Getting Stuff Written

Scriptnotes: Ep. 321

John welcomes Grant Faulkner, Executive Director of NaNoWriMo and author of Pep Talks for Writers, to discuss the writing process and how to get out of your own way creatively.

We explore the ubiquity of the Other Syndrome and the perils of envy. We also look at pen names, “throw-away writing,” and the advantages of being a beginner.


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Should You Give Up?

Scriptnotes: Ep. 320

John and Craig attempt to answer the question that many aspiring screenwriters dare not ask aloud: when — if ever — is the right time to give up on the dream of becoming a working screenwriter?

Relatedly, is it okay to omit “aspiring” when describing oneself as a screenwriter? How do you ask friends for career help without burning bridges? Is that criminal record a problem?

We also address listener questions about why the Paramount Decree isn’t an issue for streaming services, plus working with auteurs, and formatting car chases.

Thanks for sending us examples of Exposition News!


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UPDATE 10-16-17: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Diary of a First-Time Director

Scriptnotes: Ep. 212

John and Craig sit down with Marielle Heller, the writer and director of the acclaimed feature The Diary of a Teenage Girl, to talk about the journey of getting her movie made, from optioning the novel to the Sundance Labs through production.

We discuss sex scenes and ’70s wallpaper, anamorphic lenses and leaving subplots on the cutting room floor. Plus there’s a lot of MacGruber.

This episode originally aired August 25, 2015.


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UPDATE 10-13-17: The transcript of this episode can be found here.

Movies Dodged a Bullet

Scriptnotes: Ep. 319

John and Craig speculate about why the film industry fared better in the transition to digital while the music industry struggled.

We also follow up on the WGA elections, hearing John’s priorities as a new board member. Lured back into the intrigue of MoviePass, we discuss new information on this business model.

Then it’s another installment of the Three Page Challenge, in which we discuss listener-submitted pages of their screenplays.

Finally, we answer the most provocative of listener-questions: how do you name your files?


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UPDATE 10-2-17: The transcript of this episode can be found here

I’m joining the WGA board

On Monday, I was elected to the board of directors for the Writers Guild of America, West. I’ll be serving a two-year term.

Huge thanks to everyone who voted, and the folks who encouraged me to run.

At one of the campaign mixers, I had the chance to speak with some writers who had only been in the guild for a few weeks. It got me thinking back to the first time I voted, about 20 years ago. I remember going through the campaign booklet, reading every statement, and marking each one on a scale of one to ten. Then I’d go back through and pick the six or eight candidates I was going to vote for.

I took it really seriously, and I still do.

What’s funny to realize is that most of those candidate statements from 20 years ago could have been written today. They were talking about many of the same issues: late payments, improving diversity, free rewrites, protecting our health plan. And it’s easy to see why: these are some of the fundamental objectives of the guild. The WGA exists to make sure our members get paid and protected.

We’re always going to be fighting these fights, whether it’s through negotiation or enforcement. It’s always been the same.

That’s not to say nothing has changed in 20 years. Things are changing quickly. And that’s why I decided to run this year.

Through this site and Scriptnotes, I get the chance to talk to a lot of writers, both in features and TV. Established writers, aspiring writers, everyone in between.

And the consistent thing I’m hearing is, huh. Nothing is working the way it used to, or “supposed to.” There’s a ton of TV being made, but the seasons are short. Features are being figured out in writers rooms, and no one’s quite sure when the “writing” begins, or how we should figure out credit.

We’re in the middle of a disruption. The industry is shifting to some new form, and none of us know what it’s going to become. No one in the guild, no one on the studio lots in Burbank. We’re all flying blind.

Maybe it will be great for writers — like the start of home video, or cable, with new opportunities and new revenue streams. We’ll all be getting fat paychecks to write VR experiences unlike anything we’ve seen before.

But maybe we won’t.

What keeps me up at night is that second possibility, that we’re facing a future where it becomes almost impossible to make a living as a professional writer in Hollywood. I worry that those new WGA members I talked to at the mixer won’t be working 20 years from now because the industry will become unrecognizable.

For me, these next two years are not about a negotiation, but an investigation of where we’re at and what our priorities should be. We elect the board to be trustees of the guild. And part of that is making sure there is still such a thing as a professional writer.

But while we keep an eye out for future dangers, we have to make sure we’re doing everything we can for writers today.

From late pay to unpaid rewrites to exclusivity clauses, there are many areas where members are looking to the WGA to take action.

Some issues can only be addressed through negotiation. But I believe better enforcement is key to improving the day-to-day life of writers — and screenwriters in particular. I talk with feature writers trapped in an endless fog of development, hostage to a paycheck that never comes.

We need to make sure the WGA represents writers not just collectively at the negotiating table, but also individually when employers abuse their power.

I want to believe I’m approaching the work ahead with an appropriate blend of idealism and realism. As I said in my campaign statement, many of the issues we face are structural, historical and/or intractable. But the progress we’ve made in recent negotiations points to our ability to address new problems with new solutions. That’s what I’m looking forward to doing along with the new board and officers.

Writing Other Things

Scriptnotes: Ep. 318

John and Craig welcome back Aline Brosh McKenna to talk about writing projects outside the familiar constraints of screenwriting.

We discuss the surprises and adjustments involved in the creative processes of different media: Aline’s graphic novel Jane, Craig’s HBO miniseries Chernobyl, and John’s original song, “Rise.” We also dig into why screenwriters sometimes need to be amateurs again.

Then we answer listener questions about making fair deals as someone in a different country, and how best to read one’s script before rewriting.


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UPDATE 9-26-17: The transcript of this episode can be found here