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; it’s a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, it’s been 10 days as we record this since our live 100th episode. How are you feeling about it now in the aftermath?
Craig: Well, I feel great. I mean, we had a great time. That went great. I mean, it’s a little sad now suddenly to be doing it the old way, you know, just you and me, quietly.
John: I’m kind of enjoying it though. It’s nice to have total control over things.
John: Because what people probably don’t understand is that the live crowd was amazing and like it was great to be in that space, it was a nightmare to edit that episode. And poor Stuart lost his mind because you were the one who sort of noticed, “Oh, there’s sort of a buzz in the speakers.”
John: So, before the audience came in, Craig was standing at the speakers, trying to get the stuff to deal with the sound guy to make it all sound good. And we thought like, oh, it’s a speaker problem, it will be fine. But actually it was a soundboard problem. So, there was a hum in the soundboard and so our recording was bad. So, we had to take that out and then we had to make the crowd sound good. And then everything kept falling out of sync.
John: So, poor Stuart; he had a rough time. But I was delighted with the end result of the episode.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, that aside, and listen, it’s very easy for me to carve Stuart’s pain out of my sphere of acknowledgment.
That aside, it was a great crowd. Obviously the venue was terrific. Bettina and Greg over at the Academy did a terrific job on our behalf. And we had great guests. And it was just a terrific crowd. I stayed pretty late. I didn’t close the place down or anything, but I stayed late talking to people.
Everyone was — with the exception of one person — everyone was incredibly well behaved.
John: I do want to talk about behavior, because I noticed also that people were so much better behaved after this than other sort of live things.
John: Probably because I think these were our people, so they had come specifically to see us. And so therefore when we were shaking hands afterwards, they would do like that 30 second thing rather than the five minute “let me tell you all about how I am and what my life story is.”
Craig: Right. Or the “follow you around” thing, or the “suddenly there you are again” thing.
John: Yes. People were terrific and I really enjoyed that.
Craig: Yes. They were. They were great.
John: A few things to follow up from the 100th episode. First off, Matt Smith was the guy who won the Golden Ticket.
Craig: Congratulations Matt.
John: He had the ticket underneath his seat. He apparently just sent in his script to us, so we will be taking a look at that.
Craig: I saw his tweet. Yes, very exciting.
John: So, we will take a look at it. If it seems like the kind of thing which would be appropriate to discuss on the air, we will discuss it on the air if he agrees to that. I noticed he also has a podcast, so he may actually be a person who could even join us on this. So, we’ll see how that all works out.
Craig: Very good.
John: Today, I would like to talk about some developments at Sony Pictures.
John: You actually sent me an article and I think there’s two interesting things that have happened at Sony Pictures that we need to talk about.
John: I want to look at three Three Page Challenges.
John: It’s been awhile since we’ve done that. And, as always, we have to do some housekeeping. So, here is some housekeeping for today. People have been writing in saying, “Hey, you referenced the Raiders episode, or I see that there’s only 20 episodes available in iTunes, where are all the back episodes?”
The truth is the back episodes have always sort of been on the site at johnaugust.com. But we don’t put that whole feed through to iTunes just because it overwhelms things and makes it hard to sort of process stuff. I asked Stuart and Ryan to figure out if we were to take all the episodes, both the normal m4a, which is on iTunes, or the mp3 which some people need, we took all those episodes, took the transcripts, took all the Three Page Challenges, how much space would that be. And they came back to me and said it’s a little bit under 8GB.
And so I said, you know what, let’s just put that on a USB flash drive so people can buy that if they wanted to.
John: And so we’re going to do that. It turns out we can actually stick them all onto a little drive. So, if you are a person who has come in late to the podcast and want to catch up on back episodes, or if you just want to go back and have easy reference to them, or have them all in one little place, you can buy that. So, we’re going to start selling that today, as of this podcast.
Craig: And how much would that cost?
John: That will cost $20.
Craig: Ooh! I like it. $20 for the whole back catalog.
John: You get the entire catalog of Scriptnotes for $20. And the thing that Nima pointed out — Nima Yousefi, who is my third employee here — the drive itself is actually like a pretty good useful drive. So, even if you just want the drive, you dump all the episodes onto your hard drive, then you have an 8GB flash drive which is super useful.
Craig: Normally that’s like ten bucks anyway.
Craig: That’s awesome. And please assure me, as you always do, that we’re not actually really making money off of this.
John: No. Basically it will cover our costs and it also pays for stuff like the server and for the other little things we need to do like transcripts, which is an ongoing cost for us.
Craig: Does any of it get converted into food for Stuart?
John: You know, it probably does hopefully get converted into some type of food, some coffee, some —
Craig: I like to call that Stuart Feed.
John: Yes. [laughs]
Craig: Comes in a huge bag.
John: You scoop it out. You put it in a bowl.
Craig: You put it in a bowl. It clanks —
John: If he’s really good then you sort of wet it down and soften it for him.
Craig: Or, well, if he’s really good then there’s like a special Stuart treat. But you can only do like three or four of those a day or else Stuart has gastrointestinal problems. I mean, really, Stuart is best with just his feed, twice a day, in a bowl.
John: Yeah. I find it so weird that we talk about him and then he has to edit these podcasts.
Craig: [laughs] I know. It’s the greatest! It’s the greatest. And he can’t get rid of this. Because the cool thing about Stuart is he knows that this is the best. This is really why people show up. He is, god, what are we going to do if something should ever happen to Stuart?
John: Well, Stuart will become tremendously successful. I mean, that’s a thing that’s going to happen. And so at some point he will move on, and it will be sad, but it will be good.
Craig: It will be good.
John: Progress is progress.
Craig: Do you think one day, maybe like 80 years from now, when Stuart finally passes away, that he’ll just disappear and his clothes will just flop away. And then you look up and there will be a new star in the sky?
John: It’s entirely possible that he’ll be raptured. He could be raptured this very week.
Craig: [laughs] Stuart would be… — Let me tell you something. The worst part of the Rapture is that we’ll lose Stuart. That’s the worst thing. That’s the worst thing. Most everybody else I know will be right here with me.
John: So hopefully the Rapture won’t happen in the next ten days, because it’s ten days from now that you have to order the USB drive.
Basically we’re going to take preorders for ten days and then we will make them and then we will ship them out. And so I can’t promise that we’ll make any extra ones. So, if you would like one of these things, you should do it within the next ten days by Friday, August 16th, that would be. Because then we’re going to make them and we’re going to ship them out and that’s probably going to be it. So, that is the hope to get these 100 episodes out the door in a handy package form.
Craig: I just have to say, the thought of Stuart being raptured and the smile on his face as he hurdled towards heaven would just be — I just love it. I just love him just hurdling nude towards heaven.
John: Did you see This is the End?
Craig: No, I haven’t seen it yet. But I heard it’s really funny.
John: Yeah. And so the Rapture, of course, is a central idea within it. And it’s nicely done.
Craig: Yeah, I got to check it out.
John: Yeah. Jews being raptured.
Craig: Ha, ha, ha, that’s ridiculous.
John: Also, at the same time that we’re going to be selling these USB drives, we have a few — and seriously just a few — extra t-shirts that we will put up there. So, quantity is incredibly limited; some sizes are there, some sizes will not be there. But, if you wanted a t-shirt and didn’t get in on the t-shirt thing the first time through, there are a few t-shirts left.
We’re also going to be putting up some Karateka t-shirts that we just have sitting around and someone should wear it because they’re cool. So, all that stuff is $20 apiece. It’s at store.johnaugust.com. So, get that stuff if you want it.
Today, let us talk about Sony Pictures and what’s going on with Sony Pictures.
John: You had sent me this article specifically about this investor guy, but essentially some backstory here, Sony Pictures is Columbia Pictures and TriStar pictures. But TriStar Pictures has been sort of inactive for a long time.
John: There’s also Sony Pictures Classics, which I think still exists? I’m never really quite clear what they’re doing with Sony Pictures.
Craig: Sony Pictures Classics, I think has — I don’t think they’re still around.
John: All right. It’s never entirely clear.
Craig: Or, if they are it is moribund.
John: Yes, moribund. Moribund is such a great word.
So, Amy Pascal has run Columbia Pictures and then Sony Pictures for quite a long time. This summer has not been a fantastic summer for Columbia Pictures. They had White House Down, which underperformed, and After Earth, which underperformed, both of which had huge movie stars and seemed like they would be movies that should work and did not work.
So, this has raised the ire and focus of a man named Daniel Loeb, who is an investor. He runs an investment company called Third Point, which bought a 6.4% stake in Sony Pictures. This is where I get really confused by the finances.
Craig: I think in Sony itself.
John: In Sony overall?
Craig: Yeah, I think so.
John: And so he has been pressuring — he has been pointing to the failure of these two movies, calling them the Waterworld and Ishtar of the day, and basically calling for some heads to roll and for Sony to split the entertainment part off and he’s calling for a lot of changes. And you had sent me an article that was George Clooney’s response to that.
Craig: Yeah. And I’ll be honest, usually when actors start talking about things that have nothing to do with acting, my eyes glaze over, or I just get angry. But in this case I think Clooney absolutely nails it, is absolutely correct.
So, the deal is this guy made a choice running a hedge fund to invest in the Sony Corporation. And now he’s making a choice to basically say to the Sony Corporation, “Get rid of your entertainment arm because its ‘perpetual underperformance is embarrassing.'”
And here is what Clooney basically said. He says, “Daniel Loeb is a hedge fund guy who describes himself as an activist but who knows nothing about our business. And he’s looking to take scalps at Sony because two movies in a row underperformed. When does the clock stop and start for him at Sony? Why didn’t he include Skyfall, the 007 movie that grossed a billion dollars? Or Zero Dark Thirty? Or Django Unchained?” Great point.
Absolutely correct. I have no, I don’t — first of all, I think the answer to that is the clock stops and starts for him when it’s convenient, because he’s not about actually saying that Sony “perpetually underperforms.” The people who run Sony aren’t morons. If Sony Pictures lost money year, after year, after year, they would have dumped it a long time ago.
No, this guy is up to something else.
Craig: Clooney then says, “How can any hedge fund guy call for responsibility? If you look at these guys there is no conscience at work. It is a business that is only about creating wealth, where when they fail they get bailed out and nobody gets fired. A guy from a hedge fund entity is the single least qualified person to be making these kinds of judgments and he is dangerous to our industry.”
Well, to be fair, a lot of the people that run movie studios also have no conscience either. However, great point in as much as, again, when a hedge fund guy starts saying things like, “Well, the problem is underperformance,” you just can’t believe them. They’re up to something else. And he says what he’s doing is scaring studios and pushing them to make decisions from a place of fear. Why is he buying stock like crazy if he’s so down on things? He’s trying to manipulate the market. Ding, ding, ding, ding! Right?
John: There’s your answer.
Craig: There you go, okay? There you go. He’s trying to manipulate the market. This is such a load of bull that you’re going to go after two movies, which by the way, aren’t the Ishtar and Waterworld of their day. Waterworld wasn’t the Waterworld of its day, by the way.
John: Yes, Waterworld was actually much more successful than people acknowledge.
Craig: Correct. Correct. And the fact of the matter is that one massive hit, as we’ve often discussed, will dwarf one massive failure, because it’s repeatable. Simple rule of Hollywood bigness: failure is not repeatable and success is repeatable, therefore in the long run you’ll be okay, unless all you do is failures. Right?
But you can go ahead and make John Carter, and you can make Lone Ranger because you’ve made, now it’s going to be five Pirates.
Craig: Plus all of the things that spin off of Pirates. So, this guy — and this guy knows this. I mean, Daniel Loeb may be, as George Clooney says, “Conscienceless,” and he may be a joyless individual who has no appreciation for anything in life other than the pointless existentially bizarre creation of wealth for its own sake. But, he’s not stupid. [laughs]
Craig: And so lastly George Clooney says, “If guys like this are given any weight because they’ve bought stock and suddenly feel they can tell us how to do our business — one he knows nothing about — this does great damage that trickles down. The board of directors start saying, ‘Wait a minute. What guarantee do you have that this movie makes money?’ Hedge fund guys do not create jobs and we do.”
Well, I don’t know if that’s quite true, that last part. And I think that board of directors are already pretty scared at these studios. But, no, they shouldn’t be given any weight. Smart people in Hollywood should look at a guy like Daniel Loeb and say, “You are basically just a greed head who is saying stuff that you believe will accrue to your financial benefit. And it has no meaning beyond that.”
John: Yes. So, a sidebar here to talk about George Clooney, because I’m very glad we have George Clooney in that I think he’s a very good actor, but he’s also a good filmmaker. I’ve like the movies he’s produced. I’ve liked the movies he’s directed. I like that he seems very interested in making good movies, which not everyone seems to be actually interested in making. So, I’m glad we have him.
And if you can sort of imagine the alternate scenario in which we didn’t have George Clooney, things would be just a little bit worse, and I don’t know who would have stepped up to fill his function, but things would not have been as good as they would be. So, I’m grateful that George Clooney exists and that he’s saying these things.
His point about sort of starting and stopping the clock is absolutely true. You can take the most successful filmmaker, the most successful studio, and if you want to make a little time slice, there are moments of great failure in there.
John: And that’s just the reality of it all. And so you can say like, “Well, they haven’t released a movie in six months,” well, maybe because they released these big giant tent poles in Christmas and summer and they have no released no movies at this time. So, you could say like, “Oh, this studio has lost money over this time.” Well, that’s just the way it’s going to be.
This sort of fear-based moviemaking is also — it’s everything that is dangerous about this kind of guy is that you have to be able to justify the decision to make any movie. And then the only movies you’re going to make are the things that are considered incredibly safe like the sequels.
Craig: And you’ll run out of them.
John: You’ll run out of them, because you’ll burn through them and you won’t be able to make more movies in the future. You can’t make sequels until you make originals.
John: And, trust me, when they made After Earth, when they made White House Down, they would have loved for those movies to be so successful that they could make a sequel.
Craig: Of course.
John: But it didn’t happen. Yeah.
So. A different development that happened at Sony Pictures this last week was TriStar, which has been a very dormant label — they release some movies just for the TriStar banner every once and awhile, but I don’t think there really is a TriStar company — now has a new Chairman. I think he’s called Chairman. His name is familiar because he used to run Fox for a very long time. His name is Tom Rothman.
Craig: Wait, let’s cue Darth Vader’s theme. [hums] Well, he’s not such a bad guy really. [laughs]
John: I was trying to do the Star Wars thing, but I think I actually did the pon farr from Star Trek.
Craig: Oh my. [hums] No, he’s not a bad guy. He’s a really smart guy. He’s just a little, you know, he’s very Foxy, well, when he was at Fox he was sort of Fox epitomized, wasn’t he?
John: Yeah, he was. And he was a reason why some people didn’t want to make a movie at Fox.
John: Yes. So, you and I dealt with him when we were making this deal for writers at Fox.
John: And I thought he was smart to make that deal, so I liked him for that. I don’t quite honestly understand this from Sony’s perspective, because I don’t see Sony saying like, “We need to make more movies. We need to be releasing more movies.” I don’t perceive that as being Sony’s problem that they’re not releasing enough movies. But maybe that’s what they perceive to be the case. They’re trying to make four movies a year at TriStar. And I don’t quite know how that’s going to work.
Craig: Well, can I ask, because I don’t know the answer to this — traditionally, did the TriStar brand represent a certain kind of movie for them the way that Touchstone did at Disney?
John: Sometimes yes and sometimes no. So, TriStar had a lot of romantic comedies. They had some Julia Roberts comedies kind of things. TriStar was actually my first employer in Hollywood. I worked there as a reader for about a year, during grad school. And so every day I would go into the lot — if you know the Sony Pictures lot, TriStar is at the far end of it. And so it’s this sort of big, modern building that feels very eighties.
And so I would park my car and go in and I’d pick up the two scripts that I needed to cover. I’d go home, read them, write my coverage, bring them back in, and this is all on paper. There was no email at that point at all. And deliver my coverage and pickup my new scripts. That was paying my rent for quite a long time. So, I have some affinity and some affection for the TriStar name.
TriStar was actually where I first met Andrea Gianetti who was the executive who ended up buying Go. So, that was fantastic. And it’s also where Chris Lee was — Chris Lee was running TriStar at the time when we set up Big Fish. And ultimately during the time we were making negotiations for Big Fish they merged TriStar into Columbia Pictures so it became a Columbia Pictures movie. But without TriStar I’m not sure that there would have been Big Fish. So, that’s my little like history and memory lane of TriStar brand.
But, I would say they didn’t have as clearly defined a role as Touchstone did for Disney, where Disney was “we are family movies,” Touchstone was “we can do other things, too.”
Craig: Right. So, in a case like this, listen, the bottom line is it’s good for us as writers. Sony, the Corporation of Sony, Daniel Loeb aside, has decided they’re going to make more movies. Great. And by the way, a guy like Tom Rothman I actually believe could be a spectacularly good producer. There’s something funny, you know, when you are asked to run a studio and report to the board of directors and deal with things outside of just making an individual movie, or two, or three, or four, it can certainly bring out the best, or worst, or both in you.
I guess it could send you to extremes depending on the kind of person you are. But, I could also see somebody like Tom being a terrific producer because he is a remarkably intelligent guy. I mean, you can see that right away. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever encountered. And I didn’t spend much time with him. But one of the smartest, evidently smartest people I’ve encountered in this business in my time in it. And that always helps.
And then maybe if he doesn’t feel like he’s responsible for delivering something other than a move that — in the shape it’s supposed to be, that it wants to be in, as opposed to a movie that say a slate needed to be in — I think he could be a terrific producer.
So, good for us. Maybe there’s another good producer out there. Maybe there are four more movies that employ writers and that’s terrific. Yeah, I’m not really sure what the point is, but I’m not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
John: I question though whether producer is really the right term for him, because he really is running a studio. So, is it more like the way that Joe Roth was a producer when he was running Caravan Pictures?
Craig: I think so.
John: So, we talked about Screenwriter Plus the last episode, but this sort of like a Producer Plus, where like you are running a company that makes movies. And so almost more like what a New Line is where they are heavily involved in sort of everything they do in a way that a studio isn’t. That distinction between what a studio head is and what a producer is can get kind of murkiness.
Craig: Well, yeah, because, it depends really on if he’s allowed to green light his own movies. I would be surprised if that were the arrangement, but maybe it is. And if he is, then yeah, maybe he just goes back to being the Tom Rothman he was three or four years ago.
John: Here’s the question: will his name be on the movies that get released? Because Amy Pascal’s name is not on Columbia Pictures movies.
Craig: No. And I would imagine that they wouldn’t be, but yeah, I guess I am sort of thinking of him in that Joe Roth way, Roger Birnbaum way from back in the old Caravan days, or Spyglass, that it is sort of like Producer Plus. But, I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong.
I mean, I guess if TriStar doesn’t have its marketing department, and TriStar isn’t green lighting movies, and TriStar doesn’t have say a number under which they can just make any movie they want and TriStar has to get certain casting or director approvals from big Sony, then no. But if yes, then yes.
John: Yeah. So, looking across the different studios, there are a number of these sort of entirely absorbed sort of second entities within companies.
John: So, I’m thinking of Fox 2000 at Fox.
Craig: And New Regency at Fox.
John: New Regency at Fox. Although New Regency has completely their own money. So they function autonomously but then they also — they release through Fox.
John: New Line, which is now absorbed into Warner’s, they still have like a New Line logo, but they feel like they’re really very much a Warner’s company now. New Line which used to — the executives at New Line used to be listed as producers on their movies.
John: We talked about Disney with Touchstone Pictures, which I think they sometimes dust off that brand. They used to have Hollywood Pictures. And you remember what they always said about Hollywood Pictures?
Craig: “It’s the sphinx, it stinks.” [laughs]
John: [laughs] Exactly.
Craig: And you haven’t seen the sphinx in a long, long time.
John: We haven’t seen it. Oh, I kind of love the sphinx though. I wish there were some next sort of Tarantino filmmaker who wanted to make movies at Disney who insisted on using the Hollywood Pictures.
Craig: I always wondered why the sphinx, by the way? Why would you call it Hollywood Pictures and then put a sphinx on it?
John: Well, isn’t that from Cleopatra, from that kind of —
Craig: Is it? I don’t know. I mean, but it seems strange. Is Cleopatra really that — is there a synecdoche — am I using that — synecdoche of the — ? Anyway.
John: A synchronicity?
Craig: No, I think it’s synecdoche. I think synecdoche —
John: Oh, so like one thing stands for the other.
Craig: Exactly. Yeah.
John: Okay. All right.
Craig: Now it’s just that Charlie Kaufman movie.
John: Yeah, that’s all it is now. And so now they’re going to revive this TriStar label at Columbia Pictures. And, yes, it’s an opportunity to make more movies. And maybe you’re going to make some slightly different kinds of movies than you would make at the other place. Maybe a different person’s taste will help balance it out. Maybe some diversity in there is useful. But, I mean Tom Rothman diversity versus Amy Pascal diversity, is that really diversity? We’ll see
Craig: Yeah, exactly. Now, is TriStar the horse that runs towards us?
John: Yeah. TriStar is the Pegasus that flies up.
Craig: Yes. Got it. Remember Orion?
John: I remember Orion had a great little logo. The last Orion movie I remember seeing was Silence of the Lambs, I think.
Craig: Was that Orion?
John: I would swear that was Orion.
John: I can Google it right now.
Craig: I know that Woody Allen had movies through Orion for awhile. And I remember, let’s see, Orion…oh, listen to you clack, clack, clack, clack.
John: Yeah, I have the loudest keyboard on earth.
Craig: I’m doing it on my quiet iPhone.
John: Yeah. Let’s see who gets there first.
Craig: Let’s see. Silence of the Lambs, well done. Well done.
Craig: Yup. Silence of the Lambs, 1991.
John: God, I remember sitting and seeing Silence of the Lambs in Des Moines, Iowa. I was with my friend George Vosness. And at some point, like about midway through the movie I just tuned to George like, “This is amazing.” Just acknowledging this experience like, “This movie is so good.”
John: And it was so good.
Craig: A little side note on Silence of the Lambs. My friend Steve Garrett, this college buddy of mine, he said, “You’ve got to read this Tom Harris book. It’s the most amazing book.” And so I read it, I think, I would say the summer right before Silence of the Lambs the movie came out. Because it came out I think in like January or February of ’91, I think, or something like that. And I think I read it the summer prior. So, I knew everything. I had read the book, which I thought was the most amazing book I’d ever read.
And then I saw the movie and I’m like, “Oh man, this is better than what I saw in my head.” It was one of those things where the movie was better than the movie I saw in my head when I read the book. It’s a perfect movie.
John: It’s just amazing.
Craig: It’s flawless.
John: You look at what they do. I mean, brilliantly cast throughout. Just the right kind of misdirections and surprises.
Craig: Everything is just perfect. And it’s also timeless. I mean, there’s not one old fashioned thing about it. Pretty remarkable.
John: Pretty remarkable. And even discounting sort of the Hannibal, which some people really like — the TV series version of Hannibal — it had a huge impact on not only how we were making movies for awhile and what a thriller would be like, but you look at sort of the procedurals, the one-hour procedurals and sort of like how that changed. It was just a huge cultural impact.
Craig: And you know, last but not least I will say that Anthony Hopkins prior that movie had kind of disappeared for a bit because he had this pretty serious drinking problem. And just fell off the wheel. And then this was kind of his triumphant return in a big way. And I just wasn’t that familiar with him, you know, because I was still pretty young.
And it was just cool at the age of 20 to be hit in the face with an actor of that age who is that good who I just wasn’t familiar with at all. It was pretty remarkable.
John: It’s a nice thing.
Craig: Yeah. And, god, man, he was scary.
John: Well, folding back through the Orion and sort of like why this sort of matters is it’s important to recognize that studios and labels come into being and then go away. And they rise, and they change, and that is sort of the natural flow of how the business works. You just want to make sure that there are enough places out there, because if there aren’t it feels like, you know, six good studios that are releasing movies, it’s tougher for everybody.
You want there to be some different people out there doing different kinds of movies.
Craig: Right. One more advocate on your behalf is a good thing. We have three people who are seeking advocates today in the guise of you and me.
John: We do. I think we actually have five, because two of these Three Page Challenges come from writing teams.
Craig: Quite right. And for the first time I believe we know everyone’s name. Maybe not the first time, but nearly the first time. We even know somebody’s address, but we won’t read it on the air. [laughs]
John: [laughs] Yes. Stuart is very careful to strip out that stalker information from the Three Page Challenges.
John: Who shall we look at first, Craig?
Craig: You know what? Why don’t we — how about we start with Detroit. Would you like me to summarize Detroit?
John: Go for it. I was hoping you would do this one.
Craig: Yeah, sure. Detroit written by Robert Rue. Thank you, Robert, for sending this in. So, we open in a hospital room and the title says, “DETROIT, MICHIGAN JULY 27, 1999.” Mary in her 20’s is in bed with her newborn son in her arms and her husband, Ben, a little older in a police uniform, holds hands with her but he’s on the phone. And he’s talking to somebody and he’s very upset. “What!? What the hell for?” He’s upset, he’s upset.
And she asks why. And he says, “Barry quit”
“Barry Sanders. He quit.”
We then go to the Pontiac Silverdome and we hear the voiceover of a boy. And the boy is describing Barry Sanders’ career and how he quit the Detroit Lions and why and what it meant for the Detroit Lions. And says, “I came into the world the same day Barry disappeared.” So we understand that this voiceover is the kid that we just saw being born in the first scene.
And then we hear, as Ray Charles sings, we see shots of Detroit. It’s a disaster as you would expect. And now we meet our narrator kids who is 14-year-old Doc. And he’s chasing another 12-year-old kid down, grabs him to the ground, takes a switchblade out, and basically robs the kid.
Craig: So, what did you think, John?
John: There are things I enjoyed about this. And I liked the way of painting the city. I thought some of the voiceover stuff with that worked really well. I got confused at times in a not helpful way. And I also, I wasn’t convinced that I was going to be led on a good path, a good story path.
And so let me talk about some things that did not work for me.
John: Right from the very start, Hospital Room, we get that title card that says what day it is. “MARY GILLETTE (late-20’s) lies in bed with her new-born son in her arms. Her husband, BEN GILLETTE (mid-30’s), in a police uniform, holds hands with Mary.”
So, this is, and he’s on the phone, this is meant to be like the baby was just born, yet I didn’t really feel that in the sentence, probably because there’s a lot being thrown at me here at once.
Let’s maybe focus on the baby first so I know like, okay, this baby is the important thing. And then we will talk about the other people. I keep expecting for like Mary and Ben to become the big main characters. And it’s the baby is the thing that I need to be worried about. So, in some ways if I had just heard the phone call more before it actually got focused on the guy, I might appreciate this a little bit more.
We think like, oh, they got just horrible news, just horrible news. It’s Barry Sanders, he quit, then it’s sort of a bit of a joke. Right now it didn’t really feel like a joke to me.
John: How are you reading that opening scene?
Craig: It seemed like a joke to me. I laughed. [laughs] I laughed when he said, “Barry Sanders. He quit.” I totally agree that I would love to see a shot of that newborn kid. We’re going to see this in another script in a minute, in another Three Page Challenge, but “lies in bed with her new-born son in her arms,” you need to show me that it’s a newborn son. It’s not enough even that it says hospital room.
I love your idea of opening on the baby. See that there’s the clip on the umbilical cord, or it’s wrapped in that blanket, evidently newborn, you know. That they’re literally — the delivery people are cleaning stuff out of the room, like this just happened, you know what I mean? But, yeah, I laughed when he said, “Barry Sanders. He quit.” That made me laugh. It’s such a Detroit thing.
John: One thing, so it’s 1999, so this is pre-cell phones. He wouldn’t be on a cell phone.
Craig: No, no, it’s not pre-cell phone.
John: Let’s try to think. No, he could be. Yeah, he could be.
Craig: He’s on a Nokia.
John: He’s on a Nokia. A little flip phone. All right. But then if it is on a cell phone there are jokes to be had about that, too. Because like you’re not supposed to use those in a hospital. I don’t know. I felt like there could be more — I don’t know. I want a little bit more of a meal here and I want to know who I need to focus on and what’s the important thing.
So, let’s go to what I thought was a more successful, well, first something that didn’t quite work for me. Doc starts his voiceover. And here’s his voiceover: “Barry Sanders walked away from football just 1400 yards shy of Walter Payton’s all-time rushing record. From what I hear, no one saw it coming.”
And then it says, “We see a video clip of a heart-stopping Barry Sanders move.” And it describes the move. But what’s weird is we’re in this EXT. PONTIAC SILVERDOME, and suddenly we see a — wait, is this somehow projected inside the stadium itself? Are we cutting to something? If it really is like a new thing, give us that as an intermediate slug line of like the video thing. Because otherwise I feel like we’re seeing it in the stadium. Or tell us that it’s overlapping somehow.
John: I just got confused like what I was actually seeing on screen.
Craig: I agree. You definitely — my impression is that you’re going to want to cut to, that that’s going to be sort of like a burst. And then back to where we are. The other thing is I feel quite — I like that it — Doc’s voiceover, “Barry Sanders walked away from football just 1400 yards shy of Walter Payton’s all-time rushing record.” Period.
Do not say, “From what I hear, no one saw it coming.” That’s just a weird thing to put in voiceover. “From what I hear.” Who are you, A; B, what do you mean “from what I hear?” What do you mean? “No one saw it coming.” No one say it coming, right, you could say, “No one saw it coming,” but we know no one saw it coming because we just saw your dad not see it coming. Just lose that line. Just don’t need it.
John: I agree. A thing I liked later on in this page, “We hear the sound of an iPod SHUFFLING through the choices and a faint CLICK.” I know what that sound is and that’s great, too.
I don’t know that we necessarily need all of that sentence. “We hear an iPod SHUFFLING though choices and a faint CLICK.” But anyway, that’s a nice way just to introduce the fact that we are going to be starting a track, in this case it’s a Ray Charles track, which is great. And so we’re going to be overlapping this Ray Charles track with his voiceover and this is all very stylized, poetic, and it feels like some credits are going to be probably happening at the same time, too.
Craig: Yeah. That works. Tonally I’m a little jarred, because the first scene is comedy, frankly. And the second scene feels like we’re in The Blind Side, replete with footage of an NFL game. So, tonally I’m a little jarred. Also, by the way, on your second voiceover paragraph, “The Detroit Lions have never played in a Super Bowl.” You could lose that line, too. I mean, voiceover really needs to be as sparse as possible. “With Barry, the Detroit Lions made it all the way to the NFC championship game. Without him, they’ve never even come close.” That covers that it’s also not a Super Bowl.
But I like that he ties it to, “I came into the world the same day Barry disappeared. Let the Detroit curse continue.” That’s interesting, you know. You don’t need to say “a beat.” “Beat” usually works there in parenthesis.
And then sort of continuing to stomp on the tone of the first page, we have what happens on page three.
John: Yeah. The bottom of page three is really my issue and my challenge. So, Doc, who is our narrator, so here’s what’s described:
A hooded, skinny kid appears in view, our first image of the 14 YEAR-OLD DOC:
Lean and angular, he jogs down the street with steam coming from his mouth. His hood is cinched tightly around his face. iPod earphones hang from his collar.
He follows a BOY (12). Doc quickens his pace and now sprints. The boy turns to look just as Doc yokes the kid and pulls him to the ground.
Doc drags him into the tall grass and holds a switchblade to the boy’s throat.
Let me know if you wanna disappear.
Uh, okay. I now do not want to be in a movie with this kid Doc.
Craig: Well, let me say this. I really liked that he says, “It’s not just Barry. People disappear around here all the time. Sometimes I think about disappearing, too, just to find out where everybody goes.” That’s a really good line. I like that. I’m not exactly sure what it means, but I like it anyway, you know what I mean? It just feel evocative. It feels like something a very dramatic 14-year-old kids would say. I did not like that he then actually says “Let me know if you want to disappear” out loud.
John: Exactly. It’s one of those sort of poetic lines that can work in voiceover but sound bizarre coming out of an actual person’s mouth.
Craig: Bingo, right. So, you get away with stuff in voiceover. Everybody in voiceover is Morgan Freeman. Everybody is Maya Angelou. But the second you start talking like Maya Angelou in the street, they’re going to arrest you for being insane, unless you’re actually Maya Angelou. And even she probably doesn’t do it over lunch.
Craig: So, that doesn’t work. There is a version of this story where you’ve got this 14-year-old kid who is an absolute criminal and he is, I don’t know, he’s going to join the football team and he’s going to find his way. Who knows? I don’t know where it goes from here. I’m not willing to judge it just because Doc is a jerk. Not yet, you know. I need to see sort of where it goes.
But, I guess just from a craft point of view, it was just that line. Just dialogue wise, that’s a no-no.
John: So, to me, when I had a voiceover philosopher talking to me for two pages, and then suddenly he’s pulling a knife on some 12-year-old kid and throwing him down to the ground, I have this cognitive dissonance that makes me not trust the storyteller.
Craig: You know, it’s funny. I had the other reaction. I kind of liked that the omniscient wise narrator turns out to be a jerky kid. That to me was exciting. So, there you have it. This is why we need more than one person running a studio.
John: Exactly. Maybe Tom Rothman would like the script and Amy Pascal wouldn’t. I can guarantee you Amy Pascal would not like this script.
Craig: Yeah, Tom’s not going for it either. But, you know what? That’s okay. When I run my studio I’ll go for it unless I don’t like what’s on page four.
John: Mm-hmm. It’s all about page four.
Craig: Yes, but Robert I think there was really good stuff in here, Robert. You just need to kind of clean up a little bit of these — some of it is a little overwritten, I guess.
John: Yeah. I would agree. And I think there is something provocative and interesting that you’re setting up here. It’s a matter of just getting it to, you know, making sure we are with you on every page and every sentence.
John: Yeah. Let me summarize our next script which is Blood from a Stone, by Catherine Grieve & Dylan Wagner.
We fade in on a desert settlement at dawn. It’s a world beyond repair. A solitary ghost town tucked against the sandstone canyons. We’re going to be following a lone child who is six years old who hurries through the square. And we hear this — we see other inhabitants of the town in a straight line, talking amongst themselves.
We hear this thud, this thud keeps happening. He’s going to follow this line through. He comes up to his mother. She clutches him close, but she tells him to sort of stay silent. There is a woman buried up to her chest in the dirt. And the people in this line are each taking a turn throwing a stone at her. And so we see one woman stop. This is Aponi.
She steps forward through a pile of stones, searching for blunted edges. She throws the stone and the women’s temple, dazing her.
We then go to see sort of more of the town life. Various women gossiping, going about their lives, gathering water. There are men with guns, they’re goons, who wander through the settlement as protection but also as sort of authority. As we close the story down, as we get to the end of these three pages, we are at the old town hall with a semicircle of seats. And the nine elders of the town, the Council. And right as we end at page three, Elder Pulvers, who is the most senior of these people, is about to speak.
I should say this: throughout these three pages, no one has spoken the whole time, so this is just a silent sequence.
John: Craig Mazin, tell me about this.
Craig: Oh boy. Well, I really struggled with this. I really struggled through this. And I’ll go through the reasons why, but here’s just a large bird’s eye impression. There was something about the rhythm of the way that these two wrote this that was so boring to me.
You know when you’re writing without dialogue you can make it really interesting, but it just seemed like everything kept starting dry. Every new bit just was like, there was no flow to anything. And I mean, we’ll go through why, but it just felt like everything just stopped and started, stopped and started, stopped and started. And nothing seemed exciting. Everything seemed sort of weird and lifeless.
I’ll just walk through some, first of all, the amount of facts not in evidence problems in this is just remarkable. I mean, let’s just start. “The world beyond repair.”
EXT. DESERT SETTLEMENT – DAWN
The world beyond repair.
John: Yeah, so here’s my biggest issue with this. I don’t know if I’m on Tatooine, or if I’m in Iraq, or if I’m in Afghanistan, or some sort of African village. I have no idea where I am.
Craig: I don’t know what year it is. I don’t know, is this Mad Max? Is it post-nuclear apocalypse? Is it Afghanistan right now? Is it Detroit? [laughs]
John: It’s Detroit. [laughs] The big surprise on page four, they pull up, “You’re in Detroit.”
Craig: No, I mean, but no matter, the fact that we don’t know where we are in and of itself isn’t necessarily a crime, because we may find out in an interesting way on page four. But, when you start your script, showing me a desert settlement and then telling me “the world beyond repair,” I don’t know what the rest of the world looks like at all. You can’t say that.
“A solitary ghost town tucked against sandstone canyons.” Fine
John: Again, Tatooine.
Craig: Right. Now basically Bartertown from Mad Max, rundown buildings, we’ve seen this world. The Book of Eli town. We’ve seen it.
Craig: And then there’s a lone child and we’re using this child the way that people use waiters to begin banquet scenes in movies. It’s basically just a kid running through so we could see other stuff. And either this lone child, six years old, is going to be very, very important — I doubt it because the character’s name is Lone Child — or you’re just using a gimmick and you’re forcing me to watch the gimmick for an entire page. Gimmick kid, you know, is not worthy of my attention.
The problem is you know that gimmick kid is just gimmick kid. I don’t. I’m sitting here waiting for something to happen to this kid. And if the kid is important, give him a name, and then I’ll feel a little bit better about it. But there is an entire page to reveal this woman buried in her chest getting stoned to death, Sharia Law style.
And it was exhausting to me, frankly.
John: Yeah, it was.
John: So, here’s another problem of lack of specificity. Halfway through page one, “He sees the settlement’s INHABITANTS, waiting in a straight line, softly MURMURING amongst themselves.” So, inhabitants? Well what is an inhabitant? I don’t know what these people are like. How are they dressed? Are they men, are they women? Who are these people “softly murmuring amongst themselves?”
If they’re talking, they’re talking. So, are we going to hear what they’re saying, or we’re not going to hear what they’re saying?
Craig: Right. Is it English?
John: Is it English? Like what language are we in now?
John: And so that just made me lose a little bit of faith in the script and it was only a half a page finished.
Craig: Yeah, keep going.
A continuous rhythm as the boy passes the slow procession, nearly to the front --
When someone reaches out to grab him. His MOTHER. She clutches him close.
Well, am I going to know that’s his mother? I don’t know that we’re going to know this.
Craig: Facts not in evidence. [laughs]
John: Exactly. It’s a woman who does that. So, unless she says something to him or we get some special information, but we don’t even know that this boy is important. So, this boy doesn’t have a name. And the mother is just a mother. So, I don’t know what this is.
Finally on page two we get a character with, okay, well actually the start of page two I need to point something out.
Craig: Yeah, here we go. [laughs] Stone in stone.
John: Yeah. “Her STONE FACED HUSBAND (60s) stands a few yards away.”
Craig: By the way, facts not in evidence. Don’t know that he’s her husband.
John: But, “Her STONE FACED HUSBAND (60s) stands a few yards away.”
Craig: Yeah, and…
John: “A STONE strikes her in the face, and she gasps for breath.”
Craig: Oh boy. How do you miss that?
John: Yeah, so you’re using stone in two very different ways, not in a clever way, just sort of like, “What? Huh?”
Craig: It’s just jarring. Here’s the thing: you could make a movie and the movie could be awesome and it could have a “stone faced husband,” and then the next thing could say “a stone strikes her in the face.”
The problem is for the people reading your script, when they see stuff like that they think, “Well, this writer, either they’re a little tone deaf or they don’t care.” Literally the word “stone” is capitalized right underneath the other stone.
John: So finally we’re going to meet a woman named Aponi. So, this is who we get to know Aponi.
Behind him a stoic woman (34), slender and tanned from a life spent working, seemingly without affect. She looks worn.
This is APONI.
But, we haven’t been given any — the filmmaking and sort of the words on the page haven’t given us any reason to why we’re going to focus on her rather than all the other people who we’ve seen in this line. And so she needs to do something. There needs to be some reason why we’re story-wise focusing on her. So either something needs to, an interaction needs to happen with her, she needs to take some action that puts the spotlight upon her, because just like the camera revealing her as the next person ain’t gonna cut it.
Craig: Yeah. Okay, so you’ve had a little boy, a mother, sorry, lone child, mother, woman, stone faced husband, thrower, teen boy. Oh, boy, all right. So, this is like a procession of inhabitants. Now this stoic woman — which by the way is the same thing as stone faced — she gets up and if she picks up this rock and she has this moment, “Their eyes meet, the woman stops digging as they stare, lost in a moment.” If that woman buried in the ground mouthed her name, something, so that we knew that this woman was something. You know?
Craig: Also, again, just facts not in evidence, “A stoic woman, slender and tanned from a life spent working,” we don’t know that. She could just be thin and in the sun. “Seemingly without affect.” Okay, seemingly doesn’t work. [laughs] And again, you’re cheating. Either without affect or not.
John: I will say that if Aponi is a major character, you are allowed to cheat on her character description to some degree. If there hadn’t been so much cheating already happening.
Craig: Maybe that’s why. I’m just so cheat, you know, yeah.
John: So, middle of page two.
The woman stops digging as they stare, lost in a moment --
BEFORE APONI HURLS THE STONE.
So, I had to read this like three times. So, “lost in a moment. Before Aponi hurls the stone.”
Craig: Right, exactly.
John: Wait, is it a time jump? What will happen, really the before needs to be in the previous sentence so we know that Aponi hurls the stone. But the before, that’s a weird sentence fragment that makes me think we’re going to do a time jump here.
Craig: Also, let me give you another thing that’s impossible to shoot. “Aponi steps forward to the pile of stones, searching for blunted edges.” How will we know? Please tell me how I know on screen someone is searching for blunted edges.
John: So, here’s the confusion. Is she trying to find a stone that will hurt her more or will not hurt her more? That what we need —
Craig: Even if, you’re absolutely right, that is a question. Like even if I knew — even if you flashed on screen, “Aponi is searching for blunted edges,” it would still leave us with a question. The problem is we’ll never even know that anyway. All we’re going to see is a hand mushing through stones, [laughs], see.
John: Let me give you an example of how we could do that if she wanted to find a less hurtful stone. She could pick up a stone and it’s like pretty small, and then someone could take it out of her hand and give her a bigger stone.
John: And that would let us know that she did not want to hurt someone.
Craig: Or she could pick up a stone that’s sharp, look at the woman, then put it down and take a smoother. Then a choice has been made. But, come on.
Craig: All right, there’s a lot of impossible things here. Yes, before Aponi hurls the stone, very strange. “It finds the woman’s temple, dazing her.” The stone didn’t find. I mean, you throw a rock at somebody, it hits them, you know.
John: I do love when things like, “It finds purchase,” like I love that sort of archaic writing, but in normal prose. It just doesn’t work in screenwriting. Screenwriting is very much the present tense and written like it is today.
Craig: Impact. A rock hits someone in the temple. That’s impact. Write with impact.
Craig: “The next stone lands, knocking the woman unconscious — And the dead rap continues behind…”
John: I think that’s the thump, thump, thump, thump.
Craig: Oh, okay, that’s weird. It’s just a weird phrase anyway, “dead rap.”
John: I want to point out word choice in the next block here. “A gaggle of 30 women.”
Craig: Oh boy.
John: Gaggle is a funny word. Gaggle makes me think, ha, ha, ha, giggle.
Don’t use gaggle in a serious situation.
John: So a group of 30 women can be better than a gaggle in that situation.
Craig: Yes. Yes.
John: Gaggle or geese. Another funny word: goons.
Craig: Yeah, what is that?
John: Goons is funny. G words are kind of funny. And they’re not meant — honestly, goons might kind of okay, but just don’t put it out there by itself.
Craig: I’ve got to go back to another one. There is so much going on here. “The entire settlement bustles.” So, you say, “EXT. SETTLEMENT – TOWN SQUARE — DAY” Settlement is a place, right? I know you could also say it is the corpus of people themselves, but “the entire settlement bustles” is an awkward sentence. These sentences are weird.
Craig: I mean, “Maybe 500 people in all.” Maybe? Maybe? [laughs] Tell us! How many people live here? Maybe? Eh.
Craig: But, you know what, the entire settlement bustling. Every single person is bustling.
Craig: D’oh! All right, yeah, goons is the worst possible word here. A good is an old fashioned heavy that works for a mobster. A goon is like a weird guy who’s the fifth banana in a gang. You know? This is different. And there’s no specificity to goon at all. Goon.
“Protection from dangers without and within.” How do we know that?
Craig: Now we have, and see, this is what I meant by also this kind of weird rhythm. So, we keep starting and stopping. We had the scene with the rocks. Then a gaggle. Then the settlement. Then the patrols. Then a collection of cars. Then a well. Then a settlement. Then a hall. It’s just uh-uh-uh nothing is happening. I feel like we’re looking at still photos almost.
John: I honestly feel like, you know, I took a trip to the Middle East and here’s all my slides. I’m going to click through them one at a time.
Craig: Yeah! It’s like a bad slide show.
Craig: It’s like a bad slide show here. There’s nothing that’s leading us anywhere. Like how do you cut — we talked about transitions — what’s the cut from this settlement outside to suddenly a truck depot, which by the way, how would will we even know where we are at that point? We’re suddenly at a truck depot.
I guess if we saw the truck depot or we saw somebody running with gasoline toward a truck depot, “a collection of late model vehicles.” Please describe what that means. Late model what?
John: Well, at least I knew we weren’t on Tatooine anymore, because they were like normal trucks and there were no Starfighters.
Craig: Right, so like 2013? 2012? Huh? I mean, “a collection of late,” this is really where my mind started going kazonky. “A collection of late model vehicles arranged in a row. Relics of an old world.” Explain — please to explain. [laughs]
John: Yeah, so late model, so are we in the future? Maybe we’re in the future.
Craig: If we’re in the future, how are they late model? They’re ancient. They’re ancient — like a collection of ancient 2010-era vehicles, or 2000-era vehicles arranged in a row. Relics in an old world. I’d understand that. But if they’re late model vehicles, how are they relics of an old world? What’s happening?
Craig: And then…oh, I’m sorry. I know.
John: I feel like we’re just piling on. Because, a lot of this doesn’t work. So, I want to go back to sort of — there was some instinct to write this thing, because I believe they’ve written probably more than just these three pages. They wrote this together. There was some instinct and some idea that caused them to write these things.
And so I want to tip them into a place in thinking about how to get those ideas or those instincts into something that is going to look good on a page.
So, they have this instinct to write a story of a woman buried in the sand and people throwing stones at her. That’s a very provocative image. And I’ve seen reports of that, but I haven’t actually seen that portrayed on film, and that’s a very potentially powerful thing to start with in a script.
But, I don’t think you start that kind of story with a kid running around in sort of the clichéd “let me show you the town” kind of way. I think you have to kind of get to that image. And then when you’re painting the nature of the town, you have to anchor us places and let us know what kind of world, what kind of movie this is. Is this Iraq, is this Afghanistan, is this Somalia? Where are we? Because we’ll get incredibly frustrated, just like Craig and I did, if we don’t know by that point.
You can start with this image that is sort of like you have this limbo kind of place. That’s great. I think the woman in that thing could be great. You can get right to your woman Aponi. But then Aponi should be our guide for what the rest of this world is like.
Craig: Yeah, look, there is always, there is story and there’s screenplay. And the story here may be spectacular. The problem that Catherine and Dylan have is a simple craft problem. They are not conveying what they see appropriately through the words here. And so the problems that they need to address, aside from story problems, which aren’t necessarily in evidence here — problems of tone, for instance, again, goons whacking each other upside the head, two pages after a woman is assassinated with rocks.
So, there’s problems of tone. There’s problems of facts not in evidence, which is a real situation. And in general there seems to be a disconnect between what the purpose of a screenplay is and what this screenplay is doing. Really ask yourselves guys how will people shoot this — how can they shoot what we’ve written? And if we really want them to know something, how can we put it in the screenplay in a way that they can actually shoot?
But, more than that, don’t be boring. Don’t be boring. And, you know what? Unfortunately this was boring.
John: Yeah, and I do wonder if sometimes it’s a writing team problem with this. It doesn’t feel like it has one voice. And maybe that is a problem of sort of these two writers trying to come together and negotiating word-by-word how they’re going to do stuff. But it didn’t feel like it was one — I didn’t have the confidence that I was hearing one person speak.
Craig: I will say that it’s certainly better than the first three pages I ever wrote. [laughs]
Craig: So there’s that!
John: There’s always that.
Craig: Yeah, don’t let this define you. The fact that we didn’t like these three pages doesn’t mean that you’re bad writers. It just means that you’ve got work to do on these three pages.
John: Let’s end on a happier note and let’s talk about — I hope it’s a happier note — The Dead Never Die, by Sarah Carman & James Roland.
Craig: It is. It is a happier note.
Craig: Quick summary here. We open on 1865. We’re out somewhere in the Old West. And a little girl, Loretta, eight years old is holding water and she’s holding water for her father, Moses, 50 years old, who’s digging a hole for a dead pig. And while he’s digging and drinking another pig keels over and dies and he starts digging another hole.
They’re in Central California and a lone rider approaches their home. His name is Frank Martin, he’s in his thirties. He enters their house, they’re not in the house, they’re away by the pigs. And he goes up into Moses’ room where he finds all these crates and chests full of stuff and he’s looking for something.
And Loretta sees some light coming from the room where this guy Frank has pushed a little wind chime around. And she goes into investigate. Frank spots a case, like a mysterious case, painted blood red with strange symbols. The little girl comes in. He gets her. He doesn’t hurt her, he just says, “Don’t scream or make any noise.”
And Moses realizes she’s gone. He heads into the house. And we realize that while Moses is entering the room that Frank is looking for a set of six shooters that have ivory handles. Moses enters. Frank draws his gun. Loretta knocks Frank’s arm away and the shot goes wild.
John: I enjoyed these three pages.
Craig: Me too.
John: So, let’s talk about sort of, I hate to say specificity, but like I knew the world that we were in. It was familiar, but it was just familiar enough. I sort of know what 1865, I know what the West is supposed to feel like. Our first image is “Two CORN HUSK DOLLS lie forgotten on a tree stump, dressed as boy and girl, a narrow gap between their outstretched hands.” Even that’s not necessarily and important image for the story overall, it puts me in a time and a place that I sort of get like corn husk dolls. That’s useful.
The dad is burying a pig. I get what that is like. This isn’t a rich — there are issues here. Some drama is going to be happening here.
John: One thing, for simplicity sake, I think you can cut out Loretta’s from all the scene headers, because every scene header says “EXT. LORETTA’S HOMESTEAD — DAY.” We don’t need, just homestead, we don’t need Loretta’s homestead. There’s no other homesteads we’re going to see.
John: So, just give us HOMESTEAD. We don’t need to know anything more important than that. Also Loretta’s made me think that it was an older character at the start that I needed to, so.
John: I like that Loretta takes some action. She’s curious. She’s a good girl who is there to help her father but she sees something. I love that she sees the reflection of the light in the room that makes her curious to go in there.
Craig: Yes, that’s how we connect things. Yup.
John: That’s terrific. And so early on, so this guy, this thief sort of comes to the — Frank comes into the house. Right away, near the top of page two: “Frank spots a case covered with a BURLAP SACK and whips it off, revealing: a STEAMER TRUNK, painted blood red, decorated with STRANGE SYMBOLS and locked tight. Yep, that’s the one.”
So, come on, you give me a trunk with strange symbols on it in an Old West setting, I’m intrigued. I really want to know what’s inside that chest. I want to know what kind of — I have enough information that I know what the Old West is, and now I think this is Old West Plus. There could be something supernatural happening here and I’m desperate to know what it is.
Craig: Yeah. These are really well done pages. The first thing that, yeah, I love the corn husk dolls, and I suspect that they are, as is often the case, thematic. There’s some thematic value there. But I really liked that while he’s digging this pit for this dead pig another pig wavers and falls to the ground. Even if that’s just meant to be like, “Ugh, life sucks out here. My pigs are sick,” in the back of my mind I’m thinking, “What’s going on with the pigs?” Something is up with the pigs.
John: There’s some poison. And now that we know that there’s something supernatural…
Craig: Well, and also the title is The Dead Never Die. And I’m thinking, hmm, virus, animals, dead, zombies. Who knows, right?
But something is up. I just like that it just — but the point is the writers just allowed that to happen and had faith that that was going to interest me. They didn’t make a big deal out of it. In fact, the main character just sighs and continues digging, as is appropriate.
The other thing that I really like, first of all, I always like it when characters, you know, little things, little writing things like “This must be the place. Frank begins his search.” That’s good. And I like that they’ve put it in italics, that’s smart.
John: Not only italics. They put it in Courier Prime. That’s why it looks so good. This whole script is in Courier Prime.
Craig: You’re so easy. You’re so easy.
And, yes, when he gets to that moment at the top of page two where he reveals the steamer trunk, what’s great is that they spent the first page not doing anything like that, just setting us really grounded in this world of the West. And now a new little thing. But then it’s right back to the rest of the world. The dialogue is sparse but makes sense.
I learn about Frank’s character through his actions, not through action description telling me what I’m supposed to think about his character. The action description doesn’t say anything about this dude.
He is 30. That’s what it tells us. That’s it. He’s 30. And then everything what I find out, he’s looking for something but is he bad? Well, I know this much, I know he’s confident. And then when he sees her and he grabs her, he’s actually okay with her. Right? Yeah, he threatens to kill her, but he doesn’t. Right?
John: At least on this page he doesn’t.
Craig: That’s right, he doesn’t. So, he’s not all bad. I have a feeling that Frank is not all bad.
John: Yeah. I think you’re probably right.
Craig: And the fact that I have a feeling about that from this is good. That’s a good sign. And then, “I bet a little girl like you has poked her nose into every nook of this house. I bet you know about every secret thing. Am I right?” It’s interesting. It’s just good stuff.
And then Moses is going to come in and then our first gunshot goes off at the bottom of page three. It’s tight, good writing, kept me interested. I really liked it.
John: I really liked it a lot. So, if I had small little points of suggestion, on page one, the description of the interior of the house. “The house is a thief’s paradise, crammed with dusty ANTIQUES and odd, exotic KNICK-KNACKS.” Thief’s paradise did not work for me. And the reason why is I don’t know if that’s meaning that the people who own the house are thieves or that this guy is a thief.
I would scratch that out because the next block of description we get into Moses’ bedroom. “The room is a dragon’s lair of treasures.” Dragon’s lair of treasures is a much better description. I know exactly what that is that you’re talking about there.
John: So, I would get rid of that thief’s paradise.
Craig: I agree.
John: But the fact that I can focus on such small little things is because it’s all really nicely done. And in terms of cheating, the italics that they’re using here, “STRANGE SYMBOLS and locked tight. Yep, that’s the one.” Yup that’s the one is completely a playable moment.
Craig: Yes. Yes!
John: We know how to do that, so that’s not cheating to say that there.
Craig: No, you can act it.
John: That’s a completely actable moment.
John: So, just really well done you guys.
Craig: Same thing, “Did he see her?” Right? That’s actable. That is in fact how directors direct actors. There’s nothing wrong with writing the subtext like that.
John: If it’s a playable moment.
Craig: Yeah, exactly.
John: So, let’s talk about this as what we think the script might end up being. Because people will come to us saying, “Oh, should I write this script, should I write that script?” This seems to be like a supernatural western. Are supernatural westerns the hottest thing in the world right now? No. And this could be a challenge to make. This could be an amazing read. And you should focus on writing the script that you really want to write, because I think they really love what they’ve written here. And I think the script is going to probably be great.
Even if they can’t get this one made, I bet people are going to read it and like it. And people reading and liking your stuff is tremendously helpful in terms of getting work and getting other things happening in your life.
John: So, I suspect we will hear more from Sarah Carman and James Roland at some point in the future.
Craig: I agree. And you know, remember folks, it’s a marathon. Scott Frank just finished — he’s editing A Walk Among the Tombstones. That’s a script that he wrote in 1997 or something. Sometimes these things just sit in a drawer for awhile until they get cool again. And so okay, yeah, supernatural westerns, maybe there’s a stink on that right now. No biggie. There’s not a stink on good writing.
John: No, never is.
Craig: Never. Never. So, somebody has something that they think you guys would be great at, they’ll hire you. Yeah.
John: Cool. It’s time for One Cool Things. Craig, I would like to go first.
Craig: Do it.
John: My One Cool Thing is this movie called The Spectacular Now which opened this past weekend. It is written by Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber, based on the novel by Tim Tharp and directed by James Ponsoldt who is actually one of my WGA mentees sort of people. I got assigned to him and he’s terrifically talented. He also did Smashed, which was a great movie.
So, everyone should just go see this movie. These are the same guys who did 500 Days of Summer.
Craig: Yeah, very nice guys. Well, I’ve met Scott. Scott’s a really nice guy.
John: Maybe Michael could be just a total jerk.
Craig: He might be, but Scott is a super nice guy.
John: Yeah. And so you can hate them for their success, but you could also celebrate them for making good movies. And so they’re known as sort of book adapters at this point. They’re also doing The Fault in our Stars, which will probably be a giant hit coming up down the road. But, the reason why you should see The Spectacular Now is it’s a movie without a villain really. It has a classic sort of two-hander structure where each of the main characters is the other character’s antagonist. They’re causing change in each other.
Amazing performances by Miles Teller.
Craig: Oh, Miles Teller is cool. I like that guy.
John: He’s great. And Shailene Woodley who is great and honest and sort of simple in a way that you just wish more performances could be. So, highly recommended. Try to go see it in the theater while you can because it’s great.
Craig: Terrific. Well my One Cool Thing is for those of you out there that like wine. Are you wine drinker?
John: I love wine.
Craig: So, I’ve been getting into wine, but I’m not a big drinker. Usually I’m good for, well, you know, anywhere between one and two glasses. One and 1.5 glasses. So, what happens if you’re just not basically a big wine guzzler, you open a bottle of wine and you pour yourself a glass or two, maybe your pour your spouse a glass or two, but there’s some left over and what do you do with it. So, there’s an industry around that. And the idea is that oxygen is bad for wine.
Well, it’s good for wine until it’s bad for wine. So, over time, you know, some wines can stay out for a couple of days, some sort of need to be drunk that night. You could put your wine in the fridge; that seems to slow the degeneration down. And then they have these little vacuum stopping things. Do you have those?
John: We have them. I don’t find them useful.
Craig: Yeah, well, it’s interesting. There’s a whole debate about whether they work or not. Some people, basically the conventional wisdom is they work better than nothing but they don’t work as well as they should.
Enter this genius, this engineer wine drinker and his device which is available now for sale called the Coravin. And what I love about this is so he’s drinking wine he thinks, like an engineer, “Really, what I want to do is teleport the wine out of the bottle without ever opening it.” Right? [laughs]
John: Oh my.
Craig: So, how do you do that, right? He comes up with this brilliant device, the Coravin. And the way it works is it’s basically a needle that pushes through — you don’t even take the foil off — pushes through the foil, through the cork, into the gap in the bottle, right, between the cork and the wine.
And then it injects a little capsule of argon. Argon is a…
John: It’s a noble gas.
Craig: It’s a noble gas. It’s inert. And it uses the same kind of cartridges that they have in like those fancy whip cream things, or even like a paintball gun. And so it fills that space with Argon, which doesn’t interact with the wine at all. And then when you tip it over it basically forces the wine out through this little needle that you’ve pushed through, and out through the needle into your glass.
And then when you’re done you just lift it back up and the Argon basically is filling that space and no air is getting in at all. And then you take this thing when you’re done you just remove it and essentially the needle is so thin that the cork just seals up behind it and air never gets in.
And when you watch the video of it you’re like, “Oh, that’s cool. That is cool.”
So, what you’re doing is, A, you’re getting rid of having to deal with ever taking a cork out of a bottle again. And, B, the whole pumpy vacuum things, or your fridge, or any of that stuff is gone. So, it’s very expensive. I think it’s like $300.
John: [laughs] Oh my god, Craig.
Craig: Well, I’m not buying it. I’m just saying it’s cool. I mean, look, here’s the thing: if you’re just an average wine drinker, no, of course not. But if you’re a person that buys $100, $200 bottles of wine because you’re a big winey guy, well this makes total sense.
John: Yeah, I disagree. I don’t think it makes sense in almost any situation. Because here’s the solution to this problem: finish the bottle.
Craig: But sometimes you can’t, you alcoholic.
John: Invite some friends over and finish the bottle. If you have a bottle of wine that is that that good, you should have someone over there to celebrate that bottle of wine with you. I got a bottle of wine for my birthday and I’ll have people over and we’ll finish it.
Craig: Oh, did you get something good?
John: I think it’s pretty good. My agent sent it to me. It’s French.
John: It looks kind of old.
Craig: Is it from Burgundy? Is it [French accent] Burgundy?
John: I actually haven’t looked that closely at the label. But it’s probably delicious.
Craig: All right. Great.
John: So, what would also be delicious is if people want to find out more information about the things we talked about today on the show you can follow the show notes at johnaugust.com/podcast where you’ll fine show notes for all our things.
If you are listening to this on iTunes or for some reason your feed did not update, you could delete what you have now and just re-add us in iTunes. That’s the best solution for people who seem to have trouble following us after the server update.
While you’re in iTunes, leave us a comment, because that helps other people find our show. If you would like to buy the 100 episodes of Scriptnotes that existed before this point, you can do so now at store.johnaugust.com.
Craig: Totally you should do that. That’s just a no brainer.
John: You should probably just do that because that’s a good idea. And we have a few t-shirts left, so those are only while supplies last. Literally while supplies last. So, those are $20 a piece.
We are available on Twitter, @johnaugust and @clmazin. And then if you need to send us an email about a Three Page Challenge you go to johnaugust.com/threepage, all spelled out.
And if you need to send an email to me or to Craig, you should send it to email@example.com and we will answer questions at times.
Craig: [sirens in background] Listen, listen, it’s the first one. So, we didn’t have any for the entire time and then one just came by. You know what that is? That’s the birthday siren.
John: Mm-hmm. A very special siren indeed. And I also want to thank all the people who have been sending through their outros. So, a couple weeks ago I said like, “Hey, if you want to write us an outro for the show send it to us, or send us a link to it, even better, at firstname.lastname@example.org. I just ask that you use the underlying theme, the sort of opening them. [hums]
And people have sent through these really amazing ones. So, I’ve been using a couple of them. Every time I will put a link to who the person was who sent that through.
And, Craig, thank you again for a fun podcast.
Craig: Thank you, John. And Happy Birthday.
- George Clooney tells Daniel Loeb to stop spreading fear at Sony
- The New York Times on Sony hiring Tom Rothman to revive TriStar
- Three Pages by Robert Rue
- Three Pages by Catherine Grieve & Dylan Wagner
- Three Pages by Sarah Carman & James Roland
- The Spectacular Now is spectacular
- Vanity Fair talks to Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
- Coravin lets you enjoy your wine without ever pulling the cork
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Matthew Chilelli