Ghost and Jacob’s Ladder at the WGA

As hoped, the WGA screening series has opened up my Q&A with screenwriter Bruce Joel Rubin to everyone. It’s free for everyone. Seating is first-come, but the theater is pretty large, so don’t feel like you have to get there an hour early.

This Saturday, April 25
5pm GHOST (followed by the Q&A)

Writers Guild Theater
135 S Doheny Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90211

WGA members should still RSVP to guarantee a seat.

Back in Episode 163, Craig and I did a beat-by-beat breakdown of Ghost. I’m really looking forward to the chance to talk about the movie with its screenwriter.

Podcaster as cult leader

In a post that has since been taken down, Danny Manus warned that screenwriters are unwittingly being drawn into cults:

To be honest, I’m not even sure the professionals themselves are aware of their Jim Jonesy behavior and what type of insulated, self-aggrandizing, arrogant dome of cynicism and power they are creating. So, in hopes that there is still time to save others from drinking the Kool-Aid, and as a public service to inform those unknowingly responsible, here are some ways to know if you’re leading a cult.

- You cast aspersions on outside computer programs or software your followers may use (…and then launch your own and charge for it).

- You advise your followers that they need to move closer to you, and can only truly be part of your world if they are living nearby in the same town.

- You create your own terminology for words and concepts that don’t require new terminology (or perhaps your own FONT because the font others use aren’t good enough for you?).

While the first bullet point could apply to Marco Arment, I have a strong hunch that Manus is mostly referring to me and Craig Mazin, and our Scriptnotes podcast.

If he’s calling me a cult leader, he’s not altogether wrong.

By these standards, most popular podcasters are cult leaders.

Sound of My Voice

Here’s the thing: I’m fascinated by cults. I read books about Jonestown. I watch movies like Martha Marcy May Marlene. I wrote a pilot for Fox about an apocalyptic cult in the Santa Ynez Valley.

I know cults, and podcasts are inherently kind of culty.

Week after week, you’re hearing the same voices talking in your head about the same topics. You begin to learn the hosts’ quirks, opinions and predilections. They feel like friends even though they’re strangers.1

Podcasts never abandon you. They are with you when you’re alone in the car, or riding the train, or washing dishes. They take you out of the tedium of the moment and engage you in something more interesting.

Podcasts offer secret knowledge. Anyone can watch The Daily Show, but to listen to a podcast you have to know it exists. You have to seek it out. You have a source of information almost no one else in the world does.

Some podcasts even provide a special wardrobe, say, a t-shirt.

Yet there are some significant barriers to podcasts becoming full-on cults.

For starters, listening to a podcast is a solo experience, while cults are inherently group activities. Social media can get you part of the way — but you’d want to do some live shows so your fans can interact with each other.

Second, the opt-out is way too easy. True cults have ways to punish apostasy. With podcasts, you can simply stop listening, or delete the show from your podcasting app. No one is going to know that you bailed.2

Cult-like isn’t the same as cult

I don’t believe podcasters are cult leaders in the sense of Jim Jones. Manus is comparing the murder of 913 men, women and children to a few mean Facebook comments.

A podcast like Scriptnotes — or The Talk Show, or Serial, or the Slate Political Gabfest — does share some characteristics with a cult. It has charismatic leaders voicing an opinion. It singles out heroes and villains. Just like Apple and Android, a podcast can attract fans and fanatics.

Should podcasters be aware of the dangers of cult-like behavior? Absolutely. So should bloggers, tweeters, Viners and YouTubers. Any time you have a crowd, you have to consider responsible crowd management.

Manus writes:

Those who spout off about how THERE ARE NO RULES – but then continue to tell you exactly what to believe and think and how to act and who to do business with – are either wildly hypocritical, or completely oblivious.

I don’t think Craig and I are hypocritical or oblivious. We’re mindful of our responsibility to both our audience and the industry, and always aim to be inclusive rather than isolationist. If we’re cult leaders, we suck at it.

But I guess that’s what a modern cult leader would say.

  1. Meeting people in person, I’ve experienced both sides of this asymmetric familiarity. It’s weird both ways.
  2. I’ve stopped listening to several of my friends’ podcasts. No, not yours. Another friend’s.

Highland and Weekend Read get updates

Our two major screenwriting apps have updates out this week, fixing minor bugs and annoyances.

Highland 1.8.6 fixes an issue where scene headers could get stuck on bold for some users. Highland offers application-wide preferences for whether scene headers should be double-spaced and/or bolded. Most screenwriters set it once and forget it.

Weekend Read 1.5.1 fixes a range of minor formating bugs reported by our users.

Both are available in their respective App Stores.

We already have a new build of Weekend Read in review with Apple to address a vulnerablity in the open-source AFNetworking code library. Despite the alarmist headlines (“1,500 iPhone apps have a serious flaw that hackers can easily exploit”), it’s highly unlikely users would ever encounter an issue within Weekend Read.

From Ars Technica:

To exploit the bug, attackers on a coffee shop Wi-Fi network or in another position to monitor the connection of a vulnerable device need only present it with a fraudulent secure sockets layer certificate.

The hypothetical coffee shop attacker could get access to network activity to and from Weekend Read — and only Weekend Read. What good would that be, exactly?


Theoretically, they could see that you are downloading the script for Looper from the For Your Consideration list.


That’ll make Rian Johnson happy. And I guess if you were sitting at Peets and you were downloading the top-secret screenplay for the next Avengers, someone could see that too. But I can guarantee you those scripts aren’t being emailed anywhere. And you probably shouldn’t be doing that on coffee-shop WiFi anyway.




Could you push a script into someone’s library? Like, fake an iCloud sync event so that a new script shows up?


That would be so hard but so cool.


It’s the new breaking-in strategy. Hacker wanna-be screenwriters hang around coffee shops and wait for movie execs to come in and then they secretly load their scripts into Weekend Read. It’s like the Blackhat List.


We should call Franklin Leonard. I think that’s a feature, not a bug.

Whichever it is, the AFNetwork issue will be closed in the next build.

You can find more information about Highland and Weekend Read on their sites.

Poking the bear

Scriptnotes: Ep. 194

This week, Craig and John discuss recent events that seem custom-designed to make Craig furious.

An anonymous screenwriter promises to tell you the secrets of Hollywood, including the unspoken dress code. A London-based film production company wants to buy your script — but they want you to pay for some notes first.

But it’s not all bad news. The WGA East has organized the writers at Gawker, so we talk about why and whether it’s a good idea. We also look at GLAAD’s latest report on LGBT representative in feature films.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 4-24-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

How writing credits work

Scriptnotes: Ep. 193

Craig and John do a deep-dive into the world of screenwriting credits, explaining the entire process from the Notice of Tentative Writing Credits, to arbitration to review boards. The system can be confusing, but most produced screenwriters will find themselves facing it at some point, so it’s important to understand how it works.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 4-17-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

You can’t train a cobra to do that

Scriptnotes: Ep. 192

Craig and John discuss backup plans, camera directions, and becoming so good they can’t ignore you. Plus we answer two listener questions about specificity in scene headers and how to indicate that a script is intended for animation.

This episode was actually recorded before 191, but through the magic of editing refers to things that hadn’t yet happened. You won’t be confused because you’re clever. You’ll be fine.


You can download the episode here: AAC | mp3.

UPDATE 4-10-15: The transcript of this episode can be found here.