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 186 of Scriptnotes, a podcast about screenwriting and things that are interesting to screenwriters.

Today on the podcast we will talk about the Oscars and the folks who won the screenplay awards. We will follow up on Tess Gerritsen’s Gravity lawsuit. But for our main course, Craig will talk us through the rules of screenwriting —

Craig: At last.

John: And once and for all settle all of the discussion and debate about the rules of screenwriting.

Craig: Yes, we will come up with a full and complete set of rules that you must follow. And also, just minor follow up, really, just from last week’s podcast.

John: Yes.

Craig: I think we witnessed a star being born.

John: Malcolm Spellman was our guest on last week’s show and he was kind of amazing. He was terrific.

Craig: Yeah. The Twittersphere?

John: They seem to like it.

Craig: The Tweetopolis went bananas.

John: Yeah.

Craig: They went bananas.

John: Yeah. So if you’ve not listened to the Malcolm episode you should listen to the Malcolm episode because he spoke a lot of truth.

Craig: Yeah, and for people saying, “Hey, can we have Malcolm on every week?” No, of course not. That would be crazy.

John: Absolutely not. It’s like, “Oh, can we have candy for breakfast every morning?”

Craig: Right.

John: No.

Craig: Yeah, exactly. Oh, can we have no homework and ice cream for lunch. No. But Malcolm will be back for sure.

John: Yeah, I think if listeners are really good, then they get that as a treat.

Craig: That’s right. Malcolm is a treat.

John: Craig, when you were in elementary school, at the end of the year, did you have like movie day where like you didn’t have to do any work they just would show you movies?

Craig: No. I don’t believe we did.

John: Yeah. In Boulder, Colorado we would have that and it was quite fun. So you’d bring all your chairs to the all-purpose room and you would sit there and they would project a movie and we would watch a movie, so something like Freaky Friday would be projected for everyone to watch.

Craig: Oh, that’s pretty cool. Now, we would have field day —

John: Oh, yeah.

Craig: Where, you know, you throw water balloons at each other. And my favorite was if it was raining, then instead of going outside, obviously, because we couldn’t, and there wasn’t time to show a full movie, so we would watch these Disney safety movies. Did you see these when you were a kid?

John: This sounds really familiar, yeah.

Craig: So Jiminy Cricket would walk through, basically Disney made like workplace safety movies, I guess for, I don’t know, factory workers. So like, for whatever reason, there we are, we’re in third grade watching movies about how it’s important to not use heavy machinery while you’re tired and Jiminy Cricket was the guy who would sort of say, “Here is a guy who’s doing it right and here’s a guy who’s doing it wrong,” and he had this great song — I’m no fool, no siree. I’m going to live to be 103.

John: Oh, I’m going to live to be 103. Oh, my gosh, I remember this so well right now.

Craig: [sings] I play safe for you and me, because I’m no fool.

John: Really, all you need is a jingle and it will be stuck in a person’s head forever.

Craig: Well, there is a link we’ll have to throw up in the show notes.

John: So will people remember the winners of the Academy Awards 20 years from now, of this year’s Academy Awards? I’m not sure they necessary will.

Craig: You ask me, ask me if I remember them next week. I mean, I forget the award winners like immediately.

John: So, you know, we’re recording this about five days after the awards so it’s more than full week for our listeners after the awards. And I did honestly forget who had won original screenplay.

Craig: It happened that fast.

John: It happened that fast. Just like slipped right out of my head there.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So let’s talk about the two films that won. You had some thoughts and some follow up on Birdman which won for Best Original Screenplay.

Craig: Yeah, yeah, and so Birdman which I really enjoyed did win Best Director, Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay. And someone tweeted at me Scriptshadow’s review of the Birdman screenplay from some years ago. And it’s a spectacularly awesome review because it’s so incredibly wrong.

John: So, for people who are joining this podcast late and may not know sort of the history and sort of back story here. Scriptshadow is a site, it is a person who reads scripts and reviews scripts and writes up his critique of movies that have not yet been made. And this is something that has stuck in your craw for many years?

Craig: Well, the thing about Scriptshadow that has always driven me crazy is that he will review screenplays that are currently in development which I find horrifying, because aside from putting out spoilers and things like that, the scripts aren’t done. I believe you had written something critical about it as well —

John: Yes.

Craig: Back in the day. So I’m not a big fan of the guy. I’m sure the feeling is mutual. But this was just delicious. I guess I’ll read a little bit of his review of Birdman. And this is what he said of the movie that just won Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay.

John: And we should say that this is his review of the screenplay before it had gone in production.

Craig: Correct.

John: Yeah.

Craig: “Okay, I’m just going to come out and say it, this was terrible. I mean, it’s pretty much a failure on every level. This is a comedy without any laughs. The tone is all over the place — dead serious one moment, overly goofy the next. And I’m wondering if the script’s shortcomings are an ESL issue.” That is English as a second language. “Because very little made sense. I know I couldn’t write a comedy in another language so there’s no shame in it. The shame is in trying to do something you shouldn’t have done in the first place.” [laughs]

John: Yeah, that’s just a line that will come back and bite you. You don’t write that line without knowing like, hmm, could this ever boomerang against me.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Not good.

Craig: It’s just confidence masquerading as knowledge here. It’s remarkable. I mean, even to take swipe at the fact that the screenwriters weren’t native English speakers. It’s just a terribly, poorly thought out, low-quality review or something. And then, this is great, he writes, “In conclusion,” because it’s not enough to bury the screenplay and explain with haughty confidence why it’s absolutely no good. He has to use it as an example of how the system is broken.

And he says the following, “I think there needs to be a system in place where production companies and studios send their scripts out to a neutral party, someone who has zero skin in the game. Because a lot of money is about to be spent, don’t you want someone telling you if your script is terrible? Don’t you want that chance to avoid a colossal mistake or to fix what’s broken? I get the feeling this script was written in a vacuum and these guys didn’t have anyone telling them how off it was.”

John: One might wonder if what the things that made Birdman distinct was because it was written in a bit of a vacuum and it wasn’t a bunch of people telling you, “Oh, no, it’s not what we expect it to be.” And certainly, you know, in terms of a neutral person with no skin on the game, Scriptshadow has sort of no skin in the game. But he also is just wrong.

Craig: Yeah, he has no skin in the game because he doesn’t deserve to have skin in the game because he says ridiculous things like this. Obviously, he has poor taste. I mean, let’s just get that right out there. It’s funny, I was talking about this with somebody at lunch today, if you don’t make things in Hollywood, all you have to offer is your taste. So here we have an example of just dreadful taste, but this remarkable idea that maybe people like Scriptshadow could save the studios from disasters like the multiple Academy Award winning Birdman is just — this is a movie that not only won a passel of awards but has completely revitalized Michael Keaton’s career. And on top of it, it’s really good. I mean, it’s just a really good movie. It’s actually quite —

John: Yeah, and even people who don’t love Birdman acknowledge that like it’s really well made and that it’s trying to do really interesting things. So like, you know, I’m sorry in reading the script you didn’t get that and it didn’t work for you. And there’s other places in the review which he does sort of cop to maybe this just isn’t working for me at all. And like maybe it’s me. But, if you’re saying, “Maybe it’s me,” you can’t then be so adamant in your opinion that it’s not me and that someone should come to you and tell you how to fix this.

Craig: I agree. Yeah, maybe it’s me sort of precludes you from saying things, like, “This was terrible. It’s a failure on every level.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s just far too declarative. I mean, all critics wrestle with that declarative voice but, yeah, I get the feeling that Scriptshadow thought that maybe he could help. It turns out we don’t need your help buddy.

John: All right. The second movie that won an award at the Academy Awards this year was, for screenplay, was The Imitation Game written by Graham Moore. And so Graham Moore gave, honestly, it was my favorite speech of the night and so I want to play a little clip from the speech in case you forgotten it or in case you are listening to this a year later.

Graham Moore: And so in this brief time here, what I want you to use it to do is to say this. When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong. And now I’m standing here and so I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere, yes you do. I promise you do. You do. Stay weird, stay different, and then when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along. Thank you so much. I love you all.

John: So, classically, I’ve been of the mind that the best acceptance speech is really thank you and then you take your award and you leave. But if you’re going to say something, to me, it was a template for like what you should say. Use that podium, that one moment of spotlight you have, to sort of pass along a positive message that sort of conveys an acknowledgement of how special this moment is for you but that, you know, other people should be able to share in this kind of special moment.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Craig, what was your take on his speech?

Craig: I’ve been always been in the Paddy Chayefsky camp. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen that clip of Paddy Chayefsky coming out to talk about the screenwriting awards. This is, you know, back in the day of course. And, I guess, earlier in the night was it Vanessa Redgrave had gone on some political rant while accepting her award.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And he basically said can’t you just say thanks and not use this for that. And everybody applauded. And that’s not what this was. But I am more in the Paddy Chayefsky camp of just say thanks and move along. I actually liked Patricia Arquette’s comment more because frankly that room needed to hear that. And that was great to see.

I thought that his comments were moving in one regard; they are comments that people have made before and there’s, you know, the it-gets-better campaign. I get a little uncomfortable when people use a moment like that to leverage their personal experience for something like that. But that’s really more about me. I never had a problem, like for instance when Ellen Page came out during a speech. That speech, it was like, there was context to it. That felt so quick and bullety and I don’t know, I was glad that he did it on the one hand. On the other, I would have much preferred that he had written something that was a little more argumentative, not aggressively argumentative, but rhetorically argumentative, prior to the awards or after the awards to really make that case.

John: Yeah, I think in the press for The Imitation Game, he has talked in a general sense about sort of like how he related to the Alan Turing story.

Craig: Right.

John: And so the clip I’m playing doesn’t sort of give a set up which is basically that Alan Turing sort of never got to stand in front of an audience and be celebrated for his work. And so, therefore, you know, it feels weird for him to be accepting this award and really he’s accepting it on behalf of this man’s legacy.

What I really did like about what Moore said is that he made screenwriters look good. And so, so often you never know who the screenwriter was or it’s this random person who takes an award and walks off stage. So for that one moment, the reason why it got I think the applause it got and got the ovation it got was this is a person who’s saying something that everyone in that crowd and everyone at home can sort of understand and relate to. We’ve all sort of had, you know, those crappy teenage years.

What was really fascinating to me is having, you know, watching that moment happen live and putting it in context of The Imitation Game and sort of everything, I assumed like, “Oh, it is life. It gets better.” And sort of like the Dan Savage, our former guest’s, campaign to try to convince gay and lesbian queer youth that, you know what, get through this, everything does get better. And so I assumed like, oh, here’s this gay screenwriter saying it’s all going to be fine.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And that was the initial take on the moment. And then, so, something that Graham said in the thing is like, you know, “stay weird, ” and then like immediately gay press goes like, “Well, is he really say that gay people are weird and all this stuff?” The irony of course is that Graham Moore isn’t gay at all and one of the most awkward retractions in the LA Times was the day after, “In the February 23 Oscars special section, a review of the Oscars telecast said that in the acceptance speech for Adapted Screenplay Graham Moore spoke of the isolation he felt as a gay teen. Moore spoke about his isolation, but after the ceremony he stated that he is not gay.”

Craig: [laughs]

John: So, oh, that’s just so awkward when you make the wrong assumption.

Craig: You know, I mean, look, the worst assumption that you can make, I believe in the category of awkward assumptions is, “When are you due?” That would be the worst, right?

John: That would be the worst.

Craig: That’s the worst.

John: And I don’t know Graham personally. He’s friends of friends. And he truly is straight from, you know, mutual friends will back me up on this. But it struck me and it reminded me of something that happened just a few weeks before and that was with Rashida Jones. And so, this is a moment on the red carpet for the SAG awards and an interviewer — this interviewer stopped and talked to her about her dress. And then they made this comment.

(Audio clip begins)

Male: Rashida Jones, one of the funniest women in Hollywood.

Female: Come on up, Rashida.

Male: Come on up. Hello.

Female: You look amazing.

Male: Hello, wow!

Female: Gorgeous.

Rashida Jones: Thank you so much.

Female: What are you wearing?

Rashida Jones: Emanuel Ungaro.

Male: Well, that’s beautiful.

Rashida Jones: Thanks.

Female: You look like you’ve just come off like an Island or something. You’re very tan, very tropical.

Rashida Jones: I mean, you know, I’m ethnic.

Male: Me too. [laughs]

Female: [laughs] It’s just being ethnic. That’s what it is.

(Audio Clip Ends)

John: So, the Rashida Jones, you know, Rashida Jones is black or mixed race.

Craig: Well, yeah. And her dad is Quincy Jones and her mother, I think, is Peggy Lipton. Is that right?

John: Peggy Lipton, yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

John: The actress. And so, I wonder if we’re at a moment in our culture where sort of perceived sexuality is also kind of like of like the same thing as perceived race. Where it’s just like you’re not quite sure what to do with it and so you make these assumptions and they’re often just the wrong assumptions.

Craig: Well, what’s crazy is that these are two — it almost seems like these are the opposite sort of situations. You have one, the Rashida Jones case where someone makes this assumption that you are a member of the culturally dominant race.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And then in the other, in the Graham Moore, people make the opposite assumption that, in fact, you are a member of a minority sexual orientation. In both cases, ultimately, everybody just looks clumsy.

John: And, what I thought, Rashida Jones actually handled it really well, because she could have made a bigger deal of it. She could have said, like, you know, “You’re an idiot.”

Craig: Yeah.

John: You know, you should actually know my father is Quincy Jones. She just played it off as, “I’m ethnic,” and I would urge us all to sort of take a step back and sort of not get outraged when things happen whether it’s certainly — it’s your choice when it happens to you. But just like, not allow it to be sort of a moment of outrage when someone just makes — when it’s clear why they made the mistake and there was no —

Craig: They just didn’t know.

John: They just didn’t know.

Craig: They didn’t know. I mean, I love — and I loved the way she’s saying, “I’m ethnic,” which is kind of adorable, you know. I mean, we’re all ethnic, I guess.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I mean, you know. I mean, she was — look, there are people, I’ve always been the kind of person when someone says something to me and it is going to be embarrassing for them, I try and let them off the hook as fast as I can because I feel bad that they feel bad and —

John: Oh, yeah.

Craig: And as long as they’re not, you know, doing it on purpose. But you’re right, some people kind of go, “Oh, good. I get to collect an injustice. And I’m going to hang you for this, hard.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And so, I think, the pregnant thing, it’s so awkward when you mistakenly do that. And so that’s why you end up like sort of not acknowledging that a women is pregnant for like a really long time.

Craig: I swear to god, I only say something if there is like, if they’re more than eight months pregnant and they’re small to begin with, that’s it.

John: Yeah.

Craig: I don’t want to go down that road because I’ve never made that mistake, but oh my god, if I did, oh.

John: Yeah. What it is, is generally like you have a general classification of things, so like a woman is either pregnant or not pregnant, and there’s a temptation to think like, oh, a person is either this race or is not of this race or this person is either straight or this person is gay. And sometimes the obvious things you’re seeing are not the actual truth underlying it or at least not their identify. And I think as we have more people who are transgendered or, you know, things that are just not quite so obvious, we’re going to have to just be a little, you know, careful but also really forgiving is what I would —

Craig: We have to be forgiving especially as we, I think, a lot of people, their hearts are in the right place. And they are learning new vocabularies. They are coming from a place of wanting to be sensitive and kind and yet there will be clumsy moments. And, look, Patricia Arquette, there was an interesting article I read where she got called out by some elements of, I don’t know if they were progressives, feminists, both, possibly women of color. I’m not sure what was going on. But basically, they were yelling at her for not saying it right.

John: Yeah, or something that she said backstage undercut what she said front stage, and just like stop expecting people to be perfect and stop expecting people to say exactly what you want them to say.

Craig: Yeah.

John: Acknowledge the intention and acknowledge sort of where they’re trying to go. A moment from my own life that was good and awkward. So I’m in the dentist chair and this new dental hygienist is cleaning my teeth. And so she sees that my spouse is listed as a guy. And so, like, I think she had originally said something about my wife while my mouth of full. And she’s like, “Oh, oh, Michael.” And it’s like, “Do you call him your wife?”

Craig: [laughs]

John: I’m like, “What a horrible question is that?” And like she has like these tools in my mouth. I’m like, “Well, of course, I don’t call him that.” Like that’s a ridiculous thing.

Craig: [laughs] That’s awesome.

John: But it was just —

Craig: She’s trying.

John: She’s trying. There was no malice there at all.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And so, I think, it’s just important to acknowledge there was no malice in those reporters who asked the stupid question about looking very tan, you know. Don’t mistake idiocy for malice.

Craig: I know. Basically, give everybody the benefit of the doubt that you’d give to like your grandma.

John: Mm-hmm.

Craig: Because actually your grandma isn’t that much different. Everybody is trying to figure out the new vocabulary. But I will say that even though I get a little nervous sometimes when people do sort of use something like the Oscars and the occasion of winning an award to announce that they attempted suicide, it feels — you know what it is more than anything is that I suddenly feel that discomfort of too much intimacy too quickly with somebody I don’t know. But I will say that you’re absolutely right that Graham Moore did a great service for screenwriters by being eloquent, looking into the camera when he needed to, looking at the audience when he needed to, not being boring or weird. He seemed quite normal and frankly owned the stage and that’s a nice thing I think. Props.

John: Absolutely. And I’d also point out that he thanked all of his collaborators and not everyone who won awards thanked their screenwriter.

Craig: Why would they?

John: Why would they?

Craig: Why would they?

John: Because they just made the whole thing up by themselves.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So, anyway, that’s the wrap on the Oscars.

Craig: Yes.

John: So our next bit of follow up. On episode 183 we talked about the lawsuit about Gravity. So this author Tess Gerritsen wrote a book called Gravity. She was suing Warner Brothers claiming that Gravity was based upon her book. There’s a complicated number of issues involved that ended up taking the entire episode. So if you’re interested in those kind of things I would advise you to go back and listen to episode 183 where we walk you through all the complicated things involved.

But at the end of that episode and sort of the outcome was that her complaint was denied but the judge gave her lawyer the opportunity to re-file with some corrections to take care of some certain things that were at issue. And so that happened. So that new complaint is dated June 19. And it is all about whether Warner owned or controlled New Line and its subsidiary Katja which is what, exactly what the judge had asked about. So I think it’s really interesting to look through there. I would say, for me, at least it was more clear and sort of the case that they’re trying to layout.

Did you look through the amended complaint, the PDF?

Craig: Yeah, I took a little scan through. Yeah.

John: We will have a link to this is in the show notes. And so, it’s again a good thing to look through sort of what the issues are. I think if I had an overall concern with it is that they’re trying to make a lot of cases that New Line is just kind of a shell corporation for Warners now. And so they go through a lot of like, you know, this is the current structure.

Craig: Right. This is on the website.

John: The website. If you call this number. But 2015 isn’t when this is actually all happening.

Craig: That’s right.

John: It’s 2009. And so, there’s even some very specific language in there where they talk about a quote from the press release when Time Warner announced that New Line was going to be sort folded in and did some very selective editing.

Craig: [laughs]

John: So, today it was announced that New Line Cinema will be operated as a unit of Warner Bros Entertainment dot, dot, dot. “We want to take our time to make sure that we understand New Line’s business and properly align the valuable asset that’s now affiliated with the studio.” So that sounds like, oh, yeah, they totally — they’re taking it all in. But I went back and found the actual press release from that day when it came out.

Craig: Good sleuthing.

John: Just, you know, simple Googling, you put stuff in quotes and you find the exact quote. Here’s the real quote says, “As part of the consolidation, New Line will be operated as a unit of Warner Bros,” no dot, dot, dot. “New Line will maintain separate development production, marketing, distribution and business affairs operation but will closely integrate and coordinate those functions with Warner Bros to maximize film performance and operating efficiencies, achieve significant cost savings and improved margins.”

So reading that it sounds like the intention was at that time to sort of operate them as whole separate units and that is certainly not the impression you would get from the dot, dot, dot.

Craig: Yeah, I think they’re going to lose. And I think they’re going to lose because I think their argument is actually incorrect. And in particular, when you see that even when New Line was, “Folded into Warner Bros,” they still had separate business affairs, separate distribution, separate development. Yeah, it’s hard to see from there how you could say, “But we’re also going to collide all chains of title together,” so I think they’re going to lose. But, you know, lets’ see how it goes. There’s obviously stuff that we don’t have available to us. I will say that every time you say Tess Gerritsen, I think to myself, “That’s a great name for a Western movie star.”

John: Oh, my god. I think she’d also be like a great like it’s set in the Old West but she’s actually a detective.

Craig: Right.

John: So Tess Gerritsen like frontier detective.

Craig: Tess Gerritsen frontier detective. Like she works for the Pinkertons.

John: Completely.

Craig: Yeah, I would love —

John: Oh, my god, she wears the britches.

Craig: Yeah, I want to see The Tess Gerritsen show. I’m not sure I want to see anymore of the Tess Gerritsen lawsuit. But let’s see how it goes. I’ll say this much. If I’m right, this will end quickly.

John: Yes. Now, if you’re wrong and this moves on to the next stage, one possibility is that there’s discovery and if Tess Gerritsen and her lawyers win discovery then they can sort of start going through and looking at, you know, just start digging through documents about Warners and New Line and sort of how all that worked. And that could be fascinating. It could be troubling. It could take a lot of time and legal expense.

I think I am with you. I don’t think this moves to the next stage. And I think the general complaint I would have about sort of the nature of this is it’s kind of — it’s arguing from conclusions.

Craig: Right.

John: And so it’s starting, it basically says like, “I conclude this is based on my book. And I’ve already decided that and now I need to go back and sort of layout the ways in which I’m allowed to make that complaint.”

Craig: It sure feels like that.

John: It does feel like that to me.

Craig: Yeah.

John: But we’ll keep following it.

Craig: All right, well, we’ll keep it on our radar.

John: Craig, it has come time for this. And this is the most you’ve ever typed into our outline.

Craig: [laughs]

John: This is just, in sheer number of words, it’s an impressive list of things you’ve laid out here.

Craig: Yes.

John: So tell us your goals in this next section.

Craig: Well, and I appreciate you, I can see you’ve helped me organize it. So, obviously, there are a lot of people out there who are spreading around the gospel of the rules. Rules of screenwriting, things you must not do and things you must do. And if you fail to adhere to the rules, your script will be thrown out. And I see a lot of these. But most of the time when I see them, I think, that’s completely wrong. And so, I leaned upon the good people at the Screenwriting Reddit, it’s a subreddit. I’ve learned this.

John: Yeah, get your lingo there.

Craig: And I asked them, I said, “Hey, fellas and ladies, please supply me with the various rules that you’ve been exhorted to follow.” And so, what I’d like to do is I’m going to read these rules, John, and let’s just say after each rule, no that’s not right. That’s mostly right. Or, yes that is a rule. And let’s see how many actual rules we come up with.

John: Great.

Craig: All right, so. First, rules of the page. Your script must be 120 pages or fewer.

John: Not true.

Craig: Agreed. Not true. Wrong. Next, the inciting incident must happen by page 15.

John: I think not universally true.

Craig: Not universally true. Agreed. Not. Wrong. The first act break must be on page 30.

John: Not.

Craig: Not true. [laughs] A trend is emerging. And by the way, I should say, when we say this, we’re only saying it as two guys that have worked in this business as professional screenwriters for a couple of decades, four decades between us. We aren’t, for instance, somebody that charges, you know, $50 to read your script and tell you if it’s any good. So, take it with a grain of salt.

Next rule. The midpoint is really important.

John: Not any more important than almost any other moment in your script.

Craig: Agreed. So, not true.

John: Not true.

Craig: The second act break must be on page 90.

John: No.

Craig: Not true [laughs]. No scene can be longer than three pages.

John: No.

Craig: No. Use only day and night unless you absolutely must say morning or evening.

John: Over-applied, no.

Craig: No. Never use Cut to.

John: Absolutely not.

Craig: No.

John: I absolutely disagree. You can use Cut to.

Craig: Yes. So far, none of these rules are correct at all.

John: Yeah.

Craig: Next, no camera directions unless you’re also the director.

John: Untrue.

Craig: Untrue. No using “we see.”

John: Untrue.

Craig: Untrue.

John: Not a rule.

Craig: No all caps in action lines. No bold, no italics or asterisks.

John: Absolutely not true.

Craig: All untrue. [laughs] This is great stuff. We’re on a roll. I hope you’re all listening. Don’t use beat or ellipses for more than one character because that makes them all sound the same.

John: Not a rule.

Craig: Not true. Don’t use actual song titles.

John: Not true.

Craig: Not true. Don’t make asides to the reader in your action descriptions.

John: Not true.

Craig: Not true. Avoid voice-over. [laughs]

John: I’ll say not true.

Craig: It’s not true. Just avoid bad voice-over.

John: Yeah.

Craig: This is my favorite. Don’t use the word “is.” [laughs]

John: Not true and impossible.

Craig: [laughs] How awesome is that? Don’t use the word “walks.”

John: Not true and impossible.

Craig: And impossible.

John: Well, yeah, possible but inadvisable.

Craig: Yeah, inadvisable. Ambles. No adverbs ending in LY. [laughs]

John: Not true.

Craig: Not true. No ING verbs.

John: Absolutely not true. And that merits further discussion but not true.

Craig: Yes. I think we’ve actually even gotten into why occasionally you want to use that because it indicates continuing action. Nothing in your script can be longer than four lines and you’re [laughs] allowed to break this rule five times.

John: Not true.

Craig: That’s not true. No monologues.

John: Not true. You can do monologues.

Craig: No brand names.

John: Not true.

Craig: Not true. Readers are draconian. If you violate a rule, they will throw your script out immediately. [laughs]

John: It’s not true.

Craig: Not true. All right, those were the rules of the page. And so far, zero of these rules are true. But let’s see. Maybe we’ll do —

John: Should we talk sort of why — should we talk about those rules of the page first before we go on, because we’re going to say a lot more not trues if we just keep going.

Craig: Sure.

John: So in all these cases, I said not true. And in all those cases, there’s a reason why people think they’re a rule because in most of these cases that thing we’re saying is not a rule, it’s generally a good idea. And so it’s a conflation of, you know, these are things to aim for in usual or things to think about. But they’re not, by any means, iron clad rules. Rules are things like this is an absolute versus here are some suggestions that you should tend to think about when you are writing your script. And so, an example being, you know, use only day or night unless you absolutely need to say morning or evening. You know what, that’s how I tend to write. I tend to just stick with day and night and then not try to get too fancy because when you get too fancy, sometimes it’s more confusing. But that’s, in no way a prohibition on morning or evening.

Craig: That’s right. I mean, these rules are a little bit like saying to a cook, “Don’t use salt.”

John: Yeah.

Craig: “Don’t use pepper,” because bad cooks often over-salt and over-pepper. But as we’ll see there’s a larger issue here that we’ll get to once we finish our rules, and that’s what I call the Paradox of the Outlier.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So, yes, absolutely, you can say that there are kernels of good advice in these things or at least the versions of these rules that are “Don’t overuse these things” or “Don’t go far, far afield of the norms that they kind of gravitate towards,” yeah, sure. But rules that are going to have you punished —

John: Uh-uh.

Craig: No, not at all. Well, let’s —

John: Not a bit.

Craig: Let’s see if we can find one. Maybe we’ll find one.

John: So let me go through rules of story. You can tell me what these are.

Craig: Yeah, great.

John: So these are some rules about story. Now, Craig, your idea has to fit into a one-sentence log line.

Craig: Absolutely not.

John: Okay. There can be no flashbacks and certainly no flashforwards.

Craig: Absolutely not true.

John: Okay. Don’t word build too much.

Craig: That one is not only not true, it’s aggressively not true. [laughs]

John: You’re hero must be likable.

Craig: That’s just been proven time and time again to not be true.

John: Characters must change by the end of the movie.

Craig: Not true.

John: Not true, so again —

Craig: They typically do, but they don’t have to.

John: Yes. So zero for five on those rules of story.

Craig: Zero for five. You know what comes to mind is Young Adult. She doesn’t really change.

John: Oh, yeah.

Craig: Yeah, I love that movie.

John: I love it, too.

Craig: Okay, all right. I’ll try you now with some rules of the industry.

John: All right.

Craig: No one’s buying screenplays about such and such topic.

John: That’s actually just not ever the case.

Craig: Ever.

John: There’s always the weird Western that sells when no one’s buying Westerns.

Craig: That’s right. You’re no Tarantino, you’re no so-and-so, so don’t bother writing those kinds of movies.

John: Absolutely not true.

Craig: Not true.

John: Reductionist.

Craig: Correct. Your instincts aren’t as good as these rules. [laughs]

John: [laughs] I don’t know quite how to process this, but I would say trusting your instincts is generally good, so no, I don’t believe that.

Craig: They’re all you have. Write what you know.

John: Not if you only know boring stuff.

Craig: Correct. Or if you want to write movies about space.

John: Yeah.

Craig: You must read this particular book on screenwriting.

John: That is not true.

Craig: Not true. Screenwriters should know their place, meaning such and such kind of thing is either the director’s job, the costumer’s job, the production designer’s job, the actor’s job.

John: That’s not true.

Craig: No.

John: And in fact, the screenwriter’s place is, you know, often intercepts all of those rules because you were the first filmmaker.

Craig: Correct. So those are the rules, and thank you to all the Redittors over there at the screenwriting subreddit for helping me out. As you can see, John and I are in complete agreement that none of these are actually rules. So let’s talk about why they exist.

Because I’ve been thinking about this a lot. And here’s my theory. Screenwriting rules are designed to create standards so that screenwriters don’t keep making the, “same old mistakes.” And I think that that is a natural thing that occurs when people who are paid to read screenplays read a thousand of them and continually see certain things that bother them or are associated with bad screenplays.

And so they then extrapolate and say, “Stop doing those things. Here’s a rule. Just stop saying ‘we see’ because I read all sorts of scripts that use we see way too much and those scripts are bad, so stop doing it.” Here’s the problem. There’s something called the triangular non-relationship in logic where something is correlated with something else but one is not causing the other, they are both caused by the same thing.

And in this case, a bad screenplay correlating with rule-breaking doesn’t mean rule-breaking causes bad screenplay writing, it just means that oftentimes, people who are bad writers will also tend to not do these things. But it doesn’t go in the other direction. It doesn’t necessarily mean that people who write good screenplays also don’t break these rules. In fact, most professional screenplays I read break almost every single one of these rules, sometimes within the same script.

John: Absolutely agree. So let me see if I understand what you’re saying here. So you think that there is kind of a pattern-matching that’s happening here. The people are reading bad screenplays and they’re recognizing these “rules being broken” and therefore they’re assuming that it’s because these rules are broken that the screenplay is bad. When the fact is, it’s a badly written screenplay and the same cause of the badly written screenplay is a person who is a bad writer who also isn’t following some of these guidelines that is resulting in this terrible piece of work.

Craig: Yeah. A lot of these things will seem irksome in a bad screenplay because everything is irksome in a bad screenplay. But let’s say you read a good screenplay and that good screenplay is 129 pages. The inciting incident happens on page 26. The first act break is on page 40. There’s plenty of caps in the action lines and it says morning and evening and there’s monologues and the word is and flashbacks, but it’s a wonderful script.

Well then, the rule-breaking is completely irrelevant. And this gets me to the paradox here. Screenwriting rules are based on people who are reading lots and lots of scripts and basically saying, “Look, here are all these things that occur in the big middle of this screenplay pile, right. I’m ranking these things up from zero to ten and the big fat middle are from four to six. All of these things are going wrong.” But this isn’t a business where you’re trying to get to the middle.

In fact, this is a business where only the outliers succeed. In fact, your averages are worthless and things that would help the middle are worthless. The only things that matter are the things that stick out completely from the rest. And so in a sense, when readers and screenplay so-called screenwriting consultants give you the advice on these rules, what they’re really saying is, “If you follow these rules, your mediocre screenwriting will seem slightly less obviously mediocre. But it won’t make your script good.”

John: I 100% agree with this assessment. So when you talk about, you know, it’s the outliers that are successful, it’s not just like, you know, a great screenplay can be forgiven for its faults. In many cases, it’s those sort of weird things that the screenplay did that made it so transcendent and so spectacular. And so it is that weird way that the first act took, you know, was especially long or especially short, that way of how the action was described on the page that let you sort of see how the movie was going to be even though it didn’t, you know, sort of match up with the expectations of rules.

Craig: No question. And this is why the rule-giving and the rule-following is seductive. It is implying that there is something non-mystical and non-unique that you can do to improve.

John: Yes.

Craig: Unfortunately, it’s not true. Unfortunately, the only thing that people respond to in screenplays is that intangible quality. Nobody responds to orthodoxy. They only respond to that which is unique and inspiring in your work. It has nothing to do with any of this stuff. This stuff is wonderful to follow if you don’t have inspiring, exciting talent. Unfortunately, if you don’t have inspiring, exciting talent, following the rules ain’t going to save you, right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: So you’ll hear a lot of times from people, they’ll say, “Well, you guys can break the rules [laughs] but we’re not allowed to.” And I don’t how to put a bullet in the head of that, except to say, no. No. I mean, listen, Quentin Tarantino, his first screenplay didn’t avoid what we now think of as Tarantinoisms. He broke every rule you can. It was exciting. It was invigorating.

There is absolutely no world in which people in our business who are desperately craving screenplay material that they can produce and profit from will look down on a really good screenplay because somehow it broke the rules.

John: I 100% agree. So let’s bring this back to us because that’s my favorite topic is myself.

Craig: Of course.

John: So as we do the Three Page Challenges, we look at a lot of these pages and I hear us saying things like, you know, I love how the action lines are kept short, they’re kept, you know, three lines or less. I love that we very quickly establish who this person is and that we are interested in this person. I want to defend our ability to say that while still talking about the rules.

And so some of these samples have come through and haven’t done that and they’ve still been fantastic. Other ones had really good formatting on the page and we’ve commented on that. There’s this balance that you would want to try to find, which is you want to make the experience in reading the screenplay as delightful as possible for the reader. In some of these cases, it’s going to be doing things like, you know, how you’re using the white space on the page in an interesting way. Sometimes that means short lines.

You’re going to want to lay out your story in a way that makes sense for the reader. And some cases, that really will follow the kind of normal movie patterns and that movies are about two hours long and you have sort of natural rises and falls of action. I mean, these should be great signposts, things to aim for, things to think about. But they certainly should never be shackles that your script has to be bound to.

Craig: That’s right. And, you know, I cop to expressing preferences like as you put it. When we do those Three Page Challenges and we do have preferences, but I also know that if I read a five-line action paragraph block that I felt was just wonderful, it wouldn’t matter to me that there wasn’t, you know, a character turn in the middle of it. It just doesn’t work that way.

The truth is that if 999 times out of 1,000, if you’re not a professional screenwriter, you’re an aspiring screenwriter, you’re going to fail. Well, fail on your own terms then, you know. Don’t fail chasing orthodoxy.

John: Yeah. I think the differentiation between orthodoxy and preference is really important. So you say you have expressed a preference for certain way things can look on a page. Basically, that’s how I would have written it. I would have done this differently. But how I would have done it is what it would like, you know, through my fingers and my keyboard. It’s not necessarily the way it’s going to work best for you.

And I think sometimes you try to achieve some, it’s like minimalist vanilla styles and something — you’re trying to make your movie look like a movie that anyone else could’ve written. And that’s never a success. It’s never going to be the way you break out. You break out by taking bold chances and choices. And that’s not what these rules are going to let you do.

Craig: No. The rules are designed to do the opposite. They’re designed to push you into the middle and make you not stick out in any way. And we’ve said this before. It’s an outlier business on both sides. You have to be that one screenplay that sticks out. And all you need is the one buyer that sticks out. You don’t need everyone to love you. Most great success stories in this business start with someone who writes something that everybody says blech to, except one person who sees the same thing you saw.

And that union goes on to create things that then everybody else tries to copy, that everybody else mints new rules off of. The world of rules is the world of following, chasing, mimicking, conforming. It is not the world of innovating and it’s certainly not going to help you sell a screenplay.

John: Yeah. So let’s talk about innovating because I don’t want to sort of push people towards like, “Well, you know what, my script is going to all be in Helvetica. And it’s going to use 14 different font colors to represent the different moods and emotions and tones.” That’s not what I’m sort of urging you to do. It’s to look at sort of what, again, remember, you’re writing a screenplay but you’re also writing a movie. And writing that movie should be really your focus.

And so you’re using your words to evoke the experience of watching that movie just through the words on the page. So I’m not telling you to just go nuts. I’m telling you to, you know, go nuts in really appropriate ways and just find the right way — basically, don’t limit how you’re writing your script because you’re trying to follow some rules. Use these, you know, suggestions to help you write the best possible movie you can write.

Craig: Yeah, because here’s the deal. If you’re good and you’re meant to make it, breaking the rules won’t stop you. Nothing will stop you. Similarly, if you, like most people, are not meant to make it, sorry to say, following the rules will not help you. So I agree with John. There’s a general heading of what we call the Koppelman Rule: calculate less, right.

So new screenwriters are always calculating. They’re doing things like this, like if I have a certain page count or if I have, you know, my action happens on page da da da, right. They’re trying to game the system to creating the illusion of control over their work and their fate. And part of calculation also comes down to “I’m going to break the rules on purpose and be crazy.” Well, that’s also calculation.

Don’t calculate. Just write honestly. Express yourself honestly. And most importantly, to all of you out there, if anybody who is advertising their services, they’re charging you money, says, “This is a rule, don’t do it or your script is going to get thrown out.” This is my new thing, you look at them and you say, “No.”

John: [laughs]

Craig: “No, no, no. No.” And if they say, “Oh, well because Craig and John said so, well, they can get away with it,” you look at them and you say, “No.” Just like that. Like you would to a bad dog.

John: Yeah, basically what you teach young kids about like strangers who, you know, approach them and make them feel uncomfortable.

Craig: Stranger danger. [laughs]

John: Stranger danger basically. Screenwriting guru danger. And when someone tells you absolutely this is what you must do, there’s a good reason to just stand there and say no and then run if you need to.

Craig: Yeah, the other thing you could do when they [laughs], this is the meaner version, when somebody is selling you their services says, “You have to do it this way,” you look at them and you go, “How is that working out for you?”

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: Right?

John: Yeah.

Craig: Yeah. I mean that’s the mean version. I would not. [laughs]

John: Craig would never do that.

Craig: I mean —

John: Oh no.

Craig: Sheesh.

John: I think it comes down to there’s this desire to, because the screenplay format looks strange, there’s this desire to boil it all down to an algorithm. And I think there’s a lot of people who are attracted to screenwriting who are also attracted to things like computer coding. And the great thing about writing a computer program is you write it and there’s more than one way you could write it. But like either it works or it doesn’t work. It either gives you the result you want or it doesn’t give you the result you want or it crashes.

And so people want the rules so they know how their screenplay won’t crash. But it’s not like that at all. It’s actually much more just like writing. And writing is just a weird esoteric thing where you’re trying to evoke these emotions and these feelings and make these characters feel alive. And it just doesn’t want to be reduced to that.

Craig: Do you ever see these debates online where someone will say, “This is a rule.” And then someone else will go, “Well, what about this movie?” And then there’ll be this debate where they try and fit the movie to their rules.

John: 100%.

Craig: And you just think, what are you people doing?

John: Yeah.

Craig: That debate, I have to say to anybody that engages in it, is the furthest away you can get from proper behaviors of a [laughs] screenwriter. That is a waste of your time. If you get caught in that debate, you got to stop, you got to look at yourself and say no and just go back to your screenplay because that ain’t helping anybody.

John: So back when I was in film school I had a screenwriting class, the only screenwriting class I ever took. And the professor, I will fully credit her, like she was very provocative and part of what I really learned about screenwriting was sort of in reaction to her. So in that way that like, she wasn’t my J.K. Simmons throwing a cymbal at me, but it was that kind of contentious relationship.

But I remember, she had very strong ideas about like, you know, what movies need to do and how they need to work and sort of how the beats need to function. And so somebody brought up in class, I’m trying to remember what movie it was. I think it could have been like Goodfellas or something and pointing out like it did not follow this template, and she’s like, “Well, that’s why it’s a failed film.”

Craig: Wow.

John: [laughs] And so I may be misremembering Goodfellas, but I do remember like that’s why it’s a failed film. And that was just like a real like moment of insight in that, “Oh, these people are going to try to reduce everything to these fundamental things and some stuff is just irreducible.”

And so the same reason why Scriptshadow looks at Birdman and sees a disaster. Well, that’s because it was an outlier.

Craig: Right.

John: It was this weirdo thing that didn’t make sense on the page to him, but did make sense in the mind of the director and the actors and everyone else who had to make that movie.

Craig: No question. There was a thing that I did early on in my career really when I started where I had read one of these books. I can’t remember which one. When you start your career as a screenwriter, one thing that you do a lot of is go around and pitch for jobs.

So one thing that’s good about that is you get practice coming up with stories kind of quickly because you have to.

John: Yeah.

Craig: So what I would do is I would sit down and I would make a little line graph. And so the line graph would have a little point in the middle and a point for the first act and a point for the second act break. And then I would think, “Okay, let’s come up with the points here on this so we have our goal post of the story and we’ll do it like this. Then we can in the space in between, we’ll make a lot of other little lines and how to get from here to here.” Very methodical.

And I did it that way I think because I was so scared. I mean what do I write is the scariest feeling. And you want to dispel that fear and here’s this handy-dandy system. It’s a building system. It’s an algorithm.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It’s very comforting. Unfortunately, it’s also dumb because that’s not how good writing happens. It’s just how some writing happens. It’s writing. But it’s not inspired. You haven’t let yourself kind of wander and explore and come up with something beautiful. You’re just trying to get, it’s like you’re eating your food as fast as you can because you’re afraid of being hungry. And that’s what a lot of these rules do. And they are, no surprise, generated by people who have never experienced, generally speaking, the opposite of the fear of not making it. And so they are peddling this snake oil to other people who are afraid because they haven’t made it. And it’s a vicious cycle. But it should stop.

John: It should stop. Now Craig, hearing you talk through that, I think a future episode of the show needs to be about pitching on jobs and sort of that process of — because I went through exactly the same thing where I would have to pitch on like two or three movies in the course of a week.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And so you have to really quickly come up with like, how would I write this movie? And that was honestly, it was exhausting but it was so incredibly useful to me because it got me thinking about like, you know, I have a folder and maybe I’ll break out some of these examples of like 40 movies I never wrote.

Craig: Right.

John: But I was like pitching on those jobs. And some of those jobs [laughs] are still in like open writing assignments.

Craig: [laughs]

John: It’s like I got called about one literally six months ago. I was like, “You know what, I pitched on this like 15 years ago.”

Craig: Oh my god.

John: And so like I found the file. I had written it for myself. I had never handed this is in. But like a 15-page treatment about like how I would this movie.

Craig: Was it Stretch Armstrong?

John: It was not Stretch Armstrong. It was Raised by Ghosts which was a Sony property and still is a Sony property.

Craig: Oh, they’re still at it.

John: They’re still at it. But, you know, I pitched on like, you know, Adam Sandler-Kevin James movies. I pitched on Highlander. I pitched on so many of these things that were never actual things. But that process of like how you quickly — they want you to come in tomorrow. It’s like “oh my god, I have to pitch a movie tomorrow” was just the best. It’s very much like, you know, an actor auditioning, you have to figure out like, how would I do this? And that’s a great process.

Craig: Yeah. I’m just looking in my folder, my old pitches folder, and I’m just like I forgot how many of these Green Acres —

John: Oh yeah.

Craig: Did you ever pitch on that one?

John: Oh no, I never pitched in Green Acres. It would be fun to figure out which ones we’ve both pitched on.

Craig: Scooby-Doo?

John: I worked on Scooby-Doo

Craig: I didn’t even know that you worked on Scooby-Doo. I pitched on that at some point. I’m not sure when. God, so many, The Ump. I don’t even know what The Ump is.

John: An umpire I’m guessing.

Craig: Here’s a good one. There Goes the Hood. Great title.

John: Yeah.

Craig: It was a rewrite of some sort. Wow.

John: Yeah. Oh memories.

Craig: Oh memories.

John: Yeah, that would be a fun episode. We could go through and sort of talk about that. We’ll bring in somebody else. We need to have like one more writer in here who can do it to —

Craig: We need another old hand.

John: An old hand, somebody who’s done a lot of this. But that process of figuring out how you’re going to tell a story, how you’re going to pitch a story but like what would the movie be? You have to like literally spend, you know, you have like an hour to think about like, “Okay, what could that movie be? Like who will the characters be? What would it be?”

And in most cases, it’s based on some existing properties, some underlying things, so either they sent you an article, they sent you a book. You know, Scooby-Doo is like, what is the Scooby-Doo movie? And you end up going in and pitching that.

Battlestar Galactica, I through quite a few rounds on a feature version of Battlestar Galactica before it was it was rebooted as a TV show. And I have a Battlestar Galactica movie I’d love to make. But I’ll never make that.

Craig: Here’s one called The Move. I don’t know what that is. I honestly don’t remember it and I can’t even open the file because it’s from 1996 and Word doesn’t even — it’s like, what is this? [laughs]

John: Yeah, that’s part of the reason why we made Fountain, is because, you know, when you write up stuff in plain text like Fountain you can always open that file. I had some things written in like Write Now.

Craig: Oh my god.

John: Which was a great Mac app. And nope, doesn’t exist anymore.

Craig: I’ve got things written in Bank Street Writer. No, I don’t [laughs], I don’t. Not anymore. But I did have that when I was a kid.

John: So to wrap up our conversation about the rules, all the things we talked about with like these are not rules, I think actually every one of them, there’s a reason to think about it, but there’s certainly no reason to limit yourself by that expectation. Never think of these as rules. We should only think of them as like, these are some general areas you should be considering as you’re writing a script. But you should certainly move past them and write the best possible script that you can.

Craig: Yeah. And just keep in mind that you’re going to make it if you’re special. And if you’re special, generally speaking, rules don’t apply. So keep that in mind. Take that to heart. And remember, “No. No.”

John: No.

Craig: No.

John: It’s time for One Cool Things. Actually, I have two One Cool Things. I had one and then over at lunch I thought of a second one.

Craig: Okay.

John: So my first One Cool Thing is an article I read this morning by Adam Clark Estes. It’s actually from last year and sort of I randomly stumbled across it. He’s a writer at Gizmodo and other places. And he just writes about having ear surgery because he was like largely deaf and had a series of ear infections as a child and that basically broken up all the bones in his ear. And so he was largely sort of profoundly deaf, but not to the point where like he’d gotten the hearing aids.

And it’s one of those things where like people say like, “Oh, there’s really nothing you can do,” and so for like most of his life he just — I assumed there’s nothing I could do and he had a hard time understanding things, and had to turn the subtitles on.

And so this article, he talks through the surgery he had and sort of what they do. And it’s just one of those great little things. And I think it’s inspiring that a lot of times people will sort of just live with something that’s kind of broken, you know, broken in their bodies or broken in their house or broken in their lives.

And it’s a great example of just like, you know what, it’s worth looking at like, can you actually just fix it? Because then your life will actually be better because you fixed it.

Craig: We truly do live in the best time.

John: We live in a great time. Second thing I have to strongly recommend is the Mike Tyson Mysteries because the Mike Tyson Mysteries are great. I don’t hear enough people talking about how great they are. So it’s a series on Adult Swim. They’re 15-minute episodes. This the Wikipedia description of the Mike Tyson Mysteries, “The show follows Mike Tyson, the ghost of the Marquess of Queensberry, Tyson’s adopted daughter, and a pigeon as they solve mysteries. The style of the show borrows heavily from 1960s cartoons, most notably Hanna-Barbera productions such as Scooby Doo and The Funky Phantom.”

It’s really great. And just the first episode didn’t wow me. And then the cumulative effect of it is really just terrific. So there’s only 10 episodes. If you’re only going to dip your toes into it, the order in which I watched them is episodes called Is Magic Real, then Kidnapped, and finally House Haunters, which I think is the funniest of the season but won’t make sense unless you sort of got the general pattern of the show.

Craig: All right. All right. I’ll check that out.

John: Craig, do you have a One Cool Thing?

Craig: I mean, yeah, kind of. It’s not that cool. But it’s One Thing.

John: All right.

Craig: I started riding a bike again.

John: How nice is that?

Craig: Yeah, you know, I’ve been thinking lately like, “You know, everybody hates exercise.” But really, to be clear, we hate the exercise we hate because boring exercise is boring. Like boring jobs are boring. And boring people are boring. But if you find something you actually like, it’s okay, you know.

John: Yeah.

Craig: And I started riding a bike again and I kind of love it. So I’m working my way up to being able to ride into work because I live about seven miles away from my office.

John: That’s great. Now you also live up, way up a hill.

Craig: There is that.

John: That last section is —

Craig: My guess is I’ll be walking that one. [laughs]And that’s the other thing, it’s really hard for me basically as a beginner — not a beginner, I mean, look I know how to ride a bike, but it’s like getting back into it in my 40s and have not having ridden a bike for decades. You know, they suggest to really start out and acclimate on flat grade. And where I live it’s just nothing but steep ups and downs. And it’s like San Francisco.

So I’ve been like, so like yesterday I found one cross street and just went back and forth up and down it for a while. There’s a track that I’m going to go around. So I have to figure out sneaky ways of doing it. But, you know, I’ll work my way up and truthfully, if I can get to a place where I’m able to go up that hill, that would be something. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to go up that hill. It’s pretty steep.

John: What I will say is like so we got bikes a couple years ago when my daughter started riding her bike. And the gearing now in bikes is just so much more sophisticated than when we were kids.

Craig: Yeah.

John: And so you may find that these lowest gears are able to do things that you wouldn’t think possible. So you’ve been to my house and you know that like our driveway is just crazy steep. But I can ride up my driveway.

Craig: Yeah. No, I can. I did a little test run on the hill. I went up, you know, from my house continuing up that hill. And definitely on the easiest, they call it the granny gear, so you’ve got your three gears by your pedals and then lots and lots of gears in the back. And the tiny, tiny gear by your pedal is the easiest one, they call the granny gear. So I was on the easiest gearing. And it was still really hard because it’s not hard on your legs because your legs are moving freely. It’s just hard on your heart because you’re pumping like crazy and you’re going like, you know —

John: Inch at a time.

Craig: Yeah. But I do like it a lot. Yeah. Bikes.

John: Bicycle. Bikes. I have one more announcement. We have a new app that’s actually in the App Store today.

Craig: Wow.

John: What? It’s called Assembler and it’s actually one of those apps we built for me but other people will find it very useful as well. I write scenes separately in Fountain. Just so I’m not looking at the same document the whole time, I’ll just write up scenes individually so they’re each in their own file. And then I would have to go through and like copy and paste them into a big document. And that was sort of error-prone and sort of annoying.

Assembler just lets you throw a bunch of text files at it and you can drag what order and then click a button and it saves them as one giant text file.

Craig: It concatenates.

John: It does. And so it’s the kind of thing you could actually do as terminal command, but not nearly as gracefully in terms of putting them in the right order. It’s also really useful for any sort of text file. But I found it really useful for Kickstarter files because when you have a Kickstarter campaign, it generates all these CSVs , comma separated values files. And you need to put them all together in a certain way. And it’s also great for that.

So it’s called Assembler. It’s in the Mac App Store.

Craig: How much does that cost? Like 40 bucks?

John: It costs $9.99.

Craig: $9.99? I’m not going to buy it but I’ll tell you why. Not because of the price. I don’t assemble anything. I just do —

John: You break stuff apart.

Craig: Yeah, I’m a disassembler. You get me an app that destroys something.

John: Oh yeah, we can do that. We’ll work on it. It has a great icon. So if nothing else, you should just click through and it look at the great —

Craig: What does it look like?

John: It looks like big roll of tape —

Craig: Oh, I like that. I’m your dumb friend. Oh that sounds good. Oh, I like that.

John: [laughs] Oh, I’m not so challenging.

Craig: Oh good.

John: No, you’re quite smart.

Craig: In my own — in my way. [laughs]

John: In your way, you are quite smart. That is our show for this week. Our show is produced by Stuart Friedel. It’s edited by Matthew Chilelli. Our outro this week comes from Jeff Harms.

Craig: Oh, Harms.

John: Harms. If you are listening to this podcast, you’re probably subscribing to it. But double check, so over to iTunes and check Scriptnotes. We are in the iTunes Store and we’re also on Stitcher and other places as well. But leave us a comment while you’re there and you tell us how much you like Malcolm Spellman or suggest other rules that you should follow as a screenwriter.

Craig: [laughs] Yes, enrage me, please.

John: Yes. And use the comment section to poke Craig.

Craig: [laughs]

John: Give us five stars but then poke Craig. It’s really what we’re asking.

Craig: It’s not hard.

John: Not hard. While you’re on iTunes, you can download the Scriptnotes app which allows you to listen to all the premium episodes and the back catalog, all the way back to episode 1. Subscription to Scriptnotes, the premium feed is $1.99. You can get those at

Craig: Did you say $199?

John: No, it’s $1.99 per month.

Craig: Oh, I mean that, everybody should do that.

John: Everyone should do that.

Craig: Yeah.

John: So a bit of follow up we didn’t get to this week is we still are talking about 200th episode. People have written in with some good suggestions. Craig nixed my brilliant suggestion, but maybe my second most brilliant suggestion, he’ll say yes to.

Craig: [laughs] I’m a nixer.

John: He’s a nixer. He’s not an assembler. He’s a disassembler. He disassembles my 200th episode idea.

Craig: I disassembled it. Really just because I’m a broken person.

John: No, it’s fine.

Craig: Yeah.

John: It’s fine. And thank you very much for listening. Craig, have a wonderful week.

Craig: You too, John.

John: Bye.

Craig: Bye.