The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: [Yawns] My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 125 of Scriptnotes, the Ego episode of a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
On today’s episode we’re going to talk about Beyoncé’s surprise album and what it might portend for filmmakers and the future of home video.
We’re going to talk about a post that Craig found on egoless programming and how that could benefit screenwriters.
Finally, we’re going to talk about a lawsuit filed about The Expendables and what that could mean for the future of WGA credit arbitrations.
But, first and most importantly, Craig, how was Austria?
Craig: It was great. I had a great time. It’s why I’m a little sleepy because I’m still jetlagged. Jetlag is one of those things that everybody just goes, “Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, jetlag. It’s annoying like airplane food is annoying. And security is annoying.” But it’s so much worse than that. [laughs] Nobody really wants to admit that it’s actually a traumatic illness that your body goes through, not once, but twice.
John: See, I think it affects different people different ways. I actually really enjoy the coming-back-from-Europe jetlag because it just means I go to bed really early and it’s really nice.
Craig: Yeah. That’s true. And that has been the case. But I can still tell that my body is a bit screwed up and I tend to wake up at 3am for 45 minutes and then I go back to bed. It’s just not — I’m not quite there yet. But no question, much easier that way than actually showing up. You’re so messed up when you get there.
But Austria was wonderful. I had a great time. Vienna is a remarkable city. It’s a beautiful city. I learned a lot.
Craig: You know, it’s nice going to a place where you leave knowing more than you — I mean, this is how ignorant I was. Did you know that Marie Antoinette was Austrian? She was Viennese.
Craig: You did?
John: Because I saw the Sophia Coppola movie.
Craig: Oh, there you go. That’s how you knew.
John: Yeah. So, I saw it in the tent where they stripped her down and then she put on her new clothes to leave Austria behind.
Craig: Exactly. And then I was reading more about Marie Antoinette. She got a really raw deal. But, regardless, I learned a lot and I saw a ton of stuff. And I had a wonderful lunch with some of our podcast listeners and it was great.
John: So we have Austrian podcast listeners?
Craig: We do. Yeah. We have, let’s see, one, two, three, four, five, six, I believe six.
John: Wow. That’s kind of great.
Craig: Well, six that agreed to show up at lunch. But we had a great time. And it’s a beautiful city. My kids had a great time. My wife had a great time. We all — it was a lovely vacation. I plan on not leaving — even the Pasadena area at this point seems like too far to travel for me, so I’m not going anywhere for awhile.
John: Very good. Well, it’s good to have you back. And actually a lot happened while we were gone, or at least while we were not recording our shows, because our last two episodes have been the live shows. We did our live show and then we did the questions from our live show, so it’s been awhile since we’ve done this thing where just you and I are talking about the issues of the day.
Craig: It’s nice, isn’t it?
John: It’s kind of nice. It’s nice, and relaxing, and quiet. We’ve got the lawn mowers dealt with before this, so I think we’re good.
John: So, one of the things that happened was right before the holidays, actually December 12, so right before we going to go record, Beyoncé released this album. And we’re not a show that talks about music very much, but in general anything that happens in the music industry is something that’s going to happen in the film and television industry just a couple of years ahead of time.
John: That’s what we’ve largely learned is that all the changes that sort of shook through the music industry with piracy and artists and all that stuff eventually happened in film and television land. So, I watched the Beyoncé surprise album and wondered what could that mean for us.
And two things I want to talk about. First off, Beyoncé was able to surprise the world with this album because she sort of made it in secret and she shot these videos in secret and she could just, surprise, here’s this album. It came out on like a midnight.
John: I want to ask whether you think a filmmaker, certain kinds of filmmakers could do that, where they would just surprise the world with a movie that they don’t even pre-announce. There’s no advanced publicity for it. And what that could look like.
Craig: It’s possible. It would have to be a very small movie.
John: Maybe. Maybe. Or it would be have to be a very reclusive filmmaker.
Craig: Look, let’s say you’re making a normal size movie. You have to pull permits just to shoot outside. You know what I mean? I mean, there’s a specific kind of movie I think you might be able to get away with, but it would be very hard to show up somewhere with famous people and start shooting if it were a normal movie.
John: Yeah. Although I genuinely think there are ways to do that. You look at J.J. Abrams with Cloverfield. Everyone thought they were making a different movie than they were actually making. And so they called — they had some sort of code name for the movie. It was like Cheese Party or something.
John: And everyone thought they were making some goofy little comedy for Paramount and it turned out they were making Cloverfield. So, I wonder if there is, I’m not even going to wonder. I’m wondering when the first filmmaker will just suddenly drop a movie on iTunes with no advanced notice. Or just literally drop it in theaters, basically taking the slot of another movie that was supposed to be there and suddenly this movie exists out there in the world.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t think this is going to happen.
John: No one thought that Beyoncé could suddenly release an album.
Craig: No, you know what? That to me is — the only impediment to doing what Beyoncé did, or I suppose the only two impediments are, one, a level of fame that is so extraordinary that anything you do is news.
Craig: And, two, balls.
Craig: Just absolute balls. And she has both, obviously the second one figuratively. But you can sit in a… — And I think also the music industry has been plagued by pre-release leaks and pre-release piracy that is connected to the promotion and hype surrounding an upcoming album. So, it was smart that she was able to do it this way.
The videos are things that you can shoot inside soundstages. And the music obviously can be done inside of a small studio. It doesn’t require large movements. And most importantly the publicity campaign for an album is designed to get people on the day the album is released to press a button and get the album.
Craig: You can’t press a button and get a theatrical movie experience.
John: Well you can if you’re willing to give up theatrical. If you’re willing to give up theatrical, or if you’re able to slot yourself into someone else’s place. That’s sort of hard to believe that someone is going to actually like be able to take 2,000 screens and then give them up for you so you can —
Craig: You can’t. You can’t because the theaters are different. They’re owned by different companies. It’s so complicated. And I’m not even sure what the upside is, frankly, because the upside of what Beyoncé did was to say, “Surprise everybody. Here’s an album. And on any day of any week if I put an album out you’re going to want it. Isn’t this cool that I just did this without even telling you I was going to do it?”
And that’s great, but that’s not the case for any movie. I mean, the only movie that I think you could get away with something like this would be if suddenly J.J. went, “Surprise, Star Wars is in theaters today!” But why? [laughs] What’s the point?
John: Well, let’s talk about the J.J.s or the David Finchers or somebody, because if you don’t need to have a big screen theatrical experience, if you’re willing to say, like, well this movie is now suddenly on iTunes and you didn’t know it existed and right now you can download it and watch it right now, there are certain filmmakers for which that would be an incredibly compelling way to do it if they could charge $15 for the download of that. There is good money to be made there.
So, if David Fincher — Or really you can think about it with television at this point, too. If David Fincher came out with a four-hour series on something that was kind of great and he just made it and released it out there, that’s possible.
Or, your concern seems to be about that you need to be outdoors and people are going to notice that you’re doing this thing. Well, yeah, but people are outdoors filming a lot. Or sometimes they don’t even make movies outdoors. Gravity is shot entirely inside.
Craig: Yeah. For sure.
John: So, it’s possible.
Craig: Yeah, that is possible. I’m just not sure why you’d want to do it that way. I mean, to say, “Surprise! I made a movie,” is great but I can’t think — the only movies I can think of that would be so immediately compelling as to get people to want them right on that surprise day would be movies that don’t need this trick.
John: Well, a surprise prequel. A surprise sequel by a filmmaker who is really interesting. So, essentially the David Bowie of filmmaking who doesn’t make things very often would be interesting. And I think the advantage, you said what is the advantage. The advantage is that promotion is incredibly expensive. As we’ve talked about on the show, you can spend $25 million, $40 million promoting an upcoming release. If you don’t have to spend any of that money and just the surprise of it all takes care of a lot of that, that’s pretty compelling.
Craig: Well, yeah, but you know that’s —
John: It’s a gamble.
Craig: It’s a gamble. The only time you’re not gambling is when say you’re releasing an album that didn’t cost $50 million to make but cost maybe, I don’t know, $5 million to make. And the album is from the biggest pop star in the world.
John: Yeah. So, I’m not going to convince you that someone is going to do that, but I think some filmmaker will do it and it will be really interesting. It will be sort of the bigger version of Shane Carruth what he did with Upstream Color which was basically, “Surprise, I finally made a movie,” and released it sort of almost day and date with the theatrical debut at Sundance.
John: But here’s I think the more interesting thing about Beyoncé and the thing that we should think about in terms of the industry is what happens when you release this thing through iTunes and then suddenly your physical retailers, your Targets and your Amazons, say, “Well screw you. We don’t want to ship your CD anymore.” And that’s going to be a really interesting case with movies.
If we are debuting more of our features on iTunes, at a certain point these retailers are going to say, “Well, no, we’re not going to sell your movie in our store.” And that’s going to be an interesting development. I think it’s going to happen.
Craig: Well, for theatrical movies I believe that the moviegoing experience, the theater-going experience is going to continue.
John: I agree.
Craig: And so I don’t think that that’s relevant in any significant way for feature films. For television shows —
John: Well, Craig, let’s talk about it. There’s always been this sense that theatrical movies are releases in the theaters and then they’re released on home video.
John: And that home video has traditionally been the same time that the physical DVD comes out there is a download through iTunes. And every time we try to change that day and date people get really, really angry.
Craig: Well the theaters get angry.
John: No, no. Theaters get angry. But I think, let’s take the theaters out of it for a second. Let’s say you have The Avengers and it goes spectacularly well in the theaters and everyone is delighted. So, let’s say that Marvel decides, you know what, we are going to put it on iTunes a week before we ship the physical disc.
Craig: Well, look, the physical discs are going to die. That’s inevitable. Everybody knows that. Everybody knows. That’s going to happen. So, you mean, right now the studios are still making money off of the plastic. They will continue to protect the people who push the plastic for as long as they can. But they realize they’re groping along a curve and they’re not quite sure where they are in the curve. But they are as convinced as anybody that the plastic is going to go away inevitably.
John: So, my question though is does the plastic go away partially because some studio says, “Okay, we’re going to do the digital version first,” and the retailers say, “Well screw you. If you do that we won’t carry your physical disc at all,” which is exactly what they did with Beyoncé.
Craig: I think that when that day comes it will not be what causes the death of plastic. It will be the death rattle of plastic. In other words the studios aren’t going to — they’re not going to do anything to hurt their revenue base until they are quite sure that there is more money to be made doing it the other way.
So, that will be — that’s like one of those jungle fights that happened in a South Pacific island in 1946 because soldiers there didn’t realize the war had ended.
Craig: How’s that for an analogy?
John: That’s a good analogy. We should get Aline Brosh McKenna here. She would mix some squirrels in with it, but I think she would appreciate that analogy.
Craig: No question.
John: So, to summarize your positions, you believe that we will not see a filmmaker surprise us with a feature film on iTunes with no publicity within the next year.
Craig: Not a major one, no. I mean, I think that, look, there are movies that are small that frankly anyone could say, “Surprise!” because they don’t really have much of a budget to promote it anyway. And I don’t think there’s any need for Shane Carruth to promote his movies. He has a very small avid fan base. His own website, I think, would suffice. However, if you have a company that is investing tens of millions of dollars into a feature film, no, I don’t think — no one is going to be going, “Surprise.”
John: I predict that there will be one. And it will be — if it’s not J.J. Abrams it will be someone like J.J. Abrams. And I also strongly suspect that within the week after Beyoncé did her album there was a conversation happening at Bad Robot about how do we do something like this.
Craig: Why? I don’t know. Why do you think that J.J. is so obsessed with this?
John: Because J.J. and I think a lot of other filmmakers are obsessed with secrecy, obsessed with surprise, obsessed with the ability to go directly to their fans and not have to do all of the in between steps. I think it’s possible and compelling.
I also think George Lucas could easily, you know, before they sort of shipped off the Star Wars empire, George Lucas could have easily done this, too.
John: Just like a surprise prequel thing.
Craig: That I agree with. In other words that’s such a compelling movie for so many people all over the world that the publicity that surrounds a new Star Trek movie is pointless, really. Everyone is going to see the next Star Wars movie. So, I agree with you on that point, but while I understand the love that filmmakers — all filmmakers I think have a love of surprise. And all filmmakers hate the exchange that occurs in marketing the movie where you need to show what you need to show to get them to show up, but you don’t want to show them things you don’t want them to see because you want them to enjoy the movie.
That tension is there for everybody, but the difficulty, I mean, look, the day that J.J. I think can do this is the day that he’s financing his own film. I guess that’s how I would put it. That would be a prerequisite for this, I think.
John: Yeah. And that’s why the Lucas model of it all makes sense. And so if it’s not him, then he has to have access to such a huge quantity of money, a Megan Ellison or somebody who can just do that to make that possible.
Craig: Well, somebody who could do that and then also not really care — have no problem just throwing —
John: Rolling the dice.
Craig: Crazy roll of the dice. Because the truth is it’s not like, look, what Beyoncé did in no small part was just for funsies because promotion wouldn’t have hurt the sales of her albums, the album, one little bit. It was just more like — it was swagger. It was great swagger.
John: It was swagger.
Craig: But it wasn’t businesswise I don’t think she made more money. I mean, you could argue that people tweeting each other “Oh my god, did you see what Beyoncé did?” created a huge amount of expectation for free and that’s true. And it was a roll of the dice. But in the end I can’t — I mean, look, the album is doing really well. Her last album did really, really well. The next one will do really, really well. So, from a business point of view I’m not sure that there’s a huge upside.
John: All right So, segueing from that topic of ego and swagger, let’s go to this article that you tweeted or emailed to me this week which I thought was really good. So, it’s this article from 2006 that you found.
Craig: Yeah. Actually I didn’t find it. Kevin Bisch, screenwriter Kevin Bisch sent it to me. And it is, yeah, it’s officially old. It’s now seven plus years old, I guess, or seven-ish years old. And it’s not about screenwriting at all. It’s about coding. It’s from a blog called codinghorror.com. And this piece was written by a guy named Jeff Atwood. And what he’s citing is actually the Ten Commandments of Egoless Programming as originally established in Jerry Weinberg’s book The Psychology of Computer Programming.
So, why are we talking about this on our screenwriting podcast? Well, Kevin when he sent it to me he said replace coding with screenwriting and all this stuff applies to us. So, I’m going to quickly read through these and stop me if you have comments.
John: All right.
Craig: Number one, understand and accept that you will make mistakes. The point is to find them early, before they make it into production.
John: I would agree with that. I think you have to agree with that. And I think any kind of writing which you’re going into not anticipating it being perfect from the start you will never finish it. You will never actually begin.
Craig: That’s right. And in the context of egolessness, the idea being you’re not perfect so you need to sort of negotiate between your pride and your belief in what you’ve done with your sense of humility and your understanding of your own imperfection.
John: Yeah. A second corollary thing that goes into this idea is to fail fast, fail often. Is that sense of like to go, write at to it and so you can actually — to get to a far enough place that you can actually see what the mistakes are and sort of not go so slowly that those mistakes are extra costly because of all the time you have put into it.
Craig: Do you do this thing, I do this thing where after a movie is done I look back to the first draft and I try and see if any line of dialogue survived intact. [laughs] You know, not changed in any way.
John: I haven’t done that. That would be fascinating to do.
Craig: There’s not many. There’s not many. It’s wild. The process is thorough.
Okay, number two, you are not your code, or in our case you are not your screenplay. Remember that the entire point of a review is to find problems, and problems will be found. Don’t take it personally when one is uncovered.
John: We’ve talked about this before on our “how to take notes” episode which is to listen and hear what they’re saying about the script and to not take it personally that you are a terrible writer for this perceived problem in a story, but to listen — to be the person who is there to help make this script better, not the person whose entire self-esteem is wrapped up into this one bit of writing.
Craig: And it’s hard for us, I think perhaps harder for us than it is for coders because it is us. I mean, the truth is we’re being artists here. And we’re pouring ourselves into something. No matter what genre it is, we’re pouring ourselves and it is an expression of many voices inside of us. So, it is us. When we’re writing we have to essentially say we are our script.
And then when we email it off we have to shut that off and say, “No, now we’re not our script.” And then we’ll come back to it and we’ll be it again and we’ll have to keep going back and forth in a strange way.
John: What is actually harder I think about our job than a coder’s job is that a coder to some degree can say that problem is solved. Clearly like it does what it needs to do and it does it in a way that lets the entire program run.
John: When we solve a problem in a script, yes, it might get us past a little thing but it may not serve the greater purpose the way it needs to serve. Because there’s no one scene you can write and you can say is the perfect scene. Whereas programs, or at least the sub routines in programs, can be optimized to a degree where you can say like there’s nothing more to do there.
Craig: Right. Exactly. There’s an objective success there and it’s much harder for us to find that.
You know, I’m looking at reviews for some of the movies I’ve seen recently that I loved and naturally there are — some nut hates it, you know. There’s no objective victory available.
Okay, number three, no matter how much “karate” you know, someone else will always know more. Such an individual can teach you some new moves if you ask. Seek and accept input from others, especially when you think it’s not needed.
I like that last part in particular.
John: Yeah. That last bit of advice is very hard for me to take because I tend to not seek other people’s input and opinion unless I really feel stuck.
Craig: I’m with you. I think we’re all with you. That is completely natural. I’m trying lately, sort of independent of this, I’m trying now to be a little, I could say brave, or I could say masochistic, [laughs], I’m not sure which one. I’m trying to be a little bit more of one of those. And handing over work that I am actually very happy about, because I feel that my emotional opinion isn’t necessarily related to the reality of whether or not it could be better.
And what if I hand something over that I just think is gorgeous and wonderful and someone says it is gorgeous and wonderful, but what about this or this? And you think, oh, that would make it gorgeouser and wonderfuler. So, I’m trying to… — But, obviously, when you’re not feeling good about it, which is a lot of the time, seeking out the wisdom of people with better karate is a positive thing.
John: I agree.
Craig: Okay, next, don’t — this is an interesting one and it will feed into our Millennium discussion — don’t rewrite code without consultation. There’s a fine line between “fixing code” and “rewriting code.” Know the difference, and pursue stylistic changes within the framework of a code review, not as a lone enforcer.
This is a bit messier for us, isn’t it?
John: It is. Because obviously as the writer of a film, the writer of a screenplay, you are ultimately responsible for everything that’s there. And what Jeff Atwood is talking about here is that your writing of code has to fit into the broader framework of the whole thing that’s trying to be done. And so basically saying like don’t fiddle with this little work because it could potentially break everything else.
And usually, as a feature screenwriter at least, we are dealing with the script either entirely by ourselves or it’s so clear that we’re working on this bit while this thing is being filmed. So, it’s tougher. And consultation with whom? Ultimately there won’t be other writers on a film, usually.
Craig: That’s right. The one thing that you and I both do is we give a call to, if we’re being brought on we call the prior writer or I guess the most significant prior writer. I think the translation for this for what we do is know what you’re being asked to do. And don’t cross the line unnecessarily.
Craig: There was a movie I worked on this year that I did some work on, uncredited work on, and there is a movie that will be coming out this year that I also did some uncredited work on. And I know the people who had written the movie and I knew that they were — it was their movie. I didn’t ask for credit or anything like that, and I also understood the parameters of my job which was not to rewrite but was to fix a few things here and there as best I could.
And I didn’t let that fixing spill over into other stuff. Believe me, if somebody had said, I think any screenwriter, if any screenwriter was asked, well, given free rein and your fee what would you do here, almost every screenwriter would change gobs and gobs of stuff, because it’s their individual expression. But knowing how to work within the lines of somebody else’s work respectfully when that’s the job, I think it’s a great thing to keep in mind.
John: You’re describing basically recognizing the scope of your involvement in the project. And there have been things where I’ve been brought in to do a very specific little thing and because I know that my natural voice wouldn’t fit this script I will deliberately write in the voice, or at least the style of the existing script, the previous writer.
And so there will be cases where I will do slug lines the way they do slug lines, or basically do action the way they would do action just so it will read consistently, so it won’t feel like the gears are not kind of clicking together.
John: But there are other cases where I really am being brought in on a page one and then I really will sort of go through the whole script and make it all feel like my voice because its ultimately going to be my version of the script.
Craig: No question. When you’re asked to come in and do a page one, or if sometimes I’m asked to come in, sometimes they will think that what’s required is a fix. And all you have to offer is to start over again. And I’m not demanding about it. I just say if what you want is to fix this within this I’m not the guy.
Craig: I would, however, this is a separate coherent story I think I could do from scratch if you’re interested. And sometimes they are. And when that happens then I just start from scratch. But I’m with you. If I’m working within the framework of somebody else’s screenplay, I don’t, yeah, I don’t sit and the first thing go, “Okay, I like bolding slug lines, so I’m going to start bolding all these slug lines.” I don’t do that. And don’t change the names. You know.
John: All that stuff.
Craig: All that stuff.
John: There’s a project that both the Wibberleys and I worked on that neither of us were the original writers. But they were the writers who came right before me. And so I looked at sort of how they did these sequences and there was stuff that I thought I could do better. I thought I could do better for what this movie wanted to be in its current incarnation. And so as I went through them I was — I used their style. And sometimes it’s as small as like do you end a hanging line on a dot-dot-dot, or a dash-dash?
And if I recall correctly they’re dash-dash people. And so I was like, you know what, I will dash-dash it. And it felt right for this one project.
Craig: Yeah. Exactly. There’s never really a debate on set between the director and the cast about, you know —
John: “But it says dash-dash.”
Craig: I mean, for me dash-dash is an abrupt thing and dot-dot-dot is a trailing. But, okay, next one.
Treat people who know less than you with respect, deference, and patience. Nontechnical people who deal with developers/screenwriters on a regular basis almost universally hold the opinion that we are prima donnas at best and crybabies at worst. Don’t reinforce this stereotype with anger and impatience.
John: Again, this is something that we talked about on previous shows, just expressed a little bit differently, which is how do you take a note and very gracefully understand it and reply to it in a way that is respectful, that makes sure the person is being heard and also can continue the conversation and doesn’t sort of abruptly say, “No, that’s a stupid idea. That won’t work.”
Craig: Yeah. One thing that I sometimes think about is that I am in the meeting for myself and the screenplay. I’m also in the meeting for the next screenwriter that walks in and the next one. And every screenwriter this person hires or talks to. That there is a way to get what you want, defend your work, fight for what’s right, and not be an ass.
Craig: And I like this, the “don’t reinforce this stereotype with anger and impatience.” I think that’s great advice for us a collective.
Next, the only constant in the world is change. Be open to it and accept it with a smile. Look at each change to your requirements, platform, or tool as a new challenge, not as some serious inconvenience to be fought.
And we are dealing with change in our business all the time, it seems.
John: And I think change on a given project will happen a lot. You’ll have suddenly an actor will be replaced. And that role which was a female role is now a male role. Or we were supposed to be shooting this in Topeka, but now we’re in Atlanta. That happens all the time to real movies that are really going to happen. And you have to accept that and sort of roll with it. Because if you try to fight it and say like, no, that’s impossible, well you’re not going to actually be able to proceed with the project.
Craig: Correct. They will find another writer who will be correct in saying, no, that’s very possible. The other thing that we deal with is change on a macro level across genres. Genres change. The kinds of movies that we write change. Trends change. And people’s taste change. And you have to be aware of it. You have to see it and keep your eyes open. I know writers who wrote a kind of movie that was in style and they’re still writing that kind of movie and that’s not the style anymore.
John: It’s true.
Craig: And it’s not about chasing things as much as just keeping up with the times. I mean, nobody walks around saying “radical,” [laughs], you know, so why should we write as if it were 1992?
Next, the only true authority stems from knowledge, not from position. Knowledge engenders authority, and authority engenders respect — so if you want respect in an egoless environment, cultivate knowledge.
And this for me is really one for our employers and maybe less for us.
John: I would agree. This is the one I had the hardest time applying to screenwriting. You can say, in a general sense you can say a good idea is a good idea no matter where it comes from. That partly that idea. But really that’s not knowledge, though. That’s just an idea. So, I guess I would say that you could take this to mean recognize that — oh god, I can’t even phrase this better.
I’m stumped on this one.
Craig: Yeah, to me it doesn’t really apply to us because the truth is if we write a screenplay that is the expression of the knowledge available. And I do believe most of the time that the screenwriter is the person in the room with the best understanding of the story. And that should impart authority. It often doesn’t. And there are times when we are talking to people who by position but not knowledge have a very arrogant way of essentially saying, no, no, I’m thinking of one person in particular that I’ve done some things with the best, who has a brother. And, you know, he would say things like, “No, that’s not funny.”
Well, but you’re not funny. You just own a company. That doesn’t make you funny. It just makes you a guy that is in charge. Being in charge doesn’t mean that you know what you’re talking about.
John: Agreed. And I think that you’ve hit on what you can actually take from this lesson is that just because that person has the power or is the person who has the authority to sort of make decisions doesn’t mean they actually are correct.
The egoless aspect of this though is to understand that that person is not necessarily correct and yet at the same time always be thinking of how do you move forward and to make this project the best it can possibly be given that this person with authority is making incorrect decisions.
Craig: That’s right. Essentially once you become aware that somebody saying confidently and with corporate given authority promotes an opinion, once you’re aware that that doesn’t necessarily connect to it being correct, now it’s about conniving to get what you want.
John: Well, conniving and also conspiring in general. Usually the only way you’re going to be able to get past an impossible gatekeeper is to rally enough support from other folks who actually need to help make the project.
John: And so if you have an impossible studio head then you need to enlist the reasonable studio head, or the producer, or director, or as many people as you can to get this thing to happen or find another way to make it happen, make them not realize that it happened.
Craig: Yeah. One thing that has occurred to me many times in my career is that if somebody is being a palpable jerk in a room, you’re not the only person who notices, nor are you the only person who is suffering. So, you have allies that are being created simply by the fact that this guy is a jerk. It may be your turn in the barrel, but jerks are jerks.
Craig: So, everybody else has gotten it at some point or another and perhaps you could make a friend.
Craig: All right, let’s see, we’ve got three more.
Fight for what you believe, but gracefully accept defeat. Understand that sometimes your ideas will be overruled. Even if you do turn out to be right, don’t take revenge or say, “I told you so” — told ya — more than a few times at most, and don’t make your dearly departed idea a martyr or rallying cry.
What do you think about that?
John: Absolutely true. And so often, yes, I think it’s a screenwriter’s job to stick up for what he or she believes is the best possible solution, but you also have to recognize that there may be a range of solutions that are all quite good and that you will not always win on those. And so if the solution that is picked is not your preferred solution, if you can live with the other solution write the best version of that you can and don’t try to, you know, don’t try to tank it so that you can sort of say, look, I told you it wouldn’t work.
No, you need to make that work. You need to make that work and make it work really well. That is your responsibility. That is what you’re brought in to do is to write really good words.
Craig: You know, there are times when we know we’re right. And it is beyond frustrating. It is sickening to be in a situation where everyone is talking about how to build a building and you’re saying that there needs to be a poured concrete foundation with reinforced steel in it and everybody else is saying, “No, no, no, I think just…”
John: Some bricks.
Craig: “Just some bricks. Some bricks that are loosely mortared.” And you can feel your body starting to tense. And the frustration of people around you denying what is patently, obviously correct can make you insane.
The one thing that you can’t do in a sense is just put the bricks, and the mortar, and the foundation. You have to find a way by hook or by crook to make the foundation right or go. But what you can’t do is you can’t throw yourself into doing something — there’s no way to write something that you know is absolutely totally wrong.
I will say that there is — people will eventually, I think, they eventually come and they see when it’s that obvious. Other people will start saying it. And eventually you’ll get your proper foundation. The advice here that I love is to not take revenge or say, “I told you so,” and don’t make your dearly departed idea a martyr or rallying cry, because what is more satisfying, to throw a tantrum and then get your way, or to get your way without throwing a tantrum and then have the people that were the problem come to you quietly later and say you were right?
John: They will never come to you and say you were right. I’ve never in my life had somebody come back to me and say like, “Oh, you know what? You were totally right.”
Craig: I’ve had it.
John: You’ve had it?
Craig: Yeah. I mean, it’s never like — they’re not crying about it or anything. I mean, look, we’ve all been there. Haven’t you ever gone to somebody and said, “You know what? You were right.”
John: Oh, I totally have. In terms of my screenwriting life and where things would go to the rail, rarely has that happened. To some degree on the second Charlie’s Angels. I think I’ve talk about this on the podcast before is at the very start of the process for making the second Charlie’s Angels I made a list of like, “Hey, let’s not do these things list,” which is basically like all the stupid things sequels do. And so it was like a 20 point list of like let’s not do these things. Let’s not have Cameron dancing in every scene. Let’s not sort of overdo stuff.
And it was a detailed list. I made everyone on the project sign it. [laughs] And it became the checklist of all the things we did.
Craig: Of course.
John: And the movie suffered for doing all those things. It was trying to deny fate. But I want to step back for a second because you started talking about like bricks and foundations and things and I wanted to differentiate between those fundamentally bad choices which you described as sort of this feeling in your gut like, oh, this is going to end poorly.
John: And there are much smaller things which happen all the time which is I think these things should be in this order rather than that order. And sometimes you’re right and sometimes you’re wrong, but I guess the question is sometimes you’re wrong and it doesn’t really matter that much. And so when it doesn’t matter that much you have to let it go.
Craig: Yes. I agree with you there. Some hills not worth dying on. No question. The one hill that is always worth dying on is the beating heart of what matters to you in the movie. Defending at its core what the movie is, what you want it to be, and defending what makes you passionate about writing the material. No question.
Look, the silliest thing a screenwriter can do, I think, is get into a fight before or during production over scene ordering, because once you get into the editing room there is no scene ordering anymore.
Craig: So, there are things that you just don’t argue about. Certainly locations and things like that, if the director is absolutely in love with the location make it work. Make it work. Because that’s going to be the location. That’s reality now. You know?
John: And when you’re in post you will actually be able to see the scenes two different ways to two orders of things and see what makes more sense. You may still be overruled, but hopefully it won’t matter that much.
Craig: Right. And, frankly, the directors I’ve worked with, and maybe I’m just lucky in this regard, have always been — they’ve always been reasonable. I mean, they’ve made enough movies to know that they’re not always right, so they’ll say, “Look, this is my feeling. I believe in this way. I get that you think it’s that way. Let’s try this one for the first test screening. We’re going to have another test screening. We’ll try it your way.”
Well, everything will get its shot, so everybody relax. That’s like a good example of why fight. No need to fight. Let’s just see it play.
Craig: Next, don’t be “the guy in the room.” Don’t be the guy coding in the dark office emerging only to buy cola. The guy in the room is out of touch, out of sight, and out of control and has no place in an open, collaborative environment.
Well, I don’t know, there are some wonderful guys in the room in our business, aren’t there?
John: There really are. I think what’s useful for screenwriters, and we’ve talked about this before, is that so much of a screenwriter’s job is solitary and it is literally being like that one guy sitting at the desk, one woman sitting at a desk, writing a script and pouring everything you have into this one imaginary world that you’ve created on the page.
The challenge is you also have to be the person who can talk to other people and interact with them so that this thing you’ve created on paper can be an actual movie that is shot. And that’s a tough thing to learn is that balance between being sociable and being public and being agreeable and friends of folks, and being that recluse who is really good at getting things written.
Craig: Yeah. I think that there are writers who can very successfully be the guys in the room, or the women in the room who never emerge. They are very solitary. They are not particularly social. They’re not really fit for, I don’t know, being on set and dealing with the hundreds of people moving in and out.
Those writers can write beautiful scripts and they may very well write beautiful movies. Their work will always be in danger because they aren’t equipped to care-take it through a very social process.
John: Agreed. Ultimately an incredibly collaborative process.
John: So, it’s a challenge.
Craig: Finally, critique code instead of people — be kind to the coder, not to the code. As much as possible, make all of your comments positive and oriented to improving the code. Relate comments to local standards, program specs, I don’t know what that means. But the point here is, and we see this all the time in the wasteland of internet “film criticism” that things get personal instead of about the subject matter itself.
And I’ve seen it happen many, many times in meetings. I never do it, but I’ve watched producers and studio executives suddenly get very personal with each other when it has nothing to do with the work.
John: I agree. General advice, never slam the writer. If you’re reading someone else’s screenplay, whether that person is in front of you or a thousand miles away, don’t slam the writer. If there is something that’s not working in the script, talk about what’s not working in the script. But don’t throw it all at the writer’s feet there.
Craig: I agree. And you hear it sometimes from people. They’ll say things like, “Well, I just think that this person stinks.”
Craig: You know, somebody may stink until they write something great. There are people, I mean, Charlie Kaufman used to write episodes of Alf, I think. And, you know, I thought Alf stank. A lot of people liked Alf. I thought it stank. Charlie Kaufman was writing Alf.
Did Charlie Kaufman stink? No. No he didn’t. There are lots of examples of this. And every good screenwriter has written something that somebody thinks stinks. I can’t think of a writer that has written nothing that I think stinks.
Craig: You know? I mean, at some point, because it’s me — you can’t make me happy all the time.
John: We’ve learn that through 125 episodes of the show.
Craig: [laughs] But you can make me happy a lot of the time.
John: Ooh, I try.
Craig: Yeah. And so anyway those were — I just thought it was fascinating how a completely different business shared so many of the same interesting problems that we have and some good tips here from Jerry Weinberg via Jeff Atwood via Kevin Bisch via us. Hat tip all of us.
John: Absolutely. Good advice is good advice.
And I think we’ll also have some good advice for the people involved in the lawsuit about The Expendables, which is our next topic.
John: So, this happened just before Christmas. It was December 24 is when the story came out that Nu Image and Millennium, which I guess are sort of a joint venture, are suing the Writers Guild of America West and screenwriter David Callaham, arguing that the 2009 guild arbitration gave Callaham undeserved credit on The Expendables and its sequels.
And so in the links to the show notes you’ll see there’s the PDF of the lawsuit you can read, there is other supporting material about it. It was really fascinating and I think we should probably before we dig into it too deeply just give us the refresher course on what credit decisions mean so we know what happened back in 2009 and so why this is happening now and sort of what it means now.
Craig: Well, the way credits work very fundamentally is that the Writers Guild and the companies have all agreed via our collective bargaining agreement, the writers’ union collective bargaining agreement, that the companies will propose screenplay credit that conforms vaguely to the rules that the guild has put forward. They can’t put forward proposed credits that don’t fit, for instance.
And then if any of the participating writers in the project disagree, or if any of the participating writers had another job like producer or director, then the guild has an arbitration. The guild arbitration is unilateral. By agreement between the company and the union the guild appoints three people. They read the material. They render a decision. That decision is essentially final. The review process is also internal to the guild and typically doesn’t yield any changes.
And those become the final credits, period, the end, that’s it.
John: And when we’re talking about the credits on a feature film we are talking about Story by, Screenplay by, and if a writer is credited with both of those things those are often conflated down to Written by.
Craig: Right. And there’s also Screen Story by, which is the adaptation version of Story by. And a very, very rarely used credit known as Adaptation by. That is the unicorn of credits. You never see it.
John: So, the Writers Guild determines credits for feature films. And pretty much all the feature films you’re going to see in theaters are going to have a Writers Guild credit determination because those were released by the majors, and the majors have all agreed by contract in order to be able to hire Writers Guild writers they have to agree to Writers Guild credit determinations.
Craig: That is correct.
John: All Writers Guild members have agreed that this is how credits will be determined. We’ve talked about on the show before it’s not a perfect system by far. You’ve been involved personally, Craig, on talks of reforms or changes to it and maybe some of those will happen. But what’s so fascinating about this lawsuit is when you hear people with problems about their credits its usually the credit writer or the person who believes they deserve credit and didn’t get credit. They’re the ones who kicking up a lot of dirt and dust about the credit process. This is interesting because it’s a company doing it which was the first I remember this having happened.
Craig: I’d never heard of such a thing. And I have bad news for Millennium, [laughs], there have been a number of court cases where Writers Guild members or former Writers Guild members have sued the union because they felt that they were unfairly deprived of credit. And no one has ever one. No one has ever beaten city hall on this one because the rules are pretty clear.
And the rules are not that you get credit that you can agree with. The rules are this is the credit. And as long as we follow the rules that’s that and you are powerless to change it. And it can be extraordinarily frustrating and traumatic and emotionally distressing for writers and there have been really bad decisions. And you can imagine how that feels to be disappeared off of a movie that you’ve written half of. And it’s happened. Or more than half of.
And still no victories.
John: Still no victories.
So, let’s talk about this case at least as well as we understand it. So, this all stems from Stallone is trying to write this movie called The Expendables. He reads a script that Callaham has written called The Barrows or something and if I get any of this stuff wrong read the real court case, because I could be misrepresenting some of these details. Callaham has written this script called The Barrows. Stallone reads it. Ultimately Stallone decides that he’s going to be basing some of it on the script The Barrows. The script is purchased and at a certain time as it goes in for credit arbitrations, because Stallone is that production executive of features, he’s a director or producer on the project, it has to go to WG arbitration.
In that WG arbitration Callaham is rewarded sole story credit and shared screenplay credit.
John: That should basically be it. That’s usually the last you ever hear about this, except there have been two sequels to that movie. And it’s because of those two sequels that this is continuing to come up. And because of some emails that surfaced from Callaham to it’s not clear whom in which Callaham basically says this movie is terrible and he’ll be surprised if he gets certain kinds of credit.
Craig: Screenplay credit. Yeah, so look, here’s what this is really about. We’ve talked about separated rights before and there are certain rights that go along with getting story credit. Screenplay credit gets you a bigger share of the portion of residuals, but story credit is what confers separating rights. And that includes certain things that go along with sequels to original screenplays.
For example, the contractual credit Based on characters created by. So, for instance, in The Hangover Part II and III in the credits it says Based on characters created by Lucas and Moore because they had sole story credit, importantly, on the first Hangover.
And there are also payments that go along with this sort of thing. And that’s, I think, there may be some payments per his contract if he gets story credit. I think that’s what they’re annoyed about. They may just be doing this because they’re frustrated with this guy and they hate having to put his name on there and Stallone wants sole credit on this and he can’t believe that he’s still putting the name of a guy on who didn’t even like the movie and had nothing to really do with it, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.
But what’s interesting is that they’re suing over the screenplay, that’s what they’re complaining about, the screenplay credit.
Craig: And all this stuff is attached to story credit anyway, which I think would be contractually required for him because it’s an original screenplay and he was writer A essentially.
Look, this lawsuit is never going to work.
John: No, this lawsuit is declared nuts in a lot of different ways.
Craig: It’s nuts in a lot of ways.
John: Let’s talk about the decision process here because I think I question some of the decisions behind this lawsuit existing. First off, it’s one thing to sue a screenwriter because that screenwriter, he is not going to have your legal resources. At a certain point he’s going to say, “Whatever. I’ll do whatever. We’ll settle it. Fine. It’s gone.” An individual screenwriter is not going to have the legal fire power that Nu Image and Millennium will.
If you’re going to sue the Writers Guild of America, they’re going to fight back. It’s completely within their interest to defend their credit process. They will defend it to the death. So, now you’ve angered the Writers Guild. That’s not a good choice.
Craig: Well, you’re going to lose. You’re not just going to lose. You’re going to lose early. And that’s why when I looked at the details here all I could think was that this is a stunt, not a publicity stunt, but a stunt to make someone happy. I mean, someone is — and maybe it’s Stallone, I don’t know — is so infuriated by this credit that they think is unfair that they are being placated by a corporation. [laughs] They’re basically saying you sue these people or I’m not going to work on this movie or I’m not going to deal with it. Somehow someone has thrown a huge tantrum because I think any self-respecting corporate attorney has to be holding his nose while he’s filing this lawsuit. He knows this thing is a loser. I mean, never going to work. Never going to work.
John: So, it seems like they want to get Callaham’s name off of the sequels, for example, but as we discussed because it’s story credit and they’re not even arguing that Callaham shouldn’t have had story credit on the first movie, his name is going to part of those sequels regardless.
Craig: Seems to me that’s the way it is.
John: That feels like separated rights to me.
Craig: Yeah. Based on —
John: Based on characters created by.
Craig: Yeah. And given the details we have, and again, we’re not lawyers and we don’t know all the details, but just going by what we see here that does seem in fact to be the case. And more importantly it is completely relevant what this writer thinks.
I don’t care if this writer puts up posters or does a Shia LaBeouf skywriting exercise to explain to the world that he also thinks he doesn’t deserve that credit. It doesn’t matter. It’s not his credit to give or take away.
John: That’s the crucial thing that people are not acknowledging.
Craig: They don’t get it. Right. The credit is not something that the writer possesses. The credit is a form of compensation essentially that is proposed by the companies and then finalized by the union. That’s it. It belongs to the union, not to the writer.
John: So, in the lawsuit they are accusing Callaham of fraud. And wrongful and fraudulent conduct is actually the quote. And what they’re saying essentially that in his statements arguing for sole credit, or sole screenplay credit, which is what he apparently filed for, but I don’t know that we actually know that publicly.
Craig: I don’t know how we could.
John: Actually we couldn’t because that’s supposed to be a private matter.
John: But they’re saying that because in his statements seeking credit on the movie he believed he got sole screenplay credit and in these emails that have come out which are around the same time he feels like he shouldn’t have credit. And so they’re saying that it’s fraud.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, but I don’t even understand how they could see his statements. I mean, those statements that we write to the arbitration committee are highly protected by the Guild. They are considered confidential documents. Forget the public seeing them, the other writers involved in the arbitration aren’t allowed to see them.
That is an expression entirely between you, the arbiters, and the staff. And it’s also anonymous.
John: Yes. And let’s talk about what an arbitration statement actually consists of, because you and I have both written plenty of them and we’ve both read plenty of them as we’ve served as arbiters. And what you’re talking about is really ultimately not about how much — the amount of time you worked on something. You’re not talking about whether you like the project. You’re talking about do you believe that there is enough stuff in this thing that is your work, that shows that the final product reflects your work.
That’s ultimately what it’s about. It’s about the drafts. It’s not about what you think about it or how you feel about it. It’s about is there a percentage basis of what is reflected in the final script that is my work. And that’s ultimately all it is.
So, whether he loves the movie or hates the movie is ultimately irrelevant. And whether he emailed somebody saying that he hated it, partially maybe to protect his own reputation is irrelevant as well.
Craig: It’s all irrelevant. Frankly, even if he believed everything that he believed on one day and believed the opposite the next day because he’s schizophrenic or fickle, who knows. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. And I’m so puzzled by this. Why would, I mean, this is the easiest thing I suppose for the guild to argue — why is it that they think this writer was lying to the guild? Why don’t they think that maybe he was just lying to them when he sent them an email saying he didn’t think he deserved credit. Who cares what he thought on that day. It doesn’t matter. It’s not his decision to make.
I might as well write a letter to my doctor saying whether or not I feel I deserve to get tonsillitis.
John: Yeah. It ultimately does not affect —
Craig: It has nothing to do with that. I’m not in charge of that. Yeah.
Craig: Exactly, man!
John: Yeah. It’s a big sigh.
Craig: This is how I feel all the time. [laughs] You realize that? This is my life.
John: So, my frustration with the lawsuit, actually, there are some lessons to learn from this. I guess probably general good legal advice is don’t email people things that could come back to haunt you later on. In general I’m mindful of the things I will write in an email, that should anyone ask for those emails I don’t have to present those emails. I will have phone conversations with people about things rather than emailing people things. I will generally try to say nice things about people.
Those are good advice for any screenwriter in any situation. It might have made this situation a little bit better. But this is mostly on Millennium. I think it’s just a silly lawsuit that has the bad effect of casting doubt on credit and writers and sort of the merits of the system.
Craig: Kind of. I mean, it’s Millennium. And, listen, I’m sure there are good people that work over there, but these are the same guys that got in trouble for having an audition where writers had to actually write spec material in order to get employment which is a clear violation of the MBA. It’s not like we’re talking about Warner Bros. turning around and suing the guild over something like this.
You know, the big boys don’t mess around in this stuff. This is bush league. This lawsuit is bush league. I don’t believe it. I don’t even think they believe it.
John: Do you think the lawsuit is just going to go away.
Craig: I think what will happen is it’ll just get settled out and by settled out means they’ll lose and withdraw it. I just think they’re going to drop it.
John: Yeah. I’d be surprised if it goes to trial. They want a trial. They claim to want a trial.
Craig: Oh, it’ll never, I mean, I hope it does go to trial.
John: Be fascinating.
Craig: It would be great. It would be great to watch them get their butts kicked out. I don’t see a world in which —
John: It would be fascinating if it went to trial and because of the trial ended up delaying the release of Expendables 3.
Craig: Stranger things have happened.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, I can’t see a world where they win this. I just don’t know how they do.
John: I don’t see how they do it either.
Craig, we have not done One Cool Things for two weeks in a row, so I really hope we can get back into this with a roar.
Craig: Let’s do it. Let’s roar into it. Who do you want to go first?
John: I’ll go first. So, this Christmas Santa brought my daughter the Lego Mindstorms kit —
Craig: Ooh, yeah.
John: Which is really great. So, it’s a robotics kit that’s based on Lego. Mindstorms is actually pretty expensive and so you have to kind of really commit to like we’re going to build some robots here. But I do really love it, so that’s fantastic and there will be a link for that.
But we also got her this little thing at the school book fair which was called the Crazy Action Contraptions Lego kit, which is a little flip book which comes with just the Legos you need to build the projects in this kit.
And it’s actually terrific. And it’s smaller, and it’s cheaper, and it’s like ten bucks. And it was really impressive in the sense of like one of the projects is this little car that has like a windup rubber band thing. And it actually zooms really quick. And it was an impressive use of like gears. Because it’s so basic elementary gears and physics I think it’s much more exciting for a kid, especially a kid with an eight-year-old attention span.
John: Something that she can put together in 20 minutes rather than a three-hour project like most of the robots kits.
Craig: Man, I wish I were a kid.
John: So, two different Lego robots.
Craig: You know, I assume you played with Legos like I did when you were a kid?
John: Absolutely. But Legos when I — it was just basically you had the 2 by 4 blocks essentially what a Lego was.
Craig: You had 2 by 4s, you had 2 by 2s. They were all yellow. [laughs] It’s just the worst. I would make bricks, like larger bricks out of smaller bricks. I mean, I wasn’t particularly graphically inclined.
John: The only thing I will say I did learn from those very fundamental bricks was that I would build houses and you recognize you can’t just stack up the 2 by 4s and like make the walls out of that, because those walls will fall in.
John: You have to actually brook lay the proper way for structural strength. So, I do credit that to Legos.
Craig: Yeah. My Lego houses were built with all of the care of, I don’t know, like a Turkish shopping mall. And the slightest tremor and thousands perish. Everything is cooler now. Everything is cooler now and that’s just a fact.
John: Yeah. They fundamentally understood something about axles and how — basically once they figured out how to cut holes through Lego pieces so you could put axles through them it changed everything. And that didn’t really exist in the original Lego kits I had.
In order to attach wheels in those original Lego kits there were special bricks that had like little holes where the wheels snapped in, but it wasn’t really effective. You couldn’t build anything special or meaningful out of these. These are incredibly impressive.
Craig: Do you know even though I’m not — I’m a dork, but I don’t do a lot of stereotypical dorky things. One dorky thing I do do occasionally is build some enormous Lego thing. And a few years ago I built the big huge Millennium Falcon Lego thing. It’s like 6,000 pieces or something like that.
John: Those are great. I’ve seen those.
Craig: It took weeks and I’m so proud of it. [laughs] Sometimes I just look at it. Yeah, I built it.
John: You built that yourself. Did you glue it together or is it just held together with friction?
Craig: No, no, it’s held together with Lego magic. But, I wish that there were something I could spray on it and maybe somebody could point us to something where I could fix it, because I can’t transport it anywhere and it’s actually quite heavy as you might imagine. So, but it would have taken a year to glue everything together. And, of course, sooner or later you’re going to make a mistake.
Craig: At least twice I made not just a mistake but a deep mistake and I had to go back and undo a bunch of stuff, you know. Because sometimes it’s like, ooh, that was a black piece, not a dark gray piece. I’m screwed. You know? So there’s that stuff. So, if somebody knows of something you can sort of spray over a Lego project to fix it together, I’d love to hear about it.
John: Yeah. I feel like someone should develop some sort of heater thing that like heat it to just enough that the pieces fuse but don’t actually melt the whole thing down.
[sirens blare in background]
Hold for siren.
Craig: Why even bother at this point? Let’s just let them go. I miss that. You know, I mean, in Austria it’s just [makes European siren noise]. I wonder why we have [makes USA siren noise]. We have this kind of flowing up and down the scale thing and they have this [makes European siren noise]. What is that? Why?
John: I think it’s just a different historical basis.
Craig: One must be —
John: One could argue that, well, one must be stronger or more powerful for certain cities.
Craig: I think one must be more effective for the human attention. I’m kind of curious who’s doing it right.
Craig: Well, another thing that somebody can write about.
John: Well, in general I would say that perhaps the European siren played here would be especially effective because you would be like, “What is that?”
Craig: Yeah. Is it a European having a heart attack?
John: It could possibly be. I’ve also noticed, and you may have noticed this in Austria, I definitely notice in Paris whenever I go there is a color of green that exists for emergency vests and emergency vehicles that does not exist in America whatsoever.
Craig: I know what you mean.
John: And so the people who are sweeping the streets are wearing this sort of, it’s both bright and dark green that you can’t, I don’t know what it is, but it’s fascinating. Every place where we would use orange they use a green. And it’s arguably better. It’s just different and it’s really striking.
Craig: It’s Euro. That’s for sure.
John: It’s certainly Euro.
Craig: It’s very Euro.
My One Cool Thing, this is a first for me, because it seems so easy but it’s important to me, it’s a movie. We have all of our screeners from the Writers Guild and the Directors Guild and the Academy and blah, blah, blah.
John: And the Academy.
Craig: And so on and so forth. I don’t get those. You get those. I assume that those hand delivered by butlers.
John: Oh, no, it’s pigeons now. Specially trained pigeons.
Craig: Trained Oscar pigeons.
And so I’m watching these movies and enjoying them. And so far I’ve actually enjoyed, it’s weird, I haven’t seen a movie yet of my screeners that I don’t like.
John: Because of positive moviegoing, Craig.
Craig: Maybe that’s it. I’m just really trying to be a positive moviegoing guy. But I’ve actually — none of them have lost me. I will say, okay, so Wolf of Wall Street I really liked. American Hustle I really liked. I liked Walter Mitty a lot. I really appreciated Inside Llewyn Davis. I can’t say I love it, because I kind of don’t understand what happened, but I kind of do, but I kind of don’t. And it’s not quite the puzzle box that Barton Fink is for me that I truly love, because Barton Fink is about writing anyway. I don’t know.
Anyway, so I can’t say I didn’t like it, and I was a very positive moviegoer about it. But yesterday I saw, or a couple days ago I saw Her.
John: Yeah. I saw it last night.
Craig: I think this movie, honestly, aside from being my favorite movie of the year, that doesn’t even matter. Who cares? That’s a calendar demarcation. I think it’s a classic. I think this is an important movie. I think this movie is going to live on and it’s going to be talked about for a long time. I think it’s amazing.
I thought that Spike Jonze and his cast and his crew did a profoundly brilliant job with this movie. I loved it. And I want everyone to see it.
John: I strongly endorse your endorsement. I’m very careful to never say like best movies of the year or anything like that because, I don’t know, it just feels gross to do that.
Craig: Yeah, I agree. It’s stupid anyway. Who cares, the best movie?
John: Who cares?
Craig: Yeah, whatever.
John: But I think it’s superlative for the reasons you describe, in that it not only is the storytelling terrific, the production design is unbelievably good. Because it’s set in a near-future Los Angeles and just the details they chose are so incredibly smart.
John: You look at it and it’s like, well, of course that’s what it’s going to look like in ten years or however much in the future it’s supposed to be. And to a degree that I feel like it probably will look like that just because it will look like that because everyone saw the movie Her, because it’s just so right.
Craig: It’s so right. And what I also loved, I mean, look, I could talk about this movie for an hour. One of the things that I thought was so brilliant just about the vision of the near future is how many things they were restrained on. People still open their mailboxes with metal keys because that’s how we’re going to open our mailboxes for a long time. So, they were so smart about that. They just didn’t get stupid with fake sci-fi stuff.
Everything just felt really natural and, frankly, inevitable like you’re saying. It never caught your eye. It never seemed outrageous. But every choice, just when I started to ask myself a question like, well, if he has this operating system and it’s not like a beta or anything, it’s available to everybody, so it’s not like Google Glass. And he’s falling in love with his operating system, surely other people are falling in love with their operating systems. So, why aren’t we hearing about them?
And just as you start to feel that it just comes up and then people are. That’s, in fact, exactly what’s happening. And then when he tells somebody, “Oh, you should bring your girlfriend.”
“Okay, I will. She’s an OS.”
“Oh cool, yeah, bring her anyway.”
No one seems to care. [laughs] Everyone is cool with it. It’s brilliant. Brilliant.
John: Yeah. What you describe is the awareness of what the audience is experimenting right at every moment. It’s such an incredibly important thing to do and it’s such an incredibly hard thing to do as a screenwriter is to recognize what is the next question that people are going to ask and how do I answer it for them in a way that is especially rewarding. How do I reward them for asking the questions?
Craig: It’s so true.
John: It’s so well done.
Craig: I mean, think about this. To do a movie like this, to be Spike Jonze, a guy I’ve never met, so this isn’t my friend. I don’t know him. All I can say is he must be an extraordinary person. He is an extraordinary person. He’s special and different. He’s special and different and he wrote and directed this movie. And yet while he is special, and different, and extraordinary he understands what not special, not extraordinary people will be feeling as they watch his special thing.
And he takes care of you in doing it and surprises you and delights you. And everything makes sense. It’s beautiful. Scarlett Johansson is just, I mean, what an incredible, incredible job she did.
John: She’s great.
Craig: Again, I don’t know her. I’ve never met her or worked with her. The day I meet her I’m just going to thank her for that. That was just amazing. The writing is outstanding. And it has to be, of course. A character not on screen. [laughs] How important does the writing become? I just loved it. I just think it’s wonderful and an important movie and a terrific movie. And so, of course, John, you know what I did.
John: What did you do?
Craig: I went and read a bad review of it.
John: Oh, good, just to take the edge off?
Craig: To gloat.
John: Oh, to gloat.
Craig: To gloat over how stupid the film “critic” at the Village Voice is. Enjoy your shame for the rest of your career, for blowing it that badly. That is the equivalent of running the wrong way around the bases, okay? That is like driving east on the westbound side of the highway, you dummy.
John: Craig, that is actually a very smart technique, because you can’t do that with anything you’ve been involved with because you have a personal stake in it. But when you know something is brilliant and you see that terrible review, you’re reminded like, “Ooh, you know what? People are idiots.”
Craig: I get more angry because when they do it to me I get sad and also they’re kind of, you know, there’s —
John: Yeah, we know, Craig.
Craig: I know. And there’s also, you know, inside of me there’s a person that hates me more than they ever could hate me. So, that guy is like, “See, I told you.”
But in this case, this is like — I feel like this movie is my friend, you know? And they’re hurting my friend. And how dare you, you dummy. Where’d you get your film criticism degree, stupid?
John: It’s terrible.
Craig: Ooh, and so anyway, beautiful movie. Boy, I hope it was the Village Voice. [laughs] I better go fact check that.
John: Whatever publication that was.
Craig: Yeah, I better go fact check that.
John: While you’re doing your fact checking I’ll go through our normal end of show boilerplate.
John: So, if you are listening to this device, what, I can’t even speak properly. If you are listening to this podcast —
Craig: You always say that. You always say, “I can’t ever speak properly.” You say that every podcast, so I feel like — just accept it. You can’t speak. Don’t even point it out. We know.
John: It’s true. Everyone knows I can’t speak properly.
Craig: We know. We know! We still love you.
John: In fact, in iTunes you can read reviews of this podcast and one of the few negative reviews will be “John August can’t speak clearly.” And it’s kind of true. I do the best I can.
Craig: Is that real? I mean, somebody took the time to complain about you?
John: Craig, it was my mom.
Craig: Oh, well, listen, she’s — all the money she spent on speech therapy and you still can’t get it right.
John: I can’t do it right.
John: So, if you are somebody other than my mom who would like to read us a review on iTunes, [laughs], go ahead. And we would love that because it helps other people find the show.
If you are using an iPhone or Android device you can also get to our podcast through the Scriptnotes app which is available on the App Store for iPhone and for the Google Play Store. And probably also the Amazon Store, but I don’t really know how Android devices work. But you could also find us there. And that’s useful. That’s also where you can find all the back episodes of our show, so that’s a possibility for you, too.
If you have a question for me or for Craig that’s short, Twitter is your friend. So, you can write to me, @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. Longer questions can go to email@example.com.
And johnaugust.com is also where you’ll find all of the back episodes. You’ll find links to things we talked about on this show and other shows. Just look for the episode name.
And, Craig, did you find Village Voice?
Craig: Oh my god, was I supposed to be doing that right now?
John: Well, that was the goal that you would actually be doing this while I was talking.
Craig: I was listening to you. I was just falling in love with your voice again. Hold on, we’re doing it live. I’m looking it up right now.
John: All right.
Craig: Village Voice review. It’s hard because Her is a tough word to look up, so I’m going to go Spike Jonze.
Craig: Okay. Oh, god. Her review, Spike Jonze…Village Voice…I can’t find it now. [laughs]
John: Well, just go to Rotten Tomatoes.
Craig: Oh, yeah, of course. See, I forgot about that website. I love Rotten Tomatoes. They’re great.
John: They’re fantastic.
Craig: Oh, they’re just so great.
John: How they like your movies.
Craig: They love ’em! Okay, so here we go. Her. And then I can just go to Rotten. Oh, here are nine people who thought it was rotten. You’re all dummies. Yup, Stephanie Zacharek, perhaps pronounced Zacharek is a top critic according to Rotten Tomatoes. And she does write for the Village Voice. And unfortunately she, like James Verniere of the Boston Herald, and Mick LaSalle, the San Francisco Chronicle. And Cole Smithey of the hard to work for, very, very selective colesmithey.com are all big dummies.
Sorry. You’re just wrong. This was a terrific movie. Is an important, great movie. And you’re just all dummies. Yeah.
John: And on that note, I think we should wrap up our show.
Craig: All right. Sounds good. This is going to be a great year.
John: I think this is going to be a great year. By the way, I think it will be a great year. And I think it will be an incredibly, incredibly, incredibly busy year for reasons I’ll talk to you about off the show.
Craig: Ooh, terrific. Okay. Can’t wait.
John: All right. Bye.
- BEYONCÉ by Beyoncé on iTunes
- The Ten Commandments of Egoless Programming
- The Hollywood Reporter on The Expendables lawsuit
- Lego Mindstorms and Crazy Action Contraptions
- European green
- her is in theaters now
- A bad her review in The Village Voice and the very few other bad reviews on Rotten Tomatoes
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Matthew Chilelli