The original post for this episode can be found here.
John August: Hello and welcome. My name is Craig Mazin.
Craig Mazin: Uh…I am John August.
John: You’re not the only person who can change things up.
Craig: My name is John August.
John: Yeah, but it’s really not. He’s Craig Mazin, I’m John August, and this is Scriptnotes, Episode 183. Scriptnotes is a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.
Craig: Look at this, you’ve shaken me up, you’ve shaken yourself up.
John: I know. Everything is upside down and topsy-turvy.
Craig: It’s crazy. The world has gone mad.
John: Before we get into the world going mad, one mad thing that happened this week is our insurance company was hacked.
Craig: Everyone’s insurance company, basically. Yeah, so no doubt you’ve seen the news. Anthem, which is a massive provider of health insurance to millions and millions and millions of Americans was hacked. They have yet to really indicate — they’ve indicated the scope of it. They’ve said about 80 million people, so not that many.
John: No, just a few.
Craig: Basically everyone. At that point I would say 80 million people, we’re discounting children, so everyone’s information has been hacked, possibly by the Chinese they’re saying. It wasn’t clear if they meant hackers who were Chinese, or the Chinese government. But, regardless, here is the deal — all of the major SAG, AFTRA, DGA, and WGA, our health plans, are funneled through Anthem.
The DGA sent an email — the Writers Guild did as well — and the long and short of it is that they don’t really know much yet beyond what Anthem is saying. Anthem is saying that they’re going to send out letters to people letting them know if their information was compromised, which I think is a fair bet.
John: That’s a fair thing to do. So, we’re recording this on Friday, February 6, so by the time you listen to this podcast may information may come out. But the information may include mine and Craig’s Social Security numbers, so who knows?
Craig: Yeah, great. I did take with Chris Keyser today who is the president of the Writers Guild of America West and he confirmed that they’re trying to figure this out. The only possible silver lining is that for the DGA and for the WGA, I assume it’s the same for SAG although I don’t know, Anthem actually doesn’t provide the health insurance. Anthem is processing some of it. I guess the deal is that because our plans are fairly small, for instance, the Writers Guild health plan — I don’t know how many people are members, but we’re talking under 10,000 I would imagine. That’s very small.
So, the health plan insures us — our health plan insures us. But they use Anthem’s purchasing power to get better rates and things. So, there is a question as to how much of our information actually gets funneled to them. There is a hope — and I’m basing this just on the fact that it’s possible — that what Anthem has from us are our names, addresses, and our health plan numbers, which aren’t Social Security numbers.
Craig: But, I mean, we just don’t know yet.
John: It’s going to be a mess.
Craig: It is currently a mess and everyone is saying, well, you know, you’ll get free credit protection. You know, these credit protection things, you know they don’t work, right?
John: Yeah, it’s basically an alarm. Basically like, oh, something is happening.
Craig: It’s not even that good. To me, as far as I can tell looking at what they provide, it’s more like you hired a security guard and when you get home he’s sitting there in a chair, on your lawn, drinking. Going, yeah, someone broke in.
Craig: Yeah, they took some stuff.
John: But someone has a job.
Craig: Right. [laughs] But somebody has a job. So, anyway, it’s the end.
John: It might be the end.
Today on the podcast we are going to be talking about the deal with the Gravity lawsuit which has been one of the most tweeted things that I’ve actually had in the last maybe six months. Like a lot of people asked me about it, and kept asking me about. And we promised that we would speak about it on the show today. So, we are going to spend most of the episode really talking through it because it’s a fascinating way of looking at what are contracts, what’s chain of title, what are books, what are movies. And so we’re going to spend a lot of time on that.
But I want to talk a little bit about writing, because that’s a thing that Craig and I both did a lot of this week. Craig, how was the writing?
Craig: Frantic and fast-paced, but so far so good. I’m in one of those production rewrite things where, you know, I finish 15 pages and turn it over to director and a production manager or studio executives, producers. It’s wild and wooly. But so far so good.
John: And I am in the opposite situation where I am in a first draft and I’m at a place now where I’ve assembled things together. It’s not all written, but like a lot of stuff is being assembled and there is still stuff to write. And I had to do this thing which comes up occasionally which is not my favorite thing is I had to start cutting stuff, which is normally I would love to write the whole draft and then like cut the stuff that should get cut. But I started to recognize like, oh wow, if I don’t cut this now, I’m going to be writing stuff that’s going to have to payoff — I’m going to try to payoff things that aren’t going to be in the movie.
John: It’s one of those situations where I think most writers who have written a couple of movies, you have encountered this where you’re still in that first draft but you’re recognizing that thing I wrote can no longer fit because it just can’t be there anymore, which is both sad because they’re like lovely little scenes and they’re moments that are no longer going to be part of the movie, but very, very necessary.
Craig: Yeah. I am far more of a cutter I think, just inherently, a writer-cutter. As I go I get really parsimonious about stuff at times, maybe too much, so it’s good to have somebody working with me who can read it and say, no, no, no, you’ve hit bone there. You don’t want to do that.
It is true. The process is one — sometimes people will say, “This is not the time to worry about that. Go ahead, explore, right what you need.” And I do, I want to, but there is — I was listening to Lord and Miller, Philip Lord and Chris Miller, were talking at an event last night. And they were talking with Damien Chazelle. They were talking about the theme of Whiplash which was, you know, do you have to suffer for your art. And something Phil said that was really interesting to me, he said on the one hand he’s always appreciated people who are incredibly encouraging of everybody because there is something in there that only survives in the environment of encouragement, even if it’s just you writing.
But that rigor is essential. And that word rigor I think is why at times we need to cut while we’re writing.
John: So, some strategies if you find yourself in this situation. And they could be when you’re done with a draft, or as you’re writing, is there are moments that I needed to cut out, including something I talked about on the show this last week which was that police interrogation which I was so proud of. I had written a great police interrogation scene that was different than anything I’d seen before. And I cut it last night.
John: I was supposed to be at the same event with you last night and I was writing and I cut the scene. So, if you’re going to do that, make a new file, call it Trim, and then the name of the scene, and paste that stuff in there. So, at least you’ve held onto it. It’s still there if you ever needed to go back to it. It’s existing in its own little universe. You remember that it’s there. But that scene that I was so delighted with, I recognized that it was, while I love it, it wasn’t absolutely essential. And it became time in the script that I needed stuff that was absolutely essential.
Craig: I do love that advice, though. I do that all the time. If I’m going to take out any significant chunk of something, I always save it in its own little file because you never know. And at times, that has come in handy.
John: What I was looking at in terms of pacing in this project I’m writing right now is a lot of times we talk about we’re not in Kansas anymore, so basically at the end of the first act and you come into your second act, it’s like Dorothy when she reaches Oz. Like, oh, we’re not in Kansas anymore. We’re in a whole new world. And my script got to Kansas really well, but then I recognized that, wow, I’m spending a lot of time with the Munchkins of Lollipop Guilds.
And so I needed the characters to sort of hit the road. I needed the things that needed to happen to happen. And there was just more setup that wasn’t going to be able to be paid off. So, those were the brutal scenes I had to cut last night.
Craig: Well, it’s part of the gig.
John: It’s part of the gig.
Let’s get to our big topic this week which is the lawsuit over Gravity and sort of what the situation is.
Craig: And we got bombarded by everyone on this one.
John: Yeah. And it felt like it was a slow trickle, so like a few little hits and then three days later I’d get another nine little bursts of things. And not just from our normal screenwriters. It was actually a bunch of novelists and sort of other fiction writers who were tweeting me saying what’s the deal with this. And even some DMs from like people who were genuinely freaked out. So, let’s give some context here.
We’re all familiar with the movie Gravity, directed by Alfonso Cuarón. It stars Sandra Bullock. It was a giant hit. There is also a novel called Gravity which was written by an author named Tess Gerritsen. And she’s not a random crank. She’s actually written a bunch of books, including a series of books that became the basis of Rizzoli & Isles, a TV series that I never saw. But it’s real.
Craig: It’s got —
John: Angie Harmon.
Craig: Yes, thank you. And also the other one.
John: Yeah. And now you have to tell me which character is which character.
Craig: From ER. I think it’s Julianna Margulies?
John: That’s not her. No, Julianna Margulies is on The Good Wife.
Craig: Oh. Oh, geez. Man, who’s on — I’m looking it up right now. [laughs]
John: Okay, while you look it up, I’ll continue on with this. So, on April 29, 2014 —
Craig: Sasha Alexander. I’m so sorry, Sasha Alexander.
John: I don’t know who Sasha Alexander is.
Craig: Oh. Oh. Yeah, she’s Medical Examiner, Dr. Maura Isles.
John: The other one is Rizzoli.
Craig: She does, by the way, looks nothing like Julianna Margulies. And Julianna Margulies is on a bit hit show. [laughs] This is like — it’s just a failure, a remarkable failure.
John: But everyone who is a fan of the podcast knows you don’t see any television or movies.
John: None. So, the fact that you pulled Julianna Margulies out of the air, it was just kind of remarkable in and of itself.
Craig: Because I saw her in NYPD Blue, right?
John: I think you get a gold star for just even knowing who Julianna Margulies was.
Craig: I really do think that I’ve achieved something. Anyway.
John: So, Tess Gerritsen, the author, she filed a lawsuit on April 29, 2014 and she sued Warner Bros claiming that she was owed money for the film Gravity. And then on June 20 Warner Bros filed a motion to dismiss that lawsuit. And then just very recently, on January 30 of this year, the US District Court issued a ruling that seemed to mostly agree with Warner Bros saying that, yes, the suit is going to be dismissed, but there were some caveats in there that we’ll talk about.
John: But most of what people were tweeting at you and me about wasn’t about the lawsuit per se, but really one blog post that Tess Gerritsen had written about the lawsuit, and this is what happened this last week, and the repercussions. And so I read this, I read people’s responses, and I emailed you, Craig, saying like, well, maybe we should have Tess Gerritsen on the podcast.
John: And you said?
Craig: Uh, no. Because, and the reason why is not because — it makes sense to have her on the podcast, but it seems to weird to have one side of this argument on the podcast and not the other side. It would start to become a bit lopsided and biased of a discussion. And there is no chance that Warner Bros is going to be sending a lawyer to talk to us about this on our podcast.
I mean, frankly, the actual other party that would be of interest would be Alfonso Cuarón, who I also doubt would be available for the podcast. So, I thought that maybe we should sort of stay in the more neutral zone.
John: I think the neutral zone is a perfect place for us to stay. And the reason why I really want to talk about this case is that actually it gives us an opportunity to talk about contract law and what authors do and what adaptations are like. And we can sort of take what she’s written in her blog post and really look at it from that perspective.
If we had her on the air, we’d have to be sort of talking with her. And here we can sort of take the word she’s written and what everyone else is saying and have a discussion about what it actually really means.
So, if this were a blog post we were doing ourselves, it would be one of those things where we do a lot of block quotes, where we like sample from her things and put a block quote and then respond to it. That’s really awkward to do in a podcast. So, what I did is I asked a friend of the show, Christy Miller, if she would record just some snippets from Tess Gerritsen’s blog post so we could play those, you can hear it in not Tess Gerritsen’s words but in Christy’s voice so we could actually respond to what she was saying there and talk through the issues that are being brought up.
Craig: Very clever.
John: So, let us do the first of these clips. This is from Tess Gerritsen’s blog post about the lawsuit.
“Tess:” In 1999, I sold the film rights to my book Gravity to New Line Productions. The contract stipulates that if a movie is made based on my book, I will receive ‘based upon’ credit, a production bonus, and a percentage of net profits.
John: Great. So this is talking about she sold the rights to her book and let’s just sort of dig in on what that actually means. And it’s one of the unique things about this court case is all this stuff is public record. This has all been filed, so you can actually read what that document looks like. What does it look like when you sell your book to a studio?
Well, we have a link to it. So, in the show notes we’ll link to the actual contract for her sale of the book to this company called KATJA which was a subsidiary of New Line.
And have you looked at it, Craig? It’s a pretty standard contract. It’s 12 pages long with a lot of additional exhibits and things about music rights and publishing and other stuff. She notarizes it. You see where she signed it. But it’s a straightforward contract.
Craig: Yeah, it is. And this is why for those of you listening along who might be wondering well why — what’s in this for me? What in this podcast is of value for me? This suit is going to help us explain quite a bit of how the machinery of this business actually works. So, listen carefully because there’s a lot of good stuff here as we go through.
So, yeah, a novelist has copyright in their novel. Tess Gerritsen owns copyright in her novel. Unlike, for instance, screenwriters who almost exclusively work on a work-for-hire basis for the companies where they commission a work to be created by us, but they retain copyright. So, in the case of somebody who owns the copyright of a novel, they’re not giving their novel to New Line and saying you now own this book, you’re the author of the book. No, no, I am the author of the book. However, I’m licensing through a sale the rights to make a film of this book. And when you license the rights to make a film, almost always they are exclusive rights, of course. Why would anybody buy the rights to make a book that somebody else could also turn into a movie?
And then there is a negotiation of other rights that may be incorporated, how long you get to hold onto the rights, do you have the rights in the United States, over the world, throughout the universe? They literally will say throughout the known universe at times in case they start opening up IMAXs on Mars. And the idea being that you’re going to get money either if they decide to make the movie out of your book, or you may get money, period, the end. In this case, she gets some money, right, right off the bat?
Craig: And then there is additional compensation that is provided to you if in fact the company does go ahead and make a movie of your book.
John: And we could see right here in this contract she is paid $1 million for the film rights to her book.
Craig: Which I’ve got to say, that’s a big sale.
John: That’s a huge sale. That would be one of the biggest sales of the year. And I should remind everybody, this is 1999. So, this is 16 years ago that this happened.
Craig: Yeah, that’s a big sale.
John: That’s a big sale — in any year that’s a big sale. And there’s also a $500,000 production bonus if the movie goes into production. There is backend in there, which I didn’t look through really carefully, but Craig and I will just tell you in general the backend is going to be meaningless. Even on a movie as successful as this, it’s unlikely she would see net profits out of a movie like this.
Craig: Yeah. Net profits are sort of the imaginary things that — now, we should also mention that when she sold this to New Line, that New Line was technically part of Warner Bros, but here’s what was going on at the time: New Line existed as its own company and then in 1994 it was bought by Ted Turner, by TBS. So, they were not part of Warner Bros. In 1996, three years before this occurs, TBS, Ted Turner’s company, merges with Time Warner.
Now, interestingly, at that time there were some companies that were part of TBS like Hanna-Barbera and Castle Rock, which became full functioning units of Warner Bros itself. But, New Line was not. New Line, although it was owned by this parent company Warner Bros, was kept as its own entity until quite recently, about four years ago, or five years ago, or something like that.
So, it had its own kind of control within this parent company.
John: Yeah. If you look at the contract, the contract is between Tess Gerritsen and KATJA, but it’s care of New Line. So, this KATJA, which you will see referenced a lot, and New Line, I think we’re safe to look at them as being one entity.
John: What’s going to become an issue later on is whether New Line and Warner Bros is one entity. That becomes a big issue.
John: Now, let’s talk about, this is an outright sale. So, it’s $1 million for the film rights. They write a check and they own the film rights from that point forward. This isn’t an option. And if this had been an option, they would be paying her some money to hold onto the rights for a period of time, or to hold on to the chance to buy the rights at a certain price for a period of time. That was actually probably much more common for both spec screenplays that are sold and for novels that are sold is that for a period of 18 months, three years, you get to hold onto the rights to this thing and you can’t sell them to somebody else. But we don’t have to write you a giant check right now.
In this case, they wrote her a giant check.
Craig: They wrote her a giant check and what that tells me — this is conjecture — is that in 1999 when she went out with this book, that there was a bidding war. It tells me that multiple studios were interested, so the seller, in this case Ms. Gerritsen, had quite a bit of leverage. And that she was saying, look, I don’t have to option it to anybody. Somebody has to actually pay me for this if they want it. And New Line must have thought, yeah, we’re making this movie. Nobody spends $1 million on a book if they’re not going to make the movie.
Granted, in 1999, there was still a very healthy DVD market. An enormously healthy DVD market. And things were a little, well, the money ran a little more fluidly back in that time.
John: Definitely. So, let’s also talk about what chain of title means, and this is where the chain of title begins. And chain of title does not refer to the title Gravity, which is not the title of the movie. Chain of title is more like the title to your car. It is ownership of a property. And the chain of title begins with the original copyright holder, which is Tess Gerritsen, and then the chain of title on the film rights to it through this contract has been vested in New Line and KATJA, this production entity.
Craig: Yeah. Chain of title, and people get really confused because of the word title, and I don’t blame them. Because a lot of times you can tell what the chain of title is by the title of the project, you know. But in this case to be really clear, because it’s going to start to get confusing, title is really nothing more than your interest in certain rights. And why it’s important in this case is because when you are told something contractually like if we make a movie from your book you’ll get this, then a movie gets made, you need to be able to say that movie was part of the chain of title of this project.
You took my rights to my novel, you then hired somebody to write a screenplay based on my novel, you then hired somebody to rewrite that guy. Then somebody rewrite that guy. Now, you’ve made a movie. I can follow the chain all the way back to your initial interest in the title, meaning the rights to my novel. Therefore, you owe me the money.
John: And clearing the chain of title, which is that term you go through for making sure that you actually have the rights you think you have to something, can be incredibly complicated. And sometimes it will hold up — contracts will hold up a production or development because they’re trying to make sure all that stuff is done and done properly. Because when it’s done improperly, it can be a huge disaster.
John: Quite famously, the Dukes of Hazard movie, it turned out the chain of title was not clear and the Dukes of Hazard, the TV show, was based on some other property and they hadn’t gotten that property properly and it became a very expensive thing for, I think it was Warner Bros.
Craig: It was.
John: And I can also tell you from personal experience, I wrote an adaptation of Barbarella, and it became clear between the first and second draft that the chain of title was impossible to clear and that different people could claim different things about whether they had the rights to make the movie. And that froze it, because no one wanted to spend any more money because they were pretty sure they would never be able to make that movie.
Craig: Right. So, you can’t go out there with something based on something that you don’t control from start to finish. Every link of the chain has been cleared through you. My personal experience was a very odd one. And that was the tattoo in Hangover 2, which turns out that that tattoo apparently was very similar if not exactly similar to a tattoo that Mike Tyson has on his face. And the tattoo artist improbably had specifically retained copyright on that tattoo. And it was not cleared.
So, there’s its own little chain of title of a tattoo. And he got something, as far as I know. They settled with him. Yeah.
John: So, in 1999 when this contract is signed, the chain of title is about as clear as you could ever hope for it to be, because Tess Gerritsen wrote the original book and New Line/KATJA bought the film rights for it. Everything is happy and good.
Craig: And, I should also say, that when we are hired on a project that has underlying material, that’s our term of art for everything that you are basing a movie on — a book, a song, a play, a picture, whatever the hell it is. We know that the chain of title of sure as we get our contract because it always says that they’re assigning this material to us. So, we know in our screenwriting contract, yes, I’m writing this based on this novel. It’s assigned material to me.
John: Yeah. Everybody remember that, because that becomes an issue quite a bit later in this discussion.
John: All right. So, let’s talk about what Tess Gerritsen’s book actually is. And so here is how she talks about her book in the blog post.
“Tess:” The book is about a female medical doctor/astronaut who is stranded aboard the International Space Station after the rest of her crew is killed in a series of accidents. A biological hazard aboard ISS traps her in quarantine, unable to return to earth. While my film was in development, I re-wrote the third act of the film script with scenes of satellite debris destroying ISS and the lone surviving female astronaut adrift in her spacesuit.
John: All right. So, there are two things to sort of get into here. First, her description of what the plot of her book is, and then this rewrite she did which is sort of unexpected and certainly makes it seem more like the Alfonso Cuarón movie we saw.
So, let’s get into her description of it, because from that quick summary description it’s like, ooh, I can see how that’s kind of like the Cuarón movie I saw.
John: But then as I looked online at other people’s summaries, and these weren’t people who were weighing in on the lawsuit, these are just like summaries that existed on Amazon or on Good Reads, they weren’t quite as similar. So, I want to read you two of the summaries that I found online about her book. And the first one is from Good Reads.
“An experiment on microorganisms conducted in space goes wrong. The cells begin to infect the crew with deadly results. Emma Watson struggles to contain the deadly microbe while her husband and NASA try to retrieve her from space before it’s too late.”
John: So, it’s odd that her name is Emma Watson.
Craig: I know, isn’t that strange?
John: Yeah, like the actress Emma Watson. But, no, that’s just a good name. And this is the summary from Amazon.
“Dr. Emma Watson has been training for the adventure of a lifetime to study living beings in space, but her mission aboard the international space station turns into a nightmare beyond imagining when a culture of single-celled organisms begins to regenerate out of control and infects the space station crew with agonizing and deadly results. Emma struggles to contain the outbreak, while back on earth her estranged husband, Jack McCallum, works frantically with NASA to bring her home. But there will be no rescue. The contagion now threatens Earth’s population, and the astronauts are stranded in orbit, quarantined aboard the station — where they are dying one by one…”
Craig: Now, you can see that the summary that she provides in her lawsuit or I guess is it connected to it through her blog post has been somewhat massaged to seem more like the movie Gravity than say what other people have read. And I haven’t read the book, but certainly this from the other summaries, it does sound like this book is more of the contagion in a spaceship kind of model.
John: Yeah. It sounds like Outbreak in space.
Craig: Right. Outbreak in space.
John: And, by the way, Outbreak in space is totally a book that would sell.
Craig: It did sell. [laughs]
John: It did sell. Exactly. I can completely imagine why someone would buy that. And, you know, there were actually several outbreak movies that were in development at the same time. Outbreak was one.
Craig: The Hot Zone.
John: Crisis in the Hot Zone. So, I can see what that movie would be, but I think she’s very carefully crafting something that’s not leaning in towards what her book sounds like it really is about, which is much more of a medical thriller in space and less about one person drifting through the whole movie.
Craig: But then there’s this interesting thing where she says she rewrote the third act of the film script, so somebody else was writing the script. And then she says, “While my film was in development, I rewrote the third act of the film script.” So, and when she rewrites the third act of the film script it says here from her complaint “to assist in the development of the Gerritsen Gravity project, Gerritsen wrote and delivered additional material that constituted a modified version of a portion of the book. The additional material included scenes of satellite debris colliding with the international space station, the destruction of the space station, and the surviving medical doctor/or astronaut left drifting in her spacesuit alone and un-tethered, seeking the means rather to return to earth.”
Now, what’s interesting is what she’s saying here is that she didn’t rewrite the third act of the film script, she’s saying she rewrote additional material that constituted a modified version of a portion of the book. She’s saying two different things.
John: I find it strange. I also find it kind of weird that we’re not ever talking about the development of the actual screenplay. So, I think you and I know who the screenwriter is, or at least one of the screenwriters who worked on this, and his name hasn’t been brought into it, so I don’t want to be the first person to bring his name into it, but there was active development on it.
At some point she claims to have written this material. We don’t see what this material is, but she’s talking about it because it makes it sound more like Cuarón’s movie.
John: And that’s a change.
Craig: And this is one area where this is kind of like our version of Serial, I guess, because we’ll never know. But she says two different things. On her blog she’s saying I rewrote the third act of the film script. In her complaint, she’s saying I rewrote the book. And, now, she may have done both. So, one thing that’s interesting that has not been indicated by her complaint, as far as I know, is it doesn’t appear that she had a contract to write screenplay material.
John: Yeah. It’s not been introduced by her or by Warner Bros as far as I can see.
Craig: And if that’s the case, I mean, look, if she had she would almost certainly introduce that. So, I’m a little puzzled by this. But, let’s just take it face value that what she’s saying is, look, let’s say even if she didn’t write screenplay material, she did write essentially new book stuff. And that per her licensing agreement for the novel, New Line also had access to and the rights to this new book stuff.
John: Absolutely. So, I think part of the reason why she’s introducing it in this way is to make it clear that she didn’t just go off and write something else that no one ever saw that was more like the ISS stuff. She wrote it, she sent it in, and it was — to her telling of it — it constituted more of the underlying literary material from which the project was based.
John: All right. So, next, let’s hear her talk about the Cuarón movie Gravity and sort of how that relates.
“Tess:” Sometime around 2008 — 2009, Alfonso Cuarón wrote his original screenplay Gravity about a female astronaut who is the sole survivor after her colleagues are killed by satellite debris destroying their spacecraft. She is left adrift in her space suit, and is later stranded aboard the International Space Station. I noted the similarities, but I had no evidence of any connection between Cuarón and my project. Without proof, I could not publicly accuse him of theft, so when asked about the similarities by fans and reporters, I told them it could be coincidental.
John: All right. So, here she’s saying that she was aware of the Cuarón movie Gravity and she assumed that it just had to be a completely different thing because she assumed that Cuarón would not have known about her book and that it was just a coincidence.
Craig: Yeah. She says, “Without proof, I could not publicly accuse him of theft, so when asked about the similarities by fans and reporters, I told them it could be coincidental.” That’s not quite her saying that she actually believed it was coincidental. That’s her just saying I can’t prove that he’s stolen anything.
Now, again, this is at a point now, sometime around 2008/2008 where, in fact, Warner Bros has now fully absorbed New Line. New Line is now not its own completely independent entity. They’ve now absorbed it and there’s a much closer interaction as Cuarón begins to write his original screenplay, Gravity.
John: But we should point out that Cuarón is not writing the original screenplay for Gravity for Warner Bros. This project, I believe, is at Universal at this point.
Craig: Yes. You’re absolutely right. It is, in fact, at Universal. Correct.
John: And so an interesting thing, so a year ago I actually hosted Alfonso Cuarón, the conversation about Gravity. And I talked to him about the early development and I don’t have any of the audio from our talk. This was for Film Independent. There are other clips of me talking with him, but like this part didn’t make it in, at least to the stuff online.
But, I did find Dave Poland talking with him during the run ups to the award season last year — last year — two years ago? — about Gravity and sort of how this all came. So, I want to play two little short clips from David Poland talking to Alfonso Cuarón about his development of the screenplay for Gravity. So, this is with his son, Jonás Cuarón, and sort of how they wanted to write a story about adversity.
Alfonso Cuarón: In this one, so we sat, we started talking about the themes and the set themes and there was space and we immediately recognized the amazing metaphorical possibilities that space would offer. So, we start pretty much mapping the story and it took us like three weeks to finish the script.
Jonás Cuarón: The first draft.
David Poland: That’s not bad. Do you usually write that quickly, or — ?
Alfonso Cuarón: Yeah, look, I believe that screenplays they take three weeks or five years to write. And, you know, usually I prefer to do the ones that take three weeks. I would like to do something about adversities. You know, I was going through a lot of adversities and it was just — I actually was in the midst of the adversities. And in many ways sometimes you do things just trying to make sense of where you are.
And so that we defined that that was going to be the theme. So, when we started coming out with the scenarios, like the debris as a metaphor for these adversities. But then many other elements, you know, was the first image that we had was this thing of an astronaut floating into the void. And so we started discussing the metaphors of that. You know, it’s a character who is drifting towards the void, a victim of her own inertia, getting farther away from human communication. Living in her own bubble. You know, so we started having all these elements. So, there was already kind of like — that was our — our springboard for where to jump.
John: Okay, so that’s Cuarón’s description of what Gravity was like when he and — or his project of Gravity was like when he and his son were writing the screenplay for it.
So, right now you could say like, well, you could argue that maybe these are just two completely separate projects and Cuarón would have no idea that her project exists. But, she says, she recently learned that he did know about her project and her book. So, here is her talking about that from her blog post.
“Tess:” In February 2014, my literary agent was informed of Cuarón’s attachment to my project back in 2000. Now the similarities between my book and Cuarón’s movie could no longer be dismissed as coincidence. I sought legal help, and we filed a Breach of Contract complaint that April. Please note: this is not a case of copyright infringement. Warner Bros, through its ownership of New Line, also controls the film rights to my book. They had every right to make the movie ó but they claim they have no obligation to honor my contract with New Line.
John: So, there’s a lot to unpack here. First she says that Cuarón was attached. Craig, what does attached mean?
Craig: Well, in a general understanding, attached means that someone said I am interested in working on this movie. If I’m an actor, I’m interested in starring in it. You can tell people that I want to star in it. If I’m a director I’m saying, yeah, I would like to direct this. But, I haven’t been hired to do it. My interest in it is more like planting a little flag and less like actually showing up and doing a job. From a legal point of view, people attach themselves to stuff all the time and it’s simply not even papered because no services are actually rendered.
Craig: So, when she says “My literary agent was informed of Cuarón’s attachment to my project back in 2000,” what we don’t know is, well, we don’t know, A, who informed her literary agent. We don’t know, B, if that information is correct. But most importantly, C, if we stipulate that all of that is true, we don’t know the nature of his attachment.
John: Yeah. So, it could be anything from he read it and said like, oh yeah, that’s interesting. Or, he was like, I’m determined this is going to be my next movie.
So, I think it’s also important to look at, this is in 2000. So, let’s look t who Alfonso Cuarón was in 2000. He had directed A Little Princess and Great Expectations. Great Expectations, which was not a giant hit. This is before Y Tu Mamá También. It’s before Harry Potter. It’s before Children of Men.
So, if I were New Line would I go to Alfonso Cuarón to direct this probably expensive movie in space about a medical disaster? Maybe. Maybe I recognize that he’s so brilliant, that he’s the person who should do this, but I kind of wonder whether you’re going to him with a giant property at this point.
I’m not saying they didn’t, but it would be sort of surprising to me if he was attached in a sense of like scare-off all other directors because he’s our guy.
Craig: Well, that’s the problem with this phrase attachment because you never know really what it means. Sometimes people attach themselves to stuff and a studio will go, oh, have they told you that they’re attached to this? Not according to us. All sorts of funky things go on with that. But, I’m willing to extend the benefit of the doubt here and say that he was attached, which is not a — it’s nothing formal. You know, sometimes, and this is where the legal — these legalisms kind of hit the reality of the road. You know, they may say:
Hey Alfonso, what are you interested in doing?
You know what I really want to do, I’ve got this idea and I want to do this movie about a woman drifting in space.
You do? Guess what? We have a book. We have a book. It’s got that.
All right, let me read it. Oh, yeah, well this isn’t quite what I was thinking. This is more like, you know, Contagion — well, they didn’t have Contagion — it’s more like Outbreak in space. I’m not really thinking that. But, you know, maybe I could figure something out.
Well, you know what? We want to attach you to this and you’ll have some interest —
John: To be clear, Craig is just conjecturing. We have no idea what the real situation was.
Craig: That’s the point. It’s all conjecture. Yeah.
John: And so I think what I would like to stress is that attached means maybe.
John: That’s really what it means. Because one of our mutual friends is a hot director and he’s attached to like seven projects. And so you ask him, what are you going to direct? He’s like, I don’t know. One of them.
Craig: Oh yeah. We hear this all the time. Sometimes you have a screenplay and the studio wants to make it and an actor says I want to do that. And then someone says, well wait a second, I hear that they’re attached to this. And then you ask them, well, how are you going to do my movie, you’re attached to that? Oh, no, no, no, that’s nothing. That’s not real.
You hear that every day. So, this idea of the attachment isn’t particularly — it’s not particularly compelling. But, what it does for Gerritsen is it obviously removes that roadblock that she felt was kind of between her and a lawsuit here.
And what she’s saying is that unlike most of the cuckoo nuts out there who say “you stole my life from me, you ripped off my script,” which is always — and 99% of the times bananas — she’s saying, no, no, no, I’m saying that what’s happened here is Warner Bros through its ownership of New Line has violated my contract. They made a movie that I believe is connected by chain of title to my book. They owe me money.
John: Yup. So, there’s really two ideas competing here and we don’t want to gloss over them. First off, “could not be dismissed as coincidence.” So, she’s basically saying like, oh, no, no, he saw it, I know he saw it, so you can’t just say that it was completely independent because I know he saw it. That’s not a fact we actually know, but she’s stating it sort of like it’s a fact.
And this third point which is Warner Bros, through their ownership of New Line, also controls the film rights to my book. And that weirdly becomes the whole issue here is whether they do, or don’t control the rights. What she’s I think very smartly saying in this block is, “Please note: this is not a case of copyright infringement.” So she’s trying to really lean into this sense of like I know you think I’m going to be one of those kooks who says that my book was stolen, and it wasn’t. It couldn’t have been stolen because Warner Bros owns it through New Line. And weirdly the case is about, well, maybe they didn’t. Or maybe they didn’t in the way that we sort of think they did.
Craig: Well, yes. Now, she’s also doing something — and her lawyers — are also doing something kind of clever here with this as well that’s a little more subtle. When she says this is not a case of copyright infringement, in addition to separating herself from the pack of lunatics, she’s also doing a little bit of a sleight of hand — these are not the droids you’re looking for.
In fact, down the line somewhere that’s exactly what’s going to need to be figured out. And here’s why — what she’s arguing is, hey look, Warner Bros is saying that they don’t have any responsibility for their contract with me because that’s a contract that was made with New Line, it had separate management, not them, they’re not responsible. Which, by the way, the judge has agreed with. They’ve agreed with Warner Bros’ argument there.
And she’s saying, no, no, no, but we’re going to come back and show that, in fact, they do control the film rights. If she is successful in that, that’s not going to be enough. Then, she’s going to have to show, okay, fine, okay, the judge has said we’re responsible for your contract. Great, we’re responsible for it. Still, this is a different project.
John: Yeah. So, it’s just the stage one. Let’s talk about what the judge actually did rule in this case. This is judge Margaret Morrow. And this is from her decision. I’ll just read one little quote here. “Even when her allegations are construed in Gerritsen’s favor, it is apparent that she cannot plausibly allege a claim under traditional contract law theories. Gerritsen pleads that she entered into contract with KATJA and New Line that entitled her to payment if KATJA produced a motion picture based on her book. And that Warner Bros, not KATJA, produced a film that is allegedly based on her book.
“No plausible inference arises from these allegations that Warner Bros was a party to the contracts or that KATJA produced the final film. Thus, absent an alternative theory of liability, Gerritsen’s claims must be dismissed.”
John: So, Morrow’s decision is about 48 pages long. It’s super long. And in it Gerritsen is now allowed to file an amended complaint within 20 days, so probably ten days from now. And one of the things that Gerritsen is seeking is discovery. Gerritsen is seeking the ability to look for things that sort of bolster her claim that this has happened, that it’s based on this. And Morrow is saying basically, no, like you haven’t shown enough facts to lead to discovery.
And there’s a quote here which is from somebody else, but I thought it was a really interesting quote. “The court will not unlock the doors to discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.”
John: So, basically saying like you kind of want to go fishing but I’m not going to let you go fishing because I think you don’t have enough to bolster your claims here.
Craig: Yeah. I mean, and just to make it really clear — that quote that you said was not from Judge Morrow.
John: That’s not Morrow. She’s quoting some other decision.
Craig: Right. But that’s what it comes down to. I mean, look, discovery is a really powerful thing. When you are involved in a civil case, discovery means, yeah, I get to actually look through everything. I can look through all your emails. I can look through all your stuff. You have to show it to me.
It’s not like a criminal case where you can plead the fifth. And, yeah, so Morrow is saying you haven’t actually given me any reason to think that you would discover something. You can’t just come up with a conclusion and then use that as some kind of pry bar to open up Warner Bros’ stuff to look for something that would fit your conclusion.
But, the judge did on some level at least, you know, this is what Gerritsen believes, kind of guide her to sort of say, here, if you sort of change things this way or this way, maybe then I would entertain your case. Well, not quite as sanguine about her prospects as she is there.
But, normally at this point it would be the end of it. And I should mention that Warner Bros has settled things before. For instance, the tattoo case. In this situation, they did not settle. They said, no, no, no, good, court. We like our odds. And they won. Typically it would end here.
But it is not what ended here. In fact, Gerritsen does something that people don’t typically do and she is a unique situation as far as these things are.
She went public.
John: She did. So, the snippets that we’re playing are actually from the blog post after she lost this case, or had most of this case dismissed. And she went public and the reason why we’re talking about it right now is because everyone tweeted this link to her blog about sort of what the situation was. And so this is the alarming language that was in there that set everybody off. So, let’s play one more snippet of that.
“Tess:” This is why every writer who sells to Hollywood should be alarmed.
It means that any writer who sold film rights to New Line Productions can have those rights freely exploited by its parent company Warner Bros ó and the original contract you signed with New Line will not be honored. Warner Bros can make a movie based on your book but you will get no credit, even though your contract called for it.
John: It’s a call to arms. It’s a call to arms to all writers who might sell their books to Hollywood.
Craig: Well, first, before I talk about her alarming comments here, I should say that if you’re listening and you’re thinking to yourself, boy, John and Craig seem a little hard on this lady and a little soft on Warner Bros, I want you to understand that every time these things happen I make a real effort to remember and consider that it is never a case of one writer accusing a corporation of ripping them off.
It is one writer accusing a corporation and another writer of ripping them off. And my feeling has always been that in our brother and sisterhood of writers we need to give all of the writing parties’ benefit of the doubt. There is no greater accusation to make than plagiarism. And she is accusing Alfonso Cuarón and his son of plagiarizing her.
So, everyone flipped out. And they flipped out because she said her case means that any writer who sold film rights to New Line Productions can have these rights freely exploited by the parent company, Warner Bros, and the original contract you signed with New Line will not be honored.
In fact, that is not correct at all. That is a ridiculous jump in logic from her situation. What she’s saying, to be clear is, because I failed to convince you that Warner Bros doesn’t have to honor this contract, Warner Bros never has to honor these contracts. That’s actually not true.
John: Yeah. It’s a fallacy of over-generalization. So, your one specific incidence of things that happen to you is a universal truth. So, if your Toyota catches fire, all Toyotas catch fire. And this was a really sort of unique circumstance. And I don’t know that she’s consciously doing a sleight of hand, but a sleight of hand has happened where she’s taking the results of this lawsuit and trying to say well this is what’s going to happen to everybody else in the future.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, look. Let’s say Gerritsen never sells her film rights to New Line Productions. Okay? She just publishes her book. She goes on her merry way. And then one day Warner Bros makes Gravity. Same situation. The only thing that’s different is that she didn’t sell the film rights to New Line. Would she not be able to sue Warner Bros? Of course she would. And what would the lawsuit be? It would be a copyright case.
Now, when she sells the film rights, she’s not giving up copyright of her book. So, when she says, well hey, it’s not a case of copyright infringement, what I’m hearing is I’m saying it’s not a case of copyright infringement because I know I can’t prove copyright infringement.
That’s what I’m hearing. Now, I don’t know if that’s true. But that’s what I’m hearing. So, what I want to say to you at home is, no, if you sell your film rights to your novel at New Line and then Warner Bros goes and makes a movie of it, if they’re using your unique expression in fixed form, you absolutely have legal recourse. No question.
John: Yes, so that legal recourse is complicated to a degree because let’s say it wasn’t New Line. Let’s say, oh, let’s pick Disney. Let’s say she had sold it to Disney and then Warner Bros makes Gravity. And Disney say, uh-uh-uh, that’s really based on this book that we control the rights to. Disney is the one who would go after Warner Bros.
Craig: That’s right.
John: Probably more likely than Tess Gerritsen. So, in this case, New Line is not going to sue Warner Bros. And so I am sympathetic to — I can very much see how it feels to her, because she’s saying like, uh-uh-uh, I’m not — New Line should be suing you and New Line is not suing you.
New Line is not suing them I really think for one really clear reason that it’s probably not based on the book that they bought, but clearly even if they thought it was based on the book they bought, they would not be suing Warner Bros.
Craig: I still feel like in the case that you said, Disney says we’re suing you Warner Bros because we have exclusive rights to make a film based on this book. That’s fine. But if they have, in fact, made a movie based on a book that they don’t have rights to. The author, too, has a copyright case because —
John: They absolutely do.
Craig: Because the rights to make derivative works is incorporated in copyright. One of the things of copyright is the right to make copies, but it’s also the right to make derivative works, including films of your novel. So, if somebody goes and makes a derivative work of your book and you haven’t given them that right, absolutely you can sue them. What I feel like — and I can’t say this is true — but what I feel like is that she knows she can’t prove that, so she’s trying to basically get them from a chain of title argument. And the judge is saying you can’t.
John: Yeah. Let’s listen to the last little clip of this, and this is how she sort of wraps up. And this was the final call to arms, which I think is what got so many people tweeting this at us this week.
“Tess:” It means that any parent film company who acquires a studio, and also acquires that studio’s intellectual properties, can exploit those properties without having to acknowledge or compensate the original authors.
This is alarming on many levels, and the principles involved go far beyond my individual lawsuit. Every writer who sells film rights to Hollywood must now contend with the possibility that the studio they signed the contract with could be swallowed up by a larger company ó and that parent company can then make a movie based on your book without compensating you. It means Hollywood contracts are worthless.
John: Craig, are Hollywood contracts worthless?
Craig: No, of course not. Now, when you — look, I have to be fair and honest here. When you enter into a contractual agreement with a multinational, multi-billion dollar corporation, you know you are in an asynchronous state. You are an individual and they are not. And if they — if you perceive that they have violated your contract, it’s going to be a tough fight. There’s no question. And I’m aware of that. That said, I have never once in 19 years ever had a situation that even approached a company violating a contract. It costs them too much to violate there.
If they clearly violate the contract, they know they’re going to lose. In this case, what she really — here is how I would sort of express her argument. Let’s say you write a novel and you sell it to a studio. And then that studio is bought by another studio that makes a movie that you think is connected to your novel in some way, but doesn’t actually contain stuff that you think is pulled from your novel in terms of intellectual property, then they don’t have to compensate you.
Craig: Yeah, that’s right. [laughs]
John: That’s really what it comes down to is that like in many ways what she doesn’t perceive is that her book Gravity is still a New Line property that they could still make into a movie.
Craig: Exactly. Exactly.
John: And so I think it would actually be really fascinating if just New Line said like, you know what, it still is a really good idea, because you know what, it kind of does sound like a good idea. They could just make it. They probably wouldn’t call it Gravity because that title has already been used, but I mean, she perceives that her book has been turned into a movie, and New Line says it hasn’t.
Craig: And let’s talk about what — okay, she’s alarmed by how she perceives reality now. I’m alarmed by the reality that she wishes to impose. And here’s why.
John: Oh yeah.
Craig: So let’s say that Ms. Gerritsen gets her way and Warner Bros is held responsible for this and now Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity is no longer considered an original screenplay, but in fact it’s based by a novel by her, a novel that he may or may not have read, and it doesn’t matter. That’s the way it is.
So, now, let’s talk about what that means for screenwriters. You go to a studio and you say I have an original idea and I’m going to sell it to you. Or, I have an original screenplay, I’m going to sell it to you. And they say, great. We love your spec script. We want to buy it. However, because of Gerritsen v. WB, we have had to run through our archives of all material that we own, including material owned by companies that purchased it before we purchased the company, and we have found seven different books that we have contractual obligations to that are similar in topic.
John: In that sense that they involve horses.
Craig: Yeah. You have a horseracing movie. That’s a perfect example, because there have been about, I don’t know, one every three years. Okay? You have a horseracing movie. We have seven different books that are basically about the horseracing and they all include a character of a girl who falls in love with a horse. They include an alcoholic. They include a horse that nobody had — that was going to go to the glue factory. Basically we have seven books that include a lot of horse movie tropes. So, your original screenplay is now actually based on seven different books. It’s a nightmare.
It’s a nightmare.
John: So, let me give you a scenario that I think is actually much more plausible and likely, that you could really see happening. So, let’s say you are Sony and you buy a great book about Harry Truman and it’s like, oh, we’re going to make a movie about Harry Truman. And then two weeks later Aaron Sorkin comes out with a really amazing spec script and it’s like, oh my god, this is amazing, so you buy it. Do you then have to go to Aaron Sorkin and say, oh, Aaron, by the way, I know you wrote this original script but it’s now based on this book? That’s really the scenario that you’re running into now is that like anything that looks like it could be similar that you already own the rights to, well it’s suddenly source material for this project.
That does come up, by the way. There definitely are situations where a spec script — they’ll own a book and they’ll say like, you know what, we’re going to incorporate some of this stuff but I’ve also had it happen just in bizarre ways. I had a friend who was in production on her movie. And this was a pitch she sold and she was so excited and they were in production. And they’re like several weeks in and they said like, oh by the way, this movie is based on a book. And she had no recourse, essentially. This thing that she thought was an original thing is now based on a book.
Craig: Right. It happens. What we don’t want is for it to happen sort of post hoc, you know, where you sell something and then a book is thrown on top of it, or you sell something and somebody throws a book sort of in it as we have to, sorry. We mistakenly have the rights to a book that is sort of the same kind of topic. You know, we’ve talked about what is and is not unique expression in intellectual property. We’ve talked about how ideas are not intellectual property.
I’m a little concerned — the thing that concerned me maybe the most about Ms. Gerritsen’s complaint was what was not there. And what was not there was any kind of literary material that I could read, a passage, a paragraph, a sentence, and say, oh, you know what, I saw that in Gravity. Nothing. And what concerns me then is that she is suing, she is casting aspersions on the authorship of Alfonso Cuarón and yet she can’t actually back it up. And I have to say that is not a good feeling there. She may be right. And she may be proven right. And if that’s the case, then I hope she gets every dime she deserves.
But right now, I’ll tell you what, there is a very famous short story called Kaleidoscope by Ray Bradbury. Have you ever read Kaleidoscope?
John: I never have.
Craig: It’s probably on the web. We could probably throw a link on, well, actually, that’s copyright violation anyway, so we won’t do that. But it’s an amazing story and it’s about a bunch of astronauts on a rocket ship and the rocket ship explodes from something, meteors or something. And all the guys basically are falling through space and as they’re falling through space they can talk to each other. So, they’re basically above the earth, just like Gravity, and they’re falling in freefall towards the earth, just like Gravity, and they can talk to each other.
And the short story is entirely about what they say to each other in these last minutes knowing full well this is it.
John: Well, I can’t believe Cuarón ripped him off.
Craig: [laughs] Well, that’s the thing. You know, this is where we have to be so careful because, you know, if she got her way here basically everybody would just be locked into the strangest world, you know. It’s not feasible.
John: You know what it actually reminds me of? It sort of reminds me of patent trolls. You know how the way that technologies get patented and then people use them as weapons against each other. And I could definitely see if this were to actually come to pass where you could say like, uh-uh, you can’t do anything involving this little subset of intellectual property because I own all of these things. And that would just be a horrific situation.
Craig: Yes. I’m really curious if anyone has actually read the book and if they perceive any real specific connection beyond the fact that the hero is a woman and that she’s in space and falling. That’s not enough at all.
John: So, I want to address sort of like why I think so many writers are so freaked out about this.
Craig: Ah yes.
John: And I could totally feel why they were panicked because you look at it, especially look at it from how she is portraying it. And I also would say like I genuinely think and believe she believes what she’s writing. I don’t think there’s anything false about this. I think sometimes she’s optimizing her words that she’s using to describe her own book, but I think she genuinely believes what she’s writing. And I think if I were in her situation, I would kind of genuinely believe it, too.
Because I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to defend my authorship of a movie that goes into production, or arbitration where I say like, well, clearly this is my work. And it’s frustrating when sometimes that’s not acknowledged. But — and so, well, the writers who tweeted us this link, they felt like, oh my god, this is something that could happen? This is awful. And so what I’d love for people to remember though is there is a whole bunch of other writers that aren’t being acknowledged in this conversation.
There is the screenwriter who adapted her book who that movie never actually happened, but there is a script somewhere with this guy’s name on it that’s based on a book that could be a movie at some point. And there are the Cuaróns who wrote this movie. And to hold up on a pedestal this novelist for her book and for her idea, which is sort of a different idea, over the actual creative work and expression of writing a movie and making a movie feels like a — you’re omitting a really crucial part of the discussion.
Craig: Yeah. Everybody roots for the underdog. I mean, sure. And, you know, when she comes out and very candidly frames this as writers versus companies, of course every writer is going to go Defend, Defend, yes, circle the wagons. Always, I say, always defend the writer and circle the wagons. Just make sure that you’re not circling the wagons and excluding a writer while you’re doing it, or running over a writer while you’re doing it.
In that case, that’s what’s happening here. And the writers are — the writer of the screenplay that was actually based on her book and by chain of title and also Alfonso Cuarón, unless — by the way — unless in a court of law she proves that Alfonso Cuarón and his son plagiarized her work. And if that’s the case, well then, they ought to get what’s coming to them. I mean, you know, I mean, I’m all for that. But, you know, when we sign contracts, it’s one of my favorite little hypocrisies of the screenwriting contract is on the one hand we say, look, for the purposes of copyright, Warner Bros is the author of the screenplay. However, I also swear to you that I am the author of the screenplay. Nobody else. I am not stealing anything. I wrote this. Me, me, me.
Meaning, you can sue me. If I sell you a screenplay that in fact I’ve ripped off from somebody else. So, it’s not like we — when we get jobs that we are aware that we are warranting college honor code style that this is our work. And we’re not stealing anybody else’s work. The only work that we’re allowed to access is the work that’s assigned to us. The prior screenplays and the underlying material.
Craig: Well, Craig, thank you very much for a discussion, a very thorough discussion through all of this, and we’ll keep an eye on it. We’ll see what happens. There’s supposed to be another ten days or so before she has to file a new thing. So, if she files that and it goes to another round, we may see more about this.
John: Yeah, for sure.
It is time for our One Cool Things and keeping with our science-fiction theme, my One Cool Thing is two blog posts by Tim Urban on Wait But Why, his site. And they’re both talking about artificial intelligence and they’re very, very long posts where he just sort of goes through what modern artificial intelligence thinkers think is going to happen with artificial intelligence. And at what point we will achieve artificial intelligence that can sort of do what we do, and then at what point will we create a superior intelligence that can do things we cannot possibly imagine. And what the timeframes are for that and what the outcomes are for that.
And it’s just a really good, thorough deep dive into that whole area of discussion. So, I had read some of the books that he’s referencing, and Kurzweil, and your best friend, Elon Musk, has huge concerns about artificial intelligence.
Craig: Yes, I wish he were my best friend.
John: Well, yeah. But one day. And Bill Joy, who is famously sort of negative about the future not needing us. So, I think it’s just a great look at sort of where our thinking is for artificial intelligence right now. One interesting little statistic I’ll pull from it is they did a survey of artificial intelligence experts to f figure out — really asking them when do you think artificial intelligence will achieve human intelligence?
And the median answer was 25 years, which is really soon. The question then becomes, at what point after achieving our intelligence would it become super intelligent and those range from about two minutes to 20 years. And there really isn’t that — we cannot know, because it’s potentially an exponential growth that would fundamentally change everything. And so, while you’re there reading those two stories, it ties in well with the Fermi Paradox, which I’ve brought up before, about why we don’t see other civilizations. How it’s entirely possible that they are computers now and that’s why they’re not in our universe.
Craig: Yeah. It’s possible that we are also computers.
John: This could all be a simulation anyway, so what does it matter?
Craig: Right. What does it matter. Well, while we’re here stuck in the matrix, my One Cool Thing — why not — let’s make it Ray Bradbury and his book The Illustrated Man, which was published in 1951, and it contained 18 science fiction short stories, including the aforementioned Kaleidoscope. Did you go through a science fiction short story streak like I did when I was a kid?
John: Absolutely. I think it was seventh grade that I read a lot of them.
Craig: Yeah, I just went bananas. I mean, I went bananas on Bradbury, Asimov, various collections, Heinlein, and Bradbury was, I thought, the best writer. Some of the writing of that time period isn’t great. A lot of times you feel like the people writing the stories are really good with plot, terrible with character and dialogue. Everybody speaks ridiculously and on the nose.
Bradbury was a very good writer. And loved actually the idea of what he did with Kaleidoscope. I mean, granted, it’s dated. It’s from 1951. But, definitely check it out if you can, literally, from your library. The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury, including Kaleidoscope.
John: Fantastic. So, you’ll find links to Ray Bradbury’s works and these two posts I just talked about. All of Tess Gerritsen’s stuff we’ll try to have links up to the PDFs from the lawsuits and from the original complaints, so you can see them and look through them and maybe even sort of read through them with us as we take a look at what the Gravity lawsuit means.
If you would like to talk to me or Craig more, you can tweet at him. He is verified —
Craig: Oh yeah!
Craig: Who do we have to thank for this?
John: Well, weirdly, so we have to thank Brian Koppelman for it. But we also literally at exactly the same time that that was happening with Brian Koppelman, I was dealing with Twitter about a bunch of impersonators. And thank you to everyone else who helped me with Twitter and those other stupid impersonators.
But I got verified sort of at the same moment, so it was all a glorious blue check moment for us all.
Craig: Yeah, Brian Koppelman, he’s — I don’t know how he does it. He’s just like one of those guys that knows every person that you should know or that you would want to know.
John: Yeah. You sort of feel like, you know, if you were walking up to a club, Brian Koppelman will get you in.
Craig: Oh, no question. That’s like — that’s elementary Brian Koppelman.
John: And I saw that Rian Johnson also got verified at the same moment. So, I think it just all happens.
Craig: Oh, no, Rian did? Because he was unverified and dangerous.
John: Yeah, now he’s verified. I have a hunch that Twitter said like, oh you know what, these screenwriters, let’s just verify them.
Craig: [laughs] While we’re at it…
John: While we’re at it. Gary Whitta had one a long time ago, but that was because of Star Wars.
Craig: I’m looking to see if Rian still says he’s unverified. No, he says, “Dignity. Always Dignity.” He’s changed it. Oh, well, you know, the truth is the blue checkmark doesn’t mean a damn thing, but —
John: [laughs] No, I thought there would be like a giant parade or whatever. I thought they would send me a little sweatshirt with a little blue checkmark, but it was a momentary little adrenaline rush.
But, anyway, I am @johnaugust. He is @clmazin. You can tweet at us with your thoughts about this episode or other episodes. If you have longer questions, the place to send them is firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can find this episode at johnaugust.com along with the show notes and all these links.
If you would like to listen to the premium feed and all the special episodes, including the dirty episode from last week, you can find that at Scriptnotes.net. That will also be playable through our app which is both on the App Store and the Amazon Android App Store.
We are on iTunes. You should subscribe there and leave us a comment. Just look for Scriptnotes there.
And I think that is it. So, I want to thank Christy Miller again for providing the voice of Tess Gerritsen for this. Our outro is probably by Matthew Chilelli. We’ll see. But he also edited the show.
John: And Stuart Friedel produced it.
Craig: Oh, yeah! Stuart.
John: Oh yeah! Craig, have a great week.
Craig: You, too, John.
- SAG, DGA & WGA Members Could Be Victims Of Anthem Hack, on Deadline
- Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity on Amazon
- Gravity: A Novel of Medical Suspense by Tess Gerritsen on Amazon
- Warner Bros. Aims to Shoot Down Author’s Gravity Lawsuit, from The Hollywood Reporter
- My Gravity lawsuit and how it affects every writer who sells to Hollywood, from Tess Gerritsen’s blog
- DP/30: Gravity, co-writer/director Alfonso Cuarón on YouTube
- Judge Morrow’s decision, dated January 30, 2015
- The AI Revolution: The Road to Superintelligence and The AI Revolution: Our Immortality or Extinction, from Wait But Why
- The Illustrated Man by Ray Bradbury on Amazon
- Outro by Scriptnotes editor Matthew Chilelli (send us yours!)