The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Guten Tag and willkommen. My name is John August.
Craig Mazin: My name is Craig Mazin.
John: And this is Episode 157 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
I made a game time decision there. I was going to try to do the whole thing in German and I just couldn’t possibly do it. It was going to be brutal.
Craig: I decided just to do my name the normal way this time.
John: Yeah, which is good. That’s how Craig normally speaks. And so if you’re in one of those podcasting apps where you speed things up or slow things down, you might not be used to Craig’s normal voice. But that’s Craig’s normal voice.
Craig: Yeah. It was a little bit of a learning curve for me to speak this ridiculously quickly, but you had asked when we started.
John: Yeah. Well, because I’m a very fast talker. And it would have just been weird if you spoke the way you usually speak.
Craig: Have you ever listened to Dan Petrie, Jr. speak?
John: No, I haven’t.
Craig: So, I love Dan. He’s the greatest guy. For those of you who don’t know, he wrote Beverly Hills Cop. He also was the president of the Writers Guild multiple times.
Craig: And awesome guy, but notoriously slow speaker, and with these incredibly long pauses known at the Petrie Pause. So, give me a simple thing to say and I’ll translate it into Petrie.
John: There is no toothpaste left in the tube.
Craig: Uh, there is…uh…No…toothpaste…uh…uh…left in…uh…the tube.
John: And you are throwing a little slice of Christopher Walken in there, too. That sense of like —
John: That’s great.
Craig: Yeah, he’ll do it. Now, and imagine Dan Petrie running the board meeting, running the Writers Guild Board Meeting. They were long meetings.
John: Oh no. I would not have done well with that.
Craig: No, but you sound pretty good to me now. For those people who are wondering, you’ve been away. You were Germany and Austria, correct?
John: Both, yes.
Craig: So, sort of following the path of the Anschluss east, yes.
John: So, I’ve been back in Los Angeles for about 12 hours. I’m completely, wildly jet-lagged, but holding up okay. You have already been to Austria. You asked people on the podcast about a year ago maybe saying like, hey, I’m going to Austria, point me to cool things, and they did. And then I took some of the same recommendations and went back to Austria and Berlin, both of which I just highly, highly recommend.
Craig: Yes. I still haven’t been to Berlin, but Austria, quite beautiful. You’re just soaking in history everywhere you turn. It’s pretty remarkable. And then you also made it over to Salzburg.
John: Yes, and Salzburg was great. So, we did Berlin, Salzburg, drove across the country to Vienna, then flew back. And just loved it, great, the whole time threw.
John: So last week was a rerun. This week we are back, real live, with a new show. And we have new things to talk about.
Craig: So much. So much to talk about.
John: Some suggestions from Twitter which we would have gotten to anyway, but thank you again for people who suggested topics on Twitter. We want to talk about True Detective and the accusations of plagiarism surrounding that. And really what does plagiarism even mean when you’re talking about a feature film or a television series.
John: We’re going to talk about test screenings, and dealing with test screenings, and a writer’s function in a test screening. We need to talk about the majors, and what we mean when we say the majors in terms of studios, because with talk of consolidation it’s a real question of what is a major in 2014.
And finally we’re going to talk about the Canadian “about.” There was a great article I found which was going to be my One Cool Thing, but I think it’s actually worth a bigger discussion. Sometimes we make fun of how Canadians pronounce “about,” but there’s a really great post that explains sort of why that word is that way and why we tend to miss hear what they’re actually saying.
Craig: Huh. All right. Well, I’m suspicious, but open minded.
John: But you’ll love it. So, let’s get started. First off is True Detective, which is a show we talked about on the podcast previously because we both loved it.
John: Loved that show. And so this last week accusations came out and they sort of existed before this but there was a blog post that sort of summarized all the accusations that Nic Pizzolatto who created True Detective, and specifically in the character of Rust Cohle, which Matthew McConaughey plays, that some of what is sort of iconic about things that Matthew McConaughey’s character says are derived from work by a writer named Thomas Ligotti who I don’t know from before. But a writer who writes in sort of the weird science fiction Lovecraftian sort of sense.
And so this original blog post, there will be a link to that, shows examples of dialogue and then the original text from Ligotti’s work that sometimes seem like paraphrasing or closely match.
Craig: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that’s right. So, first things first, and just to be clear, this was sort of brought up — I guess this was initially brought up by a guy named Jon Padgett who is a — well, there’s two guys, Mike Davis who is writing for the Lovecraft E-Zine I guess, and then he was contacted by a guy named Jon Padgett who is the founder of the website Thomas Ligotti Online, which I suspect is about Thomas Ligotti.
John: It is about Thomas Ligotti.
Craig: And it’s not about Thomas Ligotti online.
John: No, it’s about the work, not about his online presence.
Craig: It’s not about what he does online.
John: Wouldn’t it be great if it were a meta site about Thomas Ligotti’s site.
John: That would be kind of great.
Craig: But then of course you probably reasonably be accused of plagiarism there. So, plagiarism, let’s first of all — I think you’re very smart to ask what does that even mean. And I know what I think it means. I’m kind of curious what you think it means.
John: So, to me plagiarism means trying to pass off someone else’s work as your own work. So, it’s intellectual dishonesty and trying to say that you created something that somebody else created. I think an important distinction we’re going to want to make at the start here is the difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement, because they can be — sometimes you can have both, but they’re not necessarily the same thing. Craig?
Craig: That’s right. Plagiarism isn’t a crime in the sense that copyright infringement is a crime. It’s against the law. There’s no law about plagiarism. Plagiarism to me has always been — I think your definition works very well. It’s a moral crime.
John: It’s an ethical crime.
Craig: Right. The difference between plagiarism and copyright infringement is a bit like the difference between harassing someone, being charged with harassment, or just being a jerk. It’s not nice to be a jerk, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve broken a law. Plagiarism may not life other works in such a specific way that it rises to the test of infringement, however we can say, look, you did in fact take so much without attribution and pass it off as your own that you are essentially committing a moral crime.
Craig: The question at hand is that what Pizzolatto did?
John: And so it’s interesting when we talk about plagiarism, I think about it in generally two contexts: journalism and academia, sort of writing in those two fields. You can do plagiarism in other ways, too, but those are the two areas in which you sort of see plagiarism brought up. So, you’re writing a research paper, you did not properly footnote your sources. You paraphrase something without sort of giving it attribution.
In the case of journalism, there’s great cases. The Shattered Glass case, which is basically a guy who took a bunch of written material from other writers —
Craig: Actually, Shattered Glass, he invented things. That was his big problem, yeah.
John: That’s right. It was Jayson Blair who was the one who was fabricating stuff.
Craig: I think he also — his crime was fabulism, was just making stuff up that wasn’t true. Direct plagiarism, well, you know, Joe Biden sort of had this very infamous moment when he was first running for president way back when. That was essentially plagiarism. He stole a Neil Kinnock speech I believe.
John: And it’s become easier in some cases to detect plagiarism because we have software tools now that can look through and say like you actually copied these phrases from these things. And there’s — in the literary world you can also see things, like there’s several of these articles brought up this book, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life, and that was a book that was actually published and then it was revealed that giant chunks had come from other books and they pulled it off the shelves. It was a big scandal.
What I found so interesting about this accusation with plagiarism and True Detective is I’m not even sure what it means, or that you can even ascribe the same kind of test to a filmed piece of entertainment the way you could to a written report that is handed in or a news story that’s in the New York Times.
It feels weird how — basically your defense against plagiarism is generally that you’re attributing your sources. And so you’re saying like, “Said this person,” or you’re putting in a footnote or you’re sort of saying where that stuff came from.
John: Let’s say hypothetically Pizzolatto had used these things from Thomas Ligotti. How was he supposed to attribute those in a way that was meaningful, that gave credit to Ligotti?
Craig: Right. Okay, so correct in suggesting that plagiarism is a far more serious charge when you’re dealing with journalism. Even if you’re dealing with silly journalism. I mean, there was a recent uproar over a guy that wrote Buzz Feed Listicles, which are in the grand scheme of things completely insubstantial and insignificant. And yet he was plagiarizing. And they caught him. They caught him red-handed. And he plagiarized a lot.
And that is a more serious issue because journalism is purporting to express original, particularly original thoughts or commentary on things. We understand in entertainment there is to some extent when people say everything is a remix, we understand what that means. There are certain plots that get rehashed over and over. Drama gets rehashed over and over. We see the same kinds of characters. We know that movies sometimes seem just like other movies.
All of that is true. But, you ask an interesting question. What was he supposed to do? Before we talk about what he was supposed to do, let’s talk about what he did.
Because in this case I have to say I am uncomfortable with what he did. I am a little uncomfortable. Is it plagiarism? I don’t know. Because, again, very fuzzy term. But I’m a little uncomfortable and in a sense I’m uncomfortable because it’s not copyright infringement. When you see something that isn’t copyright infringement but looks a whole lot like something else, in and of itself that is a kind of evidence that there was a stealing, because there is a an attempt to cover ones tracks.
So, for instance, Pizzolatto writes through Rust Cohle, “There is no point. Nowhere to go. No one to see. Nothing to do. Nothing to be.”
Now, here are some lines from Ligotti: “Without the ever clanking machinery of emotion, everything would come to a standstill. There would be nothing to do. Nowhere to go. Nothing to be. And no one to know.”
Now, slightly different. [laughs] Ever so slightly different. Different enough, one supposes perhaps, to not be. But pretty damn close.
Now, let’s acknowledge that he’s, okay, so he’s gone ahead, he’s read that, it’s influenced him, and he’s now using that work to — Cohle is sort of channeling what this guy wrote. In and of itself you do that once or twice, I don’t even think that’s a problem at all. My concern is that there is an enormous — it seems like there’s an enormous reliance on one author’s expression over and over for one character and that character is so closely associated to you, the person who is borrowing, That’s the part that concerns me here.
John: So, Craig, I worry that you’re falling into some silent evidence issues here, because obviously these blog posts they’re citing all these examples of Rust Cohle’s speeches that involve elements of things he said. But for all we know, maybe he has 10,000 lines over the course of these eight episodes. That may be 1% of the lines he says are influenced by this. And there may be other, Nietzsche and other sot of writers who are also influencing, of reliance throughout those things, so you’re not seeing that.
Basically I’m saying if you saw the comprehensive list of every line of dialogue he said, and in cases where you could attribute it to being influenced by the writers of one of these other writers, I’m not even sure Ligotti would be in the top percentage of things that he’s saying, or at least the notable things that he’s saying.
Craig: Um, you might be right. You might be right. I think that there’s a difference between repackaging ideas though unique dialogue and repackaging ideas though non-unique dialogue. That’s the part that concerns me a little bit. And more to the point, through non-unique dialogue that isn’t in the public domain like Nietzsche, or Shakespeare, or the bible, but rather is the work of another author who has not only legal rights but more importantly to this case certain — just an inherent ethical right to his own work.
I am uncomfortable with this. I don’t think Nic Pizzolatto is a plagiarist, however, I think that he failed to appropriately acknowledge somebody that was a clear influence on a character for which Nic Pizzolatto up to this point has received total credit.
John: So, let’s say that you’re right, and let’s say that — it’s making you uncomfortable and you think that more attribution should be given, more credit should be given to this other writer. How would you do that? What would be ways that you could do that? If you were Pizzolatto, how would you reflect that?
Would it be something you’d put in the script? Is it something you say in interviews? What would you do?
Craig: Well, frankly, if I were — let’s put aside am I Pizzolatto. Let me say I’m a producer on this and I’m aware that the writer is being influenced to this extent by another writer’s work that is not in the public domain, I would suggest that you go and get the rights to that thing. That you cover your tracks there and that this person is fairly compensated and has the right to essentially be compensated for their contribution, which is seemingly a very real contribution from what I can read. That, to me, would be a fair thing.
If you don’t feel it rises to the test of that, then I just think as Pizzolatto had acknowledged, was it the Yellow King, that whole work, acknowledged it early on as an influence, he could have acknowledged this as an influence. I am concerned that he didn’t because maybe he was aware that some of this stuff had crossed the line from influence to kind of lifting.
John: Yes. I think that’s a lot of speculation. Because we don’t know all the interviews he did. We don’t know sort of when he talked about what things. All we know about what Pizzolatto said about Ligotti’s work and other things comes from there’s a Wall Street Journal interview where he talked at length about sort of Pizzolatto and this specific book and things like that.
But for all we know, he could have been talking about that during all the lead up into the debut of the show.
Craig: It doesn’t appear that that’s the case.
John: It doesn’t appear that that’s the case. But, again, we have no evidence that he has done it, but we have no evidence that he was trying to cover anything up. So, all we’re seeing is based on dates of when things got published, this is when he started talking about and started acknowledging that this was one of his influences in the piece.
John: I want to go back to a thing that was in the original blog post between Mike Davis and Jon Padgett. They were saying that — I should also stress that the original author, Thomas Ligotti, he’s not the person who seems to be upset about this. He’s not the person who is talking to the press about this. It’s really this online site that’s doing that.
They said, well, he should have gone to Ligotti and gotten his blessing or his permission, or sort of gotten his okay to do it. And that’s a weird thing to say when you’re giving charges of plagiarism because that’s never been a requirement of using work in terms of plagiarism. Plagiarism is about not attributing things. So, imagine if you were a journalist and you had to get permission to quote somebody. That would be ridiculous.
Craig: Oh, no. Quotes are a totally different deal. We don’t own the rights to what we say. If a reporter calls me and I say something to him, it’s not in fixed form. And so there is no right or anything there. They can attribute it to me and if I challenge them on it they can just say, no, I took my notes and you did it. And that happens all the time.
This is a published work and there are specific lines in fixed form that are unique expressions and they have been — again, I don’t think that this is, certainly it’s not copyright infringement, but there are moments where it feels… — Here’s the thing: look, I don’t think that Nic Pizzolatto is a plagiarist. I think that the — I don’t think the umbrage that they have taken here is appropriate for what has occurred.
However, Nic Pizzolatto received a ton of praise not only all of the non-Rust Cohle dialogue aspects of the show, which are brilliant, but also in part for Rust Cohle’s dramatic philosophy. His nihilistic philosophy. The tenets of the philosophy have existed long before Mr. Ligotti and Mr. Pizzolatto. But the phrasing of the philosophy at times is very much Ligotti’s and I think that maybe there is something a little unfair about doing something like that knowing full well that you’re getting credit for it while somebody else isn’t at all.
John: Yeah. Okay, a couple of ways to sort of pull this apart. Let’s talk about it from the writing perspective and look at things that if Pizzolatto had done it a certain way in the writing we might not have had these issues come up. It could have actually hurt the writing, but we could at least talk about it. One thing I think would never have worked would be some sort of footnote. So, their suggestion is like, oh, if you just footnoted things the way you would in a research paper that would show where it came from.
Well, that’s not helpful because —
John: Obviously what we’re filming is not the actual text that’s written there on the page.
Craig: That’s right.
John: So that is not going to be a useful thing. Rust Cohle could have said, “Have you ever read the work of Thomas Ligotti. Ligotti would say….” It could be some more artful way of actually putting Ligotti’s name out there in the context of that dialogue.
Craig: I don’t think that’s required. I don’t want my character having to make citations like that.
John: I don’t want that to have to happen either.
Craig: But I do think that certainly in the press notes for the show, the easiest thing would have been to say a lot of this character was influenced by the following: Nietzsche….Schopenhauer…the work of Thomas Ligotti, just to say, “Hey, I’m not trying to pull a fast one here.” When Rust Cohle says, “I think about the hubris it must take to yank a soul out of non-existence into this meat, force a life into this thresher,” that is a very specific expression. I’m listening to them thinking who is the guy — who wrote that? Nic Pizzolatto? Who is this guy? That’s amazing. Except that somebody else before him wrote, “We are meat. Why should generations unborn be spared entry into the human thresher? Every one of us, haven been stolen from non-existence, are being readied for the meat grinder of existence.”
Well, you see what I’m saying?
John: Absolutely. I totally see what you’re saying. And I think I’m uncomfortable in the same ways. What I would challenge though in your suggestion of in the press notes he should have called out Ligotti, that’s after the fact and that’s actually something that’s not necessarily possible for every writer to do. Every writer doesn’t get the chance to sort of go through and do the press notes on things and say like, “This is where stuff comes from.”
Yeah, it doesn’t take away the plagiarism aspects of it, because the actual text is what is being accused.
Craig: Even if you don’t have access to press notes, or anything like that, you have — everybody now more than ever can go on record publicly in the widest forum possible and say, “Hey, this was something that influenced me. If you guys like the way Rust Cohle talks, check out this book by Thomas Ligotti.” Because it’s not all of it, but it’s clearly some of it. And I don’t like the fact that I think I’m appreciating the expression of one person when I’m actually appreciating the expression of another, or at least their combined expression. You know what I mean?
John: I do know what you mean. I think the other challenge we’re facing here with Ligotti is Ligotti is largely unknown to most people. And so because he was an obscure person that no one was familiar with his words ahead of time, nobody knew that he was being quoted. When you quote Shakespeare, when you quote Nietzsche, when you quote those things, that’s free. I mean, basically, not only is it public domain but people know what it is.
You can even — you can quote things from other movies that’s fine because everyone knows what the reference is.
John: My worry is that if we go too far down this path of sort of, the suggestion that you actually need to go get the rights to this underlying work, to Ligotti’s work in order to be able to make this Rust Cohle character, then we’re just going to be paralyzed and you can be paranoid that anything — any philosophy that a character speaks, wow, did someone else say that first?
I just worry that we’re going to get into the problem that rap ran into with sampling, or sort of —
Craig: Well, but hold on a second. Rap ran into that problem and then they had to solve it. Because it was a problem. And now people get paid. I mean, you can’t lift chunks of other people’s stuff and put it out there as our own and then expect that you don’t have to pay them.
John: But I think that’s a copyright infringement problem. You are literally taking a copyrighted material that you can clearly define, like I’m taking the actual audio of what you’re doing and reusing it. Versus the other musical example is like you can’t copyright a chord progression.
Craig: Right. That’s right.
John: A chord progression is a general statement of philosophy. And so I worry that you could draw the lines so narrowly that… — Listen, we can all, you know, we can have the full text of every movie ever spoken. So, I’ll bet in almost any movie you could find those lines of dialogue written in other movies. I just worry that it’s going to become paralyzing and that we’re not going to make bold choices because of worries about this kind of accusation after the fact.
Craig: It’s good to have —
John: I’m already a little nervous about that. You read a script that I wrote that I was clearly relying on this recognition of a certain cultural icon without being part of that cultural icon and that’s frustrating.
Craig: But it’s different. To me we know that parody and reference is acceptable. We even, I mean, everybody knows that Tarantino pastiches together god knows how many little bits and bobs from other movies he’s seen that maybe we haven’t seen. So, yes, he’s not the first person to have someone jab a needle into someone’s heart to revive them. But that to me, all that stuff is great and wonderful. And when Tarantino then says, “Oh yeah, that’s from this movie,” it’s not like he’s hiding it because it’s a movie. It exists and people know about it. And that’s all fine.
I don’t want to touch any of that. Nor do I want to suggest that you have to buy underlying properties because you’re expressing a similar philosophy or idea. I’m talking about what the — when you get down to brass tax, the specific arrangement of words. We are writers. That matters. And if you are specifically doing it with one person’s unread work that nobody knows about, and you’re pulling out repeatedly arrangements of words and then having your character say them in not exactly but just a little sideways, almost as if to say, “See, it’s not exactly the same.” That is concerning to me. And there has to be some line of concern, otherwise at some point people could just start lifting scenes, or lifting direct sentences. At some point there has to be something.
I guess my point is this: I’m not uncomfortable with Nic Pizzolatto did vis-‡-vis the work of Mr. Ligotti. I am uncomfortable with the silence that he maintained up until this point. And even now — now of course you can tell that he and HBO are in a legal defensive posture. But in a way I think there was information withheld because it was maybe a little inconvenient. And that’s the part that I’m uncomfortable with. And I’m happy to be wrong about this. Very happy to be wrong.
I hope that Ligotti comes out and says, “Hey, everyone relax. He called me. He loved my book. He loves my stuff. We had a conversation. I was like totally cool with him. Kind of building this character a little bit around some of the, you know, key phrases that I’ve used in my books to express this philosophy.” If that happens, I’m thrilled.
I don’t care about the business being restrained or any of that stuff. I more care about Thomas Ligotti and just making sure that he didn’t get kind of wronged in a moral way.
John: I get that as well. And so I think I’m uncomfortable with sort of how specific some of the sentences were in that comparison and when you bring up that thresher thing, yes, I think that’s a lesson for all writers to look at is like, wow, that’s a really great sentence and it’s not your sentence. And so the challenge is then to write your own sentence that is as great as that sentence and will be terrific.
And that truly is a challenge. I would also stress though that we have to always remember that writing a script and putting something up on the screen is a long process. It involves a lot of different people. So, even if you had the best of intention about sort of how you’re going to site, or sort of like how you’re going to include that author — my sort of ham-fisted example is sort of like how you have Rust Cohle say, “Thomas Ligotti, blah, blah, blah, blah,” through the process that stuff could drop away.
And so you could be facing a situation where in the edit something goes away that was kind of protecting you intellectually and morally and ethically about how you were using that preexisting work. And that can be a real challenge.
Craig: That can be a challenge. I will say, by the way, that if Pizzolatto had a Thomas Ligotti book on a shelf in Rust Cohle’s apartment, the debate is over. He’s acknowledged. I think what’s uncomfortable here is that it seemed like he was trying to maybe pull a fast one on us. That’s the part that makes me uncomfortable.
John: And I’m not willing to go there. I don’t think there was that intention.
Craig: I hope there wasn’t.
John: I think there wasn’t. So, we should say just for the record, this was as we’re recording this, the Pizzolatto statement that came out from HBO is quote, “Nothing in the television show True Detective was plagiarized. The philosophical thoughts expressed by Rust Cohle do not represent any thought or idea unique to any one author. Rather, these are the philosophical tenets of a pessimistic, anti-natalist philosophy with an historic tradition including Arthur Schopenhauer, Friedrich Nietzsche, E.M. Cioran, and various other philosophers, all of whom express these ideas. As an autodidact pessimist, Cohle speaks toward that philosophy with erudition and in his own words. The ideas within this philosophy are certainly not exclusive to any writer.”
Craig: Yeah. A lawyer wrote that. He’s not writing that. That’s a lawyer.
John: That’s a lawyer.
Craig: That’s such a lawyer covering his butt now. I mean, I have a feeling that there’s a far more interesting defense but he’s not allowed to make it because now the lawyers are like, okay, shutting everything down. Too much money at stake here. And I get that.
John: You get that.
Craig: Yeah, totally. That’s the way you got to do it.
John: So, on the topic of lawyers, let’s talk about the merger that almost happened this last week, or the last month. There was the talk that Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, which I just hate saying that, it just feels so wrong.
Craig: I know! They should have kept it 20th Century.
John: That Fox was going to try to buy Warner Bros, which I’m really glad didn’t happen. So, I wanted to talk sort of what it would have meant if that had happened, and sort of what we in the town talk about as the majors and why I kind of think it’s important that we keep a good high quality number of majors.
Craig, what was your feeling about the whole Fox/Warner thing?
Craig: Well, I was really surprised. Look, I don’t own large multinational conglomerates for a reason. I don’t know how they function. But it did seem to me that there was a strange overlap of stuff there that would be hard to reconcile.
Craig: They have two lots, for instance. They have two television production companies. Two film production companies. They have — it just seemed like an enormous amount of duplication. But, on the other hand I understand why they do these things. Essentially they become a mega studio. What I didn’t want to see was a continued streamlining of the business so that even fewer movies are made and even fewer writers are hired. That was the part obviously that was panicking everyone. I was amused by the WGA’s angry fist-waving only because it’s just — you know, sometimes there are missiles going off in the sky and ants are yelling at the missiles, like “go away missiles.” That’s not going to really do anything.
I mean, I understand why they do it. Just sometimes I giggle.
John: For people who don’t know what Craig is talking about, the Writers Guild did send out a letter to the membership from Billy Ray, Chip Johannessen…and who else was on the letter? Basically saying that the Writers Guild and specifically the Writers Guild PAC was very concerned about the possibility of this merger.
Craig: [laughs] Yeah.
John: And Craig is not a fan of the Writers Guild PAC.
Craig: Well, look, I just think that it’s — that’s right up there with a strongly worded letter from the United Nations. I just don’t see it having any impact. And frankly I was far — I mean, if I’m looking for somebody to root for in that circumstance it wasn’t the Writers Guild, it was Warner Bros, and specifically Jeff Bewkes who seemed totally disinterested in this. And the moves that Warner Bros made to essentially head off what could have turned into a hostile takeover.
John: Yeah. I think it felt really weird and wrong to me. And I didn’t quite understand why Murdoch wanted to do it. It felt like an acquisition for the sake of just “let’s make something even bigger,” and I didn’t see great things coming out of it.
Because you have to remember, and I should relate this back to on the blog two weeks ago I posted this really interesting organizational chart from Disney. I don’t know if you saw that, Craig.
John: But it was this historical organizational chart from Disney that showed way back in 1959 sort of how the whole studio was arranged and how these parts fed these parts and how it all fit together.
And you look at if Fox and Warner were to merge, there are just so many pieces that you don’t even think of. Like you don’t think that HBO and therefore Game of Thrones, that’s Warner’s. And so it’s not just you’re talking about the people who made the Batman movie, the people who make the X-Men movie are going to be in the same place. It’s like these huge networks that would be combined and I just don’t see how it could possibly have benefited honestly either studio or certainly not people trying to make quality shows.
Craig: I think that’s for sure. I think that Fox was looking, may have been looking at two big areas. One was the fact that Time Warner controls the delivery pipeline to homes. They own a very large and significant cable service that delivers content. That’s something that Fox itself doesn’t have.
John: Fox owns Direct TV, don’t they?
Craig: Oh, they do?
John: I thought they did. I may be completely confused.
Craig: I don’t know if that’s true.
John: I’ll look it up right now.
Craig: If that’s the case it would just solidify… — I mean, really what it comes down to I think is guys like Rupert Murdoch, they look at who the bigger conglomerate is and try and be as big as them. So, maybe he’s looking over at Charter or Comcast because he sees, okay, Universal and Comcast are teamed up. That’s a content creator and a content deliverer. And Warner Bros. Is a content creator and they’re a content deliverer. Fox, I don’t know, we’ll see what you turn up, but if they don’t have a delivery system in place that may have been the play he was making.
And the other studio I think he had his eye on was in fact Disney because Disney currently is three major studios, not one. They create all of their Disney branded content. Marvel, which at this point now is essentially as big a studio as any of these, I think, or at least it’s as big as something like New Regency. And then Pixar.
John: So, let’s do a run through of what we talk about when we talk about the majors. So, the majors in my listing would be, counting on my six fingers, is Fox, Warner, Sony, Universal, Disney, and Paramount.
Craig: That’s correct.
John: There’s other things we talk about kind of like majors, but they’re not their own independent majors, usually because they’re not distributing features. So, things like Legendary, New Regency, Alcon, MGM, Imagine, those are places that often are financing movies and they’re making movies, but they’re not like the full service deal. I can also be confusing because within these big majors there are many sub-labels. And so Craig was talking through Disney. So, Disney the labels you have — Walt Disney Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, Disney Nature, Disney Animation, Pixar, now Lucas Film, Marvel —
Craig: Oh yeah, I forgot, Lucas Film, of course, the Star Wars thing, too. Geez.
John: And, hey, are you counting DreamWorks as a major or not major at this point?
Craig: Well, at this point they’re not, no.
John: Because they distribute through Disney now, through Disney and through Fox.
Craig: Look, Legendary distributes — they had been distributing through Warner Bros, now they distribute through Universal. New Regency distributes through Fox. Alcon distributes through Warner Bros. MGM distributes through Sony, I believe. Imagine is through Universal. All of these, if you’re distributing through somebody then you are essentially a mini or a specialty label I would argue. Yeah.
John: Yeah. So, and it’s interesting, I was doing some introspection as I was trying to list the major, I literally think of them geographically. I start in the southwest, toward the west and sort of move towards Burbank. So that’s why I’m sort of thinking through like my Sony sweep, so you don’t miss one along the way.
Craig: That’s right.
John: The only one that’s actually in Hollywood is Paramount. Everything else is on the fringes.
Craig: Yes. That’s why I try to work for Universal or Warner Bros because they’re the closest to my house. It’s great.
John: Less driving. I can walk to Paramount. But I never work there.
Craig: Paramount is only like 25 minutes from my house. But, why? Universal, Warner Bros, 15 minutes away. Disney — think they’ll let me write a Star Wars movie, [laughs], if I ask really nicely?
John: Everyone we know is writing a Star Wars movie except for you and me.
Craig: I know. What do you think if I called up and I said, “Look, here’s the thing. I want to write a Star Wars movie and I’ll be totally honest with you guys It’s not because I’m a huge Star Wars fan, it’s just that you’re so close. You’re so close to where I live.”
John: Except as we know from our friends who are working there, the Star Wars movies aren’t really being written at Disney. They’re being written up in San Francisco which is a lot further.
Craig: Well, I would ask for, you know.
John: Oh, you’d ask for Kathy Kennedy and everybody to come down?
John: That totally makes sense. Because they would do that for you, Craig.
Craig: I like that I’ve reduced my chances from 0.000001% to 0.00000001%.
Craig: But, there is a finite chance.
John: Yeah. There’s always a chance.
Craig: Always a chance.
John: [laughs] So, I want there to be, I don’t want there to be any fewer majors. And I don’t want there to be fewer majors as a screenwriter who writes features, but especially as a TV writer. You compress these things down too much and it just becomes madness. So, you want there to be lots of people there to potentially buy your stuff and to put stuff out there.
Because even though sometimes if you’re writing a spec feature script, it’s one of these financiers that’s actually buying the script, so it’s a legendary or it’s an Alcon. They still have to go through a studio. And so if none of those studios are — if you don’t have two of those studios excited about doing it, then you’re going to have a hard time getting that movie made.
Craig: Everything would suffer. It may not be the case that Rupert Murdoch’s bottom line would suffer, but our experience here in Hollywood as writers would suffer. There’s been a lot of complaining about what we call vertical integration. I don’t know if vertical integration is the worst thing in the world. It’s hard for me to tell. I can’t tell.
I know that it was bad when syndication fees started getting reduced because of sweetheart deals, although syndication in and of itself is kind of going by the wayside. But I’m not sure that it’s been a bad thing for feature writers, at least. The fact that Disney owns ABC, I’m not sure that affects my life as a feature writer. But if they eliminated one of the six buyers, I mean, the six major buyers, oh, that would be disaster.
Craig: And I didn’t understand what would even be in it for Warner Bros other than I suppose some crazy offer to the shareholders, but it seems like they effectively rebuffed that whole situation.
John: Which is a good thing.
Craig: For us it is.
John: It is. Craig, you suggested a topic of test screenings. So, what should we talk about with test screenings?
Craig: Well, this is something that had come up through Twitter. Someone asked the question, “How do you guys deal with test screenings?” And I thought, oh my god, what a great question because it’s the worst and/or the best.
John: I love test screenings because they are so — you’re never more nervous than when a test screening starts.
Craig: It’s the worst. So, let me walk you folks who haven’t experienced this particular hell through the test screening process. The movie is now at a place where it is ready to show to a test audience, the purpose of which to allow the filmmakers and the producers to get a sense of how it’s working with the audience, what’s playing well, what isn’t, and what changes could be made. Does there need to be some additional photography, etc.
It also gives the studio a sense of how much potential there is in the movie, as if it does really well in test screenings they will begin to think about making a large marketing push and really supporting the movie. If it’s a disaster they’ll just quietly let it wallow out there and die.
So, the test screening process, those of you who don’t live in Los Angeles aren’t familiar with these people. Those who do are. They’re people who stand around movie theaters and approach people that are in the target audience for the movie and that’s predetermined. These people usually work for a company called NRG.
John: National Research Group.
Craig: There you go. And they say, hey, do you want to see a free movie? And it’ll either be a blind recruit, which is, “It’s a Rated-R comedy, sort of in the vein of The Hangover.” Or it’s a non-blind recruit. “It’s called Identity Thief and it stars Jason Bateman and Melissa McCarthy. It’s a Rated-R comedy and it’s a road trip movie.”
Okay. So, depending, and then they get their audience, people show up. The movie is free for them.
John: Generally these screenings are held either on the studio lot but increasingly they rent out a theater — the rent out one of the houses in a big theater, so think a mall theater on like a Tuesday night.
Craig: It’s usually the case that you’re in a proper theater somewhere out there in a multiplex. They’ve given you a screen on a Tuesday or a Thursday or Wednesday, some off day. And in goes everyone and they all sit down. And then somebody gets up and says, “You’re one of the first audiences to see…” and they always let people know that it’s temp music and the sound may be off and the visual effects may not be done. And enjoy the movie.
And then people watch the movie and you, the filmmakers, and increasingly the writer is part of this group, sit somewhere in the back and watches people watching the movie. And when it’s done everybody fills out a form. And the form asks them all sorts of questions. Lots of questions. What was your favorite part? What was your least favorite part? What character did you like?
But the most — ultimately the thing that everybody concentrates on is a very simple question. Would you rate this movie Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor. Five, what we call five boxes. And when that’s all done there’s a focus group —
John: Oh, there’s another incredibly important field on that same form. Would you recommend this movie?
Craig: Right. Definitely, Maybe, Definitely Not. Yes, you’re right. That’s the other big metric.
Then, once everybody has filled out their forms they leave. The NRG folks have carefully, theoretically, selected 25 people usually to stay behind. And then they run a focus group. They ask them questions. What did you think of the movie, what did you like, how many of you rated it this, how many of you rated it that? And then they start letting people talk about what they liked and didn’t like and the filmmakers listen in on this.
John: So, those 25 people who are left behind, they bring those people down to the first two rows and then you as the filmmakers, you sort of sneak in and sit a couple rows behind so you can listen and actually hear what they’re saying. And it’s terrifying because someone will go off on a rant about some random thing and like why aren’t you shutting up that person. And the moderators, if they’re good, they will totally shut up that person and keep the conversation moving and flowing.
Craig: That’s right. [laughs] Sometimes they don’t do that and somebody kind of hijacks things. I was in a test screening once where Bob Weinstein actually yelled at one of the focus group people which was spectacular. I just thought that was amazing. Just yelled at a kid who was answering a question.
John: That’s awesome.
Craig: Yeah, like hey, not only do I yell at the directors, and the writers, and the actors, I’m now just yelling at random audience members. It was pretty great.
John: I like that he keeps it consistent. He doesn’t change it up. He’s one person. He’s himself at every moment.
Craig: It’s time to yell.
So, when the focus group is over, at that point the NRG people have done a fairly good job of very quickly tallying up all of the ratings for definitely recommend and for what we call the top two boxes — people that rated the movie either Excellent or Very Good. And those are considered the best indication of what people thought of the movie. And that’s when you get your number.
John: Yeah. You’re number is the sum of those top two boxes.
Craig: So let’s talk numbers. The norms, so that’s sort of, I guess, I don’t know if it’s the mean average or the median average, but the norm changes slightly depending on the genre. There are different norms for family movies. They’re usually higher. And then lower for Rated-R film and so on and so forth. But typically for the kinds of movies you and I have done, usually the norm is something like a 65. If you get a 65 you’re not in good shape. [laughs] The norm is bad.
Craig: The norm is bad. It’s bad because it includes movies that were total disasters that got tens, you know. What you’re trying to get — here’s a very, very rough sense. If you’ve made a Rated-R comedy that is of the sort that might be a little polarizing, you’re looking to get an 80. If you can get an 80 you’re in pretty good shape. You get mid-80s, you’re in very good shape. You get mid-70s, you’re okay.
John: Below that you’re in trouble.
Craig: Below 70 you’ve really got problems. Low 70s, you’ve got some work to do. If you’ve made a family movie, a heartwarming family movie, you’re aiming for 90.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: Like John Hancock — when John Lee Hancock tests a movie, I’m like, dude, you need a 98.
Craig: If you make The Blind Side, this heartwarming story of a family that saves this kid and then he just triumphs over adversity, you need a 98. If you get a 95 it’s like an F.
John: Yes. Because that 2% means like racists. Who’s not going to like that movie?
Craig: Yeah. Racists or just like super grumpy jerks, who just hate joy, and you get those sometimes. And sure enough that’s exactly what they did was, I think, a 98. Okay, so, that’s kind of what you’re going for.
But there are times when it doesn’t work out that way.
John: Absolutely that’s true. So, that number is ultimately your take-away from that thing. That’s the thing that people are going to remember. But you will also take away that giant stack of forms. And sometimes those are actually really helpful because when you have questions about what was actually confusing people, you can actually look through those forms and see what it is. And so in those forms they’ll list their favorite moments, their least favorite moments, things that confuse them, characters — you sort of get to rate them on a grid. That can be useful if you’re looking at the next cut, if you’re looking at doing additional photography.
It’s also useful for the marketing people because they get to know what people really love about the movie.
Craig: That’s right.
John: So, I should back up and say the function of the moderator, the person who is running that forum, I found it to be such an interesting job and there was always one guy who was always doing it for us, a guy named Andy Fiedler. And so when I made The Nines I was like I want that guy to be the moderator on The Nines.
So, we actually cast him as the guy who is doing the test screening of the pilot that is in part two of the movie. So, if you ever want to see what it’s like to be in a test screening, and what it’s like to be in that moment, we have that in The Nines. And it’s literally the guy who would do that test screening.
Craig: Nice back door promo there, by the way. Way to go. Nice job.
John: Certainly. Absolutely. I’m going to get $0.50 from people streaming that on Netflix right now.
Craig: You have fifty cents coming your way.
The stack of forms that you go through is interesting. Very famously when you go through the forms you will find some that sink your heart and you weep for humanity. I think it’s Scott Stuber has one framed on his wall. It’s a form. So, there’s like a lot of questions about the movie and someone has answered none of them. They’ve just written across the form in the pencil diagonally, “More boobs.”
John: I’ve never seen this thing, but as you were telling this story I knew exactly that it would say More Boobs. It would have to say More Boobs.
Craig: More Boobs. Which in a way is one of the more informative ones of those survey submissions.
John: Like a Weinstein Brother, that person was expressing his thought consistently and clearly. And that’s really — there’s something laudable about that.
Craig: Well, also, he’s given you a path to success.
John: Now, Craig, you do more comedy-comedies, so I’m curious whether you do this thing that Seth Rogan does where they videotape the audience and so they can see exactly where the laughs are.
Craig: Absolutely. So, that’s something that goes all the way about the ZAZ guys, I think, from they started doing it back in The Naked Gun days, you know, with like VCRs and stuff. But, yeah, we record the audience. I did it with David Zucker. I did it with Todd Phillips. And you can put them in, first of all, huge benefit to it is that it solves debates in the editing room. Because what inevitably happens is you’re sitting in the editing room, the producer is like that joke didn’t work and the writer is like, no, no, no, I totally remember that, it got a huge laugh. And the director is like I can’t — I think it got an okay laugh, but maybe it went on too long and went past the laugh.
Okay, the audience in two sizes in night vision is in the avid and you can play it simultaneous like screens side by side.
John: That’s great. That was my question, whether you sync to that. That’s brilliant.
Craig: Absolutely. And then you go, okay, it did get a laugh, you’re an idiot, but it did go too long. Like the laugh ends there. Let’s cut away. These are the things that help maintain pace because you’re guessing, you know, and look — usually our guesses are pretty good. You get to a place where you have decent instincts about these things, but nobody bats a thousand, so those things are useful.
The biggest use to me when it comes to test screenings for comedies is that you begin to feel the movie for the first time.
Craig: It’s a strange thing to say that you’ve watched a movie, you wrote it, you shot it, you edit it, you edit it over and over and over and over, you put it together you show it to people, and then just sitting in that room it’s like you’re seeing it for the first time.
John: It’s 100% true. And I think as a writer what I’ve gotten so much out of test screenings and being there with the audience is I start to be able to see — not just see problems but find solutions because I’m there in real-time with an audience and feeling it the way they’re feeling it.
And so my function is often, if it’s not the movie that I’m directly sort of involved in cutting, I’m the person who sort of is synthesizing the mood and I’m writing up the most notes and sort of the biggest batch of notes about this cut and sort of what the reaction is. And I send that through to the producers and the director saying like here is what we think we can do. And sometimes it’s incredible specific stuff like I think we could lose this half of this phrase, or get to this shot quicker. And sometimes I can see that just watching a cut just on a screen, but seeing it there with an audience you really get a sense of like, okay, this is how it’s playing in front of real people.
Craig: Yeah. You begin to see things on two levels. You might sit there and go, “Oh my god, this scene is so long and boring. I never understood how long and boring it was until I became a member of the audience.” Or “oh my god, the ending doesn’t work. Or, “oh my god, we’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
But then there are also these little moments that occur where after fine-tuning something in the editing room, you watch it with an audience and you go, wait — wait, wait, wait, that line, we should be looking at her when that line is said. We shouldn’t be looking at him. Little things. All that stuff comes out. I will say that the first test screening is perhaps the most harrowing, psychologically harrowing experience you can have in the entertainment business because you don’t know. You don’t know if you’re on your way to the gallows, or a parade, or a shrug.
John: Because it’s honestly like a live performance. Anything can go wrong at any moment. You really have no sense of how people are going to respond 30 frames from now, and whether that joke is going to play or not play. And once you’ve seen the movie with an audience, you get a pretty good sense. Like you may have better audiences or wore audiences, but it’s going to be one movie. It’s the same movie the whole time through. Here you just don’t know.
And I would say it’s the second most nerve-wracking experience. For me as a writer, if I haven’t been in the editing room beforehand, seeing that first cu is incredibly difficult for me too. Just like, “Ooh, that doesn’t even make sense.”
Craig: Seeing the first cut is injurious to everybody. I mean, the director watches the assembly and vomits everything inside of her out. the writer watches the director’s cut and vomits everything inside of himself out. But, you also know — but, okay, I still have control over this before it is witnessed and I am humiliated. That’s the part that’s rough. And in comedy it’s particularly brutal because it’s like you’re showing up at open mic night and you’ve paid a $100 million ticket to get in and everything bombs.
So, I usually, when I go to a test screening I bring a very small — the smallest dosage of Xanax there is and I have it in my pocket. It’s basically like a cyanide capsule. And if around the 35th minute it seems like the boat is sinking, I’ll take the Xanax. I’ve only had to take it once, but knowing it’s there so that I don’t curl up and die. And then alternatively there’s the experience of the home run. And that’s just awesome.
John: That was Go. I mean, the first test screening it was a 91 and then we knew we were going to go back and reshoot some stuff so it was like we’re good.
Craig: It’s such a great feeling. I think the best test screening I’ve ever been to in my life was the first test screening for The Hangover Part II. It was — I can’t remember, I think we scored a 91 or a 92, which for a Rated-R comedy is really hard to do.
John: It’s great.
Craig: It’s just hard. I mean, a Rated-R comedy where there’s exposed penises and stuff. It’s just — some people are going to get angry. And it was a rock concert. It was the greatest. And then you are able to relax. You’re actually able to make the movie better than you would have otherwise because you’re calm, you’re not tense. People aren’t angry.
Boy, when it goes bad. Oof.
John: Yeah. It’s a dark day when it goes bad. Because with good news people are willing to open up the purse strings, willing to let you go and do things and you have power. If it goes badly, you’ve lost so much momentum and power.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: And they just get defensive and they start to —
Craig: They get defensive. And also the arguments become that much more difficult.
“So, what do we do to fix it?”
“Well, I think this is what we should do.”
“Really, do you? Guy that just made a movie that didn’t test well?”
“Oh, oh, I see how this is going to go.” Yeah.
David Zucker always said he never felt the need to sky dive because instead he goes to test screenings of his movies. It’s terrifying, but it’s very important. And it’s not the kind of thing where we sit there and custom tailor the movie in every way to the people in the audience. We don’t do that. It’s more for us to experience it with an audience.
John: The second Charlie’s Angels was not test screened and it shows.
Craig: Did they not test screen it because they knew?
John: No, I think it was just — they got into a weird protective state where they’re just like, “Oh, we know it’s really good and so we’re just going to do a little test screening just with like some friends.” They did sort of like a friends and family test screening. That can be valid, but you need to have I think a true —
Craig: Must. Believe me, I understand why you wouldn’t want to do it. And I can come up with 20 great reasons why you wouldn’t want to do it and they’re all lies to cover and protect from the misery of doing it.
John: I question whether Guardians of the Galaxy or most of the Marvel movies get real test screenings. I never see things leaking out about test screening that they’ve done. And yet they must be showing them to people so they know what’s working.
Craig: Well, it’s interesting. I was really surprised that things didn’t leak from — The Hangover Part II I thought, okay, stuff is going to leak. I mean, The Hangover was a huge movie. This is the sequel. Stuff is going to leak. Nope. People actually — because they say to people, don’t do it. And they don’t. They’ll go on twitter and say, “Just saw a screening of this. It was awesome.” They’ll do that.
Craig: But they don’t seem to talk about it. Obviously the people that recruit, they become particularly good at who they don’t want to let in there, you know. There are certain types of people .They just look at them and like, “Blogger, get out.”
John: So that’s test screenings. A good topic and a good conversation on that. My last thing that I want to bring up was this great article I read by Gretchen McCulloch and she wrote for Grammar Girl which is a regular column. But Gretchen McCulloch is a linguistic anthropologist. She has a whole blog about language and how we use it. And she had this fascinating piece on About and Aboot and sort of the whole ways Canadians pronounce certain vowel sounds, but I think I brought it up on the show, too.
When I shot a pilot in Canada, I’ve done two different shows that were in Canada. I would have to be very mindful about actors who were going to be cast out of Canada because sometimes I would actually need to change their dialogue so they wouldn’t say certain words because it would immediately give them away, at least to me, that they were Canadian and that the show was not taking place in Washington, DC but was actually being shot in Toronto.
So, the word that we always sort of make fun of for Canadians is about, which we say that they are saying “Aboot.”
Craig: No, they’re not saying Aboot.
John: They’re not saying Aboot. What they’re doing is, and what Gretchen sort of charts out is that they’re actually — they have a different diphthong for “ou” sounds that are in front of unvoiced consonants. So, an interesting thing she brings up is so we live in a house. But if a housemate stayed with us, we would be housing them.
John: Or we would house them. That S becomes a Z sound in house. And if a Canadian were to pronounce those two words they would pronounce the first one, and I’m going to butcher this a little bit, house. They’d pronounce the second one, sorry, they’d pronounce the first one “hoose” and the second one house. I exaggerated it a little bit.
Craig: I don’t think. My impression of the Canadian is house. House. Are you going to your house.
John: I think you’re very close.
Craig: It’s about.
John: About. So, what it is, it’s called Canadian Lifting. And it’s a real term. Because it’s literally because they say, so “ou” is a diphthong anyway. Ou is two sounds blended together. In Canadian lifting the one that sounds sort of “ooh” like to us, they’re starting the vowel in a different place. And as they’re doing the diphthong, they’re starting the — the first sound is up higher and the tongue is literally lifted up higher to create a —
Craig: House. [laughs]
John: So, it’s actually just — there will be a link to it in the show notes. But I thought it was a really smart way of articulating something that I could sort of notice but I wasn’t quite sure —
Craig: What was going on there.
John: It’s so easy to over-apply it. I think that was actually one of the things, too. It’s so easy to think like, oh, every “ou” sound they’re going to do the “ooh” sound. But they’re not. It’s only on certain words and she actually articulates why it’s only certain words.
Craig: But can she explain why they’re constantly saying, “Hey buddy?” [laughs]
John: She can’t. She also can’t explain why in South Park their heads are two parked things that just bounce atop of each other. She’s not able to do that. It’s not magic.
But one of the other things she does do which I think is absolutely true is the reason why we in the US think they’re saying “aboot” and sort of mock them for it when they’re not saying that at all is because we just don’t have the diphthong that they’re actually using. And so our brains move it to the closest, nearest vowel that we have which is an “ooh” sound. So, they’re not really saying, “ooh,” but we don’t have a sound in our speech that is the sound that they’re making, and so that’s why we’re hearing it wrong because we don’t have that sound in our spoken language.
Craig: What’s so funny about the way I’m saying about? [laughs]
John: [laughs] That was good.
Craig: Thank you, buddy.
John: It’s time for One Cool Things. Do you have a One Cool Thing, Craig?
Craig: Ooh, One Cool Thing. Just out of curiosity, those guys are — they came up with the notion of, all right, so all the Canadians have flappy heads, which really they kind of retrofit to Ike, you know, because they decided that he was Canadian and he had a flat head.
But they all, not only do they — they’re calling people buddy, but they all sound like they’re from the 1920s. “Hey buddy.” There’s that old Hollywood way of talking. I don’t know. It’s very strange.
All right, so I was back east for a couple of weeks and I saw a couple of shows because you know me, Broadway Craig. I saw Violet, which is wonderful, starring the great, great Sutton Foster. Excellent Josh Henry. Very, very good show. And I also saw — but that’s a limited run, so that is a cool thing, but it’s not a cool thing that will be accessible after I think next week.
John: No, because I think actually tonight is the last night, as we’re recording this.
Craig: Yes, I believe it is tonight or maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow? I don’t know, buddy.
But the show I did see that I think is going to be around for awhile is A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which was outstanding. Have you seen it?
John: I have not seen it. It was playing while we were doing Big Fish and people loved it. So, it seems madcap, and it’s still Jefferson — is it Jefferson Davis?
Craig: No, Jefferson Davis was the general in the Confederate Army. Yeah, I believe he was at Bull Run.
John: So he’s not a Broadway star?
Craig: No, no. He’s not even alive.
John: Well, I thought, I mean, they can just do — I don’t know. They can do magic.
Craig: Yeah, they might bring him back.
John: Because oftentimes on Broadway they’ll put a famous person in a role, like Tony Danza will be in Chicago, so Jefferson Davis could completely be. Oh, but it’s Jefferson Mays.
Craig: Jefferson Mays. Jefferson Davis may have an issue just with New York in general.
John: That’s true.
Craig: All of the freed slaves walking around may irk him. But Jefferson Mays is outstanding in the show. It’s a very funny show. Bryce Pinkham is also excellent, too.
It’s a strange thing. You want to say it’s a two-hander. It’s like a nine-hander, because Jefferson Mays plays eight different parts and Bryce Pinkham plays one. There’s just great performances throughout. It’s very, very funny. It’s based on this really, really old novel that was also the inspiration for the old movie Kind Hearts and Coronets, an old Alec Guinness film. But excellent, very entertaining, great time. If you are in the New York Tri-State area you should totally check it out. And if not, just wait, it’ll be on its way I’m sure to Chicago, LA, all over the place. It’s excellent.
John: Craig, when you were in New York in the past years did you get a chance to see One man, Two Guvnors, the James Corden?
Craig: No. And I heard that that was hysterical.
John: It was great. And so it reminds me of that because James Corden has to play multiple roles and the show is about the show as much as anything else. So it has that same sort of — it’s not really a musical, but it’s sort of a musical quality. I thought you’d enjoy it.
Craig: I probably would have. I probably would have.
John: You would have enjoyed it. But not it’s passed.
Craig: Now it’s passed.
John: My One Cool Thing is a book I read on my Kindle while I was traveling throughout Germany and Austria. It’s called How Jesus Became God, by Bart Ehrman, who is a historian who mostly focuses on New Testament and sort of early religion, early Christian religion stuff. And it was actually just fascinating because I had a general sense that Christianity in its very first century is not at all sort of like the Christianity we have today. And he does a really great job of looking at both the Gospel text and sort of the other texts that are sort of around that time and sort of demonstrate that the early apostles and sort of the early followers of Jesus did not perceive him at all in the same ways that we perceive him now.
And they did not perceive him necessarily as the son of God. They didn’t perceive him necessarily even as a divine being. But that sort of got retcon’d in over the years and centuries and over different rewritings of the stories. So, it was a fascinating book.
Craig: So they didn’t think that, for instance, Jesus could save you from a car crash or help you with your debt?
John: That was not a priority. Granted, there were not cars to crash. But a cart crash, perhaps.
Craig: Okay, so in terms of a cart crash, Jesus take the wheel.
John: Jesus could never really take the wheel because he was a person — there were wheels.
Craig: Right. So when Jesus was alive he could take the wheel.
John: He could take the reins.
Craig: He could take the reins. [laughs] Jesus take the reins. A very popular song in the year, what, 30.
John: In the year 30 it was all the talk.
What I found sort of most interesting about this, because I really come at this from I love Greek mythology and sort of classical mythology. And it’s interesting to look at — at the time the Christian religion is starting, there really were, sort of polytheistic religions were common. And even in monotheistic religions like Judaism at the time there were perceptions of divine beings who were not gods sort of all over the place. There were a lot more sort of angels coming in and doing stuff.
And so looking at sort of early Christianity from the background of those people at that time, it was not the uncommon for somebody to be semi-divine but not fully divine.
John: I just thought it was really interesting.
Craig: That is interesting. There’s a whole school of Jesus — my late father-in-law was really into this stuff. The Historical Jesus is a big book. I don’t know if you ever read that one. I think it’s by a guy named John Crossan. I may be messing this up completely, but it’s all really about, okay, what do we actually know? What’s real? What did he really say?
There’s this conference where the sort of Jesusologists get together and they kind of go through the bible and basically kind of like red line it. And they’re like, “Didn’t say that. Probably didn’t say that. Definitely said that.” Just based on the evidence. And apparently a lot of that stuff he didn’t say.
John: Even if you take as literal the Gospels, and the Gospels are the gospel truth, those were written way, way, way after his actual life. And so we don’t have the first person accounts we sort of think we do. And I think there’s a common perception that this is an account of exactly what happened at the time. It’s like, well, it’s not. This is a written down version of all the stories that were being talked about at the time. And some of those clearly relate to each other. But some of them really don’t relate to each other. When you see the contradictions between the Gospels, that’s because they’re multiple versions of the stories, just like there are multiple versions of the Superman mythos. It’s going to go different directions.
Craig: Oh yeah, I mean, look, people can’t remember emails they read 14 minutes ago. Now they’re going to put a bible together? Listen, you know where I’m on this. You know where I’m on this?
John: Where are you on this?
Craig: Oh, listen, man. [laughs] It’s just us. We’re just meat shoved through a thresher, or something, something. Something, something, something. Something. I got to go pick up some Ligotti and tell you what’s going on. But that’s what’s going on. That’s the story. There’s nothing but this, man.
John: Yeah. There’s nothing but this podcast.
Craig: God, I’ll tell you what. Honestly though, if I die — I’m going to die — when I die —
John: I’m not sure you’re going to die, Craig.
Craig: It’s possible. There could be the singularity. If I die, and I find myself up there in heaven, I am in so much trouble. Not for doing bad things, but the non-believing. Ooh.
John: Ooh, its’ so —
Craig: I’m going to have to tap dance my way out of that. I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to do it.
John: But here’s the situation though. Who’s to say that was the one religion you should have chosen when there is some other obscure religion that we’re not even paying attention to. Like, oh that was the one you were supposed to be doing. And none of us are doing it.
Craig: That’s right. Yeah, that was in the South Park Movie. Do you remember that?
John: Oh that’s true. Yeah.
Craig: When Kenny goes to heaven, and they send him to hell because he wasn’t the one religion, the right one. Do you remember what the right one was?
John: I don’t remember what it was.
Craig: Somebody goes, “Wait a second, we’re all different religions and we all got sent here. What’s the right religion?”
And one of the demons goes, “Uh, Mormonism. The answer was Mormonism.”
And everyone goes, “Ooh….”
Craig: “Ooh…I was so close.”
John: And like the Weinsteins, they are consistent in their Mormonism.
Craig: They love Mormons.
John: Yeah. They’re Coloradoans, that’s what it is.
Craig: I love Mormons, too.
John: Oh, God, I love them.
Craig: They’re nice people.
John: This was episode 157. That means there’s 156 back episodes of the show.
Craig: Oh my god, so many.
John: The most recent 20 are on iTunes, so please go to iTunes and subscribe and leave a comment because that helps iTunes know that we are a podcast that exists in the world.
If you want those previous episodes from 137 back to the dawn of time, those are on scriptnotes.net. And you can also subscribe there and for $1.99 a month get all those episodes. You can listen to them through your Android or your iPhone app. Look for the Scriptnotes app in the app store there.
Notes for today’s episode you can find at johnaugust.com/scriptnotes. And that’s where you’ll find links to some of the things we talked about. You’ll also find a link to our USB drive that has all those back episodes, too. So, if you just want them all in one little convenient package you can get them there.
And I think that’s it.
Craig: You get to go to bed now.
John: Hooray! It’s 2pm and it’s time to curl up.
Craig: Yeah, all right, well happy recovery and I’ll see you next week.
John: Thanks. Bye.
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