The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: I’m Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Scriptnotes. This is episode 24, in fact. Scriptnotes is a podcast about screenwriting, and things that are interesting to screenwriters. And Craig, I’m in just the best possible mood, and I’m sure you can guess why.
Craig: Because, uh… Is it Glee-based?
John: Weirdly it is Glee-related, but it is not specifically Glee-based. What happened last Sunday, or as people are listening to this, two Sundays ago?
Craig: The Superbowl.
John: Well, yes, there was a sports game played, apparently. But, a very important thing happened on Sunday which I don’t think is getting enough cultural attention.
Craig: [laughs] A sports game?!?
John: Well, I don’t know. The judges picked who the best sports team was.
Craig: Judges. [laughs]
John: More importantly —
John: — a cultural event happened that as a listener to the show, I assume you listen to the show in addition to just talking on the show —
John: — you would know is incredibly dear to my heart. What do I love more than anything?
John: No. Well, yeah, Madonna, fine. But whatever. Something even more important happened before, I think it was before Madonna in the show.
Craig: Was it one of the ads?
John: And even more than an ad. It was NBC’s promo for the whole network.
Craig: They did it. They actually did that thing.
John: They did that thing! That thing that I love more than anything on earth is a whole network promo where you see stars from various shows coming together.
Craig: Of course.
John: In this case singing a song together. So, it was pretty much just like a thousand Christmases for me.
Craig: And, the lens through which we both experience the Superbowl is so vastly different. [laughs]
John: [laughs] Now did you actually see it, or you just heard about it?
Craig: No, no. I saw it, but I didn’t care. I think I went to the bathroom. [laughs] But what was the song that they sang? What was their slogan?
John: Brotherhood of Man, which is from How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.
John: And I thought maybe we would spend just a minute or two replaying it so I can kind of talk you through it. I can give sort of the viewer’s commentary on it.
John: So, some scene setting. We start off in 30 Rock. We are in Jack Donaghy’s office. And we have Liz Lemon and the whole cast there. And they are gathered together to watch the Superbowl. And there is random chit chat. The office is somewhat over lit, because you can tell it is not the real crew doing all of this. And some people look a little bit strange; they are not acting quite right. She is holding a big plate of nachos.
John: And then, Jack Donaghy starts singing. And it is not quite clear why he is singing. The only thing that is also weird you notice is this is early in the season for taping 30 Rock because Jack’s hair this season, for some reason, is much redder than it should be.
It’s like the hair dye just got a little bit off, and they decided, “Oh, to get rid of the gray, maybe we are going to go a little bit more — ” I don’t know, what’s that color? It’s like a dragon red.
Craig: [laughs] This is so funny to me. Keep going. This is great.
John: So now we move from 30 Rock. First we go to The Office, and so the three of them, the three sort of leads who are left on the show, sing their little bit. And it is a continuous one-shot. Then Parks and Rec. And then, come on, the Parks and Rec folks are great.
Craig: Yeah. It’s a good show. I like that show.
John: And Community. Community still exists as a show on NBC.
Craig: That’s right.
John: Which is encouraging. Ken Jeong doing a little hip swivel.
Craig: That’s my boy.
John: It’s fantastic.
Craig: My boy, Ken.
John: So now we are back at 30 Rock, and Liz is carrying her nachos. She and Jack are talking. They are doing their little mentors thing. And they are going into the main set where they do the show, the show that is completely implausible within the show —
John: The thing called TGS. And Jane Krakowski gets to sing. Who, Jane Krakowski, by the way, is great. “Jane Krakowski from Go,” is what I always say, because she started off, you know —
Craig: Of course.
John: — the first thing people know her from.
Craig: You should say, “Go’s Jane Krakowski.”
John: Go’s Jane Krakowski. Because the only other thing people would know about her before that would be Vacation. Because, you know, she is the girl in Vacation where, “Daddy says I’m the best kisser.” That’s her.
Craig: No way.
John: That is Jane Krakowski.
Craig: Really? I did not know that.
John: Okay. So now we have to cut away from here to Smash, which is of course a very natural cut here.
Craig: Yeah. Natural.
John: So Katherine McPhee and Megan Hilty are singing their belting their songs. And then the curtains open up, and then, like, the rest of the cast comes out really quickly and says, like, three lines. And you can’t even see it, it is such a wide shot. So if you are Debra Messing, you are probably not so happy.
But, then you go to Law & Order: SVU, and everyone from Law & Order: SVU is singing, except for the one guy, the hot guy who was in Oz, who was always naked on Oz. For some reason he is not here that day.
It’s a quick cutaway to Whitney and some other show that I don’t care about.
Craig: I have lost control, by the way. I just want people to know I am absolutely out of control right now.
John: Donald Trump shows up. And now the NBC news team is here.
Craig: Did they get naked?
John: They did not get naked. But now we are at the Saturday Night Live people who are all good singers. And so they are naturals for this. And it is weird how much Saturday Night Live has sort of taken over the comedy universe of NBC; so many of the people on all those shows are from SNL.
Craig: Yeah. They have cross-pollinated through the Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock.
John: And Alec Baldwin nearly falls over when he picks up the Rockette…
Craig: And was that it?
John: That was it. There is a little Jimmy Fallon tap dance number. And Jimmy is lovely, but the song is over. He is just sort of trying to mooch a little bit of energy.
Craig: So that, for you basically, they wrapped football pointlessly around that thing.
John: Yeah. It was basically an NBC promo/John August delivery vehicle.
Craig: Right. In a weird way the football was the promo for the show, which was the promo.
John: Exactly. It is like this was the hot dog, and they shoved the little medicine that the dog had to take inside the hot dog, and I ate it all up. So I ended up watching more football than I would usually watch.
Craig: The only thing that could have possibly made this gayer was the hot dog analogy. [laughs]
John: [laughs] But, anyway, so I needed to share my satisfaction and my joy, because so often it is easy to talk about the bad things in life, and sort of like how the entertainment industry does things wrong. And so when they do something so amazingly right, I think we have to celebrate it.
Craig: You know what, listen man: passion. The key is to find something you love and be passionate about it. I’m from New Jersey. I love the Giants. It was a pretty good day for me.
Craig: You love those things. It was a good day for you. [laughs] I think just all around it was a great Sunday.
John: It was a great Sunday.
Craig: And our friend, Grant Nieporte… I never know if it is Knee-Port-Eh or Knee-Port.
John: It is so weird. Those people who you only see their names, especially because of online stuff. You only see their names online, and you have no idea how to pronounce them.
Craig: I think it might be Knee-Port-Eh, because I think it is Portuguese or something. But anyway, he is a screenwriter, and he and a bunch of other guys were the people behind the Doritos Slingshot Baby ad. And they collectively won $1 million.
John: Well that’s great!
Craig: How about that. I mean, he was like, “Well, but then, you know, after we all divided up I get $28,000, and then I have to pay taxes on it.” So it sounded much better than it was. But it still, I mean, it’s pretty good.
John: It’s still great.
Craig: Yeah. They win. That is the important thing. They win.
John: Winning is nice.
John: So other small things happened this week. We announced a new screenplay format called Fountain.
Craig: Fountain. This, actually, is an exciting thing. Tell them what it is.
John: So, Fountain is basically a screenplay markup language that is just plain text. So every fountain file is just a text file. You can open it in any text editor. You can write it in any text editor. What is different about Fountain versus just a normal plain text file is just how you lay it on the screen. So, it is basically what you think: character names are in uppercase; a line following a character’s name is dialogue; parentheticals are in parentheses; transitions end in “TO:”
It is very simple. It is very much how you would write on paper, if you were writing out on paper. Out of the box you can use any text editor. And the main screenwriting apps like Final Draft or Movie Magic Screenwriter, they will take these files really happily, and do a pretty good job interpreting them. New stuff is coming down the pike that will actually do great jobs natively with Fountain files, and will be able to interpret things like bolding, and centering, and sectioning.
And from Beth Schacter, a friend of ours, we have built in a feature called Boneyard, which is if you have a scene that you just want to omit, but you just want to leave it in place and omit it, you can just bracket it out, and it will just not be in your file anymore. It won’t show up or print.
Craig: That’s great. You know what I like about this? Eventually, they are going to… What I would love to be able to do on a set is have a script on my iPad. And then, if I really quickly wanted to make a change, take a pen, which I know Steve Jobs hates stylists in editing, but take a pen, cross it out, hit a button to insert, and then write very quickly a couple of new lines of dialogue. Hit a button it reincorporates it in. And then it prints them out.
And it seems like the first thing —
John: We are very close to that.
Craig: Yeah. Because you can’t really do that until… Because handwriting recognition goes to text, not to Final Draft gobbledygook markup. So, it seems like this is a very good step forward.
John: Yeah. And, weirdly, handwriting recognition is relatively simple, and kind of a solved problem. Speech recognition is getting much better now, too. So, it may just be as simple to tap where you want to tap, and just tell Siri what you want to put in there. I find myself using Siri a lot for sending myself reminders, or a text message.
Craig: Yeah. Me too.
John: There’s good news down the road.
Craig: That is a good point, that you would be able to speak it in there. I like it. Good job. Nice work from the skunkworks.
John: Skunkworks, yeah. So, there is nothing to buy with Fountain. And that is one of the sort of hard things to communicate is people are used to, like there is a product announcement, “So where do I buy it, where do I get it?” And the point we try to communicate is that you already have it. It’s a way of using any text editor you have on your iPad, on your computer, on your phone you can do it in mail if you want to.
John: It’s a way of laying that out and just getting those files into screenplay format down the road.
Craig: And where can I buy this?
John: Yeah. Exactly. Thanks, Craig.
Craig: No problem. I’m interested in this product. How can I buy it, and how much does it cost?
John: Yeah. So I spent yesterday doing screen caps to sort of talk through different workflows on how to do things. And screen caps seem like a really easy thing to do, because it is just talking. It’s a lot like what we are doing right here. But you are trying to talk while you are also moving stuff around on the screen, and it gets to be really confusing, and really cognitively draining.
So, I sort of burned out yesterday. And Ryan and Stuart were downstairs doing their work, while I was up here trying to record this. And so they would hear me say, like, the same half of a sentence about twenty times. And I’m sure they wanted to kill themselves.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, they probably already showed up at work wanting to kill themselves, but then that pushed them over the edge.
John: There is a reason we all wear headsets in this office, so we don’t have to hear each other.
Craig: I love it. You guys are like the Borg Collective over there.
John: Yeah. We are. We are very Borg.
Craig: By the way, I met Rawson Thurber yesterday.
John: Oh, Rawson’s awesome.
Craig: Great guy. I met him at a roundtable, and he was terrific.
John: Context for people who don’t know every detail about my life: Rawson Thurber was one of my very first assistants. And he was my assistant on a terrible TV show called D.C., and stuck with me after I got fired off that show. And during the time that he worked for me, he directed the Terry Tate Office Linebacker commercial, and wrote what became Dodgeball.
Craig: Very funny guy. Smart guy. But, I’m starting to put a little something together, John August. So, you also have one of your other former assistants is Chad Creasey.
Craig: I met Chad Creasey. And I don’t want to malign screenwriters, but we are not the handsomest looking bunch in the world. You know what I mean? You get a WGA gathering together, you look around, it’s like, “Boy, slim pickings!” Okay? I mean, Chad Creasey though, boy, this is a good-looking guy. And, I meet Rawson Thurber yesterday; I go, “Uh-huh. This is another pretty good-looking guy.”
I just want you to know I am on to you.
John: Well, Dana Fox is an attractive woman.
Craig: That was a mistake. It is accidentally attractive. You didn’t know. You don’t know. I know what is going on. I’m just saying, “I know what is going on.” And now everybody knows what is going on.
John: Well, clearly working for me does make people more attractive.
Craig: That was my point. That was my point.
John: Yeah. Hey, let’s do some questions. Let’s open the mailbag.
Craig: Awesome. Let’s do it.
John: All right. Sam in Brooklyn writes, “Hi there. I was wondering the proper format for a musical number in a teleplay. Here is the thing I plan on writing in the musical number.” That is actually not worthy of being spoken aloud. [laughs]
John: Basically he is asking what is the proper format for —
Craig: Please keep that in there. That was great.
John: — What is the proper format for a musical number in a teleplay? And it is a completely valid question.
When you are doing a real Broadway show, there is a special format where the lyrics go off on the left hand margin, they are uppercase.
In movies and teleplays, it is not such a clear cut format, because there is not a way that we always do it. I have written a lot of songs in movies, and what I usually end up doing is putting the… It is like a dialogue block, but it is in italics. I will often move it from Courier to Verdana, or some sort of Sans-Serif face that can squeeze a little bit more onto a line. I will cheat the margins a little bit if I have to, to keep a line together.
And then rather than putting slashes in there, I will break it line by line. And so you sort of do the soft returns so that you can keep individual lines in dialogue in the songs.
Craig: That makes sense. I don’t think I have ever written a full musical number in the sense of a full song with verse/chorus/verse sort of thing. I have had, obviously, characters sing. And for that, usually, I just do it in dialogue, and I just italicize and do like “shift return” so that the lyrics get each line. But I guess your way makes sense. It is an interesting one.
John: If you want to look at sort of how I did it for Big Fish, I think that is the only thing I have in the library that shows it. I have a song Twice the Love in there, which is the song that the Siamese twins sing. And you can see the whole lyrics for that. And that is how we did it.
Craig: I believe that question has been answered.
John: Done. Checked.
John: I will go into OmniFocus, and I will put a little tick mark right by there.
Luke from Poland, the actual Poland, writes, “I have been seeing the term ‘overall deal’ on a lot of different sites. And I was wondering how they work for writers. For example, I read that a deal like that for some high level TV writer is worth seven figures for two years. Does that mean a writer-producer gets a salary regardless of what he does? Or is that figure contingent on how much work is actually done by the writer?”
Craig: Eh, both really. I mean it is a guarantee. In other words, they are saying, “We are going to make a deal with you. We are going to pay you, let’s say, $2 million over the course of two years. And in exchange for that $2 million, you owe us a pilot. You owe us a script.” And they spell out what you owe them.
If you write beyond that, I suppose it would be negotiated, an additional amount would be negotiated. But essentially they are saying this is the baseline of what we are going to pay you for sure.
John: Exactly. So, they give you an overall deal because they want to keep you working for that studio/network. They want your next thing. They don’t want you slipping away to another network for six years on another hit show; much more common in TV land than in feature land. There are very few feature writers now who have overall deals in place.
Seth Grahame-Smith and his writing partner just made some sort of deal at Warner Brothers for that. Joss Whedon for awhile had a deal like that at Fox.
John: But most of those cases are also folded into TV deals. So it is hard to pull them apart, one to the other. And then there are also sort of mega-producer people, like J.J .Abrams who is producing movies, directing movies, writing some movies, too. He has a deal at Fox, but that is really —
Craig: That’s a producing deal, yeah.
John: Yeah. That is a different class of thing.
Craig: Yeah. I had an overall feature deal at Miramax a number of years ago. And it was structured in such that there was a guaranteed amount of money over the course of — I think it was two years. And for that, the way we worked it out was they are guaranteeing me this, whether I write a word for them or not. Then we sort of preset with each kind of writing what it would be worth. So here is what a rewrite would be worth; here is what a first draft is worth; here is what a polish is worth.
And then as I did those things, they would apply that against the amount that they were guaranteeing me. And so if I went over, then I would get more. If they asked for less, I would still get the minimum guarantee.
John: Was that a good deal for both of your sides? Because in some ways it kind of rewards you for not working, doesn’t it? Because they are drawing down off of things they are going to pay you anyway.
Craig: It was probably… It was a fair deal, I think, given that it was understood that they were going to be… It was an interesting time, with an interesting company.
I mean, the truth is it was a better deal for me because what I was giving them in addition to the writing was a certain amount of comfort. Basically, “We like you, and we don’t want you to go anywhere else. And we want you to be here when we need you. So we are going to pay a premium to make sure you are not busy when we need you.”
So, maybe I do 70% of the amount that I would normally have to do to even make that amount of money, but when they want me to write I was available to write.
John: A lot of people assumed I had an overall deal at Sony because I was just working for them for such a long time. But mostly what happened is they bought the rights to Big Fish for me, and said, “Oh, great, you can adapt this book. But, hey, would you do this little bit of work on this script first? And then this script, and then this script.” And basically just kept putting things in front of Big Fish.
And so Big Fish was always something I owed them. I always had to do Big Fish, but there was always something that they would slip in front of it. And so Big Fish just kept getting pushed back further and further. It wasn’t a bad thing for me. I was able to sort of build up my quote, job after job after job at Sony, and get good stuff done. And I was delighted to work for them. But it wasn’t like an overall deal; I was free to go other places.
Craig: Yeah. I wouldn’t do it again. I think at the time that I did it, it made sense for me. But, frankly, I would much rather be available now to work for a good director, find a great piece of material, find a great actor. I am just more interested now in following the material as opposed to a home.
But listen, this is a difficult business, and it is a scary business. And when you are raising a family, you know, security has real value. And at the time it made sense.
John: There is also a value to working with people you like to work with. And if there is a studio or network that you get along with especially well, maybe there is a good reason to keep going back to that same place.
Craig: Yeah. There is a, um, and I think everybody kind of has maybe this never goes away but for a while in your career I think there is a gnawing hunger for appreciation. And when you find people that really get you, and like what you do, it is hard to then leave that and go work for people, frankly, who may not like what you do at all when you have done it.
And, that is something that you have to actually concentrate on weaning yourself off of, I think. Better to not chase that stuff, and chase just the material itself.
John: One last thought I had about the TV overall deals. Josh Friedman, I think, made an overall deal with Fox. And when he didn’t have a show running on Fox, they would ask him to go in as a consulting producer on an existing show. So, I think, this last year he worked as a consulting producer on Finder.
And that is kind of good for everybody because you have an experienced person who can go in there and help, and help write shows, and help break stories. So if they are not busy doing their own show, they can help out on an existing show. So that is another reason why TV, in particular wants to hold onto those experienced people.
Craig: Yeah. In TV it makes the most sense, for sure.
John: Next question. Mischa from Toronto. “Last year I wrote a screenplay called,” this is a long one, “The 8 Ways I Could Have Kissed the Tall Lanky Jew: Based on the Pathetically True Events, as well as Memories Too Exquisite for Existence, as told by a Highly Sensitive Person.”
That’s a long title.
John: “Last week, I was doing some research, just briefly Googling the phrase Tall Lanky Jew, just to see if there was some other movie or book that had a variation of my title.”
John: “There were no books or movies, but I came across a Jewish man’s blog entitled Tall Lanky Jew. In the event that I sold my screenplay to a studio, and had it in wide release in theaters, would I be legally obligated to pay this individual money? Does he already own the copyrights to the term Tall Lanky Jew?”
Craig: No. No. You can’t copyright a title. Titles are, actually movie titles exist outside of the realm of copyright, but they are managed by the MPAA, so, all of the member studios of the MPAA, the Motion Picture Association of America. And that covers, essentially, every big studio you know. They have to register the titles with the MPAA which is their trade organization. And then the MPAA acts as a referee to make sure that basically Sony can’t come out with a movie called The Hangover to try and trade confuse and market confuse.
But, that aside, no. You don’t have anything to worry about, other than your absurd title. [laughs]
John: So, let’s start with her title. Her title is — I don’t know how many words that is.
Craig: It’s a lot.
John: 40 word title. Sometimes on spec scripts that does happen, where you write just a crazy long title because it is just memorable for being so long. The movie that became American Pie had some famously long title, which I will look up on Google. But, Words, Words, Words, Words, Words that can be Shot for Under $10 million and Make $100 billion. It had like a very provocative title.
Craig: Yeah. It was like American Sex Comedy That Can Be Shot For Less Than —
Yeah, I mean, and that is a trend lately. I have noticed people are doing these kind of run-on titles, frankly just to separate themselves from the pack. And it does add a certain weird kind of honesty to the script. In the same way that in marketing departments the no-frills titles become incredibly attractive to them, like Horrible Bosses. What’s it about? It is about horrible bosses. They are not going for anything other than no-frills. But it is a trend.
And the trend will not save your bad script. Nor will bucking the trend hurt your great script.
John: I would agree. Tall Lanky Jew could be trademarked. Someone could probably trademark that. And then there would be an issue. Trademark is a whole separate thing, and if you are not seeing the TM there, no one has trademarked it.
Craig: Yeah. The trademark would be if they were selling products under the trademark of Tall Lanky Jew, and that your movie could somehow create marketplace confusion where people might think that they were somehow involved, but that is not the case. It is a blog. You don’t have anything to worry about.
John: Speaking to the MPAA title things, with The Nines we had to go through a fight for our title, The Nines, because there were competing projects. There was that animated movie 9. There was the Rob Marshall-directed musical Nine. And there was something else that had… There was a movie called Nine Lives that came out at the same time.
So, fortunately we were one of the first people to register, and so we were able to sort of win the first couple of rounds. And then we had to go through and actually give permission for the other movies to use that title.
John: And it is this whole kind of Kabuki, because you are not really going to be a jerk about it, and no one is going to get these things confused. But we had to do it.
Craig: Yeah. There is a producer who I will not mention who told me that he basically registers titles. Like he comes up with ideas for titles, and then just registers them. And, in fact, has made money essentially extorting studios who do development material under that title. Draw your own conclusions.
John: Our last question for the day is from Christopher. “I’m a novelist working on a text which is set immediately preceding the Russian Revolution, and am having trouble composing the dialogue. The issues are great in number. I am having trouble working through the fact that some characters are English, and others are Russian, and sometimes they speak either language. I am finding it hard to make Russian sound more Russian than the English dialogue. Basically, how do I do this?”
That can be a real problem. If you are having characters… Like what language characters are speaking in movies when they really should be speaking a different language.
Craig: But he is writing a novel, he said.
John: He said a novel, but let’s just, whatever. We are mostly about screenwriting, so let’s talk about screenwriting.
John: I mean, you have had that situation with characters speaking other languages.
Craig: Yeah, sure. I mean, basically if they are speaking other languages, your choice is —
Well, obviously, are they speaking another language, or are they speaking accented English?
Craig: If you go with them speaking the other language, you just have to make a point in the action. “They speak in Russian and we see subtitles.” And then you just write the dialogue in English.
Craig: But I have to say for a novel, I have no idea what his problem is. You just write.
John: Just write.
Craig: Yeah. Just write.
John: He is having trouble with voice, though. Let’s talk about him as a novelist, first. Writing dialogue in novels kind of blows anyway. It is, like the times I have had to do prose fiction, I always find dialogue especially challenging because just the weird deal we make with the reader. You are going to ignore all the “he says” and “she says,” but they are going to be there. And we have the weird thing with the double quotes, and where the comma goes it is just really strange how we do it in English.
Spanish and other languages are much more natural. They use dashes or just different ways to sort of mark off what people are saying.
I think what he is having trouble is in places where they are supposed to be speaking Russian, it is written in English, and it just feels like English, so you don’t have a sense that anything is different or special.
Craig: Yeah. But I think that he is concerned based on a false premise. I’m guessing that what his issue is is that he is thinking of these Russians the way that Russians speak when they are speaking English, which is a weird stilted thing. But when they speak Russian, they are as fluid as English people speaking English.
A good example is City of Thieves, which is a novel by our friend, David Benioff, who is also an excellent screenwriter and television writer. And that takes place entirely in St. Petersburg, with a brief prologue in America. And everybody is Russian, and everybody speaks English, of course, because he is an English author.
John: He is not trying to create a false accent in English.
Craig: No, of course not. That’s the point. Really, if you understood Russian fluently, your understanding of those words would be no different than English. I don’t see what the problem is. I deny this question.
John: Let’s try to apply this question though a bit to screenwriting. And you mentioned before that in a screenplay, if you have a character who is going to be speaking in subtitles, on the page you tend to, either the first time, or a couple times if it is going to be confusing, you do a parenthetical, say like “Subtitled” or “English Subtitled” or “Russian Subtitled.”
Sometimes it makes sense to put the words in italics just so people get a sense that it is different, so you can understand, “Okay, the other characters who are only speaking English won’t be able to understand what is happening here.” But there are times where you need to have — think of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The remake of it was shot entirely in English, but they did use some accent and some word choices just to give you a feel that this wasn’t happening in English. And that is a subtle thing. And that’s a real thing. You can’t deny me that.
Craig: No. I can’t. I wouldn’t. But I also would caution against building that into the script itself. To me, that is so much a function of how you cast the movie, and how you direct the movie. And if you start to build that into the screenwriting itself, I think you start running into a little bit of trouble.
I mean, here and there you can pepper it in a little bit. Look, you have to acknowledge your characters. The script I am writing right now, there are a couple of characters who are Israelis, and one of them speaks English, and one of them doesn’t. So, the one who speaks English converses in sort of a broken English with people, and then translates for her friend, and then they have little arguments. And then she turns back and delivers the verdict.
But I don’t really write out the Israeli stuff. Occasionally I will if there is a little punctuation, or something like that. And similarly, when she is talking to people, I try and not get too pidgin English, because my feeling is ultimately what is most important is the flavor of what we are trying to get across here. Somebody is going to have to actually deliver that. So much of that comes in the performance.
Craig: So, look, the more you pen the actor in with the specificity of the language, the more you are going to get just your version of what that would be, as opposed to maybe what their version is, particularly when you are employing actors who, in fact, are not American.
I would much rather have a Swedish actor tell me how a Swedish person would say it.
John: That’s a good point. When we were doing one of our readings of Big Fish, I had to have on the first day the general discussion to the whole group saying, “This is a story that takes place in the American South. It takes place specifically in Montgomery, Alabama, but we cannot let specificity get in the way of understandability.”
And, so, I wanted to caution everybody against sort of the Accent Arms race, where one actor chooses to do a really crazy specific accent, and everyone else feels like they have to reach that level. And then day by day it would get worse and worse. You want this sprinkling of the American South.
And I was specific enough to say, like, “We are still rhotic; like the letter R still exists. Characters go off to War, they don’t go off to a Wah.”
John: “The letter G has taken a holiday. So we are always dancin’ and singin'”. But I didn’t want any more than that. And that is the kind of thing that on the page I try to give a sense of what the language feels like, but I am not going to take off every G off of every ING. It’s crazy.
Craig: Exactly. If how the actors deliver the lines is part and parcel with what your dramatic intention is as you write the screenplay, in a global way, not an individual line, but globally I don’t want this to sound like Gone with the Wind. It is okay to do a little prologue, a little advisory. There is no problem with that. But you just don’t want to get caught in, like, yeah —
It gets really annoying to read every single IN’ on every single gerund. It gets annoying. And also the script just seems stupid at that point. Like, come on, you know. Get out of here!
John: I once made a horrible mistake. [laughs] I was talking to a friend of mine, who is actually my agent, David Kramer, and I said something about… It may have been in relation to Big Fish, like when were down shooting. And I said something about like how I always tend to underestimate people with a southern accent, just because I have been conditioned by popular culture that people from the south aren’t as smart.
John: And he was like, “You know I had a southern accent when I got here?”
Craig: Yeah. He is from Florida.
John: Yeah. He is from like the south part of Florida. He is from the part that actually has an accent.
Craig: I thought he was from Northern Florida?
John: That’s what I am saying. So he is —
Craig: Oh, I see. I thought you meant the south part of the state. Yes. He is from Northern Florida which is, in fact, deep south. That’s true.
John: And so it is interesting. And, so then of course the minute he told me that, I’m going back through all of the previous conversations where I mocked something about a southern accent.
Craig: [laughs] Well, you know, he can take a punch.
John: He can take a punch.
John: Craig, what a great podcast.
Craig: Yes. This was a fun one. It was a great one. I like all of these questions that people ask; it makes our lives super easy.
John: It does. Good fodder for discussion.
John: So thank you. Please keep sending those in. My standard disclaimers: if you have a question for us to answer, you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org. For anything that we talked about here, including NBC’s Brotherhood of Man, we will provide links to that on the show notes. And the show notes are always on johnaugust.com.
If you are subscribing on iTunes, usually those links come through clickable, and great, and lovely. Also, if you are a person who sometimes enjoys podcasts, but sometimes enjoys reading with your eyes, we do have transcripts of all of our previous episodes online at JohnAugust.com, so you can check back; usually a couple days after the podcast is posted we will have the full transcript for you.
Craig: Remarkably efficient.
John: We try.
John: Thanks, Craig. Have a good week.
Craig: Thanks. You, too, John. Bye-bye.