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, Episode 111, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
So, this is an odd episode because you are right across from me. We are sitting in the same room at the same table.
Craig: With no buffer guest.
John: Absolutely, which is rare. So, occasionally you and I have been in the same room but there’s always been a third person to sort of break it up, yeah.
Craig: Break up a fight.
John: But, no, I’m looking directly at you as we record this podcast.
Craig: Right. And the other fun thing is because it’s just you and me, [laughs], I wish you people could see this. So, John has the headphones on, you know, just to make sure that the audio is okay, but I don’t need headphones because there’s just the two of us here. And he looks like I believe the guy’s name is Lobot, the guy from Empire Strikes Back. You now, Lando Calrissian’s dude, because you have this like apparatus around your head and ears. You look awesome. You look very Sci-Fi.
John: Well, very good, I’ll be sure to take a photo and tweet it.
Craig: Please do.
John: When the episode comes out.
Craig: Please do.
John: So, we are in New York City. Your bags are packed. You are flying back to Los Angeles, but we thought we’d cram in one episode before we go. We’re recording this on Friday afternoon at 1:15 in the afternoon. And you’re catching me at a really strange moment because as of today the show is frozen. Big Fish is frozen. So, for the first time in nine years I’m not writing Big Fish, which is weird.
Craig: And you can’t anymore.
Craig: You can’t write it ever again.
John: Not entirely true. I’ll have to rewrite some stuff for the cast album, sort of to get those pesky talking bits minimized.
John: And then god-willing we do well and we tour at some point, we’ll have to change some stuff for the tour. But, for all intents and purposes, I’m done. And that feels really strange. That’s a thing I would actually like to talk to Dr. Craig Mazin about is that feeling of post-partum separation and all that.
Craig: It’s a very real thing. Before we get into that, a little bit of — what do we call it — what do you call it, business?
John: Follow up.
Craig: Follow up? Housecleaning.
Craig: Housekeeping. I like cleaning, housecleaning.
At one point apparently a few podcasts ago I mentioned that Sony Pictures Classics was, I maybe even used the word “moribund” because I was under the impression that they weren’t really open for business. And it turns out that’s totally wrong. They’re apparently incredibly open for business and put out more movies than a lot of movie studios do, so I’m really sorry about getting that wrong. It happens from time to time. So, here come the cops to take me away.
Sorry Sony Pictures Classic. You are the opposite of moribund. You are full of life. You are vivacious.
John: Indeed. And Craig is wrong sometimes.
Craig: It actually happens.
John: It’s great to acknowledge when you are wrong.
Craig: And sometimes spectacularly wrong. So, yes, in this case wildly wrong. Sorry. Sorry. Okay.
John: There are two bits of new things that came up, so let’s just sort of crank through those first. First off, people sent me this link to this new fund called Gamechanger. And the idea behind it is — we’ve talked on the podcast several times about how there are a notorious lack of women directors. And so this fund is designed to help make movies in the $1 million to $5 million range with female directors to hopefully balance some things out. The numbers that this article that we’ll link to cited showed that women make up about 50% of film school graduates but women only direct 7% of the top 250 movies in a given year. And that’s sort of wildly out of proportion.
John: Craig, what’s your thought about this kind of fund? Do you think it will have an impact? What do you think is possible or probable?
Craig: Well, certainly its heart is in the right place. The idea is that this group is going to fund, they’re saying up to 10 narrative feature films. And they’re making a distinction between narrative feature films and documentaries, because women seem to be fairly well represented in documentaries.
So, to finance up to ten of these narrative feature films in budgets going from the $1 million to $5 million range in all genres. And the idea is that I guess they want to use it to both employ women to direct movies but also to sort of show off to the business that there are women who can direct movies and essentially use this as almost advertising and maybe a launching pad for some of these women.
I think these things are always at the crossroads of intention and effect. I don’t know why this would work. And I guess the reason I say that is because I don’t know why it is the case that only 7% of these 250 movies are directed by women in the first place. Why are women well represented in documentary but not narrative feature? And, you know, at some point someone here says, let’s see, Impact co-founder Dan Cogan says, “There’s an unconscious prejudice in which people just don’t feel confident giving their money to women filmmakers and getting their money back.”
I don’t know if that’s quite true. It’s very hard to pin down an unconscious prejudice anyway.
Craig: Women are very prominent in our business. You know, Amy Pascal runs Sony.
John: Yeah. And it’s not like she’s the only — we have Amy Pascal, we have Stacey Snyder —
Craig: Emma Watts at Fox.
John: Tremendous representation of women in those higher echelon power ranks.
John: So, it is interesting that we don’t use women to direct these feature films of a certain size. And so maybe this will have impact. But I think in some ways it’s not going to have the same impact as if Marvel stepped up and had a woman direct one of the Marvel movies.
Craig: No question. Yeah, it’s a bit like — and I don’t mean to ding these guys, but they’re sort of saying, “Look, we have a problem where women are a little ghettoized in feature films, so let’s give them feature films to direct that are of the sort that kind of define what it means to be ghettoized,” living in the $1 million to $5 million range. I mean, there are episodes of TV that cost more than that. And that’s sort of a struggling space. It’s hard for those movies to find audiences anyway.
And I also have to say I always get worried when they put these things out and say, “Look, this is to back women alone,” because inevitably you also start to get that backlash of, “Oh, well she’s doing a movie there because they need women to do their movies.” But, believe me, if somebody else wanted to do the movie, wouldn’t a woman rather just go with the marketplace and the biggest numbers?
So, I guess my question for you is why do you think this is the case?
John: Why do I think there are fewer women directors?
John: I don’t know. And I wish there were a simple thing you could point to, but I don’t know that it’s s systematic structural bias. I think it’s more likely that there’s a chicken and the egg problem. And actually interestingly one of the production companies in here is called Chicken and the Egg. Until you actually have — you don’t get to be Kathryn Bigelow directing these big movies until you’ve directed small movies. And if you don’t get to direct those small movies it doesn’t sort of work its way up.
Although, I will say that I feel like I see male writers getting that shot to direct their movies maybe a little bit more often than I see the equivalent woman getting the chance to direct that movie. And maybe that’s a thing that this kind of fund could help.
Craig: Do you perceive that there is any difference in the desire — and when I say desire I mean unfettered fully fueled desire to direct between the genders?
John: I don’t know that there is, but I think you can point to the larger question of women in the workforce. And there are lots of books written about sort of is there something that happens at a certain, it’s not even a glass ceiling anymore, but it’s the choice you make whether you’re going to give yourself wholly over to a career or if you’re going to have a family.
And structurally in American society it does seem that women who would reach the certain point in their career where they could be directing a film, or it could be running a company, have to make that choice between a family and a career. And sometimes they will choose a family.
John: It’s not only women who face that thing, but women face it with a stronger degree of urgency than men face it. That’s a possibility.
Craig: Yeah. I’m kind of with you in the sense that when I see this stuff I throw out my hands and say, “I don’t know why.” Now, that in and of itself can be viewed as somewhat of a radical position. Sometimes just denying that there’s an overt prejudicial bias makes you suspect in some people’s eyes. I just don’t’ know that the evidence is there that it’s the case.
And there are too many strange things like, for instance, the fact that so much of Hollywood is run by women that makes me think it’s probably not the case. But, I can’t say it is. I can’t say it isn’t. I wish these people luck.
Listen, here’s how I look at it as a movie-going fan. If they find a director who otherwise would not have been able to make her movie, and she makes a great movie, and I love her movie, and then she makes more movies because of that, then I think Gamechanger Films has done a great thing.
John: Fantastic. I would agree with you. If they make 10 movies and two of those films break out and those directors get a chance to make more movies after that, then we’re in a very good situation.
Catherine Hardwicke is an example of a director who got a chance to make little small movies and then got to make Twilight and got to make bigger movies after that.
John: If they can keep doing that, that’s fantastic. So, what I did like about sort of how their approach is, it’s not like it’s an open call for submissions. They’re not sort of doing the Amazon Studios way where like all the people who have been overlooked — they’re definitely targeting agents and managers, tell us these people who are tremendously talented who for whatever reason cannot get their movies made, let’s try to get those movies made.
Craig: And in that regard, it’s kind of a brilliant strategy on their part because my guess is that there’s quite a talent pool there that is… — By the way, pick any segment and there is an underserved talent pool.
Craig: 49 year olds. There are some great 49 year olds out there.
So, well, good luck to Gamechanger Films. I hope you change the game. [laughs]
John: Ah-ha. Second bit of new business was the new announcement that Gill Garcetti, is it Gill Garcetti?
Craig: Gill Garcetti.
John: Gill Garcetti, our new Los Angeles Mayor —
Craig: Not Eric Garcetti?
John: Oh, it’s Eric Garcetti, isn’t it?
Craig: Isn’t Gill his dad?
John: Yeah, I get confused who’s who.
Craig: If he’s listening to this he’s like, “I’m the mayor and they’re still doing it to me! God!”
John: Mayor Garcetti..
Craig: Well done. Yes.
John: …has announced that he has appointed a new Film Czar for Los Angeles. We talked earlier on the podcast about runaway production which is the idea that so many of our movies are written in Los Angeles by LA-based film studios and yet they shoot in other states for tax reasons and for other reasons and don’t film in Los Angeles.
And one of Garcetti’s proposals was we needed to figure out why these movies are going away and try to find ways to keep these movies shooting in Los Angeles. He has appointed a Film Czar by the name of Tom Sherak.
John: Who’s a very familiar name to oversee this operation, this goal of trying to get more movies shooting in Los Angeles and more film production and television production happening in Los Angeles.
So, Tom Sherak, I thought, was a really interested choice for it, because Tom Sherak is former president of the Motion Picture Academy, former chairman of Fox, and many other titles throughout there. And he really knows the film and TV business. So, it seems like he would be a good person to be able to lobby to his peers who are running these studios to say, “No, no, shoot your movie here and let’s try to find a way to make it make sense to shoot your movie here.”
Craig: Yes. He is a great choice. He is exactly the right kind of person for this. The problem is I don’t know what there is to do. You know, he, Tom Sherak, more than anyone understands that you can’t sit down in an office across from somebody who is doing the job he once did and say, “Shoot your movie here even though it costs $8 million more just ’cause.” It’s not going to work.
And in the end I’m not sure what else there is to do. Maybe these guys know of something creative that we don’t know about. All we hear about on our end of things is you can — “Here’s how much money we’re spending. You can shoot it here or you can shoot it here. If you shoot it in LA you get 8 fewer days and you can’t have that cast or that song. And if you shoot it there you can.”
Well, everybody always picks the movie. Everybody. So, I don’t know what he’s going to do. I’m concerned that this is window dressing designed to satisfy political contributors to whom promises were made. But, we’ll see.
John: We’ll see. What was promised in the article was Tom Sherak will lead sort of the lobbying effort in California to try to get in Sacramento to try to get funds to do this. As we talked about on the podcast before, it becomes one of these sort of race to the bottoms where everyone is starting to throw tax money at this thing which isn’t really a sustainable goal.
There are certain things about shooting in a city which can make life easier and harder. And one of the things that New York City did was try to make it vastly easier to shoot in this city by cutting away the red tape and trying to make it simpler to permit, and shoot, and sort of get it all working out. And that might be a thing that a Film Czar could really step in and help if it has the mayor’s support to do that.
Craig: Yes. And certainly any kind of elimination of red tape, and this is where the other constituencies in LA start to get angry when you shut down commercial streets or things like that and people get angry. And so there’s always interests bumping into each other, but the truth is in the final analysis the reason that productions have left LA isn’t because of the Film Office or red tape. It’s because of tax breaks.
So, they have the lottery system now in California where a number of movies can get tax breaks up to a certain amount. And you’ll see this, also Massachusetts I think is a similar situation, but it is a race to the bottom. That’s the problem. It’s a race to the bottom. And it’s disturbing. I don’t know the answer. It’s one of the, [laughs], this is one of those areas where not just being one state like one country but actually 50 independent municipalities can hurt us.
John: Agreed. Although I think if we were one country and we were France, then there’s always the thing of like, “Oh, no, they’re going to shoot in Belgium because Belgium has a tax incentive.”
John: This is the podcast that there are no good answers.
Craig: I know. It’s true. Because, in fact, also then if there’s only one state and your France, then they say, “Okay, you know what? We’re taxing you. We’re taxing you. And people can only work 30 hours a week.”
Craig: Yeah, so…
Craig: And then everything, everything dies. [sighs]
John: Oh, sigh.
Craig: Maybe we can fix your problem today.
John: Let’s focus on things that are easily achievable — what’s wrong with John.
Craig: Before we talk about wrong with you, let’s talk about what’s right with you.
John: All right.
Craig: So, I saw the show, Scott Frank and I went to go see Big Fish a couple a nights ago, a few nights ago. You were right there with us, sitting right next to me, and I really enjoyed it. I think the show is terrific. And I think that it’s a hit. I personally do.
I don’t know, it just has that “hit” feel to it. It’s very accessible. I think it’s really great for families. I don’t know how you’re targeting it or marketing it, but I don’t know, if it were me I would just think I’d love to take my kids. It’s a great spectacle.
It’s not overly long. I mean, Broadway shows tend to be long. Musicals tend to be long. The first act I thought really moved great. And there is some terrific stuff that happens in the second act. It’s very emotional. I just have a really good feeling about it. And I’m — I can’t change the world with my predictions. That is even too much for me to believe. But I still feel like I’m right a lot…
Craig: …despite the Sony Pictures Classic thing, so I’ve got a really good feeling. Plus, it seems like you guys are selling the place out in previews anyway.
John: Which has been great. So, it definitely has felt like, you know, as you go through life you sort of feel the universe forking and sometimes you end up in the fork where things go really well and sometimes you end at the fork where things go really badly. And I do feel very lucky that I feel like we ended up in the fork where things went really well with the show. And so creatively I’m really happy with it. And we’re selling a lot of tickets, which has been fantastic. So that is really amazing.
It was great to have the two of you guys there at the show to see what this has turned out to be, and, of course, to get a drink afterwards. And to witness me just strangle the woman —
Craig: That was great. You know, [laughs], so here’s what happened.
John: Because actually I’m fascinated to hear your account of it, because I’ve actually recounted this story to a bunch of people but I feel like I just exaggerated it in my head. So, please tell me your opinion of what actually happened.
Craig: I don’t think you’re capable of such things. So, during the show, in the very beginning I noticed this man showed up late as I think the music was beginning. I think it was the same guy. There was a just a problem with these two people that were about three rows ahead of us. So, we were in Row G in the orchestra which is essentially, what, the sixth row? Is that right? A, B, C, D, E, F, G…oh, 7.
So, they’re like in the fifth row. It’s a man in his thirties and his girlfriend who I assume is, you know, a similar age. And they’re just annoying. They get in kind of late. Then he leaves at one point. Plus, you can get drinks delivered to you at your seat, which I think is weird, by the way.
John: Not in this theater.
Craig: Oh, what was that?
John: At Scriptnotes you could. But did someone actually — ?
Craig: No, yeah, some lady came by. Oh, no, that’s right. There was like an usher that came by at some point to help him. He was carrying his drinks. That’s right. She was helping him get back into his seat. My feeling is she should help him leave — at that point he’s late.
Then after the intermission he came back again. Now, here’s what I didn’t — and he did it again — here’s what I did not notice. I did not notice that this woman was holding her phone up and taking pictures constantly throughout the show, which is a super big no-no. It’s the very thing that got a man screamed at by Patti Lupone. And we should put a link to that amazing — it’s just such a great. Because, okay, Patti Lupone, she’s in Gypsy. She’s paying Mama, Mama Rose, right?
Craig: And she’s singing, I can’t remember what she’s singing.
John: Was it her big song?
Craig: I think it might have been Here’s Rose or whatever. And some ding-a-ling is taking pictures and you just hear Patti Lupone go, “Stop! Stop! Stop!” And everyone stops. And she just goes crazy on this guy in such a, like diva, “How dare you! Who do you think you are?!” in like full Broadway voice. And everyone is applauding. It’s great.
Anyway, the guy gets kicked out. Well, this girl is doing the same thing. I don’t notice that. All I notice is that at one point when the usher brings that guy back, you lean across me to the usher and you point at that lady. And you point. And I thought, “Oh, he’s angry because they’re annoying, [laughs], because I didn’t realize. But I was like, aw, but then the usher I think didn’t understand what you were saying and just kind of gave up. Plus, did she even know who you were?
John: She did know who I was.
Craig: She knew who you were. Okay. So, she just didn’t know what was going on. So, she took the coward’s way out which is just to nod pointlessly and then disappear.
At the end of the show you said, “I’ve got to talk to those people. That woman was taking pictures throughout the entire thing.” And I went, “Oh, that’s not good.” So, Scott and I get out of our seats. We walk up to the stage. And you wait for those two people to come out and when I turn around I just see you heatedly — and I catch little bits like, “You absolutely cannot do that. That is unacceptable. You cannot take photos during a show. It is totally not cool. You can’t do it.”
And then she’s like, “I wasn’t doing…”
“You were! I saw you. I saw you. I saw you do it. Get out your phone. Take out your phone.”
And her boyfriend is like a pretty big dude. And she’s kind of like, “Eh, she’s got that “eh” face. You know? But you made them take out the phone and then you made her go through the photos and you made them — and then the last thing we heard was you saying, “Great, good, fine. I don’t care. Yeah, you too. Don’t care. You too. Whatever. Don’t care.”
And then they left. And then you told us that in fact that exchange was…[laughs]
John: And it came — so this guy — basically the girl was so drunk that I kind of couldn’t really deal with her, so I could only deal with idiot boyfriend.
John: And he was at first sort of like, “How dare you talk to my girl that way.” And then when I said like, “She took photos. She cannot take photos.”
And then he asked, “So, do you work here?”
And I’m like, “I wrote the effing show.”
John: And I was really just rage-filled. It’s one of those things where like almost like Fight Club, like I kind of wanted him to hit me. I kept thinking like just hit me. I would love a black eye right now because I am so incredibly incenses right now.
John: But so anyway, he weirdly sort of backed down and he’s like, “Oh, give me your phone.” So, she couldn’t even find her phone. She opened up her purse and all she had in there was like confetti that she stuffed in there from like the end of Red, White, and True.
And it’s like, “Where’s my phone? Oh, it’s in my…”
It was in her bra. So, she pulls out her phone.
Craig: Oh boy. Okay.
John: Figures out how to unlock it. She already had iOS 7.
John: So, she’s capable enough to upgrade her phone.
John: Or maybe Apple has made it too simple to upgrade your phone. [laughs]
Craig: It appears so. It appears that they’ve crossed into Idiotville.
John: So, he deletes off the photos. And I wanted the photos deleted, but I mostly wanted him to understand that like you cannot do this. You cannot take photos in a Broadway show.
John: Because not only could all the actors on stage see. I checked later and like they all saw it.
Craig: Yeah, the mermaid tweeted that they were all like, “Who the hell is that girl?”
John: The worst thing about taking photos in this day and age is you’re holding up a glowing iPhone.
John: Everyone behind Row E could see that and could not — and they’re attention is being pulled down there rather than what was on the stage.
Craig: Obviously it’s a no-no. And they all know it’s a no-no. But let’s back up for a second. You know what else is a no-no? Getting drunk in the middle of a Broadway musical.
John: I agree.
Craig: Can’t you wait? I mean, it’s not cheap. It’s not like you’re going to see a movie for 12 bucks. It’s a show. And it’s over and it’s gone forever. You can’t catch it again on HBO tomorrow.
John: Those were expensive seats. Those were like $150 seats.
Craig: Really expensive. They’re dead center fifth row. I don’t know if somebody gave them that or they’re just the kind of people that just don’t care.
Craig: They didn’t look like swells, you know?
John: No. I think they were just douchebags. Douchebags with some money.
Craig: Douchebags. That’s what he kept brining was beer, I think, so they were drinking beer.
Craig: Something, also, don’t drink beer in the middle of a show. They shouldn’t allow that at the theater.
John: They should stop the bar during the show.
Craig: They should stop the bar during the show.
John: I think that will be discussed.
Craig: It’s not like a ballgame.
Craig: In fact, and then they stop beer at the ballgame after the seventh inning so that people don’t beat each other up in the parking lot the way they used to when I was a kid.
John: Oh, back in the day.
Craig: Back in the day.
John: So, no blows were thrown at Big Fish, even though I sort of wanted to get hit. What I recognized, and I ended up apologizing to the theater manager because he came over to see what was going on.
Craig: I saw that, yeah.
John: And so the usher had recognized that she was taking photos but couldn’t figure out which one it was. And because she was in the middle of the row they couldn’t pull her out.
Craig: There was no way to get to her, right, without stopping the show. It’s a really tough spot to be in in theater maintenance.
John: Yeah. And so then I sort of was putting him in a bad spot because he knew who I was, the theater manager knew who I was, and if it had come to blows then it would have been a terrible situation for him and for everybody involved.
Craig: It would have been bad. Plus, also, I find it interesting that your wish was not to beat him up but rather for him to beat you up. [laughs] That was your fervent wish.
John: Yeah, I kind of wanted to get hit.
Craig: “I was so angry I wanted him to beat me up.”
John: It’s odd. It tells a lot about me.
Craig: All right. Now let’s get into your real problems.
John: My real issue right now at this moment is for the first time in nine years I’m basically done writing Big Fish and it’s been a very long haul. And literally today I’m turning in the last two pages of like small corrections to the show that’s on, because we have to freeze at a certain point so that next week we are running the exact same show the whole week.
Craig: One week prior to your official opening.
John: Because critics actually come this next week. The critics don’t come to opening night. Critics come the week —
Craig: Of course, so they have time to write their nonsense.
John: So that… [laughs]
Craig: Sorry, don’t take that out on John.
John: That was Craig Mazin who said that.
Craig: That’s Craig Mazin. I believe that it’s all nonsense. I’ve already decided the show is good. Who needs to know what you think.
John: Craig Mazin has rendered his opinion. So, it’s this weird feeling of — it’s like the end of college to a degree, where you’re packing up your room and you’re like, “Oh my god, I’m so sad to leave all these people.” But it’s also weirdly like dropping your kid off at college, because it will still be running there and I will get on a plane the day after opening and fly back to Los Angeles and it will keep going without me.
Craig: Right. Night after night without you.
John: Which is a strange thing for me to feel.
Craig: Very bizarre. But the strangest thing I would imagine is just that feeling that we all get when it’s over.
John: So let’s talk about like when it’s over, because when I was first writing scripts my ritual when I would finish a draft and be done with that — I think I’ve told this on the show — I would treat myself and I would let myself go to Panda Express at Century City and spend the $10 to get like the extra — including egg roll.
John: Which was like a lot of money for me to spend back then. And that was my ritual for the end of a draft. But it’s a different thing when a movie is finished. When like production has stopped, or really this is like picture lock essentially where there’s no more creative changes you can make. You can just tweak lights on things. It’s a strange thing when that huge portion of your life is just in the rearview mirror.
Craig: Right. I know. There’s a bunch of sadnesses that occur and a bunch of anxieties that occur along the way. Sometimes when we’re writing in a very childish way we think, “Oh, this is the worst of times.” But it’s certainly not. It’s actually the best of times.
When you’re done writing something and they say, okay, now we’re going to shoot it or we’re going to mount it as a production there is a certain death that occurs. Now, it’s the death of letting go of an enormous amount of control and getting into the world of sharing with everyone. And so whether you have your director and your choreography, or you’re now on set and the director is directing, or you’re the director, and that’s rough.
But I find actually that the period you’re in right now is the roughest of them all. It’s the period where you’ve lost all control because it’s done. You can’t change it anymore. This is picture lock in film. It’s show freeze on Broadway. But the accountability has yet to come.
Craig: It’s a very scary time. So, I remember I was talking with Todd Phillips and he said the only thing he thinks about once that happens is how can I jump ahead in time to after the movie has come out, done what’s it done, and then gone. That’s what I want to get to.
Craig: Because that’s the time when you go, “Ah…” I’m not talking, because look, here’s what’s coming up. You’ve got a ton of press you’re going to have to do. You’re going to have the hullabaloo and the reporting and the critics and the business. And the this, and the that, and the finance, and the crowds. And all of that is what people dream about when they’re kids and you get there and you realize, that’s the worst, worst of it.
Craig: You just want that to be done. So, really what I guess I should say to you is in four months I think you’ll be there.
John: Yeah, I think so. And four months, time will pass. If we’re still running and award stuff is coming up, then I’ll have to sort of reengage with it. I think —
Craig: But that will be like dessert. That’s fine.
John: It’ll be dessert. It’ll be fine. It should be good stuff.
What is exciting about this time right now is I suddenly have so much free brain space where like I don’t have to keep running the show over and over and over in my head. Because really for the last nine years, sometimes intensely, and sometimes less intensely, I’ve had the Bloom family and the Bloom family house in my head. And I had to keep it running in sort of a continuous loop so that that reality sort of exists.
And I won’t have to do that. And so all of the brain cycles that are taking to keep that alternate reality existing I can free up to do other stuff.
Then comes the sort of paradox of choice. There’s a lot of things I could write. And I have to decide what I want to write.
John: And so, Craig, if you would permit me, I’m going to actually talk through some of the things I’m thinking about writing in a general sense.
Craig: And then can I say what I think you should do?
Craig: All right.
John: All right. So, let me talk you through the possibilities of what I’d be writing in the next six months. So, there is a book adaptation of a book that hasn’t come out yet. It’s a YA title that could potentially be huge. It could be like a big breakout title.
Craig: Hunger Games-y kind of thing?
John: Yes. As I’ve talked before, I’m not sure if I was officially offered the Hunger Games, but I did pass on it because like, “No, I don’t want to see a movie about kids killing each other.”
John: I was wrong.
Craig: Yeah, no, I would have totally done that. I like those books.
Craig: You should ask me about these things on the podcast before you make that decision.
John: Well, I should have asked you. This was a good couple years ago. Time machine.
Craig: Yeah, time machine.
John: And I wrote The Hunger Games. So, there’s this big YA title. And it might happen, it might not happen. So, it’s one of those situations where it could come together or it could not come together. I really like the project. But, it’s another book adaptation, so it’s not wholly mine. There’s a possibility.
There is an adaptation of another existing property that has — it’s hard for me to describe in — it’s an existing IP property that’s not a book that could be adapted and could be a thing. I have less of a clear idea right now what it is as a movie. And I also can already recognize all of the obstacles in its way of getting it to be a movie.
John: And so it’s people I would love to work with. It’s a question of whether we could get the everything of it to work.
Craig: Understood. Got it. Okay. That’s option two.
John: That’s option two. Option three is to buckle down and write the thing for myself to direct in 2014.
Craig: Got it.
John: So, this would be a follow up to The Nines. Not related to The Nines at all, but with many familiar faces of people who I love who I’ve worked with before. So, that is —
Craig: That’s option three.
John: A third, option three.
Craig: Option for?
John: Option four — I would say those are the only strong contender writing projects for me. I have a lot of other stuff.
Craig: Stuff, right.
John: And so there’s a lot of app stuff that’s going on which I’ve been able to keep going on in a better way. There are some physical goods that we’re talking about making late this year which would also be fun and exciting.
John: But writing wise, those three are the top contenders.
Craig: I have my strong feeling —
John: Life Coach, Craig Mazin, talk to me.
Craig: I have a strong feeling. Let’s get rid of option number two because it sounds like there’s trouble involved in option number two. And the trouble — the one thing you don’t need right now is trouble. You’ve had a lot of trouble. Not bad trouble, but it’s been a war to mount a musical. So, what I’m thinking is I’m always looking to kind of like rotate the fields, rotate the crops, right?
Craig: You plant corn, you plant wheat. Da, da, da. Then you go pot.
Craig: And then do pod peas. Because you’ve just done this, and because this is such an expression of what you wanted to do, and it was really the will to power of John August and Andrew Lippa, my feeling is your thing that you want to direct for you, you can do that, and you’re going to do that, but why not have a nice almost — how should I put it — let yourself be carried along a little bit by something that’s a little easier.
Give yourself a nice easy thing to do. It’s an adaptation. It’s a book. There’s a narrative. There’s stuff there. Maybe take a warm bath of a project for a little bit, you know what I mean?
Craig: Make a little money. Chill out. Don’t feel like your life blood must be squeezed out of you for this thing to work, because that’s what a movie is, right?
John: That it is.
Craig: And you want to make your own thing. So, you’ve been doing that. You’ve been kind of squeezing your life blood out into something. Maybe you just eat the bag of Funyuns instead of something a little more challenging.
Craig: Then you can have your sushi. So, my advice is option number one just for mental —
John: Yeah, okay, you make good points there. Some of those which I’ll parse out. Making some money would be a really good idea.
John: Just because I’ve been in this world for so long and have passed on other writing things that would pay me money, which would be a lovely thing to have is a little bit of money.
John: It’s something simpler that I can invest all of my words in but not have to invest my heart and soul and self-esteem into would be probably a very useful choice. And something shorter. Something shorter and faster because what makes me nervous about immediately going into the directing project is I know that’s a marathon.
John: And just finishing, I call this a migration, it’s more than even a marathon. I’ve just been walking for so long that I should probably focus on something small. There’s even like a short film that I was thinking about going off and directing just to sort of stretch those muscles but not, you know.
Craig: I think varying things as much as possible helps us stay excited.
Craig: You know, you and are married men. We’re married to one person. So, we don’t have that excitement.
John: People are going to be so confused that we’re married to the same girl. [laughs]
Craig: We’re married to one, yeah, to one guy and girl. But, you know, we don’t have the excitement of, you know, there’s the new love excitement. We get our new love excitement from what we’re doing, from what we’re working on. And I do feel it all the time. And I find that if I’m doing three of the same kind of things in a row it just gets diminished. If I’m doing three of the same efforts, three of the same lengths. Anything that’s the same, I start to feel… — I mean, listen, I got stuck doing spoof movies for a long time. I loved doing the first one. The second one I was like, “Okay…”
But, you know, and then by the time I got to the third one I was just on fumes.
Craig: And I had lost sort of any passion. It’s just samey, samey, samey. And it was also the same length, and it was the same amount of effort, and it was the same people.
So, I go for different every time. So, I say change it up.
John: That does sound like a good idea. So, on the writing musicals side, there are two projects that are coming, and some of it I do kind of need to start because this was nine years for Big Fish. I think five years is sort of the minimum I’ve seen that a musical actually really comes together. So, if I wait too long I can’t start on that. But I am choosing things that are — I don’t have to drive everything along which could be a useful thing, too.
Craig: Yes. Very much so. It takes a lot out of you. People — this is their lives. You know, musical theater, there are people that just mount these productions and they just do it. And you look at Sondheim and you look at Andrew Lloyd Webber and you think, okay, well that’s all they do. They don’t write movies. They don’t direct things. They don’t do podcasts.
Craig: You know, I’m not even sure they have kids.
John: Yeah, most of them don’t.
Craig: Yeah. This is it. This is what they do. And you can’t keep that kind of pace with them, nor do you have to. It’s not what it’s about anyway.
John: Yeah, it’s not a race.
Craig: It’s not a race. I know you keep telling yourself that because it’s true. It’s true. It’s not.
So, anyway, I say option number one. Whoever is producing option number one you may send your check to me. Oh, I’m going to move the thing. Yeah, I want money. The point is I deserve money every time you make money.
John: [laughs] As life coach and adviser.
John: Let’s wrap this up. That was very helpful.
Craig: Great. I’m glad I could help.
John: So, I have a One Cool Thing this week which is this very cool video on Vimeo. It’s called Box. And in Big Fish we use projections to sort of change our set around. And the projections were incredibly difficult to get working right, but are incredibly rewarding in the actual presentation we’re doing.
Craig: They’re very cool. Yeah.
John: This video that I saw called Box uses projections but in a very clever and innovative way. So, projections are happening onto this white surface, but that white surface is mounted on a mechanical arm that is robotically controlled and precisely robotically controlled. And so the projections know exactly where it is in space and time. And because it can match it up it can do some really amazing things.
And there’s a guy who looks like he’s actually pushing the thing around, but of course he’s actually just — he’s a dancer who carefully makes it look.
Craig: Got it.
John: But it creates the illusion of three dimensions and impossible things through really, really good projections. So, I’ve learned so much about projection in this, in making Big Fish. This has me really excited about the possibilities of what projection can do next to create space. Something that you’re experiencing live and in person in front of you.
So, it’s not post-production. It’s projections that are happening right there in space and time.
Craig: That’s interesting. I’d like to — I’m going to see that.
John: A movie that did it actually really well this last time was Oblivion. Did you ever see Oblivion?
Craig: I didn’t see Oblivion.
John: I didn’t love the movie but I did love some of the environments that they created in it. And one of them is this house that the Tom Cruise character is in. It’s sort of this lookout post. And it’s sort of like the Chemosphere, that sort of famous house in Los Angeles that’s round, all glass on all sides. And it’s beautiful every way that you look.
And so I assumed originally that they shot that with the normal green screens and then they just stripped in the sky afterwards. But then I read the American Cinematography article and they actually did it all with projections. And so literally if you were standing on that set it looked like you saw the sky around you at all times.
Craig: Wow. Cool.
John: And because they could do it that way they had this freedom of being able to look in any direction and have it make sense. And they can essentially light with the sky outside which was brilliant.
Craig: It’s kind of a return to the old school way of doing things.
John: Absolutely. It was false sun, but it was terrific. It was exactly, I think, the right way to do this movie. And with the prep they were able to sort of, you know, they color the sky in the certain way and they could animate the clouds in a certain way. That was really, really rewarding for that movie.
So, I recommend Box as not only sort of something that’s really cool now but as inspiration for other great filmmaking techniques.
Craig: I have to say that I love it. I kind of want projection and rear screen projection and all that stuff to come back. It used to be so clunky, obviously, but now if they’re getting it done and making it awesome. I hate green screen. I hate it. I mean, it’s useful but —
John: Everyone hates green screen. There’s not an actor or director. No one on earth other than people who make their living in post-production really like green screen because it’s so hard to know what a moment feels like.
Craig: There’s a sequence at the end of Hangover III where John Goodman has met up with the guys on this little cliff overlooking Las Vegas. They’re out in the dessert and it’s basically dawn. And it’s really hard to shoot at dawn, because you get about 10 usable minutes of dawn.
And to shoot this scene with all these characters, I mean, first of all it was a long scene. It was like six pages. And everybody was talking.
John: There are like 12 people in that scene, too, so any kind of coverage is going to kill you.
Craig: Exactly. It’s crazy, right? But we wanted dawn. Todd and our DP, Larry Sher, came up with this plan and basically it was that we would shoot at dusk for dawn. We would shoot all night. And then we would shoot dawn for dawn. And once the sun got out of the way, the green screens went up. So, we shot plates. So, so much of that stuff is actually green screen. A bunch of it is live and a bunch of it is green screen.
And in the end, the green screen is remarkable. You just don’t know that any of it is green screen. But, shooting at three in the morning with people floating in front of space-less green is so disorienting. It is so hard to believe what you’re seeing because the frame has no context. You know you’re framed correctly because you have your references. It’s just psychologically really difficult.
Craig: Everyone, you’re right, everyone hates it. It’s a tough thing to do. The only area where it makes life wonderful is when you’re shooting cars because inside a car is just like — driving the process car up and down the road is the worst.
Craig: Can’t talk to — and then it’s easier. You can talk to the actors. You can adjust and all the rest.
Well, that’s very cool. And Big Fish did have some terrific projections. Really cools stuff. I love the way that the sort of wood slats moved up and around. I mean, technically it’s a remarkable production.
John: Yes, it was very, very difficult. But one of the goals behind it, and Julian Crouch was our designer. And he brought us these reference photos of this old barn he’d found. And like the sun was blasting through this old barn and he’s like, “Well that’s terrific.” So it makes this really warm thing. But then by projecting onto it we can create the other spaces we need to create.
And the challenge has always been when to do enough and not do too much. And we’ve had to sort of be very careful about, you know, when you have those tool boxes where you can do anything, the expectation to do everything.
John: And we had to stop that. An example would be in the second act there’s a moment where we go to visit this woman who has a house. And we illustrate sort of — there’s a very specific plan around how we animate in the other houses and the trees. That was terrific. But, I had to say like the clouds can’t move. Because the clouds were originally moving and they were so beautiful that I could not pay any attention to the scene because the clouds were incredibly beautiful.
John: So, we had to sort of take it back a step so that you see that. Yet, later in that scene there’s an animation that shows time passing, and so this tree that’s a certain size grows to a full size.
Craig: Yes. And everybody goes, “Ooh-ah,” when it happens.
John: Yeah. There’s a gasp.
Craig: Which is funny because it’s the animation you could see on like a Saturday morning show.
Craig: But there’s something about being in the theater where like, “Oh my god! Look at that!”
John: It’s absolutely true.
Craig: Yeah. People really liked it.
John: That’s been a rewarding scene to see.
Craig: Well, you know, I had a One Cool Thing. I’m going to call an audible and change it. Because in a larger sense my One Cool Thing is Big Fish, but really specifically there’s one guy in the show that listens to our podcast, Ryan Andes.
John: He’s the best. I gave Ryan Andes a giant hug yesterday because he literally saved — he emotionally saved my life at a very difficult juncture.
Craig: He did?
John: Yeah. We put in a change yesterday that would not have worked if he had not just been a grounded, amazing person.
John: And he got two big hugs because I wouldn’t be here without him.
Craig: Wow, well you’ll have to tell me what the changes are.
John: After the show I’ll tell you what the changes were.
Craig: So, Ryan Andes plays Karl the Giant.
John: Yeah, Karl with a K. You said C in the tweet.
Craig: Oh, I did?
John: Because Cs aren’t funny. Ks are funny.
Craig: But I didn’t know if he was an American. He seemed American and not a German Karl.
John: But a giant should always be a K.
Craig: Perhaps a giant should always be, yeah. He’s great in the show. He’s my favorite character in the show, not including the main character, but of all the menagerie of larger than life characters in the show he’s my favorite.
He’s sweet. He’s adorable. And he was the guy who says the thing that finally got me to tear up in the show, that finally squeezed tears out of my miserable dark heart, full of umbrage. Roiling pit of resentment.
John: Karl made Craig cry.
Craig: Yes, Karl was really good. And it turns out, so I’m walking out I’m like, god, that Karl, I told you , is the one who made me cry. And you’re like, “Well, you know, he listens to the podcast.”
And I’m like no way! So, we walk outside, you know, the little stage exit where all the people are there to get their autographs and so forth and there’s Karl. And Karl seemed more excited to meet me, [laughs], and I just thought it was like you have to stop, it’s freaking me out. It’s weird. All I did was sit there and watch it. Karl I loved. He was such a great guy.
Ryan Andes is such a great guy. And he’s so good in the show. Kids will love him.
John: Kids do love him.
Craig: Everyone is going to want a Karl doll.
John: That’s what we need to sell. We’re still working on our merch, so maybe we’ll get a —
Craig: Karl doll obviously in the squirrel fur suit.
John: Exactly. Yeah, Karl has a couple different wardrobe changes, but it really is original.
Craig: Yeah. You want to go for the long hair, giant face, giant beard, crazy Karl.
John: Crazy Karl.
Craig: Cave Karl.
John: Cave Karl is what you want.
Craig: Cave Karl is the toy.
John: He actually sort of has a Captain Caveman feel. Captain Caveman, the animated character, and just stretched him to —
Craig: Elongated. Correct. He was great and he’s such a good guy. So, Ryan, thank you for listening all this time. You were terrific. I was far more excited to meet you than you were to meet me, I promise you.
John: Hooray. Standard housekeeping. Here’s stuff at the end. If you are listening to us on a device, you probably subscribe to us through iTunes, but if you didn’t you should subscribe to us through iTunes. Just search for Scriptnotes and we’re there. And we love comments. So, if you want to leave a comment that’s great.
John: On iTunes you will see the most recent 20 episodes. If you wanted to go back into the archives, those are available. So, at johnaugust.com/scriptnotes you will see all 111 episodes are available there. The most recent 20 are free for anybody.
John: Free. The further back episodes you can subscribe. It’s $1.99 a month for all you can eat, all the episodes.
Craig: Forever! Two bucks a month.
John: Two bucks a month.
Craig: Come on!
John: You can save a child’s life or you could listen to Craig… [laughs]
Craig: You actually can’t save a child’s life on $2 a month.
John: No, you really can’t. You can’t do anything
Craig: I feel like people lie about that.
John: I don’t know. Maybe you could blow a kid’s nose for $2 a month.
Craig: For $2 a month you could probably send them $1 month. [laughs]
John: [laughs] So, that’s an option if you want to listen to those old episodes.
Craig: And when we do our next podcast together will you be back in Los Angeles?
John: Wow, I think I might be. This is a Friday. I’m bad at time math. No, I think we’re going to do one more where I’m on Skype.
John: I should also say if you would like all of those episodes in one handy package…
John: …we are making more of those USB drives that have all 100 of our first episodes.
Craig: That’s the way to go.
John: That’s a simple way to go.
Craig: It’s like buying the first few seasons of Breaking Bad. And then we’ll do another thumb drive for the second 100. Then we’ll do some mega — by the time we get to 500, it’ll just be brain drive.
John: Totally. There won’t be USB drives anymore.
Craig: You know, brain drive is right up there with flying car. We’re going to keep talking about piping things directly into people’s brains and flying cars, neither will happen.
John: I think there will be some sort of embeddable device that lets you reference things.
Craig: Not going to happen.
John: Because they already have those things where you can see on your tongue. They can map a camera to your tongue. And so like blind people can actually use a video camera to see which is nutso. So, there’s going to be ways to —
Craig: Wait a second. You mean they can…?
John: So, essentially they put a little sensor on your tongue, this little white square strip.
Craig: So, it’s pushing on your tongue.
John: No, it’s actually electrically —
Craig: Sending an image. To what?
John: To the receptors on your tongue. And your tongue is actually sensitive enough that it starts to be able to see, just a black and white image, but like blind people can navigate with these little video cameras and that could be next week’s One Cool Thing. We’ll send you the link.
Craig: Does it work with porn? [laughs]
John: [laughs] That would be so awesome. The soldier is like, “I can finally watch porn!”
Craig: Yeah. Exactly.
John: It would be like one of those terrible GIF kind of porn things. But, yeah.
Craig: I mean, you know, any technology, within minutes, porn.
John: It would seem like magic. Any technology —
Craig: Adam Carolla once said, it was so funny, he said, “Just the fact within 15 minutes of something new being invested, some new physical thing being invented, within 15 minutes someone is putting it up their butt.” [laughs]
John: [laughs] Very likely.
Craig: I think he’s right.
John: Yeah. And that is or show this week. So, if you have a question for me or Craig, you can write into firstname.lastname@example.org and we occasionally go through those questions and try to answer them on the air. You can talk to Craig @clmazin.
John: On Twitter. I am @johnaugust. And, Craig, thank you for coming to New York.
Craig: Thank you for having me. Great show. And I’ll see you on Skype.
John: Awesome. Bye.
- LA Times on the Gamechanger Film Fund
- LA Times on LA’s new Film Czar
- Patti Lupone stops the show to yell at a photographer on YouTube
- Box by Bot & Dolly
- Rear projection effect on Wikipedia
- Big Fish production designer Julian Crouch
- Big Fish’s Ryan Andes, and on Twitter @AndesRyan
- Blind soldier uses tongue device to ‘see’ at The Guardian
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Matthew Chilelli