The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: Hey, my name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 135 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, how are you?
Craig: I’m all sexy, John.
John: Oh, no, you cannot keep doing that voice. That voice has to stop right now.
Craig: Because it’s making you uncomfortable?
John: Yes. Even through Skype it’s just making me really uncomfortable. Can you imagine if people did that to you in like real life?
Craig: I think it would be spectacular. And I’m kind of puzzled why people don’t do it more often to me.
John: There’s a lot of things that puzzle me. But we won’t solve all those questions today, but we will talk about some things that are good for us to talk about. Craig, we’re going to finally talk about True Detective.
Craig: Yes. Finally we can because the finale aired and we can’t get yelled out.
John: Exactly. So, we’re going to do that at the end of the show, so it’ll be the last topic so you can — if you’ve not seen True Detective and you don’t want to listen to us talk about True Detective we will get to that point and we will say, “Now we will start talking about True Detective,” and you can just stop listening. And then you won’t be spoiled for anything we’re going to say, because we’re going to spoil everything.
John: But also today we’re going to talk about the situation where you have written something and then you see it in a movie and it’s like, wow, that is so much like the movie I just wrote. We’re going to talk about that and specifically how it’s often not related at all. Sometimes just ideas are out there and there’s a good example that just came across our desk.
And you also wanted to talk about world-building, didn’t you?
Craig: Yeah. That was something that someone brought up on Twitter and I thought, wow, that’s a really good topic and one that I think I can kind of quiz you about because I think just based on the movies you’ve done you’ve had more experience with that than I have.
John: Cool. So, we’ll talk about all those things.
First off, though, we have a bit of news. I will be hosting a panel on Saturday July 12 at the Writers Guild Foundation — for the Writers Guild Foundation and the Austin Film Festival. Our own Kelly Marcel will be with me and Linda Woolverton and we’re going to be talking about moving from the first draft to the final feature film, that whole how do you get from inception to a completed thing. This is part of one of those whole day WGF things they do. I think when you and I did that Three Page Challenge thing.
Craig: That’s right.
John: It’s that same kind of event. So, it’s a whole day where you’re buying a ticket for the whole big thing, so you can’t just buy one little section. You have to buy the whole thing. But if you would like to come see me, and Kelly, and Linda Woolverton on July 12 you can do that. There will be a link to that in the show notes.
My second bit of news is that Weekend Read just came out as we’re recording this, so it’s out in the App Store right now, and among the other things it includes is all the scripts to Rian Johnson’s films. So, he was nice enough to give us all his scripts.
We have the entire first season of Hannibal. Plus, we have the transcripts to every episode of Scriptnotes is now inside Weekend Read.
John: So, if you have not gotten Weekend Read, if you have not upgraded to Weekend Read do so now because it’s free and it’s in the App Store.
Craig: Great deal.
John: Great deal.
Craig: Great deal.
John: You had some follow up I saw in the notes.
Craig: I did. Yeah. We had a discussion I think in our last podcast when we were answering lots of questions. And we had a question from one listener about — well, actually, I don’t even recall what the question was that led me to the answer I gave. But we got a follow up question or response actually from one of our listeners named David Maguire.
And we will get these very nice letters every now and again, but this one I thought actually was worth sharing with everybody because one of the things that I’m always trying to put out there in the world is that your individual problems as a screenwriter are not in fact uncommon. Most of us share them, if not all of us. And I like this letter so much I thought I would read it. And so David gave us permission to go ahead and read it.
And he wrote, “Hey John and Craig, I’m an avid listener of your podcast and love that content you provide. Being an aspiring screenwriter your words are weighted for me and provide guidance for how I should move forward. Gushing aside,” and, now this is me — feel free to gush as long as you want. You know, when you guys write in, do it. Just gush.
John: Just paragraphs. Just gush.
Craig: “Hey, how you doing, I’m Craig Mazin.”
John: Craig’s a gusher.
Craig: Oh, so gross.
“Gushing aside, I wanted to comment on what Craig said during your last episode, Lots of Questions. He was answering a letter from a screenwriter who had just had surgery,” oh that’s right, now I remember. This was the very tragic question that we got.
“The screenwriter just had surgery, lost a relationship, and was deciding to focus on his screenplay and have that be his golden ticket. Craig said that you shouldn’t put all of your hopes in one script as it creates — and I am paraphrasing — an unrealistic expectation and stress. I found this bit of advice to be really what I need.
“Recently I found myself going to a pitch slam down in LA.” John, you’re familiar with these pitch slams?
John: Yes. I love a pitch slam, don’t you?
Craig: I mean, I super love it. [laughs]
John: I don’t love it at all.
Craig: No, me neither.
John: My sarcasm might not be coming through. I find them incredibly frustrating. But, maybe they’re helpful for some people, so keep reading.
Craig: For those of you out there, you show up at these things and you pitch stuff really fast, just lines of people, and it’s kind of like speed dating for screenwriting, and frankly I find the whole thing very disturbing.
“So, having no real idea of what that experience would be like, I went down there with an idea, no complete script, and a hope that my charm would wow them. Sadly, that did not work. The first session I watched said unless you have a near finalized script you shouldn’t be here. At that point I felt about two feet tall and foolish, but wanting to have the full experience I sucked it up and went to the pitch slam only to be rejected at every table except for one.
“A small production company told me that they didn’t want my half-realized drama and that they did action movies or horror movies, or even family-friendly action movies as they were more profitable. He gave me a card and said call him. I get home and I start trying to pull a story together under the idea that they are interested and want to work with me. So, I need to make this script a reality.
“After quickly outlining I got to start writing and I can’t — I just can’t seem to be happy with the script. That discourages me. And then that discourages me even further that I can’t get something out and I feel like this opportunity is slipping away. But Craig’s advice helps alleviate that stress and worry. And I suddenly realized that I like to write not so that I can make buckets of money, but because I like to tell stories. So, while it may be awhile before I get the action story figured out to a point where I feel comfortable with it, at least I’ll know I’m writing it for me and not for money.
“I’m sorry to drone on,” well, that’s never stopped me or John. “I’m sorry to drone on but I just wanted to say how appreciative I am for you guys and your show. Thanks, David Maguire from San Jose, California.”
And thank you, David, for writing. What a brave thing for you to write. And, also, pinpoint something that never goes away. It doesn’t matter where you are at any stage of the game. And that is this feeling like you have to write something to make somebody else happy so that you’ll be a writer, so that you’ll feel better about yourself. And unfortunately down that pathway is much danger and trouble. Trouble, I think. What do you think, John?
John: Yeah. I think that’s also a classic example of putting your self-esteem in the hands of somebody else. In this case the “somebody else” being that person you’re pitching to, or this person who expressed some interest in your idea and said like we’ll do it this other kind of way and then we might like it.
The minute you sort of hand off how you feel about yourself to somebody else, you’ve really weakened your position. You’re unlikely to have good outcome if you are putting how you feel about yourself in somebody else’s hands. And that’s a good lesson for work, but it’s also a good lesson for life. I think a lot of times in our personal relationships we tend to put way too much pressure ourselves and other people for how we’re going to perceive ourselves. And that’s not helpful and it’s not good.
Craig: Yeah. Well put. You really don’t want to give anybody that gun. And they will play the game where obviously it’s to their advantage in some ways to have some sort of power over you. I think what a lot of buyers don’t realize is that by doing that they have probably made the person they want work from that much worse of a writer.
It’s very hard to write for somebody else. We have to find a way to find common ground and an agreement with somebody else and then we write for ourselves. There’s no way around it.
John: And what I would stress is that you never really outgrow this. You may become more aware of when you’re doing it, but you won’t stop doing it. And that’s both as being the person who is putting yourself in these positions where you are fixated on what someone else is going to think. That still happens to me. It happens to me every — not every day, but every week. And especially the stuff I’m working on because I really want people to love it. And there are certain people who I want to love it.
Sometimes I’m just more aware now of not trying to please the people who kind of don’t matter in a strange way. So, to me that’s like I’m not going to knock myself out to please this junior executive on something because while she may be lovely she’s not the real opinion leader in this situation.
But I also find it, and tell me if you find this also, Craig, is that now more people are sort of working with you and for you, sometimes you recognize they’re trying to please you. And I don’t ever want to make someone feel like pleasing me should be their end all goal in life.
And so as we work on stuff there may be times where people are bringing us things and I try to always stress to them that like this isn’t working for me here right now, or this isn’t quite what I’m looking for. That doesn’t mean you’re a bad person. That doesn’t mean you did bad work. It’s just not what I need right now.
And that’s a useful thing I’ve tried to do more of as I’ve been working with other folks is to make sure that they understand that in no way should this reflect how I think of them as a person. It’s just like this is not what I need right here at this moment.
Craig: Yeah. I’m the same way. I have no problem saying, listen, I don’t want to spend the time writing that because I don’t know how to write it or my heart is not in it. Somebody else’s heart will be in it and they’ll do something great.
You know, every time I pass on something I say, “I’ll see you at the Oscars with this,” [laughs] because I always feel that I passed on it, someone else is going to do it. They’re going to do it brilliantly and I’ll watch them at the Oscars. And I’ll be happy with it because it wasn’t for me. We can’t be everything to all people, nor should people feel the same towards us.
I will say that when it comes to listening to people, I don’t really — I never really concern myself with who matters. I only concern myself with who is right. If somebody — I don’t care who it is. If the lunch lady gives me an insight that I think is going to help me make my script better, I’m going to take it.
So, what I’ve done is I’ve tried to just tune out the fact that these are all people that I should somehow be pleasing and tune in just the content of what they’re saying. And then making decisions on the content, as if I were receiving these things over the wire as anonymous messages — what about this? What about this? What about this? And I go, well, no to that, no to that, yes to this, no to that, no to that.
John: Absolutely a great point. And you have to consider — when I’m saying like which notes I’m sort of I feel fine ignoring form sometimes a junior executive at this point in my career, it’s that there are sometimes you get feedback that you’re going to have to do something with even if it’s just to reject it. For certain other stuff I just let it sort of roll past and I don’t even sort of pay attention to it as much anymore. Because I’m always aware of the end of this is to get to something — to get to a great movie. And so if that note is helping me get to a great movie, I’m delighted to hear it.
If it’s going to be a note that’s going to get in my way of making a great movie, unless it’s from somebody who I really need to worry about, I don’t worry about it so much. And in people’s normal life, before they’re dealing with that, it may just be your friend who read the script who just didn’t get this one thing.
John: And it’s good to listen to it, but that doesn’t mean you have to address everything that everybody says.
Craig: That’s right. In the end you have to be the one doing it and this is — I’m sure you’ve had the experience of writing something where you realized at some point I am not writing this for me anymore. I’m writing this either to make somebody stop yelling at me or to make somebody else happy, but not me. And it’s gross.
John: It’s gross and yet sometimes it’s necessary, because sometimes you recognize that you are link in the chain and you are not the final arbiter of what’s going to happen. And you have to make those decisions about whether to keep working on this in that capacity.
Craig: Right. Great.
John: Well, one thing we’re going to work on in a small capacity, in a five-minute capacity, we talked on the last show about this idea of what would a screenwriting format look like if we were to start from scratch, if we weren’t beholden to everything that had come before and wanted to do something from the ground zero. What would it be like?
And so you and I emailed back and forth this week, but you proposed like let’s just talk about it on the air. And I think it’s a great thing to talk about on the air, yet I don’t want it to take over the entire show. So, my proposal is that we will talk about it for exactly five minutes and then we will stop.
Craig: What if we don’t take up the whole five minutes? [laughs]
John: If we don’t take up the whole five minutes then everybody wins.
Craig: Then we vamp.
John: All right, so tell me when to start.
Craig: Okay. So, one thing that we’ve been talking about is getting away from the idea of pagination entirely. Thank you Final Draft. You inspired us. The idea being that until you are actually on set and handing out sides, which is something that happens at the tail end of a minority of development projects, everybody is reading the screenplay on some sort of device: a laptop, or a tablet, or a phone in this case.
So, one thing we wanted to do was get away from pagination because it’s irrelevant to that. We wanted to get away from pagination because it sort of is an old school physical object thing that no longer has meaning on a computer. We wanted to get away from pagination because the rule of one-page per one-minute is nonsense. And everybody knows it’s nonsense. Even if you think it’s real, you’re still stuck between screenplays that run roughly between 90 to 130 pages, which means that the page length is pointless anyway.
And we wanted to find something that is more useful in terms of how to actually break a screenplay up into pieces that matter, not 8.5 x 11 pieces, but purposeful pieces. John?
John: So, when we’re talking about breaking into purposeful pieces, the natural breaks would seem to be sequences and scenes. So, a sequence is a collection of scenes that tell a certain portion of a story. And a lot of times when we’re talking about a sequence sometimes they’re comprised of very short little scenes. So, if it’s just a few lines — a scene header and a few lines — it’s not really a scene in and of itself. And so sequences may be a good logical way of thinking about the breaking down of stuff.
The goal would be that even if you’re writing the document all as one flowing thing it can easily be broken apart into these pieces. And so as stuff gets moved around it can be recompiled into a full document again if someone wants to look at it as a full, more like a conventional script.
Craig: Right. So, the idea of the sequence is that we get away from orienting the screenplay around scenes based on locations. The reason that that happens is because in production people need to know is this inside or outside. Am I building something? Am I waiting for the sun to go up or down? And all the rest of it.
But in development that’s not quite as important. What is important is sequences. That’s actually the building block of storytelling, not whether I’m in a house and then I walk outside. If it’s all one motion and it’s all one sequence, narrative sequence, then that really is the building block. So, we want to get away from scenes in a weird way. We don’t have a problem with the idea of locations, but the word scene isn’t serving us as well as we think sequence would.
We also want to be able to deliver a format that is modern. So, music cues are clickable and playable while you’re reading. Sound effects are clickable and playable. Locations are clickable and visible. We want to be able to give people who are reading the context that they need.
If you describe something and there’s a great YouTube video that explains it perfectly, click it. And show it and watch it.
John: Yeah. So, what we’re ultimately describing here I think is a database that consists of the text elements of what the written screenplay is like, but also keyed up to each of these scenes or sequences can be additional information. And that already kind of exists.
As a film goes into production it is broken down. It is literally broken down into little strips, little bits of scenes that you would shoot. And that kind of information is stored along with that. So, it’s a different person that comes in and does all that work, usually the first AD and the line producer do all that work of breaking it down into these are the key components of what happens in this sequence and then storyboards are generated off of that based on those scene numbers.
That kind of stuff is there. It would be a way of here’s the text part of it and you can also flow through and see everything else that goes with it. And there should be a smart way to do that. If you are not bound by paper, that’s a thing you could very easily do.
Craig: How much time do we have left?
John: We have one minute.
Craig: Okay, great. One last thing. People are going to get freaked out by this get rid of pages thing. And I understand why.
First of all, we’ll have a solution for production. We understand how to do that because we work in production. But putting that aside for now, what people get scared about is how long is the script — what does that even mean? It doesn’t matter how long the script is. All that matters is how long the movie is.
Let’s first accept that, A, we don’t know how long the movie is going to be based on the script. We see that all the time when we turn in 100-page scripts and we hear that it’s actually a two-hour movie. Or when you turn 130-page scripts and we hear that it’s actually an hour and a half.
So, don’t worry about that. And also, I have to say, I think that we now have an inherent understanding of how long a movie is going to be based on just reading it. We get it. We have an internal clock running of our own. What matters is not some arbitrary number length, but how our interest is held. As such, by getting rid of pages we can also start doing things like using better fonts instead of stupid Courier.
John: Yeah. Which gets into the actual formatting on the page, which can be part of our next conversation because we’re down to 10, 9, 8…oh, we also have a way to do logical pages so we can still calculate page length if we have to. And 2…and…
Craig: And better revision marks. Excellent.
John: And we’re done.
John: That was five minutes.
John: So, Craig, let’s get onto our new topics for this week.
Now, I had a blog post that was up about two weeks ago where it was actually a first person post. And a guy wrote in saying about his experience where he lives in China someplace and he had watched a trailer for a movie and went, “Oh my god, that’s the premise of this movie I wrote.” A script he’d written that had never gotten any traction. He sent it around by never got any traction.
So, he watched this trailer and is like, “Oh my god, what am I going to do?” And he was writing to me really with the question of should I watch this movie? What do I do? I’m freaked out. And so in the time between when he saw the trailer and I answered his letter he watched the movie and said, “It was bizarre watching it because it was the same premise but like kind of every choice they made along the way was vastly different.”
And so this thing where he originally thought like, I’m going to sue, he realized like, well, that’s crazy town. So, a thing came up this week that I thought was really fascinating so I wanted to read some things aloud. So, I’m going to read you the premise of two TV shows.
John: And I want you to try to keep them straight. So, TV show number one: “This series follows the residents of a small town whose lives are upended when their loved ones return from the dead, un-aged since their deaths. Among the returned is Jacob Langston, an 8-year-old boy who drowned 32 years earlier. Having somehow been found alive in China, he is brought back to America by an immigration agent. His surprise return inspires the local sheriff, whose wife presumably drowned trying to rescue Jacob to learn more about this mystery.”
That is the first TV show.
John: So, having heard that —
Craig: Got it.
John: A second TV show: “In a small mountain town many dead people reappear, apparently alive and normal. Teenage road accident victim Camille, suicidal bridegroom Simon, a small boy named Victor who was murdered by burglars, and Serge, a serial killer. They try to resume their lives as strange phenomena occur. Amongst recurring power outages, the water level of the reservoir mysteriously lowers revealing the presence of dead animals and a church steeple. And strange marks appear on the bodies of the living and the dead.”
Two separate TV shows. Do you recognize either of these premises?
Craig: Well, to me, I immediately think of Pet Sematary.
John: Yes, oh yeah, Pet Sematary, the great Stephen King.
So, these are two TV shows that are currently on the air, which is what’s crazy.
Craig: Oh, I don’t watch TV, so —
John: One of them is called Resurrection and it’s on ABC. The other one is called Les Revenants, it was a French show that is now being aired on Sundance as The Returned. I dare anybody from a distance to tell those two shows apart. They sound really similar, don’t they?
Craig: With the exception of the occult baked into the second one? Yeah, I mean, basically it’s a small town where dead people are returning.
John: Yes. There’s water imagery in both. There’s a returned kid in both.
John: So, here’s what’s crazy — the French show, Les Revenants, is based on a 2004 French film, so that’s back from 2004. They made a TV series that was based on this old French film. Resurrection, the show on ABC, is based on a book called, confusingly enough, The Returned, which is by Jason Mott, which is what the Sundance show version of the French show is called.
Craig: Okay. That is confusing. They’re sharing titles now.
John: So not only are they similar premises, but the title of one book is actually the title of the other series in English.
I bring this up because if you were to look at these from a distance you would say like, “Well, clearly one is based on the other.” They’re largely the same idea, and yet they’re not at all the same idea. Like there’s no lawsuit happening between these two because they’re actually separate ideas, and yet they’re so incredibly similar.
Craig: Mm-hmm. Well, as always, the idea itself you can’t sue over anyway, so the question is what is unique about how they spool out. And this doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. In the slightest.
John: And yet every time I see one of these things about somebody is suing Tom Cruise for Mission Impossible 3, that’s exactly my idea. Well, like, was your idea as specific as the dead returning to life in a small town and everyone is freaked out by their loved ones coming back? That’s a pretty specific idea. And then you add in like, oh, these people drowned, there’s water imagery, and the same kind of sheriff. And that seems incredibly specific and it seems like, well, no two people in a vacuum could have come up with the same idea, but they did.
And you even said it. The first thing you thought of was Pet Sematary.
Craig: Yeah, of course. If you want to go back further, let’s go back to the bible when Jesus comes back from the dead. Coming back from the dead is not special. Coming back from the dead is a deep-seeded old, old animal-brain desire of humans.
Death is confusing to us. It is a repudiation of the logical sense of the world. It is absurd. Naturally people have sought to cheat death forever, and so the theme of the dead walk again has been done billions of times in so many different ways. And you just start looking down a list of things and you realize not only is it common, it’s like you can’t get rid of it. Frankenstein. And every ghost story. People are constantly coming back from the dead. Reincarnated, and da-da-da-da.
It’s natural. You write something. Writing something is an act of — an extraordinary act of ego. I dare to create something and put it in the world, create something unique. It is my expression. And it is therefore somewhat expected that the person would allow that ego to slop over to, “And nobody else could have possibly done it.”
John: Well, here’s the thing, it was an original idea to you.
John: It was the first time you’d ever had that idea.
John: And so in our solipsism it always seems like, well, it’s the first time I ever thought of that idea, so it must be the first time anyone ever thought of that idea. And even if we kind of know that’s logically unlikely, it still feels kind of right because we can only have our own experience.
Craig: That’s right.
John: There’s a Slate article that I’ll also link to in the show notes that they talk though the other shows that is surprisingly very much like.
There’s a 2002 Japanese film called Yomigaeri where the dead are mysteriously resurrected in the city of Aso and then investigated by a representative from the Japanese Ministry of Welfare as they attempt to reintegrate into society.
There’s also In The Flesh, a BBC 3 series in the fictional village of Roarton, Lancashire.
And there’s Babylon Fields, which is a CBS pilot a few years ago that now NBC is doing a pilot that is a similar kind of idea.
So, that’s just an idea that’s out there. It’s like an asteroid hitting the planet idea. It’s going to keep recurring.
My frustration over New Girl and that whole crazy lawsuit, like, “Oh my god, it’s a girl and there’s three guy roommates.”
Craig: That was the worst.
John: It just drives me crazy. And I just thought this was a great demonstration of sort of how the same idea can occur multiple times.
Craig: Not only in what we do, but in science. I’m trying to think, it was Newton and I think it was, was it Leibniz? Two people separately at the same time came up with calculus.
Craig: Which is insane.
John: Which is crazy.
Craig: It’s crazy.
John: It happens.
Craig: It happens. Look at what happened at the beginning of the AIDS crisis. The French team and the American team both working on trying to isolate the cause of AIDS and both sort of oddly simultaneously in a weird way coming up with HIV. Granted, that’s a complicated story, but these things happen. There’s a time for ideas to come forth. They are affected by all sorts of things. We don’t walk around in isolation. We pick up cues from the world.
But more importantly I want to single in on something that you said which is you having an original idea doesn’t make it the only possibility that someone else can have that idea. If two people think of something apart from each other, in isolation from each other, it is original to them. And that can happen. And we shouldn’t think that our idea is so — do you know how hard it is to come up with an idea that not one of the other, I don’t know how many humans have lived, 80 billion humans. I mean, really?
John: Well, it’s misleading because while it’s entirely possibly to come up with an original sentence, the pure number of possible sentences in the world is essentially infinite. Like you could come up with an original sentence, but an idea is both so amorphous and so specific.
The elements of this thing, like I’m going to combine these elements in a way that no one else will ever think of — well, no you’re not. I mean, it may be that no one else has published that idea yet, but someone else has sort of come up with those building blocks.
Craig: Of course.
John: A good example is let’s take baby names. Because what’s always so surprising to people is like how did that name become so popular, like where did that come from? And if you ask any individual parent they’re like, oh, it just suddenly came to me. Like I have no idea why that name came to me, but like why is it now in the top ten of all names?
Well, it’s because it was out there in the universe. It was going to happen. That’s why suddenly there are Madisons. There weren’t Madisons before. Why did it show up? Because it showed up. It’s the thing that it snowballed and it happened.
John: Well, Splash, that’s actually a bad example because Madison is probably coming from Splash.
Craig: Yeah, but then again, it’s like, okay, so they named her Madison because he looked at the sign for Madison Avenue and then people pick up on that. But a lot of people who name their kid Madison, they’re just naming their kid Madison because they might have heard somebody named Madison somewhere who then is derived from Splash and so on and so forth.
And it’s okay. I mean —
John: It’s fine.
Craig: Honestly, if you’re going to come up with an idea that is interesting to millions of humans, it needs to be universal. It needs to have some piece of borrowed tradition. I mean, look, this particular example, you’re talking about dead people coming back to life. Perverting and overcoming death, right off the bat — you just start with death. Okay, well, there’s 14 million ideas. All right, well what about people that used to be dead but now they’re back. Now you’re down to like four million ideas. It’s just so — it’s such a typical area for drama because it’s dramatic.
Death is dramatic. Sex is dramatic. Violence is dramatic. Love is dramatic. Children are dramatic. Parents are dramatic. How could we possibly ever come up with one of these things and think to ourselves and no one has ever thought of this before? The idea isn’t what matters anyway. It’s what you do with it.
John: I agree. And really what this comes down to is your premise is based on the world is normal except for one thing, which is really what this premise is. You’re going to find a lot of overlap.
And I think that’s a great segue to our second topic which is world-building, which is how do you build the universe in which your story takes place, whether there is one thing that’s different or everything is different like some of these shows have happened.
Some of these shows create these universes that are so amazing and different and detailed and complex. And yet they have to have some grounding in our understandable emotional reality or they don’t make any sense at all. You can’t make heads or tails of them.
John: So, let’s talk about some world-building.
Craig: Well, what interests me about the phrase — I think first of all let’s define our term if we can. Every time you sit down and you write a screenplay you’re world-building. You are — even if you’re telling the most mundane mumblecore story of two people in Brooklyn having a series of discussions over coffee, you’re building a world. You’re populating it with people. And you’re picking where you want to go.
But, where I think the term is typically used and where it’s valuable is in a story where you are creating a world that is not like ours. You are — it is a fantasy world or it is a science fiction world, a vision of the future, or a vision of long, long ago. So, part of the value for the person watching the movie is that they are entering a world that is not like ours. That even the mundane things in this world like buildings and language and weaponry and religion have changed dramatically, or are dramatically different from ours, and that’s part of the fun of it.
So, for instance, if you were to write Lord of the Rings, or if you were to write Star Wars, or if you were to write Her, you’re world-building. And that’s something that you’ve done because I know you did Titan A.E., which was science fiction and world-building, right?
John: Yeah. Absolutely. And pretty much all the Tim Burton movies have a huge world-building component.
Craig: Exactly. Right. All the Tim Burton. Because Tim Burton likes to basically say come into the world of Tim Burton.
John: Exactly. And even to some degree I would say the Charlie’s Angels movies, they take place in this heightened sort of it’s always sunny, shiny California universe that is very specific. And there are things that can fit into a Charlie’s Angels universe and things that can’t fit into a Charlie’s Angels universe, the same way certain things can fit into a Lego universe or Muppet universe and couldn’t in other universes.
So, yes, anything that doesn’t take place in a really readily identifiable place, there’s going to be some component of world-building.
Craig: And so when you sit down, John, and you know that you’re telling a story in a world that you have to build, my guess is you have at least some basic understanding of what the dramatics of the story are. They will involve human beings who have problems — problems are really built. Problems are problems we’re all familiar with. But when you think about designing this and building this world, how do you go about doing it?
John: I think it starts with a visual ideal of what it would look like to be inside that world. And what it would look like both with your eyes, but what it would feel like to be inside that world. And with the changes from a normal world to this world, how would everything else flow out of that? And so if you are in a universe where Corpse Bride, where you’re in the land of the dead, and everything is incredibly colorful, everything is sort of the opposite of sort of what you think death is supposed to be like. What is a restaurant like there and what would they serve.
You’re having to figure out all these details. And you start — that’s actually the most fun part of any screenwriting for me is all that figuring out what the world is like. The challenge is that you figure out these details and most of them you’re never going to use. Most of them are things that are just over on the edges and you will never actually see any of those things, because really the experience can only be what could our hero encounter or interact with.
If you’re in WALL-E you’re going to see everything from WALL-E’s point of view. So, WALL-E is interacting with trash. And, well what is the trash? Where does trash come from? What is the world like? What does WALL-E do when he’s not working? Answering all of those questions is letting you build your character’s story, but also define the limits of what we’re going to see about the world and the universe.
Craig: Yeah. I think that when I watch a movie that has built a world sometimes it’s the small unremarked upon details that bring me the most joy. I remember when I saw Star Wars as a kid, when they go to the Cantina in Mos Eisley, just the way the drinks looked and everything, the glassware, you know. That there were these little things and world-building really is a — when they talk about film being a collaborative medium, it’s not as collaborative as people think. I always think that really it’s a directed medium. That people — the writer and the director — create a set of marching orders. And then it is an executed medium where people serve that.
But when you talk about world-building, everybody gets to kind of pitch in and design things from costumes, to hairstyles, to — I mean, everybody noticed the pants in Her. That is a nice built detail that nobody ever says, “Boy, I really like the way these pants turned out in the year 2040.”
John: To me an even more specific detail in her that was just so spot-on terrific is that Joaquin Phoenix is walking around with Scarlett Johansson’s character in his pocket, the little camera in his pocket. And so that she can see he has a little safety pin in his pocket, in his shirt pocket so that the camera is up high enough so that she can actually look and see what he’s seeing. It’s such a small little detail, but it’s so terrific and important. It’s not remarked upon in any way by the movie, but you say like, “Well why does he have a safety pin there?” It’s like, oh, so that the phone is high enough that she can see. It’s such a smart little detail.
Craig: Yeah, which also goes to the notion that you don’t want to overkill it. That when you build a world you are asking people to enjoy the things that are different, but not to the extent where nothing is the same. You can start to fall into a silly place where forks don’t look like forks anymore. And doors don’t work like doors. And you realize that the movie has just become obsessed with the notion that everything will be changed in the future.
Her went the other direction and said actually, no, you’re still going to open your mailbox with a key. And if you want to do something in your pocket, you’re not going to put a magneto Levitron phone lifter. You’re just going to use a safety pin. That didn’t change, you know?
John: I remember there was an episode of Buck Rogers and the 25th Century with Gil Gerard and they were eating food. And they have like little magnetic forks to eat their food.
Craig: Ugh, bingo.
John: It’s like that’s not an improvement. It’s clear like that didn’t make anything better the way you’re doing that right now.
Craig: Yeah. That would be the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” syndrome. It’s a good way to approach the future. And you see it sometimes where people just go nuts, you know. I mean, the fact that, look, in the future doors can go whoosh — or they can just open. And if you think about it, opened doors just swinging unhinged, it’s really useful.
Or, if you needed to save space and you were on a spaceship, just sliding the door like a pocket door would also be very useful.
Craig: But why would you have this incredibly complicated system where doors go whoosh, whoosh.
John: Yeah. Unfortunately on radio I don’t think people are seeing probably how you’re moving your hands for that.
Craig: You know I’m going whoosh, whoosh. [laughs] Yeah, you know what I’m doing. Everybody knows what I’m doing.
John: I know what you’re doing. The way that it’s not like a pocket door but it’s actually moving past each other in a really complicated —
Craig: And on its own and it’s electronic and you know that it’s a guy like, “Oh my god, the door on deck seven, the whoosh door, it’s not swishing.” “Oh, okay, well we got to get the guy to come and he’s got a backlog, so it’s going to be a few days, so you’re going to just stay in there.”
John: Obviously when we talk about big fantasy or sci-fi films, there’s an aspect of world-building which is going to be a conversation between the director and all the different designers, from costume, production designer. All those things are going to be influenced by it.
But since we’re mostly a podcast about screenwriting, let’s talk about what it’s like to be building a world on a page, because where you see this going wrong sometimes is where those first five pages are incredibly dense with like all these details crammed at you about sort of what this world is like.
John: And the ones that have done it well, to my reading, have introduced you slowly to what this world feels like. So that the world starts in a way that lets you know the general sense of where this movie is going, what kind of universe we’re in, but it’s not hammering you with details. And so lots of readily identifiable behaviors, readily identifiable characters from the start. And then if they need to show you a big thing about how the world is different, they might not do that on page one. They might give that to you a little bit along the way.
Even The Matrix, which is about as complicated and confusing of a world that you could find, it starts in a more grounded way as you’re first meeting Neo, so you understand that there’s some basis of reality underneath all of this.
Craig: That’s right. And similarly when you have movies that take place entirely in a built world, like say Star Wars, there are points of reference, because you’re shooting here on this planet. Okay, Tatooine is a desert. It’s a small oasis town in a desert. Very good.
What’s happened now is we can make anything because of computers. So, there is a tendency I think sometimes for people to just go nuts and describe everything because their minds are blowing up with all of these interesting ideas.
I agree with you. You have to parcel it out carefully and meaningfully so that people don’t think they’re just reading a brochure for some house you’re trying to sell them, or a city you’re trying to get them to move to.
I have to say this is also frankly where a change in format would be enormously helpful. Text is a very clumsy way to describe a picture, which I believe has been calculated to be worth 1,000 words. It would be nice to just be able to click something and go, okay, I understand what they’re going for here. That would be useful.
John: I feel Frank Herbert’s Dune, I mean, Dune is a dense book and there’s a lot in Dune that is sort of world-building. It’s establishing this complicated world, the complicated rules, and the environments and all this stuff. A challenging thing to do as a screenplay because you’re going to have to be efficient about how you’re getting through this.
And so you want the audience to be able to make some leaps with you about sort of what world this is. Tatooine is a great example from Star Wars, because it’s mostly kind of like a little small tiny desert town. You can use a lot of your expectations about what a little desert town would be like, or a little desert dwelling would be like. And you don’t have to be introduced to every single new little thing.
Craig: That’s right.
John: And they’re not choking you with all the details.
The other thing I think writers are especially responsible for is figuring out what the character’s voice in your created world is going to be. And you may not specify that people are speaking with some sort of Irish brogue, but you’re making word choices about the ways people speak within your world. And that can be a crucial thing, too.
If you’re making a Lord of the Rings-y kind of movie, there’s an expectation that characters are going to speak in that sort of kind of English way. That sort of almost like received pronunciation Shakespeare kind of way. You kind of get that for free if you want that. If you don’t want that you’re going to have to make a deliberate choice that it’s not that and deal with the sort of reader pushback that you’re going to find from that decision.
Craig: Yeah. The other thing I’ll mention is for those of us who write comedies, there are times when you need to world-build in a comedy. And in comedies you tend to not get quite as much credit for building some elaborate “original world,” in part because we like funny things to be in contrast to ordinary things. It’s harder to laugh when the world around you is so outlandish and creative.
I’ve never seen Pluto Nash, but just from the trailer I thought I’m not sure how any of this is going to be funny in this elaborate space station. It’s just too fancy and frankly kind of ambitious of a setting, no matter how well or not well it was executed for me to be laughing at the mundane things that happen inside of it.
With that in mind, one great example of comedy world-building is Defending Your Life by Albert Brooks. And he was building heaven, which is something that other movies have done. And his choice was to build that world against the expectation and just set it basically as kind of a lovely hotel resort for middle aged to senior citizen type people, you know, with buffets and lounge acts. It was kind of like a mid-level Vegas hotel, which was brilliant.
John: Yeah. You’re bringing up Pluto Nash. The funny sci-fi film I can point to is Galaxy Quest. And what Galaxy Quest so smartly did is it didn’t rely on sort of what real science fiction would be like. It relied on what we already knew about what a science fiction TV show should be like. And so therefore it could work with all this stuff that we already had in our database for like this is what a TV show version of what a starship show should be like. And it could push back off of that.
Craig: That’s exactly right. In fact, Galaxy Quest, among its many brilliant choices, Bob Gordon wrote a fantastic screenplay there, among the many brilliant choices was that when the aliens come to abduct or choose the heroes of the movie who played these characters on a Star Trek like show, the spaceship, their actual spaceship, they built it to the specifications of the show.
So, it wasn’t a built world. In fact, it was a very familiar world to us that was designed to look exactly like something that was fake. So, they could react to that and we didn’t feel like they were in a fancy ship, because they weren’t. They were actually in a very silly looking ship that was essentially created by tropes with which we’re all familiar.
John: Comedy is essentially expectation and then surprise. So, in comedy you have to have expectation about what’s going to happen next, and then a surprise that either something was said that wasn’t what you expected, or an event happens that isn’t what you expected.
If everything is brand new you kind of can’t have expectation. And therefore you kind of can’t be surprised in a way that’s funny. And that’s usually a huge problem with science fiction comedies.
Craig: Yeah. The word grounded comes up constantly when you’re making comedies. And even when we did spoof movies, when I did spoof movies with David Zucker one of the things that he was very adamant about and properly so is that if you’re going to spoof a scene from a movie the set needs to look just like that movie. It doesn’t need to be some funny version of that set. It needs to be just that set. And then funny things happen in it. You need to be grounded.
John: So, as you talk about sets, as we sort of wrap up this world-building thing: in general if I’m doing something that is a complicated production that is existing in a very different world than what I’m normally in, I will spend some time, you know, a couple days, although you can fall down deep k-holes and just go far too far with it. And just look up the imagery of the kind of thing I want these worlds to be like. And so you get to have a sense of style. Like this is the kind of universe this takes place in.
So, for Big Fish I did have some of that visual imagery of this is what this kind of fantasy nostalgic south of the past would be like. For other projects I’ve put together kind of a look book of this is the universe of what this world is like. And that’s incredibly helpful for you as the writer to be able to remember like, okay, that’s what I was going for there.
And even if you see that imagery, you can then start to think like what words would I use to describe what I’m seeing, because those are going to be the same kinds of words you’re going to use on the page to evoke this feeling for the person reading the script ultimately.
Craig: No question. Until you and I revolutionize screenplay format.
Craig: Which we’re going to do, by the way. We’re doing it.
John: We are. But first we should talk about a show that has done a great job of world-building this last season on HBO. And this is the time in the podcast where we’re going to talk about True Detective. So, fair warning, we’re going to spoil everything if you’ve not seen the show.
So, True Detective, Craig, I thought it was just a terrific show. How about you?
Craig: Yeah, it was brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. The execution of it was not quite like anything I had seen before. And going back to our discussion of originality of ideas, two odd couple — odd couple detectives on the trail of a serial killer. Oh, you know, I don’t know —
John: Yeah, that’s tropey, tropey, tropey.
Craig: I mean, good lord. And they’re in the south. And I think I’ve seen that a bunch of times. And then there’s infidelity and, yup, yup, seen it, seen it, seen it, seen it. Even the notion that what’s behind it is a large conspiracy of powerful people and satanic rituals — done, done, done, done, done.
But what this show did better than any other, I thought, was create these two characters and let you — give you license to care more about those characters and where they were in their lives and the choices they were making than you did about the mystery itself.
Granted, I think some people didn’t. I think some people were just obsessed over the mystery to the point where the show could have not possibly satisfied them.
I thought that Nic Pizzolatto — Pizzolatto? Am I saying it right?
Craig: Pizzolatto. And Cary Fukunaga made an amazing team. Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, brilliant performances. Best I’ve ever seen from them. Just a beautiful, beautiful show to watch. And as a student of Nietzsche, which I know you hate, I saw Nietzsche throughout the whole thing. I mean, this Nic Pizzolatto clearly a student of Nietzsche. No question. No question. And a smart student.
John: So, I was late to the show and sort of caught up. And so by the time we got to episode five or six I was watching it in real time. And I found it just fascinating. And fascinating in the sense of like when I first saw the promos for it I’m like I don’t know why I would watch this show, because I don’t watch procedurals, and it’s basically it felt like — from a distance it felt like a cop procedural staring Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, both of whom I like but I’m not going to go racing to go see, set in Louisiana which I’m just so sick of Louisiana. I have no desire to see Louisiana again. And it felt tropey, tropey, tropey, trope.
And so it wasn’t until everyone told me like, “No, no, it’s brilliant. It’s brilliant. It’s brilliant. It’s brilliant.” And it’s really when people talked about the — when I decided I had to watch it was when people talked about the big shootout sequence, the sort of incredibly long tracking cam shot — the tracking shot that does all that that I know I had to catch up. Because I refuse to let this be another Breaking Bad where I’m behind everybody else on it.
So, what’s fascinating though is let’s go back to the reason I didn’t want to watch it is because on an idea level I’m like that doesn’t sound interesting to me at all. And where True Detective succeeds is in execution. Execution in acting. Execution in directing. But especially execution in storytelling, so I really want to focus on the decision to have the start of the show, at least the best parts of the show, the first six episodes, with the framing device of the interview.
John: As we come into the show we’re seeing this murder investigation happen where there’s a dead woman, and there’s a tree, and there’s a crown and all that stuff. We’re seeing the same detectives interviewed and we’re not quite sure if it’s even about the same case. We literally see the video camera footage. Like what is happening here? And we start to piece together that these two detectives are being interviewed years later about these events and that they are going to be essentially narrating the story of their own solving of this case, or their own investigation to this case, which was just genius. And it was just so incredibly well done.
Every time we cut from the present day storyline — which was the interviews — to the past and back, the show gained narrative speed. And we did the show where we talked about long takes, I remember there was a blog post I did about long takes. There’s an amazing amount of scene-setting and world-building you can do when you have these very long takes, but there’s also a tremendous amount of power in cutting. And this show knew exactly when to cut and when to pass the baton between the past and the future. That tension between the past and the future was as much a narrative theme as anything else in the show.
Craig: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone do it quite the way they did it on True Detective, so maybe exclusively until now movies would start with people and they’re remembering something and you flash back and you see it all happen and then you come back again to present day and they finish up and it’s a nice conclusion to the whole thing. And that’s fine. And that can work really well.
What was so terrific about the way they did it here where they kept it going through six episodes is that they were short-circuiting something that we’re all accustomed to watching and pulling out of narrative which is character development. They were showing you the end. They were saying this is how it ends. This guy is a drunk and a mess. And this guy is without a wife and a bit of a stopped up unfulfilled man. And that allowed them to play around with things in the past in a way that made it a little more meaningful. If I know that Matthew McConaughey ends up as a mess, watching him walk around perfectly shaven and coiffed and in complete control of his environment is far more interesting now. And I also don’t have to watch the breakdown. I just understand that I’m watching it now.
I’m seeing it and he doesn’t, which is great. Love that.
John: So, one of the key things to understand about True Detective is, again, at its best it maintained very vigilant POV, so every scene is not only involved but is driven either by Matthew McConaughey or Woody Harrelson’s character. You don’t get any scenes that don’t have them in it with very, very rare exception.
But by having the past and the future there’s really essentially four characters. There is the characters in the past and the characters in the present day, or the near present day, who are being interviewed. And it is the tension between the older and the younger versions of themselves is often as fascinating as anything else. The things that you see them promising in the past and how those promises are unfulfilled in the present are so rewarding, because your brain kicks into gear and tries to fill in all the missing pieces about how these things could possibly relate. And you see in the present day storyline during the interviews there is narrative tension within those scenes, too.
It’s not just that they’re narrating story. They’re trying to figure out information from the people who are asking them questions about what’s really going on.
John: You start to realize like these interviews aren’t happening simultaneously. They’re trying to find out information about each other in the present day storyline as they’re talking to these interviewers.
Craig: Yeah. And where it got, I think, where the series hit its dramatic climax and the climax I guess of its efficacy was in the episode where they finally got to the shootout in the woods. This was something that they had been talking about for some time, even early in the episodes both detective that are being interviewed keep asking the ones interviewing them — I assume you just want to ask us about the shootout in the woods. It’s the biggest thing that ever happened to them in their lives. And they’re not asking about it. “Not just yet. We’ll get to that.”
So, we know there is some crazy shootout in the woods. Where they finally got to juice all of the power out of their two-timeline structure is when we finally see the shootout in the woods and we hear present day McConaughey and Harrelson narrating past-day McConaughey and Harrelson and we realize that the story that they’re telling these guys is not at all what we’re watching. In fact, we’re watching something completely different.
John: It’s a complete fabrication. And it’s a fabrication they agreed to tell the same way so that they could keep their story straight.
Craig: That’s right.
John: And it was an ingenious way of sort of getting us through that moment because it was a moment that had enough narrative tension stakes anyway. It’s the first time people are actually shooting at them, and yet you’re also fascinated by the present day storyline where they’re telling these conflicting versions and you want to see if they can actually keep their stories straight.
Craig: Exactly. Because we’re learning, even as we’re watching this incredibly entertaining thing and this incredibly dramatic thing that also includes plot points, we are learning that these two men — separated by time and some enmity we don’t yet understand because of the incident in 2002 — they have each other’s backs still to this day, separate and apart from each other. That’s fascinating information that we’ll finally understand.
In that sequence, every now and then you watch something and it makes you feel something beyond just an emotion but rather you feel an intense narrative satisfaction. And for me it was when I was watching that and they’re describing it and I certainly had no idea what was coming. And I had no idea that they were going to be lying. And they start describing it and what I’m watching isn’t what’s happening, but in a very subtle way. Just like, “Well he went this way and I went that way,” but they’re not quite going that way.
And I, for a second I think did they make a mistake? And then four seconds later it locks in and I go, “Oh, oh, this is going to be good.”
John: Yeah. And it was good! It was great.
Craig: And I knew it was going to be good because as soon as I realized what was happening I thought, A, it’s great that they’re lying and not narrating what actually happened. But also it’s going to be good because whatever does happen is something they have to lie about.
John: Well, I also remember once I realized that the lie was happening you start watching that sequence again thinking like, but wait, they’re going to say there was a shootout but like no one actually fired a shot. How are they going to deal with that? And then you see in real time like McConaughey has the idea of basically staging the whole crime scene so that it looks like there was a shootout even though there wasn’t a shootout. It was all terrific.
Now, let’s talk about satisfaction because I think I was one of those people who wasn’t entirely satisfied by how the show ended. And I think it raises a whole question of like in some ways it didn’t used to matter how shows ended. We didn’t even used to have a sense that a series was supposed to end. But this is a rare case where everyone knew that this was going to be just a one-off thing, at least with these two characters. This was going to end.
And I think our degree of satisfaction was weirdly influenced by the way that this was released. So, this was released in a more conventional sense here in the US that it’s once per week. And so the expectation or build up from the Sunday to the next Sunday about like, oh, what did this episode mean, what is going to happen in this next thing, who is the Yellow King, which is never really resolved, is Rust really behind these murders. All these theories could percolate which sort of revved up the excitement and probably certainly revved up the ratings.
And you like in some ways I think lessened the likelihood that most people would be happy with it. If this were a Netflix show where they put all eight episodes in one block that wouldn’t have happened.
Craig: You might be right. The show became a victim of its own success, to some extent, because people began to obsess in between episodes about what everything went. And it reminded me of Lost mania where the numbers showed up and people were finding references and going crazy. It was a very similar thing when people quickly seized on references to the book, The Yellow King, or The King in Yellow, I should say. And everybody just wanted to hyper drive about this, as if this show would somehow give us an insight into the cosmology of our universe that we weren’t capable of understanding ourselves, which is insane.
I actually think that the show did show us the Yellow King. Maybe I’m the only one, but in the end when our detectives are going up against the ultimate bad guy, Lawnmower Man, in that room — or near that room — there was this kind of a statue or diorama made of skeletons and wings and it looked like he had built himself a god. And it was yellow. The skulls were yellow. And I just thought the Yellow King is this creation of a mad man. And my guess is that he wasn’t the one that created. It was created a long time ago. That they had built an idol to worship.
John: Yeah. And that’s a totally reasonable expectation and I think it would have been easier for most people to come to that if they’d seen the whole thing without that build up from week, to week, to week. That build up from week to week to week is what made it a phenomenon. I think if it had come as a chunk like Netflix would have people would have still loved it and it would still be absolutely as good of a show, but I don’t think it would have become the phenomenon it became with that week, after week, after week.
Craig: You might be right. I mean, some of the conjecture out there was mind-boggling to me. Obviously simple, sort of Shyamalan twist style guesses that Rust Cohle is the killer. Or one writer I know kept insisting to me that they were the same person and that we would find out they’re the same person. Like that’s simple not possible.
John: The Fight Club? Yeah.
Craig: Yeah. It’s not a Fight Club. They didn’t do it. And then there were deeper ones. People who — and I love the internet because people are like, “You’re all stupid. You don’t understand this, and this, and this, and see the stars on the beer cans and…and the girl with the dolls.” And, you know, again, anybody that was hoping for this show — and it’s funny, the show even comments on it that we have this need to find stories to give us meaning to the secrets and mysteries of the world. And the show kept telling us, don’t — you’re not going to find that in the bible. You’re not going to find it in books, you’re not going to find it in culture. We try and impose the order of narrative on the world and the world continues to defy it.
Now, was the ending brilliant? No, but I only think it wasn’t brilliant because it didn’t have enough episodes to be brilliant. You know, the ending of Breaking Bad is brilliant because no matter what anyone’s quibbles are about it, and few people had some, in the end it connected us to an emotion. And the emotion was earned between Walter White and the only thing he ever created that made him feel like he had been alive. This was his work of genius. This was his masterpiece, his imprint on the world, blue crystal meth. And he did it.
And that relationship was something that we needed to have five years invested in for us to give a damn about it. This show, eight hours of TV. And I thought very smartly they ended the show with these two men and finally showing the strongest of them, the one who never cried, the one who seemed to understand everything not understanding anything. I thought it did a fine job. It simply could not deliver what I think people suddenly wanted. I loved it.
John: I think that’s a fair perspective on it. It’s so hard not to play the “I wish they would have” with it where you sort of play the game like if they’d known what they actually had before they started shooting the whole thing, I think there’s a way they could have reminded us about the relationship between those two characters and their young versions. Basically I really missed the young versions in those last two episodes.
And that the tension between the past and the present was essentially all kind of forgotten. Or the times we tried to reference it, it was just two characters talking and not talking about especially interesting things. Whereas we used to be able to see it. And so I would have loved to have had some more moments — a reason to have some more moments with the younger versions of those characters to remind us of the journey that we went on with them. That we saw them from these younger selves to where they are now.
I feel like the realization that McConaughey’s character comes to at the end, which is basically like he thought he had the answers in the sense of there not being any answers and now he’s not even sure of that could have come home even more if I’d seen the younger version of him.
John: The confident younger version of himself.
Craig: I agree. Once the show lost the past and situated itself entirely in the present it gained an immediacy that demanded, you know, it demanded more than those guys just talking. We didn’t mind watching them talk and drive around in the past because we understood that it was in the past and things were going to happen and the past doesn’t recall itself on our time schedule.
But once they were in the future I got very antsy with them in the car. Like shut up. Go. Do something. [laughs] You know?
John: Also it was the only time in the series where for an extended period of time we broke POV and stayed with the killer’s perspective. And while it was terrific, it wasn’t the best thing we’ve ever seen. And it wasn’t our two guys. And so I honestly felt like we did a better job — the show did a better job of that arriving at the farm with him in episode four or five, or whatever it was, that shootout worked better because we didn’t know what we were getting into. Versus just breaking all the POV and just going in there and seeing what Lawnmower Man’s life was like.
Craig: That said, it did give us I believe the greatest euphemism for weird, creepy incest ever. “I’m going to make flowers on you.”
Craig: Wow. “Don’t you want to make flowers on me?” Oh, that’s just great. Yes I do. Yes I do.
John: They’re making flowers. So, anyway, that ends our talk about True Detective. It really was an amazing accomplishment and congratulations to everybody involved in making True Detective.
John: And so my criticisms are only because it was just remarkably good and I feel so lucky to be able to have television like that.
Craig: Yeah. I have no criticisms. I take it as it is. I thank you for it as it was. And can’t wait for season two.
Craig, it’s time for our One Cool Things.
John: So, my One Cool Thing is actually something a listener sent in and we had been talking about, you and I were playing Dungeon World, which was a great sort of non-traditional role-playing game, or a stripped down role-playing game. Someone wrote in — I forgot who wrote in — but someone wrote in to suggest this thing called Fiasco by Jason Morningstar.
And Fiasco is like a role-playing game but without a DM or GM. There’s no one leading it. It’s just the rules are all in the book about how you do it. But it’s a narrative storytelling game where three or four people get together and rolling dice and following these sort of rules and orders you create a story that’s kind of like a Coen Brothers movie, it’s all about like sort of small time capers gone bad. And so it can be in a small southern town or at a station in the Antarctic or in the Old West. But it’s all about sort of like things going wrong. And it looks like an incredibly fun game.
So, I’ve not actually played the game through with other people, but I’ve read through the book and sort of seen what I can do. And it’s a very ingenious idea and it makes really smart choices about how you set up a world — very applicable to our discussion today — and how you create complications for your characters. And so I really recommend it to anybody who is telling stories to sort of see how this is doing it. I mean, this is being done with dice and yet it creates some really interesting situations and conflicts.
It’s called Fiasco.
Craig: Maybe we should do it. Should we do it?
John: We should absolutely play it. So, my fantasy would be to get Kelly Marcel over here and play it some afternoon.
Craig: Kelly Marcel is the spirit of Fiasco.
John: Yes. She’d be fantastic.
Craig: “This is a total fiasco.”
John: “It’s a fiasco.”
Craig: “It’s a fiasco.”
John: Yeah, we could do something in London. It could involve — it could just be like a Guy Ritchie movie.
Craig: Ooh, I like Guy Ritchie movies. Hmm, all right.
Well, mine is far more mundane. I am in love with this new Mac OS email client called Airmail. Did you use Sparrow like I did?
John: So, I use Sparrow for all the questions that come in. I use it for certain accounts. So like all the ask@johnaugust accounts, I look at those in Sparrow. The rest of the stuff I use normal Mac Mail for.
Craig: Yeah. Mac Mail is fine. Mail.App is fine, except that lately it’s been annoying. It has certain behaviors I don’t like, one of which is occasionally it’s just glitch. I mean, there’s an acknowledged issue with receiving mail sometimes and sending mail. Sometimes you have to quit and restart to get it to do what you want. Also, I really don’t like that the delete key defaults to trashing emails as opposed to archiving it, which I think for IMAP it’s better to archive.
And so I used Sparrow for awhile, but then Sparrow got bought by Gmail or Google I guess technically, because I guess Google just wants to eat its guts and put it into its own system. But as such it just stopped getting developed and it’s never a good thing to use deprecated software. And then along comes this app called Airmail which is essentially they’ve taken Sparrow and just spiffed it up and started redeveloping it. And it looks great, it works great. Delete does in fact send mail to archive.
Setting up accounts was really easy and it’s gorgeous. It’s just well-designed. And lo and behold it’s available in the App Store for $2. What?!
John: That’s nuts.
Craig: $2. So, it’s kind of a no-brainer. They have a Twitter account at @airmailer, because I assume Airmail was taken, so they’re @airmailer. But the app is called Airmail. I love it.
John: Cool. Great. Well, that’s our show for this week. So, you can find the links to the things we talked about in our show notes which are at johnaugust.com/scriptnotes. It’s also where you can find transcripts for all of our back episodes.
You can listen to all of the back episodes there or through our apps. So, we have a Scriptnotes app for iOS and for Android, so just check your applicable app store and find us there.
Scriptnotes is produced by Stuart Friedel. Yay Stuart. And edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Blake Kuehn. And if you’d like to write us an outro we’re actually kind of running low on outros, so send it to us. So, you send it to email@example.com. And we love links from SoundCloud which is great for us. Just make sure it’s publicly available and that we can download it and tag it as Scriptnotes.
But we’ve gotten some great ones even when I put up the call yesterday for it we’ve gotten some great new outros. So, thank you for that.
John: If you have a question for Craig, he is @clmazin on Twitter. I am @johnaugust on Twitter. Longer questions or things like what we read from the guy at the start of the show you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org. And that is it.
Craig, thank you so much for a good show.
Craig: Thank you, John. [creepy voice] Hey, John, hey, thanks man.
John: You’re making me very uncomfortable.
Craig: Yeah, hey. How you doing? [laughs]
John: All right. Cut.