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 134 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, last Sunday I got to go to the Oscars. Actually, it’s two Sundays ago now, but I got to go to the Oscars.
Craig: You got to go. You got to go.
John: You got to go to the Oscars. If you get a chance to go to the Oscars you’ve gotta.
Craig: You got to.
John: And so I went and it was really fun. It’s actually surprisingly easy. You would think that it’s a big hullabaloo and it would be all sorts of complicated, but it’s actually not. You like drive your car up. They take your car. You walk in and you’re there. It was surprisingly easy and fun.
Craig: That does sound a lot easier than I thought. I mean, I remember stories of lines of limousines, but I would imagine a lot of that is for the red carpety people, right? So they all get like a backlog of red carpety people.
John: So, what you don’t see on broadcast is that there’s a red carpet, but there’s essentially two red carpets that are running parallel. So, you actually see the normal people like me going into the Oscars. We’re in the background. We’re also wearing tuxedos. But it’s actually slightly elevated from the rest of the red carpet, and so there’s sort of two tracks. And I was on that track that didn’t have to sort of stop at all these places. And so you’re able to sort of walk right in.
And you see people you know. It’s actually a good lovely time.
Craig: Did you see Adele Nazeem?
John: I did see Adele Nazeem and she was just fantastic. No, I didn’t see her before the show, but I did some other nice friendly folks who I’d seen before. I saw a friend who was in from New York. That was great. A couple years ago when I was there I accidentally stepped on Anna Kendrick’s dress as she was like walking down the post-red carpet going into the theater. And she was unhappy with me.
Craig: I would imagine.
John: But I think she’s actually a really nice person.
Craig: What did she do? Did she hit you? [laughs]
John: She did not hit me. But I think it was when she just first became like the star people recognized, I think it was right after Up in the Air probably, and she was there for that. But she was perfectly lovely.
Craig: I was really excited about that whole Adele Nazeem thing — which by the way John Travolta curiously mangled Idina Menzel’s name prior to her performance of Let it Go. And What is most fascinating to me about that is that there is no good explanation for what happened. [laughs] None. Barring a mini-stroke I cannot explain why he said what he said.
John: I know. I’m waiting for the giant conspiracy theories behind like why he meant to say it. The thing that I think is so remarkable about it, first off, I love Let it Go. I’m so happy that it won. I’m so happy for Jennifer Lee, our former Scriptnotes guest, for her Oscar for that.
What is kind of great and brilliant about that is we remember that and we don’t necessarily remember her performance of it so much because it wasn’t the best performance she was capable of doing of that song.
Craig: Well, she seemed a bit nervous.
John: Nervous, but I also think there was some sort of technical thing that we’re not quite clear on that I think she couldn’t either hear the orchestra quite right? She was rushing. They were never quite in the same place.
Craig: I will say this, though. For somebody that seemed nervous or was dealing with technical issues, and actually I didn’t even think they were rushing. I thought that they basically sped the song up on purpose because they’re trying to, I guess, fit in another three minutes of an interminable pizza delivery bit.
But, she still, boy, can she hit those notes. She has just an incredible voice. And afterwards I was thinking to myself, you know, I have a very small investment in this new musical If/Then that is opening in previews right now and it’s an Idina Menzel show. And I just thought, oh, this is good. This is going to help because now everyone is talking about Idina Menzel.
John: [laughs] It’s true.
Craig: Adele Nazeem.
John: I think that’s the conspiracy theory is that Travolta knew. He’s also an investor in If/Then, I bet. And he knew that he needed to do something to really ground the name of Idina Menzel and by butchering her name awful.
So, I think in many ways Idina Menzel should be incredibly thankful to John Travolta.
Craig: She is.
John: And I think thankfulness is something you really wanted to talk about with the Oscars this year, too.
Craig: The Oscars have always been a sore sport for screenwriters in part because we so frequently aren’t thanked. And yet, I don’t know, that’s the prosaic gripe of the screenwriter. But, you know, we watch the Oscars and typically the writer is thanked.
This year was the worst. The writers of Dallas Buyers Club, Borten and Wallack, were not thanks by McConaughey, nor were they thanked by Leto. Neither actor mentioned the writers that wrote the characters and the words, which is just startling to me. I don’t — and look, who knows, maybe they just didn’t get along. Maybe they didn’t like the writers. Maybe they didn’t like the writers. Maybe, who knows what happened. Who cares? It’s just simple professional gratitude to go ahead and if you’re going to thank everybody — now that — so those may have been sins of omission, who knows.
It’s a little depressing for us considering how important our job is to both the movie and the success of the people winning awards for those performances. But where it really got weird was this whole John Ridley/Steve McQueen business.
John: So, to clarify this, John Ridley did not thank Steve McQueen. Steve McQueen did not thank John Ridley. When John Ridley was going up to get his statuette Steve McQueen clapped for him and the camera was at this moment that has now become a GIF. Because it’s just the most fake clapping you’ve ever seen and it’s kind of amazingly brilliant.
I don’t think we really do know what the nature of the beef is between them. We don’t know quite what happened. But there was some miff. They didn’t get along and we do know that for a fact because we know of other friends who’ve been around them during awards season. It was not a happy collaboration.
Craig: No. There is some discussion that there was a dispute over a credit. A lot of people were sending me questions about this saying, “Well why didn’t the WGA handle this?” And some confusion about that related to the fact that 12 Years a Slave wasn’t eligible for WGA award. And here’s what we do know at least about that: John Ridley is a financial core non-member of the guild. That means that he essentially resigned his guild membership I believe during the last strike. And as a result he’s not eligible for WGA awards.
However, if as a financial core member — sorry, a financial core non-member you write a screenplay for a WGA signatory, in this case New Regency, you’re still required to write it under a WGA contract and the credits are still required to be handled by WGA arbitration. So, then the question is what is the dispute about? Didn’t the WGA just settle the credits? Well, we don’t know the details here but there are disputes that can happen prior to the WGA every getting anything on their desk.
For instance, and I’m not saying this is what happened, I’m just saying this is a possibility for any situation. A writer writes a screenplay, the director sits down, they have a big long discussion about it, and then they decide here’s some other stuff that should happen. And somebody writes that other stuff. Let’s say it’s the writer but maybe the director is sitting in the room and they’re talking about it and the writer is typing. At some point there may be a dispute over, well, whose name should be on the title page of that draft? And if the writer says, “Mine only, you didn’t write that,” and the director says, “Well, I kind of did,” that’s the kind of dispute that can occur. And either that dispute is handled before the WGA ever sees anything, or the WGA is asked to deal with that as part of a pre-arbitration investigation, or participating writer investigation is what it’s called, which may have happened in this case.
John: Yeah. The fact is we don’t know. And so there was a lot of speculation saying like, “Oh, so this was WGA arbitration. This is what happened.” And we don’t know that that actually occurred at all.
John: But I would say in a general sense this kind of writer and director don’t get along so well and there is some hurt feelings on both sides about sort of what the nature of this relationship was. That’s actually not uncommon at all. I mean, fortunately it’s not super common, but it does happen. And you and I both know situations where this has happened.
John: The unique thing here is that this is an award season movie and these people had to be around each other all this time, even though they didn’t get along they both had to promote this movie they were both invested and proud in, even though they themselves weren’t best buds over this nature of the situation. So, the fact that they were able to keep it out of the press up through the Oscars is kind of good for them.
And in some ways I think that shows professionalism to not go blurting about their hurt feelings to the press all this time.
Craig: Well, it certainly shows that somebody was in charge.
Craig: Obviously the studio did a very good job of saying this is the minimum standard of good behavior we’re going to demand from the two of you. But I did hear some stories that were, if true, very sad. I mean, look, there’s no side to pick here. I don’t know either of those gentlemen. But it’s just sad stories about Ridley not being able to sit at the same table as everyone else.
I mean, I found it curious that Lupita Nyong’o in her acceptance speech also did not mention the screenwriter and yet mentioned the editor and the cinematographer. It seemed almost as if she had been instructed to not do so. It was ugly. Ugly stuff.
John: But maybe it’s also just proof that you can make something beautiful even if the process to get there wasn’t beautiful.
John: And so I was really impressed by the movie. And I was actually really impressed by Lupita’s speech overall. And I thought it was actually incredibly savvy for an actress to thank the editor because —
Craig: [laughs] Yeah.
John: Really all actors need to give a big basket of awesomeness to their editor because that is where the final performance is put together is in that editing room and a great editor can create a performance that’s spectacular that wasn’t necessarily there on the day. A bad editor can destroy a beautiful performance and so it was smart of her to thank that.
Craig: No question.
John: But I was actually surprised that you weren’t sort of more incensed overall by the omission of the writer’s names because I came in here expecting a little bit more umbrage.
Craig: Oh, no, I have more. [laughs]
John: Oh, okay, sorry. I didn’t want to move past the umbrage.
Craig: I have more. Oh, for sure.
Look, I don’t want to focus it all on Jared and Matthew because, look, they did something that other actors do. I have just general umbrage for the world of speeches that don’t acknowledge the writer. I think everyone’s speech should thank the writer. And why? Because we are first. You cannot figure out how to costume the actors if the writer hasn’t created the character, including very often the setting, the time period, what they kind of dress like, what they look like. You can’t do anything — you can’t find a location, you can’t produce a set, you can’t light it, you can’t shoot it, you can’t act it, you can’t cut it, the sounds. Every single person’s job is touched by the writer, every single one. The writer should be the first person they’re all thanking.
And it makes me crazy, crazy that at the very least the people who are speaking the words that the writer wrote specifically aren’t thanking us, but frankly I think the writer should be thanked by everyone. Everyone. I can’t help but feel that the writers aren’t being thanked because our existence somehow makes people feel insecure about what they’ve accomplished. And I want to just give everyone a big hug and say stop that. Stop it.
I don’t feel diminished by the fact that somebody had to perform this character. I can’t do it. I can’t do that. I don’t even know what lights, I don’t know how the lights work. They talk about these lights and I go, “Oh my god, it’s freaking wizardry that they know that you’re supposed to put a filter in a thing and put a light there instead of here.” I don’t understand any of it. And I’m okay with that. I love and respect everything that people do to make a movie happen. Why is it that other people should feel insecure and diminished by what we do?
Is it because we’re first? Is it because the screenplay has primacy? Maybe so. I will say this: the process for an Oscar-winning movie ends at the Oscars. And at the end of that process people get up and they accept awards for their role in making a movie. But you know how the process begins? We can’t pay a dollar to make a movie until we get a good script in.
“Well, we’re not going to be able to get a director unless we get a good script. Well, we can’t get an actor unless we get a good script.” And what are the actors, and the directors, and the financiers all say, “Well, it’s all about the script.” They’ll just say that. They will say it casually at the beginning of the process, verbatim. It’s all about the script. They say it like it’s the most obvious thing in the world, because it is. And then at the end of the process the script is gone. The writer is gone. And that has to stop.
How was that?
John: There was some umbrage there. I would want to also just have a discussion about what you may say up at the podium. And I think there’s basically two tracks you can choose when you’re up there accepting an award. If you are going to talk about how grateful you are for this journey, you’re going to thank the people who gave you the award. You’re going to say something about what it means, or something about sort of an aspiring message. I think that’s an absolutely valid choice. And I think you can go down that route and then take your statue and start to walk the wrong way off the stage and then get redirected and head the right way off the stage, like everyone does. and that’s absolutely great and fine.
But I think the moment you mention any filmmaker by name, anybody who was a part of making this film by name, you mention the director, you mention the producers, you mention this. That’s when you have to mention the writer. So, you can go two different paths and I think they’re both okay — mentioning none of the actual creative team. Fine. Mentioning the creative team. Great. But if you’re going to mention the creative team you have to include the writer, otherwise you’re just a dick and don’t be a dick.
Craig: Well said. And with much greater calm.
John: [laughs] That’s my function in this podcast. That’s my role.
John: Today, Craig, our theme is going to be answering questions because we have so many questions stacked up. But this should be old hat for you because just last week or a week before you did an Ask Me Anything on Reddit.
John: So, for people who don’t know Reddit is a thing. And it’s a thing that people can go and ask questions and discuss things and one of the main things people do on Reddit, or things commonly done on Reddit is a Ask Me Anything. Or a person says, “I am a ______.” I am screenwriter. I am a plumber. I am a whatever. Ask me anything.
And you did this, Craig. Tell me all about it because I’ve never done one and I’ve been fascinated sort of how it worked and why you did it and tell me everything.
Craig: Well, I’m trying to remember why I did it. I went on Reddit for some reason. You probably remember why because I remember you emailed me like, “Uh-oh, I hear you’re on Reddit.”
John: I should clarify like when I said, “Uh-oh, you’re on Reddit,” because I actually read the Reddit screenwriting thread and it said like, “John August doesn’t like Reddit.” And so to clarify this it’s not that I don’t like Reddit at all. I was worried for your safety and sanity of engaging with the many-headed thing that is Reddit.
So, I like Reddit. I think Reddit is a good thing. I was just nervous about you and the combination of Reddit could have been dangerous.
Craig: Sure. I think you’re just generally nervous about me and the combination of anything and for good reason. And I like that you’re looking out for me. It was very big brotherly of you. But everybody seemed very nice. And one of the moderators said, “Look, we do these Ask Me Anything things,” and I had seen versions of those before in other places. And I thought, yeah sure, you know, I’d be happy to do that.
And so the way it works is they create a topic and they say, “Okay, Craig Mazin is going to be doing an Ask Me Anything,” and we pick a time so everybody knows when it is. And they want you to be available for awhile and once you see the volume of questions you realize why. And then about 12 hours before your allotted time you make a post and start the thread, the official, and it follows a format.
“I am John August. I am a screenwriter. Ask me anything.” That’s roughly the format of the subject. And then people start lobbying questions in and the questions build up in a big reservoir. And then when your time arrives you start answering the questions.
John: So, here’s my question, to interrupt you already. So, when they say that the questions start to arrive, is it basically that they create those little threads and then you’re just popping into those threads and answering the questions? Or is there a separate pool that it happens in?
Craig: No, no. So, you start the thread. You begin the thread by saying, “I’m John August. I’m a screenwriter. Ask me anything.” And then people are replying to that threat. So everything is linear, I mean, it’s threaded if somebody replies to a reply, but basically everything follows from your topic header.
John: Great. So the branches of a tree.
Craig: That’s right.
John: And eventually you’re going to go in and put an answer underneath those little branches, right?
Craig: That’s exactly right. And the other thing that’s, it’s not, I don’t suppose it’s unique to Reddit, but they popularized it as a method of filtering things is that they have up-voting and down-voting. So, the thread can be up-voted, oh, I like this thread. Or, down-voted, this is stupid.
And similarly so can questions and so can answers. And so you can see in sort of real time what people’s interest is. And I really did intend to answer any question, ask me anything, even if people were going to be mean. And nobody was mean. I mean, there were hundreds of questions. I think it was something like 300 questions and everybody was really nice, both nice and respectful, but also they had great questions. They had really good questions. And so I did my best to answer as well as I could.
And the nice thing is that they keep those things there, archived, so you can always go and read it yourself on a later date.
John: And for anyone who wants to read it you can look for the link in our show notes.
Craig: There you go.
John: Anybody who wants to see that, every episode, every podcast, has links and a whole episode title. This is episode 134. And so you’ll just go there and you’ll see a link to Craig’s thing. So, at johnaugust.com/podcast you’ll see the link to his Reddit there.
Craig: I think you should do it. It was very fun. It was very easy. And the moderators there are very pleasant, take good care of you.
John: Fantastic. I’m looking forward to it.
John: So, readers can also submit questions just to us in general and we get a lot of questions and the mailbag gets kind of full. These are questions that people have written into firstname.lastname@example.org. These are the longer questions. Short questions you can always just Twitter to Craig or me. Craig is @clmazin. I’m @johnaugust.
But these are the longer questions. The first one is from Jim in Milwaukee who writes, “Why are there so many ‘Mystery Hollywood Insider’ accounts on Twitter, like MysteryCreative, MysteryStaffWriter, FilmCriticHulk. I’m sure there are more. They are frequently disgruntled with the way the Hollywood business is run and will go on micro tirades that span tweets and tweets. But aren’t these people in a position to make changes? And if so, why are they not publicly airing their grievances? Feedback and concerns are often encouraged by superiors in civilian jobs, but these anonymous accounts make it appear that Hollywood discourages even big time execs from rocking the boat.
“Do you know who these insiders are? Or are they really just aspiring writers/directors/millionaires that follow these kind of things?”
So, let’s talk about these mystery accounts, because Film Critic Hulk is one, but I’ve seen some of the other ones, too. And sometimes they definitely seem like they know what they’re talking about.
Craig: They do. I don’t think it’s yet justified to suggest that any of them are so called big time or in charge. I think that it’s unfair to suggest that these people are in a position to single-handedly change the business. Or, they may not even be in a position to significantly impact it at all. They may be working for other people who have that power.
I understand why if you were say the vice president of development at a studio, which sounds fancy but isn’t really that fancy. You’re working for a senior vice president who is working for the executive vice president who is working for the president who is working for the chairman, or chairperson. I can understand why you would want to influence the people that you worked for who could read your opinions anonymously, not tar you with them, but be affected by them. I get that.
I just think that unfortunately anonymity comes with a price and that is that you could just as easily say, yeah, or maybe I just don’t really know who you are and you could be an assistant and I kind of don’t care what you think.
John: I would approach it from a different perspective, because to me these kind of Twitter accounts, they’re not anonymous in the way that comments on like a Deadline Hollywood post are anonymous, because these are cultivated personalities that are consistent over time. So, even though you don’t know who the person is that person has a consistent world view because there’s a whole time line that you can look at, so you can see sort of what they’ve done over the course of their span. You get the sense that they’re one person. They’re one person talking.
It reminds me a little bit more of like the American Revolution pamphleteers, where even if they were writing under a pseudonym, they were representing one person’s perspective and one person’s voice. And so I think pseudonym versus anonymous is kind of an important distinction here because a lot of times these people are airing genuine grievances, but they’re the kind of grievances they would never be able to air as their own individual because either it would cost them their job or it would cost them their relationships that they rely on.
John: So, in some ways they are exposing the reality of what the situation is or sometimes their frustrations in what a situation is without it specifically having to reflect back on the people they’re immediately working with and for.
That said, anything you would read by one of these things you would have to take with a giant grain of salt because you don’t know specifically who those people are and you don’t know — they may be grinding an ax because of a very specific little thing and you don’t know what that reason is why. The same reason why when you read Nikki Finke you have to always remember that like she has these certain things that are just her fetishistic objects of fascination or hatred and that they may not have a basis in anyone else’s reality.
Craig: Yeah. That’s fair to say, both for positive and negative, because you’re right, I know that there is mystery creative exec, and mystery exec, and mystery screenwriter. And I like reading a lot of the things that they have to say and I agree with a lot of the things they have to say. One of them I remember at one point went on a bit of a self-admittedly drunken rant and some of that stuff seemed a little funky.
I guess the only caution I would give is that it’s just one person’s opinion. The act of publishing an opinion, just as our act of recording our opinion doesn’t make it any more right than one that is unpublished or unspoken. It just means it’s broadcast. So, evaluate everything for what it is. There is no particular authority behind it beyond how compelling their comments are.
John: Yeah, I would agree. On the scale of authority from completely anonymous commenter, to someone who is regularly using their own name to write articles, it falls into this sort of middle ground. And all you have to base this on should be what they’ve written before, how much you believe what they’ve written before. And that could be your only basis for sort of how much you’re believing in what they’re writing right at that moment.
John: Next question comes from Mosa Dawas in Milton Keynes, England. I hope it’s Milton Keynes.
Craig: It is Milton Keynes. Yes.
John: All right.
Craig: Milton Keynes, I think that was where the parking lot or as they would say in Milton Keynes — car park — I think it was a Milton Keynes car park in which the bones of Richard III were —
John: Oh yeah, it’s all coming back to me now.
Craig: Yeah. Milton Keynes.
John: Nice. Mosa writes, “Is it okay to use the N-word in a screenplay if you’re white? Django Unchained is almost imploding because of the use of that word and so are the people watching it. So, can I use the N-word? Do I have some kind of writer’s right? Am I protected by something that allows writers to use racial words in a movie?
“I’m not a racist. I’ve never used that term before. And I’ve always been afraid to include it in a screenplay when a white guy says it, or even if a black guy says it.”
Craig: Well, the word I think we need to discuss first before we get to the N-word is imploding.
Craig: Because I’m not sure that that word means what you think it means. I like Django Unchained. It’s not my favorite Quentin Tarantino movie, but then again that’s like saying it’s not my favorite slice of pizza. I still love everything Quentin does. And it’s a word that is part and parcel with that time and that subject matter.
I didn’t notice the audience imploding. [laughs] Nor did I notice the box office imploding or anything like that. This is my opinion on this issue and perhaps John you feel differently. We’re writing characters. We’re not writing autobiographies. We are creating characters and some characters and some characters are terrible people. Some characters are racist. Some characters are sexist. Some characters are homophobic and they’re going to use these words because that’s what those people do. And if you’re going to write truthfully then you will put those words in.
I don’t think that a writer should be censored if the character is racist. It will seem false to an audience. If Quentin Tarantino had made a movie about slavery and no one had used the common parlance of the day, I think everybody would have just felt that it had been — that it was no longer true to its time. The whole point of these things is verisimilitude. So, I think that we are not only entitled but required to create true characters.
John: So, I’m going to raise the more difficult situation and something I’ve actually encountered is what happens when you’re not writing a racist white character who is using that hateful incendiary word, but you’re writing African American characters who would use that term amongst themselves in ways that is natural and common?
Craig: You have to do it. Because it’s true.
John: So, I will say that in my own personal experience, and this is just my own experience and I don’t know if this is true for all white screenwriters in my world: In times where I have used, not even that word, but used vernacular that is specific to a black audience, basically things that a black person can say that a white person wouldn’t say, or that would feel really uncomfortable for a white person to say, I have been called to the mat for using it. I’ve been called to the mat by an executive for using it.
John: And essentially been told that I can’t say that. And the exact same African American writer could use those terms. And that’s only once or twice, but it has happened. And it may be partly because of the nature of the films I’ve been writing versus the films they’ve been working on where it’s become a factor. But it was jarring for me the first time I encountered that. And I’ll see if I can find — if I find a link to it I’ll put it in the notes. But at some point an African American writer either did a magazine article or a blog post where he talked about sort of being the guy brought in to write this dialogue essentially.
Craig: That’s disgusting.
John: Which is crazy.
Craig: It’s disgusting for everyone involved.
Craig: I mean —
John: I would be curious to hear from people that have experience with it beyond staff of a television show. If you have a show that has a variety of characters of different backgrounds, how does it work in that situation where — do certain writers get — are allowed to write certain words for certain characters or not? I’d be curious how that all works together, too.
Craig: I think that one factor that needs to be acknowledged is rating. Because to me we know that language is considered part — when they’re determining ratings. And hard core racial epithets are like F-bombs. They are shocking words and they’re words that we try and limit when we’re showing movies to children, wider audiences, family audiences, etc.
So, it obviously isn’t okay, I mean, if you’re writing — for instance Ride Along is in theaters now. It’s PG-13. There’s no N-word in that movie. There is no, I simply don’t believe that if Ice Cube’s character wouldn’t use the N-word casually the way that black people will use — not all black people but some black people — will use with each other. It would be truer, of course, for that circumstance I would imagine. And I guess. I’m saying that mostly because I’m really familiar with his music and he’s never held back.
If it’s PG-13 you just don’t do it the way that, look, Ice Cube’s character would also drop the F-bomb a lot. That’s what regular workaday cops probably do. But if it’s an R movie and those characters would say these things then you just have to write it truly. And if somebody said that to me I would just say, “Look, that’s insane.” Should we now hire a man to come through and rewrite women when they write male characters? This is nuts.
The whole point of writing is that we can become other people and do this. We’re not sanctioning behavior. We’re not sanctioning murder. Ted Tally is not a murderer. Ted Tally doesn’t eat livers with fava beans and Chianti.
John: That you know.
Craig: That I know of. [laughs] So, I just find it grotesque Hollywood stupidity. I understand that it makes people nervous. That’s the point. The one bit of advice I would give to a writer who was going to use an epithet that does not describe him or herself or their own identity in any way is to be very deliberate and to be aware and to be ready to make a defense. This is not language to be used casually.
John: Sounds good.
Next question comes from Melissa in North Carolina who asks, “If you woke up with your credits and contacts gone and were armed with only a first-timer comedy script, where would you head?” Craig Mazin?
Craig: Black List.
Craig: It seems like I would, because it wasn’t available when I was starting out.
John: So you’re talking about Blacklist.com (blcklst.com) which is the site where you can put up your own scripts and have them read and covered.
Craig: That’s exactly right.
John: I think that’s an option. I think the Austin and Nicholl Fellowships, those are certainly good choices, too. But I worry that sometimes on the podcast we’re focusing so much on like well these are the three things you should do when really it’s the general — yes, you have this script, but of course your script is actually your career. And I think in some ways you need to find other people who are writing comedies, you need to find funny people, you need to do all those other next steps which are not just about this one script.
John: And it’s where we sort of talk about sort of you kind of need to where they make movies which tends to be Los Angeles mostly, or New York, and find people who are making movies and kind of get into that world because this one script… — Let’s say I wrote this one comedy script. I would need to find people to read it who could read it and like it and tell me if it was any good. And I’m more likely to find those people in a film town than in a non-film town.
Craig: Yeah. That’s correct. And the other option to consider is making a website to promote your screenplay. Make a little trailer if you feel like doing something like that. Or, if you’re not comfortable with that or don’t think that you have the ability to make one that would be impressive, put up the first ten pages. Give people a teaser. Give them an appetizer.
I have never, from the beginning, I’ve never been concerned whatsoever about getting ripped off or my ideas stolen or da-da-da.
In fact, you’re far less likely to get ripped off, I would imagine, if you’ve publicized the first ten pages.
Craig: And who knows. If they get passed around, if people really like them, you might grab onto something. It’s easier now than it was when you and I began.
John: I agree. One other choice you could do is send those first three pages to me and Craig.
Craig: That’s right. That’s right.
John: The kind of thing we do, the little Three Page Challenge, you need to show your work. And so many episodes we do the Three Page Challenge. If you’re new to the podcast and haven’t heard it, just go to johnaugust.com/threepage — all spelled out — and there’s rules for sort of how you can send those in. We look at the first three pages and maybe you’ll find out that we think it’s great. And if it’s great then maybe other people will pay attention to that, too.
Craig: I think for sure we can say very safely that there are decision makers and buyers who listen to our podcast.
Craig: I hear when I go on meetings people — I’m always surprised. “Oh, I listen to your podcast.” If you and I both go, “Oh my god, this is awesome,” and we want to read the rest of it, people will notice.
John: Yeah. I would say if you and I both really like something, people who actually do this for a living will probably at least click through and read those three pages and form their own opinion. And whether they choose to pursue that writer down the road, who knows? But it has happened and I think it will keep happening.
But I will say the people who have actually started working based on having sent through those three pages, I don’t think it was just us. It was because their scripts were really good. And so by the time we covered them on the podcast and looked at their three pages, other people had already noticed like, “Oh, this is really good.”
Craig: Yeah. We’re not the ones who are going to convince everybody that your script is good. If your script is good, if not us, somebody else — somebody will notice.
John: Our next question comes from Joe Sikora. This is actually a question that has been sitting in the box for a really long time and I just kept forgetting to add it. So, Joe, I’m finally getting to your question. “In your Not Just Dialogue podcast you an Craig touched briefly on the concept of ‘lens selection’ in screenwriting. I’d love to hear you guys talk further about this topic. Effective ways for narrowing/expanding the focus, how to write close to a character. Other aspects of that concept. I’ve never heard it phrased that way before and I’d love to hear you guys elaborate.”
So, I think we kind of made it up in the moment.
Craig: Oh, yeah.
John: But really what it comes down to is point of view and perspective. And there’s point of view and perspective that applies to a whole piece, so when we talk about True Detective, that limits its POV, its perspective to its two main heroes. And there are no scenes that don’t involve one of the two heroes with rare exceptions. The same thing with Groundhog Day. When we talked about Groundhog Day, that movie has very strict POV.
But you can also talk about it, and I think this lens selection idea is really talking about POV within a scene, within a moment. And sort of like how close are you to the character, how much are you seeing the world through his or her eyes versus a big wide lens that’s showing you everything around them.
Craig: Yeah. I think of this more in terms of sizes. I mean, lenses can be used — you can shoot somebody close up in a long lens. You can shoot somebody close up in a wide lens. So, lens is kind of the wrong choice. It’s really about size.
And I think in terms of wide, and close, and extremely close. And we know that when we shoot these scenes we’re shooting all of it at all sizes. That’s coverage. And editorially choices will be made. The reason that I call it out is because sometimes you want to make it clear that somebody is in the same frame as something. It’s very useful in comedy. You want to know that you’re not cutting between something that’s happening and then its effect. You want to watch it all unfold.
It’s similarly important to indicate your intention of performance. If you get very close to an actor. If you say “Close on Jim. He looks up, smiles, and says, ‘I’m going to kill you.'” We don’t have to write in “softly.” The reader will do the work for us and realize that this is a moment of quiet intensity because we’re that close. Nobody is yelling really in close up. It just doesn’t work. It’s harsh.
So, there are choices like that you make to just kind of indicate — you don’t do it frequently. I only do it when I feel like the size is something that’s happening that is indicating a change in the moment, in the scene, etc.
John: I would say the scene description itself often gives you good sense, without saying “close on” or “wide shot,” it gives you a sense of what’s important. And so if a scene starts that’s really talking about the world, the background, we’re seeing sort of like sprawling streets filled with throngs of humanity, India at its busiest, and then we spot a guy cutting his way through. We immediately understand that, okay, that could be the important person, but we’re trying to set up this whole world. And the background is really important.
Versus if you just come into something — come into a conversation that’s two people talking at a table and you don’t really set up the rest of the people around them. We as a reader get the understanding that like no one is going to sort of walk up into this scene and disrupt it. It’s about these two people and we don’t have to be paying attention to the rest of the restaurant around them.
So, I think that’s a kind of lens selection, too. The second description is more that we’re tight on a long lens. It’s about the close intimate connection between these two people. And what Craig said about we have a sense even what those voices would be like. They’re not having to like shout over everybody else at a bar.
John: This is a quiet moment about these people and those words and it’s not about the scene around them.
Craig: Yeah. Similarly sometimes you want to show that somebody is having an internal process and you want to be close to them for their internal process. You can’t see somebody’s gears turning in a wide shot. So, there’s a whole party going on, “Close on Tina. She’s listening and we get the sense that she — when we see tears welling up in her eyes she wipes them away and shakes it off.” That’s something where you need — I want to direct the reader so that they understand that I’m with her now. Everybody else is kind of going away.
The other area where sizes helps we’ve talked about in our transition episode. If we’re calling out a size change to make a contrast as we bridge the tail of one scene and the head of another it can be useful there.
John: A thing I just wrote today involves a very big wide crowd scene that it’s important to establish that everyone is there, but it’s a very slow push-in on one person who sort of stays behind as people are filing out. And there’s a secondary voiceover that’s actually part of another scene. It was important to set it up and to write it that way, because it makes it really clear that everything around this was important, but ultimately it’s going to come down to this one person and this is the one person you need to focus on.
That’s an example really of this kind of lens selection choice, that what seems like a big wide thing is ultimately going to come down to one person.
John: Next up we have John in Portland who writes, “What’s the deal with CONT’D in dialogue,” and continued to mean CONT’D. “It’s generally used to indicate the first line, a line of questions, a continuation in some sense of a character’s previous line. But I’m trying to figure out exactly how to use it. How much does context or a writer’s choice figure into it? For one thing, I tend to feel like dialogue lines are not in some meaningful sense connected any way than using CONT’D on the second line is misrepresenting a situation. I feel the same way when more than a couple of action lines separate the dialogue lines.
“Yet I noticed in the screenplay for Gravity, for example, Sandra Bullock’s character has long sequences where she’s the only person speaking that almost all of her lines in those sequences have CONT’D, even when the lines are separated by half a page of action.”
Craig: Right. Uh-huh.
John: Let’s talk about this. It’s actually an interesting conversation. When to use it and when not to use it.
Craig: Well, in the case of the screenplay that the questioner read, Gravity, the reason that you’re seeing that is because the writers, the Cuaróns, ticked the box in their software that says Automatically Add Character Continues to Dialogue. So it’s just automatically doing it.
And, you know, I’ve actually been thinking about this lately because I traditionally have always ticked that box and just done character CONT’D and lately I’ve just been wondering should I? I mean, why is it even there?
John: Yeah. I’ve kind of stopped doing it, too. So, let’s talk about the theory behind why the CONT’D exists at all. And there’s a good reason for it in the abstract. So, a lot of times you will have a character start speaking and then there’s a line of dialogue and then the character is going to say some more things. The CONT’D helps the reader and ultimately the actor and everybody else who has to participate understand that it’s really a continuous line of thought that that line of action is just in between.
Because sometimes what you’d otherwise find is that the actor doesn’t realize they have the next line. You’re used to, if there are two characters in a scene, they are ping-ponging back and forth and so that continue is an extra little flag to say like, “No, no, not, the same person is going to keep speaking.” That’s the instinct behind it.
And so the automatic character continues is one of those, well, it seems like a helpful thing. We’re going to do that there and then you’ll never have to type CONT’D again. But sometimes, and I think Gravity might be a great example of this, that it just feels kind of odd that a whole bunch of stuff has happened and suddenly we’re pretending it’s a continuation of a previous thought.
Craig: It’s particularly odd if you have one character doing all the talking, or one character delivering a long speech. I think I might just stop doing it. I have to look and see how it feels on the page. The one thing you don’t want is to kind of signal — when you just see your character’s name and not CONT’D, it is a hint to the reader that this character is beginning a thought. But as you said, sometimes you don’t want them beginning a thought. You want a sense of continuity.
I don’t know. I have a feeling it has fallen out of favor.
John: I think it’s fallen a little bit out of favor, too. In Highland we don’t have automatic continues partly because it’s just not the nature of Fountain to do that, but partly also because I think it’s falling a little bit out of favor.
I should also say there’s another kind of CONT’D which I’m going to differentiate between here. There is when dialogue hits the bottom of a page and there’s more dialogue that’s going to bleed onto the next page. The convention is that you do a (MORE) at the bottom of that page and a CONT’D with a character name at the start of that page, which is just to indicate this is all one dialogue block that got split on a page break. That’s a special case and I’m sort of happy to have that one there. I think that’s useful.
Craig: I see. And that one I turn off.
John: See, the reason why I think that’s useful is that modern screenwriting software tends to break at the period in a very useful way so that a full sentence happens at the bottom of a page. But at the top of a page I like to know that it’s still the same thing. Because I’ve been in table reads where the actor got confused like, “Oh god, I’m still talking.”
Craig: Well, you’re right. And I think why I’m comfortable turning that off is because I really try and avoid that from happening. I really try and avoid an individual dialogue block being split over a page break.
John: And not to characterize all the things you write, but you’re probably not writing huge monologues that are going to —
Craig: Well, I am now. [laughs]
John: Now you are. Ha-ha!
Craig: There’s a crazy long one in this script that I’m doing now for Universal because it’s not a comedy. And generally in comedy you don’t — every now and then you get a nice long speech in comedy and it’s awesome, but yeah, in this one there is one long story that a guy tells. And I just, you know, I just worked it out so it didn’t split over the page.
John: Because obviously you always have the choice if you’re controlling your page breaks, you always have the choice of breaking at a certain point, throwing in that scene description line that will naturally break it the way you want to break or doing something else.
Craig: Exactly. That’s what I do.
John: But I would say there’s not a right or wrong answer. I think feel free to turn off the CONT’Ds if it’s useful. I also find it a little bit strange sometimes where, especially with the automatic CONT’Ds, sometimes you have a character who is doing voiceover and they have speech in the same scene. And the voiceover counts as a CONT’D which it’s not supposed to, so sometimes it’s more confusing to have those CONT’Ds there.
Craig: Yes. That is very annoying. You know, this brings to mind something. You and I both listen to the podcast, what’s the name of the podcast that Marco and John and —
John: Oh, ATP, so Accidental Tech Podcast.
Craig: Yeah. They did a review of our, at this point now, infamous podcast with Marc Madnick of Final Draft and one of the things, I think it was John Siracusa mentioned was that he thought that the current screenplay format was stupid. And at first I was like, ooh, no it’s not. But then I thought, well, actually it is. And it’s not totally stupid. It’s not as stupid as he thinks, I don’t think, but it is certainly not — I think it’s fair to say this: if you were to start fresh now in 2014 it wouldn’t be this way.
And then I thought you and I should figure out what the new screenplay format should be.
John: Well, Craig, this is where it gets a little bit awkward because many people listening will recognize that I’ve spent kind of ten years doing that to some degree.
Craig: No you haven’t. What you’ve done is you’ve created a method to do it that then gets funneled into the standard screenplay format.
John: Okay. So, you’re talking about a different way of reflecting what needs to happen in a movie and in no way is designed to be translated back into the old way of doing it. But just a new way of reflecting the goals of how the writing on the page is supposed to be put down so that it can be filmed.
Craig: That’s right. When we hand a screenplay to somebody I’m saying right now when you hand a screenplay to somebody they all look the same. And I’m saying we should come up with a new way so that when you hand a screenplay to somebody it looks totally different.
John: So, I think some of the fundamental questions would be what is dialogue. And is dialogue the kind of thing which should be reflected by a character’s name and then what they’re saying? Or should the character’s name be in a bracket out to the side of it reflecting all the things that they’re saying? How fancy do you want to go with this?
Craig: Well, I think the first thing is to really think about how screenplay pages are used. And what we’re missing in our toolbox as we’re creating them. What we have to kind of — I guess the challenge is to find those pressure points where what we want to do keeps bumping up against what we’re supposed to do in terms of formatting. Who knows, we may go through it and go, oh my god, this really was the best of both worlds. We had it, you know.
John: I’m sure it’s not the best of all words. What I will say, if we want to go in this rabbit hole I’m happy to dive down this rabbit hole.
Craig: Yeah, rabbit hole!
John: We’re diving. Because this is actually, we had a long conversation about this both online and around the lunch table today about essentially this kind of topic which is to some degree I think our — by attempting to maintain fidelity with pages, or even the concept of pages, we are fundamentally moving away from what our goals should be.
Because you don’t actually — movies don’t have pages. Movies have scenes. And so should the basic fundamental unit of screenwriting be a scene and not a page? And if it were, would we make some different choices? Well, we probably would. And that could actually in many ways could be good choices.
Because you think about other literary works, none of them are obsessed with pages in the way that we’re obsessed with pages. If you go to Stephen King and say like, “I read on page 205 of The Stand…”
Craig: Right. What version?
John: “205 doesn’t mean anything to me.”
Craig: Yeah. Hardcover. Paperback. Kindle.
John: It means nothing to him. The only reason it means something to us is because we’ve existed in a system where it was so important to be able to generate those pages and swap out those pages at will that we had to sort of firmly decide that this page was this page, was this page forever and for always, or put out a whole new script.
John: But, really the scene should be the fundamental, I would argue, the scene should be the fundamental breakdown of the screenplay because that’s ultimately the thing you are going to film. And so if it was a scene-based format a lot of things would change and could potentially change for the better.
Craig: Well, we’ll have to figure this out. Because I think that the brave new world of screenwriting, and I’ve talked about this with Kent Tessman who designs Fade In, codes Fade In. What I think needs to happen, what I already want now is a screenplay format that allows me to be audio/visual. I want to be able to have a slug line go away and instead just show something. I want to be able to show an image if I want. I want a song to be able to be clickable. I want stuff like that.
I want to be able to play around with the format and use what’s already available to us in almost every other format. You know, the web page is nothing like a newspaper page, at all.
Craig: And why are we — forget newspaper page. We’re stuck with a convention that comes from a Smith Corona.
John: Yes. And so right now we are still laboring under that construction and that construction has pages in the way that a web page doesn’t — isn’t even a page at all. A web page is just a continuous scroll, or if it is broken up it’s broken up into semantically meaningful divisions. And so there is a reason why you’re moving to the next section. And there’s probably a way to section screenplays in a much more clever way than we’re currently doing. And there are ways to link into other media in ways that it’s probably very, very useful.
John: The challenge is that the web was designed for the web and screenplays were designed for paper. And there’s still going to be that transition period where they’re kind of in two worlds. And so our lunch time conversation was is there a way to figure out what a logical page is, an algorithmic page that is measured completely independently of fonts and pixels and margins, but is actually just like completely content-based?
Craig: Well, I’m with you on the idea of the scene. Because to me the screenplay should be divided into chapters. And the chapters are scenes. If you’re going to change a scene you pull that chapter out, you put the new one in. You’ve already solved the problem of where did all the pages go, because no scenes are ever that much longer than four or five pages anyway.
Similarly on the day you’re shooting a scene.
John: You are shooting a scene.
Craig: So, you don’t need to have, in fact, it’s annoying — our current format is annoying because when you get your sides, which is what we call the pages that we’re shooting on that particular day, the PAs will have to X out the stuff that’s on the first half of the first page, which is the tail end of the prior scene, and get rid of the stuff that’s on the last page, which was the tail end of that scene. It’s annoying.
Plus, you get these A and B pages, which are stupid, because you’re trying to keep the whole document a certain size. And instead you should just — everything should — forget page numbers. It should be chapters. It should be scenes. Similarly, a good new screenplay format would make it incredibly easy to immediately see this scene as outside, whether you are reading the second or third page of the scene or the first. EXT.blah-blah-blah. Come on, it’s so lame.
John: [laughs] Well, I would say the transitionary solution for that is essentially what we have always done with scheduling scripts is that if a scene is outside day it’s a certain color, and if a scene is another thing it’s a different color. But what I think I’m most excited about this idea of really a scene-based format is that if you make a change in a scene, just that scene has to change. And it can automatically update in everybody’s scripts and we don’t have to worry about sort of what page things were on. It’s just the new scene. It’s the scene we’re shooting right now.
Craig: Bingo. Exactly. And if you take a scene out, you take it out. And if you put one in, you put one in. And pages do not matter. The whole thing accordions up and down as you need it to do because you’re not locked in on this nonsense, you know? It should be based on scenes, not page numbers. Oh, what will Final Draft do then? [laughs]
John: [laughs] Oh, no! Another nail in the coffin.
Our final question today is from Eric who writes, “I find myself at a crossroads in my life right now and could really use your help and advice. While I did start a script last year, 2013 turned out to be a rough year. I lost months to a gout diagnosis followed by a kidney stone.”
John: “There were complications from surgery. They removed the stone, limiting my physical activity. To top it all off, a few weeks ago my 12-year relationship ended. As you can imagine, these are the kind of things that lead one to reevaluate their priorities and goals in one’s life. As for the relationship, we still care about each other but have things we need to work on in our own lives. For me, it’s about finishing my screenplay.
“To that end, I’ve gone to stay with a friend in Seattle and focus solely on that task. Assuming the script doesn’t suck I’m seriously considering moving to Los Angeles in the spring to pursue my writing career. I’m 35, which puts me at a difficult situation. I can’t afford to move out there without a job or take a bunch of unpaid internships in the hopes of moving up the chain quickly.
“I have a fair amount of experience that should help trying to get a job, but I’m not sure where to start looking. What is the best place to search for legitimate paid jobs in the realm of writer’s assistants, assistant editors, readers, etc? Should I stick with mainstream sites like LinkedIn, Monster, or Craigslist, or are there industry listings I should be trying to get access to?”
So, I left the whole question in here because just the interesting sort of like — the bad stuff happens kind of aspect of it all. And then sort of the more practical how do we do this next thing of trying to get a job. He’s a person who recognizes that if he comes to Los Angeles he’s going to need to find a job quickly.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t know if either one of us are employment placement experts in this circumstance. We don’t know what your needs are and we don’t know any of that. It is certainly a difficult task as a 35-year-old man or woman to get employment as an assistant because there are just teeming shores full of 20-somethings fresh out of college who also want those jobs and who fit that platonic ideal of what that assistant is going to be. And you can call it ageism or, I don’t know, but it’s just life.
I mean, that’s sort of the way it goes. It’s hard to compete. It’s very hard to compete with a 22-year-old if the nature of the job is to, A, be humble, and B, be tireless. We are not — as we grow older we grow more proud and less tireless, more tired. So, that’s a tough one.
John: The huge advantage to me I think of being in your early 20s is that your expectations are so low for what you actually need. You can eat the ramen five nights a week. You can sleep on the couch. You can work 20 hours a day. And you just can kind of do that because you’re 20 and that’s the place in life that you’re at.
When you’re 35 and you have a kidney stone that you’re recovering from, and gout, and a relationship that ended, your life is just in a very different place. And so you’re unlikely to find any success trying to do that path of what a 20-something year old would do. So, don’t do that path.
John: And so I would say you need to find, look for peers who have done kind of more what you’ve done. Bob Nelson who wrote Nebraska, he’s kind of what you are more like in the sense like this was his first movie made, but he was just working really hard and for a long time and wrote a bunch of scripts. And eventually wrote a script that people really liked a lot. And suddenly he’s maybe a movie with Alexander Payne.
That’s fantastic. That’s not saying like that’s going to magically going to happen to you, but I think he was very smart to build himself a life that could support both living and a writing career.
Craig: What was he doing to support himself?
John: I think he was working in like public television. I’m completely kind of making it up. I hosted a Q&A with him but we didn’t talk so much about sort of background, we just talked more about process. But he’s great and inspiring, I think, for any writer, but also for writers who are starting their career later.
So, I would say our general advice is always been on the podcast, well, you need to move to Los Angeles, you need to do all this stuff that people do. And I’d say that’s probably still true for Eric in his situation, but I would say it’s a little less true in the sense that most of those people we’re giving this advice to can just change everything in their lives and move to Los Angeles. And they’re going to start a life somewhere, so they should start it in Los Angeles.
You may have a life there that makes more sense. Or, if you’re coming here you may need to start a life that’s more about making a living than sort of starting your career.
Craig: Yeah, Eric, you have managed to support yourself I presume up until this point which means you have some skill that people pay money for. And one consideration is to move to Los Angeles and do that. There’s no easier job to get than the one that fits the job that you’ve been doing. And writing, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you’re going to be able to write three hours during your gig as an assistant. You won’t.
So, you’re in a situation where you have to write in the evening anyway, or write in the morning before you go to work. So, one thing to consider is just doing what you’re already doing and use the comfort that that gives you financially to support this other pursuit.
I will caution you about one thing psychologically. You’ve just been through a trauma. You’ve been through a physical trauma and you’ve been through an emotional trauma. And when we go through these traumas, and we all do sooner or later, we do tend to reevaluate our lives. That in and of itself isn’t always — how should I put it? The fact that it’s post traumatic doesn’t make it more valid. The observations you’re making about your life are not more valid because they’re being made in the wake of a crisis.
It’s just that you’re making them. You may not actually have the clearest point of view on yourself now. Your self-evaluation may be clearer and more productive when you’ve healed a little bit more. So, that’s just something to keep in mind. And the other thing to keep in mind is this. Writing a good screenplay will not solve your problems.
I just don’t want you to look at this screenplay as your savior. It will not save you from any of the issues that you carry around. And if you try and turn it into a signifier for personal success or growth, you’re going to struggle to write that screenplay. And you’re really going to struggle when people read it and just casually say, “I don’t really like this part,” which his part and parcel of writing. But for you it will be like, “Ooh, god, but this is the thing. This is why my life is better. And if it’s no good then my life is…”
You just don’t want to invest that level of personal identity and significance into the screenplay. A screenplay is not going to define you. All of the screenplays will not define you. Rather you are defined by other things and then that whole hopefully well integrated human being then goes and writes screenplays.
John: Agreed on all. So, Eric also sent a Three Page Challenge, and that was separate but part of this whole thing. And I didn’t want to do them together, because I didn’t want, for exactly what Craig said. I didn’t want your self-esteem and sort of your life choices and everything about the rest of this question to be hinging upon whether Craig and I thought your three pages were fantastic or not so good. Because I think our advice is still the right advice no matter how good your three pages are.
Craig: That’s right. Because your three pages may absolutely stink, and that doesn’t mean that the next three pages aren’t brilliant or that the next time you sit down and write a script is brilliant. Everybody — everybody has written a bad screenplay. Some people only write bad screenplays. [laughs] Some people write one bad one and then get really good. Some people write half and half.
John: Some people write one great screenplay and then they write a bunch of crap and it’s really frustrating.
Craig: That is a particularly sad circumstance, but how we feel isn’t telling us what we are, nor is it telling us how we’re going to feel. Similarly, how we’re writing today isn’t going to predict how we’re writing next year or three years later.
So, you just don’t want to put all of your emotional eggs in the basket of this document.
John: Absolutely. Craig, I think it’s time for us to do some One Cool Things.
John: So, my One Cool Thing is actually a YouTube video or a series of YouTube videos you can look at where this guy, this musician took a bunch of old floppy drives and hard drive and built controllers for them so that they play music. So, you know essentially that whirring sound that a disk drive makes?
John: He found the ones that were tuned a certain way and basically tuned them so they can play all sorts of different songs. And it’s kind of amazing. It’s one of those sort of — it’s not really found art, but it’s just taking the noises in the world around you and organizing them in a way that can actually make music. And I thought it was just fantastic. So, I will have a link to that in the show notes.
Craig: That’s cool. Does he do Let it Go?
John: I did not see a Let it Go. But I have a strong suspicion there will be a Let it Go.
Craig: One is on the way.
My One Cool Thing is One Cool Thing that I tweeted before all the people tweeted it to me. For once I was first. And it is Spritz.
So, and once I started reading about Spritz I started reading about a lot of similar applications that do similar things. The idea here is to make you read faster. Not to make you read faster, but to help you read faster.
So, Spritz is an interesting one. Their theory basically is that there’s a certain focal point of every word that’s general speaking slightly to the left of center of the word that allows us to read it fastest.
And then what they do is they take text and they flash it word by word but they keep moving the words around that point, so there’s like a red line. And the words will shift to the left and the right to accommodate their best focal point. And you just relax. You stare at the red line. The words start flashing by. And you’re able to read faster, so the theory goes, than you would be able to on your own. And there’s a bunch of these things out there. Spritz is the one that sort of caught everybody’s attention now.
And I’ve tried it out and it’s pretty remarkable. What I don’t know yet is can I read a book this way, or will I become epileptic and just kill myself. Out of curiosity I went to go test how fast I actually read normally. And there are little apps that let you do that. And I’m actually a pretty fast reader on my own. So, I don’t necessarily think like, wow, this is going to change my life. It may just annoy me. But, you should test and see how fast you read on your own. I feel like if you’re reading somewhat slowly on your own, which means nothing. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid. It’s just how your brain processes visual information, then this might actually help you a lot.
It’s pretty cool. Did you —
John: I tried it out. I tried it out about two weeks ago. I saw the link even before you tweeted it.
John: I had seen it. Because Ryan Nelson in our office, our director of digital things, like two years ago had said that he was looking at something that was very much like this and loved it. And there was a script I had him read which he actually funneled through it. And he had a pretty good experience with it.
I think there’s lots of issues for why screenplays maybe kind of exactly the wrong format for it.
Craig: No question.
John: But I think the central difference between traditional reading, which is where your eyes are scanning across the page and this is like this is forcing you — it’s force-feeding you the words. And it’s just going to keep going though. And I was able to crank up to 500 words per minute and really follow it because it’s like it just beams directly into your brain in a way that’s really good and really useful for certain things, but certainly can’t be used for everything.
And some of the experience of reading a screenplay is you kind of have to slow down enough so that you’re actually hearing the characters talk and you’re actually hearing voices. And that may not be so great for this. It may not be great for a novel.
Craig: Yeah. You can’t read a screenplay with this because the nature of these things is that they don’t differentiate what the words indicate. They’re just giving you words. So, yes, prose you can stream it, but in a screenplay it would be almost impossible at speed to tell whether or not you’re reading action or dialogue.
John: Yeah. So, I’m not spilling any trade secrets to let you know that we’ve talked about doing this for Weekend Read. Because essentially Weekend Read we have taken a PDF and we’ve melted it down to just the pure text, so we have the real text that we can feed through there. So, we’ve done some experimentation and we would need to find a special way to sort of indicate this is the dialogue and this was the character who is saying all these words to you at this moment.
And it’s possible. I mean, certainly an iPhone is a great screen for it. An iPhone is just the right size for it in many ways. But I don’t know that’s going to necessarily be the right thing for us.
Craig: Well, and also, I really don’t want people speed reading my screenplay.
John: Well, that’s the thing. I would love a speed reader as long as no one speed reads anything I write.
John: It’s a selfish kind of thing.
Craig: I mean, the truth is I would never use this for a novel. I would never use this for anything that is fictional work. I have no problem reading an article. That’s all I did. I tried reading some articles like this. And it was fast. But you know, I realize also then when I didn’t do that and then I just went over and just read the article, that the way I read is I kind of chunk groups of words together. I’m processing groups of words, not individual words. And that’s how I’m comfortable reading in groups of words.
And because I’m already reading pretty quickly I think, I don’t feel like this is something that’s that attractive to me. It’s impressive as a demonstration, but certainly for a screenplay, let’s put it this way: if you’ve paid somebody to write a screenplay, or you are deciding for yourself or for somebody else whether or not they should commit their career to helping make a movie of the screenplay, this would be insane to use.
Craig: Because speed is not the point.
John: I think in many ways my fantasy use for this was in history class where I had such a hard time forcing myself to read through my history book, this might have been a way that I could have just like forced the information into my brain in a way that could have been useful.
Craig: Yeah. And I suppose then the question is if you have to force it in there, why bother —
John: Should you bother?
Craig: Yeah. Why bother at all? [laughs]
John: That’s why I dropped history. That’s why I dropped second semester of AP US History.
Craig: There you go.
John: That is our show for this week. So, if you have questions about things that Craig and I have talked about you can find us on Twitter. I am @johnaugust. Craig is @clmazin. If you have a longer question for me or for Craig, the email address you want is email@example.com.
Johnaugust.com is also where you will find the show notes for this episode and all the other episodes of Scriptnotes. If you are listening to this on an iPhone you can find the Scriptnotes App is actually in the App Store. That’s where you can listen to this episode or all the back episodes. You don’t have to use the app, but you’re welcome to use the app.
If you’re in iTunes, you can leave us a comment or a rating on the Scriptnotes page on iTunes. That’s always useful and helpful.
Scriptnotes is produced by Stuart Friedel who is our long time assistant and who is awesome. But this is the first episode that is edited by Matthew Chilelli who has written many of our best outros and is now taking over the editing duties for the show.
Craig: He’s really good. I like listening to his outros. They’re really good.
John: Yeah. He seems pretty clever that way.
Craig: Somebody should hire him.
John: Someone should. Oh, wait! We just did.
Craig: Hmm, how about that?
John: And I think that’s it. Craig, I will talk to you next week.
Craig: See you next week, John.
John: All right, bye.
- If/Then, a new musical starring Idina Menzel
- The Wrap on the rift between Steve McQueen and John Ridley
- Craig’s AMA on Reddit
- Accidental Tech Podcast episode 54, in which they discuss our Final Draft episode, and their follow-up on episode 55
- Floppy Music (Tainted Love)
- Spritz for speed-reading
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Jakob Freudenthal