The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 227 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Today on the program we have a brand new Three Page Challenge where our listeners have submitted pages for us to take a look at and we will offer them our honest feedback. But before that, there’s an elephant in the room that we have to address.
John: Craig, I think part of the reason why our podcast is successful is that you and I have relatively equal levels of fame or sort of people don’t know who we are to equal degrees.
John: And that all changed yesterday as we are recording this because on December 3rd, The Daily Show featured a story about your best friend —
John: Who is now running for president. His name is Mr. Ted Cruz. Let’s listen to what they said.
Trevor Noah: With a man of Cruz’s accomplishments, there’s bound to be some professional envy. [laughs] To truly know a man, you go and talk to the people close to him, from back in the day.
Craig: Ted Cruz was my roommate. I did not like him at all in college. And, you know, I want to be clear because, you know, Ted Cruz is a nightmare of a human being. I have plenty of problems with his politics. But truthfully, his personality is so awful that 99% of why I hate him is just his personality. [laughs] If he agreed with me on every issue, I would hate him only 1% less.
Trevor Noah: Ooh. 1% less. Nerd burn. [laughs] Do you know how much you have to hate someone to do the math on it? [laughs] As you can see, before I met Ted, I didn’t hate him. And after I met him, well, the data speaks for itself. [laughs]
John: So Craig, I mean, the data backs it up. You are now a much bigger star than I am.
Craig: Well, you are in there. At one point, you go, “Yeah.” [laughs]
John: Yeah. I have sort of like my, “Uh-huh.”
Craig: I think what’s so funny about this is that all of this was said by me a long time, years ago.
Craig: And there was an article that Frank Bruni did in The New York Times a couple of days ago that dredged it up. And that created this bizarro domino thing where then it went on The Daily Show where — and then he said that it was a nerd burn and —
Craig: He kind of called me a nerd, which I am. I’m a complete nerd. I just didn’t realize it was so evident in that remark. Anyway, and then, Jezebel kind of jumped on board and did a very lovely thing about it. And it turns out, if you want to be beloved in this world, just, you know, don’t like Ted Cruz. [laughs] It’s really not hard.
John: Absolutely. I remember when you actually spoke that one time. You just said like, “This is the last I’m ever going to say about it.” And that’s fine. So you don’t have to say anything more about sort of that person.
John: It’s so interesting that the weird way that stuff you said years ago can cycle back through and create like a new moment of a new blip. Because even like my agent said like, “Hey, did you see this thing?” Like how many people today, Craig, have said like, “Wow. I heard you on The Daily Show last night?”
Craig: My phone was blowing up, as the kids say, or maybe used to say and probably don’t anymore. It was bananas. And, you know, of course it’s like, every three seconds you get an email, “Did you know?” “Yeah, I know.”
John: Yeah. He knew.
Craig: But the funny thing is, you’re right, I don’t actually want to become — I have turned down requests from The Times and from CNN and from POLITICO, and from dah-dah-dah-dah-dah all week long because I don’t want to be that guy.
John: You’re not that guy.
Craig: Just like showing up to talk about something just because people are paying attention. I have things to say about stuff I truly know about and that’s this. So we do our thing.
Craig: I don’t need to be that guy.
John: Well, let’s talk about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
John: And let’s be Scriptnotes. So while you were busy being famous, I have a couple of things that came out this week. [laughs]
First off, we have Highland 1.9. Highland is the screenwriting app that I make that a lot of people love. We have a 1.9 version which is out just today, as we’re recording this, which fixes a few last little bugs and things. 1.9 will probably be the last version on that whole thread because, the other big news which I’m announcing right here, is that Highland 2 is in beta testing. And we are starting to invite new beta testers in to try out Highland 2. It is a completely new build of the app that does a lot of very new things. I sent Craig a version to test, but he’s not had a chance to test it yet.
If you are interested in testing out the new version of Highland, we are bringing in new testers every week. And so, you just go to, quoteunquoteapps.com/highland, and there’s a place there where you can register for the beta test or just follow the show notes. But, Craig, I cannot wait for you to try this because I think it will do a lot of the things that you’ve been yearning for in a screenwriting app for quite a long time.
Craig: Yeah. It sounds great. And I’m going to look through it. I mean, you know, the big learning curve for me for Highland is just the idea of writing in markup or markdown. I guess it’s markdown.
John: It’s called Fountain. It’s basically you’re writing in plain text and letting the app do the work for you. The app will do the work for you in a much more fluid way than I think you’re used to.
Craig: I just have to learn the — which I think I already kind of inherently know, you know, like asterisking for italicizing and stuff like that.
Craig: So I just got to learn those things. But I mean, I’m definitely into it. It sounds great. And I think it’s the future. I do.
John: Yeah. So a lot of the things that you’ve been yearning for in an app, the ability to, you know, put images in, the ability to sort of just break beyond the normal screenplay format, this is the thread that’s going to take us there, eventually, I hope. And it’s also the biggest change we made, the biggest pivot we made is while it still writes for screenplays, it writes in Fountain.
I was listening to a podcast that B.J. Novak was a guest on. And so, apparently, our guest, B.J. Novak, who was on our last Christmas show, apparently he does other podcasts too which I’m appalled by. But he was on this other podcast and he was talking about how he writes in Word. And I just found that just appalling.
Craig: You mean he writes screenplays in Word?
John: He writes screenplays in Word but he also just like writes his books in Word. He writes everything in Word.
Craig: Oh, is that bad?
John: Well, Word is kind of like, it’s way too much of a thing. It’s like trying to take the space shuttle to go to the grocery store. It’s like it’s the wrong tool for the job.
Craig: I know. There’s so much there. Right. And I never use it but it’s there, so I just use it.
John: Yeah. Something like, “Do you need to mail merge” No. You never need to mail merge. I mean, it could do it if you wanted to mail merge.
Craig: I never, never need to mail merge.
John: So, Highland, this new version of Highland and Highland 2, we are a full Markdown Editor, so we can actually do all the just normal plain text stuff you write in, so like all the stuff I wrote for NaNoWriMo, I wrote in the new Highland 2. For the last screenplay, I wrote in Highland 2, the beta versions, the bleeding, often crashing versions. But it’s been great and there’s a lot of new things that beta testers will get to explore and try that I’ve never seen in any other app. So I’m curious for you to give it a shot.
Craig: Okay. I will take it for a spin.
John: Cool. In our last episode, we did follow-up on Whiplash. And here’s more follow-up on Whiplash. So listener Brad Morticello wrote in with this link to an interview with Michael McCullough, who’s a psychology professor and director of the Evolution and Human Behavior Laboratory at the University of Miami. And specifically, you and I had discussed whether revenge is emotionally-driven or intellectually-driven. I had said like there’s no such thing as intellectual revenge. And you said, “No, the Jewish people have a whole version of it.”
John: What was so fascinating, what I liked about this article is McCullough was talking about how there’s probably an evolutionary reason for revenge because it seems wasteful to pursue revenge because you’re not actually getting anything out of it.
But McCullough makes a really interesting point. He says, “The desire for revenge goes up if there are people who have watched you mistreated, because in that case, the costs have gotten even bigger. If you don’t take revenge, there’s a chance that people will learn that you are the type of person who will put up with mistreatment. That is the kind of phenomenon that you would expect if there’s a functional logic underlying the system that produces revenge.”
Craig: Yeah. I think that’s exactly right. I mean, there is a revenge which is a completely irrational Ahab versus the whale kind of thing. But I think most revenge, most pettier revenge is, “I’m not going to let that guy walk all over me.” And underlying that is because then everybody will walk all over me.
John: It’s kind of the common advice they give to people who go to prison the first time. It’s like, if they punch you, punch them back in a big public way even if you get really hurt. Like, don’t let everyone know that you’re a bitch.
Craig: I really, really have to studiously avoid going to prison.
John: Yeah. It’s going to turn out very poorly for you, Craig.
Craig: Without question.
John: Umbrage is not the trait that’s going to get you through that. I mean, I think you got some street smarts but I also think that you could get yourself into some real trouble.
Craig: Well, just the whole idea that — I don’t like it. I don’t want to go. I’m following the law as best I can. Here and there, when I bend or break it, it’s usually in the misdemeanor zone. [laughs]
John: Yeah. I think my best strategy for prison is to be the guy who can fix the warden’s computer. And so, therefore, I’ll be an asset that people will protect because I’m the one person who can do that thing.
Craig: I really don’t think you’re going to prison.
John: I don’t think I’m going to prison. I’m trying to stay on the straight and narrow, best I can.
Craig: Well, that’s what I wanted to hear. I wanted to hear that you’re trying at the very best.
John: I’m doing my very best. [laughs]
Going back to the revenge thing, I guess McCullough is speaking to the public revenge. The private revenge is an interesting, different thing where you’re taking revenge on somebody and they don’t even kind of know that you’re doing it or no one else can see it. I think the plot of Munich could be argued as being a revenge plot. You’re not claiming responsibility for it. Maybe you’re making it clear enough that the people who are behind it would know that you did it.
Craig: Yeah. Munich, to me, is actually an example of very rational revenge-taking because it’s entirely about sending a message, “This will never work out for you. We will take forever to pay you back.”
John: Cool. Two last bits of follow-up for me. One Hit Kill was the game that we launched for Kickstarter. We shipped out all our backorders to Kickstarter. It’s a big card game with big fantasy monsters and cuddly rabbits. We now actually have it for sale. So it’s actually for sale at onehitkillgame.com. Eventually, it will be on Amazon but if you would like it before Christmas, the one place you can get it is onehitkillgame.com.
Also, you can buy through The John August Store, the Writer Emergency Packs. You can also find them on Amazon. In both cases, your best bet is if you’d like one of those things, get it before December 15th because just our stocks are running low. And it’s also getting very hard to ship stuff out. So, before December 15th, if you would like to order either the Writer Emergency Pack or One Hit Kill which are now available for purchase.
Craig: I like that pronunciation, One Hit Kill.
John: One Hit Kill. Writer Emergency Pack is a really strange thing because, obviously, we’re a big Kickstarter and so we shipped about 8,000 units out to our backers from Kickstarter. But we’ve had days on Amazon where we shipped 1,000 units in a day, which is just nuts to that —
Craig: Is it to one mass buyer or —
John: No. No.
Craig: Just randomly —
John: A thousand single orders.
Craig: And then you’ve had days where — I mean, that’s way out of the ordinary?
John: Yeah. And so those big blips are because Amazon will put us on a special. They’ll put us on a lightning deal.
Craig: Oh, got it.
John: And so we’ll blow through like a thousand in stock at one time. But the problem is that it also, like, we don’t have that many decks there to ship out. And so, we’ve been scrambling this week to get more boxes of those Writer Emergency Packs there, including just looking around the office, like, how many decks do we have in the office and how can we get them to Amazon.
John: It’s a weird problem. In making movies, so rarely do the physical logistics become a problem, and especially now even with digital distribution. So, it used to be that you had to literally like ship prints to movie theaters. And that was a whole big thing and prints used to break. Now, it’s all “beep-beep-beep” and it gets, you know, digitally shipped off to the different projectors. And that whole logistics train is gone.
Craig: And we never deal with it in production. I mean, there are people who obviously handling logistics in production. There’s waves of them, but not on us.
John: I don’t know if you’ve seen any stories about The Hateful Eight. So Hateful Eight, some screenings are in the 70 millimeters —
Craig: Yeah. In glorious —
John: Which is fantastic.
Craig: Glorious 70-millimeter.
John: Great. And so, I think it’s wonderful that we have the opportunity to still show 70-millimeter prints. But showing prints is a science and an art. And there was one screening that a lot of people were at, including a lot of early press, that had a problem and had a physical technical problem and focus issues and other strange things because it was film and because it wasn’t handled just right. And it’s a thing we don’t think about anymore. We don’t think about damage prints. We don’t think about focus and hair in the gate and all the other stuff that used to be a real problem with film.
Craig: I know. It’s all gone. Gone.
John: All gone. From the mailbag. Olivia writes in, “I have recently been faced with a note that is an arbitrary decision made by the director, and that will make the story more predictable and the characters less consistent. I’ve carefully laid out all my arguments and suggested several alternatives but the director isn’t budging, the producers are deferring to him. Now, I either do what the director says or walk away from the job. I can’t afford to do the latter. I need the money. And more importantly, I need the relationships. So what do I do?”
Craig: Oh, Olivia, welcome to our world.
John: Yeah. Congratulations, Olivia. You’ve crossed into the place of a professional screenwriter.
Craig: One of us. Gooble-gobble. This happens on every movie, every movie. So when you say, “I don’t want to walk away because I need the money,” I would retort. You don’t want to walk away because you’ll never stop walking away. This happens every time.
The only comfort I can give you is this. You have the ability to do the very best you can to make this mistake as minimal as you can in terms of its impact on the quality of the movie. Sometimes, when you do it and people read it, everyone goes, “Oh, no, no, wait. Olivia was right. We just didn’t know.” See, we forget as writers because we do the math in our head so fast.
And most other people don’t. So, then they get the script. They read it and they go, “Oh, this doesn’t work.” And you’re sitting there thinking, “I told you it wouldn’t work.” But what we don’t understand is they just couldn’t see it in the way we can see it. And I get that, you know. Everybody has different skill sets.
So, sometimes that happens where by doing the work, you’ll actually make it go away. Sometimes, you do it and the movie comes out and it’s like, “Okay, the thing that was the hill I was going to die on turns out to — I mean, it’s still there. I don’t like it.” I mean, there’s something in The Huntsman I don’t like because they took it out and I wished they would put it back in because in my mind, I’m like, “Oh, you’ve ruined — ” but probably, no. [laughs] Probably people will be like, “Oh. Yeah. I wondered about that. But then, you know, I got to the stuff that I came for and not that.”
John: There’s a very famous Broadway director who was staging something and he’s a powerful director but not powerful enough to change the book or change — essentially, he couldn’t get rid of this one thing he wanted to get rid of, this one song, I think it was. And so, he called it his like “cocktail song.” And basically whenever that moment in the show came, he would leave the theater, have himself a cocktail, then come back in and rejoin it.
And I’m not saying that you have to live with things that you’re going to despise in the movie but I think you would probably rather have your movie made and have this one moment that’s not ideal than not have your movie made. So that’s one way to rationalize and think about it.
The other way I’d approach it is don’t do the bad version of it just to point out how bad it is.
Craig: Yeah, because that will backfire on you.
John: It will backfire. Do the best version you can do to implement the note and actually make the whole project work as well as it can. You might also write that and also on the side write, “And here’s a version that doesn’t do that that would also work,” and give them parallel drafts so they can actually see what the difference is. That extra work at least shows that you are committed to helping them make the version of the movie and to offer them alternatives. But you are going to be facing this the rest of your career. And I hope it’s a very long career.
Craig: By the way, Olivia, this isn’t the last time it’s going to happen on this movie.
Craig: And you’re going to get to a place when the movie is shot and done and now you’re watching it and the producers are watching it and now people are saying, “Well, what if we do this, what if we do that?” And you’re about to face a thousand more of these. This is kind of the deal with what we do. And it’s terrible and yet also part of what we do, so you have to accept it to some extent.
Down the line, you’ll read a review where somebody will blame you for the mistake that you fought against with all of your heart and soul. An additional indignity. It’s part of what we do. All I can tell you is that we, John and I and everybody that does what we do, Olivia, we’re with you. What else can I tell you?
John: Emotional solidarity.
John: Do you want to read the next question from Curtis?
Craig: Well, yeah, because it’s for you. So Curtis asks, “On this week’s podcast,” when he means last week’s podcast, “you mentioned having briefly controlled the rights to The Man in the High Castle but that they were taken away from you when Ridley Scott decided he wanted them. How does that work?”
John: So when you are off to pitch a project to a network or a studio, something that had some underlying rights, if there’s a powerful producer involved, sometimes you’ll actually lock down and secure those rights in some meaningful way. But more often, it’s just sort of a handshake. It’s essentially like, “Yeah, okay, you can take this in to this place. And that’s fine, that’s good.” And that is how a lot of Hollywood works.
Even on like a spec script situation, you’re saying, “Okay, producer A, you can take this script to studio B.” And that is how it all works. There’s not contracts drawn. It’s just basically a handshake and nod saying like, “Hey, you have the rights to do this thing.”
In the case of The Man in the High Castle, for a period of several weeks I had that where I had conversations with the estate and the heirs about sort of how it was all going to work, what the nature of the story was I was going to tell. In my recollection at least, it was on the morning I was supposed to go into HBO I got the call saying like, “You know what, they decided they actually really would rather stay with Ridley Scott who had done Blade Runner.” And I can’t fault them. Ridley Scott is a bigger deal than I am.
Craig: Yeah. The thing to understand is we don’t really buy rights. You know, the companies do that. So we will go and pitch these things. John never really had the rights. He never owned the rights. Ridley didn’t take property from him. He just had an agreement that they would sell the rights to a studio that hired you to adapt it.
John: Yeah, exactly. So when I say I had the rights or when Ridley Scott had the rights, in both cases, there may never have been paperwork drawn. But essentially, the heirs were leaning towards one place. And so if I had gone into HBO saying like, “I had this whole big thing and blah, blah, blah,” they would have been gone to these heirs and said like, “Hey, do you want to do this thing with John August?” And they said, “No, I think we’re going to stick with Ridley Scott.”
Craig: Right. So at that point, why bother?
John: Yup. And it’s at that point you cancel the meeting with HBO.
John: Aww. This next one has a visual component but I think we can get through it. This is a question from Joe who asks, “Do you ever adjust the line breaks in dialogue so that it wraps better?” So instead of, so imagine this is a line of dialogue, “Give me the medallion and all of this ends,” or “Give me the medallion and all of this ends.” So essentially asking, do you ever hit the character turn earlier so that in blocks of dialogue words stick together better? Craig, do you ever do that?
Craig: No. I call this shift-returning because that’s how you do it, you shift-return. You stay in the same element but you put in the break. I’m not that finicky. My feeling is if everything is within its own block of text, then it will be read continuously by people. And the way we read is not consistent with what Joe is thinking about here. We don’t actually read that way. We read in chunks, including the line break chunks. We kind of move ahead. So that part doesn’t bother me. I will absolutely be obsessive about how the page ends.
So if I want something, if there’s a big reveal and I want it at the bottom of the page, not “And then” and then turn the page, babababa, I will adjust that because I think page turning is a thing. But no, I don’t do this. Do you do this?
John: The only times I could think of doing this is when I have lyrics in scripts. And I will shift-return in order to get those lines. If a lyric is too long for the line, I will force it to break in a certain place so it’s a little bit more natural and better fits the meter of what the song is.
Craig: No question. Yeah, I mean, because lyrics are really poems, so I will shift-enter lyrics all day long. But for regular prose, no.
John: Yeah, not for regular prose. I’ll also say, if I’m doing lyrics in a screenplay, I will give myself the latitude to cheat the right-hand margin and let it go longer so that things can stay together as a line, because everyone sort of knows what you’re doing and it’s not really cheating if you’re just trying to keep one lyric together on a line.
Craig: Yeah, exactly. I mean, lyrics are a special case. But for action descriptions of the kind that Joe is describing here, I just think that that’s a level of specificity that will not be rewarded, ever.
John: Yeah. And you’re just going to drive yourself mad thinking about like, “Well, how should this line break?”
Craig: Truly nuts, yeah.
John: Truly nuts. And not to mention that whenever that line of dialogue goes across a page break, you may be messing up some things about that, too.
Craig: Good point.
John: All right.
Craig: But Joe doesn’t rewrite anything. He writes, “It’s done.”
John: One and done. He’s a top-down world-building perfectionist. So Dustin Box, who works for me, who’s a designer but also is a big fan of the podcast and writing in general, he was listening to our world-building episode from last week. And he was thinking about how some people, that it may be related to the way that people approach screenplays sometimes is they think that it has to be once and perfect. And so they’re going to write this one screenplay and it’s never going to change. And, basically, I’m going to write it from the start to the end and then the screenplay is going to be done.
It’s not being aware of the fact that it is an iterative process, that it’s not supposed to be perfect the first time through. You’re going to keep going back to it. And by its very nature, you’re going to be, you know, rethinking things and discovering things about — writing that scene at the end is going to make you discover something new about the beginning of it.
And so he was drawing the comparison between what we do in a top-down world-building versus ground-up world-building to trying to write the whole screenplay at once versus figuring out what the screenplay is from the bottom-up. And I think what we often pitch on the show is like really looking at the screenplay from one character’s journey one time through and only building as much world as you need for this character to tell his story.
Craig: Yeah. The annoying thing about screenwriting is that the only way to get through it is to feel like you’re doing it right but then also hold in your mind simultaneously the knowledge that you’re not doing it right.
Craig: And you just have to manage to be split-brained in that way. Because how do you write a scene not right? There’s no way to do that. You have to convince yourself that this is it, but then have just the wisdom to know it’s not.
John: I was talking to Justin Marks at a screenwriters drinks this week. And he was talking about the work he’s doing on a project and he had, at a certain point, realized, “I just need to get something on paper that will give people the ability to plan for what’s going to happen next and know that I will have the opportunity to go back and make that thing better.” And finding that balance between making something absolutely perfect and making something good enough that people can do their jobs is a really tough line. And figuring out where you’re at in that process can be so tough.
Television, you’re often having to shoot things that aren’t perfect. You just know they’re not perfect.
John: But that’s the nature of the game because you could spend 10 years on it and make it perfect, but then you’ve been cancelled for nine years.
Craig: So, congratulations —
Craig: On your perfect cancelled show. [laughs]
John: Let’s get to some perfect scripts. Let’s get to our Three Page Challenges.
John: I was very excited by all of these. But I’m going to start with Jody Russell who wrote End Times Boy. And so on this podcast, I’ve decided that we are going to make our assumptions about people as default female. So Jody could be a man or a woman but I’m going to say Jody is a woman because default female will be our guess here.
Craig: I now realize that, yes, there are men named Jody, some baseball players. But, no, I just presumed.
John: Wasn’t the kid on My Three Sons also a boy Jody?
Craig: Oh, I just know Fred MacMurray.
John: And also, Lena Dunham’s cinematographer from Tiny Furniture who also did the first seasons of Girls is also Jody. It’s like, “Oh, she’s really good.” It’s like, “No, it’s a he.” I’m like, “I’m an idiot.”
Craig: No, you’re not. I mean, because I think primarily by the numbers, Jody is —
John: By the numbers, yeah.
Craig: Jody is female.
John: Wonderful. I will summarize this one. So this is Jody Russell’s End Times Boy. So we open in an abandoned house. We’re in the hallway. We hear rhythmic breathing. We see two people in respirators, just two faces. They head into the kitchen. Glass is crunching under their feet as they survey the kitchen. They’re searching for stuff. They open up a cabinet. They find three cans of sardines inside. One of the boys pulls out his mask and you can see that it is actually a boy. This boy is Sam. He’s 10 years old, caked with grime and dirt. Eli, who he’s with, says, “We shouldn’t stop.”
Once they get outside and get away from the house, they pull off their masks and gear. So you see that Eli is older. Eli is 12 years old. Eli says, “At least there weren’t any bodies.” And so they get to a chain-link fence and they end up back at a shambled chicken coop where there’s a man named Old Ben who’s only in his 40s. So 40s is not that old, I just want to point that out.
Old Ben, voice wet and raspy, asks if they got anything. They say they got two cans of sardines. They actually got three but they say they got two. Old Ben is pissed at them. He says, you know, “You’re holding back on me. Give me that fish.” Ultimately, Sam pulls a gun on him and we exit the scene with Sam pulling the trigger on Old Ben. And that’s the end of our three pages.
Craig: Well, so I’ve been playing Fallout 4 lately. This felt like mother’s milk to me. [laughs] So this feels appropriately post-apocalyptic. Loved the opening image of two faces in these respirators. That’s such a great like, yeah, I’m going to just keep saying video games like Borderlands and Fallout. Such a good look. And then you have the abandoned house and people scavenging, which is classic post-apocalyptic stuff.
Love that it was a kid. I mean, that’s always exciting when you see a kid do it. You’ll probably get that sooner rather than later because of the size but it’s still always shocking when you see children in these kinds of situations. Wasn’t quite sure why Eli was marked as off-screen when the line before says that his masked face is hovering behind Sam, so he’s not off-screen. The fact that his mouth isn’t visible because he’s talking through the respirator doesn’t mean he’s off-screen.
They take the cans. I love this line, “At least there weren’t any bodies.” So lines like that are so good. They do so much work for you. They tell you what was going on before the movie began. They tell you about the way of the world. They tell you about how kids are in this world. They tell you a lot. It’s very good.
John: Yeah, that should have been the first line of the script. No one should have spoken before that line.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, we shouldn’t stop is an unnecessary thing. Although, that also kind of tells you something, too, that there are bad people out there.
Old Ben. I like that Old Ben was 40s because I think that in this world, if you make it to 40, you’re old. He’s injured. He’s dying. There’s a pretty decent exchange here where he’s trying to get — it goes on a bit. I thought it could have been quite a bit shorter but I liked his character. I understood his character. Didn’t quite understand the characters of Sam and Eli here in terms of their voice. I mean, I understood why they were doing —
John: I couldn’t differentiate them. And so as I went right through it, I was trying to hear what was different about them and I really couldn’t. At the end of the script, I couldn’t remember which kid pulled the gun on him.
John: I should know that.
Craig: Right. So there wasn’t really a differentiation there in their voices which we could have used. Now, let’s talk about these last two lines.
So Eli is nicer. Now, understand that John and I, I think, can both see that Eli is the nice one and Sam is the tough one, but it’s how they say things when we say voice. Like, how does the rhythm of their speech differentiate? That’s what’s missing. Eli says, “Just give him one, Sam.” Sam cocks his pistol. Now, it’s a little tricky. Sam stares down the barrel of a 22 pistol into Old Ben’s watering eyes. I wasn’t sure who was aiming the gun at whom at that point.
John: I was going to say the same thing. Stares down the barrel, to me, feels like the opposite way around.
John: It’s like if I’m looking at the gun, then I’m staring down the barrel. Because actually, I see the barrel as being looking inside it, so he’s really saying like looks over the top of the barrel.
Craig: Correct. Correct. Exactly.
John: Yeah. Down the barrel means you’re looking into the hole.
Craig: I agree. That’s the way. And then I reread it again and went, “Okay.” Old Ben says, “You damn little monster, I’ve kept you alive.” And Sam says, “Now you’re dying too slow.” Now, this is an example of two sentences that do not go together.
Craig: There is a thing that people have to learn one way or another and it’s experience, I think. And this is dinky little craft stuff that anyone can learn. This isn’t talent. And it’s basically matching lines. If you want to do the setup and the pay-off line, they’ve got to match. They have to match tense, they have to match theme, they have to match senses.
“I’ve kept you alive.” “Now you’re dying too slow.” The second line is for somebody who’s saying that they did something quickly. This is not an appropriate response to what he says. It’s a non-sequitur, essentially.
John: Exactly. And matching lines, ideally, the contrast should be that last word. Like, you know, it’s alive or dead, fast or slow. That’s a natural way. But also matching verb and verb tense, I think I’ve told this on the podcast before. But I remember we were shooting Go, my very first movie, we were in a supermarket, it’s like three in the morning, and we had shot the scene with Zack and Adam. So we were shooting both sides but we shot the master and now we’re going in for coverage.
And one of them changed one of the lines slightly. And it basically changed from a past tense to a present tense and the script supervisor hadn’t noticed they changed it or hadn’t worried that they changed it. And so I heard it and I’m like, “No, no, no, no, no.” And at the time I got back to the set, I had my contacts on and I heard that they changed the line. They were shooting the other matching close-up but he was still saying his original line.
Craig: It didn’t match.
John: It wouldn’t cut together. So I had to say like, “Either have to go back through or we’re going to have to change what you’re saying because like you’re not answering the same conversation on both sides.”
Craig: And this is that thing where people don’t hear it but we do. And I do believe the audience senses it. So there’s tense issues and there’s word issues. “You damn little monster, I have kept you alive.” I have, in the past, kept you alive. Sam says, “Now you are,” now you’re, “Now you are dying too slow.” This is present tense gerund. [laughs This is ongoing action.
So the tenses don’t match at all. And then ‘alive’ and ‘slow’ are not complementary at all. Now, I’m not sure, I mean, you can come up with easy-peasy bad ways of answering this, “You damn little monster, I’ve kept you alive.” And Sam, I mean to me, there’s no complement to that. I would just have Sam say, “Yeah, thanks,” and then shoot him, you know. [laughs]
When you do these matchy lines, if they don’t match, they’re clunky as hell and no good. If they do match, there’s a ton of pressure on them because everyone senses how written they are. Sometimes you’ll get this note, “This line feels written.” Well, uhh, yeah, they’re all written. [laughs] But it feels written. It’s almost too well crafted.
Craig: So this one unfortunately falls into the clunk category.
John: Yeah, a clunk for me, too.
John: I enjoyed the overall setting and sort of the painting of these pages but I had a lot of problems of stuff on the page. And so I think it just, in service to Jody and to everyone else who’s actually reading the pages, and I should have prefaced this by saying if you would like to read the actual pages that we’re looking at, you can go to johnaugust.com/scriptnotes or /podcast. Look for this episode, this is episode 227, and download the PDF so you can read along with us.
Because while I enjoyed so much of Jody’s writing here, there were a lot of problems on the page that would have slowed down and stopped people from enjoying them as much as they could have. So, first line of actual action, “Breathing — almost rhythmic.” Great, that sounds wonderful. He uses a single hyphen as a dash or —
John: I’m sorry. She uses a single hyphen as a dash. I apologize, Jody. Dash, dash. If you’re in Courier, use two dashes, just get it long enough because otherwise it looks like a minus.
Third paragraph. “They look towards a closed door at the end of the hall. The larger mask turns to the smaller one. The smaller one moves forward.” At this point, I’d urge you to stop thinking about just the masks and like the figure, person, whatever, because I kept thinking like, “Wait, did the mask turn?” It’s a person that’s turning. So build these people out as little bit more of bodies first.
Throughout this, there were some good sound effects but they weren’t capitalized. And going to uppercase isn’t mandatory, but it is really useful and it’s a tool that’s in your tool box as a screenwriter to capitalize things, to give us a sense of the sound that they’re going to hear.
So “Glass crunches around a pair of small hiking boots shuffling in,” that crunches would have helped that line a little bit to uppercase that. Later, “More shuffling now closer toward the cabinets,” that would have been great.
Craig, how do you feel about, “Inside the cabinet sits three puck shaped cans”?
Craig: Not a big fan of that what do you call, like inverted —
John: Yeah, the inverted sentence. Also, technically, inside sit three cans.
Craig: That’s exactly right. Just prior to that, there’s a moment where it appears they’re trying to be quiet. And so they “Reaches and nudges open the cabinet door. The cabinet door creaks back, snaps on a busted hinge and crashes to the counter, clangs onto the floor.” Good.
Craig: Exactly. So that of course you can see on the day, the one who opened it and made it fall is going to look over to the other one who’s staring at him like, “You idiot.” You want that.
John: Yeah. And there’s another moment right before we go from the hallway into the kitchen. So right now it’s written as, “The smaller one moves forward.” But rather than smaller one moves forward, like why doesn’t it like the smaller one gestures, “You first.” Like, actually have the characters make choices or do something right from the start. You have the opportunity, so like let us see what the dynamic is right from those very initial scenes.
Craig: Right. And you could also have it where the larger one hesitates, nervous, the smaller one moves ahead, not scared at all. As long as you give us a sense that this is meaningful character-wise, otherwise it’s just blocking.
John: So after they’ve first seen the sardines, “He grasps the rim of his goggles and pushes them back.” But that he isn’t connected to anything. He doesn’t refer to any one person. The last things we’ve seen that have taken action have been these objects. So you need to say like, “The smaller figure — ” remind us who it is that we’re looking at.
Craig: Right. The smaller scavenger grabs the rim of the goggles. It starts getting into a — [laughs]
John: Yeah. The larger figure pulls up his goggles.
Craig: His. See, his. It’s the same problem. At some point, you run into to this pronoun problem.
John: But it’s fine. You’re going to see it’s a boy soon enough in the next sentence.
Craig: Right, but starting with, “He is,” rough, yeah.
John: Yeah. “A young boy’s eyes but the eyes of an old soul.”
John: Whoops. Repeating the word ‘eyes.’
Craig: You don’t repeat words.
John: Old soul eyes, I’m not a huge fan of. But a young boy with the eyes of an older soul, I guess.
Craig: Correct. You can’t have a young boy’s eyes and also the eyes of an old soul. So you can be a young boy with the eyes of an old soul.
John: It’s a four-eyed boy. Post-apocalyptic.
Craig: [laughs] But you see, I have to say that Jody did a really nice job in this first page because I could hear it and I could see it.
Craig: I loved the way that she broke up her actions. It was so readable, lots of good crunchy words that I love. I like words like ‘pouty.’ Just good yummy words like that. Goggles are great and respirators are great.
John: I thought she had a very good vision of what this was going to look like and feel like. And I’m just urging her to spend the time on the craft to get those words and periods and spaces to help her paint that picture even better. Space after Sam (10). He snatches the cans deftly. Deftly snatching is like if you’re trying to get them away from something else but like you just take them.
Craig: Yeah, adverbs are always — they need to fight their way into a script.
John: Next page. ELI (12) chubby faced, hyphen between those probably, with rubicund cheeks and a gentle gaze. Rubicund? Rubicund? I don’t know what that is.
Craig: Well, rubicund, is that a word? Yeah, doesn’t that mean —
John: Rosy? I guess. Rosy cheeks?
Craig: Rubicund I thought meant like chubby.
John: Chubby, but it was also, he was chubby-faced in the previous words.
Craig: Well, let’s see who’s right. It’s ruddy. So it’s a color thing. Rubicund is a color.
John: It’s a color. Ruby.
John: If John August and Craig Mazin don’t know what your word means, it’s probably too fancy a word for a screenplay.
John: Ruddy cheeks. They halt at a dilapidated chain-link fence. Can a chain-link fence be dilapidated?
Craig: Yeah, yeah for sure.
John: Okay. Broken down, rusted. All right. So those are the things I urge her to look at, things like not much loot tho, T-H-O. You could bother to spell that out. You’re not creating a special lingo. There’s not a reason why you’re saying the short version of word that we’re going to hear the short version of it.
Craig: I’m starting to get a sense that maybe Jody is British.
Craig: Because I think rubicund, and tho, that kind of spelling, I feel like it might be a Britishism or maybe an Australianism.
John: Could be, could be.
Craig: So anyway I thought, Jody, you’ve introduced your characters in two ways twice. One is that there’s a larger one and a smaller one and then later one taller and chunky, the other smaller and wiry. That stuff we will have already seen.
John: Yeah, we got it. So introduce them once.
John: So bottom page 2, Old Ben asked, “Anything?” “Some cans of fish.” “Only two of them.” So Sam is the one who says, “Only two of them.” If that’s going to be a moment, then have Eli clock this that Sam is lying because there actually are three and we saw that. It’s like let us know that he’s telling a lie or at least the other character is recognizing it because otherwise it’s just going to pass. It’s not going to be acknowledged.
The same thing with quiet. So Eli says, “Quiet, quiet. We can split it, it’s okay.” And later on he says like, you know, “Please be quiet.” But they’re not acting in a way that makes me believe that they’re trying to be quiet. They’re saying they need to be quiet but I don’t see them worried about other people coming over or that they’re going to attract things. So I think the quiet is deliberate but I just thought he’s like telling him to shut up.
Craig: Yeah, I think that is deliberate. So the idea is let’s keep our voices down, there are bad people out there or bad monsters out there. So Eli needs to be looking around, keeping an eye on the horizon, always checking, quiet, quiet so we understand what he’s referring to. Generally speaking, when you are going to lie, you don’t volunteer a lie. You lie because you have to. “Anything?” “Some cans of fish.” How many cans of fish? Two.
Craig: You don’t volunteer. Only two. Because that seems clunky.
John: I think part of the reason my quiet got confused is on page 3 Eli raises his hands trying to quiet him. So if you’re trying to quiet somebody, are you trying to calm them down, are you trying to get them to lower their voice and that might have been a great moment to flag to me like they’re keeping their voices low. And then I would know like, “Oh, the stakes have just been raised because other people could be listening to this.”
Craig: Yeah, exactly. I think that is about description, about painting intention. So you just have to apply that test all the time. Will people know what my intention is with these words? Is it clear? Is it not? And that’s a game we have to play every day, line by line. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, and we have to go back and make it clear.
John: Yeah. My last little niggly thing would be, “Staring down the barrel of a twenty two pistol.” A 22 or 45, those are things that you tend to actually use the digits for and not spell out.
Craig: Yeah, .22.
John: Yup. That’s how it is.
Craig: Yup. That’s how it is.
John: I was interested reading what was going to happen next, so good job on that. I was concerned about stuff I saw on the page.
Craig: Yeah, but promising stuff there.
Craig: All right. Well, I’ll go for Celebrate & Behave by Mark S.W. & V.P. Walling. Now —
John: I don’t get that. What’s S.W.?
Craig: Okay. So his name is — well, I don’t know if he wants us to say his name. Can we? I guess so. Yeah, I’ll go ahead. Just based on his e-mail address, it’s Mark Skeele Wilson. So Mark S.W. stands for Mark Skeele Wilson. But it’s interesting. So he abbreviates his middle and last name and then the other guy abbreviates his first — or woman, because we don’t know. I’m going to assume V.P. Walling is a woman.
John: Yeah, the default female assumption.
Craig: Like however they to want to do it. Celebrate & Behave by Mark SW. and V.P. Walling. So we open on a black screen and then it’s illuminated by the spark of a cheap plastic lighter. Then blackness then spark again. And we see now a small white pill that is slowly melting and sizzling on tinfoil. And the lighter illuminates as well the youthful but weary face of Michael Walton, a 38-year-old man who is sweat, jitters, and sad eyes. And then we go to black again.
It’s now morning. Michael awakens in his tent. He’s in a tent. Very bright sunlight. Looking for pills in his pill bottles but he’s all out. He gets out of his tent into a forest clearing to go pee and he’s confronted by a brown bear with a cub. And the script tells us that this is Alaska. He falls backward and as the bear moves in on him and he tries to scare the bear off. To no avail, there’s a gunshot.
The bear leaves quickly. The cub sort of stares at him for a while and then heads off. And Michael sees Ray, a 60-year-old man, decked out like a hunter and he’s obviously the one who fired the shot. Ray says, “That was a warning shot.” Michael says, “Thanks.” And Ray says, “It wasn’t for her.” Uh-huh, they know each other. Ray then leaves.
Next, we’re at bourgeois cabin where Michael pulls up in his beat-up truck and all of his stuff has been thrown out all over the yard. And the cabin door is locked. The people inside slam the windows and curtains shut. They don’t want to talk to him. Somebody named Joey is inside but doesn’t want to talk to him. And so Michael gathers up his stuff including an urn with ashes from Danny Walton, Beloved Son & Brother who died in 1996.
Lastly, we are in downtown Sitka which is a town in Alaska. Michael drives into town, pulls up in front of a storefront that says, “Dr. Michael S. Walton, OB-GYN.” And there’s a notice on the door on orange paper saying, “Government notice – premises closed due to ongoing investigation.” And then spray-painted in fire engine red on it misspelled is the word “Faget.”
Craig: And that is Celebrate & Behave.
John: I have such tiny little niggly things that I feel silly pointing them out. I thought this was a really promising start. I greatly enjoyed starting this way in this setting I’d never seen before with a character I’d never seen before. I don’t know what’s going to happen next but I’m curious what’s going to happen next. I like that there’s a bear. I like just so much of it. I think I would happily read another 15 pages of this script. How did you take this?
Craig: Very similarly. So I remember Lindsay Doran paid me a compliment once and it meant so much to me. Because I was talking about pages and like, you know, “It’s feeling like it might be a little long.” She goes, “It’s not long. You have all this wonderful white space in your pages. You know, it’s like milk. There’s all this milky space.” She loves white space and I love white space, too. And so also do Mark S.W. and V.P. Walling and to their credit. So everything is nicely paced out. They’re not rushing through anything, and they’re getting a lot done here.
There’s this wonderful encounter. The bears, it’s great because there’s something really kind of curious and Coen-esque, Coen brothers-esque about that cub just like, “Hmm, I know you.” I was confused. I understand I am supposed to confused but slightly — well, there was a confusion on a confusion which made me a little annoyed. I don’t mind multiple confusions as long as they’re about different things. My one little picky thing here is I meet Ray and I don’t know who Ray is. I know that they know each other. And I know I’ll find out eventually but I don’t know what’s going on with Ray.
Then he goes to this cabin and there’s somebody named Joey. And I don’t know who Joey is and I don’t know what the story is with Joey. So that was a confusion on a confusion of the same exact kind. So I got a little, eh.
John: And I would say there’s a parallel kind of confusion where you both have the ashes, where like there is related to some dead person, and we’re going to go to an office which is closed but has information about some person who’s not there anymore. So there was a little more of that than I would have necessarily loved right there at the very start.
Craig: Yeah, especially because I think the implication here is that he is the Dr. Michael S. Walton, that his practice has been closed due to an ongoing investigation because he’s a drug addict but we don’t know his name yet. So we have a Ray who isn’t identified by name. So here are the people we meet. We meet Michael, I don’t know his name. We meet Ray, I don’t know his name. And me meaning I’m in the theater, forget reading the pages. I know Joey’s name but I don’t know who Joey is and I don’t see Joey. I know Danny Walton’s name. I know he’s dead but I don’t know who he is and I don’t know his relationship to Michael because I don’t know Michael’s last name because I don’t know his name. Then I see Michael Walton, I go okay so somebody related to Danny Walton if I know how to read and I remember that, got in trouble but I don’t know that this is him. So that stuff could be helped.
John: It’s entirely possible I think the very next action line is him pulling out his keys and opening up his office and then I would probably kind of think, “Oh, this is his office. This is this guy and that’s his name.” But we have to stop where we stopped and that was the bottom of this third page.
Craig: It is possible. I don’t think that’s what happened because he’s looking at the sign from across the street and he hasn’t gotten out of his car. It makes me feel like he’s going to just keep driving.
Craig: But one thing that is hard to do in life, easy to do when you’re writing, hard to do when you’re shooting is have a car pull up across the street from a storefront, you have somebody stare at it and then have them read a tiny paper that they can’t possibly be able to read. So the deal is that obviously the camera can go close but if you’re implying that that guy is seeing it then we feel something is off because he can’t. I mean he can see a sign, he just can’t read the words from across the street unless it’s massive.
John: Unless it’s massive. And those are things you — they’re not hard fixes but I think they should be fixed. So I, like Lindsay Doran, love white space and I loved the white space in this page. I did actually yearn for one extra return and let’s see if you agree with me here. So middle of page one, Ext. Forest Clearing — Continuous. Michael crawls from the cramped tent door, confronted by the harsh summer sunlight. He starts to pee then looks up to see a huge brown bear with cub.
If you had just given me one more return, I would understand like there’s a tiny jump cut there and he’s not pissing on the very first step outside the door. I wanted a tiny bit of space and break between those two things. Because I felt like he was pissing on his tent.
Craig: Oh, really? Okay. [laughs] It kind of flowed for me. Just because, I don’t know, there’s that thing that happens when you walk out of a tent in the morning, the first thing you do is whip it out and pee. [laughs] It’s just natural. It just happens.
John: Which is, I’ve camped my whole life so I do get that but like stumbling a few steps and starts to pee and then do it. Just like it happened so fast. I thought it actually hurt the bear reveal because I wanted the pee to be like that pee moment and then like have the bear.
Craig: Well, but then again, we want that “A single gunshot” on the bottom of the page there, the way he has it.
John: It’s so good. I can’t say that it’s necessarily better. I do wanted to single out “The bear raises up, up, up on his hind legs,” and so those get more capitalized as he goes. And he parallels that structure as he tries to make himself be bigger to scare it off but the gunshot works great. Like the previous script, I’ll point out that dashes in Courier should be two hyphens, not a single hyphen. It just helps sell it a little better. So it’s not a minus sign. These are small things.
Craig: Yeah, the only other thing I would say is and this would get you your line return and not lose “Bam! A single gunshot” from the bottom of the page, I would delete this is Alaska because I don’t care. What I care about is that a man is peeing and there’s a bear next to him. When he pulls up in his beat-up, rust colored ’97 Ford pickup, just add with Alaska plates. Now I know where I am.
John: Yeah, I didn’t mind the “This is Alaska.” It gave you a breather between like holy crap there’s a bear and stumbling back but I see your point, too.
Craig: I would rather — if it’s important for the reader to know it’s Alaska, it’s important for the audience to know it’s Alaska. Show the audience.
Craig: But good stuff.
John: Good pages, really exciting.
John: Our final one from this batch of Three Page Challenges is by Matthew Gentile. Would you say Gentile or Gentile?
Craig: I would say Gentile.
John: Gentile. It could be Gentile. It could be Gentile. His first name is Matthew so we’re going to go default female again. [laughs] So it’s a woman named Matthew just like Ryan Reynolds’ daughter is named James.
Craig: Really? That’s like that model James King.
John: Yeah, yeah. And his wife’s name is Blake so it’s all in keeping. No, we’re going assume that Matthew is a gentleman. Our story starts in 1984, Los Angeles. The title over says exactly that, Los Angeles, 1984. On Beverly Hills Street, rain is falling as we look up at a skyscraper. We meet Jake Hughes, a young man in a fitted suit, silhouetted as he exits the skyscraper. Looks around, picks up a pay phone, puts in his two quarters. As the phone rings, we hear his heart beat and he’s kind of calming himself before about what he’s about to do. We have a cut to six months earlier. Uh-oh, cut to six months earlier.
Craig: You think that Stuart, it was just like I imagine that Stuart is reading along and then he gets that and he goes “Ah!”
John: His heart. [laughs]
Craig: His little hearts stops.
John: So for people who are listening for the first time, this is sort of a trope on the Three Page Challenge is like, you know, it’s half a page and suddenly it’s jumping to an earlier time cut. Essentially the opening a story was someplace later on in the script. Stuart does not deliberately pick those. What we’ve heard from Stuart is that so many of these pages that he gets have that thing that it’s just representative so.
Craig: I believe him.
John: Regardless, our time jump here takes us back to a mailroom. It’s six months earlier. The doors burst open, Jake rushes into a safe. He opens up the safe, pulls a film print from the safe, and he picks up a phone and dials a number. Then we hear at the other side of the phone call, a person named Neil with a Californian accent. They talk. Jake says he’s in the mailroom. “Stay put, don’t let that print out of your sight,” Neil says. They have conversation. Basically, Jake is doing a favor for Neil and he’s going to write him a killer evaluation for HR. Jake is very excited about all this. Neil says he’ll call back. Jake then calls Stella, his girlfriend, and says that he was roped into doing one last task for his boss and Stella at the bottom of the page three says, “But my graduation is in two hours.” That’s the bottom of page three.
Craig: All right. So let’s dig into this.
John: Take it off.
Craig: I don’t think that what I saw here is worth three pages by and large. Let’s begin with our cold open. It does not deserve to be here and then show us six months earlier. Generally speaking, when you do this and it is tropey and we’ve seen it a billion times, what you’re looking at is something incredibly dramatic. I’ll take like John Wick did it. So John Wick opens with a car driving into a dark parking lot and smashing into a pillar and Keanu Reeves gets out and he’s bleeding, he’s been shot, and he lies down, he prepares to die. Then we go, six months earlier, okay. How did he get into that awful, awful situation?
This opens with a guy putting quarters into a payphone. I wonder how he got into that situation. Who cares?
Craig: You know, it just doesn’t deserve what we’re doing here.
John: Well, here’s what I’ll say. I’ll say that that kind of time cut we’re doing, the audience has an expectation that like, “Okay, because we’ve seen this in so many other movies,” there has to be a big reason why that’s such an incredibly important moment and there’s nothing you’ve given us in that first moment that leads us to believe that it could be an incredibly important moment.
Craig: Yeah, I mean we get that he’s making an important phone call but that’s not the high drama that is required to pull the old six months earlier Stuart gambit. [laughs]
Craig: Similarly, the space that’s burned up here doing it is a bit overwrought. Geography-wise, I got very confused from the start. Here’s the first paragraph. “Rain falls as we look up at a skyscraper. Move down and pull back to reveal a payphone across the street, looming in the foreground.” The payphone is across the street and it’s in the foreground?
John: I think it was a big crane shot that was aimed up then pulls back to reveal the building and then moves so that the payphone is in the foreground and he’s going to rush in to that payphone and do something.
John: So I think he was trying to create the drama of like what that moment is like he gets to the phone and puts in the quarters.
Craig: You don’t want your crane shot to end up on a payphone that’s just sitting there. If I’m looking up at a skyscraper and there’s a ringing and I’m coming down through the rain and pulling back across the street and now there’s this payphone that’s ringing for no one, okay.
John: Yeah, that’s some drama.
Craig: Okay, I get it. That’s why I’m looking at the payphone. There’s no reason to look at this payphone. And then he runs across the street and he puts some quarters and okay. So anyway, you get the idea there, Matthew. I just don’t think that that’s worthy of the old Stuart gambit.
Now we go back to the movie proper. Another problem. The opening showed Jake running frantically across the street to the payphone. We go back six months earlier and what’s Jake doing? Running frantically towards the safe. [laughs] This is just what Jake does. He runs frantically towards things.
John: Jake runs and he talks on phones.
Craig: And he talks on phones. So that doesn’t work. You need a contrast if you’re going to do the Stuart gambit, a big contrast. He opens up the safe and inside there’s a film print. What is a film print?
John: I don’t know what a film print is. Is it a film can? Is it like meant to be 16 millimeters, 35? How big is this thing? Is it a reel? Oh, my gosh, maybe he needs to take it to The Man in the High Castle.
Craig: Well, that’s the thing. Is it one of those like old film, like those little film containers that you’d put 35-millimeter in for a personal camera? Is it a reel of movie film? I don’t know because I don’t know what film print is. Also frankly film prints and safes feels very just super old fashioned. I know this is a period piece but — anyway, so in 1984, I would imagine a video cassette but if it’s still pictures, if it’s still images then I could see that little film roll container. Anyway, I don’t know what it is. So that’s a problem.
He calls Neil. Now here’s what it says, “Many voices will come over the phone during this story. The first is a man in his late 20s with a Southern California accent, Neil.” Now, a couple of things, Matthew. One, when I read that I presumed this story meant the story that I’m about to hear on the phone like many voices are going to be on the phone for what’s coming right now because I haven’t read your script yet, I don’t realize and later I piece it together that there’s going to be a lot of phone stuff in the movie. So I got totally thrown. I was like, okay, I guess there’s going to be a lot of people talking on the phone. A Southern California accent, I defy you, defy you to make that a real accent that people know.
John: Oh, come on, it’s The Californians.
Craig: Yeah, that’s not a real — exactly, that is not an accent. [laughs]
John: “I took the 405.” I can’t even do the fake California accent.
Craig: “Take 405 to…” Anyway, no one talks like that. So they have this conversation. Throughout the conversation, Neil who’s on the phone, is indicated with OS. Personally, I’ve seen this happen. It’s not a deal breaker. I like to put in parenthesis, phone.
John: Yeah, I put on phone, yeah.
Craig: Or on phone, exactly. Because OS really means they’re in the space. The camera is just not pointing at them. They are off screen.
John: Yeah, and it’s not just that they’re not in a single. It’s like they deliberately should not be shown on camera at this moment.
Craig: Exactly. So this would really be more of on phone. But in that way, right next to the character name, Neil says, “Good. Stay put. Do not let that print out of your sight.” Jake says, “I won’t let it out of my hands.” That’s like repeating. This is not real to me. That’s not a real response, “Do not let that print out of your sight.” “I won’t.” Not I won’t let it, let it, let it, okay. Then Neil says, “As soon as I get Russell’s exact address, I’ll call you back, he lives in Westwood.” “Okay, I’m right here.” “Just letting you know, I’m going to write you a killer evaluation for HR.” “Really?” “Yup. With your track record, I wouldn’t be surprised if you were the first of your class out of that mailroom.” This doesn’t feel like it’s appropriate for what’s going on at all.
When you’re doing something wrong for personal gain, the person on the other end, it’s like this guy is talking like he’s never heard of a wiretap in his life. Nobody just spills this baloney like this so overtly. It’s got to be, “I won’t forget this. Trust me, this is going to work out really well for you.” Neil isn’t a real person right now. He’s just saying this stuff that I don’t buy. Jake says, “Thank you.” And Neil says, “Well, let’s not start sucking each other’s dicks just yet.” That’s from Pulp Fiction. You can’t use that line. It’s from Pulp Fiction. Mr. Wolf said it. That’s that, can’t do it. “Sure.” ‘Talk soon.” Like what a casual conversation. [laughs]
And then here’s what it says, ‘Neil cuts the call. Jake dials another number. It rings.’ “Bunny, it’s me,” says Jake. And then that was the dialogue. And here’s the action line. “We hear the voice of a young woman and Jake’s girlfriend, Stella. I’m thinking, “Oh, Bunny and Stella are on the phone together.” [laughs] Like we hear the voice of a young woman and Jake’s girlfriend, Stella. No, we hear the voice of Stella, Jake’s girlfriend whom he calls Bunny so you’re going to need to say, we hear the voice of Stella. Jake’s girlfriend. His pet name for her, Bunny, is his pet name or something. Otherwise —
John: Or AKA Bunny.
Craig: AKA Bunny, exactly. Like these are the phone conversations I just don’t want to see in a movie and don’t have time to sit through. “Bunny, it’s me.” “Hey love, I’m leaving.” “I’m at the office right now.” “What? Why?” Just argh, just do it, just get into it. [laughs] “Bunny, it’s me. I got roped into making a quick drop off for my boss.” “I know, I know, I know, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m not happy but” — there’s no sense of sweatiness, no sense that he’s doing something wrong, there’s no urgency.
John: So it’s the difference between how people speak in the real world and how the slightly optimized version of how people speak in movies. And just once you sort of come to accept it, this is what Craig basically just pitched is, “Bunny, it’s me.” “Hey, love. I got roped into making a quick drop off at the bosses.” “Look I’m not happy about it either but don’t worry, we’ll be on time, all right?” And then if her first real line is, “My graduation is in two hours,” then that’s funny. That actually tells you something.
John: So cutting will make that just so much sharper.
Craig: Yeah, nobody’s speaking as if they are in possession of the facts they’re in possession of.
Craig: She’s not talking like somebody whose graduation is in two hours, really, hey love, I’m leaving. If her graduation is in two hours and he’s not with her, why isn’t she like, where are you? You know.
Craig: And he’s certainly not talking like somebody that just committed a crime. Neil’s not talking like somebody that just roped somebody into committing a crime. So I had multiple issues here with Assist by Matthew Gentile. I think that I would say to Matthew, I wouldn’t get discouraged here. It’s not like I read these and I go, “Oh, Matthew can’t write.” I just think that you’ve made a lot of classic rookie mistakes and you just got to get them out of your system.
John: Yeah and you got them out here so next thing is going to be better.
Craig: The next one will be better.
John: It’ll be better. I want to thank all three of our brave writers and everyone else who writes in with their Three Page Challenge samples because they’re so useful and instructive and they give us things to talk about because it’s so hard to talk about screenwriting when you don’t have screenplays in front of you to talk about.
So if you have a screenplay, three pages of which you’d like us to take a look at, the first three pages is usually the most helpful. It can be a screenplay, it can also be a pilot. We’ve done those too. You can go to johnaugust.com/threepage and that is where you’ll find a page listing how you submit your scripts. There’s a little form you fill out. You click and say that it’s okay for us to talk about it on the air. You’ll attach a PDF and they end up in Stuart’s inbox. And Stuart sorts through them every once in a while and gives us these scripts to take a look at. So again thank you to these three people for letting us talk about their scripts on the air and to everyone else who has written in with them.
Craig: Absolutely. You guys are very, very brave, so thank you and hopefully we are of some help.
John: Yep. It’s time for One Cool Things. I have two One Cool Things. The first is Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time.
Craig: Time after time.
John: It’s a fantastic pop song from 1984.
Craig: That’s right.
John: The Washington Post — I’m sorry, actually Wall Street Journal did an article about how they wrote that song. So she wrote it with Rob Hyman and it just charts through sort of the process of writing a song. And having written many, many songs, I found it really fascinating sort of how songs come together because this was a case of there was sort of an idea that got thrown out, it was originally a calypso number and you can see all these influences are still in that song even though they made fundamentally different choices. And things get pieced together, it’s iteration, there’s bursts of sudden inspiration but then it’s also the hard work of figuring out like what does this song actually really want to be.
So this is one example for a really good song, Time After Time.
Craig: Rob Hyman, Philadelphia guy, was one of the main members of a group called The Hooters.
John: Oh yeah, I know The Hooters.
Craig: Remember The Hooters? So they did, ‘And we dance like a wave on the ocean romance,’ and they also did, ‘All you zombies hide your faces.’
Craig: But I’m always fascinated by these guys that then just like go sideways like, you know, Someone Like You, the big Adele hit, that’s co-written by a guy who was the main songwriter for what was it called Supersonic, I can’t remember the name, but the guys that did ‘Closing Time.’
John: Oh yeah.
John: Yeah or Linda Perry quite famously 4 Non Blondes who is now a big singer-songwriter.
Craig: Right, exactly.
John: A big songwriter for other people. My other One Cool Thing is Secret Hitler which is a game that is on Kickstarter right now.
John: It is from Max Tempkin and the Cards Against Humanity folks. He has created a game that I got to test play quite really on and it’s really fun. It’s a game for 5 to 10 to ten people. We played it with 10 people so it’s our office and the Exploding Kittens office and we all got together and played it. It’s really fun. And Craig; you would love it because it’s all about manipulation and lies and how to convince people that you are not who you clearly are.
Craig: I mean that’s — I wake up doing that.
John: Yeah, so you’re a natural at it.
Craig: So this is like a card —
John: No, so this is — it’s a game — have you ever played Mafia —
John: Or Werewolf?
John: So it’s that but it’s more sophisticated in a sense that it’s set in sort of pre-World War II fascist-leaning in Germany and so you’re either the liberals or the fascists and so you get a card saying who you are. So either you’re a liberal or fascist or Hitler and —
Craig: Oh you can be Hitler in this game?
John: Yeah, so it’s essentially the fascists are trying to elect Hitler as Chancellor and in that they win if they do that.
Craig: So it’s like oh we did it, we won and six million Jews are going to die. [laughs]
John: So what’s so fascinating about the mechanic of it is that like Mafia or Werewolf, there’s reasons why you will lie and cheat to sort of manipulate people and make people think that you are clearly on their side when you’re not on their side but it becomes so much more complicated because you’re trying to pass these policies. And there’s an element of randomness which is like you might have no choice why you had to enact this fascist policy but everyone will then think that you are fascist.
Craig: Right, right.
John: So we quite enjoyed it and yet I will say it strained some friendships so —
Craig: Oh really? It’s one of those type of games?
John: Yeah it’s not as bad as sort of the Diplomacy which of course is the game that destroys friendships.
Craig: So great.
John: So great, it’s beautiful. So it’s not that. It’s only about an hour. With 10 people, it’s a little bit more than an hour but it’s really well done so if you’re curious about the game, it’s on Kickstarter, it’s cheap and you should consider backing it.
Craig: Used to play Diplomacy with my friends in high school and it was — it really was — it only works when you play with people who are smart and who just acknowledge right up front that winning a game is more important than anything else. [laughs] And so you can respect it.
John: Yeah totally.
Craig: Well, my One Cool Thing is rather large and corporate but I used it today and it was like, “Oh God this is so ridiculously awesome.” [laughs] And I feel bad about it in a way because there must be abuse on the other end of it but Prime Now — have you used Prime Now?
John: Yeah, it’s like the same day delivery?
Craig: I mean it’s not even the same day delivery; it’s like delivery in an hour.
John: How does that even work? I’ve never done this.
Craig: So Prime Now — so if you’re an Amazon Prime member which, you know, lots of people are, you download an app so you can’t make your purchases through the desktop, it’s only through their app. You download their app and their selections are rather large and it’s basically items that they have in key depots in major centers. So where we live, sure. There’s a minimum purchase amount of I think $20, not that crazy but yeah you can’t have them fetch you like paper clips. But you type in like, okay, like today, I put in I want low-carb tortillas, Aquaphor skin care, and Diet Coke. [laughs]
John: That is so revealing and diet coke and not Dr. Pepper?
Craig: No, I just went for Diet Coke because I have that my son also loves that. He likes that more than Diet Dr. Pepper. I love Diet Dr. Pepper. And then boom it’s there and it’s crazy.
John: That’s Insane.
Craig: It’s crazy. And you put a tip on, you know, for the delivery guys so it’s not like Amazon Prime where there’s no tips because they’re using UPS, whatever. They’re using their own employees but it’s nuts.
Craig: And the scary part is they’re just — they’re assaulting these boundaries that we’ve come to expect between I want something I have something. They keep chipping away at it until the point where it’s like, you know what I want, oh it’s already there, I didn’t even say it. [laughs]
John: So my question is, what is the uniforms these people wear and can you see the little shock collars that they get zapped if they don’t actually deliver there fast enough? [laughs]
Craig: This is what I’m worried about like I just — I hope that they’re not — you know, because Amazon, eh, not the best rep when it comes to this stuff. [laughs]
John: Well, I’m the one who’s selling thousands of units of Writer Emergency Pack through Amazon so I really can’t be complaining about your low-carb tortillas.
Craig: You know, there was this great article about the Amazon warehouses.
Craig: And, you know, so part of the article is like this abusive internal. [laughs]] But the part that was fascinating to me other than the human misery of it, just the logistics aspect of it was that one of the great breakthroughs they made with Amazon is that typically a warehouse would be designed where you put like products all together —
Craig: Which makes since right? Okay, we sell 80 vacuum cleaners, put them all in row AB12 where you go if you need a vacuum cleaner. And then some genius over there was like, no, put them nowhere near each other. It’s like the keyboard model of QWERTY like the keys will stick together. Fling them all over the place, this way when you get to an aisle and you’re looking for a vacuum cleaner, there’s only one there, you can’t mess up. You can’t pull the wrong vacuum cleaner off the shelf.
John: Right. Yeah, that sounds fair. I mean I’ll say Amazon did screw up when we first started selling Writer Emergency Packs and they would send 12 instead of one because they looked at the inner cartoon. [laughs] And they thought that the whole inner cartoon was one unit. So that may be a breakdown. But essentially Amazon also does things where like you don’t go to the shelf, the shelf comes to you. And so the little robots pick up the shelf and move the shelf to you and turn the shelf so you basically just reach forward and grab the thing and put it in the van.
Craig: At some point Amazon’s going to create a service for Amazon employees. [laughs] So that you can hire a guy to go get your things so that you have your thing as the Amazon guy so you could send the thing to me.
John: And the New York Time piece or was it New York Times or New Yorker or New York Magazine? One of the New York publications had a long piece about the corporate jobs at Amazon are not any better — I mean they’re better in the sense that you’re not in a terrible warehouse and risking, you know, overheating or dying.
Craig: Yeah, but those — like their evaluation system was, ugh.
John: Yeah, because we have that same kind of evaluation system here in our own office where you can anonymously talk about the other employees and sort of rate them and how they’re doing but only I see them and then I punish people.
Craig: I mean, don’t you know that everyone’s talking about Stuart?
John: It’s usually Stuart’s fault. [laughs]
Craig: Oh Stuart, poor Stuart. [laughs] Six months earlier…Ah!
John: Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel.
John: And it is edited by Matthew Chilelli.
John: And you may see one or both of them at Scriptnotes Live which we are recording this — God, it’s tomorrow as people are listening to this, which is insane.
Craig: Yeah, yeah.
John: There’s a link in the show notes if you follow the link in the show notes. It’s possible they’ll release more tickets on the day, who knows.
Craig: But currently we’re sold out.
John: I think we’re sold out.
Craig: Like Jon Bon Jovi?
John: Like Jon Bon Jovi. It’s one of the situations where we’ll be sold out but then because they were holding that stuff for us, sometimes they release those, who knows.
Craig: Oh I see. I don’t have any friends.
John: I don’t have any friends. But our show should be great and it should be fun and that will be next week’s episode if you are going to be listening to our show next week. I hope you are.
John: If you would like to subscribe to our show, please join us on iTunes. Just click on subscribe in iTunes. Search for Scriptnotes first, that helps. You’ll see two things on iTunes, you’ll see the Scriptnotes app through which you can download all the back episodes and of course, Scriptnotes the Podcast, subscribe to that and leave us a comment because we love to read your comments. Maybe we’ll read comments for our Christmas episode. We’ll just read nice things people say about us. [laughs]
Craig: That doesn’t sound self-serving at all. [laughs]
John: But what we would love for you to write in with is your questions about things that are not related to screenwriting, so a very long time ago we did one random advice episode.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: I think it’s time to do another random advice episode.
Craig: We should totally do that.
John: So that’d be a fun thing to clear the cobwebs out at the end of the year. So if you would like our advice on a topic that has nothing to do with screenwriting about I don’t know, work, relationships, food, diet.
Craig: Don’t forget our specialty: female reproductive health.
John: That more than anything we want to answer your questions about female reproductive health. Write into firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s the place you can write in with all your larger things. But you can even ask one of those questions on Twitter, so I’m @johnaugust, Craig is @clmazin. Our outro this week is composed by Roman Mittermayr. If you have an outro that you would like us to consider for our show, write to the same address, ask@johnaugust, and give us a link to where we can find the file. Craig, thank you again for a fun episode.
Craig: Thanks, John.
John: All right. Bye.
- The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, December 3, 2015
- Craig in The New York Times and on Jezebel
- Download Highland 1.9 now and sign up to be a Highland 2 beta tester
- Does Revenge Serve an Evolutionary Purpose? from Scientific American
- One Hit Kill is now available for purchase
- Projection Problems Plague 70mm L.A. Press Screening Of Quentin Tarantino’s ‘The Hateful Eight’ from Indie Wire
- Three Pages by Jody Russell
- Three Pages by Mark S.W. & V.P. Walling
- Three Pages by Matthew Gentile
- Submit your Three Pages here
- The Wall Street Journal on How Cyndi Lauper Wrote Her First No. 1 Hit, ‘Time After Time’
- Secret Hitler is now on Kickstarter
- Amazon Prime Now offers one hour delivery
- Email us or tweet John or Craig for advice on things that have nothing to do with screenwriting
- Outro by Roman Mittermayr (send us yours!)