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 Episode 126 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, how are you?
Craig: Pretty good, John. How are you?
John: I am doing just fine.
Craig: Yes! I was hoping you would say that.
Craig: Well, because, you know, you got such a good run going of being just fine and I feel like one of these days I’m going to say how are you and you’re going to say, “I’m no good, man.”
John: I’m no good at all.
Craig: “I’m no good.”
John: Yeah. I had a one-day cold, but now I’m over it. So, I’m happy. I’m back to full speed.
Craig: One-day cold? One-day cold?
John: A one-day cold.
Craig: Is there such a thing?
John: I don’t know that there is such a thing, but it was like it was not allergies because it was just more than allergies could possibly be. And yet I was just over it really quickly.
Craig: It’s possible that you either had —
Craig: Scotch! You either had a four-hour cold and you’re constitutionally weak, or you had a three-day cold and you’re unbreakable.
John: It’s very possible. My constitution is at least a 15, so I feel like I’m pretty solid.
Craig: [laughs] My constitution is weak, but my dexterity is outstanding!
John: Well, I’m glad you have some strength needed, Craig, because we have three Three Page Challenges to go to today.
John: We also have a little bit of follow up to do and some other stuff to talk about, so let’s get started.
Craig: Let’s do it.
John: So, on the last episode we talked about Beyoncé’s surprise releasing her album, and I proposed well what filmmakers could do that. Or are there filmmakers who could release a whole movie, just suddenly, like you didn’t know it existed and suddenly was out there?
And so since that episode aired a lot of people tweeted in saying, “Well, how about this movie, how about that movie?” And there were some good suggestions. So, first off, the day that the podcast came out Louis C.K. released a movie that he’d actually shot years ago that starred Amy Poehler and just like put it out there on the internet. So, that’s an example.
John: Kind of. But it’s not a new movie. So, it was a movie that was already playing at festivals. It existed in the world but no one could see it.
Craig: Yeah, let’s just call that a re-release of a library title that there will hopefully be new interest in because Louis is doing so well.
John: So, another good suggestion was Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing.
John: Much closer, I think. So, Much Ado About Nothing, he shot it himself. No one really knew he was making it. And then just released it at a festival and then suddenly it was out in the world. So, there was a gap though between like the movie exists and you can go buy the movie. But there’s no reason he couldn’t have just put it on iTunes right then.
And he has the kind of profile that I think it would have made a splash. So, if he didn’t care about theatrical he could have just released that into the world.
Craig: And that’s essentially what he did with Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, right? I mean —
Craig: He made it and he put it out there. And that’s cool. I get that. I think in the context of feature films that was sort of the context I was talking about. And it doesn’t quite connect there. I think that if he could have gotten an initial theatrical release he probably — there wouldn’t have been a surprise about it.
Craig: I mean, we just don’t want to confuse surprise with nobody knew about it. Those are two different things.
John: Yeah. I guess nobody knowing about it and no one knowing that it’s coming out can be two different things, really. Because everyone knew that Beyoncé was working on an album in a general sense. Because she’s an artist, of course she’s going to be working on an album. It was that it suddenly came out. And so James Cameron could suddenly surprise you with a movie that he just made.
Steven Soderbergh feels like the kind of filmmaker who could just do that.
Craig: Could possibly do it. I mean, the difference really is one of intention. For instance, Louis’s movie, the point wasn’t to make a movie and then go, “Surprise!” The point was to make a movie and then get theatrical release or some sort of release and talk about it and promote it. But hit just didn’t catch on at that time. And so now he is saying, “Hey, what about now?”
So, what Beyoncé was very — from the start I presume everything was orchestrated around the concept of no one is going to know until it’s there.
John: If people have other suggestions for filmmakers that could do that, I’d be curious. I just really do think it’s going to happen. I think someone else will make one of those movies and now with digital distribution — now that most of our screens in the US, like literally almost all screens in the US are digital, there’s less to stop you from trying to do that direct to theater kind of release.
Craig: Well, I suppose my position on it is this. I don’t really care about the gimmickry of it. If somebody figures out how to do it in such a way that gets their good movie more attention and eyeballs then I’m always for it. That’s all I care about.
John: Absolutely. I have a sneaking suspicion that this last weekend this movie Hercules was actually just slotted there so some really great movie could take its place and the great movie just didn’t happen.
Craig: You think that it’s a mis-slot, in other words? It was like a fill-in slot?
John: I’m just speculating that maybe that was a possibility of why that movie got a theatrical release is that some other movie was supposed to be there and they were like, “Oh wow, Renny Harlin made a movie. We’re just going to stick it on screens.”
Craig: Well, there is a phenomenon of burying movies. That’s the other thing.
John: The Sixth Road.
Craig: Of, course, The Sixth Road. What a great title. The concept of buying a movie is — I think it’s poorly understood out there. Sometimes movies come out and they don’t do well and everybody says, “Oh my god, the studio buried it.” It’s actually rare for a studio to truly bury a film. But when they do bury a film what they’re calculating is we don’t believe that this film will attract anyone no matter how much money we spend, but we can’t not release it. At this point it would be economically unwise to not release it. So, we’re just going to shove it where we don’t have anything. And we’ll attempt some counterprogramming. We’re not going to promote it very heavily and whatever happens happens.
Unfortunately, I think 47 Ronin is probably a good example of burying. That’s an action effects-driven summer kind of movie that just came out in the middle of Christmas awards drama season. Basically from Thanksgiving through the end of the year you’re looking at family films, because families are together, and you’re looking at prestige films. You don’t see much in the way of action movies or popcorn genre films. And they kind of just buried it.
John: They did. That was a movie where they actually took a write-off on it before it was even released, which is never a good sign. So, they go into it knowing that they’re not going to get their money out of it.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah. And you know, no matter what I think about any individual movie, and I haven’t seen 47 Ronin, I just don’t like it when it happens because I root for movies and I root for the people who make them. And there have been interesting cases of big flops that in time have been viewed differently. The one that always comes to mind for me is Speed Racer, which is a far… — Did you ever see Speed Racer?
John: I never saw Speed Racer, but a lot of people have said that it’s a much better movie than you would think it would be.
Craig: Vastly better. [laughs] It’s not even close. The perception, both the critical perception and the commercial perception, are just out of whack with what the movie is. And I think maybe it was a function of the fact that it was Speed Racer. Maybe it was the cast. And maybe there was some blowback, residual blowback from the Matrix sequels which I think got some people grumpy.
I don’t know. But Lone Ranger is another one. I haven’t seen Lone Ranger, but I hear people say that it’s better than everyone suggests.
John: Yeah. I’ve definitely heard that, too. Anyway, the next topic I want to get to is a weird that — I don’t know if you followed this on Twitter that happened this week. So, I had tweeted about this thing which other people had also acknowledged which was that an assistant sent out…you saw this thing.
Craig: I saw that. Yeah.
John: So, it was the classic sort of CC versus BCC problem. Essentially an executive moved to a new address and so the assistant sent out this email saying you can now reach this executive at this address and this phone number. But instead of using the BCC field he used the CC field, so all of us got each other’s email addresses.
Craig: I think just everyone with the last name A through B.
John: Oh, that’s right. Yeah. It was only that small section.
Craig: It wasn’t everyone. Yeah.
John: Oh, yeah, that actually does make a lot more sense. Because that’s why, so I was on this email.
Craig: You and Apatow and —
John: Apatow and Josh Brolin. So, that’s why we’re all in this batch. Yes, it’s a classic mistake. It’s an annoying mistake. And so I tweeted about it saying like, folks, this is — I didn’t tweet specifically about this incident, because it was actually the third time that week that this has happened — that this is a solved problem: BCC is your friend. That means that BCC is your friend. That means when you send out that email only one person’s name shows up in the To field and that is the person who is going to get the email. And it is a classically solved problem, so therefore this should not still be happening.
So, I tweeted that and then other people sort of sent funny emails about sort of who are on that list. So, Josh Brolin did. And Apatow did. But this Business Insider wrote this story about it saying, “Oh, this thing happened and look at these funny responses, except for John August who was just a total buzz kill on it.”
And, [laughs], I’m so annoyed. Did you see this story?
Craig: You’re a buzz kill. I didn’t see that, but god, you’re a buzz kill, John. You ruined a crappy internet site’s story.
John: Yeah. I know, that really was the worst. And so my tweet was the only embedded tweet and it was the last thing in the story. And it struck me as a great example of how context is everything. Basically, since I was this last tweet it was like, “Oh, John August is a buzz kill.” Like a bunch of people tweeted me saying like, “You’re a jerk. You’re a jerk to that assistant.”
John: They did. And so to the point where you never should get into a little Twitter war, but I was like, “Who are you?” And it was the second time in my whole Twitter career I’ve blocked somebody for like, stop, leave it alone.
So, people were saying, “You should not be so mean to that assistant.” First off, I didn’t acknowledge the assistant. I didn’t acknowledge that I was on this email chain. I was just saying in a general sense BCC is a solved problem.
John: So, this is an issue of context because any tweet if you apply it, if you were sort of mentioned in the course of the story can make it seem like you’re just a horrible person. I’ve been thinking of examples of things like, you know, a tweet can be like, “Oh god. There’s nothing worse than other people’s children.” But if you were writing a story about like a school shooting tragedy and then you put that celebrity’s tweet in there at the very end, like it makes it sound like, “Oh my god, Sarah Silverman, you’re a terrible person.”
It’s so maddening. It seemed like I was responding to the story rather than just the acknowledgement that there are such a thing as BCC fields.
Craig: It’s ridiculous. And, of course, the way they listed it, it makes it seem as if there was some exciting roundtable discussion of this and everyone was jocular, and funny, and forgiving, and then puritan panty-waste, John August, grimly intones that this is not funny at all. [laughs]
John: That’s what it was. I was that person sitting at the edge of the table with my arms folded in front of me saying, “Oh, this is awful.”
Craig: “Yes. I mean, I don’t know why you’re all taking this so easily. You know, BCC, [gibberish].” Because you see, John, the point of these crappy stories is that they’re a crappy story and you have to fit the narrative of their crappy story or they’ll just jam you in there. They don’t care. Never forget that every story you read like this is someone who is either high or about to get high making $100.
John: Yeah. Oh, it’s true.
Craig: I can’t take it. I can’t take it.
John: Well, here’s the thing. I know that the frustration is really not the story, it’s that the people who read the story and would somehow think like, oh, I really meant that in that context. That was the frustration. My frustration is stupid people —
Craig: Welcome to my world, man. This is every day for me.
John: My frustration is stupid people on Twitter which is basically all of the universe, so…
Craig: Now you’re just yelling at the ocean for being salty.
John: Yeah. I hate the salty ocean.
Craig: I know, it just [laughs]…
John: I always forget the ocean is salty. And then I go in the ocean and I’m like, “Wait! This is wrong.”
Craig: “What the…! God, I spent all day punching the ocean.”
Craig: Listen, these things, when they happen I guess the best thing to do is ignore them if you can. And I was the subject of a very strange Twitter brouhaha with people, I don’t even follow them, I don’t think they follow me. But a mutual friend who is aware of — I guess does follow these people — kept emailing me what was going on. There was this strange discussion about me and it didn’t even make sense.
Craig: And I didn’t know what to do. And I was just like, well what do I do? It’s very strange that people are publicly talking about me. It’s bizarre. It’s mean. There is no shock there. And I wish that — I don’t want to know about it, but now I do know about it because I just got an email with all of these copied tweets and what do I do. And there’s nothing you can do.
John: Yeah. It’s the challenge of being public is that, you know, in a public forum people can reach you. And that’s actually a lovely, great thing, and our guest next week is because of Twitter, which is fantastic, so that’s awesome.
Craig: Yes it is.
John: But because here’s this public thing people feel like they can reach out and annoy you. Actually, probably my biggest frustration with Twitter is that you’ll get put on chains, or not really chains, but you will be mentioned along with other people in a Twitter thing. And they’ll start arguing back and forth. You’ve done this to me actually.
Craig: Yeah, I love it.
John: And, like, just take my name out of this.
John: Because I don’t want to be in this anymore.
Craig: Nope. [laughs]
Craig: Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope. Nope.
John: It usually happens because people will tweet to both of us about something Scriptnotes wise.
John: And then you’ll engage with them and I’m like, I just, I don’t care. I don’t care.
Craig: And I am literally too lazy to delete your name the one time it would take to get you out of the conversation. I’m that lazy.
John: Yeah. But, you are good at reading Three Page Challenges, so let’s just get to that. Because that’s something we can do.
Craig: Are we doing that first?
John: I think so. I don’t think there’s anything else on the agenda.
Craig: Oh, I thought we were going to discuss Final Draft Nueve.
John: Oh, yeah, we were going to discuss Final Draft Nueve. Let’s do that first. Let’s get into Final Draft because I think that’s an important thing to do.
Craig: And it will probably go fast.
John: It’ll probably go pretty fast.
Craig: I mean, how long will it take me to just say “crap” over and over? [laughs]
John: So, this last week, this feels like kind of a filmmaker’s surprise announcement because I didn’t honestly expect Final Draft to suddenly come out, Final Draft 9.
So, Final Draft 8 had been out for quite a long time.
Craig: Yeah, a long time.
John: A really long time without being updated. So, it had finally gotten into the Mac App Stores so people could buy it through that. And I knew and I don’t think I’m doing any sort of confidentiality stuff because I think they’ve talked publicly about there was this whole move towards they were going to have more of like an online platform for stuff. So, I kind of thought the next version of Final Draft would be much more of like an online thing or subscription service.
But suddenly, last week, Final Draft 9 came out.
John: And it’s a real app for both Windows and for the Macintosh. Interestingly, they have two different interfaces. So, on the Windows side they make a big point about like they sort of have ribbons and they have stuff that’s very familiar to Windows people, so things that are much more like Microsoft Office.
Craig: Oh, okay.
John: On the Mac side, it feels very much like the existing Final Draft 8. Like really very much like it, just with some new sort of cleaned up graphics.
Craig: It’s not — it’s 8.1. I don’t know what to say.
John: I does — I think it also feels like 8.1.
John: So, there are some new things that they are touting which are worth talking about. It finally has full screen mode which most Mac apps have had for quite a long time.
John: The full screen mode.
John: It has a new scene navigator and sort of this palette that can sort of switch between a couple different views with notes, characters, which is interesting to some degree. It’s certainly a better, different way than how Final Draft 8 handled it.
John: But I don’t think I found it especially useful.
Craig: I don’t find any of that stuff useful. I mean, every screenwriting program has some sort of navigator. I turn them all off. I don’t need it.
John: Yeah. And it also has this thing where like it can track character arcs. And so you can sort of build in this thing about arcs and stuff. A potentially useful feature that I did see in there is that it can show you which characters are in which scenes and you can actually tag characters being in a scene even if a character doesn’t have dialogue. So, in theory you could sort of generate a report that shows who is in what, which would be useful for scheduling or for sort of other purposes, potentially.
Craig: I think they have — the scheduling stuff that they have I think tracks that anyway, I think. I don’t really need my software to tell me what characters are in what scenes. If I don’t know that a character is in a scene, what am I doing? What kind of writer am I? That’s pathetic, you know? [laughs]
John: So, in my playing around with it, one of the features I did think could potentially be useful, or that I could see myself using, when you’re in colored pages, you’re in that stage of a production draft, it keeps the actual page white but on the borders it shows what color that page would be.
Craig: Yeah. I liked that.
John: And that is actually, I think, a smart feature.
Craig: And it’s an option.
John: It’s an option. And it’s a useful thing if you were in the middle of figuring out pages and stuff and seeing what pages are going to be generated for what new revision. Potentially useful.
But I guess what I was so surprised about was that honestly very little had been done. It’s cleaned up for retina displays now.
John: Finally. But all the — basically you’re not going to ever get lost because it’s kind of exactly the same program.
Craig: It’s exactly.
John: They didn’t make any sort of design choices to remove or simplify, get rid of things that no one is using. And I’ve asked around. I don’t know anybody who beta tested it. I don’t know any working writer who actually used it. And so if you are —
Craig: Well, what’s to beta test? I mean, that’s the thing. For me, beta testing is about a bunch of features. And do they work? Do you like them? Eh, they didn’t do anything that even deserves beta testing here.
John: Uh, yeah, okay.
Craig: You know what I mean?
John: But I don’t know that they engaged, even beta testing, I don’t know that they engaged with working writers to see like what are you actually using.
Craig: They don’t care.
John: And stuff could go away.
Craig: They don’t care. They’re not making this stuff —
John: One of the challenges of legacy software is that unless you actually talk to users frequently, you don’t know if anyone is really using that script notes feature. There’s this bookmarks feature which has always been in Final Draft. I don’t know anyone who’s ever used it.
Craig: No. Ridiculous.
John: But it’s still there.
Craig: It’s still there. And the truth is they don’t care what working screenwriters do because there aren’t that many of us. You can’t build a business on working screenwriters. Final Draft is in the business of the cottage industry of aspiring screenwriters. They push their products through all of those channels and they try and associate their product with the lottery ticket of becoming a professional screenwriter. So, that’s their audience.
And for that audience, really, that audience is so absurdly susceptible to being told what they should do as opposed to being asked what they want, so Final Draft says this is what you should do. It’s a very enviable business position to be in, to dictate to your consumer base what they ought to be doing. That would be nice, I think, for soft drink companies and fast food restaurants.
But, I — some impressions from me. First of all, it crashed twice on me.
John: Oh, that’s not good.
Craig: On opening, which is absurd in this life for an app to crash on opening. It’s a joke.
It doesn’t look particularly good. It looks pretty much the way the other one looked, which is thin. It looks thin. It’s overly white to me. The words are floating in a sea of empty white.
I like that I can now — there is a split screen mode which I don’t know was in 8.
John: I think split screen has actually been in Final Draft for a long time.
Craig: Oh, it has been?
John: But I also noticed that it seemed a little bit more featured.
Craig: It’s more prominent. Yeah.
John: It’s more prominent. And that’s one of the things that I haven’t seen a lot of the other apps be doing, and that can be useful.
Craig: Yeah. I’d like to see Fade In have a split screen. I thought that that’s a potentially useful thing when you’re comparing what changed on a given page.
But, for instance, if you were to go into the — I’m looking right now, in the revisions menu and bring up that revision scheme, other than the new option of the page color revision it’s the exact same scheme as always. Clumsy. It has always been clumsy. It continues to be clumsy. The interface is clumsy with a plus and a minus. It doesn’t look like Mac software on a Mac. They’re still pushing the, what is it, the collaboration. What is that, Script Collab?
Craig: Yeah, good for you. That’s never going to happen. You know, I think they are at least somewhere in there. Maybe they’ve given up on it.
The pages have these interesting black lines on the left and right. Did you notice this?
John: I did. And that is for, I think, the revision pages so that those side things can be colored when they need to be colored.
Craig: Right. Here’s a thought. If I’m not going to be using the colored sides, or if they’re white, get those black lines out of my face. [laughs] I hate them. So, there’s that.
But really what we’re looking at is the same old boring Final Draft software with 100 warnings that Final Draft documents from 8 will not work in 9, or features will not crossover. Thanks. Good job.
John: There’s some really strangely worded warnings throughout that.
Craig: And what did they have, five years to figure out how to make this backwards compatible and they couldn’t.
Dual dialogue is still a joke. That you can’t just start writing in dual dialogue as opposed to you have to write to subsequent lines of character/dialogue, character/dialogue, then go backwards, hit your first character in the character element, and then select Dual Dialogue. It’s just clumsy, clumsy, clumsy.
John: So, one of our real concerns, and part of the reason why I did upgrade right away is because Highland, of course, can open Final Draft files, and that’s one of the things we’ve done for a long time. And Highland actually, to the degree that we can handle FDX files, even in the finder now with — if you have Highland installed — you can just hit the space bar and it will pull up the document like in that little quick view, so if you want to look at a file without actually opening it.
So, we wanted to make sure that they hadn’t changed the file format so much that we were going to have problems with Highland.
John: And apparently not really. So, it’s working fine in the tests that we’ve done. There are probably going to be some things that will change in the final format that we’ll have to adjust in Highland. But it seems basically the same, which is not the worst thing obviously. But FDX is sort of a messy format in the sense it’s a really tangled XML format, but it still works.
Craig: I just don’t understand. If this is what they were doing, why did it take this long exactly?
John: I don’t understand. That’s a very good question.
Craig: The other thing that bothers me about Final Draft is that they are so clearly driven by a naked desire for revenue over taking care of their user base, at least that’s my opinion. Because a lot of these features should have just been released incrementally as free updates on top of 8. There is nothing here that justifies a brand new release and to charge whatever they charge. What does this thing cost?
John: It’s an $80 upgrade.
Craig: $80 upgrade in a world where the entire operating system for Mac is free and you’re going to charge $80? For what? For colored pages that you don’t need and what?
John: For full screen mode that really should have been a .1 release.
Craig: And retina compatibility? That’s outrageous. It’s just sick. Sick. And that’s the upgrade. I mean, what does it cost new?
John: $199 I believe.
Craig: Oh please. We live in a time where you cannot, I’m sorry, to sell a piece of word processing for a hundred and what? [laughs]
Craig: I mean, what?! Are you out of your mind when you can get Highland for how much, John?
John: Highland is $29.99 right now.
Craig: I think Fade In is $40.
Craig: It’s ridiculous. It just doesn’t make any damn sense.
Craig: I don’t get it. And I think that frankly Final Draft is — they are perilously close to being disrupted, as the Silicon Valley term goes, because nobody cares about this Final Draft crap anymore. We’re in the age of PDF for transmission and they’re going to go bye-bye. I really believe it. Unless they do something seriously different than this they just can’t make it. They’re going to get beaten.
John: Okay. So, I mean, I’m not just playing Devil’s Advocate here. I do think we need Final Draft to exist for those production features that we talked about. Because Fade In does not have the ability to handle revisions the way it needs to be able to do. Highland certainly can’t. And Fountain is just not set up to do that kind of thing. So, at a certain point in production it will make sense, I think, for many screenwriters to move their file over to Final Draft or another big pro app that can do a good job generating colored pages and generating revisions. I think we still are at that point.
Craig: I disagree on Fade In. As far as I can tell it has every bit of the revision functionality that Final Draft has.
John: Oh, okay, I have not seen that work well. So, maybe that’s been improved.
Craig: It’s got multiple levels of revisions. Multiple colors.
John: Have you done it for a real movie yet?
Craig: Yeah. Yeah.
John: Oh, okay.
Craig: I mean, not in production on it, but I did go through on my — a lot of times when I write a second draft for a studio I like to send two copies, a copy with revision marks and a copy without, just so they can see —
John: As do I.
Craig: Right. And by the way there were issues with the revisions. There were bugs. There were just some bugs. And Kent, who is the coder of Fade In, tracked them all down and fixed them. But it has, as far as I can tell, all the functionality.
In fact, one of the functionalities it didn’t have, initially the way it worked in Fade In was if you changed a line it was asterisk the line but not necessarily show you which words had changed. And then it would color the page. And I said, “No, no, no, no. I need to know which words.” Because sometimes I want to know that one word changed and sometimes I want to know that the whole sentence changed, or everything.
And he fixed all that. So, Fade IN revision wise, scene number wise, all that stuff, it seems to be right there with Final Draft. The parallel softwares, the scheduling and the budgeting and all the breakdown stuff, someone is just going to write a version of that, too. It just doesn’t make any sense anymore to waste time with this. This thing is a boulder. I do not like Final Draft. [laughs]
John: I think that’s pretty clear. I think most people listening to the podcast understand at this point.
Craig: I do not like it.
John: Sam I am.
Craig: Yeah. Yup.
John: So that’s Final Draft 9 in a nutshell.
Craig: They’re so happy we did that.
John: They’re so happy we did that, we talked through this. I guess it’s not a ringing endorsement for people to rush out and upgrade. If you have $80 in your pocket and you really want full screen mode and you want to stick in Final Draft, I guess. And I will say that the difference between retina and non-retina if you have a retina display significant and it’s actually really painful to look at 8 on a retina display for very long.
John: And this would look much better on that.
Craig: It will. No question.
John: So, there is that.
So, let’s get to our Three Page Challenges which could have been written in Final Draft or some other piece of software.
John: Which one should we do first, Craig?
Craig: Well, let’s see, we’ve got, you want me to just pick one?
John: Pick one.
Craig: You want to do the first one? You want to do like a sandwich where you do the first one, I do the second, you do the third?
Craig: Why don’t you start with Billiam Coronel’s thee pages entitled Life Incorporated.
John: So, do we think his name really is Billiam?
Craig: I think his name is Billiam.
John: Okay. Have you heard that name ever before in your life?
Craig: Nope. Nope.
John: Nope. I’m wondering if Stuart mistyped it when he did it.
Craig: I find that hard to believe because as we know from our live podcast —
John: Stuart is nothing if not extremely professional when it comes to the Three Page Challenges.
Craig: He is a steel trap, absolutely.
John: So, you did say Billiam. How did you pronounce it, Colonel? Or did you say Coronel?
Craig: I said Coronel because Colonel would be Colonel.
John: It would be C-O-L, that’s right.
Craig: So, Coronel. I don’t know how else I would pronounce that.
John: All right. Well, Billiam has written a script and the title is Life Incorporated.
So, as we fade in we’re flying over the forest and a narrator starts speaking directly to us. “There’s an old joke — How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb? Just one. But the bulb really has to wanna change.”
And so we’re flying towards the town. The narrator keeps speaking and is telling us as the reader, as the audience, that you need to do the same thing. You have to really let go of your preconceptions and what you’d expect to see, because this is the journey we’re on. And we’re here to — this laboratory where they are building better mice, better dolphins.
“Inside these building they create and revise genetic code for all the mammals of the animal kingdom. You heard it correctly — the actual, original genetic code.”
It’s here where we meet our hero, Ebo Tuck, who is 28. He is a messenger of some kind. We see him going into this oppressive building. In the lobby he is interacting with different employees. There’s different hallways: “Tarsiiformes” and “Lemuriformes.” He’s trying to find a specific place where he meets the receptionist for the chimpanzee department. And he’s trying to meet Mr. Jaster. He has an important breakthrough or a way to do something new that he really wants to talk to him about, like figure out a way to raise the enzyme levels of the chimpanzee.
That would kind of be like a huge breakthrough in simian biology. “You don’t care, do you?” And the receptionist says she’ll call security.
John: And that is the end of our three pages.
John: Craig Mazin?
Craig: Well, this is a fascinating one and a half pages in terms of what Billiam is attempting to do here. And I can’t help but think that he’s received some notes from people and is scrambling to address them. So, what he’s doing — first of all, I don’t ascribe to this whole VO is terrible and narrators — I like narrators. I like VO.
The one thing that I think good narration, good VO tends to do when it’s not the main character speaking but rather an omniscient narrator is there is a — tonally they need to be in line with their own omniscience. And there is a slight conversationalism that begins to creep in. I was excited by the first two lines, by the joke, and then what he says afterwards. And then I got unexcited because I realized that really what was going on was Billiam was attempting to convince me that a bad idea is a good idea.
And he’s blaming me, [laughs], the reader, or you, the audience member, if you just aren’t willing to go along with this thing. That’s not a good way to start a screenplay.
John: Well, I think what you’re pointing out is that it doesn’t feel confident.
John: It doesn’t feel like this narrator is here to take us by the hand and say this is what we’re doing. It felt a little defensive.
Craig: It felt a lot defensive. Because here’s what he’s saying: He says, look, I tell you this joke about a light bulb, and there is good craft I like in that that’s how he was going to start this. I’m going to tell you a joke about a light bulb and the only way to make the joke funny is if in your mind you do the math to make the light bulb have a consciousness.
And then he’s saying, well, of course light bulbs don’t have consciousness, but you see what you did, you left reality behind to grasp greater meaning. I’m going to ask you to do that again. And I’m telling you we’re not in the real world, even though this looks like the real world. We’re somewhere else. And I know what you’re thinking: suspending reality for a whole movie? That’s going to be really hard to do.
Well, hey, nobody said change comes easy. Mm, it’s going to be hard to do if it’s going to be hard to do. I suspend reality all the time for movies. I mean, if I were to stop and think about the reality behind even a movie like Inception or forget Star Wars, just Inception.
John: I would take any Wes Anderson movie.
John: Those exist in these special little bubbles and yet they don’t ever sort of announce like, “I’m in a movie bubble.”
John: No character actually acknowledges that they’re in a movie because that would just hurt it more.
Craig: It’s almost like Billiam wrote the screenplay and someone said the problem with the screenplay is the idea just simply isn’t believable in any way. It’s just sticking out as a weird, unbelievable idea, And he’s saying, “You’re right. What I’ll do is I’ll just tell people to believe it anyway.”
So, I don’t like the way this opens because I feel like you’re right. It’s not confident. And essentially it’s telling me that there is a problem. Better probably to just fix the problem. And even though we only have three pages, I’m already starting to see that there is a problem, because it seems to me that the story that Billiam is writing is a family-friendly workplace comedy about a company that engineers evolution.
Craig: And this is the role that Jerry Lewis would have played in 1958, but in this case we don’t do that anymore. But he is essentially the lowly guy who has great ideas and needs to somehow get passed the power structure to convince people that he’s got some terrific ideas. No doubt along the way there will be some villainous businessmen. There will be a beautiful woman who is likely a scientist that he has to impress. And he is going to screw some things up for sure, because even though he is good intentioned he’s a bit of a klutz. And in the end he’ll cure his [sound of motorcycle in background] un-muffled motorcycle. His cure his emotional or character problems and that will be that.
John: It’s a movie about evolution, but he’s the one who has to change.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah.
John: So, as you were talking it struck me that this is a case where you’re taking something that is sort of metaphysical or sort of grander than life, sort of the idea of evolution is sort of an abstract concept and applying very specific concrete things to it. The Albert Brooks Defending Your Life came to mind, where that is a movie about heaven and sort of like heavenly choices and what all that is.
John: And yet it gets reduced to sort of comedy term. And so you have to very clearly set up the world and like this is what our heaven is going to be like. So, in this case Billiam is setting up this is what our little mythical world of evolution is going to be like and these are going to be the rules from which we’re playing. That voiceover didn’t quite hit it for me.
Craig: Well, it can’t, because heaven can be whatever we want it to be, but this world can’t. So he has an idea he likes, it just doesn’t fit in the world, you know what I mean?
Craig: It doesn’t fit.
John: A friend sent a script that I read a couple weeks ago that I really liked the idea, and in fact I was 20 pages into it and I was like, oh, this is really exciting. And then by about page 30 I really started to fall out of love with it. And I had to very gently say to him, “I really think this is a short film idea. I think this is a heightened world that is delightful as long as we don’t have to think about it for too long. But if you’re asking me to think about it for too long I start to ask these really troubling questions and the whole thing just starts to disintegrate.”
One of those things where, but if that’s true, then this would be true, and this would be true, and this would be true. And suddenly all I’m thinking about is what possible world could this be? And in a short film I would totally love it. And as a 90-minute feature it fell apart for me. And I worry that Billiam is going to face the same situation. This could be a delightful little short film idea, which is like the evolution office, but I’m wondering if it’s going to really be possible to build this out as a full feature.
Craig: And unfortunately for him he’s picked a topic that immediately eliminates metaphysics. Normally when you do a fantasy movie like this, whether it’s Heaven Can Wait, or Beetlejuice, for instance.
Craig: You’re leaning on metaphysics so you’re allowed to do anything, but evolution, you can’t have an evolution office in heaven. [laughs] It doesn’t work.
Craig: That’s the whole point. So, it doesn’t work. I think there may be a problem here at the heart of the idea. Just small writing things, I thought the page is laid out pretty nicely. I needed far more of an introduction to our hero. His name is Ebo Tuck. That’s a very strange name. And I want to know what he looks like more than the fact that he’s simply a messenger. Something, you know, what’s his hair look like?
John: Considering how much voiceover and character we’re given from this narrator, it does seem really strange that we’re not even thrown a line of scene description to tell us why Ebo is different from anyone else in this movie.
Craig: Correct. We need a little piece of character beyond simply a guy walking. Also, “A nondescript man secretly eyes Ebo as he passes.” Well, no doubt that will be very important, but then don’t make him a nondescript man. [laughs] He needs to be a descript man.
John: Describe the nondescript man. [laughs]
Craig: Exactly. You never want to say “nondescript man.” I just think that that’s a big problem, particularly for somebody that’s going to matter.
There’s a lot of because we’re in a world of science there’s just a lot of terms, which will start to become white noise to us, like Tarsiiformes and Lemuriformes and Hominidae. And note that there is a typo here where he’s heading the Hominidae hallway, but in the slug line it is Homininae Hallway.
And then there is Gorilla beringei and Mammut furlongi and Pan paniscus and by the time we — we just don’t care. There’s just too much. And we’ll never be able to read all that anyway.
Craig: And, lastly, the female receptionist is having a discussion with him that is just out of a different time. It does feel like something from, you know, the bell boy, or the errand boy.
John: And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, it’s just you’re going to have to build your entire world so that this fits right. And I don’t feel like the opening voiceover quite set that tone.
Craig: Agreed. There’s also a little bit of the “as you know” syndrome here.
He says, ” I was hoping to talk to Mr. Jaster.”
“Want to talk to the Head of the entire Hominids Division? Name?”
Well, no one does that. [laughs]
John: No one does that.
Craig: That’s not a good way to — I think there’s a better way to show us that Mr. Jaster is a very important person.
Craig: So, there are some fundamental issues here and it could be that on page four all of this starts to gel and be great, but I am deeply concerned.
John: I am concerned as well.
Craig: All right.
John: Billiam, thank you so much for sending through your script.
Craig: Thank you, Billiam.
John: All right, let’s next go to Mr. Jeff Pulice.
John: Now, this is a very special Three Page Challenge entry.
Craig: Yeah it is.
John: So, people who listened to the Q&A from the live show, the holiday live show, will know that Jeff Pulice was there in person and he asked us why have you not done my Three Page Challenge. And so Stuart was there and we brought Stuart up and said like, hey, do you know this guy, do you know his Three Page Challenge.
And then Stuart revealed the elaborate system by which he figures out Three Page Challenges.
John: And after that revelation we said, Mr. Pulice, we will find your Three Page Challenge and we will feature it on the next time we do this. So, this is Mr. Jeff Pulice’s.
Craig: And I thought his name was Police as in cops, but it is Pulice like Pulice if you’re going to be appropriately Italian. So, Jeff Pulice, there’s no title on this but we fade in in a sitting room —
John: And I think he told us what the title was though at the — How the Genetti Brothers Saved Hollywood or Created Hollywood.
Craig: Oh, okay, well that’s a good name. So, we begin in a sitting room in the morning and the title says “Bayonne, New Jersey, 1902.” It’s a dingy apartment and Roxy Huston, who is a 20-year-old hot woman with red hair is getting into a bathtub and she’s barely dressed. The tub is cold as ice. And we reveal that this is being filmed. Carlo Genetti, 27 years old, is kind of the producer of this little film that we’re making. And his brother, Primo, is the cameraman. And they’re using an Edison Moving Pictures Co. camera. And it’s quite clear that they’re making a porno.
And so she gets into the tub and is following the direction to pretend that the ice cold tub is, in fact, nice and warm and comforting. And now it’s time for Jamie to come in and find her. And Jamie is not hearing his cue. Finally Jamie, the horny landlord, comes in and delivers his line, “Two weeks late with the rent? You’re in hot water now, you little tramp!” But the film has run out because Jamie took too long to come in and it’s just not going well.
We cut outside to the street and there is a horse-drawn wagon full of Irishmen, burly Irishmen, holding baseball bats and axes, and they are led by a man named Eugene Cortland who has apparently been hired by Mr. Edison to beat up the Italians — Italians in general, I think, and he delivers an inspirational speech about how these Irishmen are going to win the day by beating up these awful Italians.
And then we’re back to the sitting room where Carlo is patient explaining to his actor, Jamie, that it’s really important that Jamie figures this out and gets this done, gets the scene done so that they get paid and he gets paid. Carlo gives Roxy one last little bit of instruction, and that is our three pages.
John: Our three pages. I like the idea of this a lot. I do very much like the idea of looking at the start of the film industry from a titillating perspective and a somewhat inept perspective of like trying to make this little film in someone’s bathtub and this is what creates the industry. We don’t know where all this is going, but I liked sort of how it started. And I can sort of see how it started.
I had some issues and concerns about the rules of the world. For instance, this is a pre-sound time, so it shouldn’t matter that he comes in and says his line, but he says his line. That would be a title card. I felt like there were jokes that could have been put in there that didn’t happen because of the nature of a silent film about this, but that’s fine.
Where it lost me, honestly, when we get out to the street and we see Cortland, and Cortland has his speech. It was just — I had a really hard time parsing his dialogue and sort of even what he was talking about and why we were listening to him talk right then. And so I was so eager to get back into this bathroom, the sitting room, and continuing with the filming of the movie.
Craig: I agree with you just about in all ways. I think that this is a great idea for a movie. I love the idea — I think porn is fascinating, particularly —
John: I would question like, so clearly we’re not supposed to see her boobies. The goal is that it’s near-porn.
Craig: Yeah, it may be so that it’s near porn. But the idea is that it’s whatever porn counted for in 1902. This is a pornographic film. When she’s getting into a tub and then this guy is going to say, “You’re in hot water now, you little tramp.” I suspect then she’s going to have to have sex with him to pay the rent.
So, we’re dealing with a porn of the kind, and porn is part of our culture now in a way it has never been before. And underlining, it’s an old saw, but porn is always the first proof of new technology. And it’s quite likely that this is true that porn was an early use of motion picture film cameras.
So, it’s a really interesting topic and I like the way it starts. There’s a comedy. There’s a light tone to it. There are two brothers. I like the quiet brother, doesn’t say anything but mutters in Italian. There is a truth to that.
And I like the way it was written. It was a little overwritten here and there, but in general good details. I could see the room. I could see her getting in. I could see the direction of it all. And I think that the sound issues, it seemed that the problem was that they just ran out of film, because Jamie was late on his cue. I also — but I do agree with you that there is a tonal issue when we go outside to this guy, Eugene Cortland.
This was a common thing at the time that companies would hire thugs to do their bidding. Carnegie was most notorious for this sort of thing, but here you have a character, an interesting character, a villain and I want this villain to be better. I think, you know, like Bill the Butcher was such a wonderful guy, such a great villain, such a terrible, wonderful guy. This guy, his thugs are a little too goofy. I think there was a mistake here that Jeff makes.
Cortland is sitting with all of these guys and then he begins a speech sort of dead. “Gentleman, what do I hate?” No one does this out of nowhere. And they answer, they drop the N-bomb, which is always going to put people back on their heels a little bit, especially if it’s in service of a joke. And then he says, “No, no, no. I hate these Dagos.”
And then he delivers a speech. And the speech is kind of a Bill the Butcher speech, but to me I would much rather see a realer version of this scene, particularly because he’s going to be the villain. I want to believe that there’s a real threat here. And I want this to be truer, maybe, to the way it went.
John: I would also, let’s take a look at this from a pacing point of view. So, we have about a page and a half first scene, and then we get out to the street and that’s another page that we’re out there and it’s just a dialogue scene. How much better it could be if we had that first scene, just keep it exactly the way it is, then cut to outside and we see guys getting out of the truck and they’re getting their baseball bats and their stuff. And so we see that something is about to happen. And then we go back in.
So, we don’t really introduce Cortland by words yet. You just see that there is all this activity happening outside. Frenzy, frenzy, frenzy. And then we go back inside and suddenly there’s tension to be back in that sitting room because we know something bad is about to happen. Something is about to show up.
Craig: Correct. And what you’re really putting your finger on is the absolute lack of transitions between these two moments and they need transitions. You’re correct. Because all we’re going to know is we’re in a room and then we’re outside, somewhere. We don’t even know if we’re in the same town, for god’s sakes.
Craig: So, you’re right. You do need that transitional element. You need to have Primo cross by the window cursing, and then we look out the window and we see this thing pulling up. And then we’re down on the street. We see these guys come out and it also gives you an opportunity to learn about Cortland in a more interesting way. All of these men are getting their bats and their axes. And maybe one guy looks at Cortland and says, “I’m a little uncomfortable with this. Do you really think that we’re going to need to use these?”
And Cortland takes the bat from the guy’s hand as if to say you don’t need to use this and then whacks him on the head with it. [laughs] You know, give us something where we go, ooh god, this is a bad guy, other than a speech. Speeches are wonderful for later.
Craig: When we’ve established that this is a bad guy. Then the speech will be surprising and will reveal some interesting things, I think. But you’re absolutely right that there is a big lack of transition here and this is precisely where screenwriters get into trouble with directors. They don’t provide these transitions. The directors will begin to rework things to get the transitions. Much better for us to be a participant in that process.
John: Yeah. Where the narrative is actually creating the transition. And by going to outside you’re increasing the tension and by coming back inside you’re increasing the tension. Every time you cut, every time you move from one place to another place, you should be sort of providing energy on both sides of the cut, of the transition. And we’re not feeling that here.
Craig: Especially when we want tension. Especially when we want to feel like Carlo is having this casual discussion with an actor and he has no idea that 40 Irishmen are about to head up to the fifth floor to beat the crap out of him.
That all said, I’m very hopeful about this.
John: I am, too.
Craig: I think this is a really good idea for a movie. It could be terrific. And I think this is something that Jeff can do. I like the dialogue. I thought there were a lot of good things in it.
John: Now, I took it that Cortland and his men were there to beat him up, or Kodak sent them there because he didn’t want his cameras used to make porn. Is that what you took?
Craig: Well, he’s working for Edison, so yes.
John: Or Edison.
Craig: I think that that’s exactly right. That Edison does not want his cameras to be used for porn. And that’s an age old problem where people that make technology don’t want it used for porn, but until porn actually popularizes the technology — it’s the birth of this strange symbiotic relationship, this embarrassing relationship between technology and porn. So, for that reason I find it very fascinating, particularly if it’s real.
Craig: So, I’m hopeful. Very hopeful.
John: I’m hopeful, too. And so that detail about it being Edison and being his camera, in the very first page we’re seeing the detail on the camera, which is great.
But right now on page two we’re tipping the Edison of it all. It would be more interesting to me if we just don’t know why these people are showing up. And so our mind can start to race. What are the reasons why these people are going to show up to do this? Is it because it’s porn? Is it because it’s a girl? Because these guys are behind on money?
And then it would be a nice surprise that it’s about the camera. That it is Edison himself who sent them.
Craig: Exactly. And if they do beat these guys up and then Cortland leans in to poor Carlo, who is slumped on the floor, picks the camera up and says, “Mr. Edison thanks you for your choice in cameras, but requests again that you not use it for this filth,” and then walks out.
We would go, ooh boy, Edison is a jerk! [laughs]
John: Yeah, and then smashes the title card. And you’re off to the races.
Craig: You’re off to the races. Exactly. It’s just about transition and structuring the reveals here. But some good stuff.
John: So, Jeff Pulice, thank you for standing up during the Q&A and getting us to read your script.
Craig: Nice work, Jeff. Good job, Jeff.
John: Our final Three Page Challenge of the week is from Steven Arvanites.
Craig: I’m going to go with Arvan-eat-ees. I’m going to suggest that Steven is Greek, of Greek decent.
John: Oh, I think you’re right. Arvanites makes more sense. Well, this one is inspired by true story.
Craig: All right.
John: Okay. So, it starts with the Heaven’s Gate Motel in Manhattan. Alicia, she’s 25, she’s on her back on the bed staring at the molded ceiling while Chubby Kowalski, 39, is on top of her. They’re making the love.
Craig: The love.
John: She’s a prostitute we’re going to quickly find out. And she’s like, “Oh, yeah! Bring it home, Mr. Kowalski!”
He took three Viagra and…passes out. She’s freaked out. She’s trying to get him back alive. Cannot get him to revive. Catastrophe. She hops off, gets her smartphone, calls an ambulance to pick him up. She sends them upstairs.
As we follow her out leaving we meet Nestor, 22, with a crescent scar on his cheek and hair tucked up tight in a do-rag. They’re talking about what just happened. She is trying to get back to, oh god, I’m trying to remember what she’s turning back to. I read this like five minutes ago and I’ve already forgotten.
Craig: Well, this is part of the problem. [laughs]
John: This is part of the problem.
Craig: Yeah, keep going.
John: Nestor is a drug dealer.
Craig: We don’t know where she’s going.
John: We don’t know where she’s going. We really don’t know where she’s going.
Craig: We don’t know what she’s doing.
John: Ultimately she’s going to end up in Spanish Harlem with a Bachata beat. Kids play stickball.
Craig: [laughs] You’re drowning here on this. I love it.
John: I am drowning here on this. So, often when I do these Three Page Challenges I will spend about three minutes to write up the quick summary. But today I thought, you know what, I’m just going to wing it.
Craig: You thought you were going to do it Craig style.
John: I was going to do it Craig style and I just can’t do it Craig style.
Craig: You can’t do it. Can’t do it Craig style.
John: Quickly summarize the lines and go through it. But essentially she’s going to end up at Our Lady Deli with Sal Genetti, 46, hirsute and stocky, who hands off an envelope to his little thug named Goon Frankie.
John: We also meet Filomena Genetti. There is a second Genetti which I think is a sign of kismet.
John: And Alicia and Genetti have a bit of conversation at the bottom of page three.
John: That was a terrible summary, Craig. I just want to apologize to Steven Arvanites.
Craig: It was a terrible summary, but I am going to sympathetic with you here because these are really troubled pages.
First of all, I have to presume that one of the reasons that Stuart put this in the mix is because do you notice something interesting about Mr. Genetti’s name?
John: Same Genetti as from before? From the Genetti Brothers Saved Hollywood?
Craig: It’s both Genettis. Okay, that’s what you meant by another Genetti.
John: That’s what I meant —
Craig: How odd is that? And just as a lesson to all of you out there who, “They stole my script. It’s the same name!” Yeah, it happens all the time.
John: It does. It involves sex and Genettis.
Craig: Yes. However, just as importantly, the name Genetti at this point I think we can say is a bit too generic, generic-y. Generetti.
Craig: Yeah, for use here. But, it’s also indicative that Jeff Pulice’s script has these two Genetti brothers in 1902. This screenplay purports to take place now in 2013, and yet it is — it sounds, [laughs], I —
John: I mean, when you saw Viagra halfway down the first page were you like, “What?”
Craig: I was shocked.
John: I was shocked. And so I had to kind of go back and re-read through it because — so the names that we’ve seen so far, Alicia, okay, that can be modern, but Chubby Kowalski?
Craig: Chubby Kowalski. And then the dialogue. Take away Viagra and you’ve got, “You’re the only regular I got now. Don’t go and die. No, Mr. Kowalski. Oh, Mother Mary!” [laughs]
John: yeah. She really says, “Oh, Mother Mary!”
Craig: She says, “Oh, Mother Mary.” Then when she’s giving him CPR she says, “One, two, three. One, two, three. I got this from that hospital show I saw on TV, Mr. Kowalski. Oh, no!” She breaks a nail. “Oh no! Oh no! That did not just happen. I’m done now. Done!”
This is so arch and old school. It’s beyond old fashioned. It almost reads like a parody of 1930s screwball comedy. So, let’s back up to the beginning here. The first problem we have is we’re opening inside of a motel in Manhattan. I have no idea where we are. That’s a tricky move to pull right away.
John: Oh, absolutely. Now, you’re telling me this is present day. Where are there motels in Manhattan?
Craig: I’m not aware of any. But if it’s a building, like a slummy building and she’s in some slummy apartment in the slummy building, you’ve got to at least show me, give me an exterior. Let me know I’m in New York. Then go inside the room.
Craig: She is having sex with a man who absolutely cannot be named Chubby Kowalski, particularly because he’s dead now, I think. Maybe he comes back and he’s not dead. Either way, he cannot be called Chubby Kowalski. Not today. No way.
Her dialogue with him falls into that category of things people would not say in a situation. If you’re having sex with somebody and you’re a hooker, and the man actually dies while he’s on you and in you, you would say none of the things she’s saying here.
And when you make this mistake you are letting the audience know that the movie is not in control of itself. It is divorced from a reality the audience understands.
Craig: It’s very disorienting. Very confusing. I’m meant to be laughing at this, possibly, but it’s not funny. She then — I assume our main character — is distracted from saving this man’s life because she breaks a finger nail. So, this is not a hooker with a heart of gold. This is actually a venal superficial hooker who is so concerned with nails that she doesn’t care that this man is dying.
When she walks outside and someone, she casually sends the EMTs upwards. She talks to a drug dealer who is right out of the big book of racial stereotypes. And she tells this guy, he asks her, “What’s up?” “What up, Alicia?”
John: “Tryin’ to find a phone booth so I can turn into Super Hooker.”
Craig: Oh, that’s what up? Not a human being is dying. [laughs] And then he attempts to do a joke about drugs. It doesn’t work.
John: Would she refer to herself as a hooker? It just doesn’t…yeah.
Craig: I know. And, I’m sorry, is the finger nail the thing that makes her Super Hooker? [sighs]
We then, and this is where you were struggling, we’re now walking around in Spanish Harlem. Perhaps the crash pad motel was in Spanish Harlem and she’s just where she is. We don’t know where the Heaven’s Gate Motel is in the entire expanse of Manhattan.
Craig: There is a decent drawn view of Spanish Harlem.
John: Well, I mean, stickball? Stickball, again, made me feel like we’re in a period movie.
Craig: I know. I know. I didn’t understand it. The stickball thing really threw me.
John: When I saw Viagra I’m like, okay, well maybe it can be like early ’90s. I mean, there was Viagra back then. But then she has a cell phone, so.
Craig: But stickball is ’40s and ’50s. My dad played stickball in Manhattan. And he’s 71. So, that made no sense. And then here she is sashaying down the block, people are catcalling, and she says, “Let’s see the bills, muchachos!”
Is she Spanish? Is she Latina? Why is she there? Why is she talking to them like that? Am I meant to be sympathetic to the fact that she is a 25-year-old prostitute in dire straits?
She walks into this deli and now we get new tropes: mobsters. Italian mobsters.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: Which I don’t think operate in Spanish Harlem anymore in this manner. And particularly don’t own. If you are anywhere near Manhattan, if you’ve been anywhere near Manhattan in the last 20 years, bodegas are owned either by Latinos or increasingly by Asians, by Koreans, and Vietnamese, and Chinese.
Craig: But an Italian guy handing over money to another Italian guy who is known as Goon Frankie. And now I just feel like I’m getting screwed with her, because I don’t know what time this movie is taking place in.
John: Yeah, it’s taking place in a never time. It’s taking place in a strange movie time.
Craig: It is. And the last line really upset me because she’s saying, well first, she says, “What did the goon want, Mr. Genetti?”
“Nothing. It’s nothing.”
Well, look, you’re a hooker. I think you know what the Italian guy demanding money from a small shop owner wants. [laughs]
Craig: But then he says, “The usual, my dear?”
And she says, “Ya know it. Extra grease. Oils the hinges.”
John: No one in the history of time has ever asked for extra grease.
Craig: I don’t know what that means. I kind of know what she’s implying by oils the hinges. All I know is I don’t like her anymore.
John: You didn’t like her from the start, Craig, admit it.
Craig: I liked her… — Look, the movie opens with a shot that reminds me of the terrible moment in the movie Traffic where you see this girl who has lost herself to drugs and she’s on her back getting pounded by some guy because she’s selling her body. And her face is dead. And she’s staring up at the ceiling just as this girl is staring up at the ceiling.
And your heart breaks.
John: Of course.
Craig: And then, so I was with her until she was like, “Oh yeah! Bring it home, Mr. Kowalski. No, you’re the only regular I got now.” Literally the man is dying and she’s like, “Oh man, this is going to really impact my bottom line.” [laughs] There are so many mistakes. Steven, there are so many mistakes here. And I think primarily what you have to ask yourself is what year is my movie taking place in, and what do I want people to think about these characters? Because there’s no way I’m thinking about the characters what you want me to think about them. That can’t be possible.
John: I’m trying to imagine what the true story is that is inspiring this. Because the second line of the script is inspired by a true story. I’m assuming that there is actually some event that happens that these characters would interface with. So, there was some real event, but he’s probably inventing these characters to play into this event, maybe?
John: But if it’s a true story it happened in some place and time.
John: And that could be really helpful in terms of finding a place to land where this actually happening and a time period where everything sort of fits and makes sense.
Craig: Yeah, look, I think that, Steven, it’s important for you to understand that when we talk about sending screenplays and people reading them, these are the kinds of pages where people will stop after five or six pages because they don’t believe that you’re in control of your story and they have no faith.
And so your job as a budding screenwriter now is to really ask yourself these tough questions. How can I engender faith in my work? And because of the choices you’re making repeatedly throughout this, either because you’re not paying attention, or because your instincts are just off, you really need to analyze this because this is not going to fly. This won’t work for you.
John: Yeah. I think it’s also a good lesson in terms of everything — the pages themselves are basically fine. There were a few little tiny little mistakes in them where like, you know, missing spaces or sort of weird word choices. But it was actually the content that was keeping us from going further forward.
So, a lot of times people are so freaked out by the form of screenwriting, like, oh, everything is not going to look just right. This looks basically right.
John: None of the action lines are too long. I can read it. I just can’t actually process it in a way. I can’t form the movie in my head that you want us to form because things are not lining up right. And it only takes one little thing to make you disbelieve or sort of knock you off the trail of enjoying it. And so for me it was the Viagra halfway through. It’s like, wait, this isn’t a period movie? And suddenly I’m just thrown for a loop.
So, you’re going to need to let us know we’re here and now from the start or just basically, you know, look for the things that are making me believe this is taking place in the past which is really the dialogue.
Craig: The dialogue. The characterization. The way that characters are reacting to situations. The tone. And the — I mean, look, unfortunately the introduction of the wise cracking 1930s screwball type hooker with a heart of gold, the 1940s style silly mobsters. I mean, I don’t know if they’re silly, but the fact that the guy is literally known as Goon Frankie is not a good sign. The middle aged Italian woman praying with her rosaries. This all feels like a collection of very old…
Craig: …cinematic tropes. Really old. And when I say old, I mean, because you and I now we’re getting old. When we started those were old. But now they’re really old. We’re talking about things that are 70, 80 years old.
Craig: Older than a lot of dead people. So, I think this need a real… — This is one those moments, Steven, where you’ve got to sit back and think. And you’ve got to really think here about this, because a lot went wrong.
John: It did. And I would go back to if there was some — there was obviously an inspiration because there was inspiration of a true story. So, to look at what was it about that true story that made you want to write the script? And then how can you convey that excitement about what that story was on the page?
Craig: Right. [motorcycles in background] There’s something going on in Old Town. I’m not sure what it is today. There’s been a lot of motorcycles. And then there’s —
John: It’s a rally.
Craig: Well, there’s a big crowd, actually, in the distance that keeps cheering. And at first I thought, you know, I know they do the American Idol tryouts here, but I think that that’s too late for that. So, it can’t be that. There’s some sort of motorcycle rally.
John: Well, nothing would make more sense for Old Town Pasadena.
Craig: Nothing. Nothing would make more sense.
Well, I want to thank the three people that sent their Three Page Challenges in. They were all very brave. And I know, Steven, we were a little hard on you and maybe, Billiam, we were a little hard on you, too. But this is all — this is tough love and we have your best interests at heart. The rest of the world does not. Trust me on this. So, please take it in the best possible way it was intended.
John: Yes. Thank you very much for sending it in. And if you are a listener who would like us to look at your three pages, we will do these again in the future, so you can go to johnaugust.com/threepage, all spelled out, and there are instructions there for how you can send in your three pages of your script, and we will talk about them on the air when Stuart masters his strategy for organizing them.
Stuart does read everything that gets sent in. I truly believe in my heart he does read everything.
Craig: Mm-hmm. Do you? [laughs]
John: Does he always file it in a way that he can find it again? That’s a different question. But I think…
Craig: Oh boy.
John: …Stuart will often find amazing things like he did this week.
If you want to read along with us, these things that we just talked about, they are available also at johnaugust.com. Just look for this episode. This is 126. And you can see the PDFs of these pages, see what we talked about.
John: It’s time for some One Cool Things, Craig.
Craig: Yeah. I have one.
John: Great. I have two, so, go.
Craig: Whoa. You’re going to use them both? I mean, geez.
John: I’m going to use them both. They’re both books, so it was fine to do that.
Craig: Would you like to go first?
John: Sure. So, my two Cool Things are the last two books that I read because over this little break I finished two books and so I thought I would share them with people.
The first one is huge. It’s like 542 pages. It’s called Debt: The First 5,000 Years, by David Graeber. And it was really fascinating. And I can’t wholly recommend it because it’s just super, super long. And I bought it with the specific purpose of when I — sometimes I need a book to fall asleep to. And I need a really long book to fall asleep to. And so this was a book that was just interesting enough to sort of keep me awake for awhile and then I could easily put it down.
What Debt: The First 5,000 Years is talking about is really the idea that when you had basic economics in college they would say like, oh, the money developed, because first there was barter, you know, tribes would barter and like I’ll give you some fish for your beads and all this stuff would happen.
And modern economic theory sort of derives from this idea like, oh, there was barter, and then it became coins, and then money systems developed. But if you actually go back and look at it anthropologically you can’t find any evidence that bartering ever actually happened. And even when money systems break down, barter doesn’t really happen that way.
John: What does happen is that people have IOUs, essentially. Like I will take three of your fish and I will pay you back some time in the future. And debt is really probably how modern economic systems started.
Craig: Oh, okay. That’s interesting.
John: And sort of all got kind of swept under the rug because people were like, well, bartering sounds so nice. It just makes sense that you exchange other things first and then you eventually —
Craig: Right. You need bread and I need shoes. So, I’m the baker, you’re the cobbler. This is great.
John: But essentially what probably really did happen is that the person who made the bread would give you some bread with the understanding that at some point they could ask you for something back. And you would be in debt to that person and they would be in debt to you. And that’s how communities actually sort of form is that sort of bond of debt.
Craig: Makes sense. Because really if you think about it this nice pair of shoes is worth 100 loaves of bread. I don’t need 100 loaves of bread right now.
Craig: And you can’t give me 100 loaves of bread right now anyway. You’ve got other people you’ve got to give bread to. So, debt is an incredibly useful thing.
John: Exactly. So, that was one of the sort of essential tenets. The other thing is that in economic theory we sort of don’t want to think about slavery and military violence, but that’s really at the heart of sort of how economic systems developed. And that so much of economic life was partly, was centered around slavery and people who were essentially working, either who are captives who were slaves, or were essentially in debt bondage basically. They were sold to somebody else by their family to work someplace because that’s the only way the family could have enough resources to survive.
And so that kind of debt is part of it, too. And most money systems like coins were really developed to pay soldiers. So, the ability to fund wars, that’s why you needed to have silver because you need to be able to have something you can actually hand people and say I’m paying you this for being a soldier.
Craig: Got it.
John: So, it was a fascinating book about sort of the history of that. As you start to apply it to more modern things I had a little less confidence in Graeber’s analysis of it, but essentially all money systems are really a system of trust. It’s a system of whether you believe that the person who is creating this currency can back it up.
John: And so gold itself really has no value. Silver has no value. It’s what you believe that the state will honor that money. So, that’s one of the books.
Craig: Very good.
John: Second book I just finished which is just completely opposite of it is a short little book called Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. And it’s great. It’s really, really funny.
She’s a writer and illustrator. She talks a lot about dogs, a lot about sort of her stupid dog’s perspective on things. Her profound depression that happened. And there is really great look into sort of what depression is, because people think like, oh, depression is being sad.
Craig: Oh, I think I saw this.
John: It’s great, Craig. You’ll really like it.
Craig: She’s the one that — she illustrates it and she has like a very quirky, almost stick figure style?
Craig: Yeah, it’s great.
John: When she draws herself she sort of looks like a person with a shark fin.
Craig: Yeah, her thing on her depression is amazing.
John: Yeah. And so that section isn’t so funny-funny, but it’s really a smart look at what depression is because people say like, “Oh, you feel sad?” It’s like, no, I don’t feel anything. I would love to feel sad. I don’t feel anything at all. And so just telling me just to feel better it’s like telling somebody who likes to fly higher, because you just can’t do that.
Craig: That was the one where she’s on the ground and she sees something under her refrigerator.
John: She sees a tiny piece of corn.
Craig: Right. And that’s what starts her feeling something again. It’s really well done. It’s beautiful, actually.
John: So, I would highly recommend it. And I’ve talked before about other books I’ve recommended where you see like a writer has a voice and she’s so clearly a person who has an incredibly specific voice, an ability to look at her flaws and enjoy them. So, I would really recommend her book.
John: And any book with illustrations we always say like you don’t want to get that on a Kindle. But it’s actually set up really well for the Kindle because it’s black and white illustrations. So, don’t be afraid to buy it on the Kindle because it works there.
Craig: Yeah. And I believe that her piece on her depression is also out there on the internet, so that’s a nice free sample for you to go buy the book. It’s really beautifully done.
My One Cool Thing is Global Entry. Have I talked about Global Entry on here before?
John: Global Entry is the best thing in the world, Craig. So —
Craig: The best.
John: I wholly endorse your One Cool Thing.
Craig: Yes, it’s so great. So, as our listeners know I traveled with my family to Austria over the holidays. And long before that I had had in the back of my head this terrible memory. So, when you return from overseas you have to go through customs upon reentry to the United States. And I remember coming back from Bangkok when we had finished The Hangover Part II. And that’s essentially 21 odyssey of flying.
So, by the time you got off the plane you really are about as miserable as you can be. And you’re there in the Bradley Terminal and then you walk into the customs room and you are in a line —
John: At first it’s immigration and then it’s customs.
Craig: Right. I’m sorry. So, first it’s immigration. So, the immigration control is the first one you deal with. And I’m on a line, because I’m from New York, I’m on lines, not in them. And the line is — it looks like, I don’t know, It’s a Small World circa 1973. It’s brutal. It’s a brutal snaking line that appears to be an hour long.
And then as I’m about 10% of the way through it they announce that a lot of their computers need to be restarted. And I stood in that line for I think two hours.
Craig: Two hours with — and it’s immigration, so you’re in the cantina at Mos Eisley. You can’t even talk to the people next to you. [laughs] And everyone is freaking out. And it’s hot and it’s miserable. And all you want to do is just be home and you are home but you’re not home.
Okay, so I swore to myself never again. Global Entry is a program that the customs and border patrol United States, whatever, department has where if you are a trusted traveler you can get vetted. And if you are vetted then you don’t have to stand in that line. You go to a kiosk which is automated. You insert your passport. You scan your fingerprints. It takes a picture of your face. It checks that you are you. You make a quick declaration for customs. Yeah, I have some chocolate that I’m bringing back but not, I don’t know, fruit and raw meat.
And then you take that slip to a customs guy who stamps it really quickly because that’s his own little special no line for thing. And you’re through like that. In addition, you also automatically qualify for TSA Pre-Check which is spectacular. TSA Pre-Check, which is for most major airlines at most major airports, allows you to go through a special security line where you don’t have to take off your shoes, you don’t have to take your computer out of your bag. You don’t even have to take off like a light sweatshirt or something like that.
And if you think that taking off shoes and taking your laptop out of your bag isn’t that annoying, when you don’t have to do it anymore it’s the greatest feeling ever.
Craig: It’s amazing. So, what do you have to do to qualify for Global Entry? Pretty simple. You go to globalentry.gov. You’re not going to qualify if you’ve been arrested before even. It seems like just literally being arrested. Certainly felons or any kind of conviction is going to be a real problem for you. It costs $100 to apply that’s not refundable if they don’t approve you, so it’s a bit of a gamble unless you’re super duper clean in your record.
But, if you are super duper clean in your record, you apply, and you fill out all the forms properly and then you have to go do an interview. And for those of us in Los Angeles unfortunately the only place to be interviewed is at LAX. It takes a really long time to get an appointment. You have to go down there. And at that appointment they scan your fingerprints, they take a picture of you. You have to basically be willing to have the United States government collect your biometrics. You answer a few questions about why you’ve gone to the places you’ve gone. And then they approve you.
And at that point you’re golden. The only other tips I have: if you travel with your family, if you have family members, a wife or a husband or children, everybody needs to do a separate application. And I mean even if you’re an infant you need a separate application. And everybody needs a separate appointment. And everybody needs to be scanned separately. So, that’s a bit cumbersome thing to do.
You want to make sure that for your airlines when you’re registering your information and buying tickets that the name that you’re using for the airline is exactly the way it is on your passport. So, if your passport has your first, middle, and last name, please put your first, middle, and last name into the airline stuff. And you’re going to use a known traveler number which is your Global Entry number. And then you’ll get the pre-check and, of course, the awesome quick and easy immigration when you return to the United States.
John: Global Entry really is terrific. And so my husband has had it for two years. I got it this last year. My daughter has it. And so when we came back from Europe this last time it really was a godsend because there was a huge line. Mike and I could go through and with our daughter, she was like too short — it takes your little picture there — so the guy said, “Lift up your kid.” And so we lifted up our kid so it’s high enough that her photo was taken, which is not ideal, but it worked.
And it really is great. And you won’t 100% of the time get TSA Pre-Check, but most of the time I’ve gotten through. And as often as I was going back and forth to New York this year, it was a godsend. It paid for itself just in the TSA of it all.
Craig: Yeah. I now routinely got it every time. It is amazing. I went — in fact, I used it when I went to New York, when I went to go see Big Fish, actually. It was the first time I think I used TSA Pre-Check. And it was amazing. I got to the airport and I walked to the line and I was through security, I’m not kidding, in six minutes. Six minutes.
First of all, the line is much shorter because very few people have it. And then just less to do. The taking off the shoes and all the rest of it, it just takes up time. It’s great. I just thought it was awesome.
It’s very annoying to get it all done, but once you get it all done, ooh, what a relief.
Craig: Global Entry.
John: Global Entry.
So, that’s our show for this week. Standard wrap up stuff here.
Oh, actually one bit of news. We have the last few Scriptnotes t-shirts are available on the store right now. So, it’s store.johnaugust.com.
Essentially whenever we make new t-shirts we order a few extras in case people have problems or need to change sizes. All that stuff seems to be remedied, so the last few Scriptnotes t-shirts are up for sale right now. So, if you’d like those you can go get those.
If you would like to leave a comment on our show you can do so at the iTunes page for Scriptnotes.
Anything we talked about on the show this week you can find in the notes for the show, so johnaugust.com. Look for podcasts and this episode.
What else to say? Oh, on Twitter I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. You can write little short things to us there. If you have a longer question or something to talk about on the air the email address is email@example.com.
And I think that’s it.
Craig: This was a pretty good show.
John: It was a pretty good show. It was longer than some of ours have been.
Craig: I know. A little bit of an epic show.
John: Yeah. But, Craig, thank you so much and I will talk to you next week.
Craig: See you next week, John.
- Business Insider on the responses from Hollywood CCs who should have been BCCs
- Final Draft 9 is now for sale
- Three Pages by Billiam Coronel
- Three Pages by Jeff Pulice and the Q&A from the Holiday Spectacular
- Three Pages by Steven Arvanites
- How to submit your Three Pages, and Stuart’s post on lessons learned from the early batches
- Debt: The First 5,000 Years by David Graeber
- Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
- Global Entry is worth your time
- An extremely limited number of shirts are back in the John August Store
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Kim Atle