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. Things that are interesting to people who are interested in what screenwriters are talking about, I guess.

Craig: Things that are interesting to people who are interested in the things that interest screenwriters.

John: Yeah. It’s one of those nesting things; it can keep going on and on and on…

Craig: Right. My name is Craig Mazin.

John: Hello, Craig Mazin.

Craig Mazin, I heard your name mentioned this week because you gave a presentation at the WGA for members that was very well received. What was that about?

Craig: That’s great to hear. I did. It is the second time I have done it now. It is basically a seminar on how to survive and thrive during development, and to a lesser extent, during production. And this is something that you simply will not find anywhere. There is no book that can tell you how to do this because all of the people who write books are writing them for people who aren’t in development.

But people who want to be in development, and also, of course, as I have pointed out many, many times, most people writing books have never been in development because they are not really screenwriters. So this was a very focused sort of seminar for people who have to deal with the misery of writing a script, getting notes from multiple sources, navigating those notes, and somehow surviving the process. And doing well during it.

And so it is a little bit of therapy. It is a little bit of psychology. It is a little bit of strategy. And, yeah, it is the second time I have done it and people seem to dig it.

John: What is challenging about development is that there are things that are actually part of your contract. You have a writing period. You should be able to turn things in at the end of your writing period. They need to pay you. You have your order to commence. There are some technical things that should be there.

But there are also standard business practices, and there is all the psychology of how to really figure out when to get them to pay you for another step. So I assume you got into that kind of stuff?

Craig: Not really. Actually, no.

John: Oh.

Craig: I sort of stayed away from the business arrangements. I mean, there was a little bit of a sidebar on how to handle the producer draft or the so-called “free rewrite.” Most of what I talked about really was how to behave. How to behave in such a way and how to manage your own behavior in such a way as to maximize your chance of protecting your intention from the beginning, the first day you are hired, to the premiere.

How can you survive this, not lose your mind, not get fired, and protect what matters to you in the movie. So, it was really all about that, and not so much about the gears.

Although, you know, what we are talking about is the Writers Guild does something called the Television Showrunners Training Program, which was actually a get that we received in negotiations from the companies where they basically pay for it. It is not much to them, but it was kind of a smart thing for them to do because basically writers end up running shows, and the better they know how to run a show, theoretically, the better it will be for the companies.

And it is such a specific skill set. It goes far beyond writing, of course. You become, really, management — writer management, I guess. And that has been a very successful program. And since 2004, when I was first on the board, I have been kind of clamoring for an equal thing for screenwriters, not because we would ever become management — we rarely do — but just because I feel like there is a lot that most screenwriters simply don’t know.

And those of us who have been doing this for 15 to 20 years have picked up quite a bit. So, finally, they are talking about it now. And this would be part of it. And then certainly there would be other topics, like if I could design a screenwriters training program today it would be first how to survive and thrive during development.

I guess actually even before that: pitching. How to pitch. Then how to survive and thrive during development. How to work with a director. How to behave, and survive, and thrive during production. And the fifth topic probably would be how to best manage your relationship with your representation.

But I am also open to ideas. If you think there are other big topics that would make sense in a training program, tell me.

John: Definitely. I was just meeting with my new WGA mentees. I got assigned a group of four new members who I am going to be meeting with regularly to help them get started in their careers. And they are all tremendously gifted writers, so they don’t need any help on that front.

But, they are asking questions that are really kind of fundamental to that first part of your career which is, “I am being sent out on a thousand meetings. I don’t know which ones to sort of take seriously. I don’t know how seriously to approach that idea that the producer sort of brings up in the room that I am kind of interested in, but I don’t know if it is a real project or not a real project. How do I apportion my time between writing the stuff that I want to write for myself and pursuing these projects that may never become a real project, for which there may be six other writers also pursuing this topic? How do you figure all of that out?”

And that is the kind of stuff I hope the screenwriting training program would cover.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, the trick with some of those topics is that they are so circumstance-dependent that it is hard to kind of codify a best practice, because it really depends. It depends on the kind of work you do. It depends on, frankly, how much money you require. Are you somebody that can kind of go for a year or two before selling something? Or do you have a family and a mortgage?

So there are a lot of different circumstances, but sometimes the best way to sort of codify that is to just give people the instruction set for how to even discuss that with their representation.

John: Absolutely. You are not going to provide them the answer, but you are going to give them the smart questions to be asking, so they can ask themselves the question about what is important to them. At what point are they going to be willing to jump out of competition for something that may or may not become real?

Craig: You know, John, I think you just might be instructing that segment of the screenwriting training program.

John: Perhaps I will.

Craig: Yes. Perhaps you will. And by perhaps we mean “you will.”

John: I will definitely be instructing.

Craig: Yes.

John: It’s tough. So today I wanted to talk some more crafty kind of things if we could?

Craig: Yeah.

John: Last week, you and I both got offers to run major studios, which was really flattering, but I really want to go back to our screenwriting roots and talk about the words on the page and those drafts that you have to turn in that become part of development.

And today I want to talk about cutting pages, which so much of your work as a screenwriter is to try to generate pages — to write those three, or five, or seven, or ten pages in that day, and build up to a whole script. And then, eventually, you have to start cutting it down because your script is too long. And I guess we should talk about what is too long. What is a good benchmark?

Craig: Right.

John: For feature screenwriters, 120 pages is often thrown about as like the upper limit to how long a screenplay should be. That is an invented figure. That figure basically probably came from most movies are about two hours long. Most scripts kind of average out to about a minute of paper to a minute of screen time, so the script should be about 120 pages.

It is really arbitrary, and yet it has become kind of codified as that is the upper limit. To the point where if you turn in a script that was 122 pages, your first note will always be, “You need to cut a little bit here.”

Craig: Well, it goes even further than that. I know that Warner Brothers, and possibly Universal, puts that in your contract. They have the right to refuse delivery of a script that is over 120 pages. And I think part of it is that even though… — It’s a funny thing; this is how you can tell a writer from a non-writer: non-writers tend to under-deliver on pages.

Those were the kids in class who turned in book reports and the teacher said, “You need three more paragraphs.” Writers are the ones who write way too much. There’s never enough pages for them. And every screenwriter I know is constantly in a panic that they are on page 50 and they have 200 more pages to go. Because they have so much they want to say, and so much they want to do in the story, and studios have been burned before by these really long drafts that ultimately are unwieldy and unproduceable, and unbudgetable.

And you would think that they could just simply go, “Well, look, obviously these 40 pages need to go.” But, they don’t know how to do that. And frankly, if the writer did, they wouldn’t have turned in that draft.

So, 120 pages is pretty hard and fast. If you are doing an epic, a historical epic, or something like Lord of the Rings, where you know that the movie is really ambitious, you just have to all agree beforehand that the draft will be longer than the average draft.

John: Yeah. We should state the obvious that it is not a hard and fast rule that 120 pages equals a 2 hour movie. Go was 126 pages and it is well under 2 hours.

Craig: Right.

John: Big Fish was the same situation. So, it is a mistaken assumption. It is a bad benchmark, but it is still what people expect. And if a producer has two scripts to read, and they were printed out, back in the days when everything was printed out, if there are two scripts to read they will flip through the end. They will read the 111-page script before they read the 120-page script every time.

Craig: Yeah. That’s right. And your point is well taken. Go is a perfect example because there is a certain caffeination, or it is speedified, you know, the movie is on speed. And, similarly, with kind of rat-a-tat comedies — spoofs are sort of notorious. I mean, I would get into these wars with Bob Weinstein where he would insist that the script had to be 105 pages.

And I would say, “Just so you know, our script is timed at nearly 30 seconds a page. You are just simply not going to have enough movie.” And we never did. [laughs]

John: Yeah.

Craig: We were also like pad… — Because it is so fast. And there is a great story recently from The Social Network, because Sorkin writes very — the dialogue is designed to be delivered at an insane pace. And he turned the script in and everybody was kind of freaking out. And he recorded that great opening sequence with Mark Zuckerberg being dumped by his girlfriend.

He recorded it the way, at the pace he thought it should be, and supposedly — this sounds true to me — Fincher basically timed everything per Sorkin. And on the day, he would sit there and his script supervisor had a stopwatch, and if they didn’t hit it, they did it again. [laughs] It had to be at that pace.

So, the one minute per page rule is something that, some standard needs to be there, but… — Like I said, if you know that it is supposed to go faster, just make sure everybody knows beforehand.

John: Yeah. The same also applies for TV. We should say that TV actually has much more stringent guidelines because shows are a half hour, or they are an hour long. And you can’t be long. You can’t run long. There is no arbitrariness there.

Craig: Right.

John: So you are going to have to hit your act breaks. You are going to have to hit your end times on those things. So, a lot of times you really do need to cut to match your amount of time that you have. When Melissa was working on Gilmore Girls, she said their scripts were hugely long. That is because, again, it is that rat-a-tat tempo, blasting through stuff.

Craig: Right. I would imagine 30 Rock scripts are probably quite long.

John: Absolutely.

Craig: I mean, they are going at this nuts-o pace. But I could also see like CSI scripts not being able to go long because there is a lot of silence, and looking around, and studying for clues.

John: Yeah. And then there is Family Guy, which often will have Peter staring at the camera for about 30 seconds.

Craig: Right. [laughs] Exactly.

John: So regardless, at some point you are going to be in situations where you are going to have to cut pages. So let’s talk about the situations that you might want to have to cut pages. And sometimes it is really simple. Sometimes you want to just cut a page or two.

Let’s just talk cosmetic cutting, where you aren’t really trying to change the story, you aren’t trying to change what is really happening, you are just trying to make your script look shorter.

Craig: Okay. So we are not talking about nibbling at content really?

John: Yeah.

Craig: All right. Well, some simple things that I always do is I look for those gerunds that don’t need to be there. So, “He is looking through the file,” should be, “he looks through the file.” You are looking for those action descriptions that have one little word sticking off to save a line.

Sometimes you have action broken up and you think, “Yeah, I could probably pull it up and make that a paragraph.” I don’t like going more than three lines really, or four max, for an action paragraph. But if I have, like, three in a row that are just single lines, and they are not super important that they be like that, I pull them up.

Actually, I have to say: Movie Magic has a fantastic little add-on thing that scans your script and basically says, “If you could shorten this word by five letters, then your script would be pulled up by one-eighth of a page.” It is very cool. And so you can kind of go through and look for those targeted ones that actually start saving you page length.

John: Yeah. What you start to recognize is, because feature scripts are 120 pages, very small changes will ripple through and create huge differences because of how paragraphs are breaking up, because of dialogue that is breaking across pages. So, literally changing… — cutting one paragraph on page 20 might make your whole script a page shorter.

Craig: That’s right.

John: And so looking for those is good. I would caution against some of the really obvious things that people attempt to do, like these screenwriters attempt to do. Don’t try to change the margins because they will know if you tried to change the margins.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Don’t try to change the font size. Don’t try to change the line spacing.

Craig: Right.

John: Final Draft will let you do the tight spacing…

Craig: Uh, don’t do it.

John: Don’t do it.

Craig: Look, the first thing I do when I get a script to rewrite is I put it through my format which is a very standard AD-approved format. And so I get a 119-page script, I put it through my format. I immediately call everybody and say, “Just so you know, this is 138 pages. So there is more going on here than we realize. Don’t be surprised when things start disappearing.”

Because, you know, they — “they” meaning producers and studio executives — are just as childish as we are when it comes to page count. Prior to the green light coming on, everybody is shoving as much in as possible, and page count is sort of a fantasy. The second the green light goes on, it is a panic. And pages become absolutely critical. Because the way…

For screenwriters that haven’t been through production, they have to understand. The way the schedule is laid out, it is in eighths of pages. And every day is two and three-eighths of a page, something like that. And every eighth of a page matters. And every additional day of shooting is six figures.

So, it really becomes very… — It is just an academic grind to start removing stuff and winnowing away to what is absolutely necessary to put on screen. And what is tough is, of course, once it goes into editorial even more of that will be cut. The director that knows exactly what is going to be on screen before he shoots it is the greatest director in the world. And he doesn’t exist. [laughs]

John: Yeah, that’s a good point you are making there. You could be cutting this at a script stage and actually do it gracefully, or you have to cut it in the editing room and it be probably much less graceful. So for the logic and sake of your story, if there are changes you can make on the script to make it more like what you think the final movie is going to be, it is worth it to try to do that.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So I have two cosmetic things before we get into the actual cutting the meat issues. The first is CUT TO’s, TRANSITIONS TO. At the end of every scene, some writers use those, like every scene ends with a CUT TO.

Craig: Really? Wow.

John: Yeah. And some writers still use those. And, you don’t have to.

Craig: That’s crazy. No. I mean, use them for impact.

John: But don’t use them every time.

Craig: Right.

John: So there you have saved a tremendous amount of money.

Craig: That’s huge.

John: I would also say look for orphans. And orphans are those little bits and fragments of lines that are taking up a whole line of your page but actually aren’t doing anything meaningful.

So, sometimes you can rewrite a sentence to get rid of that orphan and bump everything up a line.

Craig: Right.

John: Other times, the only time I will occasionally cheat a margin is in a dialogue block.

Craig: Totally.

John: And I will bump the right edge of a dialogue block just a few characters over to pull an orphan up.

Craig: Absolutely.

John: And no one will ever see that.

Craig: And, by the way, it is legal, and here’s why: That word doesn’t add time to the day. You see savvy, and this where… — You know, it’s funny, I’m going through it now on this script that is shooting at Universal. Sometimes people who aren’t savvy about what takes time on a given day will obsess over page length. ADs know. Directors know. But, others may not. And they may say, “Look, is there a way for you…we can cut the scene down if you got rid of this line of dialogue.”

That will not cut the day down at all. What takes time is setups. How many angles there are. If I am shooting two people talking in a restaurant at a table, frankly, I could double the page count and it really won’t add that much to the day.

John: Exactly. But if you were to add, the scene would be the same number of pages, but you added another person to that table, you have doubled the amount of shooting you have to do.

Craig: Exactly.

John: You have to shoot all the angles to cover that.

Craig: And sometimes you will get suggestions where, and this is where production experience is so important, and why I urge screenwriters to go to sets and sit there and watch how they do it, as boring as it may be, because you are able to see, say, “Listen, your suggestion is to take these five lines of dialogue that are an exchange between these two people at the table and just cut them and replace them with just one waiter walking over and saying, ‘Are you guys okay?'”

That literally makes it longer. And sometimes they just don’t get it.

John: They don’t. Because they are not going through that and they don’t see what that is. But you are right, the AD will always see what that is.

Craig: Totally.

John: The other thing which is frustrating is when they are trying to cut stuff that is important. Like, it is kind of reader setup. As you are first introducing a character, you are first introducing one of your major heroes or one of your major villains, you may throw two or three lines at that character’s scene description lines to really setup who that person is.

That is not screen time. That is just to help the reader who is trapped with only seeing stuff on the page to understand what that person is going to be like in the movie. That is not shooting time. So…

Craig: Don’t obsess over that, right?

John: Yeah, don’t obsess over that. And if you have to cut something just for cosmetics…but that is the reason why you have it.

Craig: It’s free. It’s free page. And a nice rebuttal to that is to sort of say, “Not only does it not cost us time on the day. Not only do those three lines budget out to zero dollars, but in casting it is going to be enormously important.”

John: Absolutely.

Craig: So, as long as you have some sort of practical reason for them other than, “Because my words are so precious,” then they will be cool. You can’t just say, “Well, because it is just cool. I really liked the way the words lined up there.” “Well, great. You are not writing a novel, buddy. We have to cut pages.”

John: So let’s say we actually have to cut some meat. You have that script that is 138 pages. You are going to have to cut some serious things. What are easy targets for cuts?

Craig: Well, I don’t know if there is any category that is specifically easy. I think that you have to look for… — First of all, if you really want to cut a script, you have got to ask yourself if there are any sequences that can come out. Start big, frankly.

It is a rare script that can meet a schedule when it is currently budgeted at over schedule or over dollars that can comply and conform to what they have through little tiny cuts across the whole thing. So, big question first: Is there a sequence we can just do without?

John: Yeah.

Craig: And sometimes a fresh pair of eyes is helpful with that. Because, remember, while you are a good writer, and you have written everything with intention and purpose, many of those scenes were written before the whole script was written. In fact, all of them except the last one. So, you should be able to recontextualize some things, too.

Now you have the whole thing in front of you. Maybe one of those sequences can go.

John: The smaller things I sometimes try to take a look at, especially if I am being sent something for a rewrite. I will always target any scene in which a character recaps something that the audience has seen.

Craig: Right.

John: That’s wasted time. There is no reason for that to happen. And surprisingly it still happens a lot in TV, and I don’t know why. I guess, you are coming back from an act breaking, you need to sort of remind people what happened. But, yikes, it always feels very frustrating.

Craig: I agree.

John: If that conversation has to happen, come to the very end of that conversation and just let the audience know that that character now is up to speed.

Craig: Exactly. Exactly. There is a logic thing.

John: Yeah. But take out the dialogue that actually does it.

Craig: Correct. You could just open up with one character just staring at the person who has told them this story off-screen, and that character just goes, “Wow, really? Yup. Okay.” [laughs]

John: Or a meaningful follow-up question that actually pushes the scene forward.

Craig: Yeah. I mean, but a recap is dreadful. Yeah.

John: Try to get out of scenes… — Classic advice for screenwriting in general, but try to come into scenes later, try to get out of scenes earlier. And so don’t let characters walk through doors, either to enter a scene or to exit a scene. And sometimes just trimming those will create some space, but will also speed up the pace of things and not make things feel so long.

Craig: Right.

John: And I would also say to look at your setups. And this is a place where you and I may disagree a little bit, but you have said that you tend to write long first acts, and really have a lot of setup of character. I tend to have less of that. And just because in my experience a lot of times you will shoot that meaningful thing that sort of introduces the character, and then when you actually put the thing together, you go like, “I didn’t need to catch that last moment. I could catch them at this moment and follow along.”

Craig: You know, I think it is a little genre dependent. I tend to like shorter first acts in action movies, thrillers, even in dramas, I think. Comedies, I like a longer first act because I feel like that is the broccoli that you have to eat to enjoy all of the comedy of the second and third act.

And, I will also say that you will eventually, once you get into the editing room, decide where and how you need to kind of compress it down a little bit. And there is a magic that occurs in production where things jump out. And you realize the actor has packed an enormous amount of information in simply a look. And so things can start coming out that way.

But you don’t know that until you see the performance. So, frankly, where I like to compress things is the third act. I feel like every movie I have ever been to, with rare exception, by the time I get to an hour and 30 in my seat I’m kind of like, “Let’s finish this. Let’s wrap it up.”

So, long, drawn out climaxes are not a bad place to take a look.

John: I think the third act problem also comes because of the way that we write screenplays in general. We have all of this energy and drive as we are writing through the first act. And the second act we are dealing with all of the complications we have created. And by the third act we are just exhausted and we are sort of slogging through it.

So that is the process of writing the script the first time. And some of that lethargy, and some of that exhaustion sort of creeps in, just sort of stays with the script I should say, throughout its process. So, you are really tight when you are writing your first act, because you went through it a lot of times, and you have really figured out the best way to do it.

And that third act, you are like, “Well, all of this stuff has to happen. We will make it all happen.” And, writing your third act with the same vigor as the first act will often shorten it down a lot.

Craig: That is a great point. And there is a point under that point which again goes to — it sort of identifies who writers are. Non-writers when they get tired write less, and writers when they get tired write more. They just get long and they lose that kind of parallel construction and concision. And if you feel it happening, just take the day off. Take the day off and come back to it.

John: Yeah. It is also worth asking the question: Which threads do I really need to wrap up, and which threads are important? And are there ways I can wrap up multiple threads in one moment together? So rather than having to cut between all of the different characters and subplots I have set up, is there a way to bring those together in a way that is going to feel more rewarding?

Sometimes it is helpful to think about, if I had to watch this sequence with the sound turned off would I be able to understand kind of where everybody ends up at the end? And if it relies on a lot of dialogue to wrap things up, that is not probably your ideal situation.

Craig: That’s right. As much as I loved all of the Harry Potter books, the one criticism I have of J.K. Rowling is that she tended to talk her way through every climax.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I understood to a point, because they were all mysteries. They were all basically elaborate Scooby Doo episodes, so the whodunit and why needed long talks. But you could see how great of a job Kloves did to not do that in the movies. He deserves a huge tip of the hat for visualizing those climaxes and letting the performances…

And frankly, we also forget when we are writing that there is this other voice. We know that we have what we have written. And we know that there are camera angles. And we know that there are actors for sure. But don’t forget score. Score sometimes is the best way to think about how to save pages. Because great score against an actor’s face is writing.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: And if you know what your intention is for that moment, it is amazing what you can get away with.

John: Yeah. It’s hard to reference the score in screenplays. I will do it sometimes. I have done things like, “As music swells we descend upon…” giving that sense of an operatic moment, or some sort of big transition. Getting a sense that this is a Lawrence of Arabia moment here can buy you that.

But the challenge is that readers, and producers, and everyone who is going to be taking a look at your script are used to going through it so fast that you have to really signal to them that, “Really we are doing this in a shot. So don’t skim it.”

Craig: I don’t think I have ever once referred to score on the page itself. But in my mind, if I know that that is what is going on, sometimes I will take a little bit of extra space for the action lines, break them up a little bit more, nice short sentences, and maybe underline the one that matters.

And then that sort of implies that this is one of those moments. It is just one of those ways of thinking intentionally as opposed to spelling it all out. But I honestly feel that nine times out of ten, when your script is really long it is because there is some sequence in there that just doesn’t need to be there, or could be combined with something else in a fun way.

John: Yeah. The other good test, which I talked about at lunch with my mentees yesterday, was you sort of take each little piece of your script out, and you hold it up to the light and say, “Is this my movie? Does this feel like my movie? Does this have to be in my movie?” And if there is a sequence that doesn’t sort of meet that criteria you have to really look at whether it belongs back in your movie, or whether something else is going to be better in its place.

Craig: Right.

John: And sometimes the best way to cut pages is to cut a lot of pages and write a better, shorter thing that can take its place.

Craig: Yeah. Every writer is familiar with the concept of killing your babies. So, we are sort of taught very early on, “Don’t get precious about those things that you love. You have to cut them.” But I actually found… Dennis Palumbo, who is a screenwriter-turned-therapist, had a more elegant explanation of why it was hard. And his explanation also allowed me to understand why — or rather made it easier for me to cut those things.

His point was it is not like… — Killing your baby sort of implies that you have written something beautiful and wonderful, but it just has to go because of some sort of circumstance. His point was: actually let’s think about why we call them our babies. Because the truth is a lot of times the things that we write that we don’t think of as our babies are fantastic.

And then there are these things that we do think of as our babies, and people are like, “I just don’t get it.” And his point was: it is your baby because the writing of that line was significant to you. That was a kind of a line that you admire, and you did it. Or, that was a kind of a thing that you have struggled with a lot and you feel like you finally grew as a writer by writing that line.

None of that is relevant to the audience’s experience.

John: I agree.

Craig: So, give yourself a huge pat on the back for whatever you accomplished with that line, but if it needs to be cut, cut it.

John: Yeah. You are talking about sort of sunk costs. So, either you want to hold onto it because it was so hard to write, or you want to hold onto it because you felt so great about having written it. And those are completely valid for why you feel that way, and no one else can know that, until they see the director’s commentary, or the writer’s commentary…

Craig: That’s right.

John: …and you can say, “That’s the best line in the whole thing.” And then you sound incredibly conceited.

Craig: And what’s more, once you realize that that is why you care so much about that line, cutting it doesn’t take away the victory. You still have the victory. You just realized that was important for me. So I will put that on an index card and paste it to the wall, and I feel really good about that. But nobody else is going to… — It is not a gift for anyone else, so let’s not impose it upon them.

John: Yeah. It does become easier to cut things once you have written a lot more. So in those early scripts it was just torture to cut like three lines because, “Oh, but I love these three lines.” But then you have written 20,000 lines and you are like, “Oh, fine.”

Craig: It’s the “There’s more where that comes from syndrome.” I mean, you and I in a distant podcast talked about how many individual drafts we produced. I assume at this point we will eventually hit 100 at least. And at that point you become a little less concerned.

It’s the difference between hitting your first home run and hitting your 530th. It is just not that big of a deal.

John: So, one last piece of advice I would offer is that as you approach as section with your script where you are going to be cutting a lot of things, go into it with a plan. Know what you are going to cut. Cut on paper first if that makes sense to you, if it is helpful for you. But definitely go in with a plan because otherwise you are going to go through your script and just start moving commas.

Craig: Right.

John: You have to really go in with, like, “This is the focus of what I am trying to do here.” So, if it is to write new sequences, delete the sequences that are going out and write the new things. If you are doing a major overhaul and a lot of stuff is moving around, open up a new file and just copy and paste in the stuff that stays. But don’t try to work in that original file.

And that can be freeing, too, because you are not surrounded by all of the stuff that was there.

Craig: Absolutely. You and I obviously approach very differently at the start. You write longhand initially. I compose on the computer. But we both finish the same way. Print it out. Do not make that first pass on your computer because there is something about physically looking at the page that makes it so much easier to cut.

And I also find it very helpful to just read it. Out loud. Read the script out loud. You will suddenly realize in the middle of a particular line that you are bored.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And that the scene is long and boring. And that there is a shorter way to get to this. Perform it for yourself. You can record it and play it back if you want. But reading it out loud, reading it with a friend — you don’t need a whole megillah of actors showing up at your house, or friends sitting around in chairs reading all the parts. Just read it with two of you. Just go through each scene. A huge help.

John: Well, Craig, this was a good conversation.

Craig: It was fantastic. I mean, you know what we should have done: we should have recorded this and then put it on the internet because it was such a useful —

John: Oh my god, that is so great. Because others could benefit from our conversation about our working practices.

Craig: Right. I don’t know why we don’t do that?

John: I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do that.

Craig: No. I know why everybody doesn’t do that. [laughs]

John: [laughs]

Craig: There are a lot of people that should not do that.

John: Craig, I meant to ask you. Are you listening to any other podcasts?

Craig: No.

John: No. You don’t watch any TV.

Craig: Right.

John: You don’t listen to podcasts.

Craig: No, but I’m a…

John: Basically, you do some writing. You kind of father your children. And you play Skyrim.

Craig: I totally father my children. And a lot of baseball practices and games.

John: Oh yeah, yeah.

Craig: And I am waiting for Skyrim DLC. So while I am waiting for Skyrim DLC, I am now 58% of the way through Arkham City — which is spectacular, by the way.

John: I heard that is great, too.

Craig: Oh my god, it’s so good. It’s so good.

John: So the DLC for Skyrim is like new missions? Or are they new things, new monsters? New what?

Craig: No. Bethesda has a pretty longstanding tradition with all of their titles to do quest line DLCs. Some of them are very short. But most of them are rather long. Their idea is, like, you buy it for — I don’t know — maybe ten bucks or something, or $15, and we will give you another 20 hours of game play.

John: Wow.

Craig: So, with Skyrim, I don’t think they are anywhere near there yet, but all of the initial press seems to indicate that they are going bigger. That they kind of want…

And they did that for Fallout, too. I mean, almost like getting new games.

John: Yeah. I had to stop. So, I was playing Skyrim, and then eventually I had a hard time with like the marriage quest. It was like, “Oh, I’m going to get married.” And so I went through all of that, and I sort of got through all the steps, and I had a hard time finding the guy in the city who I needed to get the amulet from.

And so I finally got… — It just ended up being a lot of hassle and a lot of work. And so then I finally got married and it was like, “Yeah, now I’m bored.”

Craig: Oh, I killed my wife.

John: [laughs]

Craig: Yeah. You know what, here’s the thing.

John: That sounds better.

Craig: [laughs] In Skyrim you can get married. And the way you get married is you put on this particular amulet and you walk around. And if you have done nice things for people, and you have achieved enough, they will say, “Hey, I see you are wearing the amulet. Are you interested in hooking up?”

John: The Amulet of Mara.

Craig: Correct. The Amulet of Mara. And then you say, “Yeah, let’s get married,” which seems like an atrocious way to actually approach marriage in Skyrim, although they are very progressive — men can marry men, women can marry women. I don’t think you can marry animals. Regardless, my wife who is super hot, she was this warrior, and she was really badass. That’s why I married her, you know? She was really tough.

And then the second I married her she just went into my house, stayed there, and made food. And she just kept saying, “Hi, oh hello, love.” And I’m like, “Eh, you are not…” — Bait and switch, you know?

And so I chopped her head off.

John: Yeah, that’s not good. Can you marry again after you have committed wife-icide?

Craig: I just don’t want to now. Once I see…I think it is uxoricide. Is it uxoricide? I believe U-X-O-R-icide.

John: Well, I have Google up, so I am going to type it in right now.

Craig: Yeah. Let’s see if I got that one right.

John: Latin, murder of one’s wife.

Craig: Beautiful. No reason for my wife to be concerned whatsoever that I know that word.

John: [laughs]

Craig: But uxoricide, no. Once you commit uxoricide you really shouldn’t marry again. You have a problem.

John: Yeah, that’s true.

Craig: Your problem is that you solve your marital issues with beheadings. So…

John: [laughs] With violence, yeah.

Craig: I mean, also I just feel like the domestication… — I mean, did that happen with the guy you married? Did he just become, like, a weenie?

John: Yeah. He became kind of a weenie. And he was sort of a pity marriage anyway. It was the guy…

Craig: [laughs] Which one?

John: Angrenor Once-Honored.

Craig: Oh, that guy? Really? Alright. I mean, I know something about you, John.

John: He had sort of a wounded Daniel Craig quality that I found sort of endearing, but then he became kind of a sop. But I married him, and then like five minutes later I stopped playing the game completely.

Craig: Yeah. Well marriage just killed it for you. I married Aela the Huntress. I mean, she was so cool. And then she just stopped being a huntress. She became Aela the Boring.

John: So she wouldn’t go out on a quest with you?

Craig: Well, she would, but the point is I can get anybody to go on a quest with me. I wanted her to be cool. And I wanted it to be exciting. And I didn’t want her to lose her personality just because I married her, but she just sat there and she would say, “Oh, honey, I made you a home-cooked meal.” “What?! Your head is coming off!”

John: Now, could she carry more as a wife? Or does she still have the same sort of burden requirements?

Craig: No. Same crap. And then they open a store and they give you money. But if you have played the game long enough, you don’t need that $100. It is like, “Get out of here with this. I’m rich! Look at my house. What’s wrong with you?! Why did I marry you? I hate you!” [laughs]

John: You should be able to marry a dragon.

Craig: Well, I mean, that’s kind of cool. At least then, you know, the sex would be interesting. Eh, Angrenor, really? That guy?

John: Yeah. I’m not saying it was the best choice. But I just sort of made the decision, and I felt bad for him. And apparently, because I was looking up sort of who was marriageable, and apparently at a certain point in the game he dies. Like if you don’t marry him, he will just die.

Craig: Oh, well that’s a great reason to not marry him. You shouldn’t have married him then and just let him die. I don’t remember that guy specifically.

John: He is the guy who didn’t just take an arrow to the knee like all the other guards. He was actually deeply wounded in some battle.

Craig: Oh, I remember that guy. Yeah, enough with him. I can’t believe you married that guy. By the way, it’s interesting that you and I both portray a certain amount of racism because neither one of us married like a lizard person.

John: Or the cat people.

Craig: Or the cat people. Well the cat people basically are thieves. I don’t trust them. I don’t trust them. I’m racist against cat people. [laughs]

John: [laughs]

Craig: Yeah, totally racist against cat people. Lizard people I am okay with.

John: Yeah.

Craig: They are just basically drug addicts. [laughs]

John: So at this point we are falling into the “and things that screenwriters might be interested in.” But it’s good. And so you are not going to marry anyone in Arkham Asylum or Arkham City or whatever that is called.

Craig: You can’t. Batman doesn’t marry people. Batman is a tragic figure. Frankly, I don’t even know if Batman has a penis. I mean, Batman is so…

There is a little bit of a romance, like a hint of a romance between Batman and the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul. Which by the way, in the movie, it was Ra’s al Ghul. And apparently, I always feel like the videogame people are that many more clicks to the right on the nerdometer, so I think the right — they say it’s Ray-shal-ghoul.

John: Ra’s al Ghul.

Craig: Whatevs. Anyway, it is a great game. It is really cool. You should play it. Just do it.

John: I will never play it.

Craig: Oh, because you have to watch another episode of Glee?

John: [laughs] Exactly. But Glee is actually a thing I can watch with my family, for example.

Craig: Right.

John: You used to watch American Idol, though. Are you watching American Idol?

Craig: No. I finally… — Well, you know what? After Simon left, I gave it a shot. I just couldn’t get into what had happened to it. I mean, Randy was always the worst judge anyway.

John: Yeah.

Craig: The worst. Jennifer Lopez is fine. Steven Tyler is bizarre. But really what I couldn’t get into was the fact that what had been so awesome about that show — that it was the first show to tell the truth ever in the history of television. That was gone. It was back to being fake praise and nonsense.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And that was a bummer.

John: But now that I am watching it with a six-year-old daughter I am happy to have no Simon on the screen. We don’t really even watch the judges part of it, but we do see the girls sing. And so you see like, “Oh my god, she really likes the Justin Bieber-looking guy.” Yeah. That happens early. It is hard-coded in the brain. It’s like the same way that you like puppies. A little kid with blond hair that looks like Justin Bieber. Just like him.

Craig: Justin Bieber really is the perfect… — I guess the idea is that girls at that age, anywhere from 6 to 12, what they are attracted to is boys that are girls.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And boys, I guess, aren’t really attracted to girls, or boys. They just want to shoot stuff. [laughs] That’s the way it goes in my family.

John: Yeah. But then once they start getting attracted to girls, they sort of leap up towards women. And not girls their own age.

Craig: Well, I don’t know, because my son I have to say, he is in fifth grade. And every night we have the same discussion about this girl he likes. Every. Single. Night. And she is in his grade. And it’s adorable. It is just every night he says, “I just don’t know if she even knows I exist.” [laughs] Every night. And I just comfort him every night.

John: Aw.

Craig: Yeah, it’s cute.

John: Parenting advice from Craig Mazin and John August.

Craig: That’s right.

John: Craig, thank you very much for another great podcast.

Craig: Thank you, John.

John: Talk to you soon.

Craig: You got it. Bye.