The original post for this episode can be found here.
John: So, I see a microphone stand. If you have a question that you would like to ask me, or Craig, or Andrew Lippa, come down this aisle and come to this thing and we’re going to —
Craig: There is no microphone there at all.
John: But we’ll make the microphone happen. You can just put up one of ours.
First Questioner: Hello.
First Questioner: Longtime listener, first time live attendee. I guess I was wondering, you know, we’re here on Broadway and you’ve been working on this for 15 years, this path. Other than just sort of raw, human grit and tenacity — and I guess this obviously applies to screenplays as well, maybe less so to TV — do you have any specific creative strategies that you employ to see the forest through the trees, just to get, you know, spiritually excited about something again that’s so close to you when it begins?
John: Quite early on when I read Daniel Wallace’s novel, as I was flipping pages I was sort of building out sort of the Bloom family and the world, because Will Bloom is just the narrator in the book, so I had to sort of create him. And I just literally put myself in it. And so I made Will Bloom my age, and Edward Bloom my dad’s age so I could keep the timelines straight. I made him a journalist because I was a journalism major. I gave him a French wife because I’m gay and that’s the closest I could get.
And so I literally put myself so deeply into it, which was very helpful, so it was very easy to stay invested in it, but it was also very emotionally not necessarily the smartest choice or person in my life, because when it came time to kill Edward Bloom and do all that stuff, I got really method and I would drive myself to tears and write those scenes.
So, every time I have to touch any part of it, it’s just like it’s incredibly live wires which is dangerous. But, in my head, I have the whole Bloom house and the whole Bloom family. And so I can do anything. I can write Edward Bloom and Will Bloom in space. And I can make that all work because I know them really, really well.
And so every word of the show has changed over time, yet it still feels like the real — the same thing — because it’s coming through me and through those same patterns I set up. So, it’s investing deeply and it sounds weird to say sort of never give up, but I just never gave up. And there was a long time where we couldn’t get the studio to make the movie and I found the right people to get it to the right director to be able to make it. This wasn’t happening for a long time and there were many moments I didn’t think it was going to happen.
And yet every time Andrew and I would get together to work again, we’d make something cool that I really wanted to see on stage. And so that’s been the process.
Thank you so much.
Ramona: Hola. I just wanted to say thank you so much, gentlemen, for coming out and showing New York some love. We really, really appreciate it.
Craig: You’re welcome. You know, I grew up on Staten Island.
Ramona: Staten Island.
Craig: Yo, what’s up? Shelly, come on!
Ramona: John August, thank you for sharing a part of your baby with us tonight. We can really feel the love and everything that you’ve poured into it. And just really looking forward to seeing you on the Broadway stage. Craig Mazin, I didn’t think I would ever say this. I’ve officially fallen in love with you tonight. Your voice is melodious, sir.
Craig: I knew you would say it.
Ramona: I know. I couldn’t help it. And Andrew Lippa, you are a phenomenon. Thank you so much for sharing your talent with us tonight. And if you and Hugh Jackman ever had a sing-off, I’d be there in a heartbeat. Thank you again. Thank you so much.
Craig: That’s so nice. Thank you so much. You’re super nice. What’s your name?
Ramona: My name is Ramona, sir.
Craig: You’re the best.
Ramona: Thank you, Craig Mazin.
Craig: Thank you. Thank you for coming.
Rob: Hey guys, I’m Rob. I had a question for each of you. It was interesting to me to hear about a film that was almost kind of I guess reverse engineered into a musical. It usually maybe goes the other direction, the musical that gets made into a movie. I was wondering if each of you might — if you could think about a film that you would, another film, that you would think, maybe one of yours, or maybe somebody else’s that this process would work for, too, turning it into a musical and kind of why that particular film might work.
John: There’s one that neither Andrew Lippa or I will mention, but there’s another thing which we think is a great idea, so we’re not going to mention that one. But I will say that the movies that will work well is if the characters have a rich emotional inner life that wants to be sung. And some things want to be sung and some things don’t want to be sun.
Charlie’s Angels does not want to be sung. But an example, like Corpse Bride, when I came out with Corpse Bride it wasn’t a musical. And I was like, “Tim, let me have one song, so I can at least set up the world.” I wanted a sort of “welcome to the world” song that became according to plan. And then once I broke the seal we were able to get those characters singing more.
You know, we just were talking about Michael Clayton, which seems like the weirdest thing to do. Craig is shaking his head. Here’s why it’s a terrible idea is that it’s incredibly plot-driven. And if there’s plot, or if plot or detail is going to be driving the story that’s not going to work.
Andrew Lippa: I’ve got one.
Andrew: Do you remember the movie 21 Grams?
Andrew: The Alejandro González Iñárritu film. That film is like so crazy. It plays with time. But at its heart it’s really about four people and this crazy sense of coincidence/fate universal, spiritual thing bringing people together. One dies, one lives, and I think it’s an opera. And I’m just so fascinated with that film as something to sing about because I think what goes on in it is so human and so it’s like in the back of my head. It’s a crazy idea that I’m sure nobody would want to pay for. So, I probably will never get it done.
John: I actually thought of one. The Spectacular Now, the recent movie, would be a great musical because those characters — you have a character who is aware that he’s actually the source of the problem and that’s fantastic. Craig?
Craig: Well, I mean, The Wizard of Oz. That’s one. Totally. It’s never been done. [laughs]
[Pianist beings playing Somewhere Over the Rainbow]
This guy is the best.
The movies that I do really can’t — they shouldn’t be musicals. I mean, for so many reasons. Women with dicks, you know, they’re just — film comedies are meant to be laughed at and laughed with. And musicals, you’re supposed to be quiet when people are singing, you know. The movies that I make are really about not being quiet. So, I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that I would want to see as a musical.
I know that, you know, I did a bunch of movies with David Zucker and Jim Abrahams of ZAZ fame and people have been after them to do an Airplane! musical forever. And they keep saying, “No, no, no. It would just be really…” It’s just the whole point of Airplane! is to make fun of what’s serious, you know?
Andrew: There’s also the idea of what’s perfect in the medium. You know, like Airplane! is perfect in its medium.
Craig: Right. Right.
Andrew: It is a perfect comedy. It is absolutely spectacularly wonderful. And so I don’t know how you make it any better when you make it a musical. And so there are lots of projects out there, and I won’t name them, but there are lots of projects like that where there are films that are being turned into musicals where I ask myself the question, well, I try not to because I try not to worry about what everybody else is doing. I just worry about what I’m doing. That’s hard enough.
And especially when I’m falling in bathtubs. But, if the thing was super perfect in that medium, then it’s really hard to change mediums, I think.
Craig: Producers worked.
Andrew: Big Fish is a beautiful film.
Andrew: The movie Producers was one of the biggest flops ever.
Craig: No, no, the original movie.
Andrew: Oh, the original movie.
Craig: And then the musical I thought was, I mean, I enjoyed the musical. You don’t think so?
Andrew: Oh, okay, so there’s — oh, great, he’s that guy.
Craig: [sings] “I used to be the king, the king of old Broadway.”
Andrew: There’s always one example. Okay, that one.
Craig: Thank you. I’m just saying.
Andrew: 10 Commandments the Musical, try that. They did. They did! They did. Lord of the Rings, The Musical.
Craig: Oh, that would be awesome!
Andrew: They did it! And it failed, unfortunately. Like King Kong is supposed to be amazing. So, go figure.
Craig: All right. Okay. Yeah.
Andrew: But for the most part I find that to be true.
Rob: Thank you.
Craig: Thank you.
Jaime: Hey there. My name is Jaime, and I’m a screenwriter, of course. He asked exactly the same question I was about to ask, so I’m going to ask a different one.
Craig: Oh, good, we’re going to hear a B question here.
Jaime: Right, this is the B question.
Craig: Yeah, you’re getting the one that you made up in a panic while he was asking your question.
Craig: Very good.
Jaime: The last ten seconds. Movie musicals is different than stage musicals, is different than movies. So, in my opinion from — in a movie…
Craig: We’re starting to see the improvisation occur.
Male Audience Member: Exactly. In a movie theater you don’t applaud at the end of a song. And I’ve seen many Hollywood movie musicals that end on a ta-da! And silence, whereas on stage there’s applause.
Craig: That’s a tough one.
Jaime: Is that something — when you write something like Corpse Bride or a movie musical, how does that affect the writing process?
John: Absolutely. What you’re describing as that ta-da is the button, where it’s like, “Pang” and then everyone applause and that doesn’t happen in a movie and it shouldn’t happen in a movie.
Jaime: It shouldn’t.
John: It just feels weird when it happens in a movie. Making a movie musical, like a lot of what we’ve talked about, sort of like setting up the world and the “I want” song, all of that stuff plays through. But you also have all the power you have of a movie, which you have close-ups, you have all these things where not only you have the song providing an x-ray into their soul, but you also have that nice tight close-up which is helping you do that as well.
So, in some ways you get all that luxury but you lose that where there’s a live person singing on stage in front of you. And so while a stage musical, yes, the whole thing is in a wide shot, but it’s happening there right in front of you. Magic is occurring right there. And so things like how the set is transitioning from one thing to another thing can be beautiful and that can be an applaudable moment in and of itself.
You have to recognize that you’re making something for a live space versus making it for a movie.
Andrew: It’s also the thing that John as taught me about is how literal movies are. They are what they are when you see them. And that musicals, the suspension of disbelief is high because people are singing and they’re not supposed to be. And they do. And so the most successful movie musicals of late are the ones where the characters are singing and they know they’re singing. Or that they have reasons — they have good reason to be singing. Oftentimes that helps us bridge that gap between believability and the literalness of seeing people singing on a film.
Jaime: Thank you.
John: Thank you very much.
Source Materialistic: Hi guys. My question is about adaptations and source material. Is it ever worth it in your view to adapt something that you can’t get the rights to? Is it useful as a calling card or as just a fun exercise for yourself to prove that you can do it?
Craig: We get this a lot. Part of the answer depends on the nature of the source material. If you’re going to adapt source material that’s particularly popular, or source material that you know is already being adapted, it is probably a waste of time and maybe even — if it’s not being adapted somebody activity but it’s really popular and clearly IP that it has value, intellectual property that has value, you might even come off as bit of a ding-a-ling.
But, if there is something that you believe in that’s interesting to you that you’re kind of in love with that isn’t really obvious, I actually think it’s okay because it is a calling card. And it may just so happen that if somebody falls in love with it then they’ll go and get the rights.
To me, so much about becoming a professional screenwriter is about writing something that rises above the enormous ocean of crap that’s out there and getting attention and being viewed as a writer. And so I always tell people, it used to be in the ’90s that you would write a spec screenplay to sell it. And now I always say write a spec screenplay to promote yourself as somebody who can write a screenplay.
Of course, you can also do what John did which is to actively go after the rights to something. And sometimes they’re available for very little. But, I don’t think it’s always such a… — You know, I would avoid the fan fiction syndrome. Don’t write your Star Trek movie. That’s cuckoo territory. You know, don’t be a weirdo.
Source Materialistic: Yeah, great. Thanks very much.
Craig: You’re welcome.
Work Lover: Hi, first I just want to say thanks for doing the podcast. It gives me a reason to wake up on Tuesday mornings.
Craig: That’s so depressing! [laughs]
Andrew: Yeah. I want to know why he wakes up on Friday mornings. That’s what I want to know.
Work Lover: Drugs. I’m kidding.
Craig: [laughs] He’s the coolest guy.
Work Lover: I’m kidding. I love to work.
Craig: Of course.
Work Lover: So, I’ve actually gotten involved with a Broadway project, so listening to the podcast has been slowly shepherding me towards gearing up for this. And I’m writing the book with my partner. And so this actually is a perfect question. The form is something I’m not familiar with. I’m not well versed in musicals per se. But I was just wondering if there’s like — this is going to sound ignorant — but like a Syd Field for the libretto.
John: If there is, I don’t know what it is. And I’ve written exactly one book. And so far no one has come up to me and said like, “You did it all wrong,” so I guess it’s worked out okay. The form is a little bit weird. And so you think about it, it kind of looks like a screenplay but there’s a little bit less. There’s all the song bits which are over on the left and they’re all in caps. You get used to that though and it becomes pretty natural after awhile, sort of seeing how it flows.
And you’re always — you’re never cut into anything. Everything has to just transition. You always have to figure out how you’re moving from one thing to the next.
It’s not awful. In terms of the Syd Field of it all and sort of like how it all works, I wouldn’t look — [to Andrew] Syd Field is this guy who wrote this famous screenwriting book. I just love that Andrew has no idea who Syd Field is. It’s just fantastic. He’s a guy who wrote this classic book about how to write a screenplay and no one should — you should sort of read it and then forget it.
I don’t know what the equivalent of that is for this, but Andrew you were actually talking about a book you just recently started reading about book writing.
Andrew: Oh, it’s about, no, it’s about mythic structure.
John: So, all that stuff applies. Hero’s journey, whatever. We have challenges. Unconquerable mountains.
Andrew: Chris Vogler. That’s right.
Craig: You started reading that?
Andrew: A friend recommending it to me and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m probably too old for that.” But, you know, I could learn — maybe I could learn something. You know, it never hurts to read something.
John: But what I will say, the same advice I always give towards just normal screenwriting is like read the movies that you love most. Read the books you love most. And then figure out how they actually looked on the page and how they worked on the page. It’s not that hard to track down.
Andrew: Yeah, that is the advice. Go read other musicals — read 10 other musicals and you’ll see how it’s formatted and see how they do it.
John: Yeah. And you’ll see that the formatting isn’t nearly as consistent as it is — they don’t look the same way that all screenplays look the same. But you’ll see like how it actually worked on the page.
Andrew: And you know what I’ve learned more than on any show I’ve done, on this one, is that actually the writers should be the director as much as possible when you’re writing. And that means think — you can’t write, “And then there’s a car chase,” or what the stage equivalent of that would be. The more you think about what the dance — if you say, “And then there’s a dance,” if there’s a dance, what is it trying to accomplish, what is it trying to get from A, to B, to C? Write out every detail you can of the physical life of the play. Any director who reads it will just say, “I’m going to do some of these ideas and I’m not going to do some of these ideas,” but directors love when you give them things. Give them things to think about and to talk about.
It’s much better than just leaving it open I find.
John: An example is in Big Fish there’s a dance sequence where Will and Josephine, right at their wedding, they start their dance, and then Edward cuts in and dances with Josephine and sort of shows off how much better a dancer he is. And it’s actually a very important story point, and so it’s written out that way and it’s written out to sort of be very specific about what it is.
So, Susan Stroman comes on board and she has it on an eight count. She has this whole master plan for it. But if it hadn’t of been on that page, it never would have happened. So, it’s important to really think about how you’re filling that stage and how things are moving across that stage just so the director has an idea of what you can start with.
Work Lover: Okay. Great. Thanks so much.
John: Thank you very much. And just so we have a sense of time. The last person in line who’s like hidden in shadows will be the last question. So you’re the — you — you’re the last person. But you’re the first person, so ask your question.
Loud Mic: Okay, my question is — it’s [the microphone] kind of loud — my question is thinking back to when you were talking about having to rewrite the beginning of Big Fish. You kind of had that “oh shit” moment of this doesn’t work and we need to figure out what will work. It would be interesting to hear other examples that you had in your career of where either midway through your project you realized something didn’t work and it seemed like it was unsolvable.
Or, going into a project that you thought was going to be one thing and by the end it completely changed.
Craig: Yeah, it’s everything. I mean, that is a common thread throughout everything. If you’re doing your job right, at some point you will realize, “Oh shit.” In fact, it happens so regularly that at some point you stop saying, “Oh shit,” and you go, “Oh, well here we are at the ‘oh shit’ moment. Okay. Let me have a drink. I’m going to take a walk. And now let’s recover from it.”
Because the truth is the best laid plans, okay, you create the best plan you can. And you go into it because so much about what we do is about intention. In fact, what you were just talking about, the idea of, okay, tell the director what’s going to happen here, how they’re going to dance. It’s about intention. What do you want the audience to feel, right? We’re constantly making our plans.
Where we run ashore is when we get to a place and we realize, “My intentions either aren’t coming out right or they’re not the right intentions or I have better intentions and it’s not working.” That’s okay. The difference, I think, between the professional and the amateur is that the amateur panics and either digs in and doubles down or quits. The professional says, “Eh, I’ve been here before. Call an audible. Let’s fix it.”
It’s fixable. Everything is fixable. The only thing between you and the solution is figuring out the solution, which you can do, and work, which you can do. So, once you defang the dragon, you just do it. And that’s as simple as that.
Interested in Assistants: Hey, how are you? Longtime listener. I just want to thank you guys for losing money to do this. My question is actually for Craig. I love learning and hearing about process and you kind of said something on a one-off on a podcast about how you work with someone in the room nowadays. And I started to think about that. I’m like, well, who is that person? How much do they get paid? Is it a different person for every project? Is it your assistant? How is the interaction? Is there no interaction?
I’m just really interested to hear more about that.
Craig: Well, this is something I started doing somewhat recently. It’s been two different people actually. I started doing it right before Identity Thief and now I’m doing it still, the project I’m doing now. I do a lot of work with Todd Phillips. And when I’m working with Todd Phillips it’s just me and him. — Yes, it is me, it is I, no, it is he and I. Thank you.
Andrew: You’re welcome.
Craig: Thank you for understanding my conundrum there. So, it’s just he and I together. And that’s all — I need somebody across from me sometimes just to talk things out. But a lot of things that I write on my own I don’t need somebody to write it with me. I just need somebody there to listen. I need to talk.
I find that sometimes when I start talking all the sort of, you know, sometimes I feel like my brain is like Jacob Marley dragging all these chains around, you know. And just by talking they all go away. And you start to see what should happen.
So, basically, it’s like a therapist. I’ve hired a therapist basically and someone to listen to me. So, for instance I have a woman who works with me now. Her name is Jacqueline Lesko. And she’s actually a producer in her own right. And she’s produced this documentary called Spinning Plates that’s out now. It’s a really cool documentary.
But she listens to me. And then she writes down what I say. And then I look at it and then I go “yes,” “no,” “okay,” “let’s not do that.” “Let’s do this — let’s not do that.” And then I write. And she also reads for me, so she reads and she’ll say things like, “I don’t think you need to say that. You could probably delete that line,” or, “I got it,” or, “I was confused.” It’s basically just feedback and listening.
I find it incredibly helpful. I’m not going to say what I pay her. That would be gauche. But I do pay her. It’s an odd job. I don’t think a lot of writers employ people like this just to… — Frankly, it’s a bit of a luxury to hire somebody to listen to you. It’s also a sad commentary on where I am in my life.
But it works for me. And I basically justify it by saying if this helps me write a script better and it gets made, then it’s well worth it. So, it makes me happier.
Interested in Assistants: Thank you.
Craig: You’re welcome.
Asking by Example: Hey, how are you guys doing? Thanks for coming to New York. I hope you guys come back again soon.
I guess this is question by example really. I really enjoy screenplays by Billy Wilder. And I love Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, the musical, the screenplay to the movie. And I’d like to hear from all of you about how what I find missing in contemporary scripts, take for example your Focus Feature kind of movie, is the stage direction and how the character just does not at all interact with their environment.
In the Billy Wilder script, like let’s say The Apartment, he goes on for lines about touching this, and opening the door, and you know. And it’s great. And it all goes to the story. Like, they don’t do it for no reason.
John: Yeah, what Craig was whispering in my ear is that it speaks to Billy Wilder as a writer-director. And he’s writing these scripts as the person who knows how he’s going to shoot these films. And with that, he has a sense of what he’s — you know, the screenwriter is always the first person who sees the movie. The writer sees this movie in his head. And Billy Wilder is seeing these movies, he’s seeing these movies as the writer and as the director and has the good sense of like what it’s going to be like to have a person in that space and how that space is going to interact with somebody.
It’s a great lesson to learn. And it’s kind of a lesson that a good screenwriter can apply, even if they’re not going to be directing their own thing. Just looking at sort of how this person, this character interacts not just with the other characters but with the environments that they’re in.
So, are you actually reading the scripts or you’re just watching the films?
Asking by Example: Reading the scripts. Loving the words. Reading the scripts. And he’s got four or five lines that you can just breeze through it and they’re brilliantly written. And the movements have to do with the story. And they reveal the story.
John: So, what I think is great is you’re pointing out something that we try to say a lot. Look at the films you love the most and then find the scripts and see how those films looked before they were shot and what they looked like on the page. Try to take those lessons and apply them. I can’t tell you that it’s going to work for other people and that we’re going to suddenly going to be able to make better movies by having characters interact with their environments more. But you can hopefully write those movies better for having read those scripts.
Asking by Example: You don’t think contemporary scripts are really broad and they just leave it out? Like they’ll say in the script, “Somebody gets up a from a chair,” but they never put them in a chair. Or like you said, there’s all this dialogue and they never mention, you know, it’s just a page full of dialogue which I think Craig mentioned on the show. And it’s like a visual medium because everybody is afraid to go four lines. No?
Craig: No. I don’t think this is a problem. No. I mean, for instance, if somebody gets up from a chair in a movie, they were in the chair. You know, in the screenplay if they get up from the chair but it wasn’t mentioned prior that they were in the chair, it’s probably a little odd. I probably would have mentioned that they were sitting. But it’s not the end of the world. No, I think that movies are just as visual now as they were before.
There’s a slightly less ornate writing style to some of the action descriptions now just as a matter of course. But, personally, I don’t perceive this as an issue. Yeah.
Asking by Example: Okay. Great.
Pitch Tips: I want to thank you guys for the lovely singing tonight. John and Craig, nice job.
Craig: Thank you.
Pitch Tips: Andrew, beautiful song. So powerful. The father is a stranger. I think it’s a beautiful line that was written and to see the music that was placed to it, it’s amazing. You know, I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like in the show.
One thing that really struck me was when you were talking about the nine years when you were pitching this to investors and people and executives and trying to get this thing made. I want to know if you have any tips that you learned over the years. You know, once we have that great idea and we’re in front of that very important person, is there something, you know, a couple little tips that you picked up in the last nine years?
John: Well, it’s a different process than pitching a movie. So, pitching a movie, you usually go in, you have the five minutes of bullshit chitchat talking about other movies, just the boilerplate sort of stuff. And then you eventually start pitching the movie.
What has been so different about doing this is that rather than pitching anything, Andrew sits at the piano, I sit close to the piano, and we just perform the whole thing, or at least as much of the show as is written to a point. And what was good about us doing that is clearly we’re deeply invested in this because Edward Bloom sounds like Andrew Lippa because Andrew Lippa was singing all those songs for the first six years, just himself, and I feel like Will Bloom because I was always sort of playing Will Bloom. And so it was very clear that this was sort of what the experience was going to be like.
And we loved it. And I think it was also clear to anyone who was listening that we really loved this thing we loved what we were doing.
Andrew: Whenever we went in and pitched it and sang it, the first thing I would do is make sure that John didn’t smell.
Yeah, a big sniff.
No, you know, one of the special things for us about Big Fish is that it is about us. And we are those characters. And for me it’s more than anything I’ve ever written. So, there are all kinds of writing assignments and one of them is to write something where you see yourself really deeply in it. And I see myself and my family very deeply in Big Fish.
And so I never worried about it. I was like, you know, it’s like going through the world. If I worried about people liking me all the time I would be in the crazy asylum. So, I would not be able to function so I just don’t worry about everybody liking it. And I hope that I gather enough people who like it. And we had great leadership with Dan Jinks and Bruce Cohen. They were always great champions and helped make it happen from the beginning. So, that was also [crosstalk].
John: I would also say not everyone liked it. And there were people who just really didn’t like it. There was one executive who specifically just hated it. And it’s just like, “Well fuck him.” I mean, seriously. At a certain point if they’re not onboard with what it is we’re trying to do, fuck ’em.
Craig: Great advice. Fuck ’em.
From a general sense, no matter what you do, if you’re trying to go get a musical put together, you’re talking to investors, or you’re talking to employers, people that maybe could hire you to write a screenplay or buy a screenplay or anything, the two things that I always keep in the forefront of my mind is what these guys just talked about, sharing your passion, make them feel your passion, therefore you must actually be passionate.
And then remember that in the end everyone is afraid, particularly people who are giving you money. If you’ve ever given somebody a lot of money that you might not see again, it’s scary. So, share your passion, but remember that it’s a good thing to be comforting. And one way to be comforting is to be competent and to be passionate. But another way to become comforting is to consider who you’re talking to and ask yourself, “I wonder what would comfort this person?”
It seems obvious. [laughs] It’s amazing how few people do it.
Andrew: Well, it’s a really spiritual concept. It’s the idea that you go into pitch something and you want someone to do something for you. But the idea is you’re actually there to do something for them. I’m here to love you and to share my passion with you and to give you something beautiful. And you may not be ready to accept it and that’s okay. But if I got in always wanting something from somebody else, you can see that hunger and that fear and the fangs. And it drives people away. So, I think it is a really great concept.
Craig: This works for picking up women, too, by the way.
John: Thank you very much.
Craig: Thank you.
Bad with First Names: Hello. John, Craig, Andrew, Mr. Green, thank you.
Craig: Oh! Mr. Green. Okay.
Bad with First Names: I’m not good with first names.
Recently I got a little job to make a small short film as a promotion for a haunted house. Good news is that I got paid to write something. Now, onto the bad news. Every step of the way was a fight uphill and after the director, the producers, the owners of the haunted house had their say, none of themes made it across, none of the jokes made it across. It was overall a very arduous and tortuous process. And I like to describe it as “ego death” for lack of a better term.
My questions, have you experienced this?
Andrew: In Hollywood, no!
Craig: But, please, continue.
Bad with First Names: I guess I really am alone.
Craig: [laughs] That’s a good joke! You should have gotten that one in there.
Bad with First Names: How would you go about preventing it and how do you just deal with it?
Craig: Ah-ha. Well, of course, we experienced — anybody who works with, [laughs], anybody creative that is touching the life of somebody that isn’t will experience this. That’s it. Right? Everyone.
So, then the question is how can I maybe ameliorate the… — First thing, understand sometimes you can’t. I did a number of movies for two gentlemen who live here in New York City. They may be brothers.
Andrew: The Koch brothers make movies?
Craig: [laughs] That was — there are some battles you can’t win. Okay? There are some situations that are just, that’s it, charge the light brigade. It is not yours to ask why it is yours, just to die. But I think that when you’re dealing in a situation where there are a lot of different people, some practical things you can do.
One, respectfully ask that they all — if they all have something to say, ask that, so that you can do your job and make them happy, that they agree on one list of things. This is amazing how many problems it solves. And it’s very hard for them to say, “No!’ It’s such an incredibly on its face very rational request, right?
So, ask them to give you a united set of notes. And then the other thing that I recommend is, as much as possible, to not think about your script, to not talk about your script. Talk about the show. Movie. Haunted house. Musical. Always talk about the show. Always talk about the show, because that’s what they’re thinking about. Sometimes as writers we’re concentrating on our jobs as we should, and suddenly everybody is going, “Well, they’re talking about paper. We’re talking about what we actually are going to be exposed for and on the hook for.”
So, try and keep that on the level. And the last bit of advice I’ll give you is this: the biggest enemy we have in this process is unfortunately the one that’s always there. And it’s not them, it’s our emotional pain. And when our emotional pain starts to rise, as it inevitably does, we have two choices. We can put that first, or we can put the goal first. The goal is make a haunted house movie. Make a haunted house film, right?
It’s hard to put your pain second. The pain is real and it’s earned. But it’s hard to put it second. Try. Try basically not letting the pain and then your sense of protection drive you in those moments with them. Just cry in your car on the way home. [laughs]
Bad with First Names: I do.
Andrew: Do you offer private therapy sessions?
Andrew: This is better than my therapist for eight years.
Andrew: Fantastic advice.
Craig: Thank you.
John: Well done, Craig. Thank you very much. It’s our final question of the night. What is your name?
John: Hi Liz. Thank you for coming to our show tonight.
Liz: Thanks for having it. I’ve been looking forward to this for a month.
So, you talked a lot about putting yourself in characters and I think my question is sort of the opposite. They say write what you know and how do you move past your protagonist being a version of you and the other people being friends and family and all that?
John: Liz, that’s a great question. We do say, “Oh, write what you know.” And therefore people always write about college, or the little thing that they just experienced. And so what I would say is don’t… — There’s more to you than you know that there is to you. And so when they say write what you know, write about the things that terrify you. Write about the things that you’re afraid of. Write about the things that inspire you. Write about the things you wish you — the things you would never tell anybody else.
And you probably have a much more conflicted, interesting, darker, but magical inner life than you sort of realize. And writing feels true when it can go to fantastical places and it feels grounded because you recognize the inner life of that character is consistent, and real, and interesting, and you recognize like I’ve never gone to Botswana, but I feel what it feels like to be that person outside of themselves.
It’s to do that introspection to find those moments that are really meaningful to you and how could those translate to a story. How could those translate to someone else in another kind of experience, in another kind of life and universe?
Andrew: Anybody can do research. We all did research papers in high school. And so anybody can go and learn about neuroscience if you went and read some books about neuroscience. But I’ve always found write what you know to mean write what is emotionally true for you, what is really how you feel about the thing.
So, whether it’s — write what you feel. So, if it’s in outer space, or it’s neuroscience, or it’s the African animals or things you don’t know anything about, it’s not about that stuff. That stuff you can find out about. But you have to write from that emotional centered place. And that’s you. And you’re the only one who can write like you. So, that’s what’s going to make it unique and special.
John: I’ll leave in one last little joke which is throughout your whole life you’ve been recording, even if you just didn’t realize were recording, you have this breadth of experience. And so there was a joke I needed for Big Fish. And so there’s a moment where young Will is in bed and Edward is there. And it’s like, “Did you really meet a witch?”
“Yeah, I did, but your mom says I can’t tell you that story because you’ll get nightmares.” But then he comes back and he starts to tell the story. “It’s a well established fact that most southern towns of a certain size have a witch.”
Andrew: “Do we have a witch?”
John: “No, but we’ve got two Dairy Queens, so we’re still coming out ahead.” And the Dairy Queens joke was because being in the Midwest, like two Dairy Queens in a town was a certain size. So, it was that experience of that.
And so I didn’t know that that was useful. But you got to a place where like, oh, that feels real and that feels true. And it gets a good laugh because people recognize that as an honest moment.
Guys, thank you so much. And thank you for your great questions!