Advice for a New Staff Writer

Scriptnotes: Ep. 368
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John welcomes Alison McDonald (American Dad!, Nurse Jackie, the remake of Roots) and Ryan Knighton (In the Dark) to talk through the basics of the TV writers room, covering how they got in, how much to talk, how to make a living, what to wear and what’s for lunch.

In follow up, we look at disappearing digital purchases and the further fallout from Les Moonves.

We have new Scriptnotes T-shirts available — Colored Revisions! Thanks to Alison, Ryan now knows about magenta.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.


You can’t have my back and yours at the same time

Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, Rebecca Sun and Jonathan Handel look at the controversy over agencies investing in TV and movies:

“The headline is that it’s bad for creators,” declares The Good Fight co-creator Robert King, who, notably, is a client of Paradigm, one of the agencies not moving into ownership (yet). “This is a black-and- white situation where agencies should not be a boss to clients.”

Even some agents are puzzled: “Who are you representing? Do you have [the writer’s] back or your back?” says Verve co-founder and partner Bryan Besser. “How do you have both backs?”

The article is one of the first I’ve read that gets agents on the record, but either the journalists didn’t ask or couldn’t get an answer to Besser’s fundamental question: How can agencies defend the conflict of interest inherent in employing their own clients?

The closest anyone gets to addressing the issue comes as simple whataboutism:

Agencies say they remain mystified as to why the WGA is beating up on them when talent management firms — an adjacent business — have been free to produce and own content for decades.

Officer, why is it a problem for us to run red lights when ambulances have been doing it forever?

Agents and managers aren’t the same thing, and agents know it. Agencies are defined under California law, with specific restrictions on what they can do and how much they can charge. They’re supposed to have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients. That means putting the interests of their clients before their own interests.

If we can’t expect that from our agents, we need better agents.

If they can’t earn enough off of 10% of our income, they should focus on getting us paid more.


One Year Later

Scriptnotes: Ep. 367
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Aline Brosh McKenna joins John and Craig to discuss the progress made in the year following the Weinstein revelations. Have the systems for reporting and preventing sexual harassment improved, or are we still just dealing with hurricanes?

We also follow up on The Academy’s decision to nix the Popular Film category, the IATSE agreement, missing movies, and Craig’s distaste for ventriloquism. And Final Draft teaches us that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.


WGA Elections 2018

Scriptnotes: Ep. Extra
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John and Craig discuss their choices for WGA Board Elections and misinformation about proposed revisions to the Screen Credits Manual.

Links:

Email us at ask@johnaugust.com

You can download the episode here.

UPDATE 9-18-18: The transcript of this episode can be found here.


How murky rights keep movies in limbo

Following up on my conversation with Kate Hagen about why I can’t legally stream The Flamingo Kid and many other films, listener Matt wrote in with some helpful insight into the hurdles for re-releasing old titles:


Happy to hear you talk about digital distribution. I worked on that side of the industry for a major cable network for several years. Wanted to share some insight on the day-to-day realities of releasing catalog titles on the EST/DTO platforms (that’s electronic sell-through and download-to-own [interchangeable terms], and iTunes/Amazon/Google Play/Vudu, etc.).

I worked in TV, but I’d guess that a lot of what I experienced applies to film as well. My sense is that most movies or TV episodes still not available on digital platforms have some issue holding them back.

The decision to release these older titles all comes down to risk, and it rarely makes sense on an individual title basis to take the risk. The risk is either financial (spending money to clear a song or a piece of stock footage) or legal (when there’s an unclear chain-of-title, either for an entire TV series/movie or for licensed media within an episode or movie).

In my experience, new release titles drove nearly all of our team’s revenue, with catalog episodes bringing in comparatively little. So on a case-by-case basis, it’s very difficult for digital distribution teams to make the argument to their superiors that it’s worth spending money, sometimes a lot of money, to license music for home media use, or to release an episode or movie with an unclear chain-of-title and hope no one comes out of the woodwork with a lawsuit claiming they hold its distribution rights.

Older movies or TV episodes may only bring in a few hundred dollars a year to the studio or network, when new releases are making millions. Frankly, if you go to your Senior VP asking permission to spend $30,000 to clear a song so you can release a 25-year-old TV episode that’s projected to make $40 in a year, you’re an idiot. It’s much easier for everyone involved to not bother with the mess of issues surrounding some of these movies and shows, and instead to just let the money roll in from new releases.

From my experience, I think the only way we get every TV show and movie released digitally is if high-ranking executives at networks and studios decide it’s worth it in the long run to have full distribution rights to their entire libraries, and take a one-time financial hit to clear many episodes and movies at the same time. The cost/benefit rarely makes sense one at a time, but it would likely be worth the cost for networks and studios to have complete libraries of content they can license over and over again to different streaming services.


Why Highland 2 doesn’t automatically add CONT’D

In screenplays, when a character continues speaking after a line or two of action, the convention is to write (CONT’D) after their second character cue.

TOM

Sure, these radioactive cockroaches might kill us all...

He gestures to a glowing wall of swarming roaches. Like a thousand tiny pixels, they form surreal moving images.

TOM (CONT’D)

But look how pretty!

Final Draft and many other screenwriting applications will add these (CONT’D)s automatically unless you tell them no. And you should say no.

These kind of (CONT’D)s should never be left to algorithms. I’ve written about this before:1

Consider Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity. Minutes may elapse between her spoken dialogue, but Final Draft will default to adding the (CONT’D) since no other character has spoken in the interim. You can delete the (CONT’D), but it’s a hassle, and it will come right back if you reformat text around it.

To prevent this kind of Gravity situation, Final Draft could set a threshold where it only adds (CONT’D) if fewer than X lines of scene description interrupt the dialogue. But that wouldn’t catch a more common problem like this:

MARY

Tom, stop staring at them! They’re hypnotizing you!

But it’s too late: Tom is transfixed. He starts walking towards the reactor core, completely in the roaches’ thrall.

Mary grabs him, trying to hold him back. But he’s too strong.

Finally, Mary spots Hector up in the control room. She yells, hoping he can hear her --

MARY

Hector!

Mary’s shout to Hector isn’t a continuation of her previous dialogue. It’s a new thing. Some screenwriters would choose to add the (CONT’D), while others wouldn’t.

The point is, it’s a choice the writer should be making, not the software.

Highland 2 will auto-complete if you start typing the (CONT’D), but it won’t try to put it there by itself. That’s consistent with the general philosophy of Highland and other Fountain-based apps: we will never change your actual text.

Note that these CONT’Ds are a different species than dialogue breaks at the bottom of a page. In these circumstances, there’s no authorial intent. It’s simply the screenwriting software trying to fit an appropriate amount of text on a page, and signaling to the reader that dialogue keeps going.

Highland 2 adds these (MORE)s and (CONT’D)s when you print or preview. They’re not baked-in because page breaks can change as you add or delete text.

  1. I was halfway through writing today’s post when I realized I’d blogged about CONT’D twice before. Apparently, I’ve defaulted to Tom and Mary in my examples since nearly the beginning of the blog. They’ve seen some shit.