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. Craig, Happy St. Patrick’s Day.
Craig: Uh, Erin go Bragh, and so forth.
John: Yeah. Has Erin go Bragh been used as like a catch phrase/tag, like the last thing the hero says before shooting the bad guy?
Craig: Like “Erin go Bragh emmer effer?”
John: Yeah. Exactly.
Craig: Like, “Erin go Die?”
John: Like that.
Craig: No, I don’t think so. Maybe. I mean, I never saw those Boondock Saints movies, but it sounds like that.
John: It also feels like McGarnagle on The Simpsons might have done that, where there is sort of like an action hero. McGarnagle is the Schwarzenegger of the Simpsons’ world, I think.
Craig: That doesn’t sound right. It’s not McGarnagle. It’s… — I can’t remember. It’s not McGarnagle.
John: And now it is going to frustrate us.
John: Matt Selman, who is a Simpsons writer and producer, is a listener to the podcast. So I’m sure he will write in on that.
Craig: It’s McBain.
John: McBain! Why did I think McGarnagle?
Craig: You might be thinking of MacGruber, and you combined MacGruber with gargling.
John: But it feels like a McBain thing. “Erin go Bragh” — in some sort of Ireland episode they did that. What did you do for your St. Patrick’s Day? Did you do anything special?
Craig: No. No. No. Do you know what Jews do on St. Patrick’s Day?
John: Eat Chinese food?
Craig: Not drink.
Craig: That’s our thing. We don’t do it. We’re not big on the drinking.
John: This year, of course, I was in the epicenter for St. Patrick’s Day because I am in New York City. And so where I am working is right at Times Square. And so, it is like the center of gravity for all “I want to be drunk and Irish — or Irish-seeming — and I want to be wearing big green glasses and stupid hair.” And that’s where they are. They congregate there.
And it was just fantastic.
Craig: Did you have a little fun?
John: No. I didn’t really have any fun at all. Didn’t drink a beer. I went straight from work to seeing 21 Jump Street, which is actually quite good.
Craig: I hear that it is very funny. And I want to go see that. And I should also mention, as I often do every time MacGruber comes up, that I think MacGruber is a really funny movie. I always talk about MacGruber…
John: So horribly underrated.
Craig: It really is.
John: The fact that MacGruber goes for the offer of oral sex at any moment…
John: Just like, something goes wrong, he gets a hang nail, he will offer somebody oral sex. It’s good.
Craig: Yeah, there is so much… — If you haven’t seen MacGruber, I’m telling you, that movie is criminally underappreciated.
John: I saw it opening night at the Chinese.
John: That’s how I roll.
John: And I should say, if people are hearing things a little bit different here, I’m in a very different room. It’s this apartment that I am renting. And I am near a firehouse. So, in addition to the Craig Mazin bus station background noise, you get some passing fire trucks every once and awhile.
Craig: Finally. Finally I am not the only one.
John: Other podcasts might give you quality information, but will they give you the same ambience? It is hard to say.
John: But we have questions. And so let’s do some questions, because there are good questions this week.
Craig: Let’s do it.
John: And I was trying to figure out how to best break these up, but we will start with the ones that you sent, because you sent two questions that actually have been posted on Done Deal Pro which is that message board full of aspiring writers. You do the Lord’s work going in there and interacting with them.
Craig: Yes. I should add that they were…
John: Here’s two questions that you sent me.
Craig: …well, they weren’t publicly posted. They were sent to me privately. So, make sure to strip out anything that you might think would be particularly identifying.
John: I will edit as I read.
John: “In the spirit of last month’s podcast on producers, I have got a question. I had a couple managers vying to sign me last month. I picked one over the other. Long effing story short, one of them is trying to jump on a spec as an EP, or executive producer, and it is the manager I passed on. I know, I know. Why would (blank),” he actually uses his name so I won’t use his name, “Why would you even? Like I said, long story. My question is, would a manager attaching himself as an executive producer affect another manager to sign one’s status, pay, say anyway, or just simply a coattail paycheck grab?”
Craig: That is the weirdest thing.
John: It’s the weirdest situation. So, I want to make sure I am actually understanding his scenario right. Of course, we can’t really ask him, but this is the scenario I think he is asking is he met with two different managers, Manager A and Manager B. He signed with Manager A. Manager B says, “I love your script and I want to attach myself as executive producer.” That is what it sounds like he is asking.
Craig: That is in fact what it sounds like he is asking. And the reason that you and I both feel so puzzled is because the answer is so obviously, “No.” Right? Where is the upside?
John: I don’t know what the upside is. The only thing I could imagine is if Manager B is really a producer who is sort of managing sometimes…
John: And he says it is a spec. I’m taking this as a feature spec, not as a TV thing, so I don’t even understand what executive producer really means. What is this person… — If he is trying to produce the movie, I guess I can kind of see that.
John: Signing on as executive producer, what is he trying to do as the executive producer? Executive producer for a feature is this nebulous title that could mean he brought money. It could mean that he brought some package element. But it is not the person who made the movie.
Craig: Right. I don’t quite get this. Again, we are sort of trying to figure out, well, how would this ever make sense? Or why would this question even be asked?
If the manager that this guy didn’t go with was a particularly powerful manager, and was at a place like 3 Arts, or one of those deals, where they represent a lot of actors as well, or directors, then maybe you could think, “Well, okay, he might be able to bring something to the table.” But it doesn’t sound like that is the case. And, frankly, if that were the case, why didn’t you just go with that guy?
So, no. This doesn’t make any sense at all. Look, studios don’t really like this sort of thing at all. The deal with managers is writers will pay them 10% unless the manager comes on board as a producer, which is something that agents can’t do, in which case the manager draws a producing fee from the studio and does not commission the writer at all, which is kind of great for the writer, not so great for the studio, obviously. And in general, studios just sort of detest this practice.
They will put up with it if that person is bringing along an element that makes the movie happen.
John: Such as a powerful director, an acting piece of talent that is worth something.
Craig: Yeah. But in the absence of that, and it sounds like… — I would imagine that this questioner would have included that; it is kind of an important detail. To me, it is such an obvious, “No, go away. You lost. Piss off.”
John: Yeah. In a more general sense, this person was picking between two managers. And you do have to make a choice. And when you make a choice, you say yes to one person, and you say no to the other person. And saying no to the other person doesn’t mean, like, “You are a terrible person; I never want to talk to you again in your life.” Just, you found somebody who you felt was a better choice for you.
And, you shouldn’t try to keep the relationship with the person you didn’t pick necessarily going on any great guns, because you aren’t working with them. You picked somebody else. It is like that whole horrible show, The Bachelor. Once you cut the girl from the show, once you don’t give her a rose or whatever and she has to go away, you don’t get keep dating her.
Craig: Yeah. That’s right.
John: That doesn’t mean that you can’t be perfectly nice when you bump into her at the grocery store, but you are done dating her.
Craig: Yeah. It’s funny — when I analogize this to sexual politics, I usually cast us in the role of a woman. Because I feel like women have mastered the art of selection. And only out of necessity, because men are far less selective about this stuff than women. Women have to be kind of choosy.
So, a woman walks into a bar, and there are 12 guys there that all of a sudden are on top of her. And she has to…
John: Well, not literally on top of her.
Craig: Not literally.
John: They are all potential suitors.
Craig: They are within proximity. And she has to make a choice. And when you choose, and when you turn a guy down, in the back of your head you should also know: if it doesn’t work out with this guy, and you called that guy and he was really into you, he would probably be okay with that. And it is the same thing with managers. Look, if it doesn’t work out with this one… — Managers and agents, they are into money. And if you are worth money, you can always change your mind. It is not the end of the world.
I think writers get so backwards on who is holding the gun in these situations.
John: The second question was also from Done Deal. I am editing as I scan through here. “My writing partner and I are repped at a very reputable management company and a boutique agency. The long and the short, our agent doesn’t like the way we are telling our story in our new spec script.” They have been with their agent three years and have made no sales. “We came close, but haven’t sold yet. Our managers came after our agent. Our agent has made it clear he won’t send out our new spec and doesn’t believe in it. I’m in a weird place right now because I take meetings with high-to-mid-tier producers in developing a few projects with them. Our managers seem like they don’t want to tell us to leave our agent for political reasons. Our agent is doing nothing for us and is really hindering our careers. And we feel very, very strongly about this new spec. What should a writer in my position do?”
John: “Should I tell my manager that I want to fire my agent? Should I just fire my agent? Also, my agent never gets us meetings…” [laughs]
So this is basically like, “My husband keeps beating me, what should I do?” “Dear Abby, my husband keeps beating me.”
Craig: I know. I mean, questions need to have two possible answers, otherwise they are not really questions.
John: Yeah. It should be like how should I handle the situation rather than should I leave or not.
Craig: Right. Exactly. Technically, “Will the sun come up tomorrow?” is a question, but it is not really a question.
John: No. It’s not a meaningful question.
Craig: No. There is no reason for you to not fire your agent, sir or madam. None of that makes sense.
First of all, I don’t care what an agent particularly thinks of a spec script. Agents, their skill set is not to evaluate material and say, “This is a brilliant piece of material.” Their skill set is to procure you employment that is currently being offered and to put you in rooms with people who could offer you employment, and to promote the work that you do. This is what you do. If they don’t like it, then you fire them and find somebody who does.
Obviously the managers are okay with it. I will point out that managers and agents always, always when asked, “Hey, should I fire the other guy?” will say, “Eh, you know, let’s not be hasty.” That is their default position on everything because you are not the only client the manager or agent represents. They are all intertwined in their business. They don’t want to get into a war.
It really comes down to you. You are the one who has to pull the trigger. Pull it. You already have a manager, so the point is that manager can help set you up on meetings with other agents. But, for God’s sake, why would you stay with this person? Why would you ask this question and why would you stay with this person?
John: The only devil’s advocate I will put here, not necessarily to stay with the person, is really about the script itself. And so I only want to sort of defend the agent who might say, “I don’t think this script is ready.” Because the agent is looking at the script as, “Is this something I can sell?” And if the agent looks at the script and says, “I don’t think I can sell this,” he doesn’t want to take it out on the town and have it not sell.
The flip side of that is some good scripts don’t sell, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be shown to people because those scripts that don’t sell, people still like them, and people still read them. And they still say, “Oh, this is a good writer. I never considered this writing team for this kind of project, but look at what they just did here. This is really good. I should consider them for something else.”
Go, my script that sort of made me who I am, didn’t sell to any of the studios. It ended up getting picked up by a very small little company because all the studios said, “We can’t make this movie.” But it was very good that we took it out on the town, and honestly, the agent who I had as I started to write Go, he had read an early draft of it and didn’t like it, and didn’t think it was anything good. And that was my signal, “You know what? This is not the right agent for me to be with.” And so I looked for a new agent.
Craig: Right. Exactly. Exactly.
John: By the way, this is the perfect time to be going to a new agent because you have a new spec script that the new agent can take out on the town.
Craig: Right. And that is how you are going to figure out who the right agent is for you, because someone is going to respond to that material. Yes, it is possible that the material isn’t as good as it should be, or that there is some piece of it that could be improved. In fact, that is a certainty.
But, agents aren’t really particularly good at figuring out what those problems are and how to solve them. And, whether an agent likes it or not, I mean, this town is full of agents that have passed on clients that they should not have passed on. And in the end, you need a representative who is in creative sync with you.
If you stink, and all of your scripts are bad, it doesn’t matter who your agent is, so you might as well fire this guy anyway.
John: Yup. Done.
John: Everybody is going to be changing employment after listening to this podcast.
John: The agencies will be upset.
Craig: Meh, whatever.
John: Yeah, whatever.
John: Adam from Cincinnati wrote in to firstname.lastname@example.org and wrote, “Where do script doctors fall in the various screenwriting jobs you discussed in the past?” So, he is basically confused about the term script doctors. “I have heard in the past how famous writers like Joss Whedon and Aaron Sorkin have been script doctors before lead writers, and I am always curious about that role because it had seemed to me like an enticing job — stalking into a project and tweaking someone else’s script, and then vanishing into the night with a paycheck.”
Oh, Adam. It’s delightful.
John: And I do remember this one [laughs]…this one fellow student in film school who ended up actually writing and directing a movie. So as his movie was set up, and they were getting financing for stuff, he came back and was like, “Oh, I’m just looking for some script doctoring work I could do.”
John: I’m like, “Who are you?!” So, let me explain what script doctors are. And it is a term that is kind of not really used in the industry the way it is used in popular press. I don’t even hear people…
Craig: No. It’s a…
John: It’s only a term you would see in like Premiere Magazine or Entertainment Weekly sometimes.
Craig: It is douchey, frankly.
John: It is a douchey word.
Craig: It’s a douche term, yeah.
John: So, what they are really referring to are not unknown writers, or like aspiring writers. It is really established, professional writers with big credits who make a lot of money who come in to do some surgical work. I think surgical is probably how it got to script doctoring I guess?
John: You do very targeted work on a screenplay before it goes into production to take care of some perceived problems. So, Steve Zaillian is a big script doctor. To some degree, I’m a script doctor. I’m a person who comes in and does weekly work on projects that are about to go into production and get them to where they need to be based on the needs of the director, the needs of the studio, the needs of the star, whatever.
John: Craig and I are friends with many of the people who would fall into this general category. It is not anything different than being a screenwriter.
John: And there is no equivalent of, like, the theater dramaturge who is not really the playwright but is there to help figure out the textual meaning of stuff — it’s nothing like that at all. A script doctor, the way that they are trying to use it here, is just a very high level screenwriter who comes in to do some work on a script before production. And gets paid a lot of money for it.
Craig: Yeah. And it certainly doesn’t come prior to being what this questioner describes as being a lead writer, although that is also a term that doesn’t really exist.
John: No, it doesn’t.
Craig: First you establish yourself as a proper screenwriter who can write a full-length feature film that people are interested in. And then, over time, they might ask you to come in and pretty much everybody that you and I know who operates at a certain level has done this, or things like this. They ask you to come in on movies that are either right before they are going to go into production, or during production, or pre-production, to work for a few weeks to improve a character, or tighten up the third act.
There is usually some sort of aspect, you know. Or sometimes they are brought in by a star, an actor who just likes a certain writer to come in and do a dialogue pass with them so that they are more comfortable with the voice of it. But, script doctoring, that phrase is a result of this nonsense romanticization of what screenwriting is. There is nothing romantic about this. [laughs]
And, we are not dashing brilliant heart surgeons, swooping in to save the patient, and then disappearing into the night. I have never once disappeared into the night. I have tripped and falled. Fell. I said “falled.”
John: You did say “falled.”
Craig: Yeah. I tripped and falled.
John: That was a verbal…
Craig: I can’t even say it without blowing it. So, that is me trying to disappear into a sentence. Again, I’m so clumsy.
John: Yeah. So basically never say the word script doctor again.
Craig: No. Never.
John: The easiest answer to this question.
Craig: I will say that you and I both know a screenwriter who has posted on Facebook a reference to her script doctoring. And when she did it I went, “No, no, no, no, no. Don’t say that.”
John: Yeah. What you would actually say is, like, “I’m doing some weekly work on a project.”
John: A weekly is where they are actually paying your for a period of time, rather than for a full draft. And you go in, and you describe, “This is the work I think I can do in this week,” and they say, “That sounds great.” And you do that work, and you turn it in, and they may bring you on for another week, or another week. That does happen. But that is different.
Craig: Yeah. You could say, “I’m on a weekly.”
John: “I’m on a weekly right now.”
John: I’m not on a weekly right now.
Craig: I’m not on a weekly either.
John: Yeah. Doru asks, I don’t know where Doru is from. What a great name — Doru.
Craig: Doru. Nice.
John: Doru asks — he is from somewhere else, and I have cleaned up the language a little bit, but let’s see. “My script is set in a specific historical time. How much into details should I go when I talk about their clothes? In some scenes where the clothes are important to underline a social status I did, but in others I think it might be too much for the reader. Should I leave the clothes descriptions out of some of the places, even though they are not wearing jeans and t-shirts? Or should I explain in every scene what the characters are wearing?”
This is a 101 kind of question, but I think it is a valid question.
Craig: Yeah. I could see where it would be a little bit of a concern if you were writing something where you thought the reader wouldn’t quite get how they were dressed.
John: Yeah. So, if you are doing something that is not set in present day, where the clothes kind of matter, in early scenes it may be worth throwing a line of description about the kind of thing that they are wearing. But you would never do that in every scene. First, it would be annoying for the reader. It would be annoying for everyone else involved in the movie. You need to setup the flavor of what your movie is, and what your world is, but don’t go into every little detail or dress.
If there are specific things like, “She is wearing a stunning red dress,” because that becomes an important detail later on, or it becomes something that is spoken in dialogue, that is great.
John: But, generally, no. It is not your responsibility to… — It’s great that you did the research, and you actually can kind of picture in your head what these people would look like, but you don’t need to tell us that. That is the difference between a screenplay and a novel.
Craig: For sure. Yeah. It is legal to say things like — he mentioned status at one point — to say, “So-and-so enters the room dressed in the regal garb of a royal.” I mean, that is fine in that kind of general sense. And in the beginning, you can sort of say, “We find ourselves in Agrabah where everyone is dressed in flowing turbans and silk,” just to sort of set the scene on page one. But then, that’s it. Stop.
John: Done. Done. Yeah.
And sometimes you just want that one specific word that lets you know, like, okay, I get what that is. And that is where… — God bless the Internet. For this one project I had to find this very specific cowboy hat. And I could picture what it looked like, but I had no idea what you call that hat. It was an Antietam hat.
Craig: Oh, an Antietam hat. Yeah.
John: And so I looked it up. So, the reader may not necessarily know what the Antietam hat is, but if he or she does, then I have specifically said it. If the reader doesn’t know it’s like, “Well, that sounds like an historical Civil War ear hat.” It has that connotation.
Craig: It does even more for you than that. Specificity is impressive to the reader. It makes them feel like you are in control. They don’t need to know what the Antietam hat is. They just know that you do, and that is comforting.
Craig: It’s comforting.
John: Slight tangent, but the specificity also plays in comedies. And I think this expectation that people don’t know what those words mean, so they won’t know what you are really talking about — that doesn’t matter. It is that you believe that the characters in the world know what they are talking about.
So, if you see a Wall Street movie, most times you are not really going to understand what they are talking about. But sometimes you don’t really need to know what they are talking about as long as you believe they know what they are talking about.
If you are watching Frasier, Niles and Frasier will go off on a long tirade about sherry, and you have no idea what a quality sherry is, or sort of what it means, but you believe that they do. And it is funny to watch them get all freaked out about it.
Craig: Yeah. The comedy of trivia. I mean, the whole point is that they are arguing over stuff that none of us know about. And, yes, specificity is a wonderful thing, but you don’t want to…
John: But too much is deadly.
Craig: Yeah. You just don’t want to push people’s face into boredom on the page with endless description. I see this, frankly, on Done Deal where people will post pages and I will look through. We ask them to put, I think, four pages. And sometimes three of the four pages are just incredibly overwrought descriptions about the quality of the sunlight, and the blades of grass. And I am just like, “What is going on here?”
John: Don’t do that.
Craig: No. It enrages me.
John: Write a poem.
Craig: Yeah. Write a poem.
John: So, this afternoon I went to see John Carter of Mars, or John Carter. I’m not sure what I am supposed to call it. I went with Nima, the Jolly Elf Nima. And for people who play the drinking game, that, I think, was like three shots right there by saying “Jolly Elf Nima.”
Craig: Now it’s six shots.
Craig: Because you said, “Jolly Elf Nima. Jolly Elf Nima.” And…you are hospitalized.
John: I enjoyed John Carter. And I remember swapping emails back and forth with Michael Chabon as he was working on it, so I was happy to see the end result of it. The strange thing about it, which also happens in Avatar, as I am watching and listening to it, there are a few sentences in the movie where more than half of the words are invented words.
So, like, when they are talking about, “We have to get something from helium to…” And like most of those words are actually not English that you just put in that sentence.
Craig: Yeah. Lord of the Rings would occasionally dip into that.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: Like, well hold on a second. “If the error of Isolder is caught by the Nazgul, while he is entering Rivendell.” It is true. I actually feel like they could have done a much worse job of that in Lord of the Rings, and they must have been cognizant of it. Because if you read Tolkien, like that was his thing.
John: It is all that.
Craig: He was a linguist. So, he loved that stuff. You know, it was all that. But, probably not a good idea to jam-pack too many sentences with more than two.
John: Yeah. Michael asks, “My question concerns the often…” Okay, so I am just going to preface this: we have two questions left. Both of these questions could tick towards despair.
Craig: Oh, great! So everyone turn it up. [laughs]
John: [laughs] But here is a trick for you. Your facial muscles are related to your overall emotional state you are not fully cognizant of. So, it is hard to think negative thoughts while you are visibly smiling. So, if at any point listening to these next two questions you feel like, “Oh no, I’m going to have to jump off a bridge,” force yourself into a smile, and the bridge jumping thoughts will disappear.
Craig: Yeah, they will just… — You turn it off. Like a light switch, you turn it off. [sings]
John: Like a light switch, you turn it off. [sings]
Craig: Do- do-do-dee-do. [sings] I cut that off before we would have to pay royalties.
John: Yeah, that’s good. Thank you. What a great song. What a great musical.
Craig: Every song is great. The Book of Mormon.
John: So good.
Craig: The Book of Mormon. Spectacular. Spectacular arrangement of songs.
Craig: Here we go…
John: …a little tangent. I really love the show. I have one song which is distinctly my least favorite song that I will always skip when it comes up on the playlist.
Craig: And that song is Hasa Diga Eebowai?
John: Oh, no, I love Hasa Diga Eebowai. It is Spooky Mormon Hell Dream.
Craig: Ah, it’s the best! [laughs]
John: I’m glad somebody likes it.
Craig: I love it!
John: It is just not my taste.
Craig: Well, it’s the most South Park of those songs.
Craig: Yes. But what is your favorite song?
John: It’s probably Turn it Off. I love Turn it Off.
Craig: Turn it Off is pretty great. But I think my favorite, it’s kind of a tossup here, between…it’s not fair to say a three-way tossup, because I will put Sal Tlay Ka Siti as number 2. Hello is tied at number one with I Believe. I Believe is my number one. I Believe.
John: I Believe is certainly a very strong anthem. I just love all of the storytelling that happens in Turn it Off. Because you always think about it, “Oh, he’s gay, he doesn’t want to admit it.” But then there is also the guy who is waiting in line for the iPhone… [laughs]
John: There’s so many things, like his father.
Craig: Yeah. His father is beating his mom when the Jazz would lose. But then, All American Prophet is also an amazing…
John: Oh, come on, great storytelling in that.
Craig: Amazing storytelling. It’s actually this beautiful little moment, because I think that some people feel maybe that The Book of Mormon is very anti-Mormon, and while it is… — I don’t know if I would say it is pro-Mormon, because they certainly point out some of the stranger things that Mormons believe, like God has his own planet, there is a beautiful little thing that happens when they are telling the story in All American Prophet of Joseph Smith.
So, an angel tells him to go dig up golden plates in his backyard, and he digs them up, and the Angel Moroni says, “These golden plates are our New Testament, and you have to write them down, but you cannot show them to anyone.” And Joseph Smith says, “But then no one will believe me.” And the angel says, “Yeah, but that is kind of what God is going for.”
And then they go through this whole song, and then Joseph Smith is shot by an angry mob, and as he is dying he is talking to God, and Heaven, and he just says, “Why did you let me die? You never let me show the golden tablets to anyone…”
John: [humming the score]
Craig: Yeah, “You never let me show the golden tablets to anyone. Now they will have no reason to believe in me. They will have to believe just ’cause.”
Craig: And then there is a nice pause and he goes, “Oh, I guess that is what you were going for.”
John: “Going for.”
Craig: And it is a nice little discovery of the purpose of faith at the very end, and then he dies. It really is… — And I also would say for screenwriters, if you look at how much information and expository value there is in Hello, which is the opening number of The Book of Mormon, it is a great lesson for how to get information across.
For instance, Josh Gad’s character in The Book of Mormon has a problem with making things up. And right there in the middle of Hello, before we even know who he is or what he is doing, in the middle of a joke the church elder in charge of him says, “No, no, no. You are making things up, again.”
And that one little word, “Again,” has so much expository value.
Craig: Oh, okay. He always makes things up. Interesting. Yeah, great musical. Awesome stuff. Everyone should get it. Everyone.
John: Everyone should do it.
John: And you have seen the show, too? You are not just basing it on the…
Craig: No. No!
John: Oh my god! I can’t believe you haven’t seen it yet. Here’s the thing: part of the reason why I think I don’t like Spooky Mormon Hell Dream so much is it is a really busy number, but to me it is not the best staging of all the numbers. I am criticizing something that I think is really amazing, but of all the pieces and parts and stuff, that is the one that felt just the most chaotic to me.
So, I picture it when I hear it…
Craig: I got it. This is another reason I am so impressed with the musical, even though I haven’t seen it on stage yet, is because I feel like they did such a great job of telling the story through the songs, I know the story… — I bet I know the 85% version of what this show is just from the storytelling in the music. So, when I finally see it at the Pantages, I think it is coming here in September, it will be like slipping into an old pair of slippers.
John: That sounds good. So, with all of that happiness…
Craig: Let’s ruin it.
John: …we discussed.
Craig: Ruin it.
John: Michael asks, “My question concerns the often hopeless nature of writing.”
Craig: [laughs] “You turn it off, light a light switch.” [sings]
John: “I’m fine tuning a screenplay, writing a novel, and in the process of creating a comic. I work through thick and thin even if I absolutely don’t feel like it. As I write I look at the odds of receiving any interest for things that can often feel incredibly hopeless. Will I forever be stuck with my day job? Will I never be able to succeed as a writer? Will anyone actually ever care? I discard these doubts and continue trying, but it can often make for a miserable experience.”
Craig: Hmm. Okay, well, you know what? I won’t be particularly shattering about this. The answer, well, to the factual part of the question is sort of prospective part of it, which is “will any of this ever come to anything?” I don’t know. Maybe? Maybe not?
I mean, we all know the odds. They are long, but they are discrete. People do succeed. So, the real question is how do you handle the fact that there is this fear and doubt of failure. And the way you handle the fear and doubt of failure is, at least for me, here is my advice to you — two part advice.
Part number one: accept that you might fail. I was talking about this with another screenwriter friend of mine. And make your piece with that now. Don’t not make your piece with it because eventually that will harm your chances; literally the tightening up in fear of failure is going to make you a worse writer. So, make your piece with the possibility.
And then the other thing I always recommend, this is something I got from Dennis Palumbo, he is a former screenwriter and therapist, is the feelings that you have are normal, and natural — don’t assign logical meaning to them. If you feel like a failure, or if you feel like you are failing, it doesn’t mean you are. If you feel like this is all for naught, it doesn’t mean it is all for naught; it just means you feel that way.
So, just accept that the feeling is irrational, but real. Honor it. Respect it. But don’t over think it.
John: Yeah. I would say recognize what is under your control and what is not under your control. And failure is… — There’s really two things you are trying to address here. Will you fail to write something good? Well, that is under you control. Will you fail to be recognized for your good writing? That is less under your control.
The luxury of being a screenwriter is that no one can stop you, or any kind of writer — no one can stop you. You have full permission to write at any time. And that is remarkable. Because if you look at the other kind of professions, like an actor, well you can’t act unless somebody sort of lets you act; unless somebody invites you to act in their something, you are stuck, whereas a screenwriter can also write something new. And that is remarkable.
The challenge is that it is very hard to get a quantifiable gauge of how you are doing. And you can count how many pages you have written, but, like, “Are you a good writer, are you not a good writer?” Well, those are just two different people’s opinions. Versus, if you were playing a sport, it is like how many passes did you sink? That is something that is verifiable, and everyone can say, “He is a good basketball player.” No one can point to a person and say, “He’s a good writer,” and have everyone else agree. And that is just the nature of the profession you have chosen.
Craig: That is exactly right. And just accept it. And also know that you are far from alone. The percentage of writers that have experienced what you are experiencing is 100%. And that is up and down the chain. There is a wonderful thing if you look on the Internet. F. Scott Fitzgerald…no, I take it back, it was Steinbeck. Steinbeck had an editor that he worked with his whole career. And he would write him; they had this amazing correspondence.
And in one of the letters, Steinbeck basically talks about how he is pretty much every day just soaking in the fear that he is just no good. Steinbeck. You know? So, hey, if it is good enough for him, it is good enough for you.
John: I think so. So, our last question is a related thing. But, a little further down the assembly line. A reader named M asks, “When is the right time to call it quits? I have been working for the past six years to ‘break in’ to the screenwriting industry and have met with middling to mediocre results. I’m currently with my second manager. I have never had an agent. And other than receiving modest pay, non-union, for a few scripts that never got off the ground, I have never sold or optioned a screenplay.
I have always had a strong belief in my abilities as a writer, but the question comes up, ‘What am I doing?'”
Craig: Good question.
John: “It is appearing in the back of my mind with every word I have been typing lately into Final Draft. To shed a little bit of light on my situation, I currently have a 40-hour a week job. I also shoot and edit wedding videos on the side to make extra money. I’m not really in a situation now where I can give up either of those, and right now I am just tired and burned out from everything.
Screenwriting has always been my passion, but unfortunately I see that passion fading. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.”
Craig: Again, I sort of feel like this doesn’t have to be a mopey answer.
Craig: I feel like there is nothing wrong with saying, “That’s that.” There is nothing wrong with saying… — Listen, screenwriting is not the be all/end all of life. There are a lot of wonderful things to do in life. And the truth of the matter is that we have passions for things, but those passions are never as much fun as when they are engaged in something that brings us success.
And I have a great passion for baseball, but I’m no good at it. I mean I can’t play. [laughs] You know, I play a little, but not the way I wish I could. It would have been insane for me to keep on, and keep on, and keep on. Whereas with screenwriting, I get feedback that is encouraging, and feeds and renews the passion as I go on.
If you are starting to get burnt out to the place where you feel like, “You know what? I just, I don’t know; I just don’t feel it the way I used to anymore.” Well, that’s normal. You are not getting that kind of feedback encouragement that you would want. You are 40-years-old. You have a career. Maybe you have a family. Invest in a passion that rewards you.
And if screenwriting is not rewarding you, let it go.
John: I agree. I answered offline a similar question someone had written in. And it was a person who actually had some success. They had been staff on TV shows. But just were really contemplating just stopping, and saying, “That’s failure.”
And I was, like, I almost wanted to reframe it as it is not actually failure if you are transitioning from something that is no longer giving you professional satisfaction, no longer paying the bills, and is no longer interesting to you to something that is interesting to you and can pay rent. That’s probably a good thing.
And, so, just because this was your dream, it doesn’t mean that you can’t have a different dream that will take its place or enable you to go someplace new that you really want to go. It’s not the only way.
I also feel like a lot of times people get into screenwriting because they kind of really want to get into movies, and they have no idea how to direct a movie, or how to do any other stuff, and that just takes so much money and so much time, versus the luxury of writing is anyone can be a writer.
John: But they are not really writers. And so they are doing it because they want to sort of be in the movie business somehow. But they never really…
Craig: That’s a great point.
John: They aren’t really screenwriters. They would never consider themselves a writer naturally. They just want to be in the film industry.
Craig: There is no barrier to starting.
John: Exactly. And honestly, I know some writers who are kind of successful, who I could, if we are really being honest, that is true for them. They are not really much of writers, but they are pretty good about making movies. Or they are pretty good about sort of…
Craig: Producers. Or…
John: Yeah. They are really producers who can write well enough that they are writing movies. And they are having a career, but I don’t think it is their passion at all. I think if you could give them permission to never write again, they would never write again.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah. I think that is a great point. That people get into screenwriting because it seems like the path of least resistance. Curiously, it may be the path of most resistance. And that is saying something because you think, like, “God, it would be so much harder to become an actor.” But every movie has lots, and lots, and lots of actors. Every movie tends to have one to four screenwriters.
And we work on a lot of those movies, overlapping kind of. It is very difficult. And if it is not working out, I don’t think… — I don’t even think of it as failure.
Craig: To me, failure is like when I fail to do something that I could do. I could have written five pages today and I didn’t. I failed. That is different than, “I failed at being a professional singer. I just don’t think I am good enough to be a professional singer.” That is not a failure, it’s just the way it is.
Craig: You know, and I have got to say. There is a great essay out there that you should link to that Terry Rossio wrote years ago called, “Throw in the Towel.” And it is brutal, where he really goes after it. Because Terry and Ted Elliott ran the proto screenwriting website called Wordplayer. I think it is still there. I mean, the forum is powered on 1993 software. But, I guess at one point Terry just got fed up with the terrible, terrible scripts that people were sending him.
And he just wrote this really long thing about how you should throw in the towel and why. And then he kind of backed away from it at the end and said, “Well, if you can ignore all of that, then maybe you have a chance.” And I like that advice to some extent. But to another extent I sort of think, like, listen, I meet people and I just think, “Eh, it ain’t going to happen for you.”
John: Yeah. It goes back to, again, the quantitative versus qualitative judgment. Like, you are not going to get consistency of opinion about, “Is that a good basketball player?” Certainly. “Is that a good screenwriter?” Who knows? “Is that next script going to be great?” Who knows?
And, that is tough. That doesn’t mean that you need to stick it out forever. Especially if it sucks, don’t keep doing it.
Craig: Well, and that is why the stories of people who stick it out, and stick it out, and stick it out, and then finally you are discovered or make it are so dangerous, because they feed the dreams of so many incompetent people. And American Idol, part of the secret to their success was exposing that amazing phenomena of delusion.
You know, people say, “Well my friends all tell me I sound great.” God, you don’t.
John: You don’t.
Craig: I mean, my favorite phrase from American Idol is “Singing is not for you.” And I have met some people where I read their stuff and I just go, “Screenwriting is not for you.” You don’t have… — As Steve Martin said, “Some people have a way with words, and other people not have way.”
John: Here’s a question for you. If you are auditioning for American Idol, at what point is it most devastating to be cut? Is it most devastating to be cut at that big open call, or you made it through to the Vegas round, or you made it through and you didn’t make it down to the top?
Craig: I think the most devastating cut is the one where they split everybody into the four rooms, the two rooms make it through, but they didn’t really make it through. Only half of those people are going to make it through. And there is nothing you can even do about that. It is the weirdest thing that they pull.
So, it is the bit where you would go up the elevator to the room with the wooden floor. That is the worst, because, you didn’t even get a chance to change that. That was already in play when they said you are part of this good group, but not really. Only half of you are good. And that is brutal. That would be the worst.
John: Yeah. But you see all the tears that happen there, and you try to remind these kids, and really I am trying to remind these writers who are writing in is you got picked because you were one of the best singers they had, or one of the best writers they found. You got hired on to write a movie for somebody. That is amazing. No one else that you know, no one else back in Topeka that happened for.
And so, it is a setback when it doesn’t happen, but it doesn’t mean that you are a failure.
Craig: No, it doesn’t. Although we have to be realistic about something that writing screenplays professionally is akin to playing sports professionally. And there are amazing athletes who just aren’t amazing enough to be major league baseball players. And, at some point, you have got to be realistic about this.
If you are trying to be one of the best in the world, you are going to have to actually be one of the best in the world. And when everybody looks around in movies and goes, “Well that guy who writes that is a dope…”
Yeah, and he is one of the best in the world. So, you have got to beat that guy, you know?
John: Are we going to talk about Steve Koren and that whole article?
Craig: That was atrocious.
John: That was atrocious.
Craig: We should talk about it. That was gross.
John: We will link to it in the show notes. So, there is a screenwriter named Steve Koren who has written a bunch of the Adam Sandler comedies. And another screenwriter, who is not produced yet, but is… — Now I forget his name. He is the kid who is written about in the book…
Craig: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius.
John: A Heartbreaking Work. His last name is Eggers, so we will find his real name and figure out who he is. So, he wrote, the young version of the kid who was in this book, who has now grown up and now is a screenwriter wrote this article for Slate, I think, just excoriating Steve Koren’s work, and trying to start essentially a Kickstarter campaign…
Craig: “We have to stop Steve Koren!”
John: Exactly. “Let’s get him to stop writing.”
John: And it was such a weirdly misguided and just mean-spirited…
John: So, like, I don’t know Steve Koren. I have not seen his movies. I don’t really want to essentially see those movies. But to say that it is all Steve Koren’s fault that these movies exist is just ridiculous, and naive, and infantile.
Craig: Stupid. I mean, look: first of all, the writing credits are the writing credits, but other people work on movies. Second of all, the writer ultimately is not in charge of shooting that day’s work. And particularly when you working with big stars who control their work creatively, they are in control; and they will drift away and change the script.
Every screenwriter has had multiple examples of seeing their work on screen and thinking, “That’s actually not my work on screen. That is something else that I don’t like.”
John: Oh, yes. Yes.
Craig: So there is that whole thing. But even if every single movie that had Steve Koren’s name on it was a perfect reflection of what Steve Koren’s intention was, screw this guy for saying stop Steve Koren because you don’t like his movies. Guess what? You are not the only person out there. It is not all about you.
There is this thing called taste. And some people like different stuff. I don’t like Justin Bieber. Do you think I slap my daughter around because she does? She likes it. Does that make Justin Bieber stupid? No.
This whole thing of pop culture absolutism just blows my mind. Just blows my mind. That is why I always stick up for MacGruber. [laughs]
You know, it’s like, if it makes you laugh it is funny and you like it, and that is that. And it is so dumb. “Oh, let’s stop him.” Yeah, because that is what the world needs, to stop Steve Koren from writing, because that is the biggest problem we have right behind AIDS, and rape, and ball cancer.
John: I even want to step back to what you were saying. He didn’t direct these movies. There were other people involved. He didn’t start it. Even take Tyler Perry, who writes, and directs and stars in his movies. I don’t particularly want to see a Tyler Perry movie, but I am not going to try to stop all Tyler Perry movies from existing.
John: It is ultimately not a zero sum game. Yes, there is some degree to which by making those movies there are other movies that don’t get made. But Tyler Perry is not hurting you. He is not hurting anyone. And if people want to pay money to see those movies, God bless them.
Craig: Exactly. Here is the thing: I am not a churchy guy. Tyler Perry movies are churchy movies. If I were to say, “We have got to stop Tyler Perry,” it wouldn’t even be accurate. What I am really saying is we have to stop his audience. And what this guy really should have said, if he were to be accurate to his own stupidity is, “We have to stop the waves of humanity that have gone on to see Steve Koren films. Or who chose not to…” whatever, or, “the small chunks of humanity that went to go see Steve Koren films.” That is really what this is about. It is not anger at Steve Koren. It is resentment at an audience for liking something that you think is stupid.
Well, tough. Dammit.
John: Well said.
John: On a similar note, I would say genres of movies — I watch all of the Sturm und Drang about the Battleship trailer, and about the Battleship movie. The Battleship movie doesn’t look great to movie, but I look at this movie as, like, “Wait, you really like Transformers and now you are going to go crazy about how bad Battleship looks?”
I don’t understand you people. There is not a fundamental difference between those two. So, if people are going to pay money to go see the Transformers movie, but they won’t pay money to go see the Battleship movie, I don’t get it.
Craig: Anybody who goes on the Internet months before a movie comes out, and announces based on the trailer why they have made a principled decision not to buy a ticket to that movie is a moron. They are a moron. And, also probably have some spectrum disorder. Because that is ridiculous.
It is not something to get worked up about. It is entertainment. My whole thing is, when I love a movie, I really, really love it. If I don’t like a movie, it’s over. It’s gone. I forget about it. It feels like people have gone backwards on this whole thing where they just enjoy hating a particular movie. So, like the whole Jack and Jill phenomenon, it was like there was just an orgy of hatred for this thing for even existing. But then the movies that they really love they kind of privately talk about it with their friends. It is so strange to me.
Who cares about Jack and Jill? Just let it be.
John: Rather than complain about it, why don’t you just go see Drive again and you are going to be happy.
Craig: Well, and that is the thing, and then they don’t. And by the way, Battleship will have a huge opening.
And I remember going to see… It’s funny, I remember going to see Transformers. And I just didn’t like it. I just didn’t like the movie. I didn’t like the story at all. I was wowed by the Michael Bay action, but I thought the story was just boring, and oftentimes made no sense, and just didn’t satisfy me. So I didn’t go back for the second two. But I don’t talk about it, because it doesn’t matter.
It just doesn’t matter. Never once have I ever thought, “What is wrong with America that they keep seeing Transformer movies?” No. I just don’t care! What is wrong with that, Eggers? Jerk.
John: Yeah. If you want better movies, buy tickets for better movies, and pay for them, and more of those movies get made.
Craig: And by the way, I will tell you what: even if they don’t make more of those movies, just go see the movies you like. [laughs]
You just go see the ones you like, and then when you see the one coming down the line that doesn’t match your taste, just ignore it.
Craig: I don’t go and eat mayonnaise in restaurants, because I hate mayonnaise. I don’t rail against Americans who love mayonnaise. I don’t make snarky comments about the mayonnaise industry. I don’t sit down and have another mayonnaise sandwich and then say, “Oh my God.”
John: To be fair, you do complain about mayonnaise pretty much constantly when we are not on the air, but at least you are not podcasting about your hatred of mayonnaise.
Craig: Well, I actually do have another podcast about that, that I do with another guy. It’s just a different guy.
Craig: Yeah. He’s a lot like you, though. He is very similar. But, what is wrong with these people? Don’t they have anything better to do? This guy is a screenwriter. Hey dude, how about this: you go ahead and write a script, and get it made, and go through that process, and then you will have earned the right to get up on your chair and go on about the great criminal Steve Koren who really deserves your wrath.
There is a target well-deserving of your ire. Until that time, you are just a blogger.
Craig: Piss off.
Craig: Oh, I feel good after that.
John: I feel better. It’s good. We got a lot off our chest there.
Craig: Oh my God. I want Steve Koren to come on our podcast. I want to…
John: Yeah. Matt Selman has volunteered to be on our podcast. And so we are talking about ways we can involve other writers on it. It has just been a two-man show so far, so we are thinking about doing that. We are thinking about doing a live show. There’s a lot of possibilities in the air.
Craig: I think Selman would be great. That would be fun to get him on. We could talk about The Simpsons.
John: I love The Simpsons so much.
Craig: I know. He is a cool guy. And, by the way, neither one of us, I’m speaking for you; neither one of us knows Steve Koren. I’ve never met the guy in my life. I’m just sticking up for him just on principle.
John: Yeah. Principle totally.
Craig: Yeah. The hell?!
John: The hell.
Craig: I know. In fact, don’t link to this guy’s thing. I don’t even want to give credit to him. People can Google it on their own.
John: Okay. There will be no link. Craig has declared there be no link.
Craig: No link! I have autocratically decided there will be no link.
John: Craig, thank you for another fun podcast.
Craig: Thank you, John. We will see you next time.
John: All right. Bye.