The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello, and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And you are listening to Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting, and things that are interesting to screenwriters. This is episode number 23, and this episode will not be depressing.
Craig: No. This is going to be uplifting, exciting, enlightening, life affirming.
John: Because you know what? That last podcast, we talked about some serious issues; we did some good, but I think, we also did a little harm, if I take another listen to it. It is kind of suicide inducing. It was depressing. It was realistic in a way that is not necessarily always helpful.
It was like Lars von Trier snuck in to the last 20 minutes of the podcast, and just said, “Do it. I will take over from here. There’s no hope.”
Craig: Well, but as you point out, this is the… That is the podcast that gets us an Oscar. We don’t get —
Craig: — we don’t get nominations for this podcast, or the goofy ones. That one, though, that may be the one.
John: Yeah. I wonder how soon there will be like genuine podcast awards? I’m sure there is some sort of podcast award happening right now, because there is an award for everything. But, I feel like podcasting is an emerging form, that cultural signifier. It is something that will eventually become better acclaimed. And once it becomes better acclaimed, how will they award it?
Craig: You think that there is going to be like Poddies and things like that?
John: Yeah. Although, what are the equivalent radio awards? There must be radio awards; I’m trying to think about that.
Craig: There are, but nobody cares about them. There are radio awards, but they are — yeah, nobody cares.
John: Nobody cares.
My week is better than it was last week, for a couple of reasons. First off, I’m no longer on heavy allergy medication. That helps.
Craig: Oh, nice.
John: I have a brand new to-do organizer thing, which I love. So, what are you using to keep track of, like, the stuff you have to actually get done? What is your system?
Craig: You know, you were the first person to ever even reveal to me that there was this thing out there of to-do systems. And you turned me on to that whole FTL, FTC, TBD —
John: GTD, yeah.
Craig: — GTD, yeah. It is like GTL from Jersey Shore. And I bought the book because, you know, I like to try things.
You are one of those guys, when you say, “You should try something,” I always think, “Yeah, it is worth a shot.” Like I tried the crazy Dana Fox upright typewriter for, like, two minutes. I’m like, “What is this? I can’t do this.” It’s in my garage. Oh, my kids play with it.
And that thing, the to-do thing, I tried. But the truth is: I actually don’t need a system. I just feel like I get stuff done. I don’t know, am I weird?
John: No. You are not weird. I mean, stuff will get done; it is a matter of sort of how stressful your life is while that stuff is getting done. That is what I found to be most useful about these systems. And I have gone back and forth between some, and have been incredibly religious and dogmatic about it sometimes; I have been much looser about it sometimes.
Where the systems tend to be best is when you have a bunch of little things you need to get done, and they just keep stacking up every day. You have piles of tasks, and it is a great way of plowing through the piles of tasks. So, for a lot of the stuff related to apps, like the stuff we are developing, and two new products we are pushing out the door in the next two weeks, there is a lot of stuff like that that I have to keep on top of that is really time sensitive. It’s great for that.
And just for getting stuff out of your head and into your systems so that you are not thinking about it and stressing out about it. Because most of what stresses you out isn’t really the work that you have to do, it is kind of remembering the work that you have to do. And so you end up spending a lot of brain cycles thinking about the stuff that you can’t forget about.
And if you just had it down on paper, or had it in some other system, you wouldn’t stress out about it so much. It’s good for that.
Craig: It’s weird. Of all the problems I have, and I have got a ton of them, that has just never been a problem for me. I remember the things I have to do.
And, by the way, I remember them down to tiny, little details. I have like a weird Rainman-y ability to know all of the things that need to be done. And sometimes, if it is a really tiny, little thing that I know I am going to forget, I just write it on a little slip of paper. But most of the time I don’t really need a system. And I don’t forget to do things.
On the other hand, I was late for this podcast. So, there you go.
John: Yeah. This has not been one of your finer days in terms of getting stuff together for this. But, that happens to everybody.
Craig: Hey, you know what? I will tell you what, man: someone called, and I couldn’t get off the phone. It was one of those. It was one of those conversations where I could not get off the phone. I wanted to get off the phone. It wouldn’t have been cool if I had gotten off the phone. It is one of those deals. Like, I have a friend, who we both know, a mutual friend. And he works in the same… he has an office in the same building.
John: We both know him. He might be your friend, but actually my mortal enemy.
Craig: He is no one’s mortal enemy. [laughs]
John: He is just the nicest guy ever, right? Yeah.
Craig: He really is. When you hear the story you will say, “Oh, no, that was ridiculous. He is no one’s mortal enemy.”
He and I have offices in the same building. And about two years ago, he stopped into my office, he knocked on the door, and he wanted to chat. And the thing was, I had a cold, and I was on a deadline, and I was miserable. And I just said, “Oh, I’m so sorry man, I can’t talk to you right now. I can’t. I’m just in the worst mood, and I have got to get this done. I have a cold; I’m so sorry. I have a cold.”
I felt like, you know, when you say you have a cold it really excuses a lot, because you are sick. And he was like, “Oh, no problem. No problem.” And he walks out, and then at the end of the day he sends me an email to tell me that he had just stopped by to tell me that he had been diagnosed with cancer.
That was, I mean, I was… “I have a cold. Don’t talk to me right now. I have a cold!” “Oh really? I have cancer.” Ugh. So, that is why there are times when you just, you know what? You should have the conversation. Just have the conversation. Be late for the podcast; it is probably for the best.
John: So someone else had to call you to tell you that they have cancer.
John: Okay. Good.
Craig: No. No. It wasn’t anything like that at all. In fact, it was frivolous, and I should have just gotten off the phone, but I couldn’t. Sorry.
John: I hate being on the phone. I hate phone calls now. I have come to resent every time the phone rings, because it is almost never ringing for a good purpose. It is always somebody who is, like, just going to steal some of my time.
Craig: Yeah. I’m not, I mean, there are phone calls that are fun to do and the rest, but it is true that most of the things that actually happen in life that are good happen face to face. This phone stuff —
That is why I could never be an agent. They are on the phone all day. It never ends.
John: Yeah. It’s never good. So, we got on a tangent there. What I am so happy about with my new system, I switched over to OmniFocus, finally, because I used to use OmniFocus and there were some things I didn’t like about it, so I switched to Things. And then I didn’t like Things, so I kept going through various systems. I was on paper for a long time. I had a little Moleskine notebook.
OmniFocus has gotten really good, again, in the last year or whenever; since the last time I paid attention to it, it got really good. And one of the actual great things about it now is if you have an iPhone with Siri on it, you can say, “Siri, remember to call Craig Mazin.” And it will create that reminder, and it will go straight to OmniFocus, so it is just on your list.
So, like, while you are out walking the dog, that thought comes to you, you have a place to put it. And that is what I find, probably, most useful about any sort of system for getting things done is just to, like, when that stuff happens, to capture it, and get it out of your head so you can focus on other things.
Craig: I think maybe as you spoke about that, I started to realize why maybe the reason that I don’t do these things is because I find that I am a very impulsive person. When it comes to my mind to do something, I do it. Because, and I know that people behave in different ways; some people like to defer these things to the right time.
But, I’m that guy who is just like, “Oh, that’s right. I need to call somebody. I am calling them now.” And then I will leave a message. But I am an impulse doer. I’m an impulse purchaser/buyer. That’s my thing. So, maybe it is just a reflection of my personality.
John: I would say in general that is a good way to approach many things. You shouldn’t defer things if you can do it right now. And, so, a lot of times I will be in a meeting with somebody about a project, or about a movie, or a name will come up say, like, “I wonder if that person would be in our movie?” And I say, like, “Well, let me call them right now, and see if they will be in our movie.”
John: That’s a very good overall system. But there are times where you can’t do that, or it is 11 o’clock at night, so you are not going to be able to do that. Or, it is really a bigger idea that is going to have many steps along the way. Well what do you do with that bigger idea?
And as writers, you need to capture that little bit of dialogue, that little bit of, “Oh, here is an idea for how to do something.”
John: And I have found it incredibly beneficial just to write that down. I always have this notebook in the bathroom so that at three in the morning I can run in there, and write down that good bit of dialogue that I thought of. And it is the same kind of thing for the stuff that I need to get done.
Craig: Right. It is a horrifying feeling waking up, going to bed, and as you are falling asleep going, “Oh, that’s it. I got it. I know exactly how the scene should go.” And then you wake up in the morning, and you can’t remember. It is a horrifying feeling.
John: Never let yourself do that. Always go to the bathroom, write it down.
Craig: Go to the bathroom. Write it down.
John: Yeah. And the other good thing I will talk about, and then I will shut up about the system, is I have added a list for Brain Dead. So, basically, you have projects which are… Projects are anything that involve more than one step. So, this thing I am writing for Fox, that is a project. And I have all the little things in there related to that, that have to get done for it.
There is also Context. And contexts are the situations that you find yourself in. So, I have a context for work. I have a context for Ryan Nelson, who is a graphic designer who I work with, so next time that I see him I need to talk to him about these things.
I created a context called Brain Dead for when I have absolutely no energy or will to do anything. It is, like, 5 o’clock at night, I have really stupid little tasks that I can burn off there that are things that actually need to get done, but I shouldn’t try to do them when I have energy to do anything real. So, it is a good way to use that time where otherwise I would be spending it clicking through websites, or doing other stuff.
Craig: Right. Yes.
John: Or playing Skyrim.
Craig: Yeah. I’m suspicious of this —
But this is, what, you are German. This is why Germany does so well at everything they do.
Craig: Other than large-scale dual-front world wars.
Craig: Single-front wars they are awesome.
John: Yeah. Well, does anyone thrive on dual-front wars?
Craig: No one has managed to pull one off successfully except for the United States.
Craig: Yeah. We actually were able to. We did that. We pulled it off.
John: Yes. But, granted, my knowledge of military history is incredibly slight, but what I would say is that we came into that war so late, in a way, that we sort of got in on the tail end of that goodness, and on the European goodness, and then had to do the Asian — the Pacific War ourselves.
Craig: Yeah. We hit Pacific pretty hard right off the start. Definitely eased in to the European theater, no question. Yeah, because Pearl Harbor was 1941. We went right into it in the Pacific. And then D-Day was ’44, I believe. Yeah.
John: See, all these details are murky to me because they haven’t reached that period yet in Downton Abbey, so I don’t have the context for it.
Craig: [laughs] That is tragic. [laughs]
John: Now, one thing that you do have, you do find the time to do, which I cannot believe you find the time to do, is to respond in online forums to incredibly esoteric questions. And that is what I think we will spend the bulk of our time doing today.
Craig: What am I doing?! I’m so stupid.
John: What are you doing?
Craig: I don’t know.
John: So, I will set us up on this, because there is a forum, an online forum, called Done Deal Pro.
John: And, tell me what it even really is? I don’t go on, so explain it.
Craig: The name alone makes me laugh, because Done Deal Pro implies that there are pros there, and that deals are done, and neither of those things occur. But it is not a bad place. I think if you are an aspiring screenwriter, it is donedealpro.com, and it has got all sorts of things you can pay for. I don’t pay for any of it, personally. Maybe there is use in some of those —
John: You are kind of opposed to paying for things like that.
Craig: I mean, I don’t know what they offer, so I can’t evaluate it, because I refuse to pay for it. [laughs] So I don’t know what it is.
But, there is a free forum. And the forum is, like every Internet forum, full of interesting people, and actually a few quite talented people, I think. I have read a couple of scripts that I was impressed with. And then cranks, and idiots. But by and large, I think the tendency there is for people who mean well, who are serious about being screenwriters, and who are trying quite hard, and quite seriously, to do it, and want to learn.
And Derek Haas sort of pulled me on this one.
John: Derek Haas, who does somehow find extra time in the day to do all of these things.
John: When he is not like, you know, recording songs on YouTube and other things.
Craig: Right. And writing novels. Yeah. He pulled me in, and I got frustrated pretty early on because I felt like what was going on was a lot of people – who had no experience as a professional screenwriter – giving other people – who had no experience as professional screenwriters – the kind of advice that requires experience as a professional screenwriter.
So, it was just the blind leading the blind. There is a ton of bad advice in there. And I got kind of frustrated, and said, “You guys have got to stop doing that.” But then, unfortunately, what that means is then I have to start doing it. And I’m just, not like I am the Oracle of Delphi, but we did have after —
Because a lot of the questions are the sort of inane questions that professional screenwriters roll their eyes at like, “How do you format? And should you use is it okay to use voice-over?” And all these really just grindy questions. It is like, “I don’t know, is the script good?” That’s all anybody cares about. Is the script good?
But, there was finally a very, very, very interesting thread, I thought, and it is going on right now about the central dramatic argument.
John: And when you say it is going on right now, literally, there are new posts from today and yesterday. It is up to 43 web pages, so that is like 430 entries probably —
John: A long thread. And you are a good 30 or 40 of these entries.
Craig: Yeah. I’m an idiot. [laughs]
John: This thread, and I haven’t read all of it, because I couldn’t possibly read all of this.
Craig: Put it on your Brain Dead list. [laughs]
John: We will link it in the show notes.
Craig: No. I think you should do it at 5 o’clock, when you are really tired. [laughs]
John: So there will be a link to this in the show notes. But it is the central question here. Someone asks, “What is the difference between theme and central dramatic argument?” And your response is?
Craig: Well, central dramatic argument is a phrase that I basically made up, although then one guy found like an example of it in a book from 1950 as if to say, “No you didn’t make it up.” Uh, this is the Internet, you know. God bless the Internet.
But the reason I made it up was because the word “theme” can be distorted when we talk about writing screenplays and theme. Some people can use the word theme the way we should probably use the world motif like brotherhood, or justice, or bravery. Those are motifs. But they are not actually useful when you are writing a movie.
What is useful when you are writing a movie is what Aristotle, going all the way back to Poetics, called “unity.” And that is, at its core, an argument, and what I call a central dramatic argument: an assertion that is the answer to a question, that you could agree or disagree with, but ultimately is at the… It is when people say, “What is this movie really about?” It’s about that.
John: Would you say that any argument could be rephrased as a question?
Craig: Any argument could be rephrased as a question. And in fact, to me, what is interesting about thinking about this when we write screenplays is that that question is the one… That question should have two answers. And ideally your hero is answering the question one way on page one, and the opposite way at the end of the movie.
That is sort of, when we talk about character arcs, and people say, “Well, your character has to change.” Well, okay. But why? And how? Is it a random change? Is it just that he got braver? Stronger? Smarter? No, it is that he is answering a question differently, a fundamental question about life differently. And, to me, at least.
And sometimes when you think about movies, like for instance last week, I think, we talked about Ferris Bueller, or two weeks ago, we talked about Ferris Bueller, and how Cameron is actually the protagonist of that movie. Because he is the one that answers the question differently at the end of the movie. Ferris Bueller doesn’t have a problem, other than that he doesn’t have a car.
John: The same with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Charlie really has no fundamental problem.
Craig: That’s right.
John: He’s poor.
Craig: That’s right. Like you, yes, it is an interesting… Actually, it is interesting that you bring that up, because I always felt like in the original Willy Wonka movie, they are making Willy Wonka the protagonist. And his question is a very simple one, it seems: Is there someone worthy?
And maybe he starts by thinking there is no one worthy. And then in the end he changes his mind and says, “There is somebody worthy.” And you had a totally different argument.
John: I would also say in the original Willy Wonka movie, which I hadn’t seen until after we got started with the new one, but in the original Willy Wonka movie, I felt them desperately trying to make Charlie have hero/protagonist problems.
So that is why they had him stealing stuff, and making many choices that would seem to give him an arc, but he didn’t really need to have an arc.
Craig: Well, and I actually don’t even think that he does. I mean, in the Gene Wilder movie, I think that Gene Wilder starts essentially with a presumption that there is nobody pure enough to take on what he has created. He is a skeptic. He is a cynic. And at the end of the movie it is that little thing he says when he puts his hand over the Gobstopper, you know, that Charlie is behind. He says something to the effect of, you know, I can’t remember what he says, but it is quite lovely, and that is his new answer to the question.
And in your Willy Wonka it was really about, it was about a son and a father, and —
John: Yes. It’s letting someone in. So to me, Willy Wonka is a strange, sad shut-in who doesn’t want to let anybody in, but ultimately has to let somebody in.
Craig: Right. And then I would say that the central dramatic argument of your movie is you need to let people in. [laughs] So that is how I would phrase that, because what is nice about that is in the beginning of the movie, just flip that on its head, and that is where your character starts. I need to not let people in.
And, literally, by just keeping the same statement, even the fact that “I need to not let people in,” as opposed to, “I shouldn’t let people in,” or, “I don’t want to let people in. I need to.” Now, all of a sudden, I start to realize why this guy behaves the way he does, why he lives the way he does, why he acts the way he does because he needs to keep people out.
And so, I like to think about movies in terms of those questions that go from what they are in the beginning to the opposite of that at the end. And I like to let that inform how these characters should grow and change. It also helps you design the obstacles they face. It helps you design the antagonists. It helps you design their allies. You know now what their sore spot is.
John: Yeah. So, but let’s talk about the 43 pages of it all. [laughs]
John: So, I mean, I accept that as a thesis, and I would say that we can… I can push back to a certain degree because I feel like many of my movies, and many of my successful movies — the movies that I enjoy that I think work really well — don’t lend themselves to easy expression of the central dramatic argument, and weren’t conceived with that central dramatic argument.
So, it is a question of, you can say like, “Well, this ultimately is the central dramatic argument of Go,” but that really wasn’t in my conception as I was creating it. So, it is a question of was that the author’s intent, or is that something that you are applying ex post facto to the final product.
But looking at the 43 pages of this, looking at how it changes over the course of these pages, some of it is talking about just semantics, like “what is theme.”
John: And growing up, going through junior high, theme was always stated as something versus something. So, it was man versus society, or man versus the wild, and it was easy for most stories to find that theme. It wasn’t especially helpful.
Deeper in this thread, as I was skipping through it, the question was like, “Well is greed a theme? Is greed a central dramatic argument?” And, the pushback was, “No, that is not enough of one because it is not saying anything about greed. It is just a thing.”
John: What is your philosophy on something like greed, or envy? You need more than that. Is that correct?
Craig: I would say so. I mean, I just don’t know how that helps me write anything. I mean, I understand that you are giving me an emotion, or a motivation. I like the fact that a character is motivated by greed, but in the end I want to know why.
To me, that is what it all comes down to. When we think about these characters, I mean you may say, “Look, I didn’t think of the ‘central dramatic argument’ in that stupid phrasey way,” because I know I sound like Robert McKee when I am saying stuff like that, and that is the last thing I want to do.
You may not have thought of that while you were writing that movie, but at the same token, I can’t imagine that you weren’t thinking about why what this guy’s problem was. What is his real issue? That has got to be there, I assume.
John: I would honestly say, “No.” I approach most of my movies from the perspective of, “What is this movie about, and what is this movie about to me?”
So, I look at, you know, Charlie’s Angels is one of the things that I got actually bumped up in this thread. I should say that I never actually go to DoneDealPro, I don’t really sort of, like, hang out there. But every couple of months I will just do a forum search for my name to see what people are talking about me.
John: A specialized form of Googling yourself.
Craig: And what are they saying?
John: Mostly decent things. Mostly.
Craig: Mostly. [laughs]
John: Yeah. So in this forum, someone bumped up a post that is on my site, which I will also link to in the show notes, where I talk about writing from theme. And, so I bring up several of my projects, and discuss what I mean when I say writing from theme on those things.
And, so, Charlie’s Angels’ I said is, “Three princesses who have to save their father, the King.”
John: Now that is not, by your definition, a central dramatic argument. It is not a theme. But that is what that movie is to me. Without that, I don’t have a movie at all. I can only think of that movie in terms of this is what it feels like to me.
John: And so once I know what the movie feels like to me, and who the people are within this kind of movie, then I can write it. But, I could have a really clear “this is what the thesis of the movie is” figured out, and still have no ability to write that movie unless I had that sort of core aspect, that core element.
Craig: I get it. I mean, look, I think you need all of that stuff. I don’t think you can write a movie if you don’t know what the basic attraction to it is, what the hook is, and the idea. The plot needs its own kind of archetype. You need to have a grasp of your story. And there are certain kinds of movies that are simpler in their execution. No. Let me take that back. Simpler in their construction.
You know, for instance, I wrote spoof movies. There is no central dramatic argument to those. They are a different kind of construction. If you are writing a fairy tale, or something that is larger than life, oftentimes you are right. It is really about —
If you are writing something with a little more drama to it; I mean, I don’t think of Charlie’s Angels as a drama.
John: Okay. Well, let’s take Big Fish. It’s hard to get more, sort of, like, that is a movie that feels like it should have a central dramatic argument.
Craig: And does it?
John: I would argue no. It is very hard to find a central dramatic argument that you are going to state that way? There are certainly key touchstone things that cycle back through, you know; what is the difference between factual truth and emotional truth? So that is a key idea. So the stories that Edward Bloom is telling, are they literally true, or are they emotionally true?
Craig: Well, but —
John: What is the difference between inspiration and sort of idealization?
Craig: Who is the protagonist of Big Fish?
John: It is a dual protagonist structure. Edward Bloom is the protagonist of the overall arc of his life, and so he is a boy who starts with humble beginnings and grows to some measure of success through these bigger-than-life stories.
The present day protagonist is his son, Will, who has to figure out who his father really is, and discover the secret that his father has been keeping.
Craig: And who is —
John: So, Will functions as the antagonist to —
John: — the function as protagonist/antagonist through the present-day story.
Craig: And what is Will’s opinion of his father in the beginning of the movie?
John: His father is a liar.
Craig: And what is his opinion at the end?
John: His father… That he was asking the wrong questions. That his father was telling the emotional truth, even if it wasn’t the factual truth.
Craig: So, in my mind, even though you weren’t consciously doing this, there is a central dramatic argument there. And the central dramatic argument is that our parents are more complicated people than we understand them to be as children. And the concept that your father is a liar is a childlike understanding of your parent, because you view them as some sort of authority figure that has failed you because of their failings, their shortcomings.
And then you finally get to know them as a person, and you realize that they are far more complicated. And that is an argument. And that permeates the entire thing, not to mention necessitates what is so interesting about Big Fish, which is that this man is a liar.
See, to me, that is always there. And you may have not thought of it, but I think it is there.
John: I agree that is an element of it. But what I am saying is, that alone would not have driven, I don’t think drives the story. I don’t think it could drive the story.
Craig: Of course not.
John: And it doesn’t drive this particular story.
Craig: I acknowledge that. I am not suggesting that these are the things that even drive a story. What I am suggesting is that they are valuable, at least for me, and it is fine if they are not for you; but for me, they are valuable when I am trying to figure out, particularly if it is not an adaptation, if you are really just like, “Okay, I’ve got a blank page here. What is my story to tell?” What should come next?
And that is why I always, to me… — And by the way, the only reason that I started thinking about this is because it is so evident in Pixar films. And I feel like Pixar films are so gorgeously structured. And it is so clear that this is part and parcel with what they do.
And so I started thinking about it for those reasons.
John: Great. Let me throw out a similar but contrasting way of looking at, I don’t even really want to call it theme, but let me describe what it is, and then we will find the right name for it. This is something that actually occurred to me when I was doing D.C., which was this terrible TV show I did for the WB network that I actually had a nervous breakdown during.
John: But that was the extreme version of, I think, something that happens on every project, with everything you are writing, is you are trying to figure out what fits in this movie, and what doesn’t fit in this movie. And you are basically making two boxes. And as stuff comes out you are like, “Is this the kind of thing that fits in this movie, or the kind of thing that doesn’t fit in this movie? Is it in the box, or is it outside the box?”
And the extreme version of it on D.C. was I had to write so much, and oversee so much, and I was flying on planes constantly. Basically, any song that played on the radio, within five seconds I had to decide, okay, does that fit into my world. Is that a song I need to hold onto? Yes? It goes in the box.
People would be talking and I would just be sort of recording the whole conversation and figuring out what out of that can I fit into the box. Does this fit into the box? So something that wouldn’t fit into my show, I would walk away because, like, this is not helping me write my show.
To some degree, I think that is what you are doing on every project is you are figuring out some heuristic for sorting what belongs in your movie, and what doesn’t belong in your movie. And, if theme or your central dramatic argument helps you figure out, like, is this the kind of moment that exists in my movie, or does it not exist in my movie?
And when you read bad screenplays, it is often because they are trying to wedge in things that just fundamentally don’t belong in those pages. Especially, I think, it is also a syndrome of first-time writing syndrome is that you don’t know how many things you are going to write in your life, so, like, “Well, I have always wanted to write this thing, so I am going to write this in this script, even if it doesn’t make sense in this script.”
Craig: Yeah. I mean, that is absolutely the case. Everybody who writes a screenplay has to have that weird horse sense about whether something fits, or doesn’t fit, the world that they have built.
But, what you are describing is almost like a passive filter in a way, like something emerges and I just decide, “Does that pass through or not?” And one of the benefits, I think, about to thinking about an argument underlying your story is that it helps you actively determine what ought to go in.
John: Yeah. So it is like writing a regular expression. I am going to get super nerdy here. Writing a regular expression which can sort of pattern match, and figure out, like okay, out of all of this possible stuff, what actually fits into our story?
Craig: Yeah. I mean, I always think of these things as like when you look at a movie like Groundhog Day, for instance, which is appropriate because I believe we just had it.
John: And a new book about Groundhog Day just came out, which I linked to on the site.
Craig: Excellent. Groundhog Day is sort of the… To me it is the perfect execution of this kind of thing. And when we look at movies like this, whether there is a supernatural component or not. For instance, okay, Identity Theft, the movie that I have written for Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy, coming soon to a theater near you. Starts shooting soon. That’s my big plug.
That movie does not have any supernatural elements. A man’s identify is stolen. He has to get his life back together. In both of those situations, a man keeps waking up on the same day over-and-over. A man has his identity stolen, and needs to put his life back together. My argument as a writer is that as writers we are like, we are God, and we see Job, and we go, “Boink! We are going to make your life miserable. And the reason we are making your life miserable is, look, the side effect is we are going to entertain people. But the reason as God that we are making your life miserable in this specific way is because you need it. You need it. There is something wrong with you. You needed this to happen.”
That is why, and so then I say to people, “Okay, if you have a great concept for a movie, if you had a concept, ‘I imagine a man who tells these incredibly tall tales, and his son, who things he is a liar,’ I immediately think, ‘Wow, that is interesting.'” Now, who needs that to happen? Who needs that experience, to talk to that man, and have that guy be your dad? What is wrong with you? That is the way my mind works at least.
John: That is a reasonable way to approach it. And what you are describing with Identity Theft very much fits, I think, our expectation of going into these kind of comedies in particular is that the premise is straightforward, relatable, and everything that flows out of it should… Every important element of the movie should flow out of that premise.
So, the fact that his identity his stolen, or the idea of identity, or the idea of who it is to be you should be the central element of every sequence.
Craig: But, by the same token, it is a good thing for, I think it is a good thing if the internal problem is actually somewhat unrelated to the external problem. I think it is fun for an audience to match up a strange external adventure with a far more mundane internal problem. Finding Nemo is the best example. I mean, there is this enormous external problem: my son is lost in an ocean, and I have to find him. And internally there is this other, almost opposite, competing problem: I need to learn how to let my kid go.
And you can see how they both affect each other, but they are different, you know? And I love that.
John: And then Pixar made Cars 2.
Craig: Well, listen — [laughs]
John: You can’t hit it out of the park every time.
Craig: I mean, their batting average is still startling.
John: It’s pretty good.
Craig: And you have to forgive them for Cars 2, because I know some people talk about this, but maybe others don’t know. The most profitable Pixar movie by far is Cars.
Craig: It’s Cars. I know! Because, look: I am a huge Pixar fan. Is Cars near the top of my list? Nope. Is Cars 2 near the top of my list? No. But, they sold more crapola, more Cars stuff, and you know, if that funds another Nemo, I’m cool. I’m down.
John: Yeah. We’re cool. Yeah. We are not going to be negative this podcast.
John: This is a positive podcast. How dare I bring up, you know, disappointing Pixar movies, when this is a podcast of celebration and joy, and not wrist slitting. And we are not going to talk about the sad realities of things. We are going to talk about the happy possibilities of things.
Craig: In fact, can you make the outro music the Ewok Celebration Song?
John: Well, it’s done.
Craig: Thank you! Jub Jub. Do-do-do-do. [singing]
John: You don’t have to even have to sing it yourself, Craig, because right now it is already playing underneath.
Craig: [singing along]
John: Thank you very much for a nice podcast.
Craig: Jub Jub who? [singing] See you later.