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, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

And, Craig, it’s a special episode today because…?

Craig: We, well, a couple of reasons. One, we have a guest.

John: Yes.

Craig: So, that means we’re doing it live.

John: Yes.

Craig: It means I get to look at you. Always exciting — I get to see your face.

John: Also, we are in your offices in Pasadena.

Craig: That’s right.

John: So, I cannot wait for the fire trucks.

Craig: Yes, the fire trucks are coming. And we can’t do anything about it.

John: Yes. So, we’re on the fourth floor of this building in Pasadena and as I was walking over here from the parking garage I kept thinking, “This is the loudest place on earth.” It is truly a very loud street. Like they could be making cement outside.

Craig: That’s right. In fact, they are making cement outside because right down the street it was always loud here; this is ground zero for Old Town Pasadena, right there on the corner. And then they decided to convert a parking lot into a large building that they’re building, so they get to weld and hammer while the fire trucks are going by, and somehow I find this very soothing.

John: Yeah. It’s the perfect place to write and record a podcast.

Craig: Perfect place for that. That’s right. That’s right.

John: Now, Craig, you have some follow up from an earlier episode that you wanted to start off.

Craig: Yeah, very quickly. We were doing our big question and answer episode and somebody was asking about registering screenplays with the copyright office and whether that was advisable. And the one thing I wanted to check on, I knew there was something funky about selling scripts with the WGA, and I just wanted to make sure that you weren’t messing around with anything if you did that with the copyright office.

And the answer is no. The deal is when you sell a screenplay, whether you’re transferring copyright or you’re selling it without that and they’re just saying, “Okay, well we’re commissioning the sale,” so on and so forth, it’s the same. The trick is that the companies don’t pay pension and health on the sale of literary material because it’s not really employment. To get around that, what the Guild does is they require the company to hire the seller of the literary material for the first rewrite — that is employment. And, the P&H on the first rewrite is the normal P&H that’s due plus the amount that would have been due on the sale.

So, they lump those two prices together…

John: Let me try to re-explain this in a way that might make sense to someone.

Craig: Not a chance. [laughs]

John: Backing up here, we’re talking about if you registered copyright on your spec screenplay before you sold it to your studio; the question originally was is this going to mess things up.

Craig: And the answer is no.

John: The answer is basically no.

Craig: That’s right.

John: And there are sort of weird backhanded ways that you can get around sort of the issues of copyright transference and pension and health. So, it’s happened before. Feel free to register copyright on your spec script if it is useful to you.

Craig: That’s right.

John: Go for it.

Craig: That is correct. That is the follow up.

John: Wonderful. Today we are excited because we have a special guest and we love it when we have special guests.

Craig: Yes.

John: And our special guest is Dennis Palumbo. And, Craig, this was your idea. So, tell us why we are talking with him today.

Craig: Well, Dennis is a therapist; he works as a therapist, a psychotherapist. He was my psychotherapist for awhile. I’m not in therapy currently, but I did see him for awhile. And while I think he treats lots of different people, his specialty is with writers and with screenwriters. And, for good reason: he himself was a screenwriter. He worked for Welcome Back, Kotter — “Oh, Mr. Kotter!”

And he co-wrote a wonderful movie called My Favorite Year, which if you haven’t seen, you’re stupid. I’m being judgmental but I think it’s fair. If you care at all about the history of comedy you should see My Favorite Year. It’s a wonderful movie. So, a very fine writer in his own right and he also is a novelist. He writes a series of crime/thriller, mystery thrillers with a character named Daniel Rinaldi, which sounds a lot like Dennis Palumbo, who is a psychologist-crime fighter-mystery solver. And his latest novel, Night Terrors, is available now.

But today we are welcoming him, I would suspect, mostly to talk about the weird, weird stuff that goes on in our screenwriting minds. So, welcome Dr. Dennis Palumbo.

Dennis Palumbo: Well, thank you so much. It’s nice to be here, John. It’s nice to be here, Craig.

John: Talk to us about why you got started as a therapist working with writers and what was the inclination behind that and how did you make that transition?

Dennis: Well, the transition was long and involved, which I’m going to reduce down to the two-minute version, which is essentially I had gone through kind of a personal crisis in my life. My marriage had ended. I had been really lucky in the film and television business, which I started at 22. I mean, I was on Kotter — I was 23, I think, when I was on that show.

And so I ended up literally doing the razor’s edge experience: I went to the Himalayas, climbed mountains all over the world, meditated, the whole thing. Came back and thought, “I think I need to change my life.” So, while I was still working in the business, writing pilots and rewriting scripts, I was going to school at night and on the weekends, not necessarily saying to myself, “Boy, I want to change careers,” but I was so fascinated by psychology because my own experience in therapy had been so good.

Craig: Right.

Dennis: And so after awhile, I mean, it takes six years to get through the program, to become an intern. I worked as an intern on the weekends and in the evenings at a low-fee clinic and at a private psychiatric facility. And then one day, I know it’s kind of crazy, but I had one of those “Road to Damascus” experiences.

I was at a restaurant — I don’t even know if it’s there anymore — called Le Dome on Sunset. And I was talking to this producer about a movie he wanted me to do. And I kept looking at my watch because I was going to be late for the psychiatric hospital where I was doing group psychodrama with schizophrenics.

And driving down La Cienega I’m thinking to myself, “What’s wrong with this picture? I think I want to change my life.” So, I sat for the tests and I passed and there was an interesting afternoon where I called up my agent, my lawyer, my business manager, and my creative manager, and I fired all four of them.

Craig: Oh, that must have felt good!

Dennis: And it felt amazing. And I said, “Look, it’s not you guys, it’s me. It’s not you, it’s me.” You know, the classic breakup line.

But, I’m out of show business. And so because I had been in the business I thought, well, this will be a good specialty. You know, people come to me and they have anxiety attacks if they have to pitch to NBC. Well, I pitched to NBC 5,000 times.

Craig: Right.

Dennis: Wouldn’t do it now. But I knew those issues. I knew about procrastination. I knew about writer’s block. I knew about fear of rejection.

Craig: Well, we’re going to get into all of those because I think I…

Dennis: I felt that’s why it would be a good specialty for me. So, that’s what I did.

Craig: I’ve had all those things, I think. I’m pretty sure we all have. And I want to talk through some of those, because I have a feeling that people listening are like, “Okay, get to the part where you help me.” [laughs]

Dennis: All right. Absolutely.

Craig: So, we’re getting some free advice from the show.

Dennis: You’re going to get some free therapy.

Craig: But I have a question first, because I know that part of your practice deals with a very interesting thing that people go through and not a lot of people consider it as a thing, which is interesting in and of itself. And that is a big career shift, a big life transition in terms of your profession. I’ve been doing this, I’m supposed to keep doing this, this is part of my identity, and then I stop and I start to do something else. And you did that.

When you did that, I’m just curious, was there a stretch there where you got scared, where you felt, oh no, what have I done?

Dennis: A stretch? There was a long chasm where I thought literally I was crazy. My friends thought I was crazy. My parents, who had finally gotten used to the idea that I was in show business, now had to get used to the idea I was talking to crazy people. And so I was scared to death. I thought I wouldn’t make a living. And, you know, I also was very clear, I mean, I was very lucky in show business. And lightning doesn’t strike twice, I figure.

Craig: Right.

Dennis: You know, who am I? And, in fact, a good friend of mine who is a writer-director said he was really mad. He even said, “Look, I feel like you’re leaving the fox hole. You’re leaving me in here where the bombs are dropping.” I mean, he’s very successful, but as you know, everyone feels like they’re embattled in Hollywood.

Craig: Yeah, we are.

Dennis: And he said, “So you’re going over the wall.” And I had some of that response from some of my friends. So, it was really hard at first. I did that thing where someone would call me and they’d go, “Well, do you have any available times?” And I’d be flipping through blank pages going, “No, I don’t know, maybe Thursday at 4?” And they’d go, “I can’t do it at 4.” And I’d go, “Wait a minute; I found another one. Friday at 10.”

Craig: Slowly but surely.

Dennis: Slowly but surely they all filled up. And I’m very grateful. Actually, to be honest with you, I think I owe most of it to the Writers Guild Magazine, Written By.

Craig: Well, that’s where I encountered you. Do you remember reading those?

John: Absolutely. I remember reading your columns monthly in the Writers Guild Magazine.

Dennis: That built my practice essentially.

John: Absolutely, talking about the kind of issues writers face.

Let’s talk about this. What are the kinds of common things you see in clients who are coming to talk to you, who need help, that might be unique to writers or highlighted in writers that you wouldn’t see in a general population as much?

Dennis: Oh, yeah, well certainly the two biggest issues that people come in talking about are writer’s block and procrastination, which are not the same thing. And the thing that I think is so terrifying about both those issues is not even so much the issue itself, but the meaning you give to it.

If you’re a writer and you feel blocked, it’s hard enough to be a writer — doing good work is very hard. Good writers get blocked. But if the meaning you give to it is, “Well, I bet Steve Zaillian never gets blocked. Or I guess my parents were right about me and I should have gone to law school. Or, maybe this means the story is no good.”

What I find very quickly in working with a patient who is struggling with writer’s block is that the issues are so inexorably bound up in their personal lives, in how they feel about themselves. So, if you go, “Gee, I’m really blocked. Man, this script is tough. Let me maybe take another approach,” that’s the craftsman-like approach.

If you go, “Wow, I’m really blocked. I guess this was a stupid idea anyway and my agent is going to dump me. And no one has liked the last three scripts I’ve written, so maybe I got lucky and now my luck is over. And I wonder if I can still get a job in my dad’s faucet factory?” I mean, you go there.

Craig: Oh, I go there so fast. I don’t have a faucet — what’s your faucet factory? I know what mine is. What’s yours?

John: Oh, there’s always that rip cord to some sort of programming or some sort of other….

Craig: Mine’s Ralphs. I always go right to Ralphs. And not even like a day shift at Ralphs. Night shift at Ralphs.

John: Definitely.

Dennis: Yeah, see I worked in a steel mill to put myself through college, so I always know now if things collapse I can always work in a steel mill. Now, there aren’t any steel mills in America anymore, so I’d have to go to Japan.

Craig: Right. Where they are hiring gentlemen in their fifties…

Dennis: Yes, that’s right. That’s right.

John: Pass yourself off as a robot.

Dennis: That’s right. And the thing that’s important to remember, too, is no one lives in absolute isolation. And so if you’re struggling with writer’s block and then you’re telling yourself, you know, you’re assigning certain meanings to being blocked, it’s not like a day at the beach for your mate either, or your children, or your friends.

And you feel like, you know, if you have this idea that everything is depending on you, and every time you stumble or get stuck the whole ball of wax could collapse, then it becomes harder and harder to navigate the block.

And the thing that I think is most unique — most people think writer’s block is bad. I think it’s good news for a writer. Because, if you look at the kind of biographical narratives of some of the greatest artists you’ve ever known, they all have like five or six periods in their lives where the work is repetitive, where they feel stuck, where they seem to be going backwards.

And then all of a sudden there is this burst of inspiration. And so, for me, I think writer’s block is very similar to the developmental steps we all go through as people. You know, like a toddler who gets up, falls down, gets up. He has to navigate walking. And I think that’s true for a writer. I think when you’re blocked, whether you’re aware of it or not, you’re about to make a growth spurt in your work.

And I think the proof of the pudding is I’ve never had a patient who has worked through a block who didn’t think they were a better writer on the other side of the block. And so I do think if you conceptualize it as something that’s going to change in your work, you know, that this is something — that maybe you’re doing something that’s personal for the first time.

Maybe you’ve always written comedies and you’re trying to write a drama. Or, maybe you’re writing something about your family and you’re thinking what they’re going to think and all that stuff. There are all sorts of reasons why you might be blocked. But if you can navigate that block, you not only usually think you’re a better writer on the other end, but you defang the idea of a writer’s block as being so devastating that it will stop you.

John: I want to stop for a second and unpack what we’re talking about with writer’s block, because I think you’re using the term in a specific way that is really quite helpful. A lot of times people will say writer’s block when they really do mean procrastination, when they really do mean, “I just don’t feel like writing it, or I don’t know what that next scene is.”

Dennis: Yeah.

John: We were talking at a very specific, sort of like on this project I don’t know how to do this next little bit. And the phone keeps ringing and just all that stuff and I can’t get this next thing going. That is a very situational sort of in that moment you don’t know how to do this next thing. But there are other options for how you’re going to do that.

What you’re really talking about is more the bigger image of the person just doesn’t know what to do, so it’s not even — they may start with one project, but they have a general kind of fear of failure, or the impostor syndrome may be kicking in.

Dennis: Sure.

John: Where they believe, “Not only can I not write this. I can’t write anything.”

Craig: “I fooled everyone.”

John: Exactly.

Dennis: “I fooled everyone.” It’s all those meanings that I mentioned that, you know, I always think, like when I write my mystery novels, they have a lot of twists and turns. And every time I start one I think, “I don’t know how I’m going to make this interesting. I don’t know what I’m doing.”

But I’ve been writing for so long. I’m such a gray beard that I don’t think that feeling means anything.

Craig: Right.

Dennis: One of the things I’ve tried to help my patients see is that their feelings don’t predict the future. If an actor has stage fright and he throws up in his dressing room and then goes out that night on stage and gives a great performance, so obviously his anxiety did not predict a bad performance. But we have a tendency to see our feelings as predictive. And they’re not.

Craig: Right.

Dennis: I did 92 columns. I used to joke about this with the editor of Written By. I did 92 columns for the Written By column, The Writer’s Life, and every month I sat down to write one I’d go, “I don’t know how to write a column. I don’t know what to write about. I’ve got to call Richard and get out of this.”

And after about column 62 or 63 I went, “Where have I heard that before?”

Craig: Right.

Dennis: I heard that from my head once a month for the past six years. So, obviously it’s not predictive of anything.

Craig: That’s a great — that theme comes up over and over. And it’s something that I talk about. I do a thing at the Guild every year about development and how to make your way through development. And I talk about basically and thinking about what the villain is. If you imagine yourself as the hero of a journey, where the development process is a journey and you’re the protagonist, who is the antagonist? And I always ask them, “Who’s your enemy?”

And your goal is write a movie. Who’s your enemy? And they always say, “Director. Actors. Studio. Producers. Executives.” I’m like, no, no, they all share your goal. They’re your allies. That’s the scary part! So, who is the antagonist?

And to me the antagonist is our emotional pain. That’s the antagonist. And you feel it. It’s a real thing. We all feel it in those moments. It’s not assigning a meaning to it. That’s the hard part. But that’s kind of where you do the big boy growing up stuff.

Dennis: That is. I mean, look at myself. I’ve been in personal therapy on and off for like 18 years. I’m as neurotic and insecure as I ever was. I just don’t hassle myself about it anymore.

Craig: You should change therapists. He’s terrible.

Dennis: No, no, I’ve changed therapists three times. I don’t mind being neurotic and insecure because I don’t think the goal is to become some perfectible version of yourself.

Craig: I have to stop you there because that’s so great. When I saw Dennis it wasn’t for writing stuff. It was actually just personal stuff that I was working through. And I remember, I don’t know if you remember, the first day I showed up — I’m one of many patients — I had sort of written out everything and kind of presented it to him. It was really well organized. And we had a very good session. And then on my out you stopped me and said, “I just want to make sure that you understand this isn’t something you perfect.” [laughs]

And it was great to hear. Like, oh yeah, that’s right…

John: “I’m really good at therapy now.”

Craig: Yeah! “Did I do okay?”

John: Absolutely.

Craig: “I’m here for my perfection issues. And did I do well?”

Dennis: Yeah, “Did I do well? And about how long will this take?”

Craig: That’s right, yes.

John: I think possibly one of the challenges of writers and screenwriters — this is really our topic — we can hold others up to that perfection standard because we don’t really see them.

Dennis: That’s right.

John: And so we see that all of these struggles are my own and I’m the one who has all these unique challenges and problems, because we’re not around those people all the other times, whereas if we were professional athletes we would see those professional athletes struggle around us all the time. And we all go up to our little rooms and write in private. And it seems like, oh well, whatever is uniquely your problem is uniquely your problem.

Dennis: Right. And our fantasy is that all the writers we admire are just knocking stuff off untroubled.

Craig: It’s insane.

Dennis: And it’s insane. I always say to new writers, I say, “Look, every successful writer used to be a struggling one. And all the successful ones still struggle.”

I mean, most of the writers in my practice are very, very successful. And they all struggle. In fact, it was so striking for me as a former screenwriter, some of my patients are my former idols as a writer.

Craig: Right.

Dennis: And it was amazing for me to see the struggles they had, which I found comforting, because I spent 18 years in show business thinking, “Well, if I were only smarter and more talented this wouldn’t be so hard.”

Craig: Are there, because, you know, we have a lot of people who listen who are professionals. We have many, many more, just by the nature of our business, who are not but who want to be. And I wonder, are there unique writer problems, or do we really all… — I mean, because I kind of want to be able to somebody working in Alabama right now, “We actually have the same problems.” Are there unique problems, or do we all share the same stuff?

Dennis: I think we all share the same stuff. I mean, we’re talking primarily about screenwriting, but look at what we’re talking about. We’re talking about being blocked or procrastinating, being afraid of rejection, being afraid of failure. I don’t know too many lawyers who don’t struggle with stuff like that, or Supreme Court justices, or directors.

I mean, anyone who achieves bumps up against the idea that who they are inside is not in concert with who they are presenting in their mind to the world. Anyone does. And so as a result, I think the difference for writers is writers talk about it.

See, trial lawyers get depressed. William Styron gets depressed, writes Darkness Visible, about his depression. So, we have this idea that creative people are more depressed and suicidal than others. And, in fact, we’re not.

Craig: We just talk about it more.

Dennis: Yeah, we just talk about it more.

Craig: Right. Those guys just drink in that bar.

Dennis: And they drink and they jump off of buildings. I mean, the thing is…

Craig: They’re good at that.

Dennis: Dentists are the number one profession that is suicidal.

Craig: Wait, wait, is that really true? Dentists?

Dennis: Yeah. And number two is psychiatrists.

Craig: Well. [laughs]

Dennis: But number one is dentists.

Craig: Why, because it’s a bummer to look in mouths all day?

Dennis: You know, god knows why.

Craig: Teeth.

John: There have been theories that maybe it has something to do with traditionally like the chemicals that were used in dentistry.

Craig: Oh really?

John: That they’re constantly around all the time.

Craig: Like the mercury and stuff?

John: Absolutely. There could be actually like a poisoning reason why that’s happened.

Dennis: It’s interesting you mention that, too, because one of the changes in therapy in the last 20 years is how much neurobiology has come into it. The more and more we find out about the elasticity of the brain, the more we’re finding that depression, anxiety, spiritual belief, faith itself, aggression, these things have seats in the brain pan.

And talk therapy is still crucial, but they’re finding that there is a larger biochemical and neuro-chemical component to how we feel about ourselves, including our self-experience in the world.

Craig: It’s hard because writers, you know, you brought up the analogy of athletes. So, I can watch an athlete make an error, but I can also watch an athlete succeed. I can see it happening in front of me or not in front of me in different levels. But, writing is — especially screenwriting — there is something so evil about it because the entire process of screenwriting is failure until the very last moment, which also might be failure. [laughs]

Dennis: Yeah.

Craig: But there is definitely, failure is a requirement. And it requires, it seems, a lot of psychological health, or endurance, or whatever you call it to survive the endless grind of the failure.

Dennis: Yeah. I think being a screenwriter requires the Bushido Warrior Code of risk, fail, risk again. I mean, my TV writers who are on staff, you know, they break a story in a room. Everyone agrees on the story. You go off, you write it, you come back, everyone gang writes it and makes it funnier. It’s a little more communal. It’s a little bit more, “Oh, I had a nice day at the office.”

Craig: Right.

Dennis: I remember as a screenwriter, when I shut that door in my office at home to work, it was just me. And, you know, you start to wonder if what you’re feeling and thinking about what you’re writing has any validity at all. Which is one of the reasons, by the way, people procrastinate.

You know, we were talking about writer’s block and procrastination…

Craig: Tell us why I procrastinate, would you?

Dennis: Well, I can’t tell you specifically — I don’t think there is one size fits all for everyone. And I can give you some anecdotes that would surprise you about why people procrastinate. But on the whole, it’s a fear of shameful self-exposure. Most people procrastinate because they think the finished product, if they got to finish, would either in their minds or in the minds of an agent, the studio, director, would not be good enough.

And it’s easier to tolerate the small shame of procrastinating. I remember when Dutton’s Bookstore used to be here. And I would walk around and I swore that Doug Dutton would be looking at me essentially thinking, “Why aren’t you writing?”

Craig: Right.

Dennis: And so I couldn’t even enjoy my procrastination. But as painful as it was, it was less painful than putting the script out. See, then you want to look at a person’s childhood experience. I mean, I had to get all straight A’s. You know, I was a big honors student and stuff like that.

And so I’m one of those people that you can never love it enough. I’m already evaluating while we’re talking how well I’m doing.

Craig: I might also be — I might be one of those people, too. By the way, you’re doing very poorly.

Dennis: Okay. That’s what I thought.

Craig: Yeah. [laughs]

Dennis: But luckily at these prices why should I get so upset.

John: [laughs]

Craig: [laughs] Yeah.

Dennis: But the point is is that that kind of thing feeds the procrastination. And what’s really difficult is for people to understand that the shame of self-exposure will always be there as long as you don’t feel engaged with the process itself. As long as you’re only concerned with the result in terms of what it says about you, what clinicians call “the external locus of control.” You’re always better off going, “I’m having a great time writing this,” and hope that Tom Cruise wants to be in it than go, “If I write this and Tom Cruise doesn’t want to be in it, it isn’t good, therefore I’m not good.”

Craig: Does that sound familiar to you?

John: I would say that most of my procrastination is fear that I won’t actually hit flow. And that I won’t actually hit that moment where it all becomes easy. So, I’ll put it off, and put it off, and put it off in the hopes that like, well, maybe suddenly the engine will kick in. Because the times when writing is really good and natural and easy and wonderful are amazing and you just hope that those come back.

And I also do notice that I find writers kind of ritualizing their way into procrastination. So, they will say, “Well, I can only write from these hours to these hours. And I have to have this kind of pen, and this kind of paper, and this kind of situation. If I don’t have those things then I can’t do the work that I need to do.”

And so what you describe as sort of the root cause is the underlying pathology that might bring about procrastination, there’s a whole host of behaviors that sort of kick in that sort of feed on itself and sort of create this system in which they can’t not procrastinate.

Dennis: That’s right. I had a similar one when I was a screenwriter. I always thought of it as going down a ramp. And then I’d get up in the morning and I’d go, “Well, you know, I made some notes, and I returned some phone calls. Well, it’s going to be lunch time in an hour. And I can’t go down the ramp till lunch is over.” So, then I’d eat lunch and go, “In two more hours the mail comes. I’ve got to wait for the mail to come.”

And then I knew my agent was calling me back at three. And if I did it correctly, the entire day would go by, and it would seem totally reasonable to me because I couldn’t have gotten that block of five hours. And that fantasy of having a requirement of structure like that really dooms a lot of people.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So, are there interventions that if a client came to you with this problem of procrastination, what are some techniques you might propose?

Dennis: Well, here’s what I would suggest. First of all, as I said before, I don’t believe there is one size fits all, so I would need to know a little bit about their childhood, a little bit about how they dealt with criticism, what their expectations are. You know, there are people who want to write who at the same time don’t feel entitled to. And so if those two things are hitting, you know.

I had a guy procrastinate, to be honest with you, because — he was a novelist. His first novel was kind of well received. And the second novel was starting to get a lot of heat from the publisher and they were thinking this is going to be a big book. And he kept procrastinating and we finally found out it’s because his brother was a failed writer. And he was not able, at a very deep level, to do that to his brother, to be more successful than him.

But, in general, when someone says, “Look, I just need pragmatic tools.” The first thing I say to them — you need to feel good to write. Because I don’t think your writing cares how you feel. And so if you came to me, Craig, and you said, “Jesus, I feel, I don’t want to start, I feel sluggish, I feel I’m wasting my time. My best years are behind me. What am I doing?”

I’d say, “Okay, let’s put a character named Craig in a diner. And let’s have him sitting opposite somebody he knows, someone he likes, someone he respects. Give him this dialogue. Start talking. Tell me how you feel. Tell me what you think about the project you’re going to write.”

And as you start doing that the log jam breaks a little bit, because you’re telling yourself, “Oh, this doesn’t count. This isn’t real writing. This is just telling how I feel.” And sooner or later what will happen is you’ll start slipping into ideas. You’ll go, wait a minute, I want to write that line down, because if I do write this thing, this would be something I would use.

And I find that if a patient is willing to be uncomfortable writing, they’ll break through the procrastination. If they need to feel like they’re ready to write, they may have to wait forever.

Craig: Right. Well, it’s funny. I listen to you guys. I have a little bit of both. I know exactly what you mean about that fear of the lack of flow, because the first couple of lines sometimes are excruciating. And also just because of the way I approach writing, there are certain things I need to know to feel like I can get, well, what does the room look like, what’s going on, what’s the weather, what are they wearing, all the visual stuff.

And sometimes it’s hard to see it and you get tense. It’s like all your muscles tighten, you know. So, I have that.

But I also do have that kind of, well, you know, something about this scene, I can imagine somebody reading it and going, “Uh-huh,” and now I’m thinking about them. I’m thinking about the reader. I’m thinking about the director. I’m thinking about the movie. I’m thinking about the audience. I’m thinking, “God held me, the reviewers.”

Dennis: Well, that’s the shameful self-exposure. The funny this is perfectionists often have this problem because they want to be in the flow, too. And just as a pragmatic tool, and again, I’m a therapist, I’m not a writer instructor, but just as a pragmatic tool I often remind them, you know, when I was a screenwriter I assumed I was going to throw out the first 20 pages of my screenplay. That when I got to the end I knew who the people were and what the story was. And they didn’t talk like themselves in the first ten or 15 pages. So, I knew they were going to go.

And if you can get a person who struggles with perfectionism to really understand that it doesn’t count, the first 20 pages, and they can discover what it is and then go back and change that. It’s like a revelation. Because for perfectionists it’s like, “INT. HOTEL ROOM. What kind of hotel?” I would say, I don’t care…

Craig: That’s me, though.

Dennis: Go 20 pages and by the end of the screenplay it’s going to be a Motel 6 anyway.

Craig: Well, and it’s funny, because all those decisions that I sometimes sweat over so intensely, when we get to production someone is like, “Hey, you know, I just want to show you. We did some scouting. Here are the motels. But look at this place. It’s not at all what you call out.” And I’m like, oh, that would be awesome.

Dennis: Yeah.

Craig: And then you realize, oh yeah, that’s right — there are people to help. [laughs] You know? It’s not just me. It’s not just you. And that’s a wonderful feeling.

And part of what I think is interesting about the way you approach how you talk to writers from your articles in Written By and just from knowing you as I do is that you do preach a certain amount of “let yourself off the hook-ness.” I mean, it’s almost like we put ourselves on a hook because we’re procrastinating, and sometimes the answer to procrastinating is, “Okay, so you don’t have it today. That doesn’t mean you won’t have it tomorrow.”

As long as you don’t think that that’s permanent, that that state is permanent, there are times when I’m just like, “Not today. Pen down. Taking a walk.”

John: Yeah. The other common advice I end up giving is you will get to a place where, like, I don’t know how to write this scene, I don’t know what this scene is, I’m flipping out over it. So, write another scene. And the thing about a screenplay is it’s about 120 pages, so there’s going to be some other scene you can write.

And so if I have an extra 15 minutes in the parking garage at FOX, I’ll write a scene, I’ll just scribble it down on paper. And it may not be the most important scene, it may not be the most perfect scene, but it’s something that’s written.

Dennis: Right.

John: And if you can consistently be doing some work you’re going to get over that bump. And eventually you’ll write into that scene. You end up a lot of times sort of painting the corners and painting into the middle. And that’s okay.

Craig: Totally.

Dennis: That’s absolutely okay. It’s like the thing is that I’ve learned over the years is writing begets writing. I think thinking about it doesn’t beget writing. Worrying about it, you know. Frederic Raphael, one of my favorite screenwriters, said that for a writer there is only one real definition of work: pages that are there in the evening that weren’t there in the morning. He didn’t say good pages. He just said pages.

And, again, one of the things I try to work with people who are procrastinating, particularly if they’re perfectionists, is to get into this sort of benign relationship with their writing, because otherwise they’re demanding their writing mirror back to them that they’re great.

Craig: Yeah.

Dennis: They’re demanding their writing mirror back to them that they’re entitled to be a writer. You know, your words can’t take the weight of that. That’s way too much weight. You want your script to validate your leaving Dayton, Ohio to become a screenwriter instead of going into your dad’s pharmacy business. There’s no screenplay on earth that can do that for you.

Craig: I hope that people at home who are in Dayton, or places like Dayton, get that. Because it’s really, one of the things that we talk about a lot is the weight that people put on themselves to become a screenwriter, which is harder and harder to do. And how tragic, frankly, it is for so many of them who just aren’t going to be screenwriters.

And I want people to absorb this — it’s important — it’s an important lesson.

Dennis: Well, actually, I was at a seminar and somebody asked me one time what’s the most important trait to be a screenwriter and I said an ability to tolerate despair.

Craig: [laughs] That’s pretty much right.

Dennis: And I meant it seriously.

John: One of the things — circling back to something Craig said earlier — what is different about treating screenwriters or writers versus other people, one thing that seems like it would be different is that we are in our heads a lot in completely fantasy worlds. And so unlike a normal, you know, accountant, we have this fantasy life and this fantasy world that we have to maintain and live and keep sustaining.

This movie I made, The Nines, the middle section of it is about Ryan Reynolds’s character having the sort of nervous breakdown for this TV show. And it’s based on a real thing that happened to me. My very first TV show I created was a thing called DC. And I had to sort of keep the world of DC alive in my head at all times, so those characters had to be running at all times. And there was essentially a second world I had created inside there.

And ultimately the boundary between what was real and what was fiction was incredibly thin. And so I’d hear a song on the radio and I would snatch that song, like that song will be in the show, because I had to sort of constantly hunt and gather for that show.

Now, TV, I think, is its own unique beast and the way that we make TV is probably not healthy for anyone involved in television. But movies to a large degree can be the same thing where you’ve worked out this whole world and these characters and this is their universe, and you’re responsible as the creator for maintaining that universe for a long period of time.

Do you end up encountering writers who have that problem of and face challenges with this second world and their sense of responsibility to what they’ve created?

Dennis: Oh, all the time. In fact, it’s interesting. One of the reasons, you know, I have had executives and producers and directors as patients as well, and they often complain that writers don’t take notes very well, they’re often very resistant. And, see, I know from my own experience and that of my patients that they so live in the world of their screenplay that it becomes a kind of context in which they live.

And so the notes makes no sense. It’s like if somebody says, “Oh, you know, your son would look a lot better if he had spiked hair.” And you go, “I love this kid exactly the way the kid is, you know, not because I’m crazy or a narcissist, though I may be crazy and a narcissist.” But the reality is it’s because I know this world really, really well.

The problem is, unlike a brick layer or a carpenter, the raw materials of a writer’s life is his or her imagination and feelings — things that they live with moment to moment to moment. When you’re a brick layer, you’re done at 5 o’clock. You put the bricks down. You go home and watch a ballgame. There’s no bricks on your lap.

A writer goes home, those bricks are on his lap, or her lap, they’re in his pocket, they’re on their head. They’re putting their kids to bed and the kid will say something and the writer will think, “I can use that,” because a brick just fell out of their pocket. That’s not the way most people live. So, it is particular to writers to carry around their imaginative life.

To me, it always reminds me of what Margaret Mead said when she was doing research in Samoa. She said, “Well, my job was to be a participant observer.” And my experience of writers is they tend to be participant observers.

I’ll have a patient come back from their wedding and they will describe it as though it’s a scene from Portnoy’s Complaint. They were in it, they were glad to be getting married, but they were watching the wedding as though it were a scene.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Yeah.

Craig: We’re kind of addicted to narrative.

Dennis: Very much so.

Craig: That’s why I try and talk to writers in narrative terms because I feel like it’s something we understand. But I really like what you’re saying that the idea that, because it’s true, when you get those notes that drop the bottom out from under you, when you feel like you’re literally falling through the floor, sometimes it’s because there is this incredible dissonance between what they’re suggesting and what you are perceiving as reality, as real. Like, that’s not possible.

You can say, “Well, what if — what if — water was actually hard and sharp.” You don’t understand what you just did to the world. I’m looking at the water. I drink it. It’s in me. That’s wrong.

Dennis: Yeah.

Craig: And if you were to say to somebody in their regular life, and have the ability to actually change things around them that way, like, “You know, you have three sons. What if they were girls?” How violent — people would respond so violently to that. And the funny thing is you’d think that other writers would be sensitive to this, but they’re not. Because one of the things I find so fascinating is when you look at — I do arbitration sometimes for our credits. So, people will write their statements: This is why I think I deserve credit.

And a lot of the statements are like, “So, this is what my script is. And then I read this, and it’s just a version of my script.” No, it’s just a version of your script to you because these are words to you. That other person had like lived in their world. Like they went into your script, which was just a script to them, and built their world.

Dennis: Right.

Craig: And it’s so funny how we can’t see that.

Dennis: Well, it’s because you’re talking about the fantasy of objectivity. See, the reality is we are only conscious of our subjective experience. So, we look at everything through our own glasses. And so if a script, we’re rewriting someone else, we look at that other person’s script — we’re not in their subjective experience of creation.

Craig: Yeah. It’s words.

Dennis: It’s just a bunch of words. And you go, “Well, who would use a word like that?”

Craig: Right. Exactly.

John: Reading that script you say, “Well, I took this character that was named Karen and made it Susan, but she looks the same,” because she looks the same in your head.

Craig: Exactly right, yeah.

John: We forget that this whole world that exists in your head. And so I have seen this whole movie before.

Craig: “All they did was change the names and do a thing. And all they did was, okay, so it was a train and now it’s a boat. But it’s the same! It’s a train or a boat.” [laughs]

Dennis: I know.

Craig: It’s wild. Isn’t it amazing?

John: The classic advice to writers who are sitting down with directors or executives for the first time is just to remember that the writer is the only person who has already seen the movie. And so they’ve read your script, and they like your script, but as good as you were in sort of evoking the spirit of the movie with those 12-point Courier sounds and actions, it’s not the same as exactly what’s in your head. And it can never be quite that.

Dennis: That’s right.

John: And so a lot of times when you have those first meetings where you’re sitting down with a director, what you’re really doing is you’re just trying to communicate what it is that you’re seeing there and get a sense of what he or she is seeing there and making those align as best they can.

Dennis: Yeah. It’s hard for people to realize that if three people read a script there are three different scripts they read, three different movies they saw in their head. I mean, I remember so often just dealing with, especially early in my practice, dealing with patients who just could not deal with the concept that someone would read their script and not see what they saw. You know?

And it’s just the reality that we see everything from our own subjective lenses.

John: Do you deal with writing partners often in your practice?

Dennis: Mm-hmm. Oh yeah.

John: And so it feels like the interpersonal tensions there must be…

Craig: Couple’s therapy.

Dennis: Yeah. I do couple’s therapy with writing teams. Sometimes they’re married to each other, which makes it much more intense. But most of the time they’re not. But the issues are exactly as if they were married. They’re power issues, control issues. One will be late. Which one is the funny on? And which one got to return their agent’s phone call and does the agent like one of them better than the other?

It’s very fraught. I mean, the value — I started in television with a partner, a comedy writer named Mark Evanier, and there was enormous value in having a partner, because I was 22 and scared to death. And, you know, it’s a lot easier if a pitch goes badly to go outside and go, “Well, those guys are morons.” And have someone to share the disappointment with.

But it’s also enormously fraught, because again, there’s no two subjectivities are the same. And invariably when I’m working with a team I’ll get a call from one of them going, “I’m working on a script by myself. When do I tell him?”

Craig: Yeah.

Dennis: I mean, this happens all the time.

Craig: Right. And what do you do with that?

Dennis: I say, “I don’t have any private conversations with you. You come into the office with your writing partner…”

Craig: And we’ll talk it out.

Dennis: “…and we will talk it out.” I don’t carry secrets like that. And I have never had a writing team that didn’t try to have a secret, a one-on-one conversation with me.

Craig: Wow.

Dennis: Yeah, but you know, everyone feels as though who they are, and what they believe, and what they need to say. They want it to come out as unfiltered as possible. You have to get through a director, a producer, a network executive, a star. You also have to get through your writing partner.

Craig: I know.

Dennis: And Mark and I worked together pretty well, but I remember arguments we would have that just seemed ludicrous. I thought to myself, “Jesus, we’re arguing over punctuation.”

Craig: Yeah.

Dennis: But we weren’t arguing over punctuation. It’s power.

Craig: That’s a more reasonable argument than the kind I used to have with my writing partner. We would have some crazy arguments. And the truth is it was, at least for me and for Greg, well, I can’t speak for Greg, but for me it’s because I’m probably not supposed to have a writing partner. I’m one of those guys…

Dennis: Yeah. And the arguments are never about what they’re about. They’re about all the unspoken stuff in the partnership.

John: Yeah. I’m not supposed to have a writing partner, either. And so Jordan Mechner, who is a good friend and a terrific writer, he and wrote a pilot for Fox together. And the power disparity between us just made it really ridiculous for us to do it, because any argument we would really get into I would just sort of trump card him, and that wasn’t fair and it wasn’t good for the concept.

Craig: “I’m John August, dammit.”

John: Slam!

Craig: [roars] And flip the table. Have you ever seen him flip a table?

Dennis: No.

John: I Hulk out all the time.

Dennis: Oh really? Cool.

Craig: All the time. Absolutely. He gets 4% bigger.

Dennis: But, yeah, this is Craig’s table, not mine. So, feel free to flip it if you want to.

John: It’s a very heavy table.

Craig: Yeah, he can’t flip this one. No, I’m thinking more like Bridge tables. Lighter fare.

John: Yeah, this is the arts and craftsy kind of thing, suitable for Pasadena. It looks quite heavy.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But I would say my only good writing partner experience, not that Jordan was bad or anything, but the only one I feel good about was Andrew Lippa with Big Fish in that he had a completely different skill set and so we complemented each other in a way. But it has been that issue of recognizing that it’s like a marriage and that you have to sort of sometimes talk about yourselves and what your relationship is so that it’s all good.

Craig: Sometimes you have to have sex.

John: No, that doesn’t work.

Craig: Oh, it doesn’t work?

Dennis: No, I found that’s actually very effective.

Craig: Okay, no matter who they are?

Dennis: No matter who they are. Yes.

Craig: I agree with you. The most fruitful writing partnership that I’ve had is with Todd Phillips. And I think in large part it’s because even though we write together, he’s the director. And we’re writing together, we’re coming up with the story together, but usually I’ll start and then we’ll kind of go through it together. There is a division of labor that’s natural, and frankly also there’s a division of labor just in terms of where we’re going to end up. That ultimately we can start together, but we will diverge and then I’ll be over here looking at the script and he’s over here doing the billion things that the director does.

And it makes it somehow okay. It’s like a partnership that’s not a partnership, and that’s fine. And we also then can go and go our separate ways. My fortunes aren’t tied to this person. That’s so much of the like I can feel the choking stuff.

Dennis: That’s so much of the dynamic, right, is that for writing teams, particularly longstanding writing teams, their fortunes are tied together.

Craig: Right.

Dennis: And it’s very, very, very, very difficult. And yet so many of them, either one or the other is clandestinely writing something. It’s just…

Craig: I have like, I want to talk to you about, I want to do another podcast on my own. Just me.

Dennis: Mm-hmm. Yeah.

Craig: Not with this guy.

Dennis: Not with this guy.

Craig: But can I talk to you about it separately or do I have to do it with — okay, I’ll do it in front of him.

Dennis: I had a great story. I was working on a film when I was in the film business with a very well known comedy star and his writing-producing partner. And the three of us would work every day. And at one point the producing partner went to the bathroom and the comedy star turned to me and said, “I can’t deal with this guy anymore. I have had it with him. I can’t deal with him. He’s such a pain in the ass.”

So then the producing partner came in, and after a few minutes the comedy star went out to go to the bathroom and the producing partner turned to me and said, “I’ve had it. This is the last film I’m doing with him.” And so I was afraid to leave the room. [laughs]

Craig: Those situations, I’m always very scared, because I always feel like they’ll do that, and they mean it in the moment, but if you dare get in between those jaws, they will close on you.

Dennis: That’s right. That’s right.

Craig: You’ll be the — it’s like, “Oh, I knighted you by…” The Weinstein brothers are notorious. Harvey and Bob fight like cats and dogs, but…

John: Don’t try to come between them.

Craig: People that have got in between them have just been crushed.

Dennis: Yeah, addendum: they’re still together.

Craig: Well, we’ll see how that goes.

Dennis: No, no, I mean…

Craig: Oh, those guys?

Dennis: The two guys. And this goes back 25 years. They’re still together.

Craig: Nice. See, there you go.

John: So, a practical question. Let’s say a writer who is a working screenwriter, is in the WGA, needed to see someone like yourself for some issues, is that a thing that insurance covers? How do they come to you and how does that work?

Dennis: Well, they come to me primarily now through referrals. They used to come to me through my column. People would read it and call me. I work fee-for-service. People, I bill my patients, and then they pay me, because I want to liberate them from me talking to their insurance carrier about their issues.

So, what happens is they pay me and then take the invoice and send it to the Writers Guild, or the Directors Guild, whatever, and get reimbursed. And the reimbursement is very, very good.

Craig: Yeah, it’s the same. It’s just really that you handle your own paperwork.

Dennis: Yeah, you handle your own paperwork. Because if you go onto one of their preferred providers they’ll tell you how many sessions you can have. And to get the assigned benefits you have to talk about their issues. And I don’t trust corporations not to share that material. So, you know, I’m an old ’60s guy, I guess, whatever. But that’s how that works. It’s fee-for-service.

Craig: And you just call you up. Just call Dennis Palumbo.

Dennis: Yeah, just call me up. Or you can find me through my website cleverly named dennispalumbo.com. And you can email me and we’ll set up a time to talk on the phone. And I’ll try to make sure it’s a good fit. I think people should be really good consumers of their own therapy. Regardless of what they thought about what I said here, if they come in and it doesn’t feel like a good fit for them they shouldn’t work with me.

They should find the person with whom they feel comfortable.

John: One thing I’ve noticed in the past few years is writers who when you get them talking will talk about Adderall or some other sort of performance enhancing drug. Is that something you see in your practice?

Dennis: Constantly.

John: And that’s a growing thing, is that correct?

Dennis: Yeah.

John: Can we talk about some of the reasons why writers start on that and your experience with writers who use that and whether it’s, you know, is it helpful, is it harmful? What is the spectrum of what you see?

Dennis: It runs the gambit. There are people who just use Red Bull because they’re using the caffeine hit. And there are people who, I mean, for a long time Ritalin was used, very small milligram percentage. And then now Adderall a lot. And it’s the same as in the ’70s when I was on TV shows and everybody used coke because they thought it made them funnier.

I think there’s kind of a placebo effect with Red Bull and Adderall because if you’re interested you have energy.

Craig: Right.

Dennis: If you’re engaged with your writing you can do two, three hours. Unless you have severe ADD, I think it’s become like a — it’s sort of like 25 year olds who take Viagra, just to put a little topping on it, you know? Well, that’s what I see with some of my patients. And you have to be careful because the stuff can get really addictive, particularly psychologically, telling yourself that without this you can’t work.

Craig: Without it I can’t do it. I hear also people using this Provigil. Have you heard of this one?

Dennis: Yeah, I’ve heard that one, too. You’d be surprised how many people still use grass for that reason.

Craig: That’s a great ’60s term. Grass, man.

Dennis: Well, weed, whatever you want to call it. But they really do feel that it sort of lowers the Portcullis Gates and allows their creativity to come in. I’m exactly the opposite.

Craig: Exactly. I’m such a Boy Scout. I can’t even handle music playing while I’m writing, unless it’s orchestral film score, like low. I can’t write after a glass of wine. I can barely write after a Tylenol. [laughs] I’m like I need to be so sober…

Dennis: Yeah, if I have a glass of red wine I’m done for like the week.

Craig: Pretty much, yeah.

Dennis: I’m a real lightweight.

Craig: Have you ever dabbled?

John: I can’t. And I have to be really quite sober. I glass of wine, I can still function. But, I think honestly alcohol for me is that thing that happens at dinner or after dinner that says like, okay, the night is over. It’s a signal to my body saying, “You are free now to stop thinking about your work.”

Dennis: Yeah. That, to me it’s like “it’s Miller time.” That’s what the one glass of wine is.

Craig: Alcohol, definitely. And it makes sense because alcohol is a central nervous system depressant. It’s generally not a good idea to depress your central nervous system that you’re relying on to write. Although I will — an occasional cigar does miracles for me, I have to say. I little bit of nicotine there does seem to kind of…focus in.

Dennis: I have some very successful patients who go off cigarettes for months and months and months until they get their next screenplay deal. And then they smoke for the four months they’re writing the draft, because they can’t write without cigarettes. And then they go off again.

Craig: [laughs] That’s…they should stop doing that. That’s bad.

Dennis: I know. But they’ve been stopping and starting for 25 years.

John: Couched in what you were saying earlier about Adderall is you say like people can get their two or three hours in. I think it was nice that you said two or three hours, because I think there’s this belief that like you should be able to write like eight hours in a day. And no one does that.

Craig: Two or three.

Dennis: When I was a screenwriter I wrote every day from 9 to 1, and the first hour was rereading what I had written the day before. And I wrote two or three hours, max, and I felt like I was doing my job.

See, I’m very blue collar about work, about writing, I really am. I don’t think you sit and wait for inspiration or any of that crap. I think you sit down and you put in your three hours.

And when someone says, “Well, I’ve got to write for eight or ten hours if I’m really inspired,” they’re telling themselves that they’re not a craftsman and they’re not a professional. They’re telling themselves that some lucky bolt of lightning came through the window and is helping them write. And if they stop they’ll never have that again. And I think that that sends you a bad signal about your own sense of craft.

Craig: I agree. I’ve always approached it as there is the preparing to write, which is quite lengthy for me, and then there’s the writing, which is a sprint. And sometimes it’s a two-hour sprint, but it’s a sprint. And it’s a very focused thing. When I’m done, I’m exhausted. I’m physically exhausted, you know, because I’m acting it out, I’m seeing it, I’m gone. I’m in some weird fugue state while I’m writing. And that’s important. That’s part of it.

But I’ve felt it, like when I get to like that fourth or fifth page, I can feel it going away. And I’ve come over time to recognize — Stop. I mean, I want to stop anyway. I want to stop after a half a page. But there have been days where I have. I’ve gotten to a half a page, and I stop. And you feel a little bit like a baby, but the important thing is it’s okay to feel like a baby as long as you don’t decide that means you are a baby.

Dennis: Are a baby. That’s right.

John: Another thing I’ve noticed with writers is because we can do our work at any place at any time, a lot of us tend to do it from like midnight to 6am. And at what point do you say like well that’s getting your work done, or at what point are you saying, well, that’s not healthy for you and your family and for your life. Does that come up?

Dennis: It comes up all the time. See, I have kind of a different view. My view is you need to have a benign relationship with your process. So, if you like to write in the morning, or the afternoon, if you like to write after midnight, then do it.

What I think is a mistake is to go, “Gee, I just read that Aaron Sorkin writes from midnight till six, so I should write from midnight to six.” The fantasy that there is some technique that frees you from the struggle of writing.

On the other hand, we live in the real world. I mean, if I were a screenwriter now, I could never write from midnight till six because I have a wife and a kid and a dog and cats.

Craig: I’m too old to do that anymore.

Dennis: Plus, my body won’t tolerate it. It just won’t. And so I think you have to find the process that feels the most congenial. But, again, writers don’t live in a vacuum. They’re often in a relationship, they often have children, or siblings that they’re dealing with. One of my most successful writers has a severely handicapped sibling. And she’s in charge of this sibling. And that’s a big aspect of her life.

So, there’s not going to be any of these 12-hour writing days for her. That’s not going to happen. But she still gets a lot of work done, because there doesn’t have to be 12-hour writing days.

Craig: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Dennis: There doesn’t have to be anything.

Craig: Ah!

Dennis: And I think that’s the key for new writers.

Craig: That’s good. I like that. That’s a great place to end, don’t you think?

John: I agree.

Craig: It doesn’t have to be anything. Oh, boy, I always feel better after I talk to you. Well, thank you. That was spectacular.

If you feel like joining in, we have our One Cool Thing. Do you have a One Cool Thing?

John: I do have a One Cool Thing.

Dennis: I do, too.

Craig: All three of us have a One Cool Thing. We have Three Cool Things.

John: My One Cool Thing actually ties in pretty well to some of our topics today. It’s a movie that I saw because the filmmaker was up at the Sundance Labs. And so his film had already been on my list of movies I want to see at some point. I have a long list. But I needed to see it because I was going to meet with him.

The movie is called The Imposter. And it’s terrific. And so the conceit behind The Imposter, which is not a spoiler because in the first three minutes you’ll know what’s happening. There is a boy in Texas who disappears. And his family looks for him. A big search, flyers everywhere. Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Years later he shows up in France and they find him in France — I’m sorry, Spain. He calls back and, they call back and are like, “We found your son.” They come and get him, they bring him back. And what you realize is it’s not the same kid at all. It’s just an imposter, a guy pretending to be their son. And you think like that can’t possibly have a third act. Because you know what the third act is going to be. They’re going to find out that’s not him.

And yet it has this amazing third act. And it’s a documentary that’s really ingenious in that…

Craig: Oh, it’s a documentary?

John: Yes.

Craig: Oh, it’s real?

John: It’s real. And what’s so fascinating about the technique the director chose is you’re intercutting between these very Errol Morris, static, beautifully lit interviews, talking heads with recreations of what’s actually happening in ways that are so seamless and transfixing that the central conceit, the metaphor of the imposter feels perfect because you’re watching these doppelgängers sort of move between documentary and dramatic film.

Craig: Oh, that’s interesting.

John: So, it’s highly recommended. It’s on Netflix right now, streaming.

Craig: Excellent. Well, my One Cool Thing is an app. Now that we have our Twitter army that supports me, because I never have One Cool Thing, this is what happens, because I never think about it, and then I go, “Uh, I don’t know.” So, I’ve asked them to help me with One Cool Things. And it’s great because now people are constantly Tweeting me with these cool things.

And almost always they’re cool, but this one was cool! It’s so stupid, but I love it. It’s called Paper Karma. It’s an app. You have an old school phone, you can’t use this, but we have cool phones.

Paper Karma, genius. You get junk mail. The junk mail is addressed to you. You launch Paper Karma, it turns your camera on, and you just take a picture of your address on the thing and you hit send and it goes to them and they see, “Okay, so this catalog sent you this thing that you don’t want, now we’ll take it from here. We’ve got your name and your address and the catalog. We’re now doing all the paperwork for them to tell them to stop sending you stuff.”

Dennis: Oh my god. What a great app!

Craig: It’s awesome. So, now like every day I got the mailbox excited about junk mail, so I can take pictures of it and send it to Paper Karma.

John: I am so dubious, Craig. I feel like they are just giving your address again, and again, and again.

Craig: No! No way!

John: Because they verify that a person is actually there receiving that mail.

Craig: No, they’re good people.

John: Oh, okay.

Dennis: Oh, yeah.

Craig: Check it out.

John: I love that Craig believes in random people but has huge distrust in belief over other sets of people.

Craig: If I can see you, then I don’t trust you. [laughs] That’s basically how it works. But if I don’t see you and you have a name and an app and an icon, then I totally trust you.

John: There’s someone in India who is like, “He’s sending us his address again. He must really be there.”

Dennis: Yes!

Craig: Well I don’t care. I’m going to keep doing it. I’m very, very, very…ah, and listen. [fire truck sirens in background] There they are. Ah, the children of the night.

John: I was worried we weren’t going to have any sirens.

Craig: I know. It would have bummed people out. So, this is what goes on usually three or four times a podcast.

Dennis: Is that because of the bomb threats?

Craig: It’s because the fire station is down the street. And, also, sometimes when I’m bored I phone in a bomb threat or two to Cheesecake Factory.

John: I was really hoping that the maintenance worker was going to come in and empty out trash. That’s the best moment.

Craig: She’s my favorite.

Dennis: Oh yeah?

Craig: She’s not here today. So, Dennis, what about your One Cool Thing?

Dennis: My One Cool Thing is a film, a Spanish film, and the reason I mention it is because as someone who writes crime novels and I’ve read like five million of them, and I’ve seen practically every crime thriller ever made, there’s a Spanish film called The Secret in Their Eyes that is one of the most beautifully written and acted crime procedurals I’ve ever seen and has the most surprising ending I think I’ve ever seen for a crime thriller. The combination of humanity, yearning, regret, all the stuff in the human condition, even what we think of as what appropriate justice for a bad guy would be, all of it gets turned on its head.

And I recommend it very, very highly.

Craig: What was the title one more time?

Dennis: It’s called The Secret in Their Eyes.

Craig: The Secret in their Eyes.

Dennis: And it’s Spanish and it’s quite remarkable.

Craig: Excellent. Excellent.

Craig: Dennis, thank you so much for coming. This was a lot of fun.

Dennis: this was a real pleasure. Thank you so much.

Craig: It was great, thank you. I think you’ve probably helped quite a few people today.

Dennis: Well, I hope so.

Craig: I will return to hurting them, again, next week, and that’s it.

John: That’s it. Take care.

Craig: That’s it. Fantastic. Thanks.

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