Tuesday Reviewsday, vol. 4

Reviews let makers know how much you love their products, and encourage potential customers to give new things a shot. Every Tuesday I leave a few reviews on the applicable store, and encourage you to do the same.

Today’s picks are:

  • Bang! (4th Edition) (Amazon) The original Spaghetti Western shoot-em up card game. While you can play it with four players, I find it’s best with five or more so the Deputy gets involved.
  • Bang! The Walking Dead (Amazon) A very clever re-skin of Bang! using the characters from The Walking Dead series. In many ways, it’s easier to understand, both because the Italian is removed and some of the nomenclature is more straightforward (e.g. axes have a range of one, first aid kits heal one life, etc.). It’s not gruesome. I won’t let my 10-year-old watch the series, but I’d be fine with her playing this game.
  • Food52 Genius Recipes: 100 Recipes That Will Change the Way You Cook (Amazon) A friend recommended this book — in particular, two unusual recipes for scrambled eggs. I found the whole thing great, with lively instructions and terrific photography. It’s the kind of cookbook you flip through on the couch, marking things you want to try.

If you’re looking for something to review, many readers are probably familiar with some of the things we make, including Highland, Weekend Read and Writer Emergency Pack.

Podcasts are especially review-dependent, because they signal to the powers at iTunes to feature certain shows. A review for Scriptnotes would be much-appreciated.

Franchises and Final Draft

Scriptnotes: Ep. 236

John and Craig examine why almost all of the top-grossing movies are part of a franchise — and the chicken-or-egg question at the heart of it. You don’t get Minions without Despicable Me.

We also look at the sale of Final Draft to an accounting software company and speculate wildly about the fate of the company and the state of screenwriting apps.

Plus: follow-up on Zola, sleep paralysis and dead scripts.

In the premium feed at Scriptnotes.net, you’ll find audio from John’s live panel with the WGA nominees, including Matt Charman, Drew Goddard, Jonathan Herman and Andrea Berloff, John McNamara, Phyllis Nagy, Charles Randolph and Adam McKay, Josh Singer & Tom McCarthy, and Aaron Sorkin.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 2-14-16: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

The premise, or what’s the point?

Michael Tabb takes a deep look at defining the premise of your story:

A premise is the core belief system of the script and lifeblood of the story. […] There can only be one premise per script from which all the ideas it contains serve, otherwise the script loses focus and its sense of purpose. Premise is hypothesis. It is the story’s purpose for existing at all.

For Tabb, premise is never explicitly stated. Rather, it’s the subtext for the piece as a whole.

It is not a word, theme, feeling, story, question, plot, or tone. It’s not about a person; it’s about the world in which we really live (even if your story is not set here). It is a strong statement with a point to make; it’s the theory the writer is trying to prove or disprove. This defines the author’s perspective.

Basically, it’s your personal answer to the central dramatic question you’ve raised in the story:

  • Do souls live on after us? / Souls are eternal and reincarnated.
  • Can you ever escape your fate? / No, and it’s foolish to try.
  • Is trust granted or earned? / Trust is only earned.

I agree it’s worthwhile to distinguish between “what I’m trying to say” and “how I’m saying it.” But I think premise isn’t the best word here.

Tabb is using premise the way a philosopher would, where it means something like “the proposition that forms the basis for a theory.”

In Hollywood, premise commonly means “what the movie is about.” It’s a very short pitch, basically interchangeable with logline. The premise of Die Hard is that a cop has to stop a band of robbers by himself in an office tower. The premise of Armageddon is that an asteroid is headed towards Earth, and a team of misfits has to stop it.

One could argue that we’ve been using “premise” wrong. But we’re not going to suddenly start using it to mean something else. You’re likely to just confuse people by using “premise” a different way.

A better choice would be to pick a different term for what Tabb’s describing. Maybe “the point.” Or “thesis.” Or “assertion.”

Whatever you call it, I agree with Tabb that it’s best kept to yourself. Characters generally shouldn’t speak it in dialogue, nor should you discuss it with executives. Rather, let it be a touchstone that focuses your writing for this particular story. Work to expose it through scenes with characters in conflict.

Lastly, do you always know the answer to this question when you start writing? Not necessarily. Writing can be a process of discovery. It’s a Socratic dialogue with yourself. What matters is not knowing the point, but finding it.

Tuesday Reviewsday, vol. 3

One of my aims for 2016 is to leave more reviews for the products I love. Every Tuesday I’ll be writing reviews on the applicable store.

Today’s picks are:

If you’re looking for something to review, many readers are probably familiar with some of the things we make, including Highland, Weekend Read and Writer Emergency Pack.

Podcasts are especially review-dependent, because they signal to the powers at iTunes to feature certain shows. A review for Scriptnotes would be much-appreciated.

The one with Jason Bateman and the Game of Thrones guys

Scriptnotes: Ep. 235

With a live audience in downtown Los Angeles, Craig and John welcome actor/director Jason Bateman to discuss what he looks for when considering a script, and how to best work with a writer on a script.

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, co-creators and showrunners of Game of Thrones, join us to reveal the challenges of writing the show so far in advance, working through arguments, and Craig’s secret backstory on the pilot.

Screenwriter John Gatins tells us his history with Hollywood Heart, the charity organizing the event. Our thanks to them, our sponsors and everyone who came. The night raised thousands of dollars to help disadvantaged kids across the country experience summer arts camp.

You can find more info about Hollywood Heart in the links below.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 2-4-16: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Five jokes, considered

Jesse David Fox assembled a list of 100 jokes that shaped modern comedy.

I don’t necessarily agree with many of his choices, but it’s a good excuse to look at a few jokes and appreciate why they work.

“What’s the difference between a pickpocket and peeping tom? A pickpocket snatches watches.” – Redd Foxx

It begins with a classic joke setup, but instead of a punchline, it relies on the audience doing the work of parsing “watching snatches.” It’s naughty rather than dirty, and better for it. This kind of joke would be difficult to fit into a movie, because it relies on that pause while the audience figures out the second part.

“Turn right here? [Pause.] Well, now that was my fault again. You see I meant the next street. Not this man’s lawn.” – Bob Newhart

Newhart’s comedy goes hand-in-hand with his too-obliging persona, but the setup here is solid: he creates the expectation of a car turning right at an intersection, and then defeats it with a surprise visual gag.

In the movie version of this joke, the punchline would happen before the car turned. (“Turn right here. (beat) No, not this man’s lawn.”) Alternately, the car drives onto the lawn, likely during the initial pause.

“I was raped by a doctor…which is so bittersweet for a Jewish girl.” – Sarah Silverman

I was in the audience for the taping of Silverman’s Jesus is Magic special, and laughed so much it hurt the next day. Like many of her best jokes, it relies on a premise of “I’m a terrible person for saying this but…”

As dialogue, this kind of joke is easy to give to the right character. The same hold true for this one:

“The other kid we have, she’s a girl, and she’s 4, and she’s also a fucking asshole.” – Louis C.K.

This line from the Girls pilot also walks that line of knowing you’re saying something insufferable:

“I think I may be the voice of my generation. Or at least a voice. Of a generation.” – Hannah (Lena Dunham)

I don’t have reason to write many jokes. Most of the projects I work on are either dramas or premise-funny rather than punchline-funny. But I always admire well-crafted jokes. They’re tiny works of magic.