My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend’s Screenwriter

Scriptnotes: Ep. 121

Writer/director/actor/comedian Mike Birbiglia joins John and Craig to talk about writing for yourself, and how his one-man shows have translated into his films Sleepwalk With Me and My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend. We talk movies and television, stand-up and screenplays, and the upside of failure.

In other news, there’s now an official app for Scriptnotes, available for iOS and Android. If you like your current setup, keep doing what you’re doing, because nothing has changed. The last 20 episodes will always be free. The app allows you listen to the back 100 episodes for a monthly subscription.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 12-12-13: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Frankenweenie and autism

Antonia Lidder recounts her experience with Frankenweenie, and its impact on her son diagnosed with autism:

In spring 2012, when he had a vocabulary of approximately 15 words, Gabriel clearly said ‘Sparky’. We were excited that he’d said a word and was undoubtedly trying to communicate with us, yet we had no idea what ‘sparky’ was. We searched our memories and came up blank. Then one day I recalled, ‘Last month we did see a trailer for a Tim Burton film – there was a dog in it called Sparky, but it’s only mentioned a couple of times, and it was so fast, and we’ve only seen it once…’

‘Nah,’ my husband said, ‘can’t be.’

How much we have learnt since.

For some kids with autism, seeing a movie in a theater eliminates many of the distractions of ordinary life — eye contact, social cues, needing to keep up a conversation. In the darkness, they can focus on the movie in front of them. The movie theater is one of the last places you can fully lose yourself in a story.

Frankenweenie is deliberately simple, both visually and narrativley. It’s black-and-white, with no fast cutting. It’s the story of a boy and his dog and the adults around them.

My hunch is that kids with autism identify with both Sparky and Victor. Sparky is mute but curious, steadfast but easily frightened. Victor is reclusive and odd, but his oddness isn’t threatening. He’s special and his parents love him for it.

For Lidder, the film opened the floodgates:

FRANKENWEENIE sparked a magical trajectory for us, showing us the actual potential in our beautiful boy, rather than the deficiency that others perceive in him because he can’t express himself in recognised, neurotypical ways. It also has given us so many moments of unbridled joy and discovery that I don’t have the words to convey their significance in our lives.

Ultimately, FRANKENWEENIE is the tale of a boy who is different, isolated and misunderstood. The boy loses himself in film, and the adults find themselves as he shows them what love really is. In this way, and every other way, FRANKENWEENIE is the film of our lives.

My thanks to Picturehouse for sponsoring these special autism-friendly screenings, and for sharing this story.

Writing in Fountain on the iPad, using Editorial

Editorial is one of the slickest text editors for the iPad, and thanks to some clever Python scripting, it can now show previews of Fountain scripts:

fountain preview

The Fountain preview is not perfect. I noticed parentheticals didn’t find the right margins and other bits of minor weirdness. But this workflow demonstrates one of the big advantages of Fountain’s plain-text heritage: you can adapt existing tools to work with it.

Fountain-centric iPad apps are coming, but until then there are no shortage of great text editors for iOS, so it’s worth experimenting. Anything you write in Fountain can easily be transformed into a PDF by apps like Highland or Slugline.

Let’s talk about coverage

Scriptnotes: Ep. 120

Craig and John talk readers and coverage, centering their discussion on profound_whatever’s infographic charting 300 submissions and the lessons screenwriters can take from it.

After that, we talk about the recent DGA deal with the AMPTP, and the degree to which it might predict the upcoming WGA negotiations.

Finally, we discuss getting high and are generally buzz-kills. Sorry.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 12-5-13: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Shift-return, Highland’s little helper

This weekend, Neil Cross (creator of Luther) emailed me with a feature request:

I love Fountain in general and Highland in particular. I’d live there all-but permanently, but for one issue: I’m a very fast but very poor two-fingered typist. One of my worst habits is accidentally hitting the CAPS LOCK key — so I disable it.

I wonder if there’s any chance the Fountain syntax could incorporate a FORCE CHARACTER instruction, the way it currently incorporates FORCE SCENE HEADING?

I can’t be the only clumsy typist in the world for whom this would be a godsend.

I started to brainstorm syntax changes and work-arounds, until I realized we’d already built a solution into Highland: shift-return.


At the end of a line, if you hit shift-return rather than just return, you’ll make the entire line uppercase. It’s useful for character names, scene headings and transitions.

Lessons from God

Over the weekend, I revamped my YouTube channel and uploaded a bunch of videos, including my 1998 short film God, starring a young Melissa McCarthy:

Melissa’s amazing, and always was. I’ve loved watching someone so talented and so deserving become a star.

We shot this film after Go, but it was actually finished first.

I wrote the part for Melissa, who absolutely killed her single scene in Go. Over the next few years, I’d cast her in anything I could. She played a recurring character in my WB series D.C., and had cameos in both Charlie’s Angels. I wrote a part for her in Big Fish, but her role on Gilmore Girls kept her in Los Angeles.

Nine years later, Melissa would play her character from God again in The Nines opposite Ryan Reynolds.1 Her husband Ben Falcone has a small part in the movie as well, and starred in another pilot I did called The Remnants.

God was shot on leftover 35mm from Go, using a lot of the same crew. That’s my old apartment, my old couch, my old answering machine.

I had no particular career goal in making it; it just seemed like fun. We never submitted it to festivals. Rather, it got passed around a lot on VHS, and would often be brought up in meetings. (Casting directors in particular loved it.)

Although I had already directed second unit on Go, this was my first real directing experience beyond crappy Super-8 films in school. I learned a lot, including:

  • Using metaphors to explain what you want. I told my DP that I wanted the light to feel like a breath mint. I told the hair stylist that I wanted Hot-Topic Wiccan.
  • The challenges of late-90s opticals. That “god” title in the opening shot, which would be three seconds of work today, took about a week of back-and-forth approvals at a lab.
  • How expensive music is. The rights to “Walking on Sunshine” cost more than the rest of the budget combined.
  • How much of a homebody I am. God started a trend of my writing movies that take place in my house.

Some of the best things that came from this short were relationships with people I keep working with: Melissa, producer Dan Etheridge, composer Alex Wurman, cinematographer Giovanni Lampassi, and editor Doug Crise. They’re all still part of my life and career, which is a remarkable gift.

  1. The short is a bonus feature on the US DVD.