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 Claire Schaeffer.
John: And this is episode 143 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Claire, why Claire? What is the reason behind Claire Schaeffer?
Craig: Claire Schaeffer is a senior, a 12th grader, at Flintridge Prep here in La Cañada and she is a devoted fan of our show apparently. My son, I believe did a musical with her and she’s a fan of the show and so I promised Jack that I would give her a little shout-out.
John: Well, that’s very, very nice. I worried that there had been news in your life that I had missed out on. Huge life decisions had happened in between our weeks of normal recording the show.
Craig: You know that if I wanted to be a women, I would have just simply hurdled into surgery. I don’t…
John: Craig Mazin doesn’t stop and think. He just goes right for it. He finds the best surgeon and if that’s too expensive then he finds the second best surgeon and that’s the one he uses.
Craig: Sometimes the second best is the worst one. You know that whole theory of the most overpriced bottle of wine on a menu is the second most expensive one.
Craig: Because nobody wants to buy the most expensive one so they buy the second most expensive one. Everyone knows that so they jack the price of that one up.
John: Many restaurants will actually deliberately stick an incredibly overpriced bottle on there so they can keep moving the second most expensive one.
Craig: It’s a real-estate agent trick. They’ll take you to a house that they know is wildly overpriced just to completely throw you off so that when you see one that’s normally priced you think you’re getting a deal.
John: That’s so good.
Craig: It’s a world of lies out there basically. [laughs] It’s just lies. We’re surrounded.
John: [laughs] The screenwriting advice here is that if your script is a little bit long, make sure that people are reading really, really long scripts right in front of yours and then your 130-page script will seem like, oh, that’s reasonable.
Craig: Breath of fresh air.
John: Yes. It’s benchmark setting.
This is going to be one of those shows, Craig, that is almost completely random. You and I both have many tabs opened in our browser because there are so many little thing to talk about.
John: And we’re going to try to get through all of them today. We’re going to talk about the first screenwriting book ever from 1912. We will talk about tropes and archetypes.
John: We will talk about Barry Levinson and his unhappy credit arbitration situation.
John: We’ll answer a question about managers. We’ll talk about film critics who are watching screeners rather than a big movie on a big screen. They’re watching a little movie on a little screen. We’re going to talk about keeping secrets from your readers, how you keep something on the page that’s different than what people might see on the screen.
John: We’ll talk about what happens to a Broadway show after it leaves Broadway which is the situation we’re in now with Big Fish which is really interesting and so different from anything in film or television. And, finally, we will do some more One Cool Things from the archives. We will look at which One Cool Things are still cool and which ones we’ve completely forgotten about.
Craig: Oh, boy.
Craig: Oh, god.
John: This is that show, that show with so much. And in all those things that didn’t even include the things we’re doing follow up on. So there’s still more.
Craig: All right. Let’s hydrate here. This is going to be rough.
John: While Craig is hydrating I will say that voting is open now for the Live Three Page Challenge. If you’re listening to this on Tuesday when the episode comes out, you can vote on Tuesday or Wednesday until noon for your favorite of the 57 entries for the Three Page Challenge, so they’re all at johnaguust.com/threepagelive, all spelled out, all one word. And you can see all those entries from different people. You can read them all and you can vote for up to three of your favorites. And one, two, or three of those will be discussed on the live show Thursday along with our special guest panelist judge, Susannah Grant.
Craig: Spectacular. Are there still tickets available for this event?
John: You know, it’s completely unclear. I watched the website this morning. We’re recording this on a Friday and it still showed the ability to purchase tickets, so if you’re listening to this on Tuesday and you’ve not otherwise seen me tweet that it is sold out, I’d say come, because they’ll be able — we’ll find a seat for you. So come to the show. It’s at the Writers Guild Theatre in Beverly Hills.
John: Yay. One of the interesting things about having all of these 57 samples all showing up at once is that they were just sitting in a folder on my desktop. And I thought, you know what, I wonder what screenwriting software people are using to write these different entries. And so I looked at all the metadata and figured it out. So, Craig, what percentage of these entrants would you guess were written in a Final Draft?
Craig: I have to say a number that’s going to bum me out, but I’m going to say 90%.
John: Ooh, it’s quite a bit lower than that.
Craig: Oh, really?
John: It’s about 54%.
Craig: Oh, that’s spectacular news.
John: So that 54% is when you add together Final Draft 8, Final Draft 9, and Final Draft 7. And so I kept them separated in little charts. There’s going to be a link to the chart in the show notes.
Essentially, Final Draft 8 was by far the most common thing; 18 out of the 57 entries were written in Final Draft 8. But a wide range of other software showed up there. So Fade In showed up there.
John: Strong. Slugline was there.
John: Screenwriter, Celtx, Highland, even some ones were written like TextEdit or Word were there too.
John: So it was interesting that people were trying different things.
Craig: Well, that is. I have to say that number is exciting to me. I want to see that. I mean, listen, I’m sure the people at Final Draft are like, “Oh, my god, is this guy really doing this again to us.” But, you know, there’s no reason that Final Draft should have even 50%. Final Draft should have 5%. It is simply not the best available option out there. I don’t believe it is the best available option. But it is the most expensive available option. So that to me that should intersect around 5% of people that just bought it once a long time ago and don’t feel giving up.
John: I would say that, you know, 58 scripts is a very small sample size but it was an interesting sample size because I feel like the people who are going to be applying or answering in to the Three Page Challenge are going to be aspiring screenwriters. And aspiring screenwriters are people who probably bought screenwriting software recently or services in the case of things like WriterDuet or Celtx. So they’re honestly sort of in that next wave and if that next wave is not fully embracing Final Draft, that’s a change for that application.
John: I can also say in sort of anecdotally because I sell one of the apps that actually is there, we do keep track of the rankings of the different apps in the App Store. So all the screenwriting apps that are sold through the Mac App Store we can look and see where they’re ranked in the productivity category. And actually we have applications that chart sort of how we do. And the last couple of weeks things have actually changed and so for the first time Highland is sometimes surpassing Final Draft in number of units sold.
John: Which is great. We are priced a lot less than Final Draft, so our actual total gross is a lot less but it’s nice that people are using it.
Craig: I think that’s great. I am happy to see competition doing what it’s supposed to do.
John: Yes, creating an ecosystem is a lovely thing.
John: We have a follow up from Matt Selman who is a writer who is an executive producer of The Simpsons.
John: And he wrote in to say, “Hi, guys, Scriptnotes’ listener Matt Selman here. I was enjoying your bit on Alloy and fan fiction and vampires. It’s a couple episodes back. And I just had to chime in about a Simpsons episode we did on just that topic, sort of. I produced a show called The Book Job in which Lisa is disillusioned again to find that her favorite Tween kids books are just product pumped out by an Alloy-like publishing house. Then a lot of crazy Oceans 11-type stuff happens. It’s actually a show about the challenges of authorial creation, business versus originality, the perils of procrastination, and an attempt at justifying/invalidating the joys of group writing which is the majority of what I do when I’m not writing emails to you instead or finishing a script.
“Maybe your listeners would get a kick out of watching it or at least it merits a link in the show notes. Sorry, it’s only on iTunes for The Simpsons Season 23 or they can pirate it.”
John: [laughs] He wrote that and I didn’t add the whole, “Or you can pirate it” thing.
Craig: Oh Matt. First of all, Matt I believe is the showrunner of The Simpsons. He’s a spectacularly good guy. He’s a smart guy. And he is — I’ve come to know some Simpsons writers over the years, Jay Kogen who’s sort of all the way back from the beginning but guys along the way like Daniel Gould and so on and so forth and Matt is, he just fits that, the guys who work on The Simpsons are just smart guys.
Craig: They’re not funny and great writers who also happen to be smart. It’s all connected, you know. There is a culture of intelligence there and Matt is a terrific dude. He really is, just picture a nervous man. That’s Matt. [laughs]
Craig: What does a nervous man look like? Sort of thin, like kind of kooky hair, looks nervous.
John: So I first met Matt Selman because we were shopping for a new house and we were going to open houses on a Sunday which is usually when open houses are happening. And we were in one of these and there’s a guy who sort of recognized me and you could sort of tell when someone recognizes you because they make an eye contact and they make an eye contact again. And it’s like they’re like trying to make sure/confirm if they really did recognize you.
And so he came over and introduced himself and he said, “Oh, hey, I’m the guy who wrote that Simpsons episode that was based on Go or not based on Go but that sort of like used Go in it.” And it’s the episode called Trilogy of Error and it’s an episode where time keeps repeating on itself and sort of like how Pulp Fiction works and how Go works, and there’s actually one whole plot line which is very much taken from Go. And that was my first introduction to him was that he had written the episode that was sort of inspired by Go.
Craig: Yeah, he’s just a good guy. I’m not sure where, I think I might have met him at a roundtable or something somewhere along the way, but I’ve just always loved him and he was very nice to invite me to a table reading that they did of an episode a couple of years ago. And that was just really fun to watch the cast do it.
Craig: It was just fascinating. It’s just very cool. What an amazing institution to be a part of and a good guy, Matt Selman. So thanks for writing in, Matt. We’ll put a link in there. We don’t want people to pirate your show.
John: No. They should buy it for real.
John: What you said about roundtables is actually very applicable because my next bit of follow up was at the live show we did at Nerdmelt where we did the crossover episode with the Nerdist Writers Panel, I talked a little bit about that I was going to go in on this panel. I was actually leading this sort of roundtable on a rewrite for a script and I was excited but also a little bit nervous about sort of how it was going to go and it was this week.
And it went really well, I think. And so I just wanted to talk through a little bit what that process was like because it was the first time I had ever kind of done one of these things.
I’d been in sessions that were much more like a little punch up where it’s just like what’s the new funny joke we can do here. This was after our first draft, and the writer was in the room, thank god, because I wouldn’t have really wanted to do it if the original writer weren’t there to keep going on to the next thing.
But the discussion, there’s a total of five writers in the room, was really about what are the possibilities of the next things we could do and really looking at what sort of what are the functions of each of the characters, how can this all work together. And so the day it was structured where I suggested that we actually just read the whole script allowed to begin with. And that’s sort of tedious. That burns like two hours. But I thought it was really important because otherwise there’s this chance that you’re all kind of reading a different script.
You’re all sort of reading the scripts you read a week ago or three drafts ago. It’s hard to focus on what specifically the movie is in front of you unless you actually sort of like read the movie that’s in front of you. So we all divvied up parts. We read the whole thing aloud, including all the scene description which is the worst part of the table read.
John: But I was really glad we did it because for one thing it gave that writer a chance to really hear his work all together out there like and sort of celebrate like this is what was there and like the stuff that was really good was really, really good. And in some ways, I think, that can help us sort of move past it and sort of look at it like that was that and what are the opportunities we have sort of kept on going here.
The stuff that felt long reading was probably needed to be addressed and the stuff that was really, really good, well, what was special about what was really, really good and how can we use those characters, those situations to best effect. So it ended up being a pretty good situation.
Craig: Yeah, that’s cool. I’ve never done that in, I mean, I’ve been to roundtables where there was a cast read through prior to it but in a lot of times if it’s early in the process there is no cast. And I’ve never done that. I’ve never done a reading. Usually we just start talking about the script and reactions and things, but, you know, I always feel like the — in the end those are difficult days for a writer to go through because you have everybody kind of coming out at it with all of their different opinions and feelings and you have to figure out how to parse out what makes sense and speaks to you truly and what just may be somebody’s opinion.
Craig: And that’s tough sometimes.
John: What I think is interesting about a roundtable that’s really driven by writers is that everyone who’s been at that table has had to implement these kind of changes. And so every time we talk about a possibility, we’re talking about it in a way of like figuring out like how do you actually write that, how do you actually get that thing to manifest; rather than sort of pie in the sky dreams, it’s like, what’s actually doable.
It’s like talking about building a building with people who build buildings. And so you really understand what is possible there. The challenge for me as like the leader of this group was to make sure that it didn’t all become like a volleying back and forth with the original writer who was there because there’s a natural instinct of trying to address your suggestion to the person who’s going to write next. And I try to make sure to try to stay a conversation among all of us, not just the guy who is going to go off and do the next pass.
Craig: Yeah, there is one thing about those roundtables that I don’t like and I try and guard against. And that is this strange thing where writers have almost, some writers have internalized a kind of very bland note style.
Craig: Where suddenly they’re talking to a fellow writer like the world’s worst producer giving them these very obvious notes and pushing it towards formula. And I’m always careful when I’m in these things to never talk about things that I think are going to grind the edges off of a piece or to take away that which is unique.
If anything sticks out in a fascinating way but it seems like it’s not integrated, then maybe I’ll just say that. I’ll just say, how do we, this is a moment. This is the kind of thing that’s special about this movie. Don’t round that edge off, but let’s talk about maybe how to have it not feel like it’s unmoored from the rest of the movie. But I sometimes get dismayed listening to my fellow writers because it just feels like they’ve suddenly become the world’s worst director of development.
John: Yeah. It was interesting, I was happy to see this studio in this case, the writer I think initiated the idea of doing this panel. I was glad that the studio stepped up and did it because had they done another draft or two more drafts, I think there would have been some burn in and some burn out honestly on what was happening in the script.
And rather by doing it now, when it was still, it was formed but it was still fresh, it was, I think, much easier to look at the different ways we could go and to sort of chart a course because we hadn’t spent so much time trying to implement notes that were maybe the wrong notes. So I’m hopeful that it’s going to be a cool movie and it was a really good process, so I just wanted to — I’ll never actually say what the movie was or who the writers were, but they were actually fantastic. And so I was, I really enjoyed that process.
Craig: Awesome. Yeah, I love doing those things. I think they’re fun days.
John: Cool. So let’s move to our new stuff.
John: So the first thing is, and I can’t find a link of who sent this to me but thank you whoever sent it to me, I think tweeted this link to perhaps the first screenwriting book ever written. It is a 1912 book by Herbert Case Hoagland called How To Write A Photo Play. And I thought it was just great. And so there’s a blog post on it, so we’ll link to both the original text which is on archive.org but also my blog post about it. It was just so cool. I’ll read a little snippet from it. “To write a photo play requires no skill as a writer.”
John: “But it does require a quote constructionist. It requires the ability to grasp an idea and graft, please using the botanical sense, a series of causes on the front of it and a series of consequences on the other end. An idea so graft it will surely bear fruit; and to learn the art of this mental horticulture is necessary. First, to understand in a general way how motion pictures are made and what is done in the studio, in the field, and in the factory. Let us learn something of these things and begin at the beginning, in the office of the scenario editor.”
What I loved about this paragraph was that it just, first off, it’s just like, “You don’t have to have any skill as a writer” is just fantastic. And also the term scenario editor. What’s so great about Hoagland’s book is that, so he was a scenario editor I’m gathering based on certain introductory pages of the book. They were just in a completely different system. And so when they’re talking about a scenario, they’re not really quite talking about a screenplay. It’s really just a series of shots that is going to tell a story. And because they don’t have dialogue, because they don’t have a lot of normal film conventions, it’s just different.
And, you know, so they say, like, you could write a scenario in 10 minutes but more likely you’ll spend a week thinking about it. And so it really is just a very different world and yet so many of the same kinds of things apply about simple things like screen geography or a sequence of events.
John: I just thought it was great.
Craig: Well, Herbert Case Hoagland reminds me of, I’m trying to remember the name, I think it was something Pritchard, the man who’s written the poetry textbook in Dead Poets Society. [laughs]
Craig: Who, you know, has his chart of how to evaluate poetry. You can see here at the very beginning of Hollywood moviemaking the very well-intentioned desire to help creative people work in a very structured format. We’ve said it many times, screenwriting stands apart from all other artistic pursuits as something that requires artistic skill and creativity and yet is not meant to be actually appreciated by anyone.
Craig: It’s not meant to be read. It’s meant to be transformed into a movie. It’s a very specific thing. And so naturally everybody is trying to come up with ways to help you do that. However, we also see here the birth of a terrible, [laughs], and apparently long-standing tradition of reductionist thinking when it comes to screenwriting and the overabundance of rules and caveats and “it’s really simple, press A, pull tab B.”
This is the thing that screenwriters have struggled with forever and god knows how many questions we get that are of a “should I pull tab A or when,” you know, these questions of ” is the midpoint break that comes before the second and a half act pinch point necessary for the downward motion of the reversal?” And you just sit there going, oh, my god, just tell a story. Tell a story.
John: There’s a moment in the book where it talks about sort of scene geography and it all has to do with hats. And so, basically, like, if a man puts on his hat and takes his coat, the next shot needs to be of him like arriving in a different house, because otherwise if he puts on his hat and coat and he’s still walking in the house, we’re like, well, why is he walking in a house. He should have left the house.
John: And that’s absurd and yet at that time you have to think about sort of what these movies were like at this point, that probably was actually good advice to some degree because we just weren’t sophisticated enough to sort of understand how these things could work. It was all just shot by shot by shot by shot.
I also love that in the sense of like things never change. Here’s his warning about submitting your work to different places. He says, “Don’t send biblical stories to a manufacturer who makes the specialty of Western stuff. Study the needs of the firms producing pictures and direct your scenarios accordingly. On another page, the class of a story might be sought by the different studios it has touched up. And ambitious writers cannot do better than to subscribe to the Moving Picture World or some other trade paper and carefully study the comments on the films that appear week by week.
Craig: Yeah. Oh, so there is the beginning of chase the market. [laughs]
John: Basically it’s like, read the trades, chase the market, but he’s also saying, know your buyer which is absolutely true.
Craig: Sure. I mean, sure. No, of course, and at that time, in an era where there was even less information than was available to us when we were pre-Internet, it’s true.
Craig: There were companies that just concentrated on one kind of picture and to send them a screenplay for a different kind would be pointless. But even so, you know, it’s just classic. It’s just because every stupid thing that people are currently trying to charge you money for,[laughs], it turns out that Herbert Case Hoagland wrote those stupid things already in 1912.
John: Yeah, and 1912 was really fascinating because like that’s really genuinely the very, very beginning of anything we want to consider a motion picture industry. I think Birth of a Nation is 1914 if I’m right. So it’s really, things are just beginning here. You’re moving out of the sort of the Nickelodeon time into the kind of full-length movie and that there was already this kind of book I think is just fascinating.
Craig: Yeah, like right there in the beginning there was somebody telling screenwriters what to do. [laughs] It’s just genius.
John: And it strikes me that a lot of times when you’re at the beginning of something, you know, you’re still kind of figuring out the rules of things, you’re figuring out sort of what stuff is like. And so, I could imagine like the early like how to make a webpage books would have almost exactly the same kind of things that seem really obvious or weird about like, you know —
John: Don’t use blinking text and it’s like, well, you should never say that but of course you had to say that at that time.
John: And this, Hoagland had no idea what movies were going to become, and yet weirdly he sort of anticipated what aspiring screenwriters would be like and the questions they would ask.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, the truth is what he did here is actually very impressive considering that it is 1912. What is sort of sad to me is that there are people in 2014 who are basically saying this stuff, the same stuff that is 102 years old.
Craig: But pretending that it’s interesting or insightful or worth spending money on. [laughs]
Craig: It’s just sad, sad.
John: As we close out here, I also want to, you know, point people towards archive.org because — so archive.org is the Internet archive. And basically, they take snapshots of websites over a period of time, so a lot of times if you go to a website and you can’t find, and you’re curious like what that website was like four years ago you can enter that same URL in archive.org and find what that was like. But they also have these other great sort of treasure trove of just old materials and things that have fallen out of copyright. And so I bless them for putting stuff like this up online where people can dig at it because it’s just great.
Craig: Yeah, for sure.
John: Next up is a less happy topic, Barry Levinson and his arbitration with the Writers Guild of America. We don’t know of course all the details on this but we know that this is about the Philip Roth novel The Humbling. And Barry Levinson wanted to share screenwriting credit with Buck Henry and Michal Zebede or Michael Zebede. I don’t know how he pronounces it. And there was an arbitration. Barry Levinson did not like the outcome of that arbitration and left the guild or went fi-core in the guild. But just basically, Craig, how do you define fi-core?
Craig: Well, financial core is a state of what you would call a financial core non-member. You are no longer technically a member of the union. You can’t vote on collective bargaining agreements. You can’t vote in elections. However, if you’re working in a close shop state like California, you’re still subject to the collective bargaining agreement, which is why “quitting the union,” and going fi-core kind of isn’t worth it because in the end here’s what happens: you still have to pay dues. Your dues are reduced by the amount of expense that the guild puts out towards things that are unrelated to collective bargaining which isn’t much. So instead of paying what you and I pay, you’d maybe pay 93% of that rate.
John: But, Craig, then you wouldn’t get Written By magazine.
Craig: Ah, you don’t get Written By magazine which is a huge, yeah, that would be a huge bummer obviously, [laughs], for those of you wondering with what you should line your cat box.
John: I guess you could still buy it at the newsstand. So there’s some…
Craig: Yes, you could buy it at the newsstand. And there’s a big call for that. But the really ironic part of this is that if you go financial core you are still subject to credit arbitrations.
Craig: This doesn’t get you out of credit arbitrations. It’s kind of crazy. I’m not really sure how — I understand if you are incredibly frustrated that you would want to take action or do something. The problem is when it comes to this there is in fact nothing you can do.
John: Yeah. So George Clooney I believe on Leathernecks left the guild or went fi-core in the same way.
Craig: That’s the rumor.
John: Out of frustration.
John: And that’s the frustration, but I don’t if that’s, I wouldn’t know the details in that situation either. And I bring, I sort of mention this because people asked me on Twitter about the whole situation and the arbitration. The only thing I would add to it is that having been through arbitrations and sat on arbitration panels basically been one of the people who’s deciding credit, I can almost guarantee that Levinson himself has never served as an arbiter because I think if he had he would have been really, really frustrated but he wouldn’t have gone fi-core.
Because having been an arbiter I can tell you it’s really, really hard and yet everyone I’ve ever encountered in an arbitration has worked really hard to do a great fair job. The arbiters don’t know the names of the people involved in the thing. You’re only reading writer A, writer B, writer C, writer D and things that might appear incredibly obvious to Levinson are not obvious to the arbiter because the arbiter is just looking at the words on the page. And that is a real difference.
I’ve been through arbitrations where I’ve sought credit and lost and been really, really frustrated and wished I could convince other people of the logic of like why the decision was wrong. And yet, having been an arbiter myself, I recognize that that’s just the way it goes.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, when you look at the situation here, it’s important to understand that we’re hearing one side of the story.
Craig: And if you do arbitrations, one thing that becomes very evident is that writers are delusional about their — not always delusional but frequently delusional about the nature of their contribution to a script. Because as an arbiter you get the scripts but you also get the writer’s statements. And many times I’ve done an arbitration where I’ve had three different writers, each of whom are stating very clearly that they deserve sole credit and it’s obvious. And you just shake your head.
Craig: And then you read the scripts and realize, wow, two of these people are nuts. [laughs]
Craig: One of them is correct. So we’re hearing one side of this. And here’s what he’s saying. He’s saying that he didn’t get credit and what he’s angry about is that he asked to see the arbiter’s statements which is our right if you’re contemplating a policy review board. You can see the arbiter’s statements. And when he looked at those arbiter statements, he didn’t like what he saw particularly in one of them that denied him credit.
He thought that this person had written a “muddled critique that made no sense. It was just way too messy and inaccurate and I asked the board to have this person read the stuff again because I couldn’t see how this was a qualified judgment and they said no.” Well, you know, Barry Levinson’s opinion of the quality of that statement is not necessarily something upon which one can turn a system of jurisprudence.
I will say this, here are some things I don’t know. I don’t know, first of all, I don’t which guild administered this. The Writers Guild West tends to administer most of these things but in cases where a number of the writers are Writers Guild East members, the East may run it. I know that the West staff is really good about reviewing the arbiter statements and making sure that they comport with our rules.
Craig: We don’t have a guarantee that an individual arbiter is going to be a genius.
Craig: The staff does try and not call writers who they think are just bad at it.
Craig: I mean, they don’t want that either because they don’t want this. They don’t want a story like this. There were some comments on Deadline that were predictably way, way wrong, just factually incorrect. Some people seem to think that directors faced some sort of 75% threshold in order to get credit. Now, directors are essentially treated like everyone else, especially now, we did change a few rules, so there’s no — they would be looked at the same way everybody would be looked at in the situation like this. It’s an adaptation. Everybody has to hit 33%. 33% was Barry Levinson’s threshold which obviously is a guideline because there’s no such thing as a percentage like you’d actually figure out.
And two of three arbiters thought that he didn’t. Some people thought that the arbiters should be allowed to talk with each other and that it’s not fair that they don’t. They do talk to each other —
Craig: In a case like this, again, that was a change that we instituted. So if it’s not a unanimous decision, they talk. They have a teleconference in which anonymity is maintained and they discuss it. And if they can’t — if at that point they are still not unanimous but two of the three agree on something then that’s that.
Craig: He doesn’t like this decision. I get it. He thinks one of these arbiters was a knucklehead. He might be right. I don’t know. All I do know is that he’s gone financial core and that changes truly nothing, not even for him. I wish that he had thought to do what I did when I got a credit decision that I thought was terrible. I decided to run for the board. I decided to form a committee. I decided to change the rules. I did change the rules. I decided to do it again. I did do it again.
I actually did the work. Oh, and I served as an arbiter. And Barry Levinson apparently has decided that in his union, if he doesn’t immediately get what he wants or what he perceives as fair, the only recourse is to quit. And, frankly, I just find that to be babyish.
If you’re on a boat and you see a leak in the boat and everyone is telling you it’s not leaking, fix the leak anyway. Convince them. Don’t just jump off the boat and swim away. It’s stupid. It just doesn’t do anything.
Craig: I get frustrated sometimes with this attitude of like, “Oh, my union did this to me.” There is no union. There is just a bunch of people. That’s it. We’re all in this together or we’re not, you know.
John: Yeah. People do bring up the idea of like a director has different qualifications for it. And so, what I want to stress is that this is an adaptation, this is the rules are set up in a way that the director only has to hit 33% just like any other writer. What is different about a director in an arbitration situation is the director, correct me if I’m wrong, Craig, it’s an automatic arbitration situation.
Craig: That’s right. Yeah.
John: So, because he is a director or a producer on the film, it has to go to arbitration. There’s no sort of just like everyone just shakes hands and agrees on it. It has to be arbitrated.
Craig: Yeah, that was another thing a few people got wrong on the Deadline comments. There is no situation here where the writers could have all agreed amongst themselves. And that rule has been there since the very beginning and it’s a good rule and no one has ever really convincingly challenged its value. And the idea being if you have one writer who has the ability to hire and fire other writers, then it makes sense that you would want to just essentially require an arbitration to avoid situations where a powerful director who holds somebody’s economic life in their hands saying, “I think we should all agree that I should be credited here.”
John: Yeah, you don’t want that at all.
John: But in other cases where no one is production executive or a director on the project, you can actually all as writers talk and there’ve been many cases where I have talked with the other writers and we’ve figured it out ourselves and has not had to go to arbitration. And in many ways, that’s the best scenario where you actually just figure it out and people end up feeling happier about it because of it.
Craig: Yeah, that’s exactly right. And even in situations where there is no automatic arbitration or there is an arbitration where there are five writers and four of them agree and one doesn’t, you can also write joint statements.
Craig: Or statements in support of each other. There is no reason that this is necessarily as combative as people think. What ends up happening in these situations is everybody comes out of the woodwork and starts screaming about how this system is imperfect and they are absolutely correct. It is imperfect. The thing that I hear most from people who have gone through this and with which I completely agree is that we would be better off if we weren’t serving as arbiters for each other or at least or at least solely comprising the arbiters.
Craig: We would be better off if there were some independent voices in there who were the kind of people that are routinely called as dramaturgical and literary experts in plagiarism cases or infringement cases in courts of law to help make these decisions because, frankly, knowing how to write a script is not the same Venn oval as knowing how to analyze components of literary contributions. It’s just a totally different skill. And, frankly, the other problem with our system is we’re busy.
Craig: And with fewer and fewer screenwriters working, the idea that, you know, you’d want your jury pool to mostly be made up of people that are writing screenplays and active screenwriters and we’re busy and sometimes these arbitrations come in and they’re asking you to read eight drafts and a novel.
Craig: And it’s just — it’s a burden. They’re desperate, constantly searching for people to do these things. It’s rough.
John: I got two calls this last week about arbitrations.
John: And I couldn’t. I’m too busy.
John: And that’s also partly because it’s TV time. And so because the TV shows are being picked up and announced, those credits are having to be figured out.
John: And that’s not a fun thing to do.
John: All right, to our next thing. Several people wrote in with this kind of cool animated chart called the Periodic Table of Storytelling, or at least I thought it was cool. So basically it takes a bunch of tropes and ideas that exist in storytelling, various forms, largely cinema but also sort of general storytelling and kind of rearrange them into a chart that looks like a periodic table.
And the general categories which would be sort of the, you know, the columns on this chart are things about structure, settings, story modifiers, plot devices, heroes, character modifiers, archetypes, villains, meta tropes, production and fandom and audience reactions. We’ll put a link to it in the show notes because it’s a fun timewaster for awhile.
Two of the things I really enjoyed on this chart were Flanderization, and Flanderization is defined as, this is obviously Ned Flanders, but it’s when you take characters that are kind of normal and then over time you exaggerate qualities in him so much that he doesn’t resemble a normal person at all anymore. So in the case of Flanders, he was just like sort of the nice neighbor next door. And then they made him a little Christian, then a lot Christian, and then he ended up being sort of super-crazy Christian. And that’s just the arc that that character sort of took over time.
The other thing I liked was what they call the anthropic principle which in general the anthropic principle is that we are perfectly suited for the earth because if we weren’t perfectly suited for the earth we wouldn’t be here. Story-wise, the story equivalent of that is what we really call the “buy” is that like if it weren’t for this thing there wouldn’t even be a movie. So you’re willing to take as a given one or two things about the nature of this world because if it weren’t for these one or two things there wouldn’t be a story.
Craig: Yeah, it’s a cool chart. I mean, it’s very thorough.
Craig: It’s got a ton of stuff in it. I, from the point of view of somebody that tries to write things, I never really — these things I just find more amusing. It’s really, they are what they seem to be more than anything is a fan’s compendium of stuff they’ve noticed. But I don’t, I wouldn’t see any value here to somebody that was actually trying to write something.
It’s just more of a — it just feels like a very, [laughs,] I say Aspergers all the time. And I don’t want people to think like Aspergers is bad. Aspergers is awesome actually. I mean, people with Aspergers basically save our lives and, you know, figure out every bit of technology in our lives. But this is a little Aspergersy to me in a way that’s maybe not that useful.
John: Well, what I find useful is there are certain things on here that I will throw out in sort of casual conversation and then I will recognize that people don’t actually know what I’m talking about. So Chekhov’s Gun is an example of that and there’s a good entry on Chekhov’s Gun. And actually I should say that all the entries actually link back to TV Tropes which is a great way to waste about six hours of time just going through TV Tropes. Like Chekhov’s Gun which is a classic example of like if you establish a gun on the wall early in the story that gun has to go off or else everyone is going to be frustrated.
I think those are important things for writers to know and having a shorthand like Chekhov’s Gun is a good way of talking about like why something isn’t working right or why setting an expectation that is not fully met.
Craig: Oh, for sure. Yeah, look, Chekhov’s Gun was described by Chekhov.
Craig: So there are things that are literary notions that have been given to us by great writers and I always think those are useful and we should know those things. But here, I think it may be a little bit lost in some other stuff. I mean, I got a little suspicious when the, you know, now they start combining these periodic story elements into molecules that are, you know, movies or episodes of things and the examples are Star Wars, Mass Effect, Dilbert, Avatar: The Last Airbender, My Little Pony, Here Come the Bronies, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann which I assume is something anime, Firefly, Death Note, Wall-E and Ghostbusters. That’s some hardcore cheese doodle stain nerdism there. And I love almost all of those things. Not the Bronies stuff, but I love almost all that stuff. I just feel like this is a bit too , it’s a bit too dorky for me I have to say. And I love chemistry. I love the actual periodic table. I love writing. This actually drifted into just too dorky for me. I apologize.
John: Well, let’s step away from that chart to another chart because I was up in Seattle this last weekend. And Seattle by the way is awesome. So if you live in Seattle, congratulations. You live in an awesome town. So at the Experience Music Project, EMP, the big museum, they have great music exhibits but they also have like a lot of other really cool stuff there and two of the ones we went through were archetypes of fantasy and then there’s also a sci-fi, horror section. These are all sort of down in the basement and they are fantastic.
In the archetypes of fantasy, they had very nice, both animated on screen but also sort of as you walk through displays set up talking about the different sort of archetypes of fantasy you see in everything from Game of Thrones to Harry Potter to The Wizard of Oz, like sort of all these kind of things.
And I’ll include a link to a photo I took sort of that shows a chart of how many, 20 different archetypes they have, from the night to the shadow, to the unlikely hero, to the hero’s muse. And when you look at it just as little charts it’s like, well, yes, okay, that’s a thing. But what’s so smart about the exhibit is they actually then took a look at like who are those kind of characters in actual stories.
John: And it makes it real for people when they see like, oh, okay, that character is — like Robin Hood is that type, but also Han Solo is that type. And the sense of the commonalities we see across our sort of mythic stories. In some ways it may be a little bit more useful for the person who is writing a movie to really think about these characters and the kinds of roles they could play.
Again, not in a prescriptive way, like you have to have the barbarian face off with the trickster, but a way of thinking about what functions are your characters serving in your story.
Craig: Yeah. Well, there’s lots of good stuff there out in the world that delves into this topic of commonalities between stories and narrative. I mean, narrative is just a — all narrative is is a symptom of being human. So, naturally there should be these archetypal things because there’s stuff in all of us that’s archetypal. You have fear, and bravery, and honor, and justice, and all these things that then emerge in the forms of people, flat characters, or complicated characters.
You should read those things. Look, everyone will tell you you’ve got to read Joseph Campbell, you’ve got to read Joseph Campbell, and I always think, well, yeah, that’s great. You should. I mean, watch The Hero with a Thousand Faces, but — the thing he did with Moyer. But, read the myths. You know, when I was a kid I went through a phase where I just did nothing but read Greek myth.
Craig: It was awesome. You read those myths and you start getting pure undiluted narrative because that’s what that stuff is.
John: Yeah. I went through a very hardcore mythology phase, actually probably a couple of phases. There was one in sort of early elementary school. It hit again later, and then sort of got into my Bulfinch’s Mythology in sort of late junior high/high school. And what’s fascinating about when you actually go back and really look at the myths is like there’s so much overlap and so many, like, you know, it’s almost like fandom or sort of like competing versions of how things fit together, like Demeter, and Ceres, and Persephone, and the underworld. It’s different kind of every time. And so there’s so many versions of what that story is. There’s no one completely archetypal true version of like what that thing is.
And in some ways seeing the multiple telling of it and how they different they all were sort of gives you permission as a storyteller to really think about what are the other ways I can tell this kind of story. And what is common between all of these versions of what is so different between all of these versions.
Craig: The New Testament is —
John: Oh, of course.
Craig: Is basically that. It’s Rashomon.
Craig: It’s just that everybody agrees that Jesus was awesome. But Bulfinch’s Mythology is — that’s a book that should be on every writer’s bookshelf. Every writer should read Bulfinch’s Mythology.
John: At Barnes & Noble a couple weeks ago I bought myself, they have these really nicely bound special bound versions of The Great Tales of Mythology. It’s not a Bulfinch’s, but it’s a good mythology reader. And then the Grimm’s Fairy Tales, which I’d never actually read through Grimm’s Fairy Tales and basically never fall in love because you’re going to die is essentially what you sort of learn.
Craig: They’re grim.
John: They are in fact grim. What’s also so fascinating about Grimm’s Fairy Tales I discovered is that almost, at least half of them in the first few sentences there will be like some throwaway random thing about his father was a bull, blah, blah, blah. And it just keeps going on. Or like there will be a curse that’s set up that’s never actually paid off. It’s really weird to sort of notice which of the Grimm’s Fairy Tales have sort of survived into modern culture and which ones are just like, “I’ve never heard of that one before and I can see why.”
Craig: [laughs] It didn’t work out. The Brothers Grimm collected these stories, basically German peasant stories. And I had a roommate in college, not Ted Cruz, but my friend Eric Leech whose mother was German and she had given him at one point a book, a German book of those old stories and along with these illustrations. And children were constantly being injured on purpose or as a result of their misbehavior.
Craig: They would lose their fingers and blood would spurt out. The stores, I mean, Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm were in a race to harm as many children as possible. [laughs] It’s horrible.
John: What I also found so fascinating about the Grimm’s Tales is that so rarely do you actually see — in Grimm’s Tales it’s actually kind of rare for its protagonist to take an action that saves him or herself.
John: More likely it’s that somebody takes pity on them and then marries them. Or someone else basically rescues them in so many of the stories in a way that’s a little disappointing.
Craig: Well, they are there to serve a social construction that was, I guess, important at the time, or necessary to survival. But how many of those old stories involved stepmothers? Stepmothers were this enormous problem apparent, [laughs], that just asshole stepmothers.
John: I was looking in the introductory pages of this book, whatever the scholar was who was setting stuff up. He explains that stepmothers are actually sort of a bad translation of what the real concept is here. So, sometimes it was really just bad mothers, or second mothers, or stepmothers, or just other women who were around. But because in English we just have the word “stepmother,” we always take it to mean the woman who came in after mom died. And that’s not necessarily always what it was supposed to be in the Grimm’s stories.
John: Ah-ha! The same way that I think French has different words for like a cousin on your mom’s side and a cousin on your dad’s side. I may be making that up, but like different cultures describe relationships differently. And so we have the word stepmother, but there’s actually more subtle ways to talk about some of these things in other languages.
Craig: Well, look, as long as some kid gets his nose chopped off by a woodsman’s ax then I’m satisfied.
John: I am satisfied as well.
So, this last week, maybe it was two weeks ago, there was a New York Times piece called Memos to Hollywood. And the conceit behind it, which is not actually at all true, but the conceit behind it would be that A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis and other critics at the New York Times were writing emails to different people and they were just going to print what the emails were.
Well, one of them I found really fascinating because it actually touched on something that I never really considered. Or, I guess I considered it in the back of my head but never thought this could be real problem. So, I’m going to read one from Manohla Dargis. It’s directed to two directors. She writes:
“Do you know that, increasingly, your labor of love — the movie you spent months and probably years of your life on — is being reviewed by critics who are watching it on their computers? For years, the cost of striking and shipping film prints as well as renting theaters for press screenings led cash-strapped companies to simply supply DVDs to reviewers. Some reviewers have been happy to comply, and of course, the blurring between the big- and small-screen viewing, and the closing of theatrical windows, hasn’t helped. After all, if a movie is being released in theaters and on demand the same day, why bother watching it on the big screen ó or so the bottom-line thinking goes.
“These days, though, some companies don’t even bother to send critics DVDs: They’re only supplying Internet links that often have the reviewer’s name watermarked on the crummy-looking image, and even come with distracting time codes. So that moody shot that you and your director of photography anguished over for hours and hours? It may look beautiful, but there are critics who will never know, which certainly encourages them to pay more attention to the plot than the visuals. Viewers who bypass the theatrical experience and prefer watching movies on their televisions and tablets may not mind. Some directors, especially those whose talking heads and two shots look better on small screens, also won’t care; others just want their work seen however, wherever. But I bet there are directors who would freak if they knew how some critics were watching their movies.”
And, yeah, I think they really would. I’ve seen some of those sites, like I remember for Star Trek when we did — I did a panel at the Academy and we had a clip from the second Star Trek movie. And so they sent me a link that had like my name burned into it so I could just watch it ahead of time. If I had watched the whole movie that way I would not have liked it the same way I liked it when I saw it in the theater.
Craig: Yeah, if you are trying — if you care enough to send a movie to film critic I guess you care enough about their review, then you should send them a nice looking thing. That said, no one actually cares what they think. [laughs] The directors do, but the studios don’t.
When she says “cash-strapped companies are simply supplying DVDs to reviewers,” they’re not cash-strapped. They don’t care Manohla, they don’t care what you think. They don’t care what A.O. Scott thinks. They don’t care what any reviewer thinks whatsoever. They know perfectly well that when they have a movie that they think critics need to discover and love in order to get people to go, trust me, you’ll get a nice print. You’ll get a nice print. You’ll get a nice copy of it somehow or another. They’ll care.
But if it’s Star Trek, I mean, they couldn’t give a damn what you think. And, you know, these memos John —
John: Oh, I’m going to disagree with you strongly there. I guarantee you J.J. Abrams would not —
Craig: No, J.J. Abrams does. I’m not talking about J.J. Abrams. I agree, the directors would freak out. I’m talking about the people that are actually sending them, which is the studio, the bean counters, and the distribution and marketing and publicity departments. They don’t care. They don’t care.
John: I think that’s why this memo is directed towards directors. I think the fact is that a director might not even know that this is happening —
John: And this is pointing out that you really, in many cases you really don’t want that to happen. Now, I think there’s also some logic to some cases it doesn’t really matter. And there are movies that are coming out on TV at the same time and for those people maybe it’s fine to just provide the link because it may be the difference between getting your review and not getting your review at all. You probably want a review for a small indie film, something like, you know —
John: Short Term 12. That’s the movie that you want to make sure it gets reviewed. You send a link, you’ll do whatever just to get them to watch the movie.
Craig: Yeah, and look, she points out — it’s a bit dismissive about movies that are talking heads, so apparently talking heads are bad unless I suppose it’s My Dinner with Andre in which it’s great. Look, you know, I read this — I read the whole thing. I read this whole thing. And I just kept laughing the whole time. It’s like two people that truly have no idea that nobody gave a damn what they think, going at length in America’s “paper of record” about how people should be listening to them. And they’re writing these memos to people that just don’t care.
We don’t care. I mean, listen, directors should want anyone, not just critics, anyone to see a nice version of their movie. Of course. And, you know, I don’t know — I know that these people go on these junkets. I’d rather frankly have a reviewer, if it were up to me, watch the movie on their own than watch it in a room with all of these other critics and their weird herd-like junkets as they convince each other that something is good or bad.
But nobody really cares. I mean, these people are writing these memos about superhero movies like anyone cares. [laughs] And then they’re writing letters to their fellow movie critics complaining about them. This is such a critic’s thing. Let’s just talk about stuff we don’t understand and complain about it. They literally don’t know what they’re talking about, John.
John: I was surprised you took so much umbrage here. Really. Genuinely. Because I was going to save that thing they read about the superhero movies for our superhero show. But, obviously now we can’t do that, so I’ll have to find another way to make you angry.
Craig: [laughs] It’s just…these people…they write:
Subject: Get over yourselves
And then this nonsense about movie and television and how one, oh, “Current conventional wisdom holds that television has entered a golden age while movies are in a period of decline. Those are dubious notions…”
Nobody cares. Shut up. Just watch the television you like. And watch the movies you like. And stop talking about this nonsense. Nobody cares. These people, my god, is there any naval too small for them to not gaze at?
John: [laughs] Next, a question from Twitter. Bobby Bearly wrote in, and I don’t have his actual tweet so I’m just going to summarize what his tweet asked, which is, “How do you keep secrets from your readers in a script,” which is a question we haven’t really talked about on the show.
And so I think what Bobby’s referring to is there will be sometimes where there’s going to be a reveal in a movie, but the reveal in the movie isn’t going to make the same kind of sense on the page. And sometimes it will be about who a character really is, what somebody looks like, and that it’s really the same person the whole time through.
And so how do you do that in terms of what are the words on the page to show that you’re keeping a secret there. And are you in some way violating the trust of the reader by not being upfront about what was happening there?
Craig: Well, we’re supposed to violate trust to some extent. The existence of a movie is already the violation of a trust because you are portraying events to somebody as if they are happening in real time, or happening linearly, when in fact you who are presenting these things know exactly how this ends.
The entire thing is a betrayal of trust.
When it comes to secrets, tricks, gimmicks, twists, reveals, there are two things to keep in mind. The first is you cannot get away with the following statement: I know my movie seems really boring for 50 pages, but then when the big secret happens it will all make sense and be cool.
No. We were just bored for 50 minutes. You cannot use twist or revelation as an excuse for everything prior to that twist or revelation being boring. In fact, the reason that good twists and good reveals are so exciting is because they shock an audience who has been enjoying what they’ve been watching without it.
Craig: So, The Sixth Sense, or Fight Club, very famous and somewhat recent examples of movies that have big twists, are remarkably enjoyable on their own terms prior to that twist.
John: Exactly. So, I think both Fight Club and Sixth Sense though bring up interesting issues about what you actually put on the page, because in both those cases — especially Sixth Sense — you want to make it clear that Bruce Willis is not actually touching anybody else.
Craig: That’s right.
John: And portraying that on the page can be really crucial and yet you don’t want to tip it too far. And so it’s one of those things where like with a camera you would do it a certain way. With just words on the page it’s sort of harder to show what the nature of that —
Craig: It’s tricky.
John: That physical geography is. The other case which comes up quite often is — and I guess this is Fight Club to some degree — but where you’re going to see like a shadowy figure and then ultimately down the road you’re going to reveal who that person really is. It’s the degree to which a screenplay is a plan for shooting a movie. Well, that character was in these scenes all this time and we shouldn’t see him. And so usually you develop some sort of terminology for what that thing is, what that character is, like the man with the gray coat. And then eventually you will reveal the man in the gray coat is actually this person, this other character who we’ve been seeing the whole time through. Like, Susan is the man in the gray coat. There’s going to be that reveal later on.
On screen we’re going to see that. On the page, sometimes that’s actually a little harder to catch. And so that’s one of those cases where if you’ve been conservative and not bolded or underlined things, this is the time to break out and actually bold or underline something so the reader is caught up with where a viewer would be, so they really can sense like, “Oh my god, they’re actually the same person.”
Craig: Yeah. You want to, as you’re going through we’ll call your — there’s the pre-twist and then there’s the moment of the twist. Your pre-twist stuff you have to make sure that when the reader goes backwards, and they often will — they’ll get to the twist and they’ll go, “What? Hold on a second.” Then they’ll go back because they think they’ve caught you in a mistake.
You want to have covered your tracks well. So, in Fight Club there’s a scene where the main character is acting as an interloper in an argument between Tyler Durden and Tyler Durden’s girlfriend. And then Tyler Durden is at the bottom of the stairs in a basement and she’s in the kitchen and, in fact, if you go back and look at how that scene plays out and how it would be written you would go, “Oh my god, oh, my god, it actually works with that.”
Craig: So, you want to be careful about all of that stuff. The moment of the twist when you write the twist and you make the reveal you use the page. Give yourself page space. Let it really sink in. Make a deal of it. Use white space.
If you feel like putting nothing on that page except the reveal, do that. The page will show the emphasis. And use that space creatively, otherwise it’ll just be another action description. People will just literally go, “Oh, well I guess it’s as important as the fact that somebody walked into the room with his hat.”
John: Ah-ha! All right. We have a question from David Dunne who writes, “Part one, I don’t currently have an agent but my so-so manager of a few years has given me notes on a few different scripts and they sucked.” I assume the notes sucked, not the script sucks.
“He offered vague generalities, better this, bigger that, not feeling this/that, and virtually nothing constructive. I like this but take it further. Dig deeper here. This character is interesting but flat.
“So how much of his inability to give useful notes weigh in my decision to drop or keep him? If he were an all-star maybe I would overlook the shortcoming. We’re talking just so-so here.
“A related part of the question. A good friend sold a cable network show that’s going and he wants me on his staff. Should I drop the manager before joining, or if I keep him should he get a fee? How do you handle this in the most professional way?”
Craig: [sighs] Well, let’s run down the facts. Your manager is, as you call him or her, so-so.
Craig: All we have to judge is the behavior you’ve given us which is that his notes are bad, at which point my argument would be they’re not so-so, they’re bad. But either way it doesn’t sound like you’re getting anything out of this relationship. How important is it to have a manager who gives you good notes? It’s as important to you as it is. If you want a manager to get you work and you don’t care what they think about your script then it doesn’t matter. If you’re looking for somebody to help you grow and get better, then it does. And it sounds like that’s what you’re looking for.
You have somebody that’s offering you a job. And you don’t like your manager and you think they give you bad notes and this manager didn’t get you this job. My advice would of course be to fire the manager. [laughs] He’s done nothing.
John: When Craig Mazin wakes up in the morning he sits up, he says, “Fire your manager.” It’s your first instinct for everything, right?
Craig: I mean, normally, yeah. A lot of times people ask a question, like the prior question was about how to handle a secret in a screenplay. And my answer, my instinctive answer is, “Fire your manager.” But I control that.
John: [laughs] You do. But your second answer I thought was better in that case.
John: So, I want to go back and stick up for the manager just a tiny bit, but then ultimately I’m with you. Managers can serve two functions. There can be managers who are really good at helping you get your writing to the best state and they can sort of serve as a proxy for like what a producer might think. They could be reading every draft. They can sort of help you get your stuff in the best shape.
And there are some managers who do that who are really good. Not a lot of them, but there are some of them, and that can be useful.
A manager can also help you get work. And that sounds more like what you were using this manager for, hopefully, but in this case the manager didn’t get you work. It sounds like you weren’t working. It sounds like this friend is going to hire you on a show independent of what the manager did. So, I would also fire your manager. And then wait a few weeks and then sign on the show.
Craig: Yeah. No brainer to me. I mean, he even says he’s not a super star. My guess is this is a marginal — there are so many of these people on the margins of Hollywood who, if you think about it, they’re posing as experts in the thing.
Craig: They are not. So, it’s a bit like you’ walking around with a festering wound and you like in a town where the way you know someone is a doctor is that they call themselves doctor. And these people call themselves managers. That word means nothing. It means that they can afford letterhead.
Craig: And we don’t even know if they can afford letterhead. That may just be credit card debt.
John: Yeah. It’s all emails now anyway.
Craig: Well, there you go.
John: So, yes, we think you should fire your manager in the part one of the question. And then in the part two of your question, if you’re going to get this job staffed on a TV show, congratulations. Once you’re on board there that might be a great time to look for an agent because agents love people who work and who get hired to work. And if you are working on a TV show then you are by definition a working writer. And that might be a very good way for you to get started with an actual agent.
John: Our next topic in our big, multi-tab episode, I want to talk about Big Fish and sort of what happens to a Broadway after Broadway.
So, Big Fish closed right at the end of the year and in the time since then we’ve had the cast album come out. But we’ve also started to announce that there’s actually a bunch of stagings of Big Fish happening this next year. I think there are 20 announced so far. The biggest one for Southern California, Long Beach actually bought out all of our costumes and props and things like that.
John: And so they’re doing a big production here.
Craig: Including the elephant butts?
John: I think they bought the elephant butts.
John: I’m not sure on the elephant butts. Those are pretty big, but they bought stuff. So, I hope they have that, too.
So, that’s going to be kind of more like the Broadway version of the show. So, it’s like what you might have seen on the main stage on Broadway. We’re also going to be doing, the only one that Andrew and I are going to be sort of directly involved in is we’re doing a new staging in Boston at the Speakeasy Theater which is a really stripped down sort of 12 chairs, maybe no sets kind of version. We’re both going in and rewriting stuff designed to bring it down to a much smaller cast, a much smaller orchestra, which is actually really exciting. I get a chance to do that, again.
What’s so odd about this process is that I’ve done film and I’ve done television, and in film and television once something is done it’s just kind of done. You might go to a retrospective screening of Go or you’ll be flipping through channels and you’ll see the Big Fish movie on HBO, which is there a lot, but you’re sort of done. And weirdly here you’re not just done because Andrew and I control copyright on Big Fish and so everyone who wants to do a future version of Big Fish comes to me and Andrew and says, “Hey, I want to put on your show,” and we get to say yes or no.
And we sort of made the decision to just say yes a lot, like a lot a lot. And so we’re licensing it to these bigger places like the Speakeasy and in Long Beach, but also there are high schools that are going to be doing it next fall.
Craig: That’s great. That’s great.
John: There’s religious groups that are doing it. There are churches. And I won’t see most of these productions, but it’s fascinating to think that these things are going to exist sort of independently of me. It’s kind of cool.
Craig: That is cool. I really like that you guys are opening it up to high school productions because both of my kids are big — they’re really involved in musical theater and they love it. And you do tend to get the same kind of thing happening in high school productions. And rarely do you get something that’s new, because if it’s new typically the rights holders want to kind of exploit the higher end of it, or they jack up the rates to such that high schools can’t really afford it.
For instance, Jack’s school was going to do Cinderella, which is an old play.
John: Yeah, it’s been out so it’s more expensive.
Craig: But now suddenly because it was revived they couldn’t afford it. They just couldn’t afford it, so they had to go to Once Upon a Mattress, which is about as overdone a high school production as you can get. I mean, it’s fun. Don’t get me wrong, and they did a great job, but Once Upon a Mattress is right up there with Fiddler on the Roof which my daughter will be in, [laughs], in a couple weeks.
So, it’s nice to see something fresh and new with modern music and interesting themes and storytelling, you know, and hopefully you can get out to some of those churches, John. [laughs]
John: I’m very excited. So, Liberty University is actually doing a Big Fish —
Craig: Wait, I’m sorry, hold on. You guys, the two of you —
John: Us. The two of us.
Craig: The two of you licensed your show to Liberty University?
John: We did.
Craig: I’m against this.
John: I didn’t even know that it happened until it happened. But I’m actually kind of excited. I honestly feel like Big Fish is the kind of show like we could probably run in Branson, Missouri for a good long time.
Craig: Well, you could. But, I mean, I just have to ask the question — I mean, was there at no point did you guys say, “We’re licensing our production to an institution that is just like off the charts homophobic?”
John: Uh, you know, it honestly happened, but like I found out that it was happening after I think the deal had already been signed. So, I’ll give you a little more backstory as to what the actual process is like. So, people can come to me or Andrew but we would ultimately say like, “That’s fantastic that you want to do it. Here’s where you go.” And so it’s a company called TRW who does the licensing for this show and a lot of other shows.
And so they’re ultimately the ones that are doing it. And so in our initial conversations with TRW about the places we were excited to see it, we really strongly — or I, I guess honestly I’ll put this on me — I strongly stressed that I really think the religious community will dig this show and will probably like it a lot. And so I said Utah and the South. And so they took me at my word and we have a staging in Orem, Utah and we have a couple stagings in the South.
John: So, we have like Abilene Christian University and Liberty University. And then here is the thing: I’m not quite convinced it’s actually Liberty University. It’s the center that is next to their campus, but it may not actually be part of the campus itself. The website is not Liberty University.
Craig: Oh, well, those people love gay folks. [laughs] Oh, the people next door to Liberty University.
John: Oh, they love them. It’s just the best scenario.
Craig: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
John: But in a weird way I feel — I feel kind of okay with that. It’s hard for me to explain why, but it’s just the show should work for people of , you know, across the board.
Craig: Absolutely. There’s no question about that. It’s a very family friendly show and it’s a very kind of wholesome, I mean, the word wholesome comes to mind. It’s about small town America in the ’50s and ’60s, that kind of idyllic time that a lot of socially conservative people yearn for.
Craig: So, there’s no question it will work for them. But, you know, hey, look, I guess one way to think about it is that you are quietly putting some gay into Liberty University.
John: I think there’s already plenty of gay in Liberty University.
Craig: [laughs] I think you’re right!
John: So, just to wrap this up, so we’re finished on Broadway and while I would love to still be running on Broadway, it’s also sort of nice to put a little of it behind me on some stuff. We’re not quite done yet. We’re up for some Drama Desk Awards, which is great. I was especially — Kate Baldwin and Norbert Leo Butz who were so fantastic in the show, I was happy to see them get singled out for their great work.
And we’re actually up for best musical on Broadway.com, which is sort of the People’s Choice Awards of Broadway.
Craig: Oh, great.
John: So, there will be a link in the show notes. If you want to stuff the ballot box for Big Fish I won’t say no. And you can vote for Big Fish as Best Musical if you choose to.
Craig: You know, the People’s Choice Awards, that’s the only award I ever get.
John: [laughs] You and me, together at last.
Craig: Yes. Yes.
John: Let’s talk some One Cool Things. So, we’ve been going through, we had two earlier sessions where we talked through old One Cool Things. And we got up to number 80, so should we start?
Craig: Yeah, let’s do it.
John: So, my number 80 was Unfinished Scripts which was a Twitter feed where it was sort of screenshots of terrible screenplays. And there is also Unfinished Screenplays which is the same idea. I’m not sure which one came first. They’re both kind of funny. I don’t really follow them much anymore, but I see them every once and awhile.
Craig: Yeah, mine was EyeWire which was a little web-based game that actually helped neurologists map the brain. I think they were rat brains, but still they’re trying to come up with a good map of that stuff. And I did that for awhile. It was fun. Then I stopped. But I think the idea was that you don’t play that every day. So, I had my time with it.
John: My number 81 was StageWrite for the iPad which was actually developed by the associate choreographer on Big Fish. And it is a way of keeping track of everyone on stage and sort of where they’re moving from set to set to set, to scene to scene to scene. And it’s great software for that. So, I don’t need to use it, because I’m not choreographing anything, but I see people using it still.
Craig: And mine was Kiva, which is a microloan website where you can essentially loan money to indigent people across the world, mostly in third world countries. And I still do that to this day. I basically have an amount that I just roll. And as people pay me back then I just roll it off to somebody else. And it’s a great thing to do. And I urge everybody to check it out at Kiva, I believe it’s Kiva.org. It’s super easy to do. And it’s a good thing.
John: My number 80 was Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think, by Viktor Mayer-Schonberger & Kenneth Cukier. It was a book I read. I liked it a lot when I read it. I liked it a fair amount when I read it and there’s been a lot more discussion of Big Data in the time since I remember reading that book. And sort of how much you can zero in on the individual person if you combine enough data sets and how that can be great but also troubling.
Craig: And mine was the Tesla Motors Forum, along with the username FlasherZ who is an electrician. And I check in there all the time to get little bits of news and blurbs and stuff. Very useful. Very useful forum.
John: Hey, Craig, do you like your car?
Craig: It’s not really car, John. It’s everything. [laughs] It’s everything to me. Everything.
John: From your helpful forum I needed to point to my helpful forum, this is number 83, this Lifehacker post on using multiple audio inputs and outputs in OSX. And this came up because we had Derek Haas as a guest on the show and needed to be able to connect two microphones to my laptop and it was really confusing to figure out how to do that And god bless the internet that there was a little thing on how to do that.
Craig: Someone has thought of everything. Mine was the Animal Specialty Group which is an animal hospital in Glendale that saved the life of my dog who is currently prancing about in the yard as I speak. They are wonderful people. I hope to never have to see them again, but if I do they will be there for me.
John: My 84 was tips for singing the National Anthem which if you take nothing else is the lowest note you possibly can sing it should be the third note of the National Anthem. [sings] “Oh, say”…that say should be the lowest note you can possibly sing.
John: That way you have the range to be able to go to the top, hopefully.
Craig: The word that you should be afraid of is “glare.” And “the rockets’ red glare.” Glare will be the highest. If you don’t start low enough you will never get to glare.
Craig: Mine was BioShock Infinite. What a great game. I really enjoyed it. That — it’s funny, it ties back to our little twist conversation. There’s a huge reveal in it and frankly it was very complicated and I didn’t quite understand it at first. I needed to play through the game again really to appreciate it, which actually to me says they didn’t do that great of a job on that. It was almost too rich. You know, whereas the first BioShock when the twist happens everything suddenly kaboom in your head.
And yet also I have to say that the depth that Ken Levine provided through the game is — it’s essentially the most creatively and philosophically ambitious video game I’ve ever played on a console. It was really well done.
John: Mine for 85 was Ulysses III. It’s a Macintosh text editor. I like it but it’s not my go-to text editor. I use By Word most days.
Craig: Mine was That Mitchell and Webb Look on BBC. Those guys are awesome. I still will occasionally amuse myself by just watching clips of those guys. They’re very, very funny.
John: My number 86 was the Internet K-Hole, which was a collection of photographs that this photographer woman has assembled on a website. And you cannot just not look at it. It’s just great. And it’s photos from sort of a punk rock lifestyle over 40 years maybe. It’s fascinating.
Craig: Pretty cool. Mine is Slacker Radio. I use it every day in my car, also known as the Everything.
John: My 87 was Stag’s Leap, a book of poems by Sharon Olds. I still think about it. It’s actually a great collection of poems mostly about the disintegration of her marriage and just really brilliantly done.
Craig: Mine was ITER which is I think a French consortium coming up with a way to provide us with unlimited pollution-free energy. I’m pretty sure they’re still working on it. I’d love to see that happen.
John: Yeah, has that happened? That’s great. That’s great.
Craig: Yeah, yeah. I think they are still working on getting some bugs out.
John: My number 88 was FilmCraft Screenwriting by Tim Grierson. Tim Grierson did a series of books on screenwriting, on cinematography, and other things. And I’m actually in the book on screenwriting and it was a well put together book. It still sits on my coffee table. I think I’ve read the whole thing. But, I read my little part, so that counts.
Craig: That’s good. I had nothing that week.
John: [laughs] My number 89 was Scandal Revealed episode 221 from Matt Byrne.
Craig: Oh my god, you had so many.
John: There were so many. It was a weird episode. I don’t know why — basically all my old assistants are linked to different things.
Craig: And I had just a fact really that the LA Times reported that studios donated film set materials to Habitat for Humanity which is very cool. And also this was the first time that Joe Nienalt and Daniel Vang did their American Heart Association thing where they offered to read your script to raise money for research into heart disease.
John: Great. Let’s stop there. Man, we got a lot of these.
Craig: What do you say —
John: We bang out ten a week we’ll get through them all.
Craig: This is like — this podcast had everything.
Craig: I got upset. We covered like 100 topics. I don’t know if we should continue. [laughs]
John: I think we’re basically done. Although I have a One Cool Thing for this week.
Craig: Me too. What’s yours?
John: My One Cool Thing is, oh, you’re going to love this, Craig. You’re salivating.
Craig: Oh god.
John: You’re going to love this so much.
John: It is the WorkEZ Executive Laptop Stand.
Craig: I mean, oh god.
John: So, it’s not for me, it’s for Stuart. Because Stuart who works downstairs, he works on a laptop and I see him slouching in his chair. I’m like, Stuart, that’s not good. He’s like, “I know it’s not good.” And so I said Stuart if I get you a stand for your laptop so you can stand up when you want to stand up, would you like that? He’s like, “Sure.”
And so I got it and I bought this one off Amazon. It was really good. He uses it right now.
Craig: He’s just shutting you up.
John: Well, he’s standing up while he’s shutting me up, so that’s a good thing.
Craig: I think you get more work out of Stuart if he’s in pain.
John: Ha! Crippled over in agony.
Craig: Yes. My, by the way, I’ve been playing Monument Valley a lot. It’s really, really good.
John: Isn’t that beautifully done?
Craig: It’s gorgeous.
John: Actually you can’t kind of play a lot because it’s really short.
Craig: Well, so I play a chapter and then I just put it down. So, I’ve spreading it out. But my One Cool Thing this week is a game for iOS, as often is the case, called Sometimes You Die.
John: I’ve played Sometimes You Die. I thought it was great.
Craig: Really cool. It is very minimalist. The game play is — basically it’s a platform of sort, except sometimes you die. Sometimes you have to die. And when you die your little body, which is just a cursor, it’s just a carrot —
John: A square block.
Craig: A little square block. Your body is left behind and you can use your past dead bodies to get to where you need to go. But where the game is really kind of fascinating is in the sound of it and the look of it and the text on screen. It’s essentially saying what are you doing, why are you playing this?
And so in that regard it’s very, very cool. I’ve enjoyed it a lot.
John: It reminded me a bit of portal, and not in the sense of like the fancy mechanics, but just the sense of kind of it’s talking back to you and it’s sort of — there’s a quality of existential doom to it that was actually quite fun.
John: And I think I played to the end but I’m not even sure if I’ve gotten to the end.
Craig: You haven’t because I did a little reading. I played to the end, too, but every time you play thought it you get a little thing. And the idea is that at some point you will have collected a couple of little super powers that allow you to play through the game without dying.
Craig: So, I don’t know if I noticed when you played all the way through, now you’re allowed to turn your phone and your little carrot will — gravity will work on your carrot.
John: Ah, okay. So, now —
Craig: And then there’s another one later when you play through again where you get a pause button. So, there’s all these things that happen and the idea is eventually you can complete the game without dying.
John: That is genius. You’ve basically made a new game for me by telling me these secrets.
John: And that’s our show. So, you can find links to things we talked about in the show notes which are at johnaugust.com/scriptnotes. It’s also there where you can find transcripts for previous episodes. Just by the way, Craig, I had a listener who wrote into me on Twitter today who was thanking me for the transcripts because he’s deaf. And because he’s deaf the only way he can experience the podcast is through the transcripts. So, that was just really great that he took the time to write in.
You can listen to all of the back episodes, both on the site, the most recent 20, or the older ones you can find on scriptnotes.net. The ones that are on scriptnotes.net you can also find in the app, both for iOS and for Android. You search your applicable app store for those.
We have occasional bonus content things, so those show up if you’re subscriber to all the back episodes. Subscribing also gives you all back to episode number one when we didn’t know what we were doing.
We have a few of the USB drives left. They are at store.johnaugust.com.
Scriptnotes is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Sam Worseldine.
John: And if you have an outro that you’d like for us to play on the show, send it to us. Send us a link. Put it on SoundCloud and send us a link. We’d love to hear it.
John: If you have a question for Craig, you can find him on Twitter. He’s @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. Longer questions like the one we answered today you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are on iTunes just randomly and you want to leave us a comment or leave us a rating, go for it. Knock yourself out. It helps other people find the show. And that’s it.
Craig, next time I see you it will be the live show. I can’t wait.
Craig: [creepy voice] Hey, hey John.
John: What’s up?
Craig: [creepy voice] Next time is going to be live.
John: It’s going to be amazing. You can see Craig Mazin do that voice live on stage.
Craig: [creepy voice] Yeah. This is Craig. Yeah.
John: And he promises to dress the part, too.
Craig: [laughs] Always.
John: You don’t want to miss that experience.
Craig: Nothing is sexier than a 43-year-old man in J. Crew.
Craig: All right. See you there.
John: Great. Thanks Craig. Bye.
- Voting for the Live Three Page Challenge is open until May 14 at noon
- Get your tickets now for the Scriptnotes Summer Superhero Spectacular
- John’s blog post on which apps screenwriters are using
- Scriptnotes, Episode 141: Uncomfortable Ambiguity, or Nobody Wants Me at their Orgy
- Matt Selman on Wikipedia
- The Simpsons, Episode 492: The Book Job, on Wikipedia and Amazon Instant Video
- The Simpsons, Episode 266: The Trilogy of Error on Wikipedia
- John’s blog post on How to Write a Photoplay and the book on archive.org
- Deadline on Barry Levinson leaving the WGA
- The Periodic Table of Storytelling
- Seattle’s Experience Music Project Museum, and John’s photo of the Archetypes of Fantasy chart
- Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Collected Works, and his and Bill Moyers’ video series, The Power of Myth
- Bulfinch’s Mythology
- Memos to Hollywood from The New York Times
- Big Fish’s upcoming shows
- Vote now (for Big Fish!) for the Broadway.com Audience Choice Awards
- All our One Cool Things
- WorkEZ Executive Laptop Stand and on Amazon
- Sometimes You Die for iOS
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Sam Worseldine (send us yours!)