The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hola y buenos días. Soy John August.
Craig Mazin: Soy Craig Mazin.
John: Este es Scriptnotes, un podcast sobre la escritura cinematográfica y las cosas que se interesan los guionistas. ¿Cómo estás, Craig?
Craig: Bien. ¿Y tú?
John: Sorry, I had it set to Spanish. We’re good to go now.
Craig: Okay, great.
John: Craig, what does nepotism mean to you?
Craig: Nepotism means that favoritism, undue favoritism is shown to a familial relative.
John: When I think of nepotism I think of the boss who promotes his inept nephew up to a position that he should not be in, and he only has that job because his father is the boss.
Craig: Like Scooter from the Muppets.
John: Like Scooter from the Muppets.
Craig: Well Scooter turned out to be very good at his job, but I think he got it through nepotism.
John: Yeah. That’s fair. So, what nepotism isn’t is being related to somebody famous.
Craig: That’s right.
John: So, the reason I bring this up, and I sort of hesitate to bring this up because we are recording this on a Wednesday and this podcast will air on a Tuesday, so there is a gap of a week here. So by the time we actually bring it up, the zeitgeist may have moved far beyond this one little thing, but it enraged me so much that I am bringing it up.
So, the show Girls on HBO, I saw on Facebook somebody had done up a poster of like the one sheet that looked like Girls but they changed the word Girls to Nepotism. And then they had these little tags for each of the young actresses in the show, saying like their name and sort of which famous person they are related to, with the not-at-all subtle implication that… — Well it’s not even really implication. It’s pointing out that these women are related and saying nepotism, but it didn’t actually make sense to me, and it sort of enraged me because it’s as if these young women are only in the show because they are related to somebody famous, and not because they are talented actresses.
Or that somehow being related to somebody famous is the reason why you are going to be cast in the show.
Craig: Yeah, that was sort of, David Mamet’s daughter and Brian Williams’s daughter. And the strangest one was the daughter of the drummer of Bad Company. [laughs]
John: Because you know that the minute she walked into the room, they said like, “Well, oh my god, she doesn’t need to do an audition. Her dad was the drummer to Bad Company, so of course she has to be the person.”
Craig: I mean, the fact that they don’t know his name sort of undermines their point. [laughs] Doesn’t it? I mean, how famous is he? He doesn’t even get a name to them; he’s just the “drummer from Bad Company,” a band that last recorded I think in the early ’90s.
John: So, really, the actual incident at this point I feel is well passed us, and so that one silly Infographic and whatever — it moves on. But I think the idea of nepotism is sort of poisoning the well. And so I just want to talk a little bit about that, because the idea that this show is on the air, or that these women are cast in the show because of who they are related to I think is a destructive and bad idea. Because it implies that it is not through hard work that someone succeeds; it is through being related to somebody famous that someone succeeds.
And it oversells the importance of being born into the right family, and undersells the importance of hard work.
Craig: It’s kind of like an extension of what we talked about last time with this whole trust fund nonsense.
John: The Jamie Vanderbilt thing. And, of course, your wealth and your history from those illustrious public school teachers who are…
Craig: Right. My trust fund from my public school teacher parents. I mean, it’s the same spirit. All of it comes from a resentment. “I am not making it, and it is only because either my parents weren’t rich, or my parents weren’t famous.”
And I have to say, look, slightly different case. I mean, there is a difference between nepotism and what we were talking about last time, which was this whole trust fund thing. Money isn’t going to make you a good writer. And I don’t think your parent’s money is necessarily going to open any doors for you as a screenwriter.
It is a different story of nepotism — there is nepotism, it does exist. I do believe that if your mom or dad are well placed in the business that you will have opportunities that other people wouldn’t. I mean if my son, who is now ten, grows up and wants to be a screenwriter, I can get him read. And that’s more than the average guy sitting in Indiana can say. So, yeah, that’s real.
John: You look at Anne Rice’s son who has become a novelist. Or you look at Stephen King’s son who has become a writer. Ultimately they are going to be judged on their writing, but they had opportunities and access that they wouldn’t have otherwise had with a different name.
Craig: That’s right. And I always think about baseball, because I’m a big baseball fan. And three of the greatest hitters that I have seen play are Ken Griffey, Jr., Barry Bonds, and Prince Fielder. All of their dads played baseball. It’s obvious, I think, at first blush that those three kids had more opportunities when they were young than the average kid did, and certainly they had more access to scouts and to attention than the average kid did.
However, they were also — and they are also — really, really, really good. And so what’s interesting about nepotism is that it does sometimes create unfair opportunities, but also when we talk about talent, the whole point of talent is that you don’t learn talent. You’re not taught talent. You have it; that means it’s innate. And on some level there is something neurological going on. If it is music, or literature, or writing, or visual arts, these things are controlled somewhat by the brain. The brain is a function of your genetics. Genetics matters.
It’s not determinative, but it does seem — like it’s hard to discount the fact that a great writer just might pass along some useful genes to a child.
John: Yeah. Beyond genes I would also say that a great writer might pass along the chance to see the writer actually doing his or her work.
John: And so if your mother is a famous novelist, you were going to see your mother working day in and day out at a computer, typing up this novel, and you are going to see what that work is. You are going to see the editing; you are going to see what the whole process is. That is going to be an advantage.
But in many ways I think what was frustrating to me about this image or this idea that it is because of who these people’s parents were, well, I’m a product of my parents at least to the same degree. I had supportive parents. God bless them. And I think having supportive parents is a much bigger asset than having rich, or famous, or well-known, or well-connected parents.
Craig: I agree with you. I think we live in a time of resentment. I think we are in the middle of a time of resentment. And that’s normal. This is a bad economy and people are suffering. And it is good fertile soil for resentment. But anyone who makes a movie or a television show knows, particularly a television show where you are going to be — you are not casting an episode, you are casting all episodes.
The thought that you would poison your show with somebody because their daddy was somebody is insane and inane. I mean, I don’t know. I haven’t watched the show. Obviously you do, and you like it. I haven’t seen it yet. But they don’t cast David Mamet’s daughter because they think David Mamet is going to come in and do some polishes on the script to make it great, and they are just suffering her.
They cast her because they really liked her. This happens. It’s not the end of the world. Certainly being the daughter of the drummer of Bad Company affords no benefit to the show. The fact that the creator and star of the show’s parents were artists, is it shocking that artists had a kid that was artistic? I mean, really.
And then Brian Williams, who is not an artist, has a daughter who is on the show, and she is objectively beautiful.
John: She is objectively beautiful.
Craig: And so then, again, it’s like, “Oh my god, a beautiful person is on TV. Stop the presses.” I mean, really?! That’s what? It’s just dumb. And it’s just pointless resentment and I don’t get it. I don’t get it.
Craig: Look, I’m taking umbrage. Somebody on Twitter said, “Every podcast should be called Craig Mazin takes umbrage at something.” And that is absolutely true.
Craig: My natural state is umbrage. And I just took some.
John: Well let’s get on to some questions.
John: Nick in LA writes in with a question. “Some management companies refuse to send out writer’s scripts. One person writes about a particularly notorious case, in this instance…” I think it actually came from DoneDealPro that he was first talking about this.
“A well known management company apparently works this way. The sign tons of writers and get them all specing new ideas or rewriting scripts that they think have promise. If one out of twenty pan out, great, they take it out. The rest, the script never goes out, the manager tries to convince the writer to write a new spec. If the writer puts up too much of a fuss, oh well, there are ten more writers in the stable.”
And this is the idea of almost like a spec farm.
John: So this is a management company that is signing writers who are probably unproduced and having them work on a bunch of stuff, trying to get the best of that stuff and sending that out. The management company in success gets a percentage of that sale, or becomes attached as a producer to that project.
I’d never heard of this term “spec farms.” It sort of disgusts me.
John: But since this is new to me, I don’t know have specific advice to not being stuck in that management spec farm. But I think it leads to a better overall discussion of what do you do when you think your script is ready to go out on the town, and the people who are representing you don’t think it is ready to go out on the town, which is a case that happens to ever writer at every stage of his career.
Craig: I mean, I do think that even in this specific case here of the spec farms, there is some advice to give, and that is avoid them, because any management company that behaves like this isn’t a real management company that anyone gives a damn about.
There are only a few management companies that have any credibility whose imprimatur conveys some sort of legitimacy. And it’s none of them. It’s none of these so-called spec farms. I mean, that’s atrocious behavior. Part of the problem with the whole management business is that it is essentially unregulated agenting. Agents are regulated by the state. They have to be licensed by the state. They cannot produce material. There is a barrier, even a mild barrier for entry.
A manager is somebody that prints up a business card and writes the word manager under their name. And it is the most exploitative aspect of our business, I think. That, to me, low rent managers are where writers get hurt the most. And I know that the managers will say, “Incorrect. We’re the only ones willing to take a chance on these people.”
It’s no chance. You are not taking any chance on anybody. What, are you taking a chance on somebody by putting a stamp on an envelope? Get out of here. I’m taking umbrage again. [laughs]. But my point is I would avoid any management company that isn’t a real management company, or whose manager doesn’t represent real clients, and who seems to be in kind of a bulk business. It’s grotesque, to me.
John: Here’s my criteria for whether a manager is a real manager or somebody who is portraying themselves as a manager but isn’t somebody you should be in business with: Has this person produced any movies or TV shows recently? There are managers who have credits that are from ten years ago, but haven’t done anything meaningful in the last five or ten years. Those are not people you really want to be working with.
You need to figure out who their other clients are, and being able to talk to some of their other clients. You don’t sign with one of these companies unless you have talked to another client. And if they are not willing to let you talk to one of their other clients, they are probably not the right place to be doing business with.
Craig: I agree.
John: I know that a lot of times it is like, “Well, beggars can’t be choosers.” It’s like the only person who seems interested in you. It’s a fairly easily annulled marriage, but it is sort of a marriage. This person is going to be speaking on your behalf and you are going to be talking to them on the phone all the time. Don’t say yes to the first guy who proposes. That’s just not…
Craig: Yeah. I’m going to say something that may lead us down a dispiriting path, but it’s really important, I think.
You are not a beggar if your script is good. You are a chooser. If your script is good it will be noticed and it will be noticed by legitimate people, and you will be afforded some choices. If your script is bad, and yes, some of you have bad scripts, what ends up happening is there are these lint traps out there who just gather the substandard material and attempt to peddle it off for the value of the idea, so that better writers can come and rewrite it, but the manager accrues the benefit when the movie gets made, not the original writer. But it’s all a very cynical arrangement. It’s a meat market.
It is a marriage of the mediocre. Mediocre managers looking for mediocre writers to push mediocre material in the hopes of essentially profiting from the literary equivalent of junk bonds.
And if you believe that your script is good, you have to get out of the mindset that you are a beggar, because you are not.
John: Now let’s talk to the more general case, which is not necessarily working for one of these terrible management companies, but every screenwriter is going to be at a place with a project that says, “I think we are done here for now. I think we are ready to show this to other people.” This could be a spec that you are taking out on the town, or it could be, “I think we are ready to go out and look for a director.” And the other decision maker, or decision makers say, “No, let’s hold back a little bit. Let’s do a little bit more work.” That is a frustrating situation that you will never fully move on from in your career.
And so this will happen, this has happened on several projects I have been involved with over… — Some of which we are still debating do we take it out to people, do we not take it out to people? At some point you have to draw a line and say, “I am not going to be doing anymore work until we have some progress on going out to other people,” because you can rewrite something for forever.
John: And you just end up in this trap. So, how do you manage this conversation? I will start, but you may have some different perspectives.
Craig: Go for it.
John: First you tell your reps what you feel like. “I cannot rewrite this anymore. We have to go out and we have to get somebody else onboard.” And you get their support on this. And if they don’t support you on this, well then you have rep problems. But you have to get their support on this.
And then you make it clear that whatever the next batch of work is, you listen to them about what the next batch of work is, and you may agree, you may disagree, but you say like, “I don’t think we can do this next thing of work until either we go out to this list of directors,” or like, “let’s make this list of directors.” Or, “We need to take this out on the town because right now we are trying to write this to one imaginary buyer rather than sort of the people who actually may make this movie.
Craig: Yeah. This comes up all the time, and it comes up in every level. The first question I try and ask is, “Whose opinion do I trust more, mine or theirs?” And it is not always mine. There are producers who really do understand what is going to attract certain directors or certain actors. Oftentimes they have worked with those directors or actors before.
I’m thinking of, for instance, like Michael and Carla Shamberg and Stacey Sher. They have been producing for a long time. They know what is going to theoretically attract and what is not going to attract. And if they say, “Okay, you know, we need another pass,” I believe it. And if they say, “No, this is good enough,” I believe that too.
There is a negotiation that has to go on there where you are not just talking about what makes the best screenplay, but also what gets you close enough to the whole.
Now, the important thing to understand is everybody reacts differently to a screenplay. There are producers, and I call them just like — I think of them as just Nervous Nellies — who are trying to basically make the movie on the paper the way they see it. And suddenly you realize they are not actually producing at all. They are kind of shadow directing on paper, which is a fun game for them, and I understand that this is a very high stakes poker thing for them because they are not going to get paid if the movie doesn’t get made, whereas you will get paid if the movie sells.
But the truth is, that kind of picayune stuff gets blown out of the water the second somebody reads it and says, “I really like this. I see a whole bunch of different things I want to do with this.” And you realize, boy, you would have seen that five months ago. You would have seen that a year ago. And more to the point, I wouldn’t have ever stopped, looked at my screen and said, “I’m not really sure what I am doing anymore.”
If you get to that place where you feel lost or you are straying from your goal, or what you believe in, it’s done. Stop.
John: A lot of times what this hold up is is that there is some bigger decision maker they need to actually turn it into, and they don’t feel confident turning it into that decision maker. It could be the studio chief. It could be the head producer at the company. They are nervous to turn it in. And it may have actually nothing to do with your project. It may be their own insecurity about like how they are holding onto their job, or this other project which is going awry, or something that they know about that person’s personal life that makes it a really bad time for them to read it.
To a certain degree, you can give them some latitude there. If they say, “This is going to be a bad weekend to give it to him because of this reason,” trust that. But not every weekend can be a bad weekend. At some point they actually have to do their job. And people have to read the script and say what they are ready to do and what they are not going to do.
I always get nervous if people are unwilling to make a director’s list at all. That means they are not thinking about actually making the movie. They are only thinking about this stuff on the page.
Craig: Well, and this is a conversation that is useful to have at the very beginning of a relationship with a producer. Obviously they are interested in something, and the fact that they were attracted to it means other people will be attracted to it before a single thing has been changed, and a single asterisk is put on the page.
So it is important to say, “Okay, look. You have things that you feel need to be done for this to be ‘ready.’ Let’s have a discussion about what those things are right now. And let us memorialize this discussion, because I don’t want to enter into Vietnam. I really do want to make this script better.”
And if they have ideas and it is so important to listen with an open mind to anyone, if their ideas have great value and will make the script better, and are of the sort that you would think, “Oh god, I would hate to send the script out without addressing that suggestion.” Then do them. But, by laying the table at the start and saying this is what we are going to do, and that is what you feel is necessary, you won’t end up in this wandering mission creep, which is the worst feeling.
And now, I think, it has happened to me at least twice or three times where I can smell it coming from a mile away, and I just don’t go down that path.
John: Yeah, there are producers who I will not work with or for because I know that it is going to be that situation; or that you are going to have spent months on a project, then they will go into the room and they will have broken the whole thing down into cards again.
John: And there is nothing more dispiriting than that. Like, “No, no, you have a full screenplay; you don’t need to go back down to index cards again.”
Craig: Everybody’s anxiety needs to be respected. And everybody’s anxiety needs to be indulged to a point, but then if the process becomes about this other person’s anxiety, it’s just destructive and counterproductive. And they are supposed to be producers, not counter-producers, so best to avoid.
John: The one person who gets a bit of a pass is the director who has just now come onto a project. Because what I have realized as I have sat down with directors who are coming into something that I have been working on for six months, eight months, and they have been on it for six days, is they are figuring out how to make the movie. And they are figuring out what the movie it is to them. So you have to be patient and let them explore what the movie is. And sometimes they will be trying to change things that they shouldn’t be trying to change, but they are trying to figure out how they are actually going to make the movie. And they don’t really know how the movie works. And so it may be a process where you are like literally just sitting down and flipping a page, and flipping a page, and talking them through how this movie works so that they understand what it is that you did so that if they are going to do something different they understand what the ramifications of that is.
But, at a certain point if they are not going to direct the movie you have to get them off the movie so someone else can direct the movie. And some movies become saddled with a director who is attached to five different things, and that is not helping anybody either.
Craig: No. Then it’s just like having another producer. I mean, I love working with directors when I know we are making the movie. I do that with Todd Phillips. I just did with Seth Gordon. And I feel like, “Okay, now we are really progressing towards a start date.” Everybody has enormous interest on resolution as opposed to kind of a wandering process.
But I do know — you essentially pointed this out — that if I come in and I am asked to rewrite a script, a lot of times I have to absorb it and run it through my own head and spit it back out to do my job. There are going to be times when by the second draft I go, “You know what? The stuff that was before me was better than what I just did. But I needed to do it to get there.” And so I give the director the same latitude, because sometimes they will come around and say, “You know what? I get it now why you had it that way I just needed to arrive there naturally on my own so when the day came I understood what I was doing and I felt married to the material myself internally.”
Because we write a script, and in our minds we see everything. They read a script — it’s just words. And they are trying to build it fresh. So you have to let them build it.
John: You have to remember that as the screenwriter you are the only person who has already seen the movie.
John: One thing I will say if you are in a situation where you have had a director on board who has gone through multiple drafts, and you are replacing that director, and suddenly there is an opportunity to get a new director on board: Take a few days and make a “best of” draft, because probably the best version of the script is not the one that he left. It is some new version that incorporates the best of those ideas, and the best of what was there before. And I found often those “best of” drafts are really genuine progress, because it is all the stuff you learned with that director and all the stuff that was better before that director came on board.
Craig: Yeah. I happily haven’t faced that too frequently.
John: I’ve faced it too frequently. [laughs]
John: Next question. Clint asks, “I got notes back on a screenplay I wrote with a partner. One common criticism beyond ‘we are sick of zombies/zombies suck’ is that we introduce too many characters in the first two pages. The screenplay opens with a parade scene as a number of people march off to fight in the crusade. We were aware that naming so many people at the beginning might be an issue, but our rationale was that seeing it onscreen would be easier to follow, though reading it on page might be a little confusing.
“As the camera lingers for a few seconds on each person, if you were to think, ‘Okay, this person may be important later on.’ How would a more artful writer…” An artful writer.
John: “…handle such a scene?”
Craig: Hmm. How many characters are we talking about? Five? Ten?
John: He doesn’t say.
Craig: A little tricky. What would you do?
John: I would establish the parade, but I wouldn’t try to name the individual characters. And even if you know sort of who those people are who are going to be in the scene, for the first — just for the read — you cannot break those people out because the reader has limited buffers for holding character’s names, and holding character details. And you can’t shoot too many of us all at once.
You have to be very selective. And you have to be able to give enough meat to who that person is so that we can remember them. If you are introducing a character’s name as part of a parade, we are not going to be able to see them do anything that is going to help us remember who they are, or what their name is, or what was different about them than all of the other people who marching along in uniform.
So I say you have maybe two people you can single out, maybe three, but don’t try to do more than that.
Craig: Yeah. My suggestion is don’t introduce your characters in a parade scene. It seems like a really weird way to introduce characters. Introducing characters is such an important thing to do. The first time we see somebody tells us so much about the intention of the storyteller.
And to just see them walking along seems a little odd. Maybe if you wanted to zero in on one of them, you could do that. Sort of see 100 men marching in unison. All of them are alike, but the camera finds so-and-so. If I were directing I am not sure I would sort of introduce characters in that way. It almost seems sort of like an old TV movie style way of introducing people under credits or something like that. I just think it is a bad idea for introductions.
John: If you have like the one soldier who is trying to get his boot on and can’t get his boot on, and is having to race to catch up with the rest of the group, if you have the other soldier who like falls out of step with everybody else, or the… — Honestly, it’s the one who doesn’t fit in with everybody else is the one we are going to remember. And that’s a crucial thing, too.
John: If you were the kind of movie that had a voice over, then you might be able to land some specific details on individual people as we are panning across them. But just the camera slowing down and giving us a little bit of a linger on them is not going to help us that much, particularly if the guys, presumably if it is the crusade, the guys are going to kind of look the same anyway. So we are going to have a hard time knowing anything special about those people.
Craig: Yeah. The whole point of a parade is that it is a leveler. And one must presume that you are not going to have your cast of eight characters, or even if it is five characters, that they are going to be Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise. It’s going to be people that we might not now as actors, at which point we will just see guys.
Craig: Or girls. So, I think the problem is frankly the way you are introducing your characters is a problem.
John: Introduce your characters with some specific details, both things that are for the reader and things that are going to be for the audience. So, they are doing something, they are saying something, they are establishing themselves as being worthy of specific attention in this whole world.
You know, it’s a grocery store, and you have clerks and you have customers. Well, that’s great, but be specific about who this one person is and why we are seeing them at this particular moment versus any other point during that day.
Craig: Yeah. The whole point is that you are instructing the audience to notice something. Therefore it must be notable, especially when you are introducing a character, and that point of introduction has to be pregnant with specificity and intention. People just marching is not specific or intentional. So you have to really think about that.
John: Really the writer is creating the spotlight. If this were on a stage you would shine a direct spotlight on that person, and that would say that this person is important. This is who we are going to pay attention to right now.
You have to create in writing a spotlight that is going to shine on them for that moment, so you know out of all the people who live in Animal House, this is the one we are going to pay attention to right now.
Craig: Yeah. That’s why in ensemble movies you usually meet people sequentially, not at the same time. You meet somebody here, then you meet somebody here, then you meet somebody here. You see it in comedies all the time. Like the kind of the big institutional comedies that were around a lot in the ’80s, say like Police Academy, for instance.
John: Or Revenge of the Nerds.
Craig: Yeah. You would sort of get little vignettes where you would meet this person, learn something about them. Then you would go to a new place, meet them, learn something about them. And frankly, even though it seems hokey, in big ensemble dramas it usually works that way as well. It is just done somewhat more elegantly and with less goofiness.
But you don’t want to introduce people in a bland way, in a crowd. It’s weird.
John: And if for some reason you did need to establish that there was a crowd and they were in this crowd, you don’t have to single them out the first time they are in this crowd. Like let’s say you are at a concert, and everyone is at this concert; they are in the crowd of this concert. Just give us the crowd and then give us the individuals in a smaller situation, a smaller grouping, so that we can actually pay attention to them. Don’t try to introduce them as part of the giant…
John: Don’t introduce important characters in a wide shot.
Craig: This is a good question because it sort of goes to a simple truth. If something is hard to understand or follow on the page, it will likely be hard to understand and follow in the movie. It is not something you fix with formatting or tricks. It is something you actually fix with writing, if that makes sense.
John: It does. Third question. Jim writes, “My writing partner and I just did far better than we could have expected or hoped to at a script contest.” Well, congrats Jim.
John: “We entered our first ever spec on a whim, just hoping for constructive criticism, but managed a place. We were shocked but ecstatic. The prize package included an email query blast that along with our own queries landed us some reads that have also pleasantly surprised us. That’s the good news.
“The less good news is we seem to be getting more interest from production companies than we are from management entities or agents. And when the production companies find out that we don’t have representation, the general response is, ‘We are interested, but we will need you to submit something through the proper channels for legal reason.’ And while I understand that completely, it’s still immeasurably frustrating.
“We are jammed in the middle of a Catch 22.” Eh, and a mixed metaphor. [laughs]
John: “Until we find reps, we are human risks, and our specs are radioactive from a legal standpoint. I have no idea what we are supposed to do now.”
Craig: I mean, maybe I am just naïve, but if the production companies are interested in the material, and have already looked at some amount of it that makes them interested, wouldn’t the natural response to their objection be, “Great. Do you work with managers or agents that you like, that you are fond of, that you could make an introduction so that we can then submit it to you so you can benefit from the work we have done?”
John: So you are suggesting that Jim write back to the production company…
Craig: Yeah. Great.
John: Great. I hope that would work. I can already hear a lot of listeners saying, “That doesn’t actually work. They won’t actually do that.”
Craig: If it doesn’t work, and they literally won’t take the time to email a manager or producer or agent and say, “Listen, we are interested in this script where we can’t accept it. Would you be interested in hip-pocketing these people or taking a look at it,” then really they are not interested. If you want to read something, if you are interested in material and you are not willing to do that, you are not really interested and this is a polite rejection.
John: It’s very possible that a lot of what we are seeing here is a polite rejection. I would say that even — let’s back up and say the reason why people have the blanket policy, like “we don’t accept submissions from unrepresented writers” is because they are worried about crazy people suing them, or crazy people just becoming a nightmare problem.
John: And that is kind of fair and reasonable. But what will sometimes happen is the company itself won’t accept the stuff, but if there is a junior exec at that company who really wants to read something, he will just ask for it on his own and he will read it on his own. And then he will look like a hero if he finds something that’s great.
So, I would say that’s a possibility as well. The other thing I think is sort of new in this new age is if you have a great script that has won this attention, I would put the first 30 pages up online so people can read it. And that is sort of a zero-risk way for someone to just take a look through something. And if they don’t like it, they don’t like it. If they want to read more, they will ask for more, and that’s great, too.
Famously, I think Diablo Cody was found in that kind of way. She was found through her online writing.
John: There’s other ways more so than ever that you can get that to happen.
Craig: Yes. The famous Robotard 8000 did that as well. And that was in fact…
John: Tell us more about the Robotard, because I don’t even know the full back story on Robotard.
Craig: The Robotard 8000 is either a dangerous psychotic robot that writes some of the most disturbing screenplay material known to man, or is two gentlemen [laughs] who write under the pseudonym the “Robotard 8000,” and who are working screenwriters and work both in features and in television.
They showed me this script they wrote called Balls Out and I thought it was hysterical, and smart, and inspired, and absolutely unproduceable and unpurchaseable for a thousand reasons. And I told them, “Put it online.” And they said, “Why would we put it online? Because then people can steal it, and they will…”
I’m like, “It’s never going to get made. It doesn’t matter. You put it online because it is going to get noticed and you will be hired. No one is going to make this movie anyway.” [laughs]
And I feel, by the way, it’s funny — I feel that way about most specs because of the way Hollywood works right now. They are so disinclined to make original material, particularly the sort of original material that a lot of people do spec. But what they are always looking for are writers who can write the stuff they want to produce. So specs almost become like a sample industry as opposed to what it used to be in the ’80s and ’90s which was a selling industry.
So, you are absolutely right. You put the 30 pages up. And I know everyone is going to say, “What if my idea is stolen?!” which is the… — If you say, “What if my idea is stolen?” just understand you might as well say, “I’m an amateur.” That is the mating cry of the amateur. “What if my idea is stolen?”
Ideas aren’t ownable anyway. They are not property. It doesn’t matter. Forget about it. So, put your 30 pages up. It is the writing that matters. It’s your expression. It’s your voice, it’s not the idea.
If it is a great idea, hopefully they will buy it anyway. But, I love that idea of putting 30 pages up, or the whole damn thing, by the way.
John: Or the whole damn thing, honestly. There’s very little cost to it. And that way… — These people have these rules about not accepting unsolicited material because they just don’t want that stuff showing up in their mailbox, and then all the follow-up calls, and all the other craziness.
If it is something where it is just a link, they can click on it. They can not click on it. Nobody really knows if they clicked on it. They can read ten pages while they are on a boring conference call. And if they like it, well they will read the whole thing. Or if it is only 30 pages that you are putting up online, they will ask for the whole thing, and that’s great.
Craig: Yeah. And just, you know what, register it with the US Copyright Office. When you put it online, you are protected. It’s yours. You still have the copyright. Anyone can steal your “idea” because it is not stealing. It’s not yours. Ideas are not possessable. But no one can steal your unique expression in fixed form.
So, you are protected from everybody. So put it out of your mind and get your career going.
John: Back when Craig and I were starting, scripts were still a physical thing. It was still 120 pages, and it was actually a significant expense to make a copy of a script. Either you were working some place where you could use their Xerox machine, or there was one place that was on San Vicente and Pico that had really cheap script copying.
So you would borrow somebody’s script, and then you would make a copy and then give it back to them.
Craig: I remember that.
John: It was still a very physical kind of thing. And there was that paranoia of like, oh, scripts were kind of a currency, “I will trade you this, I will trade you that,” because actually it had some literal value because you actually had to spend some money to make them.
And there was always that question of: how much do you let other people see your stuff, or not see your stuff? Well, you don’t show stuff that is not ready to be seen by people. If it is really just, you know, if it is something you are still working on, that’s great. But at a certain point you just have to give up and give it to the world and hope it lands on the right desks.
And at the best points of my career I had no idea who was actually reading my stuff. And someone said, “Oh, I read that thing.” And I had no idea that that thing was circulating, but, “Good, I’m glad you enjoyed that thing.”
John: And now that it is all digital that’s even easier. And if I were in these people’s position, I would have taken those first things I wrote and put them up and let people see them if they wanted to see them.
Craig: Absolutely. That’s great advice. And by the way, what was going on with the Spanish in the beginning. Was there really a problem? Did we really have the Spanish switched on? I was talking in English. I don’t know what you were doing.
John: No, I just found a great intro that happened to be in Spanish for this podcast. And so I figured, oh, that’s going to be in Spanish, so let’s just start the podcast in Spanish.
Craig: I like it. By the way…
John: I may cut this explanation out, so just to not spoil the joke.
Craig: Oh, yes, but the joke has already happened so I’m okay.
John: The joke’s already happened.
Craig: I believe in like the Penn & Teller school of magic. Do a trick, ooh, aah, and then explain it because it’s fun.
John: Yes, this trick is done with wires.
Craig: Ah, wires. And surely we have some Spanish speaking podcast listeners among the…how many people listening to this, John?
John: I think it was half a million. No, it wasn’t half a million.
Craig: But it was close.
John: It was a big number.
Craig: Are we allowed to say it?
John: I don’t know that we should say it. I think we are allowed to say it. There’s no rules.
Craig: It’s just weird if we say it?
John: I think it’s just weird if we say it. Because to me, right now, we can go, “Wow, that’s a huge number.”
John: But then someone is going to say, “Well, the Nerdist podcast has five times that, or 50 times the listenership.”
Craig: This doesn’t make me feel bad. I’m amazed that anybody listens to this. [laughs]
Craig: So, if the number is bigger than 10 people, I’m just so impressed.
John: Yeah. I’m still pretending that my mom doesn’t listen to it, but I think she probably does.
Craig: Your mom listens to it?
John: Yeah, because it is on the website, so she doesn’t need any special software or anything to listen to it.
Craig: Hey, I have a question then about your mom.
Craig: I’ve noticed, because obviously I want your mom to listen to a clean podcast, and I did check finally the iTunes listing of our podcast. Some of them are listed “clean” but a bunch aren’t. But I don’t think we are not clean.
John: So, it turns out the clean or not clean thing is a tick box we set when we are submitting the actual episode. They don’t check themselves. And so sometimes Stuart forgets to check it. So, again, it’s a Stuart problem.
Craig: Oh Stuart!
John: So I feel, and this is a valid thing to discuss: You and I decided that we were going to be a clean podcast, and that we would refrain from using the big words.
John: Just because we didn’t need them.
Craig: And because we are both Mormons.
John: Well that secretly, too. That’s a big factor.
Craig: Not a secret anymore.
John: Also, I have noticed that most podcasts, most technology podcasts end up talking about cars at some point. So I just bought a new car, so maybe close on a car topic. We just bought the Nissan Leaf. It’s great.
Craig: I have on pre-order the Tesla Model S.
John: Well this is going to be a great conversation because Tesla Model S people seem to love it as an idea. Here’s the reason why I am concerned about the Tesla.
Craig: Tell me.
John: That the company could go bankrupt in five years and then how are you going to check the car?
Craig: You can’t. That is an acknowledged roll of the dice. But, the one nice thing about Tesla compared to some of the other smaller independent electric companies like Fisker for instance, is that Tesla — and they don’t pay me, I swear — but Tesla sells their battery technology to Toyota, and I think maybe to Mercedes. So they actually have a revenue stream apart from the manufacture of their cars.
You’re right. I don’t even know if I am ever going to get this car. I put a $5,000 deposit down on it, and it is actually technically refundable unless the company goes belly up. But, I don’t know if I’ll ever get the car. I’m hoping I get the car. It seems like I will get the car.
And then, yes, I don’t know if the company will be around to fix it in five years. And it could just be a brick. But, I’m super excited about it anyway. I just feel that it is the only all-electric car I have looked at where I thought, “I like the way that car looks and I like the functionality they built into it.” It’s pretty amazing.
John: That’s great. I test drove the Leaf for a week before I went to New York for a month, and then it made no sense to buy the car right before going to New York. But now that I’m back, it’s good.
And you have to, at this point, plan a family — you have to have a family strategy for which car is going to be electric-only and which car can go a longer distance, which is basically the zombie apocalypse problem. What if you need to drive further than 100 miles from your house? You want a car that can go the distance.
Craig: Well, maybe you should get a Tesla Model S, because the Tesla Model S, the long extension model, goes 300 miles.
John: That’s a very long way.
Craig: 300 miles. Now, that’s probably 300 under optimal conditions, so let’s just knock it down and say it’s 250. I never drive 250 miles in a day. I mean, the only time I have ever done anything like that in years has been to go to Vegas, but I wouldn’t — all right, fine, I don’t take that car to Vegas. Although they actually do have a charging station, I think, in Barstow. So maybe I could do it.
John: Yeah. My range is 70 miles is optimal.
Craig: 70. Pah!
John: Which I very, very, very rarely would go further than. But on trips to LEGOLAND, that would be too far. So you have to have a car that can go to LEGOLAND.
Craig: That’s right.
John: That’s as far as we will ever go.
Craig: Yeah. I think that for the typical LA local driver, the Nissan Leaf makes a lot of sense. I just don’t like the way it looks.
John: I love the way it looks. It’s like a bizarre little bug.
Craig: Yeah, no, not for me. But that Model S…
Dude, put a link on.
John: I will put a link to both cars on so you can see.
Craig: So beautiful. It’s just really a beautiful looking car. I am not a paid promoter.
John: But you are willing to become a paid promoter if they were to offer you a bump up in the line?
Craig: I’m not saying no. [laughs]
John: All right, thank you, Craig.
Craig: Thank you, John.
John: Have a good week. Bye.