The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, welcome back.
Craig: Yes. Here we are, face-to-face, a couple of silver spoons.
John: Now, Craig, do you have memory of what happened to you last week? What actually happened?
Craig: Uh…it was bad. I was on my way to the podcast and my car was hit from behind.
Craig: I hit my head on the dashboard.
John: That’s awful.
Craig: When I come to I’m in Aline Brosh McKenna’s basement, [laughs], Misery style. And she’s hobbled me. Yeah. She hobbled me good. She wants to take my place.
John: It’s really pretty clear that Aline wants to take your place, but she was fantastic as a guest host.
Craig: She did a great job. And Jennifer Lee was terrific to come on the show. Thank you, Jennifer. And very exciting. I’m going to get to meet her anyway because she’s going to be a neighbor of mine soon.
John: The hinterlands of Los Angeles.
Craig: We like to call it the privileged place where people like Jennifer Lee choose to live.
Today on the podcast we have two special guests. We have Marc Madnick, who is the CEO and co-founder of Final Draft. And Joe Jarvis, who is the product manager. They’re going to talk to us about Final Draft 9 and our interactions with Final Draft 9.
Craig: And we’ve had some. And we are, I have to say, I’m very excited to talk to them. And I think it’s very cool that that they came on the show knowing perfectly well that this wasn’t going to be a softball interview.
John: I have a hunch, because we already recorded it, that you will ask some pointed questions.
So, we’ll do the Final Draft segment. Then we’ll come back. We’ll talk about the Tarantino script, the WGA negotiations, we’ll answer some listener questions. It’s going to be a very big show.
So, first I need five notes.
[Scriptnotes theme music]
John: We were just talking sort of our history with Final Draft. So, my first experience with Final Draft was Final Draft 5. And I remember buying it, I think it was in 2000, and it was like $245 which was like a lot – $249.
Marc Madnick: Still is.
John: Still is. Which was a lot more money back then because of inflation.
Marc: Actually, I think versions one and two were about $349 we started out selling.
John: But I remember I think I bought it at the Writer’s Store, which is a physical place at that point.
Marc: Yup, still is.
John: Out in Westwood. And before then I’d written Go just in Microsoft Word. And you can write a script obviously in a normal word processor, but it’s a giant pain in the ass, and revisions are a giant pain in the ass. So, Final Draft was just an amazing godsend that I could do these things that were so difficult to do before. And they were strange to do, but I could actually do them then, so it was great.
Marc: Thank you.
John: So, that was my first experience with it. Then Final Draft 6 was 2002. Final Draft 7, 2004.
Marc: Boy, you know this better than I do. I have it in front of me. It wasn’t that quick probably.
Craig: Sounds about right.
Marc: It sounds close, yeah.
John: And then Final Draft 8 which was a bigger revision. The FDX format in 2008.
Marc: Right. 2009.
John: And this last year, just this month —
Marc: Three weeks ago.
John: Three weeks ago we have Final Draft 9.
Marc: Yes, doing wonderful so far. Thank you.
John: Fantastic. So, thank you very much for coming here.
So the voices you’re hearing are Marc Madnick. I’m pronouncing your name right, I hope.
Marc: That’s correct. With a C, John.
John: Yes. Marc with a C, Madnick, who is the co-founder and CEO of Final Draft.
Marc: Yes. I’ve been doing this 23 years now.
John: Holy cow.
Marc: I wanted to be you two guys and it led me to this. So, like I always say, those who can’t do make software.
Craig: Make software. John does both.
Marc: I can’t use that joke anymore.
Joe Jarvis: John can do it all.
Craig: John does it all.
John: And Joe Jarvis, what is your official title?
Joe: I’m the Product Manager at Final Draft. And you and I have talked quite a bit about all kinds of — high level, low level stuff. Just all the time. And by the way, I saw Go at a screening back then, probably when you were buying that first copy of Final Draft.
John: Yes, a good time machine back.
So, the reason why we talked this last week was because you were getting, was it phone calls or people were being jerks to you and it seemed like it was coming from stuff that had happened from the podcast. Can you tell us what was going on?
Marc: We listen to the podcast. And Craig is very passionate about his…
Marc: …wants, desires, and likes and dislikes.
Marc: And I guess he got riled up the other day and, you know, listen, I’m the owner of this business. So, I’m never going to have 100 percent of the people love us. So, we take the criticism and I’m used to it. Just like I know you guys write great films and there’s always 10 percent of the people.
Craig: Ooh, sometimes a little more than 10 percent.
Marc: Who are happy to think that you didn’t put your best effort or whatever, which is obviously not true. And you get a few tweets. People, employees, a Facebook thing, an email, “Craig says you guys should die.” It scares people. [laughs]
Craig: No humans should die.
Marc: We can put it behind us. You were very nice to put out a statement about it. That’s why we prompted the call. It’s perfectly fine. We invite the criticism. If I may say that we do survey, obviously, our customer base from time to time. Last time we did it, 92 percent of the people graded us an A or a B. That’s our software, company, and everything. 92 percent of the people.
I bring my office staff, 40 of us. We’re not Microsoft. We’re 40. Some people think we’re really big. We’re still a small, privately-held company. And told them, “Don’t congratulate ourselves. There’s 8 percent of the people, Craig being the number one of them, who do not like us and do not like our software.” So, that’s what keeps me up at night is the 8 percent.
So, I’m used to it.
Craig: We’ll talk a little bit about that 8 percent, and I think even that number is probably a little misleading in a sense.
Marc: Well, it’s a survey.
Craig: It’s a survey. The thing is you guys don’t exist in a vacuum anymore. I think that’s one of the things I want to talk about with you. And first of all, just to go on the record, I’m really sorry. Anybody that called you guys and was abusive or anything, that’s gross. And I was very clear about that on Twitter.
Marc: Thank you for an apology. And we have hourly employees or — “Is somebody going to throw a brick through our window or something?” [laughs]
Craig: Yeah, that’s terrible.
Marc: I had to calm them down. I said, you know, it’s not a problem. People get heated.
Craig: Nobody should be throwing anything. But the truth is there’s no — the satisfaction you can have with a product where you say, okay, it’s an A, or it’s a B, or whatever, is to that product. But if there’s another product where people are an A+, you might as well have a C or a D, if people start to leave you.
And one thing I want to talk to you guys about is what’s happened to Final Draft because as we were saying before the show started I bought Final Draft back in — I think it was 1993. And I drove to Santa Monica where you guys had your initial bungalows like on the second floor kind of thing.
Marc: There were about three or four of us then.
Craig: Yeah. There were three or four of you guys. I remember meeting you. I remember meeting Ben who was your partner. And I bought it directly from you. I wrote a check. And I didn’t have, you know, I was making $20,000 at the time. This was a lot of money. And I got two floppy disks and I guarded them with my life.
And so I was a very early adopter of Final Draft. And I stayed with Final Draft through the revisions. And along the way I got disillusioned. And I’ve become increasingly disillusioned. An particularly disillusioned with what happened with Final Draft 9.
Now, I don’t know if we’re jumping, should we be jumping into this right away? Do we have other stuff to do?
Marc: I don’t understand what happened.
Craig: Well, I’m going to tell you.
Marc: I mean…
Craig: From my point of view. And listen, I’m glad that you guys are listening, you know.
Marc: I’ve heard your point of views before on the show and, [sighs], it’s partially our fault, so I’m obviously — some critiques are warranted. And we listen. But a lot of times it’s misinformation.
John: That’s honestly why I’m so glad you’re here to talk about this.
Marc: Yes. And that’s what I want I to do, too.
Marc: Literally, more times than not, it’s misinformation. People, person A says the software doesn’t do X, Y, and Z, but it does. Now, whose fault is this? Probably our fault. We’re not informing the people as well. But, that’s frustrating when we get comments that aren’t…
Marc: Accurate. “Final Draft doesn’t care about the writer. Final Draft doesn’t listen.” There’s 40 people in our office every day —
Craig: Yeah, they’ll listen if you pay $25 or $29 when you call. I mean, you’ve got tech support. I’ve got to pay you, right?
Marc: Actually, misinformation.
Craig: Okay, tell me.
Joe: We also have free chat support and we also have free email support. And you know nobody pays to ring my phone number. I mean, I talk to people all day long.
Craig: All right.
Marc: You’re listeners should know that Final Draft provides free support many different ways.
Marc: We have a knowledge space. Costs money to run a knowledge space. Every question and every question we ever got is up there and searchable. We provide email support free that you get back within an hour if you happen to email us between 8:30 and 5:30 when we’re in our offices. If you do it over the weekend, it might take a day or two.
Marc: We have live chat from 8:30 to 5:30. If you have problems installing or getting started, we have a free telephone number. What Craig is alluding to is that we started to charge $25 per phone call. About 40 or 50 people take advantage just month. It was meant to be a deterrent and it is a deterrent to call. Let me tell you what happened.
For 10 years we provided free phone support. 10 percent of the people — remember now, I run a business; we have to make business decisions. Okay? We’re in business not to go out of business. — 10 percent of people would call up when it was free with no clock and talk and start asking about their printer not working and how do I get Microsoft Word. I mean, things that had nothing to do with us.
Joe: How to write a screenplay.
Marc: How to write a screenplay. And then when John August wanted to call that one time he couldn’t get through. Actually got worse press when we had free phone support then I do today. You don’t like it, but I’m telling you the customers do get serviced.
Craig: Okay, you’re right, I don’t like it. And part of why I don’t like it has to do with the pricing of your product which can… — Now, when Final Draft was the only game in town, I got it. And listen, I’m a capitalist. I understand the way the world works.
Marc: First of all, I was never the only game in town. I’ve always had competitors.
John: That’s — I want us to talk about that —
Marc: I’ve always had competitors. I wasn’t even the first.
John: But you were always the industry standard. And you always marketed yourself as the standard.
Marc: Why are we the industry standard?
John: Well, that’s a great question, because it’s always —
Marc: Take all the bells and whistles out of everybody’s product, all the competitor’s products, okay. Take them all out. What it comes down to is pagination. Period. A minute a page. Break it down in eighths. Right, you guys are directors as well, okay. So, we are trusted because it’s the proper pagination. You get a script, it’s 120 pages, you can estimate it’s going to be approximately 120 minutes. That’s really what it comes down to. Does it paginate properly?
All the other things are bells and whistles. Okay, really, if you want to break it down.
Craig: Kinda. I mean, revisions aren’t bells and whistles. I mean, that’s a huge part of what we do.
Marc: But, I mean, I’m saying what got us started and what was really important was the pagination.
Craig: Was this many lines per page.
John: Clearly. And I will say going right back to the history of sort of Final Draft, part of the reason why you started the product originally was because you got so frustrated by trying to write a screenplay in a normal word processor.
John: And that is honestly one of the things I appreciated about Final Draft so much is that, oh, this is actually set up to do exactly the thing I’m trying to do.
Marc: There you go. Thank you. And that’s the key for us.
John: But who are you competitors now as you see it?
Marc: There are 24 apps, competitors. Adobe has a competing product.
John: Yeah, Adobe Story.
Marc: You know, they come and go. We’re here. We’re still standing. We’re still number one, clearly. And it’s because we believe — I’ll give you a perfect example what makes us stand out.
We made an iPad app called the iPad Writer. It took, ready for this, two years. And you’ll say to me, “Marc, some of these apps that are much less expensive, by the way some of them are even free, they told me they took two, three, four months. Why does it take Final Draft two years?”
A year and a half of that two years was spent making sure that your script of 119 pages was 119 pages there. And also on your IBM, your Windows, I’m sorry, look at IBM, I’m old school.
Craig: That is old school.
Marc: And any device you have of Final Draft it’s the same. We can’t go to a reading, a rehearsal, a whatever we do and say, “Let’s turn to page 16,” and everybody has got a different page 16. Every — I’ll repeat — every — all of my competitors today do not do that. They may have great bells and whistles. They may be… — And by the way, I never talk about my —
Craig: I think Fade In does that.
Marc: No. It does not.
Craig: You’re saying that the Fade In app on the iPad doesn’t match the —
Marc: That’s correct. I took a 215 page script of Final Draft —
Craig: It worked for me.
Marc: It’s the same page count?
Marc: Oh, our tests showed it different.
John: Craig is lucky and he’s touched. Well, let’s talk about what’s —
Marc: Not on the iPad.
Craig: That’s what I use.
John: The iPad app took two years because it was a huge undertaking to move something that was working on the Mac and in Windows onto an iPad device.
John: Final Draft 9 is about four years after 8.
John: What were the challenges there?
Marc: The biggest one was about 10 years ago Apple, even though we’re a developer and they love us and we have friends over there, they don’t tell you anything. 10 years ago they made you do Carbon language. And you’re familiar with this. And you had to go down there and strip it, you know, put Carbon in.
I’m not a techie, by the way. But, now they come to us three, four years ago and say, “You need to do Cocoa.” That means a page one rewrite for us. What does that mean to the customer? Well, version 8 they came out with MacBook retina displays. Guess when we found out that our font wasn’t really looking as crisp as it should? When somebody came to our office with a MacBook retina display.
It’s not like we got a call, or they mentioned it to us. We didn’t even know until it happened. So, what do we have to do? We have to spend a year and a half rewriting our software so it works on not only today’s latest Mac operating system —
Joe: With the Cocoa.
Marc: But their future ones. Okay? So, now we can take advantage of their dictation, some of the things they provide in there. It can take advantage of —
Joe: Full screen.
Marc: So, there’s a year and a half there.
John: Yeah, that’s a lot.
Marc: 36, 38, something like that, other pieces of software rely on the FDX format, from your editing programs to your casting to translation companies use the FDX format for various different things. You have to make sure it works with all of these things. It takes some time. There are new features. There are corrections. There are fixes. It goes on and on and on.
Craig: Are you honestly saying that you think the amount of time that it took to do Final Draft 9 with the amount of features you’ve added and the price you’re charging, you think that all lines up right?
Marc: Yeah, absolutely.
Craig: You don’t detect a problem?
Marc: Of course, Craig. Like I said, we’re in business not to go out of business.
Craig: I understand, but —
Marc: Absolutely. It’s a mature product. It’s a very mature product. You say the same thing about Microsoft Word and Quicken. What do they actually put in? We put a lot in here. A lot.
Craig: Not really.
Marc: Of course we did. First of all, it takes advantage of all of your latest operating systems. That’s very important.
Craig: I’m sorry. Marc, Marc —
Marc: You’re sorry?
Craig: I am. I’m sorry…to interrupt. Not sorry for what I’m about to say. Adding retina display to this product when retina display has been out for two years. And listen —
Marc: It’s not one line of code.
Craig: Just give me a moment. Just give me a moment.
Marc: Okay. Okay.
Craig: We’ve given you a lot of time. And I’m just a little incredulous. There are a lot of companies out there. In fact, 100 percent of companies that make software for Mac had to deal with the fact that suddenly there was a retina display.
John: Yeah, we had to deal with it with our two apps. So, Bronson Watermarker and our other Mac app, Highland, our other Mac app were originally not retina and so we had to make them retina. It is —
Joe: Were they originally written in Carbon libraries or Cocoa library?
John: They were written in Cocoa library.
Joe: We had to go from Carbon to Cocoa, where it’s a very low level transition. So, a lot of what you’re saying —
Marc: You’re punishing us for being around since 1992.
Craig: Not at all. What I’m saying is…
Marc: That’s the way I see it.
Craig: …if you’re going to — listen, you guys have been around a long time. You’ve been charging a lot of money for a product for a long time. This change comes along and you decide we’re going to take as much time as we need and we’re going to still charge you all this money anyway when everybody else has become used to a cycle now where products update fairly frequently and things like retina display is a free update. It’s not a charged update.
And the fact that you guys had to rewrite your software is now why I have to spent $99. Is that what it is to update?
Marc: Well, $79 if you act by the end of the day. We take credit cards.
Joe: Act now.
Craig: Listen —
Marc: I don’t understand. Do you know how much work that goes into it? We’re not, you know —
Craig: I’m a customer. I’m not here to cry for you. What I’m going to —
Joe: In order to see it all.
Craig: It doesn’t matter. I don’t need to see it all.
Marc: You want to make sure —
Craig: Hold on. You guys don’t need to see what we do to make a movie. And I don’t need to see what you do to make software. All I need to know is does this make sense for me or not. And what I’m saying to you is I’m a little surprised by the fact that you’re coming here and essentially acknowledging no mistakes, no problems, we did everything right.
Craig: Right? Because it seems to me, you’re in a position now, John put this article on about how Quark was just — Quark ruled the world. And then one day they didn’t. And I have to tell you, you guys — and this is not person, it’s just a business, seem willfully blind to the fact that things are so much more easily disruptable now than ever before.
I mean, listen, you used to say you need Final Draft because the studio needs it to break down for budget. No they don’t. Not anymore. They’re breaking the budget down from in Universal right now off of a PDF document. They don’t need this anymore. I can get, John, oh my gosh you guys have watermarking now. One name, John has — what does Bronson cost?
John: it’s $29.
Marc: Which is why we told people if they need — we keep improving it as it goes on.
Craig: But I don’t understand. You guys are the industry leader and you seem to be just lagging behind.
Joe: Well, there is a lot, as Marc said, a lot of legacy code, so we’re — unfortunately because we’ve been around so long it’s harder to pivot quickly because right now I’m talking all day long with our chief architect about these particular libraries that if we want to pursue opportunity A, or opportunity B, or put it on the surface, or make it Unicode for other languages, there are some legacy libraries that are going to have to get removed. And so it’s like we’re going to have to go through and take a lot of engine parts out and replace a lot of under the hood stuff.
And it unfortunately takes a long time.
Marc: And the customer doesn’t see that, but it’s necessary that is has to be — it has to happen.
John: And I actually see that.
Joe: It’s a hindrance to be as old as we are.
John: I have a tremendous amount of sympathy for you, Mark, though in a sense of software pricing. Because I think what Craig is complaining about the price, $249 is not expensive software for a thing that you’re using every day and that you’re staring at every day. And yet the price of software has fallen through the floor. And Adobe feels it. And everyone sort of feels it because I think consumers start to sense that apps should be either free or they should be $0.99 like they are on the iOS App Store.
So, I’m incredibly sympathetic to you guys in that regard. No matter what you price it at someone is going to say, “Well that should have been a free update.” That’s inevitably going to happen.
Marc: Well, you know, you get that criticism. But the only income we make is from selling you Final Draft license, which is a perpetual license that you have forever, and ever, and ever, and selling you upgrades. There is no other income revenue at Final Draft. That’s what it is.
Craig: But I can now purchase an entire new software program for half the cost of what you’re charging for an update that has a few features thrown in. And that to me seems out of whack. That’s where I just say, look, I’m not saying that it’s right or wrong. The market doesn’t have right or wrong. It’s just a market.
Marc: You are in the minority. Fact.
Craig: Well, I’m in the minority now. But, I guess I’m just sort of surprised that you guys are sort of going, “And you’ll always be in the minority. We don’t see a problem. We don’t see any icebergs.”
Joe: I mean, unfortunately, like Marc said, we sell one thing. Apple gives their operating system away for free. But they sell $30 billion worth of iPads every quarter.
Craig: Oh, I’m not comparing you guys to Apple.
Marc: Our sole revenue is this.
Joe: We’ve heard the comparison, “Why can I get a whole…”
Craig: There’s a difference between free and $300.
Marc: Well, first of all, many company’s upgrades are about half the price of the full copy. Ours isn’t. $79. And even when it’s $99 is about 40 percent.
Craig: If this had been… — Look, part of the thing that I was surprised by, and I think you were surprised by, too, to be fair, was that this upgrade which you sell like a full upgrade didn’t feel like a full upgrade. It felt like, frankly, an incremental thing that should have been released as a free update or a service package like retina display. I mean, I’m paying for retina display? And what else?
Joe: Had we released it for free we would go out of business, because it takes a lot of development —
Marc: And that’s your opinion. We’re getting tremendous responses.
Joe: A lot of development for us to get to that point.
Marc: That’s our problem, I think.
Craig: I know I see it as a problem.
John: I think it’s an industry problem. I think it’s a software industry problem.
Joe: It’s a challenge in software development.
John: Especially I think for people in your situation and I know Movie Magic Screenwriter has a similar thing because they’re product feels like it’s 1983. I mean, those menus feel incredibly old. And they’re going to face the same situation. You guys were smart enough to pivot and go to FDX format. That’s a classic example of making the right choice of getting rid of FDR.
Joe: Yeah. We had to bite the bullet. We knew it was going to take a long time.
Marc: Hey, we made a lot of bad decisions over the years. You live and learn. This is what running a business is. We’re 40 people. There’s not an office really in the world that has 40 people dedicated to one thing. And that’s screenwriting and screenwriting software.
And, quite frankly, we listen every day. We service our customers. We listen every day. We love the good comments and we listen to the negative ones. Believe me, we take them to heart.
Craig: Do you think I’ve had any interesting or reasonable criticism for your product, or you think it’s all just a bunch of bunk?
Joe: I read every single podcast.
Craig: I’m not asking if you read it. I’m saying do you agree with me?
Joe: I want to absolutely know. Do I, well —
Marc: Sure, yes. Yes, some of your criticism is warranted.
Joe: I can’t think off the top of my head.
Marc: I don’t remember those. I remember the ones that aren’t warranted.
Craig: I think that’s weird. I would remember the ones that are warranted.
Marc: Hold up. This is our business.
Marc: We know exactly, top to bottom, what the customers want, what they need, and we listen. You have to make business decisions on how you do it, when you do it, how you implement it, not implement it. It’s really what it’s all about. But we know. We’re engaged. And we understand. And we hear the criticisms. And some of your criticisms are warranted. And some of them are, I feel you might be misinformed.
Craig: All right.
Marc: I can’t pick and choose that. I don’t want to pick and choose and beat a dead horse. But this is how 40 people make a living. Believe me, we listen.
Craig: All right.
John: But let’s talk about your customers, though, because do you perceive your customers being sort of the working-working-working screenwriters or the aspiring screenwriters. What do you know about your customers?
Marc: Well, I wrote something that got produced, a theater piece, at Ford Theater. Am I professional writer?
John: You and I talked about this because that was actually the template that I used for Big Fish. I was just starting Big Fish when you did that. And it was like a patriotic —
Marc: Yeah, It’s called Liberty Smith. Actually, it was very well received.
Marc: 10 percent of the people, by the way, didn’t like it. [laughs]
Craig: That’s better than I’ve ever done.
Marc: Thank you. Yes, it’s correct. And I don’t write the music but I was the book writer on it. And we had a ball with it. I don’t know where this is going now. I just lost my…you got me talking about myself.
Craig: Who your customer base. Who do you see as your — ?
Marc: Oh yeah. So, am I professional writer? Well, some people would say yes. I got paid a little bit of money. But I’m not. So, it’s hard to tell when you do surveys about who’s actually professional writers or not. And I would say it comes back 30, 40 percent of our users internationally are professional writers. Okay?
We are extremely popular in India. I went to Mumbai. I went all over the place. We estimated, the Mumbai Film Office estimates there are 300,000 people using Final Draft in India. They make four times the amount of TV shows and movies we do, except we sold one copy eight years ago and didn’t even get paid for that. It’s 100 percent piracy.
But we’re very popular there, so they bring me over there and they want us to do more stuff to help make it better for them. But, if you’re not going to get paid — it’s a business like anything else. But, so we take the criticism.
John: The reason why I ask who your customers are is I think between Craig and I we know almost all the working feature writers. And a lot of them have been frustrated with Final Draft over the years, some more, some less. Most people end up using it. Like it’s still the best thing. That’s honestly what you honestly.
Craig: Sure. By default.
John: It’s by default. And so like it’s good in production stuff. You bite the bullet and you use it. But I asked a lot of people and I asked like did you use a beta of Final Draft 9. Did they come to you? Did they survey you? Were these the things you wanted?
Marc: Of course.
John: But I haven’t found anybody who did of my working —
Joe: We do have professional writers on our beta. I’m not going to give their names out, but we do. And we do consult them. And we actually pursue relationships with guys like you. You guys are our customers. And the reason that aspiring writers want to use our product is because they want to use what the pros use. And we know this.
And so primarily we’re here to make you guys happy. And if we’re not then we’re not really doing our job. That’s what we really want to do.
Marc: 24 competitors yet we’re the ones who show up everywhere. I mean, we’re everywhere. We’re at the London Screenwriting Festival.
Craig: You are —
Marc: Wait, let me — we’re in Buenos Aires for the International Film & Video Association.
Craig: Yes, you’re spending money on that.
Marc: And we put ourselves right there. The list —
Craig: You’re spending money on that. I mean, part of what —
Marc: Let me finish. We’re listening to everybody.
Craig: No, no, no. You’re promoting. That’s not listening.
Craig: It’s promoting! You guys run contests and you go places and you show up. And, listen, promoting is part of business. But part of what I think a lot of — when I talk to screenwriters we perceive is that Final Draft has become a company that charges a lot of money to wannabes, takes that money, converts it into marketing to get more wannabes. And there’s nothing wrong — every professional writer starts as a wannabe.
But what you’re not doing, I don’t perceive, and like John said we’ve never met a single screenwriter that you guys have talked to.
Craig: That’s a little weird, since we know almost all of the ones that work.
Marc: We might have talked to 250 people just today alone. Every day.
Craig: 250 people today?
Marc: We email, every day. Every day.
Craig: No, I mean to say talk to them in other words —
Joe: Well, you have some friends that wrote on Ride Along, right?
Joe: One of my buddies was the original writer on that. Very close relationship with him. Talk to him every day. He wants to come in and present stuff to Marc. Every other week he’s asking me for things. CollaboWriter. Huge item on his list. He won’t shut up about it. It’s something I absolutely want to build to make him happy. He’s a pro. He had a million dollar pitch at Paramount. You’ve never heard of the title of this thing, but he’s a real guy. And he’s out there.
Craig: I’m not denying that you talk —
Joe: These are real people.
Craig: Yes. I’m not denying that you talk to some people, and I don’t know if he’s got a credit on the movie or not.
Joe: For sure.
Craig: And that’s good. But I’m saying that it seems odd that there isn’t quite a bit of consulting going on with professionals.
Marc: Craig, I’m sorry to say —
Craig: I know you’re saying that I’m wrong.
Marc: You’re completely, 100 percent, mistaken.
Craig: We just don’t know the ones who talk to you.
Marc: I came here to the hot seat, didn’t I?
Craig: We just don’t know the ones that you’re talking to.
Marc: Listen, the one time I would say that 30 or 40 percent of the television market, no, what am I thinking? Yeah, the television market.
Joe: The TV shows.
Marc: The TV shows was ours. Okay? So we went out and spoke to everybody and anybody, script coordinators, everybody. Today we probably have 90, 95 percent, I don’t know. But just about every studio and TV show uses Final Draft. Why? We went and talked to them, and listened, and we put the things that they wanted in there. To assume — this is how we make our living. To assume that we’re not engaging the customer is —
Craig: Well, we’re not talking about [crosstalk] —
Marc: No, it’s my fault. It’s my fault. That you have — let me finish Craig. If you have this perception, then we did not do our job.
Craig: The only perception that I have is that it’s just a little, there’s perhaps just an odd coincidence that John and I don’t happen to know any of the theatrical screenwriters that you talk to.
Joe: They call us every day. The Family Guy, Doug Ellin. I could just go on and on and on. I mean, Modern Family. We talk to everybody. We talk to everybody that we know. We would love to know the guys you were talking to and get their input.
Craig: Well, that would be good.
Marc: You’re frustrated because there’s things that you don’t like about it and you want to know why we haven’t acted on those things. And the answer to that question is that we have to prioritize. We are a business to not go out of business.
Craig: I’m —
Marc: Let me finish. There’s only so many screenwriters in the world. You talk about price points. Okay, 40 people have to eat at Final Draft. I’m not an extremely wealthy person out of this, okay? It’s still a limited vertical piece of software. You have to balance, as a business man, and this is what I do — a small business owner — you have to balance the income and revenue with the expenses. And sometimes they get tricky and some things fall through the cracks.
But we’re not in business to go out of business. And that’s a very key point.
Craig: We’re not asking you to go out of business.
John: We’re certainly not. And I think I’ve said many times I think it’s crucial that we have people at that top end of the industry, top end of apps, so there will always be a way to do that difficult production stuff, because that’s what you guys are especially good at.
Marc: Thank you.
John: As we sort of wrap this up, I want to ask both of you what’s next, or what’s officially on the timeline for the future? Because when I talked to you last I know there were products that were being discussed, but what’s officially the next kind of thing that you guys can talk about?
Marc: Well, we’re talking to a lot of, some other companies and I’m not privy to talk about, that want to do some interesting things with Final Draft. Right on the horizon is we’re releasing — what are we releasing in the next couple weeks?
Joe: Well, right now we’re following up the release of 9 with some fixes and some enhancements.
Marc: That people found.
Joe: I would love to do some more iterations on things like watermarking and make it a little more robust and things like that. Now that it’s out in the wild, we’re getting a lot of feedback and we’re cycling through a lot of that stuff. You guys are both familiar with how that works.
But, one of the big things we’d like to do in the next couple year time frame type roadmap is a better outlining experience with the navigator being a navigator and not a true outliner. I mean, I’ve always felt that. And I’ve always felt like that’s an opportunity for us to really improve this. And so if we were looking at a version 10 or something I think that would be a cornerstone of it.
John: How about Fountain? Is Fountain anything you’re going to be incorporating into future versions?
Joe: You know, Fountain is real easy. It’s text. So, we can already read it. So, we just have to make a couple of syntax adjustments probably here and there. We could import a script right now —
John: You actually do a pretty good job of importing Fountain right now.
Joe: Yeah, because we can read text and we kind of get the context and it does that with the text document. It’s done that for a long time. So, I can pretty much get 99 percent of Fountain today really without doing anything. So, if we did a little bit of a —
Craig: So then you should do that.
Joe: Well, yeah, we should. We absolutely should. I could show you a long list of things I want to do.
Craig: I’m just saying that some of these things that are easy… — In other words, what we’ve become used to is that Final Draft will say every few years, “Here’s a bunch of stuff. Pay for it,” as opposed to as we go through, these little things that obviously don’t require a lot of effort would be nice to see. The other thing I would love to see you guys do that I think everybody would pay — look, I remember buying Final Draft and there was this collaborator thing and Todd Phillips and I were like, “Oh thank god. Finally.”
Joe: It’s absolutely something that we’re dealing with, this CollaboWriter.
Craig: It didn’t even come close to work. And you guys, that was — I had a real problem with that. I felt like I was sold bad goods.
Marc: That’s justified. [Crosstalk] As barriers that people will start building your firewalls and stuff.
Craig: It wouldn’t work on anything. [laughs]
Joe: CollaboWriter was built when it was a peer-to-peer technology with no security. And it’ll still work like that. We took it out of the program.
Craig: Sure, yeah.
Joe: If there were no internet security and firewall on everything that exists today, CollaboWriter worked. It stopped working. And then we kept trying to figure out —
Craig: It never worked.
Joe: And it failed. No, it worked in the beginning.
Craig: Where, at DARPA? It didn’t work in anyone’s office. I mean, honestly, it never worked because everybody at the very least was going through just like, even a router it would —
Marc: It worked. It just had to do some things, manipulate some things.
Joe: It got defeated by internet security and things like that. And technology changed so rapidly. And when Marc says we’re a 40 person company —
Marc: Right. We’re not Microsoft or Apple here.
Craig: No one is asking you that.
Joe: 10 to 15 percent of those people are actually programmers.
Craig: I understand. All I’m saying is…
Joe: So, I have a limited amount of —
Craig: …the company sold me a product and it didn’t work as described. I would love — I think everybody frankly was a little, I think I was — I was, I don’t think, I was shocked that after this many years you guys didn’t come out and at that price say here’s a cloud solution so that you can actually collaborate. This is being mastered across platforms by everyone else.
Joe: What we’re doing is we’re integrating Dropbox on our iPad app so that you have really deep integration with Dropbox to make that a lot easier.
Craig: Oh, come on. But I’m not talking about that.
Joe: But that’s really what our customers are asking us for.
John: Honestly, I’m sort of on your side.
Joe: That’s what our customers are asking us for.
John: All my stuff is currently in Dropbox. That’s where I sort of want to see stuff.
Craig: No, I understand. But I have Dropbox. See, there’s two kids that have created this writing site, you know, WriterDuet, where they — now, is that solution appropriate for Final Draft, I don’t know. But they figured something out here already. And they’re just kids!
Joe: Well, so there’s CollaboWriter and there’s like the online storage and syncing the storage.
Craig: They’re not really kids. They’re grownups.
Joe: And CollaboWriter is something we want to deal with in a completely new way, so we have a hosted environment so we can do it the right way.
Joe: But as far as syncing and sharing documents, I think there are solutions out there that we just need to integrate with rather than offering you cloud storage. There’s no reason for me to offer you storage.
Craig: We don’t need storage. We need just, yeah.
Joe: We’re making adjustments as we go along and adjustments change.
Craig: Here’s a suggestion to you. Like when I talk to all of our screenwriting friends, the number one thing that we want is to be able to open our laptop here and you open your laptop in your house and we start working in the same document just like Google Docs.
Joe: Definitely. I’m with you.
Marc: We agree.
Joe: We are going to build it. I promise we’re going to build that.
Marc: Let me apologize to the listeners if we’re a little slower than you’d like us to be.
Craig: [laughs] And you have 40 people.
Marc: Like I said, there’s 36 products that work with us. There’s a lot of people that touch Final Draft. We have a lot of — sometimes you get spread a little too thin. We do realize that we are in the screenwriting business and our job is to make screenwriters happy. Hopefully we will get Craig to be a fan.
Craig: You know me. I’m all — I’m honest.
Joe: You’re much more charming in person than on paper.
John: I told you he was going to be a charming person.
Joe: He’s a sweetheart —
Craig: This is charming? Really?
John: Thank you guys so much for coming in.
Craig: Thank you. That was brave. That was brave.
John: It was brave and wonderful for you guys to come in and talk to us about Final Draft 9
Craig: Face the music.
John: And let’s keep a good dialogue going.
Joe: Let’s stay in touch and let’s get these things worked out.
Marc: We’re open to criticism. We’re open to love. And we’re open to suggestions. And just want to remind the listeners we’re not distant. We spend every day listening, talking, interacting with writers of all kinds, from playwrights, to television writers, to people in Europe. We work very hard. My team works very hard.
Craig: I believe you.
Marc: And the reason that prompted this was that the employees might have felt taken back.
Craig: That’s a shame.
Marc: And me — throw it all at me.
Craig: And we are very, I have to say just personally I respect the hell out of you guys for coming on. I think it’s fantastic. I hope that you understand that everything I have to say — the good news about me is that I’m just a little honesty machine, so when I love it I’m going to love it hard.
Joe: What you see is what you get.
Marc: But this is why we came here. We cannot get better unless we listen to the criticism. We just can’t accept the love. I do want to thank the listeners that do love us to keep loving us. And I want the ones that don’t to tell us how to make us better. That’s the only way you get better. We are sometimes a little slower because we have a big reach. We’re not a new startup. We’re not a small company. And we have what you call a legacy product. And you have a lot of things that have to work hand in hand with that. And a lot of partners and a lot of — I could go on, and on, and on.
So, it’s a balancing act and I appreciate you having me on.
Craig: It was a pleasure.
Marc: And please feel free to keep criticizing us. It makes us better.
Craig: [laughs] Fantastic.
John: Thank you guys so much.
Joe: Something tells me they will. [laughs]
John: Yeah, probably.
Marc: As always, John, good to see you.
Craig: Thank you guys, that was great.
[Scriptnotes theme music]
Craig: So, a very interesting thing happened this week. Billy Ray and Chip Johansen — Johansen, right? Johannessen or Johansen? Well, anyway, Chip, they are the co-chairs of the negotiating committee. Very well regarded, well respected writers, not only for the work that they do but their position in the guild and their demeanor, they way they conduct themselves.
And they sent an email to the membership and it said essentially that even though the AMPTP, the organization that corrals all the companies for the purposes of bargaining, even though they’ve made a deal with the DGA, and even though we have, I think we’re coming up on 70 years of precedent where if one guild gets a deal they all get it, the AMPTP opened up with a volley that they were going to offer us something that was worth $60 million less, with all these rollbacks on the table. And basically the email said, “Well, that was surprising. And we’re not going to take that.”
And I just wanted to talk about this for a minute, because what does it mean? A lot of people are a little concerned and nervous.
John: So, as we’ve talked about on the podcast before, I’m actually on the negotiating committee for this contact. So, while I can’t talk about specifics of what’s going on here right now, I would say in general in the town both on the writers’ side and the studios’ side, it didn’t feel like this was going to be a particularly contentious negotiation.
Craig: Yeah, like why? This wasn’t supposed to be this way. Why are they doing this?
The first thing I should say is that there was — what I didn’t read in the email from Billy and Chip was any sense of panic. And nor do I have a sense of panic. And the reason I don’t have a sense of panic is because I think that this is a fairly obvious but also fairly clumsy attempt by Carol Lombardini, who is the head negotiator for the companies, to get us to sort of bargain up towards the DGA as opposed to trying to get us — working hard to get us to bargain down to that number.
As a strategy I suppose it’s okay. It’s a little silly. A lot of this stuff is kabuki theater. The blunder here was that it was just way too aggressive. Way. It just feels like a huge mistake. And it feels like a mistake on their part strategically because, look, if they really do want to overturn pattern bargaining then I’m going on strike. I’ll go on strike without the WGA. [laughs] I don’t care.
John: Craig Mazin just walks around all the time with a blank picketing sign and he will just write whatever he needs to write on, because that’s Craig Mazin. That’s what Craig Mazin does.
Craig: Uh [laughs]. So, if you lose me that early you’ve really blown it because I’m a very moderate guy about this sort of thing. I hate strikes because I think that you can’t truly win a strike.
But in this case if we were to violate pattern bargaining, there’s no reason for the guild to exist anymore. If you accept that one time, then the next time you’ll have to do it again and again until eventually we just get paid McDonalds wages and what do we need a union for?
That’s why I know that this isn’t serious from them because they know that we would never take it. I just think it was a bungled first step by the companies and I hope that they un-bungle this quickly. It was sort of pointless.
John: I am told that my function as a member of the negotiating committee will be to sit in a room and make a counter offer, then sit while they mull that counter offer, and then sit some more, and then sit some more. So, I am bringing plenty of good reading material. I have plenty to write. I’m looking forward to hanging out with my fellow writers and trying to get this contract done.
Craig: It’s essentially the writer’s version of jury duty, because the negotiating committee exists per the constitution, the union constitution. In actuality it would be impossible to negotiate anything. By the way, it’s the same thing for the companies. They have all these people in the room. It’s very hard for the — ultimately it comes down to about four people in a sidebar deciding everything. So, you become quickly ceremonial.
But that said, I think everybody is looking at this going, “Oh, come on. That’s just ridiculous.” So, I guess I would say to my fellow writers don’t panic. Not over this. But, nor should you think for a second that we would ever in a million years accept something like that. We would not.
John: If Craig Mazin tells me not to panic I will not panic.
Now, another thing that happened this week, something that a reader wrote in about, this is from Erica Horton: “I know you guys have probably gotten a lot of questions about the Quentin Tarantino Hateful Eight script. However, I was wondering if you could address the difference between sharing a script the way one of the actors supposedly did and posting the screenplay online the way Gawker did. Is there a difference?
“I understand how someone producing a movie from a screenplay without the permission of the author is copyright infringement, or taking it and claiming it as their own. Is it against copyright law to share someone’s screenplay if you credit them as the author and don’t sell it?”
Craig: Absolutely against copyright law. 100 percent. What a shame. And then Quentin famously said, “Well, now I’m not making the movie.”
John: Which I would like to stipulate as a writer and director, that is entirely his right.
Craig: I love —
John: He can not make his movie. That’s fine.
Craig: If he weren’t already the coolest guy in the world he would have become the coolest guy in the world because of this. Strong move to the hoop.
John: So, in case people are listening to this podcast years after the fact, what happened this last week is Quentin Tarantino’s script, which is apparently called Hateful Eight, leaked online. So, I’m not even sure what the entire backstory of this was, but he had sent the script to certain actors and either through them or through their agents somehow it got out. And it was passed around town. But, more importantly it was put online by Gawker. And so people could read the screenplay. And that is what has happened to get us to this point.
Craig: The idea is that if you’ve written a screenplay, either you haven’t sold it or you have sold it, either way someone owns the copyright. And part of copyright — part of the right of copyright is the right to distribution. So, I don’t have the right to sell things that I haven’t authored unless I’ve gotten permission. And in this case copying and disseminating the screenplay is a violation of the copyright owner, which in this case I think is Quentin. I don’t think he’s sold it to anybody yet. Yeah.
Which is even — for those people who are kind of copy-fightists, then just know that his isn’t like a pro-corporation, “Well Mickey Mouse should be copyright forever,” kind of thing. This is a man who wrote a thing.
John: So, let’s talk about the difference between a script being passed around Hollywood and a script being posted online. I’ve taken my own sort of smaller John August umbrage at people posting script reviews online. And this is sort of the same kind of thing, but times a thousand.
I think as writers we can all sort of understand what this is like. This is something that I’ve written that I did not want to share to the world that is now suddenly up on Gawker. And how would you feel?
Craig: Violated. I mean, people have to understand we would never — if Stephen King sent a rough draft manuscript to his publisher and some assistant in the office took it and scanned it and threw it up on the web, everybody would be shocked by it. But somehow for screenplays we don’t have the same level of outrage, maybe because the internet geek community is so passionate about this stuff. And I use that term lovingly. And they want to celebrate and read these things and they’re obsessed with the insidery-ness of it all.
The problem is they don’t understand we don’t write screenplays for you to read on the internet period, anyway. We write them to be converted into movies. We want you to see a movie not having read the screenplay. What a shame to go into The Sixth Sense or Silence of the Lambs having read the screenplay.
And, look, I saw Silence of the Lambs having read the book, but I would have never read the screenplay to see the choices and to see the movie in my head. It’s just violation. The worst kind of violation is the ScriptShadow-y “I’m going to take your early draft and review it,” which is a double dose of why. Like who the hell gave you the right to do this? And why do you think it’s good for anyone?
John: Let’s step back and talk for a second about a screenwriter’s right to control the distribution of his or her script. Because there’s sort of two different phases a script goes through. There’s the stage where it’s just your script. You’ve written a script, you may have handed it to one or two people to read. You are trying to get their opinions, their feedback. You’re trying to know if this thing you’ve written is good.
Now, at a certain point you’re going to be going after directors or actors and that script is going to be in other people’s hands. At a certain point you give up your expectation that you can control every person who’s reading it. And sometimes that’s okay.
When you write a spec script at a certain point you want people to be passing it around. Each year we talk about the annual Black List of the people who have written the scripts that people love most in Hollywood. And most of those scripts were not a case of an executive calls the agent and says, “Can I read this script?” It’s more, “I read this great script and here I’m going to give you a copy of this great script.” That passing around is a natural part of Hollywood.
But that’s not what happened with this in Gawker. This was not a passing around of something that we loved. This was publishing it on the internet for the whole world to read. And that’s not okay. That’s not an acceptable sort of use of the screenwriter’s work.
Craig: It’s different in scale, obviously. But it’s also different in terms of whose intention is ruling the day. For instance, when I was writing the Hangover movies with Todd Phillips, we never printed a single page out. Nobody got copies of it except for him and me while we were writing it. It existed entirely on our two computers. That’s it. And then when we were done we made a hard copy for the head of Warner Bros. We presumed that he would safeguard and he did. And the three actors, you know, the three guys.
And everybody else had to come into the office, you know, like costume designers and production, everybody else, had to come into the office, read it, and leave, and not take it with them, no transmission, because we understood it was something that people would take and put on the internet.
So, there are screenplays that there will be interest in.
Craig: J.J. I’m sure is struggling with massive amounts of security around the Star Wars scripts.
John: And I want to talk about how you lock stuff down when you mean to lock stuff down, because right as the story broke people were tweeting or emailing me saying, “Oh, they should have used Bronson Watermarker,” which is an app I make that watermarks PDFs. Saying like, “Oh, if Tarantino had done this then this wouldn’t have happened.”
No, this could have still happened. I mean, the app that I make can put a watermark on your PDF and that is some protection, and we can do like a bigger deep burn thing where you’re creating an image of every page. That’s a little bit more protection.
But that’s still kind of locking your bike. If somebody wanted to put it up on the internet they could still put it up on the internet. They could retype it. There’s no real way to protect your script from anyone possibly looking at it unless you’re doing exactly what you did with The Hangover 3 which is have people come to your office to read it.
Craig: Well, and for instance on that project, and I suspect it’s the same case with any high profile movie that you know you’re making, and it’s a sequel, or even if you’re doing the first — like I’m sure when they did the first Hunger Games they were obsessive about security. The agents don’t get it.
One thing that I was puzzled by, frankly, was the way that Quentin went about this. I think that he — I can’t blame him for walking through a bad neighborhood wearing a tight dress, but he acted in a way that I would have at least counseled him to not do.
John: He did seem to be very casual about sending this script to these people with the expectation that it wouldn’t get out past them, which if you think about his previous scripts have leaked out. So, you would think he would approach this with, I don’t know, a little bit more caution. I mean, you’d think he would have them come to his house to read it, for example.
Craig: That’s right. And maybe it’s just that he — because he’s Quentin Tarantino, you know, he doesn’t know that he’s Quentin Tarantino. But if I were with him I would say, “Oh my god, you have to understand something: people would knife their brother or sister to get your scripts because people are that obsessed with it.”
John: That would actually be a great job for somebody, sort of like following Quentin Tarantino around saying, “No, you’re Quentin Tarantino. You shouldn’t do that.”
Craig: “Yeah, I’m sorry Quentin. You forgot again that you’re Quentin Tarantino.”
John: Right. That’s what you should do.
Craig: By the way, I would do it right now. If Quentin Tarantino said you can follow around all day long, I mean, I am so fascinated by him as a filmmaker. He’s probably my favorite filmmaker.
John: Well, I do recall that probably the first script I ever really truly loved was Quentin’s script for Natural Born Killers.
Craig: I read that script. It’s awesome.
John: Which wasn’t really the movie that they made, but it was the original script. And I was at USC at the time and I remember one night getting the script, reading the script, and getting to the last page and then just flipping back to page one and reading it all over again. It’s the first script I did that with because it was just so good.
Craig: And he gets away with stuff that we can’t all get — I mean, he just does things that we’re not allowed to do. He’s the best.
John: All right. We have a question from Paul. He writes, “I am a Brooklyn based filmmaker.”
Craig: [New York accent] Hey what’s up, Paul? How ya doin’?
John: “And I enjoy your show greatly which is why I wouldn’t have guessed that I would ever take umbrage at your remarks, but umbrage I have taken. In your show Women in Pilots you and Craig commented numerous time about the way kids can mess with your career. Craig even went so far as to say they prevented him from becoming a director.
“In past shows you’ve talked about how kids halt many writer’s careers and success in the industry. As a married filmmaker considering having kids these remarks are more than disconcerting. You and Craig provide too strong of an anti-kid argument for parents who clearly both revel in the joys of a family. This feels like a ‘do as a I say not as I do’ bit of wisdom. I know successful filmmakers who have families and who are permanently single. And while the responsibilities of family can be extremely difficult to manage, I don’t believe a filmmaker’s success is harmed by his or her obligations to children. I think it’s totally specific to the individual.”
Craig: I…where to begin.
John: I know.
Craig: I mean, well, my initial reaction is, Paul, I can absolutely do anything I want professionally and remain the father to my children. It’s just I’m not sure I’m doing the father to them that I want to do. So, it’s a choice. I’m just making a choice. I’m not saying don’t have kids.
First of all, family should be your priority anyway. [laughs] It’s more important to make human beings and love them to, I don’t know, get a job making a film. It’s a movie. I love movies, but they’re not people.
John: This reminds me of another podcast I was listening to this week, the Planet Money podcast. And they had this economist on who writes about love and sort of the choices people make in romantic relationships. And I think the specific bit of advice was about this guy who had written in who was polyamorous. And he’s saying, “I have three lovers and people never write about this stuff and so what do you think the economic consequences of this are?”
And the economist was very smart in saying you may have bountiful love. Your love may be endless. But your time is not endless. And your ability to be with people is not endless. And so no matter what you do you are making some choices about how you are spending your time and how you are spending your emotional energy.
And that, I think, is really what we get into with Paul’s question is that, yes, you can have a terrific filmmaking career. You can have a terrific family. But to try to put energy in both places equally, there’s only a certain number of hours in a day. There’s only so much you.
And so everything is choices and you’re making a choice between how you’re going to allot your time. And having kids may cause you to allot your time differently. And that’s, I think, just the nature of the beast.
Craig: That’s right. And, Paul, don’t misinterpret my snarky attitude. I don’t blame my children for the choices I make. I make my choices for my children. I love my kids. My wife and my kids come first. I have turned things down, repeatedly, because I thought that it would be bad.
And, by the way, I’ve also made mistakes. I’ve talked a lot about how when my son was two I went to Vancouver and I was there for about six months. And I would go back and forth. There was a stretch of about three months where I was gone. And I came home and he looked different. And it was terrifying to me.
I was talking to this to Alec Berg was actually talking about this the other day when he went off to make — he made EuroTrip. And his daughter had just been born. Had just been born. And he got back from Prague and even though she was a baby and babies don’t necessarily — when you say like, oh, a baby doesn’t recognize me, she didn’t recognize him. His own baby didn’t recognize him. It was like a soldier coming back, you know, it was terrible.
So, Paul, I don’t blame my kids for these things. I make my choices because of my kids. I love my children. And if you love children, too, have some.
John: I will also say that these are the kinds of choices that comes at every filmmaker at every point in his or her career. So, in an early incarnation of Big Fish, Steven Spielberg was attached to direct it. And so it was to the point where we were talking about when we would actually make the movie and Steven said, “Well, I want to do it during the summer so I can be with my kids.” And this is Steven Spielberg and these are the choices he’s making. He’s a director who can make any movie, but some of the choices he’s making are because this is when his kids are going to be out of school and can join him on a set.
So, it’s not just an aspiring screenwriter thing or an aspiring director thing. At every level in the filmmaking world you’re going to be making some of these choices.
Craig: Well answered.
John: Next question comes from Liz in Chicago. She writes, “I’m a filmmaker working on developing a script for a tech-inspired story involving the themes of network and cloud storage, digital storage and security, and big data analysis. The problem is I’m expert in none of these fields and want to understand the real technology behind some of these things so that the story holds some weight in terms of relative accuracy.
“How would you go about finding a trustworthy adviser in the technology field to run the viability of plot elements by?”
Craig: That’s a really good question. I don’t know if we’ve ever had a big research episode.
John: I love research.
Craig: Me too. Beats writing, doesn’t it? [laughs] Most of the movies I’ve done haven’t required a ton of research. Identity Thief was the first one where I had to do a lot of research. And the answer to your question, Liz, is you call up a company that does what you are talking about and you tell them you’re writing a movie and you would love to talk to them. And oh my god do they want to talk to you.
And if you have to sign a non-disclosure agreement or something about trade secrets or things, but just expertise. You know, I went over to Beverly Hills and I sat down with the detective that runs their identity fraud division and he talked to me for two hours.
I remember he said at the end, because he hates identity thieves as you can imagine. He hates them.
John: He figured out that she was the hero.
Craig: Well, he didn’t. But as he was leaving he turned and he said, “By the way, what happens to the identify thief in your movie?” And I said, “She’s going to end up in jail.” And he said, “She should die.”
Craig: And he wasn’t kidding at all. It was like I laughed and then I realized, oh my god, he wants her to die.
John: It would have been a very different movie. I’m glad you didn’t follow his advice. Now, I agree with Craig’s overall advice about reaching out to people but I would say reach out to a specific person.
And so a project that I’m working on I needed to find people who had a very specific disease, or a very specific sort of situation. And they were hard to track down. Fortunately I was able to find an organization, a charity that works with people who have this condition, and I could reach out to them. And so online I could figure out there was a group in LA that did this. I could figure out who the people were I needed to talk to. I could email them directly and say what I wanted to do. Could they get on the phone with me? And they were wonderful.
Because I was talking to an individual. I think if I just called up blindly it would have been very hard, but since I could target an individual person it worked out really, really well.
And, again, people do want to help you, especially if you’re making a movie. I guess I could have dropped some credits, but I don’t really think that was the reason they were talking to me. They just want to actually see the stuff they do portrayed correctly. And that’s more than anything they want to see is they want to be able to talk about their jobs and see their jobs reflected accurately in the movies.
Craig: People get fussy. And they don’t even need you to be a fancy screenwriter. Everybody loves to talk about what they do. Do you know how frequently somebody that is a big data management cloud storage specialist gets to talk about what he does with someone who cares? Never.
They start talking at a party and people are like, “Ugh….” You’re listening. They get very excited. So, you find that person. They’re going to be very happy to talk to you.
But also make sure you do your homework on your own. Don’t show up and ask dumb questions. Read a few books so that you’re not wasting their time and your time by not asking really good questions that only they could answer.
John: Last bit of advice for Liz. Remember that you will become a sort of expert in this because you will learn all these things about data and such, but your audience won’t be. And your audience doesn’t need to be. Your audience needs you to be the person who interprets all that expert information and gives them just enough so they can follow your story.
So, I want you to be David Koepp in Jurassic Park. I want you to create that clever moment that explains how you clone dinosaurs and let’s just get on with our story.
Craig: “What would Koepp do?” I’ve got a bracelet that says that.
John: All right. This is from Zack. “My sister and I are writing partners from Steubenville, Ohio. We’ve been repped on our first script but it was passed on by all the studios it was sent to. Since then we’ve written another script that was considered by a WME agent, giving us notes on two separate drafts. After our last draft we never heard back from him, so we sent to CAA. They liked it and gave us more notes. We completed them and they said the script was ‘unique and enthralling read, but it wasn’t strong enough to represent.’
“My question to you is this: What the hell do we do next? While the script may not be good enough for them, should we spend our time working on the query letters to hopefully get another agency to bite, or should we scrap that idea and focus our time on writing another script? My biggest fear in this industry is that we have a great script that we just weren’t successfully getting to the right person. Maybe that’s me being overconfident, but by killing myself on the page for the last four years, that idea is what gives me hope to keep writing.
“As a seasoned writer I hope you can understand the struggle we’re going through and hope you can give us no more than a few words of advice to get us through these tough times.”
Craig: Well, I always worry when agencies are giving notes to people. Agents have no — I mean, I love my agent. I love my agency. Agents are not in that job. They’re in the job of negotiating business deals. They don’t know what makes a script good, nor do they know what makes a script sell. They only know what make a script sell.
So, they’re always looking backwards at what just happened and then they get new material and say, “Well, does that fit the pattern I watched?” But that’s not how the actual business works, because the actual business is a disruptive business where suddenly Diablo Cody writes Juno and that’s not at all what came before it, but somebody falls in love with it.
So, my advice to you would be consider maybe a service like the Black List where the script would be read not by agents but by people who are more creatively minded. And, remember, all you need is the one.
John: Blcklst.com is certainly a choice. Or, Austin Film Festival, or Nicholl Fellowship, any of the really meaningful screenwriting competitions. Those could be good ways to send your script out there in the world.
But I think the more important thing I would stress to you is that you have one script and I’m sure it’s terrific, but agents are reading this and they’re trying to base their entire opinion on one script. If you had more for them to read with different kinds of scripts they would have a better sense of who you are as a writer. So, while, yes, don’t abandon this project, I think you need to sort of keep writing new stuff and sort of expand your portfolio of awesome.
Craig: Well, and particularly relevant if you are talking to agencies. Because they’re not looking for screenplays, they’re looking for clients.
John: They’re looking for writers who sell things.
Craig: Exactly. And so if you have that one script and that’s the only one you’re ever going to write, and there have been quite a few people, one-hit wonders like that, then you’re less attractive to an agency. They’re going to make 10 percent off of you one time.
John: Our last question comes from Timothy. “Assuming you have a spec script that everybody loves, and assuming you want to direct your own script, is it appropriate to attach a line on your title page that says something to the effect of ‘Writer Attached to Direct.’ If not, how do you go about selling a script as a writer-director?”
Craig: Yeah, you don’t want to say anything on the title page other than the title and who wrote it and the date.
John: Your email address.
Craig: Email address. Yeah. The idea being that if somebody is truly interested in the screenplay you now have leverage. And you tell them I want to direct this screenplay. At which point they’re all going to try and convince you not to. And here’s the fun part: There are a ton of stories where people said no, I must direct it.
John: Richard Kelly on our podcast.
Craig: Correct. And many of those stories fork off into Richard Kelly-ville where they do a great job and they become directors. Many fork off into — they forked off…[laughs].
John: Boondock Saints.
Craig: They got forked off, yeah, into movies where you think, “Oh, you probably should not have directed that and I can’t believe that you forced yourself on when look who could have directed it, this person, this person, this person.”
And, god, that’s the problem. You need a crystal ball there, don’t you.
John: Craig, this was a jam-packed full show.
Craig: This may have been the best show we’ve ever done.
John: I have a One Cool Thing. Do you have a One Cool Thing?
Craig: I do have a One Cool Thing. It’s very, very brief.
John: Mine is brief, too. So, every year the City of Los Angeles does this thing called Ciclavia. And if you don’t know what Ciclavia is, it’s kind of awesome and amazing. What LA does is they shut down certain streets on a Sunday an people can go ride their bikes or walk on these streets. And so streets that are normally only car traffic are suddenly pedestrian friendly or bicycle friendly.
Craig: “Get on your box and ride!”
John: The next Ciclavia is April 6. It’s down Wilshire Boulevard from downtown to about LACMA, and it’s just great. And so if you are in Central Los Angeles or if you are going to be able to come to Central Los Angeles, it’s just kind of amazing to be able to see the city in a very different way. So, we’ll put a link to the Ciclavia site so you can see what the roots are and stuff.
Yes, it messes up traffic a little bit, but it’s so worth it to see everyone out in the street enjoying a beautiful spring day.
Craig: That sounds awesome. Very briefly my One Cool Thing this week is @chuckpalahniuk. Chuck Palahniuk, the author of Fight Club, brilliant writer, and one of our listeners and Twitter followers sent me something that he had posted that somebody else wrote about writing. And I thought it was really good. And then he posted something else that somebody wrote about writing that I also thought was really good that was specifically about screenwriting.
And then he posted something he wrote about writing. And all of it, in one day Chuck Palahniuk posted three things about writing that I thought all of them were terrific. So, this is a, I mean, aside from the fact that he’s a terrific writer, that is a Twitter account well worth following if you are a listener of this podcast.
John: Now, Craig, did you click through to his Twitter bio?
John: Because if you did you’d see that it’s actually not Chuck Palahniuk necessarily tweeting. It’s actually run by the guy who runs his site, a guy named Dennis Widmyer.
Craig: I don’t need the actual Chuck. Whoever that guy is, he is posting great stuff. Who runs my Twitter account?
Craig: I’ve got 40 people. I’ve got 40 people running my Twitter account.
Please, for the love of god, if you’ve listened to this episode and maybe you just disagreed completely with what those guys said or are doing, don’t be jerks. Let me be king jerk and stay under my jerk level, because I’m not even that jerky. That’s the truth. Hey, don’t go beyond me. That would just be disgusting.
- Final Draft
- Scriptnotes 126: Punching the Salty Ocean
- John’s post on Final Draft, software and people
- Deadline: WGA Claims AMPTP Wants Big Pension & Health Contribution Cuts In New Contract
- LA Times on Quentin Tarantino’s Gawker suit
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Jakob Freudenthal