The original post for this episode can be found here.
Disclaimer: The following podcast contains explicit language. So, if you’re driving in the car and your kids are in the backseat, it may be a good time to switch over to NPR.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 113, the Not Safe for Children edition of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig: Fuck yeah!
John: Yeah. So, we should have prefaced this by saying our Three Page Challenges this week involve so many F-words that there was just no way we could edit this out and have it make any sense. So, while our podcast would usually try to avoid things that you don’t want to be playing in the car while your kids are in the car, this will be not one of those episodes.
Craig: Correct. Yes.
John: There will be four-letter words a-flying.
Craig: Sorry kids, but you got to fuck off now. [laughs]
This is so nice. I wish that every one could be like this. But it’s good that we show some restraint.
John: It’s actually very hard for me to swear now. It was a weird thing that happened like literally right as my daughter was born I just stopped swearing.
John: And I just completely stopped. So, I can totally write it, but it’s really hard for me to say those words now. I just — I became very prudish in a way about all those things.
Craig: I am super good about not cursing around my kids. My son is now 12, so I’ve allowed certain words in. Occasionally when I need to impress a point upon him I will use “shit,” as in “Enough with this shit,” but I don’t F-bomb around the kids.
But the rest of my life…geez Louise, man.
John: A helpful tip that people taught me quite early on and I did use it a few times early on when I slipped is if you end up saying fuck by accident, you immediately say duck, truck, muck, luck. You say a bunch of words that rhyme with it and then you’re kid can’t remember which was the word that actually was the bad word.
Craig: Oh, that’s interesting.
John: And that actually did work for awhile. So, I still think my daughter doesn’t quite understand what the bad words are because she’s said like, “A kid in school said the S-word.” And I’m like, really? “He said stupid.”
Oh, yeah, that S-word. It’s a bad word.
Craig: Watch how quickly that shit goes away. [laughs] Actually I remember when my son, he was around eight when he started to become fascinated with bad words. And we were on a walk together and I said, “Listen, Jack, you can say anything, if it’s just you and me, you can say any word you want. I don’t care. I’m cool with any word. It’s all about context.”
And he said, “Well, there’s one word that I saw and I want to say it but I’m nervous.” And I’m like, “Go ahead, just say it.”
He goes, “I’ll whisper it in your ear.” I said okay. And he said, “Ash-hole.” And I’m like, “No, you pronounced it…You’re stupid.”
John: I was probably in second and or third grade and my mom and dad would watch football. And I don’ t know if that’s Sunday evening or Monday Night Football, anyway, they were watching some evening football game. And I was watching sort of halfway from the kitchen and whenever there would be like a great play my mom would say, “Hot damn!” And whenever something would go horribly wrong she’d go, “Shit!”
And so I saw like some big play happen, and so I go, “Hot shit!”
Craig: [laughs] Ah! I still see you today at your current age watching football and just bizarrely blurting out, “Hot shit!”
John: It might happen. I can follow football. I actually do understand how football works. I don’t find it tremendously enjoyable, but I will watch a football game.
Craig: I’ve got to be totally honest with you and all the people who listen. You know I’m an enormous baseball fan, huge baseball dork.
John: Do you enjoy watching the game?
Craig: Love watching baseball, whether it’s on TV or at the stadium, and I know enough of the rules where I could responsibly umpire youth baseball if I needed to. I don’t love football. I just don’t. I’m cool, I’ll watch a game, it’s exciting, but I don’t have the football gene that just about everybody else seems to have.
I certainly don’t have the soccer gene. That’s like, uhh, what the hell is that about?
John: It’s like a lot of running.
Craig: It’s just running.
John: So, one of the reasons why today’s episode can have a lot of vulgar language in it is we actually have a list presented to us by Diablo Cody who is a woman who writes a lot of great dialogue that is sometimes vulgar. So, we want to talk about that, but we also have three Three Page Challenges that even the titles are vulgar.
Craig: Yeah, it’s fun. I’m excited.
John: Let’s get started.
For whatever reason this has become the month of, “Hey, you’re a screenwriter! Make a list!”
Craig: Yeah, what’s going on?
John: I don’t know what this is. Honestly, so I did a thing for Vulture, which has hosted a lot of these lists — vulture.com. When Frankenweenie was coming out they asked me to do a diary of like the things I was following. So, I think it’s one of those things where like PR people will interface with Vulture and say like, “Hey, we’ve got a screenwriter,” and Vulture says, “Make us a list.”
Craig: Right. Make us a list.
John: And you give them a list.
Craig: But I feel like there was, whatever the first list was, was it Gilroy’s list?
John: That was the one that sort of broke this off. I think so.
Craig: Then I just think everybody else goes, “Oh, now we need a list from a screenwriter. Get me a screenwriter to do the list because it got a lot of clicks.”
John: Yes. Well, that’s the thing about screenwriters is we can write things. And sometimes they’re amusing or helpful. And as opposed to if you wanted to ask a director to make a list, or an actor.
Craig: Right. I just feel like all these sites basically copy each other.
Craig: Ugh, lists. But this was a decent list I have to say. She did a good job.
John: This was her list and this is why I think it was useful. Diablo Cody, “Seven Things No One Tells You About Being a Top Screenwriter.” And this is a useful thing to think about, because we often talk about sort of like breaking in as a screenwriter or sort of what that experience is of going from a screenwriter that no one has ever heard of, to being someone that might be employed.
Well, Diablo Cody is that rare situation where she’s actually a screenwriter people have heard of.
John: Because of Juno and because, I think, of her —
Craig: Her background. Her name.
John: Her background. She had a great story. I mean, she was an interesting person to put on a talk show and have talk about her movie. And that was an amazing thing. I think she broke a lot of ground for not just women screenwriters, but screenwriters overall. It’s like, “Oh, people write movies.” So, that was a thing we can definitely credit to Diablo Cody.
She also had to deal with the backlash against that for having a cool name and being known with a certain kind of dialogue and all that stuff. But, I’ve always liked Diablo, I’ve always liked her movies, and I like this list.
Craig: She’s a cool person.
John: She’s just kind of really cool.
Craig: She is. And you know me — I default to hating everyone. And I’m constantly walking around full of anger. She’s actually really cool. I’m not good friends with her or anything, but I met her a couple of times and we emailed and such and I just thought that she was a very thoughtful, smart person and smart and thoughtful take me so far, honestly.
John: I had an awkward conversation with Diablo Cody at Dana Fox’s, one of Dana Fox’s birthday parties. Dana Fox is a mutual friend. And I had just seen Young Adult that day and so I wanted to — I saw Diablo across the other side of this pool and it’s like I want to go tell Diablo Cody that I really liked her movie, that I just saw it. But I didn’t realize that she actually had some challenging interactions with the whole making of the movie, the way that you can be happy that a movie exists, but also be sort of frustrated by things.
John: And so as I tried to tell her that I saw and really liked her movie, she wasn’t in the right space to hear it. So, I ended up sort of feeling like an asshole for bringing up this thing which she didn’t want to have brought up.
Craig: You felt like an ash-hole?
John: I felt like an ash-hole. But let’s take a look at what Diablo wrote in Vulture. The first point is, “You will be held accountable for your words. Writers drink, and therefore we often exhibit poor judgment. In 2007, when Juno came out, people were wearing rhinestone-embellished trucker caps and I was making bad decisions, too. I said a lot of stupid things in interviews because I figured no one was paying attention — who cares about screenwriters, generally?”
Oh, this brings up a topic from last week…
John: …in which I mentioned a screenwriter whose decisions to portray himself on a blog were not maybe the best ones.
John: But we’re not even going to say his name because he asked us to never mention his name again. And you know what? I will respect that wish.
Craig: Yeah, he’s too busy mentioning his own name. He doesn’t have time for other people mentioning his name. [laughs] So funny.
John: Diablo says, “But my big mouth got me into trouble countless times. As a ‘visible’ writer, you have to learn to conduct yourself like an actor.” That’s really good advice. “Say what you’ve been coached to say. Don’t talk shit about anyone. Behind closed doors, I’m still a drunk train wreck, but in interviews, I try to channel Sandra Bullock or someone else the public finds charming.”
John: That’s good advice. Essentially like be a better version of yourself. And when I have to do press, and I had to do a lot of press for Big Fish these last couple weeks, I am just sort of a better version of myself. I’m the version of myself that communicates the ideas that I want to see portrayed in print and not any of the other stuff.
Craig: Yeah. What it comes down to is what your priority is when you’re talking about your work with members of the press, is your priority you or is your priority the project? And for adults, the priority is always the project. It doesn’t matter what I’ve experienced or what I think about anybody. When I talk — I became very aware of it when we were doing press for the Hangover Part II because there was just an enormous amount of press interest. And there had also been a bunch of controversy.
The Mel Gibson thing in particular was a big controversy. And I was very aware when I was talking to the press that it wasn’t innocent. That they were looking for something that also anything I said, if I should happened to say something about some actor or something, it was going to be a story. And I don’t want — the point is it’s not about anything other than the project.
Here’s the point of press — sell tickets. That’s it.
John: Yes. Done.
Craig: Bingo. Period. That’s that. If you’re talking to the press and you honestly think that they care about you, or your life, or any of that baloney, well maybe they do, but that’s not why you’re there talking to them.
So, I think that this is good advice. There is that wonderful scene from Bull Durham where you kind of get the rules of how to talk about your team and how to talk about a game. And you just stay positive and upbeat without being boring. It’s not hard.
John: Very true. Her second point, “You will be a big deal for about ten seconds. Since I ‘broke through’ (ugh) six years ago, countless younger, funnier, smarter writers have flocked to Hollywood and TOOK MY JERB.”
John: Jerb! “That’s the nature of this business. Just ask any of the actresses who were on the cover of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood Issue in the nineties. Believe me, they all want to murder Emma Stone right now. You will be replaced. Keep your head down and work as much as you can.”
Craig: [laughs] Boy, that’s a really…
John: That’s a nice specific example.
Craig: Well, and it is because I actually had a conversation with an actress a few months ago and that was exactly what she said. She just went on about Emma Stone. I’m like, “You’ve got to calm down.” I mean, listen, you know, it’s like: shit happens.
It’s funny. You’ve had your ten seconds. I remember when Go came out. I remember your name and I remember you having just notoriety. I’ve never had ten seconds. I’m like that guy, [laughs], you know, I’m the overnight success that takes 17 years, you know. So, I’ve been kind of lucky. I’ve ducked that whole thing.
John: Yeah. And specifically if you’re known for being a unique iconoclastic writer with a voice, that’s great, and that will still be your voice. The challenge is there will be the next iconoclastic writer with a voice and that spotlight will shift over to them. And that doesn’t mean that what you were doing is wrong, but that will be — the spotlight will go over to that next person.
And in some ways because you’re known has having a specific, distinctive voice, the next time you do something with that specific, distinctive voice, they’re going to be judging you based on that. And some people are going to have their hackles up for that, which certainly happened with Young Adult, or I’m sorry, actually with Jennifer’s Body right after that. Everyone went in looking for, “Oh, it’s the Diablo Cody movie and it’s going to have this feel to it.” And when it did, but it didn’t, that’s going to happen.
Craig: That’s exactly right. And, granted, maybe we’re speaking to a very narrow audience at this point of writers who are either on the verge of being big deals or writers who will one day be big deals, but the truth is there is no such thing.
When she says, “You will be a big deal for about ten seconds,” what she really means is you will be dubbed a big deal for about ten seconds.
Craig: But we ourselves aren’t big deals.
Craig: Our writing is a big deal. Let the writing, let the work be your diplomat and your ambassador. You don’t have to talk. It’s not that important. You know?
John: Well, I think it would actually be great, because most screenwriters won’t have the Diablo Cody experience where they have this giant spotlight on them, it’s worth generalizing sort of overall if you’re actor, or if you’re actress, if you are a musician — whatever you are it is to recognize that if you find yourself in that moment of spotlight is to recognize that you are in a spotlight but that spotlight will not always be there. And that’s going to be okay. But just don’t —
Craig: Don’t make it about the spotlight. That’s for sure.
John: No. Let that spotlight be the thing that lets you do the next thing that you really want to do rather than just, “Oh my god, I’m in a spotlight.”
Craig: Frankly, you should be paranoid and suspicious about any spotlights. That’s my position. [laughs]
John: [laughs] Yeah.
Craig: I don’t like people looking at me.
John: Number three. “You can make money doing things nobody knows about.”
John: Which is true.
John: We’ve talked about this on the show. A lot of the actual profession of screenwriting is not the things that have your name on them. It’s helping out on other projects that need a writer to do a certain amount of heavy lifting on it. And that’s — most of the money I’ve made probably is on projects that either didn’t get made or if they did get made don’t have my name on them because I was just there doing a little bit of work.
John: And that’s a thing that’s different than any actor. No actor is sort of —
Craig: That’s right!
John: Well, animated movies, I guess, you sort of don’t have your whole face and personality in those movies.
Craig: Yeah, but they promote you though.
John: They promote it.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, for us there is a lot of that. And you should actually find a way to enjoy your anonymous contribution to things. I recently did some work on a movie that did very well, but nowhere near what would be required for credit. I didn’t ask for credit, or try for it I guess I should say. And I saw a couple of tweets or things where people are like, “This is a funny movie. It’s so much better than that crap that Craig Mazin writes.” [laughs]
I’m like, well, I worked on that too. [laughs]. You know, but you can’t say anything about it! So, you’re like, okay.
John: Yeah. A disagreement I had with Aline Brosh McKenna, which I mean, next time she’s on the show we can talk about it more, is the question to what degree do you acknowledge working on another movie.
Craig: I’m on Aline’s side on this debate.
John: I know you’re on Aline’s side. And we won’t get into the deepest part of that discussion, because I think it’s a better three-way discussion, but just to acknowledge the reality that like other people have worked on movies that have my name on them and I’ve worked on other people’s movies that have their name on them.
John: And there’s no shame or terribleness in that. That’s actually just the nature of it.
John: And so it’s good that Diablo acknowledges this, too. Number four, “You have to say no to people constantly.” Well, that’s a great position to be in is to be able to say no.
John: But that is also one of the frustrating things I encountered is that sometimes there will be a project that is really tantalizing, but the opportunity cost of doing that project is something else that I would much rather do. And so a person you might want to be in business with and do work with, but you’re going to have to say no. And sometimes you hurt people’s feelings by saying no.
Craig: No question. And this is where you start to feel the existential dread of choosing because it’s so hard. And we’ve all made mistakes. We’ve chosen, or not chosen, the wrong things.
Craig: We have all heard the terrible cautionary tales of people that turned down a thing that became the thing that made $100 million for that person. And they went and shot themselves in a room somewhere. And, of course, as she says, “My 20-year-old self would hit the roof if she knew I turned something down.”
And my middle class Staten Island inner child freaks out every time he says no. I’m so scared. But I have to say no. I have to. And it is a — that’s a skill that takes a lot of time and a lot of balls.
John: Mm-hmm. I passed on something that became a very big franchise and I passed on it dismissively, like, “Oh, I don’t want it. That’s not a movie I want to make. I don’t want to do anything like that.” And it became really big. And I did have that moment of sort of, “Oh, I made a huge disastrous choice.” But then actually as I talked to the people who worked it, it was kind of a nightmare. So, I don’t know that I necessarily would have wanted to be involved with it.
If I put myself in the middle of that nightmare situation and how hard it was to get that movie made as a writer, I don’t know that I would be feeling that it was a good outcome. So, maybe I was lucky.
Craig: In the end you can’t hang yourself on the noose of your choices. You choose what you choose. We’re not perfect. We’re going to make mistakes. But, it’s more likely in a weird way that you’re going to make a mistake saying yes to something just because it’s in front of you than you will by saying no to something.
John: Yeah. You take a project because it’s a dangling paycheck. And you don’t realize that it’s going to eat up three years of your life and be misery.
Craig: I’ve been there. [laughs]
John: Ooh! I’ve been there. I’ve been there for sure.
The classic sort of fortune cookie advice here is: only a fool trips on what is behind him.
John: And if you keep regretting the things you didn’t do, well, that’s not going to be helpful.
Craig: It’s not going be helpful. You’re absolutely right. And the truth is, you know, people, when we start these things we are starting them with so much optimism and passion and perhaps a huge dollop of self-delusion. Everybody looks at it after the fact and says, “Well, obviously this person took this job to get paid. Why else would you take it?” Well, because when I took it it was going to be good. Yeah.
John: It was pretty and great. There were different directors. And different actors.
Craig: Right. Stuff happened.
Craig: And I grant you it looks bad now…
John: Yeah, and if we were allowed to write that full history of like the day after something is released, we could write the real history of what happened, that would be great.
Craig: That would be pretty awesome.
John: It would be great, but you would burn every bridge doing it.
Craig: It would be done. Yeah.
John: Her fifth point is that, “Meetings get way better. I have friends who are lesser-known writers, and they get very nervous before a pitch because they feel like they’re in service of the people that they are pitching to. Whereas sometimes when I go in and pitch, it’s like being an honored guest. They actually seem interested in what I have to say. People don’t look out the window. Also, you get to park right in front of the studio instead of having to go way off to P6.”
Craig: [laughs] That is…
John: Again, so specific and so very true. When they make — at Sony they make you park in the garage and hike all the way in. Or for me, like if I have a meeting at Thalberg but they make me park across the lot in that weird complex…
Craig: Oh yeah, no, that’s not cool.
John: That’s not cool at all.
Craig: You know that you screwed up.
John: Yeah. If you’re not in that parking lot…
John: Meetings do get so much better. And we’ve talked on the show about how when you first start out it’s like the water bottle tour of Los Angeles and you just go and have general meetings.
John: And then you go and you have pitches. And some of them are great and a lot of them are just terrible. And it’s honestly kind of not what you’re doing, it’s how interested they are in you as a person. How excited they are to have you in the room. And, god, when they really want you there it just changes everything.
Craig: No question. And once you get to a certain level as a screenwriter and you’re earning a certain amount of money, you’re not having meetings haphazardly with people. If they’re sitting down and meeting with you it means somebody somewhere made a decision to spend some money. And it’s business already. It’s already a different kind of meeting. That’s all true and it is a helpful thing.
Unfortunately I’m not sure that it’s, [laughs], I just don’t know if there’s any advice inherent to it other than just keep going and just know that one day it might — I don’t even, when she says meetings get way better, I think she should have rephrased to, “Meetings might get way better.” [laughs]
Craig: Or they may never get way better and you might not get way better, or you might not get more interesting to them. But.
John: Well, I think all of this is under the umbrella of, “Hey, you’re now suddenly a hot screenwriter.”
John: That’s under that umbrella. Yes, if you’re a hot screenwriter, meetings do get much, much better.
Craig: I will say that when I noticed the syndrome of meetings getting better, I made a conscious decision to not let that change anything about the way I approach the meetings. In other words, don’t skate. Because I talk to these executives and producers all the time and one of their big gripes is that they make huge commitments to big shot screenwriters and they feel like sometimes those big shot screenwriters are kind of taking that money and acting like, “Oh god, this is payback for all the times that I had to sweat and bleed and I got underpaid.”
And my attitude is I do the same job no matter what. I don’t care whether you’re kissing my ass or I’m kissing your ass. I have a job to do. I’m going to prepare. And I’m going to have something to say. Nothing has changed about the way I approach the meeting.
John: The only thing I would say that has changed about the way I approach the meeting is when they are steering me on a path that is full of rocks, and danger, and badness, I am much more upfront about explaining in a tactful way why that’s not going to work, because I don’t have to tap dance for you in a way.
Craig: Yes. That is true.
John: But respectful. Respectful.
Craig: Well, respectful. And I think also that they’re more inclined to listen to you because maybe you’re right. [laughs] Whereas when you start out you couldn’t possibly be right.
John: You could not possibly be right. You have no idea. And you’re lucky to be in the room.
Craig: That’s correct.
John: Her sixth point, which is, again, so true. “Everyone you know will suddenly aspire to be a screenwriter.” And that I definitely found was true. And, granted, this is Los Angeles where everyone basically is a screenwriter, whether they’ve written something or not something, everyone is a screenwriter in Los Angeles. But it’s particularly true when you’ve had some measure of success and they can point to and it’s like, “Well, why do you get that success and why don’t I get that success,” in a way that doesn’t hold true for a director, for example, because a director could point to like “this is the work I did” and not everyone thinks they could be a director.
Craig: I have to be honest. I haven’t noticed this at all.
John: You haven’t?
Craig: Maybe because a lot of my friends were writers anyway and a lot of my friends are writers, so they do the job. But I didn’t notice that other people that I knew suddenly… — Maybe I’m just so uninspiring. [laughs]
Craig: Like everybody saw me do it and they’re like, “Well, I don’t want to be like that idiot.”
John: Yeah. I think looking at it from Diablo’s point of view, here is a woman who was not known as a screenwriter who suddenly was a screenwriter.
John: This was really her first project. So, suddenly all these other people sort of like would, you know, her orthodontist would say, “Oh, I wrote a script.” And I guess because I always was a screenwriter and was always sort of a public screenwriter with johnaugust.com, I sort of always saw that more. So, I was always around those people who aspired to be screenwriters.
But I definitely find that even in normal life, like meeting people’s extending families, suddenly that Uncle Tom says, “I’ve got a script I wrote and what do you think the odds are of this?” I’m like I have no idea what the odds are here in Missouri.
Craig: I’ve never been so much more thankful for my family now than I was yesterday. I mean, nobody has bothered me about that. I mean, they’ll do the usual — there’s a script and I have a great idea for a script. That everybody does. But no one has come up to me and said, “I’ve written a script.” I would just…oh boy.
John: Oh boy. Her seventh point I have no experience with. “The guy who refused to date you in college comes asking for a job.”
John: No, that didn’t happen.
Craig: Ah, no. We don’t have jobs. I don’t know who these guys are. What jobs would we have to offer?
John: Yeah, that’s true. I guess if you were like a TV — well, actually, she did run a TV show.
Craig: Oh, that’s right. The Tara show, right.
John: That Tara show. And that is an absolutely true thing. When you shift from being a person who is employed to a person who is an employer, that is…ugh.
Craig: No question. I mean, look —
John: That’s one of those uncomfortable things about being a TV showrunner.
Craig: It is. Even as a guy that just does movies, I get frequent emails from crew that I’ve worked with just sort of check-in emails, like what’s going on. Because everybody is looking for work, I get it. But I’ve never had, well, first of all, no one refused to date me in college. Well, yeah, they might have refused. Just saying no, absolutely no, is that a refusal?
John: Well, basically no one who refused to date Craig in college is still alive.
Craig: Correct. [laughs] Well, they’re alive in my mind and they’re alive in a certain sense.
John: They’re alive in the hearts of the people who miss them. [laughs]
Craig: Yeah. That’s right.
John: But, no, they’re all dead.
Craig: Yeah! Big time. Well, they fucked up.
John: Exactly. They had a choice and Ted Cruz is running for President.
Craig: Oh, goddamn it! So, you know, we haven’t talked about Ted, have we on the show?
John: I think we did talk about Ted Cruz.
Craig: Oh okay. I just want to be clear just so people understand —
John: That Craig is the reason why the government is shut down.
Craig: Yeah. Pretty much.
John: If you had been a better friend to Ted Cruz back in Princeton.
Craig: Well, no, I made the mistake in the other direction. I wasn’t awful enough. I should have killed him. Hopefully this doesn’t trigger a Secret Service issue here.
John: So, let’s clarify that. In no way are you trying to threaten the life of a US senator?
Craig: In no way. I’m simply saying that maybe I should have 25 years ago. [laughs] That’s all. You know, in a kind of time travel way. I currently am an incredible peaceful individual who does not wish or inflict violence on anyone. And, you know, I want to be clear, because Ted Cruz is a nightmare of a human being. I have plenty of problems with his politics, but truthfully his personality is so awful that 99% of why I hate him is just his personality.
If he agreed with me on every issue, I would hate him only 1% less.
John: Wow. That’s a strong indictment of a man’s character.
Craig: He’s an awful, awful, awful person. He’s awful. Anyway…
John: Resolved. I’m wondering if you’re going to email Stuart in about 15 minutes to ask him —
Craig: No, because look, everybody knows he’s an awful person now. Everybody.
John: That’s true.
Craig: And I think I’ve been clear, again, [laughs], for the record, for the government, because I respect and love my United States government. I am not interested in committing violence or inspiring anyone to commit violence against anyone for any reason. Don’t be violent people.
Craig: Vote this dude out of office. How about that, Texas?
John: Perfect. What a good idea.
John: What’s also a good idea is for us to take a look at some of our Three Page Challenges. So, we have three of them this week. And I love doing Three Page Challenges, and we love doing them so much that we’re actually going to be doing some of them during the Austin Film Festival.
John: So, maybe before we get into that, let’s go through our Austin schedule because people may not know all the different things we are doing at Austin.
John: Do you know your session?
Craig: I…oh…I know…
John: I’ll look it up while I talk to you.
Craig: Yeah. I know of at least two of them. I know I’m doing the live podcast with you.
Craig: And I know I’m doing something that I would love to see people show up for because it’s pretty cool. I’ve done this class at USC a couple of times and it always goes over well. It’s basically a lecture on a different way of approaching structuring a screenplay and structuring it around character and theme and finding your plot as a function of those things rather than the other way around. And I use Pixar a lot as a kind of touchstone.
If you do show up to this, bring a pad and a pen because I’m going to be talking fast and saying a lot, but it’s very specific and it’s very craft-oriented, and it’s very practical. So, hopefully I’ll see people at that.
John: Great. So, here is my schedule for the Austin Film Festival. I arrive at Austin October 24. My first session is early in the morning at 8:45 on Friday the 25th. I have a session called “The Unreliable Narrator,” which should be good.
Craig: That is good.
John: Talking about screenplays that have unreliable narrators. At 11:30 on that Friday I will be doing “Deconstructing Alien,” which is going to be great.
Craig: Oh cool.
John: Because I originally thought of signing up for “Deconstructing Aliens,” which is my favorite movie of all time, that I know inside out, but I also love Alien, so I’m delighted to go through a conversation on how Alien works.
Craig: All right.
John: At 1pm you and I are together for a Three Page Challenge. And so this will be a live session with a Three Page Challenge. We will have two of the finalists at the Austin Film Festival presenting their first three pages. And one of our listeners will also be joining us for their three pages.
John: So, just like at the Writers Guild Foundation session we will be talking through what we found, but we will be bringing up the writer to talk with the writer, or writers, about what they did and what they think they might do next.
John: We love those sessions. If people are interested in reading the samples for that, I think rather than having a handout this time there will be some sort of URL at johnaugust.com that you will be able to just read it on your phone, or your iPad, or whatever else you want to read it in the session or before the session.
Craig: And have we talked about our special guest that we’re going to be talking with?
John: Yes. But that’s the next day.
Craig: Oh, that’s the next day. Okay.
John: Our special guest at the live, the big live Scriptnotes is going to be Rian Johnson.
John: And it’s on Saturday.
Craig: That’s going to be great. And also I believe that I am hosting the Writers Guild “Welcome to Austin” party Thursday night.
John: Holy cow! Yeah, I did that last year.
John: And you tried to silence the crowd for me and it was not possible.
Craig: No, so we’ll see. Maybe I’ll have you try and silence the crowd for me this time. Nobody wants to hear. I mean, the funny this is the Writers Guild puts on these events and they always say, “Can you just say some kind of union-y thing at some point so people know.” And like, of course, absolutely. But you realize everyone here is drunk and they don’t care?
John: Yeah. You should just stand up on the bar and shot, “Union! Union! Union!” That’s basically, just Sally Field it.
Craig: I’m going to Norma Rae the shit out of this. [laughs]
John: [laughs] My final session, god, they have me for five session at Austin.
Craig: Come on! Too much.
John: Too much.
My last session is with Daniel Wallace, the novelist of Big Fish, and we will be talking about book, to screen, to musical.
John: And that journey in Big Fish.
John: So, that’s going to be my fun weekend in Austin. So, please join Craig and me for especially that if you’re in Austin or would like to come to Austin. I think there are still tickets available for those sessions.
Craig: Yeah. It’s a great event and there is just a ton of amazing screenwriters there. People that do the job, talking about the job, it’s remarkable.
John: Yes. And Rian Johnson.
Craig: And Rian Johnson!
John: Great screenwriters…and Rian Johnson.
Craig: And Rian Johnson, exactly.
John: Who will be our special guest for the live episode of Scriptnotes.
Craig: He’s adorable, by the way. I don’t know if you people know. Rian is just the cutest little Swedish thing.
John: Yeah. He’s essentially a giant baby.
Craig: He’s a giant baby. There was a time when Derek Haas and I and Rian, I think, the three of us just did an email chain where kept finding pictures on the internet of people that like look Rian Johnson. And it was amazing. You know, like Oliver from The Brady Bunch, all the way to the weird lead dwarf in Freaks. I mean, his face — he is the man of a thousand faces. It’s amazing.
John: Yeah. Let us go to our Three Page Challenges.
John: The first one let’s talk a look at is by David Liberman. And his script is called Batshit.
Craig: Batshit! You want to do this one?
John: I’ll happily do Batshit. So, we start with a quote over black. It says, “Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.” It’s by William Congreve from 1697.
We fade in. We start at a Midwestern University. We’ll ultimately learn this is Ohio. There are cars in a parking lot outside of a college gymnasium. It’s Greek Week Sock Hop. We’re in Ohio. It’s 1957.
The music comes to a stop. Flames rise along one side of the walls. College students race out of the building. And the one that we’re following most is Jimmy, who gets into his ’53 Plymouth Cranbook convertible and shrieks, or gets out of the parking lot.
We hear this “SHREEE! The shriek of a bat!” He’s shaking with fear. He’s burning rubber trying to get out of this college campus. He’s on the main road. He’s heading into town. And he’s saying, he’s screaming, not really clear to whom, “I said I was sorry baby. I had no idea she was your sorority sister. It’s just that Betty and I are in love. Why can’t you be happy for us, instead of being so damn selfish?!”
But we still hear these “Shree! Shree!” and these sort of bat sounds. And as we get to a residential street he stops the car and suddenly, “Whoosh!” He screams like a girl as he’s lifted out of the driver’s seat by some force we can’t see. And he’s hauled into the night sky. A biting sound. A crunch. And then Jimmy’s body splats down. And that is the end of our three pages.
John: Craig Mazin, you start.
Craig: Well, so, I mean, this could go a hundred different ways I suppose, although in my mind it was kind of like a quasi-spoofish Little Shop of Horrors-y kind of thing about a bat — woman who is really jealous and some new guy is going to meet her and have to deal with, you know, my girlfriend is batshit, so to speak.
Craig: And, you know, I had no real issues with, I mean, the quote at the beginning is one tone and what we see next is a completely different tone. Sometimes you’ll see this where they’ll do a super serious quote and then the next quote will be something like, “That bitch is nuts,” or something like that to kind of say this is the tone. Remember, these first pages are teaching us how to watch the movie. So, I was a little confused by that.
The chase is fine. I like the way we’re using sound to imply that something unseen is chasing him. My biggest issue ultimately is that this is playing a little bit like one of those Saturday Night Live sketches that goes on too long. We get it.
Craig: We get that there is a girl and that he cheated on her. And so the dialogue here just isn’t that funny. You know, it’s a bit sitcom-y. It’s a bit soft. So, it got a little broad and the joke of, “Oh, geez, oh god, I’m saying the wrong thing. Please stop chasing me,” it just wasn’t that funny. But I like that it committed, that the scene committed to her picking him up and eating him and killing him.
Craig: So, the tone of kind of spoof horror here is nicely laid out. I would just maybe either shorten or sharpen up this dialogue. Give Jimmy a little bit more of a character other than just babbling sitcom guy.
John: Yeah. So, it’s very much a classic kind of horror or horror-comedy cold open where you establish a character, you establish a monster, and that character is going to get killed. And that’s great and fine. And from page three I felt like we could go almost anywhere. We could stay in the same time period, or we could jump forward to present day and she’s still around. There’s a lot of different ways we could go.
But it’s a classic cold open that doesn’t necessarily have to do much with the rest of the film.
I really agree with you about juxtaposing another quote to give us a better sense of tone, because “Hell hath no fury,” great, but if the second quote was like, “Bitch is a gold-digger…”
Craig: Right, exactly.
John: Or something like that. Like something else that just completely sets where we’re at would really help us out here.
John: I also agree with you in terms this felt long, but to me it felt long not just because the dialogue wasn’t maybe as sharp as it could be, but because I didn’t see Jimmy making any rational choices. He’s just driving away in a convertible. And if he really does see that there’s this woman following him, this bat-woman following him, which he seems to understand that she’s behind him, or she’s around, he’s not making a choice that could possibly save him.
John: And you want to give him some hope or some chance. So, while I was delighted to see him killed, I just wanted to see him make some rational choice that could possibly save him, like you know, driving into the car wash and like the sound is gone. And then he drives out and the thing gets him, something to sort of maybe defend himself or establish the logic to some degree in this world.
Craig: I totally agree. And there’s a problem with this first line. “Oh geez! What did I do?” He knows what he did. He’s about to tell us what he did. I mean, there’s another way of imagining this where this guy is driving away and he’s looking backwards and he’s scared. And there’s a distant sound, but he plays it serious and he’s not talking at all. And he’s trying to get away from something and pulls his car in behind and thinks he’s safe. And then suddenly there’s that noise and a shadow. And he says, “I said I was sorry, baby! I had no idea she was your sorority sister.”
And then he’s yanked up in the air and eaten. So, the reveal and the button to the scene prior to him being eaten is, oh, he knows this bat and he cheated on her.
Craig: You know, something to give that idea a little more push
John: Let’s look at the opening image here which is that Sock Hop and then it’s burning and it’s on fire. That doesn’t match very well with the action that’s going to be happening after this point. Like, I don’t think of a bat setting fire to things. And so to me if it is about his infidelity it should be either leaving the girl’s house or some other thing that sort of establishes that he just had sex with some girl and that’s what this thing is coming after him for.
John: Tat feels like a more direct tie in for where I think this is going in terms of this is a vengeful woman because of this. Burning down a whole gymnasium isn’t specific enough to sort of what the sin was.
Craig: Yeah. It feels more Carrie than Vampire Lady, or Bat Lady. Agreed.
John: And Carrie is a great thing to bring up, because Carrie classically is that gym fire. So, if you’re going to reference it in a way you’ve got to acknowledge it.
John: Or do something different.
Let’s talk about the first line of setup for this Midwestern university. “Chevys, Fords, Buicks and an assortment of other cars litter a parking lot in front of a college-sized gymnasium.” Well, that was frustrating to me because you’re just giving us a bunch of brands and saying they litter the parking lot. Uh, a college size gymnasium. But you already said a Midwestern university. I just feel like, you know, I don’t know that that’s helping us out there very much.
Craig: You could just go to a banner above the entrance reads Greek Week Sock Hop.
John: Exactly. And so then rock ‘n roll music from inside the walls. And then establish the parking lot. If we’re going to start with this image, start with a banner then give us the campus, give us the parking lot. And then give us people running out. So, midway through this first page, “COLLEGE STUDENTS scurry out of the burning gymnasium, screaming and crying. Mass hysteria!”
John: “Within minutes, the entire gymnasium is engulfed in flames.” Within minutes?
Craig: [laughs] Set your watches, folks!
John: Indeed. We have three minutes here. We’re going to just sort of watch things start to burn. Oh, it’s burning a little bit more. Now, it’s burning a little bit more.
Craig: Actually would be awesome if, you know, like this very commercial movie just took this weird art moment to just watch a building burn for three minutes.
John: That might be good.
That whole sentence should just go away.
John: It’s hurting us here.
Craig: Yes. Agreed.
John: Bottom of page one. “The engine roars to life.” I would capitalize that roar. Just that sense of sound effect.
John: “…which intern powers on the radio.”
Craig: [laughs] It’s the weirdest typo. I mean, I was going to say something but I’m like, I don’t know. It’s the weirdest typo in the world. I don’t even know how it happened.
John: No, “which in turn powers on the radio.” First off, “powers on” isn’t the right choice. But it’s written here “intern,” like intern, like Apu the intern.
Craig: Right. So, how do you think, I mean, there’s a whole Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of the making of this movie where that typo, the story of that typo…
John: My thought is that in typing this sentence he just didn’t put a space between “in” and “turn.”
Craig: And then he spelled checked.
John: And spell checked. Or it auto corrected to —
John: Yeah. That’s my hunch. But that’s why you need to human proof these things.
Craig: Guys, it’s just three pages. I mean, if you can’t read through three pages and pick out one of those…
John: On page two, “The Plymouth burns rubber. It kicks up a cloud of dust as it turns onto a…” You can’t burn rubber and click up a cloud of dust. That stopped me because I don’t think you can actually do that. If you’re burning rubber than you’re on pavement. Kicking up a cloud of dust, you’re on a dirt road.
Craig: Yeah, that’s correct. And we have some extra spacing here. I mean, I don’t know, maybe he’s using Main Road and Plymouth Cranbook as slug lines.
John: But Plymouth Cranbook is a terrible slug line.
Craig: It’s really bad. Yeah.
John: Because I think like, wait, is that a city? Is that a place?
Craig: [laughs] Right.
John: Doesn’t Plymouth Cranbook sound like some quaint little village in the Northeast?
Craig: Yeah. It does. And I was confused by the corn gag. I’m not real sure how that works where, you know, again, you just have to think like, okay, so on the day there’s going to be some grip somewhere trying to throw corn into the car while… — It just doesn’t work that.
John: Yeah. I get what he was trying to go for. Basically, if you’re driving through a corn field really, really fast, like it’s going to —
John: Everywhere, scatter, and including some that are going to hit him in the head. Like hitting him in the head is more fun than just landing in the car.
Craig: I don’t know how corn hits you in the head if you’re in a car.
John: No, he’s in a convertible.
Craig: Yeah, but then the hood. I don’t know. I guess maybe the corn hits him in the head. It’s fine. All that was fine. I just think that basically what ended up happening was we kind of were in a slightly boring car chase between a guy and somebody that he was talking to.
Craig: And I think ultimately the point that you made earlier is the most important one. And that is he’s not making any choices here that are interesting.
John: Yeah. One last idea about visualizing this is right now we’re staying in his POV this whole time. At a certain point it’s probably going to be useful to cut to her POV and just be bearing down upon the car.
Craig: That’s a good idea. A little bat vision. Yeah.
John: That would probably help. But I would say that I’m intrigued by the idea of this and I definitely would want to read the next couple pages to see what’s going to happen next. That’s the nice thing about a cold open is you can sort of go anywhere after this and I’m curious what would happen next.
Craig: Me too. I think it could be a fun John Waters-y kind of deal.
John: Cool. You get to pick the next one.
Craig: Oh, let’s do, I’m going to go with, well, it could Bass Reeves, Lawman Outlaw, or it could be Bass (pronounced Base) Reeves, Lawman Outlaw.
John: Oh, I didn’t’ think about it that way.
Craig: Which way did you read it?
John: I read it Bass.
Craig: All right. Let’s go with Bass. I mean, that’s probably closer to true. Bass Reeves, Lawman Outlaw, written by Billie Jean VK. Based on the true story of Bass Reeves. So, he’s got a real name. Hopefully I’m not mispronouncing it.
So, we open, we’re exterior, Indian Territory Trail. And a couple of men are on horses. One is Bass Reeves, 34, described as a tall Negro wearing a wide brimmed hat. And then his partner, James Mershon, 30 and white. And they’re talking about their hats and about keeping from getting wet. And then it starts to rain on them. They start riding their horses off to escape the rain and they ride towards a clearing with trees and suddenly somebody is shooting at them. Pierces Bass’s hat brim. Whizzes by Mershon, the partner.
Mershon loses sight of both guys. He’s now on the grand. He’s inside the trees. And then, boom, boom, shots are firing from a mysterious shadowy figure. He keeps ducking and firing back. Uh, he actually comes really close to this guy. The two of them are sort of like face to face and right when Mershon is about to be killed, boom, his shadow man attacker falls to the ground dead. And Bass has shot him dead. Picks up his hat. And Bass says to Mershon, “You waste too many bullets.”
And Mershon says, “You need a new hat.”
Craig, I think this is our first western. I don’t recall another western.
Craig: No, no, we did. Remember the western where there was the supernatural element in the house that we liked?
John: Oh, yeah. Oh god, that was really good. Yeah, I forgot about that.
Craig: Yeah, it was a good one.
John: I guess because there wasn’t a gun fight in it, so I didn’t —
Craig: Right. This is probably the first real like western-y western.
John: Yeah. And as a western-y western, I was pretty good with these pages.
Craig: Me too.
John: A lot here that people could learn from it and look at. So, page two and page three, nearly every line is just a single line of action. And it largely works. There were times I got a little fatigued with the single lines and would have loved, you know, a few more things together. But it really is nicely done. The blams are separate lines by themselves to give you a sense of what that is. And I got a good sense of being in a heavy rainstorm.
John: Where you can’t really see what’s happening. And there are things firing at you. And I got a very good sense of Mershon’s perspective. And that’s the crucial thing about writing action is that it needs to show what it feels like to be a character in that moment. And I thought Billie Jean did a really nice job getting that across, what it felt like to be in that moment.
Craig: I agree. These were really well done pages. I thought it was a smart choice to describe Bass Reeves as a tall Negro. Because actually in my normal — and a lot of people will do this — as they read they kind of skim past these slug lines. I saw Indian Territory Trail and I’m immediately looking at hooves and getting into the imagery which is good imagery, by the way. It’s well written imagery.
But when she calls out “tall Negro” I’m like, okay, we’re in a different time.
Craig: And it was smart of her to kind of reinforce it that way. The kind of casual clipped dialogue between these two men tells us a lot about their relationship without telling us anything. You know, they are comfortable with each other. Bass seems to be a little more confident. And he seems to be a little more alpha.
And Mershon refers to him as a “Posseman,” so that’s a little bit of a hint of a mystery. Is Bass escorting this guy as a prisoner or what? We don’t know.
The action is done well. Billie Jean takes her time to spread it out, give us nice, short, punchy things. I saw everything she wanted me to see. Maybe a little too orchestrated in terms of the cat and mouse game between the shadow man and Mershon, but by and large good stuff in there.
Here are my two suggestions. The first is that there’s a little bit of a mixture that is distracting from the beginning between first names and last names. Bass is the first name of Bass Reeves, our hero, I presume. Mershon is the last name of James Mershon, his companion. Generally speaking I try and stick to one or the other, at least in the beginning, unless there is some reason to focus in on a last name as opposed to a first name.
And then the other thing that I wanted to mention were these last two lines of dialogue. They bummed me out a little bit because they were quippy. And I see, this is my new hobby horse is quipping. I see quippiness all the time. Quipping may be the lowest form of comedy underneath puns. [laughs]
The problem with quipping is it undermines all the work you’ve done to make these people real, to make their fear real, to make us fearful for them and concerned for them. To make us think that when this man shoots another person that it matters to him in any way at all.
When we get into this quippiness we fall back into a ninety style, eh, whatevs, it’s a movie, you know? I think it’s old fashioned and I would argue against it in most cases.
John: I agree with you. And in a setup of a movie that doesn’t seem like it’s going to have a lot of dialogue, that moment about the hole being shot in the hat might be better with like poking a finger through the hole, sort of showing the other guy like, ah, yeah, like basically let an action show that you’re going to need a new hat rather than saying it out loud.
Craig: Right. Or maybe he just takes his hat off, looks at the hole, and you know, tosses hat away. It’s done. Whatever it is, this guy’s got such a cool sense to him. I’ve learned so much about Bass and he’s cool. I just didn’t want to get into quippiness.
John: Great. Going back to page one, a few things on the page which I thought could have been better. Right now the Fade In is over on the right hand side. You can do that, but a lot of times Fade In on the first page is over on the left. And a lot of times you just don’t bother fading in, because it’s a sort of assumed fade in.
John: The second real paragraph. “Her head bowed against the steadily falling rain, a cloud of warm breath bursts from a sleek brown mare. “
Craig: Yeah. Yoda started writing there. [laughs]
John: Exactly. So, the noun — the subject of this sentence is at the very end, so I’m like what’s going on in this sentence. A sleek brown mare? And so then I had to go back and reread the whole sentence.
John: Let’s move that subject up higher.
So, here’s the real problem I have with the setup here. You say that there’s a steadily falling rain, so then when they start talking about like, “Looks like it might rain,” I’m like, wait, it is raining? I was so confused.
Craig: Right. Right.
John: And so just get rid of that “Looks like it might rain.”
Craig: It’s funny, I wasn’t confused because I just skimmed that and didn’t even see it. So, I got lucky.
John: You got lucky.
Craig: I got lucky.
John: You got lucky that Craig didn’t read carefully.
Craig: [laughs] That’s right.
John: And then on page two, a “copse of trees.” Totally valid and yet it’s just a weird — because it’s not a common thing to say, to say copse of trees twice in a row isn’t especially helpful. Also, copse feels like you’re trying to be fancy. “And dashes to the trees, or nearby trees.” Nearby may be a better word than “copse.”
Craig: I’m okay with copse only because I don’t mind when writers flex a little vocabulary as long as it’s not annoying me. It just didn’t annoy me. I was okay with that.
John: My last thing, bottom line of page three. “Both men look at the falling rain, a smirk on their face.”
Craig: Well, yeah.
John: They only have one face?
Craig: Yeah, well, and they shouldn’t be smirking anyway. Someone just died. They almost died. No smirking.
John: Yeah. So, we’ve already talked about rewriting that last moment of this scene would probably be a great thing. And so they probably won’t share a smirk.
John: Great. But, again, delighted to read some really nice pages here from Billie Jean.
Craig: Yeah, Billie Jean can do this. She can do this.
Craig: And we got through that without making a single “Billie Jean is not my lover…”
John: Yeah, well, I did. You didn’t.
Craig: She’s not my lover.
John: No, for sure.
Craig: You know what she is? She’s a girl who say’s I am the one.
John: She’s a talented writer.
Craig: Yeah, she’s a girl that says I’m the one.
John: Who the Fuck is Eli Davis?
Craig: Who the Fuck is Eli Davis?
John: Is the third script that we’re looking at today. It’s by Derek Assaff & Aviv Rubinstien.
Craig: Uh-uh, Aviv Rubin-Stien, exactly.
John: I’m so sorry.
Craig: Do you see what he did? He switched it up on you.
John: He did.
Craig: So strange, by the way. I’ve never seen that before.
John: But he spelled it that way twice. It wasn’t a mistake.
Craig: Clearly not.
John: He does know his own name.
Craig: He knows his name.
John: I will summarize this the best I can.
We fade in in a dorm room where Jackie DiGennaro, 19, smiles from ear to ear. And she is, in the voiceover from Eli Davis says, “Jackie DiGennaro. She was the one.” And the super title says: Jackie DiGennaro — The One.
We find she’s actually in a sex swing and a big hunky college senior is having sex with her. And the voiceover says, “But that’s not me,” and the title says, “Not Eli Davis.”
And then a second football player is having sex with her. And then a college professor takes off his suit and tie and starts having sex with her.
And then we realize as we keep pulling back that we’re actually on a porn set. So, a director and a cameramen, so this is “Wyld Entertainment Presents — Freshman Pooniversity 5.” The voice over continues, “I would have given anything to trade places with any one of them at that moment. Not, like, as a career choice, but, you know what? I should start earlier.”
We go back a couple years before where we see Eli Davis and Jackie, a younger version of Jackie, who are high school sweethearts. And they’re in the hall. They kiss in the hallway. They’ve never been happier. In Eli’s bedroom they don’t have sex, they’re sort of heavy petting, but they’re not actually having sex. They’re saving themselves for post-college time.
She goes off to college. We see a suburban street. The RV of the family pulls away. She’s going off to college. We’re going back to watching this porn and seeing that Jackie is in this porn. This high school girl is in porn. And our final scene of these three pages is an airplane in the present day. This is Eli Davis, now at 30, who sits beside Ibrahima Akenfinwa, a Senegalese woman I assume.
Craig: Guess so.
John: Eli says, “She called me about a month into freshman year and broke things off. Said she met someone, I don’t know. I was crushed. The imagination runs wild after something like that.” And it is our belief that this voiceover has been directed at this person.
And that is where we are at at the end of page three.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah.
John: All right, Craig Mazin, start talking.
Craig: Hey! Hey! Oh boy. Well, look, it’s not, the problems here are not problems of technical or writing problems. The problems here I think are problems of just not — of being weird, and not funny. They’re trying to be funny. I mean, this is a comedy, I presume.
Craig: The biggest issue is we’ve got this — we see the schmo-y guy who has been left behind by this girl. And oh my god, she’s now doing porn. By the way, the presentation of porn of itself is very old fashioned and out of date. This is not the way porn goes anymore.
But that aside, that’s a pretty crazy thing that this girl that he was a high school sweetheart with who wouldn’t let him have sex with her because she was such a good girl is now just an over-the-top porno star. And then what we seem to find out is in fact he’s just made that all up. And that, in fact, like he says, because at one point the porn thing devolves into clear fantasy where a unicorn enters and then Mahatma Gandhi is there. And he takes off his robes and Eli Davis says, “Okay, to be fair, I don’t really know if this happened, but I have my suspicions.”
What have we been watching?
John: Yeah. So, I misunderstood this, in fact. So, in my summary I clearly didn’t understand that. I didn’t understand that whole unicorn moment on page three, so I just assumed that it was like the porn got really, really weird, but that it actually did happen and that he was continuing this narration into the airplane traveling sequence.
I think I’m wrong. I think you’re right.
Craig: Yeah. I think what he’s suggesting is she broke it off with me and in my mind she ended up being this horrifying porno whore and now what happened and I’m crushed.
And here’s my problem. This is all just force-feeding me plot. I don’t know anything about this guy at all. I don’t care about him. I don’t know who he is. I don’t know why he’s talking to this person next to him. And even if I find out why he’s talking to this person next to him, it seems like such a crazy structured story to tell somebody that they turns out to be bullshit anyway.
I don’t know humans that do this kind of thing, where they make up this lurid tale to describe what happened to somebody after they dump you. [laughs] There are little touches that are just overly broad and clumsy, like when he says, “We knew going to different schools would be difficult, but we planned to talk every day.” The RV pulls away. A “College Bound” sign hangs on the back. I mean…
John: Does not exist.
Craig: Come on, man! [laughs] What’s going on here?
So, I guess my point to you guys is this. You may have a terrific idea here. And this script may turn into something very funny. And this character may turn into something great. These three pages unfortunately are just cramming a jokey scenario. It’s like you fell in love with this idea that he would imagine her being a porno star, even though she’s not, and you fell so in love with that idea you forgot all the stuff that we care about in the darkened theater which is who is this guy, who is that girl, why does he care, why does he remember her, what really happened. You know?
John: So, I want to play what-ifs. And so what if we had essentially the same first page and so we’re talking about like this girl and you see she’s actually in this whole porno thing but then as we sort of pull out you realize that he’s actually showing this to some other girl that he’s like trying to hook up with but he’s like talking about his ex-girlfriend who like made this porno. That’s a really fascinating moment to me is like who is this guy who’s so fucked up that this girl he’s trying to get with, instead he’s showing her this porno that his ex-girlfriend did.
That’s an interesting sort of character reveal moment, rather than just like let’s set up the plot of the whole movie.
Craig: If she had, in fact, become a porno star.
John: Yeah, so I’m assuming that she actually had, in fact, become that. There’s a fascinating thing to be saying like why he’s showing this other girl this film. If his girlfriend really did become a porn star, that is an interesting way to sort of get to that who is he talking to earlier on. Because my note on page three that I wrote to myself is who is he talking to. And I assumed he was actually really talking to this woman on the plane, but it doesn’t actually make sense.
John: He’s saying like, “She was the one. Unfortunately that wasn’t me.” He’s clearly talking in a movie sense because there’s super titles with people.
Craig: The voiceover is presented as the kind of voiceover that is for the audience. That is a disembodied voiceover meant for our consumption. But then we turn around and it appears, I think you’re correct, that he’s, in fact, been telling this story and probably to this person next to him who I assume can only look at him and think, “You’re mentally ill.”
First of all, why? Everybody has been dumped. And this is an important thing about comedy. Comedy tends to work when the things that are sad funny that happening are things that we have some personal ability to touch. We don’t have to have had those specific things happen to us, but we have an emotional echo to it so we can touch it and go, yes, I get it and I understand why this is so miserable for this person.
I never had a situation like the one in Meet the Parents. When I met my now wife’s parents they were awesome. But, I know what it’s like. I have touched moments like that.
No one, everyone’s been dumped, and no one has done this. No one has decided in their head that after this girl dumped me and then went away somewhere she became a depraved whore. That’s just gross. I don’t like that.
John: It makes you not like the guy.
Craig: Yeah. Because it seems weird. I mean, look, I got dumped once and in my mind the opposite happened. This girl met like a guy that was way better than me and had an awesome life. That’s where my mind went, which I think is something that’s relatable. But this is just weird. I don’t know what to say.
I think that you guys — I will say this in your favor, gentlemen. You have the rhythm down. You’re clearly trying to be cinematic. These pages were easy to read.
John: Yeah. Agreed.
Craig: So, it’s about the content. It’s not about your ability to write. It’s about your ability to present a character that we’re interested in.
John: Two very specific little things that could be helpful. First line of action description. “The face of Jackie DiGennaro smiles from ear to ear.” Well, no, she smiles from ear to ear. Her face doesn’t smile from ear to ear.
Craig: [laughs] Yes.
John: “She’s pretty in a mid-90s bridge and tunnel sort of way.” Bridge and tunnel is just too easy. And so if you’re going to say mid-90s, if you’re really going to establish that we’re in the mid-90s you’ve got to give us more specifics and you should probably tell us that it’s the mid-90s, because that got confusing, too, because we’re going to jump forward in time.
John: So, even in that slug line of the past, be specific about where we’re at.
On page two, “One of these hands belongs to Jackie, a few years younger, and lifetimes more innocent. The other belongs to ELI DAVIS (16), the kid in high school everyone loves but no one knows.” I cannot parse that. I don’t know what that means.
Craig: Well, first of all you shouldn’t have to parse it. You know my feeling about these things. That’s just not fair. Even if you understood what “everyone loves but no one knows” means, and you can’t, because it makes no sense, we still wouldn’t be able to see that from a boy walking with a girl in a hallway. Not portray-able.
John: Yeah. So, I want to say to Derek and Aviv is some things that they’re doing very, very right. First off, Who the Fuck is Eli Davis is a great title. And it’s the kind of title that sells a spec script.
John: It breaks as a clutter buster spec script title. Well done, guys. I also think they are better writers than these three pages indicate.
Craig: I agree. I know what you mean.
John: I felt like these people do really know what the form is. This wasn’t the best example of what they can do, but I think they can do really well. And seven years ago, if Diablo Cody wrote her version of this script, I think that would be a noticed thing, to sort of go full back to Diablo Cody. This strikes me as the kind of thing that she could have written and written a great version of. And maybe they can write a great version of it, too.
Craig: Yeah. I think that they just need to maybe think — put being cute and clever second, and put being real and interesting first.
John: I agree.
Craig: Because the thing about cute and clever is, if you’re cute and clever you’ll find the moments that are natural to be cute and clever. I mean, it was funny, they’re doing this kind of, you know, the Horrible Bosses gag of “Total douchebag” or whatever, the super gag. And then the professor walks in. “No idea who that guy is.” Super: “????” That’s cute. And that’s clever.
Craig: And if I were interested in what he was saying and what was going on and not repelled by it, and also not let down by the revelation of it, then I would be much more inclined to laugh at the little cute and clever moments. Just don’t let that override the job at hand.
John: And honestly if you were to do that exact same scene, but the first things he said were about how wonderful this girl is, then we would be a little bit more on his side. And the joke would actually be funnier if we talk about how incredibly — this very specific lovely thing that she did for him once. Like how she baked him cookies at a very special time, or whatever, and then that’s playing against this great scene.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, I’m convinced from these pages that she’s not a porn star, so we’re not in the angel in the centerfold genre, so to speak, but that’s why…
John: And you totally might be right.
Craig: …I’m just so puzzled by why — that choice. These first pages are so important. I mean, so, I’m puzzled by the choices that were made.
Craig, it’s time for One Cool Things. Woo-hoo!
Craig: Woo-hoo! Yeah!
John: Mine goes very well with this topic of voices and profanity. And so mine is a book by Samantha Irby called Meaty. And Samantha Irby, she runs a blog called Bitch Has Got to Eat, which I think I mentioned on the blog before. And so I randomly followed a link to her blog and just loved it. And so I tweeted her how much I loved her blog. And she’s like, “That’s awesome. I have a book coming out.”
So six months ago I got an advanced copy of this book and I actually blurbed it. If you actually pick up a physical copy of it, I’m like a blurb on the back saying how awesome it is.
John: Because I think it’s awesome. But, the book is now out. And so it’s out in physical form and in Kindle form. And I’ll read you one little quote from it that I liked so much. This is Samantha Irby’s voice, not my voice.
She says, “I like farmer’s market white people, the ones who are always dressed like they just finished climbing K2, when all they’ve done all day is eat samples at Whole Foods. The ones who try to convince me that $15 jar of organically-grown, locally-sourced, environmentally sustainable white peach marmalade is worth a fucking purchase.
“I’m black, though. Fuck earth. Black people don’t really believe in recycling, or for that matter, artisanal jam. If you see me put my Coke can in the recycling bin, it’s because, one, someone left that shit within arm’s reach of my desk, and two, a white person is watching me.”
Craig: [laughs] I guess I’m black, too. I am 100 percent with her on that. I am so there with her on all those points.
John: Yes. So, Samantha Irby, and a point I tweeted when I first read it and I still really believe in reading this book is when you see a person who has a clear voice, you hear their voice through their words, it’s just so engaging. You want to go with them on a journey.
And so most of her book is sort of David Sedaris like and sort of like observational quippy things, or sort of like what the Lena Dunham character in Girls would be writing. But then you get to, there’s like two or three chapters in it that are just sort of nicely tucked in there which are like her childhood which is one of the bleakest, saddest things you’re going to encounter. It’s like Glass Castle kind of sad. And just terrifically well done there, too.
So, I highly recommend Samantha Irby’s book, Meaty.
Craig: it sounds great. Sounds terrific. And, yeah, she sounds like somebody who is able to combine honesty with not boring people.
John: Yes. Always a good combination.
Craig: Some people have a problem with that. [laughs] Not her.
Great. Well, my One Cool Thing, it’s basically de rigueur. I have to do this, because if I don’t I’m going to get buried under a tweet-a-lanche.
Everybody knows I’m a big fan of the Nest thermostats and Nest is coming out now with a carbon monoxide and smoke detector. And it’s really interesting because when I heard about it I’m like, oh, of course. And then I thought about it and I’m like, well wait, no, not of course. Those two things have nothing to do with each other. One thing is a thermostat. The other one is a safety device for your home. But then I thought, but no, of course. Because aside from the form factor being roughly similar — they’re hockey pucks that still on your wall or ceiling — one thing that the people at Nest seem to have a real talent for is finding stuff in our house that we forgot was there that we hate.
Craig: And making it better. And I didn’t realize how much I hated those goddamn things until they pointed out how much I hate them. And they zeroed in on exactly why. Never once in my life, thank god, has a smoke detector or carbon monoxide alert thing gone off for just cause. Never once. They’ve gone off about a thousand times because my wife is burning something, or I’m burning something. And, of course, they’ve gone off chirping in the middle of the night because they always run low on batteries at 3am. Always.
Craig: And you can’t — at first you’re like, “Where the fuck is that noise coming from?” And you have to hunt around and you realize and then you’ve got to climb a ladder. It’s a horror show. First World problems. So, Nest has come up with this brilliant solution, so like all their devices they are internet connected, but they’re smart. If the alarm goes off because of a false alarm, which is probably I’m going to guess 99 percent of all alarms, you just wave your hand. You wave your hand at it like, “Fuck off.” And a voice will say, “Oh, okay. Sorry.”
It talks! And it’s like, “I’m so sorry.” And it shuts up, which is amazing. The other thing it does is you can monitor battery usage via the phone. It can alert you well before the chirping thing happens that, hey, you’re going to need to replace a battery, which is great. And they also have versions — I guess the second wave of these devices will be versions that tie into home security systems. So, I have to wait because I have a home security system that does hook up to all my alarms, the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. So, I’m going to wait for that second version to come by.
The other thing I will point out is that if you look at Nest’s site, they’re really good at teaching you how to install your own devices. They make it super easy. They’re just very smart, clever people. And I almost don’t want to — I don’t want to think about what the next thing is that they’re going to fix for me, because I think it’s fun.
I wonder what other thing in my house that I’ve forgotten about that I fucking hate that they’re going to fix. So, great work, Nest People You’re cool.
John: I agree.
And this has been our podcast for the week. So, if you have a question for me, or for Craig, you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will attempt to answer them as they come in.
One gentleman wrote in five times in the week with the same question, which was excessive. And the strangest thing is I went shopping at Banana Republic at Century City and he was there. And he recognized me and said, “I wrote in five times this week.” I’m like, oh, hi Alan.
So, maybe don’t write in five times in a week.
Craig: [laughs] Oh my god. That’s scary.
John: I know that you have questions, but, yeah. But, we do like your questions, so if you have a question for us we will try to answer it on the air at some point. If you have a shorter thing, Twitter is great for that. I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin.
We are on iTunes and you’re probably listening to us through some device that connects to iTunes. If you are there, click on Subscribe, and also leave us a comment if you feel like it and let us know what you think of the show.
I think that’s it, Craig.
Craig: I think that’s it.
Craig: Good show.
John: Fun show. And next week we will back, but we will not be swearing. So, next week you can play us in the car and it will be all be fine.
Craig: Squeaky clean.
Craig: All right. See you next time.
- Diablo Cody’s 7 Things No One Tells You About Being a Top Screenwriter, from Vulture
- Join us for Scriptnotes Live at the 2013 Austin Film Festival
- Three Pages by David Liberman
- Three Pages by Billie Jean VK
- Three Pages by Aviv Rubinstien & Derek Assaff
- Meaty: Essays by Samantha Irby on Amazon
- Nest Protect smoke and carbon monoxide monitor, and on Amazon
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Alan Dague-Greene