Whiplash, on paper and on screen

John and Craig take an in-depth look at two scenes in Damien Chazelle’s WHIPLASH to see how conflicts were structured — and what changed from script to shooting.

The One Where Aline’s Show Debuts

Aline Brosh McKenna joins us to talk through the launch of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and what she’s learned since she introduced us to the show nearly a year ago. Brian Lowry of Variety raves that it is “one of the fall’s most promising hours.” We’re not surprised at all.

Short cut-aways, and the value of BACK TO:

When dealing with cutaways and flashbacks, screenwriters have a few choices for how to portray it on the page.

One-Handed Movie Heroes

John and Craig discuss why movie heroes — unlike those in novels or musicals — generally don’t profess internally conflicting views. In reality, our feelings on a topic are likely shades of gray. On the big screen, characters tend to articulate a single point firmly.

Everything but the dialogue

John and Craig take a deep dive into scene description, looking at how seven produced screenplays arranged the words on the page. With samples from Aliens, Erin Brockovich, Oceans 11, Unforgiven, Wall-E, Wanted and Whip It, we tackle verbs and metaphors, ellipses and underlining.

Really Short Stories

Daniel Wallace, who wrote the novel Big Fish, sent me the syllabus for the college writing class he’s teaching, including a first-week requirement of a 100-word short story.

The 200th Episode Live Show

Craig, John, and Aline record the 200th episode of Scriptnotes live with a worldwide audience listening in — and chiming in — as they discuss TV showrunning and whether quality really counts at the box office.

8 Common Mistakes Made by New Screenwriters

B.J. Novak is all about lists. He asked me to write this one about issues I frequently see in scripts written by beginning screenwriters. 1. Starting with a concept rather than a character We don’t want a movie about a lost relic. We want a movie about Indiana Jones. 2. Being too nice to the […]

The long and short of it

John and Craig dig into the listener mailbag and take questions on TV producer credits, jealousy over other writers’ success, writing tight vs writing long and plenty of other follow up.

You can’t train a cobra to do that

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 Is Working

For the first time ever, John and Craig spend an entire episode on a full-length original screenplay, K.C. Scott’s THIS IS WORKING.

K.C. Scott’s “This Is Working”

On Tuesday’s episode of Scriptnotes, we’ll be looking at K.C. Scott’s original screenplay “This Is Working,” a former Three Page Challenge entry. Listeners can download the script now so they can read it over the weekend.

Uncluttered by Ignorance

John and Craig dig into the overstuffed mail bag to answer listener questions about scenes, stagnation, subtitles and script breakdowns. Plus we reveal the consensus opinions on whether we should have ads, and look at possibilities for the Full Script Challenge.

The Rules (or, the Paradox of the Outlier)

John and Craig discuss this year’s screenplay Oscar winners, including the success of Birdman’s outside-the-box approach and Graham Moore’s speech.

The One with Rebel Wilson and Dan Savage

John and Craig discuss exploding scripts and stock scenes. Then in the second half of the show, we welcome two very special guests.


John and Craig pick up loose ends, with follow-up on previous episodes about “friends,” conflict, improv, Kindles, and defibrillation.

The Conflict Episode

Craig and John discuss conflict — why it’s bad in real life but essential in screenwriting. We define six forms of conflict common in movies, then look at ways to sustain conflict within a scene and throughout a story.

Doing, not thinking

John and Craig start the new year by discussing Chuck Palahniuk’s advice to avoid thinking verbs. Then it’s a new round of the Three Page Challenge.

Don’t use “thought” verbs

Palahniuk argues that every time you use one of these verbs, you’re robbing yourself of the chance to describe something fully — to show rather than tell.

Cutting Pages and Fixing Holes

It’s a clip show! John and Craig discuss cutting pages from your script, fixing plot holes, and what we’d do if we ran a studio. We’ll be back with all new episodes in 2015, the year of post-outrage rationality.

Lotteries, lightning strikes and twist endings

John and Craig look at the nature of fluke hits, everything from #alexfromtarget to huge spec sales. Is luck just luck, or is it about how often you play the game? Where does talent fit in?

In praise of flat adverbs

It’s not simply a matter of do-what-you-want. These words really are adverbs, they just look like their related adjective forms.

Descending Into Darkness

Craig and John shake off their Halloween candy hangovers by taking a look at three new Three Page Challenges, full of post-apocalyptic portals and strange signals.

Austin Forever

John and guest host Susannah Grant sit down with Richard Kelly, Cary Fukunaga, Peter Gould, Dan Sterling and Mike Birbiglia to discuss the role of a writer/director, the wonder of television, and the purpose of table reads.

A Cheap Cut of Meat Soaked in Butter

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.