The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, I’m going to try to speak a little bit more slowly and distinctly this week because I don’t know if you listened to the live show, the Crossover Episode we did, but I was speaking about 10 billion miles per hour. I could barely understand myself speaking and I’m not sure what it was. I think that someone may have put speed in my water. It was crazy. I was a crazy person.
Craig: Well, there was one point where you said something and you’ll hear me say, “What?” And then you repeated it and it still took me a second to figure out what you were saying. I think you get amped up when you’re in front of a live crowd.
John: It’s the live crowd that does it and we’re going to have another chance to see me in front of a live crowd on May 15th. We’re selling tickets for our big live show, our Summer Superhero Spectacular with amazing guests. So those tickets went on sale last Thursday. And as we’re recording this there are still tickets available. There’s also tickets for a cocktail party. So please come join us for that if you’d like to. There’s a link in the show notes for that.
Craig: And we saw an email from our friend Christopher at the Writers Guild Foundation. He said that we sold, I think, something like nearly half of our tickets in the first hour.
John: Which is pretty darn good.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, just reiterating that you and I, what are we, John?
John: Are we like a big deal? Are we…?
Craig: We’re the Jon Bon Jovi of screenwriting podcasts.
John: Oh, okay. I can’t believe I forgot our tagline. Well, here is why I always forget the Jon Bon Jovi of podcasts is because it’s something you believe. It’s a thing I don’t really understand, but maybe that’s what makes this all work.
The other thing we’re going to be doing at the live show is a Three Page Challenge live with people who’ve sent in their scripts.
John: Now, we’re going to do it differently and we’re not quite sure how we’re going to do it but I know it’s not going to be a thing where you email Stuart your script and then he has to read them all and picks them. It’s going to be something more like there’s going to be a page you can go to. You’re going to click submit. You’re going to attach your script and hopefully even people will vote on which projects are going to be part of the Three Page Challenge.
Craig: Okay. So a question for you then.
Craig: Let me play the role of listener.
Craig: I have submitted a Three Page Challenge to the big festering Stuart pile. Should I resubmit to this new thing to get a chance at being picked for the live event?
John: Yes. So I will say that you should not send again to Stuart. You shouldn’t send to that normal address because that is not for the live show. For the live show there will be a special application process only for people who are going to come to the live show themselves.
Craig: Ah-ha, there’s the qualifier.
John: So if you have submitted previously and you’re coming to the live show, by all means you would submit again. But if you are not coming to the live show, then you should not submit to this thing because it’s a different thing.
Craig: Right. And we need you to be there. The whole point is that you sit in a chair, an actual hot seat. It won’t be hot until you sit in it.
John: Well, we are going to do our live guests first so they could be warmed up. You could be sitting in the chair that David Goyer sat in or that Christopher Markus or Stephen McFeely.
Craig: Have you spent any time with any of those gentlemen?
John: [laughs] I spend time with all those gentlemen.
John: I like them.
Craig: I like them, too. But they’re not going to put out any kind serious heat, not the kind of heat that comes from being the focus of the Three Page Challenge.
John: I would take that headline to be “David Goyer will not bring the heat.” That’s I think your prediction.
Craig: David Goyer, cold butt.
John: [laughs] I think David Goyer’s ass is the least of your concerns. If you are going to come to a Three Page Challenge on Scriptnotes you are going to submit by some process. We will announce next week on the show about how that’s going to be because we’re still figuring this out. But I think it’s going to be a good fun time.
Craig: You know the coolest thing about Goyer is that he’s all tatted up. He’s all sleeved up. So the funny thing is David is like — he’s like a mythological creature, like a griffin or something, the body of this and the head of that. He’s got the head of an accountant and the arms of a guy that works in a carnival.
John: Yeah. You would think that David Goyer wrote Sons of Anarchy. I mean, when you see his arms, you’re like —
John: Well, he clearly writes on Sons of Anarchy. But no.
John: He writes superhero movies.
Craig: He’s got Sons of Anarchy arms and 1980s sitcom writing staff head.
John: It’s the male equivalent of like a head for business and a body for sin.
Craig: That’s right. Party in the back and business, whatever.
John: Speaking of ‘of.’
Craig: Of ‘of.’
John: Of, speaking of ‘of,’ speaking of prepositions.
John: I’m going to transition to talking about the other thing I just did in that WGA Theatre which was a live panel with Kelly Marcel, Linda Woolverton and Scott Neustadter which was great. So we did that on Saturday. And if you want to listen to that, it’s not really a Scriptnotes episode. So when we have these kind of bonus things that sort of they’re like a Scriptnotes but they’re not really a Scriptnotes. We put them up on the app. So if you have the Scriptnotes app or if you go to Scriptnotes.net, you can listen to that episode. So that’s for people who are the premium subscribers who want to listen to all the back episodes.
Every once in a while there is some bonus content. This is one of those every once in a while bonus content things.
Craig: That right there is reason that people — how much does it cost for the premium thing?
John: $1.99 a month.
Craig: Okay, I mean, so for 2 bucks a month, you get access to something like that. I mean, that’s a great line up of writers. Kind of a no brainer.
John: So if you want to listen to that, you can find it on the Scriptnotes app. You can find it in your app store for both the iOS and for Android. So, Craig, today, you’ve brought a topic and I’m so excited about your topic because I think it’s a perfect thing for us to talk about on the show.
Craig: Yeah, I was thinking about this idea and sort of keyed off of something that you were suggesting that we’re also going to get to later, a little bit of the conundrum of how you get started on things. But as I was thinking about that I thought, you know, it’s so common that when we do finally figure out what it is that we want to write, it’s so exciting because it’s new. And we are full of this passion and energy to tackle something new. The sky is the limit. The possibilities are endless. It’s all quite fresh and compelling.
But at some point along the way, whether it’s in the middle of writing the script or as you’re beginning to actually create your draft, or if you’re on your 12th rewrite you’re going to lose that spark. A little bit like being married. You got to kind of tend to it or else these things can fade.
So I wanted to talk a little bit today about some practical tips for staying in love with the thing you’re writing.
John: That’s an amazing topic because actually Kelly Marcel and I were talking about that in front of the live panel, because there was literally a dinner I was at with Kelly where just in the process of describing this rewrite I was doing, I did kind of fall back in love with it. And it wasn’t until I actually spoke aloud what I was hoping to do and sort of saw her enthusiasm that suddenly like I wanted to get back to it. So let’s talk through some strategies there or do you want to start with sort of why you fall out of love with things.
Craig: Well, I think it’s natural. It’s only human. We can’t stay at some sort of pitched level of passion with something. We’ll burn out. Our brains are, you know, it’s literally neurological. For instance, if somebody plays a tone, a pure tone at a set frequency, it will start to fade in volume to you because our brains are designed to pick up changes in things. Steady, fixed, unchanging input starts to become noise.
It begins to disappear to us. And similarly, the passion that we have is a result of something changing in our minds, we found a new thing. But eventually, because it’s kind of in a fixed state, all that adrenalin will go away and the passion will go away and the excitement will go away because it’s just like a pure tone in our head and we’re kind of attenuating.
John: Well, as you started a project, that project was new and exciting and all those notes were new. Like, it was the first time you were hearing it. It’s like, this is so exciting. But then as you keep going, you’re working. You’re just doing work. And it’s changed from being that pure tone to being — you recognize all the flaws in it and it’s just not new to you anymore.
John: It’s fundamentally, of course, it’s that way because you’re looking at the same thing on the page again. So it becomes very hard to, you know, if you’re going back for a rewrite, well, I have what’s there. It’s there. And sometimes you’re going to mess with it because you’re going to mess with it because you want to change things. But also, it’s not new or exciting. It’s not that shining white in the distance.
Craig: Which, again, analogizes quite well to a marriage because over time anybody, any two people that could somehow live in this vibrant state of new love or infatuation or something, if they were to stay like that after 20 years, we would have to lock them up. Something would be seriously wrong with them. They would be inhuman. It is only natural to start to become accustomed to certain things, but there is a great reward in looking past a kind of superficial, you know, “I’m used to this,” and reconnect with the thing that mattered.
And what you just described when you were talking to Kelly and she was reflecting back this kind of excitement to you that you maybe had lost is exactly my first tip which is to bring in a third party. Not to extend that to marriage but, I mean, I guess for some people that works. I’ve certainly asked and got nowhere. I don’t know if you’ve ever bothered asking. I’ve asked. It’s amazing how fast the no comes on that one.
So bring in a third party. Of course you’re bored with the thing, with the story you’ve told yourself a billion times silently. But when you start to tell it to somebody else a couple of magical things happen. One, you start to see them getting excited and that re-excites you. And the other thing is that simply by saying it out loud you will start to fire all those nerves again in your head that made you excited about it the first time. You’ll start to feel the drama inherent to it. It won’t feel old. It will feel new again.
So if you started to fall out of love with what you’re doing, sit down with a friend and by the way I would recommend a good positive friend. Like Kelly is great because she has, I think, a natural enthusiasm for narrative. There are writers who are frankly a little bitter or a little judgy. And if you start to talk to them, what you might get reflected back is all of their weirdness. Now, granted sometimes people just don’t like it, but then there are other times when people are just weird. And so you want to find somebody that you trust and who’s enthusiastic and passionate and talk to them about your idea, just start telling the story. Just say, “I want five minutes to just tell you something.” And see if that doesn’t kind of relight your fire.
John: Two things that come to mind with this. First off we’ve talked about how when you’re making a comedy and you’re editing a comedy, so often you’re like, “I have no idea what’s funny anymore because I’ve seen the same joke in the editor about 50 times.” But then you show it to an audience and people start laughing, you’re like, “Oh, that’s actually funny.” And this is really the small version of that, by stating your idea out loud, by talking about your thing, you’re actually getting this engagement going and realizing, oh, that thing, it actually does have some worth. People like it.
Craig: That’s right. And what you’re describing, that syndrome of rediscovering that a joke works because you’re showing it to people that haven’t heard it 20 times but have never heard it, I’m kind of putting that under the tip of save your babies. We’ve all heard kill your babies and we understand that it’s important to guard against self-indulgence and not to presume that just because you imbue significance into a piece of your story that the audience will. But it’s just as important to safeguard against the opposite which is to just get tired of the things that you once loved and thus just start mutating them or eliminating them without giving other people a chance to experience them for the first time.
John: Yeah, this is the criticism we often make of development executives is they’re reading the same kinds of drafts again and again and they get bored with things because they saw before so they’re always looking for, like, “Well, we don’t need that anymore,” because like they’re used to it. To their eyes, we can cut that. You can kill that because we don’t need it.
Well, you actually did need it. You just don’t remember why you needed it. You don’t remember what it felt like that first time you read the script. And so , yeah, again, fresh eyes are so helpful.
Craig: No question.
John: A thing I wanted to say about sort of bringing in a friend, a positive friend to see it is often you’re probably going to take, hopefully, you have good writer friends and we all know that there are some writers who are positive and cheerleading and there are some writers who can be super negative. But there’s that middle ground where you need to sometimes just say upfront to the writer, “Look, can you read this for me and like I don’t want sort of all the notes and criticisms. I sort of just mostly want to talk about the things I’m excited to do next.”
Because people can do that. I know I can do that and I can ask a lot of times if somebody is giving me a script to read, “Hey, do you want like the typos and the things that are logic errors and all this or do you want me to tell you that it’s awesome and why it’s awesome?” And that’s fine. That’s absolutely a valid way to approach reading a script just saying like, I’m excited to tell this person why their script is great.
Craig: Yeah, when you give something to someone, it’s fair to give them the context. Say, “Okay, well, look, I’m looking for help on this. I’m looking actually for you to tell me, okay, what’s working and what’s not working,” or “I’m giving this just so that you can see what I’m doing now.” And it also good to say to somebody, “Look, I kind of need a boost. Can you read this and sort of pick me up?”
Craig: And that’s all great. I think that when someone is telling me something that they’re doing, not showing me a screenplay but just telling me, my default is to be encouraging.
Craig: My default is that I just don’t see the point frankly in saying, “Well, I don’t think that’s going to be very good.” Based on what? Based on your weird, negative suspicion that they are either going to muff it or that what they’re describing isn’t really as good as they think or anything like that. I just feel like, you know, my attitude is anything can be done well by someone. And so if somebody tells me something and it’s yet to be in fixed form, I want to just love it and I want to kind of encourage them because that’s what we need.
John: Yeah, absolutely.
Craig: Another tip. It’s sort of an obvious one, and again, we have to be a little careful about not overdosing on our medication, but taking a break can do wonders. Sometimes when you fall out of love or lose that spark or that passion, you just need a break. You need a couple of days. Maybe you need a week. It’s okay.
John: Yeah, my husband and I, we take vacations away from each other once a year and it’s a very good idea, because if you’re just with the same people having the same conversations every day, you take them for granted. And so then, if he’s gone for a week, all those conversations stack up and it’s actually really nice to have those conversations again.
So the same with your script, sometimes you need to take, just set it aside, come back to it. Usually, we say that in the context of you set your script aside so you can see all the flaws. But maybe you’ll set the script aside and come back and like remember, “Oh, these are the things that are actually terrific about it.”
Craig: Exactly true. My wife and I have always had a good balance of together/apart. That we can find ways to give each other a ton of space and independence. But then when you do come together and you have those moments or sometimes for us it’s the break is just being together but in a different place alone. You’re just recontextualizing things.
And sometimes when you’ve lost the spark, just go write somewhere else and I will tell you there is nothing wrong with indulging in the romantic fantasy of the writer in the cafe if you’re not normally that person. There’s nothing wrong with going to write on the beach. There’s nothing wrong with going to write in your backyard or on the front lawn or anywhere that makes you feel like a writer and gets you excited again. It’s totally cool. Think of that as the equivalent of porn. [laughs]
John: Well, I think what you’re bringing up though is it may not be that you have fallen out of love with the script, but you’re just actually sick of writing. You’re sick of your process of getting the words down on the page. And so it may not have anything to do with this particular project, it may just be because it’s actually a drudge to sit down at your desk and write your thing. So maybe working somewhere else for awhile will get you excited again.
Craig: Yeah, the process itself can make everything seem drab and humdrum, so see if you can shake it up either with a break or a recontextualization. Another tip is if you’re working on something and you’ve lost your passion and connection with it, watch something or read something that is related, either related thematically or in terms of the setting of the movie or the kind of movie. And allow yourself to admire what they did right, but also notice what you think you’re doing better.
Craig: And then you realize, hey, this girl I brought to the dance, she ain’t that bad kind of thing. She’s okay.
John: [laughs] Yeah. On this podcast we talk about the plus-one problem, or sort of crap-plus-one, which is like it’s a dangerous habit of watching something terrible and saying, like, “Well, I’m not as bad as that thing is.” And so we’re not saying to do that all the time but it’s a useful practice when you start to doubt yourself is to look around you and see like, well, what else is out there. And sometimes you’ll be inspired because, like, “Ah, I can do what that thing did and I can be that great kind of movie,” or “I know I’m doing better than this. And I’m going to just keep pushing the bar forward.”
Craig: Yeah, it also gives you a sense of where your movie will exist in a continuum of movies like it or stories like it and you can go, “You know what? What I’m doing is interesting and unique. It is like these things but different than these things. I can see where it will fit.” It starts to make it realer for you again and it gets you off your butt.
John: So a related suggestion which is something that I often bring up when I talk to writers at the Sundance Labs because they’ve usually been working on their project for a long time, and sometimes they’re brains are just frozen, especially if they’ve had like three days of detailed meetings with other writers. They just can’t think anymore.
So an exercise I’ll do is I’ll say, “Okay, I know you’ve written this charming, quirky comedy, but let’s imagine this is a thriller. What would this be like as a thriller? And what would this feel like if it were a thriller?” And we just walk through, like, the kinds of things that would happen if this movie were a thriller rather than comedy. And they’re like, “Okay, now it is a historic tragedy. Let’s talk through that.” And just by not forcing yourself to think of your movie in the way it exists now but like under wildly different things, it can sometimes just un-stick you a little bit and get you thinking about it in a different way. And even if it doesn’t give you an actual actionable idea, it can just sort of free you up a little bit and it gets you more excited about digging back in on the thing you actually wrote.
Craig: Exactly, exactly true. And there’s another thing that I think concentrating on that early spark can do for you even if it has faded. We may lose a little bit of the heat and maybe you’ll never recapture that first exciting bit of like, “Oh, my god, I’ve got this great idea and suddenly I’m flooded with ideas and flooded with characters and dialogue bits,” and it’s not yet real so you’re not beholden to anything that’s kind of like boring and every day like how to make a structure and what scene comes now, right? We may never get back that, but don’t forget that early stuff because in those early bursts you will see the things that matter the most at the end.
When you’re done with the process, it’s the stuff that got you excited in the first place that is the core of why you’re doing this and the core of what must be protected and expressed in your screenplay and dollars to doughnuts it’ll be the thing that the audience responds to as well. And it all happens in that first big bang explosion.
John: Yeah. One of the things I sometimes do early on in the process but I think it’s also great for sort of falling back in love with it is to write the trailer.
John: It’s really, just imagine like what is that trailer for the movie I have made and what is the coolest version of that? And how are you going to market this movie? And if the answer is like, no, there’s no way to do it, then maybe that’s a problem. But more likely there are some really cool moments that you have in your script that could make the cool trailer. Imagine that trailer because that is ultimately what someone else is going to be intrigued by.
And so, it’s kind of dressing up your movie to be sort of unrealistically attractive at a distance. And so, what does that look like? What does that trailer look like? That can be a useful way of sort of getting back into it.
Craig: That’s right. Yeah, I do the same thing. I think that when we have an initial burst of passion about a movie, at least I do the same thing you do. I start to imagine what the trailer will be like. I mean, I don’t see it clearly but I can see things happening in bits of stuff exploding and so on and so forth. And that is not unlike what happens when we first meet somebody and we start to like fantasize where it all goes, and now we’re old and our grandchildren gather around us. It’s all a normal part of kind of falling in love with the idea.
And so, on the one hand, you could sort of write it off as this irrational exuberance, to cite Alan Greenspan, but on the other hand there is something of great value in that that you shouldn’t forget even if it detaches itself from the emotional rush and all the things that it does to your limbic system. There is intellectual value in there too. There is stuff that dramatically, I think, you’re going to want to keep sight of.
And lastly, I would say for people that have fallen into a little bit of a loveless rut with the idea that they once loved, just understand it’s normal.
Craig: It happens to everybody. And it doesn’t mean you don’t love it anymore. It just means that you’re going through this sort of a natural maturation of feeling for this thing and don’t freak out.
John: Yeah, I think we all know couples who are so intensely like crazy Romeo and Juliet in love with each other. And then they, but of course they don’t die, and so they stay together for awhile. But then like when it’s not Romeo and Juliet and everything is not turned to 11, they break up because, like we just lost the passion. It’s like, well, yeah, or maybe you just actually kind of matured a little bit or maybe, I’m not saying that you shouldn’t stay together but I’m also saying like you kind of bailed on it because it wasn’t like it was in the first week and, well, of course, it wasn’t like it was in the first week.
Craig: Right, what could stay that way?
John: Exactly, like, you would self-destruct, spin apart like a centrifuge. So I agree, it’s a natural part of the process and I think on the show we’ve talked about there are a lot of things that are just truths that you kind of only can really understand when you’ve lived them, which is that the first cut of your movie you will want to kill yourself because it will be awful.
John: Every set of notes will have one thing that’s just crazy, and like a crazy idea that will destroy your entire movie. Those are just givens. Those are going to happen. And this is another given is that like you’re going to hit a part of the process where you just don’t love it anymore and you don’t love this thing that you’ve made and that’s natural. And you’ve just got to push through it.
Craig: Yeah, I think that you actually still do love it, it’s just that you’re not obsessed with it. You’re not infatuated with it. You’re not overwhelmed by all the things that ping around in our heads when we first conceive of something and we get like a real head of steam. But you want to really love your idea, write it well with discipline and, you know what I mean, and care and all the rest.
John: So while we’re talking about creative marriages breaking up, the other thing that breaks up creative marriages is the outside force. And so in real life marriages it’s the other woman, but in creative marriages between you and your script, it’s that other idea.
Craig: It’s kind of heteronormative of you by the way.
John: I know. It is. It’s that other, I don’t that I used any girl terms in that, did I?
Craig: Yeah, you said the other woman.
John: I did say the other woman, yeah.
Craig: You are being heteronormative.
John: I’m sorry I —
Craig: And on behalf of the LGBTQ community —
John: [laughs] I’m so apologetic to have used it. Actually, I have a lesbian relationship with my script so that is the other woman out there.
Craig: [laughs] It’s just everything about that, I just want to do a podcast about that, about your lesbian relationship with your script.
John: Oh, by the way, I played Gone Home which is —
Craig: Oh, so great, right?
John: So great. And it’s so related to that topic for reasons we won’t spoil.
John: That other idea that’s out there seems so provocative for the same reason that a fling/cheating on your spouse seems so great because you’re only seeing what the possibilities are there. You’re only seeing the great stuff and you’re not seeing all the bad stuff.
John: And so you’re so familiar with your spouse or you script that you know all their flaws, you know all the ways that they’re not perfect, and you know sort of, ah, the things that drive you crazy about them. That other thing out there is bright and shiny and new and flawless as far as you know.
John: And so, of course, there’s a natural instinct to pursue that. And there are times where, yes, you know what, maybe you have done everything you can to make this one thing work and you’re going to move on. I guess, that does sort of fall apart here because we are sort of serial monogamists, I guess, when it comes to writing screenplays.
John: But there’s times where, like, yes, you should be done writing that script and you should go pursue that other great idea. But a lot of times that great idea, take a note of it, remember it, but stay working on your main project.
Craig: That’s right. I mean, listen, there are bad marriages. There are some marriages that just deserve to stop. And there are times when you’re not simply falling out of excitement with your screenplay. You’re looking at it and you’re thinking, I don’t like you at all. I’m getting nothing from you. I don’t want you to be in my life anymore.
Craig: Ideally, that doesn’t happen too often. Ideally, you develop your instincts to a point where you don’t begin the marriage of yourself to a script until you know it’s going to be okay. But you’re right. When these other things pop up, go ahead and look all you want and really noodle on some index cards and put it off to the side and just understand that when, yeah, like our screenplays are basically like spouses that keep dying on us.
But like you stay married until they croak and then you turn to the next one. But there are people who I think flip from project to project because… — We had somebody ask us a question at the Nerdist crossover that sort of keyed this for me. You know, like I have seven different things going on and I think a lot of that has to do with being distracted by the new man or woman or transgender or a gender non-specific —
John: Just say person.
Craig: Non-specific gender.
Craig: I’m really trying man.
John: You’re trying.
Craig: Yeah, I’m trying. Look, I think, at least one of us is trying. That’s for sure.
John: Ah-ha, yes. Well, yeah, I guess it is essentially a fear of commitment. The reason why he’s not able to lock down and pick one of these things to write is because of the fear of commitment. And at the first big 100th live show I remember somebody asked the question , like, “Well, which of these things should I write?” and I said, “It’s the one with the best ending,” which was really another way of saying, “Write the project you think you are actually going to finish that you can see through to the end.”
Craig: That’s right.
John: And that’s ultimately what a commitment is, is you’re going to commit to finishing the script and making it the best it can possibly be.
Craig: Yeah, because there are rewards for commitment. I mean, commitment isn’t a sexy thing. Sex is sexy. But the commitment gives you rewards that are, I think, they’re more substantive in a sense because you get to finish and you get to follow it through and then deliver it to other people. And it becomes meaningful to other people. No one will ever find any meaning or entertainment in the thing that you loved and then abandoned. No one.
John: Agreed. So let’s talk, let’s shift gears and talk about, that was sort of the middle of a relationship that we’re talking through. Let’s talk about the early part of a relationship, because there were two videos I saw recently that I thought were really great about capturing how you find your way into a script, which is really that beginning of that relationship, like how do I know how to even really begin here.
And the two videos are, one is by Tony Gilroy and one is by Michael Arndt. And they’re both on johnaugust.com and they’ll also be in the show notes. And they’re both great. And what I loved about them is they had very different approaches to how you get started on a script.
John: I want to start with Tony Gilroy, because Tony Gilroy who did the Bourne movies, he did Michael Clayton.
John: He’s just the best. I think he’s fantastic. So he was giving a talk for BAFTA and their little BAFTA screenwriter series. And on the two examples he gave, one was from Bourne and one was from Michael Clayton, he didn’t kind of know what the movies were but he wrote a scene. And he wrote a scene that essentially was the kind of scene he wanted to be in the movie. And it wasn’t until he wrote that scene that he had sense of like what it was that he was trying to write.
And so the case of Michael Clayton, it was a scene that I remembered but I don’t think of being the showcase number of the scene, of the movie, which was where George Clooney’s character goes to Denis O’Hare’s house and Denis O’Hare has just run over somebody. And Denis O’Hare is talking about what he wants Michael Clayton to do for him. And it’s a great scene but I wouldn’t necessarily know that it was the show stopper for me, but for Gilroy it set up what that movie was going to feel like to him.
Craig: Right. And similarly, he wrote a scene in Bourne where Jason Bourne expresses that he does not know who he is but he knows what he can do. And the things that he can do and the circumstances that are evident to him suggest that who he is is a dangerous person and possibly a bad person which I think is great.
John: Yeah, it’s a scene in a cafe where he talks through like, “I know where all the exits are.” And she goes, “Of course, you know where the exits are.” He’s like, “I know the numbers on all the license plates in the parking lot. I know the easiest ways to kill somebody.” Like he knows all these specific skills.
John: And that to me really is the Bourne movie. It’s such a great encapsulation of who that character is.
John: It’s hard for me to imagine that whole Bourne franchise existing without some version of that scene.
Craig: Well, that’s right. And what I loved about what Tony was saying was that where he starts, the kernel, the thing that kicks off the explosion could be something that he observes or reads or sees or thinks. But how he knows it’s a movie and how he understands that he can write the movie is by thinking about character and what is fascinating about this character in a way that is resonant to anyone who understands or is interested in human behavior.
And for Bourne, it makes complete sense. The movie will be on one level about a guy who has amnesia and is being hunted and has to fight and kill his way with his secret skills to survive and figure out how this happened to him.
But on another level, the reason that we like those movies and that we go to any movie is because it connects with something inherent in all of us, something universal. None of us have woken up one day not knowing who we are but being able to beat up two guys and shoot somebody dead from 500 yards.
What we identify with there is somebody who’s trying to figure out who they are in a world that’s only giving them circumstances, but not substance. That’s universal. So I loved what he had to say here because I thought that that’s something I try and do now more than ever is to key in on something at the heart of this character that is universal and has nothing in sense to do with the specifics of the story but has to do with their inquisition into their own lives or into the lives of others.
John: In both cases you have a lead character who is establishing who they are in their specific world and what they want. Because if you actually looked at the very start of Michael Clayton as a script, it actually doesn’t start with George Clooney’s character at all. It establishes sort of the plot franchise of basically what’s happening, the premise of what’s happening in the story. But that scene that he wrote is the first description of sort of what a fixer is. And so it’s basically telling whose character it is and what their job is. So this is Michael Clayton. This is what his job is. This is Jason Bourne and this is what his job is or at least what his skill set is.
And so it’s not necessarily establishing what the plot of the movie is going to be. It’s not the A plot of it but it’s the trajectory of this character in their world. So with George Clooney we have a character who is a fixer. He fixes people’s problems and very naturally he finds himself in problems that he can’t himself fix or has to find a fix for himself.
Craig: And therein is the movie, because in both circumstances Gilroy is giving us two superheroes, one of whom is legendary for being able to fix anything, and as the movie Michael Clayton bears out, does. And the other movie is about a guy who is perhaps the best assassin on the face of the planet. And yet, they are both deeply troubled and in these scenes where we find out who they are, all we’re hearing really is about their limitation.
What Bourne is saying is I know all these things but I don’t know who I am or why I am or what I’m supposed to be doing or even if I’m a good person or a bad person. And in the scene that Gilroy shows for Michael Clayton, what we’re seeing is Michael Clayton frankly being at a loss not sure what to do, being screamed at and showing us, revealing to us with a lack of dialogue how tormented he is frankly by his position.
John: Yeah, I think weirdly the video that we’re going to link to, they cut that little scene with Michael Clayton a little too short, because if I remember that scene correctly, I think after Denis O’Hare goes off on his long rant about what actually happens, I think Michael Clayton does sort of come back and say like, “This is what we’re going to do.” I think he is the one who had to say like, you know, you’re going to grow up and you’re going to do this and really talks him through. We see his competence.
I want to try and make this actionable though for other writers who aren’t Tony Gilroy, because if you’re Tony Gilroy, you already know how to do this. What I think the general take home from the Tony Gilroy advice here is you have your character. Your lead character start talking and is talking about their life. And you basically try to find that character’s voice and a way to articulate who that character is in a scene and doing that before, for Tony Gilroy, before anything else actually happens.
And I will say my own personal experience this has helped tremendously. So Go, my first movie, there were lots of little scenes that I wrote for that that had no movie around them. I basically wrote these little scenes and I sort of wanted a movie that could hold these scenes. That was useful. This thing I just turned in, I knew in general what kind of happened but 11:30 at night I got out of bed and just wrote, hand wrote a scene that is the first scene of this project because it was exactly a character talking through what her situation was —
John: And trying to figure something out. And in retrospect it was very Michael Claytony because she was talking about who she was and how things were changing and she wasn’t sure what she should do. So basically she was asking for advice, but in asking for advice she was telling us where she was and what her capabilities were.
Craig: Yeah. So you’re zeroing in on the advantages that this character holds because they are a hero and they will prevail so they must be there. In evidence this is not, we don’t learn these things somewhere down the line. Even The Karate Kid, he learns moves but he doesn’t learn courage. It’s there. But then we also connect that early on with what they’re missing.
John: Well, one thing I want to say about sort of in arguing for the Gilroy approach is that trying to write the scene before you’ve written anything else is I think it may be a good way to fall in love with your project. I think it may also be a good way to know, can I even write this? Like if you don’t have a clear enough idea of who the characters are that you could just write a scene where they’re talking about themselves, then maybe it’s not really the idea you’re going to be able to finish.
John: Because I can imagine there’s going to be lots of things that you’ve done all your cards and then you actually start to try to write a scene, you have no idea what these character sound like.
Craig: Right, you don’t have to — look, you have to write a scene with your character, but what you do have to love is your character. I think a lot of new screenwriters and some even screenwriters that I know, what they think about are the things that happen. And what I liked about Tony’s approach and I try and mirror it myself now more than ever is to think about the character because that’s all I care about. I think that’s all people care about in the end is the character.
Craig: And he does such a good job of getting inside that and frankly he offers a warning, a fair warning to anyone out there considering being a screenwriter. If you do not feel that you are insightful, not just generally insightful, but particularly insightful about human behavior, this is not for you. It’s not going to work.
John: Yeah. He actually very specifically is saying that he doesn’t think you can teach anyone to be imaginative.
Craig: That’s right.
John: We can teach, we can kill it and you can magnify it, but you can’t sort of teach it. And so if you are not inherently imaginative, there’s not a class for that. There’s not a way to sort of get there.
John: And so if you weren’t a person who dreamed up stories beforehand, I don’t think anyone is going to get you there as a screenwriter.
Craig: Well, there are various ways to be imaginative and to express your imagination. Visual artists are remarkably imaginative in ways that I’m not. I know I’m not.
Craig: But to be a screenwriter and to tell stories in television or movies about human beings or even about animals that are acting like human beings, you need to understand human behavior. It’s not enough to be able to paint a gorgeous pallet or to be an aesthete. You need to understand what makes people tick, and then you need to be able to create somebody that is as flawed as the people we meet every day, and fascinatingly so.
John: Well, speaking of flaws, I think it’s a great way to get to the second video which is by Michael Arndt. So this was something that was originally a bonus feature on a Blu-ray for Toy Story 3 and someone put it on YouTube. I found it. I asked Michael Arndt like, “Is it okay that I link to it?” He said, “Sure, go for it.”
It’s this video he did talking about how to set the story of Toy Story 3 in motion and sort of the struggles they had. And to me this very much felt like a case where maybe because it’s the Pixar way, they sort of had to figure out everything first before he was allowed to write it. And so it ended up being a very agonizing process to figure out what could happen to sort of get the story kicked into gear. Ultimately, it’s really about flaws and it’s finding what the nature of the flaws were in the relationships between these characters, what the fears were that could get them started.
So again, it is character-based but it wasn’t where he wrote one scene and that became the launching pad for the whole story. It was all very carefully considered on an outline level before he got to go off and write stuff.
Craig: I’ll be honest, I appreciated the video and I thought that everything he said was accurate but I didn’t love it because I thought it was missing a fundamental part that I also see in the Pixar movies, and that fundamental piece was theme. It was the sense of an individual’s personal philosophy. That seemed to be missing. He focused quite a bit on the idea of what an individual’s passion was.
But, Luke Skywalker in the beginning of Star Wars he’s not sort of joyously living each day through passion. Frankly, he’s sort of an aimless wanderer who just wonders if there’s something better out there. And while that story is fundamental, almost to the point of mythologically so, it’s still — there is a good theme resonating through it. So, for instance, he talks about Toy Story and doesn’t really get into what I think those movies are about and he expresses quite well that, listen, he wrote Toy Story 2. I don’t mean to say he doesn’t understand those movies. He clearly does. But when I watch Toy Story, I do see a character who, as Michael says, is his passion is being Andy’s favorite toy and that that passion is also connected to his flaw which is jealously guarding that position.
But what he’s not talking about is that the movie on a level beneath that is about an individual whose function is to serve as a friend and he does not know what it means to be a good friend.
Craig: And that stuff, so I wanted more of that and it wasn’t there. I liked the video and again I thought there were a lot of great signposts along the way. But it did veer a little bit too much into the “here’s how you tell a story, do this, do this, do this.” Not all stories work that way.
John: Yeah, and he actually says at the end of the video like not all stories work this way. And in his email to me he did stress that like he was fairly happy with the video and yet it was created for this Blu-ray thing for sort of a very general-purpose audience. So it wasn’t as screenwritery as he would love it to be.
Craig: Well, there you go.
John: Yeah. So I think he understood those same flaws. What I think is a nice contrast though with Gilroy is that it wasn’t a case of, I write one brilliant scene and then I figure out the rest of the movie around it. Here, pretty much the Pixar process is you figure out the whole movie and then you start writing it. And some writers that works great for and other writers not so much.
John: Some people can really see the whole movie before that dialogue is written. We’ve all talked many times about James Cameron’s things which are scriptments and they’re very detailed outlines that don’t really have your dialogue in there and yet they really work. And so it’s entirely possible to do that. In my experience though, it’s not until I have those characters talking that I really genuinely believe that they can exist. And honestly, once I hear them talking, I may make some fundamentally different story decisions —
Craig: That’s right.
John: Because I now know who those characters are.
Craig: That’s exactly right. I mean, first of all, you can write a scriptment and you could be incredibly well prepared before you start writing a screenplay but you still need that moment, that genesis moment before you can do the scriptment, which is very much my, I mean, I don’t really do scriptments much.
Craig: But I need a genesis moment. I mean this Cowboy Ninja Viking movie, so the graphic novel is about a man who is like a Jason Bourne kind of guy except he actually doesn’t do anything. He essentially has multiple personality disorder and these three characters in his head are the ones that do everything. And for me in just thinking about the idea when I went in to meet on it in the first place I said, “Here’s what I think the movie is. It’s not — this is a scene. It’s the beginning. It’s one scene but it informs what I want to talk about.”
And it’s a kid who’s a very scared little kid who gets beaten up and these friends come to his aid and they just destroy the people that hurt him. They hurt them very badly, in fact, one of them has to get pulled off this kid because he’s going to kill him. And then our little hero boy realizes he did it, but he doesn’t remember doing it. He just sees that there’s a knife in his hand and his knuckles are bloody. And he’s terrified.
And to me, I go, okay, I understand the movie now. I understand that this is a story about a guy whose heroes are his villains. And he’s not in control of the things he does and in fact there is something terrible in him that he simply fragmented away from himself and put in to other people and that needs to be resolved. The movie of course is an action movie where there’s villains and our heroes have to beat them up and stuff. But then I go, okay, I understand why I’m doing this.
John: Yeah. Now, so the Gilroy approach though, Gilroy would write a scene where the character, where your boy was saying that, saying some version, the best version of the boy saying that.
Craig: I don’t, to me, I’m not as reliant on dialogue specifically as Tony puts forth in his BAFTA speech because I think sometimes there are these incredibly evocative scenes that don’t have a word in them, but what I was able to do when I came in and met on that project the first time is describe that scene in detail because I had seen it in my head and if I felt like writing it, I could have written it. I just don’t like to write things and hand them before I have the job. But yes, I had it. I had that scene and then I wrote it and it’s there. It’s still there. We have these little scenes that somehow survive the thrasher and that’s always been there.
John: Yeah. Well, great. So we’ve talked about finding your way into a script, how to stay in love with your script, how to keep that, how to rekindle that spark and keep your passion for a script alive.
But let’s talk through our passion for things that we thought were One Cool Things and see if they are still One Cool Things.
Craig: To see if we’re still married to those One Cool Things.
John: Yes. So starting with Episode 35. Do you have the page open right now, Craig?
John: Do you have the page open?
Craig: [laughs] I didn’t realize there was going to be homework.
John: There’s homework.
Craig: I’m going to it. It’s johnaugust.com. And then I click on One Cool Thing.
John: If you go to that page along with Craig and do the work. If you scroll at the very bottom, we’ll go from the bottom to the top. So we started at Episode 35 with One Cool Thing.
John: And Craig’s first One Cool Thing was the Franklin Ace 1000.
Craig: I’m staring at it right now.
John: Still cool?
Craig: The coolest.
John: Great. My One Cool Thing was the Musicnotes version of Jar of Hearts, basically, that you can — Musicnotes is a great service for downloading sheet music. I still use it probably once a week.
Craig: Fantastic. So far we’re good.
John: We’re good. You just want to quickly bang our way up the list?
Craig: We’ll just go yes or no.
Craig: Yeah. So for me iScore, totally.
John: Old Jews Telling Jokes, no, I’m sick of it.
Craig: Yeah. 1Password, use it every day.
John: Ski Safari, not playing it anymore but it was a good game first time.
Craig: Will read your script fund raiser from Joe Nienalt and Daniel Vang, I believe we might have save lives. Super cool.
John: Key Ring thing I still use. Basically, it puts all your bar codes under one little thing. It’s great.
Craig: [laughs] I had nothing for the next one?
John: You didn’t. I had the UC Verde Buffalo Grass which I’m looking at right now. It is great. It is a pain in the ass to get it growing but then it’s so low maintenance it’s wonderful.
Craig: My next was the trailer for the movie Flight which is awesome and John Gatins was nominated for an Oscar.
John: Yes. Stencyl, I’m not using it anymore but I think it’s still good. I know it’s still under active development. It is a game development tool for Mac and iOS devices.
Craig: My next one was MacBook Pro with Retina Display and that is my main ax.
John: New York City Subway by Embark, I still think it’s a terrific subway app.
Craig: The Baseball Codes, I’m still reading this book. It’s like I snack on this book all this time later. So, yeah, I guess, I still think it’s great.
John: Mine was ScanCafe which is the place where we sent off all our photos to get scanned. It’s fantastic. I strongly recommend ScanCafe or another service. Just, if you have a bunch of negatives, send them some place, get them scanned so you’ll actually have them and be able to look at them.
Craig: PB2 Peanut Butter Powder, I haven’t eaten that crap in a long time. [laughs]
John: The Cambridge Ivory Wirebound Notebook, it’s still good. It’s not my — I’m not using them daily though.
Craig: Audio Essentials, I don’t even know what that is.
John: Hooktheory was this book on how cord changes work and it’s actually still been incredibly useful and I’m doing a lot more stuff with key changes and it’s just been terrific.
Craig: E-cigarettes, boy, I was ahead of the curve on that one, huh?
John: Yeah, but you’re not smoking them anymore, are you?
Craig: Eh, occasionally.
John: Oh, there’s ambiguity in there.
John: Google’s Nexus 7 tablet, this thing was a piece of crap. So it worked for about like two months, but then it eventually ran out of charge and a couple of months later I tried to charge it and it would just refuse to charge. And so it’s now in the recycling.
Craig: Oh, Nexus 7. Jiro Dreams of Sushi will forever be the coolest thing about sushi.
John: It’s a great, great documentary.
John: The World in Words podcast, I’m not listening to. I’m sorry I’m not listening to it. I’m not.
Craig: Inrix Traffic App, use it every day.
John: AquaNotes are the little things you can write on notes in the shower. I used it for a little while and then I’ve stopped using it. So I’m not sure it’s worth it.
Craig: We both did Jambox somehow, I don’t even know what that is.
John: Oh, Jambox was the speaker system, the little Bluetooth speaker system.
Craig: Oh, yeah, okay.
John: So I use them a lot. We use them all the time for just audio around the house. It’s great like you just take into the kitchen, plot it, listen to some podcasts, listen to some music. It’s great.
Craig: What do we do like a couple more so that we don’t — this will take hours.
John: This will take hours, so we’re going to stop at 60.
Craig: Okay, great. Okay.
John: So mine, well, the easiest one ever, the Los Angeles Public Library.
Craig: Is that still cool?
John: It’s still relatively cool, though my daughter has gotten through the stage where she reads like a thousand books. Instead she reads like thousand-page books. She just finished Harry Potter Five.
John: And so we don’t go there as often anymore.
Craig: Does she like Fablehaven books or that’s a little younger, I think, than your daughter.
John: That’s young for her.
Craig: Yeah. Let’s see. My next one was the simplex algorithm which I still don’t understand. People have tried to explain to me. I’m useless.
John: Mine was the trailer for Derek Haas’s The Right Hand and the book itself. I remember the trailer. I didn’t read the book. I’m really sorry, Derek. I don’t know why I haven’t read the book.
Craig: Wow. You made it your cool thing and you didn’t even read it.
John: Mine for Episode 53 was Sleepwalk With Me which he end up being a guest on the podcast.
Craig: How prescient was that?
John: We’re smart.
Craig: Very smart. My next thing was The Words. I love that movie. I really do.
John: So I still haven’t seen the movie but I ran into the filmmaker and it turned out that that was actually one of the projects that was at Sundance a gazillion years ago.
Craig: Oh, okay.
John: And so I knew him from there.
Craig: Which filmmaker was it? There’s two.
John: Really boisterous guy.
Craig: Was he short or was he tall?
John: Tall. Tall and thin.
Craig: Yes, that’s Klugman.
Craig: Well, it was Jack Klugman’s nephew I think or something.
John: That’s great. That’s crazy.
Craig: Yeah, a good guy.
John: Mine was the HealthMap Vaccine Finder. I have no idea what that is.
Craig: Yeah, sorry.
John: Then I had Tejava ice tea which I drink every day.
Craig: Oh my god, I had a three-episode run where I didn’t do anything.
John: Yeah, three episodes you did nothing.
Craig: I just gave up.
John: Fifty-six was the Voyager Q Quad Interface Dock and hard drives.
John: These are the little, it looks like a toaster and you shove a hard drive in it.
Craig: Oh, yeah, yeah.
John: I still use those every day. I think they’re great.
Craig: Okay, that’s cool.
John: Oh, my god, you still didn’t have a one.
John: Jordan Mechner’s the Last Express for iOS. I will be honest, I did not finish the game on iOS but I thought it was a really nice.
Craig: You thought it was cool. Well, my next one was The Room which was super cool and The Room 2 was super cool and I love it.
John: Absolutely right. Moom is a utility for the Mac that I use every day for resizing windows.
Craig: Oh, okay. My next one was Nogales, Arizona, and I still think fondly about how great the people of Nogales were when we were shooting Hangover Part 3.
John: Mine was the Kindle Paperwhite which I still use a lot. I love it.
Craig: And then on 60 mine was the Austin Film Festival which I attended last year and I will attend this year and I will attend every year until they tell me, “You’re no longer relevant. Go away.”
John: Mine was Screenwriting.io which we still keep up to date.
So Screenwriting.io answers all the really very simple basic questions and it’s designed for like, if you’re type something into Google about a screenwriting question like how do I format this kind of thing, very likely the first answer will be something on Screenwriting.io. So Stuart keeps that up to date so people can ask questions if they have a basic screenwriting question. Stuart.
And Aline’s was The Man Repeller Blog. That was, Aline was on the show that time and she had The Man Repeller Blog. I don’t know what that is.
Craig: Do you think it’s still out there. I’m clicking.
John: We’ll ask. We’ll ask.
Craig: I’m clicking. It’s still going. It’s still going. Yeah.
John: Nice. Cool. All right. That was 15 or 25 of the choices from One Cool Things. We’ll do some more on a different week.
Craig: All right.
John: We have a question that comes from Kate Powers. And she says, “I am the same Kate Powers who asked at the Holiday Writers Guild Foundation Scriptnotes for guides about taking meetings with folks who dismiss my experience as a bad fit for their projects.” And so, do you remember her? So I think she was going for staffing season and she’s been staffed on these, I think it was she was on these like murdery shows and she’s going for something light or something like this —
John: And she was kind of paranoid about like how people would perceive her, but she said we gave her awesome advice, as always.
John: “Not long after taping, I co-wrote an episode of the now filming the second season of Rectify and now I’m in the thick of getting to know you coffees and drinks of agents and my god I’d be freaking out so much worse if I didn’t have the calming influence of your podcast.”
John: “Should I make a ringtone that’s just Craig saying, ‘Your agent works for you,’ okay?”
John: That’s actually, it would be nice.
Craig: It would be nice.
John: She says, “On the subject of specing, have you or any writers you know encountered a spec project based on your own work? That is, a fan writes you and says, ‘I loved what you did in blank so much, I took all the names and places and events and turned them into a graphic novel, an opera, something else. Would you like to see it?’ Whether you have first-hand experience with this or not, I would love to know your thoughts and Craig if he has them on how to best respond to this information. It seems heartless not to respond at all and to take it as purely naughty, you shouldn’t do that, legal approach with someone who identifies as a fan seems wrongheaded. Is there a way to walk that line so the original author doesn’t get into trouble.”
John: So do you get what she’s saying here?
Craig: Yeah, yeah.
John: So she’s made something —
Craig: I’ve had stuff like this. I mean, particularly —
Craig: I mean, oddly around the spoof movies I did with David Zucker. People loved it, sort of do their own fan spoof movies and use the characters from, they love this, the Anna Faris character and the Regina Hall character and they would send me things sometimes and while they are fans, I’m very respectful, and I would say thank you and that’s so nice, but I would just sort of stick by the general I’m not allowed to read stuff rule because the truth is people could be writing things with your characters and then one day you might be writing something else with those characters and then they’re going to go, “Hey, you stole my thing.”
Craig: So, unfortunately, I do counsel it as sort of wall yourself off from reading that stuff because it’s a rough world out there.
John: We’re in a very strange time where obviously fans want to feel ownership of the things that they love and so if they’re doing like a super cut of your movie intercut with another movie, that I’m not so nervous about. It’s when they’re taking and creating a new original content with my characters that I start to get a little bit — I feel a little bit weird about it. Of course, we’re a time now we’re like that becomes its own art itself. Fifty Shades of Grey is of course Twilight fan fiction that became its own thing. And so it feels weird like if Stephanie Meyers had read it and then —
Craig: Not, that’s not, oh, you mean Stephanie Meyers who wrote Twilight.
John: Twilight, if she had read that and said like, “You know, you can’t take my characters and do this,” and yet who knows. Or if J.K. Rowling reads any of the sort of fan fiction about the stuff. I would say, I think there’s a way to respond to it saying like, “It’s so great that you love that, it feels weird for me to be looking at stuff with my characters, my situations. Once again, I love that you love it,” and not sort of commit yourself to that you’re going to watch it or that you support it. It’s just saying that like, “Thanks for thinking of me.”
Craig: Yeah, it’s fair for us to protect the space in our heads from that stuff. I just read an interview with Vince Gilligan where he said essentially that he doesn’t look at any of the forums or many, many discussion groups that popped up around Breaking Bad, not while he was writing them, not now, because he just, in a sense, human thought is viral and it can kind of get in your head.
Craig: And the point is just ideally your expression would be limited to what you want it to be and not be infected by other people’s positions or points of view particularly when sometimes the very fact that you’re hearing it is less reflective of the quality of what you’re hearing but rather more reflective of the volume of what you’re hearing if that makes sense.
John: Yeah, absolutely makes sense. One last thing about this question is, we’ll put a link in the show notes to this, a fan whose name I’m not going to be able to find quickly enough but he made a video of me and Craig talking about a previous One Cool Thing —
Craig: I mean —
John: Which was this little stove I made.
Craig: Why did he make me so fat?
John: I don’t know.
Craig: I’m like so fat.
John: Well, because you have to caricature something and I guess he did your eyebrows too. You have giant eyebrows and you got a big gut.
Craig: I mean, yeah, like my eyebrows are like Brezhnev eyebrows and like I’m just obese.
John: But I’m sort of like I’m a very tall-headed weirdo who then becomes a zombie. So I get off a little better than you but not crazy better.
Craig: A little bit, yeah, but he’s got like toilet paper trailing from my butt. I mean, I really was like a huge goofy monkey to this guy. I don’t know why. [laughs]
John: What’s so strange is I assume he’s never been to my office, but like he actually, like the door where you would have come out of the bathroom is exactly where the door actually is.
John: So maybe he actually has been here and that’s a little terrifying to think about.
Craig: He may be in there right now. Mm-hmm. That was very nice that he did it, though.
John: It was really cool. I liked that people —
Craig: It was cute.
John: Want to spend, like, that took hours to do.
Craig: I know. That’s the thing, like, I actually do appreciate that. I mean, I have to look past the fact that he just, [laughs]. I remember I did a movie once with Jeffrey Tambor and I had the — I’ve done three movies with Jeffrey Tambor but I had the story boards up for this scene and the story art, storyboard artist, for whatever reason had kind of drawn Jeffrey Tambor really chunky and he’s not. He’s not an overweight man at all. And so he was sort of walking by and then he stopped and he saw these storyboards and he went, “Excuse me!” [laughs]
John: A final question comes from Gary in Orlando Florida. He writes, “Can you do a mini podcast talking about your journey into getting the t-shirts made. I’m currently looking at doing some screen printing at home of some of my art and putting it on Etsy. I know you’ve obviously had a higher production budget but I would love to hear about it. Thanks.” Because I can give this in a 30-second version.
All the t-shirts we’ve done, the Scriptnotes t-shirts, the other special Fountain t-shirts, all that stuff, we’ve basically been doing through the same place. And so, Ryan Nelson makes our art. We have a t-shirt printer here in Los Angeles and we’ll put a link in the show next to that. We take it down there. We talk to them what we want. We sort of already have our colors picked. They can buy any colored t-shirt we want so we can be very specific about color tones, but you really do need to see stuff in person.
So I would just say anything you buy online you’re never going to be quite sure. Ryan goes down there in person and makes sure he works with them. We’d like our printer. Basically, we order all the t-shirts at once. That’s the thing, it’s like it’s so much cheaper to figure out how many you need and get them all at once because if you try to do a piecemeal and add like 10 at a time, it will cost you so much more.
And so the secret to our t-shirt business which has been relatively successful and relatively sane is know your quantities ahead of time. Do it like production is one phase. Shipping is one phase and then be done with it. If you’re trying to ship and print all the time, you will do nothing but print and ship.
Craig: My secret is to have you guys do it.
John: Yes. Craig did lend us his assistant one day to help fold t-shirts when we had too many t-shirts.
Craig: That’s right. That’s right.
John: Oh, do people want more t-shirts? This is just a general question. I guess, you can’t actually answer because it’s not a two-way podcast. We could make more t-shirts but I’m not sure we’re going to make more t-shirts. So if you really, really want more t-shirts, that’d be a great thing to tweet to me or to Craig or to send in.
Craig: I wish we could have a hoodie like with a little logo on it or something.
John: That’d be kind of nice. So tell us what you’d love to see, because I honestly think we sold fewer t-shirts the second time than the first time even though our listenership is up so much. I think it’s because the people who really wanted a Scriptnotes t-shirt were satisfied with the Scriptnotes t-shirts.
Craig: Yeah, they’re good.
John: They don’t need 15 of them.
Craig: What about intimate apparel?
John: Ha! Perfect.
Craig: I love that phrase.
John: That’s what everybody wants.
Craig: Yeah, intimate apparel.
John: Mm. Yeah.
John: Gym shorts.
Craig: That’s what Intimate apparel is to you apparently.
John: Yeah, it is. When you’ve been married as long as I have, that’s intimate apparel.
Craig: I know, gym shorts.
John: It’s time for One Cool Things. My One Cool Thing is something that Craig will love when he actually gets to playing it. It’s called Monument Valley. It’s a game for the iPad. It’s just terrifically well done. So Craig had mentioned before The Room which was a puzzle game for the iPad. This is a puzzle game too but it’s really more of a —
Craig: Like a platformer, right? Kind of?
John: It sort of looks like a platform originally. What’s so brilliant about it though is you’re this little girl character who really needs to walk from one place to another place but the world itself, it’s sort of M.C. Escherish and so like you’re walking and suddenly you’re walking on the side of a building and things are sort of crazy. Actually, if you think back to The Room, you know sometimes you get towards the end of one of the boxes, one of the levels and it’s sort of like that shape, the glowing shape will appear.
John: And you have to rotate it so it all lines up right.
John: It’s like that. So sometimes like a walkway will connect based on how you’re rotating it. And then she can walk across that walkway.
Craig: Okay. That’s smart. Yeah, somebody sent that link to me, and visually it was very reminiscent, almost disturbingly close to Journey which was the independent game that came out for the PlayStation. I was a little put off by that to be honest like, it looks like they kind of ripped off Journey, I mean, the character, at least the character basis. But if the game play is great then I’m in.
John: The game play is really smartly done, great music, just enough text so that there’s some sense of story. It was really cleverly done.
John: And you can actually finish it. It’s not like one of those infinite platformers. There really is an end. It’ll take you three hours or so but you’ll get to the end of it.
Craig: Oh, I like finishing things.
Well, my One Cool Thing this week is a little gadget that you can stick on your key chain. It’s called Charge Key by a company called Nomad. It’s quite brilliant. It’s this little flexible sort of rubbery, plasticky thing. And on one end is this very slender USB thing that you can stick into any standard USB port. And on the other end is a charger for the iPhone, not the old-school iPhone but I guess everything from iPhone 5 on or something.
John: What is it called? Lightning connector?
Craig: Yeah, I guess that’s what’s called, the lightning connector, right. So it’s called Charge Key and boy does it work. And so the thing is sometimes you’re somewhere and you want to charge your phone. You just don’t have a charging cable but there are USB things everywhere like in every office.
Craig: Sometimes in your car, and now you don’t need a cable because it’s just sitting right there in your key chain, at a place, flexible, slim profile. I think it cost like 25 bucks or something and I got one for myself and my wife.
John: That sounds like a great idea.
Craig: She will not use it and her phone will run out of batteries. Every time.
Craig: Let me ask you a question, John.
Craig: Because now I’m starting, it’s been a long time since I felt umbrage but I… — When you call Mike, does he answer the phone?
John: Very rarely do we call each other. We’re more of texting kind of situation.
Craig: Okay. Somehow, he responds? [laughs]
John: He does respond.
Craig: I cannot tell you how many times I call my wife or I text her and there’s nothing for like two hours. And then I’ll come home and there she is just sitting there. And I’m like, “What did — did you not get the text or the…?”
“Oh, my phone is at the bottom of my bag and it’s on vibrate and…oh well.” Or, “No, it’s out of batteries because I turned the camera on and let it run for…” I mean, I swear, I swear, what do I do? What do I do?
John: I don’t know how to deal with those kind of women problems. The first thing is it never occurred to me, but of course there’s a difference because like we’re always going to feel our phone on vibrate because it’s in our pocket.
Craig: Yeah, it’s in our pocket. But here is the thing, women have pockets too!
John: Well, not all of her clothes have pockets.
Craig: Well, yes.
John: I’m going to defend her here.
Craig: Decent point.
John: But I’m also going to put a link in the show notes for a really great article about sort of preserving battery life on the iPhone because it is weird how some people like, “My phone will die halfway through the day.” And other people are like, “I very rarely have issues with that.”
Craig: I never had problems with it.
John: And so it turns out that one of the biggest culprits is Facebook’s location feature. And so if you turn that off, you’re going to be at a happier situation. People have that instinct to like close out apps, that doesn’t save you any power and actually causes you to use more power because every time you relaunch the app it’s having to do a lot more work. So let the phone do its thing about sort of putting those apps to sleep. But basically location services are a huge drain which I already sort of sensed like if you try to use the Find My Friends feature, that drains your battery quickly.
Craig: I’m going to grab my wife’s phone which will be easy to do because I know where it is, it’s at the bottom of her bag, on vibrate.
Craig: And I’m going to turn that thing off so that the phone will have battery for days so that she can also not answer it.
Craig: Gym shorts. I should get her gym shorts.
John: [laughs] That’s what you should get her.
John: We have so many solutions for real-life marriages and for creative marriages —
Craig: That’s right.
John: Between you and your script.
Craig: That’s right.
John: So you can find links to the charger thing, to how to conserve your battery life, to Monument Valley, and many of the other things we talked about today in the show notes. You can find them at johnaugust.com/scriptnotes. That’s also where you can find transcripts for this episode and for all the back episodes of our show. If you want to listen to those back episodes, you can find those at scriptnotes.net or through the app. So the Scriptnotes app, you can look for it in iTunes or through the App Store for the iOS and also for Android at all the places where you would find that.
We have a couple of the USB drives left if you still want those. Those are at store.johnaugust.com in addition the few last bizarre sizes of t-shirts. I shouldn’t say bizarre sizes.
Craig: Yeah, now you’re just a body fascist.
John: I’m a body fascist. I would say there is a few select sizes of t-shirts left.
Craig: Oh, man, I hope people write letters.
John: Scriptnotes is produced by Stuart Friedel and edited by Mathew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Chris Belle who is a.k.a Mr. Stone Bender. We have some great outros but if you’d like to send us an outro we would love it.
John: You can figure it out. Basically, as long as it includes [hums theme] in some version, you’re great, you’re set.
John: If people have a question for you, Craig, how should they reach you?
Craig: Well, they can reach me on Twitter. I am @clmazin.
John: I’m @johnaugust. For longer questions, you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org. And that’s our show.
Craig: Good show. Solid.
John: That’s was, I think it was a solid show.
John: It was nice to be back doing it at our normal space, not a creepy basement underneath a comic bookstore.
Craig: Boy, that was scary down there.
John: And it really, I mean, someone’s died back there. I don’t know how recently but someone’s died.
Craig: Someone’s dying there right now. Mm-hmm.
John: Mm-hmm. Thanks, Craig. Have a good week.
Craig: You too. Bye-bye.
John: All right, bye.
- Get your tickets for the Scriptnotes Summer Superhero Spectacular
- The bonus panel is available to premium subscribers at scriptnotes.net or through the Scriptnotes app for iOS and Android
- Tony Gilroy’s BAFTA/BFI screenwriters lecture
- Michael Arndt on setting a story in motion
- All our One Cool Things
- Scriptnotes, Episode 124: Q&A from the Holiday Spectacular
- Scriptnotes listener Tom LaBaff draws Scriptnotes
- Imprint Revolution prints our shirts
- There are still select shirt sizes (and a few USBs) left at the John August Store
- Monument Valley is available now for iOS, and soon for Android
- Nomad, makers of Charge Key (and Charge Card)
- The Ultimate Guide to Solving iOS Battery Drain
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Chris Henry (send us yours!)