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 this is Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. How are you, Craig?
Craig: Fantastic, John. Lovely day today here in Southern California, at least where I am in Southern California.
John: Ah, location is everything. You are ensconced there in highly defensible La Cañada Flintridge area.
Craig: Well right now I’m in Pasadena, but yes, when I go home then I go to the highly defensible La Cañada Flintridge area where, as I pointed out to somebody just a day ago, I can flee into the mountains and disappear within minutes.
John: It’s a perfect choice for you there.
John: One of the plan ahead things we didn’t actually do for this podcast is figure out how we’re going to answer all the questions that came in. Because they kept coming in, but then I was in New York and I wasn’t really checking questions, and then we started talking about other things. And so, so many questions have backed up.
Craig: How many questions are we talking about?
John: A lot. So we’ll see how many we can get through today.
Craig: Can you make sure that at least one of them makes me angry? [laughs]
John: [laughs] I can guarantee it.
Craig: Oh, I’m so excited!
John: Woo-hoo! We’ll start with some easy follow-up ones. Micah has a follow-up question. “In episode 36 John talked about timers and how they fit into his workflow.” He says, “I’ve recently found timed writing in breaks to be quite helpful, and I’m experimenting with 10, 15, 20, 25 minute intervals, like the Pomodoro Technique,” which I’d never heard of, but I’ll link to it. It’s basically just setting a timer.
“I know it comes down to more of a personal preference kind of thing, but could you give us a breakdown on your typical work/break intervals? What’s your sweet spot?”
I have found that 20 minutes is about my sweet spot. So I’ll sit for 20 minutes, I know I can get through 20 minutes. If I’m doing really well I’ll sometimes just keep on writing, but 20 minutes is the minimum I’ll try to do. Like 10 minutes, I’m not really getting started on anything. 20 minutes I’ve at least gotten something done I find.
Craig: How structured of you.
John: Ah, I’m not always that structured, but it’s good. And Jane Espenson, whose name we often cite on this podcast, she has a thing called a Writing Sprint, which is like a 30-minute writing sprint. She’ll announce it on Twitter, like, “I’m doing a 30-minite writing sprint, everyone come join me; 30 minutes, no interruptions, just get stuff done.” And if that works for you, that’s great. That’s really the same idea.
Craig: Yeah. That’s more my thing. I just sort of finally just go nuts.
John: Here’s a question that’s really tailored to Craig Mazin. David asks…
Craig: I hope this is the one that makes me angry. [laughs]
John: No, it’s gonna make you delighted. David asks, “What’s the best way to break up with my manager?”
Craig: [laughs] I love this question!
John: “Should I wait until I have a new one first, or just do it? I understand Mr. Mazin is an expert in this field. I’d love some advice, and a new manager.”
Craig: I don’t know if I’m an expert in the field. I have often spoken of my joy of firing people. So, if you have an agent, and this person does not indicate, then you don’t need another manager at all, frankly. But if you like having a manager then, no; just fire your manager and then if you want another manager have your agent help you sit down and audition some new ones.
If you don’t have an agent and you only have a manager, then I guess I would probably then say, okay, let’s talk to your attorney. Because if your attorney works in the business, they also deal with managers all the time. And maybe they could sort of at least suss out that there might be some interest in you as a client.
But, I guess my larger point is this: if you want to fire your manager, you should fire your manager. Because having a bad manager that you want to fire isn’t doing you any good. It’s doing you less good than not having a manager, frankly, in my opinion. So, fire away. Fire at will.
John: I agree. See, they’re not controversial at all. I think he should fire his manager.
Craig: Yeah. Fire. Fire. Fire!
John: Zach asks, “When writing out of order,” this is really I guess more for me, “when writing out of order, how do you organize your saved files? Do you just save them as brief scene descriptions and throw them all in a folder? Is there some more organized technique to it?”
I just throw them in a folder with a very simple name. So, usually if I’m writing stuff out of order, it’s early in the process. So, rather than working in one big file I’m just writing individual scenes. I’m usually hand-writing those and Stuart, or my assistant at the time, is typing them up. I will name what that scene is. And so it will say Bank Robbery. And so at the top of every page I just write Bank Robbery and Stuart knows to save that file as Bank Robbery. And it just sits in a folder.
I will avoid pasting all of those individual little files together for as long as I can stand to, so I don’t try to edit the whole thing for a long time — I build up a critical mass. And eventually I’ll go through, and it’s actually a really joyous day to put all those little pieces together and see what’s there like, ah, there’s my new script.
Craig: [sings] Oh happy day.
John: Sunshine happy days.
Craig: [sings] Oh happy day. I just love the idea that it was joy. That you’re putting your files together and it’s like Christmas for you and there I am like a jerk with one file.
John: Just one file.
Craig: One file. The whole time.
John: It’s kind of sad. The one thing I will say is that recently I had to go back through and look for my handwritten versions of things, and one of the nice things as technology has progressed is I used to handwrite these things and fax them to my assistant. And like there wasn’t — there was like a paper copy of the fax, but it wasn’t especially useful. And I would keep them in my notebooks, but I was like, “Why am I keeping this?”
Now, because I’m either taking photos of it and sending it through, or I would be faxing it to a sort of online account, there’s like a digital copy of all those handwritten things. So if I need to refer back to something, or in this case there’s a book that’s gonna show sort of my writing process on something, and I can show, “Oh, these are my handwritten scribbled pages for this movie from years ago.”
Craig: Everything is saved.
John: Everything is saved.
Craig: Everything. We live in a world now where nothing is ever lost.
John: Question for Craig Mazin, I think. “Quick serious question: Why join the WGA? This is not a joke question. I’ve recently joined” — this is Tom who’s writing this — “I’ve recently joined the WGA, or actually was forced to join after selling a feature script.”
John: Yes. “And don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to have a band of writers watching out for one another. In general, writers are the world’s biggest pussies when it comes to defending themselves.”
Craig: Mm, yeah, that’s right.
John: Yeah. “But my question is much more basic than that. What’s in it for me? The welcome packet I got from them was a piece of hilarious corporate nonsense put together by lawyers. Literally the cover letter said something to the effect of, ‘We can’t keep you from unjoining the WGA, but just so you know if you withdraw from us you can’t ever join again. Ever.’ That was the welcome letter from a group of people who write for a living.
“My point is that, A) the WGA does a terrible job at expressing in clear language why I should want to be a member of their club, and B) does a terrible job of creating my sense of esprit de corps. So, could you and Craig talk about what being a member of the WGA does for the individual writer? I get what it does for the collective, but unclear what it does for the individual.”
Craig: Oh boy. Well, first of all, I sympathize with this person because we think of ourselves as living in a free country, and we think of ourselves as being in control of certain things. And even if things get super bad you can always pull a rip cord and bail out. If you work at a job and you hate it, you can quit. And if you don’t like the town you live in, you can move to another town.
The Writers Guild isn’t like that. [laughs] The Writers Guild is a very — and unions in general — are the strange carved-out exception where in fact, presuming you live in California or other non-right to work states as they’re called, closed shop states, you have to join the union. You have no choice.
What they’re talking about when they say you can withdraw is something called financial core. And very quickly basically a court ruled at some point or another that even in closed shop states a worker can essentially withdraw from the union and be only forced to pay the amount of dues that are used for the “financial core of the union’s activity,” which all unions basically extrapolate out to be about 95% of what your normal dues rate is.
So, if you go “financial core” and withdraw, here’s what you get: a 5% discount on your dues; you’re not allowed to vote on anything anymore, but you still have to work under the contract of the union. It is the worst exit door ever. [laughs] It’s not really an exit at all. In short, you’re in the union. So, the first answer to your question is: everything I’m about to tell you is irrelevant because you have no choice.
Now, I will tell you all of the things that are irrelevant. What’s good about being in the union? When you say I understand that there’s something good for the collective, but what’s good for the individual, ultimately they are one in the same when it comes to a union. The whole point is that the collective gets you things that you could not have gotten on your own. There are certain things in place that you would not get on your own. Those are very specifically: minimum salary for your work, credit protection for your work, residuals for your work, healthcare for your employment, and pension for your employment. Those are the big ones.
And, frankly, there’s little else the union can and will do for you. All those things that I just mentioned they already did for you, and people struck for those things so that you could have them which is nice. And essentially on a moving forward basis, the union’s job is to make sure that they don’t take those things away. That’s it. That’s the big deal.
There is not much else to it. There’s not much else to say. Look, I would much rather be in a club that I had a choice to be in, and if I had a choice, if I were given the choice, I would still stay in the Writers Guild because I believe that I am a direct beneficiary of the strength of the collective, as ridiculous and stupid as the collective occasionally is. But I would that it be a choice, sure. What can I say?
John: Let’s talk for a second about that letter, because I don’t see the actual letter in front of me, but he’s describing this letter being really off-putting. And I would say it’s a common experience or has been a common experience that, well, you’re suddenly kind of forced to join this thing and you don’t really know what it is that you’re joining. And you might say, “Great, I’m in the WGA — I don’t know what that actually means.”
Ian Deitchman who’s a friend and colleague of ours has been trying to get the WGA to do a better job with new member training and basically saying, “Hey, you’re now in the WGA. This is what it means. Come to a workshop that will actually be helpful to you so you know what’s in your contract, what some best practices are.”
They’re putting together groups — I’m mentoring one of these groups; I think you’re mention one of these groups, too — of the new writers who can come to you for advice on the stuff that’s coming up in daily life as a working writer. I think they’re trying to do better, but if this letter that came with your packet was awful, then that’s not better.
Craig: Yeah. The problem is that the Writers Guild as a union with a federal charter is beholden to quite a phonebook of legislation and regulation. And one of the regulations involves this financial core thing where basically the company side of things when they lobby the government, and this is all run by the government, they say, “Look, when people join these unions, these unions aren’t telling them that they actually have a choice between joining the union or becoming a ‘financial core non-member.'”
Why would the companies have an interest in you being a non-member even if you’re still beholden to the contract? Because I left off one other, I guess you could call it a benefit — if there’s a strike and you are a financial core withdrawn non-member, you can keep working. And they love that; obviously the companies love that idea.
So, the companies sort of said from a legal point of view, “Listen, when any union pulls somebody in and says you must join the union now, you must pay these fees, and you must pay dues,” and blah, blah, blah, the union is also required to let them know that there is this other option. So, unions tend to do that in the most dissuasive, creepy way possible, you know. “Oh, and we also have fish for dinner. It’s pretty stinky fish. And we also must tell you that fish with a certain odor can cause paralysis or death, but it is your option if you so desire.”
So, that’s why you get that awful, awful letter. Frankly, they should really just be really honest about it say, “Look, we’re forced by the government to tell you this.” But, you know, lawyers.
John: Lawyers. It feels like the WGA needs to do a better job with like a giant box of chocolates saying, “Hey congratulations, you’re in the WGA,” And then maybe a little bit further down the packet is like, “…by the way, here’s the required disclosure.”
Craig: Yeah. Well, you know, John, the WGA is — and I really do believe that in the face of zero competition no sort of energy or positivity can ever survive. There’s something about having a monopoly that just kills the human spirit.
There is no other Writers Guild. This is the only one you can join. They have no competition. You can’t go anywhere else. Even if you leave you can’t go anywhere else. And I think that the institution suffers like all monopolies from a kind of shrugging, “Uh-ha, well, you know, there’s really no incentive for us to do better.”
John: Are there any unions or guilds that actually have competition?
Craig: No. The union jurisdiction is carved out, it’s essentially when you get your charter, you get your jurisdiction assigned by the federal government which recognizes that you are now a certified bargaining entity for a particular jurisdiction. So, that’s why, for instance, when we went after the editors for reality TV, when we tried to bring editors into the Writers Guild it was doomed from the start, because IATSE has editors. That’s it. So game over.
I don’t know what we were doing.
John: Yeah. So, to clarify, a person can be a member of multiple unions, but only for different facets of their career?
Craig: That’s exactly right.
John: So I can be a member of the DGA and a member of the WGA, but that’s because one’s directors and one’s writers.
Craig: That’s right. So if you write and direct a film, you’re writing will be covered by the WGA; your directing will be covered by the DGA. If you act in the film than you’re covered by SAG. But, no other union covers screenwriting for television or film that I know of. We’re the only one. And we will be the only one for these companies.
John: A question from Lance, also kind of pitched toward you. “In the Done Deal forum, Craig posted,” and we’ll put a link to the actual post. “In the Done Deal forum, Craig posted the following in response to the usual intense debates on whether aspiring screenwriters should follow the so-called guru’s advice and lingo such ‘inciting incident,’ ‘plot point 2,’ ‘all is lost,’ etc.”
Craig apparently said, “‘You don’t think every single piece of crap I get sent to rewrite has ‘plot point 2’ in it? You don’t think they all have a ‘low point’ and a ‘refusal of the call’ and a hundred other tropes? These things are tools, not solutions. I will tell you this: if you talk about screenwriting to producers, actors, directors or executives the way some of you talk about it in here, you will get laughed out of the room.’
“This made me itch to a fly on the wall in those meetings. I was wondering if Craig and you could talk about the real lingo pros use in story meetings as opposed to the lingo that would get us slapped out of the room.”
Craig: Ah, we don’t use lingo. [laughs] There’s the answer. Forget the lingo. I mean, good God, it’s like my son is on a tournament baseball team, and the 10-year-old boys are so into the uniforms and the numbers and stuff. And I get it, but there’s a certain juvenile aspect to the trappings of stuff. Who cares what the lingo is? It doesn’t matter. If you’ve written a terrific script, if you have a great insight into a character or a moment in a story, or a theme, or the way something should develop, or just a simple idea for how to do a better car chase, that will come through. That’s what matters.
Not nonsense about pinch points and page act blah-blah-blah. I don’t use lingo. I don’t think I ever use lingo. Do you use it?
John: I don’t use it. I was thinking back through what I would actually say in a meeting if I’m pitching something or talking about changes to something. I will say Act 1 or Act 2.
John: Everyone sort of does talk that way. Everyone talks about movies having three acts. It really means beginning, middle and end.
John: You’re saying something happens at the end of Act 2, people understand that that means near the end and they may have some sense of it’s at the worst point in the movie, the most difficult thing for the hero. But I wouldn’t say “inciting incident.”
Craig: Never. [laughs] Ever.
John: I wouldn’t say ‘second act climax.’ You would never say that.
Craig: God, good lord, no. And look, Act 1, Act 2, Act 3 is so common, it’s almost a lay person — I mean, everybody knows about that roughly.
John: You can say ‘set piece.’ Set piece meaning like a big action sequence, a big showcase moment in your story.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t even use that anymore. Sometimes I’ll just say sequence.
Craig: To be honest with you, and to be honest with the person asking the question — and I’m glad, I mean, I agree with everything I said on Done Deal, [laughs] so it’s good I stand by that.
John: It’s good that you agree with yourself.
Craig: I stand by that 100%. The lingo is being peddled to you by charlatans who have absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. To cover up their complete absence of expertise and insight, and experience in screenwriting, they invent lingo, lingo which appears to make them knowledgeable. The whole point of lingo is to shorthand things, right? Or, I suppose, to exclude other people and make them feel that they don’t belong. So, in this case, they’re using it in a kind of exclusionary way like, “Look, if you speak all these ridiculous words you’ll be in some secret club.”
No you won’t. You won’t. And the fact of the matter is I don’t want to speak in shorthand to anybody in a room. I’ll speak in shorthand about production, that’s different. When I talk to an AD, we’re talking in lingo because that world does require shorthand; a lot of details are going on and you’ve got to move quickly, and a lot of specific things.
But when I’m describing a story, the whole point is this: I’m telling a story for an audience, not for a bunch of lingo heads right? So I want to tell the story to the person who might buy the story like they’re in the audience. So no lingo. Da-da!
Craig: Done. I got a little angry there.
John: I was excited that you got a little bit angry there. I was hoping.
John: Lena from Moscow asks — we have a lot of international questions. I really just want to bring up the fact that we have a listener in Moscow.
Craig: Hello Lena.
John: Hello Lena.
Craig: [Russian accent] Hello.
John: [Russian accent] Hello.
John: “I’m writing news stories for the largest news agency in the country, but it turns out journalism is not for me. I’m currently writing a spec for an animated feature film. Even if I manage all the problems with working visas and stuff, there will still be a major problem holding me back. The problem is that English is not my mother tongue.
“Granted, it’s no easy task for me to write in English, even though I love this language more than Russian. I’ve been studying English since early childhood and thanks to my teachers I don’t speak with this awful Russian accent.”
Craig: Oh, bummer. I love that accent.
John: “But it’s still not easy, and I can make mistakes and have issues with word choice. Do I even have a chance as a screenwriter? Or will I always be an outsider looking in?”
Craig: In animation I would actually say you’re okay because animation is so story-centric. It’s so about story. And so many people work on animated movies, so even if you wrote a scene and the English wasn’t quite there, or specific lines weren’t quite there, the whole point of the animation process is that story artists take those things and then expand them and use their own voices to retell the dialogue and to re-pitch it.
If it were live action I would say this would be a huge issue. For animation I think it will be a challenge, but it’s not a killer. I think the guy who does Rio, I don’t think English is his first language.
John: I was thinking Guillermo Arriaga, I think, is native Spanish speaking, but he writes in English and writes great in English. I think it’s totally doable. And I didn’t really clean up much of what she wrote in reading this aloud. She had one mistake in this thing and she had good vernacular.
I think she has a pretty good shot at being able to write in English if she needs to. That said, she may also want to partner up with a native speaker who is also a good writer and together they could do something great.
Craig: Yeah. But you know, I think she’s lined up in the perfect area which is animation, because it really is less about the specificity of any given word. It’s so much about story there, so I think she’ll be fine.
John: She’ll be great.
Ryan asks, “Recently my writing partner and I decided to showcase our adaptation skills by finding a short story that was published. We optioned it and adapted it into a short film that we both feel will be an excellent showcase of our talents not only as writers but as directors as well. However, we disagree on what avenue to take this for releasing it.
“My partner thinks we should break it up episodically and release it on Funny or Die, since it’s free and has a strong audience. I think we may lose some value by breaking the story into parts and want to submit it for festivals. What do you guys think?”
Craig: God, is it any good?
John: That’s a great question.
Craig: You know, I mean if it’s really… — You have to be honest with yourselves and show it to people, not your family, show it to people that are mean. And if they love it and you think that it’s going to work as a piece in a really coherent way at festivals, which is no easy task, probably I would say go the festival route, if it were good. What do you think?
John: I agree. If it’s good and it holds together best as one thing, it’s not even huge, it’s a short film. If it holds together best as one piece, keep it as one piece. And get as much traction as you can with short-film festivals. If they don’t bite, then break it into smaller pieces and let people see what you’ve been able to do.
But in the time it took you to write this question into us you probably could have submitted it to a bunch of festivals through Without a Box, or the online places that let you submit films to things. So, see if people bite. If they don’t bite, put it up yourself.
Craig: I mean, look, giving it away for free never goes away as an option. So, you know — I mean, look, don’t waste your time chasing rainbows, but if you think you’ve got a real shot at… — I mean, obviously the whole point, like you said, was to be noticed as filmmakers, so give it a shot.
John: Mark from Santa Monica asks, “Do you have advice on juggling writing jobs? I have a few different assignments at the moment, all under contract. Can you talk about how you and Craig handle dividing your time, managing different producer’s expectations for delivery times? Any advice would be useful.”
First off, I mean, most of the people listening are like, “Okay, great. So you have a couple paid jobs simultaneously.”
Craig: I know, they hate those guys.
John: Glorious problems.
Craig: And he’s under contract.
John: Under contract.
John: So, first off, congratulations. You’re writing, and more than one person wants you to work on their stuff simultaneously. That’s great. I have found that it’s basically impossible to write two first drafts at a time. I can write one first draft and do a little clean-up on another project at the same time, but I can’t create two brand new things at the same time. I’m gonna either finish one and start on the second one.
And so some of your job as a screenwriter is figuring out how you’re going to stall people well enough and long enough so they can feel like you are doing the work when you’re kind of really working on the other project. Sometimes you can just be honest. Sometimes you have to be a little less than 100% honest about what’s on your screen as they call you.
But you can do it. Be careful what you promise. And don’t try to over-promise and then get stuck with a bunch of things you can’t finish. Or the panic that Craig talked about last week, that fear that I’m going to be caught having to scramble to get something turned in that won’t be my best work.
Craig: Yeah. That is the real danger here. And, yes, congratulations. Good for you. And now it’s important if you’re exhibiting the kind of work that’s going to get you multiple offers and people are even going to say to you things like, “We don’t care, we know. You can work on this one in the evening,” or whatever, just be aware that there is a cost to being a pig. And you will end up losing in the long run. I do believe.
First of all, great answer from John, and I agreed with all of it, particularly the part that says, look, you can’t be in the same phase of two different things at once. That’s a disaster. Like John, I have been in the situation where I was sort of outlining one thing and rewriting another, because you can shift; it’s two different muscles you’re working on. Okay, so you can do batting practice and then you can throw bullpen. But, if you over-promise and you start playing games it will burn you every single time. I really do believe that.
Personally, I don’t lie to anybody about that stuff ever. I take deadlines very seriously. And I’m incredibly honest about what’s going on and when I can deliver things. Down to the week. I mean, I’ll say, “Okay, well I think I can have this done by October 1 if we get going.”
And then they say, “Well we just need another week before we hear from so and so.” If that week goes by, now I just want to point out, “Now it’s gonna be October 7.” “Really?” ” Yes. Really.” That’s how I work it out. So, I’m very honest and I’m incredibly above board about everything like that. I don’t necessarily need to tell them because I’m working on something else at the same time. But what I do need to be honest about is when they’re getting the work. And I find if I give myself enough time to do the work properly, and I get it to them when I say, no one cares frankly. I could be working on 1,000 things at once; if the work is good and it’s on time, no one cares.
But you will not be able to do good work, and you will not be on time if you get piggish. So, don’t do it.
John: Yeah, the whole idea of “Oh, you could write this at night,” is an elaborate fantasy. Yes, you could write that screenplay at night if you were working at a sandwich shop, because then you wouldn’t have spent your whole day writing pages. But the idea that you are going to be able to write in addition to all the other writing that you’re doing is just not possible. It’s like, well, you’ve been working six hours a day, so maybe you can work ten hours a day. Well, you actually can’t write more than that.
I know writers who have been working on a TV show and then someone will say, “Oh, and why don’t you also write a pilot for staffing for next season?” And that becomes incredibly difficult because you’re trying to write all the stuff you actually have to do for your job, and then write a completely different thing on your own. Sometimes you’re squeezing that in on weekends, but you’re not going to squeeze it in at the end of the day. It just isn’t going to happen.
Craig: Absolutely true. And you also have to be aware of the fact that the people who are hiring you are kind of babyish themselves about this. They want what they want. So they’ve decided they want you to do it. You, for whatever reason — hopefully it’s because of your talent — have solved their problem of fear over their project. “This guy is gonna make it better. And my boss wants this guy, and so I’ve gotta get this guy.” They will tell you whatever you need to hear to say yes. If you’re like, “I don’t know, I’m busy,” they’ll come at you pretty hard.
Brother, the day you take the gig and they mail a check, that all goes away. That understanding, all that stuff is gone. Now, they want their pages. And they will turn on a dime on you on that stuff. So, just be careful.
John: Bucky asks, “I’m moving to LA later this year with my wife and two-year-old son to pursue a career in Hollywood.”
Craig: Ah! [laughs]
John: Ah-ha. Competition. “Looking for advice on moving to an area that is safe, has good schools, and is conducive to working in the industry. Your thoughts?”
Craig: That’s a good question. I mean, look, my reaction always is: okay, here’s a man with a wife and child and he’s moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in screenwriting, and the immediate thing I think of is, “Oh, no,” because he’s not going to make it. And then what happens to his wife and his kid. And I’m scared. Now I’m scared for him. And I get scared for everybody who wants to do this, especially when people are relying on them.
I mean, I suppose I’m being sexist about this. Perhaps his wife is CEO of something so it’s not a problem.
But even that was sexist that the wife had to be a CEO to be successful. [laughs]
John: Yeah, she could just be a provider.
Craig: Right, she could just be middle management at an advertising company. Okay, so that was that reaction. Hopefully you have some sort of cushion and you’re taking care of your child.
Craig: I think for, he’s looking for affordable, right? Safe, affordable…
John: Safe, affordable, good schools. He actually didn’t say affordable, so maybe he’s rich.
Craig: Well, okay, look, rich places are rich places, so that’s that. But assuming he means affordable, I think Sherman Oaks isn’t a bad bet. Studio City isn’t a bad bet, right?
John: Yeah. I would question schools. I mean, if he’s looking for public schools, those aren’t going to be the best choices in the world.
Craig: Public schools. Well, for elementary it’s not bad. Sherman Oaks has that Carpenter which is a pretty good elementary school.
Craig: I mean, look, La Cañada where I live has great public schools. You can send your kids from kindergarten to 12th grade. They have excellent schools all the way through. Great little neighborhood. And you can actually find some affordable houses there now after the great collapse of 2007. So I always have to suggest La Cañada. It’s a great neighborhood.
John: Yeah. But you might as well be in Botswana; you’re really far away there.
Craig: You’re really not. Now, that’s where John has this classic Los Angeles bigotry.
John: I’ll fully accept it.
Craig: Bigotry. Because here’s the truth: if John has to get to Warner Bros. it takes him longer than it takes me. If John has to get to Universal, it takes him longer than it takes me. If he has to get to Disney it takes him longer than it takes me.
John: How about Fox?
Craig: Okay, if he has to get to Fox I grant you it’s a slog for him and a nightmare for me. But here’s the truth: at the end the reward is that you’re at Fox, so really who’s the winner? [laughs]
Craig: That’s smart — antagonize the entire studio. [laughs] That’s really not healthy for your career. All right, the real winner… — and nobody likes going to Sony. The real winner — because it’s so far away — for John the real winner is Paramount because he could walk to Paramount, but for me it’s 22 minutes. And you know if I say 22 I’ve timed it. So, the truth is I’m actually quite close. It’s a great place to live. And I’d like to think that geniuses like John Hancock and Scott Frank know what they’re doing.
John: When I was hiring my director of digital things, it ended up being Ryan Nelson, he was moving from Columbia, Missouri and needed to find a place to live in Los Angeles. And so I put up on the blog asking for suggestions for where should Ryan live. And so I sort of described his life situation and which neighborhood should he pick. And people had really good suggestions.
And it’s so interesting that they were picking cool neighborhoods because he was coming from a place in life where like a cool neighborhood was important. And this person has a wife and a two-year-old son, and your decision process is vastly different because you’re not looking for a cool neighborhood.
John: So that’s why Culver City could be great. Palms, which is so incredibly boring, might be fine, because Palms is right by Sony. It’s really cheap because they over-built apartments. That might be fine. They opened the blue line, the express rail down through there. So, there’s lots of places that are sort of mid city that could be fine.
And if you’re in Palms you’re pretty close to almost everything.
Craig: Not really. No, see…
John: I think you are. Because honestly if you take Venice you get to — except for the Valley.
Craig: Well, but except for the Valley, except for three movie studios.
John: Okay. I see the flaw in my logic.
Craig: And you’re not close to Paramount either.
John: But you’re not that bad to Paramount. Because I’m essentially at Paramount. It’s easy for me to get down to Sony.
Craig: From your place to Sony is what, 30 minutes?
John: Oh, 15.
Craig: 15? Really?
John: It’s super quick.
Craig: You just get on Venice and go crazy?
John: Yeah. It’s fast.
Craig: I know, Venice is pretty great.
John: I’ve actually run from my house down to Sony.
Craig: Out of fear? [laughs]
John: No, I was running from Sony. That’s a whole different situation. [laughs]
Our next question. Blaze from Poland asks — Poland! We have a listener in Poland.
Craig: Hello, Poland!
John: “When you see a finished movie, does it actually look like what you imagined when you put the words on a blank page? Or do you want to stand up and scream, ‘Wait, this is not what a dreamed up?'”
Craig: Neither. [laughs] I mean, it never looks like it did in your head because, let’s be honest, our minds do not properly represent physical space or time. They compress them. It’s very elastic. Your dreams are pretty good indications of that where you just are moving around and there’s these little cycads and things that occur. And, of course, let’s not forget somebody else is shooting it, and also they have to find real places that might not look like these things.
Sometimes it gets kind of close, but I think you need to get accustomed right now, sir or madam, to the notion that, no, it will never look like your daydream. And if you are so inclined to stand up and scream at that eventuality, this is not for you. It’s not gonna go well for you.
John: Yeah, unless you’re directing your movie it’s never going to look quite like you expect. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the first third of it where it’s just Charlie Bucket’s house is so much like what I imagined it would be. And I was so delighted. And getting into the factory is great. But then once you really see Willy Wonka, it was a completely different thing than what I sort of had in my head. Like, I knew it was Johnny, but they just made really different choices from what Willy Wonka would look like. And I love it, but it’s just very, very different.
A related thing is I wrote the lyrics to Twice the Love which is the song that Siamese twins sing in Big Fish. And so that whole sequence is kind of close to what I imagined it to be. There’s like the ventriloquist dummy and there’s other stuff like that. But I knew that once Danny Elfman signed on to do the music for the movie, he was going to look at my lyrics and then he was just going to ignore the melody that I had sort of planned out for it.
And so it was such a weird experience listening to the song because it’s the words I had, it’s just a completely different melody, and that’s a good analogy for what the experience of watching your movie is. It’s like it is what you created, but it’s also very different than what you created, and you just have to accept that.
Craig: I think that one of the things that makes good directors good directors is that they have enough of an imagination, a visual imagination, whether they wrote the script or not to imagine it in their own minds. So they see the movie or see the scene in their heads. Then they get what’s real, so they’re in a place. They pick a place that would look great. And then they start to work with that. So they don’t push a dream on top of what they have; they take what they have and they make it great, inspired by their imagination of things.
Sort of think of it as this — a classic mistake of people to try and say, “Let’s just shoehorn what we wanted to do into what we got.” Bad idea. Use what you got.
John: A related example just occurred to me. So Frankenweenie is a stop-motion animation movie. And as I was writing it I knew it was stop-motion animation. I’d done that before. I knew what the world was like. I know that we talked about doing it back and white. And so in my head I saw it black and white, but I really did see it basically live action.
And it was sort of like a foreground/background thing, where like I would see it animated and I would see it live action. And I basically had to write it like it was live action so characters wouldn’t seem overly puppety. But now that I see it in trailers and stuff, everyone can see it, it is puppets doing it all, and it very much has that sort of handmade feel to things.
And so it doesn’t look like the movie in my head in a perfectly fine and good way. I just couldn’t write little stop-motion puppets in my head. I had to write it like real people and let the clever animators figure out how to translate my real people to what the puppet equivalents are.
Craig: Yeah. This whole “it’s not what I dreamt of” is tough.
John: Andy from New York asks, “I graduated from college two years ago, and since then I’ve spent the last two years working for a startup Internet company. But I really want to be a screenwriter, specifically for television, and I came to the realization that I can’t do what I want in New York City. So I’ve quit my decent paying job and I’m giving up an amazing apartment to live in Los Angeles without a job or even a place to live yet.”
John: “I have friends and family there. And I do have a few connections to the industry. But I’m 23 years old and I have nothing holding me back really, so I figure why not. Am I doing the right thing?”
Craig: Oh, well yeah…
Craig: …there you go. You’re 23. You have nothing holding you back. No one is relying on you to eat or survive. Yes, you’re doing the right thing.
John: He’s in exactly the perfect situation for why you should quit everything and move to Los Angeles.
Craig: Exactly. That’s pretty much the narrow slice of circumstances in which we can happily say, “Yes, congratulations; we’re not at all scared for you.”
John: He has a follow-up question. He says, “I love reading in pilot scripts, and something that has always stuck out to me is how race is mentioned in scripts. I’m an African-American male, and a lot of times minority characters have their race mentioned, but if their race isn’t mentioned, white is the assumed default. Occasionally there are times where race-neutral scripts surprise me, when certain characters aren’t Caucasian when they’re cast, but still, this is an issue that has always somewhat bothered me.”
Craig: Yeah. I think about it actually quite a bit when I’m writing. And I try when I’m… — If I’m writing a script for actors who are white, I don’t mention it, I don’t call out the race. And if I’m writing a script for actors who are black, I don’t call out the race. But if I don’t know who the actor is, I’ll say white, black, Asian, whatever I want. I don’t just default and say, “Okay, if I don’t mention it, it must mean white.”
And I know people do that and the reason is racism. [laughs] And I don’t mean virulent racism. It’s not like guys take their robes off after a tough day of cross burning and start typing up screenplays and giggle while they don’t refer to people’s race and go “Ah-ha!” It’s just sort of a passive… — look, I’m white, and people around me white, and obviously I mean white guy, I’m thinking a white guy. And a black character is like a specialty move for me, you know what I mean? At least that’s my feeling about it.
John: I wrote about this on the blog in relation to the Ronna character in Go in that Sarah Polley ended up playing. In the early drafts of the script, and when we first went out for casting, the description in the script was “18, black, and bleeding.” And so there’s no other reference made to her ethnicity in the script throughout the rest of the thing. But I’d envisioned a black actress playing this.
And so we went out to black actresses, and then we also sort of widened our search to actresses of every ethnicity. And we ended up casting the whitest actress in the world, Sarah Polley, who is wonderful. But when people read the early draft and they wrote in and said, “Hey, why did you change that?” It was important to me when I wrote it. And then as I actually saw people reading the script and everything sort of came together, it became much less important to me. And so I was like it’s not a crucial story point that she be African-American and we moved on.
Overall in scripts, I don’t tend to literally type out somebody’s ethnicity. I’ll often give characters a name that will strongly suggest that somebody is a certain ethnicity. So I will pick an Asian name for somebody with the assumption that we will find an Asian actor that will make sense for that. I’ll pick a Latino name because, why not?
And some of that is with the goal of having a more diverse representation in the movie. Some of it is the goal so that things are clearer for the reader, because if everyone is named Smith and Jones and Thompson, you’re going to get all those names confused. If somebody is named Gutierrez and Chang and something else…
John: Lipstein. You’re much less likely to confuse and conflate those characters.
Craig: Yeah. Part of what we’re doing is sort of sending secret messages to the — not so secret messages to the casting people because then they call and they say, “Well what is this person supposed to be?” And casting people are meat markety. They don’t care about anyone’s sensibilities. It’s like, “Okay, do we go get black people, do we go get Chinese people? Do you want Chinese or do you mean Asian? Do you mean Vietnamese or Chinese?” They’re very much they’re shopping for people. And so they need to know the specifics.
Sometimes what I find myself doing for white characters is not calling out white, but calling out a nationality because white is actually the most generic and sort of uninformative term. Because, you could be talking about southern Italians or Swedes who look dramatically different form each other. And so…
John: And more importantly might have different cultural things that they would have.
Craig: Different cultural things. Different accents. Exactly. Whereas, and for me when I’m writing a black character it’s almost always an African-American character. I suppose if I were writing a drama or something that actually had African scenes that would be a different deal. But to me American white is, unless you’re talking about a real southerner, you know. I don’t know. I don’t really even get into dialectical stuff too much with American white. I just more like nationality stuff.
But, look, if the questions is is this partly because writers sort of get a little lazy about race? Absolutely. I think so.
John: I think you’re right.
Adrienne asks, and this is a question I’m completely paraphrasing because it was long, so I’m just going to boil it down to what I want. First question. Is it okay to refer to actors when pitching? Second question — how about when actually writing the script?
So, having a short and honest question I will give my short answer. Can you refer to actors while you’re giving a pitch? Yes. And that’s sometimes really, really helpful.
A lot of times, you’re starting a pitch, you’ll often talk about the world and then you’ll talk about the characters. You might talk about your hero and it’s “sort of a Matt Damon type.” And that’s okay to say that. That’s helpful for them. Give a couple examples for who the actor could kind of be. Or a lot of times you’ll describe and they’ll sort of come back to, “So is it like a Matt Damon?” It’s like, yes, it’s like a Matt Damon. And that’s okay, and that’s really helpful when you’re in the room.
Never say that in the script. You never want to put an actor’s name in the script, unless it’s like some really funny reference to some actor who’s dead or something. There might be a reason why it’s useful, but you’re never going to refer to an actor in the script because then any actor who is reading the script, or anyone who’s reading the script gets just paranoid about that actor’s name being in there.
Craig: Yeah. Exactly. I agree with your first answer. First answer is yes. When it comes to writing names in scripts, the only time I’ve ever done it — in fact, it was recently for our script for Hangover Part III, really because it’s for the studio only. It’s like, look, here’s a part that we would actually love a certain person for. And since you don’t know about this person, we want you to know that this is the kind of person we’re thinking about. But that’s almost like an internal thing. That’s not like you’re selling a script. And that will come out when it goes out to other people.
So, yeah, I agree with you on both counts. Yes/no is the answer.
John: And sort of answering two questions at once, I would often — several times in the past — I have written Octavia in for a character when I wanted Octavia Spencer to be cast. Because it was an easy way to make sure like, oh, they will think of casting an African-American in this part and they will cast Octavia Spencer because her name is Octavia and she’s exactly right for the part.
Craig: That’s a sneaky way of doing it.
John: It’s sneaky, yeah.
Luke, from Melbourne, Australia asks, “How did the two of you meet and then later decide to collaborate on this podcast?” It’s a history lesson. And I honestly don’t know the answer to some of this. I’m trying to think when I first met you.
Craig: Well, I know we first spoke on the phone because I was starting a blog.
John: That’s right.
Craig: And we had the same agent at the time. And I called him up and said, “I want to talk to John August about this blog stuff.” And you were nice enough to talk to me. And so that was in 2005, I think.
Craig: And then how did we start the podcast? This is a great story. See, what happened was John sent me an email and said, “Hey, would you like to do a podcast?” and I wrote back and I said, “Yes.” [laughs] There’s not much beyond that, I don’t think.
John: I think my decision on sort of why I approached Craig is you had had a very good blog that you had let sort of go fallow, and you had sort of gotten bored with it, but you had a lot of good things to say about the industry and screenwriting. And I had been on panels with you, and I’m like, oh, you’re well-spoken, you know what you’re talking about. So I figured you would be a good collaborator.
Craig: And I take umbrage very quickly.
Craig: I get angry.
Craig: I love being angry.
John: Yeah. It’s fun to be angry. Strong emotions. Make you feel alive.
Craig: It makes you feel alive. Exactly.
John: April in Ohio. Her name is April, it’s not the month. April in Ohio. “Financially I can’t take the traditional route of trying to become a writer for TV/film by moving to Los Angeles and getting a low level job in the industry. I’m a 30-year-old mother of one working full-time while barely making ends meet. I’m finally taking the initiative to go after my dreams. I wrote a TV pilot, a spec of The Walking Dead, and am currently working on a feature script. My goal is to have at least five scripts by the end of the year to help build my portfolio.
“Would it be best for me to enter a screenwriting contest, enter writing programs to get my work noticed? My main concern with the writing programs,” probably referring to, like, the Warner’s writing program, “is that the majority of them are unpaid and the ones that are need you to have some kind of connection to the industry already.”
Craig: Well, look, April — here’s the bad news: the bad news is that you have the opposite circumstance from the gentleman that we said, “Yay, go; go move! You’re 23. Nobody cares about you.” You’re feeding a one-year-old. You have already the most important job there is. So, your options are limited. And I must tell you that even in success you will be in a state of crisis in screenwriting because there is no steady check in screenwriting. Success is not something that goes on and off like a switch.
It is a dimmer that waxes and wanes, and for some people burns brightly for six months and then does not return again. It is a dangerous path. It is a dangerous path; even if it works it will be a dangerous path. So, that’s the first thing I want you to understand.
That said, there’s nothing wrong with entering your material into contests. There’s nothing wrong with you sending it to people. There’s nothing wrong with putting it on the Internet and having people read it. Do all those things. Just be aware that this is one of those be careful what you wish for things. Because the worst possible circumstance would be that you’re just good enough to get out of town and go somewhere for five or six months with your child, but not good enough to actually make it on a permanent basis. That would be tragic.
And I have to tell you something else, not to be too depressing about it — that’s the majority of outcome for people who do get a break is that it’s not really a break. It’s like a little blip and then they’re gone. So, be careful. Make sure you put that kid first, okay? But don’t let me kill your dream. I’m not here to do that, I’m just here to protect you.
John: I would say I admire her work ethic, that she’s gotten stuff started, she’s gotten stuff done. She has a plan for how much she wants to get achieved. That’s great.
I wish that she was writing in to say, “I wrote a novel.” I wrote something else that’s more achievable from Ohio and that doesn’t rely on being in Los Angeles to do. Because I can picture her as, “Hey, I want to be J. K. Rowling,” and I’d say, you know what, you could very well be J.K. Rowling. And you could do all this because novelists live in every city across the country, everywhere around the world. You could do that from your home, and keep your normal job, and do this extra stuff. And there’s a clear path for success in it.
I know people who have done that kind of thing. I don’t know the people who’ve done what you’re describing, and that’s tough because I know a lot of screenwriters. I don’t know anyone who’s been able to do it that way. So, it’s not to say you couldn’t be the first, but it’s certainly a tough road ahead of you.
So, entering screenwriting contests? Sure. Writing programs? Sure. But your concerns are well-founded.
Craig: Yeah, I mean John’s point, April, about novels is that there is actual success possible. And it is binary. Either you’re novel is a hit or it’s not. But it’s not like that with screenwriting. With screenwriting it’s fly out, hang out, take a meeting. Three months go by. “Great, we’re going to give you a job, but it’s week-to-week, and it’s not for that much money, but if we like you there will be more.” Okay, now you’ve been out here six months. “Oh, you know what? The show got cancelled.” “We don’t like you.” “Somebody else came in.” “Da-da-da, go back home.”
And go back home to what? Maybe that other job you had is… You know, there’s so many ways to get burned. I just, I don’t know, I get so nervous when I hear about people with very young kids jumping into this stuff.
John: I’m going to segue to another question here because it’s very much on the same lines. Tucker asks, “I make good money writing movie advertising. I’ve been doing it for a long time. I’ve written screenplays on the side for decades and I’ve always imagined I’d make the jump one day to full-time screenwriter. Recently one of my scripts hit and suddenly I was getting a lot of attention. I got a manager, had major agencies fighting over me. The day I had been working toward had arrived.
“Then I started having meetings. And more meetings. Came up with awesome stories for assignments I didn’t get. Then I find out what you get paid my level to do assignments and how long you work for nothing to get them, and it doesn’t add up. I don’t think ‘becoming a full-time screenwriter’ is a good career path for anyone anymore. Writing on spec makes sense, but doing that studio dance doesn’t make sense. They made it a loser’s game, suitable only for recent grads who live cheap.”
Craig: Man, I hope that there are some people at studios who listen to our podcast because I really — I want them to rewind and listen back. This is not some guy off the turnip truck with dreams of Hollywood. This is a working professional who works in marketing, who obviously works either at a big vendor or at a studio who’s been doing it for a long time, who knows all about it, and who put in his time and wrote a screenplay that you liked, that a lot of people liked, and he’s looking back at what you’ve given him in return and saying, “That’s not a job.”
Writing lines on posters is a job, but screenwriting isn’t a job anymore. I really want these guys who run the studios to think about what this guy just said, because it’s true. They are killing this as a career because of the way they go about hiring people, and the way they go about limiting development. So I’m getting on my Norma Rae soapbox once more and I’m saying, “Come on! Think about where this business will be ten years from now when the folks who came in the ’90s, under the system which used to develop stuff with, oh my god, two-step deals. When those people retire and all you’ve got are 23 year olds who have lots of energy but very little or no experience, and nobody in the middle, and nobody at the higher end, where will you be? Who’s going to write your movies?”
It’s killing me. Killing me. I mean, I wish I could say to this guy, “No, no, no,” but I can’t. And by the way, that’s what I did. I did what he did. The only difference between me and this guy is the year. I was writing movie advertising in 1995. And then I made the jump and there was a career to have. And now he makes the jump and he looks around and he goes, “What’s going on here?” Totally get it. It’s bumming me out.
Kenneth from Salt Lake City asks, “If you’re writing your own sitcom,” this is actually more a TV question, maybe I’ll answer this. “If you’re writing your own sitcom that really has no choice but to begin with a premise pilot,” a premise pilot meaning you’re setting up the world, you’re setting up the characters, and it’s classically, like, Laverne and Shirley become roommates. “Does it make sense to instead write a future episode of the show to use as your sample and try to sell it to networks?”
No. Most TV staffing these days, they’re not really looking for spec episodes of currently running series. Classically it was always like you write a funny spec Seinfeld and that’s what gets you staffed. That’s not really what showrunners are reading anymore. They’re reading original stuff. So, they want to read your pilot for something. So you write a pilot, an episode of a sitcom. And naturally a lot of pilots are going to end up being kind of premisey because you have to establish why this situation exists.
So, Kenneth’s question is, “Should I not write the premise version of it and just pretend like I’m writing six episodes into it” No. Because people have no idea what you’re doing. So, you’re going to inherently have some premisey stuff in a lot of these kind of pilots because you’re setting up a whole world and you’re setting up the basic nature of how things work.
That said, it can’t be so premisey, it can’t be just like Laverne and Shirley meet and decide to move into the apartment together. They don’t get the basic idea of what a normal show of this would be and who the characters are, and that you have enough different plotlines and different voices in there that people can see the range of what you can write.
Craig: Yeah. I like that answer.
John: Thank you.
Craig: You’re welcome.
John: And by the way, we know everybody who’s writing TV these days.
Craig: I know. Well we know everybody.
John: We do know everybody, but surprisingly a bunch of our feature people are now TV people and they’re killing it.
Craig: Because of us. I really do feel like we’re the hub, and from us emanates all success.
John: Yeah. That solipsism of everything starting from us and radiating outwards?
Craig: Well, the fact that I even included you in “we” is a really nice gesture on my part. Because as we all know, you’re not real.
John: No. I’m just a filter that you apply in GarageBand to make the second voice.
Craig: You in fact are. [laughs] That’s right.
John: We’re going to plow through because I want to clear out these questions.
Craig: Plow man, let’s go. Let’s do this. This is going to be a huge — this is a mega episode.
John: Mega. So many, an hour’s worth of questions.
John: Michael in Seattle asks, “I recently finished my first spec script. I used Movie Magic 6 to write it,” so this is a Craig Mazin question because you love Movie Magic.
Craig: I do.
John: “I like Movie Magic and would continue using it, but I found a problem. The studio wanted me to submit as a Final Draft file. So I converted from Movie Magic 6 to Final Draft 8, and what was a 119-page script is now 127 pages. What should I do?”
Craig: Mm-hmm. Okay. So, this can happen. And I wish I could blame everything on Final Draft, but I think it’s just the function of the fact that you’re moving from one thing to another. Check all of your margins in Movie Magic and then adjust the margins in Final Draft to mirror those closely. You will probably get very close to the same page count.
The other issue is the font, because Movie Magic has their Courier font, and Final Draft has their Courier font. And while theoretically they should all be the same, it doesn’t seem like they are. So, first thing first, check all the margins of all the elements. That means the document top and bottom margins and then the width margins for all of your character, dialogue, action lines, slug lines. Copy them over and make sure they’re the same numbers in Final Draft.
That should get you close. And if you’re still off by a whole big butt load, then you can cheat a little bit on the top and bottom margins. I mean, the point is you wrote a, whatever, 116-page script, or 111-page script, that’s legal. Make your script 111. Don’t do that thing where you squish the dialogue together though; I hate that.
John: That’s terrible. I would say if it looked okay as a PDF, you’re probably fine. So do what Craig did, and you weren’t cheating, it’s just some stuff just comes out differently.
One of my great frustrations, being the company that makes — we make FDX Reader which is the rival Final Draft reader for the iPad because the Final Draft one didn’t exist when we made it. When they launched the new, official Final Draft reader they said it keeps your real page numbers correct. And I was like, well, page numbers are this really arbitrary thing. And somehow Final Draft decided, like, “Well our page numbers are the correct page numbers.” No, they’re really not. There’s not one magic formula.
Well, there’s one magic formula for Final Draft that they use to figure out how they’re going to do page numbers, but that’s not the end all/be all/only way the page numbers could be figured out. So, it’s not that it’s correct in Final Draft and it’s wrong in Movie Magic, it’s just a difference.
Craig: It’s just different, exactly.
John: Paul in West Virginia writes, “I’m working an historical epic screenplay, something akin to Braveheart, so I’m already compressing 15 years worth of material into three hours, combining people, composite characters, whole events, etc. I think the back story is crucial for the story. If I include the scenes covering the back story, my protagonists don’t even show up until page 30.”
John: “If I just have her show up in the beginning and have another character just talk her through the back story, I can get to a long scene of exposition dialogue and violate the whole show-don’t-tell concept. Is there a happy medium?”
Yeah. Write a different script. Or write a different story from that world. You cannot have your lead character show up on page 30.
Craig: I mean, the only thing that comes close in my mind is Star Wars because…
John: Yeah. Luke shows up later.
Craig: Luke shows up really late. I mean, they stick with the robots for so long once they land — I’m sorry, the droids — once they land in the desert. There’s a great opening scene that’s sort of a classic prologue where the villain shows up, breaks the neck of some hapless guy to demonstrate that he’s evil, captures a princess to set the terrible events in motion, and then leaves. Then the droids land in the desert and they walk around for awhile, and then they get captured. And then you meet Luke.
But my guess is it’s still earlier than page 30.
John: It’s a lot earlier than that.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, come on.
John: It’s not gonna happen.
Craig: Have you ever been in a theater, sir, and about half an hour into the movie the hero showed up? What was going on for the first half an hour? Who were we identifying with? No. No. Stop.
John: Glad we’re helping him so much. We’re just saying, no, don’t.
Craig: [laughs] No, you can’t make it. Stay home. Don’t do this. It’s not a job.
John: Carmen asks, “Suppose you read an idea online, not a news article that sparks an idea, but someone is actually saying in a completely public forum, ‘I had this idea for a script.’ There’s no plot to the idea, no characters, etc, just a concept. Is there any shame in taking the concept and running with the plot that popped into your head after you read this person’s blatant putting-it-out-there of their idea? Would you ask that person for their permission?”
Craig: Well, I mean, she actually did use the proper word there which is “shame.” I mean, it’s not illegal. Ideas aren’t property. There’s a little bit of shame, yeah, I mean, I wouldn’t do it. I just have a little — this is going to be a shock to people who have seen my movies, but I have a little too much pride. The thought of taking somebody else’s idea because I can see a good idea and then running with it, when it’s not something that’s being given to me or offered to me just seems creepy. I wouldn’t do it.
John: This is a question of how specific is the idea. Because they’re saying the plot isn’t there, but just the idea is there. So if it’s like “it’s a witch who opens a bakery,” well, maybe that’s okay? I don’t know. If it’s about a witch, yeah, make a movie about a witch. Great, that’s fine. That’s not an idea. That’s just a general worldview concept.
The more specific the idea is, the more shame you should feel trying to get in there.
Craig: Even if it’s sort of big and generic like if somebody said, “Look, I’m trying to figure something out. I have a question because I’m writing this science fiction movie and my idea is that I’m doing Titanic in space. So it’s this huge, big thing that can go at light speed, but it’s marooned and slowly sinking towards a black hole. And there’s a love story, so I’m doing…” which actually now that I say it isn’t a bad idea for a movie. [laughs]
John: I think Titanic in space is generic enough that you shouldn’t feel too much shame in that.
Craig: I don’t know. I mean, somebody now is going to do Titanic in space which is bumming me out, so I should come up with a title now.
John: For my own personal life, I will say that there was a movie concept that I had for awhile and then I saw that Warner put something into development that was kind of like it. And I was really angry about it for a sec, and then I realized, you know what, everything that guy is doing with that idea — it was a science-fiction kind of idea, not like the Dyson sphere but that kind of idea — well, there’s room in the world for more than one of those and I’m not going to feel too guilty about doing my own. So.
Craig: You know what, I think you’re an adult, I assume, the person who’s writing the question. You tell me. If you feel shame, don’t do anything that embarrasses you.
John: Yeah. But also I don’t want to put too much credence in the idea of like, oh, I had that idea for a movie. It’s like, well, an idea is nothing. If you didn’t have a plot, a story, characters, you didn’t have a movie. You just had…
Craig: You had a nothing.
John: Yeah. You had an idea for a poster.
Craig, we’ve come to the time for One Cool Thing if you have one cool thing.
Craig: You know what? My One Cool Thing is to end this, because this is over an hour. Did you realize this?
John: It’s a solid hour.
Craig: I’m gonna propose that we save our cool things for next time.
John: We’ll save it for next time.
John: Craig, we answered a lot of questions. I think we did a lot of good today, I hope.
Craig: Crushed a lot of dreams. Broke a lot of spirits.
John: That’s also part of the… — It’s the whole omelets/breaking eggs, that whole analogy would apply here.
Craig: Our podcast motto is “It’s a Good Day to Die.”
John: Thank you. Have a good week.
Craig: You too, man. Bye.