The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name, uh, uh, is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 181 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, it’s been a short week but a very busy week for both of us.
Craig: Yeah. I guess — I’ve been running around for sure. What have you been doing?
John: We’ve had just a lot of little things to take care of. And then I’m deep in writing this project. And so it’s sort of that crunch time where you’re trying to — you’re pushing through to the end. And so I’ve written the beginning, I’ve written the end, I’m writing towards the middle, which is how I love to write. But it’s just a lot of work.
Craig: It’s a lot of work. I was in the mode of writing, you know, I like the luxury of writing as I wish. Sometimes that doesn’t happen. Sometimes something emerges and suddenly you’re thrown into a cauldron and you’re given 2.5 weeks to do what you can on a different thing. And so that’s where I am right now.
There is a certain adrenaline to it, I guess.
John: There is. It’s also that thrill of knowing that you’re not just doing pie-in-the-sky what-ifs. It’s like this needs to happen. And so that urgency can force other people to make decisions and sometimes indecision is the death of quality.
Craig: It’s so true. And there is a certain thing that happens when you’re writing on something that’s actually happening while you’re writing it. You start talking to the line producer and suddenly the decisions you make have these ripples. So, there is this communication. It’s not quite as solitary as the typical writing process. I like that.
John: I like that, too. I was listening to another podcast, because there are other podcasts in the world besides our podcast.
John: And on the most recent episode of StartUp they were talking about burnout. And the burnout they were talking about wasn’t that sort of long-term burnout. It was that you are sprinting as fast as you can and then you realize that you’re actually in the middle of a marathon. And sometimes writing can feel like that and that is a bad place when you hit that because, you know, what are you going to do?
And I feel like people who have meltdowns in television, that’s because they are sprinting and they realize like, oh my god, there is 22 episodes of this sprinting.
Craig: Yeah. It’s hard for us to believe it because it doesn’t seem as objective as say getting a muscle cramp and just failing to continue to run. I mean, we all know what that feels like and it seems very mechanical and therefore acceptable to us.
Harder for us to understand that our brains have the same kind of thing going on, and we need to be aware of it, and we need to accept that we have certain limitations.
John: Yeah. So, on this episode we’re actually going to do a little of that clean up of stuff that could otherwise fall at the wayside. So, we have a lot of follow up and we have some questions that have been sitting in the inbox for awhile. So, I thought we would just plow through as much of this as we can. We’re going to knock out those — if this is a getting things done, you’d be knocking out those next actions and those sort of projects that have been unfulfilled for too long.
So, it’s going to be a smorgasbord of miscellaneous screenwriting topics this week.
John: So, one of the things that’s been dangling for awhile on this podcast has been this dirty episode. So, we have long promised that if we hit a thousand paid subscribers on our premium feed at scriptnotes.net we would do a dirty episode which is just filthy and would be not-safe-for-work or for the kids or for in the car when the kids are in the car.
Craig: Yeah. Or for anyone really at any point.
John: It’s something that will melt your ears. And we’re so excited that next week we’re going to record that episode. So, hooray.
Craig: Yes. And are we allowed to say who are special guests will be?
John: I don’t think we should say who are special guests are just in case something goes horribly wrong.
Craig: Something goes horribly wrong. Well, once we record it, will there be some time between the recoding of it and the release so that we can tell people who is going to be on it and maybe then they might be motivated, you see, to become premium subscribers.
John: You are a clever man. Craig, you really do have a business acumen to this thing which you deny, but you do have a business acumen. I think what we should probably do is we’re going to have a normal episode in that week that we release the episode, but we’ll have little snippets from the big thing there.
John: So, we’ll have some safe-for-work snippets in that episode, but for the full dirty thing you’re going to have to tune in.
Craig: I mean, I know, look, I know who we’re going to have on the show.
John: I’m so excited. So, last week on the show we had Aline Brosh McKenna on and one of the things we talked about was what it means when you call somebody a friend in Hollywood. Like, we refer to someone as like, “Oh yeah, he’s a friend.” But is he really a friend?
And so we had some follow up form Junk Mail 8720. I may have gotten the numbers wrong. 8230, I apologize.
Craig: Yeah, don’t confuse him with Junk Mail 8720.
John: 8720 is just a jerk. “What you guys described on the most recent Scriptnotes is exactly what the term fond acquaintances was invented for.”
Craig: Is it?
John: I don’t know hear anyone saying fond acquaintances. But that’s really what we kind of mean. It’s a person I know and I really like, but I can’t necessarily call them a friend.
Craig: Yeah. Fond acquaintance, even that sounds too…
John: Yeah. It sounds like something Oscar Wilde would say.
Craig: Yeah. And he would be intimating something. [laughs]
John: [laughs] Well he’s a fond acquaintance.
Craig: Yes. Yes.
John: But part of the reason I included Junk Mail’s tweet is that he spells Scriptnotes capital S capital N. ScriptNotes, which was named by Craig Mazin. We never talked about the origin of the show, but you picked the name.
Craig: I did. It’s true.
John: And Scriptnotes is — it’s all one word. And it’s capitalized S. Nothing else is capitalized.
Craig: I get why people would want to make it that way. And, you know, I don’t get too upset about it. But I can see that you would definitely get upset about it. [laughs]
John: I get a little upset about it because I think proper capitalization is really, really important. And to do this sort of camel case thing which is what you call that when you’re coding, there’s a good argument for doing camel case when you’re joining two words together to make it clear what’s actually happening there. But like Scriptnotes as one word, it makes a lot of sense.
Craig: Listen, I back you, as you know, 100 percent. So, if this is something that you feel strongly about, then I feel strongly about it.
John: Thank you very much.
Craig: You’re welcome.
John: Now, the episode before that episode was the conflict episode. And that was the one where we talked all about conflict and we had our little staged scene that made people really uncomfortable, including one of our guests.
Craig: Yeah, a lot of people bought it. They actually bought our acting.
John: So, Steve in Los Angeles wrote, “So, in the conflict episode, one of you mentioned that in the first improv class you learn yes-and. But a screenwriter should think in terms of yes-but so the scene can build conflict. This is true, but in your 20th improv class you learn that the heart of yes-and is agreeing on what the actual conflict is and then running with it together so you can just as well say no while agreeing to say yes to the situation you’ve both agreed upon.
“If someone has a gun and they say they’re going to shoot you, you can say, ‘No, don’t shoot me. I promise I’ll stop sleeping with your wife.’ You have said no, but you have both agreed on what the situation is and what the conflict is: husband dude sleeping with wife. In essence, most really good improv is actually yes-but. Yes, you have a gun, but no, I don’t want you to shoot me. Or even, no-and.”
Craig: Yeah. Sure.
Craig: I’m okay with that. I mean, yes-and, yes-but, no-but, no-and. All of that is fine to me, honestly. The only thing that I think is the death of conflict is okay. I mean, in other words agreeing is —
John: Yeah. A tacit agreement without any sort of further pushing on. And actually another listener wrote in with sort of a follow up to that. “Conflict is a prerequisite for comedy. In all comedy there is conflict between a grounded point of view, often the straight man or straight woman, and a comedic one which is say the one that is unexpected. The conflict can exist between two characters or between a character and the world around here.
“Yes-and applies to all screenwriting though in the sense that you cannot just blindly throw ideas at a scene and expect it to be coherent and successful. Just as in improvisation, you are striving for unity, not just crafting a vessel to hold all the funny lines and experiences.”
Craig: Why is Seth lecturing us? [laughs] I mean, I like what he’s saying, but, hey, Seth is taking a little bit of a tone here.
John: Well, perhaps he is. But I think he wanted to sort of clarify, because I cut out the earlier paragraphs which were basically the same as the previous one. Basically saying that, yes, improv does teach you yes-and, but implicit in that yes-and is the sense that there should be some conflict to sort of push you to the next thing.
And all comedy is really structured on the sense of like two people want different things or disagreeing about sort of the nature of the situation they’re in, while accepting the basic premise of a situation.
Craig: Which is what I just did to Seth.
John: You really did.
Craig: Yeah. I just started —
John: You created conflict.
Craig: Well, because it’s funner. It’s more fun. It’s funnerer.
John: Yeah, pot-stirring.
John: So, on the blog this past week I did a post about reading scripts on the Kindle and which had actually been a follow up to a much earlier post which when I got the very first Kindle, I got the original Kindle, people had naturally asked me like, oh, is it good for reading scripts. And the answer is, no, it’s terrible for reading scripts because it doesn’t really want to be a script reader.
The blog post I will link to and you can see what I said about the follow up which is basically like a Kindle is still a terrible thing to read a script on. And so people wrote back with some suggestions, other topics, and ways to sort of do things. But, Craig, when I say Kindle, what do you think about?
Craig: I think about the Amazon device that is gray.
John: Yeah. So, there are really two kinds of Kindles and I only think about Kindle as being the e-ink reader, the one that’s sort of like the original Kindle, the modern version, the original one. But, of course, there is also the tablet, the Kindle Fire. So, if you have that Kindle Fire thing, it’s probably fine. It’s probably fine for reading scripts because you can get a PDF on there and it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be a small screen, but it’s going to be okay.
I was really talking about as an e-ink reader, which is sort of the best way to read a book, the Kindle still is not a very good way to read a script. There are ways to do it. You can turn it sideways and sort of read half a page, kind of.
John: You can send things through Fade In, but it’s just not so good.
Craig: I mean, I read scripts on my iPad and on my computer, but I don’t — you know, actually sometimes if I get a script in PDF I will open it in iBooks, which is a perfectly fine PDF reader on the iPad. Yeah.
John: Yeah. And so starting today you can actually read it on Weekend Read on your iPad.
Craig: I know. I got to download that.
John: Because we have the beta version of Weekend Read.
John: Now for your iPad. So, Weekend Read is the app that we make for the iPhone for reading scripts, and it’s really good for the iPhone, but it didn’t work on the iPad well. The new version, which is in beta right now, works on the iPad and has iCloud sync and stuff. So, there will be a link in the show notes if you want to sign up for the beta on that. We’re probably weeks or months away from putting it in the App Store, but it’s good.
And, Craig, you get a preview.
Craig: Well, I mean, this is what I’ve been waiting for. This is the thing for me.
John: Yeah. Hopefully you’ll love it.
Craig: I feel like you made it for me. [laughs]
John: We made it just for Craig. So, Craig Mazin, Weekend Read.
Craig: Aw, thanks.
John: But Aline uses it. Rian Johnson uses it. Kelly Marcel uses it. You’re basically the only screenwriter I know who doesn’t use Weekend Read.
Craig: Well, I don’t like reading scripts on my phone, but I do love reading scripts on my iPad. And, you know, I still feel that I’m somewhat representative of a community, a community of what we would call quasi-luddites.
Craig: Yeah. We’re technologically advanced. We just don’t like some technology.
John: Exactly. So, you drive your Tesla to poke fun at other people’s technology.
Craig: Yeah, man. Sounds like a great day.
John: Continuing follow up, James writes, “In episode 178, there was an excellent Three Page Challenge called Going Om.” I remember that.
John: And so that was the one that started with the guy whose wife died. He wakes up in the morning and the guy’s wife is dead.
John: And so James goes on to write, “However, as a former EMT I must point out that ambulances do not transport the dead. If a person is found to be deceased, then the police and the coroner, etc, take responsibility for the body. The reason is so that we don’t divert our emergency personnel away from people who could potentially be saved.
“I know the body bag in the ambulance makes for a cool visual, but it just isn’t done. And don’t me started on the whole ‘he’s gone, flat-line, shock him thing.’ You never ever defibrillate flat line. That is called asystole.”
John: Asystole? Thank you, Dr. Craig Mazin.
Craig: You’re welcome.
John: “It means absence of cardiac electrical activity. You can shock disorganized rhythms, such as ventricular defibrillation, or ventricular tachycardia, because defibrillation is meant to reset the chaotic electrical activity in the heart in an organized rhythm, just generalizing a coordinated heartbeat to pump blood.
“If no electrical activity is present to begin with, then you can shock all you want, but nothing will happen.”
John: So here is why I stumbled through all those words is that I think it actually matters. I think I’ve seen both of those things so often in film and television and apparently they are not actually accurate.
Craig: No, they’re not. And doctors and lawyers have long since given up caring. I mean, I love that James still cares. I think that’s terrific. However, if you continue to care about this, James, you’re going to lose your mind. Because movies and television are full of medical and legal dramas that consistently trample on what is real all the time.
You know, it’s one of those things where it’s drama. I mean, listen, it’s a bad scene to have an ambulance show up, walk into a room, find a dead body and go, “Right. Well we’re going now. But in about 25 minutes somebody from the coroner’s office will show up.” We don’t have time for that.
John: See, here is where I disagree. And part of why I disagree is I think there is something really potentially rewarding about looking at sort of what is the standard procedures in those situations. Because once you know what the real standard procedure is, you can find something dramatic.
In the thing you just described, that’s a cool moment I’ve never seen before. And so if you were one of the first movies that sort of shows that I’m like, oh, wow, that’s so weird. If you were that guy, that husband who lost his wife, and the people show up and are like, “Oh no, that’s not us. We got to go.” And then suddenly you’re just alone again with the body. That’s really cool.
Craig: If it fits the tone of the movie, I totally agree. If it fits the tone of the show, I totally agree. In fact, that would fit into the three pages of Going Om that we read. I think it would be really cool.
John: I think it would be really cool.
Craig: Yeah, but in a lot of things it’s like, eh…
John: So I’m just pushing towards, as a screenwriter, always investigate what the real situation is. You’re not bound to that real situation, but look for situations where there is something that is sort of often glossed over in other films and in other television things where you can actually really zoom in.
So, both of these things I’m talking about, sort of standard procedures and magnified, those are actually both cards in Writer Emergency Pack which we sent out 8,000 of those packs. And I think they’re actually really rewarding. Because when you get sort of stuck on something, sometimes it can be really good to just sort of just like focus in on some little detail that would otherwise go unnoticed.
Craig: And, frankly, if there is one service that James is doing to everyone out there, it’s to eliminate defibrillation from movies and television because I can’t think of anything more cliché. It may be the most cliché thing possible. Someone yelling clear, and then going ka-tunk.
John: Ka-tunk. You know, I have a thing in what I’m writing right now, like literally the scene that I’m working on right now where a person comes across someone who has recently died and has no sense of sort of what has actually happened. But his training is as a lifeguard, so he just kicks into sort of lifeguard mode and starts doing CPR. Is that realistic?
I think it’s realistic for that character to want to try to do something, and so it makes for a good scene. And thinking about it from his point of view, it seems to fit well with the story.
Craig: I mean, CPR is totally fine. I mean, hopefully your character doesn’t go, “Come on, breath dammit.”
John: Oh lord.
Craig: [laughs] And then someone else goes, “Let it go. She’s gone.”
John: So, one of the things I need to investigate this week is when do you, if you’re a police detective, when do you swab a person’s hands for bloodstains, DNA evidence? At what point do you say like, “Oh, you know what? This might be a murder,” and do you start swabbing the guy’s hands? And that’s a thing I’ll be researching this next week.
Craig: You know, it’s funny. I’ve been doing a little bit of research on that myself just because I’m writing a murder mystery.
John: Or you’re planning to kill somebody.
Craig: And also planning to kill a number of people. But I had the benefit of a — I mean, the fun of a very small town police officer who is mostly just giving out traffic tickets, now suddenly in charge of a murder investigation. So, he just gets things wrong, which is kind of fun.
John: Always the best.
Craig: I get the benefit of having him not actually follow protocol. He makes a number of mistakes. In fact, he finds a guy dead. He presumes it’s a heart attack. He talks to the person who actually discovered the body. He doesn’t ask them any questions. Then a reporter shows up and the reporter says, “Well, you should probably just take a look around. Like for instance there’s his trailer that he lives in.” So the police offer goes, “Eh, you know, you’re probably right. I should probably look in there.” And he is about to open the door and the reporter says, “Eh, fingerprints.”
“Well, yeah, okay.” He’s just terrible at this. So, I get to actually break the rules constantly.
John: That’s fun.
Craig: But the other part then that’s nice is that he starts to do a little research, because he starts to feel embarrassed, and he actually grows into the role of being, and he figures it out. He does.
John: Great. And this is your main character?
Craig: Well, my main character is a sheep. [laughs] But he’s —
John: It’s always more challenging that way.
Craig: But this is a human. The sheep is brilliant.
John: That’s good. Nice. On the topic of figuring out specifically how things are supposed to be done and how they would be done in the real world, we had a question from Tao who writes in, this is in reference to Craig’s earlier post about the Hollywood Science Exchange. “Over the last few years I’ve gotten very involved in the world of crypto currency, such as bitcoin. This has happened because I solve unusual problems for clients, often by recruiting highly specialized talent or implementing creative out-of-the-box solutions.
“My question is how would somebody like me go on to become a resource for a specialized field in the Hollywood creative community?”
So, he’s asking basically I’m a guy who knows how this thing works, how do I let people know that I know how this thing works?
Craig: I actually don’t know. I remember that the Writers Guild used to publish a list of available research resources to screenwriters on the back page of Written By magazine, which is the union publication. Admittedly, I don’t read Written By very carefully. So, I don’t know if they still do that or not. But if you wanted to become a go-to resource for the Hollywood creative community, you might start by calling the Writers Guild, and offering your name as a reference.
There is probably a place on the website where that would go. You have to be willing to do it for free.
John: Yeah. You should be.
Craig: Yeah. That’s what I would do.
John: So, I think that’s a good suggestion. I would also say I don’t know the outer limits of what the Hollywood Science Exchange talks about, but what you’re doing is sort of science, so it might be applicable.
I would also say if I was looking for information about crypto bitcoin stuff, I would do a Google search. So, if you set up a website for yourself that says like this is me, this is what I do, I’m happy to consult on story issues for people who want to do that kind of stuff, that might show up in search engines and help you there.
I would also consider doing like a Reddit thread on that. I am a crypto currency expert. Ask me anything. All that kind of stuff would just get you some exposure. And it’s that kind of exposure online that will probably lead some screenwriters to your door.
John: Cool. Craig, we now have to discuss the Peter Bart article.
Craig: Oh. My. God.
John: Okay, you’ve got to set it up.
Craig: Okay. So, in all honesty a lot of people, I saw this on my own. And then a lot of people sent it to me and I think people now look at me as some sort of bear that they can poke and make dance for them, a dance of rage.
Actually, I couldn’t even get angry at this because it’s too stupid to arouse anger. It is phenomenally dumb. So, Peter Bart, you know, is a Hollywood institution of a sort. I believe he used to run Paramount back in the day. Am I right about that?
John: That sounds right. But I mostly know him as running Variety. Back when I first started here, he was the editor of Variety I believe.
Craig: That’s right. So, he at some point transitioned to journalism and in the heyday of Variety when people actually paid hundreds of dollars a year for a subscription because there wasn’t the internet, so powerful guy.
He wrote this editorial called Are Screenwriters Becoming Obsolete in Hollywood? And if he had thought it through, the editorial would have been one word. No. And then he would have gone about his day. But he didn’t think it through. Instead, he engaged in the strangest argument. He started to talk about how screenwriters are rarely if ever mentioned by other people in acceptance speeches for awards. What in god’s name does that have to do with screenwriters being obsolete in Hollywood? I mean, who cares if they mentioned your name?
I mean, I know, look, it would be nice if everybody gave us the public credit we deserve, but that hardly indicates the obsolescence of the job. It was just — he opened with one of the dumbest arguments I can fathom.
John: Yeah. It was an incredibly frustrating article/editorial. And it’s sort of like paragraphs that were basically strung together at random, I think. There was like the little machine that just spits them out as it occurred to him.
So, it started with the headline. Obviously he doesn’t necessarily write the headlines, but Betteridge’s law of headlines applies, which is basically any headline that ends with a question mark can always be answered no.
John: And that’s actually accurate. Like screenwriters are not obsolete, but he’s making this weird case and he basically ends up — I think he kind of wants to celebrate screenwriters and throw them under the bus at the same time. It’s just a bizarre thing.
I want to read just a little snippet from here because it’s just annoying and offensive.
So, he’s talking about how omission of names of screenwriters. “Such omissions have become increasingly apparent lately, since more and more films have either been written by the director or perhaps not written at all.”
John: “I’m convinced that no director named Anderson has ever hired a writer.” So, we’re going to pause here. So, director’s named Anderson, so he must be talking about Wes Anderson.
John: And Paul Thomas Anderson.
John: But they’re both writers and their both really good writers.
Craig: Yeah. They don’t need to hire a writer. They are writers.
John: Plus, Wes Anderson writes with somebody else, so that’s just crazy talk.
Craig: Right. Exactly.
John: “Further, Birdman, with all its frenetic energy, plays like it was created scene-by-scene by its hyper-caffeinated cast.”
John: “The director…” Okay. Blah. Blah. I want to say blah. First off, there’s a bunch of screenwriters credited for Birdman, like more than you would normally get for a WGA credit. But, that thing was like choreographed within precise half breaths.
Craig: Was he drunk when he saw the movie? I mean, the whole thing about Birdman is that it’s designed to be as if it’s one long take. Obviously it’s not one long take, but the chunks that are knitted together are much longer in camera than we are accustomed to. There’s maybe, I don’t know, 20 edits in the film total. So, of course, the last thing in the world it could be is created scene-by-scene by its cast. That’s a mentally ill statement. I don’t know how he could have arrived at it.
And, frankly, what follows in the parenthetical is even weirder. He says, “(the director, Alejandro G. Inarritu, takes screenplay credit along with three other scribes, including two friends).” First of all, what does mean take screenplay credit like, oh, I’ll just have this. No, screenplay credit is granted. And what is it like, “along with three other scribes, including two friends.” Oh, they’re not really writes. La, la. This is the worst.
Craig: It’s the worst. You know, and then he takes swipes at Interstellar. “It would have been a far more satisfying film,” he says, “had a talented writer worked on its dialogue and plot,” because Chris Nolan and his brother I guess are not talented writers. Either way, what in god’s name does this have to do with the obsolescence or the putative obsolescence of screenwriters?
Now, he’s just complaining about scripts he doesn’t like.
John: Yeah. And so when you say like oh now he’s going to talk about back in the old days of the studio system…
Craig: Here we go.
John: Yeah, he goes and talks about the old days of the studio system.
Craig: There we go.
John: And then like the unproduced scripts written for mistresses, I’m just like, that was better?
Craig: Maddening. So, what he yearns for, the days of Nunnally Johnson and Dalton Trumbo “who labored in the old studio writers buildings.” Yes, where they were underpaid, and abused, and occasionally put on a black list. “I even read unproduced scripts written by the likes of F. Scott Fitzgerald.” Yeah, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote a lot of screenplays. He was drunk half the time. A bunch of those are terrible. He actually — the best work that he did about screenwriting are his Pat Hobby books, where F. Scott Fitzgerald invents a down on his luck screenwriter. That stuff is great.
He says, “It was clear why they were never made, but they deserved to be published.” What?
John: What are you talking about? What editorial are we in now?
Craig: Exactly. Now we’re in an editorial where we’re trying to fix the crimes of the ’40s? And then, of course, this editorial, this bizarre romp through disconnected and incorrect utterings burps forth a reference to his late friend Roddy McDowell.
John: Which is nice, too. The other recent thing he steps all over, which I think is shameful, is Guardians of the Galaxy, which was terrific. And so he’s claiming its plotlessness, it’s like, yeah, you know what, the plot was a little bit hard to follow. But you look at sort of what the characters do in that story, and it was terrific. And so it’s just grump old man not happy with things.
Craig: I know.
John: Get off my lawn.
Craig: Yeah. It’s such an old man yelling at clouds. I mean, he says, “It’s apparent in the trend toward what some critics call the ‘post-plot’ movie. Guardians of the Galaxy is a prime example of a movie that offered great shtick and a wisecracking raccoon.” Because, you know, there are lot of movies that offer that, but this one is a prime example of it. “But no true narrative.”
No, there’s clearly a narrative in Guardians of the Galaxy. The fact that Kenneth Turan couldn’t follow it doesn’t mean it’s not there. Because you know what? My son could follow it. All it means is that Kenneth Turan couldn’t follow it. And maybe Peter Bart can’t follow it. And that’s fine. But this is maddening. The thing about this editorial that’s so strange is not that it’s making an argument that screenwriters are becoming obsolete in Hollywood, because it doesn’t. it literally makes no arguments.
It’s embarrassing because it’s so poorly written. It’s an editorial about writing that in and of itself is in desperate need of a rewrite.
John: Yeah. I’d also point out that the WGA awards which are actually nomination by the screenwriters themselves include three of the films that he’s singling out as being exemplary of the end of screenwriters. So, Boyhood is a nominee. Grand Budapest Hotel is a nominee. And Guardians of the Galaxy is a nominee.
Craig: Right. He swipes at all of them. He says, “I admired Boyhood, but again, it plays as if the actors year after year inventing scenes as they slowly age.” You know, I have to say if the screenwriter and the director do their job really, really well, it should seem like the actors are actually just doing this for real. That’s what we do. That’s our job. If it seems like it’s written, then we haven’t done our job well, Peter.
John: Grumble. All right, let’s move on to new stuff.
John: So, we got some questions in the mailbag and some of them were stacking up and some of them are new, but let’s get through as many as we can.
John: So, Evan in Philadelphia writes, “The script I’m working on focuses on a female team of characters.” Oh, no, he’s writing Ghostbusters. “Four of them on a team. What I’m getting hung up on is now that we’re in act two and the team has coalesced is I don’t know how to refer to them in action. Do I use the team? All of them? Do I name them individually every time? Bea, Betty, Rue, and Estelle charge down the stairs. Do I assume that they all move from one scene to the next if it’s continuous action? It’s an action-thriller, so I’m trying to make sure these characters are all responding and interesting in separate ways to the story, pressures on them, but also work as a unit.”
So, what he’s talking about is such a good thing, because it’s something that actually genuinely happens a lot which is you’ve moved from one scene to another scene and you have to kind of remind everybody who is in the scene. And what do you use as the collective noun for the heroes, the group, the gang?
Like the scene I’m writing this evening, I had to refer to the guys, it’s like, ah…
Craig: I know, it’s rough. Well, he’s got a little bit of a gift here because he’s writing an action-thriller, so yeah, they should have — you can give them a name. And it doesn’t have to be a name that’s actually announced in the movie itself. But if you want to call them, you know, when they come together, now you can say something like Bea, Betty, Rue and Estelle, The Squad. You know, you can say that The Squad charge down the stairs. At some point call out what you’re going to referring to them as.
Like the way in legal documents there will be a long name and then they’ll put the short name in parenthesis. And then you can call them The Squad from there on out and we’ll get it, you know, the reader will get it.
John: I find myself leaning on trio a lot. If there are three characters, I fall back to trio. Maybe every three paragraphs you’re allowed to say trio and then it becomes annoying. But if it’s clear that all three of them are doing the same thing and then other times maybe that’s a reason to look for individual actions that individual people can take. Because if they’re doing things as a group the whole time through, that can be annoying.
And then I would also just say let your pronouns do some of the work for you. So, if it’s clear who we’re talking about, they can be they. And them can be them. And let that be a useful shorthand for what we have to do.
But, I feel you. This is a real thing that’s kind of annoying.
Craig: It is. I have to say though that I think when Todd and I were writing The Hangover sequels, we didn’t ever refer to the guys as The Guys. It was always their names. And we would say Phil, Alan, and Stu cross the street. It helped actually that their names were short.
John: For sure.
Craig: But, you know, people didn’t really seem to get name fatigue. And when I would read through it I didn’t get name fatigue. And in a way it kept the faces in my head more than say something like The Team, or The Unit, or The Squad, which starts to feel a little impersonal as if there is no separation there, you know?
John: Yeah. And sometimes you can start a sentence with one of the characters who is doing the primary action and the other two are following behind. If you’re coming into a scene and somebody hands off something to somebody, there are ways you can sort of use their names that aren’t just a list. And that can be useful, too.
Craig: Yeah, like if Betty catches the signal and then Betty says, “Let’s go.” She starts moving towards the signal. The others follow.
John: Others is a good collective.
Craig: The others is very useful.
John: Yeah. All right. Tim in Liverpool, England has the simplest question we will ever answer on this show. Are you ready?
Craig: I’m so ready.
John: Okay. “In my screenplay, I am writing a scene which takes place in a woodland area. I originally thought this would be EXT. WOODS — NIGHT. But as the scene takes place in the woods, would this be INT. WOODS — NIGHT?”
Craig: One, two, three. No!
John: Absolutely not. It’s EXT.
John: You’re outside. If you’re outside it’s exterior.
Craig: The reason that we write exterior and interior is not to help people imagine where we are, although we are, but it’s really for the people who are making/producing the movie to understand that we’re supposed to be outside or inside. There will be times when exteriors will actually be shot indoors. You will create a little set, like a park.
John: For example, Into the Woods.
Craig: Into the Woods. A lot of the woods were in fact interior stage, but they needed to be called exterior so people understood they were designed to look as if you were outside.
Yes, you are in the woods , but you are not interior of the woods.
John: So, there are some cases where you’ll be using INT/EXT. Like driving seems to happen a lot where you’re in the car, but what’s happening outside is also a factor. And so if things are happening inside and around the car, especially if the car is moving, INT/EXT can be your friend. Or if characters are just really sort of moving into and out of a house a lot, sometimes you’ll use that nomenclature.
Craig: Yeah, you know, I’ve actually — I used to do INT/EXT when I had somebody in a car talking to somebody out of a car. I’ve actually stopped doing it and now I just write EXT. ROAD. Jim drives. Leans out the window. Because you’re outside.
John: You’re outside. At that point you’re outside.
Craig: You’re outside. Even if you’re shooting inside the car, you’re outside.
John: Yeah. Lisa writes, “I am 49 years old and it’s been my dream to move to Hollywood after my son graduates high school in 2016. I’ll be 50 then. I’m also deaf, which is the heart of my challenge to this point. Many agencies don’t want to train me as a personal assistant because of my deafness, which I find rather silly as I can type, speak — not perfectly, but I can get my point across, and I have office skills. I really want to be trained and have no idea who else to contact. Any suggestions? And please don’t refer to me GLAD, Greater Los Angeles Agency on Deafness, as I’ve already contacted them.
“It seems like that’s the default answer for a lot of the hearing people is to send me to deaf-related agencies. I wonder if they send black people to black people agencies? It’s just annoying. I just want advice on how to break into the entertainment industry without being an actor or a studio worker.”
Craig: I’m a big believer, and you know, I have hearing-impaired people in my family. And I’m a big believer that hearing-impaired people can do far more than hearing people think they can do. No question. But I do think that you’re going to have to be realistic about the jobs that are going to be right for you. Now, if you don’t want to go to the Greater LA Agency on Deafness, which I know nothing about frankly, then my suggestion would be maybe to interview at some of the big temp agencies here in town.
So, there are a few that specialize in entertainment placement. The Friedman Agency, for instance. And if you sit down with them and say, “Listen, here is the deal. I can do the following things, as well as anybody who hears. Obviously there are some things that I’m challenged with. What would be right for me?” And then see if they can’t find you something.
John: I think your advice to look for agencies, and sometimes even studio HR departments, just to try to do an informational interview to see if there is a way that they can figure out a place for you to be able to work there. Because it’s going to be challenging in certain circumstances. And you may not really know what the job is. And going in for that informational interview, you’ll find out what that job is. And so maybe together you can figure out what are some things you can do that could make it all work out.
Yeah, a lot of stuff does happen sort of on email and that kind of stuff and there’s probably some spot like that that could be great, but it may not be on a classic desk.
The other thing I would say is you’re going to be 50 years old. And 50 years old is older than most sort of new personal assistants are going to be. So, that’s going to be something also to be mindful of is that most of the people who are doing the kind of job you’re talking about, the kind of job we talk about being your first job in Hollywood, that’s kind of the like, hey, you just graduated from college. Here’s this job. And where you’re making no money and eating ramen out of the sink.
That’s not probably what your best first step is going to be. So, some sort of informational interview would probably be a good start.
Craig: Personally, I don’t think your age matters. And I also think that with some exceptions, being hearing impaired shouldn’t matter either. But I want you to know that I suspect I have a rare perspective on this. And that you are going to face very serious barriers whether they’re fair or not, and you need to go into that with your eyes open because they’re going to be there.
And I want you to approach this with I guess a clear of a picture of what you’re going to be facing as possible, because let me tell you, if you can hear, and you’re 23 years old, these jobs are hard to get. If you can’t and you’re 50, it’s going to be very hard to get. And that’s not always fair, that’s not always just, but it’s the world we’re in.
John: I agree with you. And I should say that I think Lisa found out about our show because we are one of the rare podcasts that has transcripts for all of our episodes, going back to the first episode. So, if you are a person who is catching up on the show and want to read the transcripts, that is a way you can partake in our show as well.
And it’s people who get the premium subscriptions, that’s what pays for the guy who does all the transcripts. So, thank you listeners for chipping in on that.
John: Amy writes, “In terms of dialogue, do you use dot-dot-dot when someone is pausing or dash-dash when someone is breaking off what they’re saying?” Craig, what is your style. Are you a dot-dot-dotter, or a dash-dasher?
Craig: When someone is pausing, I usually will do a dash-dash. If, for instance, I’m not going to break out the pause in a parenthetical like beat, you know. But if someone is going to say, “I just — I just don’t know.” I would say, “I just — I just don’t know.” I tend to use the ellipses for a trailing off as in, “I don’t know man…”
John: I think within a block of dialogue I am largely the same. I’m pretty sure if you look through my old scripts I’m completely inconsistent. But I think I do it this way where if somebody is trailing off, that’s ellipses for me. And if someone is stopping a sentence and then starting kind of a new thought, that’s a dash-dash for me, where they’re sort of talking over themselves.
Where I’m a little less consistent is when someone is being interrupted. I will sometimes do the dot-dot-dot, or sometimes I’ll do the dash-dash. If I’m carrying dialogue across a cut, that more likely is a dot-dot-dot for me. But I don’t know that I have a consistent answer for you.
Craig: Yeah, you know, frankly it’s not that big of a deal. Whatever feels right to you. There’s never been a great script that was unproduced because of this.
John: I would completely agree. The only thing I will say is make sure you match. And so if something stops on a dash-dash, start it up on a dash-dash. Don’t go like dash-dash, then dot-dot-dot. That’s just weird.
Craig: That is weird, yes. Stick to one. By the way, John, when you have somebody — let’s say somebody is talking and then they notice something and then in the middle of it, so it’ll say, “John, excuse me, would you mind if — “
And then action. “The person turns around. It’s his dad.” And then John, ” — Oh, never mind.” Do you do the dash-dash leading into that second line?
John: I do.
Craig: Yeah, me too.
John: I do, too. But that’s the case where like I can’t tell you 100 percent if I would always dash-dash or if I would dot-dot-dot it. And I think it’s just the way the mood strikes me when I’m writing it.
Craig: Nothing wrong with that. Oh my god, I got into such a — dude, I got into such an argument. I don’t know why. This is the one thing that I will argue about with anyone at any time anywhere. I did the ask me anything on Reddit screenwriting a long time ago. So, every now and then I’ll just pop over and take a look at what people are talking about. And generally speaking they’re talking about the same things they always talk about. This one guy is saying, “Hey, is it okay to put descriptions of camera angles or moves in your screenplay?” And this one guy just says, “Nope, it’s never okay. It’s absolutely not okay. If people see that in your script they will presume that you’re an amateur and you’re no good.”
And I just — I can’t take it. Where did this come from?
John: From one of the books. From one of the How to Write a Screenplay books, or some screenwriting teacher who drilled it in at some class at some Florida college.
Craig: [laughs] That’s a perfect detail. We have to find patient zero and kill that person.
John: Yes. And here’s what is so maddening about that kind of absolute rule is that someone will then tweet at us. I think someone just today tweeted at us saying like, “But I looked at Goodfellas’ script and it says we see all the time and there are camera motions, or like James Cameron uses camera movements, but can he get away with that and no one else can?”
It’s like, no, anyone can do it. It’s a question of is your script great? Is it really clear what’s happening? Is the camera motion or referring to we as the audience, is that useful in helping tell your story? Then do it. If it’s not, then you shouldn’t do it. And anything can be perfect, or anything can be annoying, it’s just how you’re doing it.
Craig: Yeah. Exactly. I mean, my big problem with this, so what people will say is directors will tell you they don’t like that because you’re telling them how to direct. Here’s the thing: if I say push in on, wide angle, close, am I telling them how to direct? No. I don’t think so. What I think I’m telling them is this is how I envision this movie.
But here is what else I will — what everybody puts in a screenplay that apparently is okay. Cast. Setting. Action. Motivation. Performance. Dialogue. Costume. Props. Every other aspect that the director controls on a movie set, we have put into the screenplay if we have done our jobs right.
They don’t need to do it the way we said it, but it is incumbent upon us to do all of that to help the reader see a movie. That’s also “directing on the page.” It’s infantile. This whole thing is infantile. I want to kill it as best as I can. And I’m enlisting all of you out there. You will go out like our heralds and spread this word. Spread this gospel to your film teachers and your friends.
John: Two points I want to follow up there. You were talking about we describe performance, we describe costumes, we describe settings, and yes we do that, and we do that only to the degree that we need to do that in order to make it clear what the movie is.
John: And so that’s why you don’t choke your script full of camera directions because most of the time you don’t need to.
John: But if you need to, do it. If it helps to tell your story, you do it. Just like we never refer to every costume. We never refer to sort of every setting in intricate detail. We do as much as we need to do to get the idea across for what it is. And screenwriting is always about that balance of detail and economy. And that’s what you’re always trying to juggle.
Craig: Absolutely. It’s the job. And if anyone tells you — if anyone tells you that there is some sort of blanket rule against we see, or camera stuff, or any of that, you just look them in the eye and say, “No. No. No.”
John: [laughs] And I want to come back to something that we’ve often talked about in the Three Page Challenges which is that trying to keep action lines short. And Craig really likes to keep action lines to like no more than three lines in a row.
John: But that’s not an absolute rule. And there are many great screenplays you will read that are quite a bit longer and have dense paragraphs full of stuff, and that doesn’t mean that they’re wrong or they’re bad. And they can work really, really well. And in Whiplash, which we both really liked a lot, has huge blocks of action and it works great for Whiplash.
And so it may work great for your screenplay, too. But just know that if you’re doing that kind of density, you’re making some other tradeoffs and people may start skimming. And that’s a danger, but maybe that’s going to be fine for you. Or maybe you’re going to write things so well that people are not going to skim, and that’s going to be great, too.
So, there are no absolute rules other than just know that absolutely there are no rules.
Craig: Totally. Yeah, listen, you know, a great screenplay that has big long action blocks, people will read through the action blocks because they love your script. We all have our preferences. We all think, well you know, the way I do it is easy on the eyes, but that doesn’t mean anything.
I mean, listen, there are screenwriters out there that mix up capital letters and stuff. And all sorts of crazy stuff. Hey, guess what, we’re artists. Holy crap. And we don’t have to follow this weird — I don’t know, this orthodoxy as if we’re all working for the typist pool at Warner Bros in 1962.
John: And they’re still working there. It’s so maddening.
This last week, so I’m writing a scary movie, and I’ve had to break out the underlines more than I’ve ever had to in a script. And it’s because there are things that I recognize in horror movies that have to be made clear in ways that are just very different than in comedies or normal dramas. Where like you have to make it clear what it’s actually going to feel like. And sometimes the best way to do that is to underline it.
I’m generally a person who is very, very spare on the uppercase and the bolds and the underlines, but I find myself doing it more on this script than I’ve ever done before because there are both those shock scares, those little jump moments, but there is also that you have to see that this is something really unusual. That classic like we can’t see into that room but this thing is right there.
And it’s interesting to me, you know. working on my, god, 50th screenplay maybe, and to have to be doing some things differently just because of the nature of the story.
Craig: Isn’t that great? I mean, I just love that. It’s funny. Rather than being the exception to the rule, I don’t know any other professional screenwriters that don’t do this stuff. I can’t remember the last time I read a screenplay by a professional that didn’t have some occasional camera direction and some occasional we see and some occasional underlining and some occasional fiddling of things in interesting ways.
It’s part of what we do. I mean, god, grow up. It’s amazing out there.
John: Yeah. You’re trying to create the experience of seeing a movie with just the words on the page. And sometimes you need to goose those words in order to get the effect across.
Craig: Ah, I feel much better.
John: I feel much better, too. Craig, it’s time for One Cool Things.
Craig: I have one.
John: Start us off.
Craig: So, someone on Twitter recommended this to me because I’m a big fan of The Room and the Room 2 for iPad.
John: I love them both.
Craig: Wonderful, wonderful games. So, this is a new game. It’s not for iOS. In fact, it’s for Mac OS. I think Mac OS only. I’m not sure. But I’m Mac OS, so what the hell. So, you download it through the App Store and it’s called Lumino City as in luminosity. On one hand it’s a simple point and click puzzle adventure where you play this little girl who is looking for her grandfather in this funny little town. And you have to figure out where to go and how to solve some puzzles to make things move around and so forth. The game play in and of itself is not revolutionary.
What is revolutionary is the animation and what it looks like. I believe what the game creators did was actually build their environments. They built these environments out of paper and wood and material and then shot them photographically and now are using that as the environment, the 3D environment that you’re moving through.
It’s just stunning. I mean —
John: Ah, I’m looking forward to it.
Craig: It’s gorgeous. And the way they built the game is that you enter an environment, for instance, a house or a plaza with a couple of rooms that you can go in. And in that area there is a puzzle or a series of puzzles to be solved to exit that area and move on. When you do and you move onto the next area, there’s this moment where you arrive in the new place and every time I’ve done it I go, oh, because it’s just so well done. It’s so pretty. And I love it. I just love the way this game looks. It’s so beautiful. And it’s like, I don’t know, $12 or something.
John: It’s a bargain. We need to start paying for things.
Craig: I agree.
John: Good stuff. My One Cool Thing is a book and, god, it’s a long title but I will try to give the whole title to you. Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension: A Mathematician’s Journey Through Narcissistic Numbers, Optimal Dating Algorithms, at Least Two Kinds of Infinity, and More by Matt Parker.
And so I’m reading it right now, I’m about halfway through, I really like it a lot. And so it’s a mathematician who is sort of talking you through the kinds of thing mathematicians talk about. And so it’s not numbers and formulas, it’s about sort of like higher dimension stuff and weird four dimensional things that happen and sort of like how rules apply and sort of weird puzzle algorithms.
So, Craig, I think it’s a book that you and David Kwong would like because it’s very much about sort of the weird patterns that show up in nature when you start sort of applying rules to things.
Craig: It sounds great. Did you ever read, I mean, this probably isn’t quite like that, but I’m wondering if you ever read Flatland when you were a kid?
John: Oh, yes, it’s very, very much Flatland.
Craig: Oh, it is Flatland.
John: That sense of like what it would be like to be in, you know, Flatland is about a two-dimensional creature. This is like what it is like to be able to manipulate things through four dimensions.
Craig: I always remember, there was this little — so, Flatland, if you guys haven’t read it, is very short, terrific, little story that helps instruct on geometry. You’re a character that lives in a two-dimensional land. He describes what that’s like to see things only in two dimensional. You’re flat on a plain.
And then one day this character is visited by a sphere from the third dimension. And as this sphere moves through his world, he appears to be a line that goes wider and shorter, you see, because the sphere is moving up and down through this plain, like cross sections.
So, I read that, I’m like, oh, that’s cool, I can see how a three-dimensional person like me would absolutely freak out a two-dimensional person.
But what’s so cool about that is that the sphere describes how he was visited by a fourth-dimensional shape. And the fourth-dimensional shape, if I recall correctly, was like a chain link, but it could unlink itself without breaking. And then link, yeah, because something is happening in that fourth dimension that we can’t see. Oh, I love it. I thought that was so great.
John: Yeah, it’s nice stuff. So, it does some little simple projects you can figure out yourself. And like things that roll in ways that seem kind of impossible. And it’s like solids that aren’t spheres but can roll like spheres, which seems impossible, but are actually real. So, it’s neat, so I would recommend that book if you’re into math nerdery and sort of extra dimensional stuff.
Craig: Sounds good to me.
John: Cool. That is our show this week. So, our outro this week is by Rajesh Naroth. Thank you, Rajesh. He sent us some really good ones, so thank you again for another great melody here.
If you have a Scriptnotes outro you would like to have us play, you can send it into firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s also where you can send listener questions like the ones we answered on the show today. If you have a question for Craig Mazin, you should tweet at him. He is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust.
If you are on iTunes for whatever reason, you should subscribe to the podcast. While you’re there, leave us a comment or a rating. People did that last time Craig told them to do it, so thank you very much for that.
John: We also have a premium feed which you can find at Scriptnotes.net. That is where you will listen to the dirty episode when it’s up, which is probably about a week away.
Craig: So dirty.
John: So dirty. It’s going to be fun. So, that’s where you can find that also all the back episodes, back to episode one.
Scriptnotes is edited by Matthew Chilelli. It is produced by Stuart Friedel. Hey Stuart. And that is our show for this week.
So, next week we will have a normal episode, but there will also be a dirty episode, so you’re going to get a twofer if you’re on the premium feed.
John: Cool. Thanks Craig. Have a great night.
Craig: Thanks John. Bye.
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- The Science & Entertainment Exchange
- Are Screenwriters Becoming Obsolete in Hollywood?
- What is the difference between an em-dash/double-hypen and an ellipsis? on screenwriting.io
- Lumino City, and how it’s made
- Things to Make and Do in the Fourth Dimension: A Mathematician’s Journey Through Narcissistic Numbers, Optimal Dating Algorithms, at Least Two Kinds of Infinity, and More by Matt Parker
- Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Rajesh Naroth (send us yours!)