Liam found a mistake in the Bible

questionmarkA couple of weeks ago Pastor moon spoke on the Genealogy of Jesus from Matthew. There’s another one in Luke, in this one Joseph’s father is given a very different name from the Matthew text. Can you give an explanation as to why this is so?

– Liam

Um, Liam. Are we quite clear on the concept of this site?

The tagline at the top of the page reads, “A ton of useful information about screenwriting.” There is no mention of Jesus or testaments (new or old).

Maybe you were looking for John August Swanson, an artist who deals with religious themes.

Anyway, you’re here now, so let me try my best to answer your question.

The Bible, the book you’re holding in your hand? Contrary to what a lot of people assume, it was written by a bunch of different people, over a very long period of time. Unlike the important texts of certain religions (c.f. Scientology), the information didn’t all come through one person. It’s natural that multiple storytellers might disagree on certain details.

As centuries passed, different texts were added and removed, and there’s always been controversy about these decisions. Plus, not a word of the Bible was written in English, so you’re always dealing with translation issues.

For these reasons, many people would say that what’s important is the larger themes, rather than a certain person’s name.

If your Pastor Moon says the Bible is the word of God, make sure he clarifies exactly what he means. Some Christian scholars will say the Bible is divinely inspired, which to me is an elegant way of addressing the human role in putting thought to parchment.

I hope this helps. If you’re still frustrated by the contradictions in the text, you might prefer a more free-form religion like Flying Spaghetti Monsterism.

The TV spec of the season

Veteran TV writer Ken Levine, whose blog was recently added to the list on the right-hand side, has a post up about which TV shows would be best to spec this season.

For readers unfamiliar with how TV staffing works, here’s the rundown.

Writers hoping to get staffed on a given show (or frankly, any show — it’s a tough business), write sample scripts of shows currently on the air. So, if you’re looking to get a job writing on a show like CSI, you’d write a sample (spec) episode of a one-hour crime drama. You wouldn’t necessarily write a CSI, but rather a newer show that people like. Maybe Numbers. Or Numb3rs.

God, I hate what Se7en hath wrought.

The goal is to write an episode of a show that most everyone likes, but isn’t sick of yet. Ken suggests “My Name is Earl.” For me, the choice would have to be “The Office.” My assistant Chad and his writing partner, who hope to staff on a sitcom this year, wrote a terrific Office spec that should serve them well.

Sadly, I’ve read two or three spec episodes of “D.C.,” the failed drama I created at WB. For a brief time, it was considered a good spec because of the challenging structure (five main characters, at work and at home) and opportunity for comedy.

Trust me: write a show that lasts more than seven episodes.

Readers write in: Don’t put gum behind your ear

envelopeDear John,

I am a big fan, since GO. We finally got a DVD of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and showed it at my 8/9 year old daughter’s birthday sleepover. Great movie, great time. When the time comes for your baby to have a sleepover don’t fret it. It was fully successful and not bad at all. Remember this in eight years or so and email me for pointers.

A few days later when the real birthday arrived, we took our three daughters (5,7,9) to dinner and then went to have our nine-year old’s ears pierced. Before getting her ears pierced, the birthday girl took some of her birthday money and bought her sisters gumballs (one of those nice gestures that you love to see your kids do. Just wait. It makes the other miseries of parenthood worth it).

The ear piercing went well. Little apparent pain. No tears. Because we live in Michigan and it is miserable cold, I went and got the car so I could pick-up my women at the door.

When they got in the car, our youngest, Mika, was crying and my wife looked harassed. Mika had gum in her hair. When we asked why, she told us that she was trying to be like Violet and put the gum behind her ear.

violet beauregardI wish I could say that I was completely calm and sensitive, but mostly I kept barking at her not to play with it and not to lean back into her car seat, and that I would take care of it when we got home. She whined and cried the whole way (one of the terrible things of being a parent that make you wish that those gumball gift moments came more often).

About an hour later, after ice, peanut butter, one ruined fine-toothed comb, much crying and my reluctant use of scissors, the gum was gone. She also has a bald spot behind her right ear. We hope it won’t be as obvious as her self-cut bangs that just now are growing out enough to make her no longer look like Twiggy/Stevie Nicks/Mia Farrow as Rosemary.

In the shower when I was washing the remaining peanut butter and little strings of gum out of her hair, I asked her if she learned anything. She said yes: Don’t put gum behind your ear. A good parent would have been happy with this, but I am not a good parent. I want more. I want bigger lessons. I suggested that the other lesson is: Just because you see someone do something in a movie this does not mean that you can do it in real life.

Anyhow, I know you didn’t create the gum-behind-the-ear schtick that Violet does in the movie, but boy was I cursing you during the car ride home. On reflection, I am grateful. I would rather have Mika learn to suspect the world of fiction after emulating Violet and having a bad experience with gum behind her ear than learn that lesson at 21 after a bad experience emulating the behavior of any of the characters in GO.

Because I read your blog, I feel like I know you, which is a little weird. If I were to see you in the Farmer Jacks (grocery store in Michigan) I would probably walk right up and start talking as if we were friends. I imagine this is the thing that (other more visible?) celebrities find unsettling.

Have a great day.

– Fred

Dude, I got a Grammy nomination

This morning I opened my email to find a note from my friend James LaRosa, congratulating me on my Grammy nomination. I had no idea what he was talking about.

But I went to the Grammy site, and lo and behold, there’s my name. Apparently the announcements were this morning in New York.

The nomination is for “Wonka’s Welcome Song,” the annoying (yet catchy) jingle that the puppets sing at the factory gates. I share lyric credit with Danny Elfman, who also sang it.

There’s other news on other fronts, but nothing trumps unexpected kudos, so I’ll save that for later.

Day or Night when neither is apparent

questionmarkIn a scene where there is absolutely no way of telling whether it is day or night — say, when a character is inside a meat locker in the bowels of an underground nuclear bunker and has nothing but a Zippo to see by — should one write…

  • or,

This is assuming it is daytime above, and realizing that there is no problem shooting the scene in the daytime.

– cbrown

There’s no universal consensus, but I vote for the former. Even if you’re not seeing the sun or the moon, there’s generally a “daytime” or a “nighttime” vibe. The crew of a space station, for example, needs to sleep at some point. Call that night.

Incidentally, don’t have the alien attack then. Kind of cliche, in my humble opinion.

About a boot


Several readers, presumably Canadian readers, have written in to complain that they do not say “a boot” for “about,” and that I have my head up my ass.

So let me clarify.

“A boot” is a comedic exaggeration, the same way Europeans trying to sound American end up channeling John Wayne or De Niro.

Very few Canadians confuse their adverbs and footwear. It’s altogether possible that your “ow” sounds are created deeper in your mouths, just like Americans. But based on my experience casting two television shows with professional actors who have training in “sounding American,” there is a notable difference in words like “out,” “about,” and “house.” So much so that I’ll rewrite dialogue to avoid those words if possible.

Here’s where you need to climb off my ass.

  1. Just because I say something is different, doesn’t mean I’m saying it’s wrong. There’s nothing “right” about the various American accents. But if a character is supposed to be from a specific place in the U.S., his accent should reflect that.

  2. Yes, Canada is a big country. Vancouver doesn’t sound exactly like Toronto. But Vancouver doesn’t sound exactly like Seattle, either, and they’re a lot closer.

  3. Just because you can’t hear your accent, doesn’t mean you don’t have one. This more than anything infuriates me.

I grew up in the American Midwest. That’s my accent. I can’t really hear it, partly because American newscasters are trained to emulate this accent. You can hear a sample of it here. I sound pretty much like Kansas One, except that I’m older (35) and my voice is deeper.

Click here to listen to a speaker from Toronto. About a third of way into the recording, she says, “You have that in, what, Michigan? That’s part of what’s weird about being in Canada.”

The “about” is what I’m talking about.

For “sorry,” try this recording, also from Ontario: “Sarah was sentimental, so this made her feel sorry for the beautiful bird.” Compare the same sentence in the Southern California recording.

Just so it’s said: I love Canada. You’ve got national health care, seasons, and gay marriage. Your film crews are friendly, and in Toronto, they feed a hot meal (a “substantial”) three hours after call. So don’t take my observations as criticisms. To a lot of the world, “not sounding American” is a compliment.