The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: Je m’appelle Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters. Such as French. How are you, Craig?
Craig: I’m good. How are you doing, man?
John: We should explain why you’re speaking French.
Craig: Ouais. [laughs] In French, by the way, if you’re cool you say, “Ouais,” which is like our “yes, yeah, yup, uh-huh.”
I was just en vacances en Quebec and got to polish off my French which I hadn’t used in a long time. Amazing how much you can remember once you’re there in the middle of it, you know.
But, I’ll talk more about that when we get to our One Cool Thing. I guess it’s kind of a spoiler.
John: Well, that sort of a spoiler there.
Craig: That’s okay. It’s not that much of big hoo-ha. And where were you over la vacances?
John: Upon la vacances, I went skiing in Colorado, which was really quite fun. And so my daughter, this is her second year going skiing. And she’s actually now good enough that she can go down the mountain with us and have a good time. And we had a very good time skiing. Very cold to start. First time we encountered the frost inside the windshield, which is not good.
John: But, it was all really good. And we had the rest of Christmas with my mother-in-law in Ohio, and that was all nice. We had a big giant snow, but it was one of those snows where you’re like, “Oh, great, let’s go sledding,” and you go out and you can move two inches in the sled. But it ended up being great snowman snow. And so we could build a snowman in like five minutes.
Craig: We kind of had weird parallel vacations, because I was also with my mother-in-law for a bit of time in Florida. And my poor wife had to figure out how to pack for Florida and Quebec. [laughs] It was pretty fascinating.
John: So, Craig, we had a podcast last week — that was just a clip show. It was a New Year’s Day clip show. This is our first real one of the New Year, so I thought we’d start off by talking about some resolutions and things we plan to do differently this year, or want to explore this year.
Then we’re going to talk about the WGA awards, and we’re going to answer some listener questions. Sound good?
Craig: That sounds fantastic. Oh my god! Yes! [laughs]
John: Now, previously on the podcast I talked about resolutions, and I don’t really have resolutions like I’m going to do that this year, or I’m not going to do something this year. Rather I declared areas of interest. So, previously you may recall I was interested in Austrian white wines, or archery. And this year I didn’t have any sort of affectation like that. I couldn’t think of one as December drew to a close.
But, as I was doing an interview yesterday for Big Fish — we’re doing long lead press for Big Fish for the Chicago run — the reporter was talking about how long it took to get up to this point. And I realized that I first read the book to Big Fish in 2003. I’m sorry, in 1998 is when I read the book for Big Fish, the manuscript.
2003, five years later, I finally got the movie made. And now it’s ten years after that that we’re finally doing the musical version. And I realized that, wow, I’m going to actually probably be making some version of Big Fish for the rest of my life. It’s one of those things that I will never actually finish it, because god-willing everything goes well in Chicago, and we go to New York, and we do a run there — the musical is never really finished.
It’s like a TV show, you’re done at a certain point. And a movie, you’re done at a certain point. A musical — I probably will never actually be done with it because there will always be other stagings of it. And even if it’s not all that successful, someone will want to do it somewhere. And there will always be revisions. There will always be a new cast. There will always be a new something.
So, I think my resolution is to sort of come to terms with the time of it all, and sort of the unfinishability of it, because it’s a strange thing for me that for 15 years I’ve been dealing with this one project, this little book that Daniel Wallace wrote.
Craig: Well, and if it’s really successful then perhaps they’ll make a movie of the musical, and then you’ll have to write the movie.
John: It was interesting. When we were dealing with Sony it was one of the things that came up is we had to address that ahead of time, sort of like who would have the rights to make the movie, and that gets complicated because Sony owns the rights to my screenplay, so we had to buy the rights back for my screenplay. But it’s all complicated.
And I don’t honestly even know who has the right to make the movie if it becomes that kind of thing, if it becomes the next Les Mis.
Craig: That probably turns on your contract with them.
John: Yeah. Probably.
Craig: But, you know, why count that chicken?
John: Maybe that’s a better thing I should resolve for this year is to not count chickens.
Craig: Don’t count them. Just let them breed.
John: How about you? Any resolutions for the New Year?
Craig: You know, I’ve never been a resolution guy. Resolutions for me are a bit like gifts. When I feel like I should have something — and it doesn’t happen often, I’m not a big consumer of goods — but when I want something I just get it. And when I feel resolved to do something, I do it.
I’ve never looked at the turning of the calendar as an excuse or as an inspiration to resolve anything. But, I think my resolutions — really what happens is then you’re left with the things you never, ever do. And your eternal resolutions. Maybe my resolution should be to just let those go.
John: That’s fair enough. Very Zen.
Craig: I think at this point, we are who we are.
John: Yeah, we are who we are.
So, one of the things that happened during our absence is the WGA Awards were announced, or the WGA nominations were announced. And so I want to talk through this because many of our friends are nominated for things, which is fantastic.
Craig: That’s right.
John: For Original Screenplay, the nominees: Flight, written by a guy named John Gatins.
John: Woo-hoo! Who we both know very well. We actually threw a little party for John to celebrate an earlier nomination. And so we’re happy that he got this.
Craig: Well, you threw that party very generously.
John: Yes. And so I’m including you in it because you were there. But you were really just a guest rather than a host. Yeah.
Craig: You know what was great about that party was I met a guy there…the end. [laughs] No, I met a guy there who is very good friends with John’s awesome wife, Ling, and you know I’m a big musical nerd. And he played Marius on the stage on Broadway. So, we got to talk about musicals quite a bit. That was great.
And I caught up with some people I hadn’t seen in a long time, but all of it in celebration of our excellent friend — and well deserving friend — John Gatins. One of those guys who does it right. You know, I feel, it’s funny… — I was talking to Roger Kumble and to you, I think, about this, how there are so few of us left from when we started in the mid ’90s.
Craig: And those of us who are, I feel like on some level we’ve done something right. And there’s a badge of honor for just persisting. And John has persisted over the years through thick and thin, up and down, and here he is with an amazing award for a movie that has persisted. Because the screenplay was written many years ago and he…
John: Yeah. I read it at least five years ago. And you probably read the draft that was sitting in the drawer, too. It’s been around for quite a long time. And I always say, “At some point the right combination of all of this is going to come together; you’ll be able to make that screenplay into a movie,” and it did. Hooray!
Craig: Yeah. Exactly.
John: Another person who I’m very, very excited to see on this list is Rian Johnson for Looper. I loved Looper. And I’m so glad that the WGA voters singled that out as being an awesome screenplay, because it was great.
Craig: Very well deserved. Another very good friend of mine. One of my favorite Swedes, and that really means something because my wife is Swedish, and one of my best friends, Alec Berg, is Swedish, so there’s a lot of competition there. He is one of my favorite Swedes.
Yes, excellent movie. I was very lucky to see an extremely early cut of the film. He was showing it to about four or five people just to get feedback early on. And I could tell that he had done something special there. A remarkable accomplishment considering the budget. And, also, Rian really is a true author of his films. He writes and directs them. They are always original. They are always original to him. It feels like they are very purely an extension of his intension and he’s just now, I think — I think now starting to be accepted by the major studio machine, whereas before he was a little more indie.
Great guy. Wonderful person. And very original piece that he did. And so it’s terrific to see him… — Well, it’s a tough one because I’m rooting for them both. The easiest thing I guess for me to do in a situation like that is just root against all the people they’re against.
John: [laughs] The people they’re against are also very talented people. Paul Thomas Anderson for The Master.
Craig: Boo. [laughs]
John: [laughs] Moonrise Kingdom by Wes Anderson and Roman Coppola.
John: And Zero Dark Thirty by Mark Boal.
Craig: Ah! Three idiots! No, they’re amazing writers. Incredible filmmakers, all three of them. And it’s tough. All I can say is I’m pulling for John and I’m pulling for Rian, but it doesn’t matter. I think at this point it’s… — You know, maybe it’s because I have a unique perspective. I’ll never be nominated for anything. No one nominates the movies I write, ever. They haven’t nominated the specific ones I’ve written, and they really haven’t nominated the good versions of the specific ones I’ve written.
And so I never think about awards. I don’t have to worry about it. And I just feel like writing a good movie that is honest to what you meant, and having that audience find an audience is the only reward that matters. And John and Rian both did that, in a big way, and obviously the other three did as well, and have done in the past. They’re all great.
So, everyone’s a winner.
John: Everyone’s a winner! Just to complete the list, for Adapted Screenplay we have: Argo by Chris Terrio; Life of Pi by David Magee; Lincoln by Tony Kushner; Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, based on his book; and Silver Linings Playbook by David O. Russell.
And of those, the only comedy-comedy is Silver Linings Playbook, and that’s a dramatic comedy, but really more of a comedy when you actually watch it.
Craig: Yeah. It’s definitely a comedy. And I have to pull for that one, of course, because my buddy — I should say my wrestling buddy Bradley Cooper is in it. Because weirdly, and I don’t why, [laughs], but I would say two or three times a week Bradley will just come up to me and start wrestling with me. And I’ve got to tell you: I would lose dramatically. One day he hurt me, because he’s really big, he’s really strong. And just a tough guy — a man’s man — who likes wrestling with…
John: Craig. I’m just going to let you talk and talk yourself deeper into this hole.
Craig: It’s fun. I like it. I’m just losing myself in his eyes, again, in my memory. I pull for Bradley. I think he did an amazing job, by the way.
John: I agree.
Craig: Great performance. But yeah, I mean, look, you could say that’s a comedy, it’s kind of a comedy. But it’s the sort of comedy that gets nominated for awards because it’s David O. Russell and it’s quirky and interesting. It’s so rare that a broad, mainstream — not even broad, but just a mainstream comedy gets nominated.
Did I mention that I like to wrestle with Bradley Cooper?
John: Maybe once or twice.
One thing we should point out because people always ask the question like, “Oh, there are some strange omissions. There are things that you would think would be on here that aren’t on there.” The WGA Awards are only for things that are covered by the WGA contracts or by affiliated guild contracts. There are weird… — Sometimes other things can make it onto that list but not other things.
So, animated movies aren’t covered by the WGA. So, animated movies will not generally show up in these awards. Some British movies won’t show up in these awards. So, it tends to be American movies that you would see on this list.
Craig: Yeah. And also notably you won’t see Quentin Tarantino’s name because he withdrew as a member from the Guild, reportedly, by him.
Craig: [laughs] So, I think it’s accurate to say that he withdrew his membership from the WGA. I’m not exactly sure why. I suspect it had to do with credits or something. And these things happen.
I mean, some people get very angry about this. They say, “What is the point or value of awards if they don’t honor the best, but rather the best of people that fit the political specificities of the union that’s giving out the award?” And all I can say is, “Who cares?” I mean, it’s the Writers Guild. That’s what the Writers Guild Awards are for, it’s for Writers Guild movies, which happens to be most of them.
You don’t like it? Who cares? Nobody cares what… — I hate to say this. Because, you know, we just talked about Rian and we just talked about John, and I love them, and I want them to win an award, but nobody cares about the Writers Guild Awards anyway.
I mean, to be fair and accurate, the only awards people care about are the Oscars, of course; the Golden Globes, to a lesser extent, but only really as a predictor of the Oscars; the BAFTAs, from overseas, or perhaps as a consolation if you did not win an Oscar. But, really when you boil it down, the only award anyone really cares about is the Oscar. So, who cares?
People need to relax about this award stuff.
John: Yeah. It’s interesting that you go into umbrage and to pull it out saying that everyone should relax.
Craig: Yeah, that’s right! I’m upset and exerting myself in the expectation that everyone should relax.
John: You’re basically shouting at people to calm down.
Craig: I’m shouting! I’m saying, “You have to calm down! Just do it!” Oh, god, you know what’s so great? It’s 2013. Here’s my resolution: Get crazier on the podcast.
John: Oh, yeah. That’s what we need.
Craig: Oh, that’s what you need.
John: I want to see the little gauges spiking there. We’re going into the red and Stuart has to knob you down so that you’re not so…
Craig: No…I never clip. I will say this: In a couple of years when they do an in-depth profile of this podcast and the two of us, they’re going to refer to you as “long-suffering co-host John August.” [laughs]
John: [laughs] It very well might happen. Although, I don’t think it’s going to be like a retrospective as much as it’s going to be evidence that’s going to be submitted in some trial.
Craig: Yeah. Fair enough. Whatever!
Hey, everybody needs to relax!
John: First question comes from Kevin in Atwater Village.
Craig: Relax, Kevin!
John: “Hi guys. I’ve been hearing recently about how movies are getting more expensive and harder to make. I was recently reading an interview where the director said, ‘They cost so much to make, you have to have a monster hit to pay it off. They’re pricing themselves out of production. Three pictures a year make enough to pay off. They’re making it so it’s impossible to make a film.’
“This was Paddy Chayefsky from an interview in 1981. So, my question is: have complaints about the cost and difficulty of movies always been around, or are we living in a time where making films has never been harder or more expensive? What’s your opinion?
Craig: Ah, what do you think?
John: I like that he snuck in the Paddy Chayefsky quote, because it does seem to be one of those evergreen things. You’re always going to complain about how it’s never been harder. And you’re always going to say it used to be easier back then. There’s always the golden age that existed sometime in your youth when everything was wonderful and perfect. It tends to be like the 1970s for movies, or whatever. But now everything is terrible, and everything is too expensive, and everything is rough.
Although, if you were actually to talk to people in the time they would have said it was the worst time ever because they’re having a hard time making their individual movies.
I do think there are some things that are more difficult now than have probably been there before. Part of it we talked about on the podcast — it’s not just the actual negative cost of making a movie, although some movies are really expensive. It’s that it’s become so expensive to market these big giant tent pole movies. Even if your movie only costs $20 million, or $30 million, if you’re spending $50 million to market it, you’ve spent $80 million on your movie. And that’s a hard nut to earn back.
And it does feel like marketing has become more expensive every year, and that’s a genuine concern.
Craig: No question. That’s essentially where I’m at on this, too. Marketing is worse. I mean, marketing is very good, but the expense of marketing has gone up, I suspect, far beyond the relative costs of production. And because marketing is so expensive, it in a weird way starts to drive up production costs. Because if you know you’re going to be spending $80 million to market a movie, you want to make sure you can deliver the goods.
So, in a weird way the whole thing becomes upside down. You look at a movie like Identity Thief. I think it cost $32 million, or something like that, relatively inexpensive for today’s films. They’ll certainly spend more than that on marketing. I hope they do. [laughs] I think they’re going to.
John: I hope.
Craig: But I do agree with you that there has always been a rosy-hued, I should say, view of the past. Writers, and directors, and artists have always complained. They have always found something about their time to complain about. And that’s never going to change. I don’t think that much has changed in that regard other than if you are trying to make dramas for adults, it is unquestionably harder to do so now than it was even ten years ago.
That feels very true to me. But, other than that, I think it’s really the marketing stuff. And the cost of marketing, and the effort of marketing is entirely about the change that has occurred in our world around us. We live in a fragmented world. There are not three networks; there are 300 channels. There’s the Internet. It’s just very difficult to reach people.
John: I would also say that the cost of making movies, it hasn’t necessarily gone up. If you look at Steven Soderbergh’s movies, you look at Magic Mike, that’s not an expensive movie at all. And there are ways to make those movies for not a lot of money. And nobody noticed that that was an inexpensive movie.
Yes, that movie probably cost ten times as much to market as it did to make, but it was successful. And they were able to make that movie and they’re able to make more movies kind of like it on that business plan. I think it’s unfair to say that all movies are too expensive to make.
The challenge and frustration that I think is real is that the studios are only making the very expensive movies because they feel like that’s the only movie that they can justify spending the huge marketing budget on that they know how to do. Will something shift and we’ll find a way to sort of make cheaper movies that don’t have to be marketed the same way and can find an audience? Yes, probably. It will be the next generation of moviemakers will figure out how to do that and that will be great.
Craig: And we’ll be dead.
John: We’ll be dead.
Craig: Next question! [laughs]
Craig: I’m so loopy because I woke up at 2am LA time to get on a plane. So, you got me at my loopiest.
John: That’s nice. I’ve had two beers. I’ve had a beer and a half.
Craig: Oh boy! You’ve blown through half your beer budget for 2013.
John: It’s nice. A question from Raven. It’s talking about sort of how much you can fit into a scene header. “Okay, so at the beginning of the script I’m writing there’s a dream sequence in which a Vietnam war vet is reliving a traumatic experience, fighting as a tunnel rat in the Cu Chi tunnels of Vietnam in 1967.
“The very first scene begins in a tunnel in 1967. So, right now my scene header reads as follows:
INT. CU CHI TUNNEL -- VIETNAM (1967)
Is that a fair thing to write in a scene heading or is that too much?”
Craig: It doesn’t seem like too much. I mean, I suppose you can just say… — If you wanted to be a little impressionistic about it you could say INT. TUNNEL. I mean. The audience is going to, unless there’s a big sign on the tunnel wall that announces the name of the tunnel or the kind of tunnel, they’re just going to see a man in a dirt tunnel. So, you might want to leave that out. Maybe just indicate it in the description. Or, if you’re going to subtitle it, indicate that there’s going to be a subtitle. But that seems reasonable to me.
John: Yes. It looks reasonable. You’re not seeing this in front of you on screen, but it looks reasonable.
Here’s what I would say is that always be mindful of, like, what are you telling the reader versus what are you actually telling the viewer. And if it’s something that the viewer needs to know, then you need to actually break that out as something you’re going to put on the screen as a title over to show 1967, or Vietnam. If it’s important that the viewer immediately know specifically where it is, and you’re going to print that on the screen, then give it to us in a title over.
If it’s just important for our understanding of where we are at this moment, or if we’re going back and forth between time periods and you need us to know that, “Okay, now we’re 1967 versus being the present day,” sticking that extra bit of information at the end of the scene header — totally valid — because we’ll get it.
I will say at the very start of your screenplay it tends to be helpful to be, what Craig said, is more impressionistic, where you’re just actually describing what the space is rather than trying to get a lot of specific historical detail or give things a specific name, the Cu Chi tunnel. Because if I don’t know what that is it might stop me if it’s the very first page, because, like, I don’t know what that is. Is that a description of a tunnel? Is that a kind of tunnel? Is that a specific tunnel?
So, being a manmade tunnel might be a better way to describe at the very start of your screenplay.
Craig: And it could indicate an interesting way to reveal something. For instance, INT. TUNNEL. That’s it. Just
A man is running through a rough-hewn dirt tunnel. He’s breathing hard. We can barely see anything but the glint of his gun.
He turns a corner and suddenly he’s in a huge network tunnels. You can’t believe how elaborate it is. This is the --
SUBTITLE: CU CHI TUNNELS, 1967 VIETNAM.
Or, “He emerges outside and it’s a firefight.” You know, you can kind of lead the audience to where you want them to go, but if you’re just in a tunnel, that’s all they’re ever going to see is tunnel, so just call it a tunnel.
John: Agreed. And what Craig is describing there is, like, really letting the script be the camera throughout your scene and stuff. So, give us the information the way that we would experience it in the theater.
So, if we’re just with this guy running though this dark space, we can be in this dark space. We don’t need to know all the details before the audience would know the details.
John: Next question comes from Devin in Toronto, Canada. He asks, “What is the industry standard font for outlines, treatments, for series bibles, series documents? Is it okay to use a different font to punch up the headers in these documents?” Devin asks, in Toronto.
Craig: It’s Comic Sans.
John: Everything should be in Comic Sans from top to bottom.
John: Bold is great. But I really find, like, bold italics in outline, that’s how you really sell it.
Craig: No, I like to use shadow. [laughs]
John: Oh, shadow is always good. Oh my god. If you can find an old laser jet printer, or an old Apple LaserWriter, LaserWriter 2 maybe even, if you can get some Zapf Chancery. That’s how to sell it.
Craig: Yeah, you know what?
John: Sort of calligraphy.
Craig: Pull out your Banner Maker Pro…
John: That’s good. Some Banner Maker Pro. That’s great.
Here’s what I’ll say, because I’ve actually had to do it this season, and I’ve found that people don’t really care. So, a lot of times these things will be in Courier, which is fine. A lot of times they’ll be in Helvetica or something normal. I, being a former font nerd, and still kind of a font nerd, I used Chaparral Pro which is a great text serif face that people really like a lot. So, I use that for the outlines for Chosen.
No one commented negatively. People seemed to like it. But, whatever you like that’s a good, reasonable choice for a font is fine. And I found that there’s a wide variety of sort of formatting choices for what these documents look like. Sometimes they really do look sort of like scriptments, like sort of the James Cameron scriptments, where it feels like a script is slug lines and scene headers but just no dialogue.
Other times I’ve seen things that are just paragraphs, and paragraphs, and paragraphs.
Craig: Yeah. It’s entirely up to you. This is the way I tend to do it. Basically if I’m writing up a treatment or an outline, I’ll have sort of a brief summary of the plot, like really brief, a tiny paragraph. Because I’m always thinking, “Okay, I’m going to give you this document. It’s for use. The document is not to be enjoyed, it is to be used. And ideally you, the producer or studio person, is going to use this to help me do my job. So, you’re going to either describe what’s in it to somebody you work with or work for, or you’re going to hand it to them.” So, I give them a little summary that they can use, and then I break out the main characters and do a description of each of the main characters along with a basic concept of what’s wrong with them and maybe what they need.
And then I start a new page of act one. And I do the scenes of act one and I number, sort of not scene by scene, but sort of sequence by sequence. And I like to break them into numbers. So, just number one, and then indent, and a whole paragraph there. Because this way people when they’re talking to you it’s much easier for like, “Okay, on four of act two,” so I’ll start renumbering for act two and I’ll start renumbering for act 3.
Personally, I like Baskerville.
John: Yeah. Baskerville is a good font. It’s a good book font.
Craig: It’s my font of choice. It’s very Holmesian.
John: Yeah. We should actually say here that handing in these documents, it’s controversial, and there’s reasons why it’s controversial. If these are for you own personal use, you’re welcome to make them — you’re welcome to sort of do whatever. But, if someone is asking you to turn this in and they’re not actually paying you to turn those in, that can be a problem. That can be something to be mindful of. And that’s a much bigger topic to get into. But, if you’re being paid to write that document, that’s great.
But if you’re being paid to write the screenplay and you’re writing this extra document before you’re writing a screenplay — or, worse than that, if you’re being asked to write this document before they’re paying you any money, before they’re making a deal for you to write a movie, that’s a real concern. Because you’re doing work for somebody without…you’re creating written material for somebody without payment, which is not good.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, real fast, my feeling on this is if you’re hired to write a screenplay there’s nothing wrong with writing that document, even if specifically you haven’t been paid for a “treatment step” or “outline step,” because in the end it helps everybody get on the same page, so that when you turn in — if you choose to do this. So, when you turn in the script nobody can say, “Whoa, huh?”
“Okay, well, no, here’s the document. We all read it. Now, it’s our problem; it’s not my problem, or your problem.”
If you have not yet been hired to write a screenplay, you may not turn this material in. It is against Writers Guild rules. You are violating our working rules. And the company if they should ask for material like this is violating the MBA. And that is a no-no. We hear it about it more and more. We hear egregious cases where these things are required in order to get employment. That is an absolute violation of our rules. And the more people who do it, the harder they make our job for the rest of us.
John: And the good/bad thing which will inevitably happen — and I’m giving it two to three years at the very most — is one of these studio situations will occur where someone has turned in this material for which they were not paid and it will become a copyright trial. And it will be a huge big deal because they submitted a document that was about a movie and the studio went off and made that movie with a different writer, with a different script, and that person will have a copyright claim that will be very awful for everybody involved.
And, hopefully, we can change that business practice before it happens. But I think that trial is going to have to happen.
Craig: No question. You know, like you I have been attending a couple of these sort of — they’re formal meetings between some guild members and the studios under the auspices of the Writers Guild meeting with the studios to say, “Look, here are some things that are not going well and we need to fix these.”
And, when it comes to this issue — I have raised this a number of times. And you can see on the other side of the table an absolute real concern. I think that people who run these studios are well aware that this is a time bomb. And they don’t need much convincing at all.
I think that part of what goes on is that this stuff happens away from them, from the people who run the studios. A lot of times it’s the producers who maybe are willing to play a little more fast and loose because, frankly, they need to get it right, at least what they think in their head means right.
But, there is a real fear. The whole business, all of Hollywood, all it is is an intellectual property business. And when you look at our contracts, the companies and their business affairs people are so thorough about making sure that when they pay us they’re buying everything for everywhere for always. That the thought that there’s bits and pieces of material that they don’t control at all, well that’s just horrifying.
So, this is an area where I think we are one of those magical “we’re all in alignment” areas and hopefully it will work out and this will go away, this problem.
John: Yes. But, Devin, whatever font you choose, you’re fine.
John: And I will say that if people want to look at some sample outlines, at johnaugust.com in the library I have the pitch documents and other sort of stuff for several of my movies, for TV shows, so you can see sort of what I did. And if it’s helpful you’re welcome to look through those.
Next question comes from Lori in Jerusalem. A question from Jerusalem.
Craig: Jerusalem! Shalom!
John: She writes, “My script, Whiplash, received a 9 out 10 on the Black List. And the reviewer said it had four-quadrant appeal.” So, I’m going to stop here. So, this is where, you know, I love Franklin. I’m happy that the Black List exists. This is what gets confusing. So, she’s talking about the Black List, but she’s talking about the service that she submitted to for the Black List. She’s not talking about the annual list of like the best screenplays of all time.
John: So, she submitted her script to this Black List site. It got a 9 out of 10. And it said it had four-quadrant appeal.
“According to Franklin, only 3.8% of uploaded scripts rate a 9 or a 10. And those include some pro scripts. There’s a widespread belief you simply need to write a really good script and the world will beat a path to your door. So, is it true, and can the Black List make it happen? If the Black List can’t make it happen for a 9-rated script, then why not? Is the issue the writer? The Black List? The script? Or the market?
“I thought it might be an interesting case study for the podcast to talk about.”
Craig: Well, I don’t know. I think that service that the Black List provides is too new for us to really draw conclusions about its ability to pick winners. There is a difference between a script that generates a lot of positive feedback and a script that anyone wants to buy. It’s just a different deal, because you can really enjoy a script but think to yourself, “No one will go see this.”
You can really enjoy a script and think, “Well, it’s got four-quadrant appeal but I think it’s too expensive to make,” or, “It can only be made with one star, and she’s not doing this sort of thing.” Who knows? There are all sorts of factors involved.
I tend to hue on the side of things that says write a great script and the world will beat a path to your door. If people really like your script then I would presume somebody would reach out at some point and say, “Hey, we either want to option this or buy it, or we have something else that we would like you to write and we’ll pay you for it.”
That seems likely to me, but I want to caution all of you to remember that the only “yes” that exists in Hollywood is money. That’s it. If no one gives you money, it is “no.” So, no matter what people say, no matter what number you aggregate, no matter what nice comments you pull in, if no one gives you money the answer is no.
John: Yup. To me the Black List in its new incarnation, and what Franklin is doing here, it’s analogous to sort of what happens with screenwriting competitions. And so the big screenwriting competitions like the Nicholl or the Austin, the ones that actually seem to have some merit to them, winning one of those is great, it’s fantastic, and it will get you some attention. And it could get you started. But most Nicholl scripts don’t sell. Most Austin winners don’t sell.
And a lot of times people win those awards and never really go on to write other things. So, being rated really highly on the Black List, in the paid site Black List, will probably benefit you, but it’s certainly no guarantee of any success. So, we can continue to watch you. We can continue to watch — I’m sure Franklin is running a lot of metrics on sort of what happens the next year of those well-rated and well-reviewed scripts to see how many of them actually payoff for the writers involved.
Craig: Yeah. And just to be clear for those of you who are wondering and don’t know what four-quadrant means, the business tends to divide the audience up into male and female, over the age of 25, under the age of 25.
Craig: So, those are the four quadrants.
John: There’s a movie I have over at Fox. And someone asked, “Oh, so what kind of movie is this?” And I was like, “It’s a six-quadrant.” [laughs] “I want to make sure this is for everybody. This is for the undead. Everyone who could possibly…like, bring your dog to this movie because it is very much to be that very big broad thing,” because again, this movie I’m trying to make at Fox is not inexpensive.
Craig: I heard that your script was only six sextants.
John: Oh, that wouldn’t be good.
Craig: Sorry. You’re missing one sextant.
John: That’s not good at all. So, we need to find how to get that last little seventh sliver in there.
John: James Stubenrauch writes…
Craig: I’m sorry, James Stupid Hawk?
John: Stubenrauch. I’m over German pronouncing it. I bet he pronounces it Stuben-Rauch, or Stuben-Rock, but Stubenrauch sounds better to me.
Craig: It shouldn’t be Stoiben-Raw?
John: There’s not a “eeh” over the “u,” so I think it’s just a simple “u.”
James writes, “My question is about how to get quality feedback on my work.” I think it dovetails well with this last thing. “Sure, I think my latest script is pretty good, and my mom thinks it’s simply amazing. My little screenwriting interest group in my small town gave it a good review. However, I want professional critiques. It seems there are couple ways to get real feedback.”
So, he has five, and I’ll list them and I want to sort of talk through these. “Number one, move to LA or visit for awhile and try to make contacts with readers.”
John: “Two, pay those people on the Internet who pose as script consultants.”
Craig: No! [laughs] He already knows no. He said “posed.” Go ahead.
John: Yeah. It has “Umbrage” with like seven exclamation points afterwards. “Number three, enter writing contests, especially ones that provide written feedback, like Blue Cat.”
John: “On average these contests charge $30 to $50 per entry, so for $150 I could get five real reviews.”
John: No. “Pay the Black List $125 to $175 to get two or three of Franklin Leonard’s readers to review my stuff.”
John: Maybe. “Do the Three Page Challenge on that nice Scriptnotes podcast.”
Craig: Ah, now you’re talking.
John: Now you’re talking. He needs some feedback, but I thought we’d talk through his five things here first. We’ll start with the Three Page Challenge thing. I think it’s lovely that people think it’s going to help them. I think we can offer some general suggestions, but I don’t think anyone is going to sort of get broken out or noticed by this. And we can give you real feedback on those first Three Pages, but that’s about what your writing is like on those first three pages. It’s not really about the quality of your whole script.
And so I want to be realistic about that. I think we could say if you had a great first three pages, you have reason to be really, really excited. If we read your first three pages and we had real concerns, you have some reasons to have real concerns. But we can’t tell you what your script is like or if it’s going to work. We’re just looking at a little photo of you; we’re not seeing the whole person.
Craig: Yeah, it’s not really the function of it anyway. I mean, I hate to say “you get what you pay for,” but in this case you do.
Craig: Really it’s just a gut check to see if you’re on the green or on the fairway or in the rough or still in your car, you know. That’s really all we provide. It’s not going to tell you if your script is any good.
John: Yeah. And so the Three Page Challenge is really kind of for everybody else. And so you’re very, very brave to submit it to us, and maybe we’ll love it and that could be great, but it’s really to kind of help everybody else who listens to the podcast and reads along.
John: So, backing up the Black List. $125 to $175. Maybe? I don’t know. I think probably that’s money better spent than one of those paid script consultants.
Craig: Yeah, for sure. I mean, of all the things out there, that’s really the only one that I can kind of swallow, you know? I mean, you are — it is being monitored by actual people in the business. So, for instance, our friend from Jerusalem, her script has a 9 out of 10 and a lot of positive feedback. It means that people are noticing and they will be taking a look at it at some point, in some form, whether they read it entirely or they have their assistant read it or somebody.
So, it seems like there’s potential value there at the very least, which is more than I can say for the millions of shysters out there looking to take your money under the heading of “script consultant.”
John: Yeah. Quickly, the writing contests like Blue Cat that charge: Look, I think the ones that are worth even the postage for me would be Austin and Nicholl. I don’t know if the other ones are worth anything. Maybe they are and maybe I’m just wrong and people have tremendous success coming out of those. I just don’t think they’re worth the emotional investment, not to mention the money, to submit them.
Obviously not the people who want to be your script consultants. Don’t do that.
And, the last option is move to LA for awhile and try to make contacts with readers. And that’s probably the most difficult of all these for most people, but it’s honestly the way you’re going to get the most real feedback. And my experience has been, personally and also watching all of my assistants who’ve gone through this, is you just — once you’re in a culture of people who are doing this, you’re reading their scripts and they’re reading your scripts. And, you know, your reading their scripts and you’re like, “Oh, wow, this is actually a really good writer; I really like this script.”
And if they’re reading your script and you think it’s good too, you can exchange notes, or help each other out on stuff. Or, if you read their script and it’s just terrible you’re like, “Well, I’m going to really take his or her notes with a grain of salt because I don’t think this person knows what they’re talking about.”
When you’re surrounded by a culture of screenplays, you are going to get better feedback and you’re going to get a better sense of what really is going on and where you sort of fit in this pecking order here.
Craig: Yeah. Remember, your job here, your goal, is not to write a script that people like and say nice things about. Your job, and your goal, is to write a movie and to get a movie made. So, all this feedback stuff to me is really over-reinforcing the fetishizing of the document.
And I understand why we fetishize the document. It’s an incredibly hard document to produce. But, it is not the end of the line. At some point you need to start thinking about writing movies. And you’re not going to write movies from your house in your small town. It’s just not going to happen.
We keep saying it over and over, and people keep saying, “Well, what if I just send in $200 and then Blue Cat will give me an award?” Who cares? Remember the last guy who won that Blue Cat award? Do you remember his name?
John: [laughs] No.
Craig: No. No you don’t. No, nobody knows his name, and nobody cares. That’s the truth. Sorry Blue Cat. Blue Cat! Come on!
John: Yeah. Blue. So, there probably are scenarios… — Because we’re writing a transitional document, we’re writing a document that is hopefully going to become a movie, our goal has to always be fixated on trying to make that movie.
If you were really writing a short story that you wanted to win awards with, or you’re trying to write a book, even if you’re writing a book the game is to get the agent, or the editor, or the publisher to say yes to it. So, I think the title of the podcast is like, “Unless there’s money, the answer is no.”
Craig: Unless there’s money, the answer is no. Isn’t that terrible? And it’s so unfortunate because there’s thousands and thousands — so many wonderful, creative ways for people to say no to you. And so many of them sound like yes, which is horrifying really to contemplate, but it’s human nature. Nobody really likes saying no to somebody. Nobody wants to be mean. No one wants to see that look reflected back to them.
Certainly any of us who have been asked for feedback and who have said, “I just don’t like this,” have gotten weird — people get angry sometimes. And suddenly you’re in a fight. So, everybody wants to just be polite. But there is really only one yes. And it’s money.
Our last question of the day comes from Andrew in Philadelphia who writes, “In May of 2012 I graduated from film school in my hometown with a concentration in screenwriting in an undergraduate program. Every day since then I’ve been doing what I’ve done the past four years in school: write. Not wanting to sound arrogant, I know I’m a good writer. I’m good at it because I love it, I’m dedicated; because I’ve been studying and practicing even before college.
“However, because of family and financial obligations I am unable to move to LA right now. This is very frustrating for me because I know I need to be there. There are interesting job opportunities in NYC for which I could commute, but that silver lining gives me some anxiety. But I want some additional advice. What can I do from Philly, aside from writing, to feel like I’m accomplishing something?
“Is it best to continue my day job and write at night? Is it better to get an industry job in New York?”
So, a young graduate in Philadelphia. Craig, your recommendation?
Craig: Well, look, if you have financial issues and you need to be working and you need to be where you are, then you need to be working and you need to be where you are and that’s that.
You should write at night, always, if you can. And it sounds like you want to, so that shouldn’t be an issue. Maybe one thing to consider is making a little movie. Easier to do now than ever before.
One thing there are lots of are actors. Philadelphia, by the way — you know a fine actor from Philadelphia: Bradley Cooper.
John: Ah-ha. And I hear he’s also a terrific wrestler as someone might say.
Craig: [laughs] There was one day Bradley had his arm tightly around me…
John: What color were his eyes that day?
Craig: Oh, boy, they were blue. God, they were blue! And as I went swimming in his limpid ocean eyes it occurred to me that he was a fine actor from Philadelphia.
Actors are always looking for things to act in. And actors are in the same boat as you are. Most of them aren’t working, and aren’t being asked to act. Forget being paid to act; they aren’t even being allowed to act.
You’re always allowed to write. They’re not even allowed to act. That is very frustrating. So, if you hook up with some programs, and Philadelphia is a big city and they have some great universities and institutions, I suspect…
John: Well, and Andrew went to film school in Philadelphia, so he says, so he must know people who he went to film school with.
Craig: Yeah, yeah, exactly. So, get yourself some actors together. Write something that you know you can direct. So, write something that is achievable and small. And make it. Make it with your iPhone, for the love of god. It’s HD.
Make it with whatever you want. Make a little movie. Make a short.
Somehow Rian Johnson managed to make Brick. And, you know, the funny thing is, I don’t even thing he was in LA at the time.
John: He was in LA, actually. He went to USC for film school, so I think he did.
Craig: Oh, he was, okay. But you don’t need to be. The point is really if you are as good as you say, and you’ve got the goods, and you can make ten, or 20 minutes, or 30 minutes, or who knows, even a full feature, a little small movie, and it’s good, you’re done. You’re good. You win. Do it.
John: One of the things, this sort of goes back to my New Year’s resolution. I was talking about sprinting versus marathons. And so this TV pilot, I was actually able to sort of sprint in that I could write it so fast, I could sort of sprint through it. It never sort of got to be a slog because it’s only 60 pages. I’m just sort of zooming through it. It was very quick and easy to do. And TV pilots, at least you can write them in a sprint, and they’re very quick and simple.
A movie is a marathon. A movie is, you know, just a very long process. It’s a long process to write it. Like you always feel like it’s stuck sort of halfway in the middle of it and you’re fighting your way through it, but you get it done. And this musical like doesn’t even compare. It’s like a migration. You’re just traveling across the country in it and you sort of setup camp and setup villages.
What Andrew right now needs to do, and why I think the idea of making a little movie or making a short is crucial, is he needs to sprint. He needs to do some quick little sprints to make sure he’s got his skills up and sort of keep going while he’s earning some money in Philadelphia.
But what he shouldn’t try to do is bog down in the marathon of trying to make — he shouldn’t go on a four-year odyssey to make this movie in Philadelphia. He needs to make some small things and then save up enough money that he can get out to Los Angeles if that’s really where he wants to be. Because my evergreen advice is that the luxury of being 22 years old is that you are great at being broke. You are great at sleeping on floors, and eating Top Ramen three meals a day, and being poor.
And LA is just as good of a city to be poor in as anywhere else. So, you may think like, “Oh, I don’t have enough money to come to LA,” but it may be easier to do it now then to do it five years from now. And if you need to save — if it’s a year you need to save up some money to get out here. Great. Let’s spend that year earning your money, making some little short things, writing as much as you can, but do get out here because otherwise you’re going to find it hard once you get other obligations.
Craig: Yeah, man, you’re 22. The one thing you have is energy. Put it to good use. You’re unstoppable and you’re immortal, and unlike me and unlike John you don’t have children, as we’ve said before, devouring your soul on a daily basis. Just sapping your energy and reminding you that you’ve been genetically replaced.
John: They’re beautiful little anchors tying you down.
Craig: That’s right. And basically just slowly burying you.
John: Craig, it’s come to that time, but I think we kind of already know what your One Cool Thing is so why don’t you just start.
Craig: Ouais. It’s Quebec. So, I was thinking maybe over the holidays I would go to Europe because my kids are old enough now, they’re 11 and 8, and I thought, “Well, you know, they could appreciate now if we went to Paris, or London.”
But, you know, the time change and the getting them back in school, it’s sort of a nightmare. And if we had had the whole time of the vacation to do it, it would have been fine, but we didn’t. We only really had just a week.
And so my wife very smartly zeroed in on Montreal and Quebec City. And, you know, Quebec City in particular really is Europe in North America. It’s great. Beautiful, beautiful place. We had a great time. The people were wonderful.
I got to use my French, which is broken and limited, but still was enough to get by. And most people — in Montreal practically everyone is bilingual. In Quebec, you know, some people are bilingual. Some people sort of speak English the way I speak French.
Craig: But it was great. And it was cold. [laughs] And it was really awesome.
John: You had about two hours of daylight, didn’t you? Darkness fell really early, didn’t it?
Craig: Yeah, it definitely got dark early. But, you know, I like cold places. The whole world — Quebec City just looked like a snow globe. The streets were almost impossibly picturesque. And we ate poutine. I guess that’s specifically my One Cool Thing. You know, poutine is sort of the national snack food of French Canada, and it is French fries with gravy and cheese curds.
And everybody goes, “Oh, gross,” and I think it’s because of the word “curd,” which is a disgusting word. Curd. Not the people, Kurd. Those are lovely people. I mean C-U-R-D. Just something about it sounds nasty.
But really all cheese curds are, they’re just string cheese, you know. When we call it string cheese it’s totally cool. That’s how I got my son to try it. I’m like, “It’s just string cheese in tinier bits.”
But, you know, cheese on fries is a good thing. And then gravy with cheese and fries is spectacular. Obviously not very good for you; don’t eat a lot of it. But, it’s really, really good, particular on a negative 18 degree day.
John: I have good friends, Leanne and Matt, who live up in Montreal. And I would highly recommend it to anybody, particularly if you’re in the Northeast anyway; like why are you not going up there for just a lurk? Because it is the quickest European trip you can take, just across the border.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, if you’re in New York or Boston you can drive to Quebec City if you want. It’s great. And we took — to get back and forth between Montreal and Quebec we did the train, which was also awesome. It was great. Everything about it was great. Rave review. I love you, French Canada. And if you’re a fan of maple, then you should go there also, [laughs], because they’ve figured out how to make all foods out of maple.
John: Yes. So, my One Cool Thing this week is a tool I found myself having to use a lot this week just sort of randomly called Coffeescript. And Coffeescript is a programming language, kind of. It’s a scripting language but you can actually use it to write a little bit more sophisticated programs.
And there’s something really great to be said about something that is so straightforward that I can willingly just forget it, and forget how to do it, and figure out how to use it again when I need to use it.
Craig: I loved that.
John: And it’s just the better version of that. It’s like if we’d started making computers and we’d all just taken a big step back and said, “What would be better than BASIC? Oh, we can do this thing called Coffeescript.” And it’s just lovely.
Or, if you loved HyperCard on the Macintosh, you know, the HyperTalk, the programming language. It’s like that in ways that are rewarding. And you can just read it in a very natural way. So, even if you’ve never experienced it before, you just look at the program and go, “Oh, yeah, I get what that does.”
Craig: And what are the specific applications that you would want to use Coffeescript for?
Craig: That’s actually a coding language in Quebec that is very popular there, and it’s made entirely of maple.
John: I bet it’s delicious.
Craig: You can eat it! You can eat it. You can put it on your poutine. It doesn’t do anything, [laughs], but it’s really good.
John: Yeah, it’s good stuff.
Craig: Yes. The word for maple in French is l’érable. What a great word. Well, érable is maple. L’érable is THE maple. I’m on maple again. It’s really, really delicious. Somebody should make a… — You — You! — should make a new programming language.
John: Called Maple.
Craig: Called Maple.
John: There already is one called Maple. I don’t even remember what it is, but it’s like Maple 5. There’s some big computer thing called Maple. And I’ll have Stuart look it up and put a link to it in the show notes.
Which is why we should say, anything talked about today in Scriptnotes including, I don’t know, maybe we’ll put a link to Quebec City and Montreal, and certainly Coffeescript, all of these things will be at the bottom of the podcast. If you listen to it in iTunes, they will be at johnaugust.com/podcast which is where we store the show notes for all of our episodes.
And thank you again for listening everybody.
Craig: Thanks everyone. Welcome to 2013. Hey, John, let’s have a great year.
John: Let’s have a fantastic year. And one last resolution if I can ask people to do. If you’re a person who listens to the podcast on the website, that’s great, we love you. Thank you for doing that.
If you have iTunes, can you just click “Subscribe” in iTunes so it actually comes through to your thing, because it’s hard for us to keep track of how many people are really listening and sort of what our ratings are if you are just listening to it on the site.
So, if you are listening to this in a browser right now and you have iTunes nearby, just hit “Subscribe” right there in iTunes so it will show up right as we are tracking the metrics for things.
Craig: Yeah, because we don’t know if we have — we have somewhere between two and fourteen-billion listeners.
John: Roughly in that territory.
Craig: Yeah. We finally zeroed into that range.
John: Craig, thank you so much. Have a good week.
Craig: Thank you, John. See you next week.