The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Scriptnotes, episode 79, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Now, Craig, how often in your daily life does somebody say, “Oh, I listen to your show,” or, “I like your podcast.” Does that happen to you very much?
Craig: It’s been happening more and more. In fact, I was at Paramount a couple of weeks ago for a meeting and they didn’t have my pass to get on the lot. And they send you to a little security hut. And in the security hut I had to give the guy my name. And there was a woman there who was also a security guard. And she said, “Oh, you do that podcast. I listen to the podcast.” And then we talked about the podcast.
It seems like it happens three times a week now.
John: That’s great. I’ve been in New York, so it doesn’t happen to me quite as often in New York because it’s not a film town, but weirdly in the cast of Big Fish no one seems to listen to the podcast in the actual cast, but two people have friends or loved ones who listen to it.
So, Kate Baldwin, who is a part of our cast, her husband listens to the show. So, I am going to embarrass him publicly by mentioning him, calling him out. And also Bobby Steggert has a friend who listens to the show. So, that’s just odd, because these aren’t film people. But they do listen to the show, or they know people who listen to the show which is just odd, and strange, and small town-ish.
Craig: It is. It is strange. And it occurred to me that you and I have been screenwriting for many, many, many years. And this is sort of the screenwriter’s lament: The second we do something that is vaguely peripherally performance-oriented, suddenly we are noticed and we get attention. It’s just one of those things. There’s nothing like being onscreen or on the air. There’s no substitute, if your goal is to be noticed or recognized in any way — and mine is not, I don’t think yours is either.
John: Not a bit.
Craig: But it is an interesting sociological observation.
John: Yes. So, today Craig I thought we would take a look at this old post of mine that suddenly got a lot of attention, it got on Reddit this last week for kind of no good reason, but it kind of had relevant stuff that we should talk about on the podcast anyway.
And then we would do some Three Page Challenges because we hadn’t done those for awhile.
Craig: Yes. I’m excited. And I’m prepared.
John: Let’s do it.
Craig: I even have One Cool Thing today.
John: Oh my gosh, you are just so prepared!
Craig: Yeah, well, ever since you embarrassed me.
John: Yeah. That’s nice. Embarrassment is actually a good motivational tool. It’s not really a carrot or a stick; it’s its own kind of third thing.
Craig: It is. And I am particularly susceptible to shame.
John: Oh, good. See, we’ve learned so much already in the podcast.
John: Mm-hmm. Now, we’ll start with this post that I did which actually was way back in 2007. I wrote this post called How to Write a Scene, which was a post on johnaugust.com, and it was just 11 little steps of, like, these are things you need to be thinking about when you’re writing a scene.
And so it was sitting up there for a good long time. And this last week a guy named Ryan Rivard made a little graphic version of it, basically made the list and sort of nicely types up the list. And it just sort of got kind of weirdly viral. He passed it around and linked it to me on Twitter. And I said, “Oh, that’s nice,” I linked it back out. And then last night it showed up on Reddit on the front page.
And so our music coordinator from Big Fish emailed me, said like, “Hey, you’re on the front page of Reddit,” which is just really strange.
And so if you read through the comments on Reddit they’re kind of maddening because it’s a lot of people who are sort of writing in with like their reactions to the graphic version of it rather than the full version of it.
Craig: [laughs] Well, Reddit is definitely chaotic.
John: Yes. But you sort of embrace the chaos of that. And some people did link to the actual real post. And so I wanted to get back to the actual post. And so if you are going to read along at home with us there will be a link to this on the show notes at johnaugust.com.
So, this is the post. And I asked sort of 11 questions. And I thought we would talk through it and see what you agree with, what you don’t agree with, and sort of elaborate more fully.
Craig: Let me give you a preview: There won’t be much fighting today.
John: Okay. It’s not going to be one of those cantankerous ones?
Craig: No. There is almost no umbrage to be detected.
John: Great. But we could maybe push further. Maybe even find a 12th or a 13th point.
Craig: I like it.
John: The first questions I always ask is what needs to happen in this scene. And this is deliberately a reaction against sort of the classic advice which is always to be thinking about what does the character want, what does the character need. To me character want and character need are hugely important, but they’re hugely important in like the macro sense.
They’re important in the what is the actual goal of the story, but when it comes down to the individual scene I find that it’s not a very useful question to be asking because, well, you could say that that character wants to get this piece of information out of somebody. Well, yes, that’s sort of the point of what you’re actually going to do in a scene, but if you want to say that character wants recognition, or that character wants love from her father, that’s not going to be an achievable thing within that scene.
Craig: Right. Very true. We had said a few podcasts ago that one way of thinking about the scene that’s about to follow is not “and then” but “so then.” The scene must be required or it will be lifted out of the movie for sure.
One thing that I do when I outline, you know, I have my card that says “What happens in the scene?” and then I do a card next to it that says “Why it’s happening?”And if you can’t explain why it needs to be there in the story then maybe the stuff that’s happening in that scene is unnecessary or should be folded into another scene. Nothing wrong with a combo.
John: Well, that anticipates point two on my list which is the question, what’s the worst that could happen if this scene were omitted? And that’s really the point of your second card is that if you can’t say clearly and definitely, “This is why this scene must be in the film,” then that scene probably won’t be in that film. If you’ve actually gotten some movies made you’ll recognize that. A scene could be perfectly lovely, but if it’s not advancing your story in a way that needs to happen, or it isn’t integral to the point of the story, it’s not going to last in your movie.
And so if you have things that are funny, or great, or meaningful, or emotional, make sure those are happening in a scene that actually has to be in your movie. Because if you look at director’s commentaries or like DVD versions of movies that have deleted scenes, you’ll say like, “Oh, that’s a fascinating scene,” but you’ll also usually say, “I can totally see why they deleted it because it wasn’t integral to the story.”
Craig: Yeah. I was talking to a friend a couple of months ago. He showed me an early cut of a movie that he had made. And there was one scene that I thought should just come out because it was doing precisely what we’re talking about, not moving the ball forward.
And he said, “Well, you know, that’s a good point. And the good news is that we could lift it right out and nothing would change.” And I said, “Ah-ha! That, my friend, is not a happy accident. That is probably why you should lift it out.” If you can, and nothing is disrupted around it, well, we have point two of your excellent list.
John: Great. I want to sort of go back to both of these points and look at them together, because in looking at what needs to happen in the scene, sometimes you will have an outline. And sometimes you’ll be able to look at your outline and say, okay, this is the two-sentence version of what needs to happen in this scene.
But a lot of times I find writers are approaching the scene with a bunch of ideas, it’s sort of like a bucket of, like, “These are the kind of cool things that could happen in this thing,” or “I just get the characters talking and I sort of listen.” Okay, that can be a good way to hear characters’ voices. That’s generally not a good way to get the actual purpose of the scene achieved. Like, a scene tends to be as short as it possibly can be to achieve its goal. And if you just get stuff started you’re unlikely to come out with a really meaningful scene.
So, you have to look at like why is this scene here. Because sometimes I’ve — this is my own personal introspection — but sometimes I’ve written some really nice scenes that are just really nice scenes that don’t actually achieve the purpose I need to achieve and I’ve wasted two hours of my time.
Craig: And as screenwriters we have to be not only aware of this in the work that we do, but also aware of it when other people are making suggestions for the work we do. Directors, in particular, can be susceptible to places, actions, scenarios, “cool stuff.” And they want you to put it in.
And you must always remember that simply because somebody thinks it’s cool and wants you to put it in doesn’t mean it ought to be there. So, you have a choice of either saying, “No, and here’s why, but,” or, seeing if you can put something like that in and repurpose another purpose from another scene. But to just shove stuff in… — And sometimes we’re the only people in the room that get that. And so, don’t worry about that; just know that you’re right.
John: Yeah. I think I’ve told this story on the podcast before, and in no way am I trying to libel McG who I do deeply adore, although you’ll understand my frustrations as I tell you the story.
McG directed the two Charlie’s Angels movies. And I described our relationship as being like together we are trying to bake a cake. And he would keep saying, “No, no, more sugar, more sugar, more sugar.” It was like, “McG, I have to add some flour. It’s going to fall apart.”
“No, more sugar, more sugar.” And the minute I would turn my back to grab a bowl he would dump more sugar into it. And that was the frustration of like I know the things I need to actually put in this in order for it to do its goal which is to bake properly in the oven. And too much sugar and it just doesn’t actually work.
Some people like things really, really sweet and that kind of break their teeth. That was a point of frustration at times.
Craig: But also the inspiration for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
John: Exactly, in some ways.
Point three: Who needs to be in the scene? This is a fundamental question, but I often find people aren’t asking the question when they’re starting the scene. A lot of times they’ll say, “Well, here’s the characters I have, so let me put them in the scene.” And so you’ll end up with like five characters in the scene and you recognize like, “Oh, you know what? This character didn’t actually say anything in this scene, or in the scene before, but we’ve established them in the world so therefore they need to be there.”
I call this the Kal Penn problem because in Superman Returns, Kal Penn is a whole bunch of scenes but doesn’t actually have anything to say or do. And he becomes this weird extra in these scenes.
So, look at who absolutely has to be in the scene, who can do meaningful things in the scene, and if you can possibly help it don’t put anyone else in the scene who doesn’t need to be there unless they are genuinely background — they’re there to make the world complete in that they are lovely set dressing but they are not actually characters.
Craig: Great, great point. And it’s okay if you have a character that you’re “stuck with” because they’re very important for a scene here and a scene 12 scenes later, and they’re on a trip. But, give them one thing. Give them a line. Have them drop something. Have them mess something up. Have them make an interesting point. Sometimes the silent person can surprise us by the fact that they’ve been silent. Use that.
I mean, Zach Galifianakis, his favorite kind of scene is the scene where he has one line. And he’s just quiet, and sitting back, and then suddenly, boom, three-pointer, and then right back to the background. Nothing wrong with that. And in the emotional space of experiencing the movie, those little moments sometimes seem to expand in our minds more than just the word count involved.
So, don’t neglect those characters.
John: I will say that there might be times where structurally some character needs to be along on some part of the journey, but there may be a reason why you don’t want them part of the scene. And by asking the question and thinking about the question, and getting to this next question of where the scene could take place, you can sometimes separate them off or get them out of that tent so you can have the characters who actually have something meaningful to do in that conversation have their privacy and have their moment just to themselves.
So, you don’t feel like it’s… — Two people can play ping pong. Three people playing ping pong is always going to be weird. And the more people you add in, the harder it is to have any scene have a shape to it.
Craig: Yeah, I’ll give you an example. In the Hangover II there’s a scene toward the end of the movie where Stu, Ed Helms’s character, has given up. And he’s given up even on the idea of being married. And he’s tossed his passport into the Chao Phraya River. And he’s basically saying, “I deserve my fate.” And this is a scene really between him and Bradley Cooper. But, of course, Zach is there.
Well, we just gave Zach something to do, and it was funny. Because here are these two guys dealing with this terrible existential crisis and Zach is merrily eating ice cream and playing Ms. Packman. And it was great. It was a little character moment for him.
So, yeah, go ahead, separate them off. Give them a little tiny piece of something to do. The audience gets it, as long as it seems natural that they wouldn’t be involved in the conversation.
John: So, we anticipated this question, but where could the scene take place? And so often you’ll see things that are written towards generic locations just because like, well, they would be in their house because that’s where this would take place, or it would be at a police station, or it would be in a parking garage. And those are almost never the right choices. They are exactly the kind of places we see in movies all the time.
A lot of times you’ll see television shows and they are written towards those locations because those are their sets, those are their standing places where they need to be. But there is no reason why your movie, especially if it’s a spec where it has nothing to do with anything else in the world, it doesn’t have to take place in those boring environments. So, look for what are the interesting locations you could set these stories.
I’ve told this on the podcast before, but one of the directors I’ve worked with, she does not want to see any set twice. And one of her rules is that once something has cleared the stage she doesn’t want to see it again, and she doesn’t want to come back to those places, because subconsciously we think, “Well, we’re back where we were before.” And rarely do you really want to go back to the place you were before. You want to keep moving forward.
Craig: Yeah. Exactly true. And I’m a big believer in specificity in all things. If you are not specific in your location, well, fellow screenwriter, somebody will be specific on your behalf. But you name is on the script. And while we don’t always get our way, it would be a shame if you didn’t try and get your way. So, be specific.
John: Yeah. If something needs to take place in an office, like it genuinely is a business kind of thing that needs to take place in an office, throw us a line or two of color that make this office specific and different from any other office. If it’s a bank, do something with the bank that it’s a different kind of bank than just the generic sort of Savings & Loan kind of thing that we see so often in films.
It doesn’t have to be sort of magical, it doesn’t have to the fanciest richest bank of all time. It just needs to feel like it’s one place in one time. And it’s not just a slug line with no color to it.
John: Question five is probably the most controversial thing in the short version of the list, which is what is the most surprising thing that could happen in this scene? And by this I mean as you start to write the scene, take a second and think, “Okay, I have my outline. I think I know what is supposed to happen in this scene, but let’s step back and say what wouldn’t I expect as a person watching this movie to happen at this moment?”
Answering these other questions — who is in the scene, where it’s taking place — is there something that is genuinely surprising? Because so often I will read scripts where almost everything that happens in a script is exactly what I would anticipate is going to happen in this script, be it a drama, be it a comedy, be it a horror movie. I’ve seen it before. It’s the same pieces, just assembled in a slightly different way.
If there’s something you can genuinely surprise me with, I’m going to be excited and keep reading. Not every surprise is a good surprise, but there should be a couple of real genuine surprises in your film. And always look as you’re starting a scene — could this be that surprising scene?
Craig: And obviously there are big surprises that we do in movies, twists and turns and dramatic reversals. But there are also those little tiny, tiny surprises. Nobody expects someone to lean in for a kiss in a romantic moment and knock a drink over. Always look to subvert what is “supposed to happen.”
That is the number one thing, when people say things like, “Well, the scene could just be a little more fun, or a little more interesting,” they never know what they’re asking for. But what they’re asking for is to be surprised, in little tiny ways and big ways.
John: So, as you’re doing that last sort of check before you really start writing, think about what do you have in your arsenal. What came before? What’s coming up? And what is in that little space that’s right there that would throw you off your game if it were to happen? And this could be that scene.
Most things won’t be that scene, so I think the danger with this surprise question is you think, well, every scene has to be completely brand new and original and like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Your readers would stop trusting you if every scene goes in completely bizarre different directions that they don’t know what’s going next.
Readers have a sense of expectation. They’ve followed you in this journey and you’re asking them to trust you on this journey. So, you want most of the times the things that happen in a scene should be the kinds of things that the reader would expect could happen in it. But every once in a while you subvert that expectation. It’s the same way that jokes are funny because you build a set of expectations and then every once and awhile you pull out the rug and surpass your expectations.
Craig: Yeah, you know, there’s this great moment in Due Date where Robert Downey, Jr. on the heels of Zach’s character talking about his late father tells the story of how his father walked out on him. And he never heard from him again. And Zach just laughs in his face and says, “Oh my god. That sounds ridiculous. My dad would have never done that. My dad loved me.” [laughs] And it’s not at all what’s supposed to happen.
And frankly if you look at that scene on a card, there’s no surprise to that scene.
Craig: It’s a very typical dramatic scene where somebody is giving an emotional backstory. But it’s a surprise in how it was executed. And so that’s what we mean by these little micro surprises. They don’t throw you off your story. They don’t knock you out of the formula of your narrative. But they do keep the moments fresh and interesting.
John: Yeah. And in that case it was a major character who was doing something you weren’t expecting. But sometimes it can be that minor character, that day player who is basically the cashier. And so we sort of know how the cashier transaction is supposed to work, but if that cashier just suddenly clocked you in the face, that would be surprising. And that’s the kind of jolt that could work in some movies.
John: Next question is, is this a long scene or a short scene? And this is a trap that I know I have fallen into a lot where I will write like the two page scene of something and realize, like, “Oh man — that really shouldn’t be two pages. That should be three-eighths at the most. It’s really meant to be a transitional moment to take us from this thing to that thing.” And I’ve made a meal out of something that was supposed to just be an appetizer.
Craig: Yeah. And I guess this… — All of these go really to the question of preparation. When you sit down to write your scene, do you know what you’re doing or not? So many of these come back to that basic question. I’m not one of these people that sits and just starts typing and where will I go and where will the muse take me. Be prepared.
Some scenes should be short and punchy. And some scenes deserve breadth because what’s happening in them wants to be elongated. You have to know, dramatically speaking, if what is happening wants to be elongated, or wants to be staccato.
John: Yeah. And there may be a reason why that certain card on your big corkboard, it’s written as one card, like it’s one scene. But it’s really part of a sequence. Or like you’re going through a series of spaces to achieve this thing. It’s a walk through a restaurant, and a park — it’s a conversation that’s happening in different places, so it’s not all one block of conversation.
Just expect that it’s not going to necessarily be a two page scene, a two page scene, a one page scene, a two page scene. There are going to be a lot of little chunks. And every once and awhile you will get that bigger thing and people will be excited, like, “Oh, we’re actually staying in this moment for a good long time.” And then it’s worth it because you do it. But, you have to anticipate that from the start.
And I will back track a little bit. You said you’re not a person who sits down and just starts writing and sees where the muse takes you. I think that sitting down and writing can be very helpful early on in the process where you kind of don’t know who the characters are. You don’t know what the characters’ voices are, and so I’ll often just like start the characters talking and just listen to them for awhile. But that’s not the finished scene. That’s just sort of work for myself.
Sometimes I’ll except little bits of that or I’ll find little things that are funny from there, but that’s not the actual scene itself.
Craig: Correct. Correct.
John: Seventh step for me is to brainstorm three different ways it could begin. And the reason why I say three different ways is that so often you will just go with like your first instinct, and your first instinct may not be a great instinct. It may be sort of a very safe common instinct. Sort of the “walking through a door” kind of instinct.
Look for ways to start the scene that isn’t the most obvious way. A lot of times you’re looking for what is the first line that somebody says in a scene and that’s the first way you’re going to start it. But sometimes it’s a reveal. Sometimes it’s an image. Sometimes there is a different way to begin that. And it’s worth pausing for a minute or two to think of different ways you could start the scene.
Craig: I have a — I don’t know if you’d call this an additional, but it’s whatever number you’re up to, part B, or part A — and that is to think transitionally, always. Because, again, if you don’t come up with the transitions somebody will volunteer and do it for you.
So, when I’m planning a scene, usually the day before I’ve planned the transition out of one and into the other, which is a great way of thinking about how to start the scene because it’s intentional and it’s editorial and it will help all parties involved.
So, when I’m working on the scene today I probably know from yesterday how it should start. When I figure out how it should end I start thinking about the next scene and how that one should start.
And in this way, hopefully, you create a sense of seamlessness throughout. So, excellent advice to think about beginnings. And I would just add: Think about them transitionally.
John: Now, I often write out of sequence, so I will write just a given scene devoid of knowing exactly how the previous scene started, or how the next scene would go.
But, if I’m writing that scene independently, I’m really thinking about how I’m getting into the scene and thinking about how I’m getting out of the scene, and what works best for that scene. By the time I’m writing the scenes that surround it I’ll some idea of — I’ll know sort of what it’s going to go into, and so it will influence the scenes around it.
So, even if you’re writing out of sequence, it’s good to think about how you might get into that and how you might get out of it when you actually get those other scenes written.
Craig: Correct. Yeah. Just know that that’s part of your job.
John: And be aware of how you’re doing it in other scenes, because you don’t want to do every scene the same way.
John: You don’t want to always just come in in the middle of a conversation. Sometimes you really do need to walk somebody through the door. Other times you’re going to want to start on an image and go shot by shot. A lot of times scenes are going to be scenes that don’t have any dialogue, where you’re just watching something happen. And be mindful of how you’re doing your scenes and how to vary them so it doesn’t feel the same.
Craig: Yeah. Variety is key. There are very simple stock transitions that aren’t to be avoided because they’re common; sometimes they’re exactly what’s needed. Sometimes you just need a shot of a car driving down the road and then we’re inside the car. That’s okay.
But think in terms of audio and visual. Sometimes you can do an audio transition. Sometimes you want the transition to be visual. Sometimes you want it to be a little tricky and a little clever. Sometimes you don’t. Think about big. Think about small. Think about how your scene ends. Does it end small? Try and start the next one big. Scene ends big, start the next one small. Little tricks.
John: And big and small, sometimes that means visually, but sometimes it means big sound, little sound. Sometimes that transition is the chime of an open car door, and like that’s the reveal that’s getting us into this next thing. So, be thinking in more than just one sense.
John: Step eight for me is to play it on the big screen in my head. And I stress the big scene. Literally, you close your eyes. You sort of see what it is that the scene is that you’re trying to write. And sort of visualize what it’s going to look like on a screen.
Sometimes I feel like I’m in that space and I’m just looking around. I’m sitting in the room with the character. Sometimes I’m watching it sort of on a flat screen. But the important part is I’m just watching it sort of happen. And I don’t sort of force it to happen in any specific way. But I’m sort of observing it. It’s loose blocking in a way of like these are the kinds of things that are going to happen in the scene. This is what is going to be talked about. And you just let it loop.
And for me I just let it loop, and loop, and loop until I can start to hear what the characters are saying, if it starts to be, like, okay we’d start here, we’d go to here. These are the things that would happen. And you’re seeing a sort of rough version of it playing in your head.
Do you loop? Is that a way you tend to approach a scene? Or you just start writing on the screen itself?
Craig: No, I absolutely do what you do. It is a form of daydreaming. If you’re not fond of or good at daydreaming, find another thing to do. Because that’s what’s screenwriting is. It’s rigorous, structured daydreaming.
Craig: And so because it’s so important to write visually, you know my whole shower fetish. So, I get in the shower and I start thinking about the scene and I start absolutely building it and watching it in my head. And when you start to watch the scene in your head it forces you to account for things that I think you wouldn’t otherwise account for.
Like what does the room look like, and smell like, and is it bright, is it dark, is it cramped, is it smoky, is it noisy? All the things that you can use inside of a scene are suddenly available to you by requirement because you’re watching it.
So, I don’t know how else you could do it.
John: There have been a couple times where I’ve really been slammed on getting something done, and in television especially where it literally was sort of brute force. Like, okay, I sort of know where this is going and I would jam it through. There are times where it’s the one-eighth of a page where you’re literally walking somebody through a room, or it’s just really quick, sort of mechanical writing.
But for any scene that actually has meat and substance to it, where characters are going to be talking, and something is going to happen in this scene that’s going to transform the story, you owe it to everybody to really loop that scene and really get the best version of it playing in your head.
And it doesn’t need to be perfect, and I won’t know every line of dialogue, and I won’t know exactly what it is, but I’ll get to a point where it’s like, “Okay, I can see it, I can see it.” And I get to the next step which is what I’ll call the Scribble Version, where I just make sure to get it down on paper or on screen in just the worst possible form as quickly as possible, just notes for myself so I can remember what it was, and so I can recreate that looped version and I want forget it when I start writing the real scene.
Craig: I do that, too. Sometimes after the shower I will go to my computer and type an email to myself that’s just the dialogue, because I know what the dialogue is connected to. The dialogue helps me — that essentially is the spine that I will reconnect all the visuals and the transitions and everything to. But that’s the stuff that’s so wordy it needs to be memorialized or I’m going to forget, particularly if I really like the way I said some line or another.
And then I’ll send that to myself, and that’s basically my cheat sheet for the day’s work.
John: Yeah. So, that scribble version — I should stress — it shouldn’t be perfect. And even if you’re writing dialogue, it won’t be the best dialogue. It won’t be perfect dialogue. There is probably some stuff in there that you love, but it’s not going to be perfect, it’s just going to be enough to let you know how you’re getting through the scene. And then when it comes time to write the real scene you will do the laborious exacting X-ACTO Knife work of getting all those words to fit together just right. And figuring out like that tense is tipping this off. You will do all that precise detailing.
But the scribble version is just meant to be scribbling. It’s not meant to be the final version of the scene. And the few times where I’ve tried to make that scribble thing too perfect, I’ve ended up forgetting what my intention was when I started writing it down.
Craig: Yup. Exactly.
John: In writing the full scene, use your notes. I find as I’m going from the scribble version to the real version, sometimes I will have a better idea. And that’s great, that’s fine. If in writing the more precise version of the dialogue you recognize like, “Oh you know, there’s actually a better opportunity for what I could do in the scene, or a different way I could do it.”
Take advantage of that. Just like you shouldn’t feel lockstep bound to your outline, don’t feel lockstep bound to your scribble version. Just write the best possible scene you could write.
Craig: Yeah. You know the first version is not going to make it anyway. It’s funny. I play this little game with myself every time I see one of my scripts turned into a movie. And it’s called the What Words Survived Game.
And the idea is you will write tens of thousands of words. And you will revise, and revise, and revise. Which ones will make it? [laughs] So few as it turns out take the journey all the way from beginning to end. So few.
So, know that and accept it. And suddenly, ah, isn’t that freeing to know from the start that it’s okay that 80% or 90% of the words you’re writing today that you are appropriately fussing over, they’re not your last shot.
John: I want to stress that “appropriately fussing,” because it doesn’t mean that they’re not important. They’re incredibly, insanely important. They need to be ready to be shot tomorrow.
Craig: They just won’t be. [laughs]
John: …they won’t be. It’s not going to end up being exactly what you thought it was going to be. Things will change. Accept that as well. It doesn’t give you permission to not be great. And that full scene needs to be shootable. And I get frustrated — and some of the samples we’re going to look at today — they aren’t shootable scenes. They aren’t anywhere near what they need to be to get onto the page. They feel more like what my scribble version should be.
Craig: Yeah. Think of your first draft like ancestors. If they’re not alive then the eventual chosen one will never be born. So, they need to be crafted correctly because they’re what get you to the next one, and to the next one, and to the next one.
John: Absolutely. Every draft along the way should be shootable. You should never turn in something that’s not done. If you are — if you’re writing a scriptment, if you’re writing one of those James Cameron Alien scriptments, god bless you. That’s great. That’s fantastic. That’s a helpful part of your process. Do like the thing where you don’t have full dialogue, you just sort of have big blocks of pieces. If that’s useful to you, fantastic.
But that’s not a screenplay. That’s not a final script. And when you’re writing real scenes, write real scenes.
Craig: Yeah, you won’t make it otherwise.
And my last point was also kind of misinterpreted in the Reddit version. It says: Repeat 200 times. And by that I actually meant that most scripts you’re going to write like 200 scenes for them. People think like, “Oh, it’s 120 pages, so maybe it’s 100 scenes or something.” No, actually most scripts consist of a lot of smaller little moments.
And we think about, like oh, you’re writing those big moments, you don’t recognize that most of the bulk of a screenplay are those little scenes. And you’re going to be doing that again, and again, and again. It’s a much more intensive process than you realize.
Craig: Yeah. I guess the 10,000 hours thing applies, huh?
John: Yeah. So, by the time you’ve written a screenplay you’ve written probably 200 scenes. You’ve spent a zillion hours on it. And you’re going to spend a zillion more hours on that script, and then a zillion more hours on the next script. And that’s the nature of it.
Craig: Yup. That’s what we do.
John: That’s what we do. Another thing we do on this podcast is sometimes read Three Page Challenge samples that were sent in by our listeners.
John: And so there’s a frequent question. People who follow us on Twitter will ask, “Hey, are you still accepting Three Page Challenges?” And the answer is always yes, We’ve decided we are having an open, no-deadline for Three Page Challenge.
What you do if you want to submit a sample of your three pages to us, go to johnaugust.com/threepage. It’s spelled out “threepage.” And there are guidelines there for if you want to submit your samples, how you do it, what you need to include, some boilerplate legal text so you don’t sue us. And Stuart takes a look at any of those emails that have the proper boilerplate and picks them out and sends them to me and Craig.
So, I don’t read all of them, Craig doesn’t read all of them, but Stuart — god bless him — does read all of them.
Craig: God bless him.
John: God bless Stuart. And three of the ones that were sent to us today we will be reading. And let me start with — this is actually a rarity, which is a script by Josh Golden, and one of the ones that does not start on page one.
Most of the times people send in these scripts they’re starting on page one, and so the very start of the script. Josh sent us page 14, 15, and 16.
Craig: I liked his moxie. I loved it.
John: I loved his moxie.
So, while I loved his moxie, I was also a little confused by how it started, and so I just chose to kind of ignore the first three-eighths of the page on page 14 because it involves monsters, I think. And Drake — I had no context of who these people are.
Craig: I tried the same thing. I took at stab at the little remnant of the scene that we don’t see on page 13. It didn’t make sense because we don’t know the context, so I just forgave it and moved onto the middle of the page.
John: Great. So, let me give the summary for Josh Golden’s script. We don’t know the title of the script, so it’s a script maybe with monsters in it.
Craig: Untitled Josh Golden Project.
John: I love it. And big seller on Variety.
John: We start in The Summers Home. It’s evening. It’s a ranch house that’s a little bit run down. 37-year-old Sarah Summers, she’s getting ready for a date. She’s being helped by her 18-year-old daughter, Alex. Sarah is concerned she looks “mom-ish.”
Downstairs her date, Nick, maybe it’s not downstairs, but elsewhere in the house her date Nick, who’s 35, is talking with Ben and Maggie. Ben is 13, Maggie is 6, who are apparently also Sarah’s kids. Sarah comes out. Nick brought her a single rose, just like on The Bachelor. And as we leave these pages they prepare to go out the door on their date.
Craig: So, in terms of the mechanics of things, the way the pages layout, everything seems quite nice. The descriptions, I thought, were appropriate length. The dialogue sounded natural. I guess this is one of those three pages where I shrug a little bit only because, well, let’s tie it back to an earlier discussion — surprise.
There’s no surprise here.
Craig: It’s pretty much…seen this kind of confrontation a gazillion times. It’s a mother whose husband has died or left, she is off on her first date. She says something woeful that we’ve heard — it’s a version of something we’ve heard before. We have the somewhat precocious teenage daughter who is helping her out. Quite a few pop culture references. And more precocious children who are suspicious of the new guy.
If there’s really any crime here — because all of that sort of rises to the test of sort of general rookie sin of mundanity — the only crime really is that this Nick character who is the guy who is coming for the date is incredibly bland. And since we’re meeting him for the first time his blandness is a huge problem, particularly if we are meant to actually care that he ends up with this woman.
John: Yes. I forgot in the preface to say that if you’d like to read these pages with us they’re all at johnaugust.com/podcast and you’ll see all three samples are PDFs right here.
Nick is a problem. But I’d also say I think this is the first time we’re meeting Sarah, and the kids, and everybody else. They’re all capitalized and we’re getting their ages, so this is probably the first time we’re meeting any of these characters.
And so it made me wonder whether their setup kind of deliberately generically so that something bad or funny could happen to them because we’re on page 14. It’s a little bit late to be introducing primary characters, but maybe introduce some characters who are going to be involved in complications along the way.
I agree with you that it was mundane in a way that made me wonder why Josh would send us these pages.
John: Because this felt like they could be pages in any script and there wasn’t anything sort of special or unique about them. There wasn’t anything that says like, “Oh, well this guy is fantastic.” I can say with these pages, like, well this guy knows how to format words on the page and it feels just fine.
The pop culture references, we talked about this on the show before, it really is a frustration to see — there’s a Wisteria Lane reference to Desperate Housewives, Kate Gosselin. It’s like: those are not going to date well in a feature film.
Craig: They don’t date well now.
John: No. And it’s one of those things where like if you’re doing a television show you can kind of get away with it sometimes because television gets made faster, it expires faster. That’s kind of accepted and okay. But these didn’t work out great.
I also had some challenge with some of the references here. Nick is described as, “Nick, 35, attractive in a scruffy Chicago flannel sort of way.” I have no idea what that means. I don’t know what Chicago flannel is. I don’t know what’s special about Chicago flannel.
Craig: Maybe it’s there’s no such fabric as Chicago flannel, I think he meant in a Chicago guy who wears flannel sort of way.
Craig: But then maybe flip the word “scruffy flannel Chicago sort of way.”
John: Maybe like a “Chicago scruffy flannel wearing sort of way.”
Craig: Also, one thing that sort of popped out to me, also, was “Clearly uncomfortable, can’t decide which way to cross his legs. ‘So, you guys are Sarah’s kids, huh? How long has that been going on?'”
A couple things. One, that line is just too doofy. Adults don’t make that mistake. It is — you’re setting up precocious 13-year-old Ben to slap him down with an easy comeback line. But, frankly it is such a weird goofy thing to say that an adult would either not say it or would correct themselves upon saying it.
And also you can’t really decide which way to cross your legs if you have the first line in the scene and nothing else is going on.
John: The other challenge with that line is it doesn’t pass the logic test. It doesn’t pass the logic test that this would be the line he could say at this point, because how did he enter into the house? It’s meant to establish sort of who these people are in the scene, but it’s not a thing that the character could actually say.
Craig: You’re right.
John: And “How long has that been going on,” it feels clammy. It feels like I’ve heard that actual phrasing before.
Craig: I agree. If you want to set up a scene where people who are suspicious or displeased are looking at someone who is trying to win them over, and it’s an awkward situation, then maybe you just show them all sitting silently. And then one person lifts a glass, drinks a little water, puts it down. More silence. Then…
If the object is to portray awkwardness, portray it. but to just jump into a line, you’re right, it seems quite odd. It seems a little sitcomy, because they don’t have the time for that sort of thing. But these are movies; we do have time.
John: One of the opportunities I felt like, so “Maggie, 6, clenching her stuffed monkey,” which she’s a little bit old for a monkey, but that’s okay. Nick could call them, “You seem kind of old for a monkey.” It’s like, “Oh, I’m 6.5.” There’s pointing out sort of the oddness and the awkwardness of it felt like a better opportunity.
John: I also noticed that Maggie’s age is sort of impossible. So, she’s listed in the scene description as “Maggie, 6, clenching her stuffed monkey.”
John: Ben says, “Well Maggie’s 7, I’m 13, you do the math.” Then, “Maggie nudges her brother and whispers in his ear, ‘My mistake. She’s seven and a half.'”
So, is she 6, 7, or 7.5? It’s been two-eighths of a page and we can’t seem to agree on that.
Craig: Certainly for Josh, if you’re going for sort of comic patter, you don’t want to distract with that kind of mistake. It’s okay, it happens sometimes. It wouldn’t be a good deal if it said, “And Maggie, 6, clenching her stuffed monkey,” and a woman says, “Excuse me, have you seen my daughter? She’s seven, she was just here. Oh, I think I saw her over there.”
Okay, you made a mistake, whatever. But, if you’re actually doing dialogue based on her age you can’t really get the age wrong in the description. You’re kind of blowing it.
John: Yeah. So, I’m giving Josh the benefit of the doubt. The fact that page 14 clearly involves monsters of some kind, I’m thinking maybe the Summers family is going to get eaten and that could be fascinating…
Craig: I don’t think so.
John: You don’t think so?
Craig: No. Because there’s too much time and too much characterization for characters who are merely to be eaten. [laughs] I just don’t believe it.
John: Yeah. But here’s the thing: Everything is competently done and I want to stress that that gets you somewhere. Some of these other things don’t achieve competence.
Craig: For sure. Look, sometimes we read pages and I think, “Well, this person can’t do this.” And I don’t think that here, Josh. I think you can do this. I just suspect you’re new at it. And you have a facility, which is a wonderful thing. So, build from that facility and now you have a way of writing scenes that seem properly shaped and so forth. Okay, but now really think. Let’s go a little deeper. I suspect that you have better in you and better to come.
John: Yeah. And your pages are better than Craig’s pages from a long time ago.
Craig: Well, I mean, whose aren’t?
John: [laughs] Let’s do Willa next. Do you want to do that summary?
Craig: Sure. So, Willa, by Kate Powers, opens on the exterior of O’Hare Airport, also Chicago, at night in Winter and we follow some footprints into the airport. And the footprints are matched with a drop of blood along the left footprint of each footprint. And we follow the track into the airport. We are trailing the blood and the muddy footprints into a public restroom where a cleaning woman is wiping away the blood and finally gets to its source which is behind a locked stall. There are no shoes visible but she can smell a homeless person in there and she leaves.
The homeless woman emerges, filthy, early 30s, she’s wearing rags which we get the sense maybe were once actually nice clothes, but something quite awful has happened to this person.
The cleaning woman and an airport cop are about to head in there to apprehend her. We fade to black and now we are flashed back. There is a title card that says, “Denial,” and we’re flashed back to the control room of a studio for a talk show named Willa which is an Oprah-style show.
The woman in the bathroom now looks quite lovely and nice. Her name is Corey. And she’s with her producer. They’re watching Willa conduct an interview with a woman who had fought off a rapist, and they’re sort of critiquing the fact that Willa is about to shift away from this brave woman to switch to a different guy who’s going to give away gifts to the audience.
How was that?
John: That was good. That was a good summary.
Craig: Thank you.
John: This is, again, competent. There’s nothing in here that was sort of badly done. I have some questions about sort of use of time and use of our attention. So, from the very start we fade in and we’re in italics the whole time. And maybe this was a mistake, or maybe this was a deliberate choice to show that this was in the past, but don’t do that. Italics are just a burden to read. So, don’t do italics.
Italics are fantastic for emphasizing that words are in a foreign language, some special emphasis or unique case. Don’t do it for a page. I got a little bit confused with are we following a set of feet or are we following footprints? And ultimately I decided we were following footprints, but because she was saying “sets” and the way we were tracking, I just didn’t believe that we were following footprints.
And I didn’t know that it was necessarily the right image to be getting us into seeing Corey in the bathroom there. I didn’t fully believe it. I didn’t believe that we would be following these footprints through an airport. And if we’re not believing your first image, then that’s an issue.
The cleaning woman smells her, and it’s like, yeah, you can do that sort of sniff-sniff thing, but I don’t — again, sense of smell is not a movie thing. I mean, if you’re going to see that there’s a person in there, you could always sort of look through that crack and see that there is somebody in there. That felt like a more realistic way to get in there.
But, she’s doing a very kind of classic technique, which is where you’re seeing somebody in a terrible situation, and then you’re flashing back to an earlier place in their life where they weren’t in that situation. That’s fine. That’s accepted. And I suspect that this Denial tag is going to be some sort of Kübler-Ross stages of grief. I think there’s going to be some journey that we’re going on. So, I was willing to buy it sort of at the start.
Craig: Yeah. I agree with what you’re saying. First, let’s talk about these footprints. Here’s what I got hung up on. It says in the second paragraph, “Footprints march across the ice-crusted sidewalk, mostly headed towards, loved ones, home. But one set heads into…”
John: That’s what I got confused about!
Craig: Here’s the thing. I wasn’t confused. I understood “footprints march across” implies feet marching across. I was looking at it, okay, I know what she means. She means tracks, not actually feet. What I got hung up on was how in god’s name am I in row 15 going to figure out… — First of all, it’s an airport. People are going in and out of an airport constantly. There’s no airport where everyone walks out and then one set of footprints walks in and I’m supposed to be able to discern the heel and toe pattern of an inward bound footprint.
It is a clever thought, but somebody at some point is going to have to make footprints into an airport. You’re going to be there, if you’re lucky, and no one is going to know why they’re doing it because you’ll never notice. All you see in the audience, because you don’t know — remember, no one hands these pages out to the audience.
Here’s what the audience is going to see: Chicago O’Hare Airport. Night. Snow.
That’s it. They won’t even register the footprints, because footprints are irrelevant. What they will register is blood. Start with the blood. [laughs] That’s my advice. You can have people walking through and you can land down and you just arrive at a little patch of snow with a blood drop. And then you move, and you see this blood drop. And then you start to realize that the blood drop is next to a very distinct shoe print.
Okay, great. Now, we follow the blood drop into the bathroom. And then there’s this woman in a stall who comes out. My advice is get rid of this cleaning woman. You don’t need her. First of all, again, think about the audience because they don’t have these pages. A cleaning woman in a bathroom sniffing at a closed stall is a poop joke. That’s all that we’re going to get, because we don’t even know a person is in there. We don’t know what they can smell.
There’s no reason for this woman to be in there. Of course, when you get to this point in the movie when you catch up to this point there’s going to be a situation where a cleaning woman brings a security guard in. But just do it then. You don’t need to introduce this cleaning woman now. It’s not interesting.
You can have just a regular civilian knock on the door and say, “Sweetheart, are you all right?” “Go away.” So that woman leaves, and then — alone — out comes this woman and she looks in the…
So, there’s just some staging issues here. And there is some disconnect between what you are putting on the page and what we could ever experience.
Yes, for sure, we’re going to be dealing with denial, anger, bargaining, and all that stuff. And that’s fine. I think it’s a perfectly cool thing. And I actually really liked when it faded to black and then a title card came on that said “Denial.” That’s fun. That’s interesting.
John: Let me pitch you my opening to do the same thing.
Chicago Airport. Big wide shot. We’re at Chicago Airport, it’s winter.
Next shot — in the bathroom, underneath the stall. The door is closed but there are no feet going down, and blood drops down, and drops down from her foot which is cut and bleeding.
John: Great. So, you gave us the wide shot, we’re in Chicago Airport. You gave us the bathroom shot — we’re in the bathroom. Here’s our girl and there a cleaning woman, someone else, that scene, that moment can start. And we didn’t need any of that rigmarole of having to track through an airport. Because it’s set up as a Hitchcockian kind of thing, but it’s not a Hitchcockian kind of moment.
Craig: Well, that’s exactly right. What you’re doing is you’re reverse engineering a beginning that fits to the scene that we then see. Because the scene we then see feels like a slightly bubbly, maybe even comedic world, but a light world. I mean, the Willa character feels comedic to me. And the opening sequence, which would be the sort of thing you might see with a credit sequence of us tracking a blood trail into an airport bathroom feels like a thriller opening.
Craig: So, there is a tonal disconnect there, for sure. So, you have to either fix the tone of the Willa studio, which seems to light and breezy for the opening, or fix the opening to be less of a thriller vibe, and more of just the shock of this disheveled woman in trouble.
And, you know, look, and this script is called Willa, so this gives me some concern. The talk show character is deadly, to me. And now this isn’t really a critique of how you’ve written it, it’s just a general thing. It’s so hard to write the fake Oprah, because it just feels fake. The whole thing feels fake.
It’s like fake talk show host. Fake late night host. Fake news anchor. It always feels fake.
John: I would like to single out that Kate Powers does hang a lantern on the fact that Willa Lear is an Oprah-like character. This is how she describes her: “Self-help author/TV host, Willa Lear, late 40’s, intensely maternal. And, no, it’s not your imagination. Her clothes, the stage, everything echoes a taste of Willa’s idol, Oprah.”
So, at least you’re calling it out saying, “Yes, I acknowledge this is an Oprah kind of character.” It’s deliberate and we will probably reference that somewhere in the actual show itself. Fine. That’s great.
My bigger concern with the Willa studio here is that we’re coming in Corey Ryan who is this woman we saw in the bathroom, but she doesn’t have anything interesting to do. It’s not about her. And so we get sort of a close-up, but then it’s just all the other studio business for the next two pages, and that’s not interesting.
If she is our protagonist, which you’re definitely setting the expectation that she is the important person to follow because that’s who we started the movie with, she doesn’t get to do anything interesting in this next page and a half.
Craig: It says that Willa is her boss. Well, is she Willa’s assistant? Is she Willa’s producer? I mean, there’s another producer there. Is she Willa’s what?
And if she has a job, show me her doing the job.
Craig: And, look, here’s my thing about these fake talk show hosts is that inevitably the first scene is a very shopworn critique of talk shows. And we see it right here. Willa is not emotionally genuine. Well, yeah. Yeah, okay. We’ve seen it. We’ve seen it, you know.
John: Yeah. That you’re going to show us a cruel Nazi.
Craig: [laughs] Right. Exactly. Uncaring, venal, ratings-obsessed talk show host, that is not well-mined territory.
John: Yes. What I would like to say about Kate’s writing though overall is that she does get it. And she actually can sort of push stuff around on the page in a way that’s nice. I didn’t think everything worked here especially well, but I feel like she can write a script. I feel like this is probably part of a full script, she didn’t write just three random pages. She wrote this whole script and there probably is a thing to it. And she probably has an idea because it’s set up with — the bathroom didn’t work exactly right — but she’s flashing back to an earlier time.
She has some sort of structural idea behind how these chapters are going to work. So, there could be something interesting here. I just felt like it wasn’t the best execution of these pages.
Craig: Totally agree. I think it’s a very similar situation to our first writer. Kate is somebody that could do this and was in control of the pages, even when they went wonky. And so it’s just about now asking what is real and what can people see. Even the thing that you cited, “It’s not your imagination — her clothes, the stage, everything echoes the taste of Willa’s idol, Oprah.”
And I in the audience know this how? If I’m drawing my own conclusion than maybe there’s another way of putting that. But, regardless, there is nothing here that jumps out as disqualifying in any way. The dialogue wasn’t clumsy or rough.
So, I think that there’s better yet ahead from Kate Powers as well.
John: I agree. I do want to shout-out for Aline Brosh McKenna’s Morning Glory, which features a young producer who gets drafted on to work at first a local TV station and then for a national news program. There was a specificity there that was worth taking a look at. Because we know what all those sort of tropes are, and we’ve seen it in Broadcast News and all these other things. And Aline found new very specific things about those characters in those situations and their worlds. And that’s what the script could benefit from.
Craig: Yeah. And Also remember that our first glimpse, when we’re writing about shows, our first glimpse of backstage tells us everything. Is it panicked, frenzied, pathetic, depressed, chintzy? The backstage here tells us nothing about this job, the show. It just tells us nothing.
And so really try and relay a vibe. Give us a little crackle, a little energy, or the opposite, but impart information.
Our third and final three page sample is Another Man’s Treasure by A.H. McGee.
John: A.H.! I know an American McGee, but I’m guessing this is probably not American McGee.
Craig: I guess probably not, no.
John: Probably not American McGee. A summary. So, we meet Bruce Hodges as he drives his Audi through a gated community. He answers a phone call in his car and he hears a struggle on the other end — a woman’s scream and then a gunshot.
A title card comes up for “Last Week.” We’re starting at the Langley building, a big office building, where Rudy Franco, a guard in his 60s, is up in the front. Meanwhile, a new security guard named Rosie Chaplain, who’s in her 20s, is getting into her uniform and she struggles to get her walkie-talkie working right.
Our last scene, Rudy is starting her training, apparently. Maybe it’s her first day, or one of her first days, and they’re going off on training.
Craig: Yeah. So, you know, if you guys have noticed we’ve gotten a ton of Three Page Challenges where there is an opening scene and then “Last week,” “last month,” “a long time ago,” “how did we get here.” This is becoming almost routine.
Take note, if you will.
It is fine, but if your script doesn’t need it, it’s a little cheap. It’s getting a little cheap. So, consider that.
John: Maybe Stuart just loves when scripts do that and that’s why he picks them out for us. Maybe it could be a sample bias.
Craig: [laughs] I just like the idea of Stuart going, “Whoa!,” like every time he reads them he goes, “Whoa! I did not see that coming. Oh my god, top of the pile. Whoa!” And then he does it again, like three times a day, he just shouts “Whoa!” And he’s so startled and pleased by the time shift.
The first sequence suffered a little bit from slug line whiplash. We have, in a car, in a gated community, in front of the home, in the car, right outside of the car, right in the car. I think at some point we kind of get it and maybe we could thin those slug lines out a little bit.
John: I think so.
Craig: Because it was getting a little bit much. It’s a cool — we don’t know what’s going on. We don’t know who the dude is. And then on top of that we add another mystery, which is the fact that someone is calling him. He knows who it is. He has something to talk about with them. He’s sad about it. And then there’s a gunshot and a crime on the other end.
I almost feel like there’s only so much mystery you can put in my face before I start feeling like I didn’t get anything out of it at all. If I had to guess, I would guess that Bruce Hodges is a PI. I would guess that he is being hired by somebody to track a possible straying spouse.
He arrives at a house, and yup, sure enough the straying spouse is that house. The person calling is his client and he has to sadly tell them. And then there is a gunshot. I’m just guessing.
It would be nice if I just knew a little bit more, because it’s enough of a mystery and enough of a shock that there is a crime on the other end of this phone call, for me.
John: I did not get that PI thing at all out of this page and half, which is odd.
Craig: I wonder if I’m right. Oh, you know what, I’m looking on the PDF, it’s Andre McGee. A.H. is Andre.
John: Oh, I’m so sorry.
Craig: No, no, it’s fine. The title page is A.H., but the title of the file is Andre. So, hopefully Andre will check in with us and tell me if I’m crazy or not.
John: I was taking it as he was having an affair with the woman on the other side, and that he heard this and then got away.
Craig: Well, let’s see. Either way, the point is, Andre, I think you failed — you did such a good job of hiding the ball from us that we stopped caring, you know, because it was just basically like a jumble of stuff that happened and it’s like we…
John: We forgot there was a ball.
Craig: We forgot there was a ball. [laughs] We forgot there was a game.
Now, when we go to “Last week” — cue Stuart, shrieking, squealing with joy — we meet Rosie Chaplain who I suspect is our protagonist. A nice description of her.
This is a tough one. She’s staring at her reflection in the mirror. And she says, into the mirror, “This is only temporary. Hang in there.” I just…forgot whether or not people do that, here’s the problem: A character that does do that is weird to me. Talking to yourself in that kind of self-affirmational way into a mirror is goofy.
And so now I feel like she’s goofy. And I know you don’t want that. So, in a way you have to figure out how to get across this information that this is her first day. The game of smooth, elegant exposition is one that you need to play. So, I would try another tactic there.
John: Yeah. I would agree. I would also try figuring out what words need to be capitalized and what words don’t need to be capitalized. I’m not talking uppercase/lowercase.
Craig: Like two-way radio?
John: Like two-way radio. But really from the very start, just odd choices in sort of what got capitalized. And the Audi pulls into a “Gated Community.”
Craig: Right. Yeah.
John: Home is in capitals. The “Mini Van.” It’s just strange, almost like not common English usage of what’s being capitalized and what’s not. And does it really matter? Is it going to affect how a film is shot? No, not at all. But it affects your read because it’s like, “Wait, why is that weird and different?”
Craig: It does give one pause. For instance, “The kind of homes Hedge Fund CEO’s go to jail for,” is a cool way of describing this gated community, it lets me know where I am. The problem is that you capitalize, not all caps, but initial capped Hedge and Fund. Why? Why? It’s confusing and it’s disrupting what is otherwise an interesting line. I do agree with that.
John: The bottom of page, “The call is on speaker, undulating through his top notch stereo system.”. It’s like, ohh, what, ooh?
Craig: Yeah. That’s not a good one.
John: We’re already in an Audi. You don’t need to talk about the stereo system being special. Just like, “Call is on speaker.”
Craig: And calls don’t undulate. Sorry.
John: No. Also, most phone calls don’t happen the way they happen here. “Bruce, saddened, ‘Hey, there’s something…'” So, a call is coming into him and he answers, “Hey, there’s something I want to talk…”
Craig: Right. Yeah, people actually do say hello. I mean, if you wanted to do this because of the tick you’re playing here, he answers, “Listen, before you say a word…” you know? [laughs] Come up with some way of doing that.
John: Or, “Thanks for calling me back.”
Craig: Yeah, “Thanks for calling me back.” But, you’re right, calls don’t happen that way. Yes, it’s kind of a weird movie trick that a lot of times people don’t say goodbye in movie conversations. But to just pick up and just do that is a little odd.
Do watch your over-thesaurusizing, like “undulating.” And also, you know, when Rudy is talking to Rosie, you have her “Two-Way Radio,” again, two and way are capitalized, and radio. “Her Two Way Radio CRUNCHES. She snaps out of her routine.”
“Rudy,” in parenthesis (O.S.) for off-screen, and then in parenthetical (from two-way) and then Chaplain, in italics. So, that would be triplicate. We get it. He’s off-screen.
John: [laughs] Oh, Rudy is not actually in the physical space? He’s not right next door?
Craig: He’s not hiding in the radio. He’s not a little man who lives in the radio. So, yeah, triplicate, no. Duplicate, no. I think Rudy, in parenthesis, (on radio), would have been fine. And then Chaplain, “Yes, Sir,” capitalized S for sir, not sure why. “Yes, Sir, I’m here getting dressed.” Again, “Rudy (O.S.) (two way),” and this way two way is not capitalized, “Well, you shouldn’t be. Meet me by the main elevators. Move it.”
Why shouldn’t she be getting dressed?
John: I don’t know.
Craig: I don’t understand that.
John: I don’t understand it either.
Craig: So, you know, then she looks at her watch. She just noticed that she’s late? There’s a whole bunch of stuff going on in there that wasn’t connecting. “Rudy paces back and forth, shielding his frustration from the public.” Because she’s a couple of minutes late? Or she was dressing? I don’t know.
I was having trouble with this character. Rudy felt fake. She felt a little stock as kind of nervous, disappointed with her life girl who talks into a mirror. We’ve got issues here.
John: We’ve got issues here. And a lot of the issues here, I would say, can come back to how we started the situation. Let’s look at how you write a scene and how you start a scene. And you don’t have to take my template for those 11 points, but I didn’t feel like he’d done that work on really any of the scenes we saw here, or any of these moments that we saw here.
Well, who’s in the scene? Where is the interesting thing? What needs to happen in the scene? How could this begin? How are we getting through it?
John: These are sort of fundamental questions. And it very much felt like he started typing the scenes and let whatever happened in the scenes happen. And this could very well be a first script and things like the triplicate of O.S., two way, “Well you shouldn’t be,” that feels like the kind of situation where like I don’t know how do to this. I don’t know what the proper formatting is so I’m just going to do all of it. I’m just going to overdo it.
Craig: Yeah. Andre, I’m going to give you a suggestion here. This is how I would approach this kind of thing with Rosie and Rudy.
— And by the way, Rosie and Rudy is a little bit of an issue, too.
John: Don’t repeat character names if you can possible help it.
Craig: Especially when they’re right after another. But here’s what we want to get across, right, we want to get across that this is Rosie’s first day on the job. She’s not happy with this job. And Rudy is kind of a jerk.
So, what I would suggest is lose the whole “I’m late” thing, because you don’t need it. Frankly, don’t give Rudy a reason to be angry. It’s more interesting — if you want to show that a character is a grumpy, grouchy guy, show him being grouchy and grumpy without a reason.
Maybe Rosie is in this locker room and she has — she looks at herself, she sighs, and then she looks down at a security guard uniform that’s like still in the shrink-wrap plastic because it’s just come from the uniform service, you know. And her name tag, she has to peel that plastic off, you know, just to get that she’s opening up and putting this stuff on and she doesn’t like it.
Craig: And then she comes out and then all of a sudden this guy is on her. And he’s like, “I was trying to get you on your radio. Why aren’t you answering your radio?” And then she picks it up and she’s on the wrong channel because she’s new, and “I’m sorry, I’ve never used this.” “Just follow me. Do exactly as I…”
Then, just be a little bit more creative about how we present these facts. And be a little more visual about it. And less worried about two-way radios, and back and forths, and “Yes, sir, I’m here,” and all that stuff.
John: My guess is that she is a more important character than Rudy is, and so coming into this part of the sequence we really should have started with her and not started with Rudy outside. Because we don’t care about that lobby. Is something interesting going to happen in this lobby? Eh.
John: She’s probably your actual character, so starting with her. And I like your idea of the specificity of ripping off plastic and sort of getting started feels really good. So, we don’t need to meet him first. We meet her, and through her we meet the guy who is going to be training her. That’s a nice way to sort of get into a world. So, a suggestion.
Craig: It’s also because just like the three pages before by Kate, this is a backstage scene. So, maybe start backstage her. Don’t show the lobby at all. First of all, you’re right: obviously this is going to be Rosie’s story. We don’t care about establishing Rudy. Don’t establish the building at all.
We’re in a locker room. We don’t where we are. Are we at a police academy, at a school, at a jail? But it’s a junky locker room. It’s junky and it’s full of cleaning products. And it’s greasy. And then she walks out this door and she’s in this gorgeous lobby full of very wealthy people who are moving around making billions of dollars.
Find ways to surprise us. The best transition in any movie ever probably is when Dorothy walks out of her black and white little crappy Kansas home and there’s this gorgeous Technicolor fantasy world in front of her. It’s so surprising.
So, go ahead. Find those moments.
John: Agree. So, we want to thank all three of our people for writing in with their three page samples, because they’re very, very brave, and thank you for sharing them and letting other people learn from what you wrote, and hopefully from some of the conversations we had about them.
It’s time for One Cool Thing. Craig, do you have a One Cool Thing this week?
Craig: I do have a One Cool Thing. Woo!
John: I’m so proud of you.
Craig: It’s an app.
John: Now, I know that shame is a motivator, but is pride a motivator?
John: Does that help? No, I should never say that.
Craig: Actually it hurt. God, I don’t want to do it anymore.
John: I’m sorry.
Craig: What are you proud of me? Ugh, I guess I can stop.
No, no, the shame is perfect.
So, cool app, I love games on the iPad, but I’ve found so few that I truly love. Actually your recommendation of Ski Safari is one that stuck with me. I loved The Room, and that’s such a great game. Have you played The Room yet, by the way?
John: Oh, I played it all the way through. It’s amazing.
Craig: So great.
John: They need to add new levels and new boxes.
Craig: I know. Well, they’re working on The Room 2, so I’m super excited about that. And I’ve tried other Room-ish games, and none of them are even close.
So, what ends up happening is I just end up getting stuck with playing the oldies over and over because I’m so rarely impressed by iPad games. There’s so much junk out there. But, very cool interesting game called Waking Mars. Have you heard of this one?
John: I have. But tell me everything about it.
Craig: Well, it’s real simple. Basically you play an astronaut, a human, who is on this little exploratory mission on Mars, in the future. And you’re moving through caverns. And you move by walking or flying around with your little jet pack which beautifully has no fuel meter on it because it’s so frustrating. I hate crap like that.
If you want me to fly, let me fly. What’s fascinating about it is the game is essentially a puzzle-based platform where you encounter different life forms. And they’re mostly sort of Martian plants. And the Martian plants do different things. Some of them give off little seeds. Some of them give off water. Some of them eat certain other plants, or other animals. And your job is to basically start managing the increasing bio-complexity to create more life to affect your ability to move through the cave and explore Mars. And there’s a sort of macro mystery around the whole thing. And there is kind of clunky voice acting, but okay.
Interestingly, your protagonist is an Asian American which you don’t often see in video games. But, I don’t often encounter a different game scheme, you know? This is a different game scheme. I’ve never played a game where the idea was to figure out what to feed to what. And realize that if you feed this to that it may get you closer to opening the wall, but that thing is dangerous. Whereas if you make a lot of these little things it will take more time and it will be a little more difficult to do, but it’s safer. It’s a very cool game and it’s beautiful. I mean, the graphics are gorgeous on the iPad. Actually put nice music to it.
So, check out Waking Mars. Pretty cool game.
My One Cool Thing, there’s not even a possible link to it, because I want to make sort of all of America for not spoiling Homeland for me. So, Homeland is a great Showtime show that I just didn’t watch, and it was one of my sort of broken leg shows in the sense that I figured once I would break my leg at some point, or get laid up, then I would watch Homeland.
And being stuck here in New York, just with my Apple TV, I’ve been able to catch up with Homeland. And I just really appreciate sort of all my friends and everyone else in my life who watched Homeland and said it’s really, really good, but never spoiled it for me. So, this is just a shout-out thank you to everyone who watched Homeland and didn’t run it for me.
Craig: What nice friends you have. By the way, John, you know New York is my hometown. Without giving away your exact location, what part of Manhattan are you calling home these days?
John: I’m in Midtown Manhattan. I’m pretty close to our rehearsal theater. And I’m actually staying in David Strathairn’s old apartment.
Craig: Oh wow.
John: So, it sounds much fancier than it really is. Essentially when actors or people who need to come to do Broadway plays who don’t live in New York, this is the kind of hotel, hotel-apartment kind of thing, they stick people in. So, David Strathairn was the person who was here before me. And I know that because the guy downstairs said like, “Oh, Mr. Strathairn,” and I’m like, “No, no, that’s not me.”
Craig: [laughs] So, you’re right by Times Square/Theater District and that sort of thing?
John: I am right in that area.
Craig: Isn’t that nice to be able to walk over there?
John: It is so good.
Craig: God, that area used to be just a cesspool.
John: Yeah. And now it’s lovely.
Craig: It’s amazing the transformation.
Well, thank you from me to our three page listeners and hopefully you took that all in a positive spirit. It is not too late for you. And good job.
John: Well, Craig, have a great week.
Craig: You, too. We’ll see you next time. Thanks.