The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is episode 150 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, I’m back from vacation. I’m ready, I’m rested. I feel like I’m ready to do a big show because we’ve got a lot of stuff to get through today.
Craig: Normally when people say they’re ready and rested, you also expect them to say, I’m ready, tanned, and rested, but there was no chance you were going to be tanned.
John: I’m paler than I began.
Craig: Wow. How does that even work?
John: It’s difficult but it’s a process of heavy sunscreen application. So we went down to visit Southern Colorado. We went to the Great Sand Dunes. We went to Mesa Verde. We went to Four Corners which is probably the most useless sort of monument you could possibly imagine.
John: An arbitrary place where four states come together.
Craig: Yeah, the four states with the — yeah, because they’re drawn on longitude and latitude, those borders.
John: Those borders.
John: Yes. But arbitrary really.
Craig: Yeah, of course, but you did the thing where you’re like I’m in one state, I’m in another state, I’m in —
John: Yeah. My daughter did a backbend, so she was in all four states at once.
Craig: That was featured in a Breaking Bad episode.
John: Oh, how nice.
Speaking of Breaking Bad, a friend of ours who directed two of the best episodes of Breaking Bad apparently is going to direct these movies. So he finally got some work. I think it’s really good news.
Craig: Yeah. He is — there’s a… — God, I cannot remember the name of it. It’s a science fiction thing like a trilogy or something and then there was another trilogy. There are just too many of them.
Craig: But for whatever reason, you know how it is, they just can’t stop making derivative sequels, crappy derivative sequels, so they’re making more of them. And he’s —
John: And they had to go to a foreign director to do it now. It’s crazy.
Craig: Right. They had to go to a Swedish guy as well. He’s not even doing the first of the next bunch of them.
John: I know.
Craig: He’s only doing the second of the next bunch.
John: Yeah, he’s doing the sequels to the knock offs.
Craig: I mean, god, his name is Rian Johnson.
John: He was a guest on the show. I remember him. He was really nice.
Craig: And this franchise that he’s doing is Star Wars. Star Wars.
John: With an S at the end, right?
John: Star Wars, not Star War, Star Wars.
Craig: Well, maybe a Z, I don’t know.
John: Oh, I like that a lot.
Craig: Star Warz.
John: But I’m sure there’ll be all sorts of toys and things like that.
Craig: Oh, garbage. Hollywood garbage.
John: Yeah. But, you know, all the same, I’m just really delighted for Rian because this is a kid who he’s put in the hours. He’s made some television, he’s made some short films. He did some videos.
John: I think it’s great that they’re taking a chance on this newbie —
Craig: Give him a shot. And you know what, look, everybody has to start somewhere. So if you start doing the second of a series of Star Wars films, ideally you’ll learn and, you know, I’d love to see what comes next. I guess that’s what you can take —
John: Absolutely. I think in a few years he may be ready to make some real movies. So congratulations, Rian Johnson. And I think it’s going to be — I’m looking forward to seeing what you make.
John: That actually segues really well to our first bit of follow up, which is Rob Norman wrote in about remakes and reboots which we talked about two episodes ago. And Rob writes, “I wonder if a remake uses the same laws of storytelling, whereas a reboot changes how the story is told drastically. For example, 21 Jump Street not only changed formats, it also changed genres from police procedural to meta-comedy.
“At the core of Star Trek, there were always this chin-scratching philosophical quandaries, lots of standing around debating issues. J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek feels a lot more like Indiana Jones than anything Gene Roddenberry every built. But from Robocop to Robocop, what changed? A few details in the narrative were updated. The actors are different but the tone is the same. Spider-Man to Amazing Spider-Man seems very familiar. It wasn’t really rebooted. A few what’s are different, but the how is the same.
“A remake might be the story and the world stays the same, details change, an old movie is updated. A reboot is going back to the original premise and doing a page one rewrite of the franchise. The story mechanisms are replaced with something completely different.”
That’s Rob’s description of remake versus reboot.
Craig: I’ll buy that too. I mean the last definition was a pretty good one. This definition is a pretty good one. I’m not sure there’s that much value in determining what these nonsense words mean anyway. They’re mostly for bloggers and entertainment journalists to bandy about as they attempt to draw clicks to their website. But, yeah, that makes sense.
John: Yeah. I think rebooting, basically you’re going in a new direction. This is like, all that stuff existed and that’s over there. And this is a new way that we are forging forward. I thought 21 Jump Street was actually an interesting example to bring up because I saw 22 Jump Street over the weekend. I really enjoyed it. Have you seen it yet, Craig?
Craig: I haven’t.
John: Oh, you should see it.
Craig: I know. It’s on my list.
John: Yeah, it’s quite good and quite interesting in the way that they, he describes it as a meta-comedy. They go really meta in it in ways that you think are going to be dangerous. Because usually when a movie tries to be too self-aware that it’s a movie, you’re sort of like navel-gazing and yet it does it just geniusly.
Craig: All right. Well, I’m looking forward to that.
John: Cool. A second bit of follow-up. We talked about something like this on the show before, but Charles Forman is a developer who’s been working with stuff in the Fountain. And he came up with this new product for Mac called Storyboard Fountain. And it’s a lot like kind of what Craig had always wanted or described, which is the ability to sort of shift back and forth between your script and the storyboards for your script. And his, in fact, is a drawing tool. So you work on it with a tablet and you’re drawing with the script, you know, right there in the same frame.
John: It seems really, really cool. So that was a great product demo. So I’m going to steer people there —
Craig: I wish, I wish, like I’m so bad at drawing that I can’t even draw stick figures properly. I remember I would work with storyboard artists and I would say, well, this is kind of what I’m thinking about and they would get it. You know, they’d understand, okay, I see. You want behind him, you want over his shoulder with him sort of blown out in frame and then this stuff is in the deep background. But when they looked at my stick figure drawings, they honestly looked at me like I was sick. There was something wrong with me.
John: So the last couple of weeks, I’ve been storyboarding this really complicated project. And so I’ve had a guy, Simone, who’s been in the office a lot doing this stuff. And so we’ve been talking through things. It’s always interesting talking with somebody who’s so much better at something than you are. And so you shouldn’t even try to — I just don’t pick up a pencil when I talk to him about it anymore.
But what I found is really useful is to use real things around me to sort of describe what the shot is and sort of use my fingers as the camera. So like, we’re here, we’re here, we’re here. And he can draw that beautifully. But if I try to do it, it’s just, it’s disastrous.
Craig: It’s funny, John, that your instinct when talking to somebody who is better at something than you is to defer to some extent to them. Whereas, if say the thing that you were really good at was screenwriting, the people that talk to us so frequently fail —
Craig: — to defer. In fact, they don’t see any mystery in what we do at all.
John: Uh-uh. A monkey could do that.
Craig: A monkey could do it. Anyway, the only reason they don’t do it is just because they’re tired.
Craig: It’s just too hard to — it’s so much typing. But I know what to say.
John: Oh, you do, absolutely. It’s just a matter of putting particular words down on the page and sort of like, you know, making it all work right there. Basically, it’s how to use Final Draft is really 90% of screenwriting.
Craig: 90% of it. My favorite phrase that idiots use is it just needs to be put into writing. [laughs] I love that. Like I have the story, I know what it is, it just, somebody just needs to put it into writing. What does that mean? It just needs to be put into writing. It’s like a doctor. Like, listen, I know that you’re sick. I just need to put you into health and you’ll be fine. That’s all. I don’t have to do it. Somebody could do it. Anybody can be a doctor. You just have to put somebody into health. I know what the problem is.
Craig: Could you just put me into health? You —
Craig: D’oh! Oh boy.
John: Oh boy. Well, you may want to hold on to some of that anger because you have an important Halloween task which is that you need to play Steve Ballmer for Halloween.
Craig: That’s right.
John: And one of our listeners, Cynthia Closkey sent me a link to a comedian impressionist named Jim Meskimen who I had seen on other shows before but I’ve never seen this YouTube video where he talks through like how to do an impression and basically how he breaks things down.
John: And this is very important to me because I’m trying to figure out how I’m going to do my Tim Cook so I can be Tim Cook to your Steve Ballmer. And it’s a very clever video because it was not about sort of the technical details, it’s about sort of looking at the world from their perspective and figuring out how they sort of move their mouths and sort of how they project things much more so than trying to match that sound with that sound.
John: It’s a very clever —
Craig: It was. I mean, when you listen to Tim Cook, I mean the first thing you’ll notice probably is the drawl because he has a Southern drawl. But he drags his words. It’s really amazing.
Craig: It really looks beautiful in your hand. He’s got that long thing on certain vowels, you know. Like those things… — But I really liked what this guy said about the forceful nature, the plosives, as it were, of speech. And, you know, a good — being able to be an impressionist is a helpful thing I would think as a screenwriter because we are doing impressions of other human beings when we’re writing. We’re doing impressions of multiple other human beings talking to each other.
It’s kind of high level mimicry. And so where does the specificity come from? And I think a lot of new screenwriters will go to things that are very textual: long words, complete sentences as opposed to short words, and slang or whatever have you. But even thinking about the forcefulness of the way a sentence emerges will bleed into the dialogue in a way that people will pick up on. They just will. And it’s not so heavy-handed.
John: Yeah. Your example of plosiveness, like the example he gives is like if you have popcorn in your mouth, how far would the popcorn fly when you do it. And he distinguishes between Kevin Spacey, who keeps everything very close to himself, versus a Paul Giamatti who we think of as being this bursting, bursting, bursting out.
That’s why as you’re writing characters, you know, you shouldn’t get stuck on one actor for a role. But if you have an actor in your head as you’re writing a role, it can be very helpful to see like, would this actually make sense coming out of his lips? Like can I believe an actor, one actor would say all these things this way and that can be really helpful to get the voice consistent even if it’s not the actor you end up casting in the end.
Craig: I don’t really know what the point is in writing a character if you don’t have an actor in mind. I really don’t, because you’re just cheating yourself. Have somebody. It doesn’t have to be anybody that you would ever even cast. Maybe it’s an actor that wouldn’t attract a single ticket buyer. But the specificity, I think, is just so critical.
John: Yeah. If we say specificity three more times in this podcast we’ll get some sort of special prize.
Craig: Specificity, specificity, specificity, specificity, specificity, specificity.
John: All right, nicely done. I will say that one of my great joys in my writing career is I got to do three days’ work on a movie that starred Christopher Walken. And so I got to write dialogue that Christopher Walken would say.
Craig: Walken dialogue.
John: And it’s just such a unique joy to have somebody whose voice you can already hear in your head so clearly and specifically as you’re putting those words down. You pick words that you would never pick for any other actor because it’ll just be so amazing when he says them.
Craig: And Walken’s thing also is there’s either , you know, it’s not that there’s no punctuation. It’s that the punctuation is random. So commas and periods will appear randomly in a brick of dialogue without any actual relation to syntax.
Craig: Which I think is —
John: Well, he’ll put them in. He will take the dialogue and he will pencil them in where he’s going to do them. It’s planned.
Craig: It’s planned but it just , you know, he’ll —
John: It’s amazing.
Craig: [Walken impersonation] He’ll pencil them in where he’s planning to do them. [laughs]
Craig: It’s so weird.
John: Yeah. But it’s wonderful.
Craig: It’s wonderful. And like question marks instead of periods and it just… — But, look, at some point, it’s, I don’t know. I don’t want to, it’s just so weird like he’s — Christopher Walken has almost become like Al Pacino, a guy that seems to be doing impressions of people that do impressions of him.
John: Yeah. And so I know there are movies that he doesn’t do the Christopher Walken of it all and I just haven’t seen them because people want him to do Christopher Walken I guess.
Craig: The early ones. If you go way back —
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: — to the early days you’ll see —
John: Totally different person.
Craig: You’ll see , yeah, smooth Christopher Walken. Yeah.
John: A final bit of follow-up. Giovanni wrote in. Giovanni from Turin, Italy writes, “In episode 146, you talked about Hopscotch and how it would be awesome to have something similar that works with Minecraft. I’m just writing in to say there actually is. It’s called Kano. And it’s basically a computer that kids can build and they program in it with code blocks for a number of applications and games. Minecraft is one of them. Craig would be happy to know it was funded mainly through Kickstarter.”
John: “Since I’m writing in, I will also say that as an aspiring videogame writer, I find it very interesting when you talk about games and their narratives. Would you ever consider having a videogame screenwriter or somebody who worked in videogames like Gary Whitta or such on the show?”
No. Absolutely no. Gary Whitta? Never.
Craig: [laughs] Well, not Whitta.
John: Oh yeah, anybody but Whitta.
Craig: Anybody but Whitta. That’s actually a great name for the podcast. I mean if we ever want to change it, it could just be called anybody but Whitta.
Craig: There’s a guy I met recently. I believe his name is Jesse Stern and he’s written a number of the Call of Duty games. Goyer has worked on some of those as well. But Jesse Stern I think is primarily a videogame writer. And I actually think that it would be great to speak to somebody like that. And we love Gary Whitta, but Gary’s a screenwriter who also writes some videogames. But this guy is like way deeper and more about that world and it would be — I would love to talk to them. I mean, it’s a fascinating area.
The Writers Guild, you know, continues to make fluttering whimpery noises about trying to organize videogame writers. I don’t see any coherent strategy.
John: So you actually, if you’re a WGA member, you could actually get a WGA contract writing on a videogame.
John: They’re not eager to give it to you but you can possibly get it. And it establishes some things, some minimums, some benefits that you would not otherwise get if you were not doing that, so.
Craig: Yeah. If you were being paid, you know, enough you could qualify for pension and health. The problem is that the payment for many of the positions is very low. So many of the large companies are either located overseas where we have no jurisdiction or they are Walmart-ian in their anti —
I mean, look, the whole, we’ve discussed this before, the entire Silicon Valley world is just brutally anti-union. And, or I’ll call it the technology world because I know that some of these places aren’t just, you know, but yeah, it’s a massive uphill climb.
John: Yeah, it is. But, Gary, what I should say is actually a very, very nice person. So, I’m slagging on him just because we adore him. And Gary Whitta’s actually writing one of the Star Wars movies. That’s one of the things that’s actually announced, so.
Craig: Yeah. He’s doing one of those spinoff movies. So there’s going to be the three, I guess you’d call them canonical sequels. J. J. Abrams is doing the first of them, then Rian and then an unknown third director. And Gary is doing one of these standalone movies. I think there’s going to be another one as well. There may even be two. You know, it’s funny —
John: It’s an exciting time.
Craig: I was talking to a producer today about it and he’s like, “Is there, how many Star Wars movies are going to come out?” And I said, you know what man, they can’t make enough. I honestly believe that Disney can’t lose money on them. It doesn’t matter because if the third prequel, by that point we’d had enough evidence. [laughs] If the third prequel made a ton of money and it did —
John: It did.
Craig: Every single one of these things is going to be massive and of course there’s the dragon’s tail of merchandising and theme parks and all the rest. We are going to find out just how big a movie can be when this first Star Wars comes out.
John: I agree.
Craig: It’s going to redefine big.
John: All right. Topics for today. Three big topics that we have marked out. First is Trinity Syndrome. Second is sitcoms at conflict. And the third is the question of is screenwriting actually writing. So let’s spin the big wheel and start with Trinity Syndrome.
Craig: [Mimics the Price is Right wheel spin]
John: Oh, you went over a dollar.
Tasha Robinson writing for The Dissolve is writing about what she calls Trinity Syndrome which is that your strong female characters in many of these movies, it’s like, great you have this “strong female character” who actually doesn’t do anything significant in the plot and she points out How To Train Your Dragon 2 as an example of this, Lego Movie as an example of this, and the most recent Lord Of The Rings movies as an example of that. Where you have a woman who is incredibly competent and can do a lot of great things, and then she doesn’t do anything.
Craig, what did you think of Tasha’s article and her points?
Craig: I thought, I was almost all the way there with her.
Craig: I think that she’s pointing out something that’s absolutely true that making a female character “strong” oftentimes is a weak-sauce substitute for making them actually human and fleshed out. Of her examples, the one that I thought was probably the weakest was The Lego Movie because she was basically, she was parodying the strong.
Craig: I mean, the hero of that movie is called The One. You know, The Chosen One. And so obviously they’re kind of parodying The Matrix there as they were parodying a billion things.
But the only thing I wanted to point out I guess to nuance really is that when you ask the question, why is this happening, to some extent I think you can say it’s because the people that are making these movies are sort of casually sexist. But I also want to point out that many times in these sorts of movies the male characters who aren’t The One or The Hero are also just as thin and pointless.
John: I think that’s a really good point because essentially the way movies tend to work, the way sort of action movies tend to work is you have your hero protagonist and then you have everybody else. And in that everybody else, those are hopefully good entertaining funny characters or dramatic characters, but none of them are going to be as integral as the hero is or if there’s a villain, the villain is going to be. So any person, any character in the movie who’s not the hero or the principal villain is going to feel a little bit secondary and can feel a little bit sort of weak-sauce. If they’re just there to sort of give advice or to help the hero out for a bit but don’t have an integral story function in their own right.
Craig: Right. So there are movies that have relationships. And Lindsay Doran has a really good talk that she does about this. There are movies where characters have a task to do: save the world, blow up a building, become the one, whatever. And they do it. And along the way they experience a relationship with another person. And in the end they get that relationship together almost as a reward for having done the task of the movie.
Then there are other movies where really the relationship is the reward, rather the relationship is the purpose. It’s the journey, you know.
Craig: And then you have movies that kind of hybridize it where you can feel that there’s equal weight to these things. So for instance, Tasha mentions Edge of Tomorrow where the goal, which is to save the world, seems basically on par with this other goal which is to figure out this relationship with this woman that is the key to understanding how to save the world. In a lot of the movies that she talks about, for instance The Matrix, which I think is brilliant and I actually want, I think that The Matrix is a movie that we should do an episode on.
John: Oh, we absolutely should.
Craig: Yeah, because it’s just gorgeously structured. What is the — where’s the dimension to Morpheus? He might as well have a flowy beard and be sitting on a mountain. He is just the wise old man. And absolutely Trinity is the trinity. [laughs] And the villain’s the villain. He’s the rat. The rat’s the rat. The only character in The Matrix that is an actual human who has anything interesting to say that isn’t the one is the oracle —
John: I agree.
Craig: Who is a woman.
Craig: So I agree that strong female character syndrome isn’t ideal in one sense, but I would argue that really what we’re kind of talking about is broad weak character syndrome.
John: Yeah. Tasha offers a couple of points and basically a checklist of things to ask yourself when you’re looking at the characters in a movie. So some of them include: “After being introduced to your strong female character, they fail to do anything fundamentally significant to the outcome of the plot or anything at all.” And that’s a thing you do see where this woman is established as being incredibly competent. I think back to Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves and I think it’s Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, she’s like in disguise at the start she says she’s a great sword fighter and then she never does sword fighting —
Craig: That’s right.
John: Is that right?
Craig: She mostly just gets threatened to be raped which is number two.
John: Exactly. “If she does something to significantly affect the plot, is it mostly getting raped, beaten, or killed to motivate the male hero, or deciding to have sex or not have sex with, agreeing to date, deciding to break up with the male hero, or nagging the male hero into growing up, or nagging him to stop being so heroic. Basically, does she only exist to service the male hero’s needs, development or motivations?”
But this gets into what we’ve just talked about is that if in a lot of these movies there’s one main person and if that main person is the dude and she is the female character, you have to look for what else it is that she can do, what other functions she can have.
John: If it’s a movie that has like essentially one person driving the story, it doesn’t matter if that secondary character is male or female. It’s going to feel extra.
Craig: Well, yeah, because the protagonist is the protagonist. Therefore, every other character exists to service their needs, development and motivation, all of them. I mean, listen, I think that I did a good job in Identity Thief of having a female character who was not a typical female character and who didn’t fall into any of the pitfalls that I think are listed here. And yet she does help the protagonist’s needs, development, and motivation like any other character must in a movie because that’s what the non-protagonists must do or else they don’t belong in a movie.
John: Well, but fundamentally Identity Thief is a dual protagonist movie where they’re causing each other to change.
Craig: Yes, that’s true. I always felt that he was the primary protagonist because I think he had the most — I think he had the most central problem.
John: Yeah, and she was the obstacle to overcome.
Craig: In many ways, yes. In many ways, yeah.
John: And I would say back to my movies, you know, Go certainly doesn’t have a strong female character problem. You have, you know, Ronna is incredibly competent but she’s the protagonist also. Things are changing because of her. But Charlie’s Angels, we had a luxury of, we have the three women, so there’s not — they’re driving the story. They’re doing those kinds of things themselves.
John: I think I want to go back to your defense of Lego Movie and sort of the parody of Trinity Syndrome in that because my recollection of The Lego Movie is the Wyldstyle character, the Elizabeth Banks character, she really wants to be the one and she’s really frustrated that she’s not the one.
Craig: That’s right.
John: And so I think she vocalizes the frustration that I think Tasha Robinson is describing. It’s like, why am I the secondary person? Look how competent I am. Why am I not the person being put in charge here?
Craig: That’s how, you know, it’s a natural thing to want to spoof when you see The Matrix because The Matrix begins with Trinity. The story begins with Trinity doing things that we cannot believe. I mean we know that she’s in a building somewhere and the cops show up and an agent says, you know, what’s going on and they say, oh we sent our cops in there. They probably already arrested her. And the agent turns around and says, they’re already dead. And then we watch her just be awesome.
Craig: So a natural thing you want to spoof is why is that guy the one? He is just a guy, like why? And that’s a great thing to — I guess my point of being that I thought it was unfair for Tasha to pick on that character because that character is kind of on her side, I think, is the point.
John: So what solutions can we offer or what sort of recommendations can we offer someone who is worried that they have a character who is just basically strong female character syndrome? What hope do we offer them?
Craig: Well, I think that there’s a list here of some trope-y things that people do with women that are starting to become really annoying because, you know, what happens… — When we look at characters, there are certain things that we see immediately and then there’s all the stuff on the inside. But if you look at race, gender, and sexuality, I can come up with a whole bunch of trope-y things for race and sexuality that just don’t work anymore because they’re kind of insulting. They’re getting in the way.
Craig: I think it’s time to start doing that for, it’s long past time to start doing that for gender. So for instance, Tasha points out some very good tropes that you don’t want to do. “Could your strong female character be seamlessly replaced with a floor lamp with some useful information written on it to help a male hero?” Is — I love this one — “Is a fundamental point of your plot that your strong female character is the strongest, smartest, meanest, toughest or most experienced character in the story until the protagonist arrives?” And that, by the way, is something you see in Raiders of the Lost Ark which we both love.
Craig: But Marion is like awesome. She owns a bar. She out-drinks some huge, you know, Himalayan man and then immediately she’s into screamy-me-me, you know, damsel in distress, but just like that.
Craig: Because Indy’s there. “Does the male character enter the story as a bumbling screw-up but then spend the whole movie rapidly evolving past her while she stays entirely static and even cheers him on. We’ll call that Rene Russo in Tin Cup. It’s nice if she’s hyper cool but does she only start off that way so a male hero will look even cooler by comparison when he rescues or surpasses her?”
We see that all the time. I mean, she’s making real — these are really good tropes you just want to avoid because we’ve seen them forever and they’re frankly starting to accumulate into a morass of fairly insulting points of view on women. We can just calm down about the gender roles quite a bit, you know.
John: The challenge though is like this is a list of don’t do’s. And so what are some proactive steps you can take to make sure that the female characters in your story are going to have, I don’t know, that they’re not going to fall into this syndrome? And I would say that it’s making sure that, track the story from that character’s point of view, the female character’s point of view, and what would the story be like if the hero hadn’t shown up there.
And so ask yourself the question I think they ask in The Lego Movie which is, well, why isn’t she the hero, and find interesting answers for that. Find interesting things for her to do that don’t fall into these tropes, like find interesting reasons for her to make the plot move forward. Have her take assertive actions that change the nature of the plot. And create conflict with the protagonist that’s not just sort of bumbling romantic tension or whatever you want to do or just like, you know, I’m more competent than you are. Have some real stakes there.
One of my frustrations is that women in movies never seem to make ethical choices. They sort of seem beyond it and —
Craig: That’s right.
John: So have that be a fact and have some flaws, have some real issues there so that it’s a three-dimensional character regardless. It can also be really helpful to just look the character irrespective of gender and what is that character’s motivation and how would you write this character if you were writing it as a man and look at all the choices and decisions that the male characters would make and then ask yourself, are you making those same of kinds of choices with the character as a woman.
Craig: Yeah. For me from a practical positive standpoint, I think that when you write a character who is a woman, you need to consider that she is a woman. You have to understand women as you understand men. I don’t think, by the way, that men have any better understanding of men than they do of women. I think people have understandings of themselves and barely at that. We misunderstand members of our own gender aplenty.
But you want to write a woman and you want to consider that gender as part of her identity. But the thing that I would suggest avoiding at least in the beginning, unless it’s integral to the story, is an immediate dose of sexual politics, sexual interplay, romance. Hold off. Hold off. Make this character alive and full and complete without that. Because what happens all too often is the romance substitutes for substance. And in The Matrix, you see it. In the end, Trinity’s character is a soldier who is defined by her blind faith love in Keanu Reeves —
Craig: Who does not deserve it until the very end.
Craig: And that I think is where things — I mean, by the way, in that movie, it works. But that movie’s already —
John: In a lot of movies it works. I mean —
John: I think the reason why these tropes are there is because it’s been successful and —
Craig: That’s right. But I think that we’ve moved on is the point. And we’re starting to see different kinds of relationships occurring. You know, thinking about a brother… — It’s funny, Aline McKenna when she saw Identity Thief, she said, “One thing I really enjoyed about the movie was that it was a man and woman together and it wasn’t about romance or sex, and it was just watching a man and a woman become friends and you never get to see that in a movie.” And it’s true. You never get to see that in a movie.
Craig: And that’s why it’s funny. In Edge of Tomorrow, I didn’t want them to — have you seen it?
John: I haven’t seen it yet. Sorry.
Craig: Okay. Well, I was going to do a spoiler.
John: Right. Don’t spoil it for me. I do want to see it.
Craig: I’m not going to spoil it.
John: Doug Liman directed it.
Craig: Doug Liman did direct it, absolutely, the director of Go. I’ll just say that for much of it, for most of it, for the great bulk of it I was watching two people become friends. And I really enjoyed that.
John: It’s a nice thing.
John: All right, speaking of friends, we’re going to talk about an article by Todd VanDerWerff in the AV Club where he says that friendship is killing sitcoms.
Craig: God, you are on fire with the segues today, by the way.
John: Thank you very much. Sometimes I’m just in a segue mode. I hop on my little two-wheeled scooter and I just go.
John: On top of the segue, I may have brought this up on the show before, it’s a word that I was using and never really knew how it was written. It’s the most disturbingly written word. S-E-G-U-E.
Craig: That’s right. Seg. It looks like “Seague.”
John: Yeah, I assumed that that word was a short version of the longer word that actually was segue. I thought it was just supposed to be segue, but it’s really segue.
Craig: Segue. Yeah, that’s right.
John: Todd’s point is that modern sitcoms, and by sitcoms he doesn’t mean just three cameras, but basically half hour comedies on television, have been hurt by the nature of just people hanging out. And so the kinds of shows he’s talking about include Happy Endings, Cougar Town, How I Met Your Mother, even Modern Family. I think Modern Family is a bit of a stretch. New Girl, recent seasons of New Girl, in that essentially the show can be sometimes paralyzed by the characters getting along too well, by the characters hanging out. And when they just hang out the tension in the scenes naturally just sort of dissipates and your motivation for staying engaged and for really watching falls apart.
Craig, what did you think of the article?
Craig: Yeah. I think that that’s a pretty good observation. I generally agree with his assessment that comedy requires conflict and that the best sitcoms were built around conflict. Although the one that I kind of picked out was Cheers, because while Sam and Diane had a will they/won’t they, that conflict was kind of confined to them. That sitcom to me sort of defined the hang out.
In fact, I’ll go one step backwards. Taxi really for me was the first great hang out show. Yes, Louie is in conflict with them, but really they’re not all in conflict with each other. The point of that show was that they were all in the same boat and desperate to help each other through their misery. And so now that I’m thinking about it, [laughs], I’m not really sure I agree with what he’s saying.
John: I will say that you look at Cheers, and so even after Sam and Diane, when Diane left, they brought in the Kirstie Alley to basically be that central conflict again. Fundamentally these two characters will not get along. And she wouldn’t get along with Carla. She wouldn’t get along with sort of everyone else in the show. To a large degree Frasier I think was brought in to — when Frasier Crane was on Cheers, he was brought in to be sort of a force to be angry against or to be frustrated with.
John: Then when we segue that off to Frasier, that whole show is built on conflict, about basically the one-upmanship between Frasier and his brother, the dad looking to have both of them.
Craig: Yes. Yes.
John: So, that’s a great show, and it’s a great show partly because of its conflict.
The reason why I didn’t find Modern Family to be the best example of that is I feel like they do find clever conflicts in there sort of constantly. So, most of the plots are conflicts between two of that extended family members.
Craig: Yeah. And, you know, he kind of lays this all at the feet of Friends. But, Friends has all the same kind of conflict that he’s talking about. Rachel and Ross, and who loves who, and the love kept switching around and there was a baby, and people were going to get married, and then they weren’t going to get married. There was lots of conflict there. Tons of it.
John: One of my favorite episodes of Friends is the one where Ross — it’s a bottle episode where Ross is trying to get everyone to come to this event and basically like the clock is ticking and he’s trying to get everyone actually dressed so they will actually leave so they can leave the apartment on time. And everyone just sort of like gangs up against him in fun ways.
And that’s the nature of what conflict is. And so often if you’re looking at why a scene doesn’t work it’s because the central conflict of the scene is not clear. It’s not clear — you may understand what the two characters want, but they’re not being put against each other in ways that are going to create some sparks.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, every sitcom, I mean the “sit” part is conflict.
John: Yes. Situational.
Craig: Yeah. So, every episode will have conflict. In terms of the DNA of the show, the idea of baking conflict in between the characters is a good one. And I think, for instance, Friends did that. I mean, we knew from the start that Ross was pining away for Rachel and she wasn’t into him. The will they/won’t they just went on, and on, and on.
And, I don’t know, it says “the show ran Ross and Rachel into the ground.” I guess, yeah, I don’t know.
Craig: I don’t know. I’m not really sure. I’ve got to be honest with you. I think Todd VanDerWerff wrote a very — he wrote this well, it’s well thought out. I’m not sure if this topic, frankly, deserves this much thought. It doesn’t seem —
John: I think it’s worth pointing out that sitcoms, comedy thrives on conflict. And that when conflict dissipates it can be more challenging to actually find the conflict. So, two of the shows he singles out are New Girl and — I took of the “The” this time. I said New Girl the way the show actually is.
Craig: That’s right. New Girl.
John: New Girl. And Parks and Rec. And I think you can make valid cases for both of these shows in that New Girl I think the writing is terrific, I love the actors, but this last season there’s not been a lot of conflict between the individual characters. You know, Schmidt is — do you watch New Girl?
John: No. So, the Schmidt character can be horrible, and yet you still like him. But with the central couple actually becoming a couple and then falling apart, it has had less inherent conflict then it could otherwise be. And so they do just tend to hang out a lot.
Parks and Rec is another great show with a fantastic cast, but Ron Swanson who was sort of the Alec Baldwin 30 Rock character who was always like the stern person you couldn’t convince to get onto your side has become more lovable and because of that it’s harder to find the real conflict between the different characters. They brought on Billy Eichner who is just sort of a firecracker who sort of sets everybody off, but it’s more loud than actual conflict.
Craig: You know what I think is missing from sitcoms?
John: Tell me.
Craig: And if I were to write a sitcom today, which I’m not gonna —
John: What would you do?
Craig: I am a huge fan of Laverne and Shirley. I love Laverne and Shirley. And one thing that Laverne and Shirley did so well was physical comedy. They managed to do incredible physical comedy within the confining format of a sitcom. And it’s really hard to do because, I mean, physical comedy can be dangerous. And being funny doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re physically capable of doing a lot of these things. Plus, you can’t use stunt people. Plus, you’re doing it on a locked down set like a living room. And they managed to do the most incredible — and I just love how physical they were. And you never see that on sitcoms anymore.
I would love to see a sitcom with adults being physical. I love physical comedy. I’ve always loved physical comedy.
John: I would say Modern Family does that some. I mean, granted it’s not a three-camera.
Craig: It’s single-camera. Right.
John: It’s single-camera, so they can do more sophisticated things sometimes.
John: But there have been some really good physical comedy moments where they’ve —
Craig: I’ll give you that one. I’ll give you that one. That’s true.
John: Modern Family is a great show. So, I think we’re going to leave it at good to point out that conflict is central to shows. I don’t know that we agree with some of his specific examples or points, but yay conflict. And I think it’s a useful thing as people are writing — if you’re writing a comedy pilot, your fundamental question should be what is the conflict. What is the conflict of these scenes? And not only are my characters saying funny things, but are they saying funny things that is exploring the conflict within those scenes.
Craig: Correctamundo. Silicon Valley does it very well, by the way.
John: It does it very, very well. You have great empathy almost all the characters, and yet they are pretty much always in conflict with each other.
John: This will be a quick one, I’m sure. This was Richard Brody writing for The New Yorker. The headline wasn’t provocative at all. It says Screenwriting Isn’t Writing.
Craig: Eh. Meh.
John: Yeah, nothing hyperbolic about that at all. So, the article is talking about F. Scott Fitzgerald and Faulkner to some degree and their Hollywood careers. And it’s based on an article that Ken LaZebnik did in Written By, which is an excerpt from his longer book, where they’re talking about F. Scott Fitzgerald’s frustrations writing for Hollywood and that he was really trying to write as if screenwriting was an art form and Brody’s point is that it isn’t.
Craig: Yeah. Well, where to begin with this? First of all, let’s just — I just love — the article falls under the heading “The Front Row: Notes on the Cinema,” by Richard Brody. And then there is his bearded, bespectacled cartoon face and above it, of course, the sneering, [laughs] 1800s monocle hoisting New Yorker icon. They both seem so similar to me.
This is the dumbest thing I’ve ever read, which is saying something. Because it’s obvious that Richard Brody is very intelligent. He knows how to put sentences together. I think that he strikes me as one of these people that’s been raised in a pod inside of an academy and has never actually seen the world or tasted or touched things. He’s just read about it in The New Yorker.
This is dumb. Where to begin with how dumb it is? First of all, if you’re going to discuss whether or not screenwriting is writing, let’s not maybe limit it to F. Scott Fitzgerald, [laughs], which is just like — so, yes, F. Scott Fitzgerald was a brilliant novelist. He was a brilliant novelist of a time that was 80 or so years ago. And he attempted because he was unfortunately not great with money and not great with alcohol and not great with lots of things attempted to make some money in Hollywood writing screenplays the way that many great authors like Clifford Odets did.
And he just didn’t get it. And it wasn’t that screenwriting wasn’t writing, it was that he just wasn’t giving these people what they wanted. And I think of Barton Fink. “It’s a Wallace Beery picture. Write a Wallace Beery picture.”That doesn’t mean that writing a Wallace Beery picture isn’t writing, nor does it mean that everything is a Wallace Beery picture.
Interestingly, in his article about how screenwriting isn’t writing and F. Scott Fitzgerald is proof of it, he has this quote from a book about how Fitzgerald embraced screenwriting as a new art form.
John: This is the quote. “Instead of rejecting screenwriting as a necessary evil, Fitzgerald went the other way and embraced it as a new art form, even while recognizing that it was an art frequently embarrassed by the ‘merchants’ more comfortable with mediocrity in their efforts to satisfy the widest possible audience.”
Craig: Right. So, there it is. That’s my point. I agree with Fitzgerald one hundred percent. And I don’t agree with Richard Brody. And I have to say, and again, Faulkner — this guy apparently has, I don’t know, maybe he was hermetically sealed in some sort of cryogenic crypt back in 1958 because it seems like the most recent reference he has is Faulkner’s 1955 film Land of the Pharaohs, because it’s more easy to then go backwards to discuss popular touchstones like Tiger Shark from 1933, ’32.
This is my real problem with this. It is absurd prima facie, forget — putting aside the fact that somebody who doesn’t do a thing is deciding whether or not it’s another thing. I don’t — I don’t like reading How To sex guides from eunuchs. But really I think what upsets me about this is that it’s dishonest. This entire essay is dishonest. It’s a lie. Richard Brody knows it’s a lie. He came up with a title that he thought would get a lot of clicks because he was feeling lonely or something. There is no way this man is dumb enough to believe the argument he’s put here.
John: So, I’m not going to stand up for a huge defense of him, but when I clicked through that headline I was like well that’s just absurd, that’s ridiculous. And then I remembered the fact that often the writer of an article does not choose his headline. And so it’s very possible that someone else put that headline on.
And so I’m trying to push past the headline to look at this as what was the point of the essay. And I think if you look at the point of the essay as Fitzgerald, he was really trying to be a screenwriter. He was really trying to do art in screenwriting, and failed at it. Brody’s point seems to be like, well, it was a foolish game anyway because you can’t look at screenwriting as being real writing.
Craig: I’ve got to push back here because in his essay, not the headline, in his essay he writes, “In short, Fitzgerald was undone by his screenwriting is writing mistake.”
John: Yes. I think I said that. I think I got to the point that the headline may seem much more categorical than that one sentence does. He’s, yes, saying that Fitzgerald, this was this one situation. Without that Fitzgerald framing he has no point whatsoever. I’m stating this badly.
But where I think this still falls apart is that I think there’s an implicit idea that there is real writing, sort of like “real writing,” and the question is what is real writing. Obviously this article from The New Yorker isn’t real writing. Is a short story real writing? What is real writing.
And I think his definition of what writing is basically a novel of a certain size. And that’s absurd.
Craig: I guess. I can’t even tell. I mean, this is so sloppily done. If you’re going to drop a bomb like screenwriting isn’t writing, you’d better sit down and do your homework here. And you better be able to explain to me why Paddy Chayefsky didn’t write Network, and you better explain to me why The Godfather wasn’t written, and Groundhog Day wasn’t written. And, I don’t know, I mean, it’s just insane.
John: Well, later in the article he talks about the collaboration. And collaboration in a sense of like a sort of pejorative sense. Like, well, you were working with a director on the project, so you can’t really say that you wrote it, basically saying there is no sense of authorship.
And if collaboration is his definition of what makes something not writing, then the theater can’t be writing either. Shakespeare can’t be writing because he was writing for people. He was writing with people, with theater troupes in mind to try to make this thing happen.
Craig: And editors — book editors are omnipresent.
John: Absolutely. So, it makes it — basically if screenwriting isn’t writing, then almost nothing really could be writing.
Craig: Yeah, it’s ridiculous. I mean, look, it is true that screenwriting is unique in the world of writing in that it is not meant to be read by the audience. It is rather meant to be translated into another art form. However —
John: Well, playwriting is the same thing, too.
Craig: Yes, that’s right. Playwriting is the same thing. You’re right. I’ve always said that doesn’t mean it’s not writing. It’s absolute — in fact, when you think about what is required to make a movie and you realize how much is leaning on the screenplay, it becomes almost super writing. It becomes über writing. And I’m not talking about quality here, because listen, if writing a novel of a certain length is writing to Richard Brody, there are good novels and bad novels, there are good movies and bad movies, good scripts, bad scripts. But, of course it’s writing.
I can’t even believe we’re talking about it. It’s dishonest, John. This is dishonest. He can’t believe this. It’s such a poorly written article that cites a bunch of things cherry picked from the first half of the 20th Century. It makes no sense. It’s sloppy. It’s sloppy. Richard Brody, you are sloppy.
John: If we were Richard Brody’s editor and we needed to rewrite this piece, I think I would start with a different headline, “Movies aren’t novels.”
Craig: Right. [laughs]
John: And I would focus on the fact that Fitzgerald had frustrations trying to adapt, you know, he had frustrations moving from a career as a novelist to a career as a screenwriter, a transition which would seem kind of natural, but it’s not natural because not only is the form different, but the profession which we talk about on the show, the profession is vastly different.
The profession is about pitching and meeting with people and incorporating ideas and notes and getting along with folks in ways that is so different from what a novelist has to do.
Craig: Yes. And maybe Richard Brody loves F. Scott Fitzgerald so much that he has to rationalize his failure, Fitzgerald’s failure, by blaming it on screenwriting itself. I love F. Scott Fitzgerald, too. But listen, there are amazing novelists who can’t write screenplays at all. That’s why so many great novelists don’t adapt their own pieces into screenplays. And there’s so many incredible screenwriters who couldn’t write a novel to save their lives.
They are two different things. It is possible that one of the great novelists in history simply wasn’t very good at writing screenplays.
John: Yeah. It’s entirely possible.
Craig: But that doesn’t mean that screenwriting therefore needs to be indicted as non-writing. Oh my god, he cannot believe this.
John: Shakespeare, by the way, was a terrible novelist. I don’t know if you’ve read any of Shakespeare’s novels, but they’re awful. They’re so awful that they’ve been buried and no one has ever read them.
Craig: Well, there you go.
John: Ah-ha! We have some questions in the mail bag, so let’s get to them. Michael writes in. “Now that I’ve been working for a few years on about a half dozen projects,” first off, Michael, congratulations. You’ve been working on a half dozen projects.
Craig: Yes, well done.
John: “I’ve experienced something strange about the process of making deals and starting to work on a project. Here is what happens. I sell a pitch or get hired for an open writing assignment and my lawyer negotiates with the studio’s business affairs about the headline deal points, how many steps, how much per step, etc. Everyone agrees, and then the studios and producers start moving forward. We have the commencement meeting and I’m expected to start writing. All good, except I don’t have a signed contract as my lawyer and studio’s business affairs will probably be working on the nitty gritty details for about three or four months.
“Multiple times I’ve finished a first draft before receiving a contract. Now, this has never really been a big problem because it all works out in the end, but is this normal? Despite my team’s assurances that everything is good, it’s hard not to have fears about everything falling apart. What do you guys do? Do you start writing when the deal is ‘closed,’ or when you actually sign a contract?”
Craig: Great question.
John: It’s a great question.
Craig: Excellent question.
John: Craig, what do you actually do in practice, because I’m curious.
Craig: In practice, I start — assuming that I have all the information I need, that there isn’t a particular meeting that I need to have to sort of figure out what we’re all going to do, when the deal is closed and my availability is —
John: That’s a phone call that says it’s closed.
Craig: Yeah. A phone call says it’s closed and my availability is appropriate, so I’m not finishing up another thing, I start working. There are two levels to contracts. The first is a deal memo, which often goes along with a certificate of authorship. And that is a way, if the lawyers feel like it’s going to take quite some time to work up a long form contract with all the little annoying details like how much you get paid per week if you’re in a medium sized city on location, they’ll come up with this certificate of authorship that basically says this is what you’re going to get paid.
And you’re basically saying, yes, I’m going to write this and, yes, you guys will have the copyright on what I write, because it’s a work for hire, yada yada.
And that oftentimes is enough to release commencement payment. However, there have been times where the contract has taken forever. Now, you should be paid, by the way. You don’t want to not be paid.
John: That’s a fundamental aspect.
Craig: Yes. The very first movie that I ever was hired to do, this is exactly what happened. So, we were told to start writing. We had a deal. The deal closed. And then — it was Disney at the time took months and months to get the paperwork done. And we called up our lawyer, my writing partner and I, and we said we’re done, what do we do? We haven’t been paid, and they haven’t finished this contract. And he said do not turn it in. That’s the most important thing. The day you turn it in you’ve lost your leverage to get the contract done.
So, he called them and said, they’re done, so, A, how embarrassing for you. B, they’re not turning it in until this is signed. And I think two days later it was done.
John: Yeah, so that standard advice is how I’ve worked through most of my situations. Really honesty, and I think the official WGA policy is that you’re not supposed to start writing until you have papers signed. But in practice that rarely happens.
Craig: That’s right. And papers signed — or you’ve been paid.
John: And that’s the thing. Being paid tends to be the proxy for having the contracts done because being paid means that the person employing you believes that the contracts will get done and believes that there will actually — the deal will close. And so there’s the danger, I guess, the possibility that you’re paid to start writing, you start writing, and the contract never closes and you’re in this weird limbo about do you have to get the money back, do you give them the script, sort of what is all that stuff. But, you still have the leverage of having the script and they still hopefully want the script.
Craig: Yeah. I’ve never heard of a situation where the long form wasn’t worked out.
John: Yeah. I have heard of some things, and occasionally if you’re adapting anything you need to be very specific and very pointed about the underlying rights. Because I have been in situations where, oh, this is great, this is swell, and we’re going to do stuff. And then it became clear that the underlying rights were actually much more complicated.
John: So, even if I started writing, there’s a possibility that they weren’t going to really close those underlying rights and that’s a bad thing.
John: They should have been paying me, but they did pay me, and then it became clear like I’m writing this thing that we may never be able to make.
Craig: Be able to make. And so the one area of the big document that you’re looking at, one important one to concentrate on is what they call conditions precedent. So, there are certain conditions that have to be met in order for the contract to be valid. Some of them are obvious like you have to be who you say you are and a citizen and a Writers Guild member and la-da-da.
Some of them are things specific to your deal. We have to have the rights to this project and there has to be creative approval before commencement from this particular person. And you need to know what those terms are so that you know where you stand.
John: Yeah. At some point we should really go through a whole contract, but the frustrating thing I often find — and this is worse when I started and it’s become a little bit better, at least for me, but they’ll ask you to have things notarized or have some sort of like certification that you are a US citizen, all this stuff, and it just feels like stalling.
I don’t believe they actually really need it. I think they’re basically just, you know, burning some time so they can not finish closing the deal.
Craig: There’s some quote somewhere that says something like never ascribe malice to that which can be explained by incompetence.
John: Yes. I get that.
Craig: I think that a lot of times it’s simply by the time it gets down to that stuff there’s a person in a cubicle who has a stack of these things and a job. And the job is get W2, I-9, C forms from these employees and they go and dutifully execute those orders.
John: Yeah. But that same person or the person in the cubicle next to them also has the checks that are going out, and some reason like those checks won’t go out until pointed phone calls are made and suddenly those checks start flowing.
Craig: I find that the departments of all corporations that involve incoming and out-coming checks are just the worst. [laughs] And you could say, yeah, because they don’t want to spend money. But they don’t even seem to want to take money either. That whole world, you know, as bad as screenwriting can be sometimes, I’m glad I don’t work in the incoming/out-going check business. I’m not cut out for it.
John: So, my very first job, How to Eat Fried Worms, was over at Universal. And for a time I was dating a guy who was an assistant at Universal. I’m not even sure who he worked for. But he said like, “Oh, your check crossed my desk today.” I’m like, oh, that is just really, really awkward that you know that I have a check for X thousand dollars crossing your desk.
John: It just feels kind of odd. And I guess I had to buy dinner that night.
Craig: [laughs] Yes, I mean, your check crossed… — What does that even mean, by the way?
John: Well, it basically means that like his boss had to sign the check or something and so —
Craig: Oh, I see, I see. So, it’s on his desk, he sees it. Listen, people know everything. That’s the truth. Everything. They know everything.
Craig: There’s no secrets.
John: There are no secrets. Thomas in London writes —
Craig: [British accent] Hello!
John: [British accent] Hello! “I’m an aspiring writer and I’ve been given a little bit of attention for a script on the Black List, the paid site, the year-end hit list. I received this email from someone a few days ago. The email is, ‘My name is blank, and I’ve been an executive producer in feature films in Los Angeles for the last eight years or so working at this studio and this production company. Anyway, I read your script, the title of the script, and I was curious if you had an agent in the states. To be totally transparent, I’m always looking for unrepresented talent to recommend to high level agents so they keep me at the top of their callback lists. Please let me know.'”
So, Thomas writes —
Craig: [laughs] Oh my god.
John: “As a total newbie to Hollywood dealings, I don’t know if this is normal. Do producers recommend un-repped writers to agents purely as a back-scratching tactic? I don’t see anything dodgy in what he’s offering and it’s very kind of him to want to help me, even if he does get something out of it. Craig, what do you think of this situation?”
Craig: I don’t think that is normal. I’m kind of stumped by this. I mean, first of all, it’s such a Willy Loman thing to say, you know. Like, “Listen, I’ve done a lot of things, I’m not doing anything now. But, oh golly gee, I’d love to take your script to somebody so that he might call me back one day about something else.” What?
I mean, yeah, I guess, look Thomas, I don’t see how it would hurt.
John: Yeah. I don’t see how it would hurt, either. I guess I’m trying to look at it from this producer’s point of view is that he’s trying to establish some sort of relationship with you vaguely, kind of establish with you. He doesn’t feel like he can get your movie made, but he thinks you’re a good writer, so this is a way of him saying that I think you’re a really good writer. He could say that and say like, hey, we should have a meeting next time you’re in town. That might be a good way to do it.
I guess he’s genuinely asking whether you have an agent because he doesn’t want to recommend the script to a certain agent unless that person is already represented because then he looks kind of foolish.
But I’ll say it’s weird that this guy is an executive producer because this kind of reaching out would happen much more at like a very junior level. And so basically says like, “Hey, I read your script. I want to give it to my boss. Do you have — tell me what the deal is with the script. Do you have an agent? Is there a manager? I want to know that it’s actually available.”
That kind of thing I think would happen all the time.
Craig: Well, I mean, look. Everything is in past tense here, so I’m not sure if this individual still is working anywhere, but what I just found surprising was the transparency was completely unnecessary. I mean, you just say, “Listen, I really liked your script. I’m not really in the marketplace to buy or produce things, but I do know a ton of agents. If you don’t have an agent I’d be happy to pass this along to some of the ones that I know.”
John: Yeah. That would be a better way to phrase what he was doing right there.
Craig: “To keep me at the top of their callback lists?” What?
Craig: What?! That’s cray. That’s cray.
John: That’s cray.
Craig: Thomas, that means crazy.
John: Yeah. That may not have crossed the pond.
Craig: It hasn’t.
John: I will say in general that sense of like recommending a script to somebody else to prove that you have good taste is a thing that happens a lot and so you want to sort of establish like, listen, I found this person, this person has good — this is a good writer. I’m the person who brought them to you, therefore I have good taste. The reason that I got my first agent was because a friend had read my script, gave it to his boss who liked it, who recommended me to his agent.
So, that happens a lot. So, that can be a good thing. You should accept those offers when they come. It just — the nature of his email was a little bit weird.
Craig: Yeah, but you know, I don’t see anything terribly awful about it. No.
John: And it’s why Franklin has the Black List site so that random people who can be helpful to you can read your script. So, I guess it’s a success in that way.
Craig: I think maybe just if you write back just be clear that you have no problem with this person forwarding your script to any agent that you think would be good. As long as you guys are clear that there is not — this doesn’t imply anything, any relationship, any professional relationship between you and this person.
Craig: That’s all. You just don’t want to suddenly have this guy on your movie.
John: Agreed. All right. Julie writes,”There is a YA novel that I would like to adapt. I am an acquaintance of the author and contacted her to see if her book has been optioned. She expressed interest in my idea of writing a TV pilot, however, she contacted her literary agent and was told that the film rep has been pitching the book for TV the last two years. From that information it doesn’t seem the book has been optioned or has a screenwriter attached.
“How do I continue to express interest in the project to her and the film agent and convince them to give me a shot in writing the pilot to accompany the pitch?”
So, in this situation it’s a little bit weird, like you’re saying it doesn’t appear that it’s been options. Like, either — it’s a binary condition. Either it’s been optioned or it hasn’t been optioned. It sounds like it hasn’t been optioned. It sounds like no one has bit on this property yet.
John: So, if you have a good take on it and you want to basically spec the TV pilot, that’s a thing you and your friend can figure out. It doesn’t have to be especially complicated.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, listen. You say how do I continue to express interest in the project to her and her film agent and convince them to give me a shot in writing the pilot to accompany their pitch — you just do it. You just say, “I’m interested in writing the pilot to accompany this pitch and you should option it to me.” And option it for a buck or whatever and give me a shot here.
Craig: And then they can decide if they want to do that or not. But it doesn’t — I mean, I don’t know why they wouldn’t because nobody wants this thing as just in the form that they’ve been offering it.
John: Totally true.
All right, let’s get to our One Cool Things.
John: So, my One Cool Thing is a movie that is out this weekend and this past weekend it debuted in Los Angeles and New York. It’s called Coherence. It’s written and directed by — I don’t even remember his name now — James Ward Byrkit, with a story by Byrkit and Alex Manugian, who is an actor in the movie as well. Another actor in the movie is our friend Lorene Scafaria who is awesome. She’s the writer and director of cool movies. And she’s an actress in this movie. She was also an actress in my movie The Nines.
And if you liked my movie, The Nines, you will probably like Coherence because it’s one of those mind trip movies like The Nines or like Primer where everything is not quite what it seems. And it gets very paranoid because of what’s really going on. So, I really enjoyed. I saw it at a screening about three weeks ago and highly recommend it to people who like that kind of movie.
Craig: Excellent. Is it available in theatres only, or…?
John: Right now it’s only in theaters. I’m sure that it will have a Video On Demand soon, so I think the rest of the world will see it soon, so I’ll give a follow up when it’s available for everyone else in the world.
Craig: I’ve been hearing a lot about it actually. A lot of buzz.
John: A lot of buzz.
Craig: A lot of buzz. My One Cool Thing is a website that I go to all the time to check on things and it’s called Quackwatch.
John: Ooh, I’m excited about Quackwatch. I hope I know what it is.
Craig: “Quackwatch.com, your guide to quackery, health fraud, and intelligent decisions operated by Stephen Barrett, M.D.”
Craig: They are also associated with the National Council Against Health Fraud and with Bioethics Watch. And they are spectacular. They — listen, you know me, I am a scientist. I am a medical scientist in my mind. And I really, really, really get crazy about the nonsense that’s put out there. Anti-intellectual nonsense. And Quackwatch is just incredible.
They’re kind of the Snopes for terrible —
John: I was going to bring up Snopes. That sounds right.
Craig: Yeah. They’re the Snopes of bad health advice and they also — they will chase down individuals, they are fearless. They chase down websites. Laboratories that are notorious for fraudulent results that are telling you what you want to hear. Obviously they’ve always been on the forefront of the nonsense anti-vaccination.
Can I just say, if you’re anti-vaccine, just stop listening to the podcast.
Craig: We don’t want you. I don’t want you. I don’t know about John. I don’t want you. Unsubscribe. Get out of here. There’s now a Pertussis epidemic in California —
John: I know. I know. It’s ridiculous. A disease that should have been completely wiped out.
Craig: Wiped out. Wiped out. Well, because Pertussis is unique. See, there is no true herd immunity for Pertussis because we actually all carry it around. What the vaccine does is prevent us from getting symptoms. But we carry it around. And you can’t vaccinate newborn infants until they’re a certain age. So, in that time we’re just getting babies sick. And you know who’s getting them sick? Their parents.
Craig: Their parents. Because they haven’t been vaccinated!
John: Or they were vaccinated as kids and the vaccine wears off and —
Craig: And it wears off and you need to get booster shots. Or they haven’t vaccinated their other children in the house. The whole idea is since there’s no herd immunity, the key with Pertussis is what they call cocooning because the baby mostly stays in the house for the first six months. That’s why they tell you, hey, don’t really take the baby to Chuck-E-Cheese when he’s three months old.
So, you’re in the house with people who have been vaccinated and therefore have much less viral load. And particularly aren’t coughing and spewing it out at you. But if your five-year-old snot-nosed unvaccinated kid is sneezing Pertussis at your three-month-old baby, oh, that is. The umbrage level right now. I got red alert. [laughs] I’m at red alert.
John: So, but it’s not just babies. That’s the thing. It’s clearly incredibly dangerous for babies, but like I have an adult friend, you know, a friend in his late forties who got Pertussis. I was like, well, he — who gets whooping cough these days?
He got it because the vaccine wears off and it’s out there in the world now. It’s becoming more common in the ways that should never have been more common. And he was knocked on his ass for weeks.
Craig: That’s right. And by the way, he gets knocked on his ass for weeks and that’s bad. But I’m angry at him for not getting a booster. And, on top of that, if he comes in contact with anybody who is immune-compromised, like somebody who has AIDS symptoms, or if he comes in contact with the elderly who have compromised immunity. He’s going to get them sick. And they could die. Oh my god.
John: Yeah, it’s maddening.
Craig: Yeah. Ugh.
John: That’s maddening, but the things like measles which really were supposed to be done.
Craig: Ugh, measles.
John: That’s just, ugh.
Craig: It’s mindboggling. And, really, I want somebody to tweet angrily to me about this one. This ain’t She-Hulk. I will come out, [laughs], I will come out guns blazing. I will go monkey. I will go insane.
John: All right.
Craig: God, this was a good show.
John: It was a good show. We got through a lot of stuff today.
Craig: I umbraged out. It’s been a long time, and I went crazy I think three times. [laughs]
John: Totally reasonable choices every time.
Craig: Thank you.
John: If you would like to leave a comment for me or for Craig, you can reach us on Twitter. I am @johnaugust. He is @clmazin. You can also leave a comment on iTunes. Search for Scriptnotes podcast. That’s a perfect place to subscribe to Scriptnotes, but you can also leave a comment there. And when you leave a comment or subscribe it actually boosts us up in the ratings there and more people can find us, so that’s always lovely when that happens.
The most recent 20 episodes of Scriptnotes you will always find on iTunes. The back episodes, the whole back catalog the first 130 episodes you can find at Scriptnotes.net. You can also find them on the iPhone at the iOS app and the Android app. Just search for Scriptnotes in the App Store and you will find that there. And through there you can get the back episodes, it’s called the premium subscription, that gives you all the back episodes, and every once and awhile we’ll have like a bonus episode that is sort of like Scriptnotes but not really Scriptnotes, things like interviews with people or stuff like that.
So, if you want to support us that way, you’re welcome to do that. It’s only $1.99 a month, so it’s not like vaccine money or anything like that.
Craig: No, no! And it doesn’t have Thimerosal in it. “Oh god! Ooh, I don’t understand science or chemistry. Argh! I believe in ghosts.”
John: If you have a longer question like some of the ones we read today, you can write to email@example.com and we try to get through as many questions as we can. It’s also a good place to write if you have follow up on things we talked about that is bigger than what we can talk about in a tweet, but tweets are sort of preferred because we can get to them right away.
And I think that is our show this week.
Craig: Yeah. That’s the end of what I think is the number one podcast for the non-writing art form of screenwriting.
John: Perfect. Craig, thank you very much.
Craig: Thank you, John. Bye.
- Vulture with Everything You Need to Know About Episode VIII Director, Rian Johnson
- Scriptnotes, Episode 115: Back to Austin with Rian Johnson and Kelly Marcel
- Storyboard Fountain from Charles Forman and Chris Smoak
- The first, second, third and fourth videos in Jim Meskimen’s How To Do Impressions series
- This is Kano
- We’re losing all our Strong Female Characters to Trinity Syndrome by Tasha Robinson
- Sitcoms are being strangled by a lack of conflict by Todd VanDerWerff
- Screenwriting isn’t writing by Richard Brody
- Ken LaZebnik’s The Red Light at the End of the Dock from WrittenBy
- James Ward Byrkit’s Coherence is in theaters now
- Quackwatch is your guide to quackery, health fraud, and intelligent decisions
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Rajesh Naroth (send us yours!)