The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: No, my name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Scriptnotes, Episode 108, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
John: Craig, how are you?
Craig: Impressed with your elocution. [laughs]
John: I’ve been criticized for my elocution, so I am trying to pronounce things a little bit more clearly, partly because it is four o’clock in the afternoon as we’re recording this rather than 10:30 at night. So, I am actually a little bit more awake than I’ve been for several weeks.
Craig: I don’t think you should let the nattering nabobs — One of my favorite expressions. Thank you, Spiro Agnew. — I don’t think you should let the nattering nabobs tell you how you should sound. I think you sound just fine.
John: Well, thank you very much, Craig. Your vote of confidence will inspire me. And, yet, I will still try to pronounce a little bit more clearly.
Craig: As long as it’s coming from you.
John: It’s coming from me. It’s a desire to improve myself, not from anyone else’s notes.
Craig: Good. Good. Fantastic.
John: So, Craig, this is our last Skype podcast before our live show on September 23.
Craig: Very exciting. And I’m to understand that we have sold out, or nearly sold out, or…?
John: I believe we sold out. I just got the email this morning that I think there were like seven tickets when I last heard, which were the newly released seats. And by the time this podcast goes up they will be gone.
Craig: Wow. Amazing.
John: So, if there is some possibility that we’re going to do a standby line we will tweet that. I don’t know that to be the case. I suspect that people who have tickets are the people who will see the show. But, I’m very excited to see the show.
So, it will be you, and me, and Andrew Lippa and we will be talking about writing things together which is interesting and different for me. We will be singing some songs at the piano. It should be a good, fun time.
Craig: That sounds great. I’m very excited.
John: Other bits of news I have for us. Highland, which is this app that I make, Quote-Unquote Apps makes, is releasing the new version 1.5 this week. So, if you are a person who uses Highland or curious about using Highland, it will be in the Mac App Store this coming week.
And it does some new things. It can always, just like it always did, it can melt down PDFs to plain text. It can open Final Draft files. But it can also do more things. It has a manuscript function. So, a certain famous novelist wanted to use it for writing books.
John: And so we put that in there. Mr. Michael Chabon uses it.
John: We have the ability to do stage plays and musicals which is because I needed it. So, it’s been a very useful tool for me. I think it will be useful for many more people. And it can also automatically highlight your syntax, so if you are typing something with some notes in there it can put notes in a nice, pretty format. It can do section headers and all sorts of other fancy new things.
So, if you are interested in that, visit the Mac App Store today.
Craig: Amazing. What can’t you do?
John: There are many, many things I can’t do. I can’t do a backhand flip, or hand spring. I’m pretty bad at most gymnastic things. Even my cartwheel is poor, Craig.
Craig: Not surprised. [laughs]
John: Craig, can you do any of that stuff? Can you do any gymnastics? Could you ever?
Craig: When I was a kid I was very good at the somersaulting. I remember that. And now as an adult, I’m frightened to somersault.
John: Yeah, I can do it in a pool.
Craig: Oh, sure.
John: But I can’t do an actual —
Craig: I’m Superman in a pool.
John: Yeah. Without true gravity, it’s much simpler. But with — no, with bones and things that hurt, I just can’t do it.
Craig: Yeah. By the way, speaking of Gravity —
John: That looks so good.
Craig: Not that we ever talk about upcoming movies and stuff, but god, I can’t wait to see that movie.
John: I’m so excited to see that movie. And for people who have seen it, they tell me that it’s one of the few things like spend the money and see it in 3D because it’s actually amazing in 3D, which I can believe.
Craig: I’ve heard that.
John: Space looks great in 3D.
Craig: I’ve heard that. And I trust Alfonso Cuarón.
John: I do trust Alfonso Cuarón deeply.
Craig: Yeah. Trust him.
John: Today, Craig, two things on the agenda. I guess we are going to talk about this Disney plan to have kids bring their iPads into movie theaters.
John: And then we’re going to look at some Three Page Challenge entries and talk through how wonderful they are and how they can be even more wonderful.
Craig: That sounds great. I’m game for both of those topics.
John: Great. Why don’t you start us off with the Disney thing.
Craig: This is a fun one. So, Disney created a little bit of a mini firestorm this week. They announced that for the return of…is it Little Mermaid?
John: The Little Mermaid. Our favorite of the — well, one of our favorites of the Disney animated movies. We discussed it at length.
Craig: That’s right. So, perhaps because we talked about it here on the podcast, Disney is bringing The Little Mermaid back to theaters. But there is a twist. They are providing a free app that parents and children can download onto the iOS system, not Android, because Disney and Apple have a very close relationship.
And they are encouraging kids to use the app during the movie to kind of have an interactive experience with the film in the theater. Somewhat predictably, a bunch of grump pants people freaked out. [laughs] And the arguments go like this. Argument one: “Oh my god, this is a sacred space where we’re supposed to turn off all of our devices and not allow light in and all the rest. And this corporation is ruining that.”
Argument number two: “Oh my god, kids are obnoxious and awful enough in movie theaters and now they’re going to be even worse.”
And argument number three: “We are training a generation of zombies who will not understand what it means to watch a movie as it’s intended to be seen, but rather we’ll demand somehow to engage with the movie with apps. And no one will ever watch movies again. And it’s the end of cinema.”
John: Yes. Strangely, Craig Mazin, I find myself agreeing with those three points much more than I would have predicted.
John: That I do think it’s actually a really bad idea and a bad precedent to set to have young children coming in there with the expectation that in a movie theater is an appropriate place to be watching a lighted screen. [alarm sounds in background]
Craig: [laughs] The Pasadena Fire Department totally disagrees with you.
Craig: They’re like, [Craig makes alarm noises].
John: They buzzed me out.
Craig: They’re trying to buzz you out. I couldn’t have done better. Thank you Pasadena Fire Department. That’s the sound I wanted to make while you were saying that. I totally disagree.
John: Go for it, Craig.
Craig: I totally disagree. Look, here’s the thing. This is a movie that is 25 years old. It is a movie that has been seen a billion times. Every family that is going to attend this screening owns the movie. The children have already seen the movie. This is entirely about having some fun with children and representing something that they already know by heart. So, why not?
There is no way ever that Disney would be so stupid as to do something like this for a movie that wasn’t something that was already beloved and repeatedly digested by the audience. Because then they’ll never get to the place where it’s beloved and repeatedly digested by the audience. They know that. They’re not dumb.
This is sort of akin to like, I don’t know, you know, the way that every year they’ll show Nightmare Before Christmas at the El Capitan here in Los Angeles. And there’s a show beforehand, and then they show the movie, and then there’s a museum. And it’s just a big fun thing.
All the people that are grousing about this I suspect have probably at some point in their lives enjoyed a fun showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show. Come on. This is just Rocky Horror Picture Show for kids.
John: Here’s why this is not at all like of Rocky Horror Picture Show and why you are so wrong, Craig Mazin.
Craig: This is exciting.
John: With Rocky Horror Picture Show, or a sing-along version, which I support sing-along versions, that is audience participation where the audience is there together in a shared space to interact with the movie as a group. And where your being there live and in person with other people is part of the experience. This is putting kids back into, “I’m going to stare at my little screen while there is other stuff happening around me. I’m not going to look at the big screen. I’m not going to participate in what’s going on in front of me. I’m going to participate in what’s going on in the little screen in my lap.”
John: I think that is not a good precedent to set.
Craig: That is so Amish. I could hear the sound of the barn being raised.
Children interact with their iPads so much differently than I think we do as adults. It is something that they share. I watch them together. They hand it back and forth. They look over each other’s shoulders. It’s not about devolving the experience of this movie into just a zombie-ish staring at your little miniature screen.
And by all accounts, that won’t work anyway because the whole idea is you’re watching the movie and then you’re looking for something on the screen. It’s really just about turning a movie that is really old, really old, about I would say five or four times older than the average audience attendee, a movie that they’ve seen a billion times into something else. It’s just a different way of enjoying the film.
They’re not — Disney isn’t saying, “This is it, we’re not going to show the movie normally anymore.” So, I just think, I think the fears are overblown. It actually sounds like a lot of fun to me. I kind of want to go do it myself. And even though my kids are too old for it now, I think they would have loved it. And why should we be so scared of entertaining people?
John: Because I think we are breaking the seal and you are saying the next movie that you take that kid to, it’s like, “Well why can’t I have my iPad there? I was able to have my iPad at The Little Mermaid.” And so the good parent will say, “That was The Little Mermaid. That was a special case. This is not The Little Mermaid. This is not a special case.”
But, there are a number of good parents and a number of bad parents. The ratios aren’t quite even there. And so you will see more and more kids with glowing devices at movie theaters.
Craig: That is incorrect.
John: And it’s going to suck.
Craig: That is incorrect because this is especially designated as an iPad allowed zone. I have no doubt that the Disney people will very smartly say to every kid as part of the app and part of the audience thing that this is a special thing and that this isn’t something you do in the theater normally. They’re very good about that sort of thing. And, I also — and I also know that movie theaters and other audience patrons are very good about policing these things.
So, no, I don’t believe children will be bringing iPads anymore because of this into any other movie. And the slippery slope argument is — it’s a fallacy. [laughs]
John: Yeah, I know slippery slope is a general fallacy. And, yet, I will ask Stuart at this moment to flag in the follow up file. Five years from now…
Craig: Oh good.
John: …we will discuss whether there are more children trying to use electronic devices in movie theaters.
Craig: I am totally in support of that.
John: And whether they’ve become an issue. Fantastic.
Craig: That is a great point. And I’m a big supporter of that.
In fact, two years ago to this very day Brian Koppelman — one half of the screenwriting duo of Koppelman and Levien, who are most notable for Rounders — two years ago he told me in a communication, a written communication — a written, dated communication — that the Jane’s Addiction song, Irresistible Force, was going to be a classic, on par with their best tunes. And I disagreed and he said, “Come talk to me in two years.” That’s what he said.
And today is, in fact, the two-year anniversary. It is not a classic on par with their best songs. And I let him know because I put it in my iCal and I’ve been waiting for two years. [laughs]
So, let’s put this in our iCal, Stuart. Five years from now John will say, “Craig…” Wait, I’m going to try and do my John impression.
“Craig. You were right.” That was as close as I can do.
John: [laughs] Yeah, basically your impression of me sounds exactly like you.
Craig: I know. But, “Craig,” there’s a little short cut off name. Yeah. That’s the best. You’re actually hard to imitate without just slurring words and then you just sound drunk.
John: I just sound drunk. And I do want to point out to listeners that I often will take the devil’s advocate point of view in these discussions just so we can have discussions, but I actually kind of believe this in a way that surprises even me. That I genuinely think it’s a bad idea, partly because I am a parent, and partly because I like going to movie theaters and being in dark places and not being around all the lighted devices.
Craig: I am excited. I’m excited to see in five years that I was right.
John: Great. I’m excited for our Three Page Challenges today.
John: So, let’s get to those. We have three. Again, if you are new listener to the podcast you may not know what the hell we’re talking about: Every few weeks on the podcast we invite listeners to send in three pages of their screenplay that we will then take a look at. We don’t actually pick them. Stuart picks them out of all of the entries that are sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you want to submit your own entry, there’s actually rules about this, and there’s like a special boilerplate language we make you put in the email when you send it to us so that you won’t sue us and you won’t get angry if we pick your piece apart.
So, if you are interested in submitting your own, go to johnaugust.com/threepage, all spelled out, and there are the rules for how we pick these things. Stuart picked thee nice ones for us to look at today.
Craig: He did.
John: I thought we start with one by Erin M. Bradley.
Craig: All right. Very good.
John: And I’ll summarize this one for us.
Craig: Go for it.
John: We start in a hospital corridor where we meet Mallory who is 42. She ‘s in a nightgown, cardigan, wedding band. And she’s talking with Dr. Verus, who is saying that she should reconsider, presumably like being discharged. And she does in fact leave the hospital.
We see her on a city bus, New England suburbia. She has sort of a panic attack on the bus. She takes a puff from her inhaler. The bus driver lets her out. There’s sort of a strange exchange with the bus driver who says, “Ain’t nothing for you here.” And as we read this I’m not sure quite how to take it, but she gets off the bus.
She goes to her house. She runs into a stray cat who scratches her. Inside the house we go through her kitchen where the faucet is dripping. She is calling out for someone named Peter, telling Peter that she’s home. But he is not there. And, in fact, when she goes in the bedroom there’s a conspicuous lack of photographs and personal effects. The closets are empty.
She takes a deep breath, reaches for the telephone, dials, and calls Dr. Verus. And then hangs up the handset and that is the end of our three pages.
Craig: A lot going on in these three pages. There is some good stuff in here. I think we’re looking at the paranoid mental illness/supernatural genre, which is a genre on its own.
John: Oh, that’s interesting. I did not pick up supernatural.
Craig: I’m sensing a whiff of it. But it could be — remember there was that movie with Halle Berry where it was like are you crazy or are you seeing ghosts.
Craig: Gothika. Anyway, it had a bit of a Gothika vibe to this. I think a lot was done correct here. What’s interesting is that then there were moments that lost me completely and I was requiring myself to reread multiple times.
John: Yeah, I felt the same thing.
Craig: Yeah, so right off the bat the — well, first of all, just as a minor spelling thing, fluorescent is actually Fluo-rescent. It is a word that whenever I type it I force myself to put that U in before the O.
John: I usually just wait for the squiggly lines and then realize.
Craig: Oh, see, just as a side note, I turn the squiggly lines off. I like writing without a net. I think it makes me a better speller.
John: Bold choices.
Craig: Yes. So, it’s institutional lighting, fluorescent bulbs flickering. She’s in a nightgown, cardigan, wedding band. She’s not — she doesn’t have bandages or IVs or anything like that. And here’s this woman in a lab coat studying her anxiety. So, I just get the vibe of a mental institution of some sort.
It was a little difficult for me to figure out what the space was like. They’re in a corridor. Across the hall, I didn’t know if that meant width wise. Is she at the end of the hall? I was just having trouble seeing what Erin wanted me to see here.
John: I think I had the same issue. Because it sounded like she was trying to be specific, and yet it wasn’t specific in a way that I could actually visualize.
Craig: That’s exactly right.
John: Honestly, if it were a little less specific and a little bit more generalized, just whatever I formed in my head would probably be fine.
Craig: That’s right. So, Dr. Verus is with her. You know, that’s the sort of thing that would help us out here. “Hinges shriek as the door swings open.” This is the door that she’s been studying. She’s in a seat. I don’t understand what the seat is. And, I don’t mean to pick at these little things, but this is sort of indicative of the problems with the way Erin wrote this.
It’s not so much the intent or the content, which is interesting. It’s the style. So, even then I’m like so there’s just a seat in a hallway and why is she sitting in it? If she wants to get out of the door wouldn’t she be standing waiting to get — ? Little things like this.
She’s on the bus and she has a panic attack. Okay, fine, it was well described. I like the way it matched with the sound of the bus brakes. She hears the bus driver say something, “Ain’t nothing here for you,” that startles her. But when she turns to him and says, “What?” he doesn’t even look at her. He doesn’t even seem to have said anything. He just says, “Watch your step, ma’am,” as he opens the door.
So, the idea here is that maybe he didn’t say that at all. But the problem is she had him saying it off-screen. So, if I’m the director and I’m trying to make this moment where she has a delusion maybe that the bus driver said something, the problem is he’s never spoken before and his line is off-screen, so how do I know it’s him saying it? How do I know it’s not a guy that’s just right behind the bus driver? A little tricky there.
So, I wasn’t quite sure that that was done properly. She comes home, she goes in the house, I like the way she described the house. There’s the drip…drip…drip of a faucet and she’s giving us space on the page. Very specific about the unlit candle which I love the touch that the candle is called Caramel Pecan Pie, or pecan pie, depending on what part of the country you’re in.
Her hand is bleeding. I had to dig back like an archeologist to figure out why.
John: It’s from the stray cat. But it wasn’t clear at all that it was the kind of interaction with the cat that would cause bleeding.
Craig: That’s exactly right. And blood is a big deal in a movie. And if a cat is going to scratch you hard enough to draw blood, I need to see it there because it’s happening there. And then if you want to talk about how she addresses that issue a page later, that’s fine.
But there’s a good mood. I like the description here. And then we’re off and running. Obviously a troubled woman. So, a lot of cool things going on here. I just felt myself getting lost quite a bit.
John: Yeah. I want to circle back to the bus driver conversation because this is a thing that you’ll need to do in movies sometimes where something is deliberately ambiguous. But if it’s ambiguous, give the reader a sense that it’s supposed to be ambiguous. And so it’s fine to do a follow up line like, “Did he really say that?” Or sometimes you put that in italics or whatever. If it’s meant to be that you’re not quite sure what happened there, but hang a lantern on that so we know that it’s supposed to be that way. And that the reader isn’t misreading it. It’s actually meant to feel that way.
And you can’t do it too much, but if you’re going to do that it’s a helpful way of sort of letting the reader — making the reader feel smart. Making the reader feel like, yes, what you just saw is the way I intend you to see that moment.
John: Granted, we don’t know what’s happening after these three pages. My first instinct was that we did not need the hospital at all. And that if we started on the city bus and she has her hospital band on and she’s freaking out, that’s actually a more compelling image to me than starting in a hospital.
Craig: I agree. That’s a very good idea. I think you’re right about that.
John: Thank you. But I enjoyed the overall feel of it and things like on page two, the drip…drip…drip, it’s like, well, you’re wasting pages to do that, but that’s actually kind of the way things feel in real life.
Craig: Right. Right.
John: So, single words on a line, that’s great and fine.
People often ask us about if you’re moving around inside a house do you have to do slug lines for each room in the house. No. You don’t. This is an example of a choice, a style for how you move around a house where it just goes living room, bedroom, hallway. If a character is moving through a space, you don’t have to break out each individual space that way. That can be a good choice for showing us a location.
Now, here’s the con for describing the inside of the house this way. Let’s say most of the movie takes place inside this house, this is going to become very frustrating if you didn’t actually break this into slug lines. So, here it worked really well because the character was moving through the space and we were just giving little small slug lines for where we are in this. But if you’re going to be spending most of your movie in this house you’re going to need to do real scene headers for the different locations, otherwise it’s going to get confusing. It’s just going to feel like a play, that we’re just in this one space the whole time. And the scene headers will help you structure and let us know really what’s a scene and where scenes begin and where scenes end.
Craig: Agreed. At the very least I thought what Erin helped us out with was not making the mistake of using these mini slugs to start paragraphs, but rather they rest on their own line. So, she’s appropriately breaking that up so we can follow with our eyes and we know we’ve moved into a different place.
Yeah, the “drip…drip…drip” thing is great also because it helps the reader get a sense of pace, that the facet isn’t going “drip-drip-drip,” it’s going “drip…drip…drip.” That’s good. So, these are the things that are well worth using the white space for.
You know, our little test of just looking at the way the page looks, these pages look right.
John: They do. And, you’d be more likely to read that page at a glance because like, oh, well there’s some white space. It’s not so daunting.
John: If everything were jammed up tight — there’s nothing like flipping a page and seeing that there’s a big, giant, dense block of test, like, “Oh god, I have to make my way through this page.” These pages would be a delight to read.
Craig: Yeah. So, okay, I think that overall we were positive towards this and there are just some questions of orientation and clarification which is good.
John: What should we look at next? Unaccompanied Minor or James and the Wolf?
Craig: I don’t know. What do you think?
John: Let’s do Unaccompanied Minor.
Craig: All right, Unaccompanied Minor. I’ll go ahead and summarize this one.
John: This is by Jess Flower.
Craig: Jess Flower. So, we begin in an airport and we’re looking at the feet of a seven-year-old boy. He’s an unaccompanied minor. And he hops off the bench. He’s clearly alone. Walks with his little rolling suitcase with the face of Jack Skellington on it, which I love. And he checks the departure board and then he’s — and we see that he’s also with a flight attendant. And we’re just looking at feet now. No faces. No people.
We now go to gate B4 where we meet Kim, who is in her 30s, waiting to leave. And she’s been crying. Fixes her face. And then sees that there is his unaccompanied minor standing right near her, very close. He’s wearing a SARS mask, one of those little breathing mask things. And he just stares at her. She asks him if he’s with his mom or his dad or does he even understand English, because we see that he’s Asian.
And he says, “Nothing.” She tries to take his hand to lead him to the counter when the flight attendant shows up. She is also 30-something. Looks a bit worn. She checks to make sure that Kim is the person who is sitting next to this boy and explains that he is Korean and he does not speak English and that he is an unaccompanied minor and he is going to be flying next to her and she just likes to know who he is sitting next to.
She finds out that the boy is seven. And Kim expresses that she is impressed. The little boy reaches — also that she is a little bit afraid to fly herself. And the little boy reaches out and grabs her pinkie and gives a little smile.
John: And that’s our three pages.
John: So, I liked a lot of the stuff here. And I like the idea of starting on just the feet and sort of you see this boy sort of piece by piece. And so you see his little shoes and you see his little rolling bag. And you’re gradually getting to know him.
I liked — I liked the idea of meeting this woman, Kim, and sort of her strange interaction with this kid. She doesn’t know sort of who this kid. She seems like a good person who is like trying to sort of figure out where she should take this kid when the flight attendant comes back and says — sort of gives the set up in terms of like this is the boy who is going to be sitting next to you on the plane. So, I am very curious what’s going to happen on the next ten pages, which is a very good sign on page three.
That said, I felt we got a little bit too much writing in that little first block. I felt like we were watching a title sequence. And maybe we were supposed to be watching a title sequence, but I got a lot of feet in that first section.
John: And then when we got to Kim, I wanted more from her. I wanted some more information about her, because it felt like she’s a major character, but why does she only have a first name? I would love some sort of color line given to her because right now I don’t really quite know enough about her other than she was crying.
Craig: I think I like these a bit more than you did. Let me talk about what I thought should be amended slightly and then I’ll talk about what I liked. The thing about, that we all know, anybody with kids, or just if you’ve had the experience of sending your kid on their own, which I did once recently with my son who’s now old enough to do it. They’re never alone, ever, ever, ever.
So, there’s this thing where we understand that the flight attendant is the one who is essentially accompanying him. I believe that the rules are that if you have an unaccompanied minor you are actually allowed to, as a parent, go with them to the gate. So, there’s something a little off about this already in terms of facts.
But that aside, even if you wanted to go with a flight attendant because, for instance, the parents aren’t here, which may very well be the case, the flight attendant can’t ever be away from him. So, we start with just the boy and his feet. He even starts walking and then he’s joined by the flight attendant. Well, you know, now I’m a little confused because I don’t know is that just random or is she really with him?
When we get to Kim, she sees that suddenly this boy is there with her and the flight attendant is once again not there. And then the flight attendant comes back. So, she left him, which you don’t do either.
Craig: Or, if she left him because she was working her job, she’s a flight attendant, we would need to see that she’s left him just for a brief moment and is looking at him and then we see Kim. Somehow or another we just need to explain the logic of this boy and his custody, even in a small way.
But here’s what I really liked. I love the specificity. We always talk about it. There’s this little boy. He’s got something sticking to the bottom of one tiny sneaker, which is such a nice little detail. And he’s wearing this mask and he’s got his Jack Skellington thing on the side of his luggage. These little things help me see the move and they also oddly enough create a mood of a little boy who has little boy things in a very grown up world where you are alone and you’re checking departures and you’re wearing SARS masks.
And I like the way that we that we learn things. I like that we learned how old he is. I like that we learned that he doesn’t speak English. I like that there was a little comedy in which Kim attempted to — she said, “Well, look for your Mamasan.” I mean, that’s kind of funny.
And then there’s little back stories that I feel like we’re building in. And here is why I disagree with you a little bit on Kim. I like actually that I almost know nothing, because I’m guessing that Jess Flower is going to reveal a whole bunch of things on this flight. I’m just guessing.
And so in a sense I like almost starting with “woman who was crying.” And now let me start to uncover things like last names, purposes, back stories, drama, and all the rest.
John: I didn’t even need like the full cheat and sort of like who she is or something specific. But I don’t know how she’s dressed. I don’t know, sort of, does she look like a business traveler, or she just looks like a casual traveler? I just wanted to have some picture in my mind for her. And I sort of had nothing. And so in a weird way I picked Kim Dickens as sort of like the actress who jumped into my head, which she might be fine, but I wanted some way to form an image.
Because I felt like I got a really picture of who this little boy was and I didn’t have a good picture for Kim.
Craig: Yeah, that’s true. There may be a couple of details there that would help. But I thought the dialogue flowed really well. I thought it was good. Not quite sure what happened here with, “Uh…(looks at her phone)…yeah.” That parenthesis is misformatted. So, that’s the television way of doing it where you keep the parenthetical expression within the dialogue block and not on its own line. We tend to not do that in film. And by tend I mean we don’t do that in film.
John: Yeah. So all the other parentheticals were fine. So, I think it was just a random fluke.
Craig: It must have been a typo. Yeah, a fluky thing.
John: But I would say I actually did like this more than you think I liked this. I was genuinely intrigued. And one of the things I definitely noticed is I felt I could hear the music underneath it.
John: Which is a strange thing to say, but couldn’t you sort of hear the little bouncy kind of thing that is underneath?
Craig: Yeah. I know exactly what you mean. It is a good example of how pages can do very little but do a lot. And they were confident pages and they were quite pages, but I learned a lot and I actually started — the best thing I could say about what Jess did here is that after three pages of learning how old these people are and the fact that they’re about to fly somewhere, I’m already caring about them.
Craig: And that’s a great sign. So, good job I thought, Jess. It sounds like John did, too.
John: Yay. Our third and final entry in the Three Page Challenge today is James and the Wolf by James Smith. So, I wonder if James is the James in the story. Maybe it’s all autobiographical.
Craig: [laughs] I hope it’s not, based on page one.
John: So, our story opens, a Malibu, California beach. And we find “James Morris, 32, (devil may care),” waking up stark naked on the beach, hung over. There is a handwritten note taped to his chest. The note says, “It was great meeting you. Thanks for the car. I called you a cab. See you on the other side.”
He finds his clothes. Inside the pocket he finds a credit card, his New York State driver’s license. And then drinks the last little bit of whisky out of a bottle. Lights a cigarette, coughs, spits up some blood, and then he sees something in the distance, a nebulous figure approaching. He can’t tell what it is yet. We’re close on James — astonishment mixed with fright as we smash cut to Motor City Bar, Lower East Side of New York. The title over says, “One month earlier.”
Craig: Cue Stuart’s squealing. [laughs]
John: Yeah, one month earlier…mm. And it’s a conversation between James and his best friend Ivan who is 32. And they talk about a 12-year-old kid who went swimming in a lake and probably had a crush on a girl. They’re just chatting. It’s sort of a strippy strip club, or at least you can tuck dollar bills into garter belts.
And they’re talking about this kid who ended up picking up a protozoa, an amoeba while swimming in this lake and went right up into his nose and sucked out his brains and presumably killed him.
John: And that is the conversation that ends on page three. Craig Mazin?
Craig: Well, not a bad idea to start a movie with a hangover, right?
John: Well, at least it’s fresh.
Craig: Yeah. [laughs] I think that, a couple of things, nothing wrong with the way these pages were written in general. Things are happening here. Certainly painted a picture of this guy. He seems to be a total degenerate. Spitting out a little blood to me is something that, again, let’s just all agree together that blood is a thing, right? You don’t just casually spit up blood and go, “Eh.”
Is he dying, in which case he spits up blood and doesn’t seem to care, because that’s the same old thing? Or is he like, “Oh, I’m spitting up blood!” Let us know his reaction to the blood. It’s sort of important for us in the audience to know.
And then he sees something in the distance. We can’t tell what it is, but he seems to. And he’s, “Oh, no,” And then we smash cut to — personally I find that a weird place to smash but, but maybe not. Because when we come back to him I guess that thing is going to be running at him. But, that’s fine.
So, we do Stuart’s favorite thing, “one month earlier.” “Chryon”, which is a typo for Chyron, which is a retro —
John: An ancient term.
Craig: Yeah, an ancient term for subtitles.
John: For Title Over.
Craig: Yeah, Chyron was never used in film anyway. Chyron was only for television. It was a video tool. You know, those goofy old video titles. So, let’s not use Chyron or “Chryon.”
John: So, let’s give what the appropriate choices are. Title Over is fine. Super is fine.
Craig: Super. Subtitle. I guess subtitle is really more for dialogue. So, Title, Super, exactly. I usually do Title is what I say.
Craig: So, we’re in this bar and it’s one month earlier. Sometimes it’s hard to go — a lot of times it’s hard to go from a person to a person when you do the “one month earlier” game. Because it’s just, you don’t know — even though we’re saying one month earlier, I just find it — I just find it TV in a way. And not to put TV down; it’s just small — it’s sort of like, “We only have one character in this movie. Let’s see where he was a month ago.”
Instead of sort of establishing a bar outside, seeing people walking around, setting the scene a little bit. You know what I mean? Then following Ivan in, having him sit down, and then we see James. And we reveal that James looks great. You know, find some information there to give us other than them just sitting.
They have this — this kind of discussion is a tough one to pull off. It’s a little purple. It’s a little pushed. It’s vaguely Tarantino, where two people are talking about something that’s very specific and really articulate and kind of the content is already very vivid about a kid dying. But we don’t know why they’re talking about it. It seems like such a weird and unrealistic random thing for two people to be talking about.
And while they’re talking about it he’s sort of hitting on this girl across the room, and doing coke, and tucking dollar bills into the garter belt. It felt a little fakey to me.
John: So, here’s an example of where I didn’t believe the dialogue:
Creature of the deep?
Something like that. A brainsucking amoeba. This little amoeba swam right up the kid’s nose into his brain and sucked the thing dry. Kid didn’t stand a chance next to that pernicious Protozoa.
Craig: “Pernicious protozoa.”
John: Yeah, and protozoa is capitalized. It felt a little, you know, like Oscar Wilde’s Tarantino I didn’t — not even really knowing these two characters — I didn’t believe that they were having this conversation. Because the world wasn’t pushed enough that we’re truly in Tarantino territory. I just didn’t — it didn’t click for me.
Craig: Even when you are in Tarantino territory, there is — and you’ve just decided to be the person that’s going to rip him off like so many people try and do, this is not the way to do it anyway. It’s just hard to — these pages — this time in a movie is so precious. I don’t want to hear this kind of rambling pseudo hip story. I want to know about this person. I want to know about what’s going on in their head.
And if it’s — I mean, for instance, let’s say Ivan is rambling about this stupid story about — not that the story is stupid, but the movie suggests Ivan’s story about this kid is stupid and boring. James is staring at this girl, sees her do some coke. He’s even more interested. She’s interested in him. And James is barely saying enough to follow along with this insane story. And then finally just says, “Dude, honestly, no one gives a shit.” Gets up and walks over to the girl.
I’m engaged, I’m learning. You know?
John: Yeah. Yeah, if it’s two characters talking about a third thing and that third thing is supposed to be what’s interesting, that’s not a good use of page two.
Craig: Right. It’s not a good use of page two. And, also, either you want me to understand that the character — characters have intension. The actors, you know, we talked last week about intentions in a moment. Actors need to know where their attention is going. You can’t play being attentive to two things at once. You can’t. In real life, maybe theoretically some people can do it, but not really. Really we’re concentrating on one thing, and sort of concentrating on another, and that’s why people crash their cars when they’re texting.
I can’t tell if James is concentrating on this girl, or James is concentrating on the story. If he’s concentrating on the girl, then he story is hyper literate for a guy that’s not really, you know, and also why would he even be telling a story while he staring at the girl. That’s the sort of thing I’m talking about.
John: Yeah. So, let’s take a look at sort of if you were to use that same story and you want to do what Craig is describing where one person is telling a story, the other person is not really listening. Don’t have it be a dialogue. I mean, literally just keep one person talking and don’t keep interrupting it because you’re just taking up a lot of time and space to do that.
So, if James started telling the story and just sort of plowed through it, and then let Ivan be the guy looking at the girl doing coke or whatever else you want to do — that can work. And that way we actually see what the intention of both people in that scene is. Like one wants to get the other one to hear the story. The other one wants to pay attention to that girl down the end of the bar. Then at least that’s interesting. There’s a conflict happening there.
Craig: Yeah. Exactly.
John: Back to page one. About two-thirds of the way down the page:
INSERT NOTE: ‘It was great meeting you. Thanks for the car. I called you a cab. See you on the other side.’
That’s at least two sentences too long.
John: No one wants to read that much in a movie.
Craig: Correct. And not because we hate reading. It just stops the movie and thus takes you out of the movie. It’s a weird thing.
John: So, I would say the most you get by with is, “Thanks for the car. I called you a cab.” That’s all you need.
John: I would also take a look at this first page and it’s essentially all two lines together. And so I made my way through the page. I didn’t have any problems. But if I’m just looking at the page from a glance, there’s nothing breaking up my vision. And I feel like I could kind of skip to any line in that page.
Granted, like no one is really talking in the scene, but some better way to break up the page could be very useful, even if it’s like a single word line to sort of break this up a little bit could be great.
John: I’m also a fan of one page one starting just a little bit down from the top, which I just like, where I don’t start page one right at the very tip top of the page, just to let people sort of ease into the page.
Craig: That’s interesting.
John: Not a must at all. But I’ll give myself an extra inch at the top, a few extra returns at the top.
Craig: That’s interesting. Also, I have an issue with the blurry POV that happens in the middle of the page. You can kind of start with a blurry POV, but you can’t insert it. Because we’ve already seen the beach, we’ve already seen where we are. And so it’s just going to be odd to then be inside of his POV. We don’t need it.
John: Yeah. I agree. I mean, think of the opening of Lost. It starts blurry, but then it sharpens up. And that’s what you need.
Craig: Exactly. So, it’s sort of you start that way, or you don’t do it.
John: Agreed. One last comment just going back to the tile page. James and the Wolf, written by James Smith. I can’t look at that and not think, well, is “James” James? And maybe that’s deliberate, but maybe it’s not. And so if you as the writer are writing something and the lead character has your name, they’re going to associate that.
Just like, Craig, if you wrote a movie where there’s a guy named Craig who kills his wife and two children, people might be little concerned.
Craig: Does he get away with it?
John: [laughs] Ha! We won’t know until page 110.
Craig: Hmm. It’s funny. I totally agree. It caught my eye. And the other thing that — this is a marketing thing now, so let’s just put on our market notes hats. James Smith may be the most boring name possible. It’s not your fault. It’s — I mean, you yourself James Smith are probably a very exciting and interesting, unique person. But James Smith sounds like John Jones.
For you, since if you go on IMDb I’m guessing that they’re up to 20 James Smiths, many of whom are in the electrical department and so forth. You are a candidate for using your middle name. And normally I find that sort of a little pretentious and whatever, but especially if you have an interesting middle name, throw it in there. Throw it in there.
John: I fully agree with Craig Mazin on this. Craig, what’s your middle name?
John: Ah, Craig Lawrence. That actually feels like a fancy writer.
Craig: Yes. That’s why I don’t use it.
Craig: [laughs] Because I haven’t earned.
John: Very nice.
Craig: Do you have a middle name?
John: Well, I do, because you know that August is not my original name.
Craig: Right. You’re original name is Meise.
John: Ah-ha. That’s why I changed it.
Craig: Wait, is it M-E-I, or M-I-E?
John: It’s German. So in German it’s Meise [pronounced Mei-sa].
Craig: Meise. Yes. Meise.
John: And so that’s now my middle name.
Craig: Got it.
John: But my born middle name was Tilton.
John: And John Tilton is an okay name, but it’s not fantastic.
John: It feels small.
Craig: Yes, John Tilton feels — yeah, he feels like a fuddy-duddy, doesn’t he?
John: It does.
Craig: Like the headmaster, Headmaster Tilton.
John: And I did consider taking, before I moved to Los Angeles, I was like, well, I knew I was going to probably change my name. And I considered taking my mom’s maiden name, which was Peters, but there’s already of course a very famous John Peters who is a producer.
Craig: Yes. And you could do better in terms of associations.
John: Yeah. So, I ended up taking my father’s middle name, which is August. He was Henry August Meise.
Craig: It’s too bad, though, because Meise and Mazin, that would be a fun podcast.
John: Yeah, the M&M Podcast.
Craig: Yeah. And the Z sounds in there. It’s very close. Very close. But, listen, it was not to be.
John: In an alternate universe, that’s the podcast we’re doing. But this is the one we did today.
John: I have a One Cool Thing. My One Cool Thing is this really great video I watched today on the Globe Theatre in England, they try to do historical recreations of Shakespeare plays the way they would have been encountered in their time. So, they try to do original dress, original kind of lighting, so it’s all done in sort of full daylight.
And one of the things that they have introduced is they try to use original pronunciation rather than just received pronunciation. So, most of the Shakespeare we’ve heard has been received pronunciation which is that sort of — well, it’s what we associate with Shakespearean drama sounding like. It’s very clear and articulate and very — it’s sort of big English. But that’s not the way it actually sounded back in Shakespeare’s day when the plays were first performed.
And so this video is really fascinating. It’s a father and son, who are both actors, who went back and sort of reconstructed what the original pronunciation sounded like based on what words really rhymed at the time of Shakespeare, and just the notes that writers at the time were making about how things sounded, like how Rs were pronounced and where the vowels where.
And so it is actually really fascinating. The talk about doing one play that they did both in original pronunciation and received pronunciation. And it’s five minutes shorter in original pronunciation.
John: It flows more quickly and more smoothly. There are jokes which only work in original pronunciation like our word “hour,” like for 60 minutes, was “oar.” And so it rhymes with whore.
Craig: Ooh, I like that.
John: So, there’s jokes and puns that only really work in the original pronunciation. So, I found it fascinating. And so anyone who likes words, or English, or Shakespeare, which is hopefully 100% of our podcast listenership, might enjoy this video.
Craig: Excellent. I have a follow up on a One Cool Thing and then a new One Cool Thing.
Quick follow up. Writer Duet, which I believe it was last week’s One Cool Thing, I mentioned that when I tried to load an entire script using Safari that the whole thing just slowed to a crawl. But I suspected that the developer would get on that.
Well, boy, did he, like within a day. And it works great now. So, I loaded in the whole script and on Safari it works great. So, really impressed. Writer Duet, they’re doing a great job over there.
This week’s One Cool Thing may get me into a little bit of trouble, but I don’t care. [laughs]
John: Craig Mazin does not care about trouble.
Craig: Don’t care. Many people know that I am a skeptic. Not a skeptic like, “Pfft,” but a traditional skeptic who believes in the power of evidence, demonstrations, critical thinking. And generally I am a strong and vocal critic of what I consider to be an entire world of flimflam, not limited to paranormal, ghosts, ESP, but also a lot of the “alternative” medicines and theories that are out there, homeopathy, and kinesiology, and all this nonsense that is just not true.
So, there’s a video that’s been around for awhile, but a friend of mine sent it to me and I hadn’t seen it in awhile and it’s just amazing. It’s an animated version — you know how sometimes people go on these rants and then somebody animates it and it just makes it awesome?
Craig: So, I believe he’s Australian from his accent. A guy named Tim Minchin. And he does this amazing kind of beat poetry rant about an encounter he has at a dinner party with a woman who is very anti-scientific and astrological and alternative and so on and so forth.
And he’s so smart and he’s so clever and he’s so acerbic. And the associated animation is just wonderful. And there’s just some great stuff in it. So, I’m going to send Stuart the link so he can include it in the notes.
Look, if you love alternative medicine, and you love homeopathy, and you believe that science requires just as much faith as religion, don’t watch it. It’s just going to upset you. But if you’re like me, watch it. It’s amazing.
John: That sounds great. I will watch.
Craig: You will definitely watch it.
John: As we wrap up this episode, we are going to have an outro of original music that a listener sent in. And we’ve been doing that since episode 98. And I realized that, you know what, we should actually put all of those listener outros together in one track. And so we did. There’s now a post up on the site which we will put a link to that shows all the outros we’ve used so far.
And I just want to thank our awesome people for sending in outros.
Craig: It’s great.
John: Because they’re just really fantastic. And I knew we would have some really talented writers listening to us, but I had no- I had an inkling that we would have some really talented music folks listening to us.
John: And so take a listen to some of the outros we’ve used so far. If it inspires you to write your own outro and send it to us, we would love it. So, you send a link to email@example.com. And people have been sending links to SoundCloud which works perfectly. And so that’s a great choice if you would like to send us a sample of — or an outro that we could use on the show.
We just ask that the outros incorporate some way the theme which is, “Bum, bum, bum, bum, BUM.” And people have done a brilliant job so far. So, you can see what they’ve done.
Craig: Yeah, they’ve really done a good, I mean, they’ve all been really good. I’m very impressed.
John: Yeah. And that is our episode this week. So, if you like the show and are not subscribed in iTunes, you should probably subscribe in iTunes. Just search for Scriptnotes and we are right there. If you’re subscribing there and want to leave a comment, that is fantastic. We love those, too.
If you have a question for me, or for Craig, if it’s short Twitter is by far the best choice. I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.
If you have a longer question, we sometimes answer those in an episode. Write into firstname.lastname@example.org and we will sort through the mailbag every once and awhile.
Next week, Craig, I will see you live in person for Scriptnotes.
Craig: Live! Live! It’s going to be a fun, fun show. I’m very excited.
John: I’m very excited to have you here. And then in October I will see you live again at the Austin Film Festival.
John: Where we will be doing both a live Scriptnotes with you, and me, and Rian Johnson. And very likely a Three Page Challenge live for folks. So, if you are going to be coming to the Austin Film Festival and would like to submit a Three Page Challenge for us to talk about there, and possibly have you up on stage to talk with us about it, send it to Stuart. And follow the same instructions — johnaugust.com/threepage. All spelled out.
But flag somewhere in that email, “Hey, I will be at Austin and therefore could participate in the live show.”
John: Because we would love to see you.
John: Craig, thank you again for a fun podcast.
Craig: Thank you, John. I’ll see you in New York.
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- Three Pages by Erin M. Bradley
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- Screenwriting.io on SUPER
- Shakespeare with its original pronounciation
- Tim Minchin’s Storm
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Jason Young