A Cheap Cut of Meat Soaked in Butter

Scriptnotes: Ep. 161
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To celebrate the third anniversary of Scriptnotes, John and Craig invite Aline Brosh McKenna and her limitless analogies back to discuss box-office journalism, scene geography, emotional IQ and flipping the script.

It’s a jam-packed episode. In fact, there was so much we cut part of it out as a bonus Overtime show that will show up for premium subscribers later this week. In it, we make predictions, re-invent Spanx, and detail our love of D&D. If you want to sign up for the premium edition of Scriptnotes, head over to scriptnotes.net.

If we hit 1000 premium subscribers, we promise to do an NC-17 show that you should definitely not play in the car with your kids.

Tickets are available now for the Slate Culture Gabfest Live on October 8th. John and Craig will be guests, and it should be swell. Links below.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 9-11-14: The transcript of this episode can be found here.


Unlikable heroes and genre expectations

Chloe Angyal has a great look back at My Best Friend’s Wedding:

[T]his movie is, in many ways, radical. It’s an anti-rom com. Jules spends much of it running around like a crazed rom com heroine, pulling ridiculous stunts and operating under the assumption that you can lie, trick, and manipulate a person into falling out of love with their fiancée and into love with you. It doesn’t work, and George, who is half walking gay stereotype and half The Only Sensible Person in This Movie tells her on multiple occasions to give it up and act like a grown up. She is, after all, TWENTY-EIGHT.

[...]

But the line I find more telling is what he tells her while she’s still chasing Michael through the streets of Chicago in a stolen truck while talking on a cell phone. “You’re not the one,” he says. You’re not the one. These four words fly in the face of almost every rom com ever made, because the central premise of the genre is that the heroine is the one: the one woman who can get the ungettable guy, who can turn the beast back into a prince, who is worth traveling through time for, whatever. The One. Jules is not the one. She doesn’t get the guy. She does terrible things to try to get him, to try to “win” him. She follows all the laws of rom com world, but the laws don’t apply here. Kimmy calls her two-faced and Michael calls her pond scum, and though they ultimately forgive her, those assessments are correct.

When I saw My Best Friend’s Wedding in 1997, I remember being struck by just how selfish the Julianne character was — and yet how perversely relatable that made her for me. Real people do stupid things because of love and fear. It’s not “likable,” but it’s honest.


Should we make more Scriptnotes t-shirts?

scriptnotes_blackWe have very few Scriptnotes t-shirts left in the store. We’re considering printing a new batch, but we’re not sure which color listeners would actually want.

The first round of shirts came in Umbrage Orange and Rational Blue. The second batch came in only Basic Blacklist.

For the new t-shirts, we’re considering revisiting one of the earlier colors, or something new like WG Gray or Residual Green.

gray samplegreen sample

So, assuming t-shirts sell for $19, tell us:

Scriptnotes T-Shirts
Would you buy a t-shirt in ____? (choose as many as you want)

And if we make new t-shirts, should we stick with the typewriter logo, or do something new? We’ve talked about doing something that feels collegiate, or sports-ish, or blackletter death metal style.

So we’re not sure exactly what the style would be, but we have talented design folks, so it would be solid.

Given that vague description, what would your preference be?

T-shirt Logo
What logo should we put on theoretical Scriptnotes t-shirts? (choose as many as apply)

Finally, listeners have suggested other Scriptnotes gear. Are any of these things things you’d actually buy? T-shirts are really simple to ship. Everything else is kind of a hassle.

But we’ll certainly consider it if there’s a groundswell of interest.

Other gear
Would you want to buy any of these? (choose as many as apply)

As always, you can tweet me if there’s something you’d rather see.


A Screenwriter’s Guide to the End of the World

Scriptnotes: Ep. 160
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John and Craig spend the hour discussing the number one topic whenever screenwriters are done complaining about studio notes: the end of the world, and how to get ready for it.

From zombies to asteroids to plagues, we make so many movies and TV shows about the extinction of the human race. But why? What is it about the Death of Everything that is so appealing to writers, and how should we approach the genre when beginning on a new story? This is an episode about that.

We’re considering making new Scriptnotes t-shirts, but only if listeners really want them. Click over to johnaugust.com and vote.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 9-4-14: The transcript of this episode can be found here.


The Mystery of the Disappearing Articles

Scriptnotes: Ep. 159
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John and Craig take a look at four new entries in the Three Page Challenge, ranging from galactic drama to medieval comedy. Along the way, they talk about the nature of one-hour teasers, trust, plausibility, and how to properly address religious authorities.

Screenwriting is often described as a compressed form of writing, but one can take it too far. “The” and “a” are often useless articles — but you notice when they’re gone, as we did in one of the entries.

Links:

You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 8-28-14: The transcript of this episode can be found here.


On trust, drama and corporations

The project I’m writing centers on trust. The more I think about the word and the concept of trust, the more complicated it becomes.

Most definitions of trust contain some combination of “confidence” and “reliability,” both of which often include trust in their own entries. Circular definitions are not especially helpful, so let’s try to pull them apart.

Confidence is an inner conviction, a firmly-held belief often (but not always) supported by facts or prior experience. I have confidence that it will not rain today, because it’s below zero outside.

Reliability is the quality of being able to depend on something to consistently perform as expected. They’re expensive, but the reliability of these hard drives is unmatched.

Combining these two ideas, we can arrive at a pretty good definition of trust:

Trust is confidence in the reliability of someone or something.

Or, in longer form:

Trust is the inner conviction that someone (or something) will do what you expect.

When you look at trust this way, you see several fascinating characteristics:

  1. Trust is something internal, a personally-held belief.
  2. The focus of trust is something external.1
  3. The focus of trust is something that can take its own actions. You can trust your neighbor or your dog. But it’s weird to talk about trusting a chair or a newborn.2
  4. Trust is a prediction about the future. Even in the past tense, it’s referring to the then-future: “I trusted him, but then he slept with a barrista.”

Trust has many thematic cousins — faith, hope, belief, honor — all of which can be explored in fiction. But for the screenwriter, trust is better.

Trust is dramatic.

Trust works well on screen because it’s about a relationship between two characters, and can be explored with actions rather than just words.

The rival soldiers who find themselves stranded behind enemy lines? Trust.

The husband whose wife snoops through his email? Trust.

The scorpion and the frog? Trust.3

Like faith, hope, belief and honor, there’s an internal aspect to trust, but it manifests outwardly. You don’t just trust; you trust someone. And the process of one character growing to trust another character lends itself to interesting scenes and conflicts. Often, late-story actions reveal whether that trust was well-placed.

We often speak of trust when it’s broken. Or shattered. Or destroyed. Worth noting: when we lose trust in someone, it’s rarely described gently. It’s almost always smashy and violent. In fact, we often discuss trust using crystalline metaphors:

Trust is like a mirror, you can fix it if it’s broken, but you can still see the crack in that motherfucker’s reflection. (Lady Gaga, Telephone)

Trust means drama.

Impersonal trust, and corporate anthropomorphization

Trust is also supposedly at the heart of the sharing economy we live in, but what does it mean to trust Facebook, or Amazon, or Uber?

In the case of Uber and Lyft, the companies have a human face: the driver who picks you up. You have a pact of unspoken trust between you. You trust the driver to deliver you to your destination; she trusts you not to vomit in the back seat.4 Both of you trust the service to handle all the money details.

But with Amazon or Google, there’s no person in front of you to trust or distrust. When Stuart says he “trusts Google Maps,” what is he actually trusting?

I’d argue he’s trusting an anthropomorphized entity he’s created in his head. He’s already granting it a sort of consciousness: “Google Maps wants me to take the 10, but that’s crazy, right?”

The Supreme Court was criticized for recent decisions that treated corporations like individual persons, but the truth is we do it all the time. It’s a useful shorthand (“Apple fears Android growth”), and allows us to distinguish the employees of a corporation from the corporation itself. “I admire the engineers at Google, but not Google.”

And we’ve always done it with countries. (“France wants a carbon tax.”)

In personifying abstractions like countries and corporations, we’re able to talk about whether we trust them. But I’m not sure that’s a good thing overall.

Maybe if we looked at them for what they are — a collection of moving pieces, more like a swarm than a single entity — we’d be more prudent. Can you trust something that is constantly changing and reassembling itself?

That’s a good dramatic question. I call dibs.

  1. In a phrase like, “trust my own eyes,” the eyes are not the person speaking. Even in phrases like, “trust yourself,” it’s still a transitive verb. I’d argue the “you” you’re supposed to trust is a projection of an idealized person.
  2. Can you trust a robot or a zombie? The answer depends on the degree to which you believe it’s making its own decisions. If it’s just following its coding or brain-chomping instincts, the best you can do it predict it, not trust it.
  3. And overdone. Can we please stop referencing the scorpion and the frog?
  4. My last Uber had paper bags, much like you’d find in airplane seatbacks, ready for drunken Saturday night customers.