The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: Aw. My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Scriptnotes, the Young Billionaire’s Guide to Hollywood episode, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, how are you?
Craig: Oh, I’m very excited today because of my One Cool Thing, but I can’t talk about it so I’m just atwitter.
John: Ah! You’re One Cool Thing is not Twitter itself? That would be redundant.
Craig: Oh, oh, it is. Did you know about Twitter?
John: I think Twitter is going to be revolutionary. I think it’s going to be great.
Craig: Oh man. I thought I was the only one who knew about it.
John: [laughs] Wouldn’t that be so amazing. Imagine trying to describe Twitter to somebody from like 10 years ago and they’d be like, “What the hell are you talking about? That doesn’t make any sense at all.”
Craig: I know. You’d have to back up so far. I mean, you’d really have to back up. You’d have to start with like, “Okay, imagine everybody’s phone was connected to everybody else’s phone all at once. It’s like that. But, just with typing.”
John: Yeah. But try to differentiate it from text messaging, which is really where it started. It’s so odd. And actually I don’t know if you saw this last week that Facebook and I think Twitter, too, made these deals in like third world countries that don’t have data plans so they can actually do Facebook updates and Twitter over like normal text messaging networks.
Craig: Oh, interesting. Well, that could actually have political implications.
John: This last week I was interviewed KPP — KPCC. I added extra letters to that radio station. I was interviewed on KPCC where they were talking about Mob City who did this promotion of the premiere of Mob City using Twitter. And basically they tweeted every scene, every sort of line from the script in like this long stream of Twitter which I will give them points for trying something new, but it just seems like the really wrong form for screenwriting.
Craig: Yeah. That is — I’m not–
John: I’m not convinced that’s going to work.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah.
John: Because here’s the thing about a screenplay. A screenplay, there’s obviously many forms a movie could take, but they are essentially linear. And a screenplay begins at the start and goes to the end and you have to know what happens before it for the next thing to make sense.
Twitter is exactly the opposite of that. Twitter you’re supposed to be able to drop in at any point and just sort of figure out what’s going on. And if you really want to start at the beginning of a thread in Twitter you have to go down to the bottom and read up. It’s just weird.
Craig: It is weird. And in the end we still have the capacity to be passive consumers of narrative. And Twitter is not that.
There’s nothing wrong with interactive storytelling. I like interactive storytelling and I believe that such a thing exists. But it’s so different than what is provided by a movie or a television show, or listening to a song for that matter.
And I remember when interactive was everyone’s favorite buzz word and people thought that everyone was going to eventually sit a movie theater and press buttons to decide what should happen next. [laughs]
And people don’t want that actually. They’re okay just watching.
John: This last week someone emailed us to say, oh, I think there’s going to be this next wave of stuff where people are going to have their screens on in theaters and doing that stuff, and I don’t see that. You and I both disagreed on sort of that Little Mermaid experience.
John: That I can see being like a one-off stunty kind of thing, but I don’t think it’s going to be the future of entertainment. I think there’s something really great about just only the single screen experience, which is one of the last things that the movie theater does very well.
Craig: Yeah. Even among younger people, there are certain human demands that are robust. And a demand for silence, shared silence in a communal space, is actually robust. Everybody uses cell phones constantly and everybody wants to be able to use the internet on a plane. But now that they’re talking about letting people talk on phones on a plane, suddenly a lot of people are saying, “No, actually.”
Craig: “I would prefer that you just be quiet.”
John: Yeah. I got to be on the plane quite a bit last week because I got to do the thing that you would enjoy most more than anything else on earth, I suspect, which is to be recording a Broadway cast album.
Craig: Ooh! God am I jealous of you.
John: Yeah, so that was Monday and it was great. It seems impossible that you could record the whole show in a day’s session, but because everyone knows every line of the show and the musicians have been doing this for 100 shows we can just bang out two takes of everything and it was kind of great.
John: It was just really amazing to do it that way.
Craig: That’s spectacular.
Rian Johnson turned me onto this documentary that is available on YouTube freely. I don’t know if that’s okay or not, but it’s there. And they did a documentary of the Broadway cast recording of the original cast of Company. And there is Sondheim. And so you’re watching them all do their songs and seeing Sondheim make adjustments and ask for things. And then there’s this point where it’s going long. The day is really long. It’s now really late or night or even early in the morning and they’ve left Elaine Stritch for the end and Ladies Who Lunch.
And she just doesn’t have it. It’s just too late. And they go through six or seven takes. And finally they just give up and they have to do another day. And they bring her back and she just nails it on the first one, you know.
Craig: But we’ll toss a link in there if we’re allowed to link to questionably posted material on YouTube.
But it’s a really cool documentary if you like Stephen Sondheim and Elaine Stritch. And who doesn’t?
John: Who does not like Sondheim and Stritch?
Craig: Nobody. Nobody doesn’t like Sara Lee.
John: Great. And nobody, I think, will not like what’s in our episode today, because this is sort of the classic best of what Scriptnotes is, which is we have three Three Page Challenges which are always fun. Three very different scripts, which is always a nice blend.
And then I thought you and I would talk about something that is a good thought experiment which is we often talk about what if — if somebody came in and threw a bunch of money around, how it would change the film industry? I thought we could generalize this as a thought experiment of if you are a young person with — or really any person — with a tremendous amount of money who wants to get involved with the film, or television, or any sort of Hollywood business, what would you do?
John: So, Craig, let’s talk about this. Let’s imagine we are a person with a lot of money who wants to get involved with the film business.
And I guess we should preface this by trying to figure out what the decision process is for that person. Because is this a person who wants to make money or doesn’t really care about making money and just wants to make a bunch of stuff.
Craig: Boy, I think it would be the latter.
Craig: This is not a great way to spend a billion dollars if your goal is to have $10 billion.
John: Yes. I would agree with you there. But if you already have a billion dollars, so let’s say you — let’s make our theoretical person some sort of internet billionaire. So, you created something that became Twitter and then like got bought out and now you are free. And you have a billion dollars in your pocket. And you’re like, “You know what? I think I would like to be involved in the entertainment industry.”
There are many people like that I would say.
Craig: Sure. We see them. They’re here.
John: They’re here. And honestly I think we can offer them some useful advice. So, if you are this person, pull up the chair close, because I think we have some good suggestions for you.
Craig: [laughs] And now advice for billionaires from not-billionaires.
John: So, a couple opportunities, and let’s talk about the range of things that people could get involved with.
Film. So, big films, and small films.
Television. And so classic model of television or the sort of Netflix model of television. You could absolutely do that.
Broadway I certainly know a lot about now. And that’s one of the places where even just like $2 million or $3 million can have a tremendous impact. That’s a possibility.
Craig: Sure. Those are the big ones. The music industry doesn’t really require billion dollar investments anymore, nor do I think the profits are there quite the way they used to be.
John: Although it’s probably worth talking about music in a general sense, because you could essentially become really in any of these fields like the patron of an artist that you want to support, and therefore let that person do whatever he or she wants to do.
Craig: It’s true, although the money in music is so heavily weighted towards promotion. The creation of music is relatively cheap.
Craig: Yeah, compared to… — Movies and television are just expensive to make. And Broadway shows are expensive to make. So, they require a lot of that stuff. I mean, Broadway, I get the sense most shows are kind of group funded by investment pools and not so much by one large backer.
John: Absolutely. But, within those investment pools there tend to be some larger backers who are primarily responsible for things.
Let’s talk film first, because I think most people are going to be most familiar with film.
So, films range a huge amount in sort of their budgets, all the way down from like $1 million or even less than $1 million films, to the $200 million, $300 million behemoths.
John: So, if you only have a billion dollars, you’re probably not going to want to make too many $300 million movies.
Craig: Well, no one is going to let you make a $300 million movie. Once you have a movie of that size, there’s no studio that isn’t going to want to own a part of it. That’s sort of the point of making those giant movies. But they are always looking for co-financing. And that’s a different situation.
John: So, let’s talk about what co-financing is. So, often times as the movie credits start to roll you’ll see Warner Bros. and you’ll see the shield. And then you’ll see like some other company, like often it’s Legendary, or it’s Village Roadshow. Those are co-financers. Those are people who are putting in a tremendous amount of the budget and therefore get to have their own little animated logo playing in front of that movie. And those have become incredibly important for the bigger tent pole movies recently.
Craig: Yeah. Hollywood tends to want to distribute risk. You say it — as budgets started to escalate, probably in connection with both the escalation of A-list stars and gross point participation, but also the escalation of the costs of visual effects and the audience appetite for visual effects, you saw studios start to do something that they had actually kind of avoided in the past which was sharing risk. Usually you wanted to own everything. That was kind of the fun.
And I remember the first movie where it seemed like it was a big news story was Titanic. Titanic was a Fox movie and they just started panicking that it was costing so much. And in the middle of production, I think, brought on Paramount as a co-financier and basically, I’m not sure how they broke out the costs of the movie, but Paramount essentially got the international profits, and Fox got the domestic profits, so the story goes.
John: Yeah. And both of them prospered hugely by doing that.
Craig: No question.
John: Now, most of these co-finance people — Well, I shouldn’t say most. There’s a huge range in sort of how they work. Some of them actually have their own distribution mechanisms, like Paramount would have, or they are the big distributor in a territory.
So, Village Roadshow, I think, owns Australia and they would have their own relationships, so they would own the movie for Australia, perhaps.
But a lot of times they are just big pools of money. And usually it’s not one individual. It’s a company that has aggregated funds from a lot of different places and is therefore able to invest in these movies — these big giant movies.
For our internet billionaire who just wants to have fun, that’s probably not the best place to start. I mean, yes, you get to go and see a giant Christopher Nolan getting made, so maybe that’s exciting. You’re about to get your name on that Christopher Nolan movie, that’s kind of exciting, but really ultimately that studio is going to have a tremendous amount of control over things. You’re going to have to actually run a business. You’re going to have to do a lot of sort of — it’s going to be a lot of work to do that.
Craig: It’s not a bad move, I mean, I’m just thinking about the sort of person who is a billionaire. It’s not a bad idea inasmuch as you are immediately trading on the thing that is of most value in your life, all of your money. When you come to Hollywood no one is particular interested in what you think a good movie is or what you think a good script is or any of that.
You’re just a big — you know, like in the cartoons when they would look at somebody and they would turn, like the sheep would turn into a cooked lamb. You know, they look at you and you’re just a bag of money.
So, you get to be involved in the movie business, and you get to meet people and read screenplays and get to know actors and all that, and you get to enjoy the glamour of it all, which I would imagine is part of it for a lot of these people. But, no, you’re not actually producing, choosing, making creative choices and putting the movies together.
So, I think for some billionaires it’s actually a great fit, but then you have interesting people like Megan Ellison who seems far more interested in actually making movies.
John: That’s what I was going to get into is that I think there’s the level below that that’s not the incredibly expensive movie, but not the cheap movie either, where you are spending your money to make movies that would actually have a very hard time getting made otherwise, either because of their subject matter, or because of the filmmaker like, you know, it’s a filmmaker like Paul Thomas Anderson who is incredibly talented but when you’re making The Master on a huge — on a significant budget — that’s a risky movie to get made.
Where if you are coming in with a tremendous amount of money and you kind of don’t care about making your money back, you can just go for it.
Craig: Or if you don’t care about making a lot of money.
John: That’s true.
Craig: There are some movies — there’s one movie, I won’t name the movie or the studio, but there was a movie that had a great script, a great director, and a real movie star attached to it. This was a few years ago. And it was at a studio. And they looked at it and the movie was going to cost $40 million to make, and the director, and the script, and the star more than justified it. And they said, “You know, we’re going to let it go. It can go to another studio.”
And I remember talking to the director and he was so confused why they let it go. And the movie went on to be a very big hit.
John: Oh, I know exactly what this is. We can say what this movie is.
Craig: I don’t want to. Because I don’t want to talk about the studio, it’s not fair.
John: All right. That’s fair.
Craig: But my theory was they let it go not because they thought it would lose money, but because they thought it wouldn’t make enough money. That the effort required just wasn’t going to justify the profit, or rather wasn’t going to be justified by the profit.
If you’re a billionaire and you’re coming into town and you want to make movies, you can make the movies you want to make and you can also make money. You just might not make that much. You know, you might spend $30 million or $40 million and in ten or twenty years you will have recouped plus 20%. It’s not great. But, you know, you’re doing what you love.
John: So, let’s talk at the very low end, because these inexpensive movies, I mean, that’s honestly, like, pocket lint could pay for some of these small movies.
Craig: Sure. The Jason Blum kind of million dollar horror films, you know.
John: Absolutely. And where I would caution the young billionaire on those is that you may end up doing a tremendous amount of work just to make that one little tiny movie. And if it’s artistically satisfying, that’s awesome. And maybe you’re going to be able to make ten of those movies and one of those goes on to become either a huge hit, or wins an Academy Award. So, you’ve created some art in the world. So, that is certainly a possibility.
But, in some ways I feel like it’s, I don’t know, it’s creatively riskier to make some of these little small ones, because they could be giant time sucks and not be especially rewarding.
John: On the movie business I would say if you’re interested in making movies I would honestly pick a filmmaker who you want to make their movies and just make his or her movies.
Craig: I’m with you on that one. Back ’em.
John: Because I think honestly if you love Rian Johnson’s movies, just like go to Rian Johnson and say like, “Hey, whatever movie you want to make, I’ll pay for it. Done.”
Craig: Pretty much. That’s a pretty good way to approach it. You know, there are filmmakers that seem to know what they’re doing and deliver movies that people like. And enough people like them that it’s worth them continuing to make movies.
Now, what you’ve got to watch out for is sometimes new people show up in town and they back somebody who then uses that as an opportunity to make the movie that they don’t normally make. And then you suddenly get stuck with the dramatic, the overly dramatic movie from the comic star, or the —
John: Dragonfly would be an example.
Craig: Yeah. Or you get a comedy from somebody that’s just not funny, because nobody else is willing to give them that shot. And that’s part of it. You know, you don’t want to be the sucker.
John: Yeah. Maybe make the third movie of a really talented filmmaker.
Craig: Who is making the kind of move that, you know, so that’s something to look out for. You just don’t want to be that sucker who is sitting there at the end of the night and they’re the ones with the money in their pockets and here come the call girls. But, if you are committed to your own sensibilities as a billionaire in this business and you think that there are filmmakers you have a rapport with and you know how to read a screenplay–
Craig: Then you’ve got a shot to at least, I would think, make a pretty good profit actually. Movies still make a lot of money despite the fact that according to Warner Bros. neither of the Hangover movies will ever turn a profit, but… [laughs]
John: [laughs] Oh, studio accounting. It’s so delightful.
Craig: Yes. Yes.
John: But what I would say in a general sense is looking out how this billionaire is going to get involved with the business, none of us are talking about like now you open up your own shingle at this studio where you get a first look deal at this place and you hire on a staff to do all this stuff.
John: I’m not convinced that’s going to be the best way to get stuff done. Because what you’ll end up doing is having a bunch of employees who will try to develop movies and that may not — you end up spending a lot of time trying to develop stuff and not actually make stuff.
Craig: I totally agree.
John: I honestly think that you’d be much better off looking for who are the filmmakers we want to make their movies and get involved in making their movies.
Craig: And they will come to you.
So, the idea is that you don’t want to be the place of last resort. But you have to also be aware that if somebody can get — if you’re Chris Nolan and you can get Warner Bros. to give you your budget for Inception, you’re going to do that. And you know now that you don’t have to worry about distribution or marketing, it’s built in.
So, you are getting people that may bring you things that are off the beaten path of the studio, and that’s okay. So, what you’re waiting for are people who have terrific movies that studios simply don’t think they can make enough money on. As opposed to people bringing you distressed movies that people aren’t making for a good reason.
Craig: That’s tricky.
John: Let’s talk television, because I would say television has been a hard thing for an outside third party to get involved with and actually make. And there have been exception like 3 Arts — is it 3 Arts? What’s the big, or Brillstein-Grey.
Craig: Yeah, Brillstein-Grey.
John: I’m sorry. Brillstein-Grey was a classic… — They made a lot of comedies, which was terrific. So, there has been some outside money, but in general it’s been hard to be the outside people making television because you are so dependent on the relationship between the studio that makes a television show, the network that releases it, which increasingly have become the same thing.
John: So, classically it’s been very hard to come in with your billion dollars and say, “I’m going to make a bunch of TV shows,” and have that be a meaningful thing to do.
John: It’s changing I would say overall. You look at Lionsgate and sort of what they’re able to do. Granted, they are really a studio, but they’re essentially new money to television.
John: And I think with the rise of Netflix and sort of other direct subscription services, it may be possible for someone to just say like, “I’m going to make this TV series and you know what? Netflix will take it.”
Craig: Yeah, you’re right. There is a new channel for distribution that is more, I don’t know, it’s just more accessible to independent money. And when I say independent I mean not affiliated with studios, not like small arty money.
Craig: For television, for network television and basic cable television and pay-cable television, the problem is you’re investing in something that you might never even see on the air.
John: Absolutely true.
Craig: Where you make a movie, you made a movie and you’ll sell it. Even if it doesn’t get theatrical distribution, you’ll sell some copy of it somehow. Pilots that don’t make series, they’re gone. You’ve got nothing.
John: Yeah. Yeah, I think if you were going to be this billionaire you would essentially have to commit to just making the whole series, because that pilot that doesn’t get set up is just burned money.
John: Whereas if you wanted to have an eight-episode series, that could be like the first season, I bet you could go to a Netflix, to a Sundance Channel, to an IFC, to one of the other sort of premiere kind of places and get that thing set up as a special thing set up. Because they’re essentially getting kind of a free show, or the money that they’re having to put out for this programming is probably not especially high.
Craig: Yeah. I agree. There’s an interesting distinction in evolutionary reproductive strategies that is, believe it or not, somewhat relevant here. There is the strategy where you put a lot of resources into one child, because you believe that that’s the best chance that child has to grow up and move along. And you see that often in environments that aren’t really dangerous. And then there’s the other strategy of make as many kids as possible because most of them are going to die.
John: Yeah. The locust strategy.
Craig: Yes. And rats do that. So, elephants have a kid. Rats have a thousand kids. And television requires a little bit of the rat strategy. If you’re making television you need to make a lot of it to get one or two that live. But in movies, you know…
John: Especially from our billionaire’s perspective where he or she doesn’t really kind of care if they lose money as long as they made something they wanted to make. It’s really a different motivation for making things because studios have to be thinking about making a profit. This billionaire doesn’t necessarily need to be thinking about making a profit, or it doesn’t have to be her primary concern.
John: She might be worried about sort of making art, making something that changes the world in its own little way. And that’s a great luxury.
So, speaking of unprofitable ventures, there’s Broadway. So, Broadway, most shows classically lose money. And some shows that do succeed do succeed tremendously well. So, if you are Book of Mormon, or Wicked, or one of those giant monster hits, you are making so much money, it’s fantastic.
But what I will say my experience going through with Big Fish is that if you have some money in your pocket that you want to spend and you can really afford to lose it, we talked about sort of getting to go the movie premiere for this big giant movie that you made. You get to do that all the time on Broadway, because most of Broadway is really funded by the same kinds of people again, and again, and again.
So, there’s block of names you see above the title in Playbill, and those are people who put in some money. And sometimes on certain shows that might be $100,000, in certain shows that might be $1 million, or $2 million, or $4 million. But, the shows are — an expensive show would be $12 million. That’s not a big cost to a billionaire.
John: And you get the hands-on involvement. If you’re writing a $4 million check you get as much hands-on involvement as you sort of want in a show in a way that you could never get in a movie or a television show.
Craig: Well that’s the magic for me of Broadway compared to film is the intimacy of it and the fact that it is a performance as opposed to a fixed work. You know, movies, once they’re done, they’re done. And they do not change and they just exist in a permanent frozen state. Broadway is a living thing. And the casts change and the performance changes. And they get re-launched. And they appear in different cities at different budget levels. It’s just a living, breathing thing. It’s very — it’s just a much more intimate process.
So, no question, when you invest money in a movie, mostly everybody wants you to just be quiet, [laughs], so they can make their movie and then you’ll either get profits or you won’t. But with a show, with a musical, you become part of this thing that’s alive. It’s interesting.
John: And I would say for the glamour to dollars ratio, I think Broadway is honestly your best bet. If your goal is really to get invited to fancy parties and have people be nice to you, I think Broadway is actually a really smart choice.
I think movies are a more expensive threshold to get in. Television is sort of new for people to be able to invest this way.
John: Classically, though, I would say rich people, they invested in the arts but they invested in sort of like the big classical arts. So, people invested in the ballet. They invested in opera. Things that sort of would have a hard time sustaining themselves if it weren’t for really rich patrons. And it’s certainly a choice. It’s just I feel like if you’re Mark Zuckerberg you maybe don’t care about the opera.
Craig: Well, it appears he doesn’t. [laughs] I mean, based on his lack of participation in the opera. But, that’s always been a fascinating aspect of New York in particular to me is the confluence of enormous wealth and high art. Even Broadway, which is popular art and mass entertainment, is still considered higher art than what you turn on TV, I guess, or movies. It’s fancier. I don’t know how else to describe it.
John: It is. It’s fancier.
Craig: It’s fancier. And I think there is a rich history of wealthy patrons of art and I love that it’s there and I appreciate wealthy people who pay for us to do what we do.
Frankly, there is — you know, when I did a lot of work for the Weinsteins, look, lots to say on both sides of that coin. But one thing I always liked was how it was immediate. That really there was a patron and the patron for better or for worse was the one person that I was dealing with.
And it wasn’t a corporation. And I never had somebody say, “I personally love this. Unfortunately, the council of the Committee of Blankety Blank was told by some software that I can’t do it.”
Craig: And there were some problems on the other side of the equation, but… [laughs]
John: [laughs] There were many challenges dealing with the Weinstein Company.
Craig: Yeah. Sometimes you actually prefer the robot telling you what to do.
John: On the topic of robots, we left out sort of one other big aspect of the entertainment industry which is, of course, video games, which are in some ways a bigger industry than any of the other ones we described. I would say — so, it’s likely that a young billionaire got his money through some sort of digital means and so therefore they think, “Oh, video games will be a natural extension.”
Having made two video games, I would say that’s actually a challenging way to enter into — a challenging and risky way to enter into the “I’m going to make something market.”
John: Because while you’re going to be able to make a video game absolutely certainly, the chance that you’re going to be able to make something that is going to be groundbreaking or incredibly profitable is slim. And the companies that make the huge things are huge because they make the huge things. So, it’s unlikely that you’re going to be able to make Grand Theft Auto. I guess you could for a billion dollars make Grand Theft Auto. But I think the odds that it’s going to become Grand Theft Auto are very, very remote. So, I don’t know it’s the best use of your billion dollars.
Craig: Well, yeah. And you have to look no further than former Red Sox and Diamondbacks pitcher Curt Schilling who ended up losing his shirt doing exactly that, creating a video game studio to make a competitor to World of Warcraft and failed.
John: I don’t even know what that is. So, give me some backstory on that.
Craig: So, Curt Schilling, not a billionaire, but certainly quite wealthy. One of the best pitchers to ever play and had a long career. He was a big gamer. And he founded a company in Rhode Island to create a game called Kingdoms of Amalur, I believe is what it was called.
Craig: And it was designed to be sort of a better than Warcraft Warcraft, to out-Blizzard Blizzard. Somewhat controversially they were partly funded by the state of Rhode Island which was seeking to sort of become more attractive to corporations and business.
And it just didn’t work. They ran into trouble and they started running out of money and they ran into delays. These things happen all the time. And eventually they just ran out of cash. And they couldn’t get more. And Curt Schilling pretty much lost everything and the state of Rhode Island certainly lost their entire investment.
The game exists. Apparently it is out there and somewhat playable. And, you know, I’ve read things about it that sort of say, well, you know, it’s actually not bad. Or, you know, it could have been great or whatever. But it unfortunately is kind of a cautionary tale.
They did everything as if they were Bethesda, or Electronic Arts, or Blizzard, or Square, or Ubisoft. They just didn’t have the money to support it. So, they are actually when you were talking about the billionaire that comes in and makes the $300 million movie, that’s kind of what they did. They kind of came in and said, “Okay, we have all this money. Let’s just spend all of it now.”
But the second you hit a speed bump, you know, and they just couldn’t get it done. If you look on Wired they have some amazing breakdowns of the Kingdoms of Amalur tragedy.
John: I’ve always loved reading the stories on Duke Nukem —
Craig: Oh boy, yeah.
John: And the endless journey towards a reboot for Duke Nukem and sort of everything that could go wrong that went wrong again, and again, and again, which was like a cursed brand.
Craig: When I read about, I mean, at last the game finally came out and we were all spared more articles about how it was the King of Vaporware, but when I read those stories about Duke Nukem I would start to get anxious, physically anxious because there’s this terrible thing — you’re on this treadmill where you’re delayed. You’re now behind two years and you turn around and games are lapping you. Now you’re developing a game for five-year old technology. Now you’ve got to start again. But now you’re three years behind. And it’s just quicksand. I would honestly, my heart would start racing when I would read those stories. I had to stop reading them about Duke Nukem because it would freak me out.
And I felt so bad for all the people making that. Even just the world of first person shooters have sort of just gone away by the time that, you know.
Craig: It’s like everything was gone, and then they showed up. Oh, gosh, oh, I feel flushed.
John: I will say, not to completely disparage the possibility of involving yourself in games, is that, again, if you’re excited to lose some money, like you don’t really care about making money back, it’s a chance to maybe do something brand new and to do something that is sort of unlike anything else. But I would say like trying to chase a popular idea, like trying to the next World of Warcraft, is probably not going to be a very exciting or good use of your money, or rewarding your money.
John: But if there’s some genius who has the idea of like it’s this transmedia thing that’s going to do all this stuff and it’s only going to cost you $20 million and you feel like going for it, if you’re a billionaire, maybe. Because it’ll be one of those ideas that completely breaks out of everything that will catch probably and be the right use of your money.
Craig: Yeah. I always wonder like the guys who do the Elder Scrolls game and the Fallout games, Bethesda, ZeniMax Bethesda. I always wondered–
John: They’re brilliant.
Craig: They are amazing. But prior to Elder Scrolls were they kind of just small and then they just made an amazing game. I guess Morrowind was sort of the one that captured everyone. But, in other words did they sort of build themselves from small to huge?
John: That’s my belief but I don’t know that to be true. I think it is like Grand Theft Auto where it’s just, you know, they had a hit and they kept rolling that money back into the next one and into the next one and into the next one.
Craig: Got it, okay.
John: Yeah, it’s incredibly though.
Craig: It is. It’s amazing.
John: Yeah. So, let’s wrap up our discussion for young billionaires and our guide for young billionaires.
So, if you are a Mark Zuckerberg who decides to sell Facebook and you want to make movies, make some movies, but maybe pick your favorite filmmakers and make their movies. You know, if you love Wes Anderson, make all his movies. Woody Allen classically had one person who was making all his movies for all that time. That’s great. Do that.
John: If you like television, you could probably invent a new television series and just fund it yourself because why not? And there’s going to be a home for it now in ways that there wasn’t before.
John: If you like Broadway, the easiest way to spend your money. Lose your money, yes, but you’re not going to lose all of it, so there’s something. [laughs]
Craig: [laughs] Worst advice for billionaires ever.
John: I mean, but here’s the thing. My advice for billionaires is like you already made your money somehow, so you know how to make more money probably. So, if you’re not interested in like — if you’re not obsessed with like making money just do this.
John: Because, really, if your choices are between making more money, donating this money to a worthy cause, and worthy causes are great, but perhaps your worthy cause is actually creating art, then I would say there are filmmakers who make art, there are television shows that are genuinely art, there are Broadway shows that are genuinely art. And if profit isn’t your number one concern, those are all good possibilities for you.
Craig: Yeah. And you’re welcome, billionaires.
John: Yeah, jerks.
Craig: I mean, what have I have ever gotten from you people?
Craig: I think any billionaire actually listening to this, and I’m serious, if you are a billionaire, a legitimate —
John: I bet we have at least one or two billionaire listeners.
Craig: Right. So, I speak now to those. To those men and women who are legitimate billionaires. If you listen to this podcast frequently and you’ve listened to all this by now. You, frankly, should send John and I each $1 million.
Craig: And I pledge to donate half of it, but I’m keeping the other half.
John: All right.
Craig: I’ve earned it.
John: You’ve earned it.
Craig: This is really good advice we gave.
Craig: Oh, man, I hope it’s $1 million. I feel like we might get —
John: Oh, wouldn’t that be so great? Yeah.
Craig: I feel like we could.
John: So, you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org. No, so —
Craig: And you better tell me. [laughs] Don’t hide my $1 million from me.
John: Because Craig never actually reads the email. He only reads the ones I forward.
Craig: I know. And then —
John: Even then he claims I don’t actually email him when I do.
Craig: You did not email me that one time. I swear.
John: So, let us go to our real advice of the episode which is to the three people who have been brave enough to send in Three Page Challenges.
It’s been awhile since we’ve done Three Page Challenges. So, if you’re a new listener here’s how this all works. We solicit listeners to send in the first three pages of their screenplay. Sometimes it’s television shows, but it’s usually screenplays. And we will look at them. We will discuss them. We will summarize them. We’ll discuss them. We will post those PDFs on the site so people can read them. And, these were incredibly brave and generous to send these through. So, even if we are negative or harsh at times, it’s only because we think they’re awesome for sending in their stuff.
Craig: Oh, god, you sound like an abusive husband there.
John: Oh, yeah. This has been the day of Craig Mazin abuse.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, “Hey, just, you know, we may hit you. But it’s because — “
John: It’s only because —
Craig: We love you.
John: You deserve it. Oh, yeah, that’s right. We love you.
Craig: We love you.
John: If you would like to send in your own Three Page Challenge, there is a link called johnaugust.com/threepage, all spelled out, and that will give you the instructions for how you send the stuff in because there’s like boilerplate language that goes there so you won’t sue us and things.
John: First one up, let’s do Blake Kuehn. How’s that?
Craig: Blake Kuehn. Yes, this is the one that opens with the college town somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.
John: It does. This was actually our first entry that we’ve talked about on the air which is written in Fountain. So, they actually just sent the Fountain file which is so exciting for me. I can summarize this one if you want.
Craig: Go for it.
John: So, Blake Kuehn’s script opens in a two-story country house where we hear a news anchor talking about a student who was brutally murdered. We meet Raina Finley. She’s twenty-something. She’s doing yoga while Facetiming with her tanorexic friend. They sign off. Raina is getting ready for a date. We see her in the bathroom. She’s text messaging somebody. The text messages sort of float away in the air in a very Sherlocky kind of way.
There’s a new Twitter follower message from @onegoodscare. Raina is in the shower when the lights go out. And that’s when our three pages end.
John: Craig Mazin, talk to us.
Craig: Well, I sense that what we’re looking at here is something in the vein of Scream. Tonally it seems like we’re doing a self-aware horror movie. I think Strode University, I believe, Laura Strode is the name Jamie Lee Curtis’s character in Halloween, although I could be [crosstalk].
John: That sounds familiar.
Craig: I’m not huge on my horror sort of classics. I’ll be honest about that. I’m an Exorcist guy, but I’m less a slashy movie kind of guy.
At first I thought, okay, we’re getting at least some interesting description. I like the way that the trees were shivering in the gusting October wind.
I was not quite laughing along with the characterizations here. We meet two characters. Raina Finley is basically, it says here “beautiful, but deep as a puddle,” which I thought that was quite good. And she’s obviously really, really sexy. But, you know, she was coming off as a kind of sexy cartoon that I’ve also see before So, I wasn’t — if you’re going to give me sexy carton girl, sexy dumb bimbo girl, maybe something new.
This felt very — it’s just very familiar. Curiously, she’s talking, she’s chatting with a friend of hers who at first I thought was a man. I got a little confused because the voice is a raspy, it’s very raspy, and then douchey Tanorexic Ed Hardy trucker cap, I just, but then she takes a drag off her cigarette. I was a little confused by what I was looking at. Maybe that’s the point.
But, what I don’t like is trying too hard. Let me discover, let me enjoy that this woman is gross. The problem is that you’ve overloaded her with literally a hat on a hat. She’s over-tanned. She’s got terrible makeup. And she’s got an Ed Hardy trucker cap. And she’s smoking. And she’s drinking Monster Energy Drink. It’s just like you couldn’t, other than putting the word douche on her forehead, you couldn’t do more, so there’s too much. I’m not even listening to her anymore and I don’t consider her real because I feel the screenwriter telling me what I want to feel instead of showing me.
They have a little back and forth banter. It just feels like kind of a waste of a scene. And then there’s sort of a Twittery thing of a mysterious stalkery kind of guy that she doesn’t get is mysterious and stalkery, but she’s going to die soon.
I feel like I’ve just seen this before. What did you think? How about you?
John: I thought these were overall competent and I felt that like you this was an attempt to sort of figure out what is the Scream for today. And that’s a valid thing to be trying to write. Good on that. And it got me into the genre quickly and competently and that’s good.
But some things didn’t work for me. So, I’m going to start, because I actually had a hard time even getting the script. And so let’s look at those first couple lines.
A college town somewhere in the Pacific Northwest.
Okay, but what are we actually seeing? Because I don’t know what that is that you’re showing me. A college town like are we seeing streets, are we seeing — I see college town, but then we go to “EXT. HOUSE.” Well, “a two-story country house with a sprawling lawn.” I would actually be much better off if I hadn’t gotten that first line of a college town somewhere.
John: Because it made me think like, wait, is she in a sorority house, is she in her parent’s house? I just got confused right from the very start.
Craig: I also was confused about the sorority issue myself, yeah.
John: Yeah. Because the next block down:
INT. HOUSE – BEDROOM -- SAME
Sorority pics. College sundries. Trophies. Framed, confidence-boosting missives.
But, are we — is she in a college dorm room or is she in her home bedroom? And that got me confused because those are very different things and especially different things for a horror movie. In horror movies we really need to know kind of what we’re looking at and sort of how safe is she, is she alone, so I was confused where this is.
“The documentation of an exceptional life and an imminent failure to launch.” But, I don’t get that based on what you actually showed me.
John: It’s a valid sentence, but I just don’t actually get that point —
Craig: I’m going to go a little further. I don’t think that’s valid. I don’t think that’s valid screenwriting. Similarly, “framed confidence-boosting missives.” I don’t know what that is. Nor if you showed it to me will we be lingering on it long enough to get that. I think that we’re cheating.
John: Yeah. “Confidence-boosting missives,” you know, just tell me what the actual statement is. So, is it a Hang In There kitten, or is it one of those Confidence, or one of those like generic art things?
Craig: Even a missive is a letter, you know. Isn’t it?
John: Yeah, I guess. Yeah. So, maybe it’s like a framed letter from her college —
Craig: I don’t —
John: I don’t know what that is.
Craig: I don’t know. I just thought that that whole paragraph was cheating.
John: Yeah. And I also had a challenge with Raina Finley’s introduction. So:
RAINA FINLEY (20s) – beautiful, but deep as a puddle – flows through a series of Yoga poses – her taut, nubile figure strains beneath her sports bra and boogie shorts.
So, it’s a run-on sentence that’s not helping us and I really think “deep as a puddle — flows through a series of Yoga poses,” the puddle and flows are not helping us, because that one puddle is about sort of her being shallow, sort of emotionally shallow, but then flowing through yoga poses, we’re still in a water context and trying to connect those but they’re not really supposed to connect.
John: I don’t know why yoga is capitalized. It just stopped me so many times.
Craig: Although then I got to the fact that that she was in a — that her “nubile figure strains beneath her sports bra and boogie shorts,” and then I was okay.
John: But if that were a separate sentence it would be even better.
Craig: Yeah, no, I’m just saying that it eliminated the other sentences for me. [laughs]
John: All right. [laughs] Very good.
Craig: The pages were sexy. Actually really I was into it.
John: Yeah. I think they were sexy, too. So, I’m pointing at the things that didn’t work because I think a lot of stuff was nice. I think the idea of a Twitter follower as the bad guy is actually interesting. And I think it was Steve Healey on Twitter actually mentioned or posted that will the first Craigslist killer be someone who kills somebody off of Craigslist, will it be the person who’s responding to the Craigslist ad or the person who posts the Craigslist ad.
Because you know there will be a Craigslist killer, but it’s like which one is it going to be.
Craig: You know what would be a cool movie if there’s somebody is trying to — he’s answering a Craigslist ad because he’s a serial killer and he doesn’t realize that the person that posted this particular ad on his eighth try is looking for somebody to kill and they meet each other — somebody should write that.
John: Yeah. I think our friend TS will write that.
Craig: Oh, TS. That’ll be sexy, too.
John: So good. So, I like the general idea of this. I thought there was a lot of writing that needed to be cleaned up in it, but I have hopes that Blake can do that. He or she. I’m assuming Blake is a man, but Blake could be a woman, too.
Craig: Well, it could be either one. My greatest concern is less the cheaty and some of the awkward phrasing and a little bit more that this does not seem to have moved the bar enough. I mean, Cabin in the Woods sort of —
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: It just took the Scream, what Kevin Williamson so brilliantly did and kind of took it to the next generation, the next level. And this feels a little bit like I’m watching Scream again. And that’s been done. Repeatedly. It’s not only been done by Scream repeatedly, but it’s been done by lesser imitators repeatedly. And you don’t want to be in there. So, I don’t know.
I don’t know if that’s what this is or if it’s going to go somewhere else, but that was the…
John: But, Blake, I really hope that we’re going to have some scene where a girl is like taking a selfie and in the selfie she sees the killer right behind her.
Craig: Ooh, I like that.
John: That’s going to be a great moment.
Craig: That is a cool moment.
John: So, that’s our first one. Do you want to do the next one?
Craig: Sure. Which one would you like?
John: Do you want to do the…
Craig: C.L. Stone? Alone or Canary —
John: Let’s do Canary in a Coal Mine. Let’s do that. It’s a very different tone.
Craig: We’ll break it up. Exactly.
Canary in a Coal Mine by Steven D’Arcangelo. I love that name. Steven D’Arcangelo. It’s a Donnie Darko kind of…
Okay, so we are in Scranton, Pennsylvania in 1937. We’re in the dusty Appalachian Mountains and we’re in front of a coal mine. And an old codger is sitting there and he calls quitting time and miners emerge from the mine and they are all carrying little tiny cages with canaries. And this is where I should sort of give it away: it becomes quite evident that we’re in an animated film. And the canaries are sort of work-a-day canaries in the coal mines. And they, where the miners go to their homes, the canaries go to a big aviary. And in the aviary we meet Bobby and Cole.
And Cole and Bobby sort of give us a little tour of their town and we realize it’s sort of Bug’s Life style town except instead of bugs it’s birds, you know. But it’s an anthropomorphized little bird town. And all the canaries citizens worship “he who cares for us” which is a boy who gives them water and such.
And it’s a big day for Cole. Cole is heading towards something. “Good luck, Cole.” People are wishing him luck. Poor Bobby, who is Cole’s sidekick, is also auditioning but no one seems to care. And Bobby is a bit of a klutz. And they enter this gilded cage which “looms above the community like a castle in the sky.” And in that cage is a council of elders who are auditioning canaries a la American Idol. In fact it’s Avian Idol.
Craig: All right, John. What do you think?
John: So, having written many animated films I felt like I didn’t know that this was animated quite soon enough. And so I started reading it and everything — I thought like, Oh, I’m in 1937, Scranton, Pennsylvania, so I think I’m watching something real. And then it becomes very clear like, Oh, the animals are talking to each other, so that is not real.
I felt like I needed to be tipped off, even if it doesn’t say like “animation,” give me some sense of sort of what this world feels like because I’m having a really hard time from page one getting clear visuals on what things look like.
So, you referenced Bugs, which I thought was a very good choice for sort of what this is sort of trying to be. And yet they’re anthropomorphized sort of beyond what bugs can do. Because Bugs made very smart choices in the sense of like they had hands so they weren’t so scary looking where they only had feet. But, so they could pick things up. But everything they picked up was real and everything was tactile, whereas here there’s like newspapers being delivered. And it says Avian Idol as it lights up.
So, the world is pushed beyond sort of what I’m expecting. And that’s okay. I just didn’t — I wasn’t getting into the movie the right way because it was feeling so pushed. And because we started off so — I believed realistically that my mind immediately was going towards Bugs and it was actually much further than Bugs.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah.
John: And here’s an example, and it’s writing that confused me. “Behind Cole paces BOBBY, an anxious canary the same age who wears Coke-bottle glasses made from real Coke bottles.” So, that stopped me for about a minute because I’m thinking like, wait, so how big is he? Because Coke bottles are big.
Craig: It’s an enormous bird.
John: But wait, are they actually like vertical Coke bottles? I don’t understand what this is.
Craig: Or the bottom of Coke bottles? But even if they were the bottom they’d be too big.
There are multiple issues here. I agree with you that it takes a little too long to figure out what’s going. In part I think it’s not that it takes too long as much as that the reveal that we’re supposed to be paying attention to the canaries is mundane. I mean, I think if you’re going to tell a story about the unsung heroes of mining and their secret world, then you’ve got to get us into it in the proper way. We’re in a mine. They’ve found coal. Something is going on. What’s going to happen?
And then you realize — and there are voices in the dark talking about it — and then you realize they’re canaries and they just get picked up and brought down to the mine.
But somehow or another we need to get into this in a way that’s fascinating, and visual, and interesting, and somewhat ironic, I would think.
The world, go ahead.
John: I was going to say that we start with this old codger, this human who is sitting in a chair rocking, and that feels like that’s tipping off that the humans are important. If the important characters are the birds I would honestly say start with the birds.
John: And so see the work. And so you look at Frozen, which I absolutely loved. They start with these, and not everything has to have a song, but they start with this song that sort of sets up the world and these ice harvesters. And you see what the work is and then we’re able — but we don’t actually focus on any faces — and then we find the boy and his reindeer who are important characters who are going to be following through that. It’s a very good job of setting up like what’s actually important in our world and our movie.
This, I feel like, well, the humans are the important thing, so I’m looking for miners. I’m looking for what the conversations are. And so by the time I get to the birds I’m like, huh? What?
John: So, if the birds were one of the first things I saw then I would know I’m in a move about birds.
Craig: Or, if you start with the humans, you’re just looking at their feet, you know?
Craig: They’re not important. I totally agree. And the first line of dialogue from the old codger is, “Well, butter my butt and call me a biscuit.” And I’m already kind of checked out because it’s just so broad.
Craig: And goofy, you know? It’s just not… — And if that world is goofy, then oh my god, the secret world is going to be triple goofy. So, there’s a tonal issue with that.
John: Because we’re starting, the first thing we’re seeing inside the coal mine or near the coal mine are pick axes and shovels outside the mine entrance as we’re seeing people leave. Well, maybe show us the inside of it. Show us what it’s like in there —
Craig: I think so.
John: So we see that work and see them like coming up the elevators. Show us that journey to sort of set up our world and get us situated as an audience into the story you’re about to tell.
Craig: Yeah. You can even start with danger. I mean, animated movies have great success sometimes starting with danger. But it doesn’t really improve when we get inside the aviary. There isn’t a sense of a revelation here. We’re not having that moment where the doors to Oz open, or the moment when Andy leaves his bedroom and the toys come to life. There’s no excitement to this reveal. It’s actually very like here we are. We’re in an aviary.
I couldn’t really get a grip on what this place looked like.
Craig: I know there’s the notion that it’s a town. And there are streets, I guess, and a square. But I can’t quite figure out, because I’m not really sure how an aviary works, like where they sleep? Are there houses? Do the humans know that this aviary looks different than they think?
John: That’s what I was most curious about. Because you look at Bugs as a secret world and you believe that humans just weren’t sort of noticing was there. But here like the birds are dropped off at this place, so like it’s a real place that humans kind of know about, too.
So, the description of what this town is like, “Houses (nest boxes), police precinct (donut box), bank (piggy bank), movie theater (View-Master),” and that feels — and then it says, “You get the idea, right?” It’s that in-scene description. That feels like Bugs — A Bug’s Life.
Craig: Yeah. But in Bug’s Life they put an entire carnival inside garbage. You don’t see it. They’re really clear about that. You just don’t see that world. You’d walk by it and just think it was a paper bag.
Craig: But here’s a boy actually coming over and putting water into this thing, so I’m confused. Maybe there is no confusion in this world and everybody gets that birds talk. But then I’m kind of curious to see how that develops. It might.
And they literally say, “All hail He-Who-Cares-For-Us,” and the boy lovingly pets them. But does he — I need to know, can he hear them talking, or does he hear them just tweeting?
These are these questions that animators really suffer over and think about. And that hasn’t quite been worked out here.
John: Yeah. I thought Frozen did a very nice job with the animals talking. Essentially the animals don’t talk and yet the one guy can talk with his reindeer who understands him and it’s really clear that they understand each other but they don’t actually talk to each other.
John: And that makes sense and that can work really well. But this is clearly mostly a movie about the birds. I should back up and say I think it’s a reasonably good idea to make a movie about these birds if there is really enough story here, but that’s an interesting world. I think the idea of a mining town, and the birds, and birds who fly versus birds who are underground, which is sort of unnatural. A caged bird singing. There’s lots of potential here. I just got really confused what movie Steven was trying to write.
Craig: I agree. And any time you’re talking about canaries and coal mines there’s going to be death and there’s going to be drama. And there’s lots of interesting stuff and it seems like we are looking at an underdog story, which frankly we get a lot of I think in these kinds of movies, but so be it.
I will lastly say that I got really thrown off by this Avian Idol/American Idol rip-off, because at this point now I’m like, okay —
John: Feels stale.
Craig: Now, I’m in total goofy spoof territory. Like even more strange than the spoofs that I used to do, because those were at least, you know, that was live action.
But you start putting spoof of pop culture, current-ish pop culture, in a movie that’s set in 1937 that’s animated, and they’re birds, I am just so confused by what’s going on and what I’m supposed to believe and feel is real. Yeah…
Craig: So, I think that this, Steven, is not an uncommon problem. It’s a problem of tone. And you can pick a lane but you’ve got to stay in that lane. And some lanes are better than others.
John: Yeah, I would say tone and also just visual storytelling. And just letting us know what it is that we’re going to be seeing in this world because we just get too confused right now.
Craig: Yeah. Go ahead and be dramatic about how you reveal things. All the reveals in these three pages are just we see this, we see this, we see this, we see this. Let us find it. Make a big deal out of it if it’s interesting. If you’re going to change our perspective or inform us that the world is not what we think, be dramatic.
Craig: All right.
John: Let’s go to our third one for this week. Our final one. This is Alone by C.L. Stone.
So, we meet Zoe, who is 28. She’s in an abandoned supermarket. And it’s really abandoned, so like dirty windows, possibly post-apocalyptic. She has two German Shepherds with her, Dino and Hulk, or Dino and Hulk, I don’t know.
She’s loading up on food and as she’s leaving she has this little — she finds a mouse in this box and leaves some poison for it. When we’re outside we see we’re in the City of London, which is similarly abandoned. She has an encounter with this menacing feral dog. She drives it off with a super soaker.
She visits an overgrown cemetery where we see gravestones of Loving Mother, Mary Last, and Taken Daughter Pollyanna Last.
At Zoe’s house there’s a vegetable garden growing out front. As she enters we sense that something is wrong, but that’s the end of three pages.
Craig: Right. Well, there’s a lot of interesting writing here. There’s some that’s a little clumsy. As an overall note for C.L., I would say I’m not sure you needed three pages for what you delivered here.
Craig: The deserted supermarket, for an audience — and this is again a somewhat common thing. I still do it, and I watch myself doing it. We get things faster than you think we get them. So, once I see:
INT. DESERTED SUPERMARKET -- DAY.
The automatic doors are stuck half-open. Windows unwashed. Lights off. Leaves litter the floor.
In my mind I go we’re post-apocalyptic or we’re zombies or we’re something. But that’s the deal.
I get that already that fast. And this is working really hard to convince me of it. And I don’t need to see her select every single thing from the supermarket. You did leave out this in your summary, “Whizzing happily past the aisles, there is a blurred glimpse of a dark figure stood at the end of one.” [laughs]
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: Which is one of the worst sentences I’ve ever seen in my life.
Craig: But, assuming that it’s just a typo or just a grammatical stroke moment, the idea is, okay, a-ha, there’s dark figures. Are they ghosts or are they zombies? Are they bad? Whatever they are, that’s our element that we’re going to be dealing with. And then it’s gone.
That’s good suspense. The problem is it’s not revealed suspensefully. And then once she decides it’s not a big deal, it’s gone anyway. And then she’s bothering with mice and so forth.
And, you know, it gets a little — we see City of London, the street is abandoned. Then there’s a dog. She water soaks the dog to make it go away. Okay, so she’s resourceful. I get that. And now she’s in a cemetery with mom, I assume what was her mom and her sister.
There’s another sentence that just took me — I understand what C.L. means, finally, but it took me awhile. And I took it as a challenge. And I want to know if you got it faster than I did. “Zoe sits, tearing up grass to split down the middle of the blade, keeping company with the dead.”
John: Yes. I did finally get it. And I think it’s actually a beautiful image, it’s just a very bad sentence.
John: So, that’s the idea of like where you take your thumbs and you split apart a blade of grass. And that’s actually a great image. And it’s a very hard sentence to —
Craig: Correct. To the point where I started wondering is C.L. Stone, is English their first language, because that syntax is so tortured. Because at first I was like, what blade? And I started looking for a sword. [laughs] And then I was like, what is she doing? Why is she tearing up grass? And then I realized what she meant.
So, you’re right. It actually is a very beautiful image and I like the peacefulness of it. It just needs to be written better.
John: Yeah. I’m guessing C.L. Stone is British or a non-American just based on some choices.
John: Choices on trolley and tins.
John: And so even an American writer who is trying to write something set in London would probably say cart.
Craig: Yes. And cans.
Craig: Yeah and also it is —
John: And there were other things that I thought were actually really terrifically done here though. I really thought that little rat poison moment was kind of nice. So, essentially you find this mouse and then you’re like, screw it. So, she shakes some rat poison on the shelf. I thought that was kind of an interesting thing.
John: And I love — I mean, abandoned supermarkets are sort of a familiar territory but they’re also really — I could immediately see it in a way that’s helpful in these things. I mean, we were talking about Bethesda earlier, but Fallout 3 has great abandoned supermarkets.
And I immediately saw that and it put me in the right place. I agree that it just went on too long.
Craig: It just went on a bit too long. And similarly when she walks into the house, something’s going on and I feel like, well, we’re here at the bottom of page three and we’re just repeating what just happened on one.
I almost wonder if it’s better to, well, here’s what I’m missing more than anything from these three pages. I know that Zoe’s mother and sister died. I know that she’s resourceful when it comes to dogs. And she’s scrappy because she can go collect food and such. But I don’t know what scares her. I don’t know what makes her sad even. I mean, even the blade, grass blade. I’m not getting that one thing that I want to hook in that makes her interesting to me and not just girl in post-apocalyptic London. I’m looking for that character thing.
John: So, first I need a theater, but if I only had these three pages to work with, and wanted to rearrange it and do something that I think would work a little better, I would probably actually stat at the cemetery and start with that blade of grass splitting and sort of looking up to the clouds and so we don’t know sort of the full context.
John: Then go to the supermarket. It’s like, oh, we’re actually in a post-apocalyptic world here. And then go to the house. Because right now it’s a little bit strange that we like start with the supermarket and the cart and then we stop and she just like hangs out at the cemetery for awhile. And then eventually goes home. Like once you get stuff in the cart, you should use the cart to take it home.
John: That’s sort of the narrative logic that would seem to make sense.
Craig: I agree. The other way to open is to just see this girl in a store just looking at rows of cereal. And then she picks a box and looks at the ingredients and considers it. And then is like, eh, I could get this one. [laughs] And then she finally picks on. And she starts walking away and you pull back and you see: oh my god. This person is making choices about cereal and she’s alone.
Craig: But, yeah, there is a little bit of a missed opportunity to kind of, again, dramatic reveals of the world around us. And they don’t always have to be misdirections. But, you know, the deserted supermarket is a little bit of a trope, frankly, at this point.
Craig: So, making something special out of it or finding another way. But, there is really good imagery, there’s good writing. I liked that it’s quiet. And I like the challenge of writing without dialogue. Some of those sentences though we’ve got to — we don’t put sentences in there like that one sentence. [laughs]
John: I would agree.
Also, I would say if you have stuff that needs to be printed on screen, like Mary Last, Loving Mother, I would have probably put that, I would have centered it. I would not put spaces in between those lines, and just kept those together as blocks. I honestly probably wouldn’t have put in all that information because when I see dates I start to do math on dates, and you don’t ever want your audience doing math. You don’t want them to think about anything you don’t want them to think about.
So, I think you can be in the cemetery and just sort of show names, like Loving Mother, but don’t worry about dates.
Craig: I didn’t mind in this case. I know what you mean. But 2000 and 2008 is such easy math. And it does tell us how young this girl was when she died, which is good.
Craig: But then there’s also a picture of a girl, so that kind of covers that. But I do agree you want to maybe bold that, center it, do something, make it interesting.
John: And in my proposed reordering of things we may not need to have that residential street. But on page two we go to:
“Zoe whizzes past a street sign. Underneath the name it reads ‘City of London’. The street is abandoned. Almost.”
The street is abandoned, but that’s not telling me enough. Like you’ve done this whole supermarket thing to set up some sort of world, but like what is that abandoned street like? Are things burned? Is everything untouched? Is it overgrown? It really does matter. Like are windows smashed out of cars? What is it like?
Craig: Yeah. You never want to say something like “the street is abandoned,” because that’s facts not in evidence. You just want to show me what I’m supposed to see and let me determine that maybe this place is abandoned. But there’s such a different kind of abandonment on a street where there are overturned cars and they’re all burnt out, or a street where everyone is still parked, neatly.
John: Yeah. Agreed. So, she gave, I don’t know if C.L. is a man or woman, but abandoned is just giving us an adjective. Give us some nouns. Give us some things to look at that will help us build the scene and sort of know what it is that we’re looking at in our head. Because adjectives alone won’t do it.
John: Cool. So, again, three interesting, very different Three Page Challenges. Thanks, Stuart, for reading all of these entries.
Craig: Thanks Stuart.
John: And picking these three to send us.
Craig: And thank you to our writers. And whatever we’ve said here, take it to heart, or kick it to the curb, but keep working.
John: Keep working. Craig, you have a One Cool Thing that you’re excited about sharing, so I don’t want to hold you up any longer.
Craig: I’m so excited. I should have been on top of it but I wasn’t and then someone sent me a tweet and I got all crazy. The Room Two is out. The Room Two.
John: Holy Cow.
Craig: It’s out for iPad. Not The Room, the movie, the Tommy Wiseau film. No, The Room Two, the sequel to the extraordinary game for iPad, The Room. It’s my favorite game that I ever played on the iPad. It’s one of my favorite games period in my life. And the sequel is out. I’m super excited.
John: Have you played through it yet?
Craig: No. I’ve only played about ten minutes of it this morning and then I had to go, but it sounds beautiful. It looks gorgeous, I mean, just gorgeous. The attention to detail these guys do is amazing.
John: So, for people who aren’t familiar with The Room, it is a sort of Myst-like in many ways I think where you have this box, at least in the original, you have this box that you need to figure out how to open. And it’s incredibly challenging to figure out how the different pieces connect and how you’re supposed to get the next part of the box to open up.
Craig: And it’s very tactile. You’re constantly turning things, hitting switches, pulling on things. You’re feeling it. It’s really beautifully implemented for the iPad. You can tell it was designed for touch. It is one of the few games I’ve ever played where I just thought this could not be done without touch at all in any way, shape, or form. It’s beautiful that way. And so this seems so far so good. So far so good.
John: And I’m excited to see what they did in terms of building out the narrative. Because in the first game of the room there’s a sense that you have gotten this box because an uncle or somebody else has died and/or has disappeared and you are following these instructions to figure out what he was getting into. And it’s super creepy. It’s like The Room, not The Room, like The Ring kind of creepy.
Craig: Yes. Very Ring-like.
John: The Ring or Hellraiser. There’s some dark forces that he was investigating, Lovecraftian forces perhaps. And that’s awesome. I love that when it’s done so well.
Craig: Yeah, they seemed to have picked up that narrative and I can’t wait to see where it goes. And I think it’s $5. It’s ridiculously cheap.
John: It’s a steal.
Craig: I mean, honestly, if you have an iPad and you haven’t bought the room, you’re nuts. And if you have and you haven’t bought The Room Two yet, run, run, run and do it.
John: I agree.
My One Cool Thing is also a software solution. So, I’m working on this movie that I’m hoping to direct this next year. And so one of the things I needed to do is find some location images. So, not necessarily the locations that I’m going to be shooting in, but some sort of visual references for things that I — sort of for the world where this movie takes place. And Google is your friend for that, so Google Image Search is incredibly useful for finding, you know, you type in the search terms and you find those sort of interesting places.
But I wanted to store them in some place. And so Evernote is really good for that. And Evernote plus Skitch is a really good combination. So, what I’ve ended up doing, which has worked out really well, is I’ll find something that’s correct and it’s up on my screen. I’ll hit the command key for Skitch which is this image annotator that partners with Evernote. And so you select the part of the screen that has the image and it saves it to Evernote along with whatever notes you have for it.
And so I’m able to build sort of location files for the things that I’m looking for for this thing. It’s been incredibly useful because classically what I would have done is like drag the image off and stick it in a folder and remember where that folder is, or stick it into iPhoto. This was a much better solution for me.
I’ve tried to lean into Evernote a little bit more for this project for keeping all the notes about a project together so that I can tag them all the same way. And then if I’m looking for something, be it a video, be it a website, be it an image, it’s right there, or notes on projects.
Craig: You’re like a handyman. You’re like a Mr. Fix It except for these things. You know, there are people that go around their house like, huh, I don’t like the water pressure coming out of my shower. I’m going to open up my walls. And you’re that guy, but for this stuff. You really are.
You’re just like, “I don’t like the way things are going. I’m going to just make stuff and fix it.”
John: Yeah. So, Evernote plus Skitch I think is a really good solution for that. Evernote is kind of free. I think above a certain amount of storage you have to pay a monthly fee, but it’s been really well worth it. And Skitch I think is a free add-on for Evernote. So, I recommend the two of them together.
John: Sweet. So, standard boilerplate here at the end of our show. If you have a question for Craig or I —
Craig: For Craig or me.
John: Oh my god. I can’t believe I just did that.
Craig: You did it. Keep it. Keep it. [laughs]
John: I’m not going to change it. No, we’re not going to edit that out. Yeah, for me, for I, that’s one of those frustrating things, and especially you hear it in lyrics where they’ll make the rhyme because they want an I or they want a me —
Craig: Say a Little Prayer for I, that’s the one that just makes me nuts.
John: Yeah. If you have a question for me or for Craig, if it’s short, Twitter is your friend. So, I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Longer questions or notes to explain why were wrong about something we said on the show are email@example.com.
If you want out the notes for this episode or any of our episodes or the links of things we’ve talked about, you can always find those at johnaugust.com/podcast.
We also have an app now that people are downloading and using.
Craig: So cool.
John: Which is exciting. So, that’s for iOS and for Android. Totally optional. You don’t have to use the app. You can just go through iTunes if you like to. But if you like to use the app, you’re welcome to. And it also gives you access to all the back episodes.
If you’re on iTunes, leave us a rating and a comment because that helps people find the show. And I think that is it.
Craig: It’s a good thing, because I really got to pee.
John: Go! Craig, enjoy your week.
Craig: Thanks, John. See you soon. Bye.
- Company, Making of Original Cast Recording part 1 of 6, on YouTube
- Boston Magazine on Curt Schilling and 38 Studios
- The Development of Duke Nukem Forever has its own Wikipedia entry
- How to submit your Three Pages, and Stuart’s post on lessons learned from the early batches
- Three Pages by Blake Kuehn
- Three Pages by Steve D’Arcangelo
- Three Pages by C.L. Stone
- The Room Two is available now
- Skitch and Evernote are great together
- Download the Scriptnotes app for iOS and Android devices
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Andreas Hornig