The original post for this episode can be found here.
Franklin Leonard: Hello. My name is Franklin Leonard.
Rawson Thurber: Hi, my name is Rawson Thurber.
Lindsay Doran: My name is Lindsay Doran.
Kelly Marcel: Hey, I’m Kelly Marcel.
Richard Kelly: Hey, my name is Richard Kelly.
Aline Brosh McKenna: Hi. My name is Aline Brosh McKenna. And this is Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin. Hi. Hi!
John: And this is the Holiday Edition of Scriptnotes. And I am so happy to have six of our favorite guests here with us tonight to talk about things that are —
Craig: They are, in fact, our six favorite guests.
Craig: Not “of our.” These are our favorite guests.
John: Wow. Right now people are doing the calculations like, oh god, who got left off of this list.
Craig: Everybody that’s not here.
John: Wow. People are going to feel really bad about that.
John: So we actually have, obviously you can tell, a lot of guests. We have three topics — that’s common for Scriptnotes. We have a microphone back there so we’re going to do a Q&A at the end of this. So, we have a lot to do tonight.
So I thought we wouldn’t dilly dally too much, Craig, unless you have some holiday topics you want to talk about.
Craig: Yeah. I wanted to talk about the eggnog situation.
John: Okay, let’s talk about some eggnog.
Craig: And how disgusting it is.
John: Yeah. I didn’t see you drinking any eggnog.
Craig: No. But I noticed people were nogging it up. Noggy mouths.
John: Okay, a show of hands. Who out there actually tasted the eggnog?
Oh my god, that was a lot. And so by applause who liked the eggnog?
Yeah. That’s only about half the audience who liked the eggnog. So, a lot of people tasted the eggnog and did not enjoy it.
Craig: Gross. It’s drinking mayonnaise. It’s disgusting.
Craig: That’s it. I’m done with dilly dallying. Let’s go.
John: Craig has done his contribution to the weekly podcast. So, Craig…
John: Yeah. I’m sorry. I don’t mean to pick on you.
Craig: No. That was accurate.
John: Yeah, I sort of nag on Craig and I shouldn’t. Actually that can be a resolution for the New Year is I won’t nag on you so much.
Craig: Don’t patronize me, August.
John: Because it is. Actually when I say I’m going to do nice things, it actually comes across as patronizing.
Craig: Yeah. Because it is.
John: That’s how it is.
So, Craig, this will be our 123rd episode of Scriptnotes once this goes live on Tuesday, which is a lot. So, thank you all for listening.
And I realize while we talked about a lot of topics on the show, one of the things we never actually spoke about is what happens when people say yes. What happens when people say like, “Oh yeah, I really like your script. I want to buy your script.” We haven’t really talked about that process.
Craig: Yeah. It seems like all you do is hear no, no, no, no, no, no, and then one day you hear yes and it’s not the fake yes, it’s the real yes. And go out to dinner and you tell all your friends and you get drunk. And then the next morning you wake up and, oh no, here comes trouble.
John: Yeah. There’s a lot of stuff that happens when someone says yes. It’s a luxury problem, but let’s talk about some luxury problems. And who would be better to talk about luxury problems than Franklin Leonard. Come on back up here.
Craig: Impresario of the Black List.
Franklin: Hello. Hopefully I can get this part right since I screwed up the introduction.
John: No, don’t worry about it. We’ll do a take two and it will all be fine.
Franklin: Excellent. [Crosstalk]
John: Franklin Leonard, creator of the Black List, a person who deals with a lot of writers who are suddenly hot.
Craig: Suddenly hearing yes.
Franklin: That’s the hope, yes.
John: Our other guests for this segment would be Rawson Marshall Thurber.
John: Rawson Marshall Thurber who last time you were on the show you had this little indie film called We’re the Millers that ended up doing pretty well.
Rawson: Yeah. It did okay.
John: Yeah, you can set your wine anywhere. Don’t worry about that.
Rawson: Thank you. Sorry. Hi everybody.
John: Hi Rawson! So, Franklin let’s start with you because this year’s Black List just came out.
Franklin: It did. On Monday.
John: So, the Black List is an annual assessment of the scripts that development people liked the most. Is that —
Franklin: That is a perfectly accurate description. Yes.
John: And so talk to us about this year’s Black List. Were there any changes you noticed? What was the tenor of this year’s list?
Franklin: It was an odd list this year. I mean, I think fascinating subject matter. I’ll run through some numbers. There were two scripts about the making of Jaws. There were two scripts about Mr. Rogers. Two scripts written by identical twins, which I think is the first time that’s happened.
Rawson: That’s just cheating.
Franklin: I suppose it is. Right? It’s like two of the same brain generating one piece of material.
If there was a big trend I think it was bio pics. We saw a ton of adapted stories of a moment in a person’s life, with whom a lot of people are familiar.
Craig: We call that the Marcel.
Franklin: Ah, yes. Lots of Marcels. Are they as good as the original? Certainly not.
Craig: No. No. Maybe.
Franklin: I don’t know. I haven’t read them yet. There’s one about Stanley Kubrick faking the moon landing, which I’m particularly interested to read.
I think that was the big trend. But I think what’s really exciting as we’ve seen every year is that when you ask Hollywood development executives the scripts that they love, not the scripts that their boss loves, or the scripts that they think will make tons of money, it is a really eclectic list of really ambitious storytelling that very often succeeds in the execution of that ambition. And it’s not big four quadrant movies that don’t have a soul. It’s an attempt to do something that reminds us —
Craig: So there is a place for those.
Franklin: There is. No, there absolutely is. I’m a fan of those movies.
Craig: And everybody has a soul. But they still want to be entertained.
John: Now, how many of the scripts on the list this year are already set up someplace, like someone is trying to make this movie?
Franklin: A third of the scripts that were on the list this year already have a financier attached. About two-thirds have a producer attached. Leaving one-third having neither a producer or a financier.
Craig: Well, you know, when we think about the questions that we ask when we do a live show I’m always thinking about the folks that are here and coming up with questions that relate to where they are right now in time. And one thing I have to say, you know, I started out with the Black List where my position on it was “do not attack.”
Franklin: Which was still the greatest praise we’ve received so far.
Craig: But I really now am in favor of it. I am positively in favor of it.
Craig: It’s a great service that’s getting results and I like to think that there are people here, there’s somebody here, if not one, two, maybe even ten, who are going to write a script that will get on the Black List, will get them noticed, and then someone is going to say yes.
Craig: When you see this happening and I think you are in an interesting position to see it happening to people that may not know what the hell is going on.
Craig: What happens? Tell them what they’re in for.
Franklin: Yeah, I mean, look, I think it’s a case by case basis. But the way that the Black List website is set up, you know, someone downloads your script and reads it. And we sort of step aside at that point. We sort of joke about the website being eHarmony for people who make movies and people who write movies. And just like you won’t see that guy from the commercials at your wedding night being like, “Where’s my 10 percent?” you won’t see us after we make the connection.
So, a lot of times it can be an email out of the blue like, “Hi, I’m a producer at this company. I’m interested in talking more.” Or, “I’m an agent, I’d like to talk to you.”
And I think at that point, you know, get on the phone with them initially, and then I think trust-but-verify is probably a good rule of thumb. And then the other thing is we — our membership are all legitimate Hollywood people. Like if you’re getting an email from someone who says they read your script on the Black List, again, still trust-but-verify, but in all probability they are a legitimate person who can do something significant with your career, otherwise we wouldn’t have approved them for membership.
But, that’s actually a good time, especially if you develop relationships with other people in Hollywood, to then triangulate that information with them and say, “Hey, I just got a phone call from so-and-so. What do you know about this person? Would you like to read my script now that other people are interested?” I think taking advantage of that is always a good idea.
But I’m loathe to give blanket advice generally.
Craig: Yeah, but think specific now.
Franklin: But specifically in this case, I actually am loathe to, because I think it really does depend on each individual’s sort of circumstances and who it is that’s contacting them. But trust-but-verify is a good rule of thumb.
John: I want to just zoom in on that moment of someone says yes and they say we are going to make an offer on your script, because that’s a moment that sort of gets every writer’s heart pitter pattering. But what does an offer really mean and what is it that you would actually do when that situation happens?
So, Rawson, I remember you were working for me when Dodgeball sold. That was your first script sale —
Craig: You were like, “I’m out of here, August. Oh, up this.”
Rawson: “I never liked you!”
Craig: [laughs] I can’t wait for my turn.
Rawson: What did you say?
Craig: I said I can’t wait to also tell him I don’t like him at all.
Rawson: “I quit this podcast!”
John: Indeed. You need to direct like two big successful movies and then you’re totally free to do that, Craig.
Craig: Wow. Beat me down.
Rawson: Instead of write like half a dozen successful movies.
John: So, Rawson, what were those last — the last week, the last day, the last hours. Tell me what that feels like.
Rawson: I don’t know. I guess I’d always hoped it was going to be that. Like, you know, the balloons would fall from the ceiling and you’d get hit in the face with confetti. And then someone would hand you a big novelty check and you give everybody the middle finger and you’re gone.
But never, at least for me and for most people that I’ve talked to about this, it doesn’t really — it doesn’t usually happen that way.
John: So, Dodgeball, this was Ben Stiller’s company became attached to do it. And they made a deal at Fox because their deal was at Fox. There was like a competitive situation for that.
Rawson: Right, well it’s significantly worse than that. [laughs] Lots of stuff happened beforehand. Everybody sort of passed on it. And then we sent it to Ben’s company, Red Hour, and the receptionist there, Will, read it and liked it, who gave it to the junior executive, who read it and liked it, who gave it to Stuart Cornfeld, Ben Stiller’s producing partner, who read it and liked it, who gave it to Ben, who read it and liked it, who met me and liked me.
And then they — well Red Hour, his company, had just left 20th Century Fox and had just made a deal with DreamWorks. And DreamWorks said, “Look, we don’t really get it, but we just made this deal with you. And we want to start off on the right foot. So, here you go, here’s…”
I mean, I think it was whatever is like minimum and then a little less than minimum, [laughs], or as low as they could go.
John: So, not scale plus ten, but just scale.
Rawson: Yeah, scale. And then please wash our cars, you know, also. And I said, “Yeah, great. Whatever!” So, it was not — and then it was — so then it wasn’t even a sale, it was like a really low option. Like I don’t think you could buy a Kia for like the option price.
Franklin: I think the Kia Option is a car.
Rawson: Is that right? [laughs]
Franklin: I’m not sure, but it should be.
Rawson: At any rate. And the check, and then you get to the part where like you’ve got to actually do it.
Craig: Kia Option! [laughs] Sorry, he’s funny.
Rawson: And then that’s the weird part where you actually like go from prospect to employee and then you kind of have to — you got to step up and do the work. And I rewrote Dodgeball with Ben and Stuart for a year and a half. And we kept turning in drafts to DreamWorks. And Adam Goodman at the time was the executive and John Fox was the junior. And they were kind of saying like, “Wow, this is getting better.” And we’re like, yeah, it’s not like a homework assignment, like we’re trying to make a movie.
And then they said, yeah, we’re not going to make it. And then the very quick summation is we took it to Fox and we took it there because there was a fantastic executive named Debbie Liebling who was there. And she found — she had just come over from Comedy Central. She had found Matt and Trey. And she read the script and loved it and got it and sort of stood up in like the Darth Vader room at Fox and like the long black table. And at the time told Tom Rothman like, “This is the kind of dumb movie we need to make.” And so then they took it from DreamWorks.
John: So, let’s talk about this last week you set up another pitch which was a very different experience.
Rawson: Yeah. Completely different. Well, for me, a couple reasons. One is I was attached as the director, not the writer. Simon Rich was and is the writer, a very talented guy from New York, wrote for SNL for a few years, New Yorker, et cetera.
And so we went around town and pitched everywhere in town. He had this idea based on underlying material written by Steve Breen, a sort of comic — a collection of single panel comics. It didn’t really have a narrative to it. Simon came up with one and we went around town and pitched.
And the town was split in half with two different producers, which was really awkward for us, for everybody really. And then we pitched and people really liked it. And it was the first time that I had ever been involved in I guess what amounts to a bidding war. There was like, I think, five different studios wanting the same thing.
I’d always heard of this sort of thing, but I’d never actually been a part of it. And it was really cool. And also awful at the same time, because what I didn’t think about for whatever reason is that you can only say yes to one person. And at this point, you know, I know a lot of the people at the studios and they’re friends and we’ve done other things together and both producing entities are fantastic. And, yeah, it was great. It was bittersweet, I guess.
John: It’s like The Bachelor. You can only give the rose to one girl.
Rawson: We had the final rose ceremony. And it was —
Craig: It’s just like The Bachelor.
John: It’s just like The Bachelor.
Rawson: It is. It is.
John: Craig, have you had bidding war situations? Have you had like a thing where you went out on the town and had to meet with multiple people?
Craig: Yeah, early on in my career all I did was go and pitch. And that was all the movies that I was doing were based on pitches. And there was one that an executive that I’m very close with to this very day didn’t talk to me for three years because I didn’t pick him. And, you know, and when he was yelling at me I remember I said, “But you have passed on stuff I’ve offered to you before and I don’t yell at you.”
Rawson: That’s exactly right.
Craig: And they don’t care. They don’t care.
Rawson: I mean, that was part of the fun. The shoe was on the other foot this time, for once.
Craig: Here’s the thing and this is why it’s touch. We are actually just nicer people. I’m so sorry. We’re nicer people.
Franklin: By the way, I agree with you. I mean, it’s like you could have said —
Craig: Oh, don’t jump on our [crosstalk].
Franklin: You could have also said, “But they’re paying more money,” and I’ll bet he still would have yelled at you.
Craig: Well, yeah, probably. I mean, but it’s hard to make those choices. One thing that’s interesting about the first time you hear yes, and I get it from your story about the scale or the near scale, don’t — I don’t want anyone to think that there’s any such thing as breaking in. I know everybody thinks that there’s a rolling in. There is an endless dribbling in. [laughs]
The first movie that I pitched and sold was with a writing partner and our deal was for $100,000. So, I got $50,000, which means I got $45,000, but really means I got $42,500, I think. And then after taxes and it took like a year and a half. And they took eight months to pay me.
Rawson: Yeah. [laughs]
Craig: So by the end I think I got $20,000.
Rawson: Yeah. Gold Lobster. Let’s go. Awesome.
Craig: You know, and so I don’t want anyone to think that that first time is going to be some amazing thing. The angels don’t sing, usually.
John: The thing I’ve learned over the course of a lot of pitches being set up and stuff, and not really competitive situations usually, is that when you hear the words “business affairs,” that means like, oh, something is actually really happening. So, that’s just not like idle executives talking about stuff, like, “Oh, we’ll call business affairs.” It’s like, Ooh, they’re going to actually bring real people who make money deals into our situation.
Craig: Which is great, but then you find out that the business affairs people are awful.
John: They’re awful. [laughs]
Craig: All the passion, and the love, and the excitement about what you said and you did, that’s real for the people that really want to make a great movie. But then there is this other place that’s cold. And those people, their job is to pay you the least amount possible. And so somebody in a room — And it’s so schizophrenic, because you’ve seen it on your side.
Franklin: Oh, absolutely.
Craig: Somebody in a room will say to a writer, “You’re amazing. I’ve always wanted to work with you. I need to make this movie with you. We want this movie. Please, please, please. You’re amazing.” And then your agent will get a call from business affairs guys like, “We don’t think that they’re really worth that much. At all.”
John: Yeah. “We see this as a one-step deal for about half their quote.”
John: Yeah. That’s literally what —
Craig: “Oh, did someone tell you that they liked them? We don’t.” Yeah.
John: Yeah. And so the challenge of a writer — if it’s your first day you’re going to end up kind of taking whatever you can take, which is sort of the nature of it. But the challenge of it is that you felt all that enthusiasm in that room. You felt like, oh, this is going to be a thing. I sold a movie. And then it ends up being three weeks of drudgery while that thing gets figured out. And that can be a very long time.
Rawson: Three weeks if you’re lucky. Sometimes it’s longer.
Franklin: Yeah. I was going to say. Three weeks, you’re very lucky.
Rawson: That’s fast.
Craig: It can be a year.
Franklin: But I think the other thing that’s important to remember, and I say this as someone who is on the other end of the table —
John: You were an executive at Overbrook before.
Franklin: Yeah, I mean, I was an executive at Overbrook, which is Will Smith’s production company. I was an executive at Universal. I worked for Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company. I worked for Sydney Pollack and Anthony Minghella.
And on the other side of that table I think it’s important for writers to remember that the moment when someone is interested in your material but you still own it is sort of the apex of your power.
Franklin: And once the studio owns it, you have virtually no power. And so essentially make sure that what you are getting for your work, whatever it is, is something that you are okay with seeding the power that you have over the work that you’ve toiled endlessly over to someone who then really won’t feel as though they owe you anything.
And that’s sort of the price that every writer, every person, whether you work as an accountant for a big corporation, or whether you work as a writer, has to determine for themselves. At what price your soul or in this case your writing?
Craig: And that is the moment when they will work the hardest to convince you that you have the least leverage.
Franklin: That’s absolutely right.
Craig: Because they’re smart. They are. Don’t underestimate these people. They’re not smart about story a lot of the times. But they’re smart about this stuff though.
Franklin: I would even argue that they’re not so much smart as that they have almost all of the power, because they have the purse strings.
Craig: And a total lack of scruples.
Franklin: Right. But like I would love to see, for example, an environment where if you had a spec script you could put it onto the market with a timeline and people would have to buy your script like eBay. Because there’s nothing that sort of throws me off more than this idea that the studio is blocking —
Craig: Buy it now.
Franklin: Exactly. Buy it now, at this price, and if the price goes up the price goes up. And you are as a writer able to see…
Franklin: …every single offer.
Craig: You should do that.
John: Well, no, what he’s really bringing up though is the idea of a deadline. And so we see the giant sales that happen, it’s usually because there’s been enough interest in the town that an artificial deadline has been set. Where the agents have called around and said, “We are taking offers until 5pm. And then we’re done.” And that’s crazy.
Craig: Is that what happened to you?
Rawson: Well it was almost the reverse or the inverse, I guess. So, the first studio N said here’s our offer and it expires at 6:30.
Craig: They love doing that.
Rawson: And Simon Rich and I share the same agent. And I got to — at the end of the day, we pitched Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Thursday night we went to CAA and we like sat in his office and watched as emails came in and he was on the phone. It was really kind of fascinating to watch. But I mean he’s done this before. So, he said, “Look, I can’t honor that. Don’t tell me that time because I can’t get to all the parties and get you an answer by that time, so that won’t work.”
He deflected it in such, I thought, a really elegant and sophisticated way. But it’s interesting when they put the other — and then they came back in after that. So —
John: Was it the first party who came in who ended up getting the script ultimately?
Rawson: No. No, no, it wasn’t. Yeah. That was tough.
Craig: Oh, good. I like it when that happens.
John: They have to squirm and sweat.
Franklin: But here’s the interesting question is that who cares who came in first at the end of the day? At the end of the day it’s like who are you willing to work with who is going to pay you the most money to do it? And I don’t — yes, I respect somebody who says I love this, here’s an offer. But if they’re going to explode the offer at a certain time, that’s a negotiating tactic. They’re trying to limit how much money you make.
Rawson: But I also made, oh sorry, I also made a mistake with that. There was another project that was like based on a graphic novel and I set it up and I had two different studios that wanted it. And I went with the one that was going to pay me more. They’re both great studios, great people, et cetera, and I went with the one that paid me more versus the one that said we really are going to make this thing.
Rawson: And I regretted it. I regret it now. I completely made the wrong choice. And sometimes it’s hard to see that at the time where you feel like, oh, well these people say they want to make it, too.
Craig: It’s a mistake everybody makes.
Rawson: Yeah, it’s just, you never know I guess is all I can say on that.
Franklin: I think that’s true.
Craig: Nobody knows. So, that’s bleak.
John: A sobering thought of nobody knowing anything.
Craig: And we’re talking about success!
John: I want to thank our first panelists, Franklin Leonard. I’m sorry, you have a last thought?
Franklin: Oh, one thing.
Craig: Franklin has a little Christmas gift for everybody.
Franklin: I have a little Christmas gift for everybody.
John: A holiday present. I’m sorry.
Franklin: Craig mentioned that maybe one, or two, or ten people in the audience may have a script on the Black List and end up sort of oozing their way into Hollywood.
John: Here’s a question for our audience right now.
Craig: Painful, burning dribble.
John: First off, is anyone in this audience on the Black List that was just published this last week. Do we have any people who got that award?
Craig: Oh, those people are way too busy to show up to this.
John: Yeah, they’re too busy. They’re fielding all the calls that Rawson’s agent was taking. Is anyone here currently on blcklst.com?
Franklin: Does anyone have a script on the Black List?
John: Oh yeah. Very nice. Very good. So, for people who don’t…
Franklin: For people who don’t, and everyone who does I’ll be standing outside afterwards with the coupon for a free month of hosting for a script on the Black List.
Franklin: You get a script! You get a script! It’s my Oprah moment.
John: Franklin, you are our Oprah.
Craig: It’s like t-shirt gun kind of…
Franklin: I asked for a confetti cannon to shoot them out of and I got a response that I can let Craig clarify.
Craig: I talked about my confetti gun.
John: [laughs] And Craig made it pornographic is really the answer to that email chain. Franklin, Rawson, thank you so much.
Craig: It’s colorful.
Craig: Who is next?
John: We’re going to talk a bit. So, Craig, I’m writing now. I’m actually writing a screenplay, which is such an unusual experience for me.
Craig: What’s that about?
John: It’s really fun to write a screenplay, but really hard because you have to have all these characters, and you have to like do stuff.
John: No, not at all? Oh, you write comedies, I forget. You basically make a little outline and then Zach Galifianakis says something funny.
Craig: That’s not entirely inaccurate.
John: All right. So, I’m writing this screenplay and it’s going good.
Craig: Oh, look. Look who is angry at you. My little pit bull.
John: Oh, Kelly Marcel is angry with me.
Craig: Well, Marcel will deal with you later.
John: She’ll have her moment.
John: But I’m going to be totally honest. I’m having some challenges where I know I want to be able to articulate what the two main characters sort of want at any moment. Both what they would publicly say they want and what they sort of ultimately kind of inherently want. And I’ve been wrestling with it. And there’s stuff in the second act that I’m like leery about getting into because I don’t kind of know the answers to these things. I don’t want to write stuff that I don’t have the answers for.
John: But, we have two panelists here who will tell us the answer and they’re going to come up and it’s going to be awesome because they’re going to be helping a lot. Lindsay Doran, the amazing Lindsay Doran.
Craig: Lindsay Doran!
John: And our inaugural guest, our Joan Rivers —
Craig: The Joan Rivers of Scriptnotes. Aline Brosh McKenna. And I should say that for all of the stick I give our brothers and sisters in the studio suites that Lindsay really is —
John: Lindsay is kind of amazing.
Aline: Let me talk about Lindsay.
Craig: She’s pretty amazing. I mean, she is — she is the exception that proves the rule, frankly, that people like you are terrible, but you’re not.
Craig: Yeah, thank you.
Aline: I wanted to say two things before we started this topic. The first is this is a holiday party and I’m really glad you guys dressed up. And you can tell they’re dressed up because Craig is not wearing a hoodie.
Craig: No, my wife has it over there.
Aline: And John is wearing a hoodie.
John: I’m wearing a hoodie.
Aline: And that’s how you can tell that they’re all dressed up.
Craig: You really are the Joan Rivers of Scriptnotes.
John: We basically invite you on to insult us is basically…
Aline: Yes. The other thing I want to say to insult everyone is you’re very lucky to have Lindsay here, because she is the closest, one of the closest that Hollywood gets to having a guru.
Craig: She is.
Aline: And she is a guru.
Craig: She is.
Aline: So enjoy.
John: So, guru, help me out. This is literally the problem I’m having right now. So, I have two characters who are sort of a key relationship. They’re not a love interest relationship but a key relationship. Each of them has different things they need to do. And in trying to articulate what it is, it’s like what would Sandra Bullock in Speed say her — what is she trying to do? If you’re carried along on a ride in a story, what does she say she’s trying to do? And how do I get that out? Does that make sense at all?
Aline: How does she articulate her wants.
John: How does she articulate her wants?
Craig: Isn’t she trying to just go faster?
Lindsay: “I don’t want to crash.”
Craig: Yeah, like, “I have to go faster than 55mph.”
Lindsay: Is that so hard?
John: Sandra Bullock was a terrible example.
John: So, let me step back.
Craig: I’m feeling better about myself right now I have to say.
John: What does Demi Moore in Ghost want to do?
Lindsay: She wants to, wow, that’s hard, isn’t it?
Aline: Is she the main want though? Is Patrick Dempsey, oh Patrick Dempsey. Patrick Swayze.
John: Wouldn’t it be amazing if Patrick Dempsey was in that. Patrick Swayze has an easier —
Craig: Swayze wants to save her.
Aline: Yes, he wants to —
Lindsay: The good news is that it changes, right?
John: It does, yes.
Lindsay: At the beginning she wants this Whoopi Goldberg woman to go away and leave her alone to her grief. She wants her husband back. She can’t get that. She wants this woman to leave her alone. And then at a certain point she wants to believe. And that’s when we can break her heart and show that Whoopi Goldberg is just some fake con artist and then we have to win her back again. So, it’s a long bunch of stuff.
John: Does she want to believe? Does she ever consciously realize she wants to believe? Or is it an inner thing that sort of comes out? That’s a want/need question.
Lindsay: There’s a remarkable moment, something that we used in the trailer to great effect, where Whoopi Goldberg is trying to persuade her that she’s sitting there having a conversation with Sam and she gets up to leave. And Patrick Swayze says to her, “Tell her that I love her.” And he says it, “Tell her he loves you.” And she turns around and she says, “Sam would never say that.” And it’s so viscous and real when she says that. And in the trailer —
Craig: Because he didn’t in the beginning. He couldn’t say.
Lindsay: That was the whole thing. He would always say, “Ditto.” And it was in the trailer. It was like, oh god, this is a real movie about real people with real relationships. And then eventually, yeah, you do track points at which she really wants to believe. There’s the thing with the penny coming up into the air. And that’s the moment when she finally does believe.
But, yes, it is difficult. She’s not the protagonist. It’s really easy what Sam wants. But if it’s interesting to anybody, we had a really interesting thing with Ghost because in the pitch, which was very, very long, I had to as the executive in charge get that down to about a 30 second pitch for the head of production. And in trying to reduce it I realized we had a problem.
And I went back to the writer and said Sam wants to be alive, of course. He wants to tell his wife that he loves her, of course. But it’s not concrete. We need something that drives the story. And so it became he has to save her life.
Craig: The crime angle.
Lindsay: We have to do something with the guy sneaking into her apartment so it looks as though he has to save her life. So, that was the thing. He comes back from the dead to save his wife. And it’s in the trailer. [laughs] It was in the pitch. It’s barely in the movie. Barely. It was so scrunched in there. But it became, it was so concrete and important as opposed to something as misty as he wants to tell her that he loves her.
Craig: That was pretty misty.
Lindsay: And it made a good thriller premise as opposed to just a romantic —
Aline: It kind of hardened the wants.
Lindsay: Yes. It hardened the… — Ooh, that’s good. Harden the wants.
John: Oh my god. Aline Brosh McKenna. She nails phrases that become like iconic. Things about squirrels and robots. That’s why we have her on the show.
Craig: I mean she really is —
Lindsay: But I don’t know if any of that helps you.
John: It helps me tremendously in the sense of I always wrestle with the degree to which characters are aware of what they need, what they want and what they need, and the ability to have characters to articulate what it is they’re actually trying to do.
Craig: Well, I always feel like what they want and what they need should be in complete opposition in the beginning of any movie, of any story, because what they want is for the movie to not happen. And you’re going to force it on them. That’s why the movie is interesting. Something is forced on them.
And what they need is to go through this very painful thing. Nobody wants to get a splinter pulled out of their finger. Nobody. They want to just not be in pain. But what they need is for the splinter to be pulled out of their finger. So, I like to think of those things in opposition. I like to think of a movie as a progression where want and need slowly finally become the same thing. You know?
John: I like it. I like it.
Lindsay: That’s good.
Craig: Thanks. Yeah, I believe you.
Lindsay: I’m a guru.
John: Aline, talk to me about characters in films you’ve written. Devil Wears Prada, or as you have a protagonist, are they able to articulate what they’re going for at the start of the film? And is it true to what the actual story is or just what the character is feeling at that moment?
Aline: Well, I agree with Craig that the thing, the stated goal, is often not the actual goal. But one thing I’ve been thinking about lately that I think is helpful for this, and might be helpful for the people in this room, is when you first write a script you’re just trying to have it make some sense. You’re just trying to have the goals be really super clear so that, you know, there’s that — what was that song? Things That Make You Go Hmmm, or something.
You want your script to not be things that make you go, huh, and a lot of your first scripts are really that. Where you don’t really know what people want. That’s usually the issue. And then when you get some skill going you can sort of depict like what people want, but it’s a little flat. It’s a little bit direct, so people say, “I want to get the briefcase there by noon on Thursday.” And then you’re watching everyone do that. And it’s very flat. And one thing that I’ve sort of realized in my own writing is — I’m sorry, are we boring you, Craig?
Craig: No, no, no, just you.
Aline: One thing I’ve noticed is you want to have an evolution in what the want is and you want to have some sort of epiphany moment for the character but also for the audience. And I think a great example of this is in Frozen. In Frozen you kind of think you know what she wants. How many people have seen Frozen? A lot of people have seen Frozen.
John: Yeah, good.
Aline: I just loved it. And you think you know what she wants and I’m not going to spoil it for anyone, but you think you know what she wants and you see the guy going towards her.
Aline: The main character. The younger sister. And you see the guy coming towards her. And you’re sort of okay with that want. And you sort of have signed off on that want. And it would work perfectly well and it would track perfectly well and it’s in keeping with what her expressed goal was. And then the movie does this amazing thing where she has an epiphany, we have an epiphany, and it does something which I think is miraculous where it takes the theme and the character to another level that you hadn’t imagined. And I really think that’s what separates a good script from a great script.
And in that moment you have this incredible insight into her, but also this incredible insight into the world that she’s created thematically. And that’s the other level to get to. I think the first level to get to is just to make sure that the audience is not confused about what people want. And then the great thing you can get to is if there is an evolution, an epiphany for the character and for the audience. And if you can do that you’re really well ahead of it.
Lindsay: You have to think a lot about what does the audience want. That’s what I — it’s like what do you want the audience to want? Because in Frozen you want them to think they’re invested in that relationship, but you don’t want them so invested in that relationship when you turn the tables on them that they go, wait, what happened to that relationship? And I’ve certainly been in previews where you go, oops, they wanted — I bring up Pretty In Pink all the time. Oops, we wanted them to make the transition for her to be in love with Duckie and guess what, they never got there.
Lindsay: They wanted her to be in love with Andrew McCarthy and we had to change the ending. So, you have to be really, really clear. And a lot of decision making has to go into making sure that you’re tracking what they want and how you’re going to pull the rug out from under them and they’ll go with you.
Aline: And there needs to be an evolution in, as Craig said, the difference between the want and the need. There needs to be this evolution between what they think they want and the thing that they really need. And so that is often that little twist where the character makes a shift. It goes past what we think their actual goal is.
And that happens to Sandra Bullock in Speed. I mean, she thinks she wants a certain thing. She just wants to live. She just wants to make it through this day. And then she starts to really want to save this guy and want to save these people and it evolves. And your wants and needs should evolve. If they don’t, you’re going end up with something… — What happens I found once you clear the first barrier of trying to have clear goals is they become flat. And you’ll have these scripts which feel a little flat.
Craig: Yeah. You don’t want a movie where you’re just waiting for somebody to do the thing they said they were going to do on page five.
Craig: People don’t actually want to do what they’re supposed to do. Nobody wants to exercise. Nobody wants to eat better. Nobody wants to, you know, address the things that were uncomfortable or painful in their lives.
What we do want to do is take pills, and sleep, and do things that are generally papering over the problems that we have. We are really good at just taking the path of least resistance.
John: And so the challenge, the screenwriter needs to find ways that the characters are not going to be able to take those paths of least resistance, to continually escalate the stakes to burn those bridges behind them so they can’t go back to those safe [crosstalk].
Craig: That’s the fun of it. And Pixar does it so much better than everybody. It’s so simple to see what Marlin wants. Marlin wants to keep the one surviving member of his family alive. The one that’s the hardest to keep alive because of his bad fin. That’s what he wants. It makes total sense. To the point where he will refuse to let anything happen to that kid. But look where he is at the end. What he wants is to let him go and do these things, even at the risk of dying.
That’s, to me, that’s the fun of movies. That’s the fun of storytelling is watching somebody finally realize that what I want isn’t what I need.
Aline: And it’s fascinating to me that animated movies, lately, are the ones who really have dug into this storytelling thing in a way that’s really fascinating. I mean, they really kind of take it to the wire in terms of having these stories which are really interesting and complicated, where the characters change their wants.
In some ways I feel like they have a rigor. And it may be because they can do so many iterations.
John: That’s what I think it is. Because an animated film goes through scratch reel, so you’re seeing it being built up again and again. So, you get to watch the movie, it’s like, “Well that doesn’t work.” And so then you’re able to change a story and do it again and again.
Even Frozen changed tremendously over the course of their shooting. I remember the stories of new songs go in, new things come out. Suddenly the reindeer could talk, the reindeer can’t talk. You figure out what the movie really wants to be because you get to see the movie in front of you which is a luxury that we rarely have in live action.
Although you can reshoot also. You can —
Craig: Yeah, but much, much easier to do in animation. Plus, also, I mean, you have a lot of experience with animation. I mean, I would imagine one gift of animation in terms of making stories is when we make a live action movie the actor has an enormous amount of power on the day. Either I’m saying it or I’m not. You know?
And we, this is it, we’re here once, you know? And in animation we can just try. We can just try. Try it this way, try it that way.
Lindsay: Yeah, it’s true. And because I come from live action I’m always saying, “But why couldn’t somebody just write Toy Story and then make it? I don’t understand why it’s been four years getting to that screenplay. I don’t understand it.”
And the argument that came back to me originally from Chris Miller and Phil Lord was, yeah, but look at the number of great animated movies compared to the number of animated movies. And at first I bought that argument. But then I thought, wait a minute, when I’m working in animation, these are the goals: It has to be funny — laugh out loud funny; it has to make you cry; it has to be universal — it has to be so universal that kids all over the world will understand; it has to appeal to children and adults; and it has to have a theme that you want the whole world to understand.
Well, if that’s where you start, of course you’re going to make a better movie. Of course you’re going to have a better — because your goals are so high. They’re so high. On every single one I’ve worked on, and I’ve worked on about twenty now, that’s where you start. And you’re always articulate.
Aline: But I always think of that thing that Michael Arndt said in the New Yorker which is we work on our — he says, “We work on the Pixar movies for five years and they suck for four of them.”
Lindsay: Mm-hmm. Yeah. Yeah. It’s true. But I keep thinking, why can’t —
Aline: There’s so many times in the live action movie —
Craig: Just get it right the first time.
Aline: There are so many times in a live action movie where you’re thinking, oh, if we only had this line covered this way. If we only could reinterpret this. If we could only get him coming from this side saying this. And you just don’t have it and it’s so hard to get. So, the fact that they have this ability to make those changes is really such an advantage. But I don’t know that that accounts totally for — I think what you said, which is the goals that they set out with are so concrete and so specific and so really what storytelling is.
Lindsay: Well, I know when I was at Austin this year I was on a panel about theme. And somebody said, “Does every movie you work on have a theme when you’re starting out?” And I went, “Every animated movie does.”
Lindsay: It’s not particularly true of every live action movie, but when you sit down that first day on an animated movie, theme is foremost in everybody’s mind. Who does that?
Craig: I do it.
John: Craig does it.
Craig: I do it and everybody makes fun of me.
John: [laughs] I never make fun of you, Craig.
John: Nah. Never.
Craig: I know.
Lindsay: Does that help you, John?
John: That helps me a lot. I guess my last question for you and writers up here as well is to what degree before you started writing the script do you have answers to all those questions about what the character would say he or she wants at this moment? Because this is one of the first times I’m really challenging myself to do it before I write those scenes. And do you have an outline that would really articulate that? Or are you just going by gut feeling that like, “Yeah, she knows what she wants.”
Aline: For me an interesting thing was in writing Devil Wears Prada was what she wanted was just to survive that year so that she could do something else.
John: And does she articulate that?
Aline: And survive that year is not an incredibly propulsive narrative goal. And so it was very difficult to always get to her through the thing where she’s just trying to get through this, trying to get through that. But that is a movie where she takes the thing that is the most important thing and she throws it in the fountain. She literally takes the thing which is her stated goal and just kind of forgets about it and moves on from it.
And that was a good sort of object lesson for me in exactly that thing which is the thing she needed was to see that the world was different from the way she understood it. And that was different from what she wanted which was to have everyone tell her she was a genius.
And so what I think is really interesting about the theme is you can start out thinking something in particular, but I always find that as I write it I think, oh, I thought it was about this, but it’s actually about this. That always happens after the first draft that you really kind of find your theme. And I have found that countless times.
It’s very interesting — that is one of the many weird intangibles about writing is, and it’s not that the characters say it, or they teach you or whatever, but there’s sort of an emerging message that comes out of the script and it’s sort of the script knows that that’s what it wants and the characters start to tell you that.
And it’s almost impossible to know that when you go into it.
John: It’s like you know what happens and then finally you realize why it happens. It is just like I know this thing is this way and then ultimately like, oh, this is the reason why it’s happening this way. This is why this character is in this moment.
Aline: One thing I would say though which is maybe a helpful crafty thing is if you find yourself, I was just watching a movie where they had a character that was there just so that the lead character could say this is what I want and this is what the movie is about. If you find yourself doing that, try and cut that person out completely. Because it should be completely visible in the action.
And if you find yourself wanting a character who is going to show up and explain, you know, the best friend character, or the kindly train conductor, or the super helpful telemarketer, or somebody who is going to try and draw out those thematic goal things, something is wrong with your storytelling often. And you have to try and get those… — You know, you can get so much about what a character wants from action and that’s really what you want to do.
And I think when you find yourself having people say, “This is all I want is…” there might be something a little hanky in the way you’ve set it up.
Craig: I got to tell you I do think about this from the start. I organize my story around this very thing. I really do think about the story as a hero who is not always heroic wants simply to maintain their life of acceptable imperfection. And then the movie happens to them and they slowly start to become aware that there’s something wrong with their organizing philosophy of life, the way that they have — what they have decided their life is about, and that there may be another way to live.
And they get glimpses of it and they get hurt by sort of moving towards it. And eventually must act in accordance with faith in that thing.
Aline: But does that change when you’re writing it ever?
Craig: It can. But what that — but at least to start with and I know this: my story is connected to my character fundamentally. And if it changes I will change it so that both change together. But there is not character end of story. That story is for that character.
And, by the way, I haven’t always done this, but I’m doing it now. It’s something that I’ve come to and I believe in. So, I would say to you if you’re thinking about that, think about how the only difference between your character in the first scene where we meet her or him and the final scene is that they’ve changed their mind about this most fundamental philosophical question.
Aline: And here’s a question I ask maybe Lindsay at what point in the writing process did they write, “I was a better man as a woman than I ever was as a man.” You know? I don’t think they wrote that on day one.
Lindsay: Well, when I was working for Sydney Pollack, but not when he was making Tootsie, after that, but he said, you know, when he was asked to do it, because it was supposed to be Hal Ashby or something, and pretty close to production Hal Ashby dropped out and suddenly Sydney was dropped in. And he said that was thing about being a better man by being a woman, that theme was when he sort of decided to do the movie.
He said, “Once I knew that, I knew what to do with everything. I knew there had to be a baby over here so we have a baby over there.”
Craig: It tells you what the story is.
Lindsay: Yeah. It was like I knew exactly how to —
Craig: It tells you what the challenges are. It tells you how it should end.
Lindsay: How to organize it.
Aline: But can I tell you a really interesting thing? Sometimes you go to make the movie and the director has a different idea of what the theme was.
Aline: And I was just talking to somebody who wrote a movie which is a great movie and is up for Oscar buzz and stuff and he was saying that his idea of what the movie was about was different from what the director’s movie was about. And he said to me, “I think my movie is still in there.” But it really is this thing where because that is the intangible, you can always say to someone, well, they need to get the briefcase to Moscow by noon, but if you say to them this movie to me is about someone who understands that love is more important than money, you maybe be giving it to a filmmaker who thinks something completely differently.
Aline: And what’s really interesting to me is I have made movies where I thought, oh, they’re still going to see what I wanted to do. They’re still going to see what I wanted to do. I know it’s in there. And it wasn’t in there. And it can be the same similar scenes and similar characters and similar dialogue and the thing that made you want to write the movie and the thing you were trying to say can disappear down the bathtub drain. And that’s one of the very strange things about being a screenwriter.
Lindsay: One of the things I’ve learned as a script whisperer, because I do all this consulting on things, when I come in on high level, high priority development, is I have everybody in the room, the producer, the writer, the studio executive, the director, whoever is there take a piece of paper without showing it to anybody else, say what is the most important relationship in this movie.
Lindsay: And frequently I get four different answers.
Lindsay: And that conversation is where you discover what everybody thinks the movie is about, what the last scene should be. You know, somebody said, your Devil Wears Prada, it’s about her and the boyfriend. You go, wow, that’s a different movie than if it’s her and Miranda, and that’s a different, you know what I mean? Or it’s Stanley Tucci. It’s like all of those are interesting movies, but everybody has to know who that last scene is about.
Aline: And I would actually say in some respects you know you’re in a good process when everyone is saying the same thing. If you actually looked at someone’s piece of paper and went like, “Ooh!”
Lindsay: And when that happens they don’t need me, because it means they are all on the same page. And it’s like only when —
Craig: What a bummer for you when they know and they’re like, “Get out!”
Lindsay: But usually the reason I’m there, the reason that everybody is having problems is that they haven’t quite all figured out that they’re making different movies. And then it’s about everybody figuring out what movie they want to make.
John: Well I know that we need you both very much. So, thank you very much for this discussion.
Craig: Thanks guys. Thank you.
Aline: Thank you very much.
Craig: Now it gets weird.
John: Now it gets weird.
Craig: Now it gets weird.
John: Because we know the history on these things.
Craig: Yeah, yeah, here we go.
John: You’re going to set this up because I don’t even know what to say. You like it when I’m drunk and you saw me drunk.
Craig: I love it when you’re drunk. Austin John August is the best John August. We just had the best time with these two. I would love for them to get married.
John: Oh my god!
Craig: Because then Kelly Marcel would become Kelly Kelly, which is so exciting.
So, we have — I’d like to welcome up here for a discussion of good and bad habits, mostly probably bad, but maybe a few good. Richard Kelly of Donnie Darko fame and Kelly Marcel of Saving Mr. Banks.
And normally, I mean, this is just working out great because I’m sure you haven’t been busy or anything.
Craig: Kelly’s film opens wide tomorrow.
John: Tomorrow! Woo!
Craig: And it’s really good. Really good.
John: Yeah, so Kelly when you were on our last live show in Austin I had not seen your film yet, and so I got to see it right after Austin. It was fantastic.
Kelly: You were my date.
John: I was your date. What was so wild is you’ve been basically promoting this film that entire time since we last spoke.
Kelly: And the month prior to Austin as well. Three months.
John: So, that’s a thing we have not really talked about on the show is what the writer’s function is in promoting a film, an award-caliber film that you’ve written.
Kelly: I had no idea that you had to do this much stuff to open a movie. I don’t know if it’s the same for every writer. And I think it’s been like this — I think it’s been this crazy because it’s a film that’s got a lot of award buzz. But, we worked out, John Lee and I worked out the other night that we’d had five days off including weekends in three months.
So, I’m a little bit tired. This is the last night of anything I have to do.
John: It’s Kelly’s last night everyone!
Kelly: I’m going to get so drunk…
Craig: Well, this means that we could probably get her to say anything tonight. I feel like this is the night.
Kelly: This is the night.
Craig: Where she calls Walt Disney a Nazi.
John: [laughs] Yes.
Kelly: Melissa! Beat him up.
Craig: Oh, no, she’s not going to help. No, no, she loves this chaos. She loves chaos. That’s my wife, Melissa, she’s over there. It’s my wife. I’m married!
John: She’s a real person.
Craig: Just wave so they know you’re real.
Kelly: She just said no. [laughs] No.
Craig: That’s it? We’re done?
John: She’s gotten embarrassed of this podcast.
Craig: We’re done? Yeah. All right. Well…
John: And Richard Kelly, we got to hang out some more in Austin, too, and I had known you before Austin but I didn’t kind of really know you until Austin.
Craig: And I still don’t know him really. Can you know Richard Kelly?
Richard: Yeah, it takes some time. Yeah. [laughs]
John: So, since we had a great conversation about Donnie Darko, but you like Kelly are sort of strongly identified with the films you’ve made. And so does it become exhausting at a certain point to be the ongoing representative of the Donnie Darko franchise, of this thing you made?
At what point are you allowed to sort of say like, “You know what? I made that movie, that’s awesome, and now I’m going to go be Richard Kelly over here by myself.”
Richard: Yeah, well I mean, listen, it’s a blessing to have a film that stays with people and it continues to haunt you and be tattooed somewhere on your body, or on other people’s bodies usually.
Craig: He’s so weird. So weird. I love it.
Richard: I’ll take it. I’ll take it. But, listen, it’s all about constantly just evolving and trying to reinvent yourself. And not write the same movie over and over again, or not direct the same movie over and over again. And I think that’s tricky in this business because they always want to, like I said, put you in a category or a box, so to speak.
And for me in sort of trying to evolve as a writer I’ve been trying to just venture out into different kinds of stories. And change things up. You know, it’s like when you work out at the gym you’re supposed to change your weight lifting habit every few weeks.
Craig: We do that.
John: Yeah, that’s us. That’s us totally.
John: You can tell here that this…
Richard: But it’s constantly just like changing the way you’re exercising your muscles or your brain. And I don’t know, it’s just switching up the process I’ve found.
John: Well, and we’re approaching 2014, so are there any things you want to change up for 2014, or any things that you see in yourself that you want to do differently for 2014, especially in terms of you’re writing, your craft, your filmmaking. Is there anything?
Richard: Well, I’ve been writing for myself for probably three years. I’ve written probably three or four scripts over the past three to four years of all different kinds of genres. And I’ve been pushing into new territory. But I think for me it’s about getting back behind the camera, obviously, but in terms of writing, I think venturing into a place where I’m doing like two to three hours a day of really essentially work and that’s it.
I used to try to think I needed to write all day.
Craig: Not possible.
Richard: That I needed to. And it was just a mistake. I was writing too much. I was over-thinking things. I was creating too many characters that were extraneous. And it was actually an unhealthy process. So, I think I’ve learned now it’s like you just need to make sure when your brain is the most functional, what time of day is that, what environment do you need to be in. It’s a very almost — it’s like a dietary exercise thing in a lot of ways. Not to be too physiological.
Craig: No, no, totally applies to us as well.
John: Not at all.
Kelly, how about you? Your 2014. Do you have any things you are looking at doing now or in this new year that are different?
Kelly: Having a little sleep.
John: Sleep is so good.
Kelly: Really just want to do that mainly. No, I think I’m going to do some television next year.
John: That would be great.
Kelly: There was a TV… — When I sold Terra Nova, that brilliant show, [laughs] I also sold another show, I told you tonight’s the night I can just say anything.
Craig: Here we go.
Kelly: I sold another show called West Bridge to Showtime which went into development but never got made and now because of Banks it’s been picked up. And so we’re going to do it as like a closed end series. So, that will be exciting.
John: So, talk about your writing though during this time, because you’ve been so busy doing —
Kelly: There is no writing.
John: There’s no writing at all?
Kelly: There’s no writing.
Craig: Very disappointed to hear.
John: But I’ve not done as much writing during the whole Big Fish thing as I wanted to, so it’s been exciting to get back into it. But are you on the Richard Kelly plan of a couple hours a day, or what’s your thing?
Kelly: I’m trying to do what you told me to do, [laughs], in Austin which is just do three hours a day. And it doesn’t matter which three hours that is. Just do three hours. But, you know, really the way my life works at the moment is I wake up, the phone starts ringing, I do press, I do phone interviews, all that —
Craig: Don’t forget the hair and makeup people.
Kelly: The fucking hair and makeup people. Swear to god if someone comes near me with another makeup brush! Um, yeah.
Craig: We also have a lot.
John: Yeah, you can tell. You can tell.
Kelly: They call it “grooming,” like I’m a dog.
Kelly: You need to be groomed.
So, phone interviews happen all day and then I don’t think there’s been a night this week that I haven’t done a Q — I was on this stage last night doing a Q&A. It’s every single night.
Craig: And that is, I mean, I have to just say, one of the worst things about Q&As, when you’re doing Q&As for a movie is that you will be asked the same question over and over and over and you start to lose your mind. It’s a weird form of mental torture to be asked the same question over and over and over.
Kelly: Yeah. I started to make things up.
Craig: Out of curiosity, what’s the one? What’s the one that is driving you the most crazy so that I can now ask it.
Kelly: Ha! Normally the Banks questions are kind of what they are, but obviously everybody wants to know about Fifty Shades of Grey. So, I’ve started to tell everyone I’m a virgin and that I don’t really know —
Craig: You’re not? I bought that.
Kelly: No, that’s true. Yeah. And that a really good friend of mine had told me that, you know, when you have sex like what you have to do is sit on a rabbit or a duck and then you rub a bald man’s head. And then you either get pregnant or flowers. And that doesn’t seem to going down too well with the studio funnily enough.
Craig: Walt Disney is not impressed.
Kelly: No. [laughs]
John: Craig, are you a two or three hour, you’re a two or three hour work person. And what are your two or three hours, because I’ve started to try to make it the morning so that I can get stuff done. The first thing I do when I get in the office, I don’t do anything until I’ve written stuff.
Craig: I’m not that way. But what I will do is my plan is as I’m going to bed I’ve actually found a pattern. I didn’t realize I had one, but I found one. As I’m going to bed I start thinking about the next day’s work. And then I fall asleep. And I don’t worry about writing anything down because we all know when your dreams are nonsense.
But then when I wake up and I take a shower, I take a very long shower and in the shower I start to think about the scene. Once I’m out of the shower I should — I usually have a sense of what it is I’m going to write. If I don’t, I know it ain’t happening that day. But if I do, then I know I have all day to pick the three hours. And it’s just waiting for the moment. And then I do it.
John: So, Melissa, how long are the showers?
Craig: [laughs] She’s not in there with me when this is happening.
John: What’s a long Craig Mazin shower?
Melissa Mazin: Oh, I don’t know.
Craig: That’s my wife. There you go. 15? No.
John: Only 15? No.
Craig: No, no.
Melissa: 20 minutes. I don’t know.
Craig: Do you live with me? [laughs] It’s never when she’s there by the way. Here’s the other thing: She wakes up at 6:30 in the morning. I’m going to bed sometimes at 6:30 in the morning. So, she wakes up, she’s gone. So, now I’m talking like 9:30 or 10 I go into the shower. Easily sometimes I’ll go for a half an hour. Easily.
Kelly: Why does she get up at 6:30 and you get up at 9:30?
Richard: Uh, because he’s a writer.
Kelly: This is bullshit.
Craig: I got to go. [laughs]
John: Because she’s the parent who gets the kids off to school I bet.
Craig: She’s the responsible one.
Kelly: So you don’t help taking the kids to school or anything like that?
Craig: This is neither the time nor place, [laughs], to discuss this matter. We’ll talk about it later.
Kelly: I’ve got your back, Melissa.
Craig: I regret everything. Everything! This is kind of where it was eventually going to go.
John: You still have like the benefits of a bachelor writer life.
Craig: I do. Actually she’s great about that. Actually, I will say that if you have somebody that you share your life with who understands what you do and gives you the flexibility and space to do, that’s wonderful.
Now, if six years go by and you haven’t sold anything, that person is going to get super grumpy…
Yeah, she’s like, “Yeah!” She’s like, “I am super grumpy.”
John: What is the difference between like an aspiring screenwriter and a freeloader? It’s a really fine line.
Craig: It’s so…it’s right there. But, you know, assuming that you are actually earning a living then it’s nice to know that you’re living with somebody who kind of gives you the space you need to do the crazy job that we do.
Kelly: Like sleeping in?
Craig: I am so uncomfortable.
Richard: Well, the thing is if you’re only really required to work three hours a day, sleeping in is not that big a deal.
Craig: Thank you, Richard Kelly!
Richard: And you need the sleep to rest your brain so you can make those three hours count.
Craig: Great point, Richard Kelly!
Kelly: No, but my argument is if it’s only three hours a day then there’s all the other hours in the day to help out, right?
Craig: That makes no sense.
Richard: There’s things like Angry Birds.
Kelly: And that’s how you make films.
John: And the gym. Don’t forget to go to the gym. That’s another crucial thing here.
Craig: Right. Although I’m also forgetting to go to the gym.
Richard: It takes a good hour and a half to go [crosstalk].
Kelly: Look at those guns.
Craig: I actually think I could fill enormous wads of my day with nothing. I don’t even know what happens. I don’t know what happens. But I do say, look, if you are writing a screenplay I will say this: I’ve never missed a deadline in my career. Not once. I am really responsible. I don’t know how. I just know that by this day it’s happening. And I’ve always gotten there, so I am very responsible. I’m very routinized in certain ways. In other ways, maybe not so much. What the hell! [laughs]
I mean, ugh…
John: Well, we’ll be able to ask more questions about Craig and his life during the Q&A.
John: But, Kelly, congratulations on your movie. Congratulations on all you’ve done with this part of it.
Kelly: Thank you.
John: Kelly Marcel, you don’t naively think that you’re done doing press?
Craig: Oh no.
John: No, there will be more.
John: But for now you’re movie is coming out and congratulations, that’s awesome. Richard Kelly, thank you again for being here.
Craig: Richard Kelly. The great Richard Kelly.
Richard: Well, thanks for having me.
John: You guys can get up because we’re going to start our wrap here.
Craig: Get off. [laughs]
John: We have so many people to thank.
Craig: You especially. [laughs]
John: We need to thank the Writers Guild Foundation, the giant logo behind us. So, thank you very much for hosting us again. LA Film School for this venue, which was great, and so helpful —
Craig: Thank you LA Film School.
John: I need to thank Matthew Chilelli. Matthew, are you here? I never actually — he’s right there. He wrote a lot of the best outros you’ve heard. He also wrote the Christmas —
Craig: This guy is cool.
John: He’s pretty great. He also wrote the opening music that you heard tonight, sort of the holiday remix of the [hums Scriptnotes theme].
Craig: It’s amazing what you’ve done with such a mundane tune. Thank you so much.
John: Yes. It’s really remarkable what you’ve been able to do. So, thank you again for writing these for us. Thank you.
Craig: Thank you. Wait, what about, are you going to get to them?
John: I’ll get to them eventually. We’ll thank Stuart Friedel. Stuart Friedel —
Craig: Stuart! Stand up, Stuart!
John: Tonight the role of Stuart Friedel will be played by this —
Craig: Stuart is played by this actor, Brett Goldfarb.
John: [laughs] Yeah, he’s fantastic.
So, the Writers Guild Foundation who is this giant slide behind me, every year they have this holiday sale of Extraordinary Experiences, which you can find on their website, so wgfoundation.com.
Craig: This is the charitable. They are not part of the union. They are a 501c3 not-for-profit charitable organization. Great organization.
John: They do great work with veterans groups, with other aspiring writers, schools, all sorts of special programs. Once a year they do the sale of Extraordinary Experiences where you can have lunch with a certain given writer, or coffee, or someone will read your script.
So, if you go to the website you will see the Extraordinary Experiences that they have up for sale. This year some of our panelists will be also offering new special things after tonight, because we will strong arm them. So, I would encourage you to go there because it’s a great organization and it’s a great way for them to raise some money to pay for the eggnog you had here tonight.
Craig: It coats your mouth.
John: Yeah. It’s good if you have like hot spicy food though. Insulation.
Craig: No, because you’re putting heat next to milk. It’s disgusting.
John: Well, at least we’ve bookended the show with the talk of eggnog.
John: So, Craig, thank you, and have a very happy holidays.
Craig: I thought you actually meant that.
John: See! I can feign sincerity when I need to.
Craig: Merry Christmas to you, John.
John: Aw, thank you, Craig.
Craig: I always mean it.
John: And thank you all very much for being here.
Craig: Thank you guys.
- Aline Brosh McKenna on episodes 60, 76, 100, 101 and 119
- Franklin Leonard on episode 60
- Kelly Marcel on episode 115
- Lindsay Doran on episode 68
- Rawson Marshall Thurber on episodes 100 and 101
- Richard Kelly on episode 118
- The 2013 Black List and blcklst.com
- The New Yorker on live action versus animation
- Saving Mr. Banks is in theaters now
- Thank you to the Writers Guild Foundation and the LA Film School for hosting
- Support the Writers Guild Foundation and get something awesome from their Holiday Sale of Extraordinary Experiences
- Intro by Scriptnotes listener Matthew Chilelli
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Fred Tepper