got to do Star Wars. He was a risk and I don’t know that we’re taking quite those risks these days.
Craig: Well, you only look back to the arrangement he had with Fox to realize how much the business has changed.
John: Oh my.
Craig: Where he ponied up some cash and in exchange got the merchandising rights, which obviously changed everything, for him and for the business in general. That doesn’t happen anymore. It’s one of those kinds of observer principles where because Star Wars exists there cannot be another Star Wars. But there could be another whatever the next thing is, you know. And that, too, will change the fabric of everything.
Who knows when it will happen? I tend to believe that existence inevitably leads to surprise. So, sooner or later something interesting will happen. I will make a prediction.
Craig: I predict that California Adventure at Disneyland will eventually become Movie Land. And it will be a park dedicated to Marvel and Star Wars and Pixar.
John: That’s a very good prediction I have not heard before, but I believe it. If you even look at sort of the construction they’ve done on it in this last go around, they’ve made it much more Los Angeles centric. Yeah. I think that’s a smart choice.
So, topic two. On the topic of IP and original properties, I’m now involved with something that is someone’s original property, from an original creator. I would maybe even say kind of a little bit of a George Lucas of the videogame industry, Jordan Mechner, who I’ve worked with on Prince of Persia. Prince of Persia was a fantastic videogame that Jordan and I worked really hard and it became a kind of okay movie. Not maybe the movie we hoped it would be, but it became a movie.
And we have just spent the last two years working on a new property that’s not a movie. It’s a videogame. So, I sent you a video showing you some stuff about it. And I kept this secret from you, too, Craig. Right?
Craig: You did. You totally did. I had no idea this was happening. And it was a great thing to see because I, like you, played Karateka when I was — I played it on the Apple IIe.
Craig: I think we had the Atari 400, with the membrane keyboard.
John: Oh, I loved the membrane keyboard.
Craig: But, yeah, I played it on the Apple IIe and it was really fun. That was the early — it was sort of really one of the first videogames that I played on a computer. And it may be the first videogame I played on a computer as opposed to the Atari game system.
John: Yeah. And I remember just loving that game. And so when Jordan said he wanted to sort of reboot Karateka, the first decision was: Do you try to go to one of the big publishers and do it through a big publisher, like what he did with Prince of Persia, or is there a way we can just do it ourselves? Can we do it as an indie game?
And what Jordan is so smart about is figuring out new ways to handle death in a videogame, because videogames are always about sort of dying and then sort of starting and going over again. What we did for Karateka, which I think is really fun, is you start as the True Love who goes to rescue the princess. And if you don’t make it all the way there, you get thrown off a cliff. If you die you get thrown off a cliff and another guy climbs up and takes over from where you got killed. You start as a True Love, you get thrown off as a True Love, and the Monk comes up. And the Monk is a better fighter. And if the Monk gets killed you go with the Brute. And the Brute is basically impossible to kill, so the Brute can probably finish the game.
But, the princess is not going to be delighted to be saved by the Brute. So, death has a cost, but you can pick up the game and not feel like you’ve spent 30 minutes playing through the game and now you have to start over at the beginning again.
Craig: I like that. That’s smart.
John: It’s worked out well. Then the challenge became: how do you actually make this game? And so we ended up partnering with this company called Liquid up in Pasadena. And it’s been so much fun to be — technically I’m executive producer on this. So, I get the fun of checking in with them every couple weeks and seeing what’s going on and saying, “Yes, this feels like the game,” or, “That doesn’t feel like the game for some reason, so let’s figure out why that doesn’t feel like the game.”
And the process of making a videogame is very much like making a movie. You have these different people who have different specialties who are really good at their thing, and Jordan’s job as game creator and director of this game and my job as producer is to get them to do their very best work in the spirit of what the whole project is trying to be.
So, Jeff Matsuda who came through to do all the character design for us created this amazingly sort of cell-shaded world. So, then it’s a matter of finding the animators who can make that actually move and work in a game environment.
We have Christopher Tin who did the music, who did a fantastic job. So, we had the music done before we had much of anything else done, and we could sort of build the game to sort of fit what the music wanted to be. It has been a remarkable process.
Craig: Well, hopefully the game is good. Is it good?
John: I think it’s really good. The other process has been sort of getting it out into the world, so you take it on your little demo units and you show it to the people who are sort of opinion leaders. And I think our reviews are going to be really good. By the time this podcast airs we will have announced, and the first review should be coming out. And tomorrow it’s going to be available on Xbox, and shortly after on PlayStation, and then Steam, and then eventually on iOS for iPad and iPhone.
So, it’s been remarkable to figure that all out.
Craig: Well, good for you man. That sounds great. And hopefully it catches on. And it sounds like something I would play, because I did love punching that hawk.
John: Yeah. The punch the hawk is really the crucial aspect of it.
Craig: I’m going to play this.
John: You’re going to play it. I think you should.
Craig: You know what? I’m going to play it and I’m going to beat it.
John: You’re going to beat it. You’re going to beat it as a True Love and you’re going to stay up all night doing it. And I’m going to send you a promo code and a t-shirt.
Craig: Yeah. I want a t-shirt. Is the t-shirt the dude punching the hawk? Because it better be.
John: Yeah, it is. It’s the dude punching the hawk.
Craig: Of course.
John: You’re going to love it.
Craig: Perfect. Done. Sold.
John: Done. So, that’s Karateka. That’s available now, or tomorrow for people listening to this now. But we have six questions from listeners and I think we want to get to those.
Craig: Yeah. You know, I should mention before we get to the questions that I’m also working with Jordan Mechner. The two of us are trying to do a reboot of Leisure Suit Larry. So, that will be probably next month.
John: I like it.
Craig: [laughs] Yeah. Leisure Suit Larry.
John: The sleaziest…was it funny or sleazy? Or both?
Craig: It was both. Leisure Suit Larry was one of the worst videogames ever made. And, well no, it wasn’t really that bad. It was just so stupid because it was kind of porny. And it was porny at a time when porn was actually hard to get, you know, the way that cigarettes are hard to get now, but were easy to get then. Well, porn was hard to get then easy to get now.
And so when you were a kid you heard about this Leisure Suit Larry, everybody wanted to get it because apparently the game mechanics were that you would hit on women and if you did the right things and said the right things and took them out to dinner or whatever then eventually they would take their digital top off and you would see boobs.
And, man, I wanted that game. I couldn’t even get the game, so I couldn’t even get to the boobs because I couldn’t get the game.
John: Oh my.
Craig: Yeah. It was tragic. I think I was 12 and I was upset.
John: This is well before the publicized way of like landing the woman, The Game, where there’s like “negging” and there are whole systems for doing that, but it had its own mechanic for sort of how you pick up women?
Craig: Yeah. And obviously it was ridiculous guess work. And I just love the thought — it really does kind of cut to the heart of male sexuality that men sat and worked though a game that was fairly arbitrary in order to see badly pixilated images of boobs. [laughs] That sort of sums it up, doesn’t it?
John: That’s pretty fantastic. I don’t think I ever told you this, but one of my very first — it wasn’t a paid job because I didn’t actually do the job — but my first agent had sent me out on a bunch of meetings and one of the meetings actually came through, like, “Oh, they really want you to do this,” was this company that had made its money making these porn/porny sort of CD-ROMs. Remember CD-ROMs?
Craig: Of course.
John: It was like a game that would come on CD-ROM. And so the ones they sent home as demos were like, you know, you played through this sort of virtual thing and then you could find these porn scenes. And it was like, uh, ah, okay. But they wanted to do a funny pool game kind of thing for CD-ROMs. They wanted me to write witty dialogue for that. And so that was one of the first things as a young screenwriter I got set up for a job. And I think they went bankrupt, or got raided by the FBI.
Craig: Well, there you go. [laughs] Generally if you do any kind of porn-related activity at some point you’re raided by someone.
John: Yeah. That’s kind of part of the thrill, isn’t it?
Craig: Yeah, I mean, that’s why you get into porn, for the raids. [Sirens in background] Oh! We got a siren. We got a siren. Here comes a raid.
John: It’s probably Chicago Fire. It’s probably just filming scenes for Chicago Fire, because Derek Haas who is our friend insists on authenticity. So, they won’t do that thing where the truck is moving, the lights are flashing, but there’s no real siren. He insists on real sirens at all times, even if it means they have to loop the dialogue. He doesn’t care.
Craig: Oh, they also set fires.
John: They do. I think the authenticity where they’ll just go out to some neighborhood and Derek will just with his can of gasoline will set a fire, and then the actors will have to show up and fight the fire. I think it adds a verisimilitude that you can’t find in other shows.
Craig: You know what it adds? A je ne sais quoi.
John: I think if Derek were to do a medical drama he would randomly just, you know, start hurting people. And then the actor doctors would have to come through and figure out what was wrong. Or he would take real patients and bring them into his hospital.
Craig: And just make them worse.
John: He’s kind of a sadist.
Craig: Yeah, kind of. [laughs]
John: But, a person who is really a nice person, likely, is Steve from Oldham, England who writes in with a question.
Craig: He sounds like a right bastard! [laughs]
John: Right bastard. He gave me a pronunciation guide for Oldham, England, and I was like, I would have gotten that right. I was not going to say, “Old Ham.”
Craig: [laughs] Yeah, we’re not that dumb.
John: Yeah. Mm. Steve asks, “Is it okay to love your own writing?”
Craig: That’s a great question!
John: Smiley face. “My reason for asking — on the one hand it seems fashionable for writers to say how much they dislike their work by the time they finished it, but why? I just unearthed a script I hadn’t looked at for nearly a year. It needs a damn good rewrite, but a lot of the dialogue is sparky and funny. I laughed out loud as I read it. Then I felt embarrassed. Am I allowed to really like my own work?”
Craig: Of course. Of course.
John: Of course.
Craig: It’s nice at least that you let some time go by, so there’s a little bit of distance between you and the writing, because if you write something and then sit back and go, “Good lord, I’m wonderful,” then you’re perhaps a douche bag. But, yeah, if you put something away and then you come back to it a year later, we’ve all had that experience of reading something that we had written many years ago that was new to us as if someone else had written it. And that’s fun.
And it gives you a new sense of appreciation for yourself, because you do spend a lot of our time running ourselves down, wallowing in doubt and misery. So, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. I mean, I wouldn’t talk about it. Sometimes I see writers, both amateur and frankly professionals, engaging in this embarrassing behavior on Twitter, or Facebook, or some social media where they kind of get into this weird self praise. And I find that really off-putting.
But, privately, please.
John: Privately, absolutely. Or writers who retweet their positive reviews too often — no, that’s not good.
Craig: No. Yeah, that’s — I’m not into that. I think — I always feel like the audience kind of speaks and they tend to, they vote with their feet. And everybody knows what they’ve done and I kind of settle it for that.
You know, one really great review might be a nice thing to put up. But, yeah, you know, easy on the public self praise; it’s a bit grotesque.
John: Yeah. So, the converse I’ll say for Steve, if you read something and you hate something that you’ve written, that’s okay, too, to some degree. If you hate everything you’ve written, that’s probably a problem. That’s probably either you’re not writing that well or you’re so hard on yourself that you’re not going to — I feel like you’re not going to survive that long doing it if you despise everything you’ve written.
Or maybe you’re a really good judge of writing and you’re a really terrible writer. That’s possible, too.
Craig: Yeah, if you hate everything you write, what’s the point?
John: What’s the point. You’re not going to keep doing it…
Craig: Life is too short.
John: But, I would say in general, yeah, you probably should like what you’re writing, because as I often say, like, you should write the movie that you would pay $15 to see opening weekend. You should write the sentences that you actually want to read. And if you don’t like the sentences that you read, there could be a problem.
And the only times I’ve gone back through scripts and sort of despised them is generally when I’ve had to do so much work on it to please people who I didn’t agree with that it no longer feels like mine, and I can only sort of see the bad memories of having written that.
John: But even when I look back at, you know, a couple weeks ago we looked at our first original scripts, and I’m embarrassed by some of it, but I don’t hate it. I recognize that that’s who I was back then, and I’m a better writer than I was then.
Craig: I hated what I wrote, but…
John: Yeah. But you wrote it with a partner and it was all his fault.
Craig: Yeah, yeah. He’s a jerk.
John: Someone else who is not a jerk is María Estandía from Mexico. ” Hi! I am 14 years old and since I discovered your show I have been wanting to write a script. I have written and directed some of my own short films and this summer I did a course on filmmaking. I always wonder if I should keep focusing on short movies or if I am capable of writing a movie script. Should I wait until I am older? Can you ever be too young to write a script?”
Absolutely not, María Estandía.
Craig: Yes, you could be too young to write a script, but the question is — that would be different for everyone. Look, no 14 year old has ever written a good feature length screenplay, as far as I know.
John: But maybe she could write her bad feature length screenplay at 14 and write a good one when she’s 16.
Craig: I don’t know of any good 16 year old written screenplays either. It’s actually a good question. What is the best screenplay by the youngest person?
John: As I was reading her question I was thinking back, do you remember Riley Weston?
Craig: The supposed 15 or 16 year old who was really 80?
John: Yeah. [laughs] So, Riley Weston, for our younger listeners, was a young woman who got a lot of praise because she got hired on as a staff writer on Felicity. She had a brilliant young voice and she was truly a teenager and everyone was singing her praises. And then it turned out she was like in her 30s and she just looked really, really young.
But I take María Estandía at her word that she’s actually 14, and I would say she should, you know, write, yes. I mean, first off, general rule: Never wait for permission to write something. Write whatever you want to write. If that’s a full length screenplay, write the full length screenplay. Will it be as good as it will be when you’re 18? Probably not. But you’ll have learned a lot.
Craig: Yeah. The only thing I would suggest perhaps is to maybe wait a little bit and keep working on you short films because I don’t want you to be discouraged. Writing a feature length film is a very difficult thing. And adults who have written many, many, many feature length screenplays continue to make terrible mistakes as they go. It’s a very hard thing to do.
And I just don’t want you to try it think, “Oh god, I’m terrible at this. I hate it. It’s too hard. I’m bored.” Or, “People don’t like it, so I should stop.” So, maybe think about holding out for just a little bit, keep working on your short films. Learn the language of cinema. Learn how you translate words into images and sound. And with a little bit more experience under your belt, perhaps when you are maybe approaching 17, that age, and you have a little more life experience as well, maybe then take a shot at it.
I just don’t want you to feel bad when it doesn’t go well, because it is quite a bit to bite off.
John: Craig, you’re too sensitive. You care too much. I think that’s the… — I’ve diagnosed the problem.
Craig: That’s why I appear to care not at all. [laughs]
John: I just go back to, you know, there are the occasional Mozarts who are just really, really gifted quite early on. And the fact that you are 14 and you wrote a beautifully phrased question to us, but you’re from Mexico, leads me to believe that you are more advanced than your peers and possibly you will do a great job. And so I share Craig’s concern that you could burn out on things by getting involved too early, but I just look at Lena Dunham, who created Girls, and she was writing stuff when she was your age, and she was making films. And who knows if you’re that girl of Mexico, but maybe you are.
Craig: It’s true. I mean, here’s the good news: If you are, in fact, awesome, and really, really good, nothing we say here is going to change your path to success, which is assured.
JJ writes, “I recently completed my first script and I’m facing the rewrite. I wrote it by hand and later typed it out. It’s 212 pages.”
John: [laughs] Oh, yeah. “And I had no idea it was so long. I’ve taken screenwriting classes, and it isn’t in improper formatting either. I would like to know how you and Craig go about rewriting things — things to look for in making a script better. Which scenes to cut? Which characters to combine? Other questions most writers face in their rewriting.”
So, first off, my sympathies on the 212 pages. I write by hand, but it’s being typed up while I’m doing it so I do have a pretty good sense of, like, where I’m at. So, I’ve never come in crazy long. But, I know people who do write crazy long.
Craig: I don’t know — the writer that I know who tends to write long and then reduce down is Scott Frank, but I don’t think he’s ever kissed 200 pages, much less beyond that. That is a larger problem. I think we need to talk about your process, in part because whether the writing in long hand has kind of allowed you to put your head in the sand, or you simply weren’t — you did not plan well enough ahead, you are not in control of your story if you’re writing a 212 page screenplay.
John: I agree.
Craig: You are not writing a screenplay. You’re writing something else. So, you need to reevaluate how you’re going about doing this. And also, frankly, that’s not really something you can “rewrite,” or, “Oh, I’ll just take out this scene and this scene.”
Craig: There are huge issues there, I mean, huge issues. You have two movies. You’ve written two movies as one movie. Split them in half, maybe? [laughs] I’m not quite sure how to approach that problem.
John: Whenever I face a giant rewrite, or someone asks me this question about, “I need to do a big rewrite,” my suggestion is always — in his case he needs to go back to note cards and figure out what his movie is. I mean, he needs to sort of do fundamental like “What is that story I’m trying to tell in the course of this movie?” because he’s written too much movie.
But whenever I face a big rewrite, I open a brand new file in Final Draft or whatever, the editor of your choice, and type a little outline, a little thing like “these are the things that are going to happen,” and copy and paste in only those scenes that you absolutely feel like are going to completely be in your movie. And don’t try to sort of go through this giant document and cut it down. You’re making a new script with some stuff brought in from the other thing.
And if there is stuff that you know is going to change, just do little bullet points for like, “these are the new things that happen,” but don’t try to take this massive file and shrink it down. Take a new blank file and build it out. I think you’ll have a better outcome partly because you’re just not going to have the pain of selecting a bunch of stuff and hitting delete. And that’s very hard for a person to do. Whereas, page — it’s like you’re making something new; it’s great and there’s possibility and potential if you’re making a new script that is adapted from this monstrosity you wrote.
Craig: That’s great advice. And what I like about that advice is that it leads you to write towards something as opposed to away from something. And I see this all the time. People are writing away from things. “Well, the move is too dark, so I’m going to do a rewrite where it’s less dark.” That’s not — you’ll never succeed.
You have to write towards something. Always. And if you have a 215 page, or whatever you said, screenplay and your object is to write away from that down to a number, it’s just not going to be very good.
What I like about what John just advised you to do is that you start fresh and you write up, and you write toward, so it’s a positive thing. It’s the best way.
Kyle in Los Angeles writes, “Hey, Craig, have you ever considered changing your middle name to something starting with A, or just A itself, in order to become Craig A. Mazin?”
Craig: I have not. [laughs] This has come up a number of times. It’s funny. I was actually talking with the Hangover boys the other day about what they were called as kids, you know, because everybody gets teased with their name. And Bradley was saying he was Bradley Pooper. And Ed, I think, I can’t remember what he got. And I guess Zach just had to deal with the fact that his name was impossible to pronounce and spell. But I’ve never have this problem, because when I was kid it was always Amazing Mazin. It was so easy.
I feel so blessed by that. I mean, my last name — the only annoying thing about my last name is that it’s ambiguously pronounceable, so a lot of times I’ll get “Mah-zin.” And I don’t even correct people anymore if they say “Mah-zin,” I just go along with it because I don’t really care.
But then it’s sort of fun to know that they will continue to call me that. But then perhaps one day we’ll find out they’ve been doing it wrong and I didn’t correct them, which I think is interesting. So, I like the fact that there is the Amazing Mazin thing. It’s fun.
No, although we did when my wife was pregnant with our daughter, our second child, and a lot of girl’s names end in A, she was like, “I don’t know; do we want to do something that ends in A because then you have the whole A-Mazin thing?”
And I’m like, “Yeah, and the problem is exactly?” So, my daughter’s name is Jessica and so she is Jessic-A-Mazin. But we call her Jessie, so it sort of goes away anyway.
John: I like it.
Craig: Do people know about your whole name thing? Have you talked about it?
John: Yeah. Have we talked about it on the podcast? So, my last name that I grew up with unpronounceable. It was a German last name. And it is one of those words, it’s M-E-I-S-E, which in German you would pronounce “Myza,” but everyone always pronounced “Meese.” And we actually pronounced it “Myzie,” which makes no sense at all, but everyone has always pronounced in “Myzie.”
And so my whole childhood was, the first 18 years of my life was listening to people mispronounce my name and having to correct how to pronounce my name. So, it was always the first six seconds of any conversation with any new person was, “That’s actually not how you say my name. My name is said like this.”
And when I decided I was going to move to Los Angeles for grad school, I’m like I had this one summer I was like, “You know what? I think I’m just going to rip off the Band-Aid and just change that name so I don’t have to deal with that for the rest of my life.” So I went and legally changed my name to August, which was my father’s middle name. And so I basically flopped, and I took — my middle name is now my previous last name.
So, changing your name legally is a giant hassle, but it was a giant hassle that was worth it in my case, because John August is simple and straightforward and it’s been unambiguous. The only times it runs into problems is Spanish speakers, I will say, “John August, like the month,” and they we will get to “Agosto,” and they’ll leave out the U. And that becomes a problem sometimes. But, it’s been — it’s one of the better things I’ve done in my life is change my name to something that was easier to say.
Now, it doesn’t mean that everyone needs to change their name if you have a strange last name. You know, Schwarzenegger did great. Galifianakis did great. And I could have just used a pen name, but for my situation it just felt easier to switch it.
Craig: Well, also it makes this podcast, I just think our teaming sounds better, because “Meise and Mazin” sounds like a joke.
John: It does.
Craig: It’s ridiculous.
John: There’s the M&M problem.
Craig: Like there are only 12 letters in the alphabet when podcast day came around.
John: Yeah. And we got what we could get.
Craig: Exactly. We were stuck with each other.
Dean in Sydney writes, “When a writer’s agent talks about taking a spec script wide, what does that mean? And how are producers involved? I only ask because I always assumed the agent would be approaching the studio directly without producers, or that producers might vie for the script with one being taken to show it to the studio. How does that all work?”
That’s a good question. We never talked about spec scripts like that.
Craig: Yeah. Well, taking it wide means that they go to pretty much every serious buyer out there, so all the major studios, plus the mini majors like Summit and Lionsgate, which is now the same thing, sorry, and the Weinstein Company, and I guess a few others. So, they’re going to go out. They’re not going to sort of slip it to one or two places where they think it would be a great fit. They’re giving everybody a crack at it, all over the same weekend, so it’s a big, wide bidding war, hopefully. Or, you’re just casting a wide net and hoping one of those fish bites.
And generally speaking studios want — studios know that a producer has to be on the movie. Somebody has to produce the movie. And so if you’re not producing your own movie, which is often the case with screenplays, with spec screenplays, because you’re not a producer, you’re a writer, then what you do is you go to producers that have deals at the buyer. And they take it in.
So, part of the choice is, “Okay, we’re going to go out wide. We’re going to send you spec script to Disney, and Sony, and Warner Bros, and Universal, and Paramount. Let’s go down the list of the producers that have deals at each one of those places and pick who the right producer is. See if they want to take it in.” And those things are now territories. So, “Okay, Rudin has it at Paramount. And Gil Netter has it at Fox,” and so on and so forth.
John: Yes. So, it’s the agent’s responsibility to figure out, “Okay, if we’re going to go out to the whole town,” the whole town being Hollywood, “and the buyers at once, we need to match up who is going to take it into each studio, which basically says, we’re going to send it first to this producer and say to this producer, ‘We will give you the exclusive right to take this into this one studio,'” or sometimes the producer can take it to more than one place at once.
The producer will read the script and say, “Okay, I get this. This is a movie I really want to make, and therefore I will take it into the studio and say, ‘I want to make this movie. Please buy this script from me.'” And then the studio decides if they want to buy this script or not.
That timeframe is often incredible compressed, so if a lot of people are excited about a certain script, that producer will have like 20 minutes to kind of read the script and say, “Yeah, I get what this is. Great. Send it into the executive at the studio and have them read it. And let’s try to get this thing.” And sometimes that gets fast and frenetic. And some things sell for a lot of money because of that.
The danger of going wide, and you used the term when you were giving your first answer, is the difference between “wide” and “slip.” And so slip means that you’re going to give it to one or two producers who you think might be the right producers for it. And you’ll give them a few days to look at it ahead of everybody else and say, “You know, we think you’re the right person for it. We think this is a good fit for you to take this to Warner Bros,” and give them a shot at doing that first before you go out in a wider way.
And it depends on the nature of the project or the nature of the climate, the mood of the town, what situation makes the most sense.
The two spec scripts I’ve taken out, my first script Go, and another script which we never sold, they were wide situations, and with Go it was one producer who had it for this little tiny distributor who actually got it set up, and so that worked out. But it wasn’t that classic sort of bidding war situation.
Craig: Yeah. There are interesting games that go on when you’re an agent with this screenplay stuff. If you have spec that you think could be, is something that everybody would want, you’re incentivized to take it wide. If you have a script that you think two or three people might love, but it’s a little more specific, you might want to slip it to someone ahead of time and say, “Look, take this off the table.” That’s their phrase.
Now, if you want to take it off the table, meaning no one else gets to look at this thing, you’re going to pay a premium for it, because now as the buyer you have to play the game theory of, “Well, there’s an intrinsic value to this script, but also there’s a value to no one else having the script and getting a chance to bid against me. So, I have an exclusive bidding window here. I want to bid enough to actually get it, but if I bid too little they’re going to think, ‘Well, I think if we test the waters with everybody else we could do better than that.'”
So, it’s all about game theory and how desirable the screenplay is. And there are a lot of options. This is what very good agents are very good at. When people say, “Well, you know, my agent read my screenplay and they didn’t love it…” Who cares? This is what agents are good at, not necessarily reading scripts and liking them but knowing who would like it, or something like it, and what studios are looking for. And then managing the sale process.
John: Let’s say you had a biopic that required — it was fantastic — but required very special handling. That’s a situation where you would probably go out and target a director who would be perfect for it. Or you might target an actor who would be perfect for it. So, you would go to Leonardo DiCaprio’s company and say, “We’ll slip this to you because we think it’s a big sale. We think it could be DiCaprio for Warner Bros, and maybe with these kind of directors.”
There are situations where it makes much more sense to try to, even if you are not really officially attaching that talent, to make sure that that’s the talent who’s bringing it into the studio, so they can see, like, “Okay, I see how to make this movie,” versus, “This is a difficult biopic about a blind violinist in the Ukraine.”
Craig: Yeah. And similarly if you have some talent attached that is particularly meaningful to a certain place, that’s a great example of a slip. So, you might think, “Well look, I have a screenplay that I’ve developed with Gore Verbinski. It’s a big action movie. I should go wide with that.”
Maybe. Or, maybe you slip it to Bruckheimer, because they have a relationship and Bruckheimer has the ability to take off the table for the right price.
John: And in that situation where the previous relationships would also come into play where it’s going to be weird to sort of take that movie wide without giving Bruckheimer the first shot, because he has the relationship and history with that guy and could have a lot of hurt feelings.
Craig: Exactly. So, then you have to calculate that whole thing. And if you are a screenwriter that has certain strong relationships, particularly in a certain kind of genre… For instance, if I write a spec screenplay that’s a comedy and I don’t bring it to Greenhut Films at Warner Bros, you know, I’m behaving boorishly. [laughs] You know?
If I brought it to a different producer at Warner Bros that would just be insane. You know, it just doesn’t work that way. I have a movie, Identity Thief is with Scott Stuber at Universal. If I write a comedy and I don’t bring it to Scott Stuber at Universal I’m behaving boorishly. You do have to sort of reward the relationships that have rewarded you.
Our last question today comes from Simon in Norway. He says, “I’m a young director from the cold north of Europe and would love to find someone who likes to write good scripts but don’t expect me to pay them large amounts of money. This would help me so that I can focus on what I do best, which is directing and filming, and could maybe help some script writers get feedback, someone who has to transform their text to a movie. Do you guys know a place where I can find young aspiring writers who I could work with to write a script that I could direct?”
So, I picked this question because he’s from Norway, which is sort of exotic, and it was both naïve but also relevant to I think a lot of our listeners, because I don’t think a lot of our listeners are probably the people who’ve written that script that they wanted to get made into a movie. And whether Simon from Norway is the right guy — a lot of getting your first movie made is pairing up this thing you’ve written with this guy who wants to make a movie.
Craig: Yeah. This is the grand irony of our business is that it’s full of people who are desperate for someone to read their material, and full of people who are desperate to read material, and yet they don’t seem to be able to find each other.
That said, you know, leading with, “But I don’t want to pay you a lot of money,” okay, well, good luck. You tend to get what you pay for. But, that aside, what I didn’t like about this question was that there was no indication whatsoever about what kind of movie he wants to do. And I think if he knows what kind of movie he wants to do then he should start in Norway with sort of movies that are made there that he likes, and perhaps then seek out the people who wrote those movies.
Also, the question implied, “Look at what wonderful things I could do for this writer; I could show them what it’s like to have their…” Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know what? You need a script, buddy. You don’t know how to write yourself and you need a script. So, perhaps coming at it with a little bit more humility might not be such a bad idea.
But where to find writers? I don’t know. If you’re in the film community, you’re in the film community. You should know some people that know writers.
John: I would also point to: look who has won all of the recent awards in screenwriting. And so look at the people who won the Austin Film Festival. Look at people who won the Nicholl Fellowships. Look at those writers who are acknowledged and saying, “These are better than the other scripts who are in this pool.” Those should be some of the first people you’re looking at, because most of those scripts never sell, most of the scripts never get made.
And if you are a person who genuinely can make a movie, you should at least be reading those scripts, because if it’s not being that script, maybe you’re the person who can hire that writer to write something for you, because those people often aren’t really starting lucrative careers yet. And maybe you can be the person who gets one of their movies made.
So, that’s one of the places I would start. I would also go to film festivals. And if you’re a filmmaker in Norway, you’re going to be making a movie in Norway, you need to go to whatever Scandinavian or European film festivals are available and look for like, “What are the interesting movies that got made there or the interesting scripts that made it through screenwriting competitions there?” And see if there is anyone there you can match up with who might be the right fit for you.
John: Particularly, if you’re not going to be able to pay a lot of money you are going to need to be able to — you have to be able to promise them that this is going to be a good experience, where you are going to make them a good movie out of the script they wrote. That they are going to not hate you. That this is going to be beneficial for everyone.
And maybe you actually have those abilities that didn’t sort of fully translate into this question, but I’d work on your presentation to make sure that they understand that.
Craig: Yeah. Remember, you’re not just looking for a screenplay; you’re looking for a creative partner. When the director and the writer respect each other and work together, great things can happen. When directors look for screenplays that they can then bestow their magical gift upon to bring to life, less so.
I think you have to really think about who the person is, too. And think about finding a real partner. At best the director and the writer are the nucleus of the film and trust each other more than anyone else. And rely upon each other more than anyone else, in my opinion. That is the best situation.
John: I would agree.
So, Craig, do you have a One Cool Thing this week?
Craig: I kind of do. I mean, it’s not cool, it’s sort of tragic, but you know, Hurricane Sandy just torched the East Coast and in particular my hometown of Staten Island got hammered. So, it’s a terrible thing. And because — I haven’t lived in Staten Island since I was 13 years old, but that’s where I grew up, from 2 to 13, my formative years. And so in my heart I will always be a Staten Islander. And so, you know, it seems like because it’s an election year everything must be politicized, including donations of food and money to the Red Cross, which I just don’t understand.
But that aside, a donation to the Red Cross at this time would be a lovely thing.
John: We’ll put a link in the show notes for that. And I do share your frustration that it’s impossible for anything to be looked at outside of a political window in this time, except that this podcast is airing on Election Day, so it’s almost done.
Craig: Oh! Congratulations, winner.
John: Congratulations, America. You’re almost done.
Craig: [laughs] By the way, thank god. Thank god.
John: There are very few people who want it to go on any longer than it has.
Craig: I am almost… — If somebody came to me and said, “Look, we’re considering a constitutional amendment to increase the presidential term to eight years,” I would consider it strongly, even if I thought that half the time or more I’d be stuck with a president I didn’t like, just to avoid this insanity.
Craig: It’s out of control.
John: Wednesday morning they’re going to start talking about, like, “Who are the top contenders for…” Oh, no!
Craig: They will. It’s the way that Christmas keeps getting earlier [laughs]; it’s the same thing. It’s like the presidential election keeps getting earlier. And, plus, we have the post-mortems. Oh god, we’re going to have a month of post-mortems, and complaining, and accusations, and conspiracy theories.
I mean, you and I could write the script for the next 80 days almost to the word, I bet.
John: Yeah, it’s one of those, you know, “We’ve always been at war with Eastasia.” It’s just eternal.
Craig: It never ends.
John: Never ends. But one thing that does end is that my One Cool Thing which is a game that Craig and I have playing far too much of, called Letterpress. It’s a game for the iPhone. It’s by Loren Brichter, who created the actual original Twitter client, or Tweetie, which became the Twitter client, which was a genius client until he sort of took away some of its magic.
But he is back with a new game for iOS that is brilliant. It’s free. It’s $0.99 if you want to unlock so you can play multiple players at once. I would describe it as sort of a cross between Scrabble and chess in a way, where you’re trying to build these words but you’re trying to take over the board by the words you build.
So, in Scrabble you’re trying to make the words with the Qs and the Zs because those are worth more points, here you’re trying to make words with Qs and Zs only if its advantageous to sort of take over more of the board. And Craig and I have had some good games in this. We’ve had some close matches.
Craig: I’m trying to make a move right now. This is a game — this current game is one — I like this game because it could go on for a really long time, and you and I are super stubborn, which I love.
John: We also have a lot of Ds on the board left.
Craig: But this game I know I’m going to lose, [laughs], so I’m just, like, it’s a war of attrition now where I simply won’t go quietly. I’m going to drag this one out as long as I can.
John: So, how about this: In addition to all of the other stuff we talked about on the podcast today being in the show notes, I will put a screen capture of our final game in Letterpress so you can see how I defeated Craig in our last match.
Craig: Oh, I don’t know if you’re going to get a screen capture, because I may drag it out. [laughs]
John: It may play on forever. So, the letters that are unplayed as of this moment are X, V, and H, which…
Craig: Tough ones.
John: Which are challenging giving the other vowels we have on the board, but could possibly be taken care of. But, it’s a really terrific game, so smartly done, so well designed. And when it launched it had a lot of problems with Game Center, which got overwhelmed, Apple’s Game Center. And things wouldn’t get posted right. But it seems to be much more stable now, so I would highly recommend it if you’re not already addicted to it. It’s like Words with Friends but faster, and easier, and quite enjoyable.
Craig: Yeah. I love it actually. It’s fun.
John: Cool. So, you can buy that, but you can also download Karateka for your Xbox, starting tomorrow, Wednesday.
Craig: Oh, I just did my move, John. It wasn’t a bad one.
John: Oh, yeah, he just played Brawled. Brawled is a good word.
Craig: By the way, do you see the balance? I mean, it’s not quite good for me yet, but it’s slowly changing, I think.
John: As of this recording Craig is up 13 to 9, so.
Craig: Yeah, but it’s deceptive.
John: It’s deceptive because, yeah, I’ll be able to make that swing there. It’s very much like politics in a way. If one state goes from blue to red it’s really a two point shift because that was in your column and now it’s in my column.
Craig: That’s right.
John: In addition to this screen cap being in the show notes, we will have links to everything else we’ve talked about. If you feel like giving us a rating on iTunes, that would be fantastic, because it helps more people recognize us. If you’re looking for us in iTunes, just do a search for Scriptnotes, and we’re that podcast called Scriptnotes.
If you want to talk to Craig or I about something we said on the show, Twitter is the best bet. Craig is @clmazin on Twitter. I am @johnaugust on Twitter. And if you have a question for us you can write into firstname.lastname@example.org, and I get all the questions, and that’s what I read on the air.
Craig, thank you so much for another fun podcast.
Craig: Thank you for a spectacular podcast. And good luck with Karateka!
John: Thank you very much. I’ll talk to you next week.