The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 74 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, I hope you have Diet Dr. Pepper in hand, because we have a very busy show this week.
Craig: I’m opting for Diet Coke.
Craig: I feel like that gives me a little extra boost.
John: Well, you may need it, because we have five main topics today.
Craig: Oh god. Oh, god!
John: Can you handle it?
Craig: Yes! [laughs]
John: We’ll go through some feedback on the Raiders episode we did last week.
John: We’ll segue to the results of the listener survey that we put up. And we had a bunch of people who wrote into that, so we want to get to some of the responses.
There’s a new report that just came out this last week that tallies up all the spec sales and pitches from 2012, which is kind of crazy that someone did that, but good for them.
I want to talk to you about a brand new type face called Courier Prime.
John: And we have three listener questions.
Craig: Great. That is a full docket. Let’s get to it.
John: Let’s get right to it. Well, let’s start with Raiders. So, last week we did a special episode which was just about Raiders of the Lost Ark. And it was just sort of a trial run, like what would it be like if we just talked about one movie the whole time. And people seemed to really dig it. I got a lot of good response on Twitter about that.
Craig: Yeah. I saw a lot of it. And I think my favorite comment was somebody was like, “Oh god, they’re just going to talk about a movie the whole time and it’s Raiders, and everybody has seen Raiders so who cares?” But they were like, “No, actually, it was really good.” [laughs] So, that was great to hear.
And I love talking about Raiders. I wish every podcast were about Raiders.
John: Yeah. Some podcasts should probably be just about Raiders. I’m sure there actually is a Raiders podcast. And we’ll find it and Stuart will link to it. But, what I really liked is people would write in with their theories about sweater guy. And sweater guy is the guy who puts the apple on the desk as he’s leaving, and they’re like, what is his deal, is he gay, what is it?
And so my favorite response was from Christopher Wilson who tweeted, “Raiders sweater guy has written ‘I love you’ on the apple, which Brody then reads and wipes off on his sleeve before pocketing it.”
Craig: Hmm. Interesting. Interesting. It’s not true…
Craig: …but I wish it were.
John: That would be fantastic if it were. And I think in the ret-con version, I think if we were to go back and sort of redo it or see Indiana Jones from sweater vest guy’s perspective, that would be a very good explanation. The Rosencrantz and Guildenstern version of Raiders of the Lost Ark, that would be a feature film.
Craig: And what happened the days leading up to the apple incident. How he dealt with the aftermath of the apple incident.
The other thing that someone tweeted which I really liked, and I had never noticed it, and it’s funny how you just don’t see the things — and no matter how many times you’ve seen a movie you just miss these things. The famous shot of Indiana Jones going under the — in the beginning, when that wall is closing down on him and he rolls under it at the last second, then reaches back, grabs his hat, and then goes through again, the hat is actually dropped from above.
Craig: And somebody put a GIF on there and you can just watch it over and over. And once you see it, you cannot unsee it. [laughs]
John: [laughs] Just ruined it.
Craig: I mean, everybody knows the shot of the snake that’s reflected in the protective glass between Indiana Jones and the snake. Everybody knows that goof. But that hat, how did I miss that? Incredible. Just incredible.
John: Sleight of hand. The GIF has ruined it for you. Or the “JIF.” And I guess you can pronounce it either way.
Craig: I say “GIF,” because it’s graphic interchange format, so it should be “GIF.”
John: I agree with you, but apparently the people who make it say it’s “JIF.” We’ll never resolve that issue as we will never resolve many sort of big, important movie issues.
Craig: I disagree with you; I think we just resolved it. And it’s “GIF.” [laughs]
John: So, one of the other things that happened on Twitter is I asked, well, if we were to do another one of these movie-centered episodes, what movie should we do? And, of course, a lot of people wrote in with responses.
It was interesting, a lot of people wrote in with like, “Do North by Northwest.” “Do Casablanca.”
Craig: Oh, come on.
John: And I say, “Oh, come on,” because realistically those are fantastic movies, but no one is going to be writing those movies now. I don’t think it’s actually a helpful exercise. And that’s why I get so frustrated when I see those brought up in, like, How to Write a Screenplay books, because those aren’t movies that people actually get made.
So, I think if we are to do another one of these in the future, and I think we should, it should be a more modern movie that reflects the kinds of movies that listeners are actually making these days.
Craig: Yeah. Plus, also, if you want to read insight or analysis of Casablanca, go pick up every single book on film ever written. It’s been done. We get it. There’s nothing left to say about those movies.
It’s far more interesting, I think, to hear an analysis of a film that perhaps academics don’t think is worthy of analysis or isn’t sufficient for analysis, but we who write movies for large mass audiences do think is valuable for analysis. Why would we ever, ever waste our time analyzing North by Northwest? What else is there to say?
John: Yeah, instead of Casablanca, I think it should be Caddyshack.
Craig: By the way, it would great to have fun with… — I mean, the thing is Caddyshack is actually really hard to analyze because the story is all over the place. I mean, for instance, if it were me, if I got to pick the next one, Groundhog Day. That would be fun to go through.
John: That is a great one. But Groundhog Day is done a lot, though. There’s a whole book on sort of — there’s a lot of stuff written about how Groundhog Day was made. That doesn’t mean it’s not a great movie and you can learn a lot from it. It’s a high concept comedy. That’s a good choice; you’re right.
I was going to — if we we’re going for comedy — I was going to go for Clueless which is just a brilliant movie. Or Animal House.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, there are so many that we could talk about. But, what we should never do is analyze the same old movies that everybody else analyzes, for all of the reasons that you’ve mentioned, and all the reasons I’ve mentioned. So, there — there is your dose of umbrage for the day. Come on!
John: Now, one of the readers also sent through this script page which is apparently from Harrison Ford’s actual script from Raiders of the Lost Ark. And I guess the backstory is that at some point this original script was up for auction, and so online there were scans of some pages, or photos of some pages. Now, I haven’t found a link yet from some other site that has it, because I kind of want to post it up ourselves, something that’s not really supposed to be out there in the world. But this page was really interesting, and what I liked about it was it was actually a page that we talked about in the podcast.
This is the moment where Indiana Jones is talking to the two Army guys and they’re in the big lecture hall. So, I want to read a little of what’s actually written in the script and then we can talk about some of the notes that Harrison Ford has scribbled on the script which I think are important as well. So, this is page 18, at least what I’m reading.
“…through rings in the corner of the Ark. The painting is…” So, he must be talking about the book. Basically the book has been flipped open and you see the Ark and the painting of the Ark. “The painting is very dramatic, full of smoke, tumult and sinewy dying men. But the most astonishing thing in the picture is the brilliant jet of white light and flame issuing from the wings of the angels. It pierces deep into the ranks of the retreating enemy, wrecking devastation and terror.”
So, it’s a very kind of literary block of scene description there, but it really gives you a very good sense of what that drawing is ultimately going to be in the book, and why the other characters are responding to it in that way.
This is the section where Indiana Jones says, “Lightning…fire…the power of God.” What I like about the handwritten notes in this is it says, “Imp,” which I think means important, and the question is, “Is Indy a believer?”
Craig: Oh! There we go!
John: “Where in bible?” And it’s scratching out some lines and it’s suggesting alts for things. And it’s just fascinating to look at while they were making the movie, these are the kind of questions that do come up on set. And as you’re on set working on Hangover II, or Hangover III, that kind of stuff does come up and that’s why it’s so valuable to have you as the writer on set is that you can say like, “Why am I doing this right here? What if I did this thing? What’s important about this scene?”
Even as you’re making a movie you’re asking these questions, and sometimes those questions get reflected in the text of the scene you’re shooting probably that day.
Craig: Well, yeah, and first of all the question that he asks, “Is Indy a believer?” goes right to the heart of what you and I were talking about last week. That is the core of the movie. And the answer to that question, for me at least in that point in the movie is, no, he’s not, but he will be.
And it’s interesting that… — If you want to be a screenwriter, this is the way you have to think about movies. It is quite likely that no one sitting in the movie theater, save for a very select few people, ever watched Indiana Jones and thought this is a movie about faith, and belief, and this is a movie about one man’s journey from skepticism and scientificism to religiosity or spirituality.
But that’s what it is. For the actor who has to play the part, he must understand in those moments why he’s saying the things he’s saying, or else it just will be bad acting. And no matter what the movie is, actors need to understand what they’re saying and why they’re seeing it in the moment.
And because they are performing the character, inevitably they’re going to come to a line that is not consistent with the way they’ve been performing everything else. And in those moments, those lines get tested by everybody before you shoot, you know, on the day. “Why am I saying this? It doesn’t feel right.”
And when you’re a screenwriter on set, the last thing you can say is, “Well, I don’t care how it feels. That’s what I wrote. I believe it’s right. Just do it.” You’ll get a terrible line reading, or you’ll get an angry actor. Either way, it’s not productive. So, the question you have to ask yourself is: Is this person correct? Is the line reading incorrect for…is it inconsistent with the character I intend? Or, is the line inconsistent with the character that I intended as currently being portrayed by this actor? Or, is the actor just wrong?
And if the actor is wrong, part of our job is to explain our intention and see if they agree. Sometimes it’s that no one is wrong. It’s just that this other person is a human being and they need to make it feel real. And if it’s not real to them, you have to rewrite it so that it is real to them. Otherwise it’s going to stink.
So, for instance, at the bottom of the page, why don’t you read what it says there.
John: “Indy goes and shuts window, lost in thought.” That part? Or, the “Oh, please.”
Craig: Yes. Exactly. [laughs] So, what Indiana Jones as scripted is supposed to say…
John: “Most certainly.”
Craig: …in response to the CIA guy. And Harrison Ford wrote next to that, “Oh, please,” because in his mind he’s like, “That’s not how Indiana Jones is going to talk. That’s not consistent with the character that I’m building in my mind. That’s not going to be consistent with my performance.”
Now, sometimes as screenwriters this hurts. You’re Larry Kasdan. You’re an amazing writer, and here’s a guy going, “Oh, please,” in response to some line you’ve written. But, by the same token, it’s an emotional response, and it’s just as emotional for them as it is for us when somebody suggests a line to us and we think in our minds, “Oh, please. That’s ridiculous.”
But, you have to be able to trust the people you’re with and even give them room to be a little brusque, because everybody… — The thing that scares us the most — and “us” includes writers, directors, and actors — is being embarrassed by the totally wrong thing. And that fear oftentimes comes out in a bit of a harsh way.
John: That’s true. What I’ll go back to with actors needing to change things on set is the challenge as a writer, and a director, and a producer, when you have actors who are trying to change lines is the actors are sometimes not aware, or sometimes they are aware but they’re being sort of deliberately blind to the fact that if they change their lines then all of the other lines change, too.
And that can be a very difficult situation on sets where writers just have to sort of negotiate between these actors who are starting to change their lines and suddenly it becomes a less-than-happy situation.
John: On good sets, with good actors, it’s a delight. And everyone is finding the exact right moments and they’re handing lines to other actors because they’re like, “I don’t need to say this, you can say this instead,” and everything is happy and joyful.
Sometimes it’s not that situation.
Craig: That’s right. And what you’re looking for, hopefully, in your creative partners and the main cast certainly fits that bill, you’re looking for people who act in good faith. We don’t always agree about things, but everybody should be working towards the notion that they want the movie to be good.
There are times when actors, and writers, and directors, behave badly. And they put their ego first, or considerations that have nothing to do with the movie first. And when those things happen they are toxic and they often ruin movies.
And they are scary. I mean, we’ve all — anybody who makes movies has been through those situations and they’re very, very difficult. Very difficult. I would so much rather have an incredibly, physically arduous shoot of difficult material with people that are working together than an easy, slam-dunk, walk-in-the-park movie production where the two main actors don’t see eye-to-eye about what the movie is supposed to be, who the star is, who the hero is.
I mean, I’ve sat in rooms with actors while they explain to me what their vision for the character was, and I thought in my head, “Oh no! They think they’re the protagonist. OH NO! What do I do now?” That’s a rough one.
John: Luckily in this situation we have Harrison Ford who is playing Indiana Jones. He is clearly the hero of the movie. And he seems to be making the right choices and asking the right questions. So, maybe it’s just one more sign of how Raiders of the Lost Ark became so good.
Craig: Yeah. And you can even see on that page that he circles a big chunk of dialogue and gives it to Denholm Elliott.
John: Yeah. Nice of him to do.
John: All right. Topic two. Two weeks ago on the podcast we asked, “Hey, we are trying to do a survey of who our listeners are and figure out what is interesting to them about the podcast, what we could be doing better, where these people live.” We asked like eight questions and so many people wrote in with responses.
As we’re recording this show we have 1,811 responses, which is nuts. So, thank you so much to everybody who chimed in and gave us their opinion. If you still want to do it, the survey form is still up there. It’s johnaugust.com/survey. And you can weigh in with your thoughts, and there is also a free response section.
But I thought we’d run through some of the stats. There will also be a link to the PDF that shows all the stats at johnaugust.com.
Geography: This was different than I would have guessed. So, we asked, “Where do you live?” And 30% roughly of our listeners live in Los Angeles, which is understandable because that’s where a lot of movies are made. Somewhere outside of Los Angeles but still in the US is 46%. The UK is 9%. And somewhere else in the world is 16%.
Craig: That’s still pretty high though, right?
John: It is high. But I would have guessed the somewhere-else-in-the-world would have been higher than that. That’s just based on the questions that actually come into the podcast are, I would say, almost 50% sort of international readers. So, I was surprised that we are still so North American centric.
Craig: Well, maybe it is that for those people who live elsewhere we are the most convenient place to ask questions.
John: That’s a very good point. See, you’re providing answers. I like that, Craig.
Craig: Yeah, you know, I’m here for solutions.
John: Most of our listeners listen every week. 72% said they listen every week.
Craig: That’s gratifying.
John: That’s so gratifying. So, I wondered whether people were cherry picking based on the kinds of things we talk about, but it sounds like most people really do listen every week. And most of our listeners have been listening since the beginning, or nearly the beginning. 62% said they’ve been listening right from the start, which is great.
Craig: That is good.
John: At least 62% of the people who filled out this survey, I should say. There could be a selection bias there because it’s our really dedicated listeners were the people who filled out the survey, but still, that’s awesome.
This was surprising to me. “Do you currently make your living in film or television?” 32%, yes.
Craig: Now, I am surprised that that’s actually that high. Are you surprised that it’s that high or that low?
John: I am surprised it’s that high.
Craig: Yeah. Me too. And it’s cool. I mean, look, you know, sometimes we talk about stuff that really is only applicable to people that make their living in film and television. And I think, “Oh, what are we doing if only 4% of people listening actually care?” So, it was very cool to see that the number was as high as a third.
And, you know, the great majority of the rest want to work in the business.
John: Yes. 57% want to work in film or television. I guess, keep in mind that the “yes”s in that 32%, those could also be people who are working as assistants at places, who are working in those very entry-level jobs, which is great too. So they can also be people who are still aspiring screenwriters, but they are currently working at least in some aspect of the industry.
Craig: You’re right. Yes, you’re right. We may have a lot of assistants there, but they count.
John: Assistants count. Assistants are awesome.
Next question was, “How do you listen to the show?” 23% of listeners listen directly on johnaugust.com. That is, they go to the blog, they press play there, and listen to it playing in the browser. 16% listen to it just directly on iTunes. 47%, so almost half of the people, are listening to it on the iPhone or i-gizmo. Android, only 5%.
Craig: Yeah, well, you know, because Android stinks. And I like to think that the people that listen to us are cool and understand that things that are technological and aesthetic rip-offs should not be rewarded. [laughs]
John: See, what’s so unfair, Craig, is that I’m the one who actually has to check the email account, so when people write their angry things I’m the person who sees all those. Actually, well, Stuart sees them. Eh, Stuart can deal with it.
Craig: You know what, Stuart? Enjoy. Enjoy the avalanche from the 5% on their goofy Android devices.
John: They’re a very loud 5%. I will say that your Twitter handle is @clmazin, so if Android users want to talk to you about Android usage they can do that right there.
Craig: Yeah, bring the noise from your little pieces of plastic. Go ahead.
John: This was also important and surprising to us is that 35% of people do read the show’s transcripts, or at least sometimes read the show’s transcripts. So, every episode of the show has a transcript where Stuart and other folks have actually typed out everything we’ve said — god bless them.
And so we were wondering, “Well, is that good? Is that useful? Are people finding it helpful?” And people are apparently finding it helpful. So, if you don’t look at the transcripts, here’s what I can tell you: Every Tuesday we come out with an episode. Usually by Thursday, sometimes by Friday we have the transcript ready and up. That transcript shows up as a link at the bottom of the post, the original post on johnaugust.com.
You click through that link and it shows up as a special post that has all the text. And so if you are someplace where you can’t listen to the podcast but you want to read up on it, that’s an opportunity.
Craig: By the way, how do you listen to the show?
John: I listen to it on my iPhone with Instacast, which I think is the best podcasting app for the iPhone.
Craig: Interesting. I’m one of the 23% that listens to it directly on johnaugust.com, although I’m also one of the 35% that sometimes just reads the transcripts.
John: Ah. And how do you find the transcripts, because I honestly don’t read them. I just don’t have the time in the day to actually look through. Stuart sort of proofs them. Do you find them largely accurate?
Craig: Yeah. For sure. I mean, occasionally you see some slightly goofy typo or something in there, but by and large they’re very accurate. And I have to say the two of us come off so well in transcript form.
John: Ha! [laughs]
Craig: There’s something about the text that strips away all the goofiness. And I will also say you and I have a tendency to speak in complete sentences, which isn’t something you always see, or hear.
John: I want to answer in a complete sentence somehow because you just said that.
Craig: And you just did.
John: I did. Thank goodness.
Next question was about the Three Page Challenge, because I was curious whether people like it, don’t like it so much, they get sick of it. We try to space them out. We try to never do two Three Page Challenges week after week, because that’s just a lot we know. And some people don’t want to be able to do it.
But 35% of people say they love it, so that’s great. And 60%…58% of people say it’s just fine at the current levels, so don’t do it any more, don’t do it any less. And so we will keep doing them, but I think we will keep spacing them out; so, we don’t want to do it every week.
Some people had suggested like, “Oh, maybe just do one at the end of every show.” That doesn’t feel right either. I think we will keep them as sort of blocks, and some weeks we’ll have some of them, and most weeks won’t.
Craig: Sounds good to me.
John: People have asked for more guests. Well, you’re in for a treat because we are going to have more guests coming in soon, as soon as next week in fact.
John: This was an interesting question we had to do a little more digging on. So, we asked, “If we were to do another live session like the one we did in Austin, would you come?” And 54% of people said probably not. But then when you actually looked through the responses of people who live in Los Angeles, a ton of people would. So, it sounds like we could probably schedule one of these for Los Angeles, and we should try to do that at some point.
Craig: Yeah. That would be fun to do. It would be nice to meet the Scriptnotes Army. Should we have some…you know, like Lady Gaga has her Little Monsters and stuff, shouldn’t we have some sort of name for the people who listen to us, other than nerds, you know, ScriptNerds.
John: ScriptNerds, yeah. We could also probably have tee-shirts. I’ll talk to Ryan about tee-shirts, because tee-shirts are awesome.
Craig: Sell tee-shirts like we’re at a concert. I like it.
John: I like it. We need a big tee-shirt cannon to shoot it to the back rows.
Craig: That’s the vibe we’re going for!
John: Totally. It’s a party vibe. And finally we asked about how old people were. And our audience is largely, like 47% is between 25 and 35. 38% is over 35. So, we don’t have a lot of teenagers, which is great.
Craig: Yeah. Because, frankly, teenagers are annoying and stupid.
John: Yeah. That’s @clmazin on Twitter.
Craig: [laughs] Yeah. All these teenagers with their Android devices. We don’t need you. Keep not listening. Don’t want you.
John: Now, we also had a section for sort of free comments, where people could write in and say whatever they wanted to say about anything. And so the most common thing filled in the little box was “Thank you.” It’s like, “Oh, how lovely!” People are so nice.
There were a couple of comments that sort of came at both sides a lot, so, more umbrage/less umbrage. I think we have plenty of umbrage.
Craig: [laughs] The great thing about umbrage is I just don’t care. I think the only way to have gotten more umbrage out of me is if 98% of people had said less umbrage.
John: Yeah, some common comments, I had Stuart sort of go through, because there were so many to look for. So I asked Stuart to sort of find common themes and threads. So, here’s his sort of sampler platter:
He said that some folks say we’re too kind. We shouldn’t be afraid to disagree with each other or say when we don’t like something. I think I speak up when I don’t agree with you.
Craig: Yeah. For sure. I’m pretty sure that you hate my guts. I’m not sure what they’re talking about. I mean, sometimes they may think that we are over-agreeing with each other on these Three Page Challenges, but I think that’s only because usually there’s a right answer to those Three Page Challenges. Usually they are good or they are bad. I mean, we both do the same job. We’ve both been doing it for awhile. There’s a reason we have a podcast together.
I mean, and you know, I like you.
John: Some listeners said that they wanted to bring back comments, and that must be reflecting the blog, because I used to have comments turned on on the blog. I turned off the comments on the blog and I’m just so much happier without comments, so those aren’t coming back.
But, if you want to respond to something that happens on the podcast, send us an email firstname.lastname@example.org, or just tweet us directly: @johnaugust or @clmazin.
People asked for chapter marks or section time stamps.
Craig: That’s a good idea.
John: Yeah, it’s a good idea. I did that for the flashback episode, the one where we did stuff from previous episodes. So, we’ll try to get chapter markers in, and maybe this episode will actually have some chapter markers in it.
People said that Lindsay Doran is amazing, and gosh, she really is just great.
Since the show started people say that they’ve had various things of success and they couldn’t have done it without us, which was lovely. So, thank you. If you have a success story and we’ve been helpful, a lot of you have been writing nice emails. And so thank you for that and continue to write those nice emails, because it does give us warm fuzzy feelings.
Craig: Yeah. And tell us your story, too. I mean, it would be cool if somebody had a success story and we actually did have some slight bit of help with it, tell us the story. We’ll read it.
John: Regarding the Three Page Challenge, a common comment was something like, “I don’t read along with you. Instead I read them myself and then I see if I agree with you.” That’s a great strategy. So, if you’re tuning in for a Three Page Challenge and you have the opportunity to, I might stop the podcast, print those pages, read them, and then look along with us. Because if you are just listening to what we’re going to say, by the time you read the PDFs you’re probably going to agree with us. But it’s great to sort of develop your eyes and your ears for sort of what the good and the bad things about some of these scripts are. But, looking at them yourself and then seeing if we agree with your opinions.
Craig: Yeah. Smart idea.
John: People asked for a ten-page challenge, an act one challenge, a full script challenge. That’s not going to happen.
John: Sorry. That’s a terrifying amount of work.
Craig: Not as long as I’m on this podcast!
John: [laughs] People have said, “Do an episode with some of the worst Three Page Challenges submitted and why they’re bad.” And this is a misunderstanding of, I think, the point of the Three Page Challenge. And also Stuart really is picking some of the best ones. And so he’s not deliberately, like, throwing the turkeys in there. There are some really, really bad ones. And I don’t think that really helps people.
I think what probably helps people is saying like, “This is what was promising about this, and this was what didn’t work about this.” Or, “This was just so fantastic and here’s why it’s fantastic.” It’s easy to write something terrible.
Craig: I saw that suggestion and I have to say part of me thought it might not be a bad experiment to try, and what we’ll do is we can leave off the names of the people so it’s not so personally gross for them, but the possible value is if people are listening and they hear us say, “Okay, so let’s talk about why these are huge, fundamental mistakes,” maybe they’d think, “Oh, I’m making that mistake right now.”
So, that’s one reason that we might want to do just like a horror show Three Page Challenge one week, just to kind of talk about some of the real glaring mistakes people make.
John: But here’s my problem with that. Anyone who sent in that Three Page Challenge, they are a listener to the show, so of the — who knows how many listeners we have — that one person is going to tune into that episode and see us saying that this a terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible sample, and how is that person going to feel?
I just feel like there’s sort of compact of trust that has been entered into by sending it into us. I just don’t want to…
Craig: That’s a good point. You’re right. You’re right.
John: All right. I’m the nice one.
Craig: [laughs] So true.
John: People wrote in to say do a prompt-based challenge, which I think is sort of going back to — I used to do on the blog the scene challenge, where I would say, “Write me a scene that takes place in a laundromat and involves this kind of thing.” And so people would write in, in the comments, they’d write in this little scene that did that. And I would get like 200 of them. And it was exciting to do for awhile, and then it just got to be such an incredible drain.
I worry that with as many listeners as we have right now, it would just be unmanageable.
Craig: I don’t even like that kind of stunt writing anyway. You know, that’s like…I don’t like it. [laughs] That’s as articulate as I can be. I don’t like it.
John: So, we had a couple topic requests that I wanted to respond to. One topic was what to do when you first move to LA — where to live, where to get a job, how to approach your contacts out there — which I think is a really good general topic. So, we should do that sometime, sort of that first, you-just-arrived kind of thing. And that might be a good topic for a special guest, like a newer writer who is just getting started.
We had a lot of requests for certain kinds of guests, for directors, and writer-directors, and people in different things. And you’re going to see a lot more of that this year.
John: We had a specific request to do a cross-panel with the Nerdist Writer’s Panel, and that’s something we actually talked about with Ben Blacker. And that show is great. We love them. So, if we can find something to work out this year to do with them, that would be great.
And last topic was they really want Stuart on the podcast at some point.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, at some point it does seem like he’s got to be on the podcast.
John: I just feel like Stuart is sort of our Maris from Frasier. And that if you actually reveal who she is at this point it sort of spoils everything.
Craig: Well, what if we just have Stuart on the way that Marcel Marceau is in Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie. You know, he was the only person that said something and he said one word or something, [laughs] and then left.
John: Well, here’s the thing. Stuart actually is in every podcast. He’s just downstairs, you just don’t hear him. So, he really is part of every podcast.
Craig: He lives and breathes through ever second of this.
Craig: Good point. Yeah, maybe, see, I’m the nice one now because I’m feeling like, “Oh, it would be nice to talk to Stuart.” But then, you know, I also feel like here’s what’s going to happen: People are going to listen to Stuart and they’re going to go, “Nah, I liked him so much better when he was a man of mystery.”
John: Yeah. Stuart is sort of a man of mystery, but this last weekend I went to a party at his house, and there’s a whole separate podcast which is just talking about Stuart’s crazy, insane house that was clearly built by 1980s drug dealers and is somewhere on the top of a mountain in East Los Angeles. It was just fascinating.
It was also fascinating to do some introspection on myself as a 42-year-old at a party of like young 20-somethings and what that is like.
Craig: Yeah, you know, you can’t go back.
John: No, you can’t go back. But, we can go forward. And let’s go forward to our next topic which is…
Craig: What a segue!
John: I’m just getting so much better a year into this whole podcasting thing.
A reader — thank you so much reader for sending this to me — sent this thing called the Scoggins Report. And it’s done by Jason Scoggins and Cindy Kaplan. And there will be a link to it, and there’s a PDF you can download.
But what it is is they’ve taken all the spec sales and pitch sales from the year and calculated them up by studio and by agency and sort of genre and sort of what happened over the course of the year. And god bless you for sort of quantifying this information that would otherwise go missed. They call it a “terribly unscientific analysis of Hollywood’s movie development business.” And I think that’s the way to really look at it. I wouldn’t look for the exact percentages, but you can definitely notice some trends among what’s actually selling in Hollywood.
So, you got a quick chance to look at this, but I want to highlight a few things. The top buyer of spec scripts this last year was Paramount, and spec scripts and pitches was also Paramount. So, Paramount bought 20 specs and pitches this year, tied with Universal when you factor in pitches as well. That’s a lot. And that’s compared to like the lowest of the big studios was Fox with six. So, Paramount was buying a lot more.
The agencies that sold specs, William Morris sold the most specs according to this listing. UTA, then CAA, then APA, then Paradigm.
Craig: Yeah. That was actually interesting to me. The studio buyers, I think, kind of wobbles up and down each year. Sometimes one is on top, sometimes the other. I mean, for instance, they called out Warner Bros. as having really reduced the amount that they bought and suddenly Paramount really increased the amount they bought. And sometimes that just has to do with their own development cycles. So, sometimes they have a development cycle where they’re like, “We’re short on original material. Let’s just buy stuff this year.”
But that means next year they won’t as much. The total number of spec sales for 2012 was 132. In 2011, it was 132. [laughs] So, there is actually incredible stability to the overall appetite for specs. I was surprised by the sellers, the piece of data you just called out there. William Morris sold 35 specs. UTA sold 24. CAA only 16. That’s a fascinating number. I suspect that part of that has to do with the fact that CAA represents a lot of writers who do a lot of assignment work. And that William Morris may be willing to take more of a flyer on writers who are younger, or breaking in, or newer, or just more oriented to selling speculative material.
That was an interesting number to me. I mean, CAA’s numbers are quite low, frankly.
Craig: And when you look at combining specs and pitches, CAA’s number comes up quite bit, but William Morris doubles — nearly doubles — to 62. So, William Morris seems to be far and away the most entrepreneurial agency when it comes to selling specs and original material.
John: Now, one thing to keep in mind is that it’s not always clear how they’re getting their data. Are they getting data based on what gets reported in the trades? Or are they talking to individual people at studios?
For example, Fox only listed six scripts sold, but is mine one of them? Because I have a project that’s sort of at Fox that’s, you know, it’s a spec, it’s at Fox, but it’s sort of a special/unique situation. So, am I one of those six or am I not one of those six? It’s hard to know.
John: I guess I could probably look at the end notes and figure it out, but I’m just spitballing.
What is probably more useful for most of our readers is to take a look at spec sales by genre, because what they do is they break down into six rough categories and see what percentage of sales came from the different genres. So, the most common genre for a sale this last year was thrillers. 27% of spec sales were thrillers. 22% were action-adventure movies. 21% were comedies. 11% were science-fiction. 10% were horror. And 8% were drama.
So, that 8% drama, that feels true. Selling a drama spec is very, very tough these days. Horror and thriller, I think, kind of overlap a lot, so I’d be curious sort of where the distinction is made between those two. But, I would say those numbers feel kind of true to what gets sold, not necessarily always what gets made, but to what gets sold among specs.
Craig: Yeah. And one thing to remember when you’re looking at numbers like this is that the numbers are skewed somewhat by the nature of the original material versus material that’s adapted. Thrillers tend to be original because there frankly aren’t a lot of underlying properties that specifically fall into the thriller category. So, we know that when it comes to things like comedy or action-adventure or sci-fi, a lot of times there is underlying material. There’s an article, there’s a remake, there’s a sequel, whatever it is.
Thrillers, there’s not — it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of, for whatever reason, thrillers that people are interested in adapting. Most of the stuff I see out there for adaptations are sort of in the adventure area, or sci-fi, or comedy. So, that may be part of why thrillers are so high. I mean, in short, they buy more thriller specs because they have less other avenues to generate thriller material.
John: Yeah. I also have to say: dramas, even though we make very few dramas over all, I would say most of the dramas we make tend to be based on books and sort of big sell, big books that sold out of New York. So, it’s not surprising that of spec script sales there aren’t going to be a lot of them.
John: And I just did a quick check, and no, the script that I have at Fox did not show up on this thing, so there could be seven for Fox. The numbers could be off a little bit.
Craig: Bump Fox up to seven.
John: So, if you are thinking about a spec, if you are thinking about a pitch, I think it’s worth taking a look at. This is just how the movie business worked this year. I would say most writers these days are doing both film and television, so your career is not sort of pigeonholed into one or the other as much as it used to be, but useful to take a look at.
Craig: Yeah. And I just want to give one final caveat, because I was talking about this actually on DoneDealPro the other day in terms of specs: You could look at this report and say, “Well, if I wanted to be a spec selling machine I would have an agent at William Morris, I would have a manager at Energy,” — which is a company with which I was up until this day unfamiliar — “I would be selling that script to Paramount or Universal. And it would be a thriller.”
However, please note that Paradigm sold the fewest specs, and say Fox bought the fewest specs, and say drama represented the genre of the fewest specs, and yet they exist and sales occurred. In the end, this is interesting to look at, but honestly irrelevant to you, because if you’ve written something that you love, that’s what you write. And if you love your agent, that’s who he is. And if there’s a company that’s really into it, that’s the company.
So, don’t chase. I guess that’s my advice: Don’t chase this stuff. The best agent to sell your spec is the agent who represents the spec you’ve written who loves it. Simple as that.
John: I agree. I would also remind listeners that a spec script might sell, but if the spec script doesn’t sell it is a writing sample that gets you a job, and gets you hired for another bit of work. And so writing the thing that you can write the best is always going to be your best option.
Craig: Yeah. For sure. So don’t chase.
John: Don’t chase.
Topic four. I think we’re at four. Maybe it’s five. Our next topic is type faces. And so, Craig, I think we may have talked about this on the podcast before. In my career and life before I became a screenwriter I was actually a graphic designer. And so I was the kid who walked around campus with the box of fonts. I had like the 3.5-inch floppies. It was full of fonts. And back in those days you had your bitmap fonts and you had your laser writer fonts. And I was the one who had sort of the alternate versions of things.
I was a big font nerd. And then I entered into a career in which my entire output is 12-point Courier, which is just…I don’t know if you can really say it’s irony, but it’s just sort of sad. It’s just sort of sad that I love fonts so much and most of my work was coming out in a really not-attractive Courier face. To the degree that when I bought my first laser printer, which was back when I was at USC, I hated the Courier that was in it so much because it was super really thin Courier, that I actually had this utility that pulled the outlines out of the printer and I used Fontographer to make myself my own Courier, which I called Dorphic. And my first scripts are printed in Dorphic.
So, if you actually look at my original things, like Here and Now, they’re printed in a face that basically looked like Courier, but it’s a little bit jagged, it’s a little bit off, and it’s Dorphic. And that was like my own little type face.
And so I used that for several years and then eventually Courier started looking better. I liked the standard Mac Courier. It was fine. And for awhile I was just satisfied with that. But now I’m not really satisfied. So, a couple months ago a very talented font designer named Alan Dauge-Greene wrote to me. He said, like, “Hey, would you ever be interested in doing a custom font for any of your app stuff?”
I said, “You know what I really want? What I want more than anything else? I want a much better version of Courier.” And so I’m so excited because now it exits. We made a type face called Courier Prime. And I had just sent you the webpage that sort of announces it, so you’ve had a chance to take a look at that.
Craig: I have. And John, how much is this new Courier type face going to cost me, the consumer?
John: Would you believe that it will cost you absolutely nothing?
Craig: What?! [laughs]
John: It’s completely free.
Craig: I mean, how cool are you guys? It is a really nice looking, I mean, I also — it drives me nuts. And I hate Courier. Courier is aggressively ugly. It is a pointless tradition as far as I’m concerned. I would love for you and your elves to figure out how we can get a fixed width font that looks cool and doesn’t look like butt, which is what Courier looks like. But while we’re all stuck with Courier, it is a much nicer Courier.
And the Courier marketplace is getting really confused, because when I started writing screenplays it was just Courier. And then there was Courier New. And there was Final Draft Courier. And there was Movie Magic Courier. And there are all different Couriers. And I never understood what’s the difference between all of these.
And they didn’t always match up right, you know, like suddenly if you changed Courier and then you moved to another program you get pages moving up and down. So, this sounds like a great universal solution to all of that.
Your Courier is cool. I already have it installed on my computer and I think it looks great. But can’t you just make a better one? Like a better font?
John: So, here’s the thing: I think Courier gets knocked because it so often is so incredibly ugly. And it was designed for an age of typewriters. And it is a mono-space font. Mono-space fonts have great qualities to them that things will always line up and every character can actually fit the same space. But they have some drawbacks.
They tend to be not as readable because your eye likes to see some differences between letter widths, and there’s not a lot of color on the page.
I think Courier for — first off, if you have Courier New installed anywhere on our computer, just get rid of it. It’s just the worst the worst face ever.
Craig: So bad.
John: Just the worst. A couple sort of unique challenges for any type face that is designed for screenwriters, and Courier Prime is specially designed for screenwriting. So, you could use it for coding. You could use it for a letter you’re sending to your grandma. But the reason why we did it for screenwriting is if you actually look at page of a screenplay, there’s actually not a lot of text on the page. There’s a lot of white space.
And so most Couriers look kind of thin and the page looks kind of — doesn’t have a lot of good color to it. You want something a little bit bolder. So, we were able to beef it up just a little bit more than you would normally see for a Courier. The letters are just a tiny bit fatter. The other thing we could take advantage of is like resolution of not just printers, but also your screen has increased as well. So, we’re able to open up the space inside letters a little bit more, and it just gives a little bit more — I don’t know — it helps the readability and it makes it look a little bit nicer and more inviting on the page.
The other thing we did, which I’m surprised that more Couriers haven’t done along the way, is right now Courier, basic Mac Courier and Courier Final Draft, for their italics they just slant the letters. What we did is we created a true italic where the font actually looks better and different when you go into italics.
Craig: I know. It’s cool. I like that a lot.
John: So, the lower case “f” is sort of the classic example of this, is that it really sort of leans forward in a kind of scripty sort of way. And yet everything matches fine. So, we had to pick metrics so that things wouldn’t break and that you could feel safe swapping it. So, we matched the metrics of Courier Final Draft. It just looks a lot better.
Craig: Yeah. Good job. I mean, and what a lovely service for you to provide to the screenwriting community. I hope it is wholeheartedly adapted by many.
John: Thanks. Cool. And so if you go to Apps, there is a link there for Courier Prime. It’s free to download. You can install it on Mac or on PC. If you’re installing it on Windows, it works great. If you’re using it with Windows Final Draft, there are some special warnings because Final Draft does crazy things, because Final Draft has to do crazy things. So, there are some special caveats for you there. But, you’re free to use it in any way you want to do it. And we have it on a very open license, so if you are an app developer who wants to use it inside your app, you can do that with immunity.
Lastly, we’re getting into some questions. First question comes from April in Ohio. She writes, “A few months ago a friend of a friend of a friend said he would help me make some industry contacts, but I would have to contact them through Facebook. Their friend followed through and I’m currently Facebook ‘friends’ with several people working in the industry. Most of them are mainly actors, but a few work in other areas as well. I haven’t had any ‘conversations’ with these contacts via Facebook because I’m not really sure how to approach them. What’s the proper etiquette to reach out to somebody through social media?”
Craig: Oh, I mean, you know, you just send them a message and just say, “Hi, my name is so-and-so. I’m a friend of so-and-sos. I’m sorry to bother you.” You know, just be very humble and polite. And just ask your question and don’t expect an answer. And if you get one, you know, respond politely. Don’t stalk. Don’t be a weirdo. You know, the usual stuff.
John: Yeah, that’s exactly my approach. And I’m barely on Facebook. I don’t sort of accept friend requests from people on Facebook, but I’m very much on Twitter. And so sometimes people will send me something on Twitter and if I’m in the right mood for it, and it strikes me right, I might watch their little movie on Vimeo or read their blog post. That kind of stuff is fine as long as you feel like you’re just being, you know, appropriately respectful to what the relationship is, then it’s great.
So, I wouldn’t be afraid of doing it with those people. If they are, you know, friends of friends of friends, and they’re some actor who like occasionally works on a TV show, it’s unlikely that that person is going to be a huge asset to you as an aspiring screenwriter, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t like their video when they show up in something, or just participate a little bit in their online life.
Craig: Yeah. You know, the Twitter thing is great because everybody is forced to write as concisely as possible, so you’re never stuck with these long screeds. I mean, if you send somebody this long thing they’re just not going to read it.
And the other thing is, I want people to understand that this is not about ego or we think we’re so cool we don’t have to respond. You cannot imagine the asynchronous aspect of people who want to send material and talk to people who are in the business and the available amount of time we have to do that. And frankly the available amount of will we have to do that.
I mean, we’re reading and talking about movies all day long. It’s our jobs. And then we go home and all we want to do sometimes is watch TV, or talk to our children, or take a nap, or just play a game, you know. And so at some point, it’s unfortunate, you start to get forced into being rude. Not overtly rude, but rude in the sense that sometimes I just don’t answer people because I just don’t have time or the will. I’m sorry.
Next question comes from Pat in Stamford, Connecticut. She or he…we’re going to say it’s a he. “I reached the point where I occasionally have to send out physical scripts, not just PDFs over email. The only hole-punchers I can find that would cut through an entire screenplay range from $180 to $300 and up. This seems far too expensive for something I will only use a few times a year. Is there another possibility I’m simply missing? Is there a model you recommend?”
Craig: [laughs] This can’t be real.
John: No. It’s completely real. “I feel slightly foolish asking, but somehow I don’t want to make sure I miss something somehow.”
Craig: He definitely missed something.
John: No, but here’s the thing Craig. I actually have two really good answers for this, and this is why I picked this question.
Craig: This can’t be real! [laughs] It’s just impossible.
John: No. It’s going to be great. I have three good answers. While you’re laughing I have three good answers.
Craig: Okay, good. Give them.
John: First off, the simple solution by far is if you go to Staples just get the three-hole punch paper.
John: Get that. That’s by far the easiest solution.
Craig: They did it for you!
John: They did. They already drilled the holes for you. It’s perfect and it works great. And honestly, you can kind of leave it in your printer most of the time because most of the stuff you’re printing out, eh, it’s still on three-hole paper, who cares.
So, first choice: Three-hole paper.
Second choice: This is something I actually found out about through Big Fish is there will be times where you have to do like colored revisions or you have to do something and you just can’t find the three-hole paper that’s already been drilled. They make a really big punch that can actually punch up to 130 pages at a time. The one that we ended up getting is a Stanley Bostich 3200 Heavy Duty Hole Punch.
This thing is actually kind of terrifying. You have to lean on it with your entire body weight, but it does punch through all of those pages at once. And if you had to do it for a bunch of scripts, that would be a solution. But, really, you’re going to use the pre-drilled white paper if you can possibly be on white paper. It’s really only if you’re going to do it on colored paper, something that you can’t find pre-drilled that it makes sense.
Craig: I just can’t believe that this person was not aware that they manufacturer three-hole punch paper. I can’t believe it. I can’t believe that they knew enough about computers to send us this question, but not enough to Google “three-hole punch paper.” I can’t believe it. It’s a setup. It’s not real. This can’t be real.
John: I think it’s absolutely completely true.
Craig: Good god.
John: My last solution for you is this: You know, you don’t have to punch through the whole thing at once. You can just take ten pages, punch them, take ten pages, punch them. That’s what honestly you had to do back in the day.
Craig: That’s what I used to do, but you missed a fourth option which I have done which is you take your screenplay, and this is an extreme — when you don’t have the three-hole punch paper and you don’t have a hole puncher or anything — you take the script and you put it vertically like on a music stand or something. And you get your rifle.
Craig: You’re going to want to use a high caliber, but not hollow point or anything. You want to make sure that there’s no spread on the slug when it impacts the script. And naturally a laser site is really helpful here. And you’re going to fire three times. And, you know, for typical brads I think you’re going to want to maybe do, like 22 sometimes is just not big enough. Try a slightly higher caliber. Avoid ammunition manufactured in the Middle East or China. It’s just not reliable.
John: So, what I would say: make sure you really aim right, because there’s nothing more embarrassing when you’re just a little bit off and like, oh my god, it won’t actually fit in. And then you have to make a second hole right next to it. And that’s a tough shot, too.
Craig: Yeah. And everybody knows what happened. And, of course, we would be remiss if we didn’t make sure if you do have a friend or assistant that’s helping you with this that they are not behind the script when you do discharge your weapon.
John: If they’re holding the script in the music stand, then you can sort of crouch down behind the music stand, not right in the line of fire.
Craig: I mean, listen. I’ve done that in a pinch. Don’t be like me. Don’t be stupid. I mean, I got lucky, but don’t do that.
John: You never know what’s going to happen. I would also say they do make the very powerful green lasers which are somewhat controlled, like you’re not supposed to shine them at an aircraft, because they could blind a pilot. But, when you’re not blinding a pilot with them you can use them to burn holes through the paper.
And so, again, the challenge may be that it’s a white paper, so you may need to find some sort of solution to actually make the paper dark enough so that the laser light will burn through it. But I can imagine you can build some sort of, like, sled, possibly out of Lego, that could slide in the right ways and so it could burn through a hole. And then you slide it to the next, they can burn it through the hole.
Craig: Yeah. That’s not a bad idea. I mean, the other option is if you’re friends with Cyclops from the X-Men, you could always have them come over and just give a quick, you know.
John: Well, Craig, I just don’t think you’re taking it seriously anymore. I mean, Cyclops is a fictional character.
Craig: No, he’s not. Oh, he is?
John: That’s James Marsden. And James Marsden is hugely talented and a very handsome man, but he can’t actually shoot light out of his eyes.
Craig: Oh, really? Oh.
John: Anonymous writes, “I’m a writer from the UK and have optioned two screenplays to people in Los Angeles.” Congratulations, Anonymous.
Craig: Well done.
John: “One of these options is now 14 months old and I’ve done several rewrites for the producer, and the producer hasn’t asked for any more rewrites. There’s a director circling the project, and I was wondering if there’s an action I can take other than sending emails asking what’s happening to move the project forward, or is it just a matter of waiting?”
Simplest answer of all: It’s waiting.
Craig: Yeah. It’s pretty much waiting. I mean, you can occasionally lob in a check-in email, but just understand it’s not paused because you haven’t checked in.
Craig: It’s paused because it’s paused. They don’t have an interest there, or the person that they need to get interest from has not turned their focus upon it. The amount of waiting that occurs in Hollywood is extraordinary. It almost seems sometimes that this town has two speeds exclusively, just nothing is happening in a weird purgatorial way, or things happen so fast you can’t even catch your breath.
Nothing ever seems to proceed in any kind of regimented, expected way.
John: I completely agree. And that happens at every stage of your career. You just have to sort of get used to it.
One of the nice things about writing this pilot for ABC is that things do come more quickly, but then they just come way too quickly. And as we’re recording this podcast, I don’t know if the show got picked up or not for pilot, so I’m just waiting.
And I can lob in a phone call and say, “Hey, what’s happening?” But the answer is they don’t really know. Nobody really knows. There will be a decision and we’ll shoot a pilot or we won’t shoot a pilot, but my asking the question, I’m powerless to change anything at this point.
Craig: One thing that comes to min — sorry to jump back to the other question — If you have a large drill press you could drill press three holes through your script, but just wear eye protection.
John: Yeah. That’s actually what Kinko’s would do for you. Kinko’s actually has a drill and they can do that kind of stuff.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah.
John: Yeah. That’s very practical. A nice thing.
Speaking of practical things, do you have a One Cool Thing this week, Craig? I forgot to email you to remind you.
Craig: I mean, no, but the truth is now my One Cool Thing is Cyclops. And here’s the deal: I refuse to believe what you’re saying to me, because I’m a believer. And I do think, and I’m going to find James Marsden and I’m going to bring a script that was printed not on three-hole punched paper. And watch what I do, buddy.
And I’m going to take pictures of it and we’re going to put it on johnaugust.com. James Marsden, call me. We’re going to do this together.
John: I would just argue that if such a fantasy creature existed, Triclops would be much better because he could do all three holes at once. I’m just saying.
Craig: You know, now you’re not taking it seriously. [laughs] Okay, because Triclops is ridiculous.
John: My One Cool Thing is actually a video that, well, I posted a video that a reader sent in about a casting director named Pat Moran. And she is sort of a legendary casting director from the Baltimore area. And I just loved it because it’s something we don’t really talk about on this show that much is sort of everyone else’s sort of jobs. And casting directors are so great and wonderful and can make your life so much better, or so much worse if they’re really bad.
But I thought she was a fascinating example because she is a casting director for a small market. So, she gets to know everybody who’s available in that market, and that’s just a great insight. So, there will be a link in the show notes for this video about Pat Moran. And everything else we talked about it the podcast this week will also be in the show notes.
And, Craig, thank you again for a fun podcast.
Craig: I think this may have been our best podcast, frankly.
Craig: Pat, wherever you are, I love you. Thank you for that gift. This was a great podcast. And I’ll be back with Marsden. I will be back!
John: Cool. Thanks sir.
Craig: Thank you. Bye.
- IndyCast on iTunes
- The truth about Indy’s hat drop
- Harrison Ford’s shooting script for Raiders
- Scoggins Report on spec sales for 2012
- Scriptnotes survey results
- Courier Prime
- Stanley Bostich Heavy Duty Hole Punch on Amazon
- Casting director Pat Moran from The Credits
- OUTRO: Ben and Kate opening theme by Michael Andrews