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 86 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, I’ve had a profound revelation that will change the podcast forever. Are you ready?
Craig: I assume it’s that I’m fired?
John: [laughs] Well, there’s that. But, before we even get to that — so long time listeners of the podcast will know that a thing that annoys Aline Brosh McKenna more than anything else is that I drop out the T of “interesting.” And it’s something that I’m just defective, or that’s what I thought: it was just my problem.
Except that my family was visiting this weekend, including my nephew Ben, and he said, “Oh, that’s just because you’re from Colorado.” And I’m like, no, no, is it really a Colorado thing? And he says, “Talk about what are those hills outside — those giant hills in Colorado?”
I say, “Mountains.” And he said, “Yeah, you know, you don’t say the T in ‘mountains.’” I’m like, I don’t. He’s like, “No one in Colorado says the T in ‘mountains.’” So, dropping that T is an important thing.
So, then I started doing some introspection and figuring out like, well, when do I drop the T and when do I not drop the T?
John: And it’s actually pretty consistent. So, I would always say “intelligent” because the “tell” has a stress on it. The emphasis on the word is inTell. But, “interesting,” there’s no emphasis on that syllable.
Craig: Because the emphasis is on the “in.”
John: Exactly. And so “intelligible,” sure. I’m trying to think if there’s other T situations, but it’s pretty consistent. So, as long as there’s not a stress on it.
Craig: What about those, like when you’re eating Cuban food and you get those little bananas. What are those?
John: Because there’s emphasis.
Craig: Right. But if they were Plant-Ains. [laughs]
Craig: You know, there’s a weird corollary to this that my grandmother had. It’s a very Brooklyn thing. And you can also here, if you watch Goodfellas and you know Martin Scorsese’s mother plays Joe Pesci’s mother in Goodfellas, and you can hear her doing it, too. And I can’t quite do it right. But if you take a word like “bottle,” for instance, go ahead — say bottle.
Craig: Okay. You and I say it the same way. There’s an old school Brooklyn way of saying it that’s “Bot-ul.” Bot-ul. Or Bottle. It’s almost like you’re saying either two Ts or like a word glottal T. It’s the strangest thing.
John: I think what I’m doing is essentially a tiny little glottal stop that’s getting rid of the T when I don’t need to. Because when you’re making the “In,” you’re going forward as if you’re making the T, but then you just don’t actually stop and make the T because you can understand the word without it. So, I’m capable of making the T.
Craig: This is a remarkable — remarkable — explanation for your…what I will continue to maintain is just a defect.
John: [laughs] Yeah. It’s defective to explain it.
Craig: I’m going to Colorado and I’m going to confirm this. Now I’m flying.
John: But it was really profound when I started talking about like “mountains.” Like I have never said “Moun-Tains.” It just seems weird.
Craig: I say “Mount-Ains” also. I don’t say “Moun-Tains,” I say “Mount-Ains.” But when you say “interesting there’s almost no T. Like I don’t make a big deal of it. I don’t say “in-Teresting.” I just say, “Interesting. Interesting.”
John: I’ve ruined you, Craig. You’re doing exactly what I’m doing now.
Craig: You do, “Inneresting.” You know what it is, it’s not that you drop the T, it’s that you jam the R right up against the N. “Inneresting.”
Well, regardless, I love it about you and I don’t think you should change. I’ve said this before, I’ll say it many, many times. The hell with Aline Brosh McKenna. It’s practically my motto.
John: [laughs] Thank you. We’ll put it on t-shirts which we’ll sell at the 100th podcast.
Craig: Yeah, somebody get to Etsy quickly.
John: So, I consider the issue put to bed.
Today, though, I want to talk about other exciting topics. You suggested a very good topic which is so relevant to me right now which is about how you take notes as a writer. So, let’s talk about taking notes. But then there’s also some really good listener questions in the mailbag, so I’d thought we’d get to that, and call it a show.
Craig: Great. Well, it sounds good.
So, let’s start with this whole issue of notes. And I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, as long as I’ve been doing it. The first time you get notes in a professional situation, it’s a bad feeling. I don’t care who you are. I don’t care how pleasant the session is. That first time is a slap in the face. And there’s so many ways that we can go wrong in those meetings. And I have done them all, I think, and I kind of got them out of my system early on.
But I continue to watch writers do it to this very day and I would imagine that this extends across any creative pursuit. If you’re a musician and someone is critiquing your music, or you’re a lyricist, or you’re a dancer, whatever it is.
So, I wanted to talk about the pitfalls of all of this. And I’m going to preface it by saying this: don’t think for a second that avoiding some of these things somehow means you’re dealing away your pride. It’s not. If anything, it’s ego which is different than pride. That’s not professional pride; that’s ego — ego that gets in the way.
I’m going to start by asking you a question, John.
Craig: When you go into a notes meeting, what in your mind are you hoping to accomplish, if anything?
John: I’m hoping to accomplish a transformation in which they will see that I was correct and that they were wrong…
John: …and that the script is ready to become a movie. If I’m being honest, that’s really what I’m hoping to accomplish in the course of a movie, of a movie notes session. Now, realistically, I’ve been to this rodeo enough times that I recognize that’s not going to happen. So, what I’m hoping for myself is that I will be able to do the kind of judo that accomplishes their goals while accomplishing my goals simultaneously.
Craig: And what are your goals in a general sense? Are they always specific goals? Or are they general goals?
John: I think my goals are to make the movie better, which is sort of the pinnacle goal. The secondary goal is to make the movie not worse. And often notes can make a movie significantly worse. Related to that is I want the movie to get made. I want the thing to proceed to the next step.
So, getting the movie made is sort of the overall arching goal, but usually those note session you’re talking about are we going to go out to a director; are we going to send it into this person? There’s some next step, and I recognize that only through the successful completion of this meeting and the discussion of these notes will we be able to get to the next step.
Craig: Well, those are all good thoughts to have and good goals and I share them all. I think every time we walk in there there’s a part of us that’s hoping that the point of the note session is really, “Look how great this is.” And then practically speaking, as business people, as well as artists, we have a certain list of business goals that we have like let’s get a director attached, let’s get an actor, let’s get going. Let’s make a movie.
And then there’s the hope that somehow they will give you something that you hadn’t considered that will make the script better. And then the most important one of all — let’s not make it worse. And for me, if there’s one goal I have when I walk into a notes session, it’s this: I am there to make sure that I protect my intentions. You know, screenplays are just a big huge bundle of intentions. And I’m okay with doing whatever needs to be done, and I hope that whatever needs to be done is something that I agree with that is going to make things better.
But I want to protect my intentions. And the reason I’m bringing that up is because I think that intentions are protectable. And when you start thinking about your intentions for what a scene is about, what it means, why the character is doing what they’re doing, all the why questions instead of the what questions, we start to get ourselves out of the realm of sounding defensive about what we wrote. And we get instead into a conversation about the why. And I have to say right off the bat that puts us at an advantage because we understand the whys generally better than anybody.
It also makes it seem less like we’re there to somehow create an obstacle to what everyone else considers to be a very necessary process. And if you’ve ever given notes to somebody, you suddenly realize what the other side of it is like. It’s actually quite hard to do. And when somebody is really resistant or does any of the things I’m about to talk about, it’s frustrating for you as the note giver.
So, I wanted to talk about things to not do. [laughs] And along with those, some things to do. And little tips. And join in with any that come to your mind as well. And comment on these as you wish.
A couple of easy ones to start off with — a couple of dos. Try and be as relaxed as possible. If you’re not relaxed you’re starting a fight that doesn’t need to start.
Craig: Listen, which is very, very hard for us. I don’t know if you’ve experienced this where you realize that you know exactly what this person is saying, you already have the answer to what they’re saying, and yet what am I supposed to do, sit here and listen for another three minutes of terrible irrelevant monologue when I have the answer? So, you just want to cut them off! [laughs] You know that feeling?
John: Yes. I do know that feeling, often on this podcast.
John: I think listening is crucial. Also, listening with — to say a really cheesy term — it’s sort of the active listening, where it’s making it clear to the person that you are listening to them, that you’re hearing them, and oftentimes what’s helpful is just to restate what they just said in slightly different words so that they know that you heard what they just said to you.
Craig: That’s right. And another thing that goes along with being an active listener, and I like that term a lot, is taking notes. You may not agree with what they’re saying. Just the physical act of taking notes helps get your mind off of whatever the emotions are of the moment. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen other writers listen to very detailed suggestions, not take notes, and then have the person say, “Are you at all interested in writing any of this down,” because it’s viewed as disrespectful.
I mean, essentially it’s viewed as “I’m not listening to you” [laughs] and I don’t care about what you’re saying. Which may be true, but why give that away?
Craig: I am a big believer — this is another “do” — of asking neutral questions about a note. If I sometimes feel that sensation, the “oh my god, oh no” sensation welling up, instead of just repeating the note back I’ll ask a neutral question, in part because I really do feel like when I do that I can kind of maybe get something of value out of it.
Simply put, something like, “Can you explain that for me?” Or, “Can you go deeper into that,” which is a very neutral interrogative. But it does have them talk more. And, frankly, sometimes it also helps them on their own realize that there’s not much ground underneath their feet with that particular note.
John: A corollary to that is make them contextualize when they felt that note. And so if they’re saying like, “I didn’t really like this character. I didn’t really like this thing,” you can sometimes ask them, “So when did you start feeling that? Is it at this moment? Is it at this…?”
Ask them to be more specific about sort of what it is that — what isn’t working for them. And if they could place it within the timeline of the script, that can be helpful for you, too.
Craig: That’s great. And, again, that expresses legitimate interest in what they have to say, which at times they do deserve. Let’s talk about some don’t dos. And I’ve seen all of these and I’ve probably done them all as well.
I call them the 3Ds. Let’s start with the first D — Defend. It is a natural thing to defend your work. When somebody says something like, “I just read this scene and I just thought it was not funny at all. I read the scene and I thought it was over-the-top. I read the scene and I thought it was boring.” Don’t defend that. You can’t.
You can’t say, “No, it is funny. No, it’s not boring. No, it’s none of this,” because it’s not to you, but it is to them. That’s not going to change. Better to just say, “Okay, let’s talk about why. Let’s talk about what I intended there. And let’s see if we can maybe find a way where that intention can be done in a way that is funny, or thrilling, or tense, or exciting.”
The next D — Deny. Do not deny what they’re saying either. “That’s not true.”
“It just seems like this character doesn’t care that much.”
“That’s not true! Obviously this character cares.” Don’t do that. Again, you may be right, but denying what they say is only going to get you, again, into a fight. And if your goal is to not make the script worse, to not get fired, to protect your dramatic intention, there is no value to deny what they’re saying. Better again to just try and find your way through what they’re saying.
And the last D is Debate. And this is the one I think most writers fall into. And when I say debate I don’t mean to — because there are times when I’ll say, “Well, I’m not sure about that, and here’s why.” Or, “Well, okay, if I do that just be aware of this.”
Debating is essentially when you step outside of the process of trying to make the script better, or trying to protect your intention, and instead engage in war. You’re fighting. That’s what you’re doing. And you’re fighting because you’re hurt and because you’re scared.
And you know, I mean, I assume you’ve felt hurt and scared before in these notes meetings?
John: I have indeed. And it’s always like they’re insulting not only you but they’re insulting your child. And so your instinct is to protect your child. So, deny, defend, debate — these are all natural reactions. It’s a posture you’re taking because someone is coming after you, so therefore you are going to assume a posture that could protect yourself and your work.
Craig: Exactly right. And by protecting yourself, unfortunately what happens is you’re actually doing a worse job of protecting your work. It’s a weird paradox. You’re better equipped to protect your work if you stop worrying so much about yourself and the pain that they’re causing. But it’s real pain. That’s the hard part.
I’ll tell you the emotional reaction I get when I get a really bad note, because I’ve thought about just like how do I qualify precisely what’s going through my under brain. And it’s this: I’ve just seen in rapid fire progress in my mind what happens to this movie, its reception, and my career, and my ego if this happens. And it’s horrifying to me.
All of that is packed into my reaction to a sentence that they’re saying that they simply don’t realize has that kind of ripple effect. Very hard to not deny, or defend, or debate.
John: So, let’s talk about strategies for when you encounter those situations, because the most helpful thing I’ve found over the years is both in your own mind and for the person you’re with is to reframe it in terms of the movie you’re trying to make.
John: And that way if you stopped talking about the script and started talking about the movie, then you’re sort of on neutral territory because you’re talking about a theoretical thing that’s in the future rather than this thing that’s right in front of you.
So, you can talk about not only what your intentions where with the script — fine, whatever that is — but what your intentions are for the movie. And exactly what you’re saying where like I’ve now quickly fast-forwarded through and saw exactly what the horrible thing that that note would do to the movie, they’re not there yet. And so sometimes what my job is is to help them subtly discover what the repercussions of that note would be without sort of telling them what the repercussions would be, without making it seem like I’m the person who created this horrible scenario. Let them come up to it in their own terms.
And so sort of slowly walk them through sort of what that is that happens there.
Craig: And you said a really important thing which is to talk about the movie as opposed to the script. Their nightmare is a writer who doesn’t understand that the point is a movie and not a good script. And their nightmare is a writer who is focused entirely on a document that will be 100% worthless once the movie is made.
And they’re panicked over that. So, I love that you’re saying talk about the movie. That’s exactly right.
John: In a general sense, let’s talk about what notes tend to be helpful and what notes tend to be frustrating, because there’s sort of a Goldilocks zone of notes that I find are really useful. And so if note is “too general” then it’s just maddening, because I can’t do anything with that. So, if someone says, “I don’t know that this should take place in space.” Well, like that’s too general. I can’t do anything; that’s the nature of the movie that we’re talking about. So, that’s too general of a note.
There’s also “too specific” of a note. There’s like, “Oh, when he drinks out of the blue glass it should really be like a green glass. I think the green glass more feels like…” That’s way too specific.
What’s usually helpful for me as a writer is that note that falls right in that sort of in-between zone where it’s usually talking about a scene, it’s talking about a character, it’s talking about a moment that’s actually addressable, that is something that I could do and I could work on.
So, I love when somebody comes to me with, “This isn’t working for me. This is the problem I’m coming to. But I’m not going to tell you how to solve it. I’m here to be a sounding board for talking about how we can work through those things.” The best note sessions have been the ones that ask the questions and don’t sort of try to force the answers upon me.
Craig: That’s exactly right. And I think the best note givers are the ones who don’t have ego wrapped up in doing a job that they’re not currently doing. The worst note givers are the ones who aren’t directors, aren’t writers, aren’t actors, but think they are and talk that way. So, they’re trying to do it for you. The best note givers are the ones who respect what you do and also respect themselves, understand that nobody gets it perfectly right the first time or even the 20th time. It can always be made better to some extent. And their job is to get you to figure out how to do that.
Everybody is an audience member. Everybody is born an audience member. Eventually we show these movies to 20 people, well, a room full of people, and then ask questions of 20 to 25 of them. And they have absolutely no qualifications whatsoever except that they have a pulse and they like movies. Well, if they say this is all boring or it’s really slow, it’s boring, and it’s slow, at least for them.
Craig: And so good note givers can have an impression and then are able to tease out of you the solution. I think that’s exactly right. There are times when you will get bad notes and it’s very tempting to win points. Sometimes you will get a note like, “I just feel like — why isn’t there a moment where he tells his friend that he actually loves her?” And there is that moment. It’s on page 11.
And every writer has had that experience. You’re like, it’s on page 11! And there’s two ways of saying that. [laughs] There’s the, “It’s on page 11, dummy!” And then there’s the, “Well, there’s this moment on page 11 that I intended to do that. I don’t know if it’s landing that way. Can we just take a look at it?”
And nine times out of ten if presented that way they’ll go, “Okay, you know, I just missed it.”
John: Yeah. When doing a TV pilot they often say like, “Yeah. Maybe we kind of need to underline that moment.” And what they literally mean is just, “Could you just underline it because I didn’t see it because I read it too quickly and no one else is going to see it.” So, that’s one of the things I learned this last time through in TV is like sometimes you actually just have to underline it because people are going to read too quickly.
John: I want to talk through two frustrating scenarios that have come up in the last couple weeks. And I don’t know that I have solutions for them, but I will point out like a shared frustration I think most people are going to feel. One is when you get really — when someone is really articulate and impassioned and makes a very strong point about something, there’s a tendency to sort of give them more weight and validity than you necessarily should.
John: Because sometimes really smart people can be wrong. Really smart, articulate people can be wrong, and they can actually steer you in a dangerous direction. And it’s so tempting to listen to them because they seem so smart and articulate. But they may not actually have the same intention for the movie that you do.
John: And that is a thing to always keep in mind. And so all the other things we’re talking about in terms of active listening and taking notes and all that stuff, but at the same time you have to ask yourself, “Is this the right person to be giving this note for this movie? And is this steering the movie in a direction that I want to go into?”
I’m often part of the Sundance Screenwriter’s Lab. And so I’m an advisor there and I will read a bunch of scripts and we’ll give feedback and try to help people find the right things. And we’re coached in sort of how to give notes in a way that’s hopefully asking the “what if” questions rather than trying to give solutions.
The challenge is all the advisors are like really successful screenwriters. And so anything we say people tend to put sort of too much stock in in a weird way. And so I have to sort of sometimes caution people, it’s like, “This is just what I’m feeling right now. Do not take this as gospel and do not try to do exactly what I’m saying, or do not try to do what me and three other screenwriters are saying which is going to steer you in different directions. Just listen to sort of our ideas, but don’t try to do this directly.”
John: The second situation which I run into far too often is sometimes they’re really giving a note about the last draft. So, they had a very strong opinion about the last draft and you did things to address those things. But they still have that residual opinion from the previous draft. And so sometimes they’re not really giving notes on this draft. They’re giving notes about how they kind of feel about the project and not specifically what you put on the page.
And that’s just something you kind of have to live with in a way because you’re not going to be able to convince them that it actually has already all changed in the script, or that you have addressed that. It’s just, you know, it’s the echo of a previous opinion and that’s just going to stay there for awhile.
Craig: Yeah. I agree. There’s nothing you can really do about that. I think you’re absolutely right that there are times when individuals who are persuasive through force, position, articulation, and intelligence will sway a room. Persuasiveness, as you point out correctly, does not equal correctness.
Craig: And I think that is something that… — I’ll tell you, I’ve come across that a couple of times. The only strategy I have for that, or I guess tactic is the proper word, is I find that you’re not the only one who is struggling under that yoke. Everyone else is, too. Whoever that bulldozer is, you’re not the only person that’s been bulldozed.
And sometimes what I do in those situations is I circle back with the other people who are sort of cowed into silence or mowed over and I say, “Look, that’s a big personality in there. But can I just talk to you side bar and just say brilliant person, very smart. I don’t think that the movie they’re describing is the one we should be doing. Can you help me out?”
A lot of times they’ll say, “I know. Let’s figure this out.” And you find your allies where you can find them, you know?
John: I mean, the high class problems that we often run into is sometimes there are multiple people in that room who all have big personalities who all have authority just because of their position. So, you have a giant actor, you have a powerful director, you have a studio head, and they’re all saying slightly different things. And our function, and hopefully the reason why we’re getting paid a weekly, is because we are supposed to be somehow able to synthesize all these ideas and get everyone onto the same page, which doesn’t always happen.
John: And so it’s recognizing that that’s the Psych 101, or actually the Psych 401 of our jobs is to somehow get these people to feel enough confidence in your ability to tell the story that they’re going to say yes and actually shoot the movie.
Craig: Yeah. If you have managed to not be antipathetic and antagonistic, and you have been pleasant and yet also defended your intentions and made them feel not stupid, made them feel welcomed and comfortable and listened to.
It is absolutely true that when the inevitable time comes where there is a Game of Thrones like clash over the “Who gets to sit on the Iron Throne?” everyone will come to you. You have a choice. You can in the process of receiving notes you can hue towards the childish or you can hue towards the adult. And the adult is far less emotionally satisfying in the short term; far more emotionally satisfying in the long term.
And, frankly, it helps you get what you want. You are suddenly listened to and needed in a way that you might not have been otherwise. And that, I guess my final general concluding and guiding advice is this: When you’re in these meetings, if you are positive about something, whether it’s a suggestion or something that we should be doing, or something we all like, be as passionate as you can be.
If there is any negativity — if you are disagreeing with a note, if you’re disagreeing with a suggestion, a thought, or a direction — be as dispassionate as you can be. And you will find that you will be appreciated and you will be given more room to do your job and you will actually, I think, be hung up less on the hook of bad notes than you would have been otherwise.
John: I would agree. Craig, thank you for a good talk about notes.
John: Woo! Let’s get to some questions.
John: Our first question comes from Matthias from Taastrup, Denmark. He writes, “I read Paul Schrader’s script for Taxi Driver and several times he’s cheating the action scene description, or at least it feels that way. An example: ‘Travis’s cold, piercing eyes stare out from his cab parked across the street from the Palatine headquarters. He is like a lone wolf watching the warm campfires of civilization from a distance. A thin red dot glows from his cigarette.’”
So, the “lone wolf watching from the campfires for civilization” is his question about that line.
“A second example: ‘It is the same look that crossed his face in the Harlem deli. We are reminded with a jolt that the killer lies just beneath Travis’s surface.’”
And so the question is, is this cheating? Is it an exception? What do we think?
Craig: Both. It is cheating. [laughs] There’s — I mean, it certainly evokes something a director can go for. At least the director in reading that script says, “Okay, the intention here is that there is a specific look, a kind of hunger, an animalistic predatory hunger here that I want to kind of tie back and mirror in these two moments.”
But here’s the truth: of course it’s an exception, because Paul Schrader wrote an amazing screenplay. And in the end I don’t care what you do. I don’t care if you write it in crayon, and I don’t care if you write it backwards. If it’s really, really good no one cares, you know?
The only reason I say to people don’t cheat on that stuff as a matter of principle is because usually they’re cheating on it because they’re not doing what the non-cheated version should have done, which is reveal those things. But I think that through the actions, the actual filmable actions of that screenplay, obviously Schrader did do that. And so he gets to cheat because he wrote an awesome script.
John: I’m going to split my decision on this. I think “he is like a lone wolf watching the warm campfires of a civilization from a distance,” yes, it’s poetic, but that’s actually a filmable moment. That tells you what it feels like to be watching that scene. And you can sense how you might do that. And so I think that’s a filmable moment.
The second one I have a little bit more of a problem with. “We are reminded with a jolt that the killer lies just beneath Travis’s surface.” That pushes a little too far for me. And that starts with the “we are reminded,” it’s like, well, that’s just a lot of presumption on the behalf of the audience in this moment.
So, I think if you can give us a sense of what the visual description is that reminds us. You already say, like, “It’s the same look that crossed his face in the Harlem deli. The look of a killer, or the look of a killer right beneath the surface.” That feels a little bit less like cheating because you’re not going to the “we are reminded that.” The only thing that took me out of the prose there was those four words.
Craig: I agree. I mean, those aren’t filmable, but apparently not also necessary to be a movie itself, I guess, you know.
John: And in a general sense I think you have to remember that what we’re putting on the page is things that you can see and things that you can hear, but the experience of watching a movie, there are things that echo from before. So, if it’s important that a look be a certain kind of look, you can describe that kind of look because that’s a thing that a lens can show you.
Or, sometimes there are sounds and if you can describe those sounds and give us things — if we’re going to recognize somebody that we saw before, that’s a thing that’s really easy to do in movies, but sometimes a little bit awkward to do on the page. But just do it on the page if it’s important. Don’t worry about that’s cheating. If we’re going to remember something that we saw before, that’s really simple to do with a camera. So, it’s absolutely fine to do it on the page.
Craig: Yeah. Just don’t do anything cheaty that you need the audience to know, because they won’t. If you’re doing it intentionally cheaty to evoke something in the reader or to clue the director in onto what he ought to go for with the actor, that’s fine.
And I will say that this is a good example of how so many of these gurus and ding-a-lings are incorrect when they say, “Never tell the actors how to act in your script. That’s the director’s job.” Well, uh, no.
Craig: Not true at all. I think the screenplay is designed to be read and performed by actors. I think it’s perfectly fine for the screenwriter who came up with the whole thing to express their intention to the actors reading the script. It’s perfectly fine.
No, you don’t want to overdose the thing. You can’t read it that way. But, you know, we can’t… — These ding-a-lings out there who say, “Oh, well, directors hate that.” You know what? They don’t seem to hate it that much when you’ve written a great script that attracts great stars and a budget. Then they’re okay with it.
John: Somehow they are.
John: Our next question is also about the words on the page. Gordon asks, “My question is about the TV treatments on your site and their informal tone.”
So, he’s talking about at johnaugust.com in the library I have the treatments that I’ve written for some TV stuff that I’ve done.
“Do they reflect a standard approach, or would they only be accepted from an established writer with a good track record? I was pleasantly surprised by the loose conversational style.”
And so this is what we talk about a lot, is what your voice is. And usually we’re talking about voice in terms of what it sounds like in a screenplay, but a treatment is a much less structured document in many ways. And it often does have a much chattier tone. And it’s a lot like if I was telling you what happens in this story. That’s kind of how I write treatments. They’re much talkier. They don’t necessarily refer to you, or they don’t refer to you or to me, but they feel like you’re in a conversation with somebody.
And, Craig, you don’t submit — you don’t have those kinds of documents very often, do you?
Craig: I do. I write treatments all the time?
John: Things that you share with people?
Craig: Yeah. Absolutely.
I don’t do it always. It depends on the project. But sometimes I want to do it because there are so many people involved that… — I mean, look, I always do it for myself anyway. But that’s really a collection of notes. And I put the notes in order so that I have all the ideas and things I’ve thought of for the movie. As I’m writing I can say, okay, I don’t forget, it’s a big catch-all bin.
But, like for instance on Identity Thief there was Scott Stuber and Pam Abdy who were the producers, along with Jason Bateman who was a producer. And there was Melissa McCarthy, and there was Donna Langley, and there was Peter Cramer, Scott Bernstein, and there was, and there was, and there was. There were a lot of people.
And when there’s a lot of people like that there’s a natural tendency in any environment for people to kind of pick off the writer here and there to get their thoughts in. And not everybody is aware of what you’re doing at any given point. And suddenly you turn the script in and two people are like, “Well what is this?” And three other people are like, “Well, that’s what we wanted,” and, “No, we didn’t.”
So, if there are a lot of people involved I will write a treatment and basically give it to everybody and say, “Yes we agree, or no we don’t agree” before I start writing.
I do write those very conversationally. I think that those treatments should evoke the feeling of a friend walking out of a movie and saying, “I’m going to tell you what just happened. The most amazing movie. Okay. All right, so it opens on…” You know? Because, why not?
John: Exactly. It goes back to the general principle of all kind of professional writing is you want to write something that people want to read. And if it’s loose and conversational they’re more likely to actually read it and not stop reading it and drop it and sit it down on the table at some point. So, if it’s easy for them to read, they’re more likely to go through it.
Craig: Yup. Totally.
John: Next question is super important. It comes from Chris Ford. He says, “I decided to try Final Draft’s competitor, Fade In, and I was surprised when it loaded up with a ’1.’ at the top of the otherwise blank first page. They claim they consulted with industry pros. I think I remember Craig saying he was involved with the software or used it. Obviously it’s super easy to change, but I wanted to know where you both stood on this hugely controversial and super exciting issue of having a page number on the first page?”
Craig: [laughs] Oh my god. I’m now opening up a draft of something to see if — I couldn’t even tell you if I have a number on the first page. While I’m doing that you will tell me what your position is.
John: I believe the first page should not have a page number on it.
Craig: That’s normal for like regular things, like Microsoft Word documents usually don’t do that.
John: If it’s the first page you know it’s the first page so why would you put a page number there, and it gets in the way. I also love to put just a little blank space at the top of the first page. It’s just my thing.
Craig: Well, I just checked. The Hangover Part III does not have a 1 on the first page.
John: So, industry pros tell you do not put a number on the first page.
Craig: Yeah. So, what I’ll do is I will tweet the fine author of that software and say, no, get rid of it. The script I’m about to write, I think I’m going to write it in Fade In.
Craig: Yeah. I’m going to give it a shot, see how it goes. Why not?
John: Absolutely. The second question here, then we can sidebar for a second. Martins in Latvia — I just love that we have listeners in Denmark and Latvia. “Here’s a plea on behalf of those who want to use Final Draft in languages other than the ones currently available. I trust there would be a lot out there. It’s time for Final Draft to switch to UTF-8 fonts.”
And a sidebar about UTF-8. Roman alphabets, there are various character collections you can use. And UTF-8 is a large character set that can include all the different sort of characters and marks for most sort of western languages.
“Since I used to be to get Final Draft to write in Latvian, my native tongue, under Windows XP and less so under Windows 7, but switching to the latest Mac has made it impossible. Now, I can only use it for English language writing and that’s a bummer.”
So, first I want to say, yes, you should be able to write in your own language and it’s frustrating when things don’t allow you to do that. I have found in general Macs to be really pretty good at sort of being able to let you write in whatever character set you need to write in. For Highland we were able to do that and people seemed to have very good luck writing in different western languages in Highland without great problems.
It’s sort of natural to the Mac to be able to do that. Final Draft right now is in this weird state where it’s kind of old and it’s kind of new and it’s not very Macintosh like.
John: So, I’m not surprised that you’re having this problem with it.
Craig: I don’t have anywhere near your expertise on fonts and so forth. I’ve used Apples, in all their variations, since 1983. And it always seemed to me that the company just was more friendly to alternative alphabets than Windows. So, I’ve never noticed an issue, but then again I don’t use Cyrillic, I don’t use Swedish, or anything like that.
What I do know is that Latvia is cool. And I’m glad that people… — You know, for a long time I thought Doctor Doom was from Latvia. But he’s…
John: Where is he actually from?
John: Oh, yeah. It’s a crucial distinction. You add that extra syllable, it changes everything.
Craig: Well, first of all, it changes it to a country that doesn’t exist, [laughs], most importantly. But I feel like people of Latvia probably do get the “Oh, yeah, Doctor Doom is from Latvia.” And then they go, “No, he’s from Latveria.” Latveria is no more related to Latvia than Argentina.
Craig: It’s a totally different country.
John: So, there are people who are protesting the Czech Embassy because the bombers were Chechen. And it just makes me so angry and sad for America.
Craig: Ugh. You know, god. I’m just.. — People are getting dumber, and dumber. I don’t know if people are getting dumber, or it’s just that there are so many more avenues for them to express their stupidity.
John: I think there are more avenues for them to express their stupidity and it’s more easy to report on how stupid they are.
Craig: Yeah. Self report. [laughs]. Well, they self report and then we cover it.
John: [laughs] Yeah, Twitter is like self-reporting stupidity central.
Craig: It’s true. Actually now after ever controversial or tragic event there is this thing that happens now that I just call idiot roundup where they’ll then roundup the 40 people who tweeted horrible, horrible things, who are then exposed to everybody. Like after Obama was reelected there was like here’s 40 incredibly racist tweets. And after Boston, here’s 40 incredibly stupid comments.
Now, it’s like the game is the day after — look who’s stupid on Twitter. I hate people.
John: I hate people, too.
Going back to screenwriting software for a second, one thing that came out this last week which we should talk about briefly is Slugline which is a plain text Fountain-based screenwriting app that I got to use when I was writing the ABC pilot. So, that was the unannounced software that I was using that I wrote in Fountain. And I love it. I think it’s actually a terrific little app.
And so it’s now in the Mac App Store. I think there’s some confusion. I didn’t make it. I was one of the people who helped make Fountain. I make the Highland app. Slugline is a completely different app that is sort of friends with Slugline but is a different thing.
You got to try it out this week, didn’t you?
Craig: I did. And for the life of me, I can’t remember. I liked it. There was something that was bugging me.
– Oh, yeah, I like it when a character speaks dialogue, then there’s a break for an action line, and then the character says “continues,” I like the “Joe (CON’T),” and I like that to be automatic. And this program doesn’t do that.
Craig: And I would imagine it’s essentially useless for revisions and things like that as well. But, for a casual user it’s even more simple to use than most of them. It doesn’t use the return tab system. It’s smart enough to know, okay, you just start typing a character name in all caps, you must mean character.
John: Yeah. That’s the thing I appreciate most about Slugline is that you just start typing into it. And you never have to sort of like tab over and figure out which element you’re in, because in Fountain Syntax you’re always in one kind of element. And it’s smart enough to know that if you started with an uppercase line, and the next line doesn’t start uppercase, that must be a character name, that must be dialogue.
John: It just sort of magically does it. So, Highland is more like a plain text editor where everything stays over in the left hand margin and that’s just how it is. Slugline interprets in real time sort of what it thinks the elements are and does a really good job of sort of matching stuff up.
So, if it’s your style I would definitely recommend using Slugline.
Craig: Yeah. The other limitation of it, it’s just essentially baked into the way it does it. You know, I prefer a method where I tab and then I can type the first letter without doing a shift, you know?
But then, okay, the tab is a keystroke and so that’s sort of, okay, what’s more annoying: tab and then C, or Shift-C? Mm, you know, I don’t know.
Craig: I’m just used to it.
John: You’re used to a certain way. And I will say that after having written the whole script in Slugline, then when I had to go through to do revisions in Final Draft I found it maddening to have to sort of figure out what element I was in as I started typing. Because there are times where you think, “Oh, I’m tabbed over, I’m in character.” But, no, I’m actually in a parenthetical or I’m in some other weird thing. And then I have to reformat to get back to the right thing.
Craig: You know, Final Draft man. It’s just, god, they bum me out because they have such an opportunity to improve that software and make it better for all the people who use it and they just default to, “Eh.”
John: Well, they did announce a roadmap and a plan. And so I don’t want to sort of dig too deep into it right now, but they announced Final Draft 9 and sort of where they’re moving. And so the new format will be FDX V9, or whatever. And they said, in the press release, I kind of was flattered because they said like they’re going to start having approved partners for the FDX format. I really kind of think that Highland was the official unapproved format that they got really frustrated that we were using their format without having official approval.
John: But when you’re based on XML you’re open format. Anyone should be able to do it.
Craig: Well, yeah.
John: It does sound like Final Draft is going to move — in their press release it says they’re moving to an online service so your script is in the cloud. There are wonderful things about being in the cloud. There are potentially really terrifying things about being in the cloud, about being in Final Draft’s cloud. So, it’s going to be interesting to see sort of how that all works.
Craig: I’m not into it. And, you know, look — here’s the killer app part of this that none of these guys have been able to figure out, because it involves network security issues, and that is allowing two people in two different places to work on the same Final Draft document at the same time.
Obviously by putting it in the cloud that becomes simple; it’s essentially a Google Docs. And so that part, I guess, is cool. I like that concept of it. It’s just, god, I wish they were better, you know?
John: Yeah. Let’s move onto other topics. Mike from Walnut Creek, California asked, “A, what would be a realistic annual earnings target for someone who ‘makes it’ as a feature screenwriter? Assuming the writer gets a healthy amount of work in a given year and perhaps at one of the top echelons of WGA feature writers who stay employed in any given year.” So, that’s the first one.
And I tried to just like, oh, I’ll just look up what the median –
[horn blares] What was that, Craig, on your side?
Craig: It sounds like it was like a truck.
John: That was nuts.
Craig: Yeah. We should leave it in. That’s what’s going on here all day long.
John: Leave it in.
So, I tried to look up what is the median feature screenwriter salary and I couldn’t actually find a useful number. And I kept going back to like 2007 and it was all related to the strike when they put up that average screenwriter’s salary which was, of course, really misleading.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t know what the median is. I don’t think they’ve ever reported it. It’s a good question.
John: So, of course, the average salary would be to take how much the total earnings are of feature writers and divide it by the number of feature writers, or the number of employed feature writers, but that really kind of misrepresents what the experience is of being a feature screenwriter because some years you’re making a lot, and some years you’re making not very much at all.
John: It is a sort of feast or famine kind of thing. And so you have to anticipate that some years you’re going to make a lot and some years you’re going to make much, much less. Like this year I made much, much less because I was busy doing the musical so I just wasn’t working as much.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, there are general tiers of things. The typically new screenwriters are going to work on one, maybe two things a year. Typically they’re making between $100,000 and $250,000 for a feature project. And, again, you have to take all these numbers, and I think we’ve walked through this before — reduce it by 15% to 25%, depending on whether or not you have a manager, because you have an agent, and you have a lawyer. And, of course, then taxes, and if you have a partner you can then lop it in half again. So, these numbers sounds a little sexier than they are.
The middle class of feature film writer, they generally define as between $250,000 to $550,000 for — and I think that’s a decent amount for a year’s work for somebody like that. Then you have writers with credits, you know, call them B+ list, I don’t care about the list names. And those are writers who are then, okay, you’re in the upper echelon. You’ve got a good quote. Your quote is maybe $400,000 against $800,000, or $500,000. And so they’re making between $500,000 and $1 million a year.
And then A-list screenwriters make on the low end $1 million a year, all the way up to David Koepp-ville or god only knows. [laughs] I mean, you know, there are writers who have made between $5 million and $10 million in a year.
Craig: It happens. So, millions. You know, A-list writers make millions of dollars.
John: Yeah. But I would say it’s important to keep in mind that there are fewer A-list writers than there are big NBA basketball players. I mean, there is a very small number of people who actually are making that much.
Craig: That’s right.
John: So, you shouldn’t kind of like, “I’m going to be one of those people.” It’s great if that is a goal of yours, but if your goal is to be a working writer the actual money you’re making as a working writer is considerably less. And you should be just delighted to be a working writer because the number of people who tend to be screenwriters who have sold something, or were working writers but are not currently working writers, that’s a large percentage of the population as well.
Craig: For sure. I mean, when you say fewer than the NBA, it’s fewer than maybe four NBA teams. Maybe there are 40 screenwriters who made over $1 million last year working in feature films.
John: I don’t think there are that many. I bet if we went off the podcast and sort of actually just made a list, we’d recognize it’s a very, very small number.
Craig: It’s small. And it is more like being an All Star baseball player, you know. It’s so tiny. But, you can… — Look, you can make a lot of money being a screenwriter if you happen to be one of those. But, I personally think that anybody who goes into screenwriting should think that in success they are going to earn a comfortable living, a very comfortable living. They will be wealthy by many, many standards if they are able to do it over, and over, and over, and over. And that is where you see, because for a lot of people I know, a lot of writers I know, because there are writers I know that were there when I started. So, I’ve been able to watch different people in their different paths.
And there are writers who sell — they have a big script sale for $1 million and that feeds them for six years. You know?
Craig: it is not… — Don’t become a screenwriter to make money. That’s not going to be…
John: Yeah. Become a screenwriter to make movies. That’s what it comes down to.
Craig: Yup. Big time.
John: Become a stockbroker to make money.
Craig: Yeah, for sure.
John: Dan writes, “I thought you and Craig might want to start a Cut it Out list for clichés that come up in screenwriting like the ‘staring into the mirror’ example mentioned in the recent podcast. It might be fun to compile a list, get reader participation. It would also be a helpful tool for screenwriters to avoid all of these clams.”
I think that’s a terrific idea. So, if you have a suggestion for me and Craig of something that we just need to stop doing in scripts, tweet it to us and we’ll keep a list. If it’s longer than what can fit into a tweet, you can just mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org. But, if it’s a short little thing, tweet it and we’ll make a list. We’ll maybe even retweet the really good ones, because that’s a great idea.
Craig: This is kind of like the action description version of the dialogue clam list we did. Love it.
John: Yes. So, on Twitter I’m @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. And tweet us your suggestions for things that we should just stop doing in movies, things we need to Cut it Out.
Craig: But don’t put things that are in the movies I’ve done, [laughs], because you know, there are people out there who would be like, “Cut it Out, Craig Mazin writing screenplays. Cut it out.”
John: If you want to hash-tag it, just #CutItOut.
Craig: Yeah, oh nice. Well done. I keep forgetting about those hash-tags.
John: I’m very viral that way.
Drew in Taiwan writes, “Whereas box office gross is extremely accessible,” box office gross numbers he means, “probably owing to history and tradition it’s been difficult for me to find the numbers behind the profits of on-demand services or iTunes rentals and streaming sites like Netflix. A friend in the industry told me that studios don’t want to release this information because it gives them more bargaining power with talent or whoever else. What do you think about that theory? And where could I find these statistics?”
Craig: That’s a perfectly good theory. In general, business wants to release the least amount of information possible because it tends to muck their stuff up. I mean, information is power. The movie business is challenged in that regard because the theater collects tickets. And the studios make their money by finding out how many tickets the theater sold. The theater then takes a chunk of that and the studios take the other chunk. So, there needs to be independent, verifiable sourced information, hence Rentrack and I assume there’s other companies that do this as well.
It’s not like, for instance, Big Fish the musical, the production collects the tickets, right? I mean, you pay rent to the theater, but the money for the tickets goes to the production. Isn’t that right?
John: That’s not actually true.
John: Actually I would say theater box office, the actual box office is actually very similar to what film box office is.
Craig: Oh, okay.
John: And so you can actually go to sites like BroadwayWorld and they will have the weekly to show exactly how many tickets were sold and what percentage of seats were sold. That’s actually all very public information.
Craig: Because the theaters do take a — is it a numerical cut based on the tickets you sell?
John: Yes. It’s because there’s house nuts. And so some of that stuff works very much like how it works in the film industry. And that was a surprise to me. So, I’m only just learning that it is such public information. But that’s why we can know what shows are struggling because it’s really public information.
Craig: It has to be because any time two different businesses are relying on a number, that number has to be shared.
John: Absolutely. And so if you are a participant in a show, like with Big Fish when we open on Broadway I will get a percentage of that box office, that’s just sort of the deal a writer has in that. And so that has to be a public figure. Granted, there are all sorts of things that get taken away from that. But there is some sort of public figure that can back up there.
Where I’ve often found, just studying the industry, trying to figure out video numbers in general, even before we get into online and streaming stuff, is very, very difficult and is much more fungible. So, you’ll find out video rental information or you’ll find out video sales through retailers, but it’s all much murkier than it is with true box office.
Craig: Yes, it is. They do publish DVD sales lists. They generally aren’t as accessible because just aren’t as interested. So, for instance, most news sources won’t subscribe to those sources because they just don’t care. But, they exist. The problem — the reason that they’re murkier is because these kinds of sales take place in a very diffuse manner. It’s true that the first week a DVD is available for sale — and we’re talking in 2006 terms now — you’ll sell a lot of DVDs.
But, DVDs are constantly being sold. They’re constantly being sold — it’s library stuff. And sometimes there is suddenly a spike in interest in a DVD because, you know, something happens, or people are interested in the movie.
For Netflix and for downloads and all the rest of it, I guess the basic rule is if they don’t need to publicly share admissions, actual people going through turnstile, then they’re probably not going to tell you much about it.
John: Absolutely. And the retailers, the equivalence of that, have good reasons for not disclosing those figures if they don’t have to. So, Amazon doesn’t want to tell you how much they paid for the streaming rights to that movie, or how many DVDs they sold of that movie because they want that information for themselves, because that’s power for them.
So, I agree that it’s frustrating and I don’t have good answers.
Craig: Yeah. And it’s the case, if it does poorly it’s embarrassing to them, so they don’t want you to know. And if it does really well then they don’t want you to know how much sick amount of cash they just made off of someone else’s product.
John: Absolutely. So, they’ll show you charts, but I think they show you the charts because they know that charts can sometimes generate sales in itself. So, they want to show you the top 20 selling DVDs because maybe you’ll be one of those top 20 selling DVDs. But it’s just one of those self-fulfilling prophecies many times.
John: Our last question of the day is a long one. So, I’m going to take a deep breath as I read into this. Emma in Rochester, New York, and I’m actually changing Emma’s name for reasons that you’re going to understand why, she writes:
“In December 2010 I began writing a screenplay about and for somebody. It was about a man I barely knew but I thought might have been in love with. We were never ‘together,’ in fact we were barely even friends. I told him how I felt, he rejected me, and then I went on and wrote this screenplay mapping out in detail how much I wanted him.
“I’m a woman with no experience. No experience — read between the lines — so in reality I guess it makes sense that I would do something idiotic that others might even presume is something psychotic. Michel Gondry once said, ‘Every great idea is on the verge of being stupid.’
“My idea of writing a screenplay for someone that didn’t want to, but doing so in trying to make the screenplay hilarious, funny, heartwarming, innovative, and endearing to the point of possibly making that person want to take a second look at you as a woman to me was just that, ‘A great idea on the verge of being stupid.’
“It’s now been 2.5 years since I wrote the first page of the screenplay. In those 2.5 years I’ve only seen this man three times in brief passing at social events. We’re no longer in contact, but he does not know about the screenplay. I went to therapy last year because of major depression and other things, not just him, and am now in a better place. I have stopped editing the screenplay.
“The script is done but in need of a heavy rewrite and edit. Now that I am in this better place I feel odd going back to it. But in the past two years it has always been my goal. People tell me not to ever show this to him in case it ever goes somewhere professionally and that I shouldn’t care what he thinks, but in all honestly I don’t ever think I could not care what he thinks. After all, if anything, he was my muse and to me I care most about what he thinks and I still want to show this to him despite I have more or less moved on.”
I’m going to skip three paragraphs here.
Craig: [laughs] Okay.
John: “I worry that writing this screenplay is no longer ‘good for the psyche.’ And in the same breath I feel like the longer it sits there I’ll wonder what if I had tried doing something with the script. My question is how do I write about someone who has become a distant memory to you and how do you infuse that passion needed to make a good story out of this when this person is someone you’re not even sure as to whether you have feelings for them anymore?”
I muddled that sentence, but you get where we’re at in this situation, Craig.
Craig: Yeah. Well, you know, I kept waiting for that moment when Emma from Rochester would say, “I’ve gotten over this unhealthy obsession with this guy who is, as they say, just not that into you. And now I’m looking at the screenplay as a standalone work of art but I want to adjust it so that it’s not specifically about the things that are irrelevant, like my former obsession with him, and rather could just be something that would be universally interesting to an audience. How do I do that?”
That’s a question I can answer. The problem is she never got there. She’s still…
John: And I don’t think it was even in the paragraphs I cut out.
Craig: [laughs] No. So, she’s still hung up on this guy. And I have to tell you, Emma, that from everything you’ve described here, when you say, “I’ve more or less moved on,” it seems less than more. And you should move on. If you want to write screenplays to entertain audiences in a theater, then do so and write another one. No one has just one screenplay.
And I would suggest, I’m not saying throw this one out, I’m not saying burn it, but put it in a drawer and wait for the day where it is not an instrument to achieve a romantic goal, because that ain’t happening.
John: Yeah. I chose to read this letter because I completely relate to her. And I completely relate to her situation. And I think a lot of writing is sort of obsession. And, you know, it’s exploring those feelings that you sort of dare not actually explore otherwise. And so I’ve been in her situation where you sort of fall in love with people that are never going to love you back. And some of the early writing I did in college was that sort of situation.
And that’s not necessarily healthy or good, but it’s really normal. And so I want to make sure that I underline that what she’s sort of experiencing and going through is totally normal.
John: At the same time I think your suggestion in general is absolutely correct. She does need to set this one aside and work on something completely different that intrigues her and interests her because her interests as a person and her interests as a writer will often overlap but they can’t be exactly the same thing.
She can create a work of fiction and that’s wonderful, but she’s not going to be able to make that work of fiction transform her reality. That’s just not a healthy expectation about what her writing can do.
Craig: Yeah. Screenplays are not particularly good at persuading individuals to fall in love with you. Screenplays are, I think, a great avenue as is much art — a great avenue to exercise any demons you have, to examine your own behavior.
Let me tell you, Emma, that if you wrote a screenplay about this, that would be interesting. If you wrote a screenplay about somebody who is obsessed with somebody who didn’t care about them and really put themselves out there through work of art and was rejected and then found a way to move on, that’s empowering and that’s terrific.
Slightly related, did you ever see The Boys in the Band, John August?
John: Yeah, I’ve seen it. Yeah, of course.
Craig: So, I’d never even heard of this movie and our friend, Ted Griffin, fine screenwriter, he’s reading the William Friedkin autobiography. And he gets to this chapter where he’s talking about The Boys in the Band. And The Boys in the Band is one of these movies that you can watch on YouTube, like somebody separated it into 12 chapters. And, frankly, it is a movie that you absolutely could watch on YouTube because it takes place in essentially a room. It was a stage play that was very successful and then they shot it almost true to being — it was very stage like in its production.
Fascinating movie. I mean, it’s ridiculous at times. It’s dated and somewhat over the top. But, I kind of loved it.
John: I think you need to explain the sort of context. It was one of the very first…
Craig: It’s the first.
John: …movie depictions of gay men as not monsters.
Craig: Well, kind of. Yeah. It was the first filmed depiction of gay men being men, just people, and not tragic figures that end up killing themselves, or objects of ridicule, or side characters.
And it was the first movie that treated gay romance as just romance and problems of gay men as just human problems. And the guy who wrote the play, I think his name is Mart Crowley, was gay at a time when that was almost completely wrapped up in a kind of self-loathing and outsider-ness. And he wrote this play to kind of exercise a lot of demons.
And the main character of the play is a terrible person. And that is, he’s like, “That’s kind of me. I was kind of that guy and this was part of the exercising of that.” And he’s just a cruel, mean person who is wrapped up in hating himself and hating his — both celebrating and hating his homosexuality.
And I thought just as an exercise in cleansing yourself, this was a remarkable act of courage. And so for Emma I would say, okay, cleansing yourself of something is a great muse. It’s a great impetus to write a screenplay. But, feeding something that is unhealthy is not.
John: Yeah. Right now she’s sort of kindling her obsession.
John: And she’s able to revisit all the feelings she has about this guy by working on this script. And that is not going to be a healthy choice for her life or for her writing career.
So, I agree that it may be fascinating for her to pursue sort of the introspection of what is this character who is obsessed with this thing, and what is the funny version of that who like puts on the play. That could be a great story. But, what might also be a better choice is just something that’s completely not that, something else that is actually interesting; something bright that she can move towards rather than this dark sort of tumbling thing that is never going to resolve well.
John: But, if there’s a last bit of encouragement I can put on you here, some of the greatest works of art, of literature, have come out of this kind of obsession over people.
John: And so if you look at Jane Austen’s work it’s kind of about girls obsessed with guys in a way that’s, you know, I don’t know if it was specifically Jane Austen’s situation, but it kind of feels like it was — like that inaccessible guy who finally loves her, that’s a great story and that’s a great thing to pursue. So, you shouldn’t feel afraid about feeling things too deeply. Just don’t keep recycling that feeling to get stuck in this loop with this script about this guy who’s never going to love you back.
John: And also I would say just in a general sense, you need to — in getting over this guy you need to recognize — this is the sort of self help portion of the podcast — you just need to find somebody else who recognizes that you’re awesome and who isn’t this guy. And recognize that they’re awesome for recognizing that you’re awesome and start living a happy, healthy life.
Craig: Yeah. Big time. Absolutely.
John: And that’s our self help section for the show today.
John: I have a One Cool Thing which I worry could be your One Cool Thing, but I’m going to say it first so that I get credit for it.
Craig: Not a chance. Not a chance.
John: Okay. So, my One Cool Thing is a website that Craig knows. It’s called the Internet K-Hole and it’s just amazing. And so it’s a photo blog, and when I say a blog I mean it’s literally in Blogger. And so it already feel vintage just because it’s in Blogger.
So, you go through the site and you feel like you’re looking through some stranger’s photo album, like there is this weird, sort of bizarre druggy nostalgia that’s just super compelling. It kind of feels like — it’s like rock-and-roll and skateboard culture, but there’s also a lot of nudity and there are kittens.
It is not at all safe for work. It’s not safe for children. It’s not safe for…it’s just not safe.
Craig: No. But it’s not gory and it’s not particularly explicit.
John: No, no, it’s not violent. But if you don’t want to randomly come across female genitalia, don’t go to this, because you will come across female genitalia.
Craig: You will. Yes.
John: So, don’t look at this at work. Don’t look at it with your work computers.
What I found so amazing about it, it was this woman Babs, she took some of the photos but mostly she just curated and she created sort of this alternate universe where this thing is happening. And so it’s photos from the ’70s, ’80s, probably early ’90s, and every once and awhile you’ll come across like, oh, there’s the Red Hot Chili Peppers before they were the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Or, there’s Siouxsie & the Banshees.
But what it reminded me most of was there’s this great performance thing in New York called Sleep No More…
Craig: Yeah. It’s funny. I was talking about that with Ted Griffin as well.
John: …which is sort of vaguely inspired by Macbeth. It’s like this site-specific sort of thing you wander through that has narrative but weirdly kind of loops in on itself. And it reminded of that which is you felt like you just tumbled into somebody’s strange dream and you were sort of smothered under too many blankets in a way that’s fantastic.
So, I didn’t go through all of the site. I know people who have gone through everything and sort of experienced the very depths of it, but it’s worth a visit if you are not afraid of genitalia and kittens.
John: And rock-and-roll lifestyle, and are not on a work computer. I would recommend you take a look into the Internet K-Hole.
Craig: It’s so cool. I mean, there’s something about it that manages to recall my memories better than my memories because it’s so mundane. I guess if I were to say one thing that unites all the photos she’s selected here is they’re just total mundanity. They are tacky, but the point isn’t look how tacky. It’s not like People of Walmart which is like, oh my god.
Sometimes the pictures are nothing more than two kids, one drinking from a hose and the other one laughing. But it’s the clothing, it’s the quality of the photographs. It’s all — it truly is a celebration of the most mundane aspects of growing up in the ’70s, and ’80s, and ’90s. And so much of it reminded me of what Staten Island was like in 1979. Just boring and off, but not off in a…
John: But kind of awesome in a way of, like you now, of drinking beer on a porch kind of way.
Craig: Right. It’s funny, when you go through you remember. Like for instance, I’d forgotten the shape of beer bottles. And then everyone is holding those Michelob bottled and I remember my dad holding that Michelob bottle. And I’d forgotten that shape. I’d forgotten so much. It is a cool — it’s cool. It’s bizarre. Totally.
And I guess that’s the thing. It’s bizarre without trying to be bizarre. It’s not bizarre enough to even qualify as bizarre, that’s what’s so bizarre about it.
John: Yeah. Exactly. It’s honest in a way that’s just sort of kind of fascinating.
Craig: Yeah. Very cool. That is a very cool thing. Enjoy tripping through that.
My Cool Thing this week is something called Slacker Radio. Are you familiar with Slacker Radio?
John: I don’t know what it is. Tell me.
Craig: Slacker Radio is, I mean, this is just another nail in the coffin of FM radio. It’s internet-based radio. And I know that you can access it through their website, but I just access it in my car. I think a lot of cars now are coming equipped for it the way that they now become equipped for satellite radio.
And so if your car has essentially a 3G connection or you buy a unit for your car that has a 3G connection, as the Tesla does, then you have access to Slacker. And here’s the beautiful part about Slacker.
So, first of all, it sounds awesome. I don’t know how they made a 3G streaming signal sound better through a really nice car stereo system than either HDFM radio or satellite radio, but they do, so that’s pretty remarkable right there.
And the best part is there are channels, sort of, but not really. Really what there is — I can imagine it’s basically a database of tagged songs. So, for instance, let’s say I want to listen to Les Mis. So I type in Les Mis into their little search thing and, okay, there’s the album Les Mis. I tap on that. That instantly creates a channel called Les Mis. That channel doesn’t just play songs from Les Mis. It plays songs from Les Mis, but it also plays songs that apparently other people who like Les Mis like.
So, it makes an instant radio station for you. And you can customize it and so forth. But the coolest part of it is you can pause. [laughs] And this is like — remember when TiVo happened and you were like, “Oh my god, I’m pausing TV!”
Craig: It’s so great to pause a song. So, when you’re listening to a song in your car, you pull up to where you’re going, and you turn your car off. When you get back in your car it picks it up from where it was.
John: That’s great.
Craig: That’s great. And, also, if you don’t like the song that’s playing you just hit next.
John: I like it. Craig, what is the model that’s sustaining this?
Craig: It’s a subscription-based model. I think that the subscription is bundled with the Tesla. So, it’s essentially the satellite radio model I believe. So, check out Slacker Radio. I don’t know honestly how you get it in your car if it’s not built in already, but I would imagine there’s little thingies the way there used to be for satellite radio, remember when everybody had that little stupid thing. It’s awesome.
Just the fact that, oh, a song comes on, I don’t like it? Next. Wow.
Craig: That is cool.
John: Great. Craig, thank you for a fun podcast.
Craig: Thank you, John.
John: So, standard boilerplate here. If you like our podcast, subscribe to us in iTunes so that we know how many people are listening. And if you are there and you want to leave a rating, that helps other people find us and that’s awesome.
On Twitter I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.
Notes for this episode, and all episodes of the show, can be found at johnaugust.com/podcast.
If you have a question for us you can write email@example.com. There’s some suggestions on the site for about how to phrase those questions so that we’re more likely to answer them.
We do a Three Page Challenge every once and awhile, so if you want to submit the first three pages of your script to us go to johnaugust.com/threepage. That’s spelled out “threepage.” And there are instructions there for how to send those in.
And, that’s it for tonight. Craig, thank you so much.
Craig: See you next time.
- Fade In
- Final Draft
- Screenwriting.io on page numbering and other basic formatting
- Tweet your clams to @johnaugust and @clmazin with #CutItOut
- Scriptnotes, episode 52 featuring Go Into The Story’s list of dialogue clams
- Rentrack and BroadwayWorld
- The Boys in the Band on Amazon
- Internet K-Hole (Warning: NSFW!)
- Sleep No More NYC
- Slacker Radio
- How to submit your question
- OUTRO: Obsession cover by TERMINATRYX