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 161 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, this is our third anniversary.
John: Three years we’ve been doing this.
Aline Brosh McKenna: Oh my god.
Craig: Wait, wait, who’s that? [laughs]
John: Well, we couldn’t do a three-year anniversary without the third voice in Scriptnotes, Aline Brosh McKenna. Hi Aline.
Aline: Hi, here I am.
Craig: What did I always call her?
John: The Joan Rivers of our podcast.
Aline: The Joan Rivers. Ooh, let’s take a moment.
Craig: I know. Poor Joan.
Aline: I’m sad. I saw her in January here live.
John: Oh, how great.
Aline: I saw her. She was so funny.
Craig: She was the best. You know, I always feel like my One Cool Thing, I’m the guy that dedicates my One Cool Thing to people that die, so I’m not going to do it this time. But she is like the coolest thing ever. And Joan Rivers, what a legend. What a pro. What a pro! Like they don’t make them like that anymore.
Aline: But I like what you said which is that she was too busy being a working comedian to be a legend.
Craig: It’s true. Like she never did the victory lap. She didn’t have time for people to celebrate her and talk about how great she used to be. She was like, “No, no. I’ve got to go do my E! show. And then I got to do a web thing.” She never stopped. Amazing. And funny.
Aline: And she really, truly had the respect of her peers.
Craig: For sure. Well, for a bunch of reasons, but you know, the truth is for all of the, you know, people will say, well, she opened doors for women in comedy and that’s all true, but the fact is I think more than anything she was funny. She was funny. She was funny in her 80s. And that is not — honestly that’s not common.
John: It is not common. She came to Big Fish while we were in previews and she came backstage and she was so nice to the cast and crew. She was phenomenal. And she was like, “The guys to the left of me are crying, the man to the right of me is crying. You guys are going to run for ten years.”
Aline: So not prescient.
John: No, she was not correct, but she was lovely.
Aline: Didn’t she tweet?
John: She tweeted that she loved it.
Aline: Yeah, I think I remember I emailed you and said now you’re done.
John: Now we’re done.
Aline: You got the Joan Rivers’ thumbs up.
Craig: Joan loved you. I mean, my wife watched the Fashion Police. She watched every episode of Fashion Police. I don’t think she’s ever missed an episode of Fashion Police. And I would wander by and then inevitably I would get sucked in because [laughs] Joan Rivers was so foul and screwed up, like her jokes were so insane, but they were great though. I mean, she just didn’t give a damn.
Aline: Yeah, I was just going to say the great thing about her, I agree with what you’re saying; the thing I think she really innovated was she just didn’t give a rat’s A.
Craig: She didn’t. She was from that —
Aline: She just said whatever and if you didn’t like it then you could…you know what you could do with it.
Craig: Yeah, she didn’t care. There is like a school of comedy that I guess you would call brave comedy where you just march into the lion’s den, say whatever you feel like, and if people don’t like it, their problem. And she just, boy, fearless. Loved it.
John: Well, today we are going to be saying the things we want to say and not caring about it because it’s our third anniversary. We can do whatever we want. And we have Aline here. Plus, we’re recording this at night. I have glass and a half of wine in me.
Aline: John’s drunk. John’s drunk.
John: I’m just a little bit drunk, so it’s going to be fantastic.
Aline: He’s lit up.
Craig: You think we got Austin John August?
John: Not quite Austin John August, but we’re getting close.
Craig: Okay, okay, we’re getting close.
John: Tonight we are going to talk about Brooks Barnes and the summer season.
Craig: Oh yeah.
John: We’re going to talk about flipping the script, which is Aline’s topic suggestion. We’re going to talk about scene geography and why that matters. We’re going to talk about emotional IQ and why screenwriters need it. And we’re going to offer other special little incentives at the end.
But first there’s follow up. Last week on the podcast we talked about t-shirts and we asked whether we should make more t-shirts. The response was, yes, we should make more t-shirts.
Craig: Oh, great.
John: So, we will. So, details next week about how you can order them and how you can get them, but they’re going to be cool. So, there will be more Scriptnotes t-shirts coming.
John: We also on the last episode talked about throwing vegetables. That sort of randomly came up, throwing vegetables. And Craig wondered how did that tradition start. Fortunately a smart reader who listens to the podcast sent us a link and it’s actually been a very old tradition, obviously, and political figures were the first people to be pelted with vegetables.
But the first reference to throwing these rotten vegetables at bad stage acts came in 1883 New York Times article, “After John Ritchie was hit with a barrage of tomatoes and rotten eggs by an unpleasant audience in New York. ‘A large tomato thrown from the gallery struck him square between the eyes and he fell to the stage floor just as several bad eggs dropped upon his head.'”
Craig: Dropped upon? So there were even people up where the lights are directly above him. [laughs]
John: Yes. Perhaps those side balcony things.
Craig: I see, side balcony. But I love that they were like — I have to feel that John Ritchie, whoever he was, was so bad that after opening night everybody left and said, “We got to come back. We got to come back — “
Aline: With something gross.
Craig: Yeah. “Let’s bring some stuff to pelt this guy with. He’s the worst.” Because people don’t walk around waiting for that moment. They have to plan it.
John: So there will be a link in the show notes to this article, but the article points out that the tomato is actually the perfect thing to throw because it’s baseball size. You can get some distance on it. It’s got good squish factor. So, you can understand why rotting vegetables, but particularly the tomato.
Craig: The tomato.
John: Technically a fruit, but yes.
Craig: It’s a fruit. And it’s not going to — probably won’t harm someone.
Craig: Probably. Thank you.
John: Final bit of follow up tonight is about my One Cool Thing from last week which is The Knowledge, which is this book about if civilization falls apart and you have to sort of restart everything from scratch, how do you do basic things like make steel and deal with diseases.
So, Lewis Dartnell who is the author of the book wrote me to say like, thank you for mentioning the book, but there’s also a whole website with videos about how to do all this stuff. And it’s actually really good. So, one of the videos I watched today talks about the simple sort of chimney thing you make over a small fire that makes it burn much, much hotter. It’s like a primitive stove. And it’s exactly the kind of thing that you think in Mad Max times they should be using because it is just much more efficient.
So, there will be a link in the show notes to this thing, but it’s basically just the-knowledge.org. And you can see all of these videos, which is quite cool.
Craig: I’ve got to be honest. If it really comes down to this where we’re going to need to build our own stoves and stove, I’ve got two options personally: option one, blow my brains out; option two, sell my body. I’m just going to sell my body. I feel like that’s where I would be most successful.
Aline: I will already be in space.
Craig: What, you will have ejected yourself?
Aline: I will already have been relocated with the special elite people that are going to be relocated to space.
John: That’s right. Because the magic space planes that they’ve developed just for the exodus.
Aline: Yeah. You have to apply, but I did great. I had a great interview. So, I’ll be in space.
John: Well, but you had another interview today, because today, the reason why we’re recording this at night is because you went and had your Global Entry visa.
Craig: Yes! One of my One Cool Things.
Aline: I had my Global Entry thing and the guy was so nice.
John: Talk us through this process. You go down to LAX to do this interview?
Aline: Well, yeah. I Uber’d down to LAX so I wouldn’t have to park. And then you go right in, it’s right in there in the Tom Bradley International Terminal.
Craig: That’s right.
Aline: They took me right on time.
Craig: They keep to their schedule.
Aline: Keep to their schedule. The guy could not have been any nicer. He asked me a couple questions and they take your fingerprints and my hands were not moist enough.
Aline: And so he gave me —
Craig: Did he lick your hands?
Aline: [laughs] He gave me this little, you know what, I really should have boiled my hands. He gave me this little pot of cream to stick my hands in to moisturize them. And he said, “No, no, no, it’s good that your hands are not moist. It means you’re clean.” But not after I stuck my hand in that jar of moisturizer. Just so that it would conduct.
And so he gave me a tip which is when you get off the plane put a little moisturizer on your fingers so you don’t get — otherwise the fingerprint thing won’t read you. Isn’t that weird?
John: But it’s cool. I’ve actually had sensors doing that, the whole Global Entry, where like one sensor just wouldn’t read my hand. So I’d go down to the next one in line.
Aline: It’s moisturizer. But the other thing I didn’t know is that you don’t have to fill out that customs form.
Craig: You don’t have to fill out the customs form.
Aline: Well, so all the bother, the money, the website, the traveling to the airport at rush hour — all worth it just so that when they come around with the forms you’re like, “No, no, I don’t need to deal with that.”
Craig: You’re like, “Piss off.” It’s the best. If you’re traveling overseas it’s like amazing. That part is pretty great, but the best part is when you get off the plane there’s a 4,000-foot line and you skip it.
Craig: But also even for regular domestic flights you’re always going to get the TSA pre-check. You want a pro tip Aline?
Craig: Pro tip. Okay. To get the pre-check stuff through your Global Entry you’ve got to look at how your name is. Usually on your Global Entry the way you’ve registered for it, it will be your first, middle, and last name. You’ve got to go now to your frequent flier sites and make sure that your name appears that way. So, you need to have your first, middle, and last. If you’re missing your middle name a lot of times the system will go, nah, we’re not quite sure it’s the same person. No pre-check for you.
Aline: Oh interesting. Because my whole thing is all messed up because I’m a three-namer. I’m not a hyphenate. But you know what? I did not have a middle name.
Craig: Okay. So, if you don’t have a middle name on your thing —
Aline: So now I do. Now my middle name is Brosh.
Craig: Okay, well, so, just make sure it all adds up. And then also on your frequent flier stuff, there’s a spot where you can put a known traveler ID. That’s where you put your Global Entry ID. Boom.
John: We’re set. So, our first topic is the summer movie season. And there have been many articles about how this season, this summer, was a disappointment. We are down from last year’s numbers. It’s the end of the film industry. The sturm und drang.
There are many articles about this. In my opinion, the worst of these articles was written by Brooks Barnes for the New York Times.
Craig: Again. [laughs]
John: So, Craig, Brooks has been sort of a familiar ghost over the last three years on this podcast because I think we’ve discussed his journalism several times.
Aline: Is he a bugaboo?
Craig: Several times. He might be a little bit of a bugaboo. Well, Brooks actually, our history with Brooks — you and I both blogged about Brooks years ago when he attempted somewhat pathetically right about residuals. I think he called them royalties and screwed it up completely.
I don’t know what’s going on over there at the New York Times. I’m sure Brooks Barnes is a great guy, but I don’t know how this guy got the job to cover one of America’s most enduring and dominant industries for the national paper of record as they say and he just simply doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I’m just blown away by this guy every time. Let’s walk through the article.
So, his thesis is: “American moviegoers sent a clear message to Hollywood over the summer: We are tired of more of the same.”
Well, that just sort of flies in the face of everything we actually know about the way American moviegoers go to movies. They seem to reward sequels, reboots, and so forth. But, fine. And then he says, “But don’t entirely blame the sequels and superheroes,” so at this point his thesis is American moviegoers have sent a clear message that isn’t at all clear. So, far Brooks you’re batting a thousand.
So he says, “The film industry had its worst summer in North America…since at least 1997, after adjusting for inflation,” and that we’re 15% down from the same stretch last year. John, tell me why that stat isn’t particularly interesting.
John: Because last year was a record year.
John: Last year was the highest ever box office gross.
Craig: Right. So, yes, naturally we have fallen off a bit from the highest ever. And, of course, when you say movies have had the worst summer since 1997, you’re implicitly stating that this is the tail end of a long, sad trajectory when in fact, no, just last year they set records.
But here’s where he gets really weird. So, he says, “Tom Cruise’s futuristic Edge of Tomorrow, for instance, looked like a hit — and that was exactly its problem.” Huh?
Craig: “The title was too similar to The Day After Tomorrow, released in summer 2004.” I’m sorry.
Aline: And see I thought it was too similar to The Edge of Night which was a soap opera I used to watch.
John: I thought it was a terrible title.
Craig: It’s a terrible title for the movie. It’s a good movie. It had a bad title.
Aline: It is a good movie.
Craig: But surely the problem was that the title was too similar to a movie that was released ten years ago. I mean, nobody said, “Oh, this looks too much like that movie that might be out also at the same time if it’s ten years ago.” It just doesn’t make any sense.
Anyway, he says, “Despite stellar reviews, Edge of Tomorrow took in $99.9 million.” So he’s citing Edge of Tomorrow as an example of the problem, although I’d like to, again, refer you to the very first sentence, “American moviegoers sent a clear message to Hollywood over the summer: we’re tired of seeing more of the same.” In fact, Edge of Tomorrow was an original movie and it wasn’t more of the same.
John: No. Later in the article he says that Edge of Tomorrow had a title that seemed familiar, it had robot-y kind of things that seemed kind of familiar, but he’s reaching there.
Craig: He’s reaching, because the robot things, he cites Pacific Rim and Real Steel. Well, Real Steel came before Pacific Rim. It didn’t do that well. Pacific Rim came between Real Steel and Edge of Tomorrow and actually did pretty well.
John: So, the only thing I will give him credit for is Oblivion which is similar enough that I can see people sort of saying like, “Oh, I saw Tom Cruise in a futuristic movie that appears to have a twist in it.”
John: That’s great. It’s a ridiculous article for so many things that it leaves out. And that’s — we can say like last year’s record summer is one of the things it leaves out. But the two big headlines of what it’s sort of not shining a spotlight on is that we knew it was going to be a bad summer, or a down summer, anyway because two of the giant movies of the year got pushed out of the summer. So, Fast and the Furious 7 was supposed to be out this summer; it couldn’t come out this summer because Paul Walker died.
John: So it will come out next summer, it will be a giant hit.
John: So hurrah. Secondly, there’s a Pixar movie that was supposed to be here that’s not done. So, that got pushed out of the season.
John: If both of those movies had opened as they were supposed to do, is there any article, is there any trend to find?
Aline: What happens if next summer it goes way up again? What’s the trend?
Craig: Well, it will go way up again and Brooks Barnes won’t write an article. And that’s what kind of drives me crazy about Brooks Barnes and The New York Times is that you can feel them working to sneer. You can just feel it.
Like, “Well, Disney’s Maleficent became a runaway hit. Not bad for a film that one Wells Fargo analyst earmarked in the spring as a ‘too weird to succeed bomb.'” And then he says, “Well, the characters are familiar but it offered a revisionist storyline.” He’s just saying like, look, I have this idea now that only different movies do well, so even a movie that’s just a retelling of Snow White or Sleeping Beauty rather I’ll say is new. He’s just making stuff up.
I just feel like this is an example of this fake journalism where somebody goes, “Well, we need a story. The numbers are down. I have no idea why the numbers are down. I really don’t. My guess is if I cared enough I would figure out that they’re just sort of naturally down as part of like, you know, the way that trend lines have little saw teeth in them and this is a little down saw tooth. But I have to write a story, so let me just make up a bunch of stuff and use examples that don’t make any sense.”
John: A couple weeks ago we talked about the difference between journalism and sort of academic writing, and how academic writing got to be just these weird things where you’re searching for things that aren’t really there. And this is an example of like journalism that has become academic writing where you’re looking for a trend where there actually really is no trend beyond the facts.
And so these are the four facts I think you can draw from this summer’s box office. First off, it’s down from last year’s record summer. Second, this downturn was expected ahead of time because two big tent poles had moved. Number three, no movies cleared $400 million domestic. And only Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy cleared $300. And last year we had two movies that did that.
There were no out-and-out disasters. There was no Lone Ranger this season, but there were disappointments. The Edge of Tomorrow, a disappointment. Transformers, kind of a disappointment. Spiderman 2 — they all underperformed.
Craig: Well, Transformers made $244 million. I mean —
John: But it made a lot less than the previous Transformers.
Craig: Well, sure, but it made $244 million. It’s going to make money. And obviously that’s just here in North America. It doesn’t include overseas. But again, my whole issue is, look, everything you’re saying is clearly true and I think Brooks must be smart enough to know it. He works at The New York Times, for god’s sakes. But how does he get away with stuff like this: “What separated the few winners from the many losers? For the most part, the winners convinced ticket buyers that they were not just more of the same.”
Example, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was distinctive by using a bold advertising image of a machine-gun-wielding chimp on horseback.” What?!
John: That was not the main image of the movie. That drives me crazy.
Craig: A. B, how can you use Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a sequel to a movie that is a reboot of a series. I’m sorry, that was a reboot of a reboot of an exemplar of not just more of the same. It makes no sense. I have umbrage for this.
I would like to say, by the way, next summer is going to be, I think, huge. Because next summer you’re going to have Fast and Furious 7 and The Avengers and Mad Max and Jurassic World and the new Fantastic Four. And Ted 2. And Minions. I think next summer is going to be crazy.
John: The last point I want to make on this is that we talk about the summer as if the summer is really this clearly defined thing. So, we pick these arbitrary dates for when summer starts and when summer ends. And I guess you have to do that if you want to declare a season. But you look at a movie like Captain America 2, that was a giant hit and it feels like a summer movie, but they opened it in April.
So, if you look at the whole year we’re not down that much.
Craig: I totally agree.
Aline: Also tell you the other trend that’s not publicized, I mean, that wasn’t discussed in the article is that these big movies have gotten to be really good. I mean, all those movies you mentioned, Apes is really good. X-Men is amazing. Guardians of the Galaxy is a hoot. A hoot. I don’t think I’ve ever said that word before.
Craig: All right. Thanks, Grandma.
Aline: And Captain America 2, I mean, these big tent pole movies have gotten really quite good. I mean, good writing, and good acting, and I kind of think you could point to this year as the year that there were a lot of really well executed genre movies. Another trend piece you could write.
Craig: John is correct though, also. This is an important thing. When we talk about the summer, the summer is not the calendar summer or the solstice summer. The summer in fact does now begin in April. That’s a fact. The movie studios look at it that way. The summer is now April, May, June, July. August is no longer summer.
So, to me those are the four months of summer that we have to look at when we think about how movie studios release movies. Because if you’re going to compare… — By the way, who cares? What do I care if the summer, “Oh yeah, the summer is down.” Well, what about the fall? How did the spring do? What was winter like?
These people. I just can’t take it anymore, John. I can’t. I can’t do it. [laughs] I can’t do it. I can’t have it.
John: Craig, they need to be able to report about something before Toronto. And Toronto is happening this week, so they needed to have an article for last week and it has to be about the summer box office.
Craig: Well, I just have to say, Brooks — Brooks, you have to be better than this. I know you are. I believe you are. He should come on the show. I feel like I could just say, Brooks, there’s no way you think this is good journalism, this artitorial or whatever the hell it is. There’s just no way. It’s just terrible. Terrible.
John: All right. Terrible.
John: Aline, please pull us out of this morass. Let’s talk about your topic which you’re calling Flipping the Script. Set us up.
Aline: Okay. Well, the topics I love the most on this show are the crafty topics that give me things to think about in my daily practice. And one thing that happened to me recently that I thought might be helpful to people, and then I have a suggestion.
I was working on a passage of this script and it was about a 15-page passage that was just — it was functioning, but I felt like it wasn’t advancing the story narratively or emotionally and that the characters had kind of frozen. So, just for fun I took this sequence and I took the motivation of one of the two characters and I just made it exactly the opposite of what I had written.
So, instead of resisting the other character in these scenes, he is pursuing her. And instead of being angry with her, he’s solicitous of her. I just changed the dynamic of every scene just to see what happened. And all of a sudden, you know, we complain so much about writing and it’s such a misery and it’s so true. And the moments of true flow are really not that frequent, but I had this moment where I was sitting at a table, sun was shining, breeze was blowing, and I had two and a half hours of reversing the dynamics in the script.
And all of a sudden it changed everything that was going on in those scenes and then it really informed the movie from then on. And it was sort of a breakthrough moment in writing this script and finishing this script. And I kept stopping and looking around and saying like, “I can’t believe this is happening. I can’t believe that this actually feels as organic and enjoyable and fun.” And it was because I had reversed this thing that had been so set in my mind.
And I think one of the reasons that it really freed… — If you had asked me before if this was a good idea I would have said absolutely not. He can’t do this because of XY and Z. And then once I did it I found a way into it and into this character that really transformed all the writing for me. And it was a great moment.
John: I’ve been in situations like that where I’ll get just jammed up on like I don’t know how to make these things fit together and I can muscle my way through the sequence, but I can feel myself forcing this thing to happen in ways that just doesn’t really want to happen.
And a lot of times it’s great that you have this sort of inner motivation to have this epiphany, but often I’ve been in meetings with an executive and they’re just like, no, you can’t do this. And basically they’re forcing me not to do something. And I’ll fight them. And suddenly I’ll say, “Well, if I had to do it that way then all these things would change.” But then they’re like, “Oh, but all these other things would change, too.”
It’s almost like a wrinkle in the carpet, and as you start to sort of push it one way you’re like, oh but it’s not, oh, I could just push it all the way out of the whole script. Well, that’s just lovely.
And so sometimes those things are so terrifying, you sort of run towards them and hooray, you actually sort of get to a new place.
Craig: It’s such a common thing to feel yourself laboring through something. And because we are taught, I think, in part by the world, and also in part by our own failures and successes that persistence is so important, it’s natural that we want to persist, that we don’t want to quit. We don’t want to give up. Just go, “Well this part seems hard all of a sudden, I shouldn’t just give up on it. I should muscle my way through it.”
Aline: “I should grind through it.”
Craig: Yeah, but you shouldn’t. It turns out that actually that’s the script telling you stop. It’s a little bit like when they say in the gym if it hurts, stop, you know, like the bad hurt. And that’s the bad hurt. We always get afraid when we are lost and we don’t know where to go. That’s a terrible feeling. So, when we’ve been like, well, the only way out of this hedge maze is to push through these hedges, at some point you realize that’s not right. I shouldn’t push through these hedges, but I actually now don’t know where to go.
And what you’re talking about that’s so useful I think, Aline, is the idea of examining your givens and questioning if they’re really given.
Craig: Because when you give them up, while that may seem radical, it is often easier to make a radical change that puts the wind at your back than to maintain all that is given and write with the wind in your face.
Aline: Yeah, and it’s true. It’s funny, I think a lot of screenwriters were people who were good students and you know handed their papers in on time and a lot of writers are. And I’ve really noticed that one of the things I had to train myself to do when I became a writer is to feel and not think. And when you’re writing just to feel how does this feel to be in this movie. And it just didn’t feel good. It didn’t feel revelatory. It didn’t feel interesting. It felt sloggy.
And there’s an interesting thing that happens as you become more proficient is that you can write sloggy stuff so that it reads okay. But you know in your heart that like I’m just greasing it here, you know. I’m just pouring sugar and butter on this thing. There’s no nutrition here. I’m just — the steak is kind of — this is a very cheap cut of steak that I’m now soaking in butter so it’ll have some flavor.
And I really had to stop and say like where is the joy in this, where is the discovery in this, and that’s the thing that takes you beyond just craft, you know, that takes it from just being a table that will hold weight into being something that has dimension and interest in it. And even if it hadn’t worked, I think it would have been helpful to me just to see how the characters would talk in these scenes. And I think John is a proponent of these sort of word game type approaches. And I think if you can have the characters adopt each other’s emotional strategies, or change geographically where they are or what they’re trying to do.
Anything, just take the characters for a walk and do something different with them, you have a shot at uncovering a moment like this.
John: The script I’m writing right now, there are two characters who are sort of, they’re not handcuffed together literally, but they sort of have to work together to do something. And one of them is able to achieve her goal at a certain point and that all felt really good and that scene was really good. And as I started writing past it I realized like, wow, she has nothing she wants. And I know that there’s going to be a thing that she’s ultimately going to be on his side a few scenes later, but there’s just going to be this gap of time where like her movie is over.
Aline: She’s completed. That’s the worst.
John: She’s completed her quest. And so the kind of thing I wouldn’t necessarily have noticed on the outline. It would have felt like, well we’re going for that, and then we’re getting into his stuff. But then I realized as I was actually writing the scenes there’s moments there were like she’s just kind of dangling. And so why is she still around.
And so it made me sort of go back and think like well how can I take away that thing that she thinks she just won. And so how do I let her have that little victory and then be able to take it away. So it ended up making the scene much better because it was a reversal within that course of the scene where the thing she thought she had gotten is a way again and sort of together they have to go to the next stage and they both still have a goal and they’re still at cross purposes which is certainly a very useful thing for where I’m at in the story.
Aline: I have one more suggestion for flipping the script. I think, particularly in genre movies, if you look at the call sheet there’s such a preponderance of male characters. And I think if you get stuck writing a character that you feel stuck or feels familiar, sometimes just changing the gender of the character can really unlock really interesting things.
So, you know, the crooked cop is a woman. Or the baby nurse is a man. And you don’t need to call a tremendous amount of attention. It’s not about the fact that they have a different gender, but it will inform the storytelling with some, because we’ll fill in the blanks. And when I was watching Planet of the Apes I kept thinking what if that character that was played by the Zero Dark Thirty Jason guy, if that had been —
John: Jason Clarke.
Aline: Jason Clarke. If that had been a woman who had been a civil engineer and had lost her spouse, and had a child and was trying to — just, you know, sometimes when you find that there’s blocks of unigender characters, sometimes just changing the gender or the background or the — something that you, you know, when it falls out of your brain in a very stock form, sometimes just changing one thing that could be a detail but actually makes the whole thing more interesting is another thing I could suggest to people to make stuff feel fresher to them.
Craig: That’s exactly why I think that works when you said it falls out of your brain in stock form. When you make yourself, force yourself to go in a direction that is not familiar, it’s like your mind doesn’t have that soporific thing with all the filled in blanks. Suddenly none of the blanks are filled in. And it’s fun to fill them in. Now you’re building a person. It’s exciting. If you say to me, okay, the villain is an army sergeant who is following orders because he believes that the enemy must be crushed at any cost, there’s so — I’ve got like five million movies behind me now. Oh, well, I guess he’s got gray hair and he barks orders. He might have a mustache. He’s very grim.
[laughs] You know, it’s like it’s already — I can’t get away from it.
John: Well, you picked that character, but also I think a good way to segue to the next topic is you picture where he is in those moments. You picture sort of what it is to feel like those moments and what is around him. If you stick a character in those moments you’re maybe going to stick him to some different places, stick her in some different places, and then you’re really writing brand new scenes where you have to figure out everything else that’s around them and that seems really crucial.
Aline: Scene geography is actually where people are in scenes. Where they physically are?
Craig: Yeah. Where they physically are. Where things and people are in a scene.
Aline: So you’re talking about how you do that?
Craig: Well, I’m talking about why it’s important and how you do it.
Aline: Okay. Do it. Hit it.
Craig: Well, it’s something that I think we elide generally. No one is asking us to provide them a plot map where everyone is going to stand. On the day we’ll be in a location and a place that will be designed. The director, and the cameraman, and the actors will work out where they’re standing and how they’re moving, but we can do a lot of helping along the way.
There is a, of all the things that can happen in a scene that tell the story, typically screenwriters think of dialogue. That’s the first and most obvious tool. Then there’s actions. What do the people do? Are they punching, shooting, running, kissing? But there’s also space. How close are they? How close are they to each other? How close are they to the thing they want?
If they’re moving towards it or away from it, how hard or far do they have to go? If they’re hiding from somebody, how are they hiding? Are they hiding really close them? Can they hear the other person? All these physical dimensions help us tell the story of the scene in interesting ways.
One thing that I’ve discovered along the way is that a lot of times we’ll do this work in our mind so that we know it makes sense, but we either don’t include the detail sufficiently in the scene work, or we do it in a way that is not clear enough. And I am repeatedly surprised how frequently people will read a script and get hung up on geographical issues. They don’t understand how somebody could have said something and not be heard by somebody else. They don’t understand how somebody could have said something and be heard by someone else.
And they will stop and we don’t want that.
Aline: Well, one thing I would say is that, you know, a mark of a not very proficiently written script will be like “He stands here, he’s holding a cup, he looks in this direction, 20 feet away is this.” Doing it in language which is too detailed where you feel like you’re reading a continuity and not a script. So, I think it’s always best to think of those things, translate them into emotional language. So it’s like, “He sees the dog around the corner. He leans towards it. It’s so close. It’s only three arm lengths away. It’s only five steps away.”
If you can describe it through the lens of the character, how they’re experiencing it, as opposed to trying to objectively describe it from the outside. It enhances the reading experience.
John: Yeah. You’re using your words that can hopefully have both emotional meaning and sort of logical meaning. So, like “Just out of reach. There in the distance he can barely make out.” Give a sense of sort of where people are in space.
This thing I’m working on right now, there’s one house that’s incredibly important to it. And without sort of giving you a floor plan, I want to at least walk you through some parts of it so you understand how close certain things are and how far certain things are.
John: There’s a staircase that’s very important. The dining room is sort of close to there. Sometimes it’s as simple as I will use a scene header, a slug line, that is both Stairwell/Dining Room, so you know that from the Dining Room you can actually see the stairwell. That’s an important thing, so you don’t make them feel like they’re physically separate spaces. You can walk continuously from one to the other.
If you hear somebody screaming at the other side of the house, well, we see them reacting to hear the scream and we see them running up the stairs and through that hallway so we have a sense of how these places connect together.
Aline: It’s also really important when you’re describing where people are in space to vary your sizes. So, things go from being a speck on the horizon to close on the fist opening. Because you want to vary your sense of scale most often because it will get monotonous if everything feels like it’s the same size in every frame.
Craig: Well, we’ve talked about that when we’ve done transitions. I mean, that was a big simple transitional device, big to small, small to big. But I think that there is something worth considering when we’re creating scenes to ask, just as we ask how can we allow an actor to convey an emotion without saying a word, how can we create suspense when no one is talking?
Suspense is a great example of how to properly use geography to your advantage as a storyteller. When you think about the scene in Jurassic Park where the raptor is moving through the kitchen. And the girl is hiding behind the counter. These are the ways that you should ask what other tools do I have. Well, I know I have action. I know I have dialogue. I know I have music. And I know I have the camera, but what about space? What about where people are? There is something great about saying, okay, in an intentional way I want Dustin Hoffman banging on this big window that’s far away. Right?
So that here is this girl getting married and he wants to be with her and he’s far away, but he’s banging on this thing so we hear this distant thumping. And there he is tiny in that space, so that people can get that picture and they understand it. Because the thing is if you don’t spell that out clearly, 99 times out of 100 they’ll go, oh, he’s like right there. There’s like a window that’s right there. That’s creepy.
Craig: And it’s not at all what you meant.
John: So, I think I’ve talked about this on the podcast before. In general, you’re trying to evoke the experience of seeing a movie just with your words on the page. And sometimes you can just use little things like right and left. And they’re telling you what I see in my head is that like the phone is on the right, the phone is on the left. But sometimes you’re just creating a very general space.
And there’s a scene in Big Fish, in the movie Big Fish, where he goes to make a phone call to tell his mom that his dad has died. And I saw the scene and was like, wait, that’s wrong. In my head I have always seen the scene in my head with the phone being on the other side of the bed. And it’s such a weird thing that like it doesn’t matter at all, but it completely matters to me.
And so the take home from this is that the scene still worked because I created a space with which there was logic in there. There was geographic logic in there. It didn’t matter that it was ultimately on the left or on the right, but it mattered that it was close enough to this space, so the emotional connection was still there. The scene ultimately made sense, it just didn’t fit the way I had it in my head.
Aline: It’s interesting because screenplays are a form of concision, you know, they’re a form that’s organized around concision and brevity. You don’t have a lot of space. And I’ve always thought, pretentiously, that screenplays were more like poems than like novels. And I think a lot of people approach their scripts with too much of a novelistic point of view. Almost too much of a complete vision in a way. And you want to have the complete vision, but you want to pluck out just those details that are the most evocative. And the most evocative detail of that Dustin Hoffman scene that you cite is that we’re very far away from him and we can’t hear him as he bangs on the window.
And so I think training yourself to find the most important detail that really gets across what the scene is trying to do, and being concise about it, I really have notice that the more I do this in a funny way the less I — just the less.
John: The less overall, too. I’m a much more concise writer now than I used to be.
Craig: Yeah. I try and be very concise with my action description. And the simple rule is do they need to know this? Do they need to know it? And if they need to know it, then put it in, and put it in in an interesting way. And if they don’t, don’t. But, part of I guess what I’m getting at is sometimes they don’t need to know certain geographical things that they do.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve shown up on a set and thought, oh man, I should have mentioned this. In my head it was obvious. But now this — why is this nightclub cavernous?
Aline: Oh yeah. Right.
Craig: They’re so far away from where I want them to go. It’s just not intimate anymore. It’s not what I wanted. [laughs]
Aline: Well that’s why you have to be, you know, it’s so true sometimes things that are obvious to you, they’re just not self-evident. And that’s why it’s a collaborative medium and you’re trying to share your vision or how you see it with everyone else in. So, if it’s really important to you, you have to find a way to make sure it’s on the page.
John: That’s why ideally you’d love to be the screenwriter who is involved through the process, so as the director is picking locations and finding stuff, you can be there to say, “Okay, just so we know, the scene that I wrote is meant in a much smaller, more intimate nightclub. And I worry that we’re going to lose some of the comedy or the drama or some of the whatever in this by having it be so incredibly — “
Aline: It’s so crazy to me that like, you know, sometimes they’re making moves and the person who wrote it is long gone. They don’t even have their phone number.
Craig: Sometimes? Of course.
Aline: You’re so 17 — you’ve made so many, it’s like when we were kids and they would run it through the ditto machine. You just run so many dittos on that thing that it just doesn’t make any sense anymore.
Craig: Did you call them dittos or did you call them mimeos?
Aline: We called them dittos.
John: We called them dittos. You called them mimeo?
Craig: I think we had mimeos, because I think that was a New York term.
Aline: And sometimes you’d get a test and it had been dittoed so much that there was like no blue ink on it at all.
Craig: Yeah, that’s right, because when I moved to Jersey it was ditto, but in New York it was mimeo for mimeograph. And did you guys have the purple ones?
John: Oh yeah. It smelled so good when it came fresh off the ink.
Craig: Snort it.
Aline: And it would be wet.
Craig: You’d snort that wet mimeo.
John: If I remember correctly, the one that was in our elementary school office was a hand crank. It wasn’t —
Aline: Yeah, it was a hand crank.
Craig: Oh absolutely.
Aline: Yeah, yeah, yeah, we got to go ditto it.
Craig: Yeah, because it was like that purple roll, and somebody would just [cranking sound]. Oh my god.
Aline: Bringing the dittoes.
John: I kind of want one now. Because you feel like if civilization collapses —
Aline: On eBay there is ditto machines for sure.
John: For sure there are. Because you think about it, if civilization collapses, the printing press is a challenging thing to get made again, but I bet ditto, you could do that more quickly.
Craig: I’m looking up mimeograph on eBay right now. I think we should all get one.
John: By the way, Craig, Aline brought us presents for our third anniversary. And so I have mine here. Do you want me to spoil you what our present is, or do you just want to see it yourself?
Craig: No, what? No which one?
Aline: No, he’s going to send it to you and you’re going to open it up and you’re going to have the thrill of opening it.
Craig: Great. Thank you, Aline.
John: We are pro mimeograph.
John: We are pro scene geography. But we’re also pro concision. And so the balance here, I was thinking about this anecdote which could completely be apocryphal. I heard it in relation to a class they teach at Apple University. They talk about Picasso and how Picasso would start by drawing a bull. And his first drawing would be really, really detailed. And like look like a bull. And then like he would just go through a series of drawings and get less and less and less —
Aline: What’s the essence of it?
John: Yeah, what is the essence of a bull? And so it was a single line. It was like, oh, well that’s a bull. And it really is —
Aline: And then later in production they’ll be like, “Does it have a tail? Does it have hooves? What kind of bull? Does it have a — “
Craig: I know.
John: And so you may have created this beautiful line of poetry that sort of describes what this thing feels like, but maybe it won’t have the detail that actually gets the right location picked or makes people cross the right ways. It is a real challenge.
Craig: Man, these mimeographs are pricey. [laughs]
Aline: Are they really? What does a mimeograph machine go for?
Craig: Well, like I’m looking at one that is an antique vintage, but of course I think that means from the ’60s, which is probably the ones that we were looking at. An antique vintage AB Dick, that’s the actual name, AB Dick Fluid Duplicator. It’s a Dick Fluid Duplicator.
John: [laughs] Love it.
Craig: So an antique vintage AB Dick Fluid Duplicator.
John: It is viscous?
Craig: [laughs] I don’t know. But it’s $277.
John: That feels like a lot.
Craig: That’s a lot. I guess these things are — like people must collect these things.
John: Probably most of them were thrown away.
Aline: But you had to interact with your teacher’s handwriting.
Craig: That’s right. That’s right.
Aline: So you knew which teachers had good handwriting and which ones, it was like scrawled and badly dittoed, and then you were like I’m stuck with this.
John: I have no idea what this is.
Craig: I can’t read this dick fluid. [laughs]
John: [laughs] Speaking of like auctions of things that were otherwise lost or destroyed, I’m going to put a link in the show notes of this guy has tried to get all the VHS copies of Jerry Maguire. I may be remembering this completely wrong.
Aline: Oh yeah.
John: Yeah, and so basically he’s trying to buy all of them.
Aline: Why is that?
John: Just as an art thing.
Aline: Yeah, I read about that.
John: And so they were on display, I want to say they were at Cinefamily, but it’s —
Aline: That’s such a Cameron Crowe thing to do. It really is.
John: It’s just the perfect choice.
Craig: What an odd thing.
John: So I really applaud that crazy kind of thing.
Craig: Why not?
John: Oh, Craig, I just realized that this episode is going to come out on Tuesday morning. Do you know what else is going to come out on Tuesday morning?
John: The iPhone 6.
Aline: Dick fluid! Dick fluid! Dick fluid.
Craig: I just started singing Jizz in my Pants.
John: Viscous mimeograph fluid in your pants.
Craig: I just AB Dick fluid’d in my pants.
Craig: I’m so excited. Well, first of all it’s not just the iPhone 6.
John: It’s everything.
Craig: It’s everything. So, there’s probably going to be a watch, or a wearable as the nerds call it. And obviously the iPhone 6, and a whole bunch of other god knows what. And one more thing! I’m very excited. Do you now, I assume you do this, I do it. I actually sit there and watch the live thing.
John: Yeah. Actually the whole staff is coming in. We’re going to watch it live.
Craig: [laughs] You guys make popcorn. You’re so cute.
John: It’s actually our business to make this thing.
Craig: That’s true.
John: So I will, god, I will hate myself for making this prediction, but we rebuilt Weekend Read kind of behind the scenes, and so the version that’s on your phone right now should theoretically scale up and everything should look perfect on the new iPhones. Lord knows if we’re actually correct.
The Scriptnotes app, by the way, which we don’t actually make will probably be a disaster on the new iPhones because we don’t make it. So, I hope it works. God, I hope it works. But we won’t know until we know.
Craig: [sings] God, I hope I get it!
John: Yeah, I hope I get it to. Speaking of hope and emotions, talk to us about emotional IQ.
Aline: Wow, that was a good one.
John: I try.
Aline: That was good. No, it’s good.
John: I think over the course of the three years —
Aline: Yeah, you’ve gotten really good at it.
John: Aline went back and listened to the very first episode of Scriptnotes. Tell u about the first episode, because I have not listened to it —
Craig: You mean like today?
Aline: No, I bought the premium subscription.
Craig: Oh, thank you, Aline.
Aline: Which was impossible to figure — I had a little trouble. But I got it. And I went back and listened to the first episode. And the most notable thing about it is you guys are not funny at all. You’re not relaxed. You’re very earnest and you’re talking very seriously about things that are interesting to screenwriters. And it’s cute.
And I listened to the first half of the second one, and by then you’re starting to get a little bit of the banter going. But I’m a completist. So, I think I started listening like 60 episodes in or something. So, I’m looking forward to listening to the first —
Craig: Well I think the first of things are fascinating to me. Like if you ever watch the first —
Aline: Oh the pilot of Seinfeld is fascinating.
Craig: That, or the first six episodes of The Simpsons where you’re like what is this crudely drawn unfunny thing? [laughs] This thing is weird.
John: But The Simpsons actually has two starts. So it has the Tracey Ullman things, which are just bizarre.
John: And then it has the real episodes which are, you know, also bizarre.
Aline: Which are very different.
Craig: Even then they were bizarre.
Aline: Yeah, they really were.
Craig: The early one where Penny Marshall plays their murderous babysitter. It’s just dark and not that funny.
Aline: Yeah, it took them awhile. All right, I wanted to talk about EQ because I’ve really found over the eons that I’ve been doing this that there are many talented people, we know many talented people who are great at writing, but screenwriting as you point out many times is a social endeavor. And it kind of amazes me how many times I find that people are their own worst enemy, myself included.
And one of the things that I’ve learned over time, if I’ve learned screenwriting skills, one of the things I’ve learned is to sort of manage my own feelings and the feelings of people around me and to understand what’s happening emotionally, to read the room, as they say, and to understand how you’re coming across to other people, what’s actually being communicated to you, and I found that it seems to go with writing there’s a lot of blaminess, victimness, almost a nihilism. People get to a point where they feel like, you know, you often hear people complaining a lot about other people’s success. There’s a lot of schadenfreude.
And I really have noticed that the most successful people that I know are positive and intuitive and productive and the way I’ve come to see it that everybody has a narrative for their own life. We’re all telling a story about ourselves, to ourselves, every day. And if the story you’re telling yourself is executives and producers are stupid and I’m a victim, it’s just really hard to get anywhere. And I just find that so many times when people will come and say, well this guy was dumb, and that guy was an idiot, and this guy said something stupid, and I always think like, “Is that what happened? Or was the script not very good? Or were you being obstructionist?”
And I think being successful in this business is as much about learning those things. And I know it’s sort of crude to say that, because we want to think it’s just based on pure what you can get on the page, but you’re a vendor and you’re somebody that has to do something on a regular basis in social interactions with people. And I’m not telling people to be charming, because that’s not what it is. I think that’s sort of a little bit of a misconception that you need to be a networker. I never understand when people talk about networking. I don’t know what that is.
But it’s about understanding that these other people also want your thing to be good. Their careers depend on it, too. And you need to be a participant and a team player and understand that things will be said to you that are maybe not framed in the right way or you’ll say things that are controlled by your emotions, but you need to learn how to control. And I mean I’m sure every business is like this, it’s just that what we do is so personal and emotional, but I find that a lot of screenwriter’s narratives that they construct for themselves schmuckify themselves unnecessarily.
Craig: Schmuckify. I like that word.
Aline: Yeah, it’s a thing I call “schmuckifying.” And I find that there are people, you know, I have been friends with people who they can schmuckify themselves anywhere. They can schmuckify themselves at Denny’s. You know, they can be insulted and feel put upon and criticized anywhere. And if you’re someone who your personal narrative is dumb people are picking on me, that’s going to be fed back to you. That comes back in a loop.
Craig: It’s also not going to help you advance the cause of your artwork.
Craig: I mean, what’s hard for us is that we are — we should, I think, have all of the emotional squishiness and angst of an artist, because that’s what we are, but then we have to stop and say, okay, but down past that I do have a goal. And my goal is that I want the closest thing to my expression to be seen by as many people as possible. At least that’s — for many of us in screenwriting that’s what we want. We want as many people as possible to see our movie.
And how do I get there? And how will it — and how do I get there without compromising what I want? And that’s a dangerous path to walk that we must walk. But there are times when I stop and say I am allowed to feel put upon. I am allowed to feel insulted by this. I’m allowed to be angry, and frustrated, and hurt, and sad. But, if I use that to direct what I now say and do immediately next, I’m going to actually get in the way of my own goal, which is to get my movie made.
Aline: Right. No one is going to make your movie because you deserve it, and you’ve been really nice and you’ve tried really hard and you’ve worked really hard. It’s about being excellent. And part of being excellent is listening to other people and being productive and being positive. And I think sometimes there’s this — people just lose sight of how to be smart emotionally. And that that’s — you’re trying to get somewhere. You need to learn how to collaborate with people and tell a story which attracts people to you.
John: Well, it sounds like you’re talking about the same kind of emotional intelligence that you have as a writer. Your ability to have insight into your characters. You need to have that same kind of insight into yourself and what your motivations are.
Aline: Right. It’s true.
John: And what the people around you, their motivations are. And be able to sort of construct this narrative outside of the script you’ve written about how you get this movie made and how this career progresses.
Aline: And just by its very nature, your work and you, you have to attract people to you. You have to attract directors. You have to attract buyers. You have to attract actors. You know, you have to be someone who attracts other people and being sensitive to other people’s emotions is a huge part of it.
I was lucky enough, I had an amazing, the woman who was my agent for 17 years was a great guide to me in sort of how to comport myself, and I was quite young. I was 26 when I started with her. And I remember I was working on a project where the script wasn’t very good, but people were also behaving in a way that I thought was making me unhappy. And I just got on the phone with her and I was complaining, and complaining, and complaining. And she said, “Okay, so here’s what we’re going to do. We’re going to hang up the phone and you’re going to get over yourself. And then you’re going to call me tomorrow and we’re going to come up with a strategy for how to deal with this.”
Aline: And I was so stung in the moment, and then I thought, god, she’s right. I am not currently in a state to make any decisions or any game plan because I am just up my own ditto. I really need to… — And you know what? A lot of times you’ll be in situations where as Craig say, you know, you bring your little squishy little thing that you made and you’re so proud of. And you take it to people and they say things which are shocking and hurtful to you because you thought it was great, or you thought you were communicating something, or it meant a lot to you.
And you’re going to get notes which are going to feel like you’ve been slammed over the head with a sledgehammer. And part of your job as a professional is to take a deep breath and not transmit that to other people and really take in their viewpoints. And really, that’s part of what being a good collaborator is and understanding that nobody means to drown your puppy. They’re just trying to give you their opinion.
And it’s really one of the hardest things. And now that I’ve been doing this for awhile, I kind of see that the people who make it are not just the best writers. They’re the people who are the most emotionally resilient and confident. And I think you can learn that. I really do. I think that’s something that you can learn. And it’s important to have people in your life who tell you, hey, you know what, I think it’s time for you to get over yourself.
Craig: Well some people, I agree, respond to what we would call tough love, like your agent delivered some tough love. But this may surprise you, I’m going to stand up a little bit for the squishy folks out there. The emotional pain that we experience is quite real. And it can be profound at times, and very confusing, and I don’t want anyone to think that this is yet another part of their life that deserves shame. And that this is more evidence of their weakness, because it’s not. I just think it’s —
Aline: But I’m not really even talking about that. I’m talking about things where, you know, you’re a struggling writer and you get a meeting with someone and they reschedule it seven times. And instead of being like, blech, talking to the assistant and being like, “Um, really? So, you know, because I am busy and I do — “
It’s just being like going with the flow and being okay with it, even if you then have to hang up and kick the dog.
John: Yeah. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
Craig: Ha! Well, I think that that’s fair. And I do —
Aline: And also like things we’ve talked about, like when you’re approaching someone that you’d like to work with, don’t be creepy. Don’t be, you know, all of that stuff.
Craig: Some of the things, like when you say don’t be creepy, or don’t care so much about that, some people are creepy and some people I think are just wired to be injustice collectors and that’s their vibe. And then if, okay, look, if that’s your vibe, if you know you’re just not necessarily the most socially appealing person, or that you do get hung up on these things, at least be aware of it. And then just say, okay, I’m going to put that in the box of stuff that is naturally me. It’s not evil. It’s not bad, but it’s also not going to help.
Just as there are other parts of my life that don’t necessarily help me with my writing, that’s not going to help me with my writing. So at least be aware of it, because there are some people out there who are — I mean, I’ve met some writers who are odd. I mean, really odd. And they’re brilliant and they do really good work. And they’re super successful. So it’s possible.
Aline: I’m not even talking, that’s what I’m saying. Like I don’t mean be charming. I don’t mean have great meeting patter. Some odd people really have great EQ. They understand, okay, that’s how I need to behave. I need to show up early. I need to be prepared. I need to be pleasant. I need to remember the names of everyone here. I need to turn this in on time. I need — just anything that you would do to be a good business person.
And I just feel like we sometimes lose sight of that because we want to be artistes. And a lot of times when someone is complaining to me about their career, what I’m hearing is they’re putting things into the universe that are allowing people to schmuckify them.
John: Let’s speak some truth here. I think that the writers who are successful, who are just socially not great, the ones who succeed tend to have partners. And that may be a solution for a lot of these people is that like if you’re a really great writer, but you just can’t sort of figure out how to get along with other people, find one person you can get along with and partner up. Because that may be a way that you can have a career and get movies made that work really well.
Aline: In partnerships there’s almost always a sunny one and a not so sunny one.
John: But I too, like Craig, I want to stick up for sort of the weirdos, oddballs, and the ones who just sort of don’t get it, because sometimes they make the most brilliant amazing things. And sometimes if that makes it harder for them to make it in the Hollywood system, I hope they get to make cool movies outside of the Hollywood system and sort of do things on their own, because I want those movies to exist.
I want them to find somebody who can champion them and recognize their weirdness and their difficulty and help make those movies. Some great producers can do that. And that’s a good thing.
Aline: But I’m really less talking about being weird than I am about the sort of we’re going to sit around and complain and blame and talk about how dumb the executives are. I don’t know, I just think it’s so boring.
Craig: Sometimes that is about blowing off steam. I think that there are — I have met writers and, frankly, they, to fit your thesis, they don’t really make it, or they don’t last, or they really struggle. Writers who seem far more interested in blaming the world for the difficulties that they’re having, but I always feel like they’re actually not really blaming the world, they’re just essentially trumping this up because it’s easier to do than to admit the truth, which is that they’re either scared, or they don’t know how to do it, or it’s just too hard for them to do, or they don’t even want to do it anymore.
But somehow or another a lot of times I think what we’re hearing is the symptom of some other real problem when people just lose themselves in anger and resentment toward a system that frankly we all know is not fair. Nobody could possibly wander into Hollywood and go, “This is going to be a wonderful meritocracy and everyone is going to be quite lovely and rational.” No.
Aline: Right. Who told you it was not going to be like this? And that’s the thing, it’s not like you read a lot of books about how we’re all sort of carried around on silk pillows and treated awesomely.
Craig: Yeah, everybody knows. Everybody knows. So, when I find somebody who is acting like this is somehow new, I think you already knew this. This isn’t about that. But, you know, then again, I do tend to want to dole out a hug.
Aline: I was talking to a friend of mine and he had cribbed a phrase from a friend of his. I said so how are things going right now and he goes, “Well, you know, I’m working on stuff. I’ve got a lot of irons in the freezer.”
Craig: That’s funny.
Aline: And I have been handing that out like Halloween candy. I just love — that just really sums up Hollywood. Got a lot of irons in the freezer.
Craig: Wow. Terrible business.
John: Ooh, what a fun third anniversary episode.
Craig: Third anniversary. We’ve been together for three — what is the third anniversary, John? What is it, paper? Wax?
John: Isn’t paper the first one?
Craig: Or, it’s dick fluid. [laughs]
Aline: I remember very clearly seeing Craig and him being like, “John called me. He wants me to do this thing. I have no idea what it is. I have to get on the phone with him and talk about stuff. I don’t know. I’m just going to go and see what it is.” Like he was mystified.
Craig: [laughs] I don’t know, I still don’t apparently know what a podcast is.
John: You’ve been on several podcasts and you still have no idea what they are.
Craig: I’m not really sure. Are we live on the air right now? What’s happening? John, where is the antenna?
John: So, we, against all odds, our podcast is going really well. About 25,000 people listen to us every week, which is nuts.
Craig: Wow. Crazy.
John: And of those 25,000, about 800 are premium subscribers who are subscribing to the app. Premium subscribers like Aline Brosh McKenna.
Aline: Me among them.
John: You’re paying us $1.99 a month to listen to all the back episodes and occasional bonus episodes.
Aline: I’d give you $2.99 a month.
John: Do you?
Aline: I would.
John: Oh, thank you.
Aline: I would give you $5.99 a month.
John: Holy cow!
Aline: Yeah, I would give you a flat $75 for the year.
John: You can’t see it because it’s an audio podcast, but she’s raising her paddle. It’s like the auction is going on.
Aline: But it’s got to give me that thing where I can listen through, what is it called?
John: Yeah, so apparently the Scriptnotes app right now, it won’t play in the background, so you actually have to have the app open for it to play. So you can’t like check your email when it’s playing.
Craig: Well that’s no good.
John: It totally should be possible.
Aline: My whole airplane thing is listening to old Scriptnotes and playing Scrabble at the same time. So, it’s a problem. Look into it. Look into it!
John: We’ll fix it. We’ll try to fix it for Aline. If we can fix it for Aline we will.
Aline: For anyone.
John: But I just emailed Craig about this, because we have 800 premium subscribers. I’m curious whether we can get to a thousand by Christmas. And it seems like we probably could. But if we get to a thousand subscribers, I think you and I, Craig, should do a special bonus episode that is just for subscribers that’s absolutely filthy.
Craig: Yes! I agree.
John: Because we attempt to make the normal show fairly clean, so you can listen to it in your car with your kids.
Aline: I want in. Come on, guys. I’ve got to get in there.
John: We’ll have special guests like Aline Brosh McKenna just being filthy.
Aline: Well, I think Kelly and I could do a segment where we really —
Craig: Oh, that’s just far too much. [laughs] I mean, we said dirty, we didn’t say horrifying. I mean, come one. The last time John, and I, and Kelly got together —
John: People’s eye balls will melt.
Craig: I mean, we reduced John to a vegetable. I mean, it was just tragic. It was just tragic. That was easily the filthiest one we’ve ever done was the one that you and I did with Kelly.
Aline: Was that the one where you played games?
Craig: Yeah, we played Fiasco.
Aline: I don’t know. I’m a completist, but that one, I was —
John: Yeah, a lot of people —
Aline: Head scratching on that one. Also, the audio was weird.
John: It was a little bit weird, yeah.
Aline: John was so much more upset, by the way, Craig, that I just said the audio was weird than I said the show was weird. He would have been much happier if I said, no, the show —
John: The audio was brilliant.
Aline: Perfect. Yeah.
John: But the content was terrible.
Aline: That’s what he wanted to hear.
Craig: I could have told you that that would have been the reaction.
Aline: Are we on to One Cool Things?
Craig: No, we’re not done yet, Aline. You’re not in charge of this podcast. You’re not the boss of us!
Aline: Neither are you?
Craig: No, I am. Well, I’m second in command. [laughs] I’m the Gilligan of this boat.
John: You’re the Riker of this enterprise.
Craig: That’s right.
John: So, if we get to a thousand subscribers, Craig and I promise we will do a bonus episode that’s only for subscribers. So, if you’d like to subscribe go to scriptnotes.net, or you can subscribe kind of through the app, but it’s kind of frustrating through the app.
Anyway, you should subscribe because you get all the back episodes and some bonus stuff, too. And I’m going to be doing a special Q&A thing at the Writers Guild with Simon Kinberg.
John: All of our friends, Simon Kinberg.
John: And we’ll have the audio for that, too. So, you should come for that.
Craig: Excellent. Great. Love that guy.
Aline: He’s the best.
Craig: He is.
John: One Cool Thing, Aline Brosh McKenna.
Aline: I have one. So, Breaking Bad is not on the air anymore —
Aline: And True Detective is not on the air anymore.
Aline: But you know what has been on the air this year which is quite good is The Honourable Woman which is a TV series that’s on the Sundance Channel. Maggie Gyllenhaal is in it. Stephen Rea is in it. It was written and directed by a gentleman named Hugh Blick. I’m making that up.
Aline: Something like that. Something British like that. Hugo. Hugo — look it up. John is looking it up. It’s so good. It’s really a very good thriller. The title is not great. The title makes it sound like it’s a 19th Century.
John: It sounds like an “eat your spinach” show.
Aline: Yes, it sounds like a 19th Century thing where people wear corsets. But it’s actually —
Craig: Well, I like that sort of thing.
Aline: A very well done thriller, contemporary thriller, about — she’s in parliament played Maggie Gyllenhaal and she’s Jewish and she owns a company that has investments in the territories. And it’s about Israeli/Palestinian relations. And it’s obviously very relevant right now. It’s very well done. It’s very well written.
I think there are eight episodes. We’re about six into it. It’s just really good. It’s the kind of movie that I feel like Hollywood used to — it’s the kind of story that Hollywood used to do kind of on a regular basis and does less frequently. And if you like intelligent thrillers… — The one thing I will say is the first 20 minutes of the first episode, we had no idea what was going on. And we kept all, I watched it with my son, and we kept saying who is that, what’s going on.
But I really love that about it actually because it gave us so much credit. What’s the name of the guy?
John: Hugo Blick.
Aline: Hugo Blick. He’s really so talented. It’s got such scope. Such scale. It’s smart. And it gives you credit. And I highly recommend it.
Craig: [British accent] Who is that? Who is that? What’s going on? Who’s that one now?
Aline: You’ve just described me watching Game of Thrones. Game of Thrones for me, the entire second season was me leaning over to my husband and going, “Who is that? Which one is that?’
Craig: Was that the one from before?
Aline: And he would say, “He’s the one who wants to take over the kingdom,” which was really not helpful.
John: [laughs] That’s not helpful at all.
Aline: There’s about 11 of those.
John: I love Game of Thrones. But Game of Thrones, I really don’t know the names of most of the characters. I can sort of identify them by general type and sort of like I think it’s a Lannister. There you go.
Craig: Well, the Lannisters are easy because they’re blonde.
Aline: Yeah, but there were a lot of blondish men of about 43 years old in that second season that were all trying to take over the kingdom.
Craig: Was that the one from before who had, with the lady? I can’t keep — I don’t know who these people are.
Aline: The Honourable Woman, Sundance Channel, Maggie Gyllenhaal.
John: And it’s Honourable Woman with a U in it. I just looked it up.
Craig: Of course it is.
Aline: It’s all Brit like.
John: It’s all Brit like.
Craig: Honourable. Yes. Honourable.
John: My One Cool Thing is a follow up on an earlier One Cool Thing. So, early on in the show I had One Cool Thing Untitled Screenplays, which is a Tumblr of like little snippets of screenplays that are like ridiculous.
Aline: Oh yeah, it’s funny.
John: Sort of deliberately ridiculous. And so the person who created that Tumblr, C.W. Neill, has a book, like a published book you can buy called This Movie Will Require Dinosaurs.
Craig: [laughs] That’s a great title.
John: And so it’s available in the world right now. It’s a physical book. I actually bought the iBook store version of it, which is good and fun, too. So I would highly recommend people check it out.
And there’s actually a live reading happening as well. I don’t have the dates in front of me, but there will be a link to that in the show notes as well.
Craig: Who’s that one?
John: Who’s that one?
Craig: Oh, he’s with the sword.
Aline: She’s the one with the dragons.
Craig: Oh, oh, from last time?
Aline: Mm-hmm. With the boobs and the dragons.
Craig: My grandmother used to do that stuff. I loved it. I can’t keep — my grandmother talked like this. “I can’t keep up.” Such a sweet lady.
Aline: She wasn’t Jewish though?
Craig: Oh my god. She was, every amount of Jewish that you could have. Her DNA was a thousand percent Jewish. She was the mother of all Jews.
So, have I — John, have I done N3TWORK, the app N3TWORK? Have I done this one yet?
John: I don’t think you’ve ever done N3TWORK.
Craig: Okay. So, my One Cool Thing, an app called N3TWORK. It’s free. If you want to get it, it’s certainly available for iOS. Probably for — I can’t imagine it’s not for Android. N3TWORK. Not Twerk as in Miley Cyrus but Twork, N3TWORK. And it’s a very smart little app.
So, the theory behind it is there’s a ton of really good content publicly available on YouTube and similar sites, but there’s no way to curate it. I mean, you can go to YouTube’s home page, but it’s sort of useless, and a lot of it is ad-supported and promoted. And there’s just a ton of crap out there. And the one thing that networks always did for us was curate. They just would say, okay, well we at least think this is good, why don’t you check it out.
So, this app basically sucks up all this video and you just start saying I am interested in videos about this topic, and this topic, and this topic, and they just start piping them to you. And as you watch it, you can go, no, don’t like this one, just swipe it away and it’s gone. Oh, I do like this one, I’ll watch it a little longer. And, of course, like all big brother apps it’s learning and so it starts to be able to send you things that you might like. And you can sort of download them for offline viewing. It’s a really cool little app.
I haven’t used it too much just because I hate watching things, as you know. But for those of you that enjoy watching things, and think that you might be missing out on some really cool things out there on the YouTubes and so forth, check out N3TWORK.
Aline: Does your music on your iPod get smarter? Like when you use shuffle, does it know like I listen to this song a lot. I tend to listen all the way through this song. This is a song I like. Because, my god, it keeps trying to give me like the most obscure thing in my — it just is insisting on giving it to me on shuffle.
Craig: I think it’s pure random on shuffle.
John: I think shuffle is purely random. I think Genius, if Genius is still part of your thing, is attempting to sort of navigate towards things. But that’s why Beats is supposed to be — that’s one of the ideas behind the Beats app is that —
Aline: Knows what you like?
John: It knows what you like, or you’re telling them what mood you’re in and therefore it’s going to sort of put stuff together that is going to fit that mood.
John: Angry. Always angry.
John: And that’s our episode this week. I want to thank Aline Brosh McKenna, our wonderful co-host for this.
Aline: I’ll still be Joan Rivers. Listen, I’ll still be Joan Rivers forever.
John: Thank you very much. Joan Rivers forever. If you have a question for Craig Mazin, you should tweet at him. he is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. Aline is at nothing, because she’s not on Twitter.
John: If you have a longer question for any of us, you can write to firstname.lastname@example.org. johnaugust.com is also where you can find the notes for today’s episode and for all of our episodes. Transcripts are also there.
If you are on iTunes, you should subscribe to the show. Look for Scriptnotes and subscribe there. You can also leave us a comment. We love those comments.
If you would like to listen to all those back episodes and perhaps be that 1,000th subscriber to the premium channel that gets us to our very filthy show, you can do so at scriptnotes.net. There’s also an app in the iTunes app store and in the Android app store for listening to it on your phone. So, that is our show this week. We will be back next week. But, thank you all.
Aline: Thanks for having me.
Craig: Thanks guys.
John: Thanks Aline.
Aline: Bye Craigy.
John: Thanks Craig. Bye.
- Aline Brosh McKenna on episodes 60, 76, 100, 101, 119, 123, 124 and 152
- Joan Rivers’s obituary in The New York Times
- Get tickets now for October 8th’s live Slate Culture Gabfest with guests John and Craig
- Why do people throw tomatoes? from How Stuff Works
- the-knowledge.org teaches you how to rebuild the world from scratch
- About Global Entry
- Movies Have Worst Summer Since 1997 by Brooks Barnes
- Mimeographs on Wikipedia and eBay
- Maguire Watch on Everything is Terrible!
- Get premium Scriptnotes access at scriptnotes.net and hear our 1,000th subscriber special
- The Honourable Woman on Sundance.tv
- This Movie Will Require Dinosaurs by C. W. Neill, and details on the September 15th live read
- N3TWORK is the first personal TV network
- Outro by Scriptnotes listener Robert Hutchison (send us yours!)