The original post for this episode can be found here.
[John and Craig pretend to be one another]
“John”: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
“Craig”: My name is Craig Mazin.
“John”: And this is Episode 137 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, how are you?
“Craig”: I am doing just fine, John. I got my Diet Dr Pepper here. I got a beautiful summery afternoon. It’s good here. It’s good.
“John”: Well, we’ve got a big show today. We should probably get started on that.
“Craig”: I’m going to sort of jump ahead, if I can jump ahead? Is it okay if I jump ahead?
“Craig”: Because so often on this show, I show up and I don’t have a One Cool Thing and I sort of feel bad, but I think I may have had like the one coolest thing of all. And so, I’m worried that a catastrophe could happen and I wouldn’t be able to share my One Cool Thing. Can I just share my One Cool Thing first?
“Craig”: Okay, so, as I talked about on this show once or twice, I have a Tesla. I have an electric car. It’s a Tesla Sedan and it’s the best car ever made.
“John”: You have mentioned it once or twice.
“Craig”: The Tesla is a fantastic car but like all cars, there are things that come up and there’s this normal maintenance you need to do on a car. You have to keep the car clean. And so that means you take it down the street to the carwash and there’s people in your car and they’re messing stuff up and you have to wash it. In the inside you have to vacuum it. It’s a disaster. You don’t want this to happen at all.
“Craig”: And so, I’m so excited because I think Tesla has finally figured out how to get us past this boondoggle of keeping a car clean. So if you think about the Tesla, you may not know this, but the Tesla, the hood of the car, there’s actually nothing under there. That’s like an extra trunk and you have that sort of extra storage space there. But a lot of people have been speculating like there’s some reason why that’s there. There’s like there’s a big empty space like what is the purpose behind that.
I will tell you, or Elon Musk will tell us what the purpose is behind that. The purpose is that’s there to keep your car clean. A couple of months ago, he made sort of an illusion to what it was going to be. And so people thought like, well, is it going to be like some sort of robot. Is it going to be like a Roomba for your car that comes out and like cleans your car like when it’s charging? That would be kind of cool.
“Craig”: John, just calm down. It’s better than that.
“Craig”: It turns out there’s a lot of stuff inside your car that requires actually some kind of a delicate touch. And so even our best robots, they couldn’t really get in there and like really clean everything. You sort of need to do that by hand, but it’s not just like not my steady fingers. You need like really small little hands. This is what they figured out. It turns out the perfect thing to clean the inside of your car is a monkey.
“John”: Oh, I see, a monkey. Well, that’s very smart.
“Craig”: Yeah. So, essentially, you have a monkey that lives in your car and cleans it. The space that looks like the hood, it’s actually for the monkey to live in there. And so the monkey is in there and then when you’re charging your car a little light goes on and the monkey can come out of a little space that the monkey lives in and clean your car. So it can clean the inside of your car any given time but also keeps supplies in there, it can clean the outside of your car. It can wash your car while you’re in sleeping or doing something else. So that monkey can be a part of your car like an assistant for your car but just like has a little place to live. And so, it’s kind of everyone wins: the monkey gets a house; you keep your car really clean.
“John”: Great. So there’s a monkey in your car that cleans it. Terrific.
“Craig”: Where is the excitement there? I mean, this is an innovative business model here, John. I don’t understand why you’re not seeing the possibility here.
“John”: No, I do. I think that sounds great. A monkey is in your car and he cleans it.
Well, I also have One Cool Thing this week. Craig, you probably do a lot of sleeping.
“Craig”: I try to sleep about four or five hours a night if I can.
“John”: Well, honestly, that’s not quite enough, but I understand why because sleeping is time that we lose. It’s time that we could be spending on productive things with our family or on work or organizing. There’s a wonderful product that I purchased and it — are you smoking an electronic cigarette?
“Craig”: No, I’m not. I’m not. It’s nothing.
“John”: So it’s wonderful product that I purchased. It’s not particularly expensive but it’s really well designed and I have to give the designers credit. They’ve done a terrific job. It’s called the Standing Bed. It’s just like a regular bed, the mattress is like a regular mattress but it’s vertical. So when I sleep, I’m sleeping standing and it turns out this is much better for your joints.
The bed also comes with a built in alert system to help you organize your sleep. So your sleep comes in alpha waves and light sleep and REM sleep and dreaming sleep. And the bed tells you what part of the sleep you should be in. Naturally there are also some workspace areas that are ergonomically designed so that you can take care of things while you’re standing sleeping. It’s terrific and I bought one for everyone in my house. There’s an adjustment period but I think everyone is enjoying it.
“Craig”: Well, you talked about on the show before that like people think that I come from a lot of money but my parents were school teachers and this seems like the kind of thing that like if my parents could have afforded it would have been amazing for our house because it would have like it would have saved some space too, right? I mean, like, you don’t have to have the big floor space of like a bed being down. It could be like up. You could stick this in your closet.
“Craig”: I think it’s a great invention. I don’t see why everyone doesn’t do it.
“Craig”: Between this and your apps, I just feel like you’re working all the time and I think this is good.
“Craig”: John, one more thing. Happy April Fools!
[They stop pretending to be one another]
Craig: I can’t do it anymore. [laughs] It’s so hard. Happy April Fools. It’s so hard to be you. It requires an enormous amount of constraint.
John: Yeah. It does and maintaining that level of sort of like you string a lot of sentences together in a way that I just don’t do and so I did a poor approximation of you.
Craig: No, but it was good. I mean, you did a really good job and it’s much easier for me because I get to be just really calm.
John: Yeah. [laughs]
Craig: I actually wonder because I can’t tell if that made me more or less anxious. I can’t tell if that raised my blood pressure or lowered my blood pressure. Was it more freeing for you or did it raise your blood pressure?
John: Oh, it was absolutely, it was fine for me. I didn’t feel bad at all about this. What you actually described was a very close approximation of a thing that I would love.
Craig: The Standing Bed.
John: A standing bed. [laughs]
Craig: I know. [laughs] That’s like the worst possible thing I can imagine, a standing bed.
John: I was — I wanted, here’s the thing, is like I felt like I would have done the follow-up questions about it, like I would have been horrified about the monkey and so I had a whole like line of stuff like prepared for like — that John August being horrified about what you’re doing to this monkey.
Craig: I know, but the thing is like I never felt like — I think the most horrified reaction you ever give me is just to restate what I’ve said and then silence. [laughs]
John: [laughs] Because I was going to talk about like the monkey disposal and it was going to be great.
Craig: Oh, god, that’s pretty good. Well —
John: It was a whole organic thing.
Well, hello, and welcome to our actual podcast.
John: Today on the show we are going to be talking about how disruption affects TV writers —
Craig: And podcasts.
John: The process of getting a first draft done. And we’re going to answer a bunch of questions from listeners.
John: But first we have some follow up, on formatting, and oh, my god, this thread that I got thread-jacked into on Twitter. I just — I want — come on Twitter. Like, Twitter this last week put out an update that lets you like tag people and photos and stuff like —
John: No, the thing I want you to do more than anything is to be able to like yank myself out of a thread and that I have no desire to be a part of.
Craig: You want an unsubscribe function.
John: So big. I want just that.
Craig: Yeah, every time I did this I just kept laughing because I knew that you were getting tweeted or tweets.
John: Because here’s the thing like this thread like this thread got so big that there were like five names in it, so literally, like people could put two words in addition to the thing. You couldn’t actually have a message —
Craig: That by the way —
John: Because it was all just jammed with the names.
Craig: That annoys me. Like I don’t understand why Twitter penalizes you for adding names on to something. Why should that eat into your message length?
John: What’s weird is that this last week, what they did with photo tagging, it no longer does count against it. So it’s just weird.
I suspect — I honestly think that Twitter names are going to vanish in this next year because they are confusing to new users and they’ll just get rid of them.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, in terms of just being incorporated in the messages like that.
John: Yeah, yeah.
Craig: Yeah, I just don’t understand why if I want to talk to five people why now I’m down to 14 characters. That’s just dumb.
Craig: Regardless. This is this debate that occurred, David Stripinis.
John: That’s what I’m guessing.
Craig: Stripinis, we’ll call him David, is a podcast listener and he works in the visual effects industry I believe.
Craig: And there’s also a guy named VFX Law who I’m guessing is a lawyer in the VFX business. And the two of them got quite umbraged over something that we had suggested doing as part of our hypothetical new screenplay format.
We talked about the idea that if say I were writing a scene and I wrote EXT. MOUNT RUSHMORE, that we would like that to be clickable. So if you clicked on that slug line, a little window would pop up or an image would pop up like a light box kind of thing and you could see an image of Mount Rushmore, in case people were unfamiliar.
Similarly, if I put something like music, Paradise by the Dashboard Light, if somebody clicked on that maybe they could hear a little snippet of it so they can go, “Oh, yeah that song.”
So these guys got super duper, duper upset and they’re super duper upset because they feel like this is a copyright infringement on the images that people are creating. That somebody takes a photo of Mount Rushmore; they put it on their website and now I’m basically taking it, making an illegal copy and embedding it into my screenplay and what’s worse, I’m profiting off of it by selling my screenplay with their image in it.
Now, my initial reaction was, hogwash, argle-bargle, foofaraw. And I say this as somebody that is obviously a believer in copyright because I create content myself. But my problem is that we’re not selling their images to anybody. We’re using them as reference, and this happens constantly throughout the day in any creative business. You’re constantly saying — well, here’s an image, an available image, something that has been made public by somebody. I’m showing this to you not because I’m selling this to you or representing it as my work but rather to say, “Like this. I may do something like this or this is what something looks like.” Not selling it.
And it occurred to me that this became really — I don’t know, it came really ridiculous to me when I started thinking about how this format would actually work because let’s say we’re all on our iPads and we’re all reading the new August-Mazin format on our iPads and it’s connected to the Internet.
And the way we’ve designed it with the reader that is involved is that if I tap on EXT. MOUNT RUSHMORE, essentially a browser window comes up. And the browser window is doing what browsers do, accessing images from somebody’s server somewhere. That’s what browsers do.
When you put an image on a web-hosting site, you are by default saying, you may view this through a browser. That’s okay. But if I embed the image itself somehow, that’s not okay, even though to the naked eye there is no difference whatsoever.
John: So let’s slice through this little part here, because you and I both had it both ways on this topic which is the difference between linking and embedding. So if we think back to the Tarantino scripts that Gawker got — Tarantino sued Gawker for his script. They are arguing, no, we linked to it, we didn’t embed it. And that’s actually — we weren’t violating copyright, we were just providing a link so viewers could find it. So I want to at least acknowledge the fact that that’s a complicated area that we sort of had both ways on.
Craig: It is and it isn’t, because with Tarantino’s screenplay and with the screenplay that you or I write or anybody’s screenplay, we have not put that screenplay ourselves on the Internet. It was stolen or it was put on the Internet by somebody who’s not authorized to do so. But let’s say David Stripinis has a website, I think he does, and there are images on that website. They are designed to be viewed by the public.
Craig: Anybody that writes a browser can view those including you or me.
Craig: At some point, you have to ask if there’s no difference to the visible eye, then what’s the problem?
Well, technically, the problem is copyright is the right to make copies and you’re making a copy and that’s technically against copyright, so let’s talk about this aspect.
I started getting really annoyed by this whole thing because I just thought I was arguing nonsense. It just seemed minutia and it seemed ridiculous and one thing I know about the law is that it’s not as cut and dry as it’s supposed to be or meant to be. That in fact the law takes context into a consideration.
So I decided to talk to a lawyer. This isn’t somebody I know. I asked my attorney, who’s a great copyright attorney that you know, who would be willing to talk to me on a pro bono basis about a question that I have.
And he sent me the name of a guy that I — and I checked on, he’s top-notch. And I called him and I said, “Here’s what we’re talking about doing. The screenplay format and images that we either want to pipe in browser style or take the file from the Web and embed. The idea is that we would not be warranting that we created those images nor would we be publicly distributing those images. This would be for reference to show to people that we’re working for people we’re selling a screenplay to.”
And here’s what he said: Not a problem. He said, look, reference is a real thing especially when you’re talking about publicly available images. He said, if you were to take somebody’s raw image, if somebody took a photograph of Mount Rushmore and you got their raw data, their complete original image and you embedded that massive file into your thing, maybe somebody could possibly get you on that. But he said, there’s a lot of case laws establishing that things like thumbnails or degraded images, essentially compressed images of originals can be used for reference and, yes, it’s fair use. He said, fair use is vague. I mean, fair use is defined on a case-by-case basis. But he said, there are two issues to consider. There’s infringement and then there’s damages.
And he said, in the case of damages there are none. There’s no damage done here. If I walk into an office and I show them a printed out picture of your photograph of Mount Rushmore and I say, “Yeah, here, Mount Rushmore,” there’s no damage there because I’m not stealing anything from them nor am I pretending that it’s mine.
And he said, similarly on the infringement, he goes, look, on an infringement basis, assuming that, I mean, statutory damage is assuming that somebody had registered their work with a copyright obviously and all the rest of it and the rest of it. He said in the case that you’re describing, they would still just get laughed out of the courtroom. It’s stupid.
I mean, his point and my point was, as we discussed it, if I can sit in a conference and open up my laptop and show you the image from somebody’s website, then, frankly, I can show you the image from that website. He said, the things to consider for our format. And he said if you did this, you would be fine: Don’t use the original full resolution photographs that somebody did, but rather use compressed versions, thumbnails, those are sort of established as good reference.
If you can credit or notate from where they are, that is helpful. Place a general disclaimer at the top of the screenplay or the screenplay format that states that any image contained within is not authored by you nor is it for sale but rather for fair use as a reference and for the educational purposes of enlightening people as to what you’re talking about.
He said for music, he said in the case of music don’t play the whole song. That’s sort of the equivalent of don’t show the full res image. Play five or 10 seconds so people get a sense of it. But this argument that these guys have seems to be about something entirely different which is this fear that they’re going to get ripped off, specifically the fear that they’re going to create a work of art, a creative work of art, we’re going to look at it and then we’re going to basically steal it by changing a little bit of it and then putting it out there.
But I have news for them. If it’s on their website, then anyone can look at it right now and do that.
Craig: What we’re talking about changes none of that.
John: Yeah, and that’s where I got most frustrated by this thread that I got sucked in to was that sense that, you know, we’re talking in a vague sense about this different kind of format and there’s this outrage about like, well, people are going to do this and they’re going to do these horrible things. It’s like, to me, it’s like, if you built a car, somebody could use that car to like run over people or to like drive liquor across state lines. There’s all these terrible things you could do with that new technology.
Well, it’s like, that’s not both the purpose of it but it’s also not the technology’s fault. It’s like we’re talking about like could a person commit copyright violations with something? Yes, they can do that with anything. They can do that with a photocopier. They can do that with any machine that can sort of duplicate anything, can create a copyright violation. That’s not what this is about whatsoever.
The other thing which I think that this has showed was like a — and this may have been partly, I wonder if this is sort of how where their head was at, is that, it’s very common when you’re pitching a project, especially if you’re a director pitching a project, to do what’s essentially called a rip reel.
And a rip reel is where you take existing footage from other movies and maybe some stuff you shoot yourself and paste it together to show this is what the movie feels like. This is how I would shoot it. This is what it looks like.
And if you’re doing a big VFX-heavy film, maybe you are actually grabbing a lot of sort of VFX stuff and maybe that is what they are pissed about is that that’s the kind of stuff that’s getting pulled and it looks like their work is getting used to make someone else’s movie. But it’s really, it’s getting that next person’s movie green lit. And it’s not the actual finished work. It’s just like a part of getting the job.
Craig: Right, and there’s this kind of bizarre thing where, like, “I got you that job.” No, you didn’t. Referring to something is referring to something. It’s not representing as yours.
The whole point is I didn’t do that. Everybody knows that in the room. If somebody goes and makes a presentation on the kind of movie they want to shoot and they take a clip from Big Fish or they take a clip from Hangover or whatever, why would I even care? I don’t even know it’s happening. It doesn’t matter. It’s not for the public. It’s not being sold.
They might as well be talking about it in their living room while they’re watching it. It’s ridiculous. Their argument is willfully oblivious to the way the world actually functions and has always functioned. And their kind of moral consternation that an image they make publicly available should be referred to without their expressed written consent is insane.
Craig: It’s insane. And also, not legally valid. So, there’s no legal argument there that they can stand on. There is absolutely no moral argument at all. I mean, again, I just want to draw the line between stuff the creator makes publicly available and stuff the creator gets stolen from them.
If you create an image in your house or on your computer that isn’t on the Web and somebody hacks into your computer and steals it or somebody that you give it to for private use publishes it online, that’s different. You got ripped off. You got hacked. And that was not your intention.
I understand that you’d want to withdraw that or pull that back, just as Quentin Tarantino didn’t want his script out there. But if you put it on your website, I mean, for the love of god, it’s out there in the world, people are going to talk about it. If I publish a screenplay online on a website, am I really going to be outraged when somebody goes into a meeting and hands somebody printed pages from it and says, “I like this scene, I’m going to write a scene like this.” That’s insane.
John: That is insane. So, to close this up, I would say, I think it’s appropriate to have moral and ethical outrage when someone takes work and represents it as their own when it was not their own. That, I don’t think anyone is going to argue about that. We’re just coming down on the side that using something as reference, saying like, we’re aiming for something like this is not the same as representing that as your work and there’s a clear distinction there.
There’s a video I put up on the site this week where Michael Arndt, our friend Michael Arndt, did this great talk about writing the first part of Toy Story 3. And so someone had tweeted a link about it and so I looked at it and I was like, oh, this is really, really great. I’m so surprised I haven’t seen it because this is like animated and like where is this is from.
And so then I checked the person whose YouTube thing it was on and it’s like, well, he obviously didn’t make this so like where is this from? And I couldn’t find it anywhere else. And so, that was a case where I felt really shady linking to it or putting it on the site because like I don’t know where this is from and this is clearly not some amateur thing.
So I wrote to Michael Arndt.
John: And said like where is this from? And he told me where it’s from. He told me it was an extra on the Toy Story 3 Blu-ray from a couple of years ago. He was cool with me doing it. Disney might not be cool with me doing it, and you what, if Disney’s not cool with it, I’ll just take it down.
John: But like it was a thing that can be out in the world and no one is getting ripped off here is the point. And I was making a moral choice about sort of what ethical choice about when I felt it was okay to link to it and when it wasn’t okay to link to it.
Craig: Yeah, nobody is getting ripped off and, frankly, you wouldn’t have even had that ethical choice if what you were considering was whether or not to show it to three people in an office and say, “What do you think of this?”
Craig: There would have been no ethical issue there whatsoever, just as there isn’t for our work. And I think that lurking behind all of this is this thing that we see in screenwriters far too often and apparently it’s the case with visual effects artists where they believe that they’re constantly being ripped off. Guess what? You’re ripping off people too.
Everybody is ripping everybody off to some extent. Copyright isn’t it a lock box where nobody can draw a werewolf anymore. We’re all allowed to draw our own werewolf and I’m allowed to look at your werewolf and say, “I like parts of this werewolf, I’m going to be inspired by that werewolf but I’m going to do my own werewolf.”
That’s life. That happens and everybody is like, you know, we just did this show where people are like, “Oh, my god, that’s my movie.” And similarly, “Oh, my god, that’s my…” and in the middle of this discussion, another person says, “Well, I’ve had my work ripped off nine times by a studio.” I don’t know what to say about that. That has nothing to do with what we’re talking about. We’re just talking about reference.
Craig: Reference! [laughs]
John: So we won’t get into it this week but next week I want to talk through what the actual format of screenplay like material looks like because we got a great length a listener sent in from Clockwork Orange.
Craig: Oh, I love that, yeah.
John: That showed like what his layout was on the page, which was bizarre and it was sort of more like what a stage play layout would be, but it was fine. It was like recognizable. You could see sort of what things were supposed to be. We should also talk about multi-cam, because I find multi-cam incredibly frustrating to read but that’s just my own bias.
So, let’s talk about some different way of laying stuff out on the page next week.
Craig: Right. So we’re going to do some questions now or we’re going to do some — ?
John: First of all, I want to talk about TV stuff.
Craig: Oh, yeah.
John: Because there were some great links that got sent through and it’s also very applicable to what’s happening WGA wise right now. So, TV, if you’ve watched TV in the last couple of years, you’ve noticed that things have changed. And so some of the big changes are, of course, the entrance of Netflix, and to some degree, Amazon — the dominance of one-hour dramas and especially in cable.
John: Especially on the HBOs and the premium channels. And with these new kinds of shows, seasons have gotten a lot shorter. So rather than 22 episodes, the classic model of TV was 22 episodes. Then they’d take a break during the summer and they’d come back in the fall and that’s how everything worked.
Now seasons are a lot shorter and I think as a viewer that’s going to be kind of great, and I think the quality has actually improved partly because of these shorter seasons.
The challenge is that it puts weird pressures on writers. So some of the pressures which were referenced in the email to Writers Guild members about the negotiations is that writers on TV series are being held under options of exclusivity for all the time that they’re not — that show isn’t running.
John: So you could have written, you know, on a show, you could have written a 13-episode order of a show. Nine months later, those episodes finally start airing and then six months later they finally decide like, “Oh, you know what? We’re going to order another season.”
John: Well, that could have been a year that you were basically unemployed being held under contract in that original series.
Craig: Yeah, they’re holding you for like you’re working on a 26-episode season or something but you’re really only working on a 13-episode season or a 9-episode season. That’s a problem.
John: Yeah, we’ll want to talk with the WGA people about that when the negotiations are finished. But two other interesting articles that came out this last couple of weeks that I wanted to talk through.
First is by Derek Thompson for The Atlantic who asked a provocative question, “Is House of Cards really a hit?” And the question is essentially we used to know what we meant by hit, which is basically how many eyeballs, how many viewers are watching that show and how is it growing week to week.
But when you have something like House of Cards on Netflix which is distributed all at once and a person can like binge watch all 13 episodes or space them out. They can watch them in any timeframe they wish to watch them in, it becomes much harder to say whether that show is a hit or not a hit particularly because Netflix has no obligation to reveal any of its numbers. It doesn’t have advertisers. It has no incentive to say this is how many people are watching it. It’s entirely a private decision.
Craig: Moreover they refuse to say.
John: Exactly. They refuse to say.
Craig: They know, they just won’t say.
John: And this is a question that, you know, back when Sue Naegle was running HBO, I asked her at lunch one day, it’s like, “Well, how do you figure out what shows to keep and what shows to not keep? Is it about by viewers?” She’s like, “Yes, but then also you survey, you figure out what show if we didn’t have people would cancel the service.”
John: And that’s essentially what Netflix’s decision is. It’s like, they want their House of Cards and their Orange is the New Black. They want a diverse slate so that, man, you’ve got to watch them. And so there’s at least one show there that you definitely want to watch and that you’re willing to keep subscribing to that show. So it’s just a very different way of thinking about what is a hit.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, for paid television of any kind or I guess you’d call it subscriber-based television, the only way to define a hit is something that the company is willing to renew.
Craig: And their criteria for that could be whatever they feel like including fancy, including critical acclaim, attract other artists that we’re interested in, profile, general company branding. It could be anything but when you’re talking about a subscription base or a model of any kind, eyeballs are completely irrelevant. If one person watches it, but it’s talked about constantly and your actors have their faces on the cover of magazines with your company name, it’s a hit.
John: It is a hit.
John: Yeah, I think the question should be. You’re a hit if you can get Entertainment Weekly to give you the cover and that to some degree is one of the qualifiers. If there’s a big enough segment of your possible viewing audience who desperately want to watch that show, you’re a hit.
Craig: Yeah, pretty much.
John: So the second article that was, from this last week, is also kind of about Netflix but it’s really about broadcast. And I found it really fascinating because it’s a question I’ve often had and sort of addresses that questions, which is why when you go to watch back episodes of a show in its current season can you only get the last five episodes. Because there’s been a lot of times where I would love to catch up on a show that people say is really great but you can’t actually get all of the episodes. They’ll only have a certain number of them out that are available for you to see.
John: Sometimes you can buy the whole — you can buy each of the episodes on iTunes but there’s no way to like on Hulu or Netflix to get stuff within the season.
John: And so that’s called in-season stacking and it’s a fight between networks and studios. Studios basically don’t want to show you all of the season. They don’t want you to be able to get to all of the season at once because they want you to come back and watch it in reruns. Studios still want you to watch shows in reruns because that’s where they used to make their money.
John: Networks would be delighted to show you any episodes you want anytime you want as long as it’s going to keep building the audience for the show.
Craig: So let me ask you, what’s interesting about this? NBC wants to do in-season stacking and run the whole season but Universal television does not want that. What’s odd about that?
John: They are the same company.
Craig: They are the same company. Now, can someone explain this to me after all — I mean, look, it used to be easy. Studios couldn’t own networks and vice versa. There was Fin-Syn and all that and that then went away.
But now that they are all owned by the same parent company, I just don’t understand, I mean, why can’t they just figure this out internally. Why can’t ABC and Disney figure this out? Why can’t CBS and Paramount figure this out? I don’t get it.
John: Well, this article we’ll link to is by Marcus Wohlsen in Wired, and what it’s arguing, I think, ultimately is that even within a company, you have to recognize that the studio side has some different goals than the network does. And the studio is looking at this property for how do we get to — it doesn’t necessarily have to be a hundred of episodes anymore, but how do we make this show make us a lot of money both in broadcast right now but also at all the other markets after it’s been off the network TV. So they’re looking at this property in a very long-term space. The network is looking at this, you know, what do we do on a Monday night, what do we do on Tuesday night.
John: They kind of don’t care about the long-term value of something.
Craig: Well, I get that the individual fiefdoms have their priorities. At some point, some one ring to rule them all must be looking in a big picture way say, “Well, this is going to make us the most money in totality in the end, so this is what we’ll all do, so the other parts of you just shut up because this is what I’ve decided.” What was interesting to me was that, Netflix pays a ton, a ton for the right to do this in-stacking, in-season stacking and they basically said, “Look, if the networks start doing this, we’ll pay you much less.”
Craig: And to that I could easily see the networks saying, “Yeah, we don’t care, because, you know, then theoretically, we’ll be getting more business and your eyeballs and make you less relevant.”
John: It’s the ongoing evolution of what is a network. Is a network a place that distributes tonight’s television or is a network a brand like HBO and these are all the shows within that brand? And as networks try to maintain their brand, that may be sort of where they’re going to. It’s like they want you to come to NBC to watch the NBC shows.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, I would have to say currently that there is no network that is a brand. No broadcast network is a brand. I don’t know what NBC stands for.
John: No, nor do I.
John: And they don’t stand anything. I mean, that’s the whole point of —
John: Yeah, Fox is probably the closest I can think of to a brand and they started kind of as a brand. But —
Craig: Are they? I mean, they’re —
John: Yeah, different nights are very different. It’s true.
Craig: Yeah, I think the whole point of broadcasting is we’ll give you everything. We’ll give you late night. We’ll give you a comedy. We’ll give you drama. We’ll give you 8 o’clock family stuff. We’ll give you 10 o’clock not family stuff. They do everything. And there’s so much content. Oh, and we’ll do reality and we’ll do news and we’ll do this and we’ll do that. They’re everything.
Craig: And so, yeah, a supermarket can’t be a mom-and-pop store or a boutique. It’s just never going to work.
Craig: Well, listen man, TV is just cuckoo nuts.
Craig: I can’t keep up.
John: All right. Let’s get to some questions.
First question comes from James and it’s actually a question about Courier Prime so I put it in here because I’m curious what your opinion is on this as well.
John: James says, “I switched to Courier Prime several months ago and found it preferable to all the other versions. However, I’ve come across one aspect that has bugged me. This sounds awfully pedantic but I imagine in font design there is no such thing. I recently started working on an old script and the first thing I did was change the font from Courier Final Draft to Courier Prime. I always underline my scene headers and notice that the Prime underline is so close to the bottom of the text that they touch. In Courier Final Draft there’s a separation which I find to be much cleaner. I hope this is not perceived to be a criticism especially when it’s a free gift to writers.” So the question really is underlining. Do you underline in scripts, Craig?
Craig: Very rarely.
Craig: Very rarely.
John: So what situations do you underline?
Craig: If I really feel that there is a word that needs to be stressed but a reasonable reader would not know that it needs to be stressed, and I feel like an italic isn’t quite right, I will very occasionally throw an underline in there. And by the way, I use Courier Prime and I’ve never noticed an issue with where the underline is.
John: Yeah, I’ve never seen the touching either. So I’m sort of surprised that this is happening, but we’ll investigate and I’ll follow up with him about what his deal is.
John: And it could be that it’s a PC thing or there’s some other reason why that’s happening. I don’t underline very much at all but I do underline maybe once in a script if there is some line of scene description of action —
John: That if you missed it, like you’re going to miss a hugely important moment or thing. So it’s a way to stop skimming. It’s to give you that one underline.
John: But you do it too much, people are just going to stop paying attention.
Craig: Yeah, I guess, that’s exactly right. I will occasionally underline a line of action if it’s the big reveal or the Holy Crap moment. But I tend to use bold. I bold my slug lines. I would find that underlining to be really jarring to the eye. It would just become mush, page after page to see an underline slug line. I’m not a big fan of that. I will use italic more for emphasis then if I need to.
Craig: But I try to avoid all that stuff anyway.
John: Courier Prime gives you a nice italic so you can use it when you need it.
John: A question from Tony in Long Beach. “If you write a script using the existing property, not with the intention of selling it but as a fun exercise to show off skills, will anyone read it? Can you post it online or will you be sued for stealing other people’s ideas?”
Craig: So, getting back to our copyright discussion, you have without permission created a derivative work of somebody else’s work and now you’re putting it online and you’re putting it online with your name on it. Another copyright holder would absolutely have the right to call you and say, “Take that down.”
Craig: You’re not allowed to do that without my permission. I did not put my work out there publicly for you. You’re not referencing it. You’ve made a derivative work. You have altered it and republished it publicly.
Craig: So, yeah, no, I think that that’s a no, no.
John: Oh, I’m going to disagree with you. So I would say weirdly there’s a long tradition of people doing this. There was a Wonder Woman script that a guy just like wrote on spec and that Warner Bros ended up buying. There is classically Aliens vs. Predator, one of the first incarnations of that was just a spec script a guy wrote that sort of combined Aliens and Predators. So that does happen.
In a very general sense, people all the time will sort of do a spec adaption of a book. It’s not usually generally a well-known book but if it’s something they really like they’ll do it. But the standard caveats apply. You’ve written something that you cannot possibly sell and you’re going to have to publicly acknowledge at all points, like, I don’t actually own or control this.
And so, there’s a downside to it but all at the same time, I don’t want you to sort of not write the thing you want to write just because of those — I don’t — better to ask forgiveness than ask permission in some cases.
Craig: Well, I actually don’t think we disagree. I’m totally fine with the idea of doing a fan fiction script and handing it to a studio and saying, “Look, you might not want this, but if you like the writing, hire me to do something else.” You’re right. That happens all the time. It is high risk, high reward.
I mean, we talked to Kelly Marcel about when she was writing Saving Mr. Banks. They didn’t have Disney’s permission. They’re putting all this stuff in with not only Walt Disney as a character but it’s including songs from Mary Poppins. It’s about the writing of the songs and all the rest. They’re like, “We just don’t have permission. We’re going to write it and then we’ll give it to Disney and see what they say.”
The difference here is that this guy is saying, “I want to put it online.” That I don’t think you can do. I don’t think you can distribute your work publicly if it’s derivative of somebody else.
John: Craig, would you consider putting it up on Blcklst.com, just putting it online?
Craig: No, I think that you can make the argument that that’s essentially not public. In other words, that is a curated site that is subscribed to by individuals. It’s not like just literally putting it on the web for everyone to see with your name on. That’s where I think it might get a little dicey.
John: Yeah, I think you’re less likely to run into issues there. So I would separate this down to what is legally the correct, what is morally correct and what is practically correct. And so, legally, you are violating copyright doing that. They may not care about it, but you’re not in the clear.
Craig: That’s why I’m talking about this public stuff, because when you talk about this you have to ask, well, who has been damaged and how? If you publicly distribute this script across the entire Internet for anyone to read, you can make an argument that you’ve damaged my ability to — you’ve damaged my reputation because somebody thinks I’ve licensed this or you’ve damaged my trademark or my interest in this material because you’ve disseminated it widely, as opposed to putting it on the Black List where it’s quietly looked at and understood by professionals to be an example.
John: One example that comes to mind is it’s incredibly common in television to write spec episodes of shows. And so, that’s a classic way people get hired on things is to write an episode of CSI or to write an episode of Sleepy Hollow as a writing sample.
John: And that’s done all the time.
John: So, in television you should never feel weird about doing that because that’s business as usual.
John: Our next question comes from Manchester, and so I’m not sure if that’s a person who lives in Manchester or a man named Chester. It could be any of these things.
But he or she writes, “Are there good, professionally-written scripts that you’ve read that might not do so well in a Three Page Challenge because, well, those first three pages just don’t work until you get to page four or five or six?
“As an example, pages one or two set up some sort of world, then page three changes that to a seemingly different world which is often inauspicious from your good writing perspective and it make good complete sense if you were to read page. I’m not suggesting that it’s okay to be unclear on pages one through three, and if you have some amazing reveal on page five and the rest is the best written script ever. Are there some good scripts that are simply not candidates for The Challenge? And if so, how would John and Craig describe this to people thinking about submitting?”
Craig: It’s a very good question. My instinct is to say no, that we are not looking at these three pages as needing to give us more plot or needing to give us any plot or any story. I have no problem if the world shifts suddenly and dramatically. I just want it to be good writing and I want it to be interesting. And I would think that any good script does have two interesting pages. For instance, we talked about The Social Network the other time, the other podcast.
Craig: So it opens with dialogue. Just two people sitting at a table, in a bar, and a stream of dialogue, just ribbons of dialogue. But it’s so good. It’s just specific really good dialogue. I don’t think there’s any — I can’t imagine that we would ever look at the first three pages of a good screenplay and go, “What?”
John: Maybe not. So, people who are new to the show, there was actually an episode, we’ll figure it out and put in the show notes, where Craig and I did our first scripts and we did our first scripts as a Three Page Challenge. And that was revealing because they weren’t awesome and there was potential but there was also really a lot of problems in those first three pages.
And I guess, it might be interesting to take a look at the first three pages of some really good scripts and see what they’re doing and maybe make a special bonus episode where we just talk about some really good first three pages.
I can imagine there might be some scripts of movies that I ended up loving that I don’t know that I would have recognized that I would love them based on its first three pages. I think about the kinds of criticisms we often make in a Three Page Challenge, like, I don’t know what this movie is, I don’t know the world of this movie is, I don’t feel comfortable or grounded and that’s entirely possible. Like, I haven’t read the script for The Matrix, but there’s a lot going on in The Matrix and I wonder if after the three pages I might be like, “I don’t know what this is.”
Craig: It’s possible.
John: The world is big and crazy.
Craig: It’s possible, but I have to say that sometimes when we say, “I don’t know what the world is,” we’re not saying and we must always know what the world is.
Craig: I think sometimes we’re just saying that the writer doesn’t know what the world is. What we’re picking up on is a lack of control over your own screenplay.
Craig: I don’t mind not knowing stuff as long as I know you don’t want me to know it yet and that you want me to know what you’re showing me and what you’re showing me has purpose and is interesting in and of itself.
John: More than anything I would say, after reading a bunch of screenplays and a bunch of Three Page Challenges, you really quickly recognize good writing or you recognize a good writer. And that’s going to, no matter what is actually the content with those pages in some ways, you recognize like this person has a skill for slinging the words on the page and making me want to keep reading to the next page. I don’t think it’s innate. I think it’s a learned thing, but I think it’s a thing that some people are going to be great at and other people are not going to be great at and you can tell after three pages.
Craig: No question.
John: I have an actual One Cool Thing this week. Do you have an actual One Cool Thing?
Craig: Oh, god. No.
John: It’s all right. My One Cool Thing this week is a thing we started using here in the office. It’s called Slack and it’s kind of great. So it’s team management software but it’s really like chat software.
Craig: Just like the standing bed.
John: It’s just like the standing bed.
Craig: I really want credit. I nailed it.
John: You nailed it. It was great.
Craig: Nailed it!
John: So what Slack is for is basically any small group or any small project and especially software, you end up like emailing stuff back and forth a lot and you probably found this like in production, too, where like you’re constantly sending these little emails back and forth and you sort of lose track of emails and you sort of wish they could sort of all be grouped together.
This is sort of like chat software but for the small teams. And so, basically, everyone signs into this thing and it’s an app window that stays open in the corner. It’s also on your phone and you can just type in to these channels and like discuss things or drag in screenshots. You can talk through stuff. You can drag in links and it’s incredibly smart. And so now even like when on Twitter if someone tweets Quote-Unquote Apps that tweet shows up in there and we can respond to it immediately right there. It’s just genius. So it’s a subscription service. It’s all web-based and I thought it was just fantastic.
Craig: Well, that actually does sound pretty cool. I must admit. Although, I don’t have people that I have to do that with generally speaking.
John: And that’s where I would sort of stress is that it’s good if you are the right kind of small team. And so, like a small production would be fantastic for it. So, like where you have, you know, the AD needs to be able to talk to, you know, the production designer needs to be able to talk to the costume designer. Like that kind of stuff that needs to go back and forth really quickly would be fantastic for this kind of thing.
John: But for software, it’s just awesome.
Craig: For software, I can see it’s huge, yeah. Well, I guess, it’s funny, I realize now that I do have a One Cool Thing and it’s something that I forgot to turn on which caused me trouble in this podcast. When we’re doing the podcast and we’re recording, I don’t know about you but I’m not really — maybe you are because you’re looking at questions and stuff but I’m not touching my computer.
Craig: I’m not moving my mouse around. And like everybody, I’ve got my computer set to go to sleep or not go to sleep but if it’s not doing anything, the monitor will go off.
Craig: And like most people, I have a password on my computer, so now I got to put the password in or do the knock thing on the phone. It’s annoying.
And there is this tiny little app called Caffeine and it sits up in your menu bar. It’s for Mac OS. It’s just an empty coffee cup and then you click it and it’s a full coffee cup. When it’s a full coffee cup, it’s not going to go to sleep.
John: That’s brilliant.
Craig: Your computer won’t go to sleep. The display won’t go to sleep. It doesn’t matter. You can walk away for a year, it’ll still be on. And then when you’re done, you click it, coffee empty, it will go to sleep.
Craig: So I forgot to fill my coffee cup, then I did and it works so elegant.
John: Yes. That is our show for this week. So you can find the links to the things we talked about in our show notes at johnaugust .com/scriptnotes. It’s also there you can find transcripts to all of our previous episodes.
You can listen to all the back episodes both there on the site but also through the Scriptnotes app for the iPhone and for Android, so check your app store. And weirdly, like a bunch of people have suddenly started using the app, so we get statistics and like it just went crazy hockey stick big, so whoever is using that and enjoying that, that’s great.
John: So the app is actually the best way if you want to listen to like really early episodes, you can do that. And Rawson Thurber actually emailed me saying like, “But I’d like the app but I want to be able to like download an episode for it so I can listen to it like while I’m on a plane or something.” You just tap the star. You tap the star and it downloads the episode.
Craig: Yeah, Rawson, tap the star.
John: Just tap the star. It’s actually completely unintuitive. We didn’t design the app but it’s out there.
Craig: God, Rawson, tap the star.
John: Tap the star.
Craig: Tap it.
John: But if you want to listen to some of the first hundred episodes or actually all of the first 100 episodes, we still have a few of those USB drives that have all 100 episodes so you can find those at the store.johnaugust.com.
Scriptnotes is produced by Stuart Friedel and edited by Mathew Chilelli who also wrote the outro for the show this week. So listen to that. If you have a question for me, you can write me at johnaugust or @johnaugust on Twitter. Craig is @clmazin.
If you have a longer question like the ones we answered today, you can write to email@example.com and we occasionally open the mail bag and answer those questions.
Craig: [creepy Craig] Hey, John, that was a pretty good episode.
John: Thank you. I was going to try to do sexy Craig and I just couldn’t do it.
Craig: You don’t try to do sexy Craig, you just be sexy Craig.
John: And have a good week.
Craig: No, it’s terrible. You’re not doing it.
John: I’m not doing it. I’m not going to try to do it.
Craig: I know you shouldn’t try. You can’t try. Bye.
John: [attempts creepy voice] Yeah, yeah.
Craig: Oh, no, that starts to sound like Beavis. That’s the least sexy thing I’ve ever heard. Shame on you John August.
John: Yeah. See you.
- Tesla Model S
- Monkeys on Wikipedia
- Standing beds by Ernesto Neto and Jamie O’Shea
- The Twitter thread on linking to media
- Fair use on Wikipedia
- Is House of Cards Really a Hit?
- Netflix and In-Season Stacking
- Scriptnotes, Episode 58: Writing your very first screenplay
- Caffeine for OSX
- The Scriptnotes App for iPhone and Android
- Outro by Scriptnotes editor Matthew Chilelli