The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Now, Craig…
John: …there was a TV show that was on before I think either one of us was born called This is Your Life. And one of the things they’d do in that show is you’d have a person behind a screen who would say some things. You’d have to identify who that person was.
Craig: Of course.
John: And so that’s what I want to play with you here today.
John: I’m going to have a voice from your past who’s going to introduce herself, or say something about you, and you have to figure out who it is who’s going to be our special guest today.
Craig: Great. Okay. I’m ready.
John: All right. Special guest, can you say something to Craig Mazin?
Aline Brosh McKenna: You’re the worst person to make plans with. I’m never making plans with — I’m never making plans with you again.
Craig: Mom? Mom, is that you?
Aline: Really? That’s the shirt you picked for today?
Craig: Oh…I think it’s Eleanor Roosevelt. [laughs] Is it Eleanor Roosevelt.
John: Beep! It is not Eleanor Roosevelt.
Craig: Huh, weird.
John: Craig, I’m really surprised you weren’t able to get this because this is not only a guest on today’s show, but it’s our first repeat guest ever, Aline Brosh McKenna.
Craig: Oh my god! Aline! Of course. And you know what makes this even more embarrassing is that I can see you.
Craig: So, that was really stupid. And, I don’t know Eleanor Roosevelt. [laughs].
Aline: And I don’t look a lot like your mom.
Craig: Welcome to our little show.
John: So, we’re happy to have Aline Brosh McKenna back, the screenwriter of Devil Wears Prada and We Bought a Zoo and many other movies that we like and enjoy.
Craig: Morning Glory.
Aline: Keep going.
Craig: Did you do Fast & Furious IV?
Aline: I didn’t.
John: 27 Dresses.
Craig: Oh that, I was thinking of 27 Dresses because it was a number.
Aline: Yeah. It’s very similar.
Craig: Yes. I did 27 Dresses II, which was initially titled 54 Dresses. [laughs] This is stupid. Okay, anyway, John, tell us what to do because we’re devolving.
John: Absolutely. Well, the reason why I wanted to start off with voices is I thought today we might start talking about when you first discovered a writer’s voice, or sort of your own writer’s voice, and sort of what that process was like.
Because I remember reading books and reading magazines and enjoying them and recognizing that people wrote in different ways, but never really got a sense of what a voice was until I started reading Spy Magazine. And Spy Magazine, the entire magazine was written with such a specific sardonic, snarky voice. And like that first introductory “Welcome to this Month” kind of thing was written so specifically that I was like, “I want to write like that.” It was the first time I started experimenting writing in someone else’s voice.
But it got really clear when I sort of switched into having a voice of my own. Because I feel like if you read through most of my scripts, there are things I write, they’re consistent, but I’m not quite sure why they’re consistent or sort of how that develops. So, I want to talk about voice and how writers find their voices.
Aline, do you think you have a voice that persists from script to script, or is it different every time?
Aline: That’s all I had when I started, really, was just a way that I spoke, or the characters spoke. And, you know, one of the downsides of that is all the characters spoke the same way. And they all sounded like the scene description. And I have a tendency to put the best jokes in the scene description, too.
But, you know, I had a point of view. The other stuff was stuff that was more of an effort — the plot, particularly the plotting stuff, and differentiating the characters. But, you know, even before I became a writer I just tend to have a particular way of speaking. So, that was I would say the part that came to me the most easily. Craig?
Craig: Yeah. It’s funny. I almost had like an opposite problem. Because the movies I was writing initially were very broad comedies, everything was about jokes. And in the jokes, yeah, definitely, there is a specific kind of joke that my wife will say, “Oh, that’s such a you joke.” And it’s funny — she’s now so good, like she’ll pick them out from trailers or from movies. She’ll just turn to me, “That was you, that was you, that was you.” She knows those things.
But, did I have a voice, like a dramatic voice? Early on, no. And in fact that was something I had to kind of get to. On the plus side, it was helpful to actually… — I never had the problem with characters sounding the same. And in a way I looked at it like it was mimicry, you know, like how does this person talk, how does this person talk, how does this person talk? Because I’m fascinated by the way people talk and I like to do impressions of people.
But over time I have noticed, and lately more so, there is a dramatic expression, maybe is the best way I can put it. There’s a certain way I like the story to unfold that is, I think, kind of like my voice. But it’s funny. It’s not like…
Aline: That’s so interesting. Because you have a very distinct authorial voice in your non-screenwriting that’s extremely distinct, your emails and your prose is extremely distinct.
Craig: Well, because that’s me. And if I’m writing a character I want them to just be true to them.
Craig: And not be me. And sometimes I also feel like I’m, yeah, I guess I just sort of go from that point of view. I’m more interested in other people, so I like to go that way. But some voice-like thing has occurred over the years.
John: It’s challenging with screenwriting because when we talk about voice, are we talking about the way characters are speaking? Are we talking about the authorial voice? And when you’re saying in early scripts you didn’t have the technique, you didn’t have the skills, you didn’t have the plot and all that stuff, but you had a voice is, I think, part of the reason I became a writer is I apparently had a voice, and I had confidence on the page. I felt like, you know, people would read through the whole thing. And it felt like it was all of one piece, and it was not just desperate to get to the next thing.
It was enjoyable to read on the page. And it was sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because I had somewhat of a voice people would say, “Yeah, you should keep writing.” And so then I would write more and it sort of developed into that thing. Same way people develop styles or fashions or ways they present themselves, people get reinforcement for the way they talk.
Aline: Your voice is kind of badass. I mean, I had read Go and then when I met you I really expected you to be a little bit more of a hipster badass than you are.
Craig: Oh, yeah, for sure. He’s not what you think from reading your work. Which is cool. I actually like that. You know, I mean, for me because it was comedy, you kind of get a little screwed over in comedy because people laugh. And they go, “I laughed.” But all the work around the laughing, they tend to either not see or not give you credit for, and they certainly don’t reinforce. They don’t teach you how to do it. You’re kind of left to figure it out on your own.
And in a weird way you’re left to figure it out from non-comedies. And it’s the rare comedy like Groundhog Day where you look and you go, “Oh, look how, at least I can see what’s happening around the jokes here…”
Aline: But it took me awhile to learn that the jokes don’t play if the scene work and the dramatic structure doesn’t play. And you know that from your own work, and you know that also from going to countless punch-ups where if the scene doesn’t work, or the characters don’t work, the jokes don’t stick.
Craig: The jokes won’t work. And, unfortunately, no one tells you early on, “I love this joke because of all this wonderful dramatic context around it, or character context, or the way that it served some moment in the scene to connect to the next scene.” No one ever says that. They just say, “Oh my god, that line was so funny.”
John: I was looking up some lines last night for this other project, and so I’m on like great classic movie dialogue lines, a lot of them were from Star Wars. And one of them was like, “You’re awful short for a Storm Trooper, aren’t you?” And that’s actually not that funny of a line, but the only reason it’s memorable is because that movie is really good and the moment worked. And so therefore that line feels appropriate for that moment. So, “Oh, it’s a good line,” but independently it’s not a great line.
Aline: Oh, “I begged you to get therapy,” is one of the best jokes in any comedy, and in and of itself it’s not a joke.
Craig: Yeah. There you go.
John: “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” That’s a great line independent of a really great scene, but so many things aren’t.
Craig: Right. I know. And also now the way that we write movies now, they’re a little less written, I don’t know how else to put it. They’re obviously written, but that’s such a written line. You’ll hear sometimes people say, “Oh, that just feels like writing. It doesn’t feel like actual human talk. No one is that witty.”
Aline: I love written lines.
Craig: I know. I mean, the problem is, it’s like so many times I see them play out on screen and I go, “Yeah, congratulations to me for being clever.”
Craig: But that human didn’t say that. And so there’s…
Aline: Fine line.
Craig: There’s a thing between the audience and the line.
John: That’s the luxury of writing a period movie or something that’s set in an alternate thing that’s not meant to be here and now, because you can get away with those lines.
Craig: You can.
John: There’s probably not a single line in Django Unchained that an actual human being would say, but it’s really enjoyable to see in that context.
Craig: Or any Tarantino movie. I mean, everybody speaks, it is understood that we’ve signed a contract with Tarantino that all of his characters are, it’s like it’s opera. I don’t know how else to put it. They speak like the way that recitative is sort of to opera. It’s not human dialogue. It’s awesome.
John: I mean, Tarantino is a great person to bring up, because you want to talk about voice, that’s what he had more than anything else. I mean, I think there was interesting plotting and interesting stuff going on, but if you just plunked down and read one of his scripts — I remember reading Natural Born Killers as a script when it was just his script. And it was the first script that I ever read to the end, flipped back to page one and read through again, because it’s just a great voice that you love to hear. And it’s not about the dialogue. It’s about everything that’s fitting together, that the world feels.
And I think people can learn a lot of the other things. You can learn the plots. You can learn how to sort of get through the story. But, when you read a sample that has really good writing, really good voice, that’s what you sort of get to.
Aline: Can we all say the word “recitative.”
Craig & John: “Recitative.”
Craig: Is that right? It’s “recitative” is what it is. “Recitative.”
John: Oh, “recite-a-tive” is how it’s pronounced.
Craig: Yes, “recitative.” Why are you looking at me like that?
John: On NPR yesterday, or actually one of the other podcasts I was listening to, they were doing a thing about Les Mis, and they went into the “recitative…”
John: And they played a little clip of it. Like out of context with the whole movie it just sounds crazy.
Craig: It’s hysterical.
Craig: Like, why is this person singing, “What’s this? It’s sunny. Where is my hat!” It’s ridiculous. But, you know, once you’re in the middle of it… — I mean, frankly, that is the worst part of Les Mis for me. I mean, when I went to go see Les Mis for the first time I’m like, stop all the sing talking, just talk, then sing the songs. I’d be much happier. I really, really would. Or, just sing the songs, [laughs], and I’ll figure out what’s going on between them. Or hand out a pamphlet and I’ll just read what happens in between them.
I would have been happier. The recitative is a tough one.
John: But don’t you sometimes read scripts from people who, like, are aspiring writers and they’re — you don’t know what to say to them other than the fact that like, “You don’t have a voice.” You’re like, “At least I’m not getting any sort of voice from you.” And that’s one of the hardest things; there’s no nice way to say that.
Craig: Well, other than to say, “Look, you’re not the only person. And it’s not fatal. Because people have pulled out of that flat spin before.” But if you read something, I mean, you’ve had this experience where you read something and you think, “Yeah, I could write the next five pages just like you did here, in a minute.” Or, anybody could write these pages. There’s no reason I need you to write the rest of this story. You’re not expressing it uniquely.
Aline: Right. But some people have a voice in life as they walk around. They just can’t get it onto a piece of paper.
Aline: And so partly it’s about learning what your point of view is, what makes you interesting to people, and being confident that that’s going to interest a reader.
Craig: Well, that’s the thing right there. Because I think people are just scared that their natural expression is boring. And what they do is they chase. And everybody has to sort of start like that with rare exception. There are prodigies, but so many people start by copying. You know, that’s how we learn to speak, by copying. So, it’s natural that we learn to write by copying, but at some point you got to kind of take the training wheels off, because all you’ll ever be is a copyist at that point.
John: Yeah. It’s having the courage to speak as you actually see the world.
Aline: Some screenwriters have been incredibly influential. I would say William Goldman, Shane Black, just in terms of having a very distinct way of writing that people then imitated. I mean, Goldman was huge for a very long time and people would write in that kind of epigrammatic way that he wrote. And then Shane Black, obviously. I mean, I think people are still writing in that tone.
Craig: Yeah. To me, it’s the first mistake. It’s the mistake of page zero is that you’re copying. I mean, all it says is it looks like I’m going to have to go get Shane Black, I guess, to fix this script, because I just got ersatz Shane Black.
There is nothing else you can offer as a writer except that which is unique to you. If it’s not unique to you, I don’t need it from you.
John: I’ll say it’s useful to look through the writing that you like a lot and figure out why you like it that way. And there may be aspects of that that you can completely use. Rather than sort of aping Shane Black’s short sentences and overuse of periods, find your way of getting that scene description on the page in a way that’s meaningful. Find your dialogue that is useful in those ways.
A writer who we both, Aline and I both — I’m pointing to Aline. Pointing doesn’t do any good on a podcast.
Craig: Right. This one over here.
John: This one over here. — We both talked about Lena Dunham and how much we enjoy her stuff. And you want to talk about somebody who has perspective and a voice, this feels like, you know, her world and what’s interesting to her being nicely put together on screen.
Aline: And you feel like you could see a line — someone could say something in life and you’d be like, “Oh, that’s such a Lena Dunham kind of moment.” You know, she already has, at such a young age, she already has a signature style/way of looking at the world perspective.
I mean, what’s amazing about her is when you see Tiny Furniture, it was all there. It was always all there. And she has such a distinct point of view. And I think, you know, because people do start out often by copying, I think we’re going to see a lot of stuff which is…
Craig: Oh, for sure.
Aline: …you know, young women in their 20s. She, though, will free other people who have different… — You know, that’s what’s interesting about somebody like a Quentin or a Lena or somebody. If you have a distinct point of view you kind of give other people permission to find their own voice and to be that.
John: Absolutely. I get very frustrated by the knocks on Go as being like Pulp Fiction light, but I’m fully willing to acknowledge the fact that it would have been very hard to make Go without Pulp Fiction, because restarting the story twice and our structure, everyone would be like, “Well that’s not going to work. You can’t do that.” And once you’re like, “Well, there’s a very successful movie…”
Craig: I don’t think of Go, I mean, I don’t think of it that way. Maybe in the moment…
John: In the moment it was. That’s what people compared it to.
Craig: Well, and that’s what people do. It’s pattern bias. You know, “Well, that thing just happened so it must have caused this.” But it’s important to know the range of your own voice. There are people that have really specific voices like Tarantino or Dunham, and they write that kind of thing.
But it’s also okay to be the sort of person that is the Jack of all trades, who can kind of move in between, as long as there’s something unifying. It might not be dialogue, but unified in a way you tell a story, how you structure you out, what themes you dwell on. There’s all sorts of ways to express yourself, but you have to at least express yourself.
John: Now, Aline, most of your produced movies seem to fall into a certain kind of, not even genre really, but a certain kind of mold. Is that because you’ve picked those movies, or those are the movies that have gotten made? What’s the through line?
Aline: Well, the first couple movies that I wrote were pretty straight up rom-coms, I would say. And then The Devil Wears Prada is not, and well, 27 Dresses also is a straight up rom-com. But then I wrote a few that were sort of women in the workplace trying to balance their life. And that was just, Prada was brought to me. Morning Glory was something that I wanted to show the first time a woman has real responsibility in a workplace, so that was a different spin on that.
And then I Don’t Know How She Does It is a work/life balance thing. But, it’s funny, I don’t think of myself as being a genre writer, because I don’t think of myself — I think of myself as writing pieces that are essentially dramatic, even if they have jokes in them. Dramas with jokes.
And, so, I sort of — I did We Bought a Zoo, which is a family movie.
John: That’s also a drama with jokes.
Aline: It’s a drama with jokes. Yeah. So, some of the other stuff that I branched into, I just approach it as sort of characters/character dilemma. So, I never think of myself as a genre writer. But I don’t think anybody does.
So, it’s funny, you know, I’m doing a broader range of stuff, even though I’ll always love — I love single lead comedies. I love romantic comedies. But one of the things I’m writing is a robot movie which one of our samples today is a…
Craig: Yeah, a robot movie. So, we’ll get into that.
Aline: So, I’m writing a robot movie. And what’s been interesting is working in different genres. I mean, I think I still have a lot of the same concerns and interests irrespective of what kind of material I’m dealing with.
John: Because I got pigeonholed right from the very start as a kid’s book writer — the first two projects I got were kid’s book adaptations, which didn’t get made, but I was only being that guy. I’d written Go largely just to break out of that box.
Aline: Oh, that’s interesting.
John: And so I very deliberately, consciously wrote that, saying like…
Craig: To not be the Fried Worms guy.
John: Exactly. And so with that, the weird luxury is everyone saw whatever they wanted to see in it. And so they’d say, like, “Oh, you are the edgy action movie guy.” “Oh, you are the comedy guy.” “You are this guy.” And so I was able to quickly get a lot of different things.
And I don’t think it hurt my sort of craft, but it did make it harder to sort of figure out what — ultimately what box to put me for other things. Because I didn’t become a brand in comedy, I didn’t become a brand in action. I just became the guy who does the various different kind of things.
What’s weird is that when you sort of take a big step back and look at the movies that actually got made, almost all of them are sort of “Two World” movies, where like there’s a normal world and the character decides to cross into this other world that has special rules, and ultimately sort of comes back out of it. And it’s very much sort of –
Aline: Yeah. I would probably, in my own stuff I would play more to thematics and layers than genre similarities.
John: Yeah. I described your movies in the previous podcast as want-coms.
Aline: I remember that.
Craig: The want-coms. Yeah, I’ve been all over the map. I mean, I’ve been very, remarkably uncalculating in my own career for somebody that’s kind of like, I have a tendency to calculate. But really kind of I just like making movies. So, I’ve always gravitated towards what’s getting made. And I had some really rough experiences. The best things I think I’ve ever written haven’t been made.
So, I started to be more interested in just writing movies. I just don’t like writing scripts that don’t get made. It just feels so awful.
Aline: My husband calls that the Document Production Business.
Craig: Yeah, pretty much. You’re just pushing paper around and then in the end it’s a booklet that no one reads. You know, I adapted Harvey and I wrote a movie called Game Voice at Bruckheimer. I love those scripts. And they meant something to me. And I adapted a Philip Dick short story. These are all really the ones I cared about, and then it just didn’t happen.
So, I started, basically, okay, well what’s in front of me that’s getting made? And I think the downside is sometimes what’s getting made isn’t that great. But, it then got me to a place where now some of the things that are getting made I really do think are great, and I love them. You know, so, I don’t know. I always feel like, I swear, maybe it’s just me — I always feel like I’m just a rookie still. I don’t know how many times… — I always feel like the next ten years are the ten years that count. In any given year, I always think the next ten years are the ones that count.
Until I finally get to retire, which as you know I’m really looking forward to. That’s my big thing.
Aline: Yeah. Nobody wants to retire more than you.
Craig: Oh, I can’t wait. I cannot wait. So much fun to think about all the things I can do.
John: You’re being serious? You’re actually thinking about retirement?
Aline: He’s always talking…
John: Oh, god, I never talk about retirement. I cannot ever imagine retiring.
Aline: Me neither.
Craig: Oh, no, no, it’s going to be the best.
John: Yeah. I will die mid-draft.
Craig: Now, listen, I’m not going to retire next year. I’m not going to retire in five years. But once I hit 50, then I’m going to start thinking about it. And then I’d like to have a nice regenerative breaking down kind of vibe towards 60. And then I’m out.
Aline: There’s a good recitative in that.
Craig: There is!
Aline: [singing] Here I am. I’m a…for 50.
John: [singing] But what will you do?
Craig: So many things! [singing] Anything I want. [laughs] Why do they do that?
Aline: Do you have enough hobbies?
Craig: Well, that’s the thing. I have a lot of hobbies, and there are a lot of things I want to learn. Like I want to learn some languages. I want to learn to play the guitar better. There are things I know how to do, just not well. And I want to be able to do them better. So, I’d like to learn things, go places, check stuff out, see my friends, hang out.
And, by the way, I would still write, but I would write for myself. I would write things that aren’t screenplays. I would just do stuff because I wouldn’t be worrying about saving for my kids, and my family, and retirement and all the rest of it.
And also, frankly, I like what I’m doing right now. I do. I just feel like — this is a whole separate therapy discussion — but at some point you have to stop doing what you’re doing. You can’t do it for your entire life. You can’t.
Aline: You can if you’re my dad.
Craig: I know. You can if you’re my dad, too. But I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to do that. I’m saying you shouldn’t.
Aline: He loves it.
Craig: Yes, some people do. Here’s the thing: I don’t. Like I know, sorry — I know that I need something new at some point. I get excited when things change. I love chaos and mayhem, basically. And I think I want to change it up. You know, I can feel change coming. You know what? There’s a wind of change in the air.
Aline: [singing] There’s a wind…
Craig: Recitative. You want to talk about…?
John: I want to talk about one more thing before we get into that. I could imagine at some point not writing screenplays, but I’m also sort of — part of me lives like ten years in the future where there’s some movies I’ve already directed. Like I already know, like, well that’s that movie I’m going to direct. And so at some point I’m going to get to that point. So, retirement is always way beyond these other movies that I’m going to be doing.
Aline: You have lots of hobbies and interests.
John: I have a lot of interests, yeah.
Aline: Your hobbies are businesses.
Craig: You’d be better at retirement. You love making apps. You’re a little app-making elf.
John: But I would never stop my current career to do that. So, I enjoy it, but I want everything to happen simultaneously.
Craig: The world needs apps.
John: I mostly just want to clone myself and send out the army of John Augusts to do different things.
Craig: What a horrifying thought.
John: It would be great.
Craig: And army of John Augusts.
Aline: I think it’s already happened.
Craig: It might have. Which one do you think we’re talking to now? Which generation of August is this?
Aline: The relaxed fit.
Craig: Oh, this is Relaxed Fit August?
John: Oh, nice.
John: Let’s go through our Three Page Challenges.
Craig: That’s as much as he’ll give you on a joke. Oh, nice.
Aline: Have you ever like made him just like double over?
Aline: Laugh. Laugh-laugh.
Craig: Like twice I think. And it was weird.
Aline: I want to see it.
Craig: And I wasn’t sure if he was laughing at something I said or maybe something that had passed in front of his eyes.
Craig: See! Hey, I got something there.
John: Yeah, most of the time I laugh really silently, unless it’s like a really funny Simpsons joke, and I laugh so loud. Like at the old apartment building people would say like, “We hear you every day at 5:30,” and I’m watching The Simpsons.
Aline: Like that episode of One Day at a Time where he says, “I’m laughing. In here, where it counts.”
Craig: One Day at a Time was Claire and…
John: And Bonnie Franklin.
Craig: Oh, Bonnie Franklin.
John & Aline: [singing] One day at a time…
Craig: I was thinking of, what was the one with Nancy McKeon and…
Aline: The Facts of Life?
Craig: Facts of Life.
Aline: [singing] You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have…
John: Oh my god. Facts of Life was so good.
Craig: One Day at a Time was Valerie Bertinelli?
Craig: Fantastic. Sorry, John.
John: Let us start with the script by James Topham which starts, “Traditional Mexican Casa.”
John: So, while Craig and Aline are finding the pages, this is the Three Page Challenge. So, we have three new entries for the Three Page Challenge that we’re going to talk through. We have Aline here with us who has also read them, so we’ll get an extra perspective on things.
As always, if you are curious to have us read your three pages of your screenplay, you can go to johnaugust.com/threepage, and there are rules for how to turn it in and send it in and not sue us.
So, let’s start with this. And we didn’t discuss who is going to summarize these, so I guess…
Craig: However you want to do it.
John: I’ll summarize this first one. This is a script by James Topham. And I don’t think we have a title for it. We start in Mexico someplace. We’re in a traditional Mexican casa. We see a guy wake up in his room. His name is James Caan. We’re not really clear on the timeframe –
Aline: John Caan.
Craig: Yeah. You changed his name to an interesting name, but it’s actually John Caan. They both rhyme.
John: It’s like a rom-com, but it’s a John Caan.
Craig: John Caan.
John: And we’re not clear on the timeframe. It could be 1850 or 2050, which is kind of too much of a tell, but that’s fine.
He wakes up, doesn’t remember where he is, finds a sheet of paper that gives him some comfort. He hears a noise, a buzzing from outside. “God, no. Please,” a woman outside. And as he opens up the shutters and looks outside, he sees it’s a village square, this Mexican pueblo is overrun with these mechanical fighting things. They’re called the Mechs. And a “strange mix of high-tech and near obsolescence – eight-foot metal creations whose bodies are swathed in different weaponry.”
So, they are mowing down these people and killing everything in sight. He slams the shutters closed.
Aline: I think we can agree “swathed” is not the right word.
Craig: Where is this? On which page?
John: On page two.
Craig: Two. Sorry.
Aline: “Bodies are swathed in different weaponry.” Swathed.
Craig: I don’t know if you can swath yourself in weaponry. But you’re interrupting the summary.
Craig: We have a way of doing this, Aline.
John: There’s summary, and then there’s commentary.
Craig: And this is why Aline isn’t on the show every week because she doesn’t understand or respect tradition.
He slams the shutters closed. He’s looking for a weapon. He tries to use a lamp shade. He ends up finding a gun. That’s a better choice. The shutters crash open. He is ready to face down these Mechs that are coming in, but it’s not a giant Mech that’s after him. It’s a Spider Mech, a little daddy-long-legs kind of thing. And that is where we’re at at the end of page three.
Aline: All right.
Craig: Well, why don’t I start, because I have a whole different scene that I wish this scene were. First of all, yeah, some simple screenwriting things. Don’t tell us it could be 1850 or 2050 because it’s definitely not going to be 1850. It’s either going to be right now or 2050, but more likely 2050.
Don’t name your character John Caan. That’s just weird, I think, to have rhyming first and last names. It threw me off. Threw you off to the point where you didn’t even say the name.
So, it’s a classic wake up/not sure what’s going on moment, and that’s all great. And then what we see is all of these terrible, huge, mechanic beasts, mechanic killer robots killing people, and they’re doing it extraordinarily gorily. And really what I think would be a much cooler scene here is if this guy woke up to hear the sound of something mechanical leaving, and then he walks outside and sees the aftermath of something horrible. It’s much more dramatic, frankly, to see the aftermath of horrible things than it is to see them happening, at which point it just becomes like a gore fest and sort of cartoonishly violent.
Plus, I want to know what did this. I want mystery. You’re literally…
Aline: This is sort of third act.
Craig: Yeah. It’s like you’re shooting your wad here on page one. What else is the movie going to be? More of that? So, just show this terrible aftermath of something horrible, and then you can have a little spider thing that maybe, you know…
Aline: I’m going to geek out a little bit, because I know some kind of stuff I love. I think this is a gentleman who I would choose ellipses, one dash or two dashes. You got to pick a room. You know, you got to pick a line. There’s a lot of punctuation which is sort of all over, and it makes you… — And the other kind of small technical thing: You don’t really want to say in your second paragraph “we’re fuzzy.”
You can’t be fuzzy. Don’t be fuzzy for us. Just tell us exactly what it is, because…
Craig: Right. “We’re fuzzy with the time scale.” We’re not thinking about the time scale. We’re just sitting there looking at the guy in a room.
Aline: Right. And then there was another kind of vague thing which is there is a sound, and he becomes aware of it, but a sound is something that’s either going to be present or not present. So, unless there’s like a sound design thing that you’re specifying…
Craig: Yeah. “For the first time he realizes there is something wrong with the sound in the room.” Yeah, but we’ll realize that right away, that there’s a sound in the room.
Aline: Right. So, unless you want the sound design to somehow be in his psychological space, I think you would rather use the sound to the first thing that he hears that’s odd is the screaming.
Craig: Which, by the way, I would love to just be a final scream as opposed to, “God, no. Please.” No one says that when they’re being killed. They just don’t say that. Ever. We had another script where somebody did that.
John: Yeah. It was so fascinating, when you actually are murdered. There will be Craig going, “No, please.”
Craig: “God, no!” [singing] Please!
Aline: But I do want to point out one thing that I really loved…
Craig: Someone’s going to murder me.
Aline: …and it’s really small, because I did like that despite all of the distracting punctuation, this gentleman is going for a voice. And my favorite thing in the whole three pages is, “They were made to kill,” and then in the second line he says, “And — shit — they move fast.” And that was the single most evocative line in the whole thing where I felt like this guy has a point of view and he’s trying to do something specific.
John: But there’s another moment which I enjoyed, too, on page three which he has done the thing where he’s got the lamp, and then he…
John: And, “On the top, where — in his speed to find something to defend himself, he’d missed it — a Colt .45 revolver. Yeah, that’s probably better…”
And that’s actually a nice choice, rather than sort having him say that, you can put that in scene description.
Craig: Yeah. It’s a good — I like the technique of the script catching up as he’s — it’s very impressionistic. It’s fun to read that way. You feel like you get the sense of it, whereas you can’t possibly get the sense of, “Hey, what’s that noise I’m hearing?”
Aline: I just wanted to say, because another one of our clips has this, too. You know, a title is your friend. And a title really gives a lot of context to a script. It really would serve you well to have titled this piece. And then I would have had an idea of what to anticipate.
Craig: Yeah. We should ask people to give us titles.
John: Sometimes there are title pages, sometimes there are not. So, you’re welcome to put a title page on your script.
Aline: Titling your movie is one of your jobs, and it’s — it always frustrates me when people’s scripts are untitled because it’s partly how you place things in context and how you set up expectations. It’s the only little piece of marketing that you get to do, so take advantage of it.
John: So, I want to flip back and go to what you said about vagueness and fuzziness, because I circled a lot of things on this script which I felt he was backing away from. So, this is his fourth paragraph down: “Late 30s, not bad looking (though in a sort of thuggish kind of way).”
Let’s give it a “sort of” and “kind of way.” So, like, “Not bad looking, a little thuggish.”
Craig: Right. “Sort of. Kind of.”
Aline: And then he says, “Modern clothes, in a not so modern setting.” You’re qualifying…
John: Scratch. Take out the qualifiers.
Aline: Have you talked about that before?
Aline: When you go back through your script and if you’re “sort of this,” “it’s a little bit that,” “it’s kind of this.” You know, it’s a movie and it’s visual.
John: It’s going to be one thing or another.
Aline: And somebody is going to stand in front of you and say, “Is this a…”
John: “Is it kind of purple?”
Craig: I think they’re doing it, “they,” I mean the writers who do it, I think they’re doing it because they’re trying to avoid feeling like they’re being just cliché about something. You know, “He’s strong and handsome.” They’ve been told by so many screenwriting nonsense books, “Don’t call your people handsome.” Well, sometimes they are handsome and that’s okay. But, then if you don’t want to call them handsome, call them something else. But call them what they are.
Don’t say that they’re not this, and they’re not that, and they’re kind of this, and they’re kind of that. This forced ambiguity eventually makes you feel like the guy is mush.
John: So, more ambiguity here, or unnecessary fuzziness. “A mirror on the wall reflects the image of his unshaven face.” Well, that’s what mirrors do, they reflect.
Aline: [laughs] Right.
John: We don’t need so many words to do that. The next line: “Looks round the room, surprised — like he’s never seen it before.” He’s never seen it before. I mean, you’re not tipping us too much to say he’s never seen it before. That’s a playable action.
Aline: Yeah. I kind of wanted to go through this one with a pen.
Craig: Yeah. It’s overwritten for sure.
Aline: A little bit overwritten. Not in a terrible way. And he’s got good instincts. But I think…
John: I would cut the robots, too, but I liked the robots. I thought he actually did a nice job with them.
Craig: Well, but, make the robots come later.
John: Yeah. Yeah.
Craig: Because here’s the thing: There’s no mystery to this at all. Literally it’s like here’s robots on page two. These are the different kinds of robots. Here’s how they kill people. And they’re gone.
Okay, so, I get it. I’m not waiting for any kind of horrifying reveal. I mean, look, watch Alien and watch Aliens and see how monsters should be done.
Jaws. Always hide the monsters. [laughs] Just hide the monster, just for awhile. Hide it for awhile. Maybe have it peak up. Maybe just the orange light, the yellow light.
John: So, thank you very much James Topham for sending through your pages. I’m guessing James is British because “centre” was spelled R-E.
Aline: [British accent] James!
John: [British accent] James Topham.
Craig: [British accent] Well done, James. Good show.
James is like, “What a jerk!” Next.
John: Next let’s go to High Falls by Cheryl Laughlin.
Aline: Can I describe this one?
John: You may. Please.
Aline: Well, first of all, I’m not going to do anything — we don’t do any assessing?
Craig: We just summarize.
Aline: So, you see an older later in her 60s. She’s at work in a garden. And then you juxtapose with a young woman in kind of a go-go ad agency throwing a dead plant in her trash. You go back to the older lady. She’s holding what we understand here are pot brownies. She has a sharp pain and falls to the ground.
Then we’re back with the young kind of rock-‘em-sock-‘em New York lady. And she’s making a very aggressive speech about welcome to this ad agency in like a real workaholic-y kind of speech about you’ll be here all day and all night.
And the older lady now is in a hospital and in an MRI machine. And then we go back to the daughter, and somebody comes in and gives her a New York Times, and it says, “Quirky Cannabis Matriarch Has One Week to Live.”
And she sputters on the treadmill, falls to her knees.
Aline: Then we go to her daughter and her and she’s getting in the car to go and presumably see this woman who is her mother.
Craig: [laughs] Even your summary is like, “Huh?”
Aline: No. I really dug this.
Craig: Oh, okay. Oh good.
John: All right, good.
Aline: I’m just trying to summarize. And then they go to this small town and now we’re understand that we’re going into kind of a small town movie. And we meet the gentleman who was there when the mom had the stroke and he talks to the daughter.
And I really liked this. I know I must have sounded…but I really liked this. For starters, great title.
Craig: What’s the title?
John: High Falls.
Craig: Oh, High Falls, got it.
Aline: So it has a nice, I think, play on words. I can’t totally tell where this is going to go, but I thought…
Craig: I can. [laughs]
John: I can.
Craig: Oh, are you kidding? High-powered New York lady has to take over her dead mother’s marijuana business, and then reconnect with the daughter, and learn how to live, and blah, blah, blah. I assume that’s where you thought it was going.
John: I think that’s where it’s going.
Craig: It’s gotta be where it’s going.
John: There might be a love interest, too. I think he might be, like, the mechanic.
Craig: Possibly. Possibly.
Aline: Okay. So, you guys are coming at the genre. Now, here’s what I’d say. I felt like she, so the daughter is a little on the nose. This stuff which the daughter is saying…
Craig: Just a touch!
John: She’s on a treadmill!
Aline: Yes. She’s on a treadmill. She’s talking about the ad agency she’s at. But I have to say, I think the mistakes in this piece are mostly mistakes of emphasis. This is an incredibly professionally written piece. Very carefully done. Yes you feel like it could be any character you’ve seen before, but I have to say I think that’s something that if this writer took a moment and thought about it a little more she could have more nuance.
I like the fact that she introduces all of this character and this situation very deftly. You know, you go from — there are a couple of transitional things that are not working, but you very deftly in three pages you’ve got the mother, the guy who works for the mother, the daughter, her daughter. And you definitely feel situated.
In a lot of scripts you get to the end of three pages and you don’t feel situated. In this I felt situated and I felt like I understood what it was doing. I did feel like, okay, this is a comfortable space. I’ve kind of seen some of this before, but it’s in a world that I don’t know that well because it’s going to deal with this marijuana business. And I thought the writing was intelligent.
Craig: Well, John, do you want to tell her she’s wrong, or should I tell her she’s wrong?
John: I’m not going to tell her she’s wrong, but I’m going to tell her the things I did not find…
John: So, I will agree with you on the fact that it moved through things at an impressively fast clip. The fact that we actually got the mother and the daughter to the grandmother early on.
Craig: I agree with that. Good pacing.
John: Congratulations on that. We started the conversation about voice. I didn’t feel a voice here. I didn’t feel like a person who actually knew what she was really writing about.
And so it’s just called New York Ad Agency. And it’s such a generic sort of placeholder. I mean, it’s not a real place to me. There’s nothing specific about her there. And she’s having really kind of rote conversations. “But until then, we won’t be letting up on the fourteen-hour days. Too many events to plan and important people to make happy. So remember, the only way you’re getting a fifteen-minute break is with a doctor’s note.”
It’s setting up the next thing for the MRI machine, but it just doesn’t feel — it didn’t rock for me.
A few small things, even before we get to the ad agency. “Palmer Bed and Breakfast, front desk.” Well, a bed and breakfast doesn’t have a small desk. A bed and breakfast is so small it doesn’t. An inn might have it, but like a bed and breakfast is a person’s house.
Aline: It might have a desk. Yeah.
John: So, those things bumped for me before we even got to the… — You know, it just feels like it’s ticking boxes of romantic genre.
Aline: Well, I had different things. In the beginning she introduces the older lady, and then the cut needs to be marijuana plants to dead fern. She puts an action line there. She shouldn’t. It should cut from — because she actually has great transitions here. So, she could do plants to fern.
And then uber tailored suite, feng shui desk, this is just the kind of thing, she’s just trying a little too hard.
Craig: She’s trying a lot too hard. I mean, here’s the thing: They are not good transitions. I think that they are transitions, which we often don’t see, so we’re happy to see them initially, but they’re really on the nose. I mean, going from a plant to a plant is like wah-wah, wah-wah.
And if you see it in a movie theater you go, “Okay, look at you.” You know the plants match. But it’s not, to me, I like matching people and emotions, not objects and things like that. I think that the biggest issue with this is that it’s fake.
I mean, basically this character is fake. She is…
Aline: Annie is fake?
Craig: Annie is fake. She is basically an invented version of a workaholic lady who doesn’t have her priorities straight. And she’s really telling you about it, and she’s so expressive about her problem that I don’t have a chance to discover that she has a problem. I don’t get to…well, I like…
Aline: Well, the writer is telling you what her problem is immediately.
Craig: Really like giving us an essay about it.
Aline: I mean, this is, and I’ve written these. You’ve got to find a way to spin this differently.
Aline: I think the spin that she has is that she’s a mom and she has a daughter with purple hair. But it needs more texture…
Craig: And you know how you know she has a daughter with purple hair?
John: Because she says it.
Craig: She says it!
Aline: Right. Okay.
Craig: Which is really clumsy.
Aline: Yeah, but I just…
Craig: But nothing is as clumsy, we always go back to our magazine cover.
Aline: Yes, I understand. I know.
Craig: Ah! An assistant walks in with a newspaper and hesitates. And just from that, Annie, on the headset, on the treadmill says, “Ah, that can only mean my mom is stirring up trouble. How is New England’s Queen of Cannabis?”
John: No. “The Assistant hands Annie The New York Times. The headline reads: ‘QUIRKY CANNABIS MATRIARCH HAS ONE WEEK TO LIVE.'”
Craig: This is the worst. The New York Times…
Aline: Well, that’s just a big mistake.
Craig: The New York Times does not write…
Aline: That’s just a big mistake.
Craig: That headline doesn’t even show up in the High Times Magazine. It’s not a headline. Nobody even knows about Quirky Cannabis…
Aline: Well, the other thing is: this is her mom. She just found out about it from The New York Times the next day? Is it 1934?
Craig: I mean, it’s crazy.
John: Yeah. It would be a Google news alert. And her phone would bing, and she’d be like, “Oh, look.”
Craig: Right. If, of course, anybody was aware that there was such a thing as a Quirky Cannabis Matriarch.
Aline: I don’t disagree. But I’m going to say this: I think the idea of a multigenerational comedy about an older hippie who grows pot, and her young kind of yuppie daughter, and her punkish daughter, and they all go back there and have to deal. I think this person should get Tom Bezucha’s script for The Family Stone and read it. Because there are similarities in the multigenerational family thing.
But there is a moment in that movie, and Tom is super, super specific, so there’s a moment in that movie where Rachel McAdams walks out to her car and she’s holding a public television tote bag. And that’s the kind of detail that you get. You don’t need to say it.
Craig: Well, okay, there you go.
Aline: But I think this writer has a good idea and had done…
Craig: I don’t even know if this is a good idea, and I’ll tell you why.
Craig: I don’t marijuana is particularly interesting. I think maybe 10 or 15 years ago maybe this would have been interesting. I mean, Weeds has been on the air all this time. The idea of people growing marijuana, like whoop-dee-do.
Aline: But I don’t think she’s trying to do that. I think she’s trying to say, “You’re a hippie and I’m an uptight yuppie, and my daughter is something else. And we’re all going to get together.”
Craig: I guess.
Aline: So, if it’s about “woo-hoo, the pot business is whack-a-doo,” then I’m not going to be interested in it.
Craig: I sense pot business whack-a-doo coming. But, all I can say is that no matter what the story is, because I don’t really care — I just care about the characters — this is not good dialogue.
This is really, when I read these pages I thought these are the scripts you get sent to write better than this. And I’m sorry I’m being so hard on this writer, but the point is if you have these characters in the situation that you care about, you must write them more real. I don’t believe any of this dialogue. Even, “Come on, Rowan. I don’t want to get stuck in rush hour traffic.”
No one talks like that. “Come on, we’re going to be late. There’s traffic,” maybe. And then she goes, “What’s the big rush?”
John: “You’re grandmother is in the hospital.” Yeah.
Craig: It’s like, how could you not know? Just everything about this is fake.
Aline: Well, there are some other things that I thought we could talk about that is a “blow to a scene,” as they say.
Aline: There’s a great opportunity. So, if what she is trying to do here –
John: Talk about a blow. Talk through the term here.
Aline: So, you could either make this movie a little bit less artificial and brittle. But, if you want to make it kind of more scripted, you’ve got to have better jokes. She doesn’t have a lot of jokes.
So, here’s when she says:
Okay. You think she’ll like my hair?
Distracted, Annie moves the car into New York traffic.
Oh, I’m sure she’ll adore it.
Well, that’s the end of your scene there. She’s got to make a joke. She’s got to make a joke that’s like, “Well, if she likes it, you know it’s terrible.” You know, she’s got to make a joke that spins you into the next scene and that tells you a lot about how she feels about her mother, and how she feels about her daughter.
So, a blow to a scene is the last line of a scene. And you usually hear it in reference to a comedy to a joke. And, you know, I don’t disagree with you that her dialogue is on the nose. But I sort of read this as, you know, sometimes when you write a first draft you put black lines around, it’s like a coloring book. You have black lines around everything, and then you can color it in, and then you can take the black lines away.
And I think she’s has some good technical skill in moving the story. And like you said, I don’t really see that very often.
John: I agree with Aline that I think there is a space for a multigenerational comedy of these women in this place. I think they can totally do that. If I were mentoring this writer, I would have this writer just write individual scenes with these women talking to each other. And getting them talking in interesting, different, distinct voices. Because right now it’s just being a movie, and it’s not actually doing anything.
Craig: I agree. Look, I have no comment on the viability of the idea itself. I just think that the dialogue and the characters read like an 8 o’clock sitcom.
Aline: But without the jokes.
Craig: Yeah. Which is really bad, because it’s not making me laugh, so it’s just very broad, very thinly sketched out archetypes, but not people.
Aline: I think what she needs to do is focus on Annie, figuring out who this really is, so this is not kind of a parody of this high, uptight, workaholic.
Craig: Yeah. Parody is the right word.
Aline: We’ve all seen it kind of hammered. But, I do think I see in here… — You know, the other thing about that as you were talking, I was thinking, “This sort of sounds like a TV show.”
John: To me it sounds like a 25 Days of Christmas Hallmark movie. So, if you can invite some guy and be Santa, you could sort of do that.
Aline: But that’s why I would read Family Stone. Because Family Stone is basically guy brings home worst fiancé, and everyone in the family hates it, but what Tom did was he situated it in a very particular New England intellectual bourgeois particular-particular thing.
John: Specificity, yeah.
Craig: We say it all the time. There’s nothing specific about this. This is, in fact, a very obvious knockoff of a lot of other things. It’s just a really thinly veiled knockoff.
John: But I don’t think you can even call it a knockoff because it’s just a genre, it’s nothing else. It’s just ticking the boxes of what does this need to have in it.
Craig: Yeah. That’s right.
John: And so it’s not aping one particular movie. It’s just being that thing.
Craig: There’s no specificity.
John: It’s like being an action movie that just has people storming into buildings and shooting things up.
Aline: So, I’ll give you a really small example and then we can move onto the other thing. But, you know, “right next to Annie’s crisp Coach luggage” — no one has had crisp Coach luggage in 15 years, which you guys might not know.
Aline: But if you’re writing this kind of movie you need to know, so you need to know exactly what kind. Does she have a Vuitton, monogrammed Louis Vuitton.
Craig: That’s what I was thinking.
Aline: Is it that kind of a thing?
Craig: Were you thinking that?
Aline: Is it that sort of a thing? Or does she have like a very crisp Tumi bag, or you know, you have to — if you’re in this world you have to be super specific about it.
Craig: How about the fact that the assistant is handing her a physical newspaper. A printed piece of newspaper. Crazy.
Aline: Right. But that’s another example of if she’s in this world, make the media specific. Is she on the phone? Is it an app? What kind of phone does she have?
Craig: Yes. It’s all so crazy.
Aline: But I see in this woman the ability to tell a story.
Craig: Well, yeah, so now what we need to do is go from there, which I think is something that a good producer can do, to write a story. I mean, there’s a difference. And I want to believe that she can write characters that seem like human beings to me that I’m interested in, beyond the circumstances of the plot. Remember, the movie is not about the plot.
John: I have two different exercises I think she should do. One is to, in outline form, actually outline the movie that she thinks she wants to make. Completely different exercise — have those women in conversations with each other about whatever, things that aren’t even part of it and figure out what the voice of those people is.
Aline: Yeah. One of the things that happens is, you know, I think when you’re a young writer you’re saying, “Well, I can point to ten movies that are like that.” And you can, but at some point the culture is done with that. You know, people wrote cop buddy movies, they were awesome. When I got to Hollywood every other movie was a copy buddy movie. The culture is kind of done with them.
If you’re going to do it again you’ve got to figure out a completely different way to do it or a completely different kind of character.
Craig: Yeah. Terri Rossio and Ted Elliott call it “Crap plus one.” Like your job is to just be one better than the crap you saw. But it’s not, because the thing is the process of making movies crapifies things. You have to start at something good and then hope that they don’t crapify it too much. Not start with crap and just add one, you know?
John: Yeah. She needs to look at being better than Broadcast News. She needs to look at being the absolute — better than the very best examples of that genre.
Craig: How would Jim Brooks write this, you know?
Craig: I mean, just go for the best. How would Cameron write it?
Aline: I wouldn’t even say that. I would just sort of say given that the landscape is so cluttered with, and it has filtered down, that is the thing that happens in a culture. It started in Broadcast News and now it has filtered down into movie of the weeks with, you know, old television stars. So, you have to, it’s so soaked into the culture that if you’re going to do an uptight workaholic you’ve got to find some way to do it that’s completely fresh and different.
John: Cool. All right, our final — thank god we’ve only got three.
Craig: So many opinions!
John: So many opinions! — is by Chris Vieira. And we do not know what the title of this movie is. But Craig will give us our summary.
Craig: Sure. So, we’re at a wedding, and someone — a woman — is voiceovering over a scene where a groom, handsome, is standing at the altar. And the priest does the normal thing, “Is there anyone who thinks these two shouldn’t be wed? Speak now or forever hold your peace?” And out steps this woman Katie who objects.
And she gives a very heartfelt speech about how she loves this man and he shouldn’t marry this other woman because they’re meant to be together. And the groom agrees with her and it’s this very clichéd moment we’ve seen a million times in romantic comedies. And the voiceover says, “Do you ever stop to think about the other girl,” and we reveal that the person doing the voiceover is, in fact, the bride who was supposed to be getting married, the jilted woman who is not the romantic hero.
And she confronts her almost-husband and this woman. It doesn’t work. Even her own mother seems happy that these two are together. She knocks a candle over, lighting the interlopers dress on fire, rushes out, and stomps across the Brooklyn Bridge causing near accidents. And that is my summary of Untitled.
Aline: Nicely summarized.
John: This to me feels like a movie. It feels like the right premise set up for an interesting character in a movie. I didn’t think these pages all worked right, but I was intrigued by the premise of the movie.
Aline: So, this seemed to me like, you know, we always talk about like just get it down on the piece of paper. Just barf it out on a piece of paper. And that’s what this seemed to me. I mean, this guy has a pretty good idea. It’s funny to do the other woman. You know, call it Jilted, call it The Other. I think it’s funny to do the pretty girl that is usually played by someone completely generic, they’re sort of an interchangeable blonde and they’re in every movie, and to actually have it be her story instead of the quirky heroine.
Great idea. But, dude, give us a title. This is emailed in with the PDF sample title page.
Craig: Hmm. Maybe it’s called Script Title.
John: Yeah. And the fields called Name of First Writer…[laughs]
Aline: And it’s really barely written. INT. CHURCH — DAY. The lines are written — it’s very skeletal. It’s incredibly skeletal.
Aline: And then when he gets into what he really wants to do here, I found this, you guys found this much more in the other one. I found this generic to the point of, as I said, seemed like first thought theater to me. You know, everything Katie says, all the stuff that happens here.
Craig: Well, I think that’s meant to be. Well, here’s the problem: I can’t figure out the tone of this. I mean, first of all, please, if you’re writing a movie about weddings, spell the word “altar” correctly.
Aline: Oh dear god.
Craig: It just makes me nuts. And it’s not a typo. You did it twice. But, the problem is it starts off like a fantasy sequence where people are speaking as if they are spoofing that moment in romantic films. And then it turns to real, because you realize that we’re supposed to be concentrating on the poor jilted bride. But now we’re still in the movie, so what’s the tone of this movie? Is it spoof or is it not? And if it’s not, and I don’t think it’s supposed to — it’s supposed to be properly a romantic comedy — you can’t do it so stilted and obvious and so closely hewn as if it’s a parody.
It needs to actually feel legitimately real.
Aline: The issue here, he/she, I don’t know, Chris. It’s actually you pick up the tone at the very, very end of these three pages. Which is, “I never said anything about being happy,” and he lights the fire. “Let’s see if true love can survive third degree burns.” Good blow.
Craig: Well, I don’t know. I actually was kind of horrified by that.
John: But maybe that is the movie.
Craig: If she’s psychotic…
Aline: If this is bad jilted bride.
Craig: If she’s out of control and literally does things like that, but then I want to know how she ended up with this guy in the first place.
Aline: Right. And then nothing anybody has said, talk about, you know, nothing as anyone has said or done up till here has had any reality to it.
Craig: Her mother is okay with this. And to me that’s like we’re in…
Craig: I really thought this was just fake, like this was a…
Aline: A dream. I did, too.
John: A dream sequence.
Craig: …a dream sequence. And then when it wasn’t at the end I was really thrown for a loop because now she’s lit someone on fire.
I will say that the idea of it though is really good.
Aline: A really good idea.
Craig: And it did, there was a movie, I think, is his name Mike Showalter, the guy from The State? I think that’s his name. He did a movie called The Baxter which was essentially the male version of this, it’s the other guy who gets, you know, the Schmo.
Aline: Who’s in every movie, right?
Craig: Yeah, the Schmo who the woman is marrying but shouldn’t be with and who leaves. And he’s the Schmo. And it was cool. And in this movie it’s that version.
Aline: And she turns out to be a bad ass bitch. Really good idea. That’s why I got frustrated that I felt like, first of all, Craig always says the return key is your friend.
Aline: The comma is your friend here. The other one was over-punctuated. This one was under-punctuated. I just felt like this was a very good idea that was a slightly set batter than had just gotten into the oven. And I feel like with some more attention this is a funny…
Craig: You know what’s killing this thing is the voiceover more than anything. And I don’t always target voiceover. Show me a woman getting married, and show me this woman in the audience. Do a mislead. Start with her. Have her walk up to the church. Have her take her seat. Have her look at the groom. Have him look at her like, “I’m so sorry but it has to be this way.” Just don’t focus on this bride who is this, whatever, not even in focus. Literally not even in focus.
Stay with these two…
Craig: And then have that moment. And then reveal…oh!
John: It’s not her story at all.
Craig: Freeze frame, and then have a voiceover.
Aline: Well, I think what they were trying to do is have the voiceover adhere to the Jennifer Aniston girl….
John: Yeah, so we assume that…
Aline: And you realize it’s…
Craig: I know, but, but, the problem is it’s throwing me completely out of the loop because she’s voiceovering stuff that’s happening that she doesn’t even notice is happening because she’s in the scene.
Aline: Right. In the moment, right. That’s a problem.
Craig: It just doesn’t work. It doesn’t work.
Aline: So, I think the thing to do, you know, handing out exercises like you did in the other one — what would happen if this really happened?
John: Exactly. It’s a misdirect, so you have to play this as this is really the scene happening. So don’t call him Groom, call him the guy. We have to believe, as the reader, just as the viewer will believe, that we’re actually seeing the wedding. And that when we see the — don’t call her Jennifer Aniston — but we see the classic girl, “Oh, this will be the moment,” and then it can really be a surprise for all of that, “Oh my god, we’re actually focusing on that poor girl.”
Aline: Because it’s a very funny idea. Why does that person never get — that’s a bitchy thing to do, to go bust into someone’s wedding and say…it’s terrible.
Craig: It’s psychotic.
John: Let’s play the bride’s family in a realistic way here, also. The bride’s family has to be like, “What the hell is going on here?”
Craig: Right. They’re murmuring. And then you freeze frame. We think we’re here. We’ve just followed this voice. And we freeze on them kissing, and “Isn’t it amazing how romance can land in the most incredible whatever, unless you’re me.” And then there’s this bride standing there, and then she marches out. Her parents are pissed.
Aline: Right. And save the jokes about the mother later saying, “Well, you know, he always seemed so lovely with Katie.”
Craig: Exactly. Because the mother is insane if she says it here. Here’s the thing for all of you, particularly our two writers who were going for comedy this week: Comedy needs to be realer these day. Period. The end. We just don’t get away with what we used to get away with. This broad stuff just doesn’t fly anymore.
It just needs to be realer. You have to think, “What will people actually do?” You can push it a little bit, you know.
Aline: Well, it just can’t be corny. You know, we just — and I think a lot of that has to do with we have so much, you can consume so much more high concept brittle comedy on television, and those Disney sitcoms, and then Judd, that sort of school took it in a completely different way, and people’s ears are really not tuned to — they’re really tuned to not thinking the corny.
Craig: Things have changed. Things have changed. Look, unless you’re going really broad. And if you’re doing, like we did our last podcast, we had the dancing script with the six year-old dancing kid. It was so obviously meant to be a really super broad cartoon. And so it was cool, like, okay go for it. If you’re going to do it, do it. But if you’re doing this, and you expect me to care about this person like in a real way and that there’s some sort of relevance for the audience, you can’t go that far.
A little bit of a rough week for us?
Aline: But bad ass bride.
Craig: Yeah, great idea.
Aline: Listen, Chris has a very good idea. Cheryl has some nice skills. She’s got to take a look at some of her actual writing-writing, and her voice. And then James has some style.
Craig: James actually I thought, yeah, had some style.
John: Yeah, style.
Craig: I mean, everybody had something to recommend. I think they’ve all made big, huge, easy to correct mistakes. Hopefully they will take an opportunity to do so.
John: Cool. Aline, thank you so much for joining us here on this podcast.
Aline: Any time. Any time.
John: It was fun to have you here.
Craig: It was.
John: So, we’ll do this again in the future.
Craig: But like in the really distant future.
John: Yeah, yeah.
Craig: Like maybe 19 years from now.
John: We’ll get a knock on the door, it’s Aline. “Are you podcasting in there?”
Aline: Is this the first time you guys have done a podcast looking at each other?
John: No. We did the interviews with folks in Austin.
Craig: Yeah. But those were interviews. This is really the first podcast-podcast.
Aline: It’s weird. There’s a lot of tension, almost like a romantic tension a little bit between you guys.
Craig: That’s what we’re going for. And it’s all from me to him which is the weirdest thing. No one understands. Look, the heart wants what the heart wants. Basically our relationship is me constantly seeking approval from John, and him constantly withholding it. And I like it that way. It’s a great.
Aline: That made him laugh.
Craig: I know. Well, because it’s true. [laughs]
John: Yeah, it’s honesty. Again, comedy is really about honesty.
Craig: It’s the only way to make people laugh.
John: Thank you guys so much. I will see some of you next week.
Craig: All right. Bye.