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 178 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig, Happy 2015.
Craig: Happy 2015, John. We made it to the Back to the Future.
John: We made it to that time that was foretold when everything would be just the way it is right now. That movie hit everything exactly right.
Craig: Nailed it.
John: Nailed it. Robert Zemeckis ahead of his time yet again. I think the thing I’m most excited about with 2015 is I will remember that it’s 2015. I think I’m actually going to sign checks properly. For whatever reason, the number sticks in my head properly, because I was signing 2013 for a long time. And I think 2015 I’m good and I’m golden. So, for the next 364 days I am good.
Craig: I have a little theory on this.
John: Tell me.
Craig: And maybe it’s just you and me and none of the people out there, but I find that remembering the odd numbered years is vastly easier than remembering the even ones.
Craig: Odd number years — you know, this is going to sound a little weird and it’s going to sound a little idiot savant-ish, but do numbers have certain feelings for you?
John: Oh, absolutely Craig. Come on, we’re screenwriters. Everything has feelings.
Craig: Right. But so certain numbers feel a certain way and like have a certain vibe in your head.
John: Yeah, like fours are blue. Because they’re blue.
Craig: And they’re round. Even though a four is not round, it’s round to me. All even numbers are softer than odd numbers. Odd numbers are harder.
John: They’re pokey.
Craig: They’re pokey. They’re exactly right. They’re pokey. So, even though say four is visually pokier than nine, nine is pokey.
John: 100 percent agree with you.
John: I think it’s also the number of dots like on a dice or something like that, because the odd ones are always going to have a little bit that sticks out.
Craig: Yeah. There’s this little extra bit. There’s something off. And so they’re easier to grab. You know, when you’re remembering that date, 2015 for me is so easy, it’s such a breeze to be able to write 15. 2016 is going to be annoying because it’s such a round, soft — because we’re in the 20s now. You know, when we were in the 19s, you have all these great dates that were entirely pointy like 1993. Oh!
John: Yeah. Lots of pokiness.
Craig: So pokey.
John: Well, I would say overall since we’ve been in the 2000s I tend — those years tend to slip away more easily. And also the 2000s. So, I’ll often say like 1998 when I mean 2008. And I think it’s because it slips away.
Maybe it’s also the aspect of Velcro. I think that the even numbered years are sort of like the fuzzy size of Velcro. And the odd number years are like the spiky side of Velcro. And spiky side of Velcro, it scratches and it holds on. It’s easier for me.
Craig: For me, for sure.
John: Also, 2015, it’s a five. And I just remember learning how to count by 5s. And so all the 5s are very natural to me. So, they just feel, I don’t know, it’s like a nickel. It’s a nickel year.
Craig: Yeah. Listen, I have every reason to expect that it’s going to be a spectacular year because —
John: Oh, it’s going to be great.
Craig: Yeah, because I’m a foolish optimist.
John: Yes, sort of positive moviegoing transfers into positive year gazing.
Craig: Why not?
John: And 2014 on the whole I would say had some suckage to it. There were some things that were incredibly frustrating and annoying and we also ended 2014 on a really weird down note. So, I’m excited to rebound into this New Year, this new act.
Craig: Every year has suckage.
Craig: So, you and I because we are students of logic, fallacies, and cognitive quirks. We know that the human mind is set up to detect patterns when perhaps that does it a disservice. So, you look at trends and over the long run, over the long run the world is getting better. Hard to tell when you’re in the middle of a down spike on your jagged rise up, but overall the world is doing better.
It’s a hard thing to say to people when they’re currently not doing well.
Craig: I have this problem where sometimes someone will say 2014 was the worst year ever. And I’ll say no it wasn’t. No, no, not at all. I mean, certainly 1232 in the middle of the plague was much, much worse. And then I realize that I’m talking to somebody who, you know, their parent died or they got dumped. Or they lost a job and they don’t need me giving them historical perspective. And this is why I’m not a therapist.
John: I would also say though I feel like the acceleration of time based on largely social media but just sort of the nature of media overall, things just move so much faster and there were so many bad things that were all stacked together.
In our episode that we recorded together we talked about the Year in Outrage which was Slate’s little thing where they talked about all sort of the year’s events and moments of outrage. And you just look back on 2014 and there were so many things where like that was crazy that that happened and it’s also crazy that the next week we had forgotten about it. Like Russia shot a plane out of the sky.
Craig: Yeah, that’s right.
John: And we just kind of forgot about it.
John: Oh, yeah, that happened.
Craig: We gave villains some great news in 2014. And we also gave the unjustly accused great news in 2014. No matter what you do, no matter how bad it is, in two weeks people will be talking about something else.
John: 100 percent true.
Craig: Two weeks. So, if you are ever humiliated. Let’s say that your email gets hacked and all of it gets out there and you said all these things about people and so on and so forth.
John: Like Angelina Jolie.
Craig: Everybody’s angry at you. You know what you do? You just go somewhere without Internet and you stay there for two weeks. You come back, and you should be fine. [laughs]
John: It’s the two-week cure.
Craig: Yeah. It’s the two-week cure.
John: Today on the podcast we are going to be looking at three Three Page Challenges from people who sent in their first three pages of their scripts for us to look at and we will be discussing them on the air. And I think part of the reason I’m so optimistic about 2015 is this — I think we talked about it before we started recording — this was the best batch of these Three Page Challenges we’ve seen maybe ever.
Craig: Yeah. I don’t think we’ve ever had one where all three were very good and we have all three are very good. We have three very encouraging Three Page Challenges this week.
John: And all three provided interesting things to talk about, too, which is crucial. So, Stuart Friedel, well picked.
Craig: Yes. At last.
John: The other thing we’re going to be talking about today is Chuck Palahniuk has this great advice for writers about not using thought verbs. And so we’re going to dig into that a little bit, both how it applies to literary writing, but how it applies to screenwriting as well.
So, let’s get into it by first doing some follow up on Sony. The last real episode recorded two weeks ago, the Sony hack had happened. The Interview was not going to be released in theaters, or online, or ever. Everything was in chaos. I wondered aloud whether this was our 9/11. And now, again, two weeks later a lot has changed. So, let’s look through what has changed.
The movie got released. We’re recording this on January 3. The movie has been released. It was released in independent theaters, so not the big chains that were supposed to carry it, but it was released on a fair number of screens. And it was also released online, so on YouTube and later on iTunes. And it earned $15 million online.
John: So, that was a significant change. Another thing that has changed is people have started asking more questions about whether it was really North Korea involved. And the administration has come back and said, no, no, no, it really is North Korea. So, as we’re recording this, the administration is still telling us that it was North Korea who was behind the attack.
Craig: Yes. That’s right. Again, this is part of the way news works, and this even applies to people who aren’t normally conspiracy theorists. So, the administration says we have reason to believe it’s North Korea and then a security firm, I believe in this case it was Norse Security says, “Whoa, hold on. We’ve looked at what we can see and from what we can tell there’s no reason to think that it’s North Korea. We think it’s these other people.” Now, at that point I asked a question that a lot of people asked: why not both?
I mean, that’s the way it used to work in the Cold War. You’d pay off some guy working on the inside to get you secrets from Lockheed or whatever. But this got passed around as, hey, Obama liar, [laughs], you know. So, either — it’s dependent on which way your bent was, either it was Obama was a liar, or America is weak and we’re stupid, whatever spin you wanted to put on it.
But point being, yeah, it wasn’t the North Koreans at all. Blah. And look at that, we shut down North Korea’s Internet over nothing. Well, we may not have shut down their Internet actually.
John: Yeah. Again, we don’t know what we don’t know.
John: That’s the thing. We have no idea what the administration really knows. If there’s other information about sort of why they believe it’s North Korea. We don’t know if we shut down their Internet. And so we just stumble around in the darkness and point fingers at each other.
Craig: Well, this is the new era. We stumble around in the darkness. We don’t point fingers at each other. We throw headlines at each other.
John: That’s true. That’s what we do.
Craig: We just walk around whipping headlines into each other’s faces while the truth just sits there doing what the truth is, which is remaining immutable and finite. And some people got a little feisty with me on Twitter. “You’re stupid for believing in the government.” Well, it’s just yesterday or today the federal government came out and said, “No, no, no, we’ve read all of your adorable articles, Norse Security. Yeah, we’ve been actually following some stuff for years that we think this connected up with. We have excellent evidence that we are standing by. That this, in fact, was backed by the North Koreans.”
And once again I have to say just because you don’t have the evidence doesn’t mean the evidence doesn’t exist, particularly when you’re talking about something that is protected by national security interests, whether you like that sort of thing or not. So, so far I’m going with North Koreans until I see convincing reason that essentially the government is flat out lying to me.
John: I will actually take a contrarian view and I don’t think it was largely the North Koreans. I think they could have been involved to some capacity. They may have hired some folks to do some stuff. But I think this — I think it will ultimately come out that it was not nearly as much of the North Koreans as is now being reported. That doesn’t mean that I believe that there’s a vast conspiracy to hide the truth from us. I just think that we don’t know what they don’t know.
It’s one of those things where I think there are levels of uncertainty here that may never actually fully be resolved.
Craig: Well, if the North Koreans paid off some people to do this, wouldn’t that — because that would count for me.
John: Would that count?
Craig: Yeah, that would count for me, for sure. Oh yeah, absolutely.
John: To me, I think the more interesting looking forward from all this is that it did, I think, initiate the era or the public awareness so that we’re in an era of hackers being able to do major things to shut down individual corporations or sort of whole areas of business.
John: And I think that is really the more terrifying thing to come out of this. Because one of the things that I thought was underreported was it wasn’t just like they published a bunch of embarrassing Sony emails. It’s that they actually shutdown Sony largely. They shut down all their computer networks.
I have friends who work there who they had to write checks manually. They couldn’t trust any of their own computers. And if you’re in an era now where you can’t do anything on a computer, you’re really screwed. And so whatever the next industry or the next corporation that gets hit by this kind of attack, it’s going to be really interesting, whether it’s geopolitical or just actually sort of the Die Hard model where it sort of seems like they’re terrorists, but nope, they’re actually just out for some money. They’re just going to try to extort you. That’s going to be really fascinating and scary.
Craig: Yeah. I think a lot of the stuff that went on at Sony was self-inflicted by necessity. Once they knew that their network had been breached there were just huge areas of it they couldn’t trust, so they had to turn it off.
I remember driving over to Sony to see Lindsay and it was, I think, on day three of this thing, and I pull up to the security gate and I give them my thing, “Well who are you going to see?” And I tell her and she goes, “Okay.” They can’t — and I realized, oh, they don’t have, they don’t know who — I’m just me holding up a license that says me saying I’m here to see somebody. And they —
John: They can’t scan anything.
Craig: They can’t scan. They have no computer to tell them yeah that’s true, so just go on.
John: And the poor guard. He had to go out and manually lift the gate up because the little computer that lifts the gate couldn’t do it.
Craig: Yeah. The iPod controlled lift gate. So, they had to — you’re absolutely right. This will ideally serve as some kind of inoculation and hopefully every major industry and certainly every major industry in our town is going bananas on security.
John: The pro side is that hopefully some of the firms will become more serious about security. The flip side of that is that if you are an individual or a group who has an agenda, you see like, oh, look what we can do if we put our minds to it. And that’s a troubling thing, too.
Craig: Well, yes, but in the end — and this is a lesson that it seems terrorists learn very slowly — in the end what you basically get is publicity. But publicity isn’t an ends to anything. It’s simply a means to an end. In the end the movie came out, it made some money, Sony will continue to march on. Their computers will turn back on. People will stop talking about this. It did not bring down the great capitalist empire, nor did it improve life anywhere else in the world.
It did nothing.
John: If it was North Korea and their aim was to embarrass Sony and to make people remember that North Korea still exists, it did that.
Craig: Yeah. Briefly.
John: But, again, two-week rule. It’ll pass away. Russia shot down a plane and we don’t talk about that anymore.
Craig: It’s already — the second — that’s all you have to do. If you’re one of these people that suddenly is the piñata on Twitter and in the news, what you do is watch the news, okay. Just watch the news. And it’s going to be awful because it’s going to be all about you and it’s going to be horrendous. Just…wait…because sooner or later a plane is going to go missing. You’re done.
Go outside, have lunch. Have lunch. Go see your friends. Everything is going to be fine.
John: Yeah. Let’s talk about the release of The Interview as well. So, they followed your advice largely. They did release the movie online.
John: They released it through YouTube and eventually through iTunes. Did you watch it, Craig?
John: Craig watches nothing.
Craig: I’ve got screeners. I’m going my way through screeners.
John: All right. So, I watched it on YouTube and the experience was actually fine and it looked pretty good on a crappy hotel connection on a laptop and it looked just fine. You watch the movie and you’re like, really? We did all this for this movie? It wasn’t my favorite of the Seth Rogan directed movies. But it wasn’t, I don’t know.
It was amazing that all of this drama happened over what you, I think, were criticizing Obama for saying it’s a silly comedy.
Craig: Clooney. Clooney said that.
John: Oh, Clooney said it. Clooney was absolutely right. It is a silly comedy that had no sort of greater point.
Craig: I think the word that he used was dumb which I thought was — I was just presuming that he hadn’t seen it, but even if he had —
John: If he had seen it, I think he would have said dumb was correct.
Craig: It was a, you know, why editorialize. But the truth is some comedies are supposed to be dumb.
Craig: And if the world had kept — if this had happened around the release of Caddyshack I think people would have been like, wait, wait, this happened because —
John: Caddyshack is a great movie. Come on.
Craig: Of course it is. But at the time I’m saying, if you had never seen Caddyshack before and then it was like —
John: I predict that 20 years from now we will not be talking about The Interview in the same reverential tones we talk about Caddyshack.
Craig: I suspect you’re right. But, regardless, I feel bad. No movie deserves that kind of — no movie deserves that kind of —
John: Those guys are wonderful. And so I felt so frustrated for them as I articulated two weeks ago with their movie being held hostage and their work being unseen. So, I was very happy for them that they got the movie out in the world. That people got to enjoy the movie. And I want to talk a little bit about the $15 million, because everyone is like, oh my gosh, we should just release movies online if we make $15 million.
John: It’s like, yeah, no other movie will ever have two weeks of national publicity and all the stuff only to get $15 million. That’s…no.
Craig: Why are people — ?
John: I think it shows how important theatrical is.
Craig: You know what? Here’s a resolution for 2015 for everyone. Stop being stupid.
John: That’s a good thing.
Craig: You know, just stop being stupid. That’s the dumbest. If you say, “Oh, you see that? They made $15 million. Every movie should…” then you need to stop. You need to sit down. You need to admit that you’ve been stupid. You need to admit that you’ve been saying things without really thinking about them. You need to make a resolution. No more being stupid. That’s dumb.
Of course the $15 million is not indicative of anything other than what happens when your movie is the topic of global speculation for two months, or rather two weeks, and also is not available anywhere else unless you live in Austin or something.
John: It’s that classic thing of sort of enshrining the outlier as being the new paradigm. And so it’s like saying, “Look at Titanic. Titanic was so successful. It’s super long. It’s a period piece. And that’s what we should be making.” It’s like, no, you should never try to make Titanic again. That was completely an outlier. And you should never try to do what The Interviewer did because, lord, that’s not going to happen the same way twice.
Craig: No. No.
John: You wouldn’t want it to happen the same way twice.
Craig: No. In fact, I have to admit the $15 million number to me was a little disappointing.
Craig: Because I thought, well, okay, that’s almost the maximum that you could expect from a normal movie that has no preexisting interest beyond the scandal. Like if you went ahead and said, “We’re making Harry Potter 8 and we’re putting it online,” or Harry Potter 9 I guess you would say, “and we’re putting it online,” then —
John: Of course.
Craig: Yeah, we’d see a lot of money. But for a little comedy that has all this stuff going behind it, that’s like, okay, that’s an average $40 million movie with all this interest, no theatrical release, now it’s online. It’s only $6, right?
Craig: And they made $15 million. Not great, you know. Not great. If anything, I think it showed how limited that venue is for an initial release. That that venue — online — really is a good ancillary market. And, hey, good news for the exhibitors who I have been slapping around a little bit lately. People still want to go see movies in movie theaters. And thank god.
John: Yeah. I like movies in movie theaters.
Craig: Me too.
John: So, let’s segue to Chuck Palahniuk had this great little blog post article on Lit Reactor where he urged writers in 2015 to take a six-month hiatus on using thought verbs. And by thought verbs he was talking about “thinks, knows, understands, realizes, believes, wants, remembers, imagines, desires, and a hundred others you love to use. The list should also include loves and hates.” Craig, what did you think of this?
Craig: Yeah. Spot on. He’s expanded his list beyond what you call the linking verbs, those verbs that can take adjectives. Like if you ever hear somebody say, “I feel badly about that,” then you can feel free to correct them and tell them that that means that their fingers are numb. They feel bad.
But his point here in expanding this group is spot on. What he’s really saying is these words essentially are stealing your ability to paint the picture or reveal the information in a narratively interesting way.
Craig: So, go ahead.
John: Well, Palahniuk is coming from a point of fiction. And so the stuff he’s writing is words you’re reading on a page, so you’re reading short stories, you’re reading a novel, and his argument is that if you say “Tom thought back to his childhood and how much he loved his mother.” That’s a sentence anyway, but by saying that he’s thinking back, by saying that he loves his mother you are robbing yourself of the opportunity to actually visualize those moments, to make those moments physical and real, and to give the characters something to do and something to explore.
Instead, you’re just short-cutting right past them and you’re not actually seeing it. It’s like you’re taking a jet from one coast to the other coast and not taking the cross country trip and really exploring what’s in there.
So, he gives some good examples of ways to show one character’s interest in another character by just really physicalizing the moment. And sort of like there’s a scene at a locker where he does a really good job articulating the moment by moment of like what it is like for those two characters to be in each other’s space. That’s writing.
And I thought it was a really smart approach, especially for talking about literary fiction and prose fiction and the kinds of words you’re choosing.
Craig: Yeah. There’s this thing that bad writers will do, or let’s give them the benefit of the doubt, they’re early writers or new writers. They will have their writing describe people, describe characters or moments in a way that the reader or movie viewer would describe them after words. For instance, oh, he hated her. Well, he wasn’t happy to be there. He didn’t like that. He was scared. That’s all how they would describe what they’ve seen or heard. But that’s not what you give them. That’s like basically cooking a lovely meal and then blending it and mixing it with digestive juices and then feeding it to people like they’re bugs. You know, you have to make them work to get that.
Have them open it up. Have them unpack it. Have them draw the conclusion. You want your character to know that this one hates that one because they figured it out, not because one of them says I hate her.
Craig: And even in screenwriting where the audience will never be exposed to our non-dialogue work, at least not directly textually, it’s another way for us to avoid that syndrome of writing things that cannot be shot.
Craig: You know, he says here, “Don’t tell your reader Lisa hated Tom.” Well, similarly, when you’re a screenwriter don’t write the paragraph, “Lisa sees Tom coming across the street. She hates him.” No.
John: No. Because here is what you need to think about with scene description is that when you’re writing a screenplay ultimately you’re writing dialogue that characters can say which is lovely and that’s a thing that characters can do, but you’re trying to give the actors something they can actually play. And hating is not a thing you can actually play.
Actors can only play actions that they can do something. And so you need to give the actor something they can do.
Now, that doesn’t mean you have to literally map out every little beat of every little thing that they’re doing, every little twiddle of their fingers, but you need to give them playable moments and you need to give the director playable moments so that she can, you know, figure out what to aim the camera at to explain what it is that’s going on in these character’s heads.
So, what Palahniuk is trying to do here is really what screenwriters sort of innately have to do which is that, you know, as screenwriters we’re only allowed to write about the things you can see and you can hear. Everything has to be externalized anyway. He’s urging prose writers to externalize those same kinds of things that screenwriters innately have to do.
Craig: And interestingly a lot of the verbs that he’s singling out here correctly aren’t really things that we do either as human beings naturally. So, we’ll say words like understand. You don’t actually understand something. What you do is you put things together, you make connections. You have a moment. There’s a thing. Eventually you’ll come to say I understand this. You know, believing in something is the summation of a long process. Wanting something, loving something. This whole idea, I mean, love is the best of these words, because what do you walk up to something, oh yeah it happened, I love it. I love it.
No. No. So, Beth can’t hate Don. Beth can have a reaction to Don. Beth can see Don do something. Beth can do something in return. We should watch these people doing human things and thinking human things of the moment the way that we do of the moment and draw our own conclusion from it. So, when you use these kinds of words or when you think in this way, you are doing the audience’s work for them and therefore they are bored.
John: Yeah. So, the one exception I want to propose for this moratorium on these verbs is there are moments in screenwriting where these words can be incredibly useful and helpful. And so the thing that comes to mind is in the parenthetical. And so in a parenthetical I can imagine a block of dialogue where the character starts speaking and then has this moment of realization where they actually finally understand what it is that the character is saying.
So, in a parenthetical (finally understanding) or (considering) or sometimes you need like that simple word that sort of explains what it is that is actually going on in their mental process to make that line of dialogue make sense.
John: That feels like a good case to make an exception for these verbs, because sometimes you really do need to state the internal process for this character so that the line of dialogue makes sense.
Craig: What you’re talking about, and I completely agree, is the use of these words as a reward at the end of a process.
Craig: A character, if you’ve done your work, and the character then finally has that moment, that epiphany, than you’ve earned it. And then the audience will have it with them and that’s a wonderful thing. You know, at the Christopher McQuarrie screenplay for The Usual Suspects you get to that point where the detective realizes who Keyser Soze is and they give you that. And so, okay, earned. Here’s your reward. Right?
On the script I’m writing now, on the last page it says, “Because she loves him.” And that’s not in dialogue, that’s just in action. “Because she loves him.” And that has never been stated before in the movie. It’s just something that if you hadn’t figured out by then, [laughs], you know. And, in fact, it’s not there to reveal anything. It’s there to reward us all for kind of having followed through. It’s a summation.
John: Exactly. So, you know, clarity and conciseness are things you can get out of these words, but only when they’re used really judiciously and really to sort of articulate an internal process that is at the end of a longer thing.
If you try to write “because she loves him” on page ten.
John: Nah. Like we don’t have enough information about the character to really appreciate what loves means in that context.
John: All right. Let’s talk about these three pages. These nine pages, because there are three Three Page Challenges.
Craig: It’s really 12 pages because they all have cover pages. Good for them.
John: Good for them with your cover pages. So, if you are new to the podcast and this is the first time you’ve heard of Three Page Challenge, here’s what happens. We invite our listeners to send in the first three pages of their screenplay or their pilot or three pages of writing that are in a screenplay like fashion.
If you would like to read these pages with us while we’re going through this, or if you want to pause the podcast and download these PDFs, we encourage that because then you’ll see exactly what it is we’re talking about because we may get really detailed stuff on the page.
So, the place where you can find this is at the show notes for this episode. Just go to johnaugust.com/scriptnotes and look for this episode and you’ll see the PDFs for these three samples.
So, the first one, should we start with The Grey Stallion?
Craig: Yeah. Let’s do The Grey Stallion.
John: I can summarize this for us because I picked the easiest one by far.
Craig: Please. Do it.
John: The Grey Stallion, Grey with an E, Stallion, is written by Mike Litzenberg and Bridge Stuart. We start in a coffee shop. The whole scene is in a coffee shop, so it’s very easy.
We meet Clarence who is 20s, white hipster, nerdy, more than a hint of Tobey Maguire. He’s at a table at a patio. Across from him sits a second white guy in his 20s, Lawrence. He’s sort of a TJ Miller in Silicon Valley type.
Lawrence is drinking his tea. He complains that his oolong tea tastes like crap. Lawrence talks more and more about his tea. Clarence says, “What are we doing?” Clarence seems to be having sort of an existential crisis and the dialogue between them is just — it’s one scene of dialogue between them. Clarence talking about the Mighty Ducks and how he always felt like from the Mighty Ducks he felt like his team was destined to win, and then when he didn’t that was disappointing.
Lawrence decides he’s going to start a dance troupe, an experimental dance troupe and invites Clarence to join his experimental dance troupe. And those are our three pages.
Craig: Yeah, well summarized. Now, normally — the normal flow of these things is that we’ll say something nice and then we’ll get into the meat of what’s all screwed up. But I’m going to do that backwards. I have a feeling I’m going to do that backwards three times today, because there’s more that’s right here than wrong. So, Mike and Bridge, good job. I want to start with what I thought were some mistakes, and then I’m going to talk about what I thought was really, really good.
And the mistakes are fairly small. While the fact that you called out Lawrence as TJ Miller from Silicon Valley certainly helped me immediately visualize him, it also made me realize that you were copying his voice from that show. And in doing so this felt less original than it should be. In general, I don’t like the screenplay to tell me who the actor is. I have no problem with you knowing who the actor is, but I don’t like you telling me, particularly when you’re describing even how they look on another show.
It’s certainly a mistake to cite a particular actor and then cite them in the context of a particular show.
Craig: Because that’s not how it works. They have him, see? And the last thing people want — and the last thing, by the way, any actor wants is to be told, “Oh, just do what you do in that other show, but do it for this.” This is not an episode of Silicon Valley, therefore that’s illegal. So, that’s a big no-no to me. The other thing I thought could be better — it’s a small thing — but what I wanted was a little bit of external context for Clarence’s problem.
They’re sitting there at this coffee shop and Lawrence is doing what he normally does. We get the sense that he’s just a creature. This is the way he is. And Clarence is more of a worry wart who suddenly has this crisis. If it were as simple as they had a laptop in front of them and they’re working on something. And Clarence — they’re supposed to be working on it but they’re not, because Lawrence is blah-blah-blahing about his tea and Clarence is finally giving up.
I needed a little something just so it wasn’t so dead. Just so it wasn’t just a guy sitting there and suddenly out of nowhere, because the screenplay tells him, you know, the tiniest little bit of context.
But let me now — that was it. Here’s what I loved. First of all, look at the pages. Everybody at home, look at the way the pages look. So, this is entirely dialogue, right? The scene is two people sitting at a table talking. Look how the pages look.
John: Yeah. Especially page two. I think that’s the winner.
Craig: Yes. You see, the dialogue is broken up by lines of action. There is white space on the page. At no point do any of the descriptions go past three lines, right, two lines or one line typically, which I love, okay? So, all that stuff, that’s the way the flow should work.
The dialogue was basically funny. I mean, I was a little put off by the fact that they are copying what they do on Silicon Valley with Lawrence, but I thought Clarence was saying interesting things. And I liked the way that they used timing. Comedy, everybody knows comedy is all about timing, and yet how do you —
Craig: Timing. [laughs] How do you do timing on the page? So, look on page three. Even though they didn’t put in parenthesis a lot of overwriting about how this should go, I know how this should go. Lawrence says, “Not so much a dance troupe. Well, maybe a dance troupe. A neo-feminist-core multimedia industrial rap-collision core performance group. I mean I know that’s…a lot of words. I don’t think it’s going to be ground breaking so much as ground healing.
“Are you in?”
Now. That long pause there was not delineated by beat, it just was “Lawrence looks at Clarence meaningfully.” And having one character look at another one is sort of essential to comedic timing. So, I really like that and I think my favorite thing of all about these three pages is without telling us ever in dialogue or in action or in character description, I know that Lawrence is the alpha dog and Clarence is the beta dog. And that is something I was able to conclude from this scene, meaning this scene was working on more than one level. And I really like that.
John: Yeah. I really like these pages as well. And so I want to talk — let me start off with the TJ Miller thing, because I highlighted that as well in my pages. Let me read his whole description and you’ll see why TJ Miller needs to go away there. “A second white guy in his 20s – hipster, curly hair, big swagger, TJ Miller in Silicon Valley – sits across from him.” So, let’s just take out the TJ Miller in Silicon Valley and just what the description is. “A second white guy in his 20s – hipster, curly hair, big swagger, sits across from him.” Great. I got that without that.
And I may picture TJ Miller, but at least I’m not locked only into TJ Miller. And I think big swagger is a great way to describe him. And I think I got it from there, so you could even get rid of the curly hair. Give us something else. Like, describe his chunky bracelet. Describe something else about him that sort of lets us know who he is, but don’t say TJ Miller. The same with the first guy, “More than a hint of Tobey Maguire.” Yes, but you know what, let’s find some other way to do it, because the challenge is let’s say you want to actually shoot these things. Suddenly actors have to come in and have to be Tobey Maguire.
And it’s like, well, I don’t want to be Tobey Maguire. Or they see themselves like I’m not a Tobey Maguire type. How can I do that?
Craig: Yeah. I’m sorry, sir. That was only a hint of Tobey Maguire. We were looking for more than a hint.
John: Back off the Tobey Maguire.
So, I want to talk about what these pages actually are, because I’m not sure that they’re going to be the best way to start a movie perhaps, but I think they’re a great way to start looking at how two characters react and relate to each other. So often I encourage people to just start writing. Just start writing the characters having a conversation. And this feels like just two characters having a conversation. And I think if you were to write these pages you would suddenly like know the voice of these two characters. So, I believe that these writers can write these guys doing almost anything. And they could be doing stuff that actually involved a plot.
Because I’m not sure reading these three pages that it’s really going to involve this dance troupe thing happening.
John: I think it’s just like two guys shooting the shit.
John: And that’s fine for what this is, but that may not really be the start of your movie, but these guys can write these characters talking and that’s amazing and useful. And so if I read these pages I would keep reading because I really enjoy their voices and that’s awesome.
Craig: Yeah. There’s some nice moments in here, too, where I always love the idea of writing harmoniously where things are happening in parallel. While Lawrence is talking in the beginning on page one, Clarence isn’t saying anything. He’s not saying anything. And finally he says, “What are you doing? What are we doing?”
And Lawrence says, “I don’t know. I’m just getting my tea on.”
And then Clarence says, “Are we moving forward here…”
And Lawrence says, “Oh god. Here we go.”
That’s a great way to imply more than just I’m not happy with what you’re saying. It also implies this is not the first time we are stuck. You like characters that are stuck in the beginning. We’ve talked about this before. The character that’s in the rut. And it helps — things like that are great ways to get across information, especially when you’re in the beginning.
A lot of people would say, “Look, we’ve known each other for 20 years. And for 20 years you’ve been…”
And I’m like, “Oh, god, no. Please no.”
John: Unnecessary. We know that these characters — this, again, tells us that these characters have had this conversation before. They have a history. It’s not their first time sitting down in this coffee shop.
Craig: You know what else it tells us? It tells us that Clarence has lost before. [laughs] He’s lost the argument before, which I love. Because he’s about to lose it again. And that’s really good. That’s the kind of conflict that’s always fun in the heart of a comedy.
John: So, let’s talk about the specificity of the environment, because I felt it was a little generic around it. So, we start, “EXT. COFFEE SHOP — DAY.” Two people are sitting at a table. And then we don’t really get anything more about the coffee shop. So, I didn’t know where this was taking place. I didn’t know sort of what the vibe of this place was.
Is it crucial? Maybe not, but I think it could be very useful. The other thing I would like to propose, and again, not a must but a possibility is right now the scene starts, we talk about Clarence who doesn’t do anything for quite a long time. And you have the opportunity, you could just start on Lawrence who is actually going to have the first lines. He could talk through some of his first stuff. And then we reveal Clarence, the person he is talking to, who is not paying any attention to him. And is either staring at his coffee or staring around. And that might be an opportunity to paint who else is in this place.
And so then we’re on Clarence, our newer character, and we’re on him right before he says his first line and that could be very useful.
Craig: I agree. I mean, that’s sort of what I was going for with the idea that there would be some sort of circumstantial context. Because if you want to open on Clarence, if Clarence is trying to write. They’re doing that thing where they’re sharing a laptop between them and he’s the only one writing. And while he’s writing this other idiot is just blahing about his stupid tea and his, you know, fey description of it, and all the rest of it.
And finally Clarence just gives up and slams the laptop down. “What are you doing?” You know? You need that. If you’re going to open with Clarence you need to have Clarence doing something other than just sitting there dumbly.
John: Yup. On page two, another small issue I had here, Clarence asks, “So, we could just sit here doing this? Oh god, here we go again. But seriously.” The but felt unnecessary to me. The but was not in response to something. “So seriously.” Get rid of the but.
On page three, a lot of words, “I don’t think it’s going to be ground breaking as much as ground healing,” the missing hyphens there I think hurt the joke. And so putting ground-breaking and ground-healing, it’s a good joke. I think the hyphen would have helped us understand the joke a little bit better. I had to read it twice to actually understand that it was a double structure kind of joke there.
Finally, “Lawrence looks at Clarence meaningfully. Are you in?”
Clarence says, “That’s cool. But I’m not really a dancer.” His “that’s cool” didn’t feel like a possible answer for “Are you in?”
John: So, just small observations.
John: Just making sure that it really feels like the characters are talking to each other and that they’re saying things they would actually say in the moment and not necessarily their own next line.
Craig: Yeah. Yeah. But overall…
John: Overall great. I really enjoyed it. And I’d be excited to see these two characters do something in a movie.
Craig: So would I.
John: Hooray. Next up.
Craig: What do you want to do next?
John: The Devil’s Eye.
Craig: Devil’s Eye.
Devil’s Eye. Okay, Devil’s Eye, written by Meredith DePaolo. Inspired by a true story, which as we all know means nothing.
Craig: Nothing. Everything was inspired by a true story, but I get it. It comes up in horror all the time. Obviously this is going to be a horror movie. They love saying inspired by a true story, as if that will make it scarier. Eh, no. [laughs]
John: Amityville Horror.
Craig: No. No. It’s not scarier because it might — it didn’t happen. It didn’t happen. It never happens.
John: A friend of mine believes every horror sort of happened, so whenever something is based on a real thing he’s like, oh, it’s based on a real…
Craig: Your friend needs to go back to my 2015 resolution. Sit down, don’t be stupid, get back up.
John: You know, here’s the challenge is — I’m not saying that my friend is stupid — but people who are stupid, they don’t know they’re stupid. That’s the inherent irony.
Craig: That’s that whole syndrome or whatever they call it. There’s a name for that thing where people who can’t sing don’t know they can’t sing, so they think they can sing.
Craig: I can’t remember the name of it. We’ll find it and stick it in the show notes. But, yes, that. Okay, all right, so, sorry Meredith. Devil’s Eye, written by Meredith DePaolo, inspired by a true story.
So, we begin looking out at Kentucky’s Green River Valley, Dawn. And the title tells us we’re in Little Hope, Kentucky, in February 1812. We’re looking out over endless acres of winter forest and then we see a little small mining town there in the distance. We hear the sound of a raptor. We go to a forest clearing, a couple of red hawks are fighting over some raw meat and it is revealed that in fact this is from a dead man in his 30s, splattered in mud. His throat has been cut and the hawks are pecking out his eyes
We go to black. And then cut to more black where we hear the sounds of a child named Albert saying, “Let me out,” and a couple of bullies, Nathan and Tom, who won’t let him out. And, finally, Virginia, who appears to be a school teacher, frees Albert from the closet. We see now that we’re in a schoolhouse and Virginia kicks these two out. Virginia is — well, it’s a nice description of Virginia. She’s in her 20s, I guess, for the sake of this summary. And she comforts Albert by saying, hey, you know what? He’s scared that there’s something in the closet and she says, “There’s nothing in there. When I was a little kid my sisters used to torment me. They told me that when I was a baby I was discovered, abandoned in a cemetery. They told me that one day my real family would come and take me to live with them underground with the worms.”
And she said she had something that her father told her would keep evil away. It’s a protective amulet. And she gives Albert a little red marble with a yellow core. It’s called a Devil’s Eye. She gives it to him and says the devil can’t hurt you if he can’t see you.
And, that, is the opening to Devil’s Eye.
John: Yes. So, I enjoyed these pages. And, again, they look really good. The flow on the page is really nice. And it starts with some very strong imagery which plays really well. Good use of sound overall. So the “Keer, keer, keer of a raptor,” feels very good. And keer was just the right word to pick for that sound because it’s unusual. And so when we see that word on the page we have to think like, well, what does that sound like? Oh, yeah, I get what that is. That’s a very specific kind of bird cry.
A nice cut to as we’re moving from this first opening image to the second opening image. Pitch. Black. Darkness. Cut to: Pitch. Black Darkness. So, it’s a match cut to darkness, which seems unimportant, like why bother repeating the same things, but lets us know that we really are in just complete darkness as we’re experiencing this next moment.
John: We’re inside the closet with these kids. I wanted a parenthetical extension of off-screen or unseen for these guys, because by the time — there’s a lot of dialogue happening in the dark there, and it got to be a little — I got to start to wonder about whether I was supposed to be seeing anything or not see anything at the bottom of page one.
John: And then we get into the school house. And so I, like you, enjoyed the description of Virginia Dennison. She needed to be upper cased when she was first introduced. “Her porcelain skin contrasts with a dark mane pulled into a loose bun. She is fiercely independent and just about the only pristine thing in this hardscrabble town.”
So, like the word pristine. That’s the thing I liked most about this. The rest of the stuff — I feel like there’s a better version of some of those sentences. Because I haven’t seen the town yet, so I don’t really know what the hardscrabble means. Hardscrabble doesn’t quite mean dirty. If you can contrast her pristineness to the schoolhouse or something else that’s immediately in our environment, that could be great as well.
And then she has her dialogue. And they’re talking about sort of the Devil’s Eye and her history. I looked overall the idea that we are a horror movie set in an 1812 environment. That felt really good. Page three got kind of proppy to me. I don’t know if you noticed this. So, she has a letter opener and then on page three a charm falls from the letter opener. Albert picks it up.
John: A small silver butterfly. And then she’s going to give him this red marble with a yellow core called the Devil’s Eye. It’s like, man, that’s a lot of props.
Craig: Yeah. She’s holding a lot of stuff.
John: She’s holding a lot of stuff. So, that got to be a little confusing, but I think I was overall interested in sort of what kind of horror movie was going to happen in this 1812 town.
Craig: Yeah. I’m pretty much right there with you on all this stuff. I mean, again, I’d love for people to take a look at the way these pages lay out. They look correct. There’s only a couple spots where there is — I mean, for instance on page two the paragraph, the action paragraph “School teacher Virginia Dennison,” that’s the one that goes to four lines and it shouldn’t and I’ll talk about why. But nice reportorial style on page one. The way that the body is revealed is terrific.
Using a hawk to peck out a dead man’s eyes to transition us between scenes, a great example of transition. We talk about how important those transitions are a lot.
I like how confused we are for a moment, but I do think at some point you’re going to want to consider getting a slug line in there sooner, because the question is how long do you want to be in darkness really? Let me out. So, again, we don’t have this off-screen or V/O commentary, but let’s assume that we can’t see Albert, Nathan, or Tom, or Virginia. These are the lines we have in total darkness:
“Let me out.”
“Can you see him then?”
“Is it the creeper? She said he had business with you.”
“Why are you boys still here?”
“Step away. Now.”
And then, boom, way too long. Way too long. We’ll just get bored. Honestly, we’ll just get bored in the darkness. We get it. It seems to me that there may be a better way to do that and we’re going to want a slug line sooner, frankly. At some point someone is going to need to put a scene number on this thing anyway.
I thought that — you want to think, Meredith, about Nathan and Tom here, your bullies. First of all, they sound way too bullyish. “Look at him. Did you pee yourself?” Eh, I don’t think did you pee yourself — did you pee yourself sounds weirdly modern for 1812.
John: It feels 1970s in a way.
John: There’s got to be something.
Craig: Something was off there. But, more importantly, I think what you’re telling me is that Nathan and Tom and Albert all believe that there is something in there and it’s the creeper. And they don’t — they don’t seem like they’re serious enough in a weird way. They seem like both, they’ve put you in there with something supernatural and also they’re mostly just jerks who want to see if you’ll pee yourself. I was a little confused about them.
Virginia’s description, porcelain skin, dark mane, that’s all good. “She is fiercely independent and just about the only pristine thing in this hardscrabble town.” No she’s not. She’s just a woman standing in a room right now. And I do not know any of that, nor can you rely on me knowing that because of this.
I would cut all of that. Show me. As we’ve just described with the Chuck Palahniuk article. Show me how fiercely independent she is. Have a moment where we see that she is fiercely independent. When she walks outside, then that’s when you can say, as you described the town, that she is just set apart from it. This is not the place to do this.
Let’s talk about the props. In her hands she holds the day’s post. I believe that means mail. You could say mail. Either way, why? [laughs] Is the mail important now? Because she’s going to be doing other stuff with her hands. But I did like how she starts off like this very comforting typical schoolmarm. Oh you. There’s nothing in there, see? It’s just a closet.
And then she just starts on this creepy story. And I hope that the intention is that there is something creepy about Virginia, because this like very calm — it’s like if your mom said, “Look, look, see there’s nothing in the closet. Now when I was a kid, there was something in my closet.” [laughs]
Craig: That’s kind of the way it came out for me. I mean, she gives him this story that was unpleasant. And made me wonder if perhaps she does think that there are things in the closet. And if she does, then I’d love a little hint of that prior to this moment. This is not the place to do the silver butterfly. We cannot have a scene where Albert is gathering multiple talisman. But in general, there was a vibe. There was a tension to it. I liked the way that the characters were working with each other.
Albert is undescribed, I should say. I assume he’s the hero of our movie. And all I know about him is that he’s 10.
Craig: So, I’d love a little bit more there. Even if you delay it, but that’s all I know. So, pretty darn good. Pretty darn good. And, obviously, you could really feel how this was inspired by a true story. [laughs] Oh, baloney, Meredith. But, still, good job.
John: A couple things to look at on the page. Title over: Little Hope, Kentucky, February 1812. Break that into two lines. Because it’s useful I find if you’re going to do a title over, show it sort of the way the title would actually look. You would probably put the February 1812 on a separate line. You wouldn’t run that through as one thing. So, give us your two lines there. That’s nice. Center it.
We talk about the camera twice in the opening and we don’t necessarily need them both times. So, right now the sentence reads, “The camera soars high over endless acres of winter forest.” And [unintelligible] could do very well for us. Soaring high over endless acres of winter forest. Get rid of the camera there.
Similarly, we have, “The camera moves beyond the hawks to a pair of dirty black boots.” Moving beyond the hawks, again, there’s a way of getting rid of that sense that some external device, a camera, is there. Just let us be the audience. We are moving through stuff. You don’t need the “we.”
Craig: I mean, I’ll do the we in those moments. I’ll either do the subjectless version the way you are. Sometimes I’ll do we. I never write “the camera,” ever.
John: Yeah. You don’t need to.
John: “School teacher Virginia Dennison accosts them.” Accosts? Yeah, maybe not the right verb for this. And I want to talk about sort of the nature of boys locking boys into closets, because I think there was an opportunity here to sort of rethink sort of how the closet stuff started.
Usually in sort of the Bloody Mary scenario where one kid is in the closet, in my experience, and this is just sort of me from scouts maybe, but it’s like it’s a dare. And it’s like, oh, you have to be in there and count to six, but you can’t last 60 seconds in there.
John: And so someone goes in and then they freak out. So, if we started with Albert like counting up and then he freaks out and wants to go out and they won’t let him out, that feels like there is tension there that I kind of get.
Here I just, like, well who are those bully boys? It didn’t feel as rewarding. And so if it had been a dare going in there, then I think his coming out and then the conversation he has with Dennison, there would just be — there would be a better narrative going into. And so you can get to all the same stuff with the little Devil’s Eye marble and all that stuff, but I’d understand what had happened beforehand much more easily.
Craig: Yeah. The other thing to consider, Meredith, is that total darkness, oh well actually side note, I am really tired of this Blank. Blank. Blank. Thing. You just period. Don’t. Get it.
I see this constantly. It’s very, I don’t’ know, I just find it very affected. Pitch black darkness is perfectly fine as opposed to Pitch. Black. Darkness.
But Pitch. Black. Darkness. is not actually scary, because there’s no chance you’re going to see anything. We’re not scared of nothing. We’re scared of something. I wonder if there is a possibility that we could see maybe a little.
John: Yeah! A little is better.
Craig: And if he’s in there and he’s scared of these bullies or scared of something and then there’s like a little noise or a rustling and he turns in the closet and he sees something that we see that scares the hell out of us. And then the door opens. It’s just a glimpse.
And then when the teacher kind of takes him back in there he realizes, oh, it was just a blank and a blank. Because then at the end of these pages we’ll look back at the closet, the door slightly ajar, and we’ll probably get a hint, oh, but maybe actually there was something in there. I mean, that feels —
John: That’s what you want. The lights filling below the door, or split or coming in through the keyhole.
John: That’s probably going to be better for you than the absolute darkness.
Craig: Pitch. Black. Darkness.
Let’s look at page three. There’s a parenthetical here in Virginia’s second block of dialogue. “You know, Albert, when I was your age my sisters tormented me terribly. (Whisper) We’re not meant to dislike our family.” So the parenthetical should be its own line. And they’re not usually capitalized, so just look at sort of standard formatting for that.
Her third block of dialogue. “They told me that when I was a baby my father discovered me abandoned in a cemetery.” Wait, did they tell you this when you were a baby?
John: So, the when is ambiguous there. So, there is a better sentence you can find there. They told me my father discovered me as a baby in the cemetery. Or there is a version that makes it clear when this actually happened.
Craig: Yeah. There is nothing wrong with not writing this like an essay. They told me my father found me in the cemetery. I was a baby. I mean, people don’t talk in these full flowing completely sentences. You don’t have to — you definitely don’t want to get too clausal — clausal is not a word — but you know what I mean.
John: I think clausal is a word.
John: It’s a clausal disappointment.
Craig: [laughs] That was terrible.
John: [laughs] That was terrible. Let’s go to our final Three Page Challenge. Do you want to do this one?
Craig: Sure. This is Going Om as in Om, written by Mimi Jeffries. So, we are in Cincinnati, Ohio. We’re inside a suburban home, the Stanton household, in the bedroom. It is 5:59am.
A grandfather clock’s minute hand clicks to 6:00am and chimes. We see Allen Stanton, he’s 75, wakes up, rolls to his side, and there is his wife, Eleanor, who is dead.
He turns back and stares blankly at the ceiling. The clock stops chiming. We are now in the bedroom where a body bag is zipped over Eleanor’s head. Then we go outside. Allen sits on the steps with his dog while the EMTs unceremoniously put Eleanor in the ambulance and drive away not in any kind of rush. And he just sits watching it.
Now we have a title sequence where Allen drives his rusty Chevy through a neighborhood of old, well-loved two-story homes, listening to Johnny Cash, passing crop fields covered with winter frost. A closed strip mall. And, finally, ending up at a drab one-story building. This is the Real Copiers’ headquarters. And Allen walks in, goes through — it’s obviously holiday time. The cubicles are all decorated. The only other person in the building is a female janitor he just walks by. Goes to his office, where Mallory suddenly appears. She’s his pudgy, eager-to-please secretary.
She’s all sorts of bubbly. He’s not. He’s just about business. And then he asks her for help. He is making copies of coffin — he’s printing out basically what looks like a coffin catalog. And he tells Mallory, “Get two coffins.” And those are the three pages of Going Om, by Mimi Jeffries.
John: And I adored these pages.
John: I love characters who are under-reacting to horrific events. And I really could see this and feel this. And I wasn’t sure what was going on all the time, but I felt confident that Mimi did know what was going on and that my attention was going to be rewarded for going on this journey with her.
So, there were some moments at the very start that I worried like, oh, this is going to be overwritten. Our very first scene header is two lines long and doesn’t necessarily need to be two lines long. Whereas CINCINNATI, OHIO – SUBURBS – STANTON HOUSEHOLD – MASTER BEDROOM – JANUARY 3, 2013 – 5:59 A.M., a shorter — you could get rid of that subhead, that scene header all together. And I think I would be just as happy.
But I love that it’s just like deadpan and flat and just sort of moves through it. And then we get to our title sequence. A perfectly good way to sort of set up the nature of the town and what things are like. Is it ambiguous whether it’s the same day or the next day? Yes, but that’s kind of okay, too.
Ultimately, we’re going to realize it is the same day. He’s in the Copier Headquarters. I like the idea of Mallory. She has a line on page three that I didn’t think was quite earned.
“How many copies do you want?”
“One is fine.”
“Stapled or paper-clipped.”
She says, “This is going to be the best year yet, don’t you think?” And I was like, ooh, that felt a little much of a stretch. If she could be a little bit more specific about this is going to be our biggest sales year ever, or I think we really have a shot this year. I think we could beat last year’s numbers this year. If it’s something that wasn’t just so generically in opposition to what we know we just saw I would feel better about that line.
John: And then it ends on coffins. And like, you know, the contemplation of like, oh, if you get two coffins then it’s a discount. That’s just a great, I don’t know, deadpan moment again. I just was really excited to see where this was going to go.
Craig: I agree. Loved them. Mimi, great job. Once again everyone playing at home, look at the way the pages lay out. There is not one paragraph — I feel like we’re getting to people. Honestly. I’m going to give myself credit for this. I feel like we’re getting to them.
There’s not one action paragraph that’s longer than two lines, personally love when people put the extra space in front of the slug lines the way she did. I’m a slug line bolder, so I was particularly happy with this, too.
John: Yeah, so this script uses double returns plus bold headlines.
Craig: Which is the Mazin method. So, this is all about informing me two things at once. And this is what — I keep talking about this notion that we cannot live in scenes that give us one glimpse of what we want people to feel. We need to give them multiple glimpses. We need to know what’s happening and we need to know how that matters to the people in it. And by that we learn about the people in it.
I’m learning about Allen Stanton, the character, through this reaction and experience of his wife’s sudden death. And I can tell you a lot of things, just from this first scene, which has no dialogue and has one action essentially. Allen rolls over, sees his dead wife, rolls back and stares at the ceiling. I know that this is not something that he was not expecting. I know that he is depressed. I know that he is beyond depressed. And I also know that his life is about to change completely.
This is all great, from this little tiny moment. I love that. I also thought there was something quite beautiful about these two lines. “TWO EMTs unceremoniously carry Eleanor to an ambulance on the street. They effortlessly lift her into the back.” Let me just stop there. This is why I can just say Mimi is a good writer. And we can talk all the time about structure and techniques and what to do and what not to do. And we saw and how many lines in action. You cannot teach this.
You cannot teach a feeling for what matters to people. And you cannot teach insight. So, here’s a man watching his dead wife being taken away. And Mimi so smartly says they effortlessly lift her into the back. She’s nothing. She’s literally nothing to them.
And then, “The doors slam shut. Allen watches as the ambulance drives off, its sirens silent, not in any rush.” Ah! Ah! It’s just so good. So good. Right? And I love that he’s watching, you know. It’s a choice to have characters watch things. That’s the kind of writing that’s a gift to a director.
John: Well, it’s a gift to a director, and I felt like the director was Alexander Payne. Like, literally by the end of the first page I was like, oh, Alexander Payne would direct this movie, because it felt like that world of like it’s a comedy but it’s not like uproariously funny. It is a characters in situations in really grounded, real environments who are sort of doing the best they can.
And I got that off the first page even before we actually hear him say anything, which is great.
Craig: It’s terrific. I see that there is a call out for a title sequence. I’m a big fan of calling out title sequences if you want one. Mimi, you don’t give us enough to justify a credit sequence here. You give us basically a montage of Allen driving around this rust belt winter town. That’s not going to really carry you through a title sequence, unless it just goes on and on and on, or unless you imply that it goes on and on and on.
Anyway, something to think about. Given what you have here, I’m not sure you need it.
I had a little bit of confusion — a couple points of confusion here. So, Allen goes to the Real Copiers Headquarters. And it’s decorated but no one else is there except for female janitor. Now, I think the idea is that later the place will be properly open and everybody will be there.
John: That it’s just early.
Craig: Yeah. But I didn’t get that. I got confused. At first I thought it was he’s come in on a Sunday or something. But then suddenly his assistant is there, even though we just heard there was only one other soul in the building.
So, help me out with that. If time has gone by, show me that time has gone by.
John: Yeah. My hunch is what she means is so Allen goes in and like no one is there yet, and then when the assistant comes in, Allen has been at his desk for awhile and she’s just now arrived.
So, if you had her like putting down her purse and like poking her head in the door, that might tell us that, oh, the assistant has just come here and we see other people like going to their desks or something like that. The day has started.
Craig: Yeah. I’m not sure that that would be enough for me. You know, when somebody is sitting in a place, and then the next moment with that person sitting in a place is an hour or two later, I need something. I need either to see some sign — visual sign of progress, or something, or cut outside to see cars now pulling in.
I need a little something.
John: Or the coffee maker starts, or someone is putting the coffee maker in. Like getting the day started.
Craig: Yeah. I need to know that time has jumped. I got a little confused there with that. I like that he’s all business. I wish I knew — this is another just small thing, Mimi, but I find like 90 percent of my conversations about my own writing come down to these “how can we not make the reader confused about things that aren’t important so that they can really appreciate the things that are.”
He works at a company called Real Copiers. But this is not like a Kinko’s Office because it’s an office building. It’s like the supervising office of a chain of stores called Real Copiers, I think, because it has cubicles and stuff. But now he’s going to do copying.
John: Yeah. I got confused about that, too. So, it’s just like, wait, so it’s like a guy who works for Xerox who makes Xeroxes. And it’s like, but wait, is it important? And I think it’s probably not important that he’s making copies.
Craig: It’s not. Or he’s printing out from a crusty printer. But it seems like if you’re a copying headquarters. I don’t know. I got really confused by that. And so that’s just something to think about if there’s maybe a way to help me with that.
I totally agree that Mallory felt constructed for irony. And it’s perfectly fine to have people say things that are ironic if it feels natural. We don’t want to feel like you rigged the game.
John: 100 percent. And I felt like it was a little too rigged for her to say that.
Craig: Yeah. But at the end, you get the sense also from this glum thing of if you get two it’s 25% off, actually when he says — or “Allen pours over the coffin printouts. Mallory stands nervously.”
Allen, to himself, “If you get two, it’s 25% off.”
I almost think that should be reading. You know, like he’s actually learning about this. Get two. I would actually say if you get two it’s 25% off. If he takes out his credit card he should repeat those words: get two.
But also it’s great, because it’s giving me — it’s telling me how fatalistic he is. It’s telling me he’s depressed. It’s also telling me that he believes he’s about to die, too.
John: Yeah. He’s cheap. It gives us a great world outlook on Allen at this moment.
Craig: Exactly. All really good stuff. I mean, who knows where this goes, but the good news, Mimi, is that not only were you able to structure three pages well and accomplish a lot in three pages, and honor the precious real estate of these first three pages, but you actually have interesting insights.
You’re a smart person who is seeing things. You know how to build moments. Very encouraging. So, bad news is we are now expecting you to do well.
John: Agreed. The only last thing I want to point out is midway through page three, “Several pages lurch from a crusty printer. Its pages filled with different makes and models of coffins.” The “its” doesn’t apply to anything. So, their pages, if it’s meant to be the pages, then it has to be their pages. But I think you can actually just get rid of that and just stick a comma there. So, several pages lurch from a crusty printer, each page filled with different makes and models of coffins.
John: Those two sentences together tripped me up because it was actually an impossible subject.
Craig: Yes. And also take a look at page one you’ve got a couple of errant capitalizations. In the first, “Allen turns back and stares blankly at the ceiling. The Clock stops chiming.” That’s miscapitalized. And down below, “Allen passes crop fields covered with Winter frost.” That should also be lower case.
John: Yup. But really, really good.
Craig: Really good.
John: It is time for our One Cool Things. So, I actually have a trio of One Cool Things, but they were all gifts from Stuart Friedel. Who, Stuart Friedel who is also the producer of our podcast, but also weirdly his secret talent is he’s the best gift giver in the planet.
John: Like literally he’d been working for me for two weeks and it was my daughter’s birthday and he found like the absolute perfect gift for himself to give my daughter. So, he’s just really good at this.
Here are the three gifts that he got me. And all three things will be links in the show notes. First he got me a cake mold that creates 20-sided dice, like D&D dice.
Craig: I love that. Love those.
John: So, they’re like little cupcakes, but, you know, they’re 20-sided dice. And it seems impossible, but it works really, really well. It’s one of those rubbery molds and you pour in from the top and it was great. He got me a Too Many Cooks shirt featuring Smarf, but it’s in French.
Craig: Smarf en Francais?
John: En Francais? And he got me a Death Star ice mold, so for making ice cubes that are in the shape of a Death Star.
Craig: Wow. That’s spectacular.
John: It’s well done Stuart Friedel. So, those are my three One Cool Things are the gifts I got from Stuart Friedel.
Craig: That’s just spectacular. Stuart, oh Stuart. He’s the best.
John: He also got my husband a bunch of Japanese Kit Kat bars, because that was just like a random conversation they had about how much the Japanese love Kit Kat bars.
Craig: Okay. So, when Mike eats those Kit Kat bars, what he has to do is take a bite and then put his hand in front of his mouth and giggle.
John: [laughs] Perfect.
John: He does that anyway.
Craig: [laughs] I love it. I got one D&D themed gift this year from Missy. She gave this — it’s actually kind of cool. They say it’s a true unweighted die. And it’s this big plastic D20. And you roll it. And if you do get a D20, it lights up and flashes.
John: That’s awesome.
John: Critical Hit.
Craig: Critical Hit Die. I have a feeling that it’s not truly weighted, so it will not be considered — Kevin will not let us use it.
My One Cool Thing, my first One Cool Thing for 2015, is Vitamin D3.
John: I don’t know what this is.
Craig: Well, it’s a Vitamin. Do I need to go back to that? Do you know what Vitamins are?
John: You know, honestly, if it really comes down it, I’m not sure I could totally tell you what a Vitamin is. But I want to learn what Vitamin D3 is. Because I know that you take Vitamins because they’re a central component to good health and they are things that your body sometimes produces and sometimes takes in from other foods.
Craig: Vitamins are chemicals that essentially help our bodies metabolize certain things, including certain chemicals, molecules, that we need to live or stay healthy.
And if you’re listening to this, you know from many, many rants in the past that I am a very skeptical person. Generally speaking, the idea of Vitamin supplements is baloney. Vitamin C, we are awash in Vitamin C. It is a total waste. It does not prevent colds. People take Vitamin B12 shots are wasting their time. The doctors are stealing your money. It does nothing. You do not have a Vitamin B deficiency.
Vitamin A, we get plenty of Vitamin A. It’s all in food, basically. It’s in food. We don’t need it. Our bodies make some of it.
However, there is a real legitimate issue in this country with Vitamin D deficiency. And when I say deficiency, I mean something that they can literally test and quantify. You’re supposed to have a certain amount of Vitamin D in your blood. And most people, including myself, repeatedly when they get tested have a legitimate, quantifiable Vitamin D deficiency. Why?
Because generally speaking we stay out of the sun now. Vitamin D primarily is manufactured in the skin when it is exposed to ultraviolet radiation by the sun. But, of course, we either use sunscreen or we stay out of the sun because we don’t want skin cancer. And milk is fortified with Vitamin D. It’s not necessarily the most absorbable version of Vitamin D. And a lot of people just don’t drink milk. I don’t sit around drinking milk.
So, what do you do if you’re a pasty, white, Jewish guy like me that doesn’t drink milk and doesn’t go outside? You take supplements. Vitamin D3 is the supplement you want. And why? What does Vitamin D actually do? Well, there’s a lot of stuff they say it does that it doesn’t really do. But the biggest — the biggest thing that it does, it seems to help the immune system. It does seem to be correlated with a reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease and cognitive impairment as you go on and on.
And it does seem to have some effect on your bone health. That’s the one that people are most aware of. You know, there’s not a direct link between Vitamin D supplements and preventing osteoporosis or something like that, but they do feel that there is some degree of help in say reducing things like fracturing of bones as you get older.
It doesn’t take much Vitamin D3 to get you to where you should be via blood test. But if your doctor doesn’t test for Vitamin D deficiency, ask them to. You may be surprised to find out that you are deficient. And if you get really deficient, then you get rickets. [laughs]
John: Oh, no rickets for me please.
Craig: No, you don’t want rickets.
John: Well, like Homer when Burns put up his sun-blocking machine and he had enough of these damn rickets.
Craig: [laughs] Exactly. Rickets! When I was a kid, I had this book, it was basically a big medical book for kids and they had one little section on vitamin deficiency diseases. And there was one picture of a kid who had pellagra which is a vitamin-something deficiency. I don’t know which one. Vitamin B something. And it was his face. And it had disfigured him.
And that scared me more than anything. The kid with pellagra. Oh my god.
John: So you ate your Flintstones chewable vitamins after that point.
Craig: Well, the truth was there was no chance — I mean, it was a picture of a kid from 1930 Appalachia and, you know, I was in Staten Island. I wasn’t going to get pellagra. I was going to get something else from breathing in the dump air.
But, you definitely do want to take Vitamin D3 supplements if you are Vitamin D deficient, not if you are not.
John: I think that is wise advice.
John: Yes. So, that’s our show for today. I want to thank our writers for sending in their samples. If you have three pages of your own that you would like us to take a look at, the place to visit is johnaugust.com/threepage. And there are instructions there for how you can send in those pages to us so we can take a look at them on the air.
If you have a question for me or for Craig Mazin, something that is short that we may answer on Twitter, ask us on Twitter. Craig is @clmazin. I am @johnaugust. For longer questions you can write into firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find us on iTunes. And if you’re on iTunes, leave us a rating, because that helps other people find us and listen to our podcast. While you in iTunes, you can also download the Scriptnotes App. That’s also in the Android App Store. And through those apps you can listen to all the back episodes. There is a premium feed for $2 a month.
John: Two minor dollars a month. Gives you access to all the back catalog and special bonus episodes. We have an upcoming dirty show that we need to get recorded.
Craig: Oh, yeah, we got to do that.
John: Yeah, we got to do that. And get that out to all of our premium subscribers. So, that is something you can do as well.
You can find out more information about the premium feed and all those back episodes at scriptnotes.net is where you actually can sign up for that.
Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel. It is edited by Matthew Chilelli, who also did our outro this week. Matthew does a lot of our outros, but we also have some other great composers who have written outros for us, so if you would like to send us one of those outros, you can put it up on SoundCloud is great and tag it Scriptnotes, but also send us an email to email@example.com and let us know it’s there so we’ll listen to it and put it on the end of a show.
And, that is it for this week. Craig, Happy 2015.
Craig: Happy 2015. A nice pointy year. And I’ll see you next week. Bye.
John: All right. Bye.
End of Recording.
- The Year of Outrage on Slate
- North Korea responds with fury to US sanctions over Sony Pictures hack
- The LA Times on The Interview’s opening weekend
- Chuck Palahniuk on thought verbs
- Three pages by Mike Litzenberg & Bridge Stuart
- Three pages by Meredith DePaolo
- Dunning–Kruger effect
- Three pages by Mimi Jeffries
- How to submit your three pages
- D20 Critical Hit Mini Cake Pan and Death Star Ice Mold on Think Geek, and Smarf L’Héroïque on Shirt.Woot
- Critical Hit LED D20 Die on Think Geek
- Vitamin D3 on Wikipedia
- Outro by Scriptnotes editor Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)